Monday, April 30, 2012

For a Few Dollars More (1965)

Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western #3
Synopsis: Two guys who really don’t like each other must join forces to bring a bad guy to justice. Oh wait...that’s sounds like 48 Hours...or Tango and Cash...or Rush Hour, or any buddy cop film ever made.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “With bank hold-ups, hair-splitting jail escapes, and suspense-filled showdowns, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE is a non-stop action-packed drama; a Western that delivers a mighty wallop in the inimitable Clint Eastwood way.”

What Did I Learn?: If you’re going to shoot a rival’s hat down the street in order to intimidate him into leaving town, you might want to keep track of how many bullets you’ve fired.

Really?: 1) So wait...Indio (the bad guy) lets our heroes out of his dungeon with unloaded guns, and then kills a couple of his own men because...I’m still not too clear on that one. 2) Was it necessary to keep replaying that creepy pocket-watch music?

Rating: Film aficionados often claim that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the finest Eastwood Spaghetti Western ever made, but I dunno – for my money, For a Few Dollars More is just as fun and exciting as TGTBATU, and Lee Van Cleef’s Colonel Mortimer is one of the coolest bad-ass characters to ever grace the silver screen – in fact, he totally upstages Clint. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western #2

Synopsis: Clint rides into town controlled by two rival families and stirs up more trouble a trouble-stirrer!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “A Fistful of Dollars is the Western taken to the extreme – unremittingly violent, gritty realism and at times delightfully tongue-in-cheek. Sergio Leone’s direction is taut and stylish, and the visuals are striking – from breathtaking panoramas (in Spain) to extreme close-ups of quivering lips and darting eyes before the shoot-out begins.”

What Did I Learn?: I don’t want to provide any spoilers, but you know that old Mexican saying about what happens when a man with a .45 meets a man with a rifle? Um...let’s just say you shouldn’t put too much stock into it.

Really?: 1) It’s funny how none of Ramon’s rifle shots make a special dinging sound when they ricochet off Clint’s body armour...and if Ramon is such a good shot, you would think he might attempt a head shot. 2) It’s fortunate that a seriously wounded Clint is locked in a wine cellar with a giant barrel perched on a ramp that leads right to the only door. 3) Clint is paid numerous times by both families...would it be all that difficult for him to settle his food and lodgings bill with the nice hotel owner? 4) So, what happened to that government investigation into the massacre?

Rating: A Fistful of Dollars is a fun and enjoyable Western. 8/10 stars.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966)

Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western #1

Synopsis: Clint delivers more three-way action than Hugh Hefner, circa 1977.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “With his trademark poncho, beard and thing black cigar, Clint Eastwood returns one last time as the invincible, inscrutable, incredibly capable ‘Man With No Name”. Eli Wallach brings a wealth of acting talent to his role as the cold-blooded bandit, Tuco. And of the screen’s best bad guys, Lee Van Cleef, lends his evil, black-clad presence as the sadistic ‘Angel Eyes.’ It is this unholy trio’s lethal pursuit of $200,000 in Confederate money that forms the core of this suspenseful, bullet-ridden tale.”

What Did I Learn?: There are two types of people in the World: those with loaded guns, and those who dig.

Really?: 1) Tuco is certainly “ugly” (i.e. out for himself), and Angel Eyes is one “bad” dude, but I’m not sure if Clint’s character is terribly “good”. 2) So wait...Angel Eyes has Clint at his mercy in the POW prison camp, and he could easily torture him until Clint reveals the name on the grave. Does Angel Eyes do that? Noooooooooo! He tells Clint he wants to be business partners, and even presents him with a loaded gun! 3) Wouldn’t a firearms store have some sort of security in place to prevent crimes like Tuco’s impromptu robbery? 4) If Angel Eyes is a Union Sergeant, how does he find the time to work as a hit man, or track down the gold?  

Rating: Clocking in at two hours and 42 minutes, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is a bit too long and could have used some more editing. That said, the film is a true Western classic: Ennio Morricone’s musical score is magnificent, and the final, three-way Mexican standoff scene is breathtakingly suspenseful. Highly recommended. 9/10 stars.

High Plains Drifter (1973)

I had so much fun reviewing the John Wayne Westerns earlier this month that I decided to attempt a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western theme. High Plains Drifter isn’t actually a Spaghetti Western (unlike The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars, and For a Few Dollars More, HPD was filmed in the United States rather than Italy, and therefore doesn’t qualify), but Clint plays his familiar Man-With-No-Name character, so I figured I would review it, anyway. (BTW: John Wayne hated this movie)

Synopsis: Clint Eastwood rides into town, growls a lot, and kills a bunch of people...oh wait, that’s every Clint Eastwood Western!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Clint Eastwood portrays a mysterious stranger who emerges out of the heat waves of the desert and rides into the guilt-ridden town of Lago. After committing three murders and one rape in the first 20 minutes, The Stranger is hired by the town to protect it from three gunmen just out of jail.”

What Did I Learn?: It’s always a good idea to sleep with a stick of dynamite handy...just in case.

Really?: I had a bit of trouble believing: a) the town has no other options than to hire Clint (doesn't anyone know where to find a telegraph machine?), b) nobody except Clint can shoot straight, or c) that the townsfolk would put up with his increasingly onerous and silly demands. Oh, and if Clint really is Marshall Jim Duncan, or his ghost, or a reincarnation of the Marshall, why doesn’t anyone recognize him?

Rating: High Plains Drifter is a competent and enjoyable Western, although it drags in places, and Clint’s character isn’t all that likeable. Come to think of it, nobody’s terribly nice in this movie. 7/10 stars.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Big Chill (1983)

Synopsis: Self-absorbed hippies-turned-yuppies wallow in Boomer nostalgia and perfect the art of the 1960s-soundtrack video montage.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Celebrate good friends, classic music and ground-breaking moviemaking with the 15th Anniversary Collector’s Edition of THE BIG CHILL!”

What Did I Learn?: If you can’t get laid with an old flame who’s desperate to have a kid, and she’s propositioning the other guys at a weekend retreat, it’s time to reassess your approach with the ladies.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’ve always wanted to watch Tom Berenger basically play Lee Horsley.

Really?: every character in this movie rolling in dough? Even Nick (William Hurt), the guy who quit his PhD and ran away from being a radio shrink, drives a Porsche.

Rating: The Big Chill isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. It’s well-written, and the film features some excellent performances from the entire cast. It’s very much a character-driven movie, so if you need to follow a plot, 105 minutes of 30-somethings talking about their feelings can get a bit tedious. While I like this film, I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of self-congratulatory Boomer nostalgia, so let’s just say that I have mixed feelings. 7.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

F/X2 (1991)

Synopsis: It’s basically F/X, with a slower pace and an animatronic clown.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s been five years since special effects (FX) expert Rollie Tyler (Bryan Brown) and cop Leo McCarthy (Brian Dennehy) teamed up to relieve the mob of $15 million through their unique combination of deception and detection... When the police ask for Rollie’s help to catch a homicidal maniac, he reluctantly agrees. But it’s Rollie who gets caught in the deadly trap, an elaborate set-up designed to hide a massive conspiracy.”

What Did I Learn?: Wieners and instant mashed potatoes are essential tools if you plan on staging a two-man invasion of a mob safe house.

You Might Like This Movie If: You feel this guy should have his own movie. (Holy cow... you wouldn’t believe how many youtubes pop up when you type in the words: “animatronic clown”).

Really?: 1) So wait...Leo grabbed $7.5 million in the first movie, and he’s now driving a battered, de-commissioned Checker cab and working as a sleazy PI? I realize the bar he opened wasn’t a success, but how did he burn through $7.5 million? 2) If the bad guys wanted to kill an honest cop, wouldn’t it be so much simpler to simply shoot him and make it look like a robbery instead of going through some elaborate set-up of a serial killer who might not do as he’s expected?

Rating: Wow, F/X2 is a mess...on the one hand, it’s highly derivative of the first film (Rollie works for the cops and gets burned, and then it ends with Rollie taking out the bad guy’s henchmen, one-by-one during an invasion of the hideout), yet the pace is much slower, the plot is convoluted, and the ending is highly unsatisfying. The film starts with the murder of a good cop, yet the triggerman escapes punishment (although that’s never made entirely clear) and it somehow ends with Rollie and Leo receiving yet another big payoff. Give me a break... Watch it with friends for a Bad Movie Night.  5.5/10 stars.

F/X (1986)

Synopsis: It’s like a two-hour version of MacGyver…except there’s female nudity, and the hero finds ingenious ways to kill people.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The world of movie make-believe meets the gritty New York crime scene in this ‘taut and clever suspense movie’ (The New York Times). Bryan Brown (Cocktail) and Brian Dennehy (Romeo + Juliet) command the heart-pounding action in ‘the first-class, crackling excitement of F/X’ (Los Angeles Times).”

What Did I Learn?: If somebody asks you to pull the trigger in a fake assassination plot, um…tell them you’re a little busy that day.

Really?: So wait…the bullet array in a movie prop convinces Leo (Brian Dennehy) that his case and the DeFranco mob case are linked…and DeFranco later answers the phone when Leo phones a Justice Department official? That’s convenient…

Rating: F/X is an exciting mid-1980s suspense thriller. A movie special effects guy is hired by bad cops to stage a fake murder, and he must then use his tricks-of-the-trade to survive after things go very wrong. The film is lots of fun (as long as you don’t take the plot, or Leo’s police investigation too seriously), although I found it a bit disturbing that Rollie Tyler (Brown) basically becomes an amoral, stone-faced killer by the end. 7.5/10 stars.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mister Roberts (1955)

Synopsis: Crummy captain crushes crew, sullen sailors sulk, observant officers object.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Month after month, beneath a blazing Pacific sun, the Reluctant carries cargo from port to port along the forgotten seaways of World War II. Its crew is going crazy. Somewhere, below the horizon, the war – the real war – is passing them by.”

What Did I Learn?: You can make “scotch” with medical alcohol (I’m assuming it’s ethanol, rather than methanol, or somebody could wind up blind or dead), a bit of warm Coca-Cola, and a few drops of iodine.

Really?: 1) Nobody seems to think it’s disturbing, or a breach of Navy discipline when the men use binoculars and telescopes to blatantly leer at nurses getting changed on a nearby island. 2) Funny how the PA system is mistakenly left on during a private conversation between Roberts and the tyrannical captain, and the men suddenly realize what’s going on.

Rating: Goofball comedy and serious themes mix uneasily in Mister Roberts (I think it probably worked better as a stage play), making it a difficult movie to “get”. It hasn’t aged well, but I would recommend Mister Roberts, if only to watch Henry Fonda, James “you dirty rats!” Cagney, and Jack Lemmon together on screen. 7/10 stars.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A River Runs Through It (1992)

Synopsis: Take an episode of Bassmasters, set it in early 20th Century Montana, throw in Brad Pitt, and you have A River Runs Through It.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Craig Sheffer stars as the young Norman Maclean, and Brad Pitt also stars as his brother Paul, an irresistible daredevil driven to challenge the world. Growing up, both boys rebel against their stern minister father. While Norman channels his rebellion into writing, Paul descends a slippery path to self-destruction.”

What Did I Learn?: Addressing your younger sister’s fiancĂ©e for the first time with “hi boy” isn’t the best way to earn his respect.

Really?: 1) Did the folks in rural Montana, circa 1926 spend much of their time sipping martinis and listening to jazz? I would have imagined it to be much more of a beer and country music sort of place. 2) I realize Paul (Pitt) is supposed to be headstrong and careless, but come on... if you owe the local casino a ton of money, and their goons roughed you up the last time you arrived to gamble, you don’t go back for more. You just don’t.

Rating: A River Runs Through It is a slow-moving, yet meaningful character-driven drama (Robert Redford’s narration of Maclean’s prose is especially good) with some of the most beautiful scenery ever captured on film. Highly recommended. 8.5/10 stars.

The Last Emperor (1987)

Synopsis: The true story of Pu Yi, Lord of 10,000 years, or Until Somebody Declares a Republic... Whichever Comes First.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s an epic adventure. Full of slaves and concubines, empresses, and warlords. The true story of Pu Yi, who, at the age of 3, toddled to the Imperial Dragon Throne to become ‘Lord of 10,000 years,” China’s last emperor. From then on, his was a life marked by the absurdity of fate: from emperor to playboy to prisoner, to, finally, an unskilled gardener in the streets of Beijing.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) Sniffing the Emperor’s poo was apparently a daily ritual among the Forbidden City flunkies. 2) If you want to pee in the middle of the night without waking up your cellmates, it’s best to aim for the side of the bucket, not the middle.

Really?: 1) Either Bernardo Bertolucci wanted to end this movie on an artsy and surreal note, or Pu Yi somehow found the hardiest, longest-living cricket in existence to keep in a jar right behind his throne. 2) I wasn’t expecting a sermon on the importance of personal responsibility from a communist prison warden, but the dude made a lot of sense.

Rating: The Last Emperor is a visually stunning film with a fascinating story and a number of strong performances. It’s truly a masterpiece. 10/10 stars.

That Thing You Do (1996)

Synopsis: Tom Hanks provides young Americans with the movie they’ve always wanted: feel-good, non-threatening Boomer nostalgia.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Tom Hanks writes, directs and co-stars in this refreshing, big-hearted comedy that captures the overnight triumph of an American rock band during the glory days of rock and roll.”

What Did I Learn?: The music industry is staffed with honest, caring professionals who want to see their clients succeed. The real problem comes from moody and frustrated “artists” who make bad decisions and try to have everything their own way.

Really?: 1) Was it really necessary to replay the title song 386 million(*) fucking times throughout the movie? 2) A few scenes suggest the bass player is dating – or at least spending time with – a chick from a black girl band, and yet there’s no backlash from the press or the record label...this is 1964, remember. 3) The band replaces the bass player when he fails to show up for a TV gig, and then...there’s no follow up? The guy just vanishes from the movie –that’s just lazy scriptwriting.

Rating: That Thing You Do is a nice, unassuming little film, but I have two complaints; first, it’s not nearly funny enough to work as a comedy, and it’s too sugar-coated and uncritically nostalgic to work as a period drama. Second, what’s the deal with all the disappearing characters? What was the point of casting Charlize Theron as the protagonist’s girlfriend when she takes a hike in the first half hour? 6.5/10 stars.

(* Slight exaggeration)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Cop Land (1997)

(Dang! This film would have been perfect for my Salute to Bad Cops a couple of months ago)

Synopsis: If you’ve ever wanted to see Sylvester Stallone as a drunk, overweight, depressed and poorly-attired Barney Fife, this is definitely your movie.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “This tense action-thriller explodes with nonstop excitement and riveting star performances! Sylvester Stallone stars as Freddy Heflin – the sheriff of a place everyone calls ‘Cop Land’ – a small and seemingly peaceful town populated by the big-city police officers he’s long admired. Yet something ugly is taking place behind the town’s peaceful facade.”

What Did I Learn?: Cops enjoy calling other people “cupcake”.

Really?: 1) So wait...the bad cops fake a fellow officer’s death, and then show him off at a party even though the plan is to bump him off after the guests go home? WTF? 2) Heflin walks past boxes and boxes of police files on the investigation of his town, and he just happens to eye key folders on the top people?

Rating: Cop Land is an engrossing, yet slow-moving thriller that never really gets going. Lots of potential, and several good performances (especially Liotta’s), but the script should have undergone a serious re-write before filming. 7/10 stars.

Monday, April 16, 2012

84 Charing Cross Road (1987)

Synopsis: Spirited self-taught scribe and scholarly, stuffy salesman swap salutations, start slow-motion simpatico.   

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins sparkle in this witty, touching drama about a transatlantic romance that begins at 84 CHARING CROSS ROAD. Helen Hanff (Bancroft), a vivacious New York writer with a passion for literature, writes to a London bookstore in search of rare English classics. Frank Doel (Hopkins), a good-natured, reserved Englishman, answers her request – thus beginning an extraordinary relationship that spans two continents and two decades.”

What Did I Learn?: You can’t trust London cab drivers not to take you for a ride, and don’t bother with street maps, because even Londoners can’t figure out the city.

Really?: Considering the film starts in 1949 and ends – at the latest – in 1971, why does the VHS jacket feature a shot of the completed World Trade Centre twin towers, which weren’t finished until 1973? (By the way: have you noticed that even when Anthony Hopkins isn't playing Hannibal Lecter, he still looks as though he's thinking about eating your face?)

Rating: I wanted to really like 84 Charing Cross Road – it’s an intelligent, well-written film with a couple of excellent performances from Bancroft and Hopkins. Trouble is, there’s no conflict, and nothing really happens until the end. The movie was based upon a successful two-person play, and I suspect that a lot of the character-driven dialogue probably went out the window when new characters were created to flesh out a film version. Nice little movie, but that’s about it. 7/10 stars.

The Shootist (1976)

John Wayne Western Film Fest Movie #8

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Afflicted with a terminal illness, John Bernard Books (John Wayne), the last of the legendary gunfighters, quietly returns to Carson City for medical attention from his old friend Dr. Hostetler (James Stewart). Aware that his days are numbered, the troubled man seeks solace and peace in a boarding house run by a widow (Lauren Bacall) and her son (Ron Howard). Instead, Books is embroiled in one last valiant battle and dies with honor.”

What Did I Learn?: Once you’ve been diagnosed with an incurable cancer, instead of dying a slow and agonizing death, the best course of action is to whip out the old pearl-handled revolvers and take as many scumbags with you as possible.

Really?: Why would a casino hire a faro dealer who enjoys shooting customers over minor insults? Wouldn’t that professional relationship end rather quickly?

Rating: If you’re expecting an action-packed Western such as Rio Bravo, or The Sons of Katie Elder, The Shootist isn’t the John Wayne film for you. There isn’t much bang-bang in The Shootist, but it is a poignant, and moving drama with some wonderful performances and a truly suspenseful ending. I would call it Wayne’s best film. 9/10 stars.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Comancheros (1961)

John Wayne Western Film Fest Movie #7

Synopsis:  If you’ve ever wanted to watch Sonny Crockett and Ricardo Tubbs go undercover in Texas, circa 1843, this is your movie.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “John Wayne is Jake Cutter, a Texas Ranger determined to crush a powerful outlaw gang that’s selling guns to the Indians. Cutter is also trying to bring in gambler Paul Regret (Whitman) who’s wanted for murder. Both missions get entangled when Cutter crosses paths with Regret unexpectedly, and the men form an unlikely friendship while Regret decides which side of the law he’s really on.”

What Did I Learn?: The Duke just didn’t look right wearing a top hat.

You Might Like This Movie If: You’re a big Stuart Whitman fan, and you want to watch the film that sent his career into the stratosphere towards bigger, and better movies like, um...Blazing Magnum and Vultures. (Warning: violence in the second clip) 

Really?: 1A) So wait...after escaping from Cutter’s custody, Regret just happens to be playing poker at the right table, in the right saloon in the right town just as Cutter joins in? B) And the mysterious woman on the riverboat just happens to be the daughter of the outlaw gang? Those are mighty big coinkydinks, pilgrim. 2A) Amazingly, Regret doesn’t feel the need to inform his poker pals that the newcomer to their game is an undercover Texas Ranger. B) This mysterious woman is so obsessed with Regret that she helps him and Cutter escape from her Dad’s band of cutthroats. 3) Even if you owed a debt of gratitude to the man who helped save your family, would you really name your first-born son “Regret”? How about Paul?

Rating: The Comancheros is a bit cheesy and implausible in places, but Wayne and Whitman work well together, and it’s a fun Western as long as you put your brain on "Pause" and enjoy. 7/10 stars.

True Grit (1969)

John Wayne Western Film Fest Movie #6 (the VHS jacket isn't in the best of shape)

Synopsis: John Wayne...acts!

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “John Wayne was given an Oscar for his performance as the drunken, uncouth, one-eyed US marshall Rooster Cogburn in this extraordinary Western. Cogburn is hired by a young girl (Kim Darby) to kill the man who murdered her father and stole the family nest egg, and she insists on accompanying Cogburn on his quest. Cogburn isn’t happy about this, nor with the Texas Ranger (Glen Campbell) who tags along to cash in on the reward.”  

What Did I Learn?: If you know your boss is a vicious sociopath, you might want to re-think the idea of offering him a lift on your horse immediately after his has been shot dead in a gunfight. Just saying...

Really?: (see What Did I Learn?) I wonder if it was a bit difficult for Robert Duvall to get the rest of the gang to trust him again after Duvall pulled one of his buddies off his horse when the man was trying to help him out of a jam.

Rating: True Grit is a wonderful, yet strange John Wayne Western – Wayne isn’t the protagonist (in this case it’s Kim Darby as the prim-yet-plucky Mattie), and he doesn’t simply play himself, although Rooster isn’t that far removed from the iconic John Wayne, as he does in most of his other movies. Wayne, Darby and Campbell share an interesting chemistry as three individuals who really don’t like one another, but they’re forced to work together under unusual circumstances. 8.5/10 stars.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Sons of Katie Elder (1965)

John Wayne Western Film Fest Movie #5
Synopsis: Dino, the Duke and two other guys are bros, dealing with woes, taking on foes.  

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Katie Elder bore four sons. The day she is buried they all return home to Clearwater, Texas, to pay their last respects. John Wayne is the eldest and toughest son, the gunslinger. Tom (Dean Martin) is good with a deck of cards and good with a gun when he has to be. Matt (Earl Holliman) is the quiet one – nobody ever called him yellow...twice. Bud (Michael Anderson Jr.) is the youngest. Any hope for respectability lies with him.”

What Did I Learn?: Every once in a while, it’s a good idea to ask your parents how they’re doing...are they happy? Is the weather nice? Is there an evil rancher and gun nut trying to cheat them out of the family homestead?

Really?: 1) These guys are brothers? Aside from bearing no resemblance to each other, John Wayne was 36 years older than Anderson when they made this movie!  2) Siblings usually choose sides when they fight each other; I don’t think four-way, everyone-against-everyone fistfights are all that common.

Rating: The Sons of Katie Elder is a fun and suspenseful Western with some nifty performances (a rather young Dennis Hopper plays the villain’s cowardly son, and George Kennedy is quite good as a nasty gun-for-hire) and interesting plot twists. It’s an odd film that juxtaposes light-hearted comedy with some genuinely dark moments, and it touches real emotions. But yeah...they’re totally not brothers. 8.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Rio Lobo (1970)

John Wayne Western Film Fest Movie #4

Synopsis: It’s a Civil War picture! No, it’s a cowboy picture! Oh’s another remake of Rio Bravo...

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “When a former Union colonel vows to track down the traitor responsible for the killing of a young officer, his quest leads to a battle to the death with a gang of ruthless desperadoes.”

What Did I Learn?: Back in the Old West, hiding under the bed was still a relative new idea for eluding bad guys - and it worked!

You Might Like This Movie If: all you need to hear is the word “Lobo”.

Really?: So...the Confederate vets befriended by Wayne’s character settle down in the very same Texas town that’s controlled by the traitor he wants to find? And he’s only a three-day horse ride away? That seems awfully convenient...

Rating: Rio Lobo is one of the weakest John Wayne westerns. It starts off with an exciting Civil War train robbery, and then gradually loses steam. Wayne’s quest to find the traitors gets sidelined near the end by the need to kill a sadistic sheriff, and believe it or not – this film basically ends with yet another re-enactment of Rio Bravo and El Dorado: Wayne and friends (including a Walter Brennan-type played by Jack Elam) have the big boss in the town jail, and they have to make an exchange for one of their friends. Sorry - been there, done that. 6/10 stars.

El Dorado (1966)

John Wayne Western Film Fest Movie #3

Synopsis: It’s Rio Bravo, with actors instead of singers for sidekicks.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “Robert Mitchum plays the alcoholic sheriff who fights greedy cattlemen and empire builders as he tries almost single-handedly to tame the West. John Wayne is Mitchum’s old-friend-turned-gunfighter who comes to town. James Caan offers an eccentric and likeable performance.”

What Did I Learn?: If there’s a bullet in your back that’s the cause of occasional pain spasms and numbness in your right hand, and your doctor warns you the symptoms will only get worse unless you have it removed, you might want to listen to him.

Really?: 1) On the basis of one pistol-firing lesson – during which the student shoots at, and misses a cactus - Wayne concludes Caan is hopeless, and should simply buy a shot-pistol. 2) We learn that Caan is an expert knife-thrower...funny how that skill is never used later in the film.

Rating: El Dorado is a faster-paced remake of Rio Bravo. It’s still entertaining, and both Wayne and Mitchum are great, but Arthur Hennicut isn’t nearly as charming as Walter Brennan, while Dude’s (Dean Martin) struggles with depression and sobriety are axed in favour of cheap laughs. 7.5/10 stars.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Rio Bravo (1959)

John Wayne Western Film Fest Movie #2

Synopsis: Grumpy sheriff and comic-relief sidekicks set out to prove that Gary Cooper was actually a pussy in High Noon.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “On one side is an army of gunmen dead-set on springing a murderous sidekick from jail. On the other is Sheriff John. T. Chance and his two deputies: one a drunk, the other a cripple. Take your bets.”

What Did I Learn?: The best way to wean an alcoholic off of whisky is to provide him with lots and lots of beer. Oh, and don’t be polite or respectful to him, or he’ll fall apart and hit the sauce again.

Really?: 1) Didn’t anyone think it was a bit creepy to watch 50-something Wayne romance 20-something Angie Dickinson? 2) So, Ricky Nelson is an 18-year old ranch hand with a Machiavellian mind who can figure out all the angles? I don’t think so...

Rating: Rio Bravo is a fun, and richly entertaining Western, and it’s wonderful to watch the interactions between Wayne, Dean Martin, and Walter “Stumpy” Brennan, but I do have a few complaints: a) Ricky Nelson is not a good actor, b) Wayne is way too old for Dickinson, and c) the ending is rather anti-climactic, and should have been re-written. 8/10 stars.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Big Jake (1971)

John Wayne Western Film Fest Movie #1

Synopsis: Swaggering cowboy rescues grandson, but... um... repeatedly beats the crap out of his own kids.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “The last of the old-fashioned gunfighters puts his skills back in action when his eight-year-old grandson is kidnapped by a ruthless band of killers... BIG JAKE sparkles with brilliant performances and classic Western action, enlivened with some unexpectedly entertaining twists. BIG JAKE is the Duke at the peak of greatness.”

What Did I Learn?: 1) John Wayne owns the world’s smartest dog. 2) It really doesn’t pay to be a friend of the McCandles family.

Really?: 1) John Wayne wears a pink shirt throughout this movie. 2) Couldn’t Wayne’s character think of a better way to create a distraction than to pick a fight with an indestructible he-man? 3) Did anyone at the movie studio think there might have been something disturbing about John Wayne disciplining his mouthy brats with a few right fists? I guess it isn’t child abuse if the victims are in their twenties.

Rating: It’s a little strange to see motorcycles and automatic weapons in a Western (the film is set in 1909), but Big Jake is a thoroughly entertaining example of the genre. Wayne is Wayne, but Richard Boone is amazing as the completely amoral leader of the cutthroats, and the dialog between the two is memorable. Lots of action and suspense, but the film is marred, however, by pretty awful performances by Christopher Mitchum (star of the totally-shitty American Commandos) and real-life son Patrick. 8/10 stars.

The Music of Chance (1993)

Synopsis: James Spader’s post-Brat Pack, pre-Stargate career hits

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “While travelling down a deserted road, Jim Nashe (Mandy Patinkin) stops to help a bruised, bloodied man. The injured stranger, professional gambler Jack Pozzi (James Spader), soon convinces Nashe to risk his dwindling savings on Pozzi’s next game  - a sure win against two wealthy amateurs.”  

What Did I Learn?: If there’s even a chance you could lose both your money and your car, and then wind up in some sort of weird, debt-repayment slavery doing physically demanding, manual labour – don’t play cards! Don’t do it!

Really?: Oh wow...where do I begin? For starters, nobody would pick up a bruised and bloody man from the side of the road, let along front him for ten grand in a poker match.

Rating: The Music of Chance is one seriously weird movie. The plot is quite implausible at numerous points, but it’s obvious somebody was going for a semi-surreal, character-driven drama. The movie strangely works, even if the third act is rather depressing. Spader and Patinkin enjoy some good chemistry as a couple of very different men who have been thrown together under unusual circumstances, while Charles Durning is great as one of two rather creepy older men. “Mornin’, Boys!” 7.5/10 stars.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On The Town (1949)

Synopsis: Charming sea dogs hit the Big Apple in search of PG-rated fun.

Blurb From the VHS Jacket: “It’s a zany comedy of misadventure for three sailors and their girls. When Gabey (Gene Kelly) falls in love withi ‘Miss Turnstiles’ (Vera-Ellen), he spends his 24-hour shore leave in passionate pursuit, joined by his sailor buddies (Frank Sinatra and Jules Munshin), a lady taxi driver (Betty Garrett) and a leggy anthropologist (Ann Miller).”

What Did I Learn?: If you see an attractive woman on a transit poster, you must stalk her movements throughout the city until she agrees to meet you at the top of the Empire State Building.

Really?: 1) So wait, an attractive female cab driver wants to get it on with Frank Sinatra’s character, and he’s more interested in site-seeing? And he’s a sailor on shore leave?! 2) How did the Museum dicks and the cops know they could find the trio of dinosaur-destroying misfits? Did I miss something? 3) If Sinatra’s character has never visited New York, um...where did he get that accent?

Rating: I’m not a big fan of musicals, but the first several minutes of On the Town is pretty spectacular, in part because it was filmed on-location, and you get a chance to see Kelly and Sinatra in the New York of the late 1940s. After that, things get a bit silly. 6.5/10 stars.