DESERT ISLAND CLASSICS – Marilyn and Garry Armstrong

Marilyn Armstrong:

An oldie, but a goodie. Garry wrote it, Head In A Vice published and republished it — and now, I’m reblogging it. What goes around comes around, and around.

Originally posted on Head In A Vice:

Desert-Island-Classics

Whilst I eagerly await your blogathon entries (7 DAYS LEFT PEOPLE!!) (please feel free to join in, click HERE for details), I wanted to shine some light on my long running Desert Island Films series, and more importantly the people who joined in and made it so much fun to do. I am therefore randomly visiting the archives and re-posting a few of the lists with some added kind words. I present to you; Desert Island Classics…… You may have read all of the lists so far, but I hope you won’t mind seeing a few of them again, and who knows, you may even find some new blogs to read.

Two people that have no interest in horror yet somehow found my blog are Marilyn & Garry Armstrong. It makes me so happy to see them both still visiting my blog and so today I want…

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GARRY’S FAVORITE FILMS

Picking just a few movies as favorites is always tricky. There are so many others that could just as easily be on this list. But … sometimes one must choose, so here we go:


 The Searchers

I love westerns. This may be the best ever made and it’s Duke Wayne’s finest performance. My director idol, John Ford, said of his masterpiece, “It’ll do”.

Casablanca

Everyone’s go-to movie easily could be number one. I remember chatting with Julius Epstein, one of the co-screenwriters, who told me how crazy it was on the set with revised scripts rushed in every day as they set up shots.

Epstein said Bogie was never fazed and usually nailed his lines on the first take. Director Michael Curtiz, on the other hand, was very “upset”, according to Epstein.

The Best Years of our Lives

Wonderful film but, admittedly, a sentimental choice here. The very FIRST film I ever saw at a movie theatre.

It was 1946. My Dad had just returned from the war. He was dressed in his uniform. He seemed ten feet tall and very heroic. The theme of the movie, GI’s trying to cope with post-war life, is timeless. Little did I know that it would be an issue in my family.

The Magnificent Seven

Another great western. I saw it numerous times when it opened in 1960. I know all the lines.

Cover of "The Magnificent Seven (Special ...

Cover of The Magnificent Seven (Special Edition)

The cast of then relatively unknown actors was terrific. Steve McQueen was my movie hero — next to Duke Wayne. I even tried to dress like McQueen. Didn’t quite work out. Years later, I had a sit down chat with James Coburn who related how wild things were during the shooting of “Seven”. He told me how McQueen used to drive the nominal star, Yul Brynner, crazy with upstaging bits of business. Charles Bronson was described as “one very quiet and strange dude”. Coburn admitted everyone was sneaking in “bits” trying to outdo each other.

The Great Escape

Think “The Magnificent Seven” as a World War two prison escape war movie instead of a western. James Coburn said he marvelled at how director John Sturges kept control of the “boys”, including several of the “Magnificent Seven” cast members.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out Elmer Bernstein’s distinctive musical score in both films. Those scores or “themes” would achieve their own celebrity over the years.

All About Eve

I’ve always loved this one!! The cast, acting, dialogue, and script are superb. It’s about the theater world. But anyone who’s had a professional life in the public eye can relate to the characters and the plot. Bette Davis was at the top of her game (role was originally slated for Claudette Colbert who had to pass).

Cover of "All About Eve (Two-Disc Special...

Cover via Amazon

The wonderful supporting cast included Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Gregory Ratoff, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, a young Marilyn Monroe and the estimable George Sanders in his career-defining role. I shared Bloody Mary’s with Gary Merrill when he was in Boston (that’s another story) and had me laughing about life on the set of “All About Eve”. He and Ms. Davis fell in love while making “Eve”. However, the  theatrics within the theatrics were something to behold, Merrill recalled. Everyone was trying to upstage everyone else but nobody upstaged Bette Davis. Gary Merrill grinned as he refilled my drink. And, George Sanders, Merrill said, was George Sanders on and off camera.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Cover of "Yankee Doodle Dandy (Two-Disc S...

Cover via Amazon

Oh, how I adore this movie and WHY didn’t they make it in color?? Had the great fortune to meet James “Call me Jimmy” Cagney in the early 70’s on Martha’s Vineyard. I was awestruck. He was very kind. Seems he had caught my work as a TV news reporter and just wanted to say he liked what he saw. Over coffee, we talked about the joys of doing what we loved and the frustration of dealing with “suits” or executives. I mostly just listened. He talked about the making of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and how, clearly, that was his personal favorite “job” in his long career. He was glad to do the music biopic and show off his dancing chops which he’d always had but were rarely used in previous films. He credited his unusual dance movements to mannerisms of his old street pals in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen where he grew up.

My favorite scene in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” is near the end where Cagney/Cohan, dances down the stairs at the White House.

My wife Marilyn and I usually replay this scene three, four, five times whenever we watch the film.

Shane

Another classic western. Alan Ladd’s shining hour and another gem in director George Steven’s illustrious career. The photography and editing are wonderful. Victor Young’s music is evocative. Perhaps my favorite sequence is the burial of “Reb”. The dialogue is muted and the plaintive harmonica music,  “Dixie” and then “Taps” is contrasted with Reb’s dog softly wailing over the grave and two youngsters nearby — oblivious to the tragedy — playing with a horse. The continuous scene then pans down to a long shot of the nearby town ending with an ominous dirge. Powerful, poetic stuff!!

The final scene of Shane — slightly slumped in saddle — riding away to the mountains with the young boy calling after him is the stuff of movie legend.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Another John Ford-John Wayne classic. This is Ford near the end of his career. It’s his homage to the ending of the west as he’s depicted it for most of his professional life, dating back to silent films. Shot in black and white on a small budget, Ford is more concerned about characters than action.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Duke Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, teamed for the first time, are the perfect choices, albeit a little long in the teeth, to play the contrasting leads. Wayne is the rough tough cowman. Stewart is the sensitive lawyer who wants to see justice meted out by the court rather than Wayne’s six-shooter. Lee Marvin’s “Liberty Valance” borders on parody but that’s okay.

Great supporting cast including Edmond O’Brien, Vera Miles, Andy Devine, Lee van Cleef, Strother Martin and Woody Strode (why did they have to call him “Boy” in one scene). The “print the legend” theme is so ironic and haunting. Ford is trying to break his habit of printing the legend but the public doesn’t want the facts.

The haunting theme at the end of “Liberty Valance” is the same mournful theme Ford used 25 years earlier in “Young Mr. Lincoln”.

The Quiet Man

Ford and Wayne again — this time in Ireland. Ford’s tribute to his birth place. Wonderful photography!! The green hills and pastures of Ireland never looked lovelier. Just watch out for the sheep dung. The music is memorable. “Wild Colonial Boy” pub sequence is pure John Ford. The Wayne-McLagen epic fight is in Hollywood’s hall of Fame.

Marilyn and I visited Cong and the remnants of “The Quiet Man’s” cabin during our honeymoon in Ireland in 1990. That’s when we found out that — guess who — has Irish roots.

Will Penny

Another western and a relatively unheralded film. It’s Charlton Heston’s realistic take on the life of an aging cow puncher. Had the genuine pleasure to “hang out” with “Chuck” on several occasions and he was a very nice, down to earth guy (just ask Marilyn). This was the pre-NRA Heston. Anyway, during one of our sit-downs, he talked about making “Will Penny” as a personal project.

He had done several traditional westerns and wanted to do one that was authentic and free of Hollywood glamour and happy endings. “Will Penny” is perhaps Heston’s best acting work. It is understated with Heston showing a range of emotion not usually apparent in his more typical epic screen characters.

S.O.B.

Terrific Blake Edwards film that angered Hollywood insiders — with good reason. Again, if you’ve had a professional career in the public eye, you will absolutely love this movie. You know these people. You’ve worked with and for these people. William Holden’s talk to his depression-ridden pal was all too real and could easily have been Holden’s own eulogy.

Most of the ensemble star cast, plus Edwards, stopped in Boston to promote the movie. The behind the scenes arm-twisting coming out of Hollywood was trying to kill the film. On that memorable Saturday morning, I was with only one or two other reporters (who also left after 5 minutes or so to chase more meaningful stories), listening to William Holden (a few sheets to the wind), Robert Preston, Craig (Peter Gunn) Stevens, Loretta Swit, Blake Edwards and others chat about making “S.O.B.”. It sounded more like a “Bitch session” than a movie promotion. In fact, it sounded very familiar to me.


There are so many other films on my list. “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Atticus, I believe, was rated the most popular movie hero in a recent poll. Then and now, “Mockingbird” resonates on so many levels. The movie does Harper Lee’s wonderful book full justice. That, alone, is a miracle.

There are so many favorite films and stars about which I also have a few personal “war stories” or anecdotes. Musicals, romance, comedies. “So many movies, so little time” takes on new meaning. All great movies. Just not the only great movies.

IN GLORIOUS BLACK AND WHITE

Thoughts on colorful movies shot in B&W by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

If I asked you to list your favorite movies, what would they be?  Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Transformers?  Maybe Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Iron Man or Captain America?  Is it a 3D Surround Sound, computer enhanced spectacular? Or just fast and furious?  Do special effects and color make a movie great? Or might it be a brilliant script and amazing performances?

If you’re under 30, does your list include anything in black-and-white?  If you’re under 20, have you seen a black-and-white movie?

That’s right, black-and-white movies, like black-and-white photographs, have no colors, just shades of gray covering the gray-scale. It may seem to some that black-and-white movies were only made because color was not perfected until later, but that’s not true. Long after color was standard for all kinds of film, some directors chose black-and-white.

Some shot in black-and-white to evoke a feeling of another time and place. Raging Bull, the break-out performance for Robert DeNiro in 1980 was shot in black-and-white to evoke the era of Jake La Motta, the boxer and film’s subject.

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Academy Award winning Schindler’s List was done in black and white not only to make it feel like a World War II movie, but also to emphasize the darkness of the subject matter. American History X, Broadway Danny Rose, Stardust Memories, The Elephant Man, all were made in black-and-white for effect, for mood, for a certain cinematographic grittiness. If you never heard of any of the aforementioned, in 2012, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to The Artist, filmed in black and white to recall another age.

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Here are my top 5 black and white movies. These are required viewing before you report back next week: Casablanca is definitely number one. I know some will tell you that Citizen Kane is the best movie of all time. I watched it. I liked it. I have no need of seeing it again. I could watch Casablanca over and over.

Set during World War II, it’s the story of an American (Humphrey Bogart) who fell in love with a beauty (Ingrid Bergman) in Paris.  Forced to flee when the Nazis invaded, he is stood up at the train station by the woman he loves as the rain pours down. He winds up running a casino in Casablanca amidst a cast of shady characters … when guess who shows up? The movie includes one of the great movies songs of all time, As Time Goes By. And before you ask, Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam.”

As a child, Psycho scared the heck out of me in the theater. It was one of many Alfred Hitchcock classics filmed in black-and-white. Anthony Perkins gave a deliciously creepy performance as the proprietor of the Bates Motel. If you have seen any other version of this classic, you wasted your time. See the original! Perkins reprises the role a number of times in sequels after he was typecast as a weirdo psychopath. Too bad; he was a solid actor.

When the Music Box Theater in Chicago was restored and started showing vintage movies, I took my mother to see Sunset Boulevard. We had both seen it on our wonderful 19-inch, black-and-white television. This was a chance to see a restored print in a restored theater. Writer William Holden is found dead, floating in a swimming pool. The story plays out mostly in flashback.

Silent film star Gloria Swanson, appropriately plays a former silent film star and manages to chew up the scenery in a fabulous performance. A list of Hollywood notables make cameos, including H.B. Warner in the Paramount film, song writers Ray Evans and Jay Livingston (who wrote music for the movie), and Cecil B. DeMille. As Norma Desmond would famously say, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

highnoon2

High Noon is everything a western should be. The town marshal is going to resign — on his wedding day — when bad news arrives. A dangerous outlaw is coming to town, and the new marshal has not yet arrived. The old marshal appears to be no match for the younger guy he had earlier put in jail. Gary Cooper distinguished himself as the sheriff willing to face down the bad guy even if it costs him his life. An A-List of Hollywood stars passed up the chance to make this movie for which Cooper won the Academy Award.

The movie genre that used black-and-white, light and shadows for maximum effect was (is) the detective story. The shine of a street light through a window that throws a shadow on the floor which contains the lines of the window frame and perhaps the detective’s name help to create the scene. Black-and-white emphasizes composition, shadow and light, contrast and mood in ways color can’t.

Top movie of this type is The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart chasing his partner’s killer and the elusive Maltese Falcon. It costars Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, both of whom will turn up a year later with Bogart in Casablanca. The ending has one of the dumbest movie speeches, but paradoxically, one of the great closing lines. Altogether, it’s a great movie.

TRUE GLORY: THE REAL WAR – FROM D-DAY TO V-E DAY

Cover of "The True Glory - From D-Day to ...

From the Imperial War Museum Official Collection

The True Glory: From D-Day to V-E Day (1945)

The movie’s title is taken from a letter of Sir Francis Drake “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the True Glory.”

Question: Which President won an Oscar?

Answer: No, not Ronald Reagan. The 1945 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature went to its uncredited producer, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower didn’t merely produce the movie. He also directed the Allied forces of Word War II, a feat which deserved its own Oscar. So we gave him the presidency. It was the best America had to offer.


A co-production of the US Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information, The True Glory documents the victory on the Western Front, from the invasion at Normandy to the collapse of the Third Reich.

The officially credited director was Garson Kanin. British director Carol Reed was not officially credited, but is listed as director on IMDB and other sources. Paddy Chayefsky is the officially listed writer.

Other writers not officially credited are Harry Brown, Frank Harvey, Gerald Kersh, Saul Levitt, Arthur Macrae, Eric Maschwitz, Jenny Nicholson, Guy Trosper and Peter Ustinov. So many people were involved in this remarkable documentary — which received the Oscar for best documentary in 1945 — it’s impossible to list them all.

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film was brilliantly edited down from more than 10 million feet of film taken by hundreds of war photographers, none of whom are credited.

The editing involved is extraordinary. During one long segment of film, there must have been thousands of cuts, each less than 2 seconds in length, most no more than one second long. That is a lot of splicing. It’s beautifully done, professional all the way.

You have likely seen many propaganda films from World War II. This isn’t one of them.

I’ve seen a lot of war movies. This is real war, not the Hollywood version.

English: Senior American military officials of...

Senior American military officials World War II.

The effects were not done with a computer. The bodies of the dead are the bodies of soldiers, not actors. The guns are firing ammunition, not special effects. The ships are on the seas. The aircraft, pilots, bombardiers are the real deal. The battles are life and death in real-time. It gave me the shivers.

As the movie progresses, there are maps so you can follow the progress of the various armies. It’s the first time I actually understood where the Battle of the Bulge took place and why it was called “the bulge.” It was like time travel for me, listening to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I grew up when Eisenhower was President. I remember his voice as the voice of the president of my childhood.

Perhaps it’s a good moment to ponder whether or not Eisenhower displayed his Oscar in the White House. My guess is, he didn’t. After you’ve been commander-in-chief of the Allied forces for a world war, the Oscar isn’t as big a deal as it might be for someone else.

English: Gen. of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower...

If you have not seen this movie and you have an interest in World War II, you should see it. It’s remarkable. It is now available on a 2-disc DVD. The set includes the European war, the Italian campaign and the battles in the Pacific.

There are many good movies about the war, but this set of documentaries has the most remarkable footage. Seeing it without any Hollywood manufactured footage is seeing it for the first time.

This is not a movie about the war. This movie is the war.

TRUE GLORY – A WORLD WAR ON VIDEO

Cover of "The True Glory - From D-Day to ...

From the Imperial War Museum Official Collection

The True Glory: From D-Day to V-E Day (1945)

The movie’s title is taken from a letter of Sir Francis Drake “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the True Glory.”

Question: Which President won an Oscar?

Answer: No, not Ronald Reagan. The 1945 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature went to its uncredited producer, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower didn’t merely produce the movie. He also directed the Allied forces of Word War II, feat that deserved an Oscar. And a presidency. It was the best thank you America could offer.

- – – – -

A co-production of the US Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information, The True Glory documents the victory on the Western Front, from the invasion at Normandy to the collapse of the Third Reich.

The officially credited director was Garson Kanin. British director Carol Reed was not officially credited, but is listed as director on IMDB and other sources. Paddy Chayefsky is the officially listed writer.

Other writers not officially credited are Harry Brown, Frank Harvey, Gerald Kersh, Saul Levitt, Arthur Macrae, Eric Maschwitz, Jenny Nicholson, Guy Trosper and Peter Ustinov. So many people were involved in this remarkable documentary — which received the Oscar for best documentary in 1945 — it’s impossible to list them all.

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film was brilliantly edited down from more than 10 million feet of film taken by hundreds of war photographers, none of whom are credited.

The editing involved is extraordinary. During one long segment of film, there must have been thousands cuts, each less than 2 seconds in length, most no more than one second long. That is a lot of splicing. It’s beautifully done, professional all the way.

You may have seen other propaganda films from World War II, but this isn’t one of those.

I’ve watched a lot of war movies and this is no less professional than any movie I’ve ever seen. The difference for me was knowing I was looking at real war, not a Hollywood version.

English: Senior American military officials of...

Senior American military officials World War II.

The effects were not done with a computer. The bodies of the dead are the bodies of soldiers. They aren’t actors pretending to die. The guns are firing ammunition, not special effects. The ships are on the seas. The aircraft, pilots, bombardiers are the real deal. The battles are life and death in real-time. It gave me the shivers.

As the movie progresses, there are maps that let you follow the progress of the various armies. It is the first time I actually understood where the Battle of the Bulge took place and why it was called “the bulge.”

It was like time travel for me, listening to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I grew up when Eisenhower was President. I remember his voice as the voice of the president of my childhood.

Perhaps it’s a good moment to ponder whether or not Eisenhower displayed the Oscar statuette in the White House. My guess is he didn’t. After you’ve been commander-in-chief of the Allied forces for a world war, the Oscar isn’t as big a deal as it might be for someone else.

English: Gen. of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower...

If you have not seen this movie, now available on a 2-disc DVD that includes not only the European war, but the Italian campaign and the battles in the Pacific … and if you have any interest in World War II … you should see it. It’s remarkable.

There are many good movies about the war, but this particular documentary — set of documentaries really — has the most remarkable footage. You’ve probably seen it before, or at least much of it in various pieces in many war movies.

Seeing it like this, without any Hollywood manufactured footage is like seeing it for the first time.

This is not a movie about the war. This movie is the war itself, in living black and white.

LOVING THE WESTERNS

Western movies. You love them or hate them. Hardly anyone is neutral. I’ve always loved them, since I was a little girl, pretending to be a cross between The Lone Ranger and Jesse James.

White Horse Wallpapers  25

But why? What is it about westerns that makes them so appealing to those of us that love them?

Let’s work this as a list, top to bottom. Remember, this is my list. You may have a completely different list and totally not relate to mine. That’s okay.

Why I love Western Movies

1) Horses. I love horses. The more horses, the better. You could leave out the riders and I would sit there and watch the horses, no problem.

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2) Scenery. The deserts, the mountains, the plains. The dusty trail as the wagon train rolls westward. The Rocky Mountains looming, challenging. Sunsets over Monument Valley. Some of the most incredible cinematography has been done for westerns. From Ride the High Country to almost anything ever filmed by John Ford. To the dusty streets of Tombstone … the big sky hangs over everything, a huge blue dome. Everything is bigger, brighter, younger. The beauty is hard to match and it goes so well with the eye of the camera.

Dusty Streets of Tombstone

3) Simple ethics, simple philosophy. There is something terribly appealing about a world where the excuse “He needed killing” is an actual defense at trial. You can put a lot of violence into a western and it’s just fine. The bad guys wear black hats, figuratively or literally. The good guys are the ones with the nice horses, better clothing … and white hats. No ambivalence. No confusion. Not at all like the real world made up of endless shades of gray. It’s a black and white world, black and white morality. “He needed killing. So I killed him.” I get that.

TombstoneOKCorral

4) Heroes. This is really a continuation of the previous, but Wyatt Earp kills a lot of people and it’s okay. I can cheer him on as he and Doc Holliday rampage through the west. “Yes!!” I cry, waving my fist in the air. I could never kill anyone, but I can be really grateful that someone else is doing it for me. In real life, I favor gun control. In westerns? Blast away!

Ghost Town by Apache Junction

If the movie also has a good plot, terrific sound track, great cinematography? Some wit, cleverness and even a few laughs? Bonus material.

That’s it. Pretty simple, eh? Horses, gorgeous scenery, good guys being good, bad guys being bad. Add music, dim the lights and pass the popcorn.

 

True Grit (2010)

True_Grit_PosterHaving just watched the 1969 version of the film starring John Wayne, I thought it was time to see the remake. I usually avoid remakes of favorite movies, and the original True Grit is a favorite. I have always thought it was the Duke’s best performance, portraying a character full of life and humor.

I made an exception for this particular remake. I figured if anyone could do a credible Rooster Cogburn, Jeff Bridges was the guy to do it. So the day after watching the original, we fired up the Roku, popped over to Netflix and selected True Grit.

Ahead of shooting, Ethan Coen said that the film would be a more faithful adaptation of the novel than the 1969 version. It’s partly a matter of the perspective from which we see the story unfold. The book is written from the point of view of a 14-year-old girl. Thus, it has a certain feel to it, very different from th first movie which was clearly skewed to a John Wayne sensibility.

The book is known for being funnier than the original movie … but the remake is not lighter or more humorous than the original movie. It may be more faithful to the book in some ways, but honestly, I didn’t see a huge difference in attitude, perspective or even the story from the first movie. In fact, the two movies are different … but not hugely different. Different scripts, actors and so on with the differences that inevitably arise from these changes, but in fact, the remake is darker and more violent than the 1969 movie. It is not only darker in feeling, it’s visually darker and a great deal of the action takes place at night.

A Grievance – Slight Digression

This makes It hard on the eyes when viewed on television and I really wish the people who press the DVDs would take into consideration that watching on the big screen and watching at home are two very different visual experiences. Lighten it up when you put it on DVD please. And rebalance the audio so the sound effects and music do not completely overwhelm the voices … requiring closed captions to have any idea what anyone is saying. This is especially annoying, especially when I’ve just paid a premium for Blu-ray.

Television does not render darkness as well as big screens do. But movies these days don’t spend much time in theatres. They have them out on DVD faster than a speeding bullet, often before they’ve finished their first theatrical run. Considering that the majority of a movie’s life will be on DVD, shown at home on smaller screens, directors might take that into consideration and brighten these movies up a bit. I don’t want to put a damper on anyone’s art, but shouldn’t the actual viewing conditions under which most people will see the picture carry some weight? I’m just saying.

And now, back to our main feature, already in progress

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Much of the original movie’s dialogue is identical in the 2010 version. The best and most important scenes in both versions are word for word the same. Between those signature scenes, the dialogue is different. The character of Cogburn is very similar in some way, but very different in others. Wayne’s taciturn old marshal contrasts sharply with Jeff Bridges’ loquacious  version whose Rooster Cogburn talks a blue streak.

Hailee Steinfield’s Mattie Ross is more like her original character than Bridges’ Cogburn is like Wayne’s.

None of this is real criticism. This is a good movie on its own merits. It stands on its own legs. Obviously the two movies derive from the same source, but despite large amounts of identical dialogue, the two movies feel very different. If you had never seen the original and didn’t compare them, I would simply say the 2010 True Grit is a good western with fine performances.

But it’s a remake and there’s no avoiding comparisons. It may not be entirely fair, but it’s inevitable. Some of the scenes, when the dialogue is the same in both, are not only played the same way — Bridges even manages to do the “Duke’s walk” — they are shot the same way. Several key scenes are pretty much identical, frame by frame. Then, the movies diverge only to come together again a bit further down the  cinematic path. The convergence-divergence pattern can be disconcerting.

Regardless, you could never mistake this for an old-fashioned western.Its gritty, dark texture is typical of modern westerns. It isn’t necessarily an improvement, but it’s a constant visible reminder that this is a recent film, not an older one.

Characters are less heroic and more ambivalent. True Grit makes a moderately successful attempt to integrate both old and new, moving back and forth, mixing John Ford with Clint Eastwood. Sometimes it feel a bit disconnected and jumpy, leaping from familiar dialogue common to both movies, to completely different dialogue and mood … with no bridge. Whoa, I cry … where are we now? The sudden shifts might actually be a continuity and/or editing issue, but as a member of the audience, I can’t tell the why of it, only discuss the result.

TRUE GRIT

There’s no cheery ending for the new True Grit. It’s not sad, but it’s not happy either.

If I had to choose, I prefer the original, but the remake is a good movie too. Jeff Bridges is a great actor. The entire cast is excellent. Perhaps the comparison is unfair and it’s better to take each movie on its own merits. That being said, I am not likely to watch the 2010 True Grit a second time. Too grim for my taste, though I appreciated the art that went into its making.

How you feel about each movie is of course subjective. Two good films, genetically related. Take your pick. You won’t go far wrong either way.

Garry Armstrong: The Movie Maven’s Take

Reading Marilyn’s review of the True Grit remake, the obvious occurred to me. I am a child of the old school of movies. My heroes and heroines are the stars from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. My film morality sensibilities have been shaped and nurtured by movies from Hollywood’s “golden era” through the 60’s. Not surprisingly, John Wayne is probably my favorite movie star. “Star” not actor. I thoroughly enjoyed Wayne’s “True Grit”.

His “Rooster Cogburn” was a sum of all the heroes Wayne had played for 40 years. Older, fatter and more prone to corn liquor, Rooster’s sense of morality was still pretty simple. There was good and bad and few in-betweens. Wayne nailed all that with a self-deprecating sense of humor. Wayne was Rooster and Rooster was Wayne. The original’s end with Rooster frozen in frame and time as he and his horse leap a fence is “print the legend” stuff.  Veteran director Henry Hathaway (“The Sons of Katie Elder”, etc), is in familiar territory and gives the original “Grit” lots of traditional, old school western flavor.

All that said, Jeff Bridges’ Rooster Cogburn in the “True Grit” remake is also memorable and can stand alone. Jeff Bridges as an actor can stand alone. He invests his own irascible charm into “Rooster” while paying homage to the Duke. Matt Damon’s “LaBeouf” is much better and more complex than Glenn Campbell’s Texas Ranger in the original. Josh Brolin gives Tom Chaney much more depth and compassion than acting school guru Jeff Corey gave the original villain. I still prefer Robert Duvall’s “Lucky Ned Pepper” but Barry (“61″) Pepper is also pretty good in the remake.

The remake gives us an extended look at Mattie with an ending closer to the book than the original film. Hailee Steinfeld is her own Mattie — equal to Kim Darby’s offering in the original. So, while I can enjoy the “True Grit” remake, I am still very partial to the Duke’s original film. Arguments?? That’ll be the day!!

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Western Badass Violence Fix – Tombstone, 1993

The first movie I remember seeing with my mom was Gunfight at OK Corral. It was a busy day at the Utopia on Union Turnpike in Queens. Not a big theater, especially back when movie theaters were palatial. There were hardly any seats left when we got there, having walked 2.5 miles from home. I had a non-driving mom who was a subscriber to healthy outdoor exercise. We did a lot of walking — she with enthusiasm and I because I had no choice.

We found a seat in the second row, from which vantage point Burt and Kirk had heads 20 feet high. It left an indelible mark on my mind. I became an O.K. Corral aficionado, catching each new version of the story as it was cranked out of Hollywood. When video taped movies became available, I caught up with all earlier versions, too.

I stayed with “Gunfight” as my favorite for a long time. Maybe I’m just fond of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Garry generally favored “My Darling Clementine” but he is a John Ford fan, so it figures. We have our preferences and they aren’t based on logic.

In 1993, along came “Tombstone.” One viewing and it was my favorite version of the gunfight story. A few more viewings and it morphed into our mutual favorite version of the OK corral and one of our top 5 westerns of all time.

I don’t love it for its historical accuracy. As do all the Wyatt Earp – Doc Holliday movies, it omits more than it includes. The Earps were wild and crazy guys, a lot wilder and crazier than even the wildest, craziest portrayal Hollywood has yet put on the screen. Add Doc Holliday — who was a real nutter, a charming, psychopathic killer — and you have a seriously lethal bunch of guys.

There were quite a few other Earp brothers who are always left out of the story, maybe because they didn’t go into the peacekeeping business. Daddy Earp was a real piece of work and deserves a movie of his own. Although I tend to be persnicketty about historical details, not when watching westerns. No percentage in it. They are all horribly inaccurate.

Tombstone has a great balance of classic western ingredients. Justice, revenge, violence, horses, great lines, wit, drama, humor, excellent cinematography and enough western mythology to make me go “Yeah!!”

TombstoneOKCorral

Quote of the day:

Curly Bill: [takes a bill with Wyatt's signature from a customer and throws it on the faro table]

Wyatt Earp: Curly Bill, huh? I heard of you.

C. S. Fly cabinet card portrait of Josephine S...

Josephine Sarah Marcus. She was for a time Sheriff Johnny Behan’s girlfriend but left him for Wyatt Earp. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Ike Clanton: Listen, Mr. Kansas Law Dog. Law don’t go around here. Savvy?

Wyatt Earp: I’m retired.

Curly Bill: Good. That’s real good.

Ike Clanton: Yeah, that’s good, Mr. Law Dog, ’cause law don’t go around here.

Wyatt Earp: I heard you the first time. [flips a card]

Wyatt Earp: Winner to the King, five hundred dollars.

Curly Bill: Shut up, Ike.

Johnny Ringo: [Ringo steps up to Doc] And you must be Doc Holliday.

Doc Holliday: That’s the rumor.

Johnny Ringo: You retired too?

Doc Holliday: Not me. I’m in my prime.

Johnny Ringo: Yeah, you look it.

Doc Holliday: And you must be Ringo. Look, darling, Johnny Ringo. The deadliest pistoleer since Wild Bill, they say. What do you think, darling? Should I hate him?

Kate: You don’t even know him.

English: Wyatt Earp at about age 25 at about t...

Wyatt Earp, about age 25 in Dodge City, Kansas. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Doc Holliday: Yes, but there’s just something about him. Something around the eyes, I don’t know, reminds me of… me. No. I’m sure of it, I hate him.

Wyatt Earp: [to Ringo] He’s drunk.

Doc Holliday: In vino veritas. ["In wine is truth" meaning: "When I'm drinking, I speak my mind"]

Johnny Ringo: Age quod agis. ["Do what you do" meaning: "Do what you do best"]

Doc Holliday: Credat Judaeus apella, non ego. ["The Jew Apella may believe it, not I" meaning: "I don't believe drinking is what I do best."]

Johnny Ringo: [pats his gun] Eventus stultorum magister. ["Events are the teachers of fools" meaning: "Fools have to learn by experience"]

Doc Holliday: [gives a Cheshire cat smile] In pace requiescat. ["Rest in peace" meaning: "It's your funeral!"]

Tombstone Marshal Fred White: Come on boys. We don’t want any trouble in here. Not in any language.

Doc Holliday: Evidently Mr. Ringo’s an educated man. Now I really hate him.

Tombstone is deliciously violent. The gunfight at O.K. corral is merely the beginning. There’s a deeply satisfying amount of killing to follow. I revel in it. When Kurt Russell declares that he’s coming for them and Hell will follow … I am there. Yes, kill the bad guys.

It’s so cathartic! The only piece of armament I’ve ever owned is my Daisy Red Ryder BB gun and a 22 caliber target rifle, but I can pretend. And I’m a dead shot with the rifle and have slaughtered paper plates and other inanimate targets from New York to northern Maine.

I have a rich and rewarding fantasy life.

Thank you Tombstone!

Bringing the Party To You: The Avengers (2012)

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If you have been following the long trail of Marvel comic book hero films: Ironman (2008, 2010) , the Hulk (2008), Captain America (2011), and Thor (2011) – The Avengers is what you’ve been waiting for.

The heroes whose back stories you’ve seen in the movies — and if you are of the right generation, read in the comic books of your youth — come together to … well, take a guess. Let’s not always see the same hands. You, in the back! You’re right! A gold star to you.

They are going to save the world. These are the superheroes to do it. All of the names and faces are familiar from previous movies, with the exception of a new Hulk who is just what the doctor ordered. Hulk-wise.

This is the first fully realized not-so-jolly green giant. He isn’t selling vegetables, nor is he — as the Hulk — the mindless muscle of earlier versions. He is closer to the comic book Hulk who retained enough front brain information to make him more than the personification of blunt-force trauma. He is believable, or as believable as Hulk is ever likely to be.

Of course the movie has first-rate computer generated graphics, effects, and a top-quality soundtrack. We would expect nothing less from this team. There’s more than enough of every kind of violence, explosions, lightning, weird machines from outer space, inexplicable magic and power by good guys and bad guys to entertain anyone willing to let allow him or herself to be entertained. Over-intellectualized spoil-sports are welcome to find something else to do.

To sum it all up in a nutshell, the bad guys come through a hole in the universe and the Avengers, all incredibly handsome and brilliant heroically protect the people of Earth from destruction and domination by the Evilest Empire ever. If that were all, it would be enough, but The Avengers is more than violence and special effects.

As characters, each of the Avengers has a unique back story. Each one has a distinct personality, much of which you’ve glimpsed in the various movies leading up to this one. They are witty enough to make me laugh in the midst of mayhem.

The script is crisp, the actors can act (whoa, how did that happen? That never happens!) and it all comes together in a very satisfying action movie that is perhaps the quintessential superhero movie — so far. They did it right. It seems too short.  It leaves you wanting more.

More we shall get. As long as we gobble up whatever this franchise cranks out and it continues to be enormously profitable, we will have more. There are at least 2 more “sequels” scheduled for production during 2013  and 2014. I expect that’s the tip of a large iceberg.

Although it remains to be seen if the producers can keep the group together and retain the quality they’ve so far produced, but there’s no reason to assume that they can’t and won’t. They’ve found a winning combination: intelligent action heroes fighting life and death battles and not behaving like mindless morons. Good scripts, good actors, quality CGI.

Marvel has nailed the formula. What is surprising to me is that so many studios have not put it together the equation that will give them a hit every single time. Pretty simple. Good actors, good technical crew, good script, good director, interesting (and fun!) story. It’s a box office guarantee …  the winning combination. Any producer could apply it. So why don’t they?

Movies should not be dull. Personally, I can live without philosophy or a message. More than enlightenment, I want to be entertainment. I want to be excited, to laugh, to applaud.

I want to have fun at the movies. Like we used to in the good old days.

I’m tired of critics. How many of you got a thrill watching The English Patient? Or The Hurt Locker? Too many critically acclaimed films are boring. Dull as dirt and about as memorable. These movies have become laugh lines on late night comedy shows. No one watches them, at least not voluntarily. You’d actually have to hold a gun to my head to convince me to watch any of them. Critics love them, but audiences stay away in droves. They lack the single quality every movie must have to be a called good. It has to be entertaining. Professional critics seem to have missed this detail.

Daily Prompt: Party Animals on the Radio

We don’t go to parties often nor do we give parties any more. Garry can’t hear at most gatherings and I always wonder why I’m there. But … for everything I say that’s true, there’s an exception. Also true, just completely the opposite of what I just said.

75-StudioNKBW-89

Last night, we were on the air on WBZ 1030AM, gabbing about movies with a bunch of other movie-centric folks and it was, as usual, a whole lot of fun. Some good arguments  on the role of movies in cultural and social change. The odd warm interchange about remakes and franchise movies in particular, the quality of horror movies and movie monsters.

75-GarNK-83My opinion? On monsters, if you can’t see the seams, they’re cool. And as for remakes and franchises, isn’t there something new worth doing?

Then, there was the sad death of Harry Reems, star of Deep Throat, the first genuinely funny porn movie. Talk about cultural influence! A whole generation … never mind.

So we talked about movies, laughed about movies, made valid points about movies, a few on and off target comments on The State of the Art and Arts, American culture, took some call ins, did a bit of trivia. Jordan gave away WBZ pens (with ink!).

By the middle of the night, when I took a few in-studio shots, we were all looking pretty scruffy. You can’t tell about a few of us because I was holding the camera (yay, me) and the nature of shooting pictures in a studio is that there aren’t a lot of angles from which to shoot. Small and cluttered is never a great photo venue. But, at least you get a sense of the studio, its size and us. In the middle of the night, sans snacks or coffee.

Jordan Rich, our gracious host

Jordan Rich, our gracious host

It was fun. It’s always fun. It’s easy to forget that you are not just hanging out and whatever you say is actually being heard by a lot of people across the country. WBZ has a very powerful signal. The show is also simulcast in Cincinnati and everywhere in the world by live Internet feed.

It was my first time on the air in a year or so. I haven’t felt up to overnighting, but this time, I vowed I was going to make it.

So that was the party and I got to be one of the animals. Tomorrow, I’ll feel inspired. Today, I mostly need a nap.

Singing In the Rain – 1952 – A Sunday “Best of the Best” Review

Cover of "Singin' in the Rain (Two-Disc S...

Turner Classics was playing it and we had to watch it. It really never gets old. And they’ve cleaned up and remastered it for sound and pictures, so it sparkles like the gem it is.

Sometimes, it’s not hard to figure out why a particular movie becomes a classic. Singin’ in the Rain, a 1952 American musical comedy starring Gene KellyDonald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds and directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, with Kelly also providing the choreography is magic.

There is a lot of back story to this movie.  Debbie Reynolds hasn’t been shy about sharing her story, the dissatisfaction of Kelly at having to work with Reynolds — who had to be taught to dance for her role. By the end of each day of shooting, her feet would be bleeding. Kelly was a perfectionist and a bit of a slave driver. But it’s hard to argue with the result.

Whatever was going on behind the scenes, the result is a masterpiece. Sixty-one years after the original opening, it’s fresh and funny, and the choreography is a wonder and carefully works around Debbie Reynolds more limited dancing skills. If you watch “Good Morning” carefully, notice how often she is posed while Kelly and O’Connor carry the most complex parts.

The plot is a light-hearted look at the movie business during the transition from silent to talking movies.

There had been several versions of Singing In the Rain before, but none of them enjoyed the success of this version. Rightfully so. It’s delightful. After more than 60 years, it still plays beautifully. A pleasure to watch and a family favorite. Many great musicals have been produced since this classic. Many were and are brilliant, but although they may be as good, they are not better. In many way, Singing in the Rain set the bar.

Until they make a new Gene Kelly, they won’t improve on it.

English: Gene Kelly and girls in Singin' in th...

It was greeted with no great enthusiasm when released, yet with each passing year, its popularity grows. That is, perhaps, the true definition of a classic when the years only increase respect for a film. Time has not diminished Singin’ In the Rain. 

Romance in the Desert — The Wind And The Lion (1975)

wind and lionThe Wind and the Lion is an old-fashioned, romantic adventure tale set in turn of the century Morocco and Washington DC. Parallel stories, an ocean apart, the interlocking of which in many ways foretells the world we live in today.

President Theodore Roosevelt (Brian Keith) is facing an upcoming election. The nation is not thrilled about his handling of the Panama Canal project and although he is among the most popular presidents in many long years, re-election is anything but certain. Meanwhile, in Morocco, an American woman, Eden Pedecaris (Candice Bergen) and her two children are kidnapped by Berber brigand Mulai Ahmed er Raisuli (Sean Connery), triggering a variety of international incidents.

All of this is taking place not long before the opening of the first world war, after which nothing will ever be the same again. All the European powers, as well as the U.S., Japan, Russia and Turkey have their eyes on strategically placed Morocco, headed by a weak sultan beset by civil unrest. The Pedecaris incident has given the various nations an opportunity to send in the troops. And they do. All of them. Including, of course, America.

Meanwhile, out in the desert, there is Mrs. Pedecaris riding with the Berbers.

“You are a great deal of trouble, Mrs. Pedecaris,” says the Raisuli, sounding deliciously like James Bond. Indeed she is.  Ah but what a woman! My kind of woman, one who will take up a sword and fight — for herself, her children and what is right, by golly.

Out in the desert are the Raisuli and Mrs. Pedicaris. He’s brave, handsome and sits a horse like nobody’s business. And she’s beautiful, fearless and proud. What a pair. I have always thought Candice Bergen among the most beautiful women ever. In this movie, she is magnificent as is Connery. They play off each other wonderfully. I don’t know if you could call Sean Connery, as a Berber Chieftain, exactly believable, but he is stunning. Flashing eyes, sharp tongue. A master of wit and charm.

It was probably the best role Brian Keith ever got too. He is entirely believable as Teddy Roosevelt. I’m ready to vote for him. Why not? At least he was straightforward about wanting the United States to militarily dominate the world and he created the national parks system. They don’t make’em like that any more.

The score was composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith who used an ensemble including a large percussion section and many Moroccan instruments. The music is haunting and although Jaws composer John Williams won that year’s Oscar, the score for The Wind and the Lion is stunning, possibly Goldsmith’s best; it was one of the American Film Institute’s 250 nominees for top 25 American film scores.

Filmed in Spain where the director, John Milius, had previously filmed his spaghetti westerns (even the scenes set in D.C. were actually shot in Madrid), the cinematography is breathtaking. Broad vistas, magnificent sunsets, deserts and battles on horseback with scimitars at the ready.

The film is accurate and sympathetic to Islam, making it one of the few American movies to become popular in Arab countries. It’s refreshing to see a movie that doesn’t automatically assume the only possible valid religion is Christianity.

When I say romantic, I mean it in the epic sense of the word. It’s a world filled with heroes and heroines who are larger than life. There’s not a super power among them, but nonetheless, superheroes abound.

It’s a great movie. Without a bit of gore, grit, or gristle. No zombies, chain saws or special effects. No CGI. Just great photography, a delicious script, and terrific acting.

Because that’s what it takes to make a wonderful movie. Everything else is wrapping paper and ribbons.

Print the Legend! Garry Armstrong’s Desert Island Movies

There are so many movies … and this is far too short a list to really tell the story. Call it the tip of my iceberg. That said, here we go — the movies I never tire of watching.

The Searchers

I love westerns. This may be the best ever made and it’s Duke Wayne’s finest performance. My director idol, John Ford, said of his masterpiece, “It’ll do”.

Casablanca

Everyone’s go-to movie easily could be number one. I remember chatting with Julius Epstein, one of the co-screenwriters, who told me how crazy it was on the set with revised scripts rushed in every day as they set up shots.

Epstein said Bogie was never fazed and usually nailed his lines on the first take. Director Michael Curtiz, on the other hand, was very “upset”, according to Epstein.

The Best Years of our Lives

Wonderful film but, admittedly, a sentimental choice here. The very FIRST film I ever saw at a movie theatre.

It was 1946. My Dad had just returned from the war. He was dressed in his uniform. He seemed ten feet tall and very heroic. The theme of the movie, GI’s trying to cope with post-war life, is timeless. Little did I know that it would be an issue in my family.

The Magnificent Seven

Another great western. I saw it numerous times when it opened in 1960. I know all the lines.

Cover of "The Magnificent Seven (Special ...

Cover of The Magnificent Seven (Special Edition)

The cast of then relatively unknown actors was terrific. Steve McQueen was my movie hero — next to Duke Wayne. I even tried to dress like McQueen. Didn’t quite work out. Years later, I had a sit down chat with James Coburn who related how wild things were during the shooting of “Seven”. He told me how McQueen used to drive the nominal star, Yul Brynner, crazy with upstaging bits of business. Charles Bronson was described as “one very quiet and strange dude”. Coburn admitted everyone was sneaking in “bits” trying to outdo each other.

The Great Escape

Think “The Magnificent Seven” as a World War two prison escape war movie instead of a western. James Coburn said he marvelled at how director John Sturges kept control of the “boys”, including several of the “Magnificent Seven” cast members.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out Elmer Bernstein‘s distinctive musical score in both films. Those scores or “themes” would achieve their own celebrity over the years.

All About Eve

I’ve always loved this one!! The cast, acting, dialogue, and script are superb. It’s about the theatre world. But anyone who’s had a professional life in the public eye can relate to the characters and the plot. Bette Davis was at the top of her game (role was originally slated for Claudette Colbert who had to pass).

Cover of "All About Eve (Two-Disc Special...

Cover via Amazon

The wonderful supporting cast included Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Gregory Ratoff, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, a young Marilyn Monroe and the estimable George Sanders in his career-defining role. I shared Bloody Mary’s with Gary Merrill when he was in Boston (that’s another story) and had me laughing about life on the set of “All About Eve”. He and Ms. Davis fell in love while making “Eve”. However, the  theatrics within the theatrics were something to behold, Merrill recalled. Everyone was trying to upstage everyone else but nobody upstaged Bette Davis. Gary Merrill grinned as he refilled my drink. And, George Sanders, Merrill said, was George Sanders on and off camera.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Cover of "Yankee Doodle Dandy (Two-Disc S...

Cover via Amazon

Oh, how I adore this movie and WHY didn’t they make it in color?? Had the great fortune to meet James “Call me Jimmy” Cagney in the early 70’s on Martha’s Vineyard. I was awestruck. He was very kind. Seems he had caught my work as a TV news reporter and just wanted to say he liked what he saw. Over coffee, we talked about the joys of doing what we loved and the frustration of dealing with “suits” or executives. I mostly just listened. He talked about the making of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and how, clearly, that was his personal favorite “job” in his long career. He was glad to do the music biopic and show off his dancing chops which he’d always had but were rarely used in previous films. He credited his unusual dance movements to mannerisms of his old street pals in New York’s “hell’s Kitchen” where he grew up.

My favorite scene in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” is near the end where Cagney/Cohan, dances down the stairs at the White House.

My wife Marilyn and I usually replay this scene three, four, five times whenever we watch the film.

Shane

Another classic western. Alan Ladd’s shining hour and another gem in director George Steven’s illustrious career. The photography and editing are wonderful. Victor Young’s music is evocative. Perhaps my favorite sequence is the burial of “Reb”. The dialogue is muted and the plaintive harmonica music,  “Dixie” and then “Taps” is contrasted with Reb’s dog softly wailing over the grave and two youngsters nearby — oblivious to the tragedy — playing with a horse. The continuous scene then pans down to a long shot of the nearby town ending with an ominous dirge. Powerful, poetic stuff!!

The final scene of Shane — slightly slumped in saddle — riding away to the mountains with the boy calling after him is the stuff of movie legend.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Another John Ford – John Wayne classic. This is Ford near the end of his career. It’s his homage to the ending of the west as he’s depicted it for most of his professional life, dating back to silent films. Shot in black and white on a small budget, Ford is more concerned about characters than action.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Duke Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, teamed for the first time, are the perfect choices, albeit a little long in the teeth, to play the contrasting leads. Wayne is the rough tough cowman. Stewart is the sensitive lawyer who wants to see justice meted out by the court rather than Wayne’s six-shooter. Lee Marvin’s “Liberty Valance” borders on parody but that’s okay.

Great supporting cast including Edmond O’Brien, Vera Miles, Andy Devine, Lee van Cleef, Strother Martin and Woody Strode (why did they have to call him “Boy” in one scene). The “print the legend” theme is so ironic and haunting. Ford is trying to break his habit of printing the legend but the public doesn’t want the facts.

The haunting theme at the end of “Liberty Valance” is the same mournful theme Ford used 25 years earlier in “Young Mr. Lincoln”.

The Quiet Man

Ford and Wayne again — this time in Ireland. Ford’s tribute to his birth place. Wonderful photography!! The green hills and pastures of Ireland never looked lovelier. Just watch out for the sheep dung. The music is memorable. “Wild Colonial Boy” pub sequence is pure John Ford. The Wayne-McLagen epic fight is in Hollywood’s hall of Fame.

Marilyn and I visited Cong and the remnants of “The Quiet Man’s” cabin during our honeymoon in Ireland in 1990. That’s when we found out that — guess who — has Irish roots.

Will Penny

Another western and a relatively unheralded film. It’s Charlton Heston‘s realistic take on the life of an aging cow puncher. Had the genuine pleasure to “hang out” with “Chuck” on several occasions and he was a very nice, down to earth guy (just ask Marilyn). This was the pre-NRA Heston. Anyway, during one of our sit-downs, he talked about making “Will Penny” as a personal project.

He had done several traditional westerns and wanted to do one that was authentic and free of Hollywood glamour and happy endings. “Will Penny” is perhaps Heston’s best acting work. It is understated with Heston showing a range of emotion not usually apparent in his more typical epic screen characters.

S.O.B.

Terrific Blake Edwards film that angered Hollywood insiders — with good reason. Again, if you’ve had a professional career in the public eye, you will absolutely love this movie. You know these people. You’ve worked with and for these people. William Holden’s talk to his depression-ridden pal was all too real and could easily have been Holden’s own eulogy.

Most of the ensemble star cast, plus Edwards, stopped in Boston to promote the movie. The behind the scenes arm-twisting coming out of Hollywood was trying to kill the film. On that memorable Saturday morning, I was with only one or two other reporters (who also left after 5 minutes or so to chase more meaningful stories), listening to William Holden (a few sheets to the wind), Robert Preston, Craig (Peter Gunn) Stevens, Loretta Swit, Blake Edwards and others chat about making “S.O.B.”. It sounded more like a “Bitch session” than a movie promotion. In fact, it sounded very familiar to me.

There are so many other films on my list. “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Atticus, I believe, was rated the most popular movie hero in a recent poll. Then and now, “Mockingbird” resonates on so many levels. The movie does Harper Lee’s wonderful book full justice. That, alone, is a miracle.

There are so many favorite films and stars I could mention with personal “war stories” or anecdotes. And there are musicals, romance.  And comedies. “So many movies, so little time” takes on new meaning. All great movies. Just not the only great movies.

I need to sign off because I’m burning daylight. Maybe another time if there is interest. There’s still the John Wayne story to tell, Pilgrims. There are plenty more movies to talk about and many more tales to tell … Happy trails!

One thing leads to another

Marilyn Armstrong:

Garry and I love “A Little Romance.” I’ve always wondered why it’s shown so rarely. It’s a gem of a movie, one of Hill’s best. The story is charming, the settings are deliciously romantic, Olivier is Olivier — and the two kids will make you nostalgic about being young. This was Diane Lane’s screen début, by the way. If you can, see this one!

Originally posted on Parisian Fields:

We both like to listen to Web radio while we work. We were particularly pleased to discover that Radio Classique, which we listen to in Paris (at call number 101.1) is available on the Internet. (Go to the site, click on “En direct” and then choose “Haut débit” or “Bas débit” and it will begin.) The music is enjoyable and you can practise your French comprehension by listening to the news broadcasts or the occasional interview.

We also have Apple computers, which offer umpteen different music streams from the radio available through iTunes. The other day, more or less at random, I chose AAA Classic, which makes up in its imaginative choice of music what it lacks in its pedestrian choice of name. It is a French station, and every so often I had to stop what I was doing to look at the little…

View original 1,110 more words

The Hidden Face (La Cara Oculta), 2011

hidden-face-posterThe Hidden Face (La Cara Oculta) is a supremely dark movie, literally and figuratively. The subject is dark and most of the movie takes place in dim light or actual darkness.

At first glance, I thought it was going to be a whodunnit and I was good with that. But early on, the plot became obvious, so what remained was a race against time. The overall story is standard thriller cum police dramamissing person” stuff.  As the movie opens, we watch a “dear john” video from a young woman leaving her boyfriend with minimal explanation (but a lot of subtext). Her boyfriend (who we will soon learn in a renowned orchestral conductor) watches the video, apparently baffled, miserable, in despair. It’s a flashback, because the film immediately moves forward to “now” as he meets someone new and begins a relationship. The story flashes back again. Despite how it sounds, the flashing back and forth is not confusing,  just tricky to write about.

Into precisely what genre The Hidden Face fits is a bit murky. It’s creepy, but not a horror movie. It’s a mystery, but too briefly to require detective work. I was surprised at how soon in the film lays the whole story out. It eliminated any element of surprise or mystery, leaving creepiness without suspense. Does that make it sort-of horror? A ghost story without a ghost? Secrets don’t stay secrets long. The film put everything out there so no guesswork is required.

The film would benefit from a tighter edit. There are too many beauty shots  of the stars walking on the beach, ambling along by the river, looking sad, staring into mirrors (many mirrors, lots of staring), suffering, pondering, despairing. You could trim a lot of it without compromising the story. Fewer shots of Fab walking, thinking, pondering, Adri conducting, flirting, suffering, yada yada. That much B roll is directorial self-indulgence and it gets old quickly.

After the who-done-what is revealed, the movie becomes a race against the clock. The only remaining question is who will win the race. That’s when I started to lose interest. The situation was indeed creepy, even horrible. But very little was happening and although nothing much is happening, it takes a rather long time to not happen. Back to the editing room!

Have I seen anything like this before? Yes. Even before they show you everything, there are plenty of tells for anyone familiar with mystery or horror stories. Moreover, the plot is classic and everyone will recognize it. Think fairy tale crossed with Edgar Allen Poe. I believe the movie’s writers assume the situation, the premise itself, will generate sufficient tension without action. No need for story. It doesn’t work for me.  I need a story. So this movie wasn’t my cup of tea, but I’m a coffee drinker. If you like tea, you might love it.
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hidden-face-stillThe cinematography is moody and broody and I appreciate the artistry. The “sexy scenes” were just that. There was nothing pornographic about them. Had the overall tone of the film not been so edgy, it might have been romantic and a bit titillating. The sense of something wrong overshadows all else and the foreboding short-circuits any potential erotica.
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My aging eyes I would have preferred more light (as in wattage). The poor quality print may have contributed to the problem because it was difficult to focus on the picture, but most of the film takes place at night or in shadow so it wasn’t brightly lit to start with. After repeated copying of the original print, there was considerable squinting involved for me.
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Did I enjoy it? I liked the beginning a lot. I like the middle, mostly. By the end, I was eager for it to be over. Would I recommend it? It depends on who’s asking. I really wanted to like it more than I did. If the tale had unfolded rather than flashing back and forth, might that have helped? I don’t know. I wish they had saved some surprises for the second half of the film. The situation was eerie , but I need more than a situation. I need a tale unfolding.
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However: If you are looking for a movie that isn’t exactly like every other movie you’ve seen lately and if you are more into the psychology of a scenario that its story … than give this one a look. I’m a word person and for me, movies are mostly about the script and the story … but you may have other preferences. In which case, ignore everything I’ve said and go for it.
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The Hobbit With BONUS Middle Earth Flowcharts

Ian McKellen as Gandalf in Peter Jackson's liv...

Ian McKellen as Gandalf

Cate Blanchett portrays Galadriel in The Lord ...

Today I saw The Hobbit. I loved it. I’ve read a lot of complaints about it online and I’m more baffled after seeing it than I was before.

I don’t understand what the problem is. Too long? Too much detail? Really?

Do they really want a shorter movie with less detail? I’m willing to bet that if they got what they wanted, the same people would start bitching about how it’s too short and lacks detail.

There are too many people who aren’t satisfied unless they are complaining about something.

Ignore the whiners for whom nothing will ever be true enough to the book. They should not go to the movies and just reread the book. They don’t get the difference between literature and film as art forms. And don’t even bother to read professional critics. They never like anything really good anyhow. They are on a campaign to remove the fun from film and replace it with pretentious boring stuff that’s closer to torture than entertainment.

If you are a Tolkien fan, go see it. You won’t be disappointed. This recommendation comes from one of the people who invented Fall of Sauron Day and celebrated it faithfully for 20 years without thinking there was anything odd about it.

The Hobbit is a cool movie and you’ll enjoy  it. It’s faithful to the book, beautifully mounted, excellently performed, has some fine renditions of the old Tolkien songbook as well as a couple of new songs … and the magic of Peter Jackson to create a world we wish we could live in.

In the meanwhile, if the plot confuses you, this handy chart can help you understand the chain of events that led to the downfall of Sauron and the saving of (tada) the world.

Emil Johansson of the Lord of the Rings Project has created Gandalf Problem Solving, a humorous flowchart showing various options that Gandalf the wizard had for fixing problems during both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings film series.

You may also remember Emil’s great Dwarves Cheat Sheet. No? Well …

Dwarves Flowchart

By  on December 14, 2012
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The Dwarves Cheat Sheet

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image via LotrProject

via I Love Charts