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Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)
Chief John Big Tree twice
The only thing I never liked about John Ford is his constant re-use of stuff. I guess using the same crew for nearly every film is good, ala "Ocean's 11" etc, but why would you have Chief John Big Tree utter the same exact line in two films years apart. He first (that we know of since his first film was in 1915) the Chief uttered the line "I'm a Christian Indian, Hallalueja" in a very vivid way. Years later toward the end of the film "She wore a yellow ribbon" a much older and more tired Chief John Big Tree utters the same line to John Wayne "nathan I'm a Christian Indian, Hallalueja." Same guy, same line, uttered in the same way. I never understood this. Scorsece does it with a scene of Robert Deniro in Mean Streets and again in Goodfellows. Not the words here but the scene at the bar with him doing a turn and look to the music. what if it doesn't work the first time you try it again to perfect it? Bob
The Outcast (1954)
That was for Asa
Tremendously good B western which today would be an A western. Strong acting, tremendous direction and the kind of realism in fights you never see. I think the smack on the head by the horse was intentional and left in as Jet's way of showing Dude who was boss without using his gun. It may have been accidental but if so was left in because it worked.
Real scenery and some really cool off the backdrop shots which really worked in color.
My only problem? Where in the 1880's West does a guy come up with a name like "Jet?" I thought it was Jeb, or Jed until I saw the credits.
Recommend to any western lover and others too. Loved Bob Steele as a bad guy. He never worked for me as a good guy. I think it's certainly one of Derek's best and seeing a Young Slim Pickens on a horse at a gallop. Now that is cool.
Slaughter Trail (1951)
I love the song more than the movie
I have always loved this movie from my childhood watching it on Saturday morning. Have not seen it in years and now must make sure i catch AMC when it airs. To me the coolest thing about this movie was the catchy song. I can still remember it to this day "All that you can hear are the hoof beats on the ground as the Redskins ride along Slaughter Trail." not PC for sure but this was 1951 and the star was booted because he was "tabbed" a commie lover. Wow how non-PC can you get. would love to see it again and again again. I was hoping this was not one of those lost films destroyed by time and am glad to see TNT still willing to show it.
Another Clooney Hit, another important film
Syriana is today, it is real, and it is well acted, well written and powerful. It is basically the story of how oil, big oil companies and the US government control parts of the world, people and economies all in the name of energy; mainly oil. And it is about the people in the region caught in the middle with their own agenda good or bad.
The film is shot in semi-documentary style similar to that which Clooney used in Good Night, Good Luck. He draws on that experience and while not over doing it, does it well. He plays a role as a CIA agent in the Middle East who is going through a change of life, questioning himself, his motives and his involvement with his own country and what he has seen it become. While his is a strong and important role, he is not the main character.
All characters play equal and equally important parts in this film. This is hard to do without slighting anyone but Clooney does it masterfully. It is truly a strong work but shy of calling it a work of art. It is brutal, it is honest and is based on events we all see everyday in the news.
His friend and working actor Matt Damon plays an important role not unlike his other characters Clooney has had him play previously. This one is much more serious however.
This story centers on a small oil company gaining the rights to an oil kingdom's fields when there is no way it could have pulled it off. It had help and from the beginning merges with another oil company to keep its end of the bargain. The deal is predicated on the simple decision the kingdom has made to sell much of what it has to China. China, having an economy growing at a rate faster than any other in the world. It will grow faster only if it gets more oil.
Eerily in recent weeks China and India (in real life) signed a deal with British Petroleum to take over oil fields in Syria, thus providing those two hugely consuming nations key access to middle eastern oil. Did someone on the writing end of this movie have some inside information, or just some good insight to what was about to happen? Not likely but it is extremely interesting on the timing.
Getting back to Syriana, make no mistake about it, this is a politically charged film with an agenda. The agenda is defensible certainly and I see it as an important film for the new century. The side story of a young Pakistani man working in the oil fields losing his job (because of the China deal) and being led onward by Moslem extremists is frightening in itself. The real life drama being played out in Syriana is most moving and very disturbing.
I recommend this film to anyone and everyone. It is intelligent, well acted, very balanced in the story telling and quick paced. It is the quickest two hours you will spend. Clooney has two masterpieces on his hands this year. I don't say this very often but given the choice he is one of two directors I personally would like to work with. The other being Ron Howard.
They have become two of our very best. We need more like them.
King Kong (2005)
King Kong is really Jackie Chan in fur
If you like special effects you certainly get your $10 worth with the new King Kong. Make no mistake about it. King Kong is a special effects movie and director Peter Jackson never lets you forget it. Now if it only had a script, good writing and a little better casting; Jackson might have the mega hit he was looking for. Instead what he gets is 3:07:00 of mostly top notch special effects covering up some very bad special effects.
The premise of King Kong is of course the ultimate Beauty & the Beast story. The problem is Fay Wray still rules in the 1933 version. You can't top it no matter how hard you try and adding color and digitalization to it doesn't make it any better. It just makes it different. Indeed it makes it pale in comparison.
The special effects are really wonderful for most of the film. The close-ups of Kong are tremendous and the ape shows some pretty good emotion. He could have shown more. I mean come on was he getting scale? The Ape looked like he was going through the motions, rather than the e-motions.
The fight scenes were pretty strong but when King Kong goes Jackie Chan on a pair of unsuspecting T-Rex --- well, martial arts aside, it was quite laughable.
The shots of Kong and the Babe playfully fooling around on the frozen pond in New York were really cool, and they made you not only laugh but start to enjoy this long film. Then the army comes in and screws it up for everyone.
The first 20 minutes were strong and the set design was a pleasure. As the film moved along it got hokey. The powerful special effects were blended with crappy special effects and to cover those crappy special effects the shots were made tight. So tight as to make them blur hoping you didn't notice because the action was predominant.
Naomi Watts can act. Although, she didn't have to in this picture. She just had to look good, emote some facial expressions and well, look good to the ape. You see after the first hour and 30 minutes, she didn't utter a full sentence longer than one word. The word was "Noooo!" All she did was moan, scream, yell no and look sexy.
Adriene Brody was a nice piece of casting though. He came off very well for a guy with very few lines.
The casting of Jack Black as producer/con man/promoter Carl Denham wasn't bad, but it wasn't great. You waited for that last key line in the film. You know the one. You waited and waited for him to utter those immortal words. And he threw them away!! Shame on you, Jack. Shame. This was your big chance to redeem this film. Blame Jackson.
The one thing this film does is lets you see how far we've come from the 1930's. Here I'm not talking about the special effects, but rather the words "politically correct." In 1930 it was perfectly alright to allow airplanes to attack a giant ape on top of the Empire State Building, shooting their way with bullets landing where ever they land, missing half the time and watching them riddle New York City. Today can you imagine the furor if the government sent planes over NYC to shoot at King Kong? It would take an act of congress. Somebody would be sent into negotiate with the Kong and talk him down before they shot him.
Denham walks away when the monkey is dead at the end without much of a care in both versions. Today he'd be shaking in his boots at the liability for all the damage Kong did. The lawsuits would force the man to put a gun to his head. Which, by the way, should have happened about two hours into this laugher?
Oh, and it was a nice touch shooting the NYC scenes in the dead of winter with the snow covered ground and Kong slipping' and sliding' down 46th Street. There were some really great special effects of the ape charging through town at this point. It was only muddled by the bad special effects of the Kong carrying Beauty up the tall building. It got way too hokey at that point with her stiff doll like body not even halfway believable.
Now here is the kicker. It is the heart of winter, the girl is wearing a silky sleeveless evening dress with T-Straps and after an hour of running around she is standing on top of the Empire State Building. Could she have the decency to have just one goose bump. How about some redness in her cheeks? She's half frozen in real life. No she'd have a broken neck in real life from being tossed about at "break neck" speeds by Kong, but let's move on. Peter, just make her look a little cold. We'll understand but even with make believe you have to make it so the audience believes.
There was a very clever part where the vegetarian Brontosaurus' were running from the meat eaters and stumbling all over themselves. This is really a superb section of the film. You can seriously imagine this happening after watching it. There likely were stampedes in prehistoric times where exactly this sort of thing happened and Jackson and his special effects crew captured it with brilliance.
Oh and in case you missed it. Yes, Peter Jackson did cast his two kids, Billy and Katie, as a couple of street urchins on the streets of NY. Jackson himself was cast as a "gunner" in the film. Hey if it's your film you can do what you like.
Oh and again Fay Wray rules!
Walk the Line (2005)
Joaquin The Line: Don't Believe the Hype
Don't believe the hype about Joaquin Phoenix and "Walk The Line." Although his performance is very good in the film about Johnny Cash he is very much overshadowed by Reese Witherspoon taking on the role of June Carter Cash. The film is good enough but not Oscar caliber and this is mainly due to the fact we are sure there was more planned and that more got left on the floor.
First, the flaws with the film. The actor who played Elvis was about as far away from the King in looks and style as he could be. Maybe this was intentional. Elvis is such a dominating figure he might have taken away from the main story and character of Johnny Cash.
The film did dwell way too much with Cash in a stupor and while this was evidently very true better use of the script might have been to eliminate some of the passing out, drugged out scenes and lengthen the picture to more of Cash's later life. As it is the film stops at his proposal to June on stage.
If you were looking for "A Boy Named Sue," "Ragged Old Flag" and some of his other, later hits, you will be disappointed. The movie deals mainly about his life starting from a young farm boy to his father's utter disappointment and his pursuit of June Carter. Oh, and there is that drug thing.
Now Cash did screw up his life big time with pills and booze. But I'm 52 years old and I remember more good about Johnny Cash's life than the bad. There was so much more to tell which the writer and director failed to capture. A good 30 minutes might have been cut from this film and added on about his salvation and the good part of his life.
The fact so much time was spent on these scenes we saw over and over, it gave Joaquin Phoenix little time to show he can really act. The man is an excellent actor but this film, despite the Oscar hype, did nothing to show what he can do, due to the restrictions of the script itself.
I particularly hated the way the film did not flow. You were to assume way too much and I believe this is because of the time constraints of the original script. There is nothing mentioned about Cash divorcing his first wife. They just end up packing up the car and leaving, never to be heard from again. There should have been something.
Where was the story of the Man in Black? Cash himself told the story in his music about why he always wore black. Stating "maybe I am" when he is told he looks like he's going to a funeral, just doesn't cut it.
His getting back to God was left to him standing in front of a Baptist Chapel with June waiting to go in. Nothing, not a bit of explanation. The film was filled with this type of cutting, leaving way too much on the editing floor. Maybe they should have left out a few drug scenes and left in some of the other cuts.
Now, to the good side of this film. Phoenix did very well with what he was given. The film explored the almost hateful relationship Cash's father showed for his son which came out strong. The character selected to play Jerry Lee Lewis (Waylon Payne, son of country singer Sammi Smith) was as disgusting as Lewis was in real life. I also liked the casting of Shooter Jennings as Waylon Jennings in the film. I applauded seeing the son of "the Voice" portraying his father, a legend in the business. Ginnifer Goodwin was outstanding as Cash's first wife. Look for a best supporting nod for her.
The scene at Sun Records is phenomenal and the story of the Folsom Prison Blues "live" album is very well done. The concert scenes of early Rock N' Roll are also strong.
The best part about this film however, is Witherspoon. She nails June Carter to a tee. You can't help believe when it comes to Oscar time she will be nominated. She may not win, but I wouldn't bet against her. She was absolutely perfect.
Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)
A Must See Film with Oscar Possibilities: There will never be another Murrow
"Good Night and Good Luck" is a must see film for everyone whether you know the story of the battle between CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joe McCarthy or not. Sitting in a half filled theater with patrons with an average age of 50 only strengthened my belief we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past because there are so few of the current generation who want to learn the history of how we got to where we are.
The film, which is George Clooney's second as a director, is a gem. Interestingly enough it took a big screen project to give renewed life to a small screen voice. The fact it is only 93 minutes only enhances the story it tells.
Beautifully shot in black and white it draws upon a narrow focus of scenes shot entirely inside the CBS building. You never wander outside except for a moment in the beginning and you constantly feel the intensity of this important story, even with its side journeys. These side journeys are neither little, nor unimportant. Instead they lead to the bigger issue at hand which are myriad personal freedoms we enjoy today which were kept from us 50 years ago.
For 93 minutes, despite the side lights as important as they are, the main issue the story focuses upon of course is the purge of Communists and the US Senate hearings conducted by McCarthy. Clooney brilliantly decides early on in the process he will not get an actor to portray the junior Senator from Wisconsin but instead uses actual clips of McCarthy as he purges, twists and manipulates his way through the terror of these historic hearings. Clooney shows how Murrow and his team take on McCarthy in defense of the constitution over the objections of CBS head William Paley and the sponsors.
One of the cool things shown in the film is several commercials of the day. The one for Kent Cigarettes is particularly troubling as it admonishes the pleasures of smoking and how intelligent people are the ones who know to smoke Kent Cigarettes. It shows how far we've come. It is also interesting since Murrow himself has always been synonymous with smoking; never without a lit cigarette in hand even on the air. Imagine that today? Clooney's use of Diane Reeves soft yet powerful jazzy vocals help set the mood everywhere they are used as breakers or transitions from scene to scene. It is a nice touch and yet not overdone. The music is gentle enough but poignant to where you believe it's something from above, someone higher up looking down on what is happening. The music gives you just enough time to digest the points made moments earlier and Reeves smooth tones help you digest it perfectly. Clooney is moving into Oscar land with this one.
Another key focus of the film is Murrow's insistence TV is a powerful medium which if (said in the 1950's) we aren't careful will become a tool used to broadcast mindless gibberish. Murrow was a prophet in this respect because what he warned of is so true today. Murrow likely turns in his grave at reality television. It all came down to money and Murrow was lucky enough Paley stuck with him to a point. A point which helped McCarthy eventually self destruct.
Through all of this you almost lose sight of the fact actor David Strathairn, who plays Murrow flawlessly, is acting. He is Murrow and will deservedly get an Oscar nomination for his portrayal. It won't hurt Murrow is so highly regarded among the Hollywood elite but even so Strathairn as they say "nailed it." There are a few easy going funny lines in the film and Strathairn handles them so deftly you wonder why this established actor doesn't do more comedy.
For fans he has been excellent in such films as "Eight Men Out" and "A League of Their Own" along with dozens of other pictures. He is likable and while usually permitted only to play under stated characters, he uses this same technique to give Murrow the depth he deserves. Murrow is deep in his convictions and while sometimes troubled by them, remains stern and true to the course. This in the end is the legacy Murrow leaves behind; true to the course of true, fair, enterprising and analytical journalism. Always asking the question of "why" backed with the facts.
Seeing a true newsroom allowed me to remember my days at UPI, at the time one of the only remaining facets of real journalism, a wire service independent of advertisers. I was reminded of one of the reasons I left the world of commercial journalism because TV and radio had become just what Murrow warned they would become; garbage in and garbage out.
Finishing with the film in question, "Good Night and Good Luck" shows us all something else. It shows us why there will never be another Edward R. Murrow. The medium has gone past his wildest criticisms and sunk to depths he would never survive. He'd be off in seclusion likely writing a book, or thriving on PBS.
A History of Violence (2005)
History of Violences leaves lots of questions such as WHY?
"History of Violence, if you believe the trailers, is a really hot film. Hot enough after seeing it to believe Viggo Mortensen should burn it from his resume. I almost walked out but being the kinda guy I am, hoping for some redeeming features or plot twists, I stuck it out. Not such a good move.
Viggo wasn't bad. He's usually so good in everything even if he's become a little stilted lately. Not like his earlier work in Ruby Cairo, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Maria Bello was terrific everywhere along the way showing a very strong sense of emotion to her ever confused character. Even Ashton Holmes who plays their teen-aged son was good. Daughter Heide Hayes didn't have much to do so it's hard to judge.
The script was lackluster, the editing purely was atrocious and there was so little emotion to the writing it just left you flat and wondering why? The premise was strong. A small town and well liked family man who runs a diner goes Stallone on two murdering thugs who threaten to kill everyone in the place. He kills them both and becomes an American hero.
The television crews show up. Well sort of. His story is on local TV, the networks and CNN (you see this as he flips channels from his hospital room) but there are no crews waiting for him at the hospital. WRONG! One TV crew is waiting at his house. WRONG! And they never come back again. WRONG! C'mon a common guy does this and the networks are seen covering the story on television but no news crews show up? Where was this director? The guys who do show up are Ed Harris (typically cool) and his mobster buddies. Turns out our perfect local is a long lost hit-man for the mob in Philadelphia. Of course he denies it and the rest of the locals are not really involved except the town sheriff. He asks "Are you in a witness protection program?" Viggo ends up killing these killers too. In all, he kills 11 people in the film in between two not so bad sex scenes with wife Bello. Both are pretty gratuitous as is the violence but the first one is pretty well done. If you play the numbers game 69 sex in an R rated movie is pushing the envelope. It was nicely done though. In the second the women get a treat by seeing a lengthy shot of Viggo's naked butt and afterward the guys are treated to a full frontal nude shot of Bello. If any of that is offensive to you, I must remind you they were probably the best shot scenes in the film.
The movie drags, and while the director may play it off as people being confused and going through a wide range of emotions the viewer sees it as, "will somebody please get to the point in this clunker?." The tell tale sign is when the audience gets up and leaves at the beginning of the credits not half way through.
William Hurt pulls off a role as an aging gangster very well. Viggo continues to play Stallone though as this kid from the streets of Philadelphia who has been living in small town Indiana for 20 years uses Jackie Chan-like quickness in disposing of the 11 guys he kills. This is the same guy who races home limping as he goes because in the first scene one of the guys he kills stabs him in the foot. He's out of the hospital in a few hours and the next day is running a couple miles to his house to save his family. The cold hearted killer didn't even think about grabbing a vehicle? The film ending leaves you with lots of questions the director wants you to think about. Well here are some questions I want answers to. First, if Viggo owns a diner and wife Bello is a local hot shot lawyer, why do they live in a dumpy house and have only a pick-up truck. Why does Viggo walk a mile or so into town along a country road to work carrying his soft brief case? Second, why after Viggo and son kill Harris and his two thugs in the family front yard is there no crime scene wrap up or more TV crews, and why is the local sheriff talking to him about these Philadelphia gangsters as if he doesn't know they are dead.
Did Viggo and son dispose of the bodies and act like nothing happened or did they leave out the police coming and taking care of the bodies, and the investigation afterward.
And finally and most importantly, why did I spend $9.50 to see this piece of junk? Oh yea, I like Viggo. I like Bello even more but I doubt I'll ever see another David Cronenberg film again.