Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
The best cop show of all time
I've been reading the books for years, patiently waiting for the next one to be written and published. The writer, Michael Connelly, has been hands-on in adapting his books to the screen, and he and whomever else was involved knocked it out of the park. Titus Welliver captures the character unbelievably well.
At some points the story line on the show deviates from the books, but these deviations were done by Connelly himself, and the funny thing is, I agree that the deviations make for a better television series. The books span from 1992 to the present day, and ongoing, and occur in that time frame. Where in the books we read about Bosch aging, and follow his career arc over 25 years, this can't be depicted on TV.
To anyone unfamiliar with Bosch, I urge you to read the books, preferably in order. And watch the show. Connelly has masterfully created a great character, in both the books and on TV. I am only sad because I've read all the books and I've watched all the shows. Now I have to wait for the next release of both.
Secrets, Lies, and Story-Telling Interruptus
This seemed in its first two seasons to be a most promising show. Leading with Sam Shepard and Sissy Spacek as Robert and Sally Rayburn, it has a great cast, Ben Mendelsohn, Kyle Chandler, and Norbert Leo Butz particularly stand out, but there are no weak acting performances. The setting is the Florida Keys, and the story line taps into Southern Gothic elements and into the prime time soaps of the 80s such as Dallas and Flamingo Road to draw inspiration. Lots of long-buried but not forgotten family secrets and lies swirl around, creating intrigue, mystery, things that happened long ago, but still loom large.
We tend to like the John Rayburn character (played by Kyle Chandler) the best, but as the show progresses we can see his flaws and feet of clay. Indeed, every character in this show is fundamentally flawed. Probably the Chelsea character played by Chloë Sevigny is the best person in the story.
It appears as though show runners Glenn Kessler, Todd A. Kessler, and Daniel Zelman believed they had five or so seasons to tell the tale of the Rayburn family, and they plotted for it to unfold over that kind of time frame. The viewer could see where they wanted to go, into the secrets and lies of Robert (who, exactly, is Beth Mackey?), as well as the secrets and lies of Sally (what is her relationship with Roy Gilbert?). Lots of little Easter eggs hidden here and there to be returned to at a later time, but never done, because Netflix pulled the plug on the series before they could. There were so many threads and not enough time.
It's not too much different from what HBO did to David Milch with Deadwood, when HBO just pulled the plug. Milch never even tried to wrap it up, but here the show runners made a weak effort to wrap it, but then gave up trying. Too much to tell, and not enough time.
Watch it and enjoy it. it's good enough. it's just way too short and maddeningly incomplete. Attribute that to Netflix and their business decision.
Fargo: Somebody to Love (2017)
Season Three Was Most Excellent
Season three is better than season two, maybe better than season one. Props to Ewan McGregor. He gets the credit. Playing two roles as he did, and doing each phenomenally, he has furthered his career exponentially, the bozo below notwithstanding, who opined that McGregor had somehow hurt his career. Also great was Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Nikki Swango. Outsmarted everybody she did, except possibly herself in the final standoff. Speaking of which, the final standoff has a glaring hole in the story: How does Emit just drive away after running out of gas? Other than that, not bad. Not bad at all.
The Cowboys (1972)
Coming of Age Story
People say (and write) many things about this movie, most commonly that it's some sort of a "message" movie, or allegory, about the war in Vietnam. Whether it is or isn't (and I say it isn't), it doesn't matter a whit. The movie stands on its own merits as (1) a fine movie, (2) a John Wayne movie --one of his last, (3) telling a good story, (4) a coming-of-age story, (5) with fine acting all the way around. In addition to The Duke, we have Roscoe Lee Browne playing the role of cook and philosopher, charming, dignified, and charismatic, and Bruce Dern, occupying the role and position of probably the all-time most evil "bad guy" villain in cinematic westerns history, and Dern more than delivers the goods. Through it all, the movie remains a coming of age story for the ages, and the proof is in the fact that it stands up well, even now, 43 years after its release.
I believe the controversy stems from the fact that it's a John Wayne movie, and he was a known hawk when it came to the war. So people read into that what they want to read into that. But simple logic dictates otherwise, that this movie is not about the war. Wayne would never have participated in an anti-war film, so that rules that out. And Bruce Dern and director Mark Rydell were both known for their liberal and anti-war politics, and would not have signed on to a pro-war movie. Ergo, the movie was not making any kind of direct and intentional statement about the war, for or against.
It's a bit ironical for me personally that the film carries with it that pro Vietnam war or anti Vietnam war controversy, either way (and people say both things about it). I was in Japan on R&R from Vietnam when I saw this movie in the Spring of 1972, in a Japanese theater amusingly dubbed into Japanese with English subtitles. To this day I still don't know why they did that. Why not just Japanese subtitles? But the buzz about the movie at the time was not that it was pro-war or anti-war, and I never heard any such theory like that until many years later. The only popular buzz about this movie in 1972 had to do with the nature and fact of the demise of John Wayne's character.
Good Times (1974)
This show's transition over time...
Many reviewers note and comment upon how this series transitioned over the seasons, for the worse. Most pivotal was the shift from it being a series about the travails of James and Florida, raising a family and trying with make ends meet, and overall do the right thing, and doing it with dignity, to a show about the antics of their teen-aged/young adult son, J.J.
The show had good ratings in its early seasons, so why the change?
As is always the case in life, follow the money. In this instance it's about selling advertising time. The good ratings this show enjoyed during it's first seasons did not hold up in the key demographic: 18 to 34 year-old viewers, with money. They were trying to attract a younger audience.
Rambo at rest
In the Rambo universe this is the best Rambo movie of the lot. Admittedly we're talking about a limited and perversely esoteric universe, but, hey, that's a given going in.
Why does this film enjoy this lofty perch? It's hard to put your finger on it, but I say it's Sylvester Stallone's relative evolution and maturity as a film maker. Stallone built into the story and into the Rambo character itself some understatement and subtleties not before seen. Understatement and subtleties were never Rambo/Stallone's main calling card, preferring instead brooding and vengeful extreme blunt force trauma, and make no mistake, we get heaping portions of the latter here too, but Stallone layers a little texture into the plot and into John Rambo not much before seen. "Not much before seen" rather than "never before seen" because in truth the first Rambo film, First Blood, did contain texture to the story and to the character, but it was of a different sort (Rambo as mentally unstable, a victim of an unpopular war). Besides, since that first entry Stallone took the franchise and character off in a different direction.
The story begins with Rambo living somewhat contentedly in semi-retirement as a snake hunter and riverboat operator in Thailand. The inner-brooding Rambo, and maybe even traces of the inner-simmering Rambo are still there, but he seems to have to some degree come to terms with himself and the world. He is approached by a team of American Christian missionaries to take them upriver into Burma. The team's leader, Michael Burnett (played by Paul Schulze) earnestly tries to persuade Rambo to take them, but Rambo is having none of it. During this early scene some of Stallone's newly found understatement and subtlety shows itself. Michael, negotiating with Rambo to take them uppriver, tells about their humanitarian mission, while Rambo is tending to his caged snakes. While tersely telling Michael that Michael can't make a difference, Rambo unobtrusively feeds a little white mouse to a snake. Where the old Stallone would've highlighted this act, focused the camera on it, and then made an ostentatious display of the snake devouring the mouse, the mature Stallone does not. The focus is on the conversation and the mouse is in the background, and it happens quickly. We the viewer are left to ponder what we fleetingly saw, and only later realize the conceit of the metaphor.
Rebuffed, Michael gives up. Undeterred, the only woman in the group, the comely Sarah (played by Julie Benz), picks up where Michael left off. She pleads with Rambo in just about every way possible to take them to Burma. Rambo still says no. More than once he tells her to "go home." After pleading doesn't work, Sarah resorts to basically stalking Rambo. In a conversation on the dock in a monsoon-like rain Sarah is able pierce through Rambo's impenetrably hardened exterior, touching him inside. "Maybe you've lost your faith in people. But you must still be faithful to something. You must still care about something. Maybe we can't change what is. But trying to save a life isn't wasting your life, is it?", she asks him. There's something about Sarah that reaches Rambo unlike anyone else, this Rambo or any previous Rambo. And we know at this point that Rambo has in some manner bonded with Sarah, because he finally relents.
As an aside, I briefly wondered if this wasn't a set-up for some sort of love interest for Rambo, however counter-intuitive and implausible given their age differences, but at the same time it seemed possible, being uncertain about the state of Stallone's ego nowadays. Sarah informs Rambo that she and Michael are engaged, and that changed the dynamic, but didn't necessarily dispel the notion. Instead, it was Sarah's persistence and ability to reach Rambo on a purely human level --in no way sexual-- that dispelled it. At one point she says to Rambo, "You have family back home?" Rambo: "Father, maybe. I don't know." To which Sarah says, "Aren't you curious to see how things might've changed back home?" That simple exchange left Rambo at least contemplative, working on the soft inner Rambo, the Rambo of First Blood, who couldn't find his way home after all he'd been through.
The first action scene follows soon, when they are overtaken by well-armed Burmese river pirates. The pirates quickly focus on Sarah, with obvious malevolent lascivious intent. At crunch time, with no way out, Rambo kicks into action, dispatching the numerous pirates with extreme and bloody prejudice in seconds flat. At this point we know that Rambo hasn't lost any bit of a step since we last saw him. We also now see that Rambo has bonded with Sarah, and that he's got her back forever and ever.
Rambo ultimately drops the group off in Burma, where they'll go overland to their destination, and leave that way too, so they bid themselves adieu. But we know it's not really adieu.
What follows for the next 60+ minutes is pretty much your standard issue search and rescue operation, Rambo style. Modern special effects galore. A veritable blood-fest . The film, despite its sensitivities and appeal to the soft side of Rambo, is perfunctorily taken out of the chick-flick genre. A little different twist though: Rambo works with a team of hired mercenaries, led by former SAS commando Lewis (played by Graham McTavish). Also of note is former SAS sniper extraordinaire, "Schoolboy" (played by Matthew Marsden), a loyal and efficient operator who has Rambo's back. Rambo shows himself a capable team player and leader, in addition to being a one-man doomsday machine.
At the end, we see Rambo back in Arizona walking up the drive home to his father's ranch, presumably for the first time since he left oh so many years ago.
Is this the end of the franchise? Maybe. Probably. We'll just have to wait and see. I'm betting it is. Rambo at rest.
Artificial Intelligence: AI (2001)
If you don't like this movie, here's a suggestion...
I won't say people will either love this movie or they will hate it. I'm sure it breaks down that way to some extent, and the range of opinions expressed about the movie support that notion, but I'm nevertheless also sure there are those out there who are ambivalent or indifferent about it, neither loving or hating it. That's because I'm one who was ambivalent about it after I first saw it in 2001. There was much to like about the movie. Film makers par excellence, Stanley Kubrick and Steven Spielberg. Does it get any better than that? The cast was good too, all of it. Especially Haley Joel Osment. Production values galore. The film is beautifully rendered. But even with all that there was something about it that bothered me, even annoyed me, and whatever it was it got in the way of my enjoyment of it. So I dismissed this movie and didn't even think about again it for years. Recently it popped up on HBO. I took the opportunity to watch it again. I found myself not being as bothered by the movie as I was before. HBO being HBO, I watched it again. And then again. Now there is nothing about the movie I dislike or that bothers me. I now like this movie without reservation. I also figured out why I reacted the way I did in the initial viewing.
My suggestion to those who don't like the movie is watch it again, and give it your thorough attention. Your opinion may change. For a couple of reasons.
First, this is a very complex movie. There's a lot to take in, visually, cognitively, philosophically. I've now seen it four times and I don't believe I've yet absorbed all there is. We're talking Kubrick AND Spielberg here. That alone tells you this movie contains much to behold. I'm not of the school who believes that Spielberg mucked this up after Kubrick died. Yes, Kubrick nursed this project along for over 20 years, from initial writing and treatment through rewrite after rewrite. But it was Kubrick who hand-picked Spielberg to direct it, years before it finally was made, Kubrick leaving his indelible imprimatur, but Spielberg likewise leaving his too was always anticipated, including by Kubrick. Kubrick wanted Spielberg's touch on this movie. Nor do I believe the movie is "20 minutes too long". Those last 20 minutes are not just Spielberg schmaltz, they are important to the resolution of the story. Throughout the first 126 minutes of the movie we are asked in myriad ways to care about David. The last 20 minutes gives meaning to that caring. Without that conclusion there is no meaning, just a cold void.
Which leads directly to the second reason why I recommend repeated viewings, and the explanation for my initial reaction. The story is about a robot designed and programmed to be just like a little boy, who wants to be a real little boy, and who literally spends thousands of years seeking the return of love from his human "mother" who he was programmed to bond with and love. That's the basis from which all manner of questions are asked and explored, about the meaning of love, humanity, and of existence itself. I submit that this storyline told that way --about a child-- ultimately overwhelms the emotional senses. It more than tugs at the heartstrings. It yanks at them. While we might care about the android Data on Star Trek, or about the robot Robin Williams plays in Bicentennial Man, both of which also want to be human, our caring for those "adult" robots is nothing compared to the caring we feel for the child David here. With an innocent child seeking his mother's love it all goes way over the top. Add to the mix that Haley Joel Osment played the role masterfully. With this recipe the movie bluntly manipulates our emotions, something it does too well. It becomes distracting and difficult to watch, let alone to process analytically. Think Bambi, but on steroids. Many of us just shut it down, saying to ourselves, "I don't need this maudlin stuff in my life." Thus affected, the viewer never appreciates the movie's rich themes because the shutdown blocks all that. What I found, however, is that subsequent viewings lessens the distracting effect, and the movie becomes much easier to watch and fully appreciate. Oddly, it appears that Kubrick and Spielberg knew exactly what they were toying with in this respect, and they did it intentionally. It is embedded in the story itself. The flesh fair's barker, as he was getting ready to destroy David, has to keep reminding the audience that David is only a machine, not a real boy, and he implores the audience to not allow their emotions to be manipulated by the machine's child-like appearance. As David tearfully pleads for his life the audience is swayed, giving David an opening to escape. The inner audience, the audience within the story, is is being manipulated the same way we in the outer audience, were being manipulated. This must be a conceit by intent and design.
As a child actor Haley Joel Osment was nonpareil. The Sixth Sense told us that. This was his last role as a child, and after this he became a different actor (see e.g., Secondhand Lions). Puberty did that. His career as an adult actor is just now beginning, and what that holds in store remains to be seen. But as a child he was very very good. Maybe the best ever. And this is him at his best
If you haven't seen it, be prepared to see it more than once. If you have seen it, see it again. This is a movie that gets better each time you see it.
Forrest Gump (1994)
An Amazing Movie
I saw this movie in the theaters back in 1994. When it was released on VHS I obtained that version. I've watched the movie about once every two years since then. This is an amazing movie in any number of ways. One big way it amazes me, is the way which it, as a simple and guileless little story, like a feather wafting in the breeze, nevertheless evokes raw rank hatred and eyeball-bulging, forehead vein-popping, spittle-spewing vitriol from liberals and so-called "intellectuals" who are absolutely certain that, like a guided missile, it is seeking them out, intentionally, personally, to insult them with rightwing thoughts and ideas, and by a nitwit character no less. Hahahaha. As if.
So let's first thing pop that little pea right out of the shooter. Let's dispense with the bilge of this movie being some kind of sub rosa rightwing plot. Puh-leeeze. This is a mainstream Hollywood production. Robert Zemeckis, Tom Hanks, Sally Field, and Robin Wright Penn are all known Hollywood lefties, liberal devotees who would take the pipe long before allowing themselves to be associated with or be used by anything akin a rightwing movie, let alone be openly and voluntarily involved in making one. Bottom line, this is not a political movie. This is not a movie which is making any kind of political or social statements in any respect. People who think it is doing any of that are just working way too hard over-thinking it all. Period. It's odd because it's really not all that complicated of a thing to understand. Which leads directly to another amazing thing about this movie: it is amazing the way the simple little message the movie is actually sending just sails right over so many people's heads. Amazingly they just don't get it, and based on the comments here they still aren't getting it 14 years later and counting. So if you fall into that category let me help you out.
What is the message of Forrest Gump? Stripped to its purest essence, this movie is about loyalty and devotion, particularly to the ones in our lives we love and care about. These are the human values being reinforced. Loyalty. Devotion. Forrest Gump embodies loyalty and devotion. To his mama. To his good best buddy Bubba. To the love of his life, Jenny. To his leader, Lt. Dan. And in the end to Forrest Jr. One by one and all together Forrest sticks by and takes care of his family, friends, and loved ones. This is the thread running through the entire story. This is what carries Forrest to all of the remarkable places he goes along the way.
The use of a mentally challenged man as the leading man is a conceit, used to illustrate the point that loyalty and devotion are the most important things in life, trumping everything else. It drives home the point that nothing else really matters anywhere near as much. Indeed, it drives it home with blunt force. Maybe it drives it home too hard for such a simple little point. Maybe this is where the movie's detractors get themselves side-tracked.
There are a number of other amazing and remarkable things about this movie. The performances. The special effects. The almost poetic simplicity of the story and the way it is told. See it for all this and more, but please, don't over-think it.
Wanda Nevada (1979)
I 'm of two minds about this . . .
In 1979 I avoided this movie. Such were my tastes then. Most people in my age group at the time, late 20s, were somewhat aghast about the whole Brooke Shields-as-a-movie-star concept. People in my age cohort will remember how she was regarded back then: a little bit gawky, and with her long dark hair, flawless skin, and overpowering eyebrows, she was also seen as preternaturally adult-like, uncomfortably so. Her mother exacerbated that discomfort, with her apparent intent to get her daughter cast into roles to highlight and exploit that preternatural adult-like quality, to essentially sexualize her preteen, early-teens daughter. Mom seemed convinced she had the next Elizabeth Taylor on her hands which she was determined to cash in on. The camera loved Brooke, no question, still and moving cameras alike, she was photogenic her entire life, but this nevertheless was a phase when watching her on screen was on the uncomfortable side. With all that I took a pass in 1979, and never really thought about it again. Brooke went on to have a credible career as a real adult, particularly on television, and particularly after she began making her own career decisions. When thinking about Brooke Shields as she was, her early career, and her being sexually exploited, I've flashed on Pretty Baby and The Blue Lagoon. Wanda Nevada was forgotten about, at least by me.
Wanda Nevada was on cable TV this weekend, and I decided to watch it. I must say, it surprised me. Premium cable being what it is, movies shown are shown over and over, so I watched it twice. It is a charming, almost whimsical little movie. Equally charming is Brooke Shields in it.
A few things about the movie bothered me, but overall I found myself liking it more than not. This movie is largely Peter Fonda's movie. He directed and he starred as the male lead opposite Brooke Shields, but he didn't write it and he didn't produce it, the importance of which distinctions will become clear below. Fonda directed the players, mainly himself and Brooke. And with Brooke, he did it well. Little Brooke steals the movie.
One little thing Fonda could have corrected if he had known to is the annoying repetitive pronunciation of Wanda's last name as "Nev-ah-da," the way many east coast people say it. This movie was set in the desert southwest, where people know how to properly pronounce Nevada, something I know, because I'm from there. Nev-aaa-da. The middle "a" is a short "a", as in bad, mad, sad or dad.
Another thing I could've done without was the supernatural sub-text. The Native American lore was great. Even the psychological fear of Indian ghosts by itself would've been great. But when glowing ghost Indian arrows start flying, actually harming and killing real characters, verisimilitude goes out the window, and it stops being a movie which takes itself seriously.
My biggest problem with the movie relates to my comments above about the sexualization of Brooke Shields. First, let's be clear: Brooke Shields IS NOT sexualized in this movie, nor is she exploited in that way either. The story itself is nevertheless disturbing. Brooke Shields and her character were 13 years old here, and Fonda and his character were 38. There is no way to mistake or misinterpret the implied intended love interest between them, especially with them riding off into the sunset with one another, which is what we are left with, him 38 and her 13, together, that way, end of story. Beaudray is clearly not Wanda's father figure, guardian, big brother, or business partner. Happily, nothing overt, untoward, or even suggestive between them is explicitly depicted. No touches, kisses, embraces, not even any coy glances or facial expressions. Peter Fonda deserves enormous credit for this. My guess is whoever put this movie project together, along with the stage mother, conceived it as another explosively hot vehicle for Brooke Shields as the marquee player, fresh off Pretty Baby the year before, with The Blue Lagoon to follow the next year. In other words, to be exploited the same way. They knew what they wanted, and Peter Fonda was thusly told to follow the script as written. Fonda meanwhile recognized what this material was, and he knew what NOT to do with it. I read elsewhere that Fonda's acting performance was not good here, that Brooke out-performed him. Maybe that's for a reason. Maybe Fonda the actor was trying to take the Beaudray Demerille character some place other than that of a 38-year old man who would take a 13-year old girl as his lover, layering him with other nuances, giving him other motivations. Remember, Peter Fonda's daughter, Bridgette, is just a year older than Brooke Shields. Men with 14-year old daughters don't want such aged girls in the way this story goes, nor are they remotely titillated by the idea. Usually it's a repulsive thought. Which I submit is what may have been going on here with Peter Fonda. Left to his own devices and given the freedom, I say he would've told a little different story, and probably a better one too. Riding off into the sunset as they did, into the ever-after, was a disturbingly poor ending under the circumstances.
Chalk it up to the times. In the 1970s movie makers either pushed the envelope with these themes, or seemed oblivious to what they were doing. Summer of 42, Taxi Driver, Pretty Baby, The Blue Lagoon, Wanda Nevada. Could these movies have ever been made at any other time, before or since? Of those, maybe Wanda Nevada, maybe because Peter Fonda saved it from itself. Say what you want about the Fonda clan, but sexploitation of 13-year olds is not their style. And by the way, watch for the cameo of Henry Fonda.
She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)
It seems trite to say they don't make them like this anymore. But it's a fact. They don't make them like this anymore. And it seems likely we won't be seeing them making them like this ever again. This is John Ford at the height of his career, at his best, doing what he did best. On location in the Monument Valley, it is more than fair to say the scenery, the colors, even the weather, along with Ford's cinematography, particularly the patient framing of his shots and making full use of the setting and environment in which he filmed, are every bit as much stars of this film as are the featured human stars.
None of which is to say the human stars weren't good. John Wayne in the lead turned in a remarkable performance. Wayne was 42-years old when he made this, but he was playing a character much older than that, perhaps as much as 20 years older, and Wayne pulls it off. He looks and seems like a 60-year old man. He showed his acting chops here.
Ben Johnson had been around awhile at this point, mainly as a stuntman, but here he makes one of his first forays into real acting, and he does well, which no doubt boosted his career.
Perennial John Wayne sidekick Harry Carey, Jr. is here too, at the ripe young age of 28. It occurs to me as I write this in November 2008 that he seems to be the last surviving cast member of this movie.
Joanne Dru. What can be said? While this movie was made before I was born, Joanne Dru plays the fetching young woman wearing the yellow ribbon and stirring the male ashes deep inside as well as anybody ever could, and she was quite fetching indeed. Her performance still striking that chord precisely that way almost 60 years later.
Ostensibly this is a western, but this movie is actually much more a military movie than just a western. John Ford was a military man himself, who ultimately retired as a Navy Reserve Rear Admiral. He knew what the military was all about, he understood and enjoyed military life, military ways, military customs, and military culture, and he clearly relished making military depictions. So that's what we see here. All that military stuff. Oddly, though, it all seems out of time in a way. This movie was made in 1949, just a few years after WWII. While making a movie about the cavalry fighting the Indian wars in 1876, the military culture Ford depicted seems more apropos of the 1940s than of the 1870s. For instance, I'm just not sold on this version of history where US cavalry men were burdened with and hauled around family members in the wild wild west. Maybe they did, but I'm not so sure. It seems much more likely this was a device added to appeal to 1949 audiences. There are other examples of this. This is the only flaw in an otherwise very good movie. And who knows, maybe it isn't a flaw at all, true or not. It's a good movie. Ford made a movie in which he talked to all those recently mustered out veterans he knew were out there populating his audiences. On that level he succeeds.
A Time for Killing (1967)
A 1967 Oddity
Others have nailed it. It's the casting that makes this movie interesting. Makes it worth watching too. Many names here. Ironically, Harrison Ford, probably the biggest name of all when one takes the long view, was an absolute total no-named nobody in 1967. Glenn Ford was the only true Hollywood movie star in the cast, although probably a little past his prime at this point. Meanwhile, Paul Peterson, Inger Stevens, and even Max Baer, Jr, who were household names in 1967, might well have younger folks these days scratching their heads, saying "Who?" But they were names then, mainly TV names of the day, but names nevertheless.
Based on the inspired casting, clearly somebody had some higher aspirations for this movie. Somebody was trying hard to inject superior production values into this project. Somebody wanted this to be a box office success, maybe even a noteworthy film. But, alas, whatever it was, something was lost along the way. We could speculate about it 41 years later, try to pin it on somebody, but why? No point to that. Suffice it to say that somehow somewhere before all was said and done it lost its edge.
Another consideration is the year, 1967. How could this offering ever hope to compete? As I've written elsewhere, 1967 was the very best year ever for movies. The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke, In The Heat of the Night, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde, The Dirty Dozen. Remarkable films all. There might be one such notable movie of the caliber of those in any one year. Two would be better than average. But six in one year? Extraordinary indeed.
The point is that 1967 was a remarkably good year for movies. Of course it's hard to flatly state that it was the very best movie year ever, because how could one possibly measure that? It is based on pure opinion. But try this: name another year that was any better than 1967. No can do. So this is the stuff A Time For Killing was up against as competition for the box office dollar back in 1967. It never really had much of a chance. In another year it might have fared a little better. But in 1967 it got lost.
Find Me Guilty (2006)
Surprisingly quite good
I see where people say that Director Sidney Lumet drapes the characters with moral ambiguity, and that the movie is "reprehensible" because we are asked to cheer for mobsters.
This movie is based on real-life events and the dialog is taken directly from real testimony in the transcripts from the court proceedings of a real trial where real accused gangsters were acquitted by a real jury, and the courtroom actually did erupt in cheers when the verdict was read. It is what it is. And Lumet conveyed that.
After 27 years as a trial lawyer let me also tell you that the character of the prosecutor, the Sean Kierney character as portrayed by Linus Roache, was a spot-on bulls-eye. Most people never have any interaction with the criminal justice system so they just don't know, but prosecutors are very often some of the most loathsome, morally twisted, side-winding, double-dealing, four-flushing snakes in the pit. They are capable of anything, because to them the ends justify the means. They tell themselves that they have to be that way to be effective, to win, because they are up against evil and it's all really okay in the end because they are on the side of good. You may even agree with that since they are indeed charged with taking some very bad guys off the street and putting them away, which makes it much safer for all of us. Fine and dandy. But don't complain about it when a filmmaker like Lumet comes along and depicts that unpleasant and ugly truth like it really is. It's another thing that is what it is.
The best thing about this movie, the thing that commends it, is the outstanding performance of Vin Diesel. The man showed his chops here as a first rate actor. He isn't who he appeared to be, he isn't who we thought he was. There's far more to him. I wouldn't be surprised to see Vin Diesel become and be known as one of the true Hollywood greats somewhere down the road. He shows that much potential here.
Also, let me join the chorus of other reviewers, and agree that Annabella Sciorra was totally awesome in the brief role that she had. Stunning is the word I would use to describe it.
See it for Annabella, and see it for Vin Diesel.
My Cousin Vinny (1992)
Underrated. I won't belabor relating and describing the plot, because that's been recited nicely by numerous others. I'll simply return to my one word point. Underrated. Even though Marisa Tomei broke through and won Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards for her performance, an award she earned and much deserved, I still say underrated. This film really never got on the public's radar the way it should have, probably because there are no big-name actors featured as box office draw. Joe Pesci was as good as it gets that way. In 1991 he was the hottest name in the cast. But has Joes Pesci ever established himself as a leading man who could carry a movie by himself? I ask that in open-ended wonderment, and certainly not disparagingly. Just asking, is it fair, has it ever been fair, to expect Joe Pesci to carry a film?
Regardless of Joe Pesci's latent starpower, this cast of players as assembled possessed remarkable chemistry in the performances they gave, not only in their interactions with one another, but also in the creation of a final product that excels way beyond the sum of its parts, beyond any of their individual levels of genius, certainly beyond anything that could ever have been reasonably expected of them. Competent though they may have been, these were not thespian heavyweights or comedic savants. You ever wonder why this singular performance 15+ years ago and counting remains Marisa Tomei's magnum opus? That might be one big reason why. The Germans have a word for this. It's called gestalt.
My inclination is to give most of the credit for this winning final product to director Jonathan Lynn. It seems obviously to be his creation. Who else singularly deserves it? Along the way it would have been such a cheap trick and easy thing to surrender to the obvious, but Lynn didn't do it. This is a story built around stereotypes. New Yorkers. Ethnic Italian New Yorkers. Southerners. Small town southerners. Southern justice. Southern small town justice with New York Italians in the dock. It would have been so easy to traffic in those stereotypes, to over-the-top cash in on them, to submerge the movie in them and to exploit them for all they were worth. These people could have been made into cardboard cartoons of themselves. Surely the Englishman Lynn was thusly tempted, but it was a temptation he mainly resisted. Oh, almost obligatorily, he dances us over to that edge and gives us a big whiff of all that, but instead of jumping in and wallowing in the stereotypes, he deftly pulls it back and carries it all off and away in a new and different direction, indeed in an uplifting direction. Just as there are no cheap tricks in this movie, there are no cheap shots either. People are not ridiculed for who they are or where they are from. It rises above that. Lynn raises it above that. Yes, the regional differences that exist are juxtaposed. And yes, we get the fact that cultural differences divide these characters. But the beauty of it is that no one is treated unfairly. In fact, the viewer comes away with the feeling that these are all good people.
Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei are given a broad canvas to create great humorous art, bouncing one, two, three liners or more off of each other, at the other's expense. It's the game they play with each other, the nature of their characters' relationship, and it's fun to watch. And this must be said: not only does Marisa give an exquisite performance, she is an utterly delightful feminine creature to watch here. As for the southerners, in not taking the bait to exploit the southerners as dumb hicks, Lynne actually captures part of the true but rarely portrayed essence of the south: polite gentility. Lane Smith embodies that essence. And Fred Gwynne? He practically steals the show, and would have were it not for Marisa Tomei.
What has been going through Joe Pesci's and Marisa Tomei's heads for the last 15 years? What is wrong with their agents? These two needed a sequel. If not a sequel, then more film(s) together. The dynamic between them was too good to just be abandoned. We should have been treated to much more of them together.
As a trial lawyer let me say that the portrayal of courtroom events, while certainly not perfect, is more than adequate and passable. One thing that is accurately captured is the fish-out-of-water experience of a city lawyer when subjected to trying a case in a far-flung rural county. This depicton conveys the essence of what that's like.
This movie deserves more recognition. It is clever, funny, and fun. I recommend it. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and indulge yourself.
The Heartbreak Kid (1972)
Good movie, more there than it might seem
This is a movie that operates on more than one level, most of which is so subtle as to be nearly imperceptible --or at least seems to be imperceptible, dwarfed as everything else is by the manifest opprobrium of the main character.
Superficially what we all clearly see is a dark comedy about a despicable cad, Lenny, who is not just despicable, but despicable with oblivious aplomb, a role played masterfully by Charles Grodin, the aforementioned opprobrious main character and star of the movie. That factoid right there sets up a dynamic wherein people are either going to love this movie or hate this movie, based strictly on how Lenny strikes them. Some find humor in this guy, but others do not. Many are off-put. So off-put, in fact, that they can't get past it. In that way I would compare this 1972 film to a more contemporary one, Sideways (2004). In Sideways the main characters, Jack in particular (played by Thomas Haden Church), were so personally offensive, in word, in thought, and in deed, that many people intensely disliked the movie solely on that basis. People say to me, "I hated Sideways." I ask them why and they say, "I couldn't stand Jack." Some perspective is called for here. The viewer is supposed to dislike Jack in Sideways. That was intended. Maybe find him a little entertaining --or not-- but disliking him is the intended effect. Likewise here with Lenny in The Heartbreak Kid. We are supposed to dislike Lenny. We can laugh at him too if we want to, and he is funny, but disapproval and repulsion is the intent.
At the very least Lenny's actions make most people just plain awkwardly uncomfortable. The movie thereby evokes certain feelings and emotions in the viewer that aren't often evoked by movies, which, all by itself, makes this movie unique. As a work of art it makes it a success. And that's just the superficiality of it. There's more to it than just that.
Bruce Jay Friedman, the writer, and Neil Simon, the director, were actually making some much deeper ethnic observations and social commentary here. Commentary about Jews, about Jews and Jewish culture in modern America, about Gentiles too, and about how Jews and Gentiles interact in that modern America. All that. But mostly the observations and commentary was about the condition of young Jewish men (some of the very same turf that was being plowed by novelist Philip Roth in about the same era as this movie was released). Lenny, the character played by Grodin, is the almost stereo-typical young angst-filled Jewish male, desperate to break out from the box of tradition which was preordained for him, and who rubbishes his very Jewish bride on their honeymoon to lust after a very Gentile blond, Cybil Shepherd as Kelly Corcoran, all as a part of that angst condition. The Corcoran family, meanwhile, presenting themselves as the cold, aloof uptight WASPs.
Friedman had a lot to say here. Simon executed it well. Probably among Simon's best work, although not ever really recognized as such. A remake with Ben Stiller in the Lenny role is now in the works, soon in the offing. We'll have to see if they improve upon the original. I have my doubts that they can even come close. While not perfect, the original is a good movie. But perhaps the time for this story has passed. It was relevant, pertinent, and apropos for 1972. Not so sure about that in 2007. Not to disparage Ben Stiller, but the underlying themes of this movie wouldn't mean as much today as it did 35 years ago.
Grodin and Shepherd give good performances. Eddie Albert did too. I heard Cybil say in an interview not all that long ago that she always wished they'd done a sequel to it, and that she was still open to the possibility.
Very much worth seeing before one sees any remaking of it.
Valley of the Dolls (1967)
A Movie Worth Seeing
Valley of the Dolls was the most hyped movie in 1967. People who come here to read about it probably have already seen it, and also know at least some of the back story about it, so I won't belabor all that. What follows instead is my view of where this film fits in its time. If you haven't seen the movie, and if you are genuinely curious about it, read on. I have no spoilers, and I have a suggestion for you.
It's been said that 1967 was the best year ever for movies. The Graduate, Cool Hand Luke, In The Heat of the Night, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde, and The Dirty Dozen. Remarkable films all. There might be one such notable movie in any one year. Two would be unusual. But six in one year? Extraordinary.
And, dropping down a notch, even some of the lesser known or less remembered 1967 offerings were pretty good. It was the middle of the cold war, so the spy genre dominated. Sean Connery made his 007 appearance in You Only Live Twice. But the James Bond franchise had some competition in 1967. James Coburn appeared in two, In Like Flint and The President's Analyst. And then there was the big budget spoof, Casino Royale. I'm tempted to mention Dean Martin and The Ambushers and include it on the 1967 spy movie list, but, to be honest, it's a movie that deserves to be forgotten. Beyond the spy stuff, George C. Scott was the Film Flam Man, and Julie Andrews was Thoroughly Modern Millie.
1967 was indeed a very good year for movies. It's hard to flatly state that it was the very best movie year ever, because how could one possibly measure that? It is based on pure opinion. But I can't name another year that was any better than 1967.
Which brings us back to the Valley of the Dolls, whose makers surely endeavored with it to make the very best film of 1967. It's bemusing to read or hear laments about how dreadful Valley of the Dolls is. Hello? Valley of the Dolls is what it is, and a big-budget Hollywood production of a Jacqueline Susann novel is what it is. This is what you get when you do that. What, you seriously expected something else? You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. It really doesn't seem quite so awful when you think about it that way.
Or, look at it this way: compare Jacqueline Susann to Harold Robbins. Contemporaries, although Susann died way too young at 56. Both plied the epic pulp fiction trade, and both were enormously successful at it. Both followed the same basic formula, exploiting tawdry little scandalous shockers --things that pushed the envelope of moral acceptability in those more encumbered times-- shocking the world by telling the dirty little secrets of the rich, powerful, and famous, and the things that they were supposedly doing behind the scenes. And both had big novels adapted to the big screen. Does anyone lament about how awful The Carpetbaggers or The Adventurers are? Why not? Because they are good? Well, not exactly. Maybe it's because no one ever had any other expectations.
Did any studio ever spend the kind of money adapting a Harold Robbins movie that was spent on Valley of the Dolls, and then hype it to the same extent? Not that I know of. Valley of the Dolls was off the charts. The error of raised expectations, that's what happened here. And it's obvious how it happened. The studio took a monumentally best-selling epic novel, and banked on piggy-backing their way to a monumentally huge epic blockbuster. So in that spirit they poured a lot into it. As a production, the movie is first rate. Good stars and a good cast. Good sets. Fashionable fashions. Style. And a soundtrack second to none. And it all works. As best as it can anyway, given the source material.
Much of the criticism of the movie can be tied to one fundamental flaw in the basic premise. Jacqueline Susann was a woman of the 1940s and 1950s, and her story fits those times, when Judy Garland really was hooked on barbiturates and amphetamines. But Valley of the Dolls is a 1967 movie, with a 1967 setting, and by 1967 Susann's premise was old hat, even passé. This flaw in timing seriously undermines the story and the movie.
So what we have is a big-budget movie made with production values galore, but based on a cheesy quasi-romance, quasi-pulp novel, and which is out of sync timing-wise. But, hey, other than all that, it's a good movie. It does manage to rise above its problems. Its superior production values save it.
Many people view Valley of the Dolls as a curiosity, because of Sharon Tate. Okay. It is a showcase for her. Oddly it also tries to showcase Barbara Parkins and Patty Duke. All three were budding starlets who surely saw this film as a major career opportunity. Odd, because it utterly failed to boost anyone's career. Patty Duke was already famous for her Oscar-winning role in Miracle Worker, and for her own television series, still her main claims to fame. Barbara Parkins's career never really went anywhere. Sharon Tate most likely would've gone on to greater things, but never got the chance. This became her primary showcase.
For those of you who haven't seen Valley of the Dolls, I strongly recommend that you read the book first. Most of us who saw it in 1967 did it that way. I believe that the movie will be much more meaningful that way.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying was my personal favorite 1967 movie. Just an opinion. I believe it captures the times the best. Valley of the Dolls is out of time, but is still worth seeing.
A Great, Great Film
To say that this is the best western ever made, or to say that it's Clint Eastwood's best film, would be wrong. Why? Because such droll understatement would be woefully misleading. This film isn't just those merely those things. Unforgiven ranks as one of the greatest films of all time. Period. No delimiters or qualifiers apply. And what follows is my view of this film's place in Hollywood history.
When John Wayne died in 1979 it was emblematic of the state of the western genre in Hollywood. In fact, Wayne's last film, The Shootist, dwelt on exactly that, and indeed that was what The Shootist was all about: the end of the wild west, the end of westerns in Hollywood, and, of course, the impending demise of John Wayne. Hey, to say these things --to make these statements-- is precisely why they ever took the time and the bother to make The Shootist. So then when the Duke really did die, the keys to Hollywood's westerns kingdom were handed off to Clint Eastwood, a bequeath almost by default. Through the 70s Wayne and Eastwood were just about the only ones left making westerns, and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), his then most recent effort, was arguably Eastwood's best film to date. But Clint deserved receiving those keys, because he had earned them. Clint patiently waited nine years to release his next western, Pale Rider, a homage to the western classic, Shane. In 1985 the general consensus was that Pale Rider was Clint Eastwood's finest film, his defining masterpiece.
But, as it turned out, Clint wasn't done. Seven years later, in 1992, he released what is now said to be his last western, Unforgiven. And with Unforgiven Clint hits all the classic western themes. I won't belabor retelling the story, because that's been done very well elsewhere in other comments. Nor will I dwell too much on the myriad layering of the characters. I will say that in watching and re-watching and re-watching numerous more times it became quite clear to me that Unforgiven was Clint's labor of love. It's the little things, subtleties, that reveal that truth. Things like the classic cowboy lines that roll off the character's tongues, without a second thought, but which reach deep and stay with you. Too many of those to list, but just read all the other reviews on this site, where they are recounted nicely.
One striking thing is the implicit irony that the characters, as ostensibly depicted, are to a one exactly opposite of their true nature, or of how they themselves want to be. The Schofield Kid, blustering braggadocio notwithstanding, is no killer. "I ain't like you Will," a chastened Kid says as he departs. And Little Bill Daggett remonstratively represents law, order, and justice, the supposed peace officer keeping the peace, is in truth corrupt and sadistically violent, unable to rise above his own vicious lawlessness. English Bob, the erstwhile cosmopolitan gunslinger, is a fraud and a coward to boot. And William Munney keeps saying he's a changed man, that he "ain't like that anymore." But, oh yeah, he is. The only honest character, the only compassionate character, is Ned Logan. He's the only one who kills no one, because of all of them, he really isn't like that, and yet he is the only one of the hired killers to get killed and to suffer the consequences of being a supposed killer.
To tell this story that plumbs the depths of human depravity, telling it convincingly, exploring various relative degrees of the human character, holding the requisite feet to the fire, and doing it all tightly in 131 minutes, Clint assembled great cast to work with: Morgan Freeman, Gene Hackman, and Richard Harris. All are marvelous. The film is a masterpiece.
Is Unforgiven to Eastwood as The Shootist was to Wayne, i.e., his own swan song of sorts? Well, certainly Clint, unlike John Wayne, wasn't dying, but the fact is Clint has never made another western. It appears that he has said all he has to say in that genre, and is finished with it.
And to the critic poseur who suggests that Dances With Wolves was a slightly better western, puh-leeeeze. Kevin Costner can't carry Clint Eastwood's jock strap, literally or figuratively. At least couldn't back then, at that point in his career. All too often, and certainly in Dances With Wolves, Costner's main attribute is his gargantuan --yet wholly unwarranted-- ego, and a self-absorption that runs amok, chewing scenery and stepping all over everybody else. And Costner's dime store cultural anthropology, while earnest, is laughable. The combination of Costner being Costner, a corn pone and contrived story, and the 4 hour length of the movie is a definite mind number. Dances With Wolves's real value is as a sleep aid. None of which is to say that Kevin Costner did not possess the capacity to make and leave an indelible mark on Hollywood's westerns. He did, and he did. But it wasn't with Dances With Wolves that it happened. In 1993 Costner's career took a fortuitous turn when he worked with Eastwood in the contemporary western, A Perfect World. There Costner learned and showed an ability to sublimate himself into a role, and to keep his egocentric tendencies in check. Immediately following that experience Costner released Wyatt Earp, a better film and a better western than Dances With Wolves. Then, in 2003, Costner, working with Robert Duval, made Open Range, arguably Costner's best work to date, and certainly the best western made since Unforgiven.
We can all hope that Clint has more westerns in him. If he doesn't, the keys he inherited from John Wayne appear destined for Kevin Costner. Again, by default.
Don't Believe Everything You Hear
Lemmee say right up front that, yeah, this was a funny show. I rarely if ever missed it. And it was cutting edge too. Really pushed the envelope. But, that said, you young'uns out there that never got to see it, don't buy into the manufactured swill that it was "censored." It wasn't. Tom and Dick made all the political and social commentary points they wanted to make. They just wanted to take it a step further and posture and pose as "victims" being stepped on.
Just remember, we are talking about 1967 and the few years following, and in those days it was easy to be cutting edge. The times they were a changing. And the Smothers Brothers were right there in the middle of it. But they weren't victims and they weren't censored. CBS (yeah, *that* "see b.s.," of the forged phony lying documents to try to steal an election fame. Yep, *those* guys) tried to hold them to the standards then extant of the Tiffany Network, as CBS was once and then known. Their sponsors, the ones paying for it all, demanded it. That was all.
Okay all you voters, you hate my comment. But I stand by it.
I said it was a good show. I said it was a show I rarely missed. My comment is that the allegations of "censorship" are way overblown. This show suffered from failing ratings. They tried to jack up the ratings by claiming that they were being persecuted, but it didn't work. It couldn't be saved. End of story. Use your common sense.
The Spikes Gang (1974)
A Good Movie
The Spikes Gang was made back in the days when Ron Howard was your prototypical golly gee whiz teenager, just a number of months after American Graffiti, and in the same year which Howard's TV sitcom Happy Days premiered. So there he was, still right smack dab right there in the midst of being the golly gee whiz teen-aged lad. He was what he was, and that's exactly what he was. Howard stayed with his acting career for awhile after this, through the 70s, but he never really broke out of that mold. If he had stuck with acting a little longer perhaps he might have been able to broaden his range. Or, on the other hand, maybe it's for the best that he didn't, since he actually did go on to have a remarkable career behind the camera.
The point being is that there is a bit of a surprise here, a difference between this and other Ron Howard acting vehicles, because here Ron Howard actually plays slightly against type, not entirely the innocent lad we usually see. This story has an edge, a serious steely edge, sometimes subtle, sometimes not, but definitely always there, and Les (Ron Howard's character) and his two buddies learn some things about life the hard way, harder in fact than one might have expected in a Ron Howard movie in those days. Another edge this film dances on is a precarious edge, at times the film dangles towards being a comedy of sorts, an amusing coming-of-age story, but at other times towards a deadly-serious drama. Robert Fleischer was an experienced and accomplished director. He knew what he was doing, and he did it well.
Lee Marvin is very good in this movie, as he usually was in most all of his performances. That alone is enough to commend it. And that's not all there is.
I would compare this movie to The Shootist. While certainly the stories and the themes they paint are very different, and the the dynamics of the characters are very different, the two films nevertheless operate on about the same plane, and some similarities do exist. Ron Howard learning hard truths about life from Lee Marvin. Ron Howard learning hard truths about life from John Wayne. The Shootist is noted for being John Wayne's last movie. The Spikes Gang has no such hook, and so it fell into obscurity. But my guess is that someone who likes one film one would like the other, and I like them both. I recommend The Spikes Gang.
The Four Seasons (1981)
Sorry, But It Just Doesn't Ring True
I first saw this movie at the theater way back when it was released in the summer of 1981. I remember being blown away by it back then. While I was closest in age to Bess Armstrong, for reasons I still don't understand I related to the older people, their friendships, their loyalties to each other, their honesty with each other. I guess I wanted to blindly accept Alan Alda's views about long-term friendships --meaningful relationships-- and of the world generally.
That was then. This is now. Fast forward.
This movie was on TV yesterday and I saw it again for the first time since that first viewing in 1981. As it was getting ready to start I was happily thinking to myself, "It's going to be fun to see this again," so I popped up some corn and kicked back to watch. I then proceeded to be profoundly disappointed. Whereas in 1981 I was 15 years younger than the main characters, in 2006 I'm older than they were then (or in Jack Weston's case, about the same age). And I saw a movie that was shallow --even phony-- and unrealistic. Life, relationships and friendships, just don't play out this way. I could specify umpteen arcs or vignettes from the movie that struck me that way, but let me just point to one, perhaps the main source of contention between the characters in the movie, which is when the Len Cariou character, Nick, dumps his wife Anne (Sandy Dennis) for the hot younger babe, Ginny (Bess Armstrong). In Alan Alda's world these people press onward and continue to socialize, albeit with an undercurrent of hostility towards Ginny (and towards Nick too, but to a lesser degree), but continue to socialize they do. Then Alda took it a step further, and it seemed at the end, after the emotional explosion, Ginny running out and jogging in the snow all night, and them finding out she was pregnant, the group was opening their arms, and was on the verge of accepting her. Here's the deal: now, after having lived life longer than Alda had when he wrote this, and now after actually having life experience in this area, I can tell you how this works in real life. My wife and I have had friends in our circle of friends where the husbands had affairs with much younger women, divorced their wives, and married the younger woman. It's happened a couple of times amongst the people we know and socialize with. What happens is the new couple gets excluded. Period. They don't get invited. They just don't. They are ex-communicated. Why? Because the wives demand it. The wives demand it out of respect, and the men go along with it and comply out of respect, not so much for the dumped woman, but for their own wives. And the wives continue to socialize with their friend, the wife who got dumped. And if anybody gets included in future gatherings, it's her, by herself, or even with a new boyfriend or husband if she has such. But the husband who did the dumping? He's outa there. Hasta la vista. Adios amigo. Abbas rebus. Every bit of him is gone. Oh, the guys might meet him for a beer or a drink or something. But he's no longer ever again part of the couples getting together. That's how that plays out.
But that's just one example. Long term friendships and relationships just don't evolve the way Alda imagined. The movie no longer rings true to me at all. Alda's world is way too contrived. Alda's world is phony.
Whereas in 1981 I thought the movie was about friendships and relationships, and I believed Alan Alda knew what he was talking about, mainly because I didn't know any better. In 2006 I can see that Alda got it way wrong. I also see what this movie was really all about. I can't really say whether Alda did this intentionally, but it's definitely in there nevertheless, and that is that it's about a group of people facing middle age, menopause, and beyond, and not really liking very much what they saw, not in themselves and not in each other. And a little bit afraid of it too. Maybe that's where Alda's own head was at.
Finding Nemo (2003)
Best Animated Film Yet
I have watched this film umpteen times with my 3 year-old granddaughter (I own the DVD), and I'm going to go against the grain and say that, while others may say that Finding Nemo doesn't quite measure up, I say that in many ways this film excels.
I believe that what most people find lacking in Finding Nemo is the adult-oriented humor. And it's true, there is very little of it here. There is nothing approaching the risqué or double entendres here either, those things that are supposed to go over the kids' heads and give the adults a big guffaw. So, as a result, adults looking for that kind of stuff don't find it and are therefore disappointed.
But if my granddaughter is any kind of a yardstick to measure it by, the kids love it.
While this film may not be a masterpiece, it's the next best thing to it. That's because the artwork is superb, unparalleled and unmatched. The coloration, textures, use of light, and shadings are the finest that have ever been done on any animated film ever, before or since. Shrek2 and Shark's Tale, for instance, came out *after* this movie, and, good as they are (and they are very good) they are nowhere near as beautifully rendered as Finding Nemo. Particularly Shark's Tale, which in some ways seemed to be a blatant theft and rip off from Finding Nemo, but in my opinion fails because it's just not as good, either art-wise or story-wise. But Finding Nemo remains a visually beautiful piece of artwork, and the kids love it. And that counts for a lot.
Anatomy of a Murder (1959)
A Spot-On Courtroom Drama
Anatomy of an excellent movie:
Begin with an extremely tight and well written script, from the novel by the same name. While reportedly the story is based on a real-life case it is nevertheless a timeless story, almost biblical, presenting age-old questions of human conflicts and human dilemmas.
Add to that a sensational cast, starting of course with the leads, Jimmy Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick, and Ben Gazarra, but also the rest of the cast, filled as it is with numerous accomplished and veteran stage actors and radio performers from days of yore. Character parts played by actors Arthur O'Connell, Eve Arden, Ken Lynch, Joseph Kearns, and Howard McNear. Someone paid careful attention to the casting for this film.
Perhaps the most masterful stroke as far as casting goes was the casting Joseph Welch as the judge. Welch was an experienced and renowned lawyer in real life. Welch turns in a very good and a very believable performance.
With the collision of those elements, a great script and a great cast, adding Otto Preminger as director, an overseer who knew exactly what to do with it all, you then have a very fine film.
More than any other movie or play, including modern day presentations like the television series Law & Order, this 1959 movie, Anatomy of a Murder, even though it is now 46 years old, is by far the most realistic and technically accurate courtroom drama ever produced. The conduct of the trial, the examination of the witnesses, the colloquy and bantering back and forth between the lawyers and between the lawyers and the judge, is spot-on. Every bit of it. Every question from the lawyers, every objection, every ruling by the judge, every admonishment from the judge, and the testimony of the witnesses, every bit of it, is realistic and believable, lines that were accurately written with care, and then flawlessly delivered.
Beyond the technical accuracies of the legal proceedings, some other aspects of the overall story were also spot on. The ambiguous ambivalence of lawyers, their motivations, their ethics, their relative honesty. Nothing is all black or all white. Shades of gray abound. Legal cases as sport. Being a "good lawyer" means pushing the envelope too far, bending the rules until you're told to stop. Not for justice. No, not that. To win. That's why. To win. Then sanctimoniously telling themselves that the system really works better this way. The movie accurately captures the fact that real-life legal cases are very often comprised of upside down Alice in Wonderland features. Innocent people are guilty, and guilty people are innocent. Good is bad, and bad is good. Everything is relative. Some call it cynicism. Others, cynically, call it realism. Anatomy of a Murder captures all of these and more.
I've read the criticism that Lee Remick was not believable, that as an actress she failed at nailing the portrayal of how a true rape victim would appear and behave, and that her character, Laura Manion, just didn't seem to have the proper affect nor strike the right emotional chord of a woman who had been raped. All I can say is that such criticism misses a humongous part of the point. It is almost mind-boggling that there are viewers out there who, after viewing this film, somehow managed to miss it. Let me clear it up: we the viewers WERE SUPPOSED to have serious doubts about whether Laura Manion had actually been raped. The question of whether she was really raped or not is central to the plot and story line. That's why Lee Remick played the part the way she did. And then, in turn, it was part of the story for the Jimmy Stewart character, Paul Biegler, to recognize this problem, and the problem that it presented to his defense. He worried that the jury would see it and would also doubt that she had been raped, and so that's why he propped her up in court, dressed up all prim and proper, with a hat over her voluptuously cascading hair, and with horned-rim glasses. So, yes, Lee Remick nailed it. Bull's eye.
Speaking of Lee Remick, some say that this was the movie that put Lee Remick on the map. She was stunningly beautiful here, at the ripe young age of 24. Even though the film is in black and white, her red hair, blue eyes, and porcelain skin still manage to jump right off the screen and out at you. Has any other actress ever played the role of the beautiful and sexy lady looking to get laid any better than Lee Remick? It was a woman she reprised several times in her career, sometimes with greater subtlety and understatement than others. This was her first rendition of it, and it may have been the best.
Anatomy of a Murder is a very complex movie, with multitudes of layers and texturing, where much is deftly explored, but precious little is resolved. It's a movie that leaves you thinking and wondering. I highly recommend it.
Then Came Bronson: Pilot (1969)
Those Were The Days my Friend, We Thought . . .
In the fall of 1969 I was in the US Navy going to a technical school that had begun several months before, and would go on for a few more months. School was 8 hours a day. At night we huddled in the TV room in our WWII vintage barracks, around an old 21" black and white, 25 guys trying to agree on one station, one show. Football, Star Trek reruns, and the World Series were no-brainers.
Bronson had to grow on us, and it quickly did. It was definitely a product of the era. Route 66 for the Vietnam generation. A precursor to Easy Rider. The great wide open. There was something to the show that grabbed you, if you were of a certain age. And 19, which was my age, was the right age. Everybody I knew who was of that age and who watched this show loved it. Not many others did.
But the creators of this show were a day late and a dollar short. I can't fault them too much though, because in those days many ideas were hatched on TV in an effort to glom onto the supposed youth market, but failing. It was a demographic that was on the move, and not sitting in front of a TV set night in and night out, week in and week out.
Our group finished school in December, 1969, and off we went, most of us to the fleet. Some to Vietnam. Others to other places, anywhere and everywhere around the world. We watched Bronson religiously for the first 2-1/2 months of its run. We never saw it again. At least I know I haven't. But strangely it is nevertheless remembered by those who had the good fortune to catch it while they could.
I don't know why it doesn't pop up in reruns, somewhere on cable once in a while.
Open Range (2003)
A Good Western
Robert Duvall is what makes this movie as good as it is. The man is a national treasure, and, sadly, I suspect, he won't really be fully recognized as such until after he's dead and gone. But in the meanwhile he just seems to just get better and better with age.
But this movie isn't Robert Duvall's movie. Actually, and in truth, this is Kevin Costner's movie. Costner is the director and he's the top-billed star. In any Kevin Costner movie he brings certain things to the table. The problem presented with that is the simple fact that not all the things Costner brings to the table are good things. Left unchecked, Costner is apt to come across as a self-absorbed ham. But when there's someone else present --a strong other actor-- to act as a counter-balance on those undisciplined Costner tendencies, a force to filter that stuff out, a force to help Costner sublimate his ego, Costner is fully capable of turning in a decent performance, blending his performance seamlessly with the rest of the cast. For instance, in A Perfect World that countervailing force was supplied by Clint Eastwood, and Costner did well there. Here, in Open Range, it's Robert Duvall that keeps Costner reeled in, and as a result Costner delivers the goods.
The third major player in this film is Annette Bening. I must say that this is my favorite Annette Bening performance. She was quite fetching, in her 45-year old way.
The whole cast delivers the goods, good performances all the way around.
The story unfolds methodically, almost slowly, but not so slowly as to become boring. By unfolding in this way, we are given a chance to get to know the characters. The movie is essentially a character study as much as it is anything else, and so then, when the climactic scenes are finally reached, where all the conflicts are resolved, literally and figuratively, we have the benefit of knowing and understanding these characters, making that climax all the more entertaining and satisfying. As is customary among classical westerns, the climax is achieved via a gunfight. In Open Range it's a full-blown shootout, and as depicted here is as realistic an old west shootout as you'll ever see.
Duvall's character, Boss Spearman, is a good man, a principled man of integrity, hardworking, polite, and fair. A man of few words who doesn't mince words. He says what he means, and he means what he says. He's kind and he's loyal. They didn't use the terms "role model" or "mentor" back in the days of the old west, but that's what Boss is to the men under him, and Boss takes the responsibilities that go with that seriously.
One gets the feeling that Sue, the Annette Bening character, might actually be interested in Boss if their ages weren't quite so far apart, but she recognizes that Charlie (Costner), a man with a dark history, is seriously working hard to be a better man, a good man like Boss, so Charlie thereby becomes a viable option. But if it weren't for Boss's influences on Charlie, it's hard saying how good a man Charlie would be. Or whether his demons from his past bad acts would eat him alive.
Good and kind man though he is, don't make the mistake of wronging Boss Spearman, and especially don't hurt his friends or ones he cares about. Those were the mistakes that Baxter (Michael Gambon) and his "bought and paid for" sheriff Poole (James Russo) made.
A very good western, maybe the best western since Clint Eastwood's The Unforgiven. I'd say it's a good "old-fashioned" western, except I don't think they made very many of them this good, or in this way, way back when either. It goes down as one of the best of the genre, and it is a source of hope --hope that Kevin Costner can and will grow and evolve into a first class director and actor, and hope that the Hollywood western isn't really dead after all.
Harold and Maude (1971)
A classic case of "what if" . . . .
I don't know if the following qualifies as a spoiler, but, out of an abundance of caution, I'll say that it does.
I've read that some screenwriters for creative inspiration will sometimes play the "what if" game. That is, they think of the most unlikely things they can think of co-existing together, and then say to themselves, "What if x, and then y, and then z happened? What would happen then? How could I tell that story?" And that is what it seems happened here. What if you took a cloistered, depressed, suicidal 20-year-old male who believes that he has nothing to look forward to in life, nothing to live for, and then hooked him up with a 79 year-old woman, a woman full of vim and vinegar and zest for life, and who shows him how to live? And what if theirs then ends up as a romantic --sexual-- relationship? What are the various ironies and paradoxes and oddities that could be explored? What kinds of things could that story tell us? Where would these people end up in the end?
I saw this movie back in 1971 when it came out, and found it quite funny.
But, I gotta say, I thought then that the idea of a sexual relationship between a 20-year-old male and a 79-year-old woman was very strange, even borderline sicko, and now, 34 years later, I still do. I know that's a big part of the point (i.e., exploring the unusualness of that mating), but, sorry, I can't get past it. It becomes a negative.
6/10 for humor
Pale Rider (1985)
An Overlooked Gem
Clint Eastwood made this film in 1985 and at the time many people said it was the best movie that he had ever made. Some people even went further and said it was the best western ever made. But the raucous shoot-em-up Silverado came out that very same year, basically foisting Kevin Costner onto an unsuspecting world, and it ended up making a bigger splash in 1985 than did Pale Rider. Then, after that, two more things happened: Costner went on to make Dances With Wolves (1990), and Eastwood went on to make The Unforgiven (1992), and with all that Pale Rider slipped into obscurity. The Unforgiven now wears the mantle of being Clint's masterpiece, his finest western, of being maybe the best western ever. And other people marvel much the same way at Dances With Wolves. Meanwhile, nobody thinks about or even remembers Pale Rider, a sorry fate that this fine film doesn't deserve.
There are two distinctly remarkable things about Pale Rider: On the one hand we have a return to The Stranger, the character Eastwood played in High Plains Drifter (1973). But, he's no longer called "The Stranger," maybe because he has evolved in life, and he's now known as "The Preacher." But he seems to be the same guy, at a different place in his life's journey. When you think about it, The Stranger from High Plains Drifter was pretty much just an Americanized presentation of the no-name character Eastwood played in the spaghetti western dollar series for Sergio Leone. And if you're going to categorize it, that's probably where this film belongs, as a part of that Sergio Leone series: A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1967). Add High Plains Drifter and this, Pale Rider, into that mix and you have a complete set. And it's noteworthy that Eastwood never again returned to the character. Eastwood's The Stranger appears to be finito.
All that's on the one hand. On the other hand we unmistakably see Eastwood using Pale Rider to pay homage to what was once regarded by many as being the finest western of all time, Shane (1953). In fact, it's more than mere homage that's being paid here. Pale Rider is really a full-blown retelling of Shane, updated, done in Eastwood's style, and with Eastwood's trademarked mystery man stepping into Alan Ladd's boots for the classic Shane role. Same story. Same plot dynamics. The biggest difference from Shane being that in Pale Rider the young lad is replaced by a blossoming adolescent ingénue, the gender change altering the tensions between the characters. Whereas in Shane the boy compared his father to Shane, and found his father lacking, in Pale Rider the girl competes heads up with her mother for The Preacher's attention.
Another difference from Shane is that here the dirty deed is accomplished. Yes, Mama beds the manly stranger. In Shane's life and times the cowboy way was to resist that temptation --to rise above it-- and walk away. But here The Preacher takes off his boots and drops trousers. I suppose in Eastwood's view the world changed between 1953 and 1985. Of course one aspect of the story was "fixed" to make this "acceptable." While in Shane Mama was ostensibly an otherwise happily married hausfrau, here she was a widow, unremarried, thereby rendering the tryst at least technically non-adulterous, although Mama was in a semi-committed relationship with her intended.
But don't misunderstand. Pale Rider is a fine film. I like it a lot. I like it as much as Shane. I like it almost as much as The Unforgiven. It ought to be remembered. It deserves to be remembered. It is a well-told western from the 1980s, and there weren't many of those made. If you like good westerns, I strongly recommend it.