Films Worth Viewing Year 2

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"Witness"-Peter Weir-1985

In addition to the Indiana Jones films and the Star Wars franchise Harrison Ford Had some other solid successes including the Jack Ryan series and "Presumed Innocent" and, "The Fugitive." I'm still not sure why he hasn't achieved iconic status, perhaps because his range wasn't that great. Still this is one of his finest screen performances, and it was the only time he was ever nominated for an Oscar. The script (William Kelly, Pamela Wallace, Earl Wallace) won as did the editing. The score (Maurice Jarre), the cinematography (John Seale), the film,and the director were also nominated. If you can get a copy of the DVD, the five part documentary on the making of the film is well worth your attention.

The film opens with the death/funeral of a young Amish man. His wife, Rachel Lapp (Kelly McGillis) and her son Samuel (Luke Haas) take a train trip to visit her sister. They had to change trains in Philly, and the train to Baltimore is 3 hours late. Samuel is restless; he wanders the huge waiting room. He ends up in the men's room.
He witnesses a murder. He remains hidden; the killers are unaware of his presence. Captain John Book of the Philly homicide division leads the investigation.

Samuel identifies the killer. He is a black narcotics lieutenant (Danny Glover). The victim was also a police officer. Book consults his mentor in the police department, Shaffer (Joseph Sommer), but as we later find out he is involved in a multi-million conspiracy involving drug thefts from confiscated property. After a shootout where he is wounded; Book flees Philly with the two Lapps. They return to Amish country.

There a several memorable scenes including a barn raising, Book's attempt to milk a cow,, Book and Rachael dancing to Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World" playing on the car radio, Book dealing with Samuel's attempt yo play with his gun, and the group of elders standing over Book's sickbed in a manner reminiscent of a Vermeer painting. The reaction shots of the character's faces are memorable, dialogue is limited. This isn't a talky picture; the action and the visuals are our entrance point to the characters. There is a beautiful economy and simplicity to this picture.

I have to deal with the love story. Rachel and Book are attracted to each other, and more than physically. Most critics ignore the attraction between Book and Samuel. They develop a father/son bond. Ultimately,
neither relationship would work out. Rachael and Samuel have the opportunity to become a family again
with Daniel Hochleitner (Alexander Gudanov). Book has lost his family, the Philadelphia Police Department.

The last words spoken in the film come from Eli Lapp, Samuel's grandfather,: "You be careful out among the English." Book is returning to a very uncertain world. This film tells a story like few others. The resolution leaves much unresolved. Enjoy the experience,ponder the questions.
 
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"Witness"-Peter Weir-1985
Book is returning to a very uncertain world. This film tells a story like few others.
I agree. I haven't seen it since the theater but I still remember Book walking away at the end passing Daniel who's walking the other way. Reminds me a little of Remains of the Day.
 
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This is a twofor. "RBG-Betsy West and Julie Cohen-2018 and "On the Basis of Sex"-Mina Leder-2018. The first is a documentary the second a bio-pic. The documentary premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival; it was not in competition. It tells the story of the life of "The Notorious RBG." It uses interviews with significant people in Ruth Bader Ginsberg's life to illuminate both her legal career and her personal life. It includes a section where the filmmakers document a day in the life. It was a major financial success. It was shown on CNN, so the audience was quite large. This is well worth viewing. This physically small woman has had a major impact of US law. In her 80s this woman has become a cultural hero to millions of young girls and women.

"On the Basis of Sex" focuses on two areas of her life. The first half of the film details the early years of her marriage to Martin Ginsberg when they were both students at Harvard Law. They had a young daughter, Annie.
There were only 6 female first year students in 1956 when Ruth began her Harvard career. We get some hints about how difficult it was for female law students. The law school dean, Eywin Griswold (Sam Watterson) invites
the female first year students to dinner. He asks each to stand up and say why they deserved a place at Harvard Law instead of some deserving male. The real challenge comes when Martin Ginsberg (Arnie Hammer) is diagnosed with testicular cancer. In 1956 95% of those so diagnosed died. Martin does survive. With Ruth's help Martin graduates on time. He was a year ahead of her. He gets a job with a big firm in NYC. Ruth (Felicity Jones) wants to finish her legal education at Columbia but still receive a Harvard degree. Dean Griswold refuses despite Ruth's excellent record and the fact that this privilege was given to several male students.

Ruth follows her husband to NYC. She finishes her degree at Columbia with great distinction. She fails to find a single law firm in NYC willing to hire her. She is lucky to find a position teaching at Rutgers Law School. There was a vacancy because the only black professor left and they wanted to find another minority. I should mention that the marriage was a long love affair. Martin who became a brilliant tax attorney was the homebody and emotionally closer to the children. Ruth was a notoriously bad cook. Over the years it became a family joke. During production Arnie Hammer prepared a meal for the cast and crew from Martin's cookbook.

The scene shifts to 1970. Martin finds a tax case where a single male tried to take a tax deduction for a nurse
to help care for his invalid mother. A single male wasn't allowed to take this tax deduction. This case, Moritz versus Commissioner, is the focus of the remainder of the movie. Both Ginsbergs argue before the Court of Appeals that such a distinction is unconstitutional. There was more than 100 years of decisions which allowed discrimination on the basis of sex. This case was the beginning of the overturning of hundreds of laws which discriminated on the basis of sex.

Many of the negative reviews of this picture and the documentary focus on what these critics believe are the liberal views of Justice Ginsberg. What this movie does is to show the Ginsbergs as a loving family who believed deeply in equality. As some of you realize, I have problems with criticisms which deal with something not on the screen. They there are those criticisms which find the film boring. The actors were miscast; the script (written by her nephew and approved by RBG0 was inaccurate. The film portrays the eras in meticulous detain, clothes, backdrops, cars, etc. It was filmed in Montreal not in NYC and Cambridge.

I didn't find the movie boring. I thought there was real chemistry between the principals. This wasn't a pushy movie; trumpets do not blare. There was emotion in the film, but it was handled well. With films like this, I believe interest in the subject matter determines somewhat ones response. Knowing that I like this type of subject, you should weigh my observations against your interests. I highly recommend both options. Neither is available for free streaming.
 
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I agree. I haven't seen it since the theater but I still remember Book walking away at the end passing Daniel who's walking the other way. Reminds me a little of Remains of the Day.
I saw "Witness" several times many years ago, but I hadn't seen it all in many years until I came across it on TV maybe a year ago, and gave it a watch for the heck of it. I immediately felt being drawn into the film again, so it certainly holds up.
 
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"The Conversation"-Francis Ford Coppola-1974

This film was made between Godfather I and II. Coppola had a deal with Paramount that he could make a cheap film if the Godfather made a lot of money. It did so Coppola got to make this film. He had written the script 6 years before. It was influenced by "Blowup;" the parallels are reasonably obvious. This is sound; that was pictures. The opening overhead shots are memorable. That was the work of Haskell Wexler; he was replaced by Bill Butler because he and Coppola clashed over the direction of the film.

There is quite a bit of symbolism in this film beginning with Harry Caul's name. I'm going to ignore it. In this case I much prefer a factual approach. Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a master of surveillance. He is employed both by various government agencies and private companies. His current job is the surveillance of a couple in a open square with dozens of other people constantly moving and with several musicians playing. His task is to pick up all of their conversation and to create one tape which goes directly to his customer.

Harry is not a convivial person. He has some business relationships and a mistress, but none of these relationships can be deemed personal. He loses both his mistress and his key employee Stan (John Cazale) because he is unwilling to share business or personal secrets.

There is a national convention for those in the surveillance profession. Caul is prominent enough so that his name is mentioned in the press coverage of the event. Caul behaves uncharacteristically at the event. First he discovers that Stan has left him for a competitor Bernie Moran (Alan Garfield). Next he carelessly allows himself to be bugged. Stan back temporarily reveals the technical details of his current operation. Harry foolishly embellishes this. He had previously made a revealing confession to a woman he picked up at the confession; this was revealed by the bug. The nadir occurs when he wakes up the next morning to find that the woman he picked up has stolen the key tapes.

Harry Caul's life has spiraled out of control. His guiding principle always had been: "I don't care what they are talking about, all I want is a nice fat recording." That no longer is his reality.

This is masterfully done, but by contemporary standards it moves at a leisurely pace. That doesn't bother me; I can be patient if the film engages me. It did. My only problem with the film is that Harry's loss of control
becomes phantasmagorical.

This is one of the best thrillers of the 70's; for me it easily stands the test of time. Free streaming on Prime, don't miss this one.
 
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"Fort Apache"-John Ford-1948

This is the first film in the cavalry trilogy (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande) and it is filmed in Monument Valley. John Ford had his own production company,Argosy Films. This was the second production.
Ford had Frank Nugent as a script writer. With a budget in excess of $2 million; this was a big budget film.
Ford did his usual meticulous pre-production work. He was able to cut his shooting schedule by almost two weeks. It was shot in 44 days in punishing conditions; the temperature rose to above 110 degrees in the day; the nightime temperature was a pleasant 90 degrees. One stuntman so distinguished himself, Ben Johnson, that he became a featured actor in Ford productions.

One of the most interesting casting choices was Shirley Temple as Philadelphia Thursday the daughter of Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda). Temple had been the biggest box office star in Hollywood during several years in the 30's. She made one previous film with Ford, "Wee Willee Winkee." The got along well.
Her portrayal has been criticized, but I think she has a lot of charm in this role. She plays opposite John Agar (Lt. O' Rourke). They were married in real life. Ford trashed Agar roundly, but John Wayne (Captain Kirby York) helped him greatly.

to be continued
 
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"Fort Apache"-John Ford-1948

This is the first film in the cavalry trilogy (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande) and it is filmed in Monument Valley. John Ford had his own production company,Argosy Films. This was the second production.
Ford had Frank Nugent as a script writer. With a budget in excess of $2 million; this was a big budget film.
Ford did his usual meticulous pre-production work. He was able to cut his shooting schedule by almost two weeks. It was shot in 44 days in punishing conditions; the temperature rose to above 110 degrees in the day; the nightime temperature was a pleasant 90 degrees. One stuntman so distinguished himself, Ben Johnson, that he became a featured actor in Ford productions.

One of the most interesting casting choices was Shirley Temple as Philadelphia Thursday the daughter of Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda). Temple had been the biggest box office star in Hollywood during several years in the 30's. She made one previous film with Ford, "Wee Willee Winkee." The got along well.
Her portrayal has been criticized, but I think she has a lot of charm in this role. She plays opposite John Agar (Lt. O' Rourke). They were married in real life. Ford trashed Agar roundly, but John Wayne (Captain Kirby York) helped him greatly.

to be continued
A few comments while waiting for the next part of this review.

All three of the movies in the John Ford Cavalry trilogy are excellent and quite entertaining. All three of these movies my wife and I have seen repeatedly. we will watch them whenever we come across them on television.

It is mentioned that John Ford trashed John Agar roundly, and that John Wayne was a great help to Agar with this. John Ford was indeed a great director, but he was also in the habit of trashing many of the actors in his films. From what I understand Wayne was often a target of Ford's vitriol as well. Agar also went on appear in the second film in the Cavalry trilogy, "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" as well. Even though Ford was often in the habit of trashing actors on the sets of his films, he was also in the habit of using the same many actors from film to film, so much so that the John Ford Stock Company of actors is a quite well known item. John Ford Stock Company - Wikipedia

I also have no problems with Shirley Temple's acting in "Fort Apache". Also mentioned here is Ben Johnson, who went on to appear in several Ford films. In these John Ford films Johnson often ends up being paired up with another veteran of John Ford films, Harry Carey Jr., whose father (Harry Carey) was also a repeat performer in Ford movies. At any rate, Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr. are a marvelous duo together in these Ford films.
 
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ClifSpliffy

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"Fort Apache"-John Ford-1948

This is the first film in the cavalry trilogy (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Rio Grande) and it is filmed in Monument Valley. John Ford had his own production company,Argosy Films. This was the second production.
Ford had Frank Nugent as a script writer. With a budget in excess of $2 million; this was a big budget film.
Ford did his usual meticulous pre-production work. He was able to cut his shooting schedule by almost two weeks. It was shot in 44 days in punishing conditions; the temperature rose to above 110 degrees in the day; the nightime temperature was a pleasant 90 degrees. One stuntman so distinguished himself, Ben Johnson, that he became a featured actor in Ford productions.

One of the most interesting casting choices was Shirley Temple as Philadelphia Thursday the daughter of Colonel Owen Thursday (Henry Fonda). Temple had been the biggest box office star in Hollywood during several years in the 30's. She made one previous film with Ford, "Wee Willee Winkee." The got along well.
Her portrayal has been criticized, but I think she has a lot of charm in this role. She plays opposite John Agar (Lt. O' Rourke). They were married in real life. Ford trashed Agar roundly, but John Wayne (Captain Kirby York) helped him greatly.

to be continued
'Her portrayal has been criticized, but I think she has a lot of charm in this role. She plays opposite John Agar (Lt. O' Rourke). They were married in real life. Ford trashed Agar roundly, but John Wayne (Captain Kirby York) helped him greatly.'

not sidewinding, but just wondering, or more likely, snickering. in 'f troop' tv series, two main characters are corporal agarn (larry storch) and sergeant o'rouke (forest tucker). it's the agar/agarn thing that set me to wondering/snickering, just coincidence, right?
 

nwhoopfan

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Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is a master of surveillance.
Have you seen Enemy of the State (1998)? While it isn't connected to this film at all, I can't help but think Hackman is actually the same character, several decades later and extremely paranoid. Hackman isn't the lead but plays a key role. Quite good thriller that seems to have been very prophetic in where we were headed.
 
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back again

Fonda plays a Lt. Colonel who was a general during the Civil War. This demotion was not uncommon; Custer is another example. He believes he has been sent to the ends of the Earth with opportunity for neither glory nor promotion. He also has disdain for his potential opponents, the Apache. If he were only opposing the Sioux or the Comanche. Colonel Friday is a thoroughly unsympathetic character. Fonda does a good job; he has some real depth in his characterization. Ultimately, Thursday is a man of "shreds and patches." A group of Apaches go off the reservation and start marauding. A troop rides out to meet them. Thursday is unsatisfied with the response. He wants to get all the Apaches back on the reservation. Cochise had left several years before. (An Anthony Quinn lookalike plays Cochise.) Captain York is dispatched with a single trooper (Pedro Armendirez) to meet with Cochise in Mexico and convince him to return to the reservation. York makes a personal pledge that this time the treaty will be upheld.

Ford portrays Cochise as an honorable man. The Apaches are acknowledged to be great fighters. Of course Fonda mounts an attack as soon as the Apaches near the reservation. He believes they are savages; there is no honor lost in not honoring your word to them. This encapsulates 200+ years of the US government's dealing with various native American peoples. Thursday is advised against the attack. The scene of the attack is modeled on the famous picture of Custer's last stand. York rescues Thursday, but Thursday goes back into certain death carrying York's Sabre .

Just a note Ford uses Navajo as Apaches. Shooting in Monument Valley isn't historically accurate. This is obviously fiction, but Ford uses the film to bring to light some historical truths. The Indian Agency was full of corruption, but it also had a number of devout Christians. The tag on ending is interesting. It is highly unlikely that such a collection of reporters would be interviewing a Colonel not engaged in conflict. York is willing to let the legend stand. The heroic picture of Friday's last charge is artistic fiction. This is an early example of print the legend.

This is one of Ford's best pictures. He creates an enjoyable two hours with romance, comedy, and action.
Beneath the surface we find out about the true nature of courage, the folly of the policy toward Native Americans, a hint of the role played by the military in re-uniting the country after the Civil War, and several other interesting observations. Finally, this is availing for free streaming, but I was only able to find a colorized version. This is a winner.
 
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The Hunger Games"-Gary Ross-2012

For the next few weeks all "The Hunger Game Games" films are available on Comcast Xfinity for free. The original film is available on Prime for free. You can try other options.

Let's start at the beginning with the books. Author Suzanne Collins was born in Hartford in 1962. Her early career was with Nicklelodian. Her first series was the "Underland Chronicles; it started in the '90's. "The Hunger Games" published by Scholastic Press in 2008 was a super success. The series is the all time Kindle best seller. If you are a Prime Member; you can read the series online for free. The film rights were sold to an unknown production company. Collins was involved with the project as a producer and as a screenwriter with the director Gary Ross. Gary Ross is best known for the screenplay for "Big" and for writing and directing "Seabiscuit" and "Pleasantville." Lionsgate ended up producing the film.

Collins structured each book as a 3 act play; each act had nine chapters. She drew upon classical mythology (The Minotaur) and Roman history for the arena games. She felt that the gladiatorial conflicts needed three building blocks: 1. an all powerful government, 2.) people who could be forced to fight to the death, and 3. the contests used as popular entertainment to divert the masses and strengthen the government. In the Minotaur legend Athens contributed 7 boys and 7 girls who were hunted down by the Minotaur in a maze. In the books and the movies each of the 12 districts contribute a boy and a girl between 12 and 18 to compete in games where only one is left alive. This victor receives a large pension. The first book opens with the choosing of the
two competitors from each district. In district 12 Katniss Everdeen volunteers to take her sister Primrose's place. Katniss is of course the hero; she is played by Jennifer Lawrence. Her salary for the first film was $500,000; her salary for the sequel was $10 million. Jennifer Lawrence became a superstar. The film had an 80 million $ budget. it made well over 400 million$ in the US market alone. Leaving aside Harry Potter, this is the biggest success for young adult themed entertainment. There is a prequel book scheduled to come out in May of this year.

There are only 3 novels in the series; the last novel Mockingjay was split into two parts for film purposes. The same thing was done with the Harry Potter series. Obviously, Katniss makes it through the arena twice and triumphs in a war.

Lawrence is terrific, but she has a great group of supporting actors: Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Bank, and Willow Shield. All of these actors were in all four films.
Lenny Kravitz played a key character in the first two films. Donald Sutherland plays the ruthless President Snow in all four films. He fought hard to get the part. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, the best character actor of the past 25 years, joined in the second film playing a games master. He died before he completed work on the fourth film.

If you need to find more plot details, go to IMDb and read synopsis. IMO the first two films are superior, but all four are worth viewing. As I have mentioned before, SciFi favors dystopian futures. One final mythological bit remember Pandora"s box? The only thing left is hope. President Snow almost waxes poetical about hope and how to balance it with fear. They provide a limited binge; they run a little over 8 hours.

If you are interested, check out "Winter's Bone" Lawrence's first Oscar nominated performance. Lawrence has shown a wide range of abilities. She is going to be very visible for a generation.
 
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nwhoopfan

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For the next few weeks all "The Hunger Game Games" films are available on Comcast Xfinity for free.
We switched to Comcast recently. They have a ton of free movies on demand, some fairly recent. I've been enjoying that.

I've seen endless chatter in reviews or message boards about The Hunger Games ripping off the Japanese film Battle Royale. I've seen both, I think the similarities are only surface level and they are quite different. The Japanese movie is kind of a cult classic but I think it's terrible. Very cheesy, horrible acting.
 
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"Notorious"-Alfred Hitchcock-1946

Hitchcock was signed to David O.Selznick's Vanguard company. Selznick needed money to complete "Duel in the Sun" so he sold his package Hitchcock directing, Ben Hecht writing, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman starring to RKO for $850,000 and half of the profits. Sadly, the name Ben Hecht has been largely forgotten. He started out as a newspaperman in Chicago. He wrote screenplays and scripts with his longtime partner Charles McArthur. One of their most famous collaborations was "Front Page." Hecht won the first Oscar for "Underworld" in 1927. Almost 40 years later he scripted "Notorious." Just looking at the 3 years before and the three years after"Notorious" he worked on the following films: Journey into Fear, Lifeboat, Spellbound, The Front Page (TV), Gilda, Notorious, Duel in the Sun, Kiss of Death, Ride the Pink Horse, Miracle of the Bells,Rope, Portrait of Jenny, Whirlpool, and The Inspector General. Hecht was known for his caustic wit: :The movies are one of the bad habits that corrupted our century." Or "Would that our writing had been as good as our lunches."

Hitchcock had a massive crush on Bergman. She got along very well with men, many including Cary Grant were life long friends. Of course she wasn't always virtuous. She deserted her first husband and daughter to live with famous director Roberto Rossellini. They had a child out of wedlock, and two more after she married him. They divorced in 1957. Jean Renoir wrote a play and a film for her. She was blacklisted during her years with Rossellini, but she came back with an Oscar for "Anastasia." She won a Tony for "Joan of Lorraine", several Oscars, and in her final role as Golda Meir an Emmy. She died before the ceremony. This is considered one of her best performances.

The story begins with her father being convicted of treason as a Nazi agent. We see her first hosting a drunken party after. There is a man sitting in the foreground. We only see the back of his head, It turns out to be Devlin (Cary Grant). Devlin wants her to infiltrate a Nazi cell in Buenos Aires headed by Alexander Sebastian. He had a major crush on Alicia Huberman (Bergman). She despised her father's politics, Devlin had recordings that showed this. He convinces her to come to Brazil. They have fallen in love, but when she agrees to seduce Sebastian (Claude Rains), Devlin views her with contempt. She ends up marrying Sebastian, and he figures out that she is an American agent. Sebastian goes to his mother and confesses his stupidity.
She (Leopoldine Kanstantine) replies with my favorite line in the movie: "We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity." Classic Hechtian dialogue which confirms Sebastian's domination by his mother. They plan to poison her slowly, Devlin discovers the scheme and rescues Alicia. This condemns Sebastian. The film ends with Sebastian walking up the steps to what will be his certain death.

This makes Ebert's "The Great Films". Go to ebert.com and read the review; he does a much better job than I could explaining and describing the famous kissing sequence. This film is character driven, none of the principals is really heroic, there is no real on screen violence, Hitchcock constructs suspense with his camera work. There are famous examples for instance the steps leading to the mansion's front door lengthen when the ill Alicia is helped to the car to escape to the hospital. Another is the discovery of the special bottle in Sebastian's wine cellar. Unfortunately, for many modern viewers this type of construction is too slow moving.
To an extent we are all products of our viewing histories, still for me this is a very satisfying viewing experience. Highly recommended for patient viewers, Hitch is a master craftsman, and he has two of the greatest film actors of all time and an all time great screenwriter as his collaborators in this film. You be the judge.
 
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"Hud"-Martin Ritt-1963

Martin Ritt is an excellent director (Edge of the City, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, The Long Hot Summer, Norma Rae, Sounder, The Great White Hope, and The Molly Mcguires) who never won an Oscar.
He came up through the Broadway stage and TV. When he was blacklisted from TV; he went back to the stage.
The film is based on a Larry McMurtry story "No Horseman Pass By." The script was written by Harriet Frank Jr. and her husband Irving Raveitch. They often worked with Ritt. Frank died this January; she was well into her 90's. The film won 3 Oscars (nominated for 7): leading actress (Patricia Neal), supporting actor (Melvyn Douglas) and, Best Cinematography (James Wong Howe). Howe is one of the all time greats in his profession.

Paul Newman plays Hud Bonner an uncaring, womanizing, loner. He would be the prodigal son, but he came back from the war. His father, Homer Bonner (Douglas) is a man of principle who still manages his ranch from the saddle despite his advanced years. He lives with Hud and his grandson Lonnie (Brandon De Wilde). De Wilde was an important child actor (Member of the Wedding and Shane). He never made as an adult actor; he did mainly TV as an adult. They have a housekeeper, Alma Brown (Patricia Neal).

The cast spent weeks in Texas immersing themselves in their roles. Newman was a method actor; he lived his characters. Douglas was very sociable and went out drinking with the locals. With the exception of the scenes inside the Bonner house, the film was shot in Texas.

Early on a mysterious cattle death frames the story. Homer calls in the Federal Government; Hud would have sold off the herd. The herd is carrying hoof and mouth disease; they must be destroyed. Hud uses this to try and get control of the ranch. Lonnie has love and respect for Homer, but he is also drawn to Hud. I've given enough of the plot. Douglas is great; he never overplays. He radiates honor and honesty, but he has his weaknesses. Newman gives an intense raw performance as Hud; we can see his charm and his emptiness.
I think De Wilde is solid. Neal in limited screentime creates a character who is part of the glue holding the family together. This a memorable film. This is a must see. It is the rare combination of story, script,camera work, directing, and acting with no real weak links.
 
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"Notorious"-Alfred Hitchcock-1946

Hitchcock was signed to David O.Selznick's Vanguard company. Selznick needed money to complete "Duel in the Sun" so he sold his package Hitchcock directing, Ben Hecht writing, Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman starring to RKO for $850,000 and half of the profits. Sadly, the name Ben Hecht has been largely forgotten. He started out as a newspaperman in Chicago. He wrote screenplays and scripts with his longtime partner Charles McArthur. One of their most famous collaborations was "Front Page." Hecht won the first Oscar for "Underworld" in 1927. Almost 40 years later he scripted "Notorious." Just looking at the 3 years before and the three years after"Notorious" he worked on the following films: Journey into Fear, Lifeboat, Spellbound, The Front Page (TV), Gilda, Notorious, Duel in the Sun, Kiss of Death, Ride the Pink Horse, Miracle of the Bells,Rope, Portrait of Jenny, Whirlpool, and The Inspector General. Hecht was known for his caustic wit: :The movies are one of the bad habits that corrupted our century." Or "Would that our writing had been as good as our lunches."

Hitchcock had a massive crush on Bergman. She got along very well with men, many including Cary Grant were life long friends. Of course she wasn't always virtuous. She deserted her first husband and daughter to live with famous director Roberto Rossellini. They had a child out of wedlock, and two more after she married him. They divorced in 1957. Jean Renoir wrote a play and a film for her. She was blacklisted during her years with Rossellini, but she came back with an Oscar for "Anastasia." She won a Tony for "Joan of Lorraine", several Oscars, and in her final role as Golda Meir an Emmy. She died before the ceremony. This is considered one of her best performances.

The story begins with her father being convicted of treason as a Nazi agent. We see her first hosting a drunken party after. There is a man sitting in the foreground. We only see the back of his head, It turns out to be Devlin (Cary Grant). Devlin wants her to infiltrate a Nazi cell in Buenos Aires headed by Alexander Sebastian. He had a major crush on Alicia Huberman (Bergman). She despised her father's politics, Devlin had recordings that showed this. He convinces her to come to Brazil. They have fallen in love, but when she agrees to seduce Sebastian (Claude Rains), Devlin views her with contempt. She ends up marrying Sebastian, and he figures out that she is an American agent. Sebastian goes to his mother and confesses his stupidity.
She (Leopoldine Kanstantine) replies with my favorite line in the movie: "We are protected by the enormity of your stupidity." Classic Hechtian dialogue which confirms Sebastian's domination by his mother. They plan to poison her slowly, Devlin discovers the scheme and rescues Alicia. This condemns Sebastian. The film ends with Sebastian walking up the steps to what will be his certain death.

This makes Ebert's "The Great Films". Go to ebert.com and read the review; he does a much better job than I could explaining and describing the famous kissing sequence. This film is character driven, none of the principals is really heroic, there is no real on screen violence, Hitchcock constructs suspense with his camera work. There are famous examples for instance the steps leading to the mansion's front door lengthen when the ill Alicia is helped to the car to escape to the hospital. Another is the discovery of the special bottle in Sebastian's wine cellar. Unfortunately, for many modern viewers this type of construction is too slow moving.
To an extent we are all products of our viewing histories, still for me this is a very satisfying viewing experience. Highly recommended for patient viewers, Hitch is a master craftsman, and he has two of the greatest film actors of all time and an all time great screenwriter as his collaborators in this film. You be the judge.
I haven't seen "Notorious" in a number of years, but I am pretty much in agreement here, it is an excellent film. It doesn't make my top 5 favorite Hitchcock movies (Rear Window, North By Northwest, Foreign Correspondent, Vertigo, and Psycho), but it does probably get into my top 10, which just goes to show that Alfred Hitchcock made a bunch of terrific films.

I'm probably a bit unusual, but Ben Hecht has not been forgotten by me. But then again, a lot of my non sports television viewing often finds me checking out what is showing on Turner Classic Movies. Hecht has to be around the top of the heap in any discussion of prolific screenwriters from the Hollywood studio era.

Another plus in this film is having Claude Rains as the chief bad guy. Rains is one of my favorite character actors, and this film has a fine role for him. He may be the baddie in this film, but you have to give him some sympathy at the end of the film as he walks back up the steps to face his fate.
 
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"A Few Good Men"-Rob Reiner-1992

Reiner had a solid career as an actor most memorably with "All in the Family." He had a 10 year run as a director from 1984 with "This Is Spinal Tap" , "Stand By Me," "The Princess Bride," "When Harry Met Sally," "A Few Good Men," and "The American President" included in his resume. He is better known for comedy, but this military courtroom drama is still fresh today. This film marked the beginning of Aaron Sorkin's career in movies and TV. He adapted the film from his play. The play ran for over 400 performances on Broadway. It is based on a real case of a Code Red at Guantanamo. His sister was in the Jag Corps, and she told him the story. The leading enforcer, Lance Corporal David Cox, was given a Dishonorable Discharge. In 1994 his bullet ridden body was found. The case was never solved.

Not surprisingly, the Navy gave no help in making this picture. It wasn't filmed on military bases; the drill team is from Texas A and M; the courtroom is a vacant federal courtroom. Spielberg reportedly suggested the most famous line: "You Can't Handle the Truth." The film was a huge financial success and was nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. That was the only Oscar nomination the picture received.

The courtroom sequence with the great interplay between Lt. Kaffee (Tom Cruise) and Colonel Nathan T. Jessup (Jack Nicholson) is great drama, but I suggest that it is the attention to detail in the buildup that makes the final scenes so compelling. The news stand owner, Luther, and Kaffee have an ongoing quip fest: "it ain't over till the fat lady sings." "You can say that again, Luther." It ain't over till the fat lady sings." This gives us insight into one aspect of Kaffee's character. The initial plea bargain conference at the soft ball field gives us another. When Kaffee retrieves his bat and views the clothes in his closet is another. Kaffe's conversations with Captain Ross (Kevin Bacon) the prosecutor provide an insight into both Kaffe's techniques and Ross's character. This attention to detail builds so that the ending is credible.

Think about Jessup's executive officer, Lt Colonel Markinson's role. He is a man of honor; he believes that he is a failure. He finds that he is responsible for the death of a soldier under his command. He commits suicide in full dress uniform. That's almost Japanese. Think about the two Marines on trial, PFC Downey and Lance Corporal Dawson. They believe in a code. Dawson despises Kaffee because he has no code. He cherishes his honor. A little aside Wolfgang Bodison who plays Dawson was a location scout. Reiner cast him because he looked the part. Jessup and Lt. Kendrick (Keifer Sutherland) turn out to be lacking in honor. Dawson deservedly salutes Kaffee at the end.

My summary doesn't give you the depth in this film. The obvious conclusion is to re-watch the film. I expect that almost all of you have seen this at least once, but I know that I found new pleasures this time. Fortunately, this is available for free if you have Comcast. i,2,3 has it, but I couldn't get any sound; you may do better.
 
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"Whale Rider"Niki Caro-2002
"Saint Ralph:-Michael McGowan-2004

These two young adult films are worthy of your attention. "Whale Rider" really immersed me in a culture which I knew next to nothing about. This film is based in the Maori culture in New Zealand. Just about the sum of my knowledge was the the NZ national rugby team use Maori war chants to disconcert their opponents. This is Niki Caro's first widely distributed film. She is from NZ, but she isn't Maori. There was some agitation about her directing this film based on a book by a Maori writer, Viti Ihimaera. Caro lived among the Wharanga so she could understand the culture. She learned basic Maori. The novel is now part of the NZ curriculum. In the film a good portion of the dialogue is in Maori it isn't translated.

There are three key roles in the film: Pikea (Keisha Castle-Hughes) a 12 year old Maori girl who lost her twin brother and mother at birth. She lives with her grandfather Koro (Rawiri Paratene) and grandmother Nana Flowers (Vicki Haughton). Pikea's dead twin was supposed to be the heir in a long line of Maori chiefs. Since Pikea is a girl she can't qualify. She was named for the chief who rode a whale to New Zealand and founded their community. I have a temptation to try an extract social messages from the story. Certainly the film does present an indigineous culture struggling to survive, and a young girl trying to make herself a leader in a male dominated traditional society. Upon reflection, I think I am better served in trying to understand the individuals involved in a coming of age story. I am reluctant to disclose more of the plot; you really need to listen and observe with as few preconceptions as possible.

The acting is excellent, and it is beautifully photographed. It won awards in multiple film festivals around the globe; it made quite a lot of money, and Keisha Castle-Hughes was nominated for the Oscar at age 12. The scenes involving whales are pretty amazing. I had heard about this film; this was my initial viewing. Very highly recommended.
to be continued
 
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"Saint Ralph" is another coming of age story. This story isset in Hamilton, Ontario in 1953-1954. Ralph Walker is in his first year at a Catholic high school. Ralph has some major problems; his father died in WWII; his mother is hospitalized, and he is pretending to live with his grandparents who are dead. He is the butt of some nasty jokes. The conservative Father Fitzpatrick (Gordon Pinset) has him under observation. Since he is the head of the school; he holds Ralph's fate in his hands. He sentences Ralph to run as a member of the cross country team. Ralph's mother takes a turn for the worst; she falls into a coma. Ralph is determined to bring her back.
He hopes for a miracle; he comes to believe that if he wins the Boston Marathon; this miracle will bring his mother back from the coma. Ralph has his doubts, but he pushes them aside and works with ever increasing devotion to make the miracle possible. Father Hibbert (Campbell Scott) the cross country coach and once Canada's best marathon runner becomes his coach.

Ralph's efforts draw both Ire and disdain from Father Fitzpatrick, but he persists. He has two friends who help him. A male classmate has been forging notes so the school will believe that Ralph is living with them. A young girl hoping to become a nun helps Ralph religiously, and a nurse, Alice (Jennifer Tilly), help shim train. Still difficulties mount as Father Fitzgerald discovers that Ralph is living alone.

The director is a marathon runner so the training scenes are carefully constructed. The film does a great job bringing to life Hamilton in the mid fifties. These two films are both feel good films, something which is important in our current situation. Both are available for free streaming.

"Whale Rider" is the better of the two, but both are well worth viewing.
 
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Good call with Whale Rider. I remember catching that a Trinity. Excellent flick.
 
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"Walk the Line"-James Mangold-2005

I'm not sure why this film didn't do better at the Academy Awards. Let me start with what it did superbly well.
T-Bone Burnett was responsible for the music. He took two principal actors who were not trained musicians and taught them to play instruments (guitar and auto harp) and taught them how to sing. They learned not only how to sing and play, but how to sing and play as Johnny Cash and June Carter. Jocquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon give us what almost defies the term performance; is it possible that they were possessed by spirits?

The opening of the film depicts the few minutes just before Cash appears on stage before his live concert at
Folsom prison. Then it swiftly cuts away to Arkansas in 1944. Cash is a ten year old boy listening to country music on the radio in bed with his brother Jack. We see the affection between the two; Jack is planning to be a preacher, and J.R. hopes to do something in music. Jack's life ends tragically when he cuts himself with an electric saw. We think back to the first scene where Johnny Cash is playing with an electric saw blade before the concert.

James Mangold is a quality director and screenwriter. His credits include: Cop Land, Kate and Leopold, 3:10 to Yuma, Wolverine, and Logan. When I finished viewing this film; I felt I knew Cash and Carter. Some films draw you in emotionally; other films give you the sense of observing reality. I had the second type of experience with this film. I don't know if any of you have watched the video of Rosanne Cash singing "Tennessee Flat Box." There are cuts of many flat box players in sepia toned old films intercut with Rosanne in the present singing the song. We are in a sense observing her memories. This film cut too close to the bone for many family members including Rosanne.

This film is available for free streaming on 1,2,3. I must advise you that this isn't a feel good film. Cash wasn't able to free himself from pills; he did manage everything much better during the 35 years he and June were married. They both died shortly before the film came out. We get only the briefest glimpse of their life together as a married couple. Let me end on a positive note; the concert scenes are superbly filmed. You get a sense of the interplay between the performers and the audience. Highly recommended.
 
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"Walk the Line"-James Mangold-2005

I'm not sure why this film didn't do better at the Academy Awards. Let me start with what it did superbly well.
T-Bone Burnett was responsible for the music. He took two principal actors who were not trained musicians and taught them to play instruments (guitar and auto harp) and taught them how to sing. They learned not only how to sing and play, but how to sing and play as Johnny Cash and June Carter. Jocquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon give us what almost defies the term performance; is it possible that they were possessed by spirits?

The opening of the film depicts the few minutes just before Cash appears on stage before his live concert at
Folsom prison. Then it swiftly cuts away to Arkansas in 1944. Cash is a ten year old boy listening to country music on the radio in bed with his brother Jack. We see the affection between the two; Jack is planning to be a preacher, and J.R. hopes to do something in music. Jack's life ends tragically when he cuts himself with an electric saw. We think back to the first scene where Johnny Cash is playing with an electric saw blade before the concert.

James Mangold is a quality director and screenwriter. His credits include: Cop Land, Kate and Leopold, 3:10 to Yuma, Wolverine, and Logan. When I finished viewing this film; I felt I knew Cash and Carter. Some films draw you in emotionally; other films give you the sense of observing reality. I had the second type of experience with this film. I don't know if any of you have watched the video of Rosanne Cash singing "Tennessee Flat Box." There are cuts of many flat box players in sepia toned old films intercut with Rosanne in the present singing the song. We are in a sense observing her memories. This film cut too close to the bone for many family members including Rosanne.

This film is available for free streaming on 1,2,3. I must advise you that this isn't a feel good film. Cash wasn't able to free himself from pills; he did manage everything much better during the 35 years he and June were married. They both died shortly before the film came out. We get only the briefest glimpse of their life together as a married couple. Let me end on a positive note; the concert scenes are superbly filmed. You get a sense of the interplay between the performers and the audience. Highly recommended.
My wife turned me into a huge Johnny Cash fan, maybe 25 years or so ago. When this film was initially released, it was on our must see list. It did not disappoint at all. Reese Witherspoon won the Best Actress Oscar for playing June Carter in this film. I thought she richly deserved it.
 
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"Crazy Heart"-Scott Cooper-2008

I've seen this story before is often the first sentence in a review. I've read that there are only six basic stories; I'm not sure if it is true, but I read it somewhere. "Crazy Heart" is one of those films; you've heard about; Jeff Bridges did win the Oscar for his portrayal of Bad Blake. Blake is 57 years old and at the end of a long career. His agent can only book him in terrible venues. As the film opens he arrives at a bowling alley which will be that night's venue. Blake plays with pickup bands, always lit, sometimes drunk. Next comes a chance at redemption, if he can write some new songs, the very popular Tommy Sweet, Colin Farrell, will offer him opportunities as an opening act. Blake resents this; he gave Sweet his start, but he wants the better money and visibility. He doesn't want it to be over.

At one of his stops he consents to be interviewed. The interviewer is the niece of a talented piano player who will be part of his accompaniment that night. Jean Craddock (Maggie Gyllenhaal) is a single mother who is a music writer for the local paper. Blake is good with her son, and a relationship develops, but when Blake does'n watch her son while getting a drink at a bar; every thing falls apart. Blake seeks help from his friend Wayne (Robert Duvall) who runs a bar. Wayne gets him help, but even his earnest plea to Jean doesn't move her. Blake previously confessed to Jean about his family that :"I wasn't there even when I was there."

There is a coda which takes place 16 months after the main story. Blake is back touring with Sweet. Sweet performs a song that Blake wrote based upon his relationship with Jean. It had become a major hit. Blake is sober and healthy, and Jean approaches him after a concert. She is engaged and Blake gives her a large check for Buddy her son. This of course brings to mind the great Stones' song "You can't always get what you need, but if you try real hard; you just might get what you need."

T-Bone Burnett was involved with the music and wrote a song for the film. Jeff Bridges' performance was universally praised. Most liked the music. This is available for free streaming on YouTube. If you like this genre; it is enjoyable. Next up "Once."
 
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"Once"--John Canney-2007

This is another Indie winner. The cost was 150,000 Euros; it mad just under $21 million. Canney wrote the script; his first draft was only 60 pages. It was filmed with natural light in the streets of Dublin. The interiors were homes of cast and crew with the exception of the music store and the recording studio which were actually a music store and a recording studio. You may remember Glenn Hansard who plays The Boy; he was in "The Commitments." Canney played in his band; they had been friends for years. Canney wanted him to write the music for his film; he ended up playing the lead. Hansard recruited Marketa Irglova to play the girl. They had been friends for years.

The story is simple a Dublin busker (street performer) meets a young girl from the Czech Republic who sells flowers and cleans houses to make money to support her mother and her daughter. The Boy works in his father's shop repairing "hoovers." Together they make music, literally, and figuratively. They gather together a motley group of performers, hire a recording studio, and in an all night recording session they make a demo.
The Boy is going to take the demo to London. He hopes to sell his music and regain his girlfriend. He and The Girl have become attached in the short period (2 to 3days) covered in the film. Her estranged husband arrives in Dublin; she has confessed in Czech (untranslated) that she loves The Boy. The parting is wistful. The Boy gives her an upright piano before he leaves.

As mentioned above the principals were friends rather than romantically attached; that and the fact that they are not professional actors created some apprehension. They are believable. The music is excellent; one of the songs won an Oscar. Bob Dylan was so impressed that he recruited them to open for him in a world tour. The film made a number of critics top ten lists. Based on winning the audience award at Sundance; it was picked up for distribution by Fox Searchlight. Guess what; it was re-worked for a Broadway musical which won 8 Tonys.

I had fond memories of this film, but watching it this time; I felt a little ambivalent. Then suddenly, I was back inside the film emotionally. I survived the letdown when they don't get together at the end. It is hard to explain why it works, but easy to experience it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a free streaming source. Very highly recommended.
 
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"Sweet Smell of Success"-Alexander McKendrick-1957

Burt Lancaster had a production company; this film was a financial disaster. Today it is highly regarded. McKendrick had some real success in Britain including "Whiskey Galore." James Wong Howe is regarded as one of the greatest cinematographers of all time; Elmer Bernstein is one of the best screen composers. The performances of both Lancaster and Tony Curtis are lauded. The script by Earnest Lehman (from his novella) and Clifford Odets is known for its wit. So what went wrong? Watching the film today, one is likely to answer nothing really. However, in its day the tone of the film was unappealing. The two principal characters, J.J. Hunsinger (Lancaster) and Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) are not hero material. They aren't conventional villains either. They are swamp creatures. If the audience has any feelings for them it is likely to be disgust.

J.J. Hunsinger is modeled on Walter Winchell. He was a very influential columnist from the 30's through the 50's. Falco is a publicist; he got paid by clients for getting their names in influential columns. There is clearly a master/dog relationship between Hunsinger and Falco. The plot involves the romantic relationship between Steve Dallas (Martin Millner) an up and coming jazz guitarist and Susan Hunsinger (Susan Harrison) J,J,'s very attractive 19 year old sister. Hunsinger didn't want his sister to have any relationship with a man particularly one who stood up to him. Falco was tasked with breaking up the relationship.

What thisfilm does brilliantly is to create the world of the mid fifties NYC. There are the legendary restaurants/bars, the clubs, the sleeze of the column/publicity business, the corruption reaching everywhere, and the power that those at the top used unchecked by morality. One can'thelp but be reminded of the Quote: "All power tends to corrupt..." Falco desperately wants what Hunsinger has, and he is willing to do whatever it takes to get there.

This is superb nastiness. This is available for free if you have Pime. This film is compelling viewing.
 
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"Sleepless in Seattle"-Nora Ephron-1993

There could hardly be a greater contrast between two films than between this and "Sweet Smell of Success." This is one of the top RomComs of all time. It was all filmed in and around Seattle except for establishing shots of NYC. That includes the scenes on the observation deck of the Empire State Building. The budget was 21 Million $. The world wide gross was 277.9 million $.

The use of music to set mood is genius. This begins with Jimmy Durante singing "As Time Goes By" during the opening credits. This is based on a Jeff Archer story; Ephron and Archer wrote the screenplay. A Seattle Architect, Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks) lost his beloved wife several years back. His son Jonah (Ross Malinger) calls into a National Call in Show with a Christmas wish for his father. The wish is that he find a woman to love and marry. The call creates a sensation, particularly when Sam comes on the air and speaks about the woman he loves and lost. The host names Sam "Sleepless in Seattle." Thousands of letters pour in, Jonah tries to interest his father in some of the letters.

One of the avid listeners to the original program was Annie Reed (Meg Ryan) a writer for a Baltimore Newspaper. She is engaged to Walter, a man with whom she shares values, interests, and perspective. After a ritual viewing of An Affair to Remember" starring Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr with her friend Beckie (Rosie O'Donnel)and her editor at the paper;Annie writes a letter to Sleepless. The letter details a Valentine's Day meeting at the observation tower of the Empire State Building. Jonah believes this Annie from Baltimore who loves baseball and Brooks Robinson would be the perfect match for his father.

Just for remembrance a couple of scenes stand out: Victor Garber and Hanks in a fake tearful remembrance
of the Dirty Dozen after Ria Wilson breaks down talking about "An Affair to Remember." Then when Jonah decides he will go to NYC to make the Valentine Day's date; his girlfriend Jessica (Gabby Hoffman) develops a plan to enable Jonah to fly unaccompanied to NYC. This includes a special note for the stewardesses asking them not to mention Jonah's height. He is nine passing for 12. Jessica assures him that since it is on the computer; they will believe it. Finally in NYC Walter and Annie are shopping for china and they both utter 10 for the number of place settings simultaneously. 8 is too few and 12 is too many again delivered in chorus.

Hanks and Ryan have almost no screen time together; yet, the audience agrees with Jonah; they will be perfect with each other. Remember Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men: "You want me on that wall; you need me on that wall", that character misjudged his audience. Ephron doesn't misjudge hers. We want Sam and Annie on the Empire State Building; we need them on the Empire State Building. The film ends with another song by Jimmy Durante, Make Someone Happy." Just a parting comment this film was a worldwide success, over half the box office came from outside the US. If you have Comcast, you can watch it free because Showtime has a special free peak. This includes all their films. I will be making use of this freebie.
Next up "American Graffiti."
 

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