Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Last Days (Los Ultimos Dias)

Regular readers know I have a softspot for science fiction.  Film makers can discuss all kinds of issues, without judgement or blowback, by setting the story in the future or on some distant planet.  This Spanish film carries on the tradition.
The Last Days
The Last Days is a story of love and the force for personal change and growth that care for another person can bring forth.  But this film uses the end of society as the way to mask the philosophy as an action story.  Set in Barcelona, The Last Days tells us of a disease that overtakes the people of Earth.  Slowly at first everyone on the planet becomes agoraphobic.  They are afraid of going outside.  Deathly afraid.  Every person on Earth stays wherever they are; unable to leave the building.  If they go outside they die from fear/seizures.  Like a massive panic attack that stops your heart.  So everyone is trapped inside buildings afraid of nature and the outside world.

We follow the hope of Marc.  Marc is a computer programmer in search of his girlfriend.  He has been trapped for months in his office building, but they have broken through to the subway underneath the building.  He leaves the safety of his temporary home in search of his love Julia.

Marc blackmails a co-worker, Enrique, into helping him on his search.  They travel through the broken society that is the future.  Along the way we learn Marc's hopes and fears, but his only focus is finding Julia. I shall leave out the specific details, but writer/directors David and Alex Pastor do a fine job with a simple plot.  I found this film to keep my interest and tell both an uplifting and thought-provoking story.

Well-paced, interestingly filmed and beautifully scored The Last Days is an interesting film.

Filmed in 2013, in Spanish with subtitles, directed and written by David and Alex Pastor, starring Quim Gutierrez, Jose Cornado and Marta Etura.

Friday, January 23, 2015

War Hunt

The onset of World War II brought a change to Hollywood.  Films started to become a way to motivate and encourage American and Brits to support the war effort, both at home and on the battlefield.  After the war both the American and British film industries switched from a support/propaganda environment to telling the stories of the victors.  Then, in 1950, the Korean War began and the call came down once again to "rally the troops".  After 3 bloody years and a stalemate on the battlefield cinema began to view war and conflict with new eyes.

This lead to a group of "anti-war" films to emerge.  1957's 'Paths of Glory' is the greatest of these (read my post here) while 1962's War Hunt is fine example.  Writer Stanford Whitmore and Director Denis Sanders work with an incredibly small budget to make an intriguing film.  The cast garners the most attention, but the message of the difficulties and horrors of war, including its effect upon the soldiers who live it, is often overlooked by writers and fans today.

The cast is important because it is the film debut of so many major actors.  First on the list this is Robert Redford's first film.  Coming off of the Broadway stage it would not be until 5 years later that Redford became well known.  Here is your chance to see him as a "rookie".  Also making their debuts are Tom Skerritt and director Sydney Pollack.  Also in the cast are John Saxon, 'The Love Boat's Gavin MacLeod and veteran actor Charles Aidman.  So the film is well-worth a watch just for the cast.

But the simple film is intriguing for its plot as well.  Redford plays a new recruit sent to Korea just as the fighting is nearing it close in 1953.  Unaware of what to expect his experience is told to show us the many facets of war.  Saxon, however, portrays the most powerful character.  His role is a war veteran who has lost track of civility and his faculties.  Saxon goes out every night to hunt Korean and Chinese soldiers behind the lines. His commanding officer comes to rely on his efforts and information and sanctions his nightly activities.  The rest of the company fear and avoid this soldier at any cost.  Redford and Saxon come to a disagreement over what is to happen to a small Korean orphan.  This orphan is working as Saxon's servant while Redford is certain the boy should be in an orphanage to go to school.  Saxon is providing for the boy's current needs while Redford is worried about his future.

This small story, and its influence on everyone in the company, is off-set by the Korean War.  While War Hunt is a war movie there is little violence.  Tension and boredom take the place of heroic battle. Saxon's mental breakdown, Redford's compassion and the rest of the company's different ways to deal with the tension, death and boredom of war are the focus of this tight, simple drama. This is not a great film, but is well worth a watch.

Filmed in 1962, directed by Denis Sanders, written by Stanford Whitmore, starring Robert Redford, John Saxon, Charles Aidman, Sydney Pollack, Gavin Macleon and Tom Skerrit.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cool Hand Luke

"You're an original, that's what you are!".

Powerful, yet simple. Sad, yet funny. Basic, yet deep. Just a wonderful film.

1967 gave filmgoers a magnificent gift. Paul Newman as rural convict Cool Hand Luke. Luke is in a work camp for a variety of small crimes. Like most of the inmates he is unhappy about being in prison. The ever-present desire among the convicts is to escape the drudgery of work. The heat, incarceration and lack of stimulation is crushing their bodies and spirits. Luke needs to find some way, or ways, to deal with the pressure of life and of jail. This film tells the tale of his relationships. With other inmates, with jail staff, with the outside world, but most of all with himself. He is uncomfortable with himself. And that is the root of all his issues.

Cool Hand Luke tells a number of vignettes about Newman's interactions with everyone in his world. Some are poignant, others sad, many humorous. But this entire film is powerful. A great view for the first or tenth time. The hardboiled eggs, the car wash, road work and his rise then fall then rise again are captivating. Please take the time to enjoy this most amazing cinema adventure.

After a viewing for pure enjoyment you may wish to "celebrity watch". The cast is quite deep. George Kennedy, as Luke's biggest supporter and rabble-rouser Dragline, won the Best Supporting Actor for his work here. Also fantastic is Strother Martin. "What we have here is a failure to communicate". Keep an eye out for MASH's Wayne Rodgers, Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper, Rance Howard (father of Clint and Ron), Joe Don Baker and Joy Martin as "the girl". When you see her scene, you can't miss it, remember that she was not on the set when the men were filmed. Just fun acting was had by all.

Filmed in 1967, directed by Stuart Rosenberg, written by Donn Pearce and Frank Pierson from the novel by Pearce, starring Paul Newman, George Kennedy, Strother Martin, Jo Van Fleet and J.D. Cannon. Nominated for 5 Academy Awards. One bit of trivia. The music was written by Lalo Schifrin for this film. It was later take by ABC for Eyewitness News. Not the other way around.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best New Year's Eve Adventure

Per multiple demands, here is a reprint of my New Year's Eve post from 2009. Enjoy the article and the film. Happy New Year!

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 move, but your body just leans anyway. It is that kind of shared experience that 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.

Monday, December 29, 2014


Glenn Ford is an under-rated actor. His work includes some great films like the original 3:10 to Yuma, The Courtship of Eddie's Father
and Blackboard Jungle I think he would receive more recognition. One of his best is the original Ransom. Remade by director Ron Howard with Mel Gibson, this original version is a drama that focuses upon tension instead of action to hold the viewers attention. And hold our attention it does. With only a small cast featuring Donna Reed and Leslie Nielson, as a dramatic not comedic actor, the story centers on the kidnapping of Ford and Reed's son. The film uses intense dialogue and strong acting to build the tension throughout. I will not reveal the intense ending.

What makes 1956s Ransom different, and better, than most kidnapping dramas is the plot twist. Instead of paying the kidnappers for the return of his son, Ford puts out a bounty upon them. He does this without informing anyone in advance. Not the police, the media, not even his wife. Most of all she is unhappy with his brash plan. The story continues with Ford racked with guilt and second guesses about his decision. His wife, portrayed by Donna Reed, is tormented with concern. Nielson does a fine job as a reporter trying to cover the story and help this poor, pressured couple.

A top-notch cast with an intense script allows director Alex Segal to use a very light hand. Minimal direction, sets and music forces the drama to take center stage. Segal made his career doing television and this theatrical release has a feel of tv. Still cameras that follow the action instead of trying to make the action. Personally I prefer this style. Ransomis a simple film with terrific action and intense drama. Enjoy!

Filmed in 1956, Directed by Alex Segal, starring Glenn Ford, Donna Reed and Leslie Nielsen (making his film debut.)

Thursday, January 9, 2014


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.

Filmed in 1966, Directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Rock Hudson, John Randolph, Salome Jens and Will Geer

Saturday, June 30, 2012

36 Hours

This forgotten James Garner thriller is on TCM today.  Check it out!

This intriguing film presents us with an interesting question. What is the most effective way to extract accurate information from a prisoner? While this film is set in World War Two the question is a pertinent today as it was in 1944. From waterboarding to drugs, sleep deprivation to beatings, interrogation remains a most difficult enigma.

36 Hours is set just days before the Allied invasion of France at Normandy. The Germans have captured Major Jefferson Pike. Pike is portrayed by one of my favorite actors James Garner. His interrogators know that the US & British forces are about to invade the European continent, but where? They have kidnapped Pike in an effort to learn of the plans. The SS want to physically torture Pike, but an innovative psychologist, played superbly by Rod Taylor, wants to use his new method. He has built a replica American hospital, filled with doctors, nurses and patients, and tries to convince Pike that the war is over and he is suffering from amnesia. Only by examining his memories can Pike be "cured". Will this American officer fall for the ruse and provide all the details of the invasion? Or should he be beaten and abused to force him to talk?

This is a simple movie done very well. Writer/Director George Seaton moves us through the film's plot with aplomb. We are presented with the concepts and then Seaton allows the fabulous cast to keep us entertained. And, as always, James Garner leads the way. Garner is one of Hollywood's most personable and entertaining leading men and he is no exception here. In support we find Eva Marie Saint and Rod Taylor. Both of them provide solid acting, but Taylor is the one to keep an eye upon. He is able to move in the world of counter-espionage and psychological manipulation in a way that makes him seem to be the hero, not the German Officer attempting to stop the Allied invasion.

This is a straight-forward thriller that provides stimulation for the intellect as well as keep you enthralled. Do you think you could be fooled by the efforts portrayed in 36 Hours?

Filmed in 1965, written and directed by George Seaton, starring James Garner, Eva Marie Saint and Rod Taylor. Look for John Banner late in the film. He went on to his biggest fame as Sgt. Schultz, "I know nothing!" on TV's long-running sit-com 'Hogan's Heroes'. I have written articles about 3 other James Garner films: 'Move Over Darling', 'Murphy's Romance' and one of my favorite films of all-time 'The Americanization of Emily'.