Films Worth Viewing Year 3

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"The Emigrants" and "The New Land"- Jan Troell- 1971 1972

When these films were released almost 50 years ago, they were widely celebrated. Today they have almost vanished from the collective consciousness of film geeks. I often suggest you visit Ebert.com, even Roger only reviewed the first of these two films (4 ****). Naturally, they aren't available to stream for free, and I don't suggest you pay to stream them because they are cut badly, and there are no special features. My suggestion is that you opt to spend $20 on the Criterion Collection from Amazon. This includes a 3rd disc with over 2 hours of features. The two films, best thought of as one long film, run 6 and 1/2 hours. I have probably turned off all of you. However, I consider this to be must viewing. No other films to my knowledge deal so profoundly with any American immigrants. So what, you may ask, you are unreasonably interested in the American Immigrant stories. These pictures are meticulously filmed, but with great beauty. Two of the greatest actors in the history of cinema, Liv Uhlmann and Max von Sydow star with unbelievable performances. Liv Uhlmann considers this film the highpoint of her career. I sense that I am failing to connect with the readers.

These films are based on a four novel set by Villham Moberg which are considered Swedish classics. Troell and his producer, Bengst Forsland, wrote the screen play, Troell directed, was the main camera operator, and he edited the film. In the mid 19th century conditions in Western Europe were very difficult for peasant farmers. In Ireland this is the time of the Great Potato Famine. In Sweden bad weather, repressive religious and social moraes, and poor farming land, helped to fuel a mass emigration to America. These emigrants believed that they could find freedom in the United States. The Irish emigrants spoke English, but they were Roman Catholic.
The swedes spoke no English, but they were Protestant.

Karl Oskar (von Sydow) takes over his father's farm after his father cripples himself moving rocks. He tells Karl Oscar that he needs a woman. That woman is Kristin (Uhlmann); we first see her swinging; she is full of joy. She ends her life years later in America. She dies from the effects of a miscarriage; Karl Oskar is at the bedside. He offers her the first apple from the tree she planted. They are best friends. Troell majestically weaves the story of these two ordinary, but extraordinary people into the warp of history.

Troell doesn't pretty up their lives. Six years of painful struggle to farm a pile of rocks with the last two made even more difficult by the weather makes the emigration to America a necessity in the mind of Karl Oscar. Kristin is less willing to leave her home and family. They join a relative who is leading an illegal congregation
on a voyage to the United States. Their knowledge about the States is limited and often overly rose colored.
The voyage is truly horrendous. This is the only section of the film which is shot on a stage set. The quarters are more than close, food and water are at a premium. There are lice and people die during the passage. Their journey doesn't end with their arrival in New York; they have more than a thousand miles to travel to Minnesota Territory. The first film ends with Karl Oskar finding the best farm land in the United States.

Karl Oskar has a younger brother, Robert (Eddie Axberg) who had left the family farm to work as a laborer for a cruel master. Their contracts were for a year and enforceable by law. His master beats him regularly, and one blow to the head leaves him with a ringing ear. Robert doesn't want to be a farmer in Minnesota; he wants to join the California gold rush with his slightly slow friend. They met as laborers on the farm. In telling this story of the journey to the gold fields Troell uses no dialogue. What everyone who has seen this film remembers is the surrealistic journey in the desert. This effect was achieved by by hand cutting and and splicing two series of shots a frame at a time. Robert's friend dies, and he is tricked out of his gold and given counterfeit greenbacks in exchange. Robert gives this money to Karl Oskar and Kristin; when Karl Oskar finds out that it is counterfeit; he smacks Robert in his bad ear.

In Minnesota Karl Oscar has become a U.S. citizen. When the Civil War breaks out, he tries to enlist. He is rejected because of a bad foot. Kristin is pleased. Throughout their time in their new home; they are visited by the Sioux. The film does deal with how the Sioux were cheated by the US government, but it is from the viewpoint of the immigrant Swedish community. The Sioux revolt of 1862 is important to the immigrants. Most flee to their church, and the children are sent away. Karl Oscar remains to care for Kristin. She dies from the effects of her miscarriage. Karl Oskar lives on until 1890. None of his children, nor their descendants car write Swedish, so a final letter to his sister in Sweden is written by a friend. There is nothing of consequence for Karl Oskar after the death of his wife and best friend Kristin.

I want to mention two types of shots. Troell is fascinated by animals, particularly birds in their natural settings.
The flights of geese often serve as bridges in the narrative. There is one memorable scene where a mother is preparing a goose for cooking. This includes gutting the bird and removing the inards. This precedes the scenes where the Sioux in revolt kill the entire family, including gutting a pregnant woman. The other type of shots focus on hands doing tasks. We see the kneading of flour for bread, the making of coffins, and the carving of a baptismal bowl, among many many other tasks.

I wasn't really sure about writing this comment, but I decided that this film is important enough to merit a detailed comment. I think this two film set is groundbreaking. Again this is a must see.
 
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"Serenity"-Joss Whedon-2005

I just re-watched this film; I was surprised how enjoyable it was. I knew the basic plot, but I still became involved with the characters. We won't see a sequel. Whedon started out writing for TY; "Rosanne" was one of his early jobs. The movie "Buffy" was his best known early film effort, but he was involved with "Toy Story" as a writer.
He was able to find "Buffy" a spot as a TV series. That led to a successful spinoff, "Angel." For a moment in time, he was involved with 3 series at the same time. "Firefly" lasted only one shortened season. Whedon was able to have Universal greenlight a movie sequel. The film didn't do as well as expected at the box office. DVD sales were huge, so the legend remained intact. The series and film were career makers for Nathan Fillon ("Castle' and now "The Rookie"), Gia Torres ("Suits"), and Adam Baldwin ("Chuck").

Whedon went on to massive success with the Avengers movie series. I believe in his best writing, Joss Whedon is the champion of the underdog. Even in "Toy Story" Buzz Lightyear upsets the universe, not to mention that children grow up and toys are left behind. Slayers had been dying for centuries before Buffy came along. The "Angel" series ends with the gang facing a massive fight they cannot win.

The crew of Serenity are survivors from the war against the Alliance. The Alliance fears human nature; they want to change it. Somehow this single Firefly ship has survived. The crew led by Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillon) has survived by becoming criminals. They pick up a strange girl, River Tam (Summer Glau), her brother rescued her from a special Alliance program which trained agents. She has special powers which enable her to read minds and sense danger. Special programming has made her unstable. However, Mal wants her to help the crews' latest venture, robbing a large payroll. Things go well in the beginning, but River senses a Reaver raid on the planet. The Reavers are humans who have become total predators, seeking out and killing normal humans and eating them. The crew narrowly escapes capture by the Reavers.

The ship comes to a meet with he brothers who gave Serenity the bank heist job. Negotiations are going badly in the bar. River is off to a side when her special programming is activated by the code word Miranda, she is suddenly in full assassin mode. Total destruction is avoided when her brother, Simon, puts her asleep with another code word. River is valuable Alliance property; she has been tracked by the Operative (Chwetel Ejifor). He knows he is a remorseless killer, but he believes that his service to the Alliance is for the greater good of humankind.

With a relatively limited budget and no real directing experience, Weedon crafted a good looking film with real heart. We root for the Browncoats. The crew is a family; it has its problems, but they work together to achieve an operational success time after time. We suspect that one day that this Lost Cause will be truly lost, but we are happy to be along for the ride. Serenity is free on Peacock. Highly recommended; this is a fun ride.
 
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"La Femme Nikita"-Luc Besson-1990

This was Besson's first big film. It has one of the best openings I've ever seen in an action film. A group of drug addicts try to rob a pharmacy. One of the gang is the son of the pharmacy owner. When his father appears with a shotgun; things fall apart. One of the addicts is a teenage girl. She calls herself Nikita; she is in desperate need of a fix. Anne Parillaud gives a gripping portrayal.She hides on the floor when the police come. She is the only gang member who isn't killed. She picks up a gun off the floor; she kills the cop who gets close to her. Her reactions are uncontrolled. Besson took 100 takes of her opening scene; he used the second.

She is tried and convicted of murder and sentenced to 30 years. After the trial she is taken to a basement medical room. She thinks she is going to be killed by injection; she struggles in vain. When she wakes up she is in a bare room in a special training school. The government wants her to be an agent capable of using violence.
The alternative is to actually fill her false grave.

Her principal trainer is Bob (Tcheky Karya). They don't have a smooth start. Nikita tries to escape using Bob as a shield. When that fails, Bob shoots her in the leg. She remains pretty out of control. One of the best bits during her training is her first time on the gun range. She ignores her instructor; picks up a gun and fires 5 shots into the target. The instructor asks: "Have you ever shot a gun before?" She replies: "Never at paper."
Bob believes she has promise, but the director gives Bob only two weeks to get her act together.

Armande (Jean Moreau) teaches her how to be an attractive woman. "There are only two things which are infinite, femininity and the means to take advantage of it>" Nikita makes it through training. The film jumps ahead 3 years; Nikita is ready to graduate and leave the agency training center. Bob takes her out for dinner, Nikita doesn't realize it but the dinner date is also her final examination before becoming an agent.

Up to the time she leaves the training center; I can find no fault with the story, performances, or visuals. The second part crams too much story into too little time. Nikita now Marie to her lover who she meets the first time she goes food shopping has a fake job as a nurse. She never even goes to the hospital. After only two jobs she is given a major assignment. She has to liberate information about the buyers of secret information from the Russian (?) ambassador. She runs her own team. She has six months to do the job, quietly with no messy violence.

This film was re-made as "Point of No Return" with Bridget Fonda, not badly, but far short of the original in style, content, and acting. Two television series came out based of the film. The first "La Femme Nikita" came out in the '90's. The second "Nikita" began in 2010 and ran for I believe 5 seasons. Besson has the ability to craft action films with an emotional human core. In this case we see a drug addict teen, totally out of control, and violent mature. She becomes a surprisingly empathetic young woman. We have grown to care about her. Government sanctioned violence is still violence. This template has been used by others; Jason Bourne is perhaps the best of those portrayals. Ebert felt that "Nikita" was a rif on "Pygmalion." Unlike Pygmalion or Cinderella, there is no happily ever after. For fans Jan Reno appears as Victor a cleaner; this led to his being cast as Leon.

My highest recommendation. I've seen this film more than a half dozen times. It never gets old. I liked both TV shows and "Point of No Return." I've seen a few Parillaud films, but only "Innocent Blood" shows her acting chops. Still, it doesn't reach the level of "Nikita." She has an expressive face, and her ability to change moods in a flash is wonderful. Unfortunately, no free streaming options are actually available. Still, this is a highpoint of the genre.
 

CL82

UConn Basketball: A Caldron of Intensity
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My only complaint about Lucy is Johansson's portrayal of her disconnect with humanity. I understand the reasoning behind it but it comes across as a flat two dimensional portrayal. Same with her slack jaw staring into the distance to show that she is looking at data streams and enhanced reality. I would rather see her as intensely focused rather than vapid. Compare Bradley Cooper's performance in Limitless.

I've never seen La Femme Nikita but I have to get round to it. I enjoyed Point of No Return quite a bit.
 

nwhoopfan

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It wasn't quite yet another version of La Femme Nikita, but Besson visited familiar territory for 2019's "Anna."
 

nwhoopfan

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"Serenity"-Joss Whedon-2005

I just re-watched this film; I was surprised how enjoyable it was. I knew the basic plot, but I still became involved with the characters. We won't see a sequel. Whedon started out writing for TY; "Rosanne" was one of his early jobs. The movie "Buffy" was his best known early film effort, but he was involved with "Toy Story" as a writer.
He was able to find "Buffy" a spot as a TV series. That led to a successful spinoff, "Angel." For a moment in time, he was involved with 3 series at the same time. "Firefly" lasted only one shortened season. Whedon was able to have Universal greenlight a movie sequel. The film didn't do as well as expected at the box office. DVD sales were huge, so the legend remained intact. The series and film were career makers for Nathan Fillon ("Castle' and now "The Rookie"), Gia Torres ("Suits"), and Adam Baldwin ("Chuck").

Whedon went on to massive success with the Avengers movie series. I believe in his best writing, Joss Whedon is the champion of the underdog. Even in "Toy Story" Buzz Lightyear upsets the universe, not to mention that children grow up and toys are left behind. Slayers had been dying for centuries before Buffy came along. The "Angel" series ends with the gang facing a massive beat they cannot win.

The crew of Serenity are survivors from the war against the Alliance. The Alliance fears human nature; they want to change it. Somehow this single Firefly ship has survived. The crew led by Captain Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillon) has survived by becoming criminals. They pick up a strange girl, River Tam (Summer Glau), her brother rescued her from a special Alliance program which trained agents. She has special powers which enable her to read minds and sense danger. Special programming has made her unstable. However, Mal wants her to help the crews' latest venture, robbing a large payroll. Things go well in the beginning, but River senses a Reaver raid on the planet. The Reavers are humans who have become total predators, seeking out and killing normal humans and eating them. The crew narrowly escapes capture by the Reavers.

The ship comes to a meet with he brothers who gave Serenity the bank heist job. Negotiations are going badly in the bar. River is off to a side when her special programming is activated by the code word Miranda, she is suddenly in full assassin mode. Total destruction is avoided when her brother, Simon, puts her asleep with another code word. River is valuable Alliance property; she has been tracked by the Operative (Chwetel Ejifor). He knows he is a remorseless killer, but he believes that his service to the Alliance is for the greater good of humankind.

With a relatively limited budget and no real directing experience, Weedon crafted a good looking film with real heart. We root for the Browncoats. The crew is a family; it has its problems, but they work together to achieve an operational success time after time. We suspect that one day that this Lost Cause will be truly lost, but we are happy to be along for the ride. Serenity is free on Peacock. Highly recommended; this is a fun ride.

I love this movie. Have the DVD, have watched it a bunch of times. I've watched the tv series a couple times as well. The entire cast is great. Most are noted above but Alan Tudyk, Jewel Staite and Morena Baccarin are all worthy of being mentioned. I haven't seen much of Staite, but Tudyk has a ton of credits (both live action and as a voice actor) and Baccarin has been in Homeland and the Deadpool movies, among other things.


edit--I think this film was my first introduction to Chiwetel Ejiofor, he's fantastic.
 
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Inside selected Besson Films

Niikita, Leon, and Lucy in their original forms are all single first names. Each of the individuals is a loner. We first see Nikita as a member of a gang of addicts, but her solitary status is quickly established. Leon lives alone
with only a plant for company. Lucy seems to have connections, but the drug syndicate doesn't find them compelling when they make her a drug mule. Nikita actively resists becoming a part of the government training program for assassins. Leon is already living outside his native country, and his only human contact is the many who gives him hi jobs. Lucy is studying in Taiwan, and there her relationships are distant at best. She originally is not willing to deliver the briefcase. Only when she is handcuffed to the briefcase does she proceed.

We have in each case a loner with a violent or illegal job. Nikita is part of a "team", but with the exception of Bob, she doesn't have any real relationships. Perhaps, she has some connection with Armande, but that ends when she leaves the school. Leon does make a connection, somewhat reluctantly with the Ana Pacquin character. Of course hat deepens greatly. The young girl connects only with her young brother. Lucy's prescription for her roommate and the phone call to her mother cut off all her ties. Very early on she understands how the drug is changing her consciousness. She retains some connection to humanity; she attempts to stop distribution of the drug, and she makes plans to pass on her knowledge.

Besson looks at corruption in each of these films. In Nikita it is direct government illegality. In Leon the Oldman character is a corrupt government agent. In Lucy the corruption is implied; drug trafficking on a large scale is not possible without some government corruption. Government corruption is a huge factor in films as diverse as Serenity and Aloha. In each of these films we have isolation and distrust. In the conclusion of each of these films isolation is amplified. In Nikita she leaves her job and the man he loves; she will only survive by breaking with her corrupt job. Lucy abandons her humanity entirely; she is everywhere. In Leon, the hero dies having finally made a human contact, but Ana Pacquin goes on carrying with her only a plant.

One can hardly consider these as happy endings.. It seems unlikely that Nikita will be able to safely make deep human contacts. Lucy as an individual is gone. Ana seems unlikely to be able to make deep contacts considering her history. The big question is why we care about these characters? In the Millennium Trilogy,
the girl with the dragon tattoo acquires a similar rooting interest from observers. There is something here that connects with a broad swath of humanity. It probably relates to a sense of loss of community widely experienced among the population.

We want to connect and to feel part of a community. Who can we trust? Increasingly, popular culture is answering, if we are lucky we can find one or two people. Now we are facing a situation with the Covid vaccines where if we don't trust and take the shots; we won't be able to effectively deal with the pandemic.
Do we see ourselves in these characters?
 

HuskyHawk

Hoping to see something that looks like basketball
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Discovered a movie I can’t believe I missed. The Guard. Stars Brendan Gleason and Don Cheadle. It’s very offbeat with that exceptionally dry Irish humor. Set in Connemara and Galway, it may be the most quintessentially Irish movie I’ve seen. Tells the story of an Irish Guarda (cop) and a visiting FBI agent thrown into a very different world. Very enjoyable and funny. Definitely recommend it if you like that kind of thing.
 
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"Operation Finale"-Chris Weitz-2018

I had hoped for something better. I liked two of Weitz's earlier films:"About a Boy", and "A Better Life." The latter is well worth looking up. I like Damian Bechir a lot, and the story about an immigrant trying to make it in California is compelling. This film tells the story of the capture of Eichmann by the Mossad. I wasn't familiar with the details. There is another earlier film, "The House on Garabaldi Street" which I haven't seen which covers the same material. The period detail is excellent, and Ben Kingsley as Eichmann is excellent. I found the film a little flat, despite my interest in the material.

If you are interested in the basic story, then this is well worth a look. The DVD extras are very good. It is available on Prime.
 
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The Untouchables"-Brian de Palma-1987

This is one of De, Palma's most successful films. The idea of making a film based upon Eliot Ness had been kicking around Hollywood since the TV series of the'50's. The main series writer was Oscar Fraley. David Mamet wrote the movie script. Then the script bounced around until De Palma became attached. Paramount had the rights because they produced the TV series. Once De Palma came aboard; he made most of the key decisions.
One of the first big decisions was to hire Ennio Merricone to do the music. The budget, $25 million was moderate for such a big film. It was shot mainly in California.

The casting of the Untouchables team was unusual. De Palma wanted generally lesser known figures for the team. This was early in Costner's career, but DePalma wanted him because he could provide both a sense of innocence and and probity. The group worked well together on the screen. It is interesting the Sean Connery's performance as Billy Malone is the one we remember in most detail. Andy Garcia as George Stone and Charles Martin Smith as Oscar Wallace are also very solid. Smith played the Treasury accountant who has the idea of going after Capone for income tax evasion. The character was based on the real accountant Frank Wilson.

What DePalma does superbly in this film is to use establishing scenes. The film opens with action at a neighborhood bar. The owner refuses to take Capones product. The representative leaves behind a briefcase.
It is picked up by a young girl who had been picking up a can of beer for her father. The explosion which follows shows how the violence has become so pervasive that average people are in danger every day. The scene on the bridge where Ness meets Malone probes Ness's lack of understanding of how things work in law enforcement in Chicago. Malone is established as Ness's mentor. The first big raid using the force is a failure; officers warn the criminals. Malone organizes a raid using only Ness, Wallace, and newly recruited George Stone from the Police Academy. Malone picks Stone after testing his convictions. Malone picks the spot of the raid.

The role of Capone was a problem. Bob Hoskins had been originally cast, but DePalma was set on DeNiro. He cost more and he had limited time available, but De Palma got his way. De Niro's performance is one of his most striking. He was meticulous; he even found Capone's tailor. He shows hoe Capone had the charisma to draw in the press. The memorable scene where he bashes an underling at dinner with a baseball bat is shocking and memorable. He seems calm; then he becomes savage in seconds. This scene is based on a true incident.

When the Untouchables become more effective and cut into Capone's profits; there is a reaction. First Wallace is eliminated in an elevator; then Malone is killed at his apartment. In order to prosecute Capone for income tax evasion; proof is needed. Malone is his last words gives Ness to information to catch the bookkeeper. The scene takes place at the train station. In the original script it was supposed to happen on a train, but that would be too costly. De Palma used the scene of the baby carriage on steps in the station. Some of you may remember the Odessa steps sequence in "The Battleship Potemkin"; De Palma acknowledges he used this template to construct this scene. It involves a woman and a baby who are not part of war between Ness and Capone. Once again the general public is put at risk.

The Nitti character is far from the reality, and what happened to "Greasy Thumb" Jake Guzik from the original Untouchables? This is a fictional retelling of a moral story. The film ends with a reporter telling Ness that Prohibition will be repealed He asks what Ness will do. Ness replies; "I think I'll have a drink." Later Ness becomes a heavy drinker, and he dies broke and forgotten.

I couldn't find a free streaming option. The DVD extras are excellent. This is an excellent film, and it holds up tp repeat viewings. It is the type of film where film nerds will watch certain scenes over and over. Connery won his only Oscar for his role.
 
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"Goodfellas"-Martin Scorcese-1990

Obviously, it isn't beginning to look a lot like Christmas here. There are several reasons for that; I've already previewed many Christmas classics in previous years, and my searching for other quality Christmas films has been a failure. Surprisingly, this classic is available to stream for free; try Genvideos. I have thought that this film should have won a best picture Oscar. In addition to the quality cast; the film is based on the true story of fHenry Hill. Scorcese read the proofs to Mitch Pileggi's "Wiseguy" and decided that he wanted to make the film. Pileggi was eager to work with Scorcese. Two of Scorcese's movie family, Michael Balthus, cinematographer, and Thelma Schoonmaker, editor, were brought on board. Scorcese made little notes in the margin of the script of shots for the film. He also noted songs on the script Their respective first drafts were quite similar. t still took them 11 drafts to get a filmable product. Even then within the scenes, they often allowed the actors to improvise. Generally, this was done in rehearsals, but in the famous scene where Joe Pesci
is telling funny stories when he says to Ray Liotta: "How am I funny?", only Pesci and Liotta knew the dialogue.
The reactions of the others at the table is genuine. This bit is based on something that happened when he was a waiter at a mob hangout.

De Niro called the real Henry Hill to discover how his character, Jimmy Conway, did things like pour ketchup and light a cigarette. Scorcese kept Liotta away from Hill because he didn't want the young actor to try and mimic Hill. Liotta practiced his voiceovers in front of people. Voiceovers don't always work, but in this instance they are revealing of character. "As far back as I can remember; I always wanted to be a gangster." Scorcese chose Lorraine Bracco because although Italian, she grew up in a Jewish section of Brooklyn. Paul Sorvino had trouble
finding the menace in his character. He almost quit, but one day looking in the mirror he found the killer. Just one example is at the trial; his expression is more than menacing. Within the film, I didn't have the feeling I was observing actors. I felt that I was observing the real thing. The famous long tracking shot where Karen and Henry enter the Copa through the back entrance, walk through the kitchen, and emerge to have a special table for two set up for them Is another example which puts the viewer directly in the world.

The film covers Henry Hill's life from 1955 to 1980. It culminates in the trial. In the scenes where the plea bargain is hammered out, the ADA is the real life ADA who worked out the plea bargain. The name of the picture was changed because there was a TV show "Wiseguy." Surprisingly, the film wasn't a huge hit at the box office. The film's reputation has steadily grown through the years. In the 2004 special edition DVD the extras are excellent. I particularly like the sections with the editor, and the interviews with directors about how the film influenced them. Frank Darabont said he watched "Goodfellas" every night after he finished his "Shawahank Redemption" shoot. Scorcese himself has often remarked about how he was influenced by Elia Kazan.

I want to mention the opening of the film. Instead of starting with Henry Hill's first job parking cars; the film opens with a near corpse banging from inside the trunk. I think this is a master stroke. Real violence is introduced in the beginning. Even though the murders on camera are relatively few, violence is always a possibility in virtually every scene. Michael Balhaus said the the scene where Hill pistol whips the neighbor who molests Karen is the most violent he ever filmed. In the last third of the film where Henry has become involved in the drug trade and he is an addict; acute paranoia is added. We are almost inside the drug haze with Henry Hill.

You should view this (again?) sooner. There are several ways to view this. For this preview I had to watch critically, for most of you, just experiencing is probably a better bet. This is one of my all time favorites.
 
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"Goodfellas"-Martin Scorcese-1990

Obviously, it isn't beginning to look a lot like Christmas here. There are several reasons for that; I've already previewed many Christmas classics in previous years, and my searching for other quality Christmas films has been a failure. Surprisingly, this classic is available to stream for free; try Genvideos. I have thought that this film should have won a best picture Oscar. In addition to the quality cast; the film is based on the true story of fHenry Hill. Scorcese read the proofs to Mitch Pileggi's "Wiseguy" and decided that he wanted to make the film. Pileggi was eager to work with Scorcese. Two of Scorcese's movie family, Michael Balthus, cinematographer, and Thelma Schoonmaker, editor, were brought on board. Scorcese made little notes in the margin of the script of shots for the film. He also noted songs on the script Their respective first drafts were quite similar. t still took them 11 drafts to get a filmable product. Even then within the scenes, they often allowed the actors to improvise. Generally, this was done in rehearsals, but in the famous scene where Joe Pesci
is telling funny stories when he says to Ray Liotta: "How am I funny?", only Pesci and Liotta knew the dialogue.
The reactions of the others at the table is genuine. This bit is based on something that happened when he was a waiter at a mob hangout.

De Niro called the real Henry Hill to discover how his character, Jimmy Conway, did things like pour ketchup and light a cigarette. Scorcese kept Liotta away from Hill because he didn't want the young actor to try and mimic Hill. Liotta practiced his voiceovers in front of people. Voiceovers don't always work, but in this instance they are revealing of character. "As far back as I can remember; I always wanted to be a gangster." Scorcese chose Lorraine Bracco because although Italian, she grew up in a Jewish section of Brooklyn. Paul Sorvino had trouble
finding the menace in his character. He almost quit, but one day looking in the mirror he found the killer. Just one example is at the trial; his expression is more than menacing. Within the film, I didn't have the feeling I was observing actors. I felt that I was observing the real thing. The famous long tracking shot where Karen and Henry enter the Copa through the back entrance, walk through the kitchen, and emerge to have a special table for two set up for them Is another example which puts the viewer directly in the world.

The film covers Henry Hill's life from 1955 to 1980. It culminates in the trial. In the scenes where the plea bargain is hammered out, the ADA is the real life ADA who worked out the plea bargain. The name of the picture was changed because there was a TV show "Wiseguy." Surprisingly, the film wasn't a huge hit at the box office. The film's reputation has steadily grown through the years. In the 2004 special edition DVD the extras are excellent. I particularly like the sections with the editor, and the interviews with directors about how the film influenced them. Frank Darabont said he watched "Goodfellas" every night after he finished his "Shawahank Redemption" shoot. Scorcese himself has often remarked about how he was influenced by Elia Kazan.

I want to mention the opening of the film. Instead of starting with Henry Hill's first job parking cars; the film opens with a near corpse banging from inside the trunk. I think this is a master stroke. Real violence is introduced in the beginning. Even though the murders on camera are relatively few, violence is always a possibility in virtually every scene. Michael Balhaus said the the scene where Hill pistol whips the neighbor who molests Karen is the most violent he ever filmed. In the last third of the film where Henry has become involved in the drug trade and he is an addict; acute paranoia is added. We are almost inside the drug haze with Henry Hill.

You should view this (again?) sooner. There are several ways to view this. For this preview I had to watch critically, for most of you, just experiencing is probably a better bet. This is one of my all time favorites.
I whole heartily agree this is great film, probably should have been best picture. One thing that bears mentioning is the soundtrack of the film. It places the film in it's proper time period and sets the emotional tone for the film. All soundtracks try to do this. But this marriage is genius. The crazy mix tape that underscores the helicopter scene is one of the best ever. It assaults the viewer with unrelenting tension and paranoia. Almost the entire soundtrack is contemporary rock music of the time with a small dose of popular classics like "Frosty the Snowman" for spice. This is movie making at the highest possible level.
 
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"Wayne's World"-Penelope Spheris-1992

The director's name is probably not on the tip of your collective pieces of mouth meat, but she is remembered primarily for her music documentaries and videos. She did a 3 part series titled "The Decline of Western Civilization." What made her a figure of interest for the production team was "The Decline of Western Civilization II: The Metal Years." I am not intending to offer up in depth observations on the differences between Hard Rock and Heavy Metal; however, while Alice Cooper does appear in the film, the band most often mentioned is Led Zeppelin. The most memorable musical number is Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." If you decide to view this film, that decision should be made on hard evidence and not wild and wooly conjecture.

Wayne Campbell (Mike Meyers) lives in his parents' home. If he has a paying job; we never see it. His one achievement is being the host of a public access TV show, "Wayne's World" shown of channel 10 in Aurora, Illinois. The show site is Wayne's basement. It is co-hosted by his bud, Garth Algar, Dana Carvey, who owns
an AMC Pacer which serves as the group's basic transportation. Wayne wears his baseball cap proclaiming Wayne's World in almost every scene. His goal in life is to own a Fender Stratocaster. His aspiration is to move from local access cable to regular Tv, and if possible to find and court a "hot babe."

The origin of the movie is Mike Meyer's mind. He grew up outside of Toronto, but he developed the character and set him in suburban Chicago. He brought this idea to "Saturday Night Live." The sketches based on the situation were successful. Meyers developed a screenplay with Bonny and Tony Turner.
Paramount took the bait. The film was made in 34 days, but as Garth points out Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein was made in 32 days. The music was supervised by Peter Robinson, and with a budget of $20 Million; the film had a world wide gross of $183 million. The studio had a number of off beat hits aimed at the teen audience in the 80'sand 90's. They include: "Flashdance," "Footloose," "Airplane,", "Naked Gun,"
"Clueless," and "Ghost."

Laura Flynn Boyle plays Wayne's ex; Tia Carrere plays Cassandra ,lead singer in a metalband and a babalicious love interest; Rob Lowe plays Benjamin Alger, the evil mastermind who proposes to take "Wayne's World" big time. For those still interested, the film offers 3 endings and spawned a sequel. Unfortunately , you have to spend money to see it. Clips are available on YouTube including the famous "Bohemian Rhapsody" bit. This film is still funny and uplifting and well worth watching. Paramount recently issued a 20 film compilation of films at a low price. All the films mentioned in this article are there. The collection is one film on a disc, so you get lots of extras. This is worth viewing. We're not worthy, but the film certainly is.
 
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"Die Hard"-John McTiernan-1987

This was a huge summer blockbuster. It spawned 4 sequels all of which featured the same central character. The first3 sequels made lots of money and got good reviews. "Die Hard" is still massively popular; it has a viewer rating of 8.2 on IMDb which places it well within the top 250 films of all time. At the time Willis was primarily known for his work on "Moonlighting" the TV series. He was able to make the film because Sheppard was pregnant. John McTiernan is a relatively unknown director. Jan de Bont , the cinematographer, is well known. He went on to direct the classic action film "Speed." The film was an adaptation of a Roderick Thorpe novel. Willis was paid the huge amount of $5 million; that was approved by Rupert Murdoch himself.

Surprisingly, this film still works. The plot is contrived, but the pace and the interjections of humor keep everything moving. I watched the first three Die Hard films Christmas Day. The first is the best, but the third "Die Hard With a Vengeance" is quite good, but it goes on through one too many climaxes. Samuel Jackson adds real value to the film.

I just lost over half of my comment. I'm not inclined to attempt to re-create what I lost. I was searching for a free streaming alternative. I couldn't find one. This was a big moneymaker. Willis was paid $5million a huge sum which was approved by Rupert Murdoch himself. The under construction Fox tower stood in for the Nakatomi tower. This allowed the crew to use lots of real explosions. Willis did almost all of his stunts. The fact that the building was under construction allowed a number of spectacular elevator stunts. Jan de Bont opened his action classic, "Speed" with an elevator scene.

John Mc Clean has come to LA from NYC (where he is a cop) to spend Christmas with his wife and kids. She took a big job with the Nakatomi Corporation. McClain is picked up by a limo. The tower has been emptied out except for security and party goers n the 30th floor. Wait there are uninvited guests led by Hans Gruber (Alan Richman) to rob $670 million in bearer bonds.

Sometimes, it is difficult to explain why a particular film works. This is one of those cases for me. The DVD extras are a major plus. However, the film itself is a genre classic.
 
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"Mash:-John Altman-1970 and "Goodbye, Farwell, Amen" Episode 251 of the TV show

A classic movie was turned into a classic TV show. In this very rare case the TV show was more honored and better remembered. We can start with the iconic opening. Helicopters are arriving at the 4077 MASH . We can hear music as the copters land. In the TV show we hear no dialogue; the movie provides with the triste words: "Suicide is Painless; it brings on many changes." I had forgotten the words, but I immediately remembered the melody. "Mash" is a hard film to grasp. What was Altman trying to do. His feature commentary helps, but it came 30 years after the film. "Mash" opened 50 years ago in January 1971. It won the prize in Cannes; it won Golden Globes, and it had five Oscar nominations; it won only for Best Adapted Screenplay (Ring Lardner Jr.)

The film was based on the novel by Johnny Foster, an Army Doctor, It was one of 3 war films Fox was making at the time "Tora, Tora, Tora" and "Patton"). "Mash" was filmed on the Fox back lot cheaply, and Altman hoped inconspicuously. The film Altman wanted to make was an anti Viet Nam comedy.
Across the US there were protests against the war; the studios hadn't come to grips with the war. Altman knew where he stood. The cast were unknowns; this was Altman's first big movie success. It does feature some of his trademarks including rapid fire dialogue which overlaps, a large cast, quick movement between scenes, and plot were is only minimal and can be better described as things happen.

Altman is far from my favorite director; yet Ebert (****) is my favorite critic. There is a lot to like in this film. The setting is evocative. Altman had an Army doctor on staff (Dr. Sachs) who saw that the operations were very realistic. The color tones for the blood were researched. The necessary chaos of the arriving wounded was skillfully handled. The sign with the home towns and their mileage from this Korean site is based on reality. The humor is sexual and bathroom based. Altman excuses this because the war was worse than the low road humor. Some of it if very funny as well as being shocking. I have cautioned against reviewing what you think the film should be rather than evaluating what you see. In Altman's comments he makes it clear that this is a Viet Nam film. I believe that the front line Mash experience is the heart of the film, still you have to appreciate the brilliant excess which produces the replication of Da Vinci's last supper in a story of a promiscuous dentist (3 intendeds left behind) who develops erectile disfunction. He believes that he is secretly gay, and he decides to commit suicide. This was the setting where the theme song is actually performed. Painless takes a black pill and lays down in a coffin. His body is covered with funeral offerings from his mates. Of course the black pill doesn't kill him. He is back the next morning repairing jaws after a good night's sleep.

Altman had a famous line about the film not being released, but escaping. When he came to edit the film; he had many unconnected scenes. They are tied together by PA announcements which were added during the editing process. Late in the process, studio bosses tried to meddle, but a private showing for Zanuck, and a preview smash allowed the film to be released as Altman had conceived it. It was a smash at the box office . Altman claimed that it saved the studio, but that is more than a minor bit of creative accounting.

To be continued
 
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"Mash:-John Altman-1970 and "Goodbye, Farwell, Amen" Episode 251 of the TV show

A classic movie was turned into a classic TV show. In this very rare case the TV show was more honored and better remembered. We can start with the iconic opening. Helicopters are arriving at the 4077 MASH . We can hear music as the copters land. In the TV show we hear no dialogue; the movie provides with the triste words: "Suicide is Painless; it brings on many changes." I had forgotten the words, but I immediately remembered the melody. "Mash" is a hard film to grasp. What was Altman trying to do. His feature commentary helps, but it came 30 years after the film. "Mash" opened 50 years ago in January 1971. It won the prize in Cannes; it won Golden Globes, and it had five Oscar nominations; it won only for Best Adapted Screenplay (Ring Lardner Jr.)

The film was based on the novel by Johnny Foster, an Army Doctor, It was one of 3 war films Fox was making at the time "Tora, Tora, Tora" and "Patton"). "Mash" was filmed on the Fox back lot cheaply, and Altman hoped inconspicuously. The film Altman wanted to make was an anti Viet Nam comedy.
Across the US there were protests against the war; the studios hadn't come to grips with the war. Altman knew where he stood. The cast were unknowns; this was Altman's first big movie success. It does feature some of his trademarks including rapid fire dialogue which overlaps, a large cast, quick movement between scenes, and plot were is only minimal and can be better described as things happen.

Altman is far from my favorite director; yet Ebert (****) is my favorite critic. There is a lot to like in this film. The setting is evocative. Altman had an Army doctor on staff (Dr. Sachs) who saw that the operations were very realistic. The color tones for the blood were researched. The necessary chaos of the arriving wounded was skillfully handled. The sign with the home towns and their mileage from this Korean site is based on reality. The humor is sexual and bathroom based. Altman excuses this because the war was worse than the low road humor. Some of it if very funny as well as being shocking. I have cautioned against reviewing what you think the film should be rather than evaluating what you see. In Altman's comments he makes it clear that this is a Viet Nam film. I believe that the front line Mash experience is the heart of the film, still you have to appreciate the brilliant excess which produces the replication of Da Vinci's last supper in a story of a promiscuous dentist (3 intendeds left behind) who develops erectile disfunction. He believes that he is secretly gay, and he decides to commit suicide. This was the setting where the theme song is actually performed. Painless takes a black pill and lays down in a coffin. His body is covered with funeral offerings from his mates. Of course the black pill doesn't kill him. He is back the next morning repairing jaws after a good night's sleep.

Altman had a famous line about the film not being released, but escaping. When he came to edit the film; he had many unconnected scenes. They are tied together by PA announcements which were added during the editing process. Late in the process, studio bosses tried to meddle, but a private showing for Zanuck, and a preview smash allowed the film to be released as Altman had conceived it. It was a smash at the box office . Altman claimed that it saved the studio, but that is more than a minor bit of creative accounting.

To be continued

"MASH" is another movie that my wife and I will watch whenever we come across it on television.It is a solidly entertaining film. My favorite scene is part of the above description of the the planned "attempted" suicide of the dentist Painless, culminating in the on screen performance of the song "Suicide is Painless". I find it to be a terrifically touching moment in this film.

By the way, Roger Ebert was also my favorite film critic.
 
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In the days before viral videos, certain movie scenes would gain the same kind of attention. In MASH, the operating room scene where the blood pulsed out of the patient and across the room on the heart beat caused a sensation. Everyone was talking about it. No one had seen anything like it before. Heck, no one had ever seen such a bloody mess as the operating room before. But the blood pulsing out of a body in a stream to the tempo of the heartbeat -- it was a wow moment in cinema.

Not the biggest fan of Ebert. Give me Rex Reed. Or Zymurg
 
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In the days before viral videos, certain movie scenes would gain the same kind of attention. In MASH, the operating room scene where the blood pulsed out of the patient and across the room on the heart beat caused a sensation. Everyone was talking about it. No one had seen anything like it before. Heck, no one had ever seen such a bloody mess as the operating room before. But the blood pulsing out of a body in a stream to the tempo of the heartbeat -- it was a wow moment in cinema.

Not the biggest fan of Ebert. Give me Rex Reed. Or Zymurg
Altman made the operating room seem very real. His techniques: multiple overlapping conservations, episodic construction, large casts where many members got their camera moment, and frequent cuts which helped the multiple storylines. The use of the loudspeaker as a tie in device is replicated in other films; in "Ready to Wear" character step in dog . His techniques were often imitated rarely successfully. The "West Wing" is a positive example, and Sorkin was heavily influenced by Altman.
 
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Continued: In Altman's commentary to Mash he starts as most do with quite a lot of inside information. This is why people like me watch the commentaries. The commentary was made 30 years after the release. He willingly acknowledges the films' low humor, but he maintains it is justified. Altman was trying to shock people and to attack the complacency of the film industry. He deflects the charges of racism and sexism.
He even goes on the attack against the TV program. Actually, even in its first season the TV show attempted to deal with racist behavior and attitudes. Hawkeye negotiates Ho Jon's admission to his alma mater, and he raises the money to send him with a lottery. (The announced costs were way out of line. My tuition for Vanderbilt was $750 a year in 1959-60. ) Even more telling is the "Moose" episode where the gang are confronted with a visiting non com who has a female personal servant he bought from her family for $500.
They "rescue" her, and finally end up sending her to be educated by nuns in Seoul. Altman resented the success of the TV show; he pretended he didn't know Alan Alda's name.

There was too much score settling. He trashed Eliot Gould and Donald Sutherland; they thought they were stars. He praised Sally Kellerman as a great actress. The success of the TV show gave him more clout in Hollywood which he never acknowledged. The final episode, "Goodbye, Farwell, Amen" was watched by 106 million viewers. This was the highest number of viewers for a single show ever. Only super bowls since 2010 top that. As far as scripted shows go it will never be beaten. There were only three networks then. Fox produced the show, but it was shown on CBS. TV shows didn't really have endings; they just stopped. There was one major previous exception, "The Fugitive." David Jansen was allowed to catch his man.

In the movie Trapper John and Hawkeye were equals. In the TV show "Hawkeye" was clearly the dominant figure. Television wouldn't allow the blood, the Hotlips shower scene, the profanity, and many other realistic touches. This elevated the comedy, and this was clearly the Korean War. The show continued years after the Viet Nam War ended. Films began to deal directly with Viet Nam in the 80's. "China Beach" was the TV show that dealt with the medical side of the war. The lead characters were women.

I'm not a big fan of TV comedy, but "Mash" was different. Alda is over the top,but sometimes as in "Doctor, Doctor" where he works a Groucho Marx sequence into an army film (propaganda) about a MASH unit, it really works. The finale works in the end of the war as a reason for the unit to disband, The episode was as long as five normal episodes. It begins with Hawkeye under psychiatric care after a breakdown. It ends with him flying away by copter,we see "Goodbye" written out in stones on the ground. The TV series was an outgrowth of the movie series. They were most often detective series laced with humor think :The Thin Man" and "Charlie Chan." The entertainment business has changed dramatically since then. "Mash" is a rare example of both the movie and the TV series being well worth watching.
 
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TV shows didn't really have endings; they just stopped. There was one major previous exception, "The Fugitive." David Jansen was allowed to catch his man.

There were a few television shows of that that era that had definite endings or concluding episodes, but as you say, there were not too many. A couple of comedies from that era that definitely came to a final conclusion that I remember were "The Mary Tyler Moore Show", and "Barney Miller".

There is also the "The Prisoner", starring Patrick McGoohan, but that show is definitely a different kettle of fish all together, not mention that it was a British television show.
 
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"Clueless"_- Amy Heckerling-1995

Heckerling is perhaps best known for "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" which began the careers of several major stars including Sean Penn, "Clueless" made money (12 million budget-56 million US gross) and was well reviewed. It spawned a brief lived TV show, 25 years later it is barely remembered.. I think this is a decent film, but it hasn't aged well. Heckerling wrote the script; it is loosely based on "Emma". I recently watched Greta Gerwig's" Little Women" which is another attempt to adapt a classic to the "modern" day. That film seemed to me to be well made, but I lacked an emotional connection. "Clueless" tried to create it's own little reality. It used a language peppered with new words, a new slang. The new slang spilled over into teenage parlance of the day. Of course that means it was hip for a few minutes of time. Some of the humor works today, some doesn't. Cher (Alicia Silverstone) was expected to become a star, but she didn't. That was her fault and not the film's. This is a clever film, that has it's good and bad points. Some of the role players particularly Wallace Shawn and Dan Hedeya are excellent. There are some memorable lines: "As If;" "You see how picky I am about my shoes, and they only go on my feet;" and "Why should anyone listen to you; you're a virgin who can't drive."

There are some solid laughs, so it is a marginal recommendation.
 
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It's a funny movie. An early Paul Rudd sighting as well. One of my favorite bits is, Cher comes to the Pismo Beach Disaster Relief Drive carrying a pair of skis. She looks at camera and says, "Some people lost everything, that includes sporting equipment."
 
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"The Killer"-John Woo-1989

This is a landmark film. It established Woo as the top director in Hong Kong, and it opened up many opportunities in Hollywood. Among Woo's Hollywood films are: "Payback", "Windtalkers",and "Mission Impossible 2." "Hardboiled" is another excellent film starring Chow Yun Fat. Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" made Chow Yun Fat a major international star. When :The Killer"was made he was a big star in China, but he was known as romantic leading man. He wanted to make this film because it would broaden his range. He forced his studio, Golden Princess, to help fund the film. Typically Hong Kong films had short shooting schedules, around 45 days. This film was scheduled for 90 days, but it ran over. The final shootout in the church took 36 days to film.

Woo is a film nerd. He is familiar with films from all over the world. His initial influence for this film was Jean Pierre Mellville"s "Le Samourai." When Woo discusses the film he identifies a host of other influences:Sergio Leone, Martin Scorcesse, Sam Peckinpah, and Jacques Truffaut. He conceives of his shooting scenes as ballets.
Of course he has his own signature touches the use of two guns and pigeons.

Woo writes most of his films. On this occasion he began shooting with only a treatment. He wrote the dialogue while shooting. Music is very important important. He listened to the score and then plotted the action sequences. He put earphones on his cameraman so that he could get the rhythm right.

The film opens in a church. Ah Jong (Chow Yun Fat) is sitting alone staring ata statue of the Virgin Mary. It looked tome as if the statue had a tear running down her cheek. Nobody else mentions this, so I'm probably wrong, but it seems like such a great foreshadowing that it should be true. A man sits down beside him. He is his mentor Fong Sei (Kuy Chou). He is a triad elder. He provides Ah Jong with weapons and the details of his jobs. He asks Ah Jong if he is a believer; he replies that he likes the church because it is quiet. This job is a hit on a man high up in the Triad.

This first major takes place in a club. The target is playing cards in a private back room. During the shootout, he shoots across the face of a singer, Jenny(Sally Yeh). She loses her sight, and the killer wants to help her. This becomes a full blown romance. Ah Jong wants to have Jenny to have surgery to regain her sight. Ah Jong frequents the club where she performs. He wants to protect her. One night after closing, she is attacked by toughs. Ah Jong intervenes,

The final major character is a police inspector Leu Ying (Danny Lee). He is street savvy and he acts outside the norms. He is the first to identify Ah Jong as a professional killer. During the course of the film they become unlikely allies and then almost brothers. Ah Jong runs afoul of the Triads; he wants to give up killing and make a new life with Jenny. Of course this doesn't work out.

There are some interesting touches. Ah Jong plays the harmonica, shades of "Once Upon a Time in the West." There is an assassination at the famous five dragons boat race. Ah Jong rescues a young girl shot in the shootout following the race. He takes her to the hospital.

The body count is 120, and Ah Jong never gets his happy ending. The final shoot out takes place in the church where we first met Ah Jong. The statue of the Virgin Mary is destroyed by gunfire. My only criticism is that there is one too many shootouts. Most observers don't share that opinion. Highly recommended; the DVD extras on the two disc ultimate edition are well worth viewing. Woo is a great craftsman. This is a must see for action fans.
 

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