Movie #121: The Sea Hawk (1940)

Director: Michael Curtiz

Starring: Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains, Alan Hale, Flora Robson

Academy Award Nominations (1941):

Best Art Direction: Anton Grot

Best Music, Scoring: Erich Wolfgang Korgold

Best Sound Recording: Warner Bros. Studio Sound Department, Nathan Levinson

Best Special Effects (Photographic Effects): Byron Haskin, Sound Effects by Nathan Levinson

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“Geoffrey Thorpe (Flynn), a buccaneer, is hired by Queen Elizabeth I (Robson) to nag the Spanish Armada. The Armada is waiting for the attack on England and Thorpe surprises them with attacks on their galleons where he shows his skills on the sword.” (from IMDB).

As a movie fan, I’m usually pretty easy to please.  In any film, even a terrible one, I try to find a redeeming and enjoyable quality.  Though I’m far more familiar with modern movies, this project (that I’ve apparently been on a very long break from) has expanded my horizons and helped me gain an appreciation for the different eras of film making.  Though I’ve seen a number of the major movies from Hollywood’s Golden Era, I would have never watched The Sea Hawk without doing this project.

The Sea Hawk is entertaining for its time.  The storytelling is good, there is a good balance of action and drama.  Dialogue is intentional and well placed.  There isn’t too much emphasis on the political elements or the action on the high seas.  The scenes in Queen Elizabeth’s court and aboard Thorpe’s ship complement each other and advance the story.  All the characters have their various charms, and the pacing worked.

Though I’m very limited on his work, it makes sense that this is probably one of Errol Flynn’s biggest roles.  He does a fine job of bringing out the various traits of his character.  He is calculated and reasonable in his action as a captain.  His character is beloved by his crew, dreaded by his enemies, and respected by his peers.  He also excels in his romantic involvement with Don Jose’s (Rains) niece Dona Maria (Marshall).  While the progression of their relationship is a bit cliché, it still works.

I came in with little expectation.  The pleasant surprise for me in this film was Flora Robson.  I’m familiar with Elizabeth I as a historical figure, and Robson’s performance was great because she demonstrates strength and reasonable judgement as a leader.  The scene where she puts the needs of her people ahead of what she personally believed was the best course of action as especially touching.  It was probably a combination of good writing, direction, and acting that made this scene stand out.

The Sea Hawk brought back Director Michael Curtiz, composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold and actors Flynn, Rains, and Alan Hale, a winning combination from The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).  It’s been far too long since I’ve seen Robin Hood to make comparisons and contrasts between the two films, so all I can say is they found a formula that worked and so they kept it going.

Will I watch this one again? Probably not.

Am I glad I watched it? Yes.  The version I watched was the colorized version, so if I were to watch it again, it would be to see it in its original black and white format.

Would I recommend seeing it? Yes, as least once.

Movie #120: Once (2006)

Director: John Carney

Starring: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglovia

Academy Awards (2007):

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song: Glen Hansard, Marketa Irglova for the song ‘Falling Slowly’

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Guy (Hansard), a street musician who also works in his father’s vacuum repair shop, meets Girl (Irglova), a pianist who works odd jobs to support her mother and daughter.  They collaborate to create a demo tape for Guy.

Once is a unique musical in that it doesn’t have the flash of your typical musical.  This low-budget film shot in a more primitive fashion adds a layer of authenticity and realism that doesn’t exist in the traditional musical.  No over-the-top performances, just people making music.

I was especially impressed with Hansard and Irglova’s performances.  They are musicians first, not actors.  Their performances are very natural, and play well for the films rough and authentic feel.

The soundtrack for this movie is excellent.  I still listen to a number of the songs regularly even now.  I know it’s probably not for everyone, but I enjoy it thoroughly, even now.  I also like how the songs are integrated in the film almost seamlessly.

I heard part of an interview they did for NPR a few years back.  It was interesting to hear their side of making the film.  The dinner party they attend was shot in Hansard’s flat, and his mother was one of the ladies who sang at that party.  Little things like that intrigue me.

I hadn’t watched Once in a number of years.  One thing that I noticed this time around was a bit of a diminishing return.  I’m not sure how this one will hold up in say, 10 or 20 more years.  Still enjoyable though. The diminishing return may have more to do with me though.  Once was released when I was in college, and perhaps it doesn’t have the same effect on me now that I’m a little older.

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Once has seemed like a movie that you either love or can’t stand.  There is no middle ground.  I think the characters are enjoyable, the music is entertaining, and it’s a nice modern twist on a musical.  I’d recommend seeing this one, even if it’s only once.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Movie #119: Jurassic Park (1993)

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Wayne Knight, Samuel L. Jackson, BD Wong

Academy Awards (1994):

Best Effects, Sound Effects Editing: Gary Rydstrom, Richard Hymns

Best Effects, Visual Effects: Dennis Muren, Stan Winston, Phil Tippett, Michael Lantieri

Best Sound: Gary Summers, Gary Rydstrom, Shawn Murphy, Ron Judkins

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“God help us, we’re in the hands of engineers.”

Eccentric billionaire John Hammond (Attenborough) has built a park with genetically recreated dinosaurs on a remote island.  Prior to opening Jurassic Park, he invites palaeontologists Allen Grant (Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Dern), chaos theorist Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), and his grandchildren for a sneak preview that doesn’t go as smoothly as planned.

I was too young to see Jurassic Park when it first came out, and it’s one of those movies that I’ve only recently seen.  Also, I watched this on VHS, so while I’m sure the picture quality and some of the special effects have been tweaked over the years, I am for all intents and purposes unaware of them.

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Jurassic Park was enjoyable to watch.  It had engaging characters with witty dialogue.  Top to bottom the cast worked well together.  Though Goldblum has many of the memorable lines, it was interesting to see how each character interacted with everyone else.  Hammond realizing the dangers of what he had done and Grant’s interactions with Lex and Tim Murphy were two of the more notable examples of character growth.

It was interesting, and annoying, to see how quickly Donald Gennaro (Martin Ferrero) switched from being the skeptical attorney to overzealous cheerleader when he realized how much money the park could potentially make.  Hammond’s enthusiasm for the park was infectious for most of the people who worked there.  There was almost a “nothing could possibly go wrong” feel at the island.  It was nice to see Gennaro get what he deserved.

There was also enough suspense to keep things interesting.  The first introduction of the T-Rex and the velociraptors chasing Lex and Tim had just the right amount of build-up to keep me on the edge of my seat.  Though I knew in the back of my head that most of the main characters would be safe, there was still just enough doubt to keep things engaging.

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Despite the great performances in Jurassic Park, the real stars of the film were the dinosaurs.   One of the biggest accomplishments of this movie is the special effects.  Although it’s primitive by current standards, in 1993, it was cutting edge.  The dinosaurs were impressive, even in a VHS format.  It’s not very surprising, though, given the fact that it’s a film by Steven Spielberg.

Though some elements of Jurassic Park have clearly become dated, it is still an enjoyable, suspenseful film.  It’s a franchise that I will probably someday get around to watching, but it’s definitely one worth watching.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Movie #118: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Director: Andrew Dominik

Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker

Academy Award Nominations (2008):

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Roger Deakins

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Casey Affleck

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During the winter of 1882 Jesse James (Pitt) is increasingly paranoid and depressed after the retirement of his older brother and collapse of his gang.  Bob Ford (Affleck), a young outlaw who idolizes James, talks his way into his hero’s inner circle only to turn against him. (501 Must-See Movies, 2010).

For a movie that spells out what happens in the title, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford takes a really long time to get to that ending.  For all the good qualities of this film, I have a difficult time getting over how slow this movie progresses.  There is a certain element of suspense as each event builds to the ultimate finale, however, I feel like it could have been an hour shorter with the same effect.

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The exchanges between Pitt and Affleck help in building the tension throughout this film.  I was somewhat skeptical of Brad Pitt playing Jesse James.  It just doesn’t come across as the type of role he would take.  Fortunately he does a decent job in portraying the paranoid, aging outlaw.

Casey Affleck’s performance as Robert Ford walks a very fine line.  He does a good job of depicting the younger brother type who is always picked on.  He does a decent job idolizing Jesse, but it comes across in both a creepy, naive, arrogant way that’s outputting for me.  He received an Oscar nomination for his performance, which I understand, but for me his performance just didn’t quite click.

It’s also interesting to see people like Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker, and Zooey Deschanel to a lesser degree given the other bigger roles each has done since this film.  They blend well into a Western-era film even though it’s not the type of movie any of them would typically do.

I go back and forth with modern western films.  There are some films that I enjoy, however, I feel like the western genre in general is something that was done a lot better in the past.  The charm of older westerns for me is in the primitive film making techniques.  The sometimes over-the-top shootouts and inaccurate special effects are some of the most charming parts of the older films, and modern films just miss that “it” factor.

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Having now seen The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford twice, my initial observations of the film were only reaffirmed.  The film has its charm and the actors did a surprisingly good job.  However, it could have been an hour shorter and told the same story.  It isn’t on my “to watch again” list, and I think it’s one that can be skipped.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Best Picture Winners. Movie #117: Braveheart (1995)

Director: Mel Gibson

Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Brian Cox, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack, David O’Hara, Brendan Gleeson and Agnus MacFadyen

Academy Awards (1996):

Best Cinematography: John Toll

Best Director: Mel Gibson

Best Makeup: Peter Frampton, Paul Pattison, Lois Burwell

Best Picture: Mel Gibson, Alan Ladd Jr., and Bruce Davey

Best Sound Effects Editing: Lon Bender, Per Hallberg

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Costume Design: Charles Knode

Best Film Editing: Steven Rosenblum

Best Music, Original Dramatic Score: James Horner

Best Sound: Andy Nelson, Scott Millan, Anna Behlmer, Brian Simmons

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Randall Wallace

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“It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom.”

In 1280,  King Edward “Longshanks” (Patrick McGoohan) of England claims the vacant Scottish throne for himself following the death of the Scottish king.  He kills a lot of the Scottish nobility, luring them under the guise of peace.  In the ensuing battles, Malcolm Wallace, a commoner, and his oldest son John are also killed.  William Wallace (Gibson), Malcolm’s other son, goes away to Italy with his Uncle Argyle Wallace (Brian Cox).  Returning 20 years later, he meets back up with childhood friend Hamish (Brendan Gleeson) and Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack), a girl he has always been in love with.

Longshanks had issued a decree of “Prima Nocte” where English noblemen with land rights in Scotland can have sex with a new bride on her wedding night.  Wallace and Murron marry in secret to avoid this.  Some time later, Murron attacks an English soldier who tries to rape her, leading the local magistrate to tie her up and slit her throat.

Wrong move dude.

An enraged Wallace kills the local garrison, magistrate included, and declares that the Scottish people will no longer be ruled by the English.  His growing army takes the fight to the English, while Robert the Bruce (Angus MacFayden) acts as a go between for Wallace with the feuding Scottish nobles.

Historical inaccuracies aside, this is a pretty entertaining movie that offers a little bit for everyone.  It is primarily an epic, but it mixes in drama, action, comedy and romance and kept me engaged throughout the 177 minutes of running time.  I’ve seen this film plenty of times, and though it’s one I can quote extensively, I tried to come into it with a clean slate.

The countryside shots are magnificent, and James Horner write a dazzling soundtrack that complements the film’s cinematography.  The battle sequences were impressive given the scope and scale involved with each one.  Though mildly gory by my standards, this one had just enough blood and guts to be believable.  The only thing about the battle sequences for me was how long they lasted.  I feel like they could have been shortened up a bit while still getting the same message and point across.

Given the scope and massive undertaking Braveheart was, it’s not all that surprising that the next time Gibson directed a movie was nine years later with Passion of the Christ.

"What will you do with that freedom?"

“What will you do with that freedom?”

In addition to an impressive directing job, Mel Gibson’s acting was well done.  He balances the conflict with the Scottish nobles, the English, and his own internal driving force following the murder of his beloved Murron.  His character is macho, but also intelligent, sensible, and at times humorous.  It’s hard for me to criticize his performance.  I think the fact that he directed the film helped enhance his performance on-screen.

" I have nothing. Men fight for me because if they do not, I throw them off my land and I starve their wives and children. Those men who bled the ground red at Falkirk fought for William Wallace. He fights for something that I never had."

“He fights for something that I never had.”

"The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots."

“The trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots.”

Both Angus MacFayden and Patrick McGoohan did great jobs as Robert the Bruce and King Edward I.  McGoohan’s villain is relentless, conniving, and to the point.  It was interesting to see how his character changed as time went by health-wise.  He’s a guy you just want to hate.

Bruce’s character is almost more interesting as a character study than anyone else in Braveheart.  The internal struggle as he battles between what’s expected of him as a Scottish nobleman contrasted with what he believes is right is something I’ve always found intriguing.  Some of the best scenes of the film, in my opinion, take place with him talking with his father.

Stephen (David O’Hara) and Hamish are great supporting characters.  Though Stephen is mostly there for comic relief, he has a few moments of genuine and honest concern with some of the decisions William made.  It was also interesting in seeing Hamish as he fought alongside his dad, Campbell (James Cosmo), and how their relationship grew through the film.

"Why do you help me?" "Because of the way you are looking at me now."

“Why do you help me?”
“Because of the way you are looking at me now.”

One thing that sets this movie apart from your run-of-the-mill epic is the underlying romantic influence on Wallace and his relationship with Murron and Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau).  William is the most vulnerable and realistic when he’s with each woman.  Though the romantic development at times seemed cliché, here it worked well and integrated into the story.

When one thinks of Braveheart: “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take OUR FREEDOM!” and “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” comes to mind.  It’s more than just the battles and bloodshed.  A king trying to hold on to power, a noble son struggling with what’s most important, and a reluctant warrior carrying the burdens of a nation while coping with the loss of virtually everyone close to him all flow together to create an entertaining film worthy of the Best Picture Academy Award.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Best Picture Winners, Movie #116: Patton (1970)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Starring: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Stephen Young, Michael Strong, Morgan Paull, Michael Bates

Academy Awards (1971):

Best Picture: Frank McCarthy

Best Actor in a Leading Role: George C. Scott

Best Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Best Original Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola, Edmund H. North

Best Art Direction, Set Decoration: Urie McCleary, Fil Parrondo, Antonio Mateos, Pieere-Louis Thevenet

Best Sound: Douglas Williams, Don Bassman

Best Film Editing: Hugh S. Fowler

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Cinematography: Fred J. Koenekamp

Best Music, Original Score: Jerry Goldsmith

Best Effects, Special Visual Effects: Alex C. Weldon

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“The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

Patton tells the story of George S. Patton (Scott) throughout World War II from his campaigns in Northern Africa, the Invasion of Sicily, his reassignment and eventual involvement in the Battle of the Bulge.  Though a military genius, Patton finds himself at odds with his subordinate, and later superior, General Omar Bradley (Malden), and in competition with the British General/Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery (Bates).  His candid, tough-love and bruntly honest nature gets him in plenty of trouble, diminishing his role in the Allied upper command towards the end of the war.

George C. Scott’s performance as George S. Patton is truly one of the greatest in film history.  He had some distinct differences from the real Patton, but the harsh, blunt, candid nature comes across throughout the film.  Scott’s performance is engaging and he really portrays Patton as being stubborn to the fault.  He is firm, but also poetic.  He believes in reincarnation, and as they conquer, he visits ancient battlefields proclaiming, “I was there” with complete conviction and sincerity.

Though he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, Scott refused to attend and accept the award, saying the award ceremony itself was just a ‘meat market.’  Scott took the role because Patton was a professional, and Scott admired professionalism.  Aside from Dr. Strangelove, this is the only film I’ve seen Scott perform in.  It makes me hesitant to watch him in anything else because of the high standard this performance sets.

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Patton’s relationship with General Omar Bradley, whose memoir was one of the source materials that the script was based on, is an interesting contrast in two very different leadership styles.  Patton was strict, disciplined, and kept his distance and authority over his men.  He was also willing to take great, and sometimes unnecessary risks.  In contrast, Bradley was much more personable and practical.  His calmer more even tempered personality helped him advance to higher commands.  Though the two were very different, it was good to see the great amount of respect each person had for the other.

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Field Marshall Montgomery was also an interesting contrast with Patton.  Patton noted on more than one occasion that they were both prima donnas, though Montgomery wouldn’t ever admit it.  The scene in Messina was humorous.

Though this film is a war movie, there isn’t a whole lot of battle scenes.  Though the movie runs nearly three hours, there is enough drama outside of the actual battles that keep the film engaging and avoids monotony and boredom.  Patton engaging General Erwin Rommel’s forces in North Africa was very well done, and highlights Patton’s respect for Rommel as a General, while exploiting Rommel’s weaknesses.

This time around I watched it in two sittings, the first hour or so and then the rest.  Perhaps it didn’t seem as long and potentially tedious because I broke it down to two viewings.

It was interesting to note the German side of what was happening.  After Patton had been demoted, they were certain it was a trick, not understanding the consequences of Patton’s treatment of a shell shocked soldier that Patton slaps and calls a coward when visiting a field hospital.   They recognized his competence as a leader, and know there is probably no one better to lead the army in the field.

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Patton is one of the best war and biographical films out there.  Winning seven Oscars, this film tells the story of a brilliant but tragically flawed military genius.  I was a bit surprised, though, that it didn’t win for Best Music, Original Score.  Had anyone other than George C. Scott played Patton, it would have slipped into obscurity.  Scott’s professionalism as an actor is emulated in his portrayal as Patton the military professional.  I can definitely watch this one again.  It’s one anyone interested in military history should see.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Best Picture Winners. Movie #115: The Apartment (1960)

From now until Oscar Sunday I will be reviewing Best Picture winners. Enjoy!

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee

Academy Awards (1961):

Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White: Alexandre Trauner, Edward G. Boyle

Best Director: Billy Wilder

Best Film Editing: Daniel Mandell

Best Picture: Billy Wilder

Best Writing, Story or Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Jack Lemmon

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Jack Kruschen

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Shirley MacLaine

Best Cinematography, Black-and-White: Joseph LaShelle

Best Sound: Gordon Sawyer (Samuel Goldwyn SSD)

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Manhattan insurance clerk C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) gains favor with some of his superiors at work by allowing them to use his apartment as a rendezvous for their extramarital affairs.  Things get complicated, though, when Jeff Sheldrake (MacMurray), the company boss, brings Fran Kubelik (MacLaine), an elevator operator who Baxter has fallen in love with, to the apartment.

There are a lot of layers to this story, and they’re intricately woven together and flow smoothly to make for a charming film.  There is the right balance of humor and seriousness, light-heartedness with darker elements.

Jack Lemmon has a certain “it” factor and charm that I’ve always enjoyed.  Most of the films I’ve seen him in have been great showcases of his comedic acting.  However, there always seems to be just enough depth and seriousness with his performances that sets him apart from other exclusively comedic actors.  He’s adds enough serious, meaningful acting to not just be the funnyman.  His performance in The Apartment showcases this balance between funny and serious probably better than any of his other films, at least that I’ve seen.

Shirley MacLaine complements both Lemmon and Fred MacMurray in her given relationship with each man.  She performs her character’s inner conflict very well, and she holds her own with the comedic parts as well.

Jack Kruschen, who earned an Oscar nomination for his part as Baxter’s neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss, carries some of the comedic load of the film and complements the two leads quite well.  Though he plays the irritated neighbor, he also does a great job as a paternal voice of reason.  MacMurray also does a good job as the overbearing womanizer boss type.  It’s interesting to me that My Three Sons started its twelve-year run in 1960.  MacMurray has that 50s/60s “model dad” look to him.  It adds a different dynamic to his performance as Sheldrake.

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The Apartment has an alluring balance of comedy and drama.  Complementary and believable performances by all the major characters really bring this film together.  It’s lighthearted  at times, but serious when it needs to be.  Though the technology and outside cultural influences have become incredibly dated, the core story of the growing love between two people in spite of everything going on around them is still engaging and enjoyable to watch.  Jack Lemmon gives one of his best performances in this film.  I’d definitely recommend this one, and it’ll stay on my radar as one to revisit at some point.

My Rating: 4/5 stars