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Definitely unique among Westerns
On screen I find Kirk Douglas to be without peer, but I have come to admire him as much if not more for his real-life advocacy of some highly unorthodox, yet worthy projects.
If this movie doesn't rank among his very best, it is still remarkable for how unapologetically it goes against the grain and makes a very bold personal statement (one that was not so popular at the time but resonates to this day). All the while he is producing and directing himself in what proves to be a rather unflattering role. I can't think of anyone else who would have the real-life grit to do such a thing - Kirk Douglas has done so repeatedly with aplomb.
Funny and thought-provoking - creators vs. destroyers.
The title: Heckler might lead one to believe that the whole film is about standup comedians and their drunken, attention-starved arch-rivals. The gaze shifts quickly to film critics, both established and the legions of self-appointed online experts (like me... hey, wait a minute!!!). Apparently producer Jamie Kennedy has a bone to pick after the thrashing he got for his role in Son Of The Mask. (I sense he might not have been as motivated for this project if he'd just won the Oscar.) But it's not just him - he pulls up a virtual who's who of comedy and just about everyone seems traumatized and disillusioned to some extent.
Getting dozens of great comic talents like Harland Williams and Bill Maher to speak candidly for any length of time on any topic is a sure-fire way to guarantee some entertainment value. Ironically, this approach got more laughs out of me than most feature film screenplays.
Oh, there I go. I keep forgetting I'm part of this problem.
I was surprised to see the extent and the intensity of the online vitriol. A lot of what gets said does seem excessively mean and uncalled-for. Apparently morbid, extreme insults are a cheap way to gain notoriety and generate lots of web hits. (Just like shouting "YOU SUCK" is a quick and dirty way to gain attention from everyone in the auditorium.)
This picture clearly distinguishes doers from I-could-do-betters and the latter group doesn't fare very well under scrutiny. They showed a clip from Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls, screenplay by Roger Ebert, that makes makes Malibu's Most Wanted look worthy of the Palme D'or by comparison. And when 4 internet critics accept director Uwe Boll's challenge to a boxing match, well... let's just say they won't be lambasting his fight the way they did his films. (He pretty much knocks them all out, back to back, without even breaking a sweat.)
So as a documentary, I found Heckler to be very enlightening and provokative. (What am I doing here, picking apart other people's movies? Why don't I get off my ass and try making one?)
Last Train from Gun Hill (1959)
Rock solid classic Western.
This movie took me by surprise as one of the more effective revenge capers I've seen in quite awhile. It's really much more than a simple revenge movie, but it opens with an offense so outrageous, one could never rest without seeing the scoundrel put to justice. That seems like a very unlikely prospect for most of the film's running length.
The central theme is the classic Western notion of one man representing pure good stubbornly standing fast against overwhelming odds. Last Train combines the brainy suspense of 3:10 to Yuma and the provocative paranoia of High Noon, with a healthy serving of melodrama.
Kirk Douglas may not be as prominent as John Wayne or Clint Eastwood but his work here equals their best. He is extremely grim and convincing as the mightily offended protagonist. Anthony Quinn maintains his usual formidable presence as the heavyweight opponent.
If you're exploring the great Westerns or just looking for a good suspense thriller, this one is excellent.
Le Mans (1971)
Superb plot and character development... oh who am I kidding?
There's not much story here but there isn't much pretense, either. It's a racing movie and a damn good one at that. I'm not particularly devoted to the genre, but I found the footage to be very realistic and exciting. The script is there just barely enough to keep this from being a documentary. It does contain a tiny bit of insight, when a deceased racer's widow asks McQueen why is it worth risking one's life just to drive really fast. (I thought he had a pretty good answer.)
This movie is a well-rendered insider's view of a spectacular event from a bygone era. If this sounds like it might have some appeal to you, by all means, check this title out.
The Mist (2007)
Quality horror - what a concept!
Let me start by saying I think The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile are both vastly overrated. They're solid competent films, definitely a 7 out of 10, but the greatest ever made? No way!! So now you how I feel about this writer/director combination, going in to this film.
My expectations were modest, and they were greatly exceeded. This is one of the best horror films I've seen in a long time! I would rank it up with Misery and The Shining as the best of the Stephen King adaptations.
I found myself very much drawn in to the story, very uncertain and fascinated by what would happen to the protagonists. The obviously-computer-generated monsters didn't spoil things too much because ultimately their menace proves to be secondary. Director Frank Darabont has the good sense to allow strong writing and acting to trump the slightly-above-average special effects.
Thomas Jane is well-cast in the lead. I don't quite buy him as an artist, but he is very effective as the slightly vulnerable alpha male, trying to get himself and his young son out of a nasty predicament. Marcia Gay Harden plays one of the most odious villains you will ever see on screen, every bit as loathsome as Kathy Bates in Misery.
For the two hours this movie ran, time was suspended for me. What more can you ask from a film of this type? I won't spoil the ending, but I do need to thank Frank Darabont for not ruining the tone of the piece, the way they do with so many other films.
Hauntingly beautiful, subtle and engrossing.
This is one of those rare movies that takes on a life of it's own. The cinematography & direction transcend average competence to blend seamlessly with the script, adding textures and moods as rich as any novelist's prose.
The cast is excellent. Brad Pitt is in familiar territory as the charismatic but treacherous Jesse James. Casey Affleck delivers a very complex and courageous performance in the not so flattering part of the coward Robert Ford. Sam Shepard, Sam Rockwell and Jeremy Renner round out a rock-solid lineup.
An action thriller this is not. The plot is very unhurried, but with a bit of patience, you will be rewarded with a complex and fascinating tale. This is one of the most sumptuous-looking, natural-feeling movies I have ever seen.
Kelly's Heroes (1970)
I thought I'd seen most of Clint Eastwood's stuff. This title of his is more obscure and after watching it, I can see why.
Clint doesn't stand out very well in this ensemble cast. They don't give him so much as a single devastating one-liner - just flat dialog. Everyone else steals his thunder. If you look at this as a Telly Savalas / Don Rickles / Carroll O'Connor / Donald Sutherland vehicle, your expectations may be better served. The above mentioned names are all great talents in their own right and they make the comic relief suitably potent. This would be the film's greatest asset.
This film does boast some impressive action sequences, rendered almost too realistically for what is supposed to be a screwball comedy.
My biggest gripe might be the soundtrack. Could the song they use for the opening and closing sequence possibly be more corny?? It's hard to get in a WWII frame of mind when the audio is SCREAMING "late '60's". (All those expensive locations, props and costumes, ruined by some idiot with a guitar...)
Overall, it's not that bad, but it's certainly nothing great. The modern remake Three Kings is funnier, more exciting and even manages to sport a conscience without spoiling the rest of the package. And, very much unlike this flick, the stars are all utilized to their greatest potential.
An earnest but engaging contemporary political drama/thriller.
You occasionally see a news piece about covert overseas detention facilities and it usually doesn't make much of an impression. Rendition gives the issue a face, providing a first-hand look at what it might be like to get abducted, whisked halfway across the globe and interrogated in the most brutal fashion.
This film tries for awhile to be multi-faceted, to cover all possible points of view. As the shady CIA boss, Meryl Streep gets a few lines in edgewise in defense of what she does. The script teases us with notions of the abducted's guilt or innocence. Ultimately, the movie takes a pretty unambiguous stand against the Rendition policy. After viewing the plight of the victim's wife and kids, and witnessing the proceedings in the torture cell, this position seems more than understandable.
The movie is beautifully shot, and it features some very strong performances, particularly by Omar Metwally and Reece Witherspoon as the involuntarily-separated couple at the center of it all.
I found the overall package to be perhaps a tad earnest, but I still felt very much drawn-in. Rendition may not be a classic for all time, but it is vivid, engaging and provocative.
Hell Is for Heroes (1962)
One of Steve McQueen's best roles.
The commentary track for The Longest Day turned me on to this film. Steve McQueen, directed by Don Siegel? Can't miss that!
Made the same year as it's more grandiose cousin, Hell Is For Heroes is an entirely different war movie experience. If movies reflect the period in which they're shot, this seems to reflect the paranoia and nihilistic uncertainty of the post-Korea Cold War.
Laconic, antisocial and bitter, you've seen Steve McQueen play this role before but never so intensely! His Private Reese is very unsettling to watch.
Hell Is For Heroes was obviously shot on a shoestring, but what it lacks in epic settings and lavish production, it makes up for with quality storytelling. The sharp black and white matches the stark situation the protagonists are confronted with.
It's a very good film, not quite in the league of Platoon, Apocalypse Now or Thin Red Line. But fans of the genre, the director and/or the star should definitely check this one out.
Kill Bill: Vol. 2 (2004)
More subtle than Volume 1 (what isn't?) yet almost as much fun.
Kill Bill Vol. 1 is by far my favorite movie in recent memory. I've seen it 4 times and I still love every second. I love it for its outstanding boldness and relentless intensity.
Volume 2 is quite different from volume 1 that should be a given. Originally conceived as a single movie, one shouldn't expect the second half to mirror the first, especially when it's written and directed by Tarrantino. Don't expect another sassy knife fight or Kung-Fu bloodbath expect the unexpected.
This pertains especially to the pacing. Volume 1 was fast and furious but Volume 2 is more contemplative. There's more word play than sword play and all the characters get ample room to blossom... before they are killed.
Everyone is colorful and amusing. Tarrantino has a way of simultaneously building fondness and contempt for the players, such that when one heavy back-stabs another, you feel a mix of elation and annoyance. Go ahead and like someone, but don't get too attached
Kill Bill is brimming with great performances, any one of which would single-handedly carry an average movie. Michael Madsen is Budd, Bill's estranged brother. (The two have a complicated relationship.) Although he appears to have gone tender, Budd is not to be under-estimated! Larry Bishop is hilarious as the sleazeball boss of the strip club where Budd is slumming as a bouncer. Darryl Hannah plays Ellie Driver, a truly bitchy villain you'll love to hate.
David Carradine is the charismatic Bill. (aka: The Snake Charmer) In the opening sequence of Volume 1, we saw him at his very worst but most of the time he is surprisingly pleasant to be around. But by his own admission he is a murdering bastard and he seems to have a knack for royally pissing people off. We see this with his former mentor Hattori Hanzo, his brother Buddy, and most especially the film's protagonist, The Bride (played of course by Uma Thurman).
Uma continues to dazzle as she did in the first volume. Seldom has a heroine been cast in so many different lights. Depending on the scene, she can look plain or glamorous, confident or vulnerable, exuberant or despondent. Her moods go all over the map but they're always convincing.
There's a few very cool dual roles. Gordon Liu played the "Crazy 88" commander from Vol. 1 and in real life he's the fight choreographer. In Vol. 2, he plays Pai Mei, a lonesome hermit who is the high priest of all martial arts. (Apparently Tarrantino dubbed the voice in Cantonese!) It's highly amusing to watch him put Uma through her paces. (This sequence also helps to illustrate how Uma's character became the deadliest woman in the world and is able to prevail in one particularly hopeless situation.) You won't even recognize Michael Parks, who was the Texas Ranger in Vol. 1.
Volume 2 relies heavily on dialog. This has always been an exceptionally strong point for Tarrantino and he comes through as strong as ever in this picture. It takes some strain, however, to reconcile the more cerebral high of Volume 2 with the sensational absence of subtlety in Volume 1. You have to shift mental gears to appreciate the entire package. It's well worth the effort.