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Kill the Irishman (2011)
"It's gonna take more than a few firecrackers to kill Danny Greene!"
If I hadn't checked, I would have thought this film was made over a decade ago, certainly not as recent as 2011. It has a definite feel for the era it represents, Cleveland in the mid Seventies, and the use of news and film clips of the time lend a degree of authenticity to the the story of mobster Danny Greene. I guess I'm behind the curve by a few years as I haven't seen Ray Stevenson before, so I was unsure why he was heading a cast that included Vincent D'Onofrio, Val Kilmer and Christopher Walken. Fortunately he acquits himself well enough as Irishman Danny Greene, who rises from the Cleveland docks to become president of the longshoremen's union, and insinuates his way into the local Mafia by virtue of a business loan that goes sour and an arrangement as an informant for the FBI. As far as gangster films go, I wouldn't put this one in the same league as say "Goodfellas" or "Miller's Crossing", but it does offer an interesting look at how the Cleveland mob operated during the Seventies and it's association with the Gambino crime family in New York. Walken's character Shondor Birns is entertaining as the provider of financial services to men who like to gamble, and if I had to guess, might be the only actor to ever use the term 'vigorish' in a movie; I haven't see enough episodes of 'The Sopranos' to know otherwise. But if you're familiar with the Mafia and how their hierarchy operates, you know it's only a matter of time until Danny gets the kind of justice that made headlines throughout the era, a front page mob hit that takes out another crime kingpin.
Wild West (1946)
"Any man who loves law and order like Eddie Dean is going to fight for it!"
Some background for Western movie fans before I get to the review. Edgar Dillard Glosup was born in 1907 and became a radio singer in the early Thirties. He appeared in bit parts and supporting roles in movie Westerns until he got his break in 1945 with a series of five color pictures with Producers Releasing Corporation (PRC). In that respect he beat cowboy stars like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers to the draw; there were other Westerns done in color before, but never a series. Al LaRue appeared in three of them with Eddie Dean, this was before he became Lash, and before his last name was separated and spelled La Rue.
The first of these color flicks went by the title "Song of Old Wyoming", filmed in 1945. "Wild West" came out in 1946, and after the Cinecolor films were finished, PRC edited down "Wild West" and turned it into a black and white picture, and so we have "Prairie Outlaws". This may explain why some of you may be wondering (like I was) why the Banister sisters Florabelle and Mollie (Louise Currie and Jean Carlin) just sat there like lumps throughout their limited screen time without saying a word. In the original picture, there was some good natured rivalry between our heroes over Florabelle, but she obviously preferred Dean. The romantic interludes were removed from "Prairie Outlaws" and that left LaRue simply closing out the picture promising to return for the Saturday night dance with tomboy Mollie.
One thing about Eddie Dean, he wasn't afraid to share the spotlight with fellow actors and he was one who liked to take chances. You get a good taste of that here, as partner Stormy Day (LaRue) gets to speak a lot in his scenes with Dean. I can't say for sure, but this would also have to be one of the first pictures in which LaRue gets to use his bull-whip in a couple of different situations quite effectively. Following his pictures with Dean, La Rue would get his own series of films with PRC billed as 'Lash'.
Now don't let me forget Roscoe 'Soapy Jones' Ates in this picture, who's here as the third member of a cowboy trio in the tradition of the Three Mesquiteers and the Range Busters. The running gimmick used by the cowboys has Eddie and Stormy interrupting Soapy every time he winds up to tell some tall tale. It's not over done and comes across fairly comical each time it happens.
As far as the story goes, Eddie, Stormy and Soapy foil town boss Judge Templeton (Warner Richmond) who's defying the westward expansion of the railroad and telegraph by inciting the local Indians and ordering his henchmen to rustle cattle and cause general mayhem. Fortunately, Eddie has an in with Chief Black Fox (Chief Yowlachie), who's willing to bide his time while Eddie and his partners get the goods on the bad guys. A former friend of Dean's, father of Florabelle and Mollie, was murdered and one of his guns was traced back to a Templeton henchman.
"Prairie Outlaws" comes in at under an hour, trimmed by about sixteen minutes from the original "Wild West". You have your standard horse chase scenes and shootouts, and in an early gunfight scene it was somewhat comical to see the outlaws stand right out in the open in front of their cabin as the good guys hid behind trees and boulders returning fire. The picture winds down with another wild brawl and shootout, as if to lend support to a comment made by Eddie to his partners earlier in the picture - "Where there's so much stew, there's bound to be a little gravy."
"We call him... Gojira".
I had a revelation as my summary line above was uttered by actor Ken Watanabe. If you use a low and raspy guttural voice, infuse it with a Japanese accent, and say it real fast, the word 'Gojira' sounds a lot like 'Godzilla'. Seriously, you should try it. And what's really cool, it also works in reverse. You can make 'Godzilla' sound like 'Gojira'.
Well I became a Godzilla fan way back when I was about nine years old in 1960 watching the New York based Million Dollar movie. Any movie that was featured for the week came on every single evening at 5:00 P.M. and this is one of the few flicks I watched five nights in a row. Now I don't know that I could say the same thing about this modern day remake, but I'm a traditionalist at heart anyway. For what it's worth, I thought the actual monster in this movie was pretty well done, but gee, he really wasn't on screen very long. Those mantis looking MUTO creatures were a little too metallic looking for my taste, I never took them as a real threat to the King of the Monsters.
No need to get too long winded here, I see the film has it's detractors and it's fans. In picking up this movie I was just looking for a couple hours of simple diversion and on that score it delivered. There was one great takeaway I got from the story, and I can't remember who it was uttered the line, but in commenting on the attempts by authorities in the movie to bring the creatures under control or defeat them, I was reminded of adherents of global warming hysteria. To them I would also offer - "The arrogance of man is thinking nature is in our control and not the other way around".
"You watch it, or that's what you're going to turn into."
Well I can't tell you how many old Western movie and TV episodes I've seen Bruce Dern in; he's usually cast as some outlaw or sleazy looking villain like the character he portrayed in Eastwood's "Hang 'Em High". All those roles led up to seeing him here as the brain-addled old man who insists on collecting a million dollar prize in one of those magazine subscription promotions. I'm trying to think who else might have done a good job with the character of Woody Grant. Dennis Hopper comes to mind but he's passed on, and Jack Nicholson would have given it a pretty good go. But Dern pulls it off admirably and this is probably the best work I've ever seen him perform.
Now June Squibb - I can't say I recognized her right off the bat but I did see her in "About Schmidt" but that seems like ages ago. Talk about your politically incorrect or any other context you might come up with. Come to think of it, she kind of reminds me of my own Mom who's now eighty six. There must be something about growing old that allows one to shed inhibitions and tell the world to just go f--- themselves. That cemetery scene was a hoot and a half, and you can usually get me to crack up with a single hoot. Kate Grant, you go girl.
The thing is, if you haven't grown up in a small town, this picture might seem to be offering a caricature of what life might be like outside the sophisticated 'big city'. But from personal experience, I can relate to characters like Ed Pegram and idiot brothers like Bart and Cole because I've been there. Maybe not to the same extreme, but you get the idea with the way director Payne presents his characters. In a way, these goof-balls are a lot more real than you'll find in the latest action adventure shoot 'em up. So even if the pace of the movie is a lot slower than a lot of viewers would expect, I tend to savor the build up to those defining moments when Woody selects his Prize Winner hat or when son David (Will Forte) is startled to learn that his old man was a Korean War veteran who almost left his mother for an Indian squaw. Now that would have been some main event - old Kate against the Indian.
The Judge (2014)
"How does it feel knowing everyone you represent is guilty?"
Some movies you walk out of talking about the story, and with some you talk about the acting. With this one you'll do both. Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall deliver sensational performances as an estranged son of a rigidly conservative father who happens to be a judge and who's arrested for murder as Downey's character returns to his home town upon the death of his mother. Though the murder case and jury trial comprise a good portion of the story in the latter half, it's really the family dynamics that provide the power of the film. Through vivid flashbacks and family movies, the Palmer family history is laid bare with haunting revelations for the viewer to digest and try to comprehend as they relate to Hank Palmer's (Downey) relationship with his father and two brothers (Vincent D'Onofrio and Jeremy Strong). There are side issues involving Hank's crumbling marriage and former home town girlfriend (Vera Farmiga) that take unusual turns, some would consider them unnecessary to the main story, and to traditional movie-goers, might detract from a family oriented movie experience. Overall though, this is a compelling film that doesn't spare one's emotions, and is bound to register a personal feeling or two, so a spare hankie might be wise to take along.
Yi dai zong shi (2013)
"...no art is higher than heaven, no gift more solid than Earth."
As is my practice, I'll read a handful of other reviewers on the film in question, and in doing so here, everyone I read seemed to have some knowledge of the Ip Man history and the films dealing with the subject. I harbor no such knowledge or background. Quite honestly, I pick up these modern day martial arts films for their visual beauty and skillful presentation of fighting styles and not for the story per se because they're almost always the same. This picture offered some well choreographed fight scenes, many of them on surfaces that should have been a hindrance to maintaining coordination and balance, such as on snow and in the rain. Instead of brightly colored backgrounds, the general rendition here was primarily dark and unappealing. Unlike some other reviewers, I didn't have a lot of trouble following the story as it were; whether it had anything remotely to do with historical accuracy I have no way of knowing. Many times a picture will leave me with the desire to learn more about a subject by the way it sets the table; this movie's failure in that regard left me feeling indifferent.
A Kiss in the Dark (1949)
"Why must this monster dominate my room as well as my life".
If you pay close attention to the picture you'll come away with some interesting tidbits of information - advertising models back in 1949 were making fifteen dollars an hour, sardines and peanut butter was a popular sandwich of choice, and without me spilling the beans, the definition of propinquity. Oh yes, and there's also this fact about David Niven - "He likes Bugs Bunny". At least his character Eric Phillips in the story did. But as I heard that quote from one of the actors, I was reminded of those old Warner Brothers cartoons that quite regularly parodied Hollywood celebrities, and I'm certain they hit on Niven at least once. I'll have to look it up.
Well I'm not sure where the kiss in the dark of the title comes from, but if you're up for some lighthearted diversion this one might work for you. Maybe not full blown slapstick, but it comes close at times with the boisterous character of Botts (Broderick Crawford) and the fifteen foot ladder antics of photographer Schloss (Curt Bois). But what will keep your eyes glued to the screen, and this is meant for you guys, are the gorgeous gams on that future Falcon Crest matriarch, Jane Wyman. Add her name to a list of very attractive young actresses when they were starting out who you wouldn't have thought so if you saw them in their later years, stars like Bette Davis and Angela Lansbury for example. Just another reason you need to cultivate an appreciation of older films.
Well the story itself here is probably less than the sum of it's parts. Niven's character starts out as a hoity-toity and rigidly fussbudget concert pianist who gets a lesson in real life from the Bergenheimer Ginger Beer girl and all the common folk back at the Cleopatra Arms he's associated with as a result of a business investment. The theme's been done before and since and here it's presented with a helping of charm, courtesy of Miss Wyman. Rounding out the main cast are Victor Moore as the congenial and often funny caretaker of the Cleopatra, and Wayne Morris as the persistent insurance salesman betting on a policy for Niven's nimble fingers. I wound up doing a quick double take when future Mickey Mouse Club moderator Jimmie Dodd showed up in the latter part of the picture. He's listed in the IMDb lineup as character Studsy Nolan, but in the captioning on the film it was displayed as Statzi. Either way, trivia fans can have some fun with that one.
"Some things change your life forever."
It wasn't very long into the picture that I realized any semblance to historical accuracy was right out the window, so when that happens all you can do is either turn it off or go along for the ride. This would never be considered in the same league as "The Godfather" or "Goodfellas", but for a couple hours of diversion it's not the worst you could do. Still, the movie's casting is a little suspect when you consider what real life mobsters look like, not at all like the hunks selected here for their box office draw appeal for the Millenial set. Now Anthony Quinn, he looks like a gangster given the right milieu. Put him in front of a bowl of pasta like they did here and he's a veritable Don Corleone, but that'll only get you so far. You need a compelling story and good character development in any genre and this story was just too superficial. So all things being equal, my summary line quote from the film doesn't really apply to the picture, but there was one line that made an impression that I'll probably wind up using more than once - "A wedding is like a funeral, but with musicians".
Gun Belt (1953)
"When I turn rat catcher, I don't fool with mice."
It's sort of an odd title for a Western, don't you think? Just "Gun Belt" - I get the idea but it sounds just a little off key. The picture's a little off key with it's characters too. The legendary lawman Wyatt Earp (James Millican) is a secondary character here, and other renowned names from the Tombstone Corral days are changed ever so slightly that just leave you scratching your head. Like Ike Clinton (William Bishop) for Ike Clanton, Jack Elam's Kolloway for Doc Holliday, and Matt Ringo (John Dehner) for Johnny Ringo. With a little research I might be able to come up with some more, but you get the idea.
At the center of the story, hero Billy Ringo (George Montgomery) is framed for a bank robbery and the story involves a number of contortions with outlaws crossing and double crossing each other before Billy gets to clear his name. There's a third Ringo in the lineup as well, Billy's nephew Chip portrayed by a strangely unrecognizable Tab Hunter, even though he's not wearing a disguise or makeup to make him look any different. Maybe I just don't know Tab Hunter as well as I think I do, but I wouldn't have known who he was in this picture. At least the writers came up with that clever '3R' brand gimmick denoting 'Us Three Ringos'. That was creative.
Oddly enough, I'm not finding some of these unknown older flicks on my usual standby Encore Westerns, but on cable station Antenna TV. Early Saturday and Sunday mornings around 5:00 AM is the place to be the last few weeks, so for now it looks like I'll keep tuning in. Last weekend it was the Durango Kid's turn in "Blazing Across the Pecos". No telling what might show up next week.
The Young Lions (1958)
"Tell me --- are we civilized human beings... or are we wild beasts?"
For a war film, perhaps the most compelling element of the picture has to do with the three protagonists remaining true to their personal codes of honor and integrity. That they were presented doing so with the backdrop of World War II was probably immaterial, though for Marlon Brando's character, the senselessness of war was repeatedly underscored by way of confrontations with his superiors and behavior on the battlefield. An anti-war sentiment resonates throughout but doesn't get in the way of patriotism. Perhaps to emphasize the futile nature of war on it's combatants, the picture occasionally meanders along disjointedly as well, scenes changing abruptly between the battlefields of Europe and North Africa with images and street scenes of New York and Brooklyn.
You know, I often marvel at the way continuity in a movie is sometimes completely overlooked when the finished product is released. This one had a couple of examples that seemed glaring to me. When Noah (Montgomery Clift) meets Hope (Hope Lange) at Michael Whiteacre's (Dean Martin) party she's wearing a low cut evening gown, but when they step out for a walk along the river, she's wearing a dress with a collar. A similar scene occurs later on the first time Lt. Diestl (Marlon Brando) visits Gretchen Hardenberg (May Britt) at her Berlin apartment. Leaving her apartment for a prior engagement, Gretchen leaves wearing only her evening dress, but returns with a coat on. How is it no one caught those errors?
Regarding the principal players, Marlon Brando stands out as the disaffected Nazi soldier, unable to reconcile his personal feelings about war with the mentality of the Nazi machine as personified by his commanding officer Hardenberg (Maximillian Schell). With no room for individualism, Diestl's loyalty to the Nazi cause erodes over the course of the War, and results in outright refusal to follow orders when he fails to shoot an opposing soldier upon Hardenberg's command. I thought more would come of that scene relative to his disobeying a commanding officer, so that left me a little puzzled.
With Montgomery Clift's character, you had a Jewish retail clerk fighting bigotry both on the home front and among his fellow soldiers. The scene with Hope's father was done quite effectively to change the older man's feelings of prejudice, just as the overall tenor of the picture attempts to present every day Americans and Germans as people simply trying to make their way in life dissociated from the ideological extremes that make their countries war with each other.
As for Dean Martin, this was the second movie I've seen him in within a short period of time in which he basically portrays himself; the other was 1960's "Ocean's Eleven". He comes across as a relatively happy-go-lucky kind of character, a singer and performer who likes to have a good time and with little regard for responsibility or authority. To his character's credit, he was a stand up guy for sticking by Noah against the barracks bullies who beat him to a pulp. One thing I hadn't seen before, Dino goes for a beefcake shot during the induction physical. I don't recall seeing him in anything similar in any other picture.
The picture's finale offers contrasting scenarios - Brando's character comes to an untimely and inglorious end at the hands of Private Whiteacre, while the movie closes on Noah Ackerman's joyous return home to his wife and new baby. One wonders whether Mrs. Ackerman's name was written specifically for the intended effect of having a battle hardened soldier return to a new life filled with Hope.