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Cheyenne: The Argonauts (1955)
Flawed Reviews of This Episode
Having just watched this episode, I felt compelled to comment on it -- and on the reviews of it here on IMDb.
Yes, this is a re-telling of Treasure of the Sierra Madre. So what? I don't know about the other reviewers, but even when I was young I was often aware that certain episodes of TV series I was watching were re-tellings of classic stories. One that stands out in my mind was the time Richard Basehart's Admiral Nelson of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea found himself in a re- telling of MOBY DICK, made even more intriguing by the fact that he played Ishmael in the original film version.
It was actually fun to see my favorite characters placed into those stories, and it was fun in this case as well. One never for a moment watches this episode and thinks Edward Andrews is trying to play Eugene Dobbs or that Rod Taylor is trying to play Curtin. And it is laughable to think Cheyenne Bodie has anything to do with Walter Huston's portrayal of the prospector Howard. The film of TOTSM was an instant classic, and a TV homage to it from the studio that produced the film is nothing to apologize for (I was amused by the poster who pointed out any idea of this TV episode "stealing" the plot from TOTSM would logically conclude with "Warner Bros. suing Warner Bros.")
I think was a well-done retelling of the story, with excellent performances from the three leads (once you extricate yourself from some foolish need to compare the performances to Bogart, Holt and Huston), and covers some territory the original didn't in terms of the racism against Native Americans. Particularly like how when Cheyenne (the brunt of some of the racism himself) is attacked for wanting to spend time with some "Injuns" in order to help them, comments along the lines of "Well, after spending some time with white people, it sounds like a pretty good idea".
As for the meaning of the title "The Argonauts", the answer is pretty self-evident. What were the Argonauts going in search of? And if you say "some sheep's fur", maybe there's another classic story you might need to revisit.
Atlas Shrugged: Part I (2011)
Although the production values weren't as awful as I was expecting, watching this movie gave me the same feeling that I got when I read the book...none of the characters are recognizable as HUMAN BEINGS (although the actors give it the old college try in trying to breathe life into them, unlike the cardboard portrayals in the book). Also, the portrayal of both the "heroic" capitalists and the "evil" government are about as true to life as the physics in your average comic book action movie, although some tenuous references to real life events show the filmmakers were doing their best to twist connections in order to make the movie "relevant".
However, when I read the book I did not have as clear an understanding of Ayn Rand's motivations as I did watching the movie. So watching the movie I suddenly could see that the "American government" she visualized in ATLAS SHRUGGED is not American at all, but actually a projection of the SOVIET government she was traumatized by in her youth. Clear enough when you realize she viewed the very concept of government itself as socialist BY DEFINITION.
But Rand still shows the after-effects of her initial communist indoctrination in her need to see things in absolutist terms, with a predisposition to overemphasize behavior that supports her views and ignore or dismiss all behavior that contradicts it...much like the approach of Soviet propaganda during the Cold War. In other words, as smart as she was, Rand not only didn't have the full range of real-life experiences necessary to grasp the world as it is, she never saw the NEED to. She only needed to pick and choose which of the limited life experiences she did have would reinforce her personal preordained beliefs.
This movie (and book) is a vision of hyper-capitalism as fevered and skewed as any communist propaganda film made in the Soviet Union in the 1950s. A terrible irony.
Morality in Dallas, Circa 1961
This episode of ROUTE 66 is, above all, a fascinating visual glimpse of the Dallas, Texas of a half century ago. As someone who's spent a lot of time in Dallas over the last 30+ years, I've always wanted to see what the earlier Dallas was like. And this episode is a better visual record of that earlier Dallas than anything I've yet found. I would say this was shot around December of 1961. So circa 1961, here's what the Dallas Love Field airport looked like, here's what the Dallas Trade Mart looked like, here's a good look at the downtown skyline, the large Marriott Motor Lodge that used to sit just north of Oaklawn next to the "brand new" Stemmons Freeway (or I-35)...there's a lot of Dallas history captured in this episode. And, for the Dallasites out there, well worth studying.
And oh, by the way, there's quite a good morality play suspense thriller here as well, with good performances from the series leads and an excellent one from David Wayne, wonderfully underplayed.
Billy Liar (1963)
Birth of the Swinging Sixties
This is a very poignant as well as hilarious movie, and despite what some say, the ending shows a lot of integrity to the true spirit of the film.
But I have to say, when Julie Christie shows up in this movie, walking down the street, it has to be one of the seminal moments in British cinema. You see the baton passed from the gray "kitchen sink" British cinema of the '50s to the upbeat British cinema of the Swinging Sixties right then and there. Not only that, but in those few minutes you actually see the birth of a film star! Viva La Christie! And by the way, I never knew until this film what a terrific comic actor Courtenay could be.
Casino Royale (2006)
On The "New" Bond
I will make clear at the beginning that this film, while overlong, is IMHO quite a well-made film, well-directed and well-acted, and that I personally find there to be some legitimacy to those who seek to proclaim it the best Bond film ever made. Certainly all those who loudly protested the choice of Daniel Craig in the role of James Bond have now been exposed to the world for their foolishness.
However, I do feel more than a few of those commenting here lack quite a bit of perspective to the evolution of Bond in the popular consciousness over the past half century, which makes some of their pronouncements (most significantly that Craig's performance as Bond is superior to any others') to lack a great deal of credibility.
For starters, it simply cannot be denied that James Bond is one of the great "mythological" creations of that period of history known as the Cold War. Also, that he is a classically British creation of the mid-20th century, and that attempts to translate him into 21st century American terms have always carried with them inherent flaws. In addition, it needs to be restated that when the first Bond films of the '60s arrived, they almost overnight created a whole new genre of film, the "spy film", which had not truly existed beforehand, and which themselves quickly evolved due to the rapid technological advancements of the '60s (most significantly the Space Race) as well as the rapid changes in sexual mores of the time, both of which led to (at the time) unique forays into the fields of science fiction and, well, sex. These should be obvious points, but it is clear that the younger fans on these boards seem to have great difficulty grasping these facts, particularly in terms of properly appreciating the Sean Connery films of the '60s.
My point in all this is that the "newness" of Casino Royale is quite an illusion. This film is actually more faithful to the films of the early '60s than it is groundbreaking in the field of spy films. One need only look at the early Bond films (in particular FROM Russia WITH LOVE) to realize that, 21st century bells and whistles aside, this is pretty much the way CASINO ROYALE would have been filmed if, circumstances permitting, it had been the first Bond movie filmed in 1962. Also, one needs to consider that the accomplishments of the 2006 CASINO ROYALE can be said to be largely made on the backs of the Bond films that came before it -- again, particularly the Connery films of the '60s. I therefore find it rather ignorant to say that this film is more "realistic" than the original Bonds -- a somewhat preposterous statement considering things like the exciting but outrageous foot race in Madagascar that in the end relied more on suspending the laws of probability than any chase or fight in GOLDFINGER.
So to the new fans of Bond, I say, welcome. It is wonderful that you appreciate a Bond film that relies more on character development and honest plot development than any Bond film in the past 35+ years. Now go back and watch the Connery films of the '60s. If you liked this film, you will love the "originals".
And by the way, any of you who think Connery couldn't have handled the level of acting demanded of Craig (which I think he handled quite well) need to see Connery's work in THE HILL. A film he made in 1965, between GOLDFINGER and THUNDERBALL. That's when you'll realize that, if things had gone differently for the development of the Bond films of the '60s, Connery would have been more than up to the task of creating a "realistic" James Bond.
But then, in the end, there was a reason why they would say, "Sean Connery IS James Bond".
The Producers (2005)
The Difference Between Film and Theatre
This film is the perfect example of why theatre productions cannot be transferred to film. It's not just that this film is up against the double-whammy of being compared to the brilliant original and the Broadway theatre version -- it's that this film makes the mistake of being nothing more than a filmed theatre production. It must be understood that acting which works on stage, if done the same way on camera, comes across as forced and false. The advantage of stage, that the audience is live and has a very real interaction with the performers on stage, is of course absent. But the advantage of film, that the production can GO ANYWHERE and the camera can flow and interact with the story, is also far too underutilized, and largely squandered. The main fault must lie with the director, who while qualified for theatre direction is not experienced at film direction, and doesn't seem to yet understand how film really works.
I am, however, fascinated by one of those rare but clear exceptions to the rule: Nathan Lane. His comedic talents work just as effectively on camera as they do on stage (although he was still not as effective as he could have been if he'd been working with a film director).
I cannot, unfortunately, say the same thing about Matthew Broderick. It's his performance, which was unquestionably successful on stage, which most clearly does not make the transition to film. He has extensive experience in film, but in creating the character of Bloom for the Broadway stage, he has locked in choices that are simply wrong for the camera. Again, a good film director could have helped him re-translate his character for the camera.
Bottom line is, it is unfair to judge this musical production of THE PRODUCERS by watching it on film. It is obvious that if this same production (by the same director) were witnessed on stage, the results would be (and obviously were) an overwhelming success.
Do I expect people to disagree with me? Hey, I've lived in the real world long enough to know something about how it works. But I stand by my opinion. And since the film, which had tremendous publicity and built in support for it's success from the theatre crowd, still failed at the box office, I know my opinion is shared by others.
Twice a Fortnight (1967)
Forerunner to Monty Python
This is definitely one of the ancestors of Monty Python. I could be wrong, but I do believe it was recorded live in front of an audience, and one of the things that made it so fascinating to me was the interaction between the performers and the audience. I swear I can remember times when the audiences jeered or teased the performers, which to me was occasionally as funny as what the performers were doing. The other thing I remember about it was a very haunting performance on camera by the Moody Blues of "Nights in White Satin"...years before that song was a hit in the States.
I'm sure the BBC "wiped the tapes" of this one, damn them. Who says only American TV programmers are idiots?
The Pandora's Box That is Time Travel
I have to say this is an astounding movie to me. Not simply because it looks far better than a $7000 movie has any right to look (even if a distributor spent a hundred times that to "clean it up").
This movie takes the ultimate advantage of it's budget to present a time travel story that is, in a way that I find rather unnerving, the most "realistic" portrayal of time travel I have ever seen. The "non-acting" of the actors, the shaky (yet sometimes quite sophisticated) use of the camera, the odd way the story plays out as semi-coherent...this film plays out as if it were actually made by it's protagonist (which, of course, it was). But what we discover by learning the story through "Aaron" is that the final result of time travel is, quite simply, madness.
I had such a feeling of dread as this film unfolded. From the moment we see Aaron and Abe first watch the "other" Abe at the U-Haul facility, the full ramifications of what time travel really could lead to started to crystallize. It's not just the idea that God-like powers have been placed in the hands of flawed human beings...it's the concept that flawed human beings are continually pulled like magnets toward the temptation to trap themselves inside a nightmarish existence, for the most "logical" of reasons. Not only that, but the insidious way the ripple effect of tampering with reality through time travel spread and spread meant that, ultimately, no one would be safe from such a disastrous invention. To me, somehow the most terrifying moment of this film is when the wife talks about getting an exterminator to take care of the "sound in the attic." As soon as I realized what that sound was, it shook me.
I will be thinking about this "imperfect" film for some time to come.
In the Midst of the Fantasy...
Naturally, along with everyone else, I was primed to expect a lot of Hollywood fantasy revisionism in THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON over the legend of Custer. Just having someone like Errol Flynn play Custer is enough of a clue that the legend has precedence over the truth in this production. And for the most part my expectations were fulfilled (in an admittedly rousing and entertaining way).
Yet even in this obviously biased (and much criticized) retelling of the Custer story, I was struck by some of the points made in this movie that, sometimes subtly but nevertheless solidly, seemed to counter the typical clichés of manifest destiny and unvarnished heroism usually found in Westerns of the early 20th century.
For instance, even while this film attempted to whitewash it's hero, certain scenes still suggested the more flawed and foolish character of the real-life Custer:
1) His initial entrance at the West Point front gate, in which his arrogance and pompousness is a clear aspect of his character.
2) His miserable record at West Point, which seems to be attributed as much to Custer's cluelessness about the demands of military service as any other factor; there are moments in the way Flynn plays Custer at West Point where he seems downright stupid.
3) Custer's promotion to General is not only presented as a ridiculous mistake, but it plays out as slapstick comedy. I half-expected to see the Marx Brothers or Abbott and Costello wander into the scene.
4) Custer's stand against Jeb Stuart at Gettysburg is not whitewashed as brilliant military tactical leadership, but is presented as reckless and wildly lucky.
5) Custer's drinking problem is certainly not ignored.
And although the music and some of the ways the Indians were shown in this film were certainly reinforcements of the racist stereotype of the ignorant savage, it still came as a surprise to me that the movie actually went into some detail as to why the Indians were justified in attacking the whites who were moving into their land, and fairly explicitly laid the blame for the battles in the Black Hills squarely at the foot of the white man. In fact, no one can argue that the clear villain of the piece is not Anthony Quinn as Sitting Bull, but Arthur Kennedy & Co. as the white devils making the false claim of gold in the Black Hills. Sure, that part of the story is true, but I didn't expect to see it portrayed quite so unequivically in a movie like this.
And one other thing: usually in these films it is the Indians who are portrayed en masse as drunken animals seemingly incapable of the basic common sense to avoid getting falling down drunk any time they get near alcohol. In this movie, it is actually the troops of the 7th Cavalry, and not the Indians, who in at least two scenes are portrayed this way.
All in all, this movie slips in some surprising moments in the midst of the Hollywood bunk.
War of the Worlds (2005)
A Dark Vision of Invasion
This is a pretty harsh look at what an alien invasion might be like. The brutality and horror of such an event is not sugar-coated here (except maybe for the ending, which I'll touch on later). It seems that Spielberg's Holocaust influence more than 9/11 was responsible for how terrible some of the images in this film are, but it made me appreciate the fact that Spielberg was willing to take what could have been another summer popcorn movie (like, yes, Independence Day) and instead made a strong statement about what genocide really means. There may even be a connection with current events in Africa.
Maybe it's because I happen to be the divorced father of a 10-year old blond daughter myself, but I found this film to be more disturbing than some of the commenters. In fact I find some of their comments to be more glib and callous than insightful. Nothing Dakota Fanning did rang false to me, and many of the viewers (I guess because of their lack of life experiences) missed the point of a lot of the things that both the daughter and the father did. I am not a fan of Tom Cruise (his interview with Matt Lauer was one of the biggest displays of arrogant ego that I have ever seen in real life), but nothing he did in this film rang false, either. Real life is messy, folks, and in this case the film made the necessary connection with that real life in order to ground the fantastic nature of the film with true human emotions.
Yes, the film has flaws. The "Machines buried under the Earth for one million years" plot device just doesn't work for me for multiple reasons (Why was H.G. Well's original concept of their simply coming down from space unacceptable for Spielberg?), and yes, the ending undercuts the tragic elements of the film -- although personally speaking, I only laughed because I recognized some familiar actors among the characters in the final scene.
Still, this film is a worthy achievement, and by no means a failure of either film-making or vision. Although I must confess, I'll always prefer Close Encounters of the Third Kind myself.