Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

Bonnie and Clyde.  Romanticized bank robbers in the Depression-era South.

I found the opening credits both appropriate, a little bit creepy, and after a while tedious.  The era of Bonnie and Clyde makes the type-writer noise along with pictures of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow is fitting given the subject matter.  I didn’t like that it seemed to drag on and on, but I also realize that this is still on the tail end of the era in Hollywood where the credits played before the movie starts instead of afterwards as they do now.

Both Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway turn in Oscar-nominated-worthy performances in this film, although they seem old compared to the real life Bonnie and Clyde.  That’s probably more me nit-picking that anything else.  Bonnie’s character development was nice in the sense that she still wants to go home, but also wants to take part in this different adventure.  It was a sobering reality when her mother told her she couldn’t come home, or wouldn’t last long with all the law enforcement looking for her.

I liked the progression and the difficulties Bonnie and Clyde faced early on.  It seems fitting that they’d need to figure out how to rob banks and after a while, especially after Buck, Blanche, and C.W. joined the gang.  It almost became an art-form, at least under the end of the movie when things came to their inevitable conclusion.

I found that Gene Hackman and Estelle Parsons carried the movie almost as much and at times more than Beatty and Dunaway.  Estelle earned an Academy Award for her performance, and it was fitting, although I found her screaming to be more than annoying.  Her progression from the reluctant participant t a full-share earner, even though she really does little in the robbing.  The real life Blanche Barrow provided a lot of the insider information on the gang, which makes sense since she and W.D. Jones (C.W. in the movie) were the only two living members of the gang.

The shooting scenes I think are very well done, and the driving getaways were also well done.  The other Academy Award the film earned was in Cinematography, and appropriately so.

Something noteworthy is that this was Gene Wilder’s first movie.  His performance seems fitting for the type of actor he became: fun and ironic.

Overall I learned a lot about the Barrow Gang, and this film sparked some research into their role in Depression-era America.  Though romanticized, this was a good look at the Barrow Gang.  I realize that the filmmakers took liberties, but I feel they stayed close and true to the real-life events.  While I probably won’t watch this movie again, it was a treat to see young performances from Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Gene Hackman.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Star Trek.

This post may be longer than usual because this is the only Star Trek movie in the project, and there is quite a bit of ground to cover.  I have previously watched The Wrath of Khan, but I have better context this time because I’ve also watched the Star Trek: The Original Series episode, “Space Seed.”

I write this review as a person who has had limited exposure to Star Trek in my life.  I remember growing up watching parts of episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but other than that, I have watched very little and as such watch and review this movie from that perspective.  When I went to watch Wrath of Khan the first time, I started with the first movie and continued on watching Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  I’ve also seen the new Star Trek movie.

The premise for this movie is that it takes place 15 years after the Space Seed episode in the original series.  In that episode, the USS Enterprise comes upon an ancient-looking ship that has 84 people on board in something like a cryogenic chamber, though 12 of them have died because of machine malfunctions.  They bring Khan Noonien Singh on board, and come to realize he is a warlord who had conquered nearly a fourth of the Earth in the 1990s (must have missed that one).  He and his other people are genetically modified and are bigger, stronger, beings (probably played a part in their conquests).  They briefly hold the Enterprise hostage, having success because Khan turned the Enterprise’s historian, but are defeated and placed in exile on the planet

Khan in the medical bay of the USS Enterprise in the episode “Space Seed.”

The episode was okay I suppose, it’s the first with the original cast I’ve seen, and it seemed too over simplistic at times.  Kirk defeats Khan by clubbing him over the head once when Khan had clearly had the upper-hand throughout their final fight.  It was also weird seeing the actors and actresses 10-15 years younger than they were in the movies.  I don’t know, it worked, it’s Star Trek.

Fast forward 15 years.  Sulu (George Takei) and Chekov (Walter Koenig), who were not in the original episode, are now part of the crew.

This film was also the first for Kristie Alley as Saavik, a Vulcan Lieutenant in Star Fleet Command, captaining the USS Enterprise.  She is participating in the “Kobayashi Maru,” a no-win situation that only Kirk has succeeded in.  This is a very interesting and one of many story arcs within the film: dealing with death and the emotional implications it has on a captain, and Kirk’s apparent inability to accept it.

As I’ve watched the Star Trek movies, I’ve really come to enjoy DeForest Kelley as Dr. Bones McCoy.  Karl Urban almost seems like an insult to the character in the 2009 Star Trek movie (though I did enjoy that and am looking forward to the next installment with this crew of actors and actresses).  Bones is one of the bigger voices of reason in Kirk’s life, and I would imagine with all the characters had been through, that relationship seems plausible and enjoyable to watch.  Bones telling Kirk to get back in command so he didn’t become and artifact like the ones he collected is the swift kick in the pants Kirk needed.  Bones never seemed afraid to put Kirk in his place.  Don’t get me wrong, they have plenty of good banter, but the balance of that demonstrates true friendship founded on mutual respect and concern for the other.

Chekov is the first officer of the USS Reliant, and they are in the process of finding a planet to test the Genesis project on.  He comes upon what he presumes is the next planet past where Khan has been exiled to.  He and his captain go down to the planet, only to realize one of the permanent structures on the otherwise desert planet is the remains of the Botany Bay, Khan’s original ship and the craft sent down with them

Khan does a very good job here establishing his strength and as a character to be feared.  Chekov’s reaction demonstrates this as soon as he realizes they are in the remains of the Botany Bay.  Lt. Marla McGivers, the crew member who betrayed the Enterprise in their first encounter with Khan, had since died at the hands of a creature indigenous to the planet.

As the story develops we learn Kirk has a son who works with his mother on the Genesis Project, a project that can turn an uninhabitable planet into something habitable.  This is a

One of the things that makes Khan such a great villain is the level of psychosis and determination he has in defeating Kirk.  Even at the point when one of his top guys keeps telling him he doesn’t need to, he sticks with it.  Nothing will stop him from accomplishing his goal.The way he’s defeated seems sad and cliche: Kirk and the USS Enterprise have more experience in space combat, and that becomes Khan’s undoing.

Kristie Alley was very good in this movie.  It took some adjusting to hear everyone else refer to her character as a male, but I imagine that’s how Vulcans are different from humans.  She turned down the role of Saavik for fear of being type-cast, as others in the Star Trek cast became.  It’s reasonable, but I think she made a better Saavik than Robin Curtis was in the next two films.

This movie ends with a tremendous plot twist.  I feel that if they would’ve ended making movies, this ending would’ve been sad, but fitting.  Each of the main characters changed or significant life events, especially Kirk.  I do like where they took this storyline though.

I found Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan to be a great continuation of the “Space Seed” episode, and taking big steps forward with the crew of the USS Enterprise.  It also renewed interest in Star Trek and allowed them to expand and branch out with different crews and new story lines, especially after a lackluster performance in the original movie.  I’d watch this again, but it’s one I would need to have quite a bit of time between viewings.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

High Noon (1952)

High Noon.

Gary Cooper’s character Marshal Will Kane gets married Grace Kelly’s character, Amy.  Before they leave town, Kane learns a man he’d arrested and who was up for execution has been pardoned and is now out to take his vengeance on Will.  As Kane tries to recruit deputies to fight Frank Miller and his gang once they reach town, he is rejected by everyone and ends up having to face the gang alone.

Gary Cooper was 51 when this movie was filmed, and he commands every scene he’s in.  It’s fitting that he won the Oscar for Best Actor for this film. His other Oscar came from Sergeant York, another film I’ll watch at some point for this project.

It’s interesting watching Lloyd Bridges as the Deputy Marshal.  This is a sharp contrast from what I know Lloyd Bridges for (Hot Shots!, Airplane, etc.)  The others were from much later in his career, this was probably a job to continue to establish himself.

The dynamic between Kane and Ramirez, his ex-flame, brings more realism than idealism that you get with Grace Kelly’s character, Amy.

I did a quick IMDB check on Grace Kelly, and this role seems to be one of her first of major merit, and still early on in her career, just two years after her first credits appear.  She has a youth and innocence that comes with, well, her youth.  The tender and at times naive character she plays gives balance and humanity, something for Kane to fight for and a future outside of law enforcement.  Her background also gives good context as to why she is a Quaker, opposes fighting, and wants Kane to start a new life.

One of the sobering conversations had in this film takes place between Kane and Judge Percy Mettrick.  In it Mettrick describes how an honest man who works as a marshal or sheriff and end up dieing alone or too early because of what they do for a living.  This conversation encompassed a good deal of what the film deals with as Kane cannot find a single person to stand with him, even though he’s been the sheriff for many many years.

The realism of this film is probably what stands out most.  An hour and a half long, this movie covers about an hour and a half’s time as Kane tries to recruit deputies and the gunfight at the end.  This sets the movie apart because they don’t have a lot of the traditional elements of westerns: horse chases, multiple gunfights, etc.  It deals much more with the emotional side.

John Wayne criticized this film because he thought it was an allegory for McCarthyism.  It was rumored that Rio Bravo was made as a counter to this film.  I think approaching the movie from the emotional side of things brings a different dynamic that sets the movie apart from others.  The American Film Institute ranked this movie #27 on their 10th Anniversary Top 100 films of All-Time list.  The distinction from traditional westerns probably contributes to this ranking.

My overall opinion is that this movie is a nice alternative to the traditional western, with above average acting and a convincing lead in Gary Cooper.  I probably won’t watch it again, but I’m glad I’ve watched it once.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Little Shop of Horrors (1986)

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Seymour is a lovable loser who works in a plant store, dreaming of winning over his co-worker Audrey.  Audrey, though is going out with the leather jacket-wearing dentist Orin (Steve Martin).  Though Audrey gets hurt in the crossfire, she stays with her man.  He seems like the classic manic tool.

Seymour happens to purchase a mysterious plant that appeared in a Chinese flower vendor during a total eclipse of the sun, and displaying the plant in the window of the flower shop brings in numerous business.  However, it starts to die, and Seymour figures out the plant feeds on blood.  Audry II, the plant, grows quickly and to the point that it’s as big as Seymour, and ends up needing to eat humans whole to get his blood fix.

From the first note of the theme song, it’s very clear that this film is quintessentially 80s, but with a nice 50s touch.

The opening number is distinctly characteristic of 80s pop music, which works for me.  Set in the 1950s, it also gives a good balance of 50s Du-Wop music, mainly through the three singers Crystal, Ronette, and Chiffon.  They do a good job moving the story along, and their interactions with Audrey and Mushnik help them fit seamlessly into the story.

This was probably about the time Rick Moranis was in his prime, or at least his most notable performances (less the Honey I Shrunk the… movies).  He demonstrates his diversity both with the classic humorous acting as the lovable geek, but also more than shines in his singing abilities.  Finding a good balance in multiple areas is something I always see as a plus and sign of a talented actor.

This movie is filled with quite a few cameos, from John Candy, Christopher Guest, Bill Murray, and Jim Belushi.  Murray probably takes the cake, which makes sense since this is probably in one of the better parts of his career.  His character is just so over the top that only a person like Bill could pull it off.

I know this movie is primarily a musical, but I found it more humorous, and more modern slap-stick, which made me think it would’ve been a lot of fun to perform in, work for, or just observe this movie being made.

The love arch between Seymour and Audrey seems predictable and cheesy, but I’m willing to overlook this for the simple fact that this was just a fun movie to watch.

As Audrey II grows, it’s just fun to see his (presumably because of the singing voice provided by Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops) character blossom throughout the film, no pun intended.  One of the big reasons I think the music appeals to me is that fact that it’s well-written and soulful.

In something that seems uncharacteristic as part of this project, I could definitely see myself watching this movie again.  It was fun, light-hearted, well-rounded, and had good music (at least in my opinion).  It’s a movie that for those that’ve watched it, it’s memorable, and it’s one of those that you just have to experience to understand.
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Spartacus (1960)

Spartacus.

Kirk Douglas/Stanley Kubrick 2.0.  They had previously done Paths of Glory, another movie in the 501 must-see movies project, and one I will probably watch in the near future.

Spartacus tells the story of a slave who becomes a gladiator, and a gladiator who leads an army against the Romans.  It is one of the last of the Biblical-era films that fit into the adventure/epic category (yes it’s set about 50 years or so before the time of Christ).  Following other iconic films The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, Spartacus ended up winning 4 Academy Awards, and is probably the first film that comes to mind when Kirk Douglas is mentioned.

Something that intrigues me as far as back-story and an added layer is the perspective Spartacus possesses and how that influences his decisions.  He has always been a slave, always been seen as less than human.  Upon a second watching (many years after the first), I saw how that played itself out.  Spartacus was not so much leading a rebellion as seeking to gain freedom from the Romans.  That meant going through armies, though it didn’t necessarily need to.

I tend to be a sucker for good visuals, and this film had good visuals.  The costumes, specifically with the large battle scenes, are handled quite well and the film was deserving of the Best Costumes Oscar.

Spartacus’ relationship with Varinia is interesting to see develop throughout the film.  As a man of slave birth, Spartacus does not know what to do with her at first, and Douglas does a good job portraying that naivety (for lack of a better word).  It’s also nice to see both he and Varinia acknowledge that they are not animals, even though their owners tend to see them as animals.  Douglas and Jean Simmons have very good chemistry throughout.

I find it interesting seeing Kirk Douglas in his prime, especially after he presented at the Academy Awards in 2011 and how much 50 years changes a person.

One of the things that makes a movie great is numerous layers of stories and subplots to sort through and mesh together for one coherent story.  Whether it’s the various Romans taking their place at the end of the Roman Republic and dealing with Spartacus, Spartacus seeking freedom for himself and his men, the Spartacus/Varinia love story.  Stanley Kubrick can be difficult to follow at times, but of the films of his I’ve seen (Spartacus, Clockwork Orange and Full Metal Jacket), he tells a good coherent story.

In summary: This film more than qualifies as a major epic undergoing, and Stanley Kubrick does a great justice to the story.  It’s one that everyone should see, but doesn’t need to see more than once or twice.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Long, Hot Summer (1958)

Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Orson Welles, Angela Lansbury.
Ben Quick (Newman) is a drifter, going from town to town and building a reputation as a barn-burner.  After being asked to leave and never return to yet another town, he hitchhikes and meets two girls from Frenchman’s Bend, Mississippi.  They are both family members of the town’s most important family, the Varners.  Clara Varner (Joanne Woodward) is 23 years old and unmarried.  This fact drives her father Will Varner (Welles) crazy, to the point where Clara claims the only conversation they’ve had for 6 years is about the fact that she isn’t married.

Despite Ben’s reputation, he quickly gains the trust of Will because Will sees a younger version of himself in this newcomer.  Unsatisfied with his son Jody, he starts grooming Ben to carry on his legacy, and in the process get Clara and husband.

The tension between Ben and Jody is nice, and it becomes apparent that Jody is more naive than first thought, and Ben is the quintessential con man.

Something that stood out and always seems to amaze me is the presence Orson Welles has on-screen.  There is no doubt who commands the scene when his character is present.  While I realize this is probably in large part because of how Will’s character is written, I believe Welles is someone who truly brings this to life.  I have not watched many Orson Welles movies, but I’m quickly understanding why he commands such respect in the film industry.

The ending of this movie surprised me a bit, as I imagined Ben Quick would ride off and continue his ways.  It’s good when the main character has a major change, and I know that’s one of the staples of movies, but it’s nice to see and understand Quick’s background more.  Plus the fact that he settles where he’s at gives us a happily ever after ending.

As the book says, Newman and Woodward’s on-screen chemistry shines through in large part as the result of their off-screen romance.  They were shortly married after the filming, and Newman divorcing his first wife, and remained together until Newman’s death in 2008.
As with the previous movie, I don’t see myself watching The Long, Hot Summer again, but again am delighted that I have seen it.  It’s not that I have anything against the movie, it just isn’t one that moved me enough to want to watch again.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949)

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John Wayne, in his second of three cavalry movies, plays Captain Nathan Brittles, a Cavalryman who is nearing retirement and takes one final mission in the last week of his career.

Two things stand out in this movie: Wayne’s ability to play a much older character and the cinematography in showing the various landscapes in color.

John Wayne was 33 at the time this movie was filmed, however, he is playing a man many years further along in life.  I enjoyed the conflict this character has with leading his troops, succeeding in missions, but knowing the day was drawing near where he would have to move on to something else.  Brittles was a friend of George Custer, who had recently been killed in the Battle of Little Bighorn.  This kind of old guard passing on to the next generation shows through as Brittles asks to stay on in more of a consulting role.  His commanding officer quickly retorts that if the next man who will lead the troops gives an order, the men will still look to him.

From the 501 must-see movies book, regarding Wayne’s portrayal of a much older man.  “There is a moving moment when he wishes to read the inscription on a watch his troops have given him as a farewell gift and he shyly reaches for a pair of reading spectacles.”

This was the only John Wayne cavalry film to have color.  The only Academy Award this movie was nominated for was Cinematography, Color.  It won, and understandably so.  There is one particular scene where the cavalrymen are stampeding, and the camera follows one particular cover wagon as it attempts to adapt to the terrain.  I found myself hoping and anticipating it falling over, but that did not happen.  I wonder how many takes it took to get it right though.

My overall opinion of this film is that it does good with the subject material and John Wayne does more than enough to carry the movie.  I don’t imagine I’ll watch this one again, but as with many movies I’ve seen as part of this project, I am glad I’ve watched it.
Rating: 3 stars out of 5