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Les trois mousquetaires (1974)
Very Good Children's Musical Version
This is the one a lot of we X-ers saw in elementary school, with some good humor and songs that STILL linger in the memory. The film begins with a slow sequence to the tune of 'Wake Up! It's a Lovely Day!/It's the perfect day/To take your breath away!' You meet each of the three musketeers, then D'artagnan, and the owl whose presence on the cover of this DVD confirms that this is the film that's bedeviled my memory for years.
There are other songs at key moments--I also remember, 'Freedom and Liberty,' at least it does show the final fighting of the English and French at Le Rochelle, and a VERY sinister animated villain version of Cardinal Richelieu. Milady DeWinter is... chilling. I later went on to read the book, and I still have fond memories of the Michael York live action--but I can STILL hum the songs from this one. That's quite something!
The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)
Thinking Man's Western
A bit of research provides this humbling realization--the most improbable parts of this film are the ones based upon reality. The wrongly-accused Marlow brothers DID resist a lynch mob and an ambush assisted by their guards, and in the end, the survivors found legal vindication.
A sheriff and his deputy wait at the station for the expected arrival of a brother with a bad reputation. Instead, an obvious hired gun arrives, about whom they worry, about whom they do... nothing. John Wayne, eldest and most formidable of the Elder brothers, comes in the back way and even attends his late mother's funeral at a safe distance. One of the most interesting aspects to this film is Wayne's character's repeated refusals to fall into ambush, to do the stupid thing.
Their parents are dead, the family impoverished, the scent of fish slowly rises as Wayne, particularly, but also Martin and a VERY strong cast of supporting actors gradually unspool the plot. A hired gun... an ambitious gunsmith and his son, even in his early days, Dennis Hopper did edgy and creepy with a master's abilities. Who ARE the good guys? The Director is honest enough to let the viewer go with his impulses to trust the Brothers--rightly, as it turns out.
George Kennedy makes a creepy, convincing heavy, one with a psychopath's utter lack of concern for legality and a sadist's delight in inflicting pain. There are few scenes to rival his gleeful torturing of an inoffensive undertaker interrupted when he looks up to receive Wayne's pick handle in his face. Seldom is a steaming dish of come-uppance so satisfactorily served.
The growing and utter hopelessness of the brothers' cause manifests itself with conviction. The villainy of the scheming antagonist grows more and more manifest until he murders his own son without any particular sign of remorse. There is an intensity here that rewards the careful watcher, there is a breadth to this film worth a bit of slow pacing in the second half.
On the whole, a convincingly superior effort.
Yankee Buccaneer (1952)
Grand Old B Movie
It's a lot of fun to watch a movie that just entertains, with plenty of swashbuckling, a stunningly beautiful heroine, manly male leads, and a fairly ghastly, but amusing story. One can't help being struck by the simple beauty of the leads--Brady & Chandler had 'A' movie looks, and there is really nothing to fault on their performances. The doomed and stunning Suzan Ball parades the deck in a series of stunning dresses, and shows the looks and talents behind the little legend.
It is fun to think of David Porter and David Glasgow Farragut fighting the last gasp of piracy in the Caribbean. Joseph Calleia makes a magnificent and cheerfully evil Spanish governor, the kind of villain who puts you on the rack and offers you sherry. George Mathews makes a wise-cracking and dipsomaniacal CPO who would have been broken below Seaman 2nd in any serious navy, but still has fun and lets us have it, too.
The story is utterly nonsensical, historically ridiculous, and the props and costumes have nothing do to with the supposed time period, with the exception of the U.S. navy uniforms shown early and never afterwards. It is only two to three times more plausible and accurate than the recent Disney abominations.
An American Carol (2008)
Great Laughs, Sudden Tears
I note a distinct lack of specific criticisms in the negative reviews, almost as if those hostile hadn't noted a single scene... Curious, that...
The honest humor and sincere patriotism in this film was very refreshing, and one fact--that again, curiously, the hostile reviewers seem to miss--is that it suggests an accurate awareness of our nation's history could lead to the rehabilitation of even... Michael Moore! Ah, well, 'Lord of the Rings' was optimistic fantasy, too... Moore and his disciples will neither understand nor appreciate the compliment Zucker paid them... After all, they're into 'documentaries!'
Kelsey Grammar hasn't impressed me this much since 'Down Periscope.' He actually does humor, exaggeration, sincere and powerful earnestness, and even a turn of action film in the same movie, and he did... not... take... himself seriously for a moment. It was a true, rollicking tour de force by an actor who has earned my respect.
I should mention the cameos... For once, I could stand Bill Riley, and perhaps the only redeeming thing I can say about Paris Hilton after seeing this film is that she can laugh at... herself! Kevin Sorbo was very funny at a vital time. Jon Voight... You forget what the great old actors can do. His scene, which I shall leave vague, brought my laughter up short... and my eyes swimming with tears and reverence for the words he spoke.
Lots of the trademark 'Airplane' humor, and there was a lack of viciousness in the film, which amazes me given a political environment when people daily tear into the President, calling him things that, if they were true, would make them suicidal for having mentioned them! Zucker laughs and points fingers, but there is a sense in this film that the objects might yet see his points, and laugh with him, and us, and remember to rejoice in the nation... It is an optimistic film, to re-iterate.
The scene that got to me the most took place at the final denouement of the concert section... Note the soldiers in the audience carefully. It was nice to laugh so heartily during this dreary election year, for which, I thank all involved with this film.
Tunes of Glory (1960)
Recriminations for a Vanished Empire...
If it were a matter of just the acting alone, what else could Mills and Guinness receive but a 10? Both of them turn in performances not a whit less than stunning.
It's funny, but one of the first, disturbing things that struck me about the film was the error in having postwar British Army troops in Battle Dress, cheap for costuming, but discarded long before the end of the war itself, and completely vanished in peacetime. Perhaps that's emblematic at how the movie gropes earnestly for the military soul, but misses its mark in the final, most important clinch.
Soldiers are NOT as fragile as both Mills and Guinness's character are shown to be, hence my note about 'recriminations.' I could believe that Mills's colonel had been damaged by torture and strain during the war, and that, in the end, broke him. He made some positively dreadful mistakes in the command of his regiment, mistakes that made this lifetime student of the art and science of command positively CRINGE. The man had no business being in command of a battalion, only family sentiment could have allowed him to be given a post in which he failed himself and his command so miserably.
He is shown to have collapsed, failed, and ultimately 'laid violent hands upon himself' because of the ruthless character of Guinness's character, his antagonist. All right, the cruder, rougher, 'midlands' Scot is ruthless, crude, and elemental. The obvious solution to the problem he posed was transfer, or, wiser, for Mills's character to command the battalion THROUGH him, harnessing the wind to draw the ship. All right, the damaged Mill fails to control the elements.
It does not, however, make sense that the wind itself would disintegrate after Mills's character takes what any active soldier--a man who'd seen combat, and triumphed--would have considered the coward's way out. If 'Jock' was so callous as to drive Burroughs to suicide, Jock would not have disintegrated in the aftermath, as Guinness is shown in an overlong scene doing. It did not convince. I would have ended the film when Guinness's character makes calm arrangements for the disposal of Mills's body.
I think the date of the film is the answer. In 1960, despite the best efforts of what remained of the British Armed forces, the Empire was in the later stages of headlong disintegration. Obviously, someone had to blame, and since the thin red line had broken, it had to be the fault of frail, neurotic men--such as Guiness and Mills portray.
I would say the reason for the loss of the Empire can be found in other regions. The movie IS an excellent study in command, I would recommend that officers in training view both 'Tunes of Glory' and 'The Caine Mutiny.' But both are fiction.
One note--the side-story romance of 'Jock's' daughter with an enlisted piper must needs be remembered to explain why Jock committed a very-nearly unforgivable breach of military etiquette. A Sandhurst graduate would never have thought of striking an enlisted man. A 'mustang' such as Jock had BEEN an enlisted man, and the barriers would not have been in place as strongly. Jock paid his daughter's suitor the complement of decking him.
Still, it bears repetition: Men who have bathed in blood do not disintegrate at the sight of a corpse in a washroom.
Flushed Away (2006)
Two New Worlds for the Mice of One!
Oh, it was a fair amount of fun, and added to the Nick Parks-ian world of animation and visuals with some head-on treatment of some surprisingly serious issues.
The loneliness of the comfortable material life vs. the support and reassurances (and disadvantages) of the large family life get their treatment in a rather moving scene. The city-mouse hero, who was catapulted from comfortable isolation into a teeming, streaming water-world of the London Sewers (the joke where he clutches in panic what turns out to be a candy bar in his descent is priceless), sees through a closed window the heroine's teeming, oddball family and begins to realize that what he had, what he lost, what he wants to get back to--may not be worth very much. And he does have to make some very tough decisions.
Some bracing profundtiy swirled in with a great many hilarious jokes and gimmicky schtick that you have to think back over to appreciate all the humor. The two amphibian villains--the Toad and Le Frog-- are caricatures that go right for the throat of British and French culture, but, no fear, we Yanks get a good pronging, too, and the Royals, and the Proles, and the Soccer fandom... As long as the guns rotate 360 degrees, I'm cheery.
Two strange worlds--London's sewers, and lower-class English life. Lots of boats and some snappy humor and some shameless, glorious sight gags. Fairly good computer animation with lots of eye-candy, and a chorus of singing slugs. Yes, it stands out, it is not more of the same, and is good for multiple viewings.
Just don't leave the seat up.
Derivative, but Entertaining
The clichés are there, the stuff we've all seen before, the stuff derived from stuff derived from stuff derived from original stuff... BUT...
The dragon is convincing.
Jeremy Irons turns in a good performance.
You only want to HIT the young hero, not kill him.
Scenery very beautiful. Foul creatures and filthy villages convincingly foul and filthy.
Heroine in tight gold top suitably winsome.
Battle scene too confusing, but intense.
Best dragon since 'Dragonslayer' or 'Dragon Heart.' And you LIKE this one.
Yeah, recommended. Until Hollywood has the courage to go with the genuinely new stuff or the good old stuff it hasn't used it, a derivative but entertaining mish-mash will do. I'll take stew when I can't get steak.
The Wind and the Lion (1975)
A Guy's Movie about What's Good About Guys
One of the best 'guy' movies I've ever seen has to be the Wind and the Lion. Gad, the scenes...
Raisouli's bandits swarm over the wall... A staid British gentleman calmly gets up from tea with Candice Bergen and drops three of them with a Webley revolver in his coat. A whisper from the ghost of Empire... Lest we forget! Lest we forget!
U.S. Marines coming ashore from the long, long gone _Brooklyn_. They were carrying Krags, it should have been Lees, but, oh wow. And the Winchester 97 blowing large holes in obstreperous natives and even more obstreperous and faithless Europeans...
Raisouli --Sean Connery, o, Wow!--wondering 'What kind of gun does Roosevelt use?"
Teddy Roosevelt--Brian Keith, o, Wow!--wondering "What kind of gun does Raisouli use?' and writing yet another angry letter to Winchester about the stock on his Winchester 95.
Raisouli, armed with but a sword... A Prussian cavalry officer, HOLSTERING his pistol and drawing HIS sword... Honor. That's something long dead, from a world long gone, but Raisouli would never have flown a plane full of children into a building...
Milious at Milious's magnificent best, and now out on DVD.
The Sea Wolves (1980)
Intrigue and Adventure for Adults
A ponderous, but stately homage to the British Empire and the actual superlative function of British Intelligence. It is beautifully photographed, and in no hurry, which is somewhat refreshing in the light of modern, hyperactive drama. The film features solid acting by some great names supported by a prime polo stable of British character actors. The film makes a conscious effort to keep close to the historical record, which would be the reason for some of its more unlikely episodes. Only the writers of fiction need restrict themselves to the probable.
David Niven is worthy of himself, as is Gregory Peck, with an underplayed British accent. Roger Moore has a great deal of fun being a spy who is NOT James Bond, and is clearly enjoying the role. His feminine antagonist is portrayed as lethal and skilled, and Trevor Howard does himself credit in advanced old age.
The film's accurate sets and equipment are the results of many of the actual parties involved assisting in the film, which was made two years after the actual records of the Raid on Goa were finally made public by the British government.
Quit Whining, Brits--It's Truer than You're Admitting!
Again and again... 'It didn't happen... The Brits captured the Enigma Machine First.' They did. THEY JUST WOULDN'T LET THE U.S. NEAR IT! The United States Naval Cryptography division made a deal to share two of the 'Purple' machines they had built with the Brits in exchange for one of the TWO the British had, ONE captured by the POLES and sent to England while Britain and France watched Poland fall. The British reneged on the deal. Sorry, Yank, but we jolly well DON'T care if you have one, not our chaps being sunk, and all that...
And so an American destroyer team trained and trained for a special mission to force a U-Boat to the surface and capture it and the Enigma on board before the Germans could scuttle it. DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR? Want some proof? Go and see the U-505 in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. But, perhaps y'all'd rather whine and bad mouth the United States. It does seem to be a popular hobby. So, the U.S. had to go and get its own Enigma machine. This is a fictionalized account of all that, and tremendously entertaining. Under the circumstances, it's not something the Brits should be mentioning. It's stuff like this that lets you see how far Europe IS falling. The movie is taut, well-directed, well-acted, reasonably accurate historically with modifications. A lesson on the basic nature of military command is better put here than in many other movies. Given all that, I can't understand why the rest of the world hates this movie so much. After all, it's such an excuse to bite the hands that saved you.
The Last of the Great Disney Live Fantasies
Airships and Vikings... What more could you want? Truly superior acting by of all people David Hartman, and Donald Siden's ruthless and ruthlessly Edwardian Sir Anthony Ross is a delight... Also a film in which ethnic actors are allowed to be ethnic, but without stereotyping.
Jacques Marin's Captain Brieuax is ruthlessly Gallic and heavily accented (naturally, Marin's a native Frenchman), yet his courage and resourcefulness are at least as great as his colleagues, and the exact same can be said for Mako's Oomiak, who, while reconizably an Eskimo and inarticulate, is portrayed just as heroically as the rest, and with great sympathy on all fronts.
What a refreshing look back this movie is, with its superb special effects and interesting plot twists. I wish they DID still make them like this anymore.
Of interest: The great airship _Hyperion_ was actually built for the filming, and I believe it is on display even now at Euro-Disney. It actually flew, and was flight-tested by two Goodyear pilots.
Ice Age (2002)
A simple story well told.
This is a film that treats serious subjects, but doesn't take itself seriously.
The seriousness of some of the issues here can surprise you--life and death survival, questions of loyalty, sacrifice and courage, and just as they start to weigh down one's enjoyment, comes madcap, skillfully done comedy to wash the heavy stuff down.
The animation is excellent, willfully artistic and stylized, but rather serious in the way it depicts backgrounds and characters. The writers demonstrate a certain gleeful unpredictablity in the plot and jokes, but the audience enjoys being gulled and deceived, and all ages seemed to appreciate it in the crowded theater in which I saw it.
Oh, and give an acorn to a frantic rodent, would you?
Four out of five stars.
The Edge (1997)
A Morality Play in an Immoral Age
A very strong performance by Anthony Hopkins, Bart the Bear, and Alec Baldwin, in that order, in a film that deals with the important subjects of virtue, wisdom, and morality. I can understand why some of the modern audience might find that to be a turn-off. The sets and locations alone are worth a rental, especially of the DVD, the haunting Goldsmith score lingers in the memory and enhances the viewer's pleasure in the film. What a joy it is to see a film that is tautly and expertly written, that tells the salient details of the plot but leaves you guessing--through repeated viewings--of the whys, wheres and whens of the development. If you favor serious drama--if you relish philosophy--if you don't need a film spoon fed to you or so puerile that they try to stun you with explosions--you will enjoy The Edge. My choice of a collegiate vocabulary in this review is deliberate.
The Ghost and the Darkness (1996)
A beautifully photographed, well acted film...
One thing that stays in mind considering this film are the outstanding visuals. The railroad, the construction site, the various sets and outdoor locations--and the lions, the terrible lions, moving through the billowing tall grass... Very fine performance by Val Kilmer, who's always good, supporting actors generally superior... Some might fault the plot because the characters made the obvious mistakes, but they're obvious NOW, and we've all seen Jaws, and the fact is that the two very big kitties got to where they were grabbing workers off the train before someone was finally able to settle their kibble.
I consider the film two hours of very superior entertainment.
The Patriot (2000)
God forbid! It's PRO-American!
The whinging of the folk complaining about this film's unabashedly pro-U.S. sentiments got me angry enough to respond.
First of all, if the British WERE so blasted wonderful, sweet, gentle, etc., WHY EVER did we revolt from them? I've read the accounts of the time and the grinding truth of it was that Americans did not have and were not going to get the rights of Englishmen in any other way than by taking them at the point of a gun. Oh, right, guns are icky... Freedom is icky... The U.S. is icky... Keep repeating the lies until everyone believes them, and don't let the truth near the schools. If any of the self-assured boors who deny the ferocity of some of the British even know the names 'Banastre Tarleton,' 'Simon Girty,' and 'Jane McCrae, then I'd be stunned--and then call them liars instead of uneducated.
Sets, costuming, scenes, all superb. Acting, uniformly good. Score, wonderful. Some telescoping of historical events, some historical characters (such as the brilliant Nathaniel Greene and Lafayette) not quite as prominent as they should have been. Battle scenes staggering, and well executed, scenes of every day life very well done.
It is a shame when patriotism is something some find objectionable in a film. I was amazed to find it at all.
The Black Hole (1979)
Something of a morality play, building to a grand climax
The cosmic forces of personal evil and the all-devouring black hole run inexorably together in the melodramatic, but impressive, Disney bid for science-fiction glory. The dialogue is at times very clumsy, but the special effects hold up surprisingly well from 1979, and the film has a way of groping for and sometimes touching the deepest fears, terrors, and inspirations of the human psyche.
People have objected to the cutsie robots, I found them fairly effective and well-thought out. People refer to the film as derivative from Star Wars, it owes more, rather, to 'Silent Running' and, of course, '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.' Few celluloid starships have matched the majesty and eerie terror of the U.S.S. Cygnus, and the acting of all characters is no drawback to the film. The ending is ambiguous and intriguing.
The current Anchor Bay (NOT Disney) DVD is of superior quality to such products offered by Disney itself, and avoids the Mouse's rather disgusting parsimony in offering genuine bonus material.
Down Periscope (1996)
An amusing, surprisingly well-informed, farce.
Perhaps you need a naval historian, which I'm, to get some of the jokes, but the basic premise--that an old diesel sub might get through our defenses--is one that DOES occupy the uneasy dreams of our admirals. Kelsey Grammer and his crew of misfits are quirky, eccentric, and somehow delightfully believable, as are the depictions of infighting between the crew and the officers conducting the exercise that makes up the plot.
One unsung star of the film is U.S.S. Pampanito, currently in San Francisco harbor, and a fine old relic of World War II that can still be visited. STAY TUNED FOR THE CREDITS!
Jeremiah Johnson (1972)
What a movie should be
Jeremiah Johnson is a starkly simple story well told. It is the journey of a man who seeks to re-make himself. Johnson becomes disillusioned, like Thoreau and even Ulysses S. Grant, by the Mexican War and deserts to become a mountain man. There he finds the Rockies starkly beautiful and completely without mercy for him or anyone else. Will Geer plays the older trapper who teaches the 'Pilgrim,' a very solid performance by Redford, how to survive. The film's treatments of Whites and Native Americans is profoundly even handed, and Milious's fingerprints are noteworthy in the robust and calculated course of the narrative.
The Big Red One (1980)
The BEST WWII Modern Movie
Having seen both this and 'Ryan' I find that this film--for all the heroics of Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill--is by far to be preferred. The difference is that a veteran of the U.S. First Division DIRECTED the film--its action is as real as he and his memories are. Lee Marvin's portrayal of the Sarge is as grim and gritty as the role requires, proof of his talent, and the film does not flinch at all from the darkest horrors of its subject. And yet, and yet, it manages to end on an uplifting note of human decency.
An addition--two years ago I found and purchased the three-hour extended version on DVD, cut footage having been mercifully saved from oblivion. Be grateful this was so. There are more courses at the feast, the meal is far more rich and satisfying, the film goes from a great film to a very great film. I am doubtful that World War II will ever get a better individual treatment than that provided by the three-hour extended version of this epic. Kudos to the Denver Film festival for featuring and celebrating the production of the full version of this masterpiece.
In Harm's Way (1965)
The BEST WWII Navy Movie
A film to show to John Wayne haters, it has stopped even his bitterest critics in full cry. Sensitively filmed in black and white, a superb cast of actors show the functions of human characters against the grinding and terrible necessity of war. The special effects are really quite good for the time, and it surpasses by far such films as 'Tora Tora Tora' and 'Midway,' for all the distance it carefully keeps from complete historical reality.