Hey, check it out: Some folks from the Milk Plus film blog / e-zine wrote me to suggest a links swap... Sounds good to me! Milk Plus is a really cool site, with articles and film reviews that range from informal and off-the-cuff to geekily thorough and authoritative... A nice range of material is reviewed, from B&W classics and moody art films to current Hong Kong & Hollywood potboilers. Cool graphics and nice layout, too... I know I've got 'em bookmarked!
"The Gunfighter" (Twentieth Century Fox, 1950)
Wow. One of the finest westerns I've ever seen, that's for sure. Everything about this film is spot-on perfect, from the cinematography and acting to the costuming, sound, blocking and general attention to detail... not to mention the script! Gregory Peck stars as Jimmy Ringo, the fastest gun in the West, now turning to middle age, and ready to give up the life of a violent roustabout. The trouble is, of course, that everywhere he goes, people know and fear him, and every would-be badman in the territory wants to knock him down a peg or two. It's an old story, repeated in numerous pulps, films, dime novels and comicbooks over the years, but probably never as tersely and tensely as here. Honestly, there's not a false or flat moment in this film; director Henry King delivers a mournful, deflationary masterpiece, and Peck is dead-on in his role as a weatherbeaten, tired old gunny who'd gladly chuck it all in, if it weren't for the burdensome reputation he'd spent his entire youth building. Fans of the Lonesome Dove series should recognize the imprint of Jimmy Ringo, and his erstwhile pal, now the town marshall, Mark Strett (played by Millard Mitchell), two old-timers who know that the hard life isn't really as glamourous as most folks think. Highly recommended!
"The Party" (MGM, 1968)
Peter Sellers stars as a fish-out-of-water, in this funny, pleasantly dated slapstick farce. He plays Indian film actor Hrundi V. Bakshi, whose befuddled, catastrophic klutziness makes him a pariah in Hollywood, and yet... he accidentally lands an invitation to a posh dinner party hosted by the very studio mogul whose epic film he just sunk. The Bakshi character is very reminiscent of Sellers's other great ethnic bumbler, Inspector Clouseau, of the Pink Panther series... Although the cariacature isn't overly offensive, there doesn't seem to be much point to Bakshi's "Indian-ness" other than providing an opportunity for Sellers to show off an impressive Hindustani accent, as well a few purposefully lame cowboy-and-Indian jokes as Bakshi schmoozes a loudmouthed American western star. Overall, this is a very enjoyable film, literally packed with laugh-out-loud hilarity and good, old-fashioned physical humor, as well as endlessly rich period kitsch, particularly the film producer's ridiculously hip, split level '60s mansion, full of silly high-tech doodads, space age furniture and garish modern art paintings. French pop singer Claudine Longet co-stars as the gal who is won over by Bakshi's abashed charm, and her unaccompanied acoustic crooning is also a film highlight. Mostly it's Sellers's show, and his comic timing has rarely been better.
"Without Reservations" (RKO, 1946)
Wonder where they got the plot for Down With Love from? Well, this film was probably a major inspiration... John Wayne does an unexpected romantic turn in this odd, enjoyable, postwar road-movie comedy which teams him up with Claudette Colbert and sidekick Don DeFore, as three travellers trying to get West together, by train, plane or car. The twist is that Colbert is Kit Madden, a super-successful, nationally known author whose soon-to-be-filmed best-seller, "Here Is Tomorrow," has the country split along gender lines: the gals think it's peachy and romantic, the guys think it's too eggheady and cerebral. Wayne plays a recently-demobilized Marine fighter pilot who happens to be the spitting image of the author's image of the book's great romantic hero, however he read the book while cooling his heels overseas, and doesn't think much of the plot. Naturally, Colbert decides she can't tell him who she really is, and confusion ensues as the high-tone, high-society author slums with the two servicemen on a cross-country journey. What's mostly great about this movie is its easygoing, good-natured ambiance: Wayne seldom indulged his comedic streak to this degree, and DeFore is a erfect foil, as his never-say-die best buddy. And Colbert is just as babilicious and adorable as she ever was. Totally checking out.
"The Gunfighter" (Twentieth Century Fox, 1950)
I watched it on Friday night, but had to watch it again the next day... it's really that good!
"The Demi-Paradise" (Rank, 1943)
Laurence Olivier stars in this soft-edged wartime propaganda film, which sought to promote trust and understanding between the beleagured Brits and the newfound Russian allies. Olivier plays Ivan Kouzeroff, a laconic but slightly uptight Soviet engineer who is sent to Britain before the war to broker a shipmaking deal with a local shipyard. When he arrives, he's both wide-eyed and dismissive, full of preconceptions about the coldness and venality of the English. All this, naturally, goes by the wayside over time: Ivan discovers how playful and warm-hearted the British actually are, and they give him emotional shelter before the gathering storm. Not much going on in dramatic terms, but the nudge-nudge, wink-wink look at British mores, and the "good neighbor" propaganda elements are both kind of interesting from an historical perspective. Even though his accent's a little off, Olivier's character is completely believable and charming, in his own odd way.
"Nothing Sacred" (Selznick International, 1937)
Jason Blair, eat your heart out! Frederick March stars as an unscrupulous newspaper reporter who uses a maudlin tragedy -- a young woman who's dying of radium poisoning -- as a way to revive his shaky career. The trouble is, the gal is actually faking her ailment, using it as a way to escape her dull life in a provincial Vermont village. Carole Lombard plays the faker, Ms. Hazel Flagg, who becomes the toast of the town when brought to see the bright lights of New York City. Ben Hecht's tart, cynical script skillfully juxtoposes the sensationalized sentimentalism that Hazel attracts with the business-as-usual media hype and casual crassness of the Big Apple. While the film has its weak points (poor sound design, rushed production values, some ethnic humor that hasn't aged well), Hecht's merciless portrayal of flavor-of-the-week media "events" proves once again that the more things change, the more they stay the same. (PS - A scene involving an airplane ride also provides a nice aerial view of Depression-era NYC.) A clipped, shaky production -- not one of director William Wellman's best -- but an intriguing and still-timely message... hesitantly recommended.
I'm sorry I didn't have time to watch a movie tonight... It was my bi-annual meeting of the steering committee for the Society For Creative Enactment, and I had to re-oil my chainmail.
Bridge night again...
"A Letter To Three Wives" (Twentieth Century Fox, 1949)
"Finding Nemo" (Disney/Pixar, 2003)
I enjoyed this film, though I also thought it was a little too harrowing and scary, particularly for smaller children. I went with a friend's six-year old & the poor kid was shaking by the end of the film... The "Bambi" moment (death of parent) comes pretty early on, and the script doesn't relent from there on... it's a big, scary rollercoaster ride from start to finish, and though there are some very funny moments, the humor seems to be something that's happening well beyond the scope of the under-11 crowd. I get why the film does what it does, but it also seems to me that studios producing all-digital animation like this, that they know every kid on the planet is gonna wanna see and that they're building from scratch, might consider making a "G" rated cut as well, so that the little tykes can see the Big Movie without being traumatized. That being said, there are some great gags in here, and even though the sharks take a fade way too soon, the seagulls more than make up for it. Stick around for the closing credits, too... they are the most lighthearted moments in the whole film!
"The Promoter/The Card" (Rank Organization, 1952)
"Kestrel's Eye" (First Run Features, 1999)
"Blood And Sand" (20th Century Fox, 1941)
An early Technicolor melodrama, featuring Tyrone Power as Juan Gallardo, a boyish, beaming matator who starts life as a brash country bumpkin and rises to the top of his profession, then loses it all when he falls for the wrong woman. Linda Darnell co-stars as his faithful, good-girl wife, and Rita Hayworth is the wicked Other Woman. With clenched jaw and rigid posture, Hayworth is mysteriously unappealling and surprisingly unsexy in her role as a high-society vamp, while Power is entirely believable as a good-natured but uneducated jock who doesn't think with his head. The script is slow-moving and obvious, but does give a glimpse into Spain's toreador culture, and sports one nice bullfighting sequence whcih gives a good sense of the balletic excitement -- and brutish cruelty -- of the sport.
"Station West" (RKO, 1948)
A dynamite western -- a film noir, actually, with Stetson hats and horses -- featuring Dick Powell as a wisecracking, no nonsense government agent who's gone undercover in a crooked gambling town to find out who's been stealing shipments of gold, while bumping off Army soldiers as well. A great script, with plenty of snappy dialogue and clever misdirection, as well some hard, gnarly action, and one really brutal fist fight. I've rented this one on several occasions, and enjoyed watching it every time.
"Die Another Day" (20th Century Fox, 2002)
Pierce Brosnan makes a great Bond, with the right blend of poncy suaveness and cruel steeliness. Nice to see him getting a little long in the tooth as well, which helps lend depth to his character. In its opening scenes, this promises to be a transcendant Bond film, taking an entirely different tone from those that came before: this time around, 007 gets caught on a mission and, astoundingly, spends over a year in a brutal torture camp hidden somewhere deep in North Korea. When he's traded back to the West in exchange for one of the baddies who did him in, James finds himself unwelcome at MI5 -- for unexplained reason, they seem to think he had something to do with his own capture and the failure of the mission. Relieved of duty, Bond briefly becomes a rogue agent, driven by revenge and perhaps just a little bitterness towards jolly olde England. It's a nice set-up, but quickly devolves into a typical flurry of car chases, big explosions, glib dialogue and improbable, campy plot twists, along with every new extreme sport known to man. A fine Bond film, but not the radically new approach hinted at in the beginning. Can't say I was wild about Halle Berry as the latest Bond girl, Jinx, but overall the movie was good, clean, Bond-o-licious fun.
"It Happens Every Spring" (Columbia, 1949)
Even if you're not a big baseball fan, this good-natured comedy should still grab you. Ray Milland stars as a mild-mannered, but all-American college professor who has a secret passion for baseball, and gets a little nutty every Spring, when the season starts up. His two passions -- baseball and chemistry -- collide when he accidentally invents a substance that repels wood... just the thing to use if you want to become a major-league pitching star overnight, and rake in the big bucks when every pitcher you come up against gets dusted when you use the super goo. What's weird about this Truman-era film is that Milland is never confronted as being a fraud or a cheat, even though he's obviously behaving unethically and taking unfair advantage of friends and foes alike. He's worried about getting caught by his fiancee (the reason he's trying to raise the money is so he can settle down with her), but when he becomes a national sensation, everybody jumps on the bandwagon and becomes a fan, including her sports-hating father, the campus dean. But nobody ever ever discovers his secret and delivers a big lecture telling him it's not right to cheat, etc. etc., and Milland makes it through the season with his fraud undetected. Setting ethics aside, the screwball elements of this film are quite enjoyable, and even if you're not a big sports buff (I'm sure not) it's a lot of fun. Recommended!
"25th Hour" (40 Acres & A Mule...etc., 2003)
It's a funny thing about Spike Lee, but he often seems to do a better job directing white actors, rather than people of color. I dunno why that is, exactly -- maybe be feels obliged somehow to make his African-American protagonists live up to certain ideals, or espouse certain viewpoints, as opposed to just being, well, just themselves. For whatever reason, his white characters are less stagey and agit-prop, more believable and less like cardboard cutouts. That's certainly true of Edward Norton's character, a mid-level street dealer named Monty Brogan, an Irish tough guy who works selling heroin for some greasy Russian mobsters. Monty recently got busted, though, and today's his last day in New York before he has to turn himself in for a mandatory seven-year prison sentence. The plot revolves around Monty's rapproachments with his old childhood friends, and his frustration at not knowing who, among his associates, turned him in to the cops. It's a subtle, low-key performance, with Norton doing a panicked slow burn as a guy who thought he had it all wired and cool, but realizes that heading to the Big House may be something he can't handle. Character actor Philip Seymour Hoffman is typically great as his nerdy old pal, while Barry Pepper is a little too abrasive as his former best buddy, a soulless stockbroker who secretly holds Monty in contempt for his sleazy lowlife lifestyle. The movie unfolds slowly, unhurried, and taken as a whole, may be Spike Lee's best-directed effort to date. I dug it.
"You'll Never Get Rich" (Columbia, 1941)
Fred Astaire meets the draft in this pre-war comedy, featuring Rita Hayworth as a chorine who capures his heart, although she naturally already has a beau, presenting Fred with a challenge he must overcome between stints in the stockade for going AWOL and various other infractions of military law. This tart, well-scripted comedy is a little light on the dancing, but features some of the best, briskest dialogue that came Astaire's way, and a fine supporting cast, including the famous Hollywood "double-talker," Cliff Nazarro, going through his routine in numerous scenes. Hayworth dazzles, as usual, and Fred is in top form. Cole Porter's compositions for this film are not his best work (in fact, I don't think a single tune stuck in my head after watching this one), but they don't detract from the overall charm of this super-fun, class act classic film. Definitely recommended!
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