Sunday, February 28, 2010

Le Dernier Combat (The Last Battle)

This is one of the more original films I have ever seen. And since I have seen almost 6,000 movies that covers a lot of ground. Directed by a fledgling Luc Besson, best known for 'The Fifth Element', Le Dernier Combat is almost without dialogue. I can remember less than 100 words spoken for the entire film. Since this film is French it makes the issue of sub-titles vs. dubbing a moot point. However, without dialogue does not mean without story or action. This film is visionary and unique.

Le Dernier Combat tells the story of 'The Man', played by Pierre Jolivet, in his search. What is he searching for and what will he do when he finds it? We don't know. (None of the characters in the film have names. I guess without dialogue how can we learn their name?) Jolivet, who co-wrote the script with Besson, is riveting as 'The Man'. The film is set in an Earth that has been almost destroyed. While we are not exactly sure by what we do know that everything is in ruins. This creates some very interesting visual opportunities for writer/director Besson. The skyscrapers covered in sand and the fish that rain from the sky are just two examples from a film that helped build Besson's reputation for visual mastery. Along the way The Man meets others attempting to survive the destruction. Jean Reno, one of the world's finest actors, is fabulous as 'The Brute'. And veteran actor Fritz Wepper portrays 'The Captain'. But it is Jolivet, who co-wrote the script with Besson, who captures and keeps our attention.

How Jolivet faces the new world and all its difficulties is the plot of Le Dernier Combat. It seems that everyone on Earth is out to destroy everyone else still alive. But how 'The Man' attempts to recover his humanity is what makes this movie worth watching. There is nothing but the will to survive. Can 'The Man' stop fighting long enough to regain the person he was? Can anyone, in the face of apparently insurmountable odds, retain their humanity? Or are we all just animals, ruled by base emotions and instincts, that pretend something more?

This film is visually intriguing and filled with emotion and drama. The cinematography alone makes it worth seeing. The acting and directing have turned Le Dernier Combat into a bit of a cult classic. The only criticism I can find is that Besson borrowed some of the feel and image of 'Mad Max'. While I believe that this is accurate that does not make Le Dernier Combat unoriginal. It is anything but.

Filmed in 1983, directed by Luc Besson, written by Besson and Pierre Jolivet, starring Pierre Jolivet, Jean Reno, Fritz Wepper and Jean Bouise. The soundtrack was written by Eric Serra. He has become Besson's favorite composer and has worked on many movies. 'Goldeneye', 'Nikita' and 'Subway', in addition to this film, are just a few examples.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


This is an updated rerun of my very first post. Just in case you missed it!

Just finished a seldom seen movie from the 60's, John Frankenheimer's Seconds. Starring Rock Hudson, this is like a feature-length episode of the Twilight Zone. If you can move past the relatively slow opening pace the film provides some intriguing twists as well as lots of unique camera work and music.

A banker (played by veteran character actor John Randolph) gets the opportunity to transform his life into "what every man wants:complete freedom!" He takes this chance and becomes a swinging bachelor (played by Rock Hudson). The twists are sure to make Rod Serling's heart proud. Make sure you stay through the finish!

Rock Hudson's performance is unlike anything else I have seen. This film may not be up with Frankenheimer's masterpiece The Manchurian Candidate, but it is well worth seeing. Frankenheimer digs deep into his bag of tricks. By using black and white to create stark shadows he creates a surreal atmosphere. He also uses unique camera angles, wide-angle lens' and odd staging to keep the viewer off balance.

Filmed in 1966, Directed by John Frankenheimer, written by Lewis John Carlino, starring Rock Hudson, John Randolph, Salome Jens and Will Geer. The screenplay is based upon the novel by David Ely.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Move Over Darling

I know, I know. What's this? you say. A sappy Doris Day movie? Has Steve the movie guy gone soft? No, I still love 'Apocalypse Now' and think that Kirk Douglas as 'Spartacus' kicks butt. However, there is a place in my heart for silly romantic comedies. This one is a remake of the classic Cary Grant and Irene Dunne film 'My Favorite Wife'. The original is fun, but this is one instance where I find a remake more satisfying than the original.

Doris Day stars as a woman who has been stranded on a deserted island for five years. Her husband, played by the great James Garner (earlier blogs for 'The Americanization of Emily' and 'Murphy's Romance'), has her declared legally dead. Doris Day is rescued and returns home on the day of his wedding. This leads to a complex storyline as each of the parties attempts to get their own way. Polly Bergen is fantastic as Garner's new bride while Chuck Connors portrays 'Adam'. Adam was the only other person on the island with Doris Day for those five lonely years. How did Doris Day and Chuck Connors spend 5 years on an island alone? What did they do all day? And can Garner extricate himself from his new bride to return to his first love? As we know all along, Garner and Day still love each other and belong together, but obstacles abound.

As I have admitted previously, I have a "man-crush" on James Garner. He is able to carry a movie no matter the plot or script. Great smile, charisma to spare and an ability to draw in the viewers. He makes any movie worth seeing. However, in Move Over Darling there is more than just Garner. Day plays her usual chaste self with aplomb. The supporting cast here is strong. Along with Bergen and Connors, the always wonderful Thelma Ritter plays Garner's Mom while Don Knotts is corralled into being a stand-in for 'Adam' that Doris Day hires to help with Garner's jealousy.

This remake was originally intended to star Dean Martin and Marilyn Monroe. I believe that Ms. Monroe is under appreciated for her comic talents, but the casting of Day and Garner makes this movie fun fun fun. Next time you're in the mood for a flashback to the "chaste" 60s pick up this film! I guess, at least sometimes, I am just an old softy.

Filmed in 1963, directed by Michael Gordon, written by Hal Kanter and Jack Sher, starring James Garner, Doris Day, Thelma Ritter, Chuck Connors and Don Knotts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It Happened One Night

This is the romantic comedy by which all others are measured. Winner of all 5 major Academy Awards. A huge hit at the box office. Turned its leading actors from performers to "Movie Stars". Number 35 on the AFI list of all-time films. There is even a long-standing story about clothing sales being dramatically affected by this film. For certain It Happened One Night is sweet, charming, funny and entertaining.

Clark Gable plays a veteran reporter that has quit/lost his job. Claudette Colbert portrays an heiress on the run from her father in an effort to return to her newlywed husband. Her super-rich father has hired everyone and everything in an effort to find her. Gable, sensing a front-page story, escorts her through the gauntlet of pursuers to get her back to hubby. Of course, along the way each discovers they prefer the company of the other. But will these lovers overcome their preconceived notions and admit to their attraction? And can they surpass the obstacles along the way?

The plot is a simple, tried and true Hollywood storyline. Keep the two stars from getting together until the final reel. But it became a standard because of this film. It Happened One Night was one of the biggest box-office films of its time. But the obstacles to making this now timeless classic were daunting. Clark Gable, at first, refused to make this film. He felt it was a little film from a little studio. He was a contract actor at MGM, one of the biggest studios in Hollywood. To punish him for other issues, they forced Gable to work for Columbia and make this movie. He was not happy. Claudette Colbert was also not interested in this film. Director Frank Capra had to double her usual salary and promise her she could finish in a few weeks just to get her to show up. After finishing she told her friends that she had "just finished the worst movie of my career". I would bet, that after the wild popularity of this movie, they later felt much different.

The two actors are terrific. Both Gable and Colbert are charming and funny, but they are also individuals. Now, these parts are almost cliches, but in the hands of masters they are real. Director Capra, one of America's greatest, develops each character enough that they feel authentic. The Robert Riskin screenplay gives each actor enough strength and humor for the viewer to be deeply committed to what happens. Too often this kind of romantic/screwball comedy moves to ridiculous. Not here. From the bus ride, to the characters along the road, to the "walls of Jericho" this film strikes a chord with the audience.

One more detail. Friz Freleng was the main creator of Bugs Bunny. As you may know, I love Bugs Bunny. Bugs is the perfect thumb-your-nose at authority character that I wish I was. All fun and no respect is my motto. Freleng, in his autobiography, said that he modeled Bugs Bunny after Clark Gable in this movie. He specifically mentions how Gable eats carrots and speaks quickly in It Happened One Night as one of his inspirations. He also mentions how the personality of the character 'Shapely' is a prime inspiration as well. Any film that is a basis for Bugs Bunny is all-right by me!

Don't let what has become an overused plot deter you. This film is warm and funny. Enjoy it!

Filmed in 1934, directed by Frank Capra, written by Robert Riskin, starring Clark Gable, Claudette Colbert, Walter Connolly and Roscoe Karns. In reference to the clothing sales, the story is that when Clark Gable takes off his shirt and is not wearing any undershirt men throughout America decided to not wear undershirts as well. I have never seen any actual data to back this up, but the story has been retold thousands of times.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Man Who Would be King

This is an adventure movie as they were meant to be experienced. Sweeping in scale, featuring megastars Sean Connery and Michael Caine, directed by all-time great John Huston and filmed across Asia. Gods, war, friendship, unique cultures, Kafiristan, a quest for a Crown, Alexander the Great, and tons of adventure. What more could any film buff want?

Based on the Kipling short story, this adventure finds two British soldiers (Connery and Caine) in search of riches. Their travels bring them to Kafiristan. They form their own army and proceed to conquer the natives. After a near-death experience the Kafiris believe Connery to be a God. Our two heroes decide that being a God could be better than being Kings. But heavy is the head that wears the crown. Ego and greed separates these pals and brings darkness and devastation upon them.

The wonderful script by director Huston and Gladys Hill borrows loosely from Rudyard Kipling. Christopher Plummer does a terrific job portraying Mr. Kipling who has become a character within this film. Both Connery and Caine are fantastic and the scenery, pomp and ceremony are wonderful. The Man Who Would be King is a true adventure film for you to enjoy.

Filmed in 1975, directed by John Huston, written by John Huston and Gladys Hill, starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer.

Notes: Karroom Ben Bouih, the actor that portrayed High Priest Kafu-Selim, was 103 years old at the time of filming. Upon seeing himself on the big screen he declared now I shall live on forever. Connery and Caine later sued the film's production company, Allied Artists, for their share of the profits. They reportedly received $250,000 each.

Friday, February 19, 2010

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 valuable!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others)

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that has incongruous parts. Like "jumbo shrimp" or "pretty ugly". I am about to use an oxymoron that I never thought would become a part of my vocabulary. This film is a Good German Movie. I have used many adjectives to describe German cinema. Boring, slow, dull, long, obtuse and odd are the first ones to come to mind. But I can not remember the last time I uttered the phrase Good German Movie. But this film deserves all the kudos that I can offer. While I must admit that the pacing is a little slow in the opening the film is intelligent, well-written and interesting. I wanted to know what happens. That is the highest praise that anyone can say about a movie.

This film is set in 1984 in the Communist nation of East Germany (GDR). Ulrich Muhe plays Wiesler, an employee of the domestic spying agency Stasi. He has been instructed to gather damning information about an author (Sebastian Koch) and an actress (Martina Gedick). He is confident that he will find out all their secrets. But, as his spying continues, he finds himself becoming quite interested in The Lives of Others. He begins to empathize with their plight as he listens to topics of conversation and actions that are forbidden to him. He is faced with difficult decisions in his role as spy. As was all too common in East Germany, nothing good can come from such a situation.

I am not the only one who enjoyed The Lives of Others. The film received the Academy Award for the 2007 Best Foreign Language Film and received the most nominations in German Film Award history. It also won the Cesar (France) Best Foreign Film award, the Silver Condor from Argentina, the Grand Prize in Brazil, the Best Film at the European Film Awards and about 50 other major prizes from around the Globe. Das Leben der Anderen is from writer/director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. While his name is quite a mouthful (as almost all words in German seem to be) the film is quite compact in its use of language. The script has little superfluous language and relies upon the viewers involvement in the story to carry the film forward. I found myself wondering what was going to happen and how this situation could be concluded without intense suffering and depression. I will not "spoil" anything by giving details, but the ending of this film is most intriguing.

Director von Donnersmarck does a wonderful job with lighting and costumes. The Stasi spy is shown primarily in greys while the artists have color and warmth in their lives. He also gives us a taste of what life under the communist thumb could mean. In one scene an innocent joke turns into a terror-filled moment for the comedian as his superiors overhear the joke. This must have been a constant pressure in the East for the almost 50 horrible years of oppression.

An interesting tidbit: All the listening props are actual Stasi equipment on loan from collectors and museums. The actual "bugs", recorders and other spying equipment were used to provide authenticity. The prop master himself spent two years in an East German Stasi prison. He insisted upon the authentic machines being used. Even the letter steamer, which can open up to 600 letters per hour, was the type used by the East German spy agency.

The film does have a "European" style and pace. If you need action at all times this is not the film for you. And the film is in German with subtitles. But I suggest to all my readers to see this movie. It provides a fascinating glimpse into a terrible situation. I am so glad to live in the U.S.A.

Filmed in 2006, written and directed by Florian Henckl von Donnersmarck, starring Ulrich Muhe, Sebastian Koch, Martina Gedeck and Ulrich Tukur.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


It is amazing how much suspense you can build with almost no dialogue or sets, just a car and a very menacing truck. This is the film that turned Steven Speilberg from a tv director into a wanted filmmaker. Dennis Weaver stars as a mild-mannered traveling salesman. Driving along a small, California two-lane highway he decides to pass a large truck. No big deal. Happens a million times a day, right? This time the trucker does not appreciate the action. The trucker decides to chase down Weaver. The ultimate in road rage!

Spielberg's storytelling mastery shows. In a stroke of genius we never see the truck driver. It is just a beat-up truck chasing down poor Dennis Weaver. Spielberg later uses this same technique, to great effect, with the shark in Jaws. Of course, with Jaws, the shark didn't work correctly, but why quibble? In Duel Spielberg tells the story with a minimum of effects, dialogue or explanation. Just a rogue truck chasing down our unsuspecting lead. Suspense builds until a satisfying final scene.

Duel was written by Richard Matheson. He is now best known as the author of 'I Am Legend'. He also wrote one of the scariest things I remember from my youth. 'The Trilogy of Terror'. Pick that one up too if you can find it!

Simple, straightforward and powerfully suspenseful. I find Duel to be quite satisfying as well!

Filmed for TV in 1971, directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Richard Matheson, starring Dennis Weaver, Eddie Firestone, and a very menacing truck.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sorcerer/Wages of Fear

This is a special day. Everyone gets two great movies for the price of one! Wages of Fear and Sorcerer. They are both the story of 4 men, on the run from their past, trying to escape their current desperation. They each decide to take a high-paying, life-threatening job driving nitroglycerin across an unnamed South American country. An oil company is paying huge bonuses to anyone who can get the nitro through to put out an oil well fire. Of course, nitroglycerin is very dangerous and will explode when bumped, jostled or warmed. Who will survive the trip and what perils will they face along the way?

Both of these movies are intense! The pressure builds as our drivers face numerous obstacles on the road to fortune and personal salvation. Jungles, mountains, rivers, guerrillas, each other and their own demons must be vanquished if they are to survive.

Wages of Fear was directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot. Filmed in 3 languages so the best prints are subtitled. Stay away from the dubbed version. Clouzot's film is raw, gritty and superb. Yves Montand is fabulous as Mario. We don't know how he got into his personal hell, but he wants out. Clouzot allows the suspense to build until you almost want to scream. At one point I even covered my eyes and looked between my fingers. It's safer that way.

Sorcerer is William Friedkin's remake. He was fresh off 'The French Connection' and 'The Exorcist' so the studios gave him anything he wanted. It shows. Roy Scheider does a nice job reprising the Yves Montand role. Friedkin goes a little overboard in the first half, but the remainder of the film is just as intense as Wages of Fear. The shot of the trucks driving over rope bridges in a pouring rain is worth the price of admission. The Tangerine Dream soundtrack is quite wild.

Intensity builds to a big finish in both films. Similar in their story, each is a unique experience. Wages of Fear is more respected by critics, but both films deserve a viewing.

Wages of Fear was filmed in 1952, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, written by Clouzot and Jerome Geronimi, starring Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Folco Lulli and Peter Van Eyck. It is about half sub-titled and half in English.

Sorcerer was filmed in 1977, directed by William Friedkin, written by Walon Green, starring Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, Francisco Rabal and Amidou. Both are based on the novel by Georges Arnaud.

Notes: Before Wages of Fear could be released in the U.S. government censors order some key scenes removed. They felt it was "anti-American". Wages of Fear was the first film to win the Golden Palm at Cannes and the Golden Bear in Berlin. In Sorcerer, the part of Donnelly the head of the gang that robs the church is played by Gerard Murphy. Murphy was an ex-convict who had committed a similar robbery just block from where the scene was shot. The magnificent sequence of the trucks on the bridge cost millions of dollars and took three months to complete.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

This post refers to the 1974 original not the Travolta & Denzel remake. The remake is worth seeing, but very different in tone.

I was filled with trepidation when I first learned of the remake of this film. The original was released when I was 13 and is one of my favorite films of the 70s. Because it is near my heart I was quite worried that the original classic would be tainted. But that is not possible. This movie is one of the treasures of the era. It is a caper flick extraordinaire. When Walter Matthau asks "how you going to get away with this" I still wonder. Even though I have seen the film half a dozen times. The idea of hijacking a subway car is preposterous on its face. The Peter Stone screenplay of the John Godey novel makes it all come together.

Everyman actor Walter Matthau plays Lt. Zeke Garber, the transit cop in charge of protecting the hostages on hijacked subway car Pelham 123. Robert Shaw portrays Mr. Blue. He is the mercenary who has hijacked the subway car. He is aided by three associates named Mr. Green, Mr. Brown and Mr. Grey. Because we know nothing about the hijackers, not even their names, they seem more menacing. Mr. Green (Martin Balsam) is a former subway employee with a grudge who has figured out a way to "get away with it". The film splits its focus between the subway car and the police/city efforts to deal with these criminals.

I love caper movies. How will the criminals steal the loot, trick the police and escape capture are concepts that keep my attention. Also, the efforts of law enforcement or the victims to bring them to justice is an intriguing story line. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three combines both parts of the caper movie with equal aplomb. The criminals, and their master plan, are believable and compelling. The transit cops, city police and city officials are also realistic and interesting. I spend the viewing time following the details and personalities as they face each new intense moment.

Walter Matthau is terrific. He plays the "regular guy" with skill. His characters are available to the audience. I feel like I know the guy he portrays (see my earlier blog about 'Charley Varrick'). He carries this film. With very little actual action for 3/4ths of this film, the dialogue and acting must capture the viewer and hold them. The entire cast does a fine job. Especially Matthau, Robert Shaw and Martin Balsam. All three of them make me want to see what happens next.

The David Shire score helps keep the tempo of the film. It is raw and gritty and makes me feel like I am on the train. The opening of the film has simple images, but the score makes you feel like the action is already happening! The soundtrack has been difficult to find for years. When you can find it, the soundtrack is usually expensive. NPR film music expert Andy Trudeau considers this film's score to be one his top 10 ever.

Interesting and exciting. Enjoy The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.

Filmed in 1974, directed by Joseph Sargent, written by Peter Stone, starring Walter Matthau, Robert Shaw, Martin Balsam, Hector Elizondo and Jerry Stiller. For tv fans, look for a quick cameo by Doris Roberts as the Mayor's wife.

Notes:Since the release of this movie no #6 subway has left the Pelham Bay station at either 1:23 or 13:23. Just a little superstitious I guess. Also, the producer says that this film did very well at the box office in New York, London, Paris and Toronto, but was a flop in most other cities. Those four cities have large subway systems. And the color of the hat that each criminal wears matches their name.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Marathon Man

Taut thriller that combines the everyman on the run storyline with excellent performances. Dustin Hoffman plays a graduate student living in New York City. He believes that his brother, portrayed by Roy Scheider, is an international businessman. Of course it wouldn't be much of a film if that was true. Instead Scheider is a spy working for "the division". When his brother is killed Hoffman pursues those responsible. Leading the bad guys is Laurence Olivier. Olivier plays an aging Nazi that is collecting the diamonds he stole from Jews during World War Two.

The fabulous thing about Marathon Man is the chemistry of the cast. Hoffman and Scheider "feel" like brothers who have a history. Marthe Keller, a Swiss actress known best in Europe, plays the love interest to Hoffman. Their relationship grows in an authentic way. William Devane is Scheider's boss/co-spy. Devane has made some terrific films and is spot-on here. But the film's central story line revolves around Hoffman and Olivier. In the later part of his career Olivier gave up the over-acting and became a complete performer (my earlier blog 'A Little Romance'). He plays the cool and calm Nazi to perfection. You distrust and dislike him from the moment he appears. He and Hoffman make a terrific protagonist/antagonist couple. I find myself rooting for Hoffman just to see Olivier lose. Great job! Olivier was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for this film.

This movie is also a great collection of talent. Besides the outstanding cast, it was written by William Goldman. He adapted the screenplay from his best-selling book. The film builds and has a deliberate pace in the beginning. But the tension, and my interest, grow as the story continues. Goldman has written many great scripts including 'Princess Bride', 'All the President's Men', 'The Hot Rock' and, one of my favorite movies, 'Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid'. He has a deft touch with language that I so appreciate. Marathon Man was directed by John Schlesinger. He won an Oscar for 'Midnight Cowboy'. He deserves kudos for allowing the script and actors to carry the film. There is only a small amount of special effects. The violence is limited, but is very terrifying. For anyone who has seen it, the sound of Olivier's drill can not be forgotten. It still brings a chill to me.

A terrific cast, intelligent script and crisp directing combine to make a thoroughly enjoyable film. It is a top-notch thriller.

Filmed in 1976, directed by John Schlesinger, written by William Goldman, starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, Roy Scheider, Marthe Keller and William Devane.

Notes: The torture scene in Marathon Man was shortened after many members of the preview audiences became ill. Also, the line "Is it safe?" is listed at number 70 on AFI's list of great movie quotes.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


"I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!" For everyone who has seen Network that line comes quickly to mind. Peter Finch's portrayal of mad prophet Howard Beale was amazing. His representation of a television news anchor gone over the edge earned him an Academy Award. The range of emotion from angst to anger to disillusionment was fantastic. He was awarded the Best Actor Award posthumously.

But, for me, the most amazing thing happens when you view it today. When it came out (1976) Network struck a chord with Americans. We were in the middle of an oil crisis, still reeling from Watergate and Nixon, and Vietnam was fresh on our minds. And the film gave voice to those insecurities and angers. But now, almost 35 years later, the portrayal of television is the most poignant part of Paddy Chayefsky's script. In the film, anchorman Howard Beale uses the news broadcast to opine upon his opinions and personal feelings. He reminds me of current anchors like Keith Olberman or Bill O'Reilly. They seem more interested in convincing the viewer that they are right than in providing accurate information. That wasn't true when this movie was released. But Chayefsky was sure that ratings and personality would take over and they have. Instead of Walter Cronkite we have Katie Couric. The likes of FOX, MSNBC and others use their "bully pulpit" to ferment a fever that keeps the viewers coming back.

From an entertainment viewpoint this film is outstanding. Network won 4 Oscars including Best Actor, Actress and Supporting Actress. This was only the second time that one film won 3 of the 4 acting Oscars, joining 'A Streetcar Named Desire'. Screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky also won for Best Screenplay. It was his third Oscar. While the acting is top-notch it is the script that carries this film to its great heights. The points that Chayefsky makes about the power of media and the lack of accountability within television are more important today than ever. His "prediction" of a network that appeals to a different audience looks eerie in retrospect with the later success of Fox.

This film tells the story of a failing television network. William Holden is the head of the money-losing news division. Robert Duvall comes in to take over the network and make it profitable. He hires Faye Dunaway. She decides to "program" the news and make it more exciting and entertaining. This leads to anchorman Peter Finch becoming the superstar of the UBS network. Ratings go ever higher as the network sinks lower into the muck. Stay through to the end. When ratings begin to slip Duvall and Dunaway hatch the most amazing event in television history to inspire ratings!

Network is powerful. Strong directing, a great script and terrific performances make this an important and entertaining film. Netflix it today!

Filmed in 1976, directed by Sydney Lumet, written by Paddy Chayefsky (see my earlier blog about 'The Americanization of Emily'), starring Peter Finch, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall, Beatrice Straight and Ned Beatty.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bubba Ho-tep

Today's review is quite simple. Please read the plot in the next paragraph. If the plot sounds funny and/or intriguing you will probably enjoy this film. However, if the plot sounds too stupid and/or ridiculous you probably won't enjoy this movie.

Plot: Elvis did not die. He is a resident of a retirement community in East Texas. JFK did not die. He also is a resident of the same community. A 3,000 year old zombie has come back to life and is sucking the souls out of some of the other residents of this senior living facility. The mummy has chosen to feed here because "he didn't think anyone would notice" if the residents disappeared. Elvis and JFK team-up to battle the cowboy-zombie-mummy to save the seniors from having their souls sucked out their own asses. The film rises to a crescendo near the end as these titans of history battle to protect the senior citizens' lives.

Obviously, this is meant to be a comedy/horror/cheesy flick. Bruce Campbell portrays the aging Elvis to perfection. He is both sincere and over-the-top simultaneously. Campbell has quite a cult following. He is terrific here. The "old" Elvis, complete with sequins and karate kick, is a part that many actors would shun. But Campbell pulls it off with heart and schlock in evidence. Ossie Davis plays President John F. Kennedy. As many of you know, Ossie Davis is black. You have to watch the film just to hear him explain how JFK was not assassinated and why he is now black. Hilarious!

Bubba Ho-tep was written and directed by Don Coscarelli. He is best known for the 'Phantasm' series of horror films and for the original 'Beastmaster' movie. This film is a difficult task. It must be campy and over-the-top, but should avoid being "too much" of either of those. He does a fine job. The pacing of the film is a little slow, but since the stars are senior citizens battling a 3,000 year old mummy slow applies. The film is full of quick jokes. They range from the cerebral to the outhouse. I am sure there is something to offend anyone. The sound effect when the mummy sucks the soul out of someone's ass still makes me cringe. You have been warned.

Filmed in 2002, directed and written by Don Coscarelli, starring Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis and a cowboy boot wearing mummy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Anatomy of a Murder

This is one of the most realistic courtroom dramas on film. No crazy speeches, no lawyers gone wild, no "you're out of order!", just serious drama based on an actual murder case. Anatomy of a Murder follows the true case of an army officer that kills a bar owner in Northern Michigan. He hires a down-on-his-luck attorney, played by Jimmy Stewart, to defend him. Since the killer was seen by many witnesses, his guilt is never in doubt. But how will the trial play out? Can Stewart work some legal magic and get an acquittal or will the State's Attorney, played by George C. Scott, obtain justice?

The film is based on a Robert Traver novel. Traver is the pen name of John D. Voelker. Voelker was a Michigan Supreme Court Justice who worked on the case. This personal involvement leads to a gritty realism in the film. Adding to the realism, the judge in the film was played by Joseph Welch. Welch was the lawyer who represented the U.S. Army in the Army/McCarthy hearings during the fifties. Having such established legal officials involved definitely adds to this film. Director Otto Preminger chose to film on location in Northern Michigan and used many locals as extras and to fill small speaking parts for further realism.

The film has a fine Duke Ellington score. He wrote and performed the music and makes a cameo appearance playing alongside Stewart. The jazz further contributes to the depth of story and character achieved by Preminger and the fine cast. Stewart as the defense lawyer, Ben Gazzara as the defendant, George C. Scott as the State's attorney, Arthur O'Connell as Stewart's partner and Lee Remick as Gazzara's wife are all excellent. Stewart, Scott and O'Connell each received an acting academy award nomination for this film. Anatomy of a Murder was also nominated for Best Picture in 1960, losing out to 'Ben Hur'.

Outstanding courtroom drama without the usual cinema histrionics. Accurate and believable, Anatomy of a Murder is a "must-see" for movie fans.

Filmed in 1959, directed by Otto Preminger, written by Wendell Mayes, starring Jimmy Stewart, Arthur O'Connell, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick and George C. Scott.

Sunday, February 7, 2010


This post is in honor of The Who. Since they are starring in the Super Bowl halftime show, it only seemed fitting to talk about this great movie today.

Music by The Who. Acting debut of Sting. Mods vs. Rockers. Music by The Who. Scooters everywhere. The end of innocence. This is a coming of age tale set against the backdrop of early 60's mods/rockers riots in Brighton. Did I mention the music by The Who?

In case you hadn't noticed, I love The Who. The soundtrack and performance footage alone make this film worth seeing. But add to the tunes a wonderful story of a young man trying to find his place in the world. Jobs, girls, drugs, music, scooters. All the choices that, in our own way, we all faced during our turbulent adolescent years.

Director Franc Roddam does a terrific job with this "angry young man" story that is inspired by the Pete Townsend rock opera of the same name. Phil Daniels as Jimmy carries the angst in every scene. I root for him to succeed, find love, mature and enjoy life. For him, as for most young adults, it is a difficult journey. But well worth sharing. For me it was the Punks vs. Rockers in the 70's, but the film's transcendent storyline really strikes home.

Quadrophenia is also the acting debut of Sting. The lead singer of The Police does a terrific job as Ace, the idol of all the mods. He lives and works in Brighton and is a central figure in the second half. I remain impressed with Sting's screen presence. All the actors do fine work. They give this film a very authentic mood.

This is a hidden treasure. The story, the scenery, the scooters and the soundtrack make Quadrophenia a film worth treasuring. Please feel free to buy me a copy of the DVD. I would love to own it!

Filmed in 1979, directed by Franc Roddam, written by Roddam, Dave Humphries and Martin Stellman, starring Phil Daniels, Leslie Ash, Mark Wingett and Sting.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot

This film is a combination of some of the most successful genres in cinema. Part caper flick, part "buddy" movie and part road film. Director Michael Cimino, in his directorial debut, fuses all three genres together to create one movie that excels in all three categories. Too often ambitious scripts and directors get lost in trying to do everything. But here, in Thunderbolt and Lightfoot, we have success in making a smart, interesting and compelling film.

This movie follows the exploits of Thunderbolt, played by Clint Eastwood, and Lightfoot, portrayed by Jeff Bridges. Eastwood is a bank robber who is returning to collect the loot from an earlier theft. Bridges plays his very irreverent and quirky friend who wants to be in on the action. They have to "put the band back together" and find the men who assisted in the original robbery. George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis play the ex-partners. Both Kennedy and Lewis do terrific jobs, but Bridges almost steals the movie. Admittedly, because of the wild nature of his character, his part is the most flamboyant. But Bridges does a wonderful job of making Lightfoot accessible to the audience. He was rewarded with an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Clint Eastwood met writer/director Cimino while Cimino was doing a re-write on one of the Dirty Harry movies. He pushed the studio to allow Cimino the opportunity to make this movie. Cimino gets a terrific performance out of Eastwood in return for Clint's faith. Eastwood, as Thunderbolt, is more personal and accessible than usual. With this coming during his Dirty Harry period, audiences were not prepared for this kind of a Clint Eastwood. That hurt the film at the box office. But the cult following for Thunderbolt and Lightfoot shows the value of the effort. Cimino's next film, 'The Deer Hunter', won Best Picture and earned him a Best Director Oscar. Then came 'Heaven's Gate'. The problems of budget, ego and horrible box office of 'Heaven's Gate' made Cimino persona non grata in Hollywood for almost a decade.

One character that is not mentioned in the credits, but deserves a mention here, is the big sky country of Montana. Cimino uses the mountains, vistas and prairies as an important part of the story. The cinematography is beautiful. I have since visited Montana. It is a most amazing place. The sky looks endless and makes all things seem possible. That confidence and beauty come across on screen. Magnificent country!

While this film is part caper flick and part road movie it is the "buddy movie" elements that are the most durable. The relationship between Thunderbolt and Lightfoot make this film the classic that should be seen by more. The resolution at the end of Thunderbolt and Lightfoot is still being discussed.I know you will enjoy this movie!

Filmed in 1974, directed and written by Michael Cimino, starring Clint Eastwood, Jeff Bridges, George Kennedy and Geoffrey Lewis. Also, look for Catherine Bach and Gary Busey in early roles in their careers.

Friday, February 5, 2010


The most important thing that I can say about this movie: I was thinking about the events, how and why they happened, as if I was the lead character. Chinatown pulls you in and makes you feel like a part of the story. Writer Robert Towne, who won an Academy Award for his script, does a superb job of involving the viewer. Throughout the movie I was wondering what each clue might mean, what would be the next step and how could everything be linked. To me, that is the sign of a fantastic script. Towne has done terrific scripts like 'The Parallax View' (see my blog), 'Bonnie and Clyde' and 'Tequila Sunrise', but this is his best work. The script would make Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett proud.

Chinatown tells the story of Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson). He is a private detective in 1930's Los Angeles. He is hired by a wife to investigate the activities of her husband. She is suspicious of infidelity. He finds what he believes to be proof of the cheating. But he has been used and lied to and everything blows up in his face. This is insulting to our lead detective and he is off on a chase for "the truth". The search for evidence leads him to the halls of power within LA. He becomes involved with what he believes to be a vast conspiracy. But, as we all know, when you mess with those in power they mess back. Things don't always work out for Jake. But, in true film noir tradition, nothing will stop our lead from pursuing the facts. No matter where they lead and no matter the consequences.

The most famous scene is when Jake gets his nose sliced. The man with the knife is played by director Roman Polanski. This is the first film Polanski made in the U.S. after the terrible tragedy of Sharon Tate. Producer Robert Evans wanted a European to direct this film. He wanted the look and feel to be that of someone who did not grow up in America. Polanski did a fantastic job and received an Oscar nomination. The film is gritty and very intriguing. I especially liked the few moments of introspection that Polanski allows detective Jake Gittes. Those small pauses give us, the viewers, the chance to contemplate events while the lead does as well. It is an excellent touch. Sometimes directors are in such a hurry for the next "exciting effect" that they don't give us time to enjoy what is going on. Thankfully Polanski does not fall into that trap.

This film is a slight twist on classic film noir. It is set in the 30's, but has some modern twists to traditional noir. It is more in the modern style and provided the springboard for the resurgence of noir. This movie provided much of the basis for films like 'L.A. Confidential', 'Memento' and 'The Grifters'. Faye Dunaway, portraying Evelyn Mulwray, is a fantastic Femme Fatale. She entices Nicholson into moving over to the "dark side". The viewers can never be sure when she is honest and manipulative or dishonest and manipulative. But like all noir femmes she is manipulative. Both Dunaway and Nicholson received well-deserved Oscar nominations for their work. I believe that this is the film that established Jack Nicholson as a leading man. He had been a character actor, but his fine work here propelled him to super stardom.

Chinatown has an unexpected ending and shockers of details along the way. It is intelligent, well-acted, directed and written and is most entertaining. Be sure to netflix, download, rent or buy this great movie!

Filmed in 1974, directed by Roman Polanski, written by Robert Towne, starring Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston and John Hillerman. For further ruminations upon film noir see my blog about 'Double Indemnity'.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Colossus: The Forbin Project

Before Skynet in 'The Terminator'. Before Whopper in 'Wargames'. There was Colossus:The Forbin Project. This is the first computer designed to protect humans that decides to rule instead. This film is done on a small special effects budget. No digital effects, no CGI, no cybernetic organisms. Just a bone-chilling story designed to instill both worry and thought.

The United States builds a supercomputer to take the personal/emotional (i.e. human) decision makers out of the nuclear loop. Only a purely logical, non-emotional computer can be trusted with Armageddon. Of course, once the computer becomes self-aware it decides that it is better than humans and decides to take over the world. Colossus' inventor, Dr. Forbin, must figure out some way to stop this machine.

Eric Braeden portrays Dr. Forbin. He is best known for his 20+ years on 'The Young and the Restless', but at the time he was a bit of a sci-fi star. He was also featured in 'Escape from the Planet of the Apes' and 'Six Million Dollar Man'. He does a very nice job here. He comes across as smug, superior, non-emotional and demanding. Just like the computer he invents. The script, written by James Bridges, is tight and intellectual. The story moves along quickly to a very surprising ending.

Colossus: The Forbin Project is intense and believable. A thriller that relies on intelligence, not monsters and explosions, to create suspense. It was also well ahead of its time. Themes featured in Colossus are still in vogue today. This film deserved better at the box office, but we can enjoy it today.

Filmed in 1970, directed by Joseph Sargent, written by James Bridges, starring Eric Braeden, Susan Clark, Georg Stanford Brown and Gordon Pinsent.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


If you are a big fan of the television show be forewarned. This film, from Director Robert Altman, is much darker than the tv show. There is drinking, sex, drug use, racial stereotypes and all sorts of other "politically incorrect" things. It is full of black comedy, sarcasm and biting satire. I believe that Altman, screenwriter Ring Lardner, Jr. and novel author Richard Hooker are making a strong statement about war and how individuals survive armed conflict. The characters in M*A*S*H use that dark comedy to somehow manage to get through the pressures of war. Unless you have been through it, I don't think anyone can understand how awful things can be. But everyone involved is attempting to survive the horrific experience. "Gallows" humor and dark comedy are many individuals coping mechanism. This film reflects that survival technique to maximum effect.

M*A*S*H is set during the Korean War. The film follows the story of the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. I use the term "follows the story" loosely. This film is more a collection of vignettes than a cohesive plot. Some moments are more poignant or funny than others, but the film in total is Robert Altman's best work. He allows the actors to develop characters with which viewers can relate on a personal level. This almost improvisational technique results in fun and challenging chaos on screen. You may find one episode better than another, but the film is funny!

Altman has a history of using ensemble casts. He does so here with some of the generation's best actors. Donald Sutherland (Hawkeye) and Elliott Gould (Trapper John) play two doctors who were drafted into serving in the military. They use copious amounts of alcohol to numb themselves to the carnage. Robert Duvall portrays Major Frank Burns. Burns is the "regular army" antagonist to our two doctor protagonists. He is the constant butt of jokes and ridicule. Other fine actors are also in M*A*S*H. Tom Skerritt, Rene Auberjonois, Roger Bowen and Sally Kellerman all have prominent roles. Director Altman uses this terrific cast to excellent results. Whether you prefer the football sequence, "Hotlips" scenes, the surgeon's visit to Tokyo or the "suicide is painless" vignette there is something to entertain everyone.

Although the film is set during the Korean War it was filmed and released during the height of the Vietnam War (1970). There was much attention, both pro and con, heaped upon this film as a metaphor for Vietnam. There are portions of this film that provide support to both sides of the stay in Vietnam debate. Some people boycotted the movie because it was "communist sympathizing". I never found that to be true. M*A*S*H shows that war can be horrific and that, sometimes, the people in command make terrible decisions. It also makes a strong statement that most people involved in a war would rather be at home. That's not "communist". I think that is just real.

The cast is excellent, the directing is terrific and the script is hilarious!

One note: Sally Kellerman has a very brief nude scene. She was 33 at the time. A few years ago she appeared nude in 'The Boynton Beach Club'. She was 69 for that nude scene. Good for her! That takes courage. It is probably much easier for a 33 year old woman to do a nude scene than someone who is 69. But she is not backing down to anyone or any year.

Filmed in 1970, directed by Robert Altman, written by Ring Lardner, Jr., starring Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould, Robert Duvall, Sally Kellerman and Roger Bowen.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

His Girl Friday

Hilarious. The dialogue is as witty as has ever been filmed. The pace is breakneck speed. I find myself trying to stop laughing at one line because I have another laugh or two lined up. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell are fantastic. They have terrific timing, great chemistry and some of the best dialogue imaginable. You have to pay attention to the dialogue. Often there are two conversations going on simultaneously. You can follow one or both, but do follow along. Don't miss anything.

Based on the play The Front Page by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Charles Lederer adapted the screenplay with wonderful results. Director Howard Hawks insisted the part of Hildy (Russell) be rewritten for a woman. This allows for a romance subplot underneath the newspaper main storyline. Cary Grant owns a newspaper and is divorced from Rosalind Russell. She returns to the paper to inform her ex that she is remarrying. He constructs a plot to regain her affections and to get her back as his ace reporter. Ralph Bellamy does a nice job as the kind, but slow, husband to be. Of course, he has no chance when put up against Cary Grant. But then who does?

His Girl Friday is a classic comedy done at light speed. Don't go for popcorn because you will miss out.

Filmed in 1940, directed by Howard Hawks, written by Charles Lederer, starring Cary Grant, Rosalind Russell and Ralph Bellamy.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Dawn of the Dead

Note: This blog is referring to the classic 1978 original and not the remake.

This is the sequel to one of the most successful films ever made, George Romero's 'Night of the Living Dead'. Dawn of the Dead was filmed 10 years after the release of 'Night', but is set in the weeks following the first film. For those who don't know, 'Night' is the story of zombies and their rise in rural Pennsylvania. Zombies are human beings who have died and returned to a new "life". They have no emotions, little coordination and lots of hunger for human flesh.

Our film opens upon a television station that is attempting to cover the rise of the zombies. The personnel are laboring to show this event and provide survival information for the station's audience. But society in general and the station in particular are breaking down. The pressure of a world in which the dead rise to attack and devour the living is too much for most to bear. Dawn of the Dead focuses upon four individuals looking to survive; 2 SWAT team policeman, a traffic copter pilot and his tv executive girlfriend. These four fly off in his helicopter for Canada. They hope to escape the horror that has spread across the U.S.

They eventually decide to take respite in a large shopping mall. The four decide to land and look for supplies. But upon reflection they realize that they have no where to go. The mall will become their home. A battle with the zombies that inhabit the mall and then with a gang of thugs results in the deaths of some of the party and the attempted escape of others.

I remember walking out of the theater, in 1978, after the debut of this film. I was eager to see this sequel, having so respected and enjoyed the first film. Upon exiting the movie I turned to my friend, Jordy Long, and said "this is one of the best statements on America's consumer society I have ever seen". After watching the film again this week I come to the same conclusion. Writer/Director George Romero uses zombies and science fiction/horror to share a viewpoint on the commercial nature of American society. In the film the zombies are compelled, by some unknown instinct, to return to the shopping mall. As is said in the film "instinct, memory, this place was important in their lives". The zombies have died and returned to life, but they want to return to what was important-The Mall.

For me, the final credits make the point. After some of the survivors escape the mall the final credits roll. They overlay a shot of the interior of the mall. The zombies are wandering the stores, looking for nothing. They don't sleep, care about their appearance or need anything, but they still wander the mall. This metaphor for our consumer society could not be more evident. Just change the make-up and the zombies become some of the people wandering any mall. Looking for something, but they don't know what.

Tom Savini is credited with the make-up and cosmetic special effects for Dawn of the Dead. Much of his work is trailblazing and is still being copied today. His work makes this film the "apocalyptic horror masterpiece" that Leonard Maltin so appreciates. The real gory parts come mainly in the first and last 20 minutes, but pop-up occasionally in the rest of the film. Dawn of the Dead is not for the squeamish! Even though I know it's a movie, and I have seen it before, I still cringe when the zombies start eating a person's intestines while they are still attached.

Romero also goes for the dark comedic effect. The sight of the blue-skinned Hara Krishna zombie, with his tamborine, is a riot. He does not take things too seriously. It is, after all, a movie. Also, George Romero should be credited for creating a cottage industry. There have been dozens of zombie movies, tv shows and books. 2009's 'Zombieland' film and bestselling book 'World War Z', among many others, owe their success to Mr. Romero.

Filmed in 1978, directed and written by George Romero, starring David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger and Gaylen Ross. Look for a cameo by George Romero. He plays the television director in the opening sequence.