Movie #61: Bad Company (1972)

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Director: Robert Benton

Starring: Jeff Bridges, Barry Brown, Jim, Davis, David Huddleston, Jerry Houser, and John Savage.

Drew Dixon (Brown) is a young man from Ohio avoiding enlistment in the Union Army in the American Civil War.  He decides to head west and become an outlaw, at his parent’s blessing, and ends up joining Jake Rumsey’s (Bridges) gang.  His group consists of other draft-dodgers, and they head out west to make a new life as outlaws.

The harsh realities of their new life, though, quickly destroy their hopes and dreams of fortune.  They have to deal with unforgiving competition and a lot of the work that goes into making their new living.  They’re robbed at gunpoint by Big Joe (Huddleston) and his men.  Eventually, three of the five gang members are killed: ten-year old Boog Bookin is shot while stealing a pie from a windowsill and brothers Jim Bob and Loney Logan are both hung by Big Joe’s men.

The film itself is fairly underwhelming.  Aside from solid performances from both Bridges and Brown, not a whole  lot stood out in my mind.  However, that’s one of the main drives of the film.  It breaks down the romanticized Hollywood version of being an outlaw in the Old West.

Drew Dixon deals with the moral implications of what he’s doing.  While he maintains throughout the film that he’ll do things the fair and right way, he deceives the rest of the gang.  His parents sent him out with a sizable amount of money he’s got stashed in the sole of his boot.  His exchange when Jake calls him on this was entertaining, and Drew realizes his deceptive nature and I think becomes more open to the outlaw lifestyle.

Story-wise it seems like this film is a series of shorter films mashed together.  Each encounter: Drew meeting Jake, their first encounter with Big Joe’s gang, the aftermath of each gang members deaths, and ultimately reconciliation between Drew and Jake, could be a short film in and of itself.

Though Bad Company does a good job of breaking down the stereotypical Western film, I was overall unimpressed by it.  At times it was good, but on the whole I was glad it wasn’t any longer than it was.  I won’t see this one again, plain and simple.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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Movie #60: Forrest Gump (1994)

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Forrest Gump tells the story of  a man as he lives his life from the mid 1950s to early 80s., intersecting with many major historical and cultural events and figures in the process.  Forrest (Tom Hanks) has an IQ of 75, and as such explains things and sees the world for a very simplistic, child-like viewpoint.  He tells his life story to various strangers as he sits on a bench waiting for a bus.  He’s in Savannah, Georgia to visit his lifelong sweetheart Jenny, a woman whose life has taken a much different path.

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This movie is probably one of my all-time favorites.  It’s one that I grew up with, and it’s one that I don’t think will ever get old.  I chose to watch Forrest Gump now because my wife and I vacationed in Colorado a short while ago, and during the trip we visited the Bubble Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant.  The food was a little overpriced and the service was horrible, but I can say I’ve eaten there so that’s that.  Our server quizzed my wife and I on the movie.  After I’d answered virtually every question correctly, she went back to get more difficult ones to try to stump me.  Out of 20-25 questions asked, I think I only missed 3 or 4.  I also learned that my wife had never seen the movie.  She has now.

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Hanks does a great job of capturing a child-like innocence of Forrest’s character.  He explains many things in simple terms.  He shows this throughout the film, even closing his eyes really tight when he thinks about his first pair of shoes, and we see his eyes closed tight as a boy in the doctor’s office where he’s gotten braces on his legs.  When Jenny visits him at night when they are children, he says, “Scared of what? I don’t know.  Maybe it was her grandma’s big ole dog.  He was a mean dog.”

Little tweaks like adding that the dog was mean is both simple and brilliant at the same time.  Forrest is also well-aware of him limitations and I found the scene where he proposes to Jenny to be touching and sad.

I didn’t realize Robin Wright played Jenny.  I’ve seen a lot more of her recent stuff, and this was a nice contrast to those roles.  She does a great job of portraying a troubled girl who spirals out of control after growing up with a sexually abusive father.  As she embraces the hippie/drug movement of the 60s and 70s, it makes sense that her character would contract AIDS.  She knows that Forrest loves her, but doesn’t want to embrace it because of her own self-hatred.  It is truly tragic, I just hate seeing

Gary Sinise also does great at Lt. Dan Taylor.  Going from a man of great hate because he feels he didn’t fulfill his destiny in Vietnam and ultimately finds redemption and purpose working with Forrest on the shrimp boat is no small task.  Sinise and Hanks would co-star in Apollo 13 the following year, and they have good on-screen chemistry in both films.  Sinise earned an Oscar nomination for his role in Forrest Gump, and definitely deserved it.

Mykelti Williamson does a good job as Forrest’s army friend Bubba.

I’m not normally a Sally Field fan.  I can’t really explain it, but I just haven’t been all that crazy about her in anything she’s been in.  This film is different though.  Her maternal instincts and adapting to Forrest’s intellectual limitations is touching.  She provides a lot of the heart of the film.

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There are so many good things about this film.  There’s a touching love story between Forrest and Jenny as they cross paths through the years.  Each time you hope she stays, and it doesn’t make any sense for her to leave, but she still does.  There’s a good portrayal of how this affects Forrest throughout the film.

Forrest’s relationship with Bubba and Lt. Dan are also interesting as they develop through the film, though this is more with Lt. Dan for obvious reasons.  Something nice about covering so much time is to see how each character changes over the years.  Field’s character gets older, and both Dan and Jenny change a lot throughout the film.

The soundtrack and cinematography throughout are great.  I know it was probably a great challenge incorporating a lot of archive footage of the various historical figures Forrest encounters.  In fact, Dick Cavett played himself in the scene where Forrest goes on The Tonight Show along with John Lennon.

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Forrest Gump is a film that doesn’t get old for me.  I don’t watch it often, but always find it enjoyable nonetheless.  In a documentary that came with the DVD, Hanks says that Forrest Gump is a film that shouldn’t have been successful by conventional standards.  Forrest doesn’t have a major transformation and the story is more or less his life.  Still, the film was one of the highest-grossing films at the time of its release, it won Best Picture and Hanks a Best Actor Oscar.  This is also ranked #76 on the AFI Top 100 10th Anniversary list.

Even though I’ve seen this movie numerous times, it’s still tough to see Jenny die and I always get a little choked up at the end when Forrest is talking to her grave.

This is a film I’ll definitely watch, and enjoy, again and again.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Before Midnight

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18 years after Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) had a fateful night where they fell in love in Before Sunrise (1994), they are vacationing in Greece with their two daughters and Jesse has just sent his son back to Chicago to his  now ex-wife.  They’ve been in Greece for six weeks, in which time Jesse has written and gotten to know a much older, wise host and fellow writer.  Celine is considering a new job, and learns at the beginning of the film that a major project she had been working on fell through at the last-minute.

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There’s a very touching exchange between Jesse and his son Hank at the airport as Jesse sees him off.  Since Jesse lives in Paris with Celine now, he doesn’t see Hank very much, and as Hank is entering his high school years, Jesse struggles with that separation and his need and want to be a more central part of Hank’s life.

Some friends Jesse and Celine are staying with offer to watch their girls for a night so the couple can get away and enjoy some time together.  They wander the streets for a bit, conversing about their relationship and mostly enjoying the fact that they have time for just them without having their twins with them.  As parents they’ve had to build their lives around the footsteps in the background.   Since I’m not a parent, I can’t really relate to it. The conversations here and throughout the movie have shifted from the previous films.  As Jesse and Celine have gotten older, their interests and priorities have changed.  They don’t talk so much about big broad subjects but spend a lot of time conversing about their relationship, their kids, the past and the future.  It’s a nice dynamic and departure from the previous films.

They do address love in a broader sense at dinner with the couple who rented their hotel room for them, an older gentleman, his grandson and the grandson’s girlfriend, and a woman who is a widow but good friend of the host.  There’s a big contrast, and while most of the people see relationships and marriage as something where two people exist, the widow expresses the loss she felt when her husband died.  Part of her was gone, and it’s nice to see the value of that expressed.  I thought she spoke with the most conviction, speaking more from the heart and less from a logical cynical viewpoint.

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In this film, far more than in its two predecessors there’s a much stronger contrast in the way men and women think and go about their current situations.  Throughout the film it seemed like each person was rooted in either logical thought or emotion. Celine definitely appealed a lot more through emotion, though she distinctly remains true to character in ignoring and fighting traditional female roles and expectations, specifically within the family. Jesse is more methodical and following logical patterns.  No, I don’t think he was right all the time, I found that each had moments of great insight and other moments of semi-craziness.  There’s a good balance between the two, and I get the sense that Delpy and Hawke enjoy working together.

Their on-screen chemistry has only gotten better with each new film. Jesse did something that I as a husband and some day a father had a big problem with.  It could help explain why there was some of the tension between him and Celine.  It knocked him down a few rungs in my book, and while it added to the story line and the relational tension, I just didn’t like it.  Also, once they’re in the hotel, I didn’t really like that Celine remained topless for quite a few minutes of conversation.  It’s more a personal preference, but I felt it was a bit unnecessary.

A major plus to this film is the scenery.  Greece looks absolutely magnificent, and Linklater does a great job at capturing this.  From the ruins to the garden and through the streets, the scenery is just great.

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Before Midnight is a film that I’ll need to sit down and watch again once my wife and I have kids.  I remember watching Before Sunset the second time after being married whereas the first time was before my wife and I were dating.  It was definitely different watching it the second time.  Perspective and experience inform one’s understanding of a film.  Since Jesse and Celine are a little older than me, and they’ve had kids, that’s anther life milestone that I’m sure will change how I view things, and will change how I enjoy this film.

One of the main downsides of the film is that my wife is gone this week and we’ll have to wait until it comes out on DVD to see.  I could see them making another film in 9 years.  Jesse and Celine will be 50, their daughters about to finish high school.  Should make for interesting.  This is definitely a niche type franchise, and it’s one that I think has and can only get better with age.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Branching Out

I’ve gone back and forth over the last few weeks on a new direction for this blog,  I enjoy reviewing the movies from this list, otherwise I wouldn’t do it.  However, I feel limited by these 501 movies.  They certainly aren’t the only ones I watch, and there have been a few movies I’ve seen recently that I’d like to share my opinion about.

Another issue I’ve had to deal with is whether this should stay exclusively a movie blog, or expand into other hobbies and passions in my life (disc golf, gardening, cooking, etc.).  That will be for another time.

This will stay a movie review blog, but now with a slightly different format.  The movies for the 501 must-see movies project will be noted with a Movie #X: Movie Title, as has been the format for the last dozen or so movies.  The non-project movies will simply have the title and year of release.

With that in mind, I will be seeing Before Midnight (2013) in the theaters today, as it is the last day it’ll be in a theater anywhere close to where I live.  Review will follow.

Movie #59: The Wizard of Oz (1939)

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Director: Victor Fleming, King Vidor

Starring: Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, and Terry as Toto

The Wizard of Oz has always been a film near and dear to my heart as a native Kansan.  A number of small towns have yellow-brick roads going down main street, and it is something that’s synonymous with the state.  This is one of a number of films that I grew up with, and though I’ve seen it many times, I still enjoy it with each viewing.

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I was very skeptical when I first heard of Oz: The Great and Powerful, but my wife and I saw it a few weeks ago.  For the most part I was impressed.  I found it stayed faithful to the source material while avoiding the pitfall of being a cheap knock-off of the original.  The only change I would have made was to use someone other than Mila Kunis.  I’ve never cared for her as an actress, and that change is more my personal preference.

Released in 1939, this film uses a tremendous amount of color, and the eye-popping visuals and cinematography create a nice unique fantasy world of Oz.  There’s a nice contrast between the farm scenes in a sepia tone and Oz in full-color.

Judy Garland was 16 when The Wizard of Oz was filmed.  I have a hard time believing this, as she seemed so much older.  Her performance and talent make this film.  Frank Miller is also great in this movie.  He shows some range as the various people who greet Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion in the Emerald City.  The only other movie of his that I’ve seen is Shop Around the Corner, and I was taken aback at first because I’ve come to associate him as The Wizard and nothing else.

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The Wizard of Oz embodies a lot of the basic elements of a good film.  It offered a release and escape.  It was released at the tail end of the great depression and the beginning stages of World War 2.  Something like this would have provided a nice escape from everyday struggles and problems and whisk a person away to a fantasy land for a couple of hours.

The Mythbusters tested the effects of silver body paint and how a previous formula may have caused Buddy Ebsen, the original Tin Man, to drop out of the film.  Here is that clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WUmBGzlyrc

The American Film Institute listed The Wizard of Oz as the #6 movie of all time in its first list, and 10th on the 10th anniversary list.  Additionally, “Over the Rainbow” was picked as the #1 song in the list, “100 Years…100 Songs.”  There are so many elements of this film that have integrated into popular culture.  Numerous lines, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” “There’s no place like home.”  “I’ll get you, my pretty and your little dog, too!” – #99  “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” and “I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!” to name a few.

As stated before, The Wizard of Oz is a film near and dear to me.  I enjoy it in moderation now, but the songs, the story, and the acting never get old.  I look forward to sharing this film with my future generations.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

Movie #58: The Desert Fox (1951)

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Director: Henry Hathaway

Starring: James Mason

Cedric Hardwicke

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Told through the eyes and following the research of British Lt. Col. Desmond Young, The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel follows the last couple of years of Rommel’s life as he struggles with loyalty to Hitler and the Nazi war effort.  His eventual downfall starts when he disobeys Hitler’s order to stand firm in the face of overwhelming and unrealistic expectations at El Alamein.  He orders his men to fall back, defying his orders because he doesn’t want his Afrika Korps destroyed.

He is approached by a family friend to take part in an assassination attempt, and though he rebuffs his friend at first, eventually he agrees to take part.  This is after he is once again at odds with Hitler prior to D-Day.  After the assassination attempt fails, Rommel is charged with treason and must make a decision to admit guilt and receive an honorable death, or risk his wife and son’s safety by taking his case to public court.

This  movie is pretty straightforward.  It follows a biography written by Desmond Young, a British POW who briefly met Rommel early on in World War 2 and who later went back and learned how Rommel’s war went.  Each scene seems to be done with purpose, and it doesn’t waste time with comic relief and things of that sort.  It sticks with the story, portrays a strong relationship between Rommel and his wife and son.

The acting overall was good.  I especially liked James Mason in the lead role.  I always find it ironic when German characters are played by British actors and there’s no attempt whatsoever to speak with a German accent, let alone use the language at all.  Mason would reprise his role two years later in The Desert Rats, and in it he has a more distinct German accent and is much less likable.  One of the criticisms of this film is that it tries to put a positive spin on a dark part of human history.

Though the film is shot more like a documentary and less romanticized and sentimental, it still feels like it’s going easy on men who performed despicable acts.  I think there was a good balance of the struggle Rommel dealt with and the strength he had to stand and express his thoughts, use his brain, and not just blindly follow Hitler as he got crazier towards the end of the war. The Desert Fox finds a balance of a man with a crisis of conscience who is fighting on the wrong side.

For something somewhat comparable, I’d think of how Robert E. Lee led the armies of the Confederacy in the Civil War.  He wasn’t too particularly crazy about what the Confederacy stood for, but he also could not turn his back on his native Virginia.

The Desert Fox strikes a balance of a decent man caught on the wrong side of history.  I think a film like this really humanizes and tells a story that needs to be told.  Winston Churchill spoke of Rommel in the House of Commons in 1942.  Though they were on opposing sides, Churchill recognized and respected Rommel as a military strategist.  His crisis of conscience and willingness to stand up to Hitler, and ultimately die to save his family, gives a small bright spot to an otherwise dark time in our history.  I’d probably show this film, or parts of it, if I was teaching someone about World War 2 and more specifically Rommel.  Otherwise, I probably won’t watch this film, but I am glad I’ve had the opportunity to see it twice.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Movie #57: A Fish Called Wanda (1988)

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A tale of murder, lust, greed, revenge, and seafood.

Director: Charles Crichton, John Cleese

Starring: John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline, Michael Palin, and Tom Georgeson

Americans Wanda (Curtis) and Otto (Kline) team up with George (Georgeson) and Ken (Palin) for an elaborate jewelry heist in London.  Wanda and Otto have portrayed themselves as brother and sister, when in fact they are lovers intent on double-crossing their cross the pond partners and taking the loot for themselves.  In the process they turn George in for the crime.  George, suspecting a double-cross, has moved the stolen goods and confided information related to it in his lawyer, Archie Leach (Cleese).

What follows is an hour and forty minutes of double-crossing, Wanda seducing everyone else involved, and Otto becoming more ridiculous and jealous.  Archie’s marriage falls apart as he falls for Wanda, Ken deals with a massive stutter and continual abuse from Otto.

This film does a good job at blending American and British humor, and the ensemble main cast works well together.  I’ve been a fan of Monty Python for many years, so Cleese and Palin were more enjoyable for me to watch than Curtis and Kline.

Palin definitely carries the comedy load in this film.  His character is given the task of killing the crime’s only eyewitness, an elderly woman who identified George while walking her three dogs.  Ken goes through an excruciatingly painful ordeal as he offs each dog and the witness finally dies of a heart attack.

Ken has a massive stutter, as stated before, and while I found it irritating at times, it still added to his charm.

Kevin Kline received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal as Otto.  I guess I don’t like pseudo-intellectuals, and Kline’s character is so far out there, it’s a major turnoff for me.  I know this kind of role takes a wide range and is definitely out there even for an actor like Kline, but for me it’s just not something I enjoyed.  I suppose it was a weak year for Best Supporting Actor nominees.

Jamie Lee Curtis was charming, and this film was towards what I’d consider the height of her movie career.  She worked well with each person her character seduced and manipulated.  I especially liked her screen time with John Cleese, they just had a good chemistry.

The plot unfolded nicely, though at times I felt like this movie dragged.  Perhaps if they’d removed one aspect of the story to shorten up this film it would’ve been better.

It’s interesting to note that this was Charles Crichton’s final film to direct, and yet he received his first and only Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Writing.

A Fish Called Wanda is one that relies a lot of sight gags and it doesn’t take itself too seriously, yet the mixing of a wide range of acting and writing talent works well.  I probably won’t see this one again, but you can’t really go wrong with two members of the Monty Python team.

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars