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The Far Country (1954)
a lot of fun
This is sure not going to be on my list of my top 10 favorite westerns, but it has a lot going for it and it's a lot of fun to watch. It's a wonderful old-fashioned western done the way Hollywood used to do them. It has a great cast with so many of the wonderful character actors and actresses from the old days - Walter Brennan, John McIntyre, Jay Flippen, Connie Gilchrist, and others. As has been mentioned by other viewers the cinematography of the mountain vistas is spectacular, especially in the old, expensive, and therefore defunct Technicolor process. It's almost worth watching on that basis alone. The story line is interesting and keeps the viewer engaged with quite a few plot turns. My minor criticisms are in casting Jimmy Stewart as a "dark," cynical and self-interested character. Stewart is lodged too deeply in the hearts of the public as a nice guy to be able to play it that way. Another problem is the weak resolution. I remember having enjoyed watching the flick but damned if I can remember how it ended. However, that's not a big deal as the ride to the end was a lot of fun.
Broken City (2013)
a liberal bedtime story
This movie is nothing more than a scaffolding on which to hand a tiresome collection of clichéd liberal nostrums. The characters, as well, are cardboard stereotypes. We know right from the first scene in the office of the mayor that he's going to be the bad guy. Why? Look how much he drinks, and see how tough-on-crime he is. We have the standard liberal line of "developer as villain." And then when the gay issue is injected it's clear the "good guys" will be gay. And how stunningly obvious, to the point of silliness, that the "good" mayoral candidate's name is "Jack Valliant." Puh-leeeez. The clincher to this view of the movie is the extended excerpt from the mayoral debate, which does absolutely zero to advance the plot. The whole point is to show us how the bad guy wants lower taxes, and the good guy wants to - wait for it - "tax the rich." I guess the viewer is not supposed to be paying attention because Valliant claims to want do this to close the budget deficit, when 30 seconds earlier it's been made clear the budget is in surplus. Details, details. Wahlberg and Crowe do their usual good jobs, and the suspense is fairly well maintained, but it's not enough to counter the liberal sermonizing and some pretty clumsy plot devices. I'm waiting for Hollywood to be really radical, and come up with a movie where the villain is gay, or a prochoice activist, or an environmentalist, and the hero is a Republican or a developer. But I'm not holding my breath.
A Late Quartet (2012)
The Academy overlooked this one; make sure you don't.
What a pleasure to know that the film industry is still capable of putting forth rich, intensely layered, insightful character-driven movies like this one. Speaking as a musician I have to say that this is the most accurately insightful portrayal of how actual musicians work together that I have seen on film. And what a wonderful cast!! Christopher Walken and the sadly departed Phillip Seymour Hoffman live up to their usual high standards here. I had not been familiar with the work of Catherine Keener and Mark Ivanir but they acquit themselves well. Plaudits to all of them for working so hard to master the ability to look like string players. The richness of the story - the multiple personal conflicts among the players - analogized to an actual piece of music, the Beethoven op. 131, is a brilliant concept, beautifully executed. This is a totally involving and - in the end - moving story. You don't have to be a musician to be drawn into it, but it helps. It's a crime this flick never made it to the Oscars.
good story that stands up well
I recently re-watched Thief, a movie I had seen before and which had left me feeling so-so about it. A second viewing prompted the realization that this is a film with depth, a good story, a great script, and fine acting. James Caan, of course, carries the whole movie on his back, not that that is a heavy burden. His performance justifies the view that he is truly one of our greatest and most underrated actors. The movie has its full quota of violence, and there is no doubt that Caan's character - who is, after all, an ex-con and a thief - is the apparent hero, or anti-hero, if you will. However, his fate after tying in with the mob, does give the movie a certain tone of ultimate justice. The pace of action is brisk enough to propel the movie forward, but there is more than enough dialogue to elucidate the motivations of the main characters, and that lifts it above the level of a mere action flick. This is a flick well worth seeing by fans of Caan and of crime thrillers in general.
Rio Grande (1950)
It is so sad that the younger crowd avoids back and white movies just because ..... well, because they're black and white. They're depriving themselves of a lot.
I put Rio Grande on my Netflix queue because I stumbled on the title somewhere and realized that it was one of the Ford/Wayne westerns I had not seen. I had seen Fort Apache and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. I had liked the former only moderately, and didn't care much for the latter. My favorite Ford western was My Darling Clementine.
Rio Grande blew me away from the beginning. A previous commenter mentioned the photography. In the Netflix version I saw it is absolutely gorgeous - the best B&W cinematography I think I've ever seen (after Clementine). The acting is wonderful, with all the usual John Ford crew on hand. Great to see Wayne and Maureen O'Hara working together again. For me it's a tough call between Rio Grande and Clementine as to which better captures the majestic sweep of the western landscape. The story line is a venerable one - mother/father conflict over a struggling son, with mother overprotective and father being tough.
This is must-see for fans of westerns and especially for devotees of Ford, Wayne, and O'Hara.
Stop, You're Killing Me (1952)
lots of fun!
What a fun movie! Kind of a precursor of "Some Like it Hot" the movie has a lot of fun with the Runyonesque characters (Runyon wrote the screenplay) and the goofy goings on of a Prohibition beer baron who decides to go legit when Prohibition is repealed. Broderick Crawford is wonderful as the blustering but soft-hearted Remy Marko. The film also has a few nicely placed and very enjoyable musical numbers, and who knew Broderick Crawford could sing so pleasantly (turns out his parents were both opera singers!). The farce is generous and hilarious, with dead bodies cropping up everywhere, and Margaret Dumont putting in a turn as the usual easily offended matron. Joseph Vitale, Sheldon Leonard and Charles Cantor do a great job as Marko's lovable hood sidekicks. Harry Morgan appears but his contribution is limited mostly to climbing over transoms and in and out of windows. The production values are wonderful. All in all a surprisingly wonderful treat.
Behind the Candelabra (2013)
This is truly a repulsive piece of film making. Contrary to all the highfalutin hoopla about making a movie about "the truth," this rancid flick is a poorly disguised piece of soft core pornography which luxuriates in emphasizing all the tawdriest and most sensational aspects - of which there are plenty - of this lurid tale. Everyone knows that Liberace was gay. This movie certainly tells us about his sex life, or at least the version of his sex life as told by his paramour Scott Thorson in his tell-all book. There are always two sides to any story about a relationship, and here we never get to hear Liberace's. The fact that by all accounts Liberace was a generous contributor to charitable causes, encouraged rising talent, and was a congenial and loyal companion to his many show business friends - all of this is absent from this shockfest, or maybe shlockfest. As far as the acting, I was curious to see how Michael Douglas, whose work I admire, would handle the role. He turns in nothing more than a simmering, mincing, lisping, one-dimensional caricature. Evidently movie makers will sink to any depths to make a buck, and this is Exhibit A. Avoid this disgusting piece of trash at all costs.
So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993)
I hate to be the turd in the punchbowl here, a role to which I am accustomed, but just what is it with all the enthusiasm for this lame flick? I just don't find Mike Myers funny at all. I don't know whether it's his comic persona (or lack of same) or the heavy-as-lead "comic" writing. Whatever (then again I can't figure out why people think Leslie Nielsen is such a hoot, either). Myers is lame enough in the role of Charlie, but his portrayal of his dad, Stuart, is head-scratchingly incomprehensible. I didn't find Anthony Lapaglia as the cop very funny either, and his lines also seemed lame. And I'll never figure out why the great Alan Arkin signed on to this dog; he must have needed the work at the time. This is supposed to be some sort of "cult classic." Go figure.
Only the Lonely (1991)
sad farewell for Maureen
Years ago when this flick first came out I was dubious, because of the presence of John Candy, whose great popularity I still am at a loss to explain. I recently read a reference somewhere to this flick as worth seeing, so I went for it, 23 years late. After seeing it, I am happy to know my original instincts were correct. "Marty" this ain't, and Candy is no Borgnine. And why, oh why, did Maureen O'Hara choose this as her farewell vehicle? The script makes her a domineering, racist, obnoxious, rude, and thoroughly nasty person, and any attempts with her acting to tone this down are in vain. This is not billed as an outright comedy, in which naturalness can be discarded, so we have some expectation that the characters will interact in someway at least half believable. O'Hara's character is so vile that it is impossible to believe that her son would not have left her long ago, preferably after burying her in the cellar. I like Jim Belushi, but as a previous viewer said, his contribution here is minimal. As far as character development, we are asked to believe that Candy's girl friend goes from docile and practically mute to a stand-up-for-me character just about overnight. It doesn't wash. The best thing here is Anthony Quinn, who, in his minor role, plays it perfectly.
I should have gone with my instincts 23 years ago and let this dog lie.
Nowhere to Go (1958)
decline of a great studio
I watched this because it is a product of the great Ealing Studio of West London, although it was released under the imprimis of both Ealing and MGM. Evidently Ealing and MGM had come to some sort of a working agreement. The movie is a complete departure from the quirkily distinctive films of Ealing's heyday - Man in the White Suit, Lavender Hill Mob, Whiskey Galore, The Ladykillers. All of those films had a distinctive and gentle take on the British national character. Nowhere to Go is a straightforward crime drama, and forgoes that unique Ealing flavor. For what it is it isn't bad. It's good to see Maggie Smith in one of her earliest roles, and Bernard Lee, who will always be remembered as "M" in the Bond movies. Paul Gregory for me is rather wooden. However, there a few too incredulities in the plot, and the ending is a disappointment. The earlier Ealing movies always put a sense of closure on things. This movie just sort of stops, in what seems to be a gesture toward nihilism.