16 items from 2016
James Franco is returning to the Venice Film Festival this weekend with his most recent directorial effort, In Dubious Battle. The film falls in line with the multihyphenate's penchant for adapting works by classic American authors, and after tackling William Faulkner, he's on to John Steinbeck. Originally published in 1936, In Dubious Battle is the least-known title in the author's unofficial Dustbowl Trilogy — which also includes Of Mice And Men and The Grapes Of Wrath… »
James Franco is a busy man. When he’s not performing in front of the camera, you’ll often find the eldest Franco behind the lens, writing, producing and crafting a variety of features ranging from upcoming comedy The Masterpiece to Zeroville, the star-studded drama set against the Hollywood Golden Age.
Adapted from the little-known third entry into John Steinbeck’s unofficial Dustbowl trilogy — Of Mice And Men and The Grapes Of Wrath round out the trio – Franco’s feature is set to place a laser focus on the struggles of rural workers trying to make ends meet in the face of harrowing conditions.
At the forefront of that struggle is Wolff’s Jim Nolan, a young recruit who »
- Michael Briers
If you’ve seen James Franco’s take on Cormac McCarthy’s “Child of God and/or William Faulkner’s “The Sound and the Fury,” you’ll surely have a strong opinion about the prospect of his next literary adaptation: John Steinbeck’s “In Dubious Battle.” Ahead of its Venice premiere next weekend, the film has just debuted its first trailer courtesy of Deadline.
Part of the Dustbowl Trilogy along with “Of Mice and Men” and “The Grapes of Wrath,” Steinbeck’s novel was first published in 1936; the plot concerns a California labor dispute during the Great Depression. Franco also stars in the film, which boasts an ensemble cast including Nat Wolff, Selena Gomez, Vincent D’Onofrio, Robert Duvall, Ed Harris, Bryan Cranston, Sam Shepard, Josh Hutcherson, Ashley Greene, John Savage and Zach Braff. »
- Michael Nordine
Exclusive: Multi-hyphenate James Franco, no stranger to classic American literature, has taken his first directorial shot at moving John Steinbeck to the screen with an adaptation of In Dubious Battle. Originally published in 1936, the novel is the lesser-known title in Steinbeck’s unofficial Dustbowl Trilogy — which also includes Of Mice And Men and The Grapes Of Wrath — but has been hailed as among his strongest works. It’s a study of man’s struggle against himself set… »
Leave it to director William Wellman to direct the most compelling social justice movie of the 1940s. Taken from a bestselling novel, it's a wrenching examination of the workings of a natural American phenomenon, the Lynch Mob. The Ox-Bow Incident Blu-ray Kl Studio Classics 1942 / B&W / 1:37 flat Academy / 75 min. / Street Date July 12, 2016 / available through Kino Lorber / 29.95 Starring Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Mary Beth Hughes, Anthony Quinn, William Eythe, Harry Morgan, Jane Darwell, Matt Briggs, Harry Davenport, Frank Conroy, Marc Lawrence Cinematography Arthur Miller Art Direction James Basevi, Richard Day Film Editor Allen McNeil Original Music Cyril J. Mockridge Written and Produced by Lamar Trotti from a novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark Directed by William A. Wellman
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
In the first scene of this grim feature, Henry Fonda stumbles out of a saloon street and throws up in the street. Apparently that was the reaction shared »
- Glenn Erickson
John Ford's best war movie does a flip-flop on the propaganda norm. It's about men that must hold the line in defeat and retreat, that are ordered to lay down a sacrifice play while someone else gets to hit the home runs. Robert Montgomery, John Wayne and Donna Reed are excellent, as is the recreation of the Navy's daring sideshow tactic in the Pacific Theater, the 'speeding coffin' Patrol Torpedo boats. They Were Expendable Blu-ray Warner Archive Collection 1945 / B&W / 1:37 flat Academy / 135 min. / Street Date June 7, 2016 / available through the WBshop / 21.99 Starring Robert Montgomery, John Wayne, Donna Reed, Jack Holt, Ward Bond, Marshall Thompson, Cameron Mitchell, Paul Langton, Leon Ames, Donald Curtis, Murray Alper, Harry Tenbrook, Jack Pennick, Charles Trowbridge, Louis Jean Heydt, Russell Simpson, Blake Edwards, Tom Tyler. Cinematography Joseph H. August Production Designer Film Editor Douglass Biggs, Frank E. Hull Original Music Earl K. Brent, Herbert Stothart, Eric Zeisl Writing credits Frank Wead, Comdr. U.S.N. (Ret.), Based on the book by William L. White Produced and Directed by John Ford, Captain U.S.N.R.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
They Were Expendable has always been appreciated, but hasn't been given a high roost in John Ford's filmography. Yet it's one of his most personal movies, and for a story set in the military service, his most serious. We're given plenty of service humor and even more sentimentality -- with a sing-along scene like those that would figure in the director's later cavalry pictures, no less. Yet the tone is heavier, more resolutely downbeat. The war had not yet ended as this show went before the cameras, yet Ford's aim is to commemorate the sacrifices, not wave a victory flag. By 1945 Hollywood was already rushing its last 'We're at War!' morale boosters out the gate and gearing up for production in a postwar world. Practically a pet project of legendary director John Ford, They Were Expendable is his personal tribute to the Navy. Typical for Ford, he chose for his subject not some glorious victory or idealized combat, but instead a thankless and losing struggle against an invader whose strength seemed at the time to be almost un-opposable. They Were Expendable starts at Pearl Harbor and traces the true story of an experimental Patrol Torpedo Boat unit run by Lt. John Brickley (Robert Montgomery), his ambitious second in command Lt. Ryan (John Wayne) and their five boat crews. The ambience is pure Ford family casting: the ever-present Ward Bond and Jack Pennick are there, along with youthful MGM newcomers Marshall Thompson (It! The Terror from Beyond Space and Cameron Mitchell (Garden of Evil, Blood and Black Lace) being treated as new members of the Ford acting family. Along the way Ryan meets nurse Sandy Davyss (Donna Reed). Despite their battle successes, the Pt unit suffers casualties and loses boats as the Philippine campaign rapidly collapses around them. Indicative of the unusual level of realism is the Wayne/Reed romance, which falls victim to events in a very un-glamorous way. There's nothing second-rate about this Ford picture. It is by far his best war film and is as deeply felt as his strongest Westerns. His emotional attachment to American History is applied to events only four years past. The pace is fast but Expendable takes its time to linger on telling character details. The entertainer that responds to the war announcement by singing "My Country 'tis of Thee" is Asian, perhaps even Japanese; she's given an unusually sensitive close-up at a time when all Hollywood references to the Japanese were negative, or worse. MGM gives Ford's shoot excellent production values, with filming in Florida more than adequate to represent the Philippines. Even when filming in the studio, Ford's show is free of the MGM gloss that makes movies like its Bataan look so phony. We see six real Pt boats in action. The basic battle effect to show them speeding through exploding shells appears to be accomplished by pyrotechnic devices - fireworks -- launched from the boat deck. Excellent miniatures represent the large Japanese ships they attack. MGM's experts make the exploding models look spectacular. Ford's sentimentality for Navy tradition and the camaraderie of the service is as strong as ever. Although we see a couple of battles, the film is really a series of encounters and farewells, with boats not coming back and images of sailors that gaze out to sea while waxing nostalgic about the Arizona lost at Pearl Harbor. The image of civilian boat builder Russell Simpson awaiting invasion alone with only a rifle and a jug of moonshine purposely references Ford's earlier The Grapes of Wrath. Simpson played an Okie in that film and Ford stresses the association by playing "Red River Valley" on the soundtrack; it's as if the invading Japanese were bankers come to boot Simpson off his land. Equally moving is the face of Jack Holt's jut-jawed Army officer. He'd been playing basically the same crusty serviceman character for twenty years; because audiences had never seen Holt in a 'losing' role the actor makes the defeat seem all the more serious. The irony of this is that in real life, immediately after Pearl Harbor, Holt was so panicked by invasion fears that he sold his Malibu beach home at a fraction of its value. Who bought it? According to Joel Siegel in his book The Reality of Terror, it was Rko producer Val Lewton. John Wayne is particularly good in this film by virtue of not being its star. His character turn as an impatient but tough Lieutenant stuck in a career dead-end is one of his best. The real star of the film is Robert Montgomery, who before the war was known mostly for light comedies like the delightful Here Comes Mr. Jordan. Montgomery's Brickley is a man of dignity and dedication trying to do a decent job no matter how hopeless or frustrating his situation gets. Whereas Wayne was a Hollywood soldier, Montgomery actually fought in Pt boats in the Pacific. When he stands exhausted in tropic shorts, keeping up appearances when everything is going wrong, he looks like the genuine article. Third-billed Donna Reed turns what might have been 'the girl in the picture' into something special. An Army nurse who takes care of Wayne's Ryan in a deep-tunnel dispensary while bombs burst overhead, Reed's Lt. Davyss is one of Ford's adored women living in danger, like Anne Bancroft's China doctor in 7 Women. A little earlier in the war, the films So Proudly We Hail and Cry 'Havoc' saluted the 'Angels of Bataan' that stayed on the job, were captured and interned by the Japanese. Expendable has none of the sensational subtext of the earlier films, where the nurses worry about being raped, etc.. We instead see a perfect girl next door (George Bailey thought so) bravely soldiering on, saying a rushed goodbye to Wayne's Lt. Ryan over a field telephone. Exactly what happens to her is not known. Even more than Clarence Brown's The Human Comedy this film fully established Ms. Reed's acting credentials. The quality that separates They Were Expendable from all but a few war films made during the fighting, is its championing of a kind of glory that doesn't come from gaudy victories. Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, the Navy, Army and Air Corps units in the Northern Philippines that weren't wiped out in the first attacks, had to be abandoned. The key scene sees Lt. Brickley asking his commanding officer for positive orders to attack the enemy. He's instead 'given the score' in baseball terms. In a ball club, some players don't get to hit home runs. The manager instead tells them to sacrifice, to lay down a bunt. Brickley's Pt squadron will be supporting the retreat as best it can and for long as it can, without relief or rescue. Half a year later, the U.S. was able to field an Army and a Navy that could take the offensive. Brickley's unit is a quiet study of honorable men at war, doing their best in the face of disaster. According to John Ford, Expendable could have been better, and I agree. He reportedly didn't hang around to help with the final cut and the audio mix, and the MGM departments finished the film without him. Although Ford's many thoughtful close-ups and beautifully drawn-out dramatic moments are allowed to play out, a couple of the battle scenes go on too long, making the constant peppering of flak bursts over the Pt boats look far too artificial. Real shell bursts aren't just a flash and smoke; if they were that close the wooden boats would be shattered by shrapnel. The overused effect reminds me of the 'Pigpen' character in older Peanuts cartoons, if he walked around accompanied by explosions instead of a cloud of dust. The music score is also unsubtle, reaching for upbeat glory too often and too loudly. The main march theme says 'Hooray Navy' even in scenes playing for other moods. Would Ford have asked for it to be dialed back a bit, or perhaps removed from some scenes altogether? That's hard to say. The director liked his movie scores to reflect obvious sentiments. But a few of his more powerful moments play without music. We're told that one of the un-credited writers on the film was Norman Corwin, and that Robert Montgomery directed some scenes after John Ford broke his leg on the set. They Were Expendable is one of the finest of war films and a solid introduction to classic John Ford. The Warner Archive Collection Blu-ray of They Were Expendable looks as good as the excellent 35mm copies we saw back at UCLA. This movie has always looked fine, but the previous DVDs were unsteady in the first reel, perhaps because of film shrinkage. The Blu-ray corrects the problem entirely. The B&W cinematography has some of the most stylized visuals in a war film. Emphasizing gloom and expressing the lack of security, many scenes are played in silhouette or with very low-key illumination, especially a pair of party scenes. Donna Reed appears to wear almost no makeup but only seems more naturally beautiful in the un-glamorous but ennobling lighting schemes. These the disc captures perfectly. Just as on the old MGM and Warners DVDs, the trailer is the only extra. We're told that MGM shoved the film out the door because victory-happy moviegoers were sick of war movies and wanted to see bright musicals instead. The trailer reflects the lack of enthusiasm -- it's basically two actor name runs and a few action shots. The feature has a choice of subtitles, in English, French and Spanish. On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, They Were Expendable Blu-ray rates: Movie: Excellent Video: Excellent Sound: Excellent Supplements: DTS-hd Master Audio Deaf and Hearing Impaired Friendly? Yes; Subtitles: English, French, Spanish Packaging: Keep case Reviewed: June 6, 2016 (5135expe)
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Text © Copyright 2016 Glenn Erickson
- Glenn Erickson
With editors and cinematographers chiming in on the best examples of their craft in cinema history, it’s now time for directors to have a say. To celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Directors Guild of America, they’ve conducted a poll for their members when it comes to the 80 greatest directorial achievements in feature films since the organization’s founding in 1936. With 2,189 members participating, the top pick went to Francis Ford Coppola for The Godfather, one of three films from the director making the top 10.
Even with films from nonmembers being eligible, the male-dominated, America-centric choices are a bit shameful (Kathryn Bigelow is the only female director on the list, and the first foreign film doesn’t show up until number 26), but not necessarily surprising when one looks at the make-up of its membership. As with any list, there’s bound to be disagreements (Birdman besting The Bicycle Thief, »
- Jordan Raup
Guns! Guns! Guns! John Milius' rootin' tootin' bio of the most famous of the '30s bandits has plenty of good things to its credit, especially its terrific, funny cast, topped by the unlikely star Warren Oates. The battles between Dillinger's team of all-star bank robbers and Ben Johnson's G-Man aren't neglected, as Milius savors every gun recoil and Tommy gun blast. Dillinger Blu-ray + DVD Arrow Video U.S. 1973 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 107 min. / Street Date April 26, 2016 / 39.95 Starring Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Michelle Phillips, Cloris Leachman, Harry Dean Stanton, Geoffrey Lewis, John Ryan, Richard Dreyfuss, Steve Kanaly, John Martino, Roy Jenson, Frank McRae. Cinematography Jules Brenner Special Effects A.D. Flowers, Cliff Wenger Edited by Fred R. Feitshans, Jr. Original Music Barry De Vorzon Produced by Buzz Feitshans Written and Directed by John Milius
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
There it was in the dentist's office, an article in either »
- Glenn Erickson
Over the years, major Hollywood studios have flirted with making new adaptations of John Steinbeck's major works including The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men and East of Eden. But the long-running, messy dispute among the author's heirs has provided a headache for any film producer daring to move forward. On Friday, new court papers were filed that put alleged interference on movie deals front-and-center, including a Steven Spielberg adaptation of Grapes of Wrath potentially starring Daniel Day-Lewis. On one side of the battle are those who succeeded Elaine Steinbeck, the author's late third wife, who was the
- Eriq Gardner
As predicted, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("The Revenant") won Best Director at the Oscars on Sunday. He was Gold Derby's frontrunner with odds of 2/9 to prevail, just one year after winning for "Birdman." The last time someone won back-to-back Oscars for Best Director was Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who prevailed for "A Letter to Three Wives" (1949) and "All About Eve" (1950). Prior to that, John Ford had won two of his record four Oscars consecutively for helming "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940) and "How Green Was My Valley" (1941). -Break- Subscribe to Gold Derby Breaking News Alerts & Experts’ Latest Oscar Predictions Our official odds are derived from the predictions of 28 Expert film journalists along with our seven in-house Editors who cover awards year-round, the Top 24 Users who got the top scores predicting last year's Oscars, the All-Star Users who did the be »
Every Academy Awards show provides a little slice of history, but more Oscar records than usual could hang in the balance on Sunday night at the Dolby Theatre. Here are some of the landmarks that could conceivably be reached by the time the final envelope is opened: If Alejandro G. Inarritu wins Best Director for “The Revenant,” he’ll be the third director to win that award in consecutive years, after John Ford for “The Grapes of Wrath” and “How Green Was My Valley” (1940-41) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz for “A Letter to Three Wives” and “All About Eve” (1949-50). If “The. »
- Steve Pond
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("The Revenant") is the frontrunner with odds of 1/4 to win Best Director at the Oscars on Sunday, just one year after winning for "Birdman." The last time someone won back-to-back Oscars for Best Director was Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who prevailed for "A Letter to Three Wives" (1949) and "All About Eve" (1950). Prior to that, John Ford had won two of his record four Oscars consecutively for helming "The Grapes of Wrath" (1940) and "How Green Was My Valley" (1941). -Break- Subscribe to Gold Derby Breaking News Alerts & Experts’ Latest Oscar Predictions Our official odds are derived from the predictions of 27 Expert film journalists along with our seven in-house Editors who cover awards year-round, the Top 24 Users who got the top scores predicting last year's Oscars, the All-Star Users who did the best for the past two years combined and t...' »
Biopics are best when focused on segmented portions of emotional turmoil, professional escalation or some perfect combination of the two, rather than trying to collapse entire lives into just a couple hours time. Hal Ashby’s 1976 retelling of Woody Guthrie’s popular ascent from dust bowl deadbeat to socially conscious folk music figurehead in Bound For Glory coolly pursues the latter with genuinely endearing, authentic feeling results. With David Carradine aptly filling the role of the humbly charismatic, musically driven drifter and a fully stocked catalog of Guthrie songs adapted for the screen by Leonard Rosenman, Ashby’s oddly conventional mid-period picture was in competition for the Palme d’Or, but ultimately lost to Paolo and Vittorio Taviani’s Padre Padrone.
- Jordan M. Smith
Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has a chance to make history in about ten days. The Mexican filmmaker is nominated for Best Picture and Best Director at the 88th Academy Awards for “The Revenant,” just twelve months after he won both prizes for “Birdman.” While both races remain wide open, with “The Big Short” and “Spotlight” providing a strong challenge, and George Miller proving to be more than a dark horse in the directing category, there’s a strong possibility that Inarritu could take both for the second year in a row. No director has won an Oscar for Best Director two years in a row since John Ford (for “The Grapes Of Wrath” in 1940 and “How Green Was My Valley” in 1941). No director’s successive films have won Best Picture since David Lean (“The Bridge On The River Kwai” in 1957 and “Lawrence Of Arabia” in 1962). And no filmmaker has pulled off »
- Oliver Lyttelton
Bonafide three-way race for Best Picture which is not common. Whoever wins we'll know that it was close -- unless a sweep reveals otherwise. Hell, Oscar's Best Director competition is also fierce though the advantage goes to Iñárritu at this point.
Incidentally, this prize for Alejandro González Iñárritu is his second consecutive from his guild. Though several directors have won twice, a consecutive win has never happened before at the DGA. It has happened at the Oscars, though, and twice at that: John Ford won two in a row for The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and How Green Was My Valley (1941). And not quite a decade later Joseph L Mankiewicz pulled off the same trick with A Letter To Three Wives (1949) and All »
- NATHANIEL R
It's the John Ford film you never heard of, not because it's bad, but because it's a little confused. Richard Greene, David Niven and an emotional George Sanders (!) dedicate their lives to clearing their father's name of a smear by international arms smugglers! Their spirited companion Loretta Young behaves almost as if this were a screwball comedy. So does the director! Ford aficionados will be fascinated. Four Men and a Prayer 20th Century Fox Cinema Archives 1938 / B&W / 1:37 flat Academy / 85 min. / Street Date December 15, 2015 / 19.98 Starring Loretta Young, Richard Greene, George Sanders, David Niven, C. Aubrey Smith. J. Edward Bromberg, William Henry, John Carradine, Alan Hale, Reginald Denny, Berton Churchill, Barry Fitzgerald, Chris-Pin Martin. Cinematography Franz Planer Film Editor Louis R. Loeffler Written by Richard Sherman, Sonya Levien, Walter Ferris from a novel by David Garth Produced by Kenneth Macgowan Directed by John Ford
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
We all »
- Glenn Erickson
16 items from 2016
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