Category Archives: Movies

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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Why I Pretend None Of The Halloween Sequels Exist

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It’s October, the best month of the year. The heat and humidity of summer have given way to the cool, crispness of autumn. The leaves are ablaze with color. (I feel pity for those who don’t get to experience autumn.) My wife and I were married in October. I saw The Who for the first time in October. The baseball post season is in October. And the month is capped off by the greatest holiday of all. Excluding Father’s Day, of course.

The month tends to find me watching horror films. I’m partial to the classic Universal monster movies of old, but there are plenty of more modern horror flicks that I enjoy very much. The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) has been discussed in this blog. As have The Legend of Hell House (1973) and The Changling (1980). It’s time I look at another modern horror classic: Halloween (1978).

Oh! It should be said there will be spoilers. But, relax. The movie and its first sequel are damn near 40 years old. If you haven’t seen them by now…

John Carpenter co-wrote, scored and directed this landmark horror film. It had a low budget and a cast of unknowns, with the exception of the over-dramatic Donald Pleasence as the villain’s doctor. The movie was almost universally praised by critics and loved by audiences. Roger Ebert compared it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and lauded it for not following the horror trope of the female lead being the helpless damsel in distress. Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie was smart and level-headed and, when forced to fight, she didn’t freeze up or faint. She fought back with whatever she had at hand, be it a knitting needle, a dropped knife, or wire hangers. (Christina Crawford would be out of luck if her famous mother had her way.)

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Michael Myers, the relentlessly stalking villain, dressed in dark overalls and a pasty, white mask of William Shatner/Captain Kirk, whose first kill at the tender age of six was his promiscuous teen-aged sister, fixated on Laurie. He killed three of her friends, who were overly preoccupied with sex (teenagers!), as he slowly worked his way to attempt to kill Laurie.

I’m not sure why Michael was compelled to kill her. Laurie wasn’t all about having the sex, she wasn’t doing any drinking, and she wasn’t much of a pot-smoker. She was considered pretty square by her friends. These slasher/horror films liked to kill the non-square kids, to punish them for daring to have sex. Maybe Laurie just looked like Michael’s sister. Since he was pure evil, as Pleasence’s character repeatedly said, I guess Michael didn’t need a reason.

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The film unfolds slowly, but keeps the audience’s suspense high by showing tantalizing glimpses of Michael stalking Laurie. She would spot him, but he would slip away instantly. Did she really see a man standing there? Was she imagining it?

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The film reaches its exciting climax with Michael’s doctor shooting Laurie’s homicidal stalker six times in the chest, sending the monster over the side of the second story balcony. The killer lay still on the grass as the doctor tended to Laurie. It was over. Or was it?

The final shot is brilliant. Michael Myers was no longer there on the front lawn, despite having been stabbed in the neck and the face and shot six times. He had vanished.

Shudder!

It’s a terrific horror movie with a tremendously effective score. That music instantly sends chills down your spine and turns your skin to goose flesh. It also has some very striking visuals. I particularly like the shot of Michael standing on the porch across the street from the house where Laurie was babysitting. The boy she was tending to saw him, but when Laurie investigated, she saw no one. A neat turnaround from earlier in the film when she was the only one seeing this menacing figure.

Such a great horror film, with an ending that told us the evil of Michael was still lurking.

I would have left it that way. Any additional films would risk lessening this origin’s impact.

But Hollywood had to go and spoil it all by giving us a sequel. Several of them, but this blog is focusing on the original and the first sequel.

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The sequel, which takes place immediately after the events of the original (admittedly a nice touch), was co-produced and co-written by John Carpenter. He also provided music for the score, but he didn’t direct the 1981 film simply titled Halloween II. It wasn’t terrible, however it just paled in comparison to the original. There were a few effective moments. The hot tub killings of the promiscuous nurse and her creepy, sex-obsessed EMT boyfriend comes to mind and not just because of the naked breasts. (Although, they didn’t hurt.)

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Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis returned. Pleasence was even more over-dramatic than in the first film, which, don’t get me wrong, I really like his performance in both films. Curtis, on the other hand, was way under-used. She had very little screen-time and even less dialogue. (Her availability was limited while she working on another film.) And, sadly, she became that damsel in distress who spent much of the final attack running and hiding from Michael. Well, she did finally shoot Michael (called “The Shape” in the credits, don’t ask me why) in his eyes, blinding him.

She’s one hell of a shot! She was on medication, she had multiple injuries from her battle with “The Shape” in the first movie, yet she was able to score two direct hits to his eyes. And she didn’t damage the mask in doing so. Amazing!

The worst aspect of this sequel was that a motive was given for Michael’s unstoppable need to kill Laurie. You see, Laurie was Michael’s younger sister! What? Why? WHY?!

We are told she was two years old when Michael killed his other sister. And she was adopted out when their parents died two years after Michael’s crime and institutionalization. The records were sealed, yet somehow Michael knew who Laurie was. Well, he was evil incarnate, so I guess he would know. Being evil incarnate does has its perks.

Eventually, Michael was destroyed. Blown up and burned from existence. There would be no returning now. Right? Of course, there would be. In fact, there were seven Halloween sequels and one remake with a sequel of its own. However, Halloween III does not feature Michael Myers at all.

I haven’t seen any of the Halloween films after Halloween II. Until the other night, I had only seen that sequel once and that was when in was originally released. I really wish I hadn’t watched it again. The original, which I’ve seen many times over the years, is so good just as it is. To me there is no reason to make any more. I like the way the original ends. Don’t mess with it.

So, I’m going to do my best to forget there are any sequels at all.

Happy Halloween!

Packing Peanuts!

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You know what’s a really good subway train hijack movie?

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I know there aren’t many subway train hijack movies from which to choose. There’s one from 1974 and its remake from 2009. I am unaware of any others. This week I’m writing about the former. It’s The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and I think it’s pretty darn good.

Like The French Connection (1971) and Midnight Cowboy (1969), Pelham really puts across that gritty, dirty feeling of New York City. I don’t know if it was the film stock or the directing techniques, probably a combination of the two. Or maybe it was just that the Big Apple was that way in the ’60s and ’70s: Gritty, dirty, overcrowded, cynical, sarcastic. Maybe that’s what happens in really big cities. In Pelham, many of the characters are so jaded by big city life that when a potentially deadly situation occurs they react by getting angry about how it’s messing up their day, getting in the way of their work. “I’m trying to run a railroad!” was one of the complaints.

The potentially deadly situation is the hijacking of a subway train: Pelham 123. Four heavily armed men take control of one of the cars of that train (they cut loose all the others) and its 18 passengers. The hijackers disguise themselves with mustaches, glasses, and the rather mundane clothes of the average middle-aged man of the 1970s. They go by code names based on colors: Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman), Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), and Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw).

No, Mr. Pink? Oh, right, that’s a different movie.

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Mr. Blue is the leader of the group. He means business. He’s cold and uncaring. He issues the demand of $1 million to be paid for the release of the hostages. He gives city officials one hour to put the money in his hands or, for every minute past the deadline, he will kill a passenger. Shaw is excellent as Mr. Blue, a former mercenary soldier with no qualms about killing.

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Mr. Green is a former motorman for the New York subway system. He’s angry at his former bosses for firing him on what he thinks was a bum rap. He brings the knowledge of the subway system, on how to drive the train, and he’s instrumental in the hijackers’ getaway plan. After all, they can’t exactly fly the train to Cuba. The two other hijackers are crowd control. One, Mr. Grey, is a little unhinged.

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All these actors, along with the actors playing the hostages, do a fine job. In fact, the hostages aren’t cliches, although they could easily have been. But the man who makes the movie is its star: Walter Matthau. Matthau is one of those actors who makes a movie better by just being in it. He’s great as Lt. Garber, a Transit Authority cop. He has the task of communicating with Mr. Blue, trying to buy time to meet his demands and then trying to out-think him to prevent the hijackers’ escape.

Matthau plays his character so well. He has that world-weary jaded side, but he brings humor to the role. He also brings a feeling of dire seriousness when his tolerance of his bull-headed colleague, who is more concerned about running a railroad than saving lives, gets stretched to the breaking point. It’s a satisfying moment for me as I was getting more than a little annoyed with that fellow. I’m sure that’s what director, Joseph Sargent, intended.

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The interplay of all the main characters works very well. Especially between Lt. Garber and Mr. Blue. I also like the play between Mr. Blue and Mr. Green, who might be a little too soft for this job.

There is humor throughout the film that works most of the time. It gets a little cartoonish when we meet the Mayor (Lee Wallace). He seems to be a send-up of Mayor Ed Koch, however this Mayor is very unpopular with the voters. He’s timid and indecisive. He’s weak as a leader. In fact, it’s his Deputy Mayor (Tony Roberts) who seems to be running the city. As if these flaws in the Mayor’s character weren’t bad enough, he also has the flu and everyone has to know it. The sequences with the Mayor are a little weak, but are necessary to establish how the city decides to pay the ransom and to lead up to a joke, delivered by the Mayor’s wife (Doris Roberts), about his chances at getting votes.

There’s also a joke paid off late in the film. The joke stems from Garber learning one of the hostages is an undercover cop. The name of this cop is unknown. Also unknown is whether the cop is a man or a woman. That’s the set up of the joke. And just so the audience doesn’t forget, Garber states three times throughout the movie the fact that the undercover cop’s gender is unknown. It seems odd that he keeps mentioning it, until the joke comes. Then it makes sense. It is a lot of build up though.

Those minor criticisms aside, the movie moves along at a good pace with excellent performances and (mostly) believable characters. And the final shot is pure Walter Matthau greatness!

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Oh! And the soundtrack is awesome!

Packing Peanuts!

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