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The Big Short (2015)
"It's possible that we are in a completely fraudulent system".
The film's best strength is probably also it's greatest weakness. Though it quite accurately and at times humorously portrays the prior decade's mortgage meltdown and financial crisis, for those uninterested in the financial jargon of mortgage backed securities, credit default swaps, and collateralized debt obligations, the story can quickly turn into a bore fest. A lot of the negative reviews of the picture on this board speak to that issue and I guess you can't blame folks who don't want to get into the weeds with all the investment lingo when all they're looking for is movie entertainment.
For my part, I thought the picture did deliver entertainingly well; the three celebrity spots breaking the fourth wall were cleverly done and presented the brewing financial crisis in plain English as opposed to Wall Street Journal jargon. After viewing the picture it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that the language used by the financial world is intentionally used to confuse, obfuscate and intimidate would-be intruders into the world of investing. Taken as a cautionary tale, the film's message ought to be readily apparent, look before you leap and only after doing your own due diligence.
The movie has a lot in common with 2011's "Margin Call" and demonstrates how even the guys with the noblest of intentions like Mark Baum (Steve Carell) can get involved in a situation that leaves them feeling disillusioned and powerless. What's more problematic however, even with the benefit of hindsight as to how the mortgage scandal was engineered and carried out, is that it's about to happen all over again. As I write this, the next looming credit crisis we'll be hearing more about will have to do with corporate junk bond debt, defaults on student loans and where did we hear this word before - sub-prime auto loans. Watch for the movie in 2025.
The Hanging Tree (1959)
"If you ain't the devil, he's sure sittin' on your shoulder."
Gary Cooper portrays a conflicted man of extreme contrasts in this tale set in a mining camp with the dubious name of Skull Creek. His character is Doctor Joe Frail and he arrives with a mysterious past, having changed his name from Temple to become a man of frail hope. A couple of different interpretations are offered as to why he torched his former home where the Ohio meets the Mississippi. I'll go with the version that says he caught his wife in an affair with his own brother, and their deaths, either by his own hand or theirs, has resulted in a man who wears his inner scars on the outside.
Cooper shows his age and illness from cancer in this, his last Western movie role, which may account for the strained appearance of his character. However he does acquit himself well in a realistic looking brawl against miner Frenchy Plante (Karl Malden) midway through the story. Yet despite the gruff exterior, Doc Frail exhibits a tender and compassionate side, most notably when he removes the bandages from the eyes of Elizabeth Mahler (Maria Schell), severely injured and blinded when her stagecoach was attacked and plundered. As a newly arrived immigrant to America, Miss Mahler is a fiercely independent and strong willed woman whose devotion to the doctor becomes apparent following his treatment and care.
There were a couple of elements in the story that didn't mesh for this viewer, the first one involving the character of Grubb (George C. Scott). Apparently Grubb had some history with Doc Frail in the past, but that was never elaborated on, and so it seems he was in the story primarily to lead the lynch mob near the end of the picture. Otherwise the character didn't seem all that necessary. There was also a loose end left with Rune (Ben Piazza), Frail's bonded servant after the Doc tended him for a gunshot wound after he tried to rob Frenchy's gold sluice. I would have expected at some point that Rune's attempt would have come to light and that he and Frenchy would square off, but that never came to pass.
In a nod to the hanging tree of the title, the picture's finale has Grubb inciting the villagers to form a lynch mob with Doc Frail as it's target over the death of Frenchy. In the midst of this frenzy, Miss Mahler and Rune offer up the spoils of their recent gold strike, in effect to buy Frail's life, at which point the mob dissipates and simply wanders off. I can't say that that seemed very realistic to me, though it did provide for the expected reconciliation of feelings between Doc and his patient.
Donovan's Reef (1963)
"...but, uh, three carts and no horse, eh?"
This is the kind of movie that after I've seen it, I wonder why it took so long to get around to it. It's not your typical John Wayne movie, and seeing how it was directed by long time collaborator and director friend John Ford, I found the change of pace from their traditional Westerns a welcome diversion. With Lee Marvin in the picture, I had to wonder how the three of them got any work done as all were prolific drinkers, and Marvin in particular seemed to be playing himself pretty much throughout the entire film.
I have to say, I never thought I'd see the day, or the movie, in which Edgar Buchanan showed up in a jacket and tie. As the Boston attorney who encouraged Amelia Dedham (Elizabeth Allen) to 'cheat' on a will, he almost looked like an honest to goodness lawyer. Well, maybe not honest. And with Dorothy Lamour on hand in a small but noteworthy role, I was secretly wishing for Hope and Crosby to show up in a cameo appearance. That would have been kind of cool given the tropical setting; Crosby could have sung 'Mele Kalikamaka', a snappy tune that would have been right at home for the holidays in the picture.
Once the premise is set with Miss Dedham's arrival on the island, the story becomes fairly predictable, as all the while one is waiting for the big reveal concerning her three young siblings. So most of the fun is seeing how the story gets there with the various diversions offered by Donovan (Wayne) and Gilhooley's (Marvin) annual birthday brawl and the colorful island dances and traditions.
The picture reminded me of a 1955 film that also took place on an island, "We're No Angels" starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Ustinov and Aldo Rey. The trio are convicts who ingratiate themselves with an elderly couple's family after escaping from Devil's Island. Quite coincidentally, that story also took place on Christmas Day and had a roof that needed patching.
5 Card Stud (1968)
"I guess a man's gotta be a damn fool once in a while."
I've seen a handful of Hopalong Cassidy Westerns in which Robert Mitchum appeared as a heavy (he went by Bob back then), so it was cool to see him in a villainous role at the top of the bill here with Dean Martin. He doesn't come on the scene until a good while into the story but he makes his presence felt forcefully as the newly arrived preacher in Rincon. If you think about it, it didn't take much to establish his character as the killer of the poker game participants that hung a player for cheating. How that all came about is what makes the story interesting.
I had to question Mama Malone's (Ruth Springford) response to the new saloon competitor in town when she described her marketing plan as 'good liquor, a few card games and no girls'. Two out of three ain't bad, but Van Morgan (Dean Martin) would have had a problem with that last one even if he was a long time friend of Mama. Maybe if Lily Langford (Inger Stevens) offered the first two she could have owned the whole town. Speaking of which, her prices for a shave ($1.00), a haircut ($2.50) and a shampoo ($3.00) seemed kind of steep for the 1880's compared to other era Westerns I've seen. The $20.00 Miscellaneous fee sounded about right.
I guess I'd have to question the casting of Roddy McDowall in the picture as the guy pulling strings with Preacher Rudd (Mitchum). Setting aside his British background, he just didn't seem to be the right choice to portray a Western bad guy. Be that as it may, I thought it was rather generous of Van Morgan to cover for Nick Evers' (McDowall) complicity in the murders by chalking up his death to getting 'on to the Preacher'. Heading on to Denver, he'd be the only one to know better.
Strangers May Kiss (1931)
"You're a great girl darling, but you're a little bit dumb".
Discovering IMDb about a decade ago has sent me off in various directions to derive my movie entertainment, and one of my goals is to sample work from as many of the principal actors and actresses through the ages as possible. This was my first look at Norma Shearer and though I came away satisfied with her performance here, I thought the story was rather incredible; translate that as not credible at all. I just can't get over the idea that the close of the story had her character walking out of the theater with a guy who was such a cad throughout the picture. Not that her morals were any better, but gee, what were the odds things were going to get any better once the lovebirds became a couple? My summary quote offered by Lisbeth's (Shearer) friend Geneva may have been offered in a different context, but the sentiment still holds true.
I don't think I'll dwell on the story too much because other reviewers here have done so already, and I found some other interesting elements that caught my attention. Starting out, did anyone notice in the opening scene when Lisbeth and Alan got off the plane together - where was the pilot? There didn't seem to be much room in the compartment when they got out, and there wasn't anyone else visible in the plane! How does that work? And say, how about the crowd at the football stadium for 1931! It matched the view of the arena from last night's Super Bowl game as I write this (Denver 24, Carolina 10), and it just stunned me that so many people would be attending a ball game in the Thirties.
And finally, when was the last time anyone has seen a fur coat with the animal's head still on it? I always thought that was rather disgusting from an aesthetic point of view. When Lisbeth shows up at a Paris night club she's wearing one that looked like it might have been a fox. An elderly aunt of mine had one once (decades ago) and it was fashioned so the mouth latched on to one of the legs to snap it in place and it just grossed me out.
So just getting back to my original point, it was totally frustrating for this viewer to see how Alan kept giving Lisbeth the brush off and she kept rolling with the punches. Finding out about the wife in Paris would have found most mortal women going through the roof and she simply regarded it with general equanimity. For his part, the long put off and put upon Steve (Robert Montgomery) should have read the tea leaves long ago and moved on, but then I guess we wouldn't have had this troublesome dynamic. Interesting that Alan and Steve never came to blows over their respective relationships with Lisbeth, another plot element that doesn't stand up to scrutiny in the human nature department.
Traffic in Souls (1913)
"That man has handled all the money from the infamous traffic."
With it's sensational subject matter, it's not surprising that "Traffic in Souls" wound up banned in some cities. If you think about it, here's a film made over a century ago that dealt with prostitution and the white slave trade in a rather frank manner, adding elements of police detective work and a shoot out between the cops and the sex traffickers that would have had theaters packing them in. There's even a madam with a whip employed to force a victim to do the bidding of the slavers, all very provocative and eye opening.
Without a clear sense of when various forms of technology and communication were invented, another surprise for this viewer was seeing how the brains behind the procurement enterprise kept tabs on his underlings. Trubus (William Welsh), the 'man higher up', used a form of dictograph and a recording tablet that had all the earmarks of science fiction for 1913. As far as taking down the bad guys, it seemed way beyond coincidental that the father of the abducted girl at the heart of the story was the one to invent a device to record the phone conversations that served to put them away. Not to mention how all that contrasted with modern day notions of warrant-less search and entrapment. But again, this was over a hundred years ago.
An interesting item for discussion. After Trubus and his minions were busted, how does one take the death of his wife? Did she die from the stress of the ordeal, or did she commit suicide over the disgrace? An inter-title card describes that she 'escapes his shame', so one is inclined to lean to the latter idea. But isn't that always the case, the worst one of the lot lived a dual life as the head of the International Purity and Reform League!
"You mean he's your brother brother?"
It seems the Star Trek movie franchise took itself less seriously as time went on. "Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home" parlayed a lot of humor into the script, and it's follow up appeared to up the ante whenever the principal players were on screen. The best was when Scotty (James Doohan) knocked himself out explaining how he knew the Enterprise like the back of his hand. Speaking of which, it appeared Scotty and Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) packed on a few pounds between films, didn't they? And maybe it's just me, but it seemed like DeForest Kelley might have been under the influence during the first half of the picture.
Actually there was a germ of a good idea in the story for an effective sci-fi film. Sybok's (Laurence Luckinbill) empath power taken to it's extreme was an effective device to explain how he got followers to come over to his side. The search for Sha Ka Ree beyond the Great Barrier at the Center of the Galaxy would have been made more effective however if it wasn't insinuated that God was on the other side. That whole concept fell apart as soon as Kirk asked the logical question - What does God need with a starship?
Overall not a terrible movie, but throughout there seemed to be a sense of something lacking. The camaraderie between Kirk, Spock and McCoy didn't seem as natural here as in the past films, and 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat' just wasn't going to fix it.
Chandu the Magician (1932)
"Beg pardon Captain, is this where the danger starts?"
Edmund Lowe as Chandu the Magician may have had hypnotic eyes, but they were no match for Bela Lugosi's own in the film he made just prior to this one, "White Zombie". Lugosi uses that signature eye stare to mesmerize his victims and induce nightmares. I think in a head to head contest, Lugosi wins hands down, so even though he portrays a supporting character here, it's far and away his picture whenever he's on screen as the madman Roxor.
Then again, Chandu the Magician is no slouch in the theatrics department. For 1932, there were some pretty impressive effects concocted for the story. I thought the one where he turned the rifles into snakes, or created a vision of same, was done pretty effectively. Chandu had that great mystic vibe going for him too until nephew Bobby called him Uncle Frank. Some of the story's power seemed to deflate right there for me, seeing as how Chandu was a mere mortal.
For it's time, the picture was pretty daring in it's depiction of women, you'll have to check out the slave auction scene with June Lang as Betty Lou Regent, a kidnap victim of one of Roxor's henchmen. By the same token, the romance between Frank/Chandu and Princess Nadji (Irene Ware) was pure schmaltz, one in which Chandu's mysterious eyes turned googly if not downright comical.
You can't really evaluate the picture against present day efforts because you'll wind up disappointed. Most of the acting is merely adequate, but with it's special effects and Lugosi's insane portrayal of a world conquering madman, it's high in entertainment value. You should give it a try.
Jurassic Park III (2001)
"It's gonna be a walk in the park."
Not being a big fan of movie sequels, I've watched the Jurassic Park films in totally random order with no sense of continuity from one to the next. As a stand alone film, this third movie in the franchise was generally OK, though with it's shorter length and emphasis on action it was rather apparent that the film makers were relying on the success of the first two pictures to make a go of it with this one. The dinosaurs make their presence felt almost immediately, and there's an array of creatures either seen or mentioned that I'd never heard of before, like a 'suchomimus', a 'baryonyx' and a 'spinosaurus aegypticus', so if they appeared on screen, I'm no one the wiser. Actually the 'spinosaurus' had a descriptive enough name, so the walking dinosaur with a large fan on it's back was probably that one. Let's face it, with a franchise like this, the series can probably go on forever if the writers can get creative enough with it. For my part, when I'm looking for a little diversion I can count on a few stand-byes, among them martial arts flicks, Japanese monsters and the occasional dinosaur movie. If I want to think, I go for something else.
Fantastic Four (2015)
"We opened the door, we're gonna close it."
I don't come to these films as a Marvel Comic fan per se so for me it's simply entertainment. I do like to keep my eye out for comic legend Stan Lee for his cameo appearances but I didn't catch him here nor does his name appear in the uncredited cast list, so for me that was a minus. Same thing for the after credits sneak preview, there wasn't any so that's strike two. Otherwise though, I thought the picture delivered for what it was, a reboot of the Fantastic Four franchise that apparently has miffed a lot of the fans on this board judging by the negative reviews. I recall as a kid being upset when movies didn't maintain continuity with their characters, I'll use the Bowery Boys as an example. Today I watch those flicks and take them as stand alone pictures instead of nit-picking the film makers for changing the names of the characters or rehashing similar story lines. If I ever read the Fantastic Four origin story I've certainly forgotten it, so the way it was presented here seemed acceptable enough. If I have to come up with a negative, I guess it would be the ease with which the team took out Doctor Doom for the finale. In fact, he probably had a hand in his own demise by tampering with black hole science. But it's not anything I'm going to get worked up about.