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
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.
With the comedic chemistry on display between Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson in Thor: Ragnarock , reuniting them for a potential reboot to the Men in Black franchise seems like a no-brainer, right?
Which is why it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that Men in Black International isn’t funnier or more engaging than it turns out to be.
Thompson plays a young woman who has an encounter with an alien and the infamous MIB young in life. Avoiding being neutralized, she makes it her goal to find the famous agency and become part of it. It’s in the first half-hour or so as we see Thompson’s Agent M (as she will become known) trying to find the infamous shadow organization that this latest installment is at its most fun and clever. But it’s once she finds the agency and becomes a probationary agent that things become a bit less fun overall and the movie grinds to a halt a bit.
Which is kind of a shame because Hemsworth’s Agent H, who is living off the fame of one famous night three years before where he helped saved the Earth from invasion, seems like he should be a lot of fun to spend screen time with. He’s arrogant, brash, and at-times in over his head. And while Hemsworth and Thompson clearly have chemistry, the script doesn’t really do them many favors once they get together. There isn’t quite the same level of odd-couple chemistry that made Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith work so well.
A CGI-alien voiced Kumail Nanjani livens things up in the last hour a bit. Indeed, I found myself wishing that maybe a spin-off series with the CGI alien and Agent M might be in the offing — or a web-series at least.
As with other entries in this series, the story hinges on retrieving an alien item before various nefarious parties get hold of it. The script tries to give us a bit of a twist with a potential mole inside MIB, but I’d honestly guessed the identity of this player long before the script gets around to filling in H and M. It’s as the movie is wrapping up and possibly setting up a new franchise that things start to get interesting again. Though given that the film didn’t set the box-office on fire, it seems like it may have been too little, too late.
Earlier this week, news broke that Amazon will be adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels as a multi-season television series. Hearing this news, I couldn’t help but wish that Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower series could get that epic treatment instead.
Lord of the Rings has a well-done, much-loved pop culture adaptation of the original source material*. The Dark Tower novels don’t. Even with this year’s long-awaited big-screen adaptation.
*And yes, I know they left out some of the most beloved characters and combined some character arcs. But honestly, I think the movies are better off for it! Continue reading
Thanks to my local library, I’m catching up on some movies I missed while they were in theaters. Here are some (hopefully) short thoughts on some of what I’ve seen lately.
One of the hallmarks of the Matt Smith era of Doctor Who was a heavy reliance on the implications and mechanics of time travel. So it’s interesting to see Smith join the Terminator franchise in an entry that has a heavy reliance on the implications and mechanics of time travel.
“The Great Gildersleeve” is my favorite old time radio show, but I can’t necessarily say this big-screen version is the best example of what made the show work so well.
Running for police commissioner, Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve is caught up in a whirlwind affair involving an escaped gorilla, an invisible woman and a mad scientist lurking in a mysterious mansion near Summerfield. The chain of events is set in motion by two ghosts from the Gildersleeve family tree (played by Harold Perry, in addition to his work as our favorite Uncle Mort). Of course, only Gildy sees the gorilla, the ghost girl and other mysterious goings-on, leading everyone to believe he’s probably going a bit mad.
Lots of the humor comes from misunderstanding or conveniently placed trap doors and invisible girls vanishing at just the right moment. Plot threads are brought up and then dropped just as quickly (once the ghosts vanish in the first reel, they’re not heard from again, despite claims they want to help our hero).
As a fan of the radio program, it’s fun to see various cast members from the show on screen, playing their familiar roles. Marjorie and Leroy are played by different actors (a necessity since both roles were played by older actors than the characters they played) however. Mr. Peavey and Judge Hooker are on hand, with Mr. Peavey playing the foil to Gildy throughout the film. (You may become weary of his famous line, “Well now, I wouldn’t say that” before the final reel).
At just over an hour, the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it’s not necessarily anything to write home about either. If you’re a big fan of the radio show, give it a try. If you’ve not heard of Gildersleeve, find some of the radio programs first to get a better feel of why the show was so popular. The plot and characterizations used in the movie isn’t necessarily reflective of what exactly the radio show was all about (Birdie, the family cook isn’t well served here) and part of the fun of the radio show was hearing Gildy square off with Judge Hooker and other denizens of Summerfield as well as keeping track of his increasingly complicated love life and his lack of competence as water commissioner. There is little to no time for any of that here and the movie suffers as a whole for it.
There are some fun aspects to it. Seeing Perry play multiple generations of the Gildersleeve family is fun and seeing the facial expressions that go with some of Gildy’s signature catch phrases work well. And it is nice to see how similar and how different the real versions of these characters are as opposed to the mental pictures I’ve created of them while listening to the show.