Joe Sixpack's Film Blog: September, 2002
September, 2002


"The Real Buddy Holly Story" (1987)
Great music documentary. Paul McCartney produced this heartfelt tribute as an antidote to the more lurid Gary Busey docudrama that came out the year before. McCartney goes on the road to re-tell the story of the geeky kid from Lubbock, Texas who helped refine rockabilly into rock'n'roll, and who set the template for the singer-as-songwriter model later taken up by the Beatles. Holly's story is both astounding and underwhelming -- extensive footage of his shabby hometown helps underscore how humble his background was and how tenuous his success, and -- as Keith Richards points out -- how amazing it was that Holly organized a band capable of elevating themselves out of the C&W world they came from. It turns out there's very little footage of Holly performing live -- this short film apparently includes all of it -- but it's fascinating to see his transformation from a nervous kid into a savvy showman, just prior to his untimely death. In a series of charming, low-key interviews with Holly's old bandmates and contemporaries such as the Everly Brothers, the early world of rock and roll is wonderfully evoked, and the tenuous passing of the torch from a soft pop-destined America to a rock-hungry Britain is convincingly portrayed. (Plus, check out that all-too-brief guitar break on "That'll Be The Day"... which sounds just like a two-second sample of the Buzzcocks! Who knew?


"Written On The Wind" (1957)
One of director Douglas Sirk's uber-melodramic, '50s Technicolor romances, with sexy scandal packaged in silly circumlocution. Lauren Bacall inexplicably falls for the super-creepy Robert Stack, who simply oozes onscreen portraying a sleazy, self-tortured black sheep playboy from a rich Texas oil family. Meanwhile, Rock Hudson moons around in the background, pining for his lost love. Dorothy Malone steals the show as a horny, hard-partying, dyed-blonde hottie who carries a torch of her own (for Hudson)... Her spasmodic, ungainly "mambo" dancing is almost worth the price of admission alone. This isn't really a great movie -- sort of a tepid rehash of Giant, but it does provide some good campy fun.


"Abilene Town" (1946)
Randolph Scott stars as a rugged, laconic lawman, caught between the competing interests of cattlemen, homesteaders and the nervous townspeople who gave him a job, but hope that he doesn't stir up trouble on his own. Scott plays the marshall with an interesting mix of pragmatism, morality and machismo, each of which pulls him in separate directions; a charismatic actor who is often underrated by film critics, Scott is at his best here, projecting the sheer physicality one imagines a border lawman would have to have possessed back in them days. Fun stuff.

"In The Land Of War Canoes" (1914)
A fascinating docu-dramatization of an ancient folk legend of Vancouver's Kwakiutl indians... This ethnological tour-de-force has a compelling, if simple, plot, of bloodshed, revenge and justice, but is really noteworthy for its vibrant presentation of the Kwakiutl culture, especially their rich heritage of wood carving, fabric arts, costuming and dance. The animal-spirit costumes are truly amazing, as are the huge canoes and painted lodges. An amazing glimpse at the world of the Pacific Northwest, before white men came, filmed over a three years period by documentarian and folklorist Edward S. Curtis. Highly recommended.


"The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" (1962)
One of John Ford's best. A perfect western, and a tightly-woven set of characters studies with an apolplectic Jimmy Stewart as the civilized man of Law, beleagured by wild west outlaw Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin, who deliciously plays the part as if he were an insecure fifth grade bully). In between them in John Wayne, whose Tom Donophin is an amoral, good-natured he-man who dislikes Valance, but thinks Stewart is too much of a namby-pamby city slicker, and has no place out West. Tightly scripted, perfectly acted and beautifully shot, this is a thoroughly engaging film that stands up to repeated viewings without losing any of its arresting charm. Highly recommended.

"Mother Wore Tights" (20th Century Fox, 1947)
A perfectly dreadful song-and-dance musical starring Betty Grable as a wholesome hoofer who marries her Vaudeville partner, has kids, but still can't shake the call of the road. The plot is minimal (and dull), the dance routines are incredibly repetitive, and Grable's Technicolor winsomeness is a faint echo of her wartime glory days. Kind of okay, but really not.


"The Business of Strangers" (MGM, 2002)
Stockard Channing and Julia Stiles star in this offbeat, claustrophobic drama about two women who meet on a rather dismal business trip, then form an unlikely but strangely intense bond while stranded at an airport hotel. Each manipulates the other, and their encounter ends on an uneven and bitter note. This film has an interesting script and unusual pacing, and both actresses give fine performances. Stiles, who previously starred in the underrated teen dance drama Save The Last Dance, is a real talent, someone to keep an eye on.

"Ghost Breakers" (1940)
Bob Hope leads this charming horror comedy, with the foxy Paulette Goddard as his romantic interest... (Yes, that's right... back then Hope was considered cute enough to get the girl!) The story is simple enough: Goddard inherits a haunted castle in Cuba, the love-smitten, wise-cracking Hope tags along to display his reluctant heroism. Some of the horror sequences are actually pretty cool, and several of Hopes one-liners are pretty funny. On the downside, it's unfortunate yet instructive to see the many "Bamboozled"-isms that surround Hope's African-American sidekick/valet, Alex (played by Willie Best, who specialized in this type of eye-rolling cariacature). It is really shocking to see that kind of blatant racism in a film, but also tells you a lot about the culture of the time. (On the other hand, if you're attuned to it, you can also pick up on an undercurrent of strength and practicality in the Alex character, such as when he casually hands Hope a gun for protection when on his way to meet with a gangster...) At any rate, you have to be able to suspend your sense of outrage and overlook the racist schtick, otherwise you'll just hate this movie. But if you do forgive the social sins of the time, this is an otherwise entertaining oldie. (Also check out the young Anthony Quinn in one of his early "ethnic" roles, this time as a pair of mysterious Cuban twins...)


"Meet John Doe" (1941)
One of Frank Capra's most openly ideological, and deeply disturbing, films. Gary Cooper stars as a disillusioned hobo who is pulled into an elaborate publicity stunt cooked up by girl reporter Jean Harlow and her unscrupulous editor, who both just want to make a quick buck. They use Cooper, a down-and-out baseball player to become the fictional everyman, "John Doe," and in the process accidentally build him up into a national hero and powerful charismatic leader. The scenes that show Doe's flirtation with demagogery, the mass audiences and mobs that follow him, and the cruel, pitiless pressure used by The Powers That Be once Cooper and Harlow try to cross them are among the darkest and most disturbing material that Capra ever filmed. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington explored a similar theme, but in a much softer, more accessible comedic style. This is actually a pretty scary film, and captures the tilt towards fascism that was prevalent at the time. Recommended.


"The Evil Mind" (1931)
An odd, hour-long drama featuring Claude Rains as a Vaudeville-act clairvoyant who mysteriously gains actual psychic powers, who at first basks in fabulous fame and wealth, and then realizes the gift has a downside. This hourlong British drama isn't really a fully-fleshed out feature --it's more like a wobbly compromise between a short film and a modern movie -- but it has plenty of fascinating touches. The arrogant panache of the Rains character, Maximus, is unusual, and anyone who even felt Faye Wray didn't get a chance to act enough in King Kong will just want to nibble her up in this film... she's adorable! I liked the mood of this film, and many sequences are intriguing... It's a bit ephemeral, but certainly worth checking out.


"The Farmer's Daughter" (1947)
Belabored, yet charming story of Loretta Young as a small-town girl who makes it big -- real big -- in Capitol City, by sticking to her simple honest values, and by nabbing Joseph Cotten, a state congressman who holds a torch for her. Very wholesome and Fifties-ish, with some nice humorous touches (and a weird intimation of a postwar American fascist Fifth Column...) Charles Bickford is great as Cotton's sidekick/butler, who acts as the conscience of the household, and zips off a few choice zingers...


"A Free Soul" (1931, MGM)
Cool! Gable as a bad boy gangster, Norma Shearer as modern, unapologstic gal; Lionel Barrymore as her "permissive" father... deals with 60s/70s issues back in 1931


"Count Of Monte Cristo" (2002)


"Blade 2" (2002)
What a stinker. I mean, the first Blade movie wasn't exactly high art, but at least it had some enjoyable moments. This sequel, by contrast, is dreary and belaboured, everything too calculated and cold... I'm sure they meant for it to be stylish and sexy, but it's all just dreadfully dull. The film sets up the most hackneyed cliches (Blade the loner gets set up with a super team, a punkish/modern primitive vampire platoon, which he must lead to defeat their common foe...) but instead of following through on the premise, the filmmakers just let it drop to the floor, as flat as everything else in the movie. No one bothers to embue the members of the group with any personality -- why bother? they're going to die anyway. In fact, they hardly get any dialogue at all, not even a wisecrack or cynical aside. It's all just chop chop chop hack hack slice dice chop chop chop. Hack. Slice slice slice. Bang bang bang. Boom. Chop. Slice. Pow. Chop. Bang bang bang. Techno fetishism and grotty special effects are supposed to save this film, but once again, we learn the lesson that razzle dazzle and gimmickry in and of themselves cannot make a dead film fly. An 11+ on the yawn-o-meter.


"Along The Great Divide" (Warner Brothers)
Kirk Douglas stars as a taciturn marshall who must bring a highly lynchable cattle rustler (and accused murderer) to trial, fending off the mob that dogs their trail through the desert, as tensions mount on all sides. A nice western, nothing earthshaking, but pretty enjoyable. Virginia Mayo is pretty dishy as the tough, tom-girlish love interest. Raoul Walsh directed, and the B&W cinematography is pretty good. [I watched it when I was recovering from the flu.]


"The Dressmaker" (19xx)
Pauline Kael absolutely loved this slice-of-life, almost-coming-of-age tale, set in wartime Liverpool, as a mousy local girl falls for a callow young American GI. I liked the first half of the film, which was rich in character-study-o-rama but then it became pretty predictable and a bit slow. What's most remarkable is the concentration of heavyweight British acting talent, including Pete Posthlewaite, Joan Ploughwright and Jane Horrocks as the young girl.

8/26/02 - 9/2/02

"The Sopranos - Third Season" (2001)
Ooops. I got sidetracked catching up with the Soprano family... Cool! Wish I didn't have to wait so for Season Four to come out on video.

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