Category Archives: Movies

You know what’s a really good detective movie with a swell lot of thieves, a quick talking private eye, and a black bird? (And a not so good one?)

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In a span of ten years, Hollywood had produced three versions of Dashiell Hammett’s detective novel The Maltese Falcon (1930). First in 1931, next in 1936, and finally in 1941. It’s the 1941 version that most people think of when this classic story is mentioned. And with good reason. It’s the best.

OK, full disclosure. I haven’t seen the 1936 version. That one is titled Satan Met A Lady which stars Bette Davis and, from what I can tell, it’s not very highly thought of. It’s also only very loosely based on the book. Hell, they even changed Sam Spade’s name! For shame!

The 1931 version is a bit slow and stagey. The actors deliver their lines rather like they aren’t sure they should be speaking. However, Una Merkel as Effie Perine, Sam Spade’s girl Friday, does add some nice sass to the picture. And the picture was made during the Pre-Code era of Hollywood, so it could be a little more blatant with its suggestions of sexual relations between characters.

The introduction of Spade, lecherously played by the handsome Ricardo Cortez, is quite eyebrow raising. He is seen bidding farewell to a woman, whose face we never see, at the door of his and his partner’s offices. The woman adjusts her stockings just as she takes her leave. Spade, after sexually harassing Effie for a quick couple of minutes, returns to his private office and straightens up the couch. Eyebrows raised.

Another Pre-Code aspect of this version comes when it more closely follows the book in the scene in which Spade needs to determine if Miss Wonderly (Bebe Daniels), his deceptive client and love interest, had stolen a thousand dollar bill. Spade demands that she disrobe in front of him so he can be sure she doesn’t have it. In the 1941 version, the detective takes her at her word that she hadn’t stolen it.

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Sam leching on Effie.

The main problem with this version is Cortez. He’s too handsome. Too much like Rudolph Valentino and too much of a dandy to be a hard-bitten gumshoe. And, I know the film intended to make certain the audience knows he’s a ladies’ man, but Cortez is way too creepy. The way he looks at virtually every woman in this movie isn’t merely to undress them with his eyes, it’s meant to give the message to the woman that, sooner or later, he’ll be having sex with her. It’s hard to imagine women of the 1931 movie-going public finding that attractive.

Perhaps, they didn’t, because the film did not do very well at the box office. That is probably why just five years later it was remade as that Bette Davis vehicle. However, that didn’t do very well either. And I didn’t see it, so I can’t say anymore about that film.

Then came the definitive version in 1941. Considered Hollywood’s first film noir, it was written and directed by first-time director John Huston and stars Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade. This one got it right. Bogart is fantastic as the confident, tough, smart, and ruggedly handsome private eye. He’s been around and seen a few things in his time. He’s a ladies’ man, all right, and subject to the sexist behavior of the day, but he’s no creep. I can understand his appeal to women. He’s the men want to be him and women want to be with him kind of character Hollywood produces from time to time.

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The tale is a bit hard to follow on first viewing, but that doesn’t take anything away from the enjoyment. The characters are so fascinating and the actors are all top-notch. This film is just crammed with great character actors. There’s Mary Astor as Miss Wonderly/Brigid O’Shaughnessy, Sidney Greenstreet as Kasper Gutman, and, of course, Peter Lorre and his amazing portrayal of Joel Cairo (more on that character in the upcoming aside). Even the secondary characters have terrific actors in the parts, which includes the good cop/bad cop team portrayed by Ward Bond and Barton MacLane, Lee Patrick as the ever-reliable Effine Perine, and Elisha Cook Jr as Wilmer, Gutman’s young, tough-talking bodyguard. If ever a movie had the perfect casting, this one is it.

And now a short aside…

In the book, Hammett makes it clear that Cairo is gay. In fact, there are strong suggestions that Gutman is also gay and Wilmer is his kept boy toy. This brings up an interesting difference between the 1931 Pre-Code era version and the 1941 Code era version. The 1931 picture barely hinted at the homosexuality of Cairo and doesn’t make any hint regarding Gutman’s and Wilmer’s (other than as a figurative father and son) relationship, while 1941’s version was filled with subtle and maybe not-so-subtle hints about Cairo’s sexuality as well as Gutman’s and Wilmer’s sexual relationship.

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If you can’t see the phallic nature of that handle, you have a far less dirty mind than I.

Both versions make note of Cairo’s scented business card, but in Huston’s story it’s more emphasized. There’s also the moment of Cairo suggestively placing the phallic-looking handle of his umbrella to his lips as he attempts to find out if Spade has the Black Bird. Huston dropped other hints, including the very subtle gesture of Spade removing his hat as Cairo is led into his office. You see, in those days, a gentleman always removed his hat when a lady entered the room.

The hint about Gutman and Wilmer comes when Spade refers to the young tough as a gunsel. Sure, most everyone thought he meant the boy was a gunman, which is what the word came to mean. But when Hammett needed to replace the word catamite in the serialized version of his novel, he chose gunsel which, in the old days for even the 1930s, meant the same thing: A young man kept for homosexual purposes.

Short aside over, now back to the blog…

If the cast isn’t enough for you, there’s the crisp dialog. So well written by Huston, although his source material was pretty damn good. (Yes, I read it!) These characters just flow with such quotable lines as: “When you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it.” “A crippled newsie took ’em away from him. I made him give ’em back.” “You’re a good man, sister.” And that’s just Sam Spade! Then there’s the signature line from the film: “The… uh… stuff that dreams are made of.” Damn! So good!

And there’s the pacing, the cinematography, and the score. I tell ya, this is a damn near perfect movie. Maybe if the plot were easier to follow in the first viewing it would be perfect, but, come to think of it, maybe not. It might just be that the fact you can come back to the movie again and again and it gets better and better that makes it damn near perfect.

Over 1,140 words in and I haven’t even mentioned the plot!

Well, I’ll nutshell it for you: A “swell lot of thieves” will stop at nothing; not theft, not double-crossings, not secret alliances, not sexual favors, not even murder, to get their hands on the Black Bird, a small, black enamel statue of a falcon that could be worth millions. Caught up in the middle of it all is private detective Sam Spade, who, while under suspicion of murder, is determined to make sense of it and clear his name.

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If you only watch one version of The Maltese Falcon, you’d better make it the 1941 version.

It is my all time favorite film!

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You Know What’s A Really Good Movie About British Criminals, A Heist Of Lots Of Money And Weed, And Two Old Shotguns?

lock_stock_and_two_smoking_barrels_ver3_xxlgFilmmaker Guy Ritchie was pretty hot there for a while in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. His first two feature length films got a lot of attention for their look, style, humor, and cleverness. Both films focus on the criminal element of UK society. Both films involve plenty of unsavory, yet still likeable, characters. Some of these fellows do some pretty horrible stuff, but somehow you can’t help but like them.

The second feature is Snatch (2000) and is, perhaps, a film for a future blog. This week I’ll be talking about the first one: 1998’s Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels. I just watched it again last night and found it as fresh and innovative as when I first saw it.

There may be some mild spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

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L to R: Product placement, Eddy, Bacon, Soap, and Tom.

It’s a complicated plot in that it involves so many characters, but it goes like this: There are four friends. Three of them Eddy (Nick Moran), Tom (Jason Flemyng), and Bacon (Jason Statham) are small time crooks and con men. The fourth, Soap (Dexter Fletcher), is mostly legit working as a restaurant man. The four of them cobble together £100,000 to get Eddy into a high stakes card game. Eddy is a bit of a card sharp and the four are confident he’ll win big.

Well, he doesn’t. In fact, he loses big. Very big. £500,000 big. And he loses to “Hatchet” Harry Lonsdale, a local porn impresario with a very bad temper and connections to some very bad people. Eddy and his friends are given a week to come up with the money or they start losing fingers for each day they are late. When they run out of fingers, there are other things that can be cut off. Eventually, the fellows will be killed. Eddy’s father, played by Sting, is also threatened with not only the loss of his son, but the loss of his bar. And he’s more fond of the bar.

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Sting as Eddy’s father. He’s no Bill Bixby.

Living on the other side of the wall from Eddy’s flat (British for “apartment”) is a gang of very bad men who rob drug dealers for a living. Eddy overhears his neighbors planning their next heist. This gives Eddy an idea. He and his pals will wait for the very bad men to complete their heist, bust in, and take the weed and cash the bad men had just stolen. Then they’ll sell the “gear” and use the cash to pay back “Hatchet” Harry. Easy as cake!

You can probably guess the plan doesn’t quite go off that easily. There are plenty of complications along the way as more and more bad men get involved. This story has quite a few threads (including one involving two old shotguns) to weave together and Ritchie does it superbly. And with a strong amount of tension, violence, and humor throughout.

A word about the violence.

Ritchie does something very interesting with the violence in this movie. After my first viewing, I came away thinking how cool the movie was and how funny, but I also thought it was very violent. And it is, sort of. You see, for as violent as the story is, virtually every act of violence takes place off camera.

A character is beaten to death with a… um… sexual implement, except you never actually see him hit by the… uh… tool. It’s the same when an enforcer named Big Chris (Vinnie Jones) uses a car door, his foot, and his fist to beat a man to death. It both cases, we see the attacker being incredibly violent, but we never see a single blow hit the victim. In fact, during the attacks the victim is rarely seen at all. There’s even a scene in which a hapless traffic warden gets a good trashing, but he’s hidden behind the seat of a van when the beating starts. And when it goes into full force the scene cuts to black.

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Big Chris handing out some violence.

There are a number of shootouts in the film, but, as far as I can recall, we only ever see one person get shot. We do see the bloody aftermath, though.

It is rated R for the violence, sexual references, a bit of nudity (almost always worth one star in the ratings in my book), and the prolific use of foul language throughout. And you might want to have the subtitles on, because the accents can get a little thick. But, don’t let that spoil the scene in which the film uses subtitles to explain what a character speaking in Cockney Rhyming Slang is saying.

Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels is a very entertaining film. It’s smart (even if not all the characters are the brightest knives in the drawer), funny, and beautifully shot. It also has an excellent soundtrack.

This movie is a lot of fun.

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You know what’s a really good movie about an elderly Englishman taking the law into his own hands?

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Lionsgate UK

I realize it’s only been a couple weeks since my last movie retro-review, but I just watched this one and I wanted to write about it while it’s still fresh in my mind.

The movie is Harry Brown (2009) and it is like Death Wish (1974), however the protagonist doesn’t take overt pleasure from what he feels forced to do. In Death Wish, Charles Bronson’s character, Paul Kersey, kills with a smile. He enjoys killing the lawless who hold New York City in a grip of terror.

In Harry Brown, the title character, played brilliantly by Michael Caine, is scared and fed up with a toothless police department that doesn’t seem all that concerned with dealing with the young criminals, who terrorize the good people of a London housing estate. Brazen drug dealing, harassment, vandalism, and violence hang over this community.

Early in the film we see video taken by two lawless youths out on a lark riding recklessly on a motor scooter in broad daylight. They terrorize a young mother walking her baby through the park by shooting at her with a gun. Intending only to frighten, one of the bullets hits and kills her.

There is some instant retribution meted out to those two creeps, but the tone is set. This housing estate is not safe. Day or night.

Harry Brown is a quiet man. He’s elderly, which also differentiates him from Death Wish’s Paul Kersey. Caine was 76 when this movie was released, but I get the impression that his character is even older. He lost his only child in 1973 (we are not told how) and his wife is very ill and hospitalized, close to death. Harry has one friend, Len (David Bradley). Harry and Len meet each day at a local pub to play chess.

While Harry has somehow escaped the notice of the local hoodlums, Len, who is also elderly, has not. They have marked him for special attention, it seems. Vandalizing the outside of his apartment, pushing dog crap through his mail slot, physically accosting him, and they even sent some burning material through the mail slot causing a fair amount of smoke damage.

Len has had enough. He tells Harry he intends to fight back using a bayonet, which he has taken to carrying with him wherever he goes. “Go to the police,” pleads Harry, but Len has already done that and to no avail.

Days after Harry loses his wife, he also loses his friend. Len was not successful at fending off his harassers. In fact, he was killed with the very weapon with which he had intended to protect himself. Having nothing left to lose, Harry decides to take action.

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Harry Brown is a former marine with combat experience and decorations from his involvement in dealing with “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland. We learn that he was a good marine and that he had respect for his enemy back then. They fought for something. His current enemy fights for nothing. Their lives are worth almost nothing anyway, so why not lash out? Why not get high? Why not terrorize the neighborhood?

Caine does not play the vigilante with anger. He is angry, but he keeps it down. Harry has determination, but he also has fear. His military training has him familiar with weapons and tactics, however his age works against him. Despite possessing some skills, he’s no Laim Neeson in the Taken series. Harry is a fearful, old man trying to do something to stop those who killed his friend. The most anger he shows is in his reaction to learning that, because Len had a weapon, it could be argued the hoodlums acted in self-defense. So, at most, they would get manslaughter, not murder. If, that is, they could be indicted at all.

The critical reaction to this film was generally good. Some reviews found its social commentary unpleasant and thought it was a ludicrous action-thriller. But it’s not exactly an action-thriller. It is a revenge-thriller in which our hero is as lucky as he is skilled. When watching Death Wish or Taken audiences never doubt the hero will triumph. He might be a little worse for wear, but he’ll win. But, Harry often really seems to be in over his head.

Does Harry Brown triumph?

This film is rated R. The violence does get intense and the F-bombs are dropped often.

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You Know What’s A Really Good WW2 Tank Movie Starring Humphrey Bogart?

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Columbia Pictures

As far as I know, there is only one film that tells the story of a lone tank and a group of soldiers attempting to survive in the desert of Northern Africa starring the great Humphrey Bogart. It’s called Sahara and it was released in 1943, right in the middle of America’s active involvement in the Second World War. And, because it was released during the war, don’t be surprised when the film gets a little patriotically preachy.

Be warned! There will be slight spoilers ahead, but I’ll try not to give away anything major.

The story begins just after the Americans had gotten their butts kicked by Rommel’s Afrika Korps. We find a lone American tank with a crew of three, whose commander is Sgt. Joe Gunn (Humphrey Bogart). Their tank, named Lulu Belle, has enough fuel and water for a few days, but they’ll need to get to friendly territory soon. They are almost completely surrounded by the Germans and really don’t have much choice but to cross the desert as quickly as they can.

They soon encounter a group of British (and one French) soldiers, who, at first, think it better to stay put. Sgt. Gunn tells them they can do that if they like, but he let’s them know the Germans are on their way and their best chance of survival is to join up with his crew. They see the soundness of the American’s plan and throw in with him.

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Deciding who is in command.

Some early friction between the Allies arises when the men question just who is in command. You see, the Brits have an officer, Capt. Halliday (Richard Nugent) and they takes orders from him. But Gunn is the commander of the tank. Capt. Halliday settles the argument by assuring his men that he and the sergeant will consult with each other, but command of their mission to survive the desert will be given to the American. After all, the captain is a doctor, while Gunn is a combat-hardened tank commander… and the star of the film.

The party is soon joined by a Sudanese national and subject of the British Empire, Sgt. Maj. Tambul (Rex Ingram). Tambul has a prisoner, an Italian soldier played by J. Carrol Naish, whose performance may be a tad on the stereotypical side with the “whatsa matta you” dialog delivery. But it was 1943, so it’s more understandable. In fact, Naish received a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this portrayal.

Now more mouths means less water. A hard decision has to be made. Tambul can stay, of course, but the Italian…

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“Please-ah, dona leave-ah me!”

Sgt. Gunn turns out to be a softie and the Italian, despite being an enemy, is allowed to join the group. I know, that’s a little spoiler.

Tambul knows the area and he knows where wells can be found. He cautions that, although he can get them to a well, he can’t guarantee there will be water. And it turns out the first well is dry, but there is another. They have no choice. They have to get to that well.

Along the way, they pick up a prisoner. A German. And this German is depicted as being a true believer of the Nazi cause. (I won’t say how he joins the group. I’ve already spoiled enough of this 75 year old movie.)

They find the well. There is water, but just barely. It’s a trickle from the rocks at the bottom of the otherwise dry well. Tambul takes the duty of collecting as much water as possible. However, the trickle soon stops.

The water helps revive the men, but now the well is dry and they have another problem: A German battalion will arrive soon. Gunn convinces the men to stay and fight. That’s one of the scenes that get a bit patriotically preachy, but it works. Gunn dispatches one of his men, Waco (Bruce Bennett), in a German half-track they acquired at the well to try to reach the Allies for reinforcements, while this small group of soldiers does its best to hold off the Germans.

When the Germans, who overwhelmingly outnumber the good guys, arrive under a flag of truce to negotiate the Allies’ surrender, Gunn refuses and bluffs them into thinking there’s plenty of water. He knows the Germans are desperately thirsty, so he tells them they’ll get water for guns. The Germans will either have to surrender or fight to get any water.

Oooooo, how does it end, eh? Well, I won’t spoil it for you.

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“When you’re shot, you’ll take it and like it!”

The film is well acted and well written. And the cinematography was nominated for an Academy Award. As a war film, I rank it pretty high. It’s well-paced with plenty of good action and suspense. And the characters are likeable, except for the Nazi prisoner. I find it thoroughly entertaining.

Before I sign off, I want to mention one scene that I found surprisingly progressive and tolerant, especially for 1943. Waco, a Texan, heads down into the well to give Tambul a break from the water collecting, but Tambul is content to stay. It’s probably much cooler being in the well than up top in the sun.

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Tambul

The two men strike up a conversation which leads to Tambul explaining the philosophy behind the Islamic tradition of having more than one wife. Tambul explains that the Prophet tells his followers that four wives make for a happy marriage. It’s a strange concept for Waco who is a non-Muslim; however, he learns that his and Tambul’s lives aren’t all that different.

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Waco

What I like about this exchange is that there is no hint of disgust or shock or indignation from Waco when learning about the tradition of multiple wives. The Texan is genuinely curious to learn about a culture different, not better, not worse, than his own. More people today should be like Waco.

I can’t recommend Sahara highly enough.

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You Know What’s A Really Good Musical With A Man Singing And Dancing In The Rain?

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Although, I generally like most kinds of movies, I’m not a big fan of musicals. There are a few I enjoy, but as a genre the musical usually leaves me cold. Often the songs feel as though they slow down the movie. I find myself saying, “Get on with it!” Good musicals, however, have songs that advance the narrative, not put it on hold.

My pedantic nature makes it difficult for me to suspend my disbelief of a world in which people burst into song and dance numbers. Even as a kid, I would wonder how everyone knew the words to the song one character was spontaneously singing. How was it everyone was so good at dancing? Even the milkman.

I like The Wizard of Oz and it’s a musical. In fact, I’d say this 1939 classic is one of the films I love. There are song and dance numbers the same as other musicals, but somehow I don’t have a problem with any of it. Perhaps the fact that Oz is a fantasy film makes it easier for me to accept the singing and dancing.

As a kid, the Over The Rainbow segment was a little dull. I just didn’t understand the importance of the song to the story. I’ve heard the song was almost cut from the film because an executive felt the same way as the younger version of myself. It was a good thing that it was kept. Not only for the narrative flow of the story, but to demonstrate that not every song has to be a show-stopper.

A more recent musical really could have benefited from that lesson. Chicago (2002) was filled with nothing but show-stopping numbers. Every song! Each song would start slow and quiet and build and build until the performers were belting it out to the back row. Every song! Why must every song be a home run? What’s wrong with a hitting a single or a double? It was exhausting.

I say it would have benefited by having less show-stoppers, but it did win the Oscar for Best Picture that year. And my mom loves it. Well, I hated it.

So, when I was shamed by a friend for never having seen the 1952 MGM classic, Singin’ In The Rain, I decided I’d set my usual distaste for musicals aside and try to give it a fair shake. (Incidentally, the friend who shamed me hadn’t seen it either. Still hasn’t. I learned this after I watched the legendary musical. The nerve of some people.)

Was this musical going to be a collection of show-stopping numbers sung at the tops of the performers’ lungs? Or would the movie understand how to bring things down a little? Would there be subtly? Would the musical numbers make sense?

The answer to those last three questions is yes!

I had seen bits and pieces of Singin’ In The Rain, but never the whole film. Well, I finally saw it and I really liked it.

Not only is a good musical, Singin’ In The Rain gives the audience a glimpse of the art of filmmaking. The story takes place in Hollywood’s transition period from silent films to talkies, showing the challenges of using sound (played for laughs with some of the moments being a bit hokey) and the fact that some of the stars of the silent era were going to be left behind. Some actors just didn’t have the voice for talkies, as was shown by Don Lockwood’s (Gene Kelly) female partner in the silents Lina Lamont (Jean Hagen).

We are shown that the whole way of acting needed to change with sound. In the silents acting could be big and bold, but with sound a softer, more subtle mood could be more easily portrayed. Lockwood and Lamont needed to learn that lesson. Lockwood could make the adjustment, but Lamont’s voice was just too off-putting.

To save his studio’s first (and awful) attempt at a talkie, Lockwood had the brilliant idea to remake it as a musical. The idea of dubbing a performer’s voice was also born. That’s where Kathy Seldon (Debbie Reynolds) came in handy. She had a great speaking voice and she could sing, so she would become the film voice of Lina Lamont. Sadly, due to Lamont’s ego, Seldon would be contracted to always be the woman behind the scenes. She would never be a star. However, Lamont’s ego would also lead to the vindictive star’s undoing.

The musical numbers are pretty damn impressive. Gene Kelly is a hell of a dancer. He makes it look so easy. He co-directed the film, which I assume included being it’s choreographer, and the choreography is terrific. I had no problem accepting singing and dancing in this world. It all worked for me.

I had, of course, seen the landmark dance scene of the title song. It’s so good. It’s long been a rumor that Kelly was suffering from a 103° fever as he performed the number, which took two to three days to film. I’m not sure I buy it. Kelly was in fine physical form, but with that severe of a fever, even he would have been side-lined. But I could be wrong.

Then there’s costar Donald O’Connor’s wonderful Make ‘Em Laugh routine. Holy smokes! Were these guys good. His dancing filled with pratfalls and running up walls and back flips, all while lip-syncing the song, is amazing.

Also, amazing is the Broadway Melody (Gotta Dance) number. It comes into the story by way of Lockwood telling the studio’s head executive of the big dance number to go into the reworked movie. The routine is lengthy, but terrific. There’s even a ballet segment which beautifully makes use of a 20 foot long shimmery scarf being blown in the air. That scarf is as much a part of the ballet as Kelly and his dance partner Cyd Charisse.

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Cyd Charisse. Oh. My.

Talk about an entry. Charisse arrives onscreen, legs first, as a vamp who proves to be quite the temptation to Kelly’s smalltown boy who has “gotta dance.” Charisse is as sexy as hell in that green flapper outfit. She and Kelly dance so well together, from the more contemporary dance on through the ballet. It’s wonderful, but in the end money talks and the smalltown boy does not win the vamp’s heart.

This 1952 musical classic was thoroughly enjoyed by me. I may have to take in some more of the classic musicals. If there are others on the same level as Singin’ In The Rain, I might just become a fan of the genre.

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Johnny Comelately Sees Star Wars: The Last Jedi

It was Sunday night. As I watched it unfold, I found myself rising from my seat, clenching my fists, in disbelief of what I was witnessing. It was impossible. It was astounding. It was a miracle.

The Minnesota Vikings finally caught a break in a playoff game and snatched victory from the jaws of defeat

I know, that’s not Star Wars. I just wanted to share.

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Lucasfilm Ltd/Walt Disney Studios

The night before the “Minneapolis Miracle,” my wife, my son, and I ventured out into the cold winter weather to the theater to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Sure, it took a while. We’re busy people. It reminds me of when I was a kid and first saw the original Star Wars film. It had taken quite a while before I finally got a chance to see it. It was released in May of 1977 and I didn’t see it until late that summer. I did see Return of the Jedi the day it was released, though.

Well, to cut to the chase, I liked The Last Jedi. I really liked it. And, of course, I want to see it again. I’ll dive in a bit more, though, to give you my impressions. I will do my best to avoid spoilers.

I’ll start with what I found wanting.

For me, it got off to a rocky start. Perhaps I was just trying to get up to speed and was a little disoriented, but I felt the beginning was a bit uneven and at times tried a little too hard to add humor. That was a problem throughout the film. The humor didn’t always land so well. Some jokes worked, most were a little off.

I thought Finn (John Boyega), former storm trooper turned rebel we met in Episode VII, was underused. His main sequence in the gambling town, whatever it was called – French Morocco? – seemed a little tacked on. But it did bring up the interesting aspect of the duplicitousness of the arms dealers, who were getting quite wealthy off both the First Order and the Resistance.

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The aspect that bothered me most about the beginning of the film (and throughout The Force Awakens, as well) was Domhnall Gleeson’s performance as the First Order’s General Hux. Gleeson is a good actor. He’s terrific in Frank and Ex Machina. But, it seems he’s being directed in these films to make absolutely certain the audience knows his character is EEEEEEEEEvil. He really hams it up. I swear the only thing missing was a mustache for him to twirl. However, when he dials it back, as he does later in the film, he’s much better.

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The porgs (the little bird/hamster creatures) didn’t bother me. They could have easily been overused, but they weren’t. It’s been pointed out that they were in the film purely for merchandising. Probably, but what in a Star Wars film isn’t used for merchandising?

There’s lots to like about this movie. The special effects are terrific. There is a use of a ship going to hyperspace that is stunning! There’s a chase involving the Millennium Falcon that is a thrill ride comparable to the asteroid field chase in The Empire Strikes Back. The settings look great. Some are opulent, while others are primitive, but the details get plenty of attention.

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Supreme Leader Snoke is deliciously evil and his portrayal of evil is right on. Gleeson could learn a thing or two from Andy Serkis, who is brilliant as Snoke. Adam Driver, again, does a terrific job as Kylo Ren. Just as  in The Force Awakens, Ren is conflicted, being pulled by both the light and dark sides of the Force. Or is he?

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Daisy Ridley puts in another fine performance as Rey, the young woman with a murky past who is steeped in the power of the Force. She, too, feels conflicted. She feels the pull of the Dark Side, while she attempts to complete her mission of bringing Jedi Master Luke Skywalker out of hiding to help the rebels defeat the First Order. But it’s not going to be easy. Skywalker (and it’s so great to see a grizzled Mark Hamill playing his most legendary character again) is reluctant to resume his role as the hero. His reasons are complicated and have to do with his young apprentice, Ben Solo (Kylo Ren), turning to the Dark Side, mirroring his own father’s turn to the Dark Side (Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader) while training with Obi Wan Kenobi.

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At one point, Skywalker says to his old friend R2-D2 that there is nothing he could be told that would change his mind and have him return to the fight. R2-D2’s response brought tears to my eyes. I’ll say no more than that.

Another aspect of these new Star Wars films that I find pleasing is the light saber battles. In the prequels, the light saber battles, although thrilling, appeared more like dancing than battling. Every move seemed (and was) choreographed. Yes, in the original films and in these new ones the duels are also choreographed, but they don’t look that way. On film they come across as actual battles. Spontaneous. And that’s how they should be.

And, by the way, is turning your back on your opponent in a duel a good idea? It was done a lot in the prequels and I’ve seen it done in these new films. I never understood what advantage it was to spin around while having a sword fight. It seems to me that exposing your back to you foe is a bad idea. Now, if you’re fighting more than one person, then you probably would have to turn your back to at least one opponent at some point. Still.

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It was bittersweet to see the late Carrie Fisher in her best known role as Leia Organa. She has a steady calmness in her role as leader of the ever-dwindling Resistance. But she has faith in their cause and in her brother. The film dedication to her was another moment that brought a tear to my eye.

Some fans have criticized the dialog. Well, had they seen the original Star Wars? It wasn’t exactly Shakespeare. I understand the knock, but I didn’t have a problem with the dialog.

However, I don’t understand the very negative reactions I’ve been seeing from some fans. Perhaps, some are disappointed that they didn’t feel exactly the same way they felt when they first saw the original. If so, I have a news flash for them: No follow up film can ever match the initial thrill of the original. Empire didn’t. Sure, it’s a better movie, but it didn’t have that same WOW impact as seeing that Star Destroyer looming over head at the beginning of Episode IV. The same goes for the Indiana Jones franchise. Raiders of the Lost Ark caused a reaction by the fans that none of the other films could touch. So, stop complaining that you didn’t feel the same way you did when you were 12.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a fun, touching, and very entertaining movie. And it has me wanting to see it again and excited for Episode IX.

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Yes, but did I like it?

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Well, I didn’t hate it, but I nearly turned it off within the first ten minutes. I’m talking about Elia Kazan’s 1957 classic A Face In The Crowd, starring Patricia Neal, Walter Matthau, and making his film debut – Andy Griffith.

This isn’t Andy Taylor. This isn’t Ben Matlock. No. This is “Lonesome” Rhodes. He’s a drunk and a drifter. A nobody. A face in the crowd. He’s discovered in a small Arkansas town jail by a fresh-faced, naive, but ambitious woman who works at her uncle’s radio station.

Her name is Marcia Jefferies, played by Patricia Neal, and she came up with the concept of “a face in the crowd” as an on-air segment for the radio station. She intends to interview regular, everyday folk. People who the public at large don’t think of, but might be every bit as compelling as any celebrity. She believes these people have a story to tell. And it was she who brings Rhodes to the attention of the modest audience of her uncle’s station.

Rhodes can sing, he can tell stories, and he speaks truth to power. The public loves him instantly. He rockets from the small town station to being the host of television’s highest rated show. Rhodes becomes a powerful voice in the American political scene with great sway over his sizable viewing audience.

But power corrupts. Actually, I think this story is more of a case of power revealing someone’s true nature. Rhodes was never a saint. He was just such a fresh presence that people either overlooked, rationalized, or even admired his rough edges. It was those rough edges that made him exciting and real to his audience. Until his attitude toward that audience was finally revealed, he seemed to be unassailable. However, that attitude was revealed and as quickly as he rose, he crashed.

It’s a fascinating film, but did I like it?

As I said, I didn’t hate it. The problem I had with the film, which almost had me shutting it of not ten minutes in, was “Lonesome” Rhodes. Perhaps I’m too accustomed to the calm, laid back, steady Sheriff Andy Taylor character that when I saw Rhodes it was almost too unsettling. Maybe, but if I never knew of that sheriff of Mayberry, North Carolina I think I would still be put off by “Lonesome.”

Right from the start, he is so obnoxious I find it hard to believe anyone would want to listen to him in a jail cell, let alone on the radio or television. Griffith’s performance is as scenery-chewing as any I have ever witnessed. He’s crude, sweaty, wild-eyed, and loud. Oh, brother, is he loud. Half his dialogue is delivered at the top of his lungs. I’m surprised Griffith’s voice held up.

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This one image pretty much sums it up. How could anyone become a fan of someone so obnoxious?

When he sings that first song (Free Man in the Mornin’) in the drunk tank, a song he makes up on the spot, which he shouts and growls as much sings, I was feeling compelled to reach for the remote to hit the eject button. But I didn’t. This was an Elia Kazan film. I haven’t seen many of his films, but those I’ve seen feel real. They surprise me with a gritty truthfulness that films of the 1950s aren’t exactly known for.

It’s Kazan. I stayed with it.

I’m glad I did, but I’m still not sure I liked it.

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