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True Grit (1969)
A great film underrated with faint praise
John Wayne won the only Academy Award of his extraordinary career for this movie, and the conventional wisdom is that he didn't really deserve it; it was more of a lifetime achievement award. Unfortunately, this widely-held belief leads people to devalue the film itself. Well, I don't know what was in the minds of the members of the Academy when they gave Wayne the Oscar, but I do know he deserved it. True Grit is his finest film, and Rooster Cogburn is the character he'll always be identified with. This is the archetypal role of an archetypal American. Also it's a fine script and an engaging story, and the support from Robert Duvall as Ned Pepper, Jeff Corey as Tom Cheney, and Kim Darby as Mattie Ross is all you could want (yes, I know Darby is annoying in the part, but she's supposed to be
Mattie is an annoying character). Also, short but excellent appearances by Strother Martin (a wonderful actor who is, himself, grossly underrated) as the corrupt and crotchety Col. Stonehill and John Fiedler as Lawyer J. Noble Daggett are priceless. The exchanges between Darby and Martin over some shady horse-trading shine with Mattie's spoiled-brat intransigence and crackle with Stonehill's dry wit and frustration; they are among the funniest and best-written in Western history. Many consider Glen Campbell miscast as the bumbling Texas Ranger LeBoeuf, but I say if you want to cast a bumbler, you can't do much better than someone who doesn't know how to act. (9/10)
Tank Girl (1995)
A Fun, Underrated Action Comedy
I saw this movie when it first came out years ago, and loved it. But it seemed like I was the only one who did; the reviews in the paper trashed it, my friends hated it, and it was out of the theater before most folks ever got a chance to see it. Now it seems to be having something of a renaissance on video. Its reputation is growing, but there is still an awful lot of silly hatred for this film out there, and I think folks are really being unreasonable about it. Okay, so this is a silly movie. So what? It was supposed to be. It's just an action flick. Check out the page for Die Hard, for example. That film rates an 8.0, while this poor movie is stuck at 4.6. Why? Sure, Die Hard had better effects; it had a slightly larger budget, too. But Tank Girl is funnier, smarter (no, really, I mean it) and has far more interesting characters. Lori Petty is sexy and mad-funny. Neither film is high art but this one is simply more enjoyable (and I like both), so why the huge difference in ratings? It seems like the expectations for this film were higher than they should have been, maybe because the feminist theme (good women kicking evil men's butts) misled people into expecting a work of serious political or social intent. But if anyone thought that, they obviously knew nothing about the film or the story coming into it. In the first place, the movie was based on a COMIC BOOK, for goodness' sake. For that matter, the comic in question was basically a feminized and humorized version of The Road Warrior, not all that serious a motion picture in itself. Also, the casting of Malcolm McDowell as the villain should have provided a clue; he's the most reliable bad guy in Hollywood, because you always know exactly the character you're going to get out of him. The trailer, with all the crazy outfits, ridiculous kangaroo costumes, and zany one-liners shouldn't have misled anyone. Plus, why on Earth would expect Citizen Kane from a film called "Tank Girl" in the first place? This movie is exactly what you want for kicking back and enjoying an evening: a fast-paced, engaging bit of semi-sci-fi which, surprisingly, really does achieve a few genuinely beautiful moments, especially the dust-shower scene (to Portishead's "Roads"). Ignore all the cynics. This film is a blast. It's pure entertainment with a good cast and zany, silly story
it's the closest you'll ever get to a live-action Bugs Bunny cartoon. Just lay back and dig it. P.S. The soundtrack is fun, too.
La morte vivante (1982)
A Good Idea That Deserved Better
I expect that Rollin, when he made this film, was just trying to make a few bucks off teenage boys with a plain old breast-and-blood flick. And really, that's all this is. Certainly every cast member gets naked at one time or another, and certainly there's plenty of blood, though the gore is never really overwhelming. Also, the script is pretty poorly written. I mean, it's inaccurate to say that the story is full of plot holes
the story itself is basically one big plot hole, starting with the first scene and continuing the length of the picture. I spent a lot of the time staring at the screen saying, "What? But, but
what?" What sets this film apart, though, what makes it worth watching, is the interesting transition taking place in the relationship between the main characters, which intimates a depth of story that Rollin probably didn't intend. The story is that Catherine (the Living Dead Girl in question) has to kill and feed on her victims, and with each victim she grows more nearly alive. But the interesting thing is that, as Catherine becomes more nearly human, she becomes more and more horrified with what she's become and what she's compelled to do. Meanwhile, her friend and protector Helene, at first revolted by the change in her friend, becomes more and more inured to the horror she and Catherine are perpetrating. It's interesting that, as Catherine becomes more and more human, Helene becomes more and more monstrous. To me, the dynamic between the two main characters is an idea that deserves a better exploration than this movie is able (or willing) to give. I would love to see someone like David Cronenberg rewrite and remake this movie; I believe it could be a horror classic with the right people behind it.