Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Poseidon Adventure

Here it is. New Year's Eve, 2009. I am getting ready for the big celebration. No, not the clock striking midnight. My big celebration is watching the greatest New Year's Eve movie ever. The big moment in The Poseidon Adventure occurs just as the crew and passengers are celebrating the arrival of the new year. The S.S. Poseidon is overturned by a giant rogue wave just after the stroke of midnight. Not only does it become a new year, but it becomes a new, upside-down world for the people on board. Rev. Scott, played by Gene Hackman, must lead the band of lonely survivors from the ballroom to the engine room in the hopes of escaping this disaster. Ernest Borgnine, Red Buttons, Roddy McDowall, Stella Stevens and Shelley Winters are among the group that attempts to "go up to the bottom" in an effort to escape. Winters received an academy award nomination for her work as the overweight, former swimming champ that saves the day. Who, if any of them, will survive?

This is the crowning achievement of the 1970's disaster movie movement. Irwin Allen, the king of disaster movies, produced and partially directed this film. Around my house it is called "cheesetastic!". The script and characters are exactly what you would expect. But once the ship overturns and the adventure begins I find myself rooted to the seat awaiting the next pitfall. The effects hold up quite well in our present world of cgi (computer generated images). Everything in The Poseidon Adventure is done with real people. The scene of the man falling through the glass ceiling is still a classic.

If you saw the film in a theater, especially back in 1972 when it was released, you may remember the entire audience leaning in their seats when the ship overturns. You know, of course, that leaning won't have any effect upon the movie, but your body just leans anyway. It is that kind of shared experience, which only movies provide, that is missing from sitting at home watching a DVD.

Filmed in 1972, directed by Ronald Neame, written by Stirling Silliphant, starring Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Stella Stevens, Roddy McDowall, Red Buttons, Pamela Sue Martin and Leslie Nielsen as "The Captain".

Does anyone remember the sequel 'Beyond the Poseidon Adventure'? Michael Caine and Sally Field? No. I didn't think so.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Boy and His Dog

"A rather kinky tale of survival". That is the tagline from the trailers and ads for A Boy and His Dog. It is apropos. This is one weird flick. Most people dislike it, but, for some reason, I find it intriguing. Don Johnson plays Vic, a loner in Phoenix after World War IV. He is accompanied by Blood, a telepathic dog that helps him look for "females and food". Vic wants the females while Blood wants the food. I guess that is the difference between a boy and his dog? Along the way Vic meets Quilla, a beautiful young woman. She has been living underground since the war and is unaffected by the plagues and famine above ground. She entices, against Blood's wishes, Vic to visit her underground home. After some misadventures Vic escapes and returns to the surface. Will Blood be waiting?

The ending of A Boy and His Dog has been the subject of much discussion over the years. It is quite a surprise. I find it fantastic. Pay close attention to the last minute. Do you approve?

This is based upon a Hugo award winning novella by Harlan Ellison. I sat next to him at the world premiere of A Boy and His Dog in 1975. There he proclaimed his admiration for the film and support of the script. After the film did not do well he changed his tune. He denounced the small changes made by the filmmakers and wanted his name removed from the movie. Now, as the film maintains its cult status, he again appreciates the film. Oh well, if you know Harlan Ellison that comes as no surprise.

This film is low-budget, odd, dark and humorous. I enjoy it. Do you?

Trivia: Blood, the dog, is also the dog 'Tiger' from tv's 'The Brady Bunch'. From wholesome family television to a sarcastic telepath. Pretty good acting range for a dog.

Filmed in 1975, directed by L.Q. Jones, written by L.Q. Jones from a Harlan Ellison novella, starring Don Johnson, Susanne Benton, Jason Robards and Alvy Moore.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Amazing Journey:The Story of The Who

Amazing Journey is an amazing documentary about The Who. As frequent readers know, The Who is my favorite band. Just read my previous blog about 'Quadrophenia'. This documentary covers the band from their days in school through over 40 years of concerts. The film is rich with music history and includes lots of never-seen-before footage. There are also interviews with rock icons who were/are heavily influenced by The Who. Sting, The Edge and Eddie Vedder are featured discussing the influence The Who had upon their music and lives.

The film footage is fantastic. I have seen almost everything ever done by or about The Who and this documentary contains tons of original moments. The interviews with musicians, family members and the band's managers are revealing. Amazing Journey:The Story of The Who is great.

Long Live The Who!

Filmed over 40+ years, directed by Murray Lerner and Paul Crowder, starring Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, John Entwistle and Roger Daltry.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Caine Mutiny

"The strawberries. I had them with the strawberries."

Before this film could be released the U.S. Navy required a disclaimer be placed at the opening of the film. The Navy wanted to be sure that every viewer understood that The Caine Mutiny is fiction and not based upon an actual mutiny. The Navy originally withheld any cooperation because of this concern. But the popularity of the book upon which the film is based, along with the fact that Humphrey Bogart would star, eventually changed the Navy Brass's minds.

Humphrey Bogart stars as Captain Queeg. He is the Captain of a U.S. Naval vessel during World War II. His senior officers, portrayed by Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray and Robert Francis, come to believe that Queeg is incapable of commanding a ship under the pressure of war. After some bizarre behavior by Captain Queeg they decide to relieve him of command. Two of them are tried for mutiny and are defended by Jose Ferrer. The courtroom sequences would later be produced as a Broadway play, but on screen we get to see the entire story.

Bogart is fantastic. In his last great performance he plays Queeg with aplomb. Some of Bogart's mannerisms and quirks are still used by actors and comics today. Bogart's willingness to play someone so unpopular is refreshing. Many of today's leading actors should consider this performance. Also excellent is Fred MacMurray. He plays the slimy Lieutenant Keefer. Keefer is a writer outside of the navy and is the driving force in convincing the rest of the officers that Queeg must go. But in the moment of truth he fails to support his fellow officers. Under appreciated Jose Ferrer carries the courtroom portion of The Caine Mutiny. He rarely fails to deliver top-notch work. This is no exception. His dedication to defend the mutineers makes the second act fantastic.

The novel, written by Herman Wouk, won the Pulitzer prize. The film was nominated for 7 academy awards. The Caine Mutiny, deservedly, has great credentials. Enjoy this fine film!

Filmed in 1954, directed by Edward Dmytryk, written by Stanley Roberts, starring Humphrey Bogart, Van Johnson, Fred MacMurray and Jose Ferrer.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Big Wednesday

This film is a cult classic. Like all cult films you either "get it", and therefore love it, or you don't. In the case of Big Wednesday I get it. This is director John Milius's homage to the zen of surfing and the beach lifestyle. He grew up on the beach and in the water. It shows. He understands the 'us vs. them' mentality of surfers and the mystical experience of sitting on your board. If you love surfing or the beach the scenery in this movie will make it worth while. If you think that spending 3 hours sitting on a surfboard, just waiting for the perfect wave, is a waste of time then you should skip this movie.

This film starts in the early 60's and covers more than a decade. Jan Michael-Vincent, William Katt and Gary Busey star as 3 close friends who spend their days surfing. They are as close as any friends can be. They watch out for each other, spot surf for each other and provide support, comfort and solace as only great friends can. The film covers more than a decade of their lives as they move in and out of the surf. Eventually all 3 must face the fact that they can't stay surfers and must grow up. As the character 'Bear' (Sam Melville) says "nobody surfs forever". We share their love for the ocean and observe the guys as they move from the beach to adulthood.

Milius actually made 5 half-movies and combined them. There is a fantastic surf move, a poignant coming of age story, a very weak high school farce film, a funny draft-dodging sequence and a decent buddy flick all combined in Big Wednesday. The surf sequences are worth the price of admission. Gloriously filmed by surf auteur Greg MacGillivray, the scenes in and around the surf are spectacular. It truly helps that all 3 stars could surf. You could see it was them, and not some ridiculous double, on the boards. Also, look for surfing great Gerry Lopez. He shreads. The rest of the movie is hit or miss. Outside of the water the film covers social issues facing America during this time period. Vietnam, race riots, the draft and a changing society are all featured. Some are handled much better than others.

But above all this is a surf movie. If you love the surf you will love Big Wednesday.

Filmed in 1978, directed by John Milius, written by John Milius and Dennis Aaberg, starring Jan Michael-Vincent, William Katt, Gary Busey, Lee Purcell, Gerry Lopez and Patti D'Arbanville.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Missing Gift?

These are some links to great movies. Just in case you did not get them for Christmas! Everyone deserves a fun movie.

Funniest film of 2009.

I love this show.

My favorite Christmas movie.

I was worried when J.J. Abrams signed to make this film. Now I am glad he did!

My favorite film.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everyone!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Before Denzel won his Oscar for 'Training Day', before Seagal and Van Damme, even before Clint Eastwood as 'Dirty Harry' there was Bullitt. This is the film that invented a genre. The idea of the rogue cop, an officer that ignores his superiors and just hunts down the bad guys, did not exist in big movies before Bullitt. The King of Cool, aka Steve McQueen, portrays Frank Bullitt a San Francisco police officer. His assignment is to guard a high-profile witness. When the witness is attacked, while he is off-duty, Bullitt decides to pursue the assailants no matter where the case takes him.

Today, Bullitt is most-often referenced because of the car chase. It is a great car chase. But the film is more than the car chase sequence. It is a taut, story-driven action film about corruption, crime and the efforts of the police to battle against powerful foes. Det. Bullitt lives a simple life. He is focused on working to make San Francisco a little bit better. But sleazy politicians and the police bureaucracy keep getting in his way. If he is to accomplish anything, he must move beyond the normal rules of police work.

This film started, for better or worse, the rogue cop genre. Clint Eastwood, as Dirty Harry, became the King of rogue cops, but dozens of lesser films have copied, in whole or part, Bullitt. But Steve McQueen is still the best. From the Mustang to the clothes to the fast draw holster McQueen is the King of Cool. McQueen was at his height of popularity when this came out. It didn't seem possible, but he became a bigger star after Bullitt.

The Mustang and the city of San Francisco are major players in this movie. The amazing muscle car streaking through the scenic cityscape is fantastic. Throughout the film both the car and the city play important features in mood and tone. Director Peter Yates did a fantastic job of using McQueen, the car and the city as almost one actor. The combination made cinema history. Robert Vaughn does fine work as Walter Chalmers the sleazy politician pushing McQueen to solve this high-profile case. Also, look for Robert Duvall in one of his earlier appearances.

Filmed in 1968, directed by Peter Yates, written by Alan Trustman and Harry Kleiner, starring Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Jacqueline Bissett and Simon Oakland.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Charley Varrick

This is a great guy movie. Charley Varrick (Walter Matthau) and his friends decide to rob a small town bank. After the robbery they discover that instead of splitting small proceeds the bank was full of cash. His partners are thrilled with the big score, but Varrick knows that it must be Mob money. And he doesn't want the mob after him. Soon both the Mob and the Cops are busy trying to locate Varrick and his partners. The Cops want them in prison and the Mob wants them dead. Varrick has to try to find a way out of the mess.

I love the build-up to the big-climax ending. Extremely satisfying as pressure builds. You don't know how, or if, Varrick and friends can extracate themselves from this mess. Matthau is fantastic as a classic anti-hero. I never thought of Walter Matthau as a guy's leading man, but his everyman quality really brings the tension home. Joe Don Baker, as the mob hitman sent to find him, does the acting of his career. Creepy and relentless he provides the pathos for Charley Varrick.

Director Don Siegel moves this film along crisply. That is a trait that I appreciate in directors. He provides an excellent pace and quite the finish. Howard Rodman's script from the John Reese novel is tight. Again, just the way I like it. I root for the "bad guys" all the while wondering how on earth they can make it. That is the essence of an anti-hero movie. Charley Varrick fits the bill.

Important Warning: The DVD of this film is a "cropped version". You only get about 70% of the picture. The company that released it cut off the sides to make it fit a tv screen. They should have letterboxed it, but did not.

Filmed in 1973, directed by Don Siegel, written by Howard Rodman, starring Walter Matthau, Joe Don Baker, John Vernon and Felicia Farr.

Monday, December 21, 2009


This is one of the most intense and terrifying films ever made. You can keep your chainsaws, hockey masks and clown faces. Deliverance will curdle your blood. Not with gore or fake blood, but with intense fear. "He's got a real pretty mouth" will never be spoken again without millions of people cringing. I get a sinking feeling in my stomach just thinking about this film.

Deliverance tells the story of four businessmen who decide to raft down an Appalachian river before it is dammed. After the construction of the dam is finished there will be no more rapids. But, for now, the river is a force of nature. Along the way they meet some of the local mountain people. There is a clash of cultures that is amazing. In just a few hundred miles within America the differences between the city businessmen and the mountain people is astonishing. Director John Boorman's decision to hire almost all locals for the secondary parts adds to the realism. Some incredibly dangerous river rapids are feared by the men from the city. But they should fear two of the locals they will meet much more. For those who have yet to see Deliverance I will not spoil the shock, but be prepared for a major plot-twist.

Burt Reynolds, Ned Beatty, Ronny Cox and Jon Voight portray the canoers. Each play their persona very well. But it is the menacing villains, played by Bill McKinney and Herbert "Cowboy" Coward, who fill me with fear. They are two of the finest movie bad guys ever! I still get nervous, apprehensive and a little disgusted when they appear on screen. Director Boorman and screenwriter James Dickey, who adapted the screenplay from his novel, do a fantastic job. They allow the beautiful and powerful wilderness to be a major part of the movie. The mountains, countryside and especially the river should be given acting credits. Nature is a major player in this movie.

Cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond deserves rave reviews. It is not easy to capture the raw energy and excitement of roaring rapids while still keeping the film personal. His work on Deliverance is top-notch. He also deserves kudos for 'The Deer Hunter', 'Close Encounters' and 'Heaven's Gate'.

Many people exit Deliverance humming the Dueling Banjos music. The scene with Ronny Cox and Billy Redden "dueling" is a classic. The single went on to be a big seller and the footage of the "bluegrass battle" is a popular item on youtube.

Filmed in 1972, Directed by John Boorman, written by James Dickey, starring Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox, Jon Voight and Ned Beatty.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


I grew up watching 'B' movies on tv. The sci-fi and monster films of the 50s were regular guests on the 13" black and white television in my room. 'War of the Worlds', 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', 'The Thing' and 'The Day the Earth Stood Still'(see my review) are still preferred viewing at my house. Tremors is a 1990 version of a 50s monster movie.

Excellently cast Kevin Bacon (Valentine) and Fred Ward (Earl) play two independent "businessmen". They are basically day laborers looking to make a dollar any way they can. Preferably the easy way. They live in the middle of the desert in a very small town. Very small. One day, while on the prowl for a quick buck, they discover a rancher who has died a grizzly death. This leads them on the run from giant worms that devour everything in their path. Just like every 'B' movie ever made, the plot is simple and just a device to introduce the monster. The argument over what to call the monster is fantastic.

In an inspired casting move, Michael Gross, who played the Dad on 'Family Ties', and singer Reba McEntire are cast as gun-toting, right-wing survivalists. They provide a great deal of ammunition. For the story they provide the ammunition used to hunt the monsters. For the viewer the casting of Gross is a joke in-itself. His work on 'Family Ties' as a very liberal PBS employee is wonderfully contrasted by his survivalist in Tremors. Watching them discuss which huge gun and explosives to use is priceless.

Tremors features a limited amount of actual violence. Just great characters and a monster that is out to get them. Great fun can be had by all!

Filmed in 1990, directed by Ron Underwood, written by S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock, starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire and Finn Carter.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Parallax View

Wow! I just watched this film for the first time. I found myself amazed and let the credits roll-by without a glance. It took me a few minutes to get my brain around the ideas and cinematography of The Parallax View. It is not what I expected in any way, shape or form. Surprising, a little disturbing and quite unique. I usually enjoy movies when they can surprise me and this one sure did.

Warren Beatty plays a minor reporter in 1970s Seattle. He is one of a group of 18 people who witness the assassination of a U.S. Senator. 3 years later another of the witnesses searches him out. She is petrified because the witnesses are being killed-off. She fears for her life. Beatty thinks she is paranoid and ignores her information. Until she turns up dead. He then takes off on a search for the truth behind the assassination. This leads him to the Parallax Corporation. He believes they orchestrated the killing and subsequent cover-up. He decides to infiltrate Parallax and expose their ways.

The script, written by David Giler and Lorenzo Semple, Jr., is complex. But it is the directing of Alan J. Pakula and the cinematography/photography of Gordon Willis that define this film. For the first 45 minutes or so I was frustrated with the directing and editing. They did not allow me to comprehend a situation before jumping to another part of the story. I then realized that is the plan. Pakula and Willis use the lighting, editing and photography to keep the viewer slightly off-balance. Just like the reporter Joe Frady (Beatty). This works to great effect as the story develops. I was unsure what was happening and, more importantly, what would happen. These techniques make the movie so much more than the usual conspiracy film. Don't miss it!

Filmed in 1974, directed by Alan J. Pakula, written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr. and David Giler, starring Warren Beatty, Hume Cronyn, Paula Prentis and William Daniels.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Treasure of the Sierra Madre

"Money is the root of all evil". Or the saying goes. But this film illustrates how money reveals our true nature. It does not corrupt, money just provides corrupt people with opportunities. Just like alcohol, money is a truth serum. It reveals the darkest depths of your being.

Gold is the Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt play two down-on-their-luck Americans looking for opportunity in rural, mountainous Mexico. They are great buddies looking for work. Any work to keep food in their stomachs and beer in their bellies. After being cheated out of their pay they find solace in a flophouse. There they meet Walter Huston. In his Oscar-winning performance, Huston portrays Howard, the grizzled old prospector. After forcefully collecting their owed wages Dobbs (Bogart) and Curtain (Holt) decide to team up with the prospector and find their fortune.

The first half of the film is an adventure film as the 3 leads search for gold. The second half is a drama. The effect of wealth and gold upon our characters is the true genius of Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Each of the three must deal with the effects of greed, suspicions, mistrust and paranoia. All these emotions rise in our trio of prospectors as they find gold. Can their partnership and friendship survive this new found wealth? Can they trust each other? How do their relationships change? The gold reveals their true personalities. How would you deal with a windfall? Would you be any different than you are today?

Written and directed by John Huston. He received academy awards for both of these efforts. They are well-deserved. Treasure lost the Best Picture Oscar to 'Hamlet'. I challenge you to find anyone who would rather watch Olivier overact in 'Hamlet' than relish Bogart and company in Treasure of the Sierra Madre. I doubt any such person exists. Except for, maybe, Olivier's Mom.

This is an adventure film with a challenging message. It is both an exciting movie to watch and a movie that can cause some introspection. Enjoy both activities!

Note: Headline followers may want to pay close attention to the young boy selling lottery tickets. That is a very young Robert Blake.

Filmed in 1948, written and directed by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, Walter Huston and Bruce Bennett.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Escape from the Planet of the Apes

This is the third of the five original 'Planet of the Apes' movies. While the first, 'Planet of the Apes' starring Charlton Heston, is still the best, I think this film should receive more credit. This film stars Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter. They reprise their roles as the scientist couple who aid Heston in the first 'Apes' movie. In Escape they have arrived in present day Earth (1971) and they attempt to conceal the fact that they are quite intelligent. Once humanity discovers their talents the forces of power decide they are a threat and must be eliminated. If you have seen the first films in the series you will especially appreciate the opening sequence when everyone is expecting Charlton Heston to emerge from his space craft. When it turns out to be apes, not people, things heat up!

As I have said in other posts, science fiction films can talk about subjects that other films are afraid to touch. Escape from the Planet of the Apes was made in 1971. It sends a powerful message about prejudice and stereotypes in regards to race. The danger of racism, and to a lesser extent sexism, is the true message of the film. Apes who can talk and fly spacecraft are just a vehicle for the discussion. McDowall and Hunter do their usual fine jobs as Cornelius and Zira. It must be difficult to work covered in ape makeup. Eric Braeden (see my blog for 'Colossus:The Forbin Project') plays the bad guy. He is most concerned about the effect that intelligent, talking chimps could have on society.

The movie also focuses some on our society's attention/worship of celebrity. Once people understand that Cornelius and Zira can speak they become worldwide celebrities. Limos, tv appearance and perks abound as they conduct a whirlwind tour. But the powers in place know that their status at the top of the pyramid will be effected by the Apes. Therefore, they must be destroyed.

Racism, sexism and celebrity worship are all covered in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Plus you get the fun ride of talking apes, Ricardo Montalban as a circus owner, cheesy special effects, conspiracy theory and some "fish out of water" humor. What more could one want in a cheap, sci-fi flick!

Filmed in 1971, directed by Don Taylor, written by Paul Dehn, starring Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Eric Braeden and Ricardo Montalban.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Americanization of Emily

One of my 20 favorite films of all-time. James Garner plays a self-proclaimed "coward" who takes excellent care of a U.S. Admiral in 1944 London. Julie Andrews plays his driver who has been widowed by the war. Their cynical romance is the centerpiece of the story. Garner then becomes the focus of his Admiral's plan to make a movie about the "unknown sailor". The first person to die during the D-Day invasion is to be a sailor and Garner, the coward, is to film the event. Needless to say he is unhappy about this turn of events.

Paddy Chayefsky writes a biting script. While a few moments sound just a little preachy, his anti-war message comes through with passion. The comedy portions of this dramatic comedy are dark and filled with sarcasm. Just how I like it! The dramatic portions are a loud statement on the devastation of war.

Disclaimer: I must admit to a "man-crush" on James Garner. From TV's Maverick, to the Great Escape and on to Murphy's Romance I find him to be one of the most compelling actors. Julie Andrews does a top-notch job as the priggish motor pool driver. Their love story is intriguing while their role change ending is must-see. James Coburn does a superb job in a supporting role as a naval officer as does Melvyn Douglas as the Admiral.

Director Arthur Hiller shows a light hand in dealing with Chayefsky's script. It takes a lot of courage to allow the story to unfold and Hiller shows that courage. A wonderful film that is on almost every greatest films lists that you can find. Add this to the top of your netflix queue or buy it today!

Filmed in 1964, Directed by Arthur Hiller, Written by Paddy Chayefsky, Starring James Garner, Julie Andrews, James Coburn, Melvyn Douglas and Keenan Wynn.

Friday, December 11, 2009


I found I had a great deal of difficulty getting to sleep after watching Gallipoli. Director Peter Weir did such a magnificent job of bringing me into the story of young men caught up in a national passion for war that I found myself restless, almost upset. The characters in Gallipoli come to find that a national fervor does not always look-out for the interests of the participants. Many men and women have suffered in the name of national pride.

Mel Gibson, in one of his earliest roles, and Mark Lee portray two young men in Australia in 1915. Lee plays Archy, an underage volunteer desperate to fight for his country. Gibson plays Dunne, a man from the city who wants to avoid the conflict. Both are world-class sprinters who meet on the race track. They build a friendship as Archy tries to enlist even though he is too young. Archy eventually convinces Dunne to enlist with him. Dunne forges a new birth certificate and they attempt to join up. The "Light Horse", Australia's cavalry, only want Archy and the two are separated. Archy goes off to Egypt to train to fight in Turkey. Dunne joins the infantry and the two are reunited in Egypt. They join forces and are sent to the Gallipoli Peninsula to fight the Turks.

Director Weir really makes two films. The first is a sweet and endearing coming of age, buddy picture. The camaraderie between Archy and Dunne develops and I feel almost like one of the gang. Weir's second film is about the horror that is war. In this case World War One. The true story of Gallipoli is considered to be one of the great tragedies in Australian history. Thousands of young Australian men met their death 5,000 miles from home to almost no result. Director Weir brings home the day of greatest tragedy in gut-wrenching fashion.

Film teachers and critics make much of the final, freeze-frame shot of Gallipoli. It is quite a powerful ending. But I find that the picture of abject frustration and horror on the face of Gibson to be the film's finest moment. His look brings home the Gallipoli tragedy in a very personal way.

Filmed in 1981, directed by Peter Weir, written by David Williamson, starring Mel Gibson, Mark Lee, Bill Kerr and Harold Hopkins.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Goodbye Girl

Marsha Mason has been dumped by yet another man. She and her daughter are left on their own in a tight, two-bedroom New York apartment. Unbeknown to her, her ex has sublet the apartment to someone else. She becomes quite surprised, and panicked, when the new renter attempts to remove them from their home. Richard Dreyfuss, in his academy award-winning role, portrays that new renter. The film follows the story of the struggling actor, Dreyfuss, and the back in the business dancer, Mason, as they attempt to rebuild their lives and careers while sharing this apartment.

This is one of the great romantic comedies. Unlike most of the genre, these characters are real and substantial. Neil Simon writes dialogue of which most other playwrights can only dream. Quick one-liners are intermixed with well-developed people and stories. As I watch The Goodbye Girl I find myself beginning to side with either Paula (Mason) or Elliott (Dreyfuss). But soon I will be working my way to the other side. And back again. Quinn Cummings plays the 10 year old daughter Lucy. It is nice to see a child that doesn't scream at her parents and steal a car. She is just a kid in a difficult situation.

Director Herbert Ross allows the script to tell the story. Done with a minimal amount of editing, no special effects and few sets. Just good acting and great writing. The scene in which Elliott (Dreyfuss) performs a flaming, gay version of Richard III is worth the price of admission on its own.

We, and Hollywood, need more movies like The Goodbye Girl. This movie is warm, tender and quite funny. Terrific.

One side note. 1977 was quite a year for Richard Dreyfuss. Not only did he win the Best Actor Oscar for The Goodbye Girl, he had a bigger box office hit with 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'.

Filmed in 1977, directed by Herbert Ross, written by Neil Simon, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Marsha Mason and Quinn Cummings.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Harlan County U.S.A.

After viewing the fictional coal miners in 'How Green was my Valley' I decided to check out the real thing. This film is one of the most gut-wrenching and powerful documentaries I have seen. Harlan County U.S.A. is the academy award winner for Best Documentary that chronicles the 3 year struggle for union representation for coal miners in Harlan County, Kentucky. Their battle took place in the early 70's and became a national event. The filmmakers were granted full access to the union organizers in chronicling their efforts. They observed meetings in halls, rallies in churches and they visited homes throughout the region. Filmmakers also labored to record and preserve the rich history of song that miners and organizers wrote and sung about their conditions. There is a CD that contains much of this folk music history.

This film has amazing footage of the desperate conditions in which many of these miners and their families lived. It is stupefying that these conditions existed in the U.S., not in some undeveloped country. The mine provided housing to workers that had no electricity, heat or running water. There is fantastic footage of the President of the mine company complaining that the strike has interfered with the company's plans to upgrade the housing. As the dispute grew longer the tactics became more violent. Beatings, intimidation and shootings became frequent. A mine accident that kills 78 people galvanizes the press and the workers in their fight for better pay and working conditions.

The people who labored for years to make this documentary deserve all the credit anyone can possibly earn. Faced with physical and psychological intimidation themselves, they persevered in their fight to show the world what was happening.

Harlan County U.S.A. is unnerving, powerful, intimidating, depressing and uplifting all in one experience. Don't miss it.

Filmed in 1972-1976, directed by Barbara Kopple, written and starring the people of Harlan County, Kentucky.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tora, Tora, Tora

Because today is December 7th, this post is in tribute to all those who sacrificed so much in 1941. Thanks.

An intense look at the buildup and attack at Pearl Harbor told from both the U.S. and Japan perspectives. Tora! Tora! Tora! is the best film showing the intensity, hardship and action of World War Two. The American story was performed and directed by an American crew, while the Japanese side of the story was done by a Japanese crew. This includes the actors speaking in Japanese. This provides an authentic feel that is missing from many war films.

The sequence that dramatizes the actual attack upon Pearl Harbor is technically awe-inspiring. It is quite dramatic and intense. I am amazed that, even though I know the history, how nervously I view this film. Telling both sides of the story makes this film much more intriguing than the over-the-top treatment given by Michael Bay in his Pearl Harbor.

A very deep cast includes veteran actors Martin Balsam, E.G. Marshall, Soh Yamamura, Eijiro Tono, Jason Robards, James Whitmore and Tatsuya Mihashi. They performed well, but are slightly overshadowed by the technically amazing production values. With an excellent script written, in English, by Larry Forester and, in Japanese, by Hideo Oguni and Ryuzo Kikushima this is the film to see about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the best film about World War Two.

Filmed in 1970, Directed by Richard Fleischer, Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasuka, starring Martin Balsam, Soh Yamamura, Joseph Cotton, Tatsuya Mihashi, E.G. Marshall, Takahiro Tamura, James Whitmore, Eijiro Tono and James Whitmore.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

How Green Was My Valley

'Citizen Kane' is considered by many to be the finest film ever made. This is the film that beat 'Kane' for the Academy Award for Best Picture! It won 4 other Oscars including Best Director for John Ford. How Green was my Valley is the touching story of the Morgans, a Welsh family in a coal mining town. Set in the heart of the industrial revolution, the Morgans must battle all kinds of adversity and hardships. Donald Crisp plays Mr. Morgan, the head of the family. He was awarded the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for this film. Sara Allgood does an excellent job portraying his wife.

The film tells their story from the perspective of the youngest child, Huw Morgan. Huw is played by Roddy McDowall. He may be best known today for the 'Planet of the Apes' series, but he had a wonderful career that was kicked off in fine fashion with this masterpiece. The Morgans face the dangers of being a coal mining family. Accidents at the mine along with union-organizing activities take their toll. Also, an accident injures Mrs. Morgan and young Huw. But through all this the Morgans persevere. There is love and joy in this large family. And singing. Lots and lots of singing.

Director John Ford uses all his skills to craft this monumental movie. He gets terrific performances out of Crisp, Allgood and McDowall as well as from Maureen O'Hara and Walter Pidgeon. The script is very strong. We learn so much about family, commitment and personal strength that applies to all families. As the Morgan children grow they must move to make their place in the world. Will the coal mining tradition continue or will they move on? Daughter Angharad (O'Hara) must choose between her love for the village reverend and the son of the mine owner. Huw faces the decision of an education or staying with the family and working in the mine. While the details may be different, today's families face similar choices.

How Green was my Valley also won academy awards for art direction and cinematography. Both are well-deserved. This film is visually rich, especially for a film in black-and-white. The town, coal mine, the village street and the Morgan's home become characters in the story. The valley is transformed from a beautiful, rich homeland to a dirty wasteland over the life of Huw. The impact of this transformation due to industrial use is one our society and planet face today.

This is a magnificent film. Move it to the top of your Netflix queue today.

Filmed in 1941, directed by John Ford, written by Philip Dunne, based on the novel by Richard Llewellyn, starring Donald Crisp, Sara Allgood, Walter Pidgeon, Roddy McDowall and Maureen O'Hara.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Rescue Dawn

Intense! This film follows the story of Vietnam War prisoner Dieter Dengler. He is a German-born, U.S. pilot that is shot down during his first mission in Vietnam. He was actually flying over Laos when he crashed in 1965. Rescue Dawn tells of his capture, imprisonment and escape from the Viet Cong. He was one of the few Americans to escape from the Viet Cong and his ordeal is both amazing and petrifying. I found the story, and the film, to be compelling.

Christian Bale plays Dengler. He does an excellent job portraying the anguish and desperation that plagues POWs. Dengler refuses to succumb to the depression that many prisoners feel, but instead focuses upon escape. Steve Zahn and Jeremy Davies play fellow American prisoners in the remote jungle camp where Dengler is finally placed. All 3 actors do a very credible job with difficult roles. Because they are constantly being watched, the characters have to show little emotion. Bale, Zahn and Davies communicate all the difficulties of their imprisonment, starvation and torture without overacting. They even appear to have lost a lot of weight in an effort to add to realism.

Rescue Dawn was directed and scripted by Werner Herzog. Earlier Herzog had done a short film about Dengler. He decided this story deserved the full treatment. He does a fantastic job conveying the intensity and desperation without becoming morose or maudlin. Everything is filmed in the jungle. The rich colors offset the dreary prison camp with powerful results. The score, which is unique, is kept to a minimum. Herzog instead allows the sounds of the camp and the jungle to aid the storytelling.

Christian Bale deserves kudos for his job. He is in every scene and does a great job. Don't shy away from Rescue Dawn because of other things he may have done. This film deserves your attention.

Filmed in 2006, directed and written by Werner Herzog, starring Christian Bale, Jeremy Davies and Steve Zahn.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The Quiet Earth

The Quiet Earth is an independent film made in New Zealand. Small budget, large effect. I guarantee that after viewing this film you will have questions. It is odd, thought provoking, unique and different. Those are traits that I often enjoy in a film. This is NOT your typical Hollywood movie nor does it have a Hollywood ending. In fact, after you watch the movie, place a comment and let me know what you think. I have talked to other viewers and everyone has a different opinion. I would love to know yours.

With a cast of only 3, director Geoff Murphy uses image, lighting and mood to tell much of the story. Bruno Lawrence plays Zac Hobson. In the opening scene Zac awakens to find that every living thing on Earth has disappeared. All the people, animals and insects are gone. What would you do in a situation like that? Zac goes through many stages before deciding to find out what happened. We come to find that he worked for a secret research facility that was doing work on an energy grid that surrounds the Earth. Did he cause this to happen? And can it be reversed?

Besides doing research he is longing for companionship. Anyone with whom he can share his new life and new world. Are there others who survived? He eventually meets Joanne (Alison Routlidge). They work together to search for others while Zac secretly works on a possible reversal.

The script, written by Bill Baer, Bruno Lawrence and Sam Pillsbury, raises many more questions than it answers. The Quiet Earth is not perfect. The writers obviously had trouble with the ending. Some find it mystical, some frustrating, others incomprehensible. If you are looking for a film that wraps everything up neatly you should avoid The Quiet Earth. If, however, you want to be challenged this may be for you!

Filmed in 1985, directed by Geoff Murphy, written by Bill Baer, Bruno Lawrence and Sam Pillsbury, starring Bruno Lawrence and Alison Routlidge. Based on the novel by Craig Harrison. By the way, if you ever see the book in a thrift store, pick it up and give it to me. It is quite expensive!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mister Roberts

This is a film for everyone who likes movies. Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon and William Powell. Great Cast! Directed by John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy. Fantastic Directors! Based upon the hit Broadway play written by Joshua Logan and Thomas Heggen. Great Script! All that talent shows up on the screen each time I watch Mister Roberts. It is funny and sad all during the same movie. Many films are called "Dramedy" because they want you to believe that the film is both a comedy and a drama. This is one of the few films that honestly deserves the title. You will be laughing during many scenes and then your heartstrings will be pulled in others.

Mister Roberts is played by Henry Fonda. He is a cargo officer on a supply ship during World War Two. The Captain of the ship, portrayed by James Cagney, is a tyrant who rides the men to their breaking point. None of the men have been off the ship in 14 months. Fonda acts as a buffer between the men and the Captain. Jack Lemmon, in one of his earliest big parts, plays Ensign Pulver. Pulver means well but is quite afraid of the Captain. He has many big plans for upsetting the status on board, but he never seems to follow through. Lemmon won the best supporting actor academy award for this film. William Powell portrays the ship's Doctor and is Fonda's lone confidant.

The film follows the battle between Fonda and Cagney, but also shows the boredom and tedium that many people experienced behind the lines in the War. They all served important roles in the fight, but many felt that they had been "left behind". Mister Roberts desperately wants to "get into the war". We recognize the men and women who fight on the front, but often forget all those behind the scenes that carry on as well.

Mister Roberts is highly entertaining. Both funny and dramatic, it will entertain you from start to finish.

Filmed in 1955, directed by John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy, written by Frank Nugent and Joshua Logan, starring Henry Fonda, James Cagney, Jack Lemmon and William Powell.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Day the Earth Stood Still

Important Note: These comments refer to the classic 1951 original and not the horrible Keanu Reeves remake.

One of the great things about science fiction films is that they can discuss social issues without protest. Because they are set in the future or feature robots or aliens you can discuss racism, politics, sexism or other social issues and not rile up the politically correct forces. The Day the Earth Stood Still was released in 1951. Americans were extremely worried about the Russians and the possibility of nuclear war. This movie uses the story of an alien and his robot visiting Earth as a vehicle to talk about some of the insanity of mutually assured destruction. The special effects are dated, but the message and dialogue are still relevant. Will we destroy ourselves or can we agree to survive and thrive?

Director Robert Wise does a fine job with a simple story. Michael Rennie plays an alien visitor who wants to speak to Earth's leaders. Of course the U.S. Government is quite worried about a technically-superior dude in a spaceship that just lands on the mall in Washington. The film follows Mr. Carpenter (Rennie) as he learns about Earth and its people while on the run from the military. Patricia Neal plays a woman who befriends him and tries to aid him in his journey. This movie also features Gort, one of the classic film robots. He was a model for movie robots for the next 50 years.

The Edmund H. North script is simple and effective. The score is one of the first electronic movie scores. Bernard Herrmann uses electronic instruments to create the model for future science fiction film scores. This score is innovative and haunting. Herrmann was an amazing composer and trendsetter in film music.

Spoiler Alert: Don't read the following paragraph if you have not seen the film. I believe that this film also is a retelling of the Christ story. His name is Mr. Carpenter. We know little of his childhood. He just appears as an adult. He tells a message of peace and love, but brings great power and possible vengeance. He dies and is resurrected. He leaves for a much better place. To me, that is the Christ story. Again, science fiction can touch issues that straight-forward film making can not.

Klaatu barada nikto!

Filmed in 1951, directed by Robert Wise, written by Edmund H. North, starring Michael Rennie, Patricia Neal, Hugh Marlowe and Billy Gray.