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Up against it
This movie is a very different movie than almost anything you'll ever see. It begins with the young protagonist, played by Robert Wagner, involved with a young woman who is actually a non-entity in the movie. The only entities become the hero and two others, both of whom are ominous characters. The first, played by Peter Lawford, seems ominous at first, only to become a "moderate" sort who keeps the third man from murdering the young hero.
The third man (makes one think of the movie by that title, ironically), eventually sets his evil hooks out to kill the hero.
The movie becomes a fight from a very little guy against incredible odds, against a demonic presence.
There are drawbacks. The hero doesn't really have the affability and "Everyman" attributes that a character in his position would have, and we neither pull for or against him. His struggle for survival isn't convincing, nor are his solutions. But then, the demonic third character also isn't convincing, being too much a myth, but one which the mob needs to confirm its power among the public.
Still, it isn't a bad flick, and it doesn't plod as much as one would think.
Cool Hand Luke (1967)
A true anti-hero
The anti-hero is a term that is often misused. Here, it is perfected. In fact, Paul Newman during this brief period, perfected the anti-hero in this film and in HOMBRE.
This film deals with a very shallow man, Paul Newman's Luke, who goes to prison for a very sill reason. He goes with the flow, and as he states later, never plans anything. He just does what he does.
As soon as he is in prison, he is one of a group of new inmates who get the lecture from the warden, the one who gave us the famous line about "failure to communicate".
The warden wonders if "Luke" will be a problem child. Luke instantly assures him he has no such intention. But he does become a "working class hero", not by planning, not by trying, but just by being.
Luke never imagines he'll be the hero of the prison. The role just comes to him. He does nothing magnificent, but everything he does is magnified, chiefly by the hulking inmate portrayed by George Kennedy.
And that is how the working class hero is in real life. I've been there. The center attraction doesn't try to do it. He just becomes it. The anti hero is one who is not the traditional demi god who bravely starts trouble. Luke just answers when trouble comes to him.
This is the story of how legends are formed. In this case, it is a legend of a prison inmate.
Couldn't afford to see the movie? Watch the TV show
What a lot of people don't understand today is that during the fifties, sixties, and seventies, very few people could afford to see a lot of movies at the theater, and most had to travel a long way to see the big movies. Drive in theaters were hot and full of mosquitoes, with poor sound quality. Kids loved drive ins. I did. But the adults found them torturous.
"Cheyenne" was a Western, and one of the TV series in which the format was to show the stories of major films like TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE, ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE, and numerous Randolph Scott films.
Classic films would not appear on TV more than once every three years, sometimes once every ten years. Some, like A Christmas CAROL and THE WIZARD OF OZ, made a yearly appearance.
The writers must have felt very repressed, if they had any talent at all, because the episodes were pretty much clones of the films. Any changes made were due to budget. They probably didn't have a Mexican bandit in the Madre episode because they didn't have a sombrero. I wouldn't doubt it.
All in all, it was a very predictable show, but at least it wasn't annoying. It had a good heart, which makes it better.
Larger than life story
There are a few different types of classics. One of the most telling, and most effective styles is the "larger than life" style. It's where people are in over their heads. In music, it's the saga of ordinary men like Chapin's taxi driver, the dirt band's Mr. Bojangles, and Fleetwood's Rhianon.
Here, we get the larger than life story of five men trapped underground presented with the "lifeboat" choice. Four are scientists and one is a security guard. This actually predates the Star Trek episodes which made this a sort of comedian's Paradise. Not saying the security guard gets it, but he's certainly vulnerable.
The four scientists figure there is enough air for four to survive, not five, and they decide to choose by lots who will stop breathing, via the security man's gun.
There are a few dramatic points here, but unfortunately only three of the five men really have any dramatic input. The other two seem to be just "filler" as far as the theatrics goes. Arthur Kennedy almost gets a one man show here, with a few interjections here and there from the others.
Still, it's a classic story, and was meant to be memorable. It's a top of the line story, with a twist ending.
Bombastic and preachy
The trouble with movies that obviously cater to the most radical and violent of atheists is that you get a script like this, which is ten times as "preachy" as the loudest Southern Baptist evangelist.
It's loosely a story about a very boring woman who is going to perhaps go into space. On the other hand, she has a rival played by Tom Skeritt, who may be the one who goes out into space.
The notion that she is refused to go on the trip because she is an atheist is not only contrived, but delusional. If anything, opportunity is denied to theists in the real world, never to atheists. Proof of this can be seen on the internet by the constant whining against theism, but none against atheism.
Everything about the story is "contrived", and predictable if you are believing a first grade drop out wrote this. It's just another of the usual atheist preaching from a pulpit in a retarded way. How is it retarded? To say it without a spoiler, I'll say that the story first claims atheists are superior, wise, and correct, and yet then says that there is a cognitive force at work to destroy all theists.
Yes, it is that retarded.
The Monuments Men (2014)
Basic message without being overly preachy
The message here, of course, is the value of culture and art as opposed to human lives, but that's putting it simply.
Clooney and company make it clear they aren't justifying murder for art's sake, or justifying the deaths of the many people who built the wall of China.
A group of middle aged men, experts mostly in art, volunteer during World War II to salvage art stolen by the Nazis, some of it meant to be destroyed, much of it meant initially to be reissued as "Nazi propaganda" with the extermination of everyone who would say otherwise, and when the war is nearly lost, obviously meant for use as a fortune stock pile for Nazis to buy their lives with.
The volunteers aren't vital to any other effort of the war, and this is what they want to do. They are determined to risk only their own lives, and that is an important cog of this story.
The film has poor sound quality, and you need closed captioning, so it's hard to give a high score to, but it is otherwise well directed and written, with the liberties of the facts taken not too extensive. It isn't like the crazy OK Corral stories we have gotten from Hollywood.
"Culture" is not only overrated, as the characters here overrate it, but it is in fact responsible for almost all atrocities. Pol Pot even felt his sadistic Khmer Rouge was his own "culture" and "art". Should that be salvaged? If Hitler won the war, and exterminated all who questioned him, the very art that was the culture for other people would be the "art" and "culture" of his Reich, of his Satanic cult of Nazis, virtually the hand picked most demonic of the German people. It would then be heralded as their work, and be their "culture". Don't think it couldn't happen.
The good news is that the film doesn't preach the point to us, but only states that "culture" and "art" is that important to the "monument men" who risk their lives. This is important to remember.
Two war game geeks fantasize about being pirate and assassin
This is not the worst show ever, but it may be the worst mini-series ever. It's about the pirate, Blackbeard, and a ridiculous assassin sent to kill him.
The supporting characters are fairly well done. I have no problems with any of the acting. They do their job.
The writing, however, is preaching prattle of the usual two worst writers in a group, who will prattle on in a coffee shop with the "my sadist can out-sadist your sadist" plots. It looks like two war game geeks, the sort who actually put hundreds of dollars into playing on line games, a pair of bubble boys, wrote this.
It's too stupid to sit through. First of all, Blackbeard was not a "coffee house guru". He was a coarse fellow, and any charm he had came from that. In reality, his subordinate pirate whom he hated was probably more interesting, and his portrayal in this show is pretty well depicted. Blackbeard, though, was a braggart more on sexual and animal prowess.
The two guys who are the lead are more athletic versions of what in real life are Sydney Greenstreet and Orson Welles look alikes, who have none of the talent of Sydney or Orson.
The show is just a sermon of sadism for the first hour. It takes a masochist to sit through it. It isn't a bit entertaining, for that very reason. Whatever entertainment value it could have, well, it is scrunched out by the idiotic writing.
What is the most ridiculous thing that happens? There are many "nominations", but I think the most "expository" is when Blackbeard decides not to torture the doctor assassin, who is a total idiot, because he believes the doctor would suffer more to see a friend tortured. This, even though he knows the doctor already murdered one of his friends, and has done everything to avoid death and pain. Again, it really diverts from whatever scenery there is, and makes us see a writer trying to contrive a story to go his way.
This is a show made for fat bubble boys who play video war games, and spend thousands of dollars playing them. That's what it is. Period.
Big Ass Spider! (2013)
The way to do comic sci-fi
This is a huge step up from the usual sci-fi channel sort of cheese.
Unlike most of what the sci-fi channel has done in the past, this isn't "self-indulgent" or "self important". It's not "seventies" formula of "make the audience for the movie". It's more "make a movie for the audience".
I have a special personal reason for wanting this to be a good flick, since the last name of one of the characters is my family name, and I was happy to be satisfied with the results.
It works mostly for many reasons.
First, the characters are well done. What really worked is that the hero didn't initially push himself into the usual "fight the authorities" routine that is formula. Initially, he is ready to walk away, and the way he is drawn back in makes for a great comic duo situation similar to what worked for "Tremors". In fact, it works better, because these two characters are more likable, although not as glamorous.
That's a second thing. While not "glamorous", the two heroes who attack the giant spider are not freaks either. I actually would rather have seen a pudgier heroine than the "model" figure they gave us, to fill the bill with a totally risk taking venture. She didn't have to be a blimp, but she could have looked less "centerfold". Being a hard body military officer, it fits she would have a good body, but I actually would have liked to see battle scars on her face, to make for a totally different venture.
The third thing that works is that it isn't "contrived" in fatalities. It's entirely "draw of the cards", with none of the silly judgment calls that make most screen writers look like hacks. There are a few tawdry and slimy characters who would die in most such movies, just out of poor writing, that here just go about their business, without becoming spider food.
The victims here are mostly "luck of the draw" victims, with no "God playing contrived writing", and only one victim dies stupidly, but it is realistic considering this day and age. He dies stupidly because he feels above the situation in a godlike way that people who do what he does actually do. It's both credible (in an incredible situation) and humorous.
The humor is exceptional. It is very well done. No one takes it too seriously, and even the usual "government idiots" routine is done with a grain of humor.
There were a few too many silly special effects for me, but I realize there are dorks who need special effects to be happy, and we have to live with the beavis, butthead, Ted Baxter, Al Bundy, and WKRP Herb types who abound in society, those who insist on state of the art special effects and trivial background stuff no sane person cares about.
I'm also not into the "gore" scenes also made for those same dorks, but this movie didn't overuse the "gore". It just punched in enough to make beavis and butthead guffaw a few times.
It was a good mix. I would even rate it higher if the female lead would have been more casual looking, and if there were fewer typical gore scenes.
Once Before I Die (1966)
Two stories, one weak, one strong.
This is actually two plots as I remember it.
I saw it in the days of antenna TV, when we were lucky if we could make out faces. Antenna TV was why it was necessary to make TV shows and movies (which would eventually go to TV) with very different looking actors, unless it was a plot device to cause confusion.
It had a style to it. And I didn't become annoyed by the Ursula character, probably because while the title suggested her character was the forefront, she was actually just the backdrop.
Her story about the soldier who may die a virgin, and other soldiers who are constantly near her, is the weaker story here, and is downplayed, despite the title.
The strong story, which really became the forefront story, was the one about the loose cannon soldier.
The loose cannon soldier dominates the story, especially in a scene where he gives an account of how he destroyed an enemy unit, and is ridiculed by those he gives the account to, until he shows them the proof.
It probably would have been a much better film without Ursula in it, although she is talented, and does her best. The fact is that her part is just not really a part of the story here.
Voyage of the Yes (1973)
El Condor Pasa
This is a bit of a hidden gem. Not a master piece, but a very good film that didn't look like it needed a large budget. If it had a large budget, some one got a lot more than usual.
It is almost solely about two young men on a small craft in the ocean, on a long Odyssey. The reason for the trip isn't as important as the trip. It's the trip that is the film.
The perils of the shark were not as down played as they are today. The shark in this movie makes an attack, and we get the all too real peril of being in the wilds, away from any help, trying to doctor a shark attack.
The perils of gangrene aren't mentioned enough in films, even today, and I hope it isn't a spoiler to say that this film is about that peril, as well as the drama between the two young men.
More over, it is a vehicle for a song made popular by Simon and Garfunkel, EL CONDOR PASA. This song is an easy listening song that requires minimal instrumentation. One of the young men, and you can guess which one probably, sings this song on the boat. The film is worth seeing for this, as well as all the other reasons stated. There is just enough to keep your interests throughout.
It's a timeless piece that should be as enjoyable today as it was then, with a stage drama air about it.