In college, I took a course in the history of rock and roll. While studying the music and musical influence of Elvis Presley, the professor brought up an interesting theory that was Elvis passed away at the right time to be well-remembered and regarded. We never got to see Elvis get too far past his prime and a shadow of his former self, relegated to the back pages of the tabloids.
This same theory applies to actor James Dean, who only made three films during his short career in Hollywood. Each of those three films is fairly well-regarded by scholars and critics, though it can be argued this his most iconic film was his last, Rebel Without A Cause.
I first saw it years ago on VHS and while it started an entirely new subgenre of film, I’m not necessarily sure this is a film that holds up all that well or is really as good as its iconic status would have you believe. Watching it again this time, I was fascinated by the performance of Dean as Jim Stark and seeing actor Jim Backus in a role other Mr. Howell from Gilligan’s Island. But I couldn’t help but think the film seemed awfully melodramatic in parts and like it was trying too hard. Continue reading
A lot of critics will cite fictional characters such as Tony Soprano or Walter White as being some of pop culture’s first fully embraced anti-heroes. But could it be that audiences were embracing anti-heroes before Tony or Walter came onto the scene?
Watching The Music Man this time around, I was stuck by how when we first meet Harold Hill, he’s a bit of an anti-hero himself. The first song establishes that Hill is a con-man, who has possibly had several other assumed identities before becoming the purveyor of boys’ band, and that he’s ruining the territory for the other salesmen. When he hears that Iowa might a challenge or an untapped opportunity, Hill decides to stop in River City and run his boys’ band con on the town.
He does this by creating and problem and then attempting to solve it via the goods only he can provide — in this case musical instruments. Watching as Hill avoids providing his credentials to various officials through the play is amusing and shows how quickly he can think on his feet. But then his attempted courting of Marion Paroo, the local librarian and piano teacher also shows how slick and savvy Hill really is when he puts his mind to it. Continue reading
As Westerns entered their later period, it feels like the most prominent examples of the genre did one of two things, either deconstruction them () or play them more for laughs (Cat Ballou).
Support Your Local Sheriff is one that plays the genre for laughs. And while it’s not quite as definitive as Cat Ballou or Blazing Saddles, I have to admit I enjoyed the movie a great deal.
James Garner stars as Jason McCullough, a drifter taking the long way around to Australia (he’s been on his way for four years) who wanders into a gold-rush town of Calendar, Colorado. The town has a low survival rate for its sheriffs, having gone through three in the past several months. Needing money to afford the rising price of everything in town, Jason takes the job as sheriff and begins to use his unconventional methods to clean up the town.
With Garner, it’s hard not to imagine that Jason is a variation on the character he played in the long-running TV series, Maverick. And he does a nice job here, looking bemused and offering commentary on the town and its inhabitants. Continue reading
Batman Begins was one of the first movies I saw in an IMAX theater and it left an indelible mark on me.
I’m a huge fan of Batman: The Animated Series and it felt like on the huge IMAX screen with the perfectly attuned surround sound that several sequences captured the feel of the Animated Series in movie form. This is especially true of the sequence where Bruce Wayne dons the Batman outfit for the first time and is battling crooks at the docks. Watching Batman use shadows and darkness to cover his taking out the crooks one by one sent shivers up my spine.
It still does. Continue reading
The Invisible Man (2020)
Watching Blumhouse’s latest take on The Invisible Man after watching the latest installment of HBO’s I’ll Be Gone in the Night probably wasn’t the best idea.
Or maybe it was because after seeing an hour focusing on the quest to find a real-life sociopath that (until recently) came up empty, spending two hours watching a fictional sociopath get caught in the end was a bit more satisfying.
The Invisible Man is a fascinating, suspenseful film that delights in making you pay close attention to every scene. Every bit of apparently empty background could have the titular character hiding it, ready to spring out and terrify our heroine, Cecilia. The movie even toys with the audience a bit, giving us long, lingering shots of empty rooms or hallways, almost as if daring you as a viewer to see if you can spot some clue that the Invisible Man is lurking there.
Escaping from her abusive and manipulative boyfriend, Cecilia is shocked when the boyfriend apparently kills himself and leaves behind a large sum of money to her. However, before long, Cecilia begins to suspect that Adrian is still alive and trying to pull her strings in an attempt to either win her back or force her to return to him by cutting all her means of support. Continue reading
Caught up on a couple of movies that I saw in theaters back upon their initial release over the past couple of days. Some of them I’ve revisited since the theatrical screening, others I hadn’t.
Back to the Future, Part III
The fact that the AFI Movie Club list never got around to including Back to the Future still sticks in my craw. Back to the Future is a far more essential film than, let’s say, Dirty Dancing or Parenthood. Nothing against either of those film, but they don’t quite entertain me in the same way that Back to the Future does.
Of course, I said the same thing after rewatching Taxi Driver last summer. (Let’s face it, if you’re picking a movie for a rainy afternoon, it’s rarely going to be Taxi Driver).
All that brings us to Back to the Future, Part III, the final installment in the trilogy. I’ll go ahead and say that I love Back to the Future, Part II. The travels to three different time periods and the consequences of time travel are entertaining as all get out to me. I know that I’m in the minority on this, but I don’t care. I love the heck out of Part II and don’t care who knows. Continue reading
How can a movie as good as this one be so utterly undone by such a discordant ending?
Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion is an enjoyable, engaging movie until the last five minutes when studio interference makes it go completely off the rails. According to the stories, RKO felt audiences wouldn’t accept that Cary Grant’s character was a murderer and instead of following the original ending of the novel upon which the movie is based, gave us a happy ending of sorts. Or at least a half-hearted ending wherein Grant’s Johnnie doesn’t try to kill Lina, but instead saves her from hurtling out of the car due as they race along some cliffs.
Never mind that the movie has spent the previous ninety or so minutes setting up so that we, the audience, will doubt Johnnie’s word on everything, undermining his every good intention by revealing he’s a liar and hinting that he’s eliminated people in the past to get out of debt or for some kind of financial gain. The film even shows us how he could and probably did off his old friend, Beaky, who has a severe allergic reaction if he drinks too much hard liquor. Continue reading
I’ve never been a big fan of the ending of Grease.
It’s not that the songs aren’t catchy to close the show. It’s just the message that the musical sends to teenage girls is one I can’t quite behind. Basically, it’s do whatever it takes, even if that means changing your entire personality to get the boy.
Watching Gidget, I couldn’t help but wonder if Grease’s borrowing Sandra Dee’s name for its title character wasn’t some kind of homage or shout-out to the actress and her role as Gidget. Certainly, the way Gidget is portrayed here makes the Rizzo’s “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee” take on a different level of meaning.
Made in 1959, Gidget kicked off the beach movie era and may have also ushered in the era of teenage sex comedies. While Gidget isn’t quite as ribald as Porkies or the American Pie series, the film isn’t exactly “pure as the driven snow” either. Continue reading
I’m not sure how Tank got on my radar years ago — was it the preview on the front of multiple VHS tapes our family rented, the box at the video store, or someone else? All I know is the selling point of a guy who owns his own Sherman tank busting his kid our jail sounded like a can’t miss prospect.
My parents eventually allowed me to see the movie — or at least some of it. I’m fairly certain, though I can’t be sure, that family viewing night probably ended the one time James Garner’s Zach Carey dropped an f-bomb about the apple cobbler served in the base mess hall.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first — the level of swearing in this movie is pretty high. In addition to the f-bomb detailed above, the movie also has both Garner and co-star Shirley Jones using the word “a*****e” (I can only imagine how their use of colorful metaphors clashed with the persona each actor had crafted during their tenures on television shows).
Tank is also advertised as a comedy, even though it’s not necessarily as hilarious as the trailer or the soundtrack would want you to believe.
Garner stars as Army Sargeant Major Zach Carey, a soldier who does things by the book and is looking forward to retiring in two years and setting sail on a boat he wants to purchase. He owns a restored Sherman tank that he moves from assignment to assignment with the family. Continue reading
The unwritten code of Westerns is that you don’t ever, under any circumstances, harm a man’s dog.
This code also applies to the retired hitmen. At least, that’s what John Wick tells us.
An elaborate revenge story is kicked off when a trio of guys break into John Wick’s home to steal his car and end up killing his dog as well. Little did these guys know that Wick is a retired hitman who recently lost his wife to cancer and that the dog was a gift from her so he would have something to care about besides his grief and pain.
What follows is an hour plus of John pursuing the ringleader of this gang of idiots through multiple layers of organized crime and the use of a large amount of ammo. One area I’ll give John Wick credit for is that the movie occasionally sees our hero running out of ammo and having to reload.
The film gives us a good backstory for John, detailing how he was one of the most feared hitman out there and the circumstances that led to his retirement. An early, memorable scene finds John digging up his basement to unearth a suitcase full of gold coins that he will use to finance and pay-off various figures during his long vendetta. The coins are even used to pay a cleaning service to remove the bodies of half-a-dozen or so men who come to John’s home after the mafia puts out a bounty on his head.
John Wick is a clever, entertaining revenge flick that has superbly choreographed action sequences and just enough character insight to make us root for its central anti-hero. I’m not sure why I hadn’t seen it before watching a few weeks ago. But after watching it, I can see why the movie has garnered a following and prompted two sequels and an upcoming fourth entry.