Films Worth Viewing Year 3

HuskyHawk

The triumphant return of the Blues Brothers.
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The 1992 version cannot be discussed without mentioning the impact of the score, IMHO. That it didn't even get an Oscar nomination was absurd. This article, on the film's 25th anniversary, explains some reasons why it didn't get nominated, and why the score has endured as one of the best ever.

It is absolutely stunning. The cinematography is first rate as well.
 
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Back again

I will deal with the bio war and other questions anon.

The 36version did hew more closely to the original. Hawkeye (Natty Bumpo) is the hero, and the principal players include no Native Americans. It is interesting to note that in the book Munro's daughters come from different mothers. The first daughter, Cora's mother was part Afro?. They married in the West Indies. There is speculation about what %, but the book doesn't answer this question. Randolph Scott plays Hawkeye; Bruce Cabot,you may remember him from "King Kong", plays Magua. The daughter's names are switched. The elder becomes Alice, and the blonde becomes Cora. Her romance with Uncas is given prominence. Jhodi May (Alice 92) complained that most of her story was cut; she's right. 36 is a decent film, but nothing spectacular. Perhaps the most memorable scene is the one where a bare chested Randolph Scott is beaten with sticks by the Squaws prior to burning, this didn't come from the book. The ending is a little strange; Bumpo is cleared of the sedition charges when Major Hayward (Henry Wilcoxin) comes to his defense. He is let off and enlists as a scout. It's off to Montreal.

I'm not sure why Michael Mann decided to make a version in 1992, but I'm happy he did. It was an expensive production $40 million, but you can see the money on the screen. Fort William Henry was built from scratch with historically correct materials. The long rifles are exact replicas of the famous Pennsylvania long rifles. The spectacular killing tool used by Chingachook (Russell Means) is termed a riflestock ;this club supposedly dates back 1,000 years. Principal filming was in North Carolina in and around the Biltmore estate of George Vanderbilt.
North Carolina was chosen because the forest there was more like the first growth forest of the Mohawk Valley and the area around Lake George in the mid 18th century. The 36 film used Native American extras; interestingly they were paid by the Federal government under and NRA program. the 92 film used around 900 Native Americans both in front and behind the camera.. Daniel Day Lewis (Nathaniel Poe) spent 3 months living in the forest in preparation for his role. Casting was very important. Wes Studi (Magua) gave an Oscar worthy performance. It is interesting that the Native American cast members came from many tribes. Studi is of Cherokee descent, Means is Sioux, and Eric Schweig is an Inuit. Most of the extras were Cherokee.

In the mid 18th century there were 3 major tribal groupings in the North East part of North America:. the Iroquois, the Huron, and the Delaware. Collectively the Iroquois tribes supported the British in the French and Indian War. The Hurons were allies of the French. Both the Mohicans (NY) and the Mohegans (CT) are Delaware. The Delaware tried to maintain neutrality. When Magua and Hawkeye appear before the council to argue their case in the book and the 36 film, this is a Delaware village and sachem. In the 92 version it is a Huron village, In 92 it is Major Hayward at the stake. The extensive dialogue in Native languages in the film is most likely a mish mash of several languages. Wes Studi made this point in an interview. This points up the problems of making historical films, how far do you go to maintain historical accuracy? Remember this is fiction, I believe that the film makers must make us accept that we are in a different world. 92 certainly does that.

I should mention the work of the cinematographer, Dante Spirotti, he shot almost always in natural light. Mann took multiple takes. He ended up with over three hours of film. Several versions emerged. they all run just under three hours. Whole passages were lifted from Dunne's 36 script including Chingachook's speech over the grave of Uncas. It is impressive how Mann manages both the romance and action. Technically this is a top flight work. The score uses orchestral elements with traditional songs that fit the period. Madeline Stowe was reluctant to make the film. She couldn't see herself in an action film, the on screen results are excellent. Without Lewis' performance the film wouldn't hold together. This version and 36 are both available on Prime.

On to sedition. Sedition can be defined as aggressive opposition to a government; this includes promoting and/or participating in an uprising. This was a concern of the British Empire. The distance between the Americas and England made it logical to allow the colonies considerable freedom. 92 mentions indentured servitude and Hawkeye argues that the frontier promotes freedom. We also view a friendly relationship between the colonists and the Native Americans. Of course this was a moment in time; the treatment of Native peoples in this country has been pretty awful. Only in the 92 version has Hawkeye been raised as a Mohican. He is Chingachook's white son. There are multiple worlds involved. We have the Old World of the British Army, the New World of the colonists, and the Natural World on the Native Peoples struggling to co-exist in a moment of time.

You could try a brief binge watch viewing all three films. All are worth viewing, but 92 is the most involving. If you haven't seen the 20 silent film, this is a good option. Don't go off the deep end as I did. There are threads I uncovered which could take years to follow. Natty Bumpo Mann thought would make the audience snicker. I really must stop.
 
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'This was the first known act of biologic warfare.'
puh-leeze. any student of ancient, say, sumer to emperor augustus, history, swims in tales of biological warfare.
'There are numerous other instances of the use of plant toxins, venoms, and other poisonous substances to create biological weapons in antiquity.'
History of biological warfare - Wikipedia, but i'll cut you some slack and assume that you meant 'This was the first known act of biologic warfare in this conflict.'
and oh, neither they, nor anyone else is a 'native american.' they are accurately labeled 'First Nations,' cuz, you know, dna, the alaskan landbridge, dna,.... did i mention dna?
I had forgotten that poisoning wells etc might be considered biologic warfare. I don't consider poisoned weapons to be in this category. I wasn't aware of other historic instances. Perhaps I am wrong again but in the Amherst case we have contemporary accounts including Amherst's own writings acknowledging the crime.
 
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Laurel and Hardy shorts

There is one major collection, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy: The Essential Collection. which has most of the sound films. It's very well done; it's worth owning if you appreciate their comedy. A little background information, I was introduced to silent comedies when I was very young. Our next door neighbors in Burnside had an 8 millimeter projector and the two families used to watch films together on Friday Nights. I remember one film in particular, :Muddeled in Mud. I watched it again for the first time in more than half a century this morning. It features two suitors for the hand of Mabel Norman. It's available to stream for free. We had even more fun running the films backward.

I don't know how many of you are old enough to have seen many silent comedy shorts. There were two excellent composites made in the late '50's: When Comedy Was King" and "The Golden Age of Comedy," These films are available to stream for free. In addition to Chaplin and Buster Keaton both of whom we have featured; Harold Lloyd is also worth searching out.

There were two studios, Hal Roach and Max Sennet, responsible for most of the best films. Hal Roach had a deal with MGM, so the available prints bear the MGM logo. In December of 1928 Laurel and Hardy made one of their most beloved shorts. It was one of their last silent films. "Big Business" features the pair as Christmas Tree salesmen.
They have a few trees in a truck. They are going door to door selling them. The film was directed by James Horne and Leo Mc Carey. Laurel and Hardy are having no luck. They come to Jimmy Finlayson"s house. After several rejections, Stan comes up with a "big business" idea. He will take an order for next year. This doesn't work out. Then the conflict quickly escalates; Laurel and Hardy destroy the house and the yard while Finlayson destroys their truck. A crowd gathers to watch and a policeman writes up each offense.

"The Music Box" won an Oscar for the Best Short in 1932. It was directed by James Prescott; the dialogue was written by H.M. Walker. Shorts weren't awarded a statue. Years later Roach gave the certificate to Stan Laurel.
The two run a delivery service using a horse drawn wagon. The side of the wagon proclaimed" "Foundered in 1931." Their job is to deliver a music box (player piano) to an address on Walnut Street. The 131 steps are still there along with a plaque memorializing the film. The house at the top was actually a studio set. It runs less than 30 minutes, but it is one of the best remembered films of the era. This early sound short is in the public domain.

The music box is in a wooden box, Our duo must carry the the box up the 131 steps. Twice they encounter individuals coming down the steps. Both times the boxed music box slides down the stairs. The delivery is finally made, but it is never signed for.

Laurel was a more than active participant. He and Hardy were famous for their improvisation. Laurel edited (uncredited) the film. The sound effects were recorded live on site rather than being added at the studio. Both of these films are classics. I very slightly prefer "The Music Box." If you find the shorts fun; you might want to try some of the features: ""Sons of the Desert" and "Way Out West" are good places to start. So pack up your troubles in your kit bag and smile...
 
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"Grosse Point Blank"-George Armitrage-1997

There is a term in pop music, "one hit wonders" which can be applied here. This script was the only credit for Tom Jankewicz, and it is the only film of note for Armitrage. A successful independent contractor is presented with the opportunity to return to Grosse Point for his ten year high school reunion. He has a job in the area at the same time.
Btw is profession is lethal problem solving and/or the prevention of the same.

On the night of his senior prom, Martin Blank (John Cusak) stood up his date and enlisted in the Army. Rigorus testing found him tobe uniquely suited for this specific profession. After several years in government employ, he went independent with great success. However, with the end of the Soviet Bloc, the ranks f assassins for hire has swelled. The Grocer (Dan Ackroyd) came up with the idea ofa union, believing that this will stop unsafe competition and ensure fair pay for each job. Martin is a free market advocate, and he is not willing to join the inion. The Grocer plans to deal with his dissent forthrightly.

The dialogue is clever, and the cast which includes Minnie Driver and Joan Cusak is very solid. The zen of the film is best expressed by this quote. "You're a psychopath." "No, a psychopath kills for no reason. I kill for money" The film benefits from a wonderful soundtrack which includes The Clash, The Bangles, the Jam, the Beat, and my favorite ska group, the Specials ("Pressure Drop" and "A Message to You Rudy"). The soundtrack opens inronically with Johnnie Nash's great "I Can See Clearly Now".

The girl Martin left sitting in her $700 prom dress, Debbie Newbury (Minnie Driver) is a DJ on 555 WGPN. He is determined to win her back. This film is sort of a guilty pleasure. If you accept the absurd premise, then you can enjoy, then you can enjoy this film.
 
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"Rififi"-Jules Dassin-1955

My only hesitation about commenting on this film is the difficulty of finding it. This is one I had never seen. I purchased a Criterion Collection DVD. The only free streaming version I could find is without subtitles. Enough about barriers; this is a classic must see. For years Dassin's "Topkapi" was one of my favorites. I was familiar with his early noirs. I knew next to nothing about him. I assumed that he was French. That's totally wrong. He is of Russian/Jewish lineage. He was born in Middletown, CT in1911. He trained for the stage, but became interested in films. He worked under Hitchcock among others. He made two classic noirs "The Night and the City" and "The Naked City". The later was shot in London; the studio knew that he was likely to be blacklisted. He was named by Edward Dymytrk among others in testimony before HUAC. He refused to testify. His world fell apart; he was forced into exile in France with his family. They ran out of money, he was pitching story ideas for francs. If he directed a film it couldn't be shown in the US market. He was offered the opportunity to direct an adaptation of Auguste Breton's novel. In the novel the criminals were Algerian; this was a problem for the French market. Dassin took on the job. The first change he made was to make the crooks French. The novel had the heist,but that was only part of a much longer plot. This cutting of the novel essentially to the story of the heist infuriated Breton. He came to a meeting with Dassin carrying a concealed gun. They hugged and made up. Dassin loved the control he had working outside the studio system.

The film is constructed in 3 acts. The first act is the preparation for the job-cracking the safe of a high end jewelry store and the sale of the jewels. The second act covers the job. This includes a 30 minute section with no speaking and no music as the team enters the store from above and opens the safe. (I wrote 30 minutes for the silent section, estimates run from 28 to33 minutes.) The final act covers the aftermath.

The film opens with a career criminal, Tony Stephenois (Jean Servais) coming out of prison. He is approached by
two friends, Jo le Suedois and Mario Ferrati to rob the window display in a jewelry store. He declines. He later comes back with an alternative, rob the safe of the same store. Mario contacts his friend Cesar in Italy. Tony has Jo hookup with a fence in England, and Tony begins casing the job. The biggest problem is how to deal with a sophisticated alarm system. Tony figures out how to disable the system using foam from a fire extinguisher.

Tony's girl is the arm candy of a notorious mobster who owns L'Age D'OR. Cesar becomes infatuated with a singer at the club. He pockets a ring. Despite being warned to stay in his room, he visits the club. When Grutter,the club owner sees the ring;he knows that it came from the heist. Everything falls apart. All the principals end up dead.

The use of real locations is like his 1948 "Night and the City", the club scenes are excellent. The final where a wounded Tony drives across Paris returning his godson to his mother is masterfully cut and edited. Dassin won best director at Cannes. The release of "Rififi" marks the first crack in the blacklist. This film is more cited than seen. I think it is if anything underrated. Dassin was forced to play Caesar because the actor cast couldn't get out of other obligations. Jean Servais is brilliant as Tony; he dominates every scene. He has power in his control of the situation, when things fall apart we see his humanity. Find this film.
 
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"Major League"-David Ward-1989

This enjoyable film has remained a fan favorite for 30 years. Ward was primarily a screen writer. He wrote "The Sting" and "Sleepless in Seattle." A longtime Cleveland Indians fan; he wanted to give his home club a victory. He assembled a group of lesser known actors with the exception of Charlie Sheen (Ricky Vaughan) and Tom Berenger (Jake Taylor). Dodger catcher Steve Yeager was the technical advisor. The players had a two week baseball camp. The movie was filmed in Milwaukee, not Cleveland. For the final playoff game against the Yankees, the stands had 20,000 extras.

The history of failure of the Indians provides provides the backdrop. The Indians hadn't won a World Series since 1948. In the story, the club owner dies and the ownership passes to his wife, Rachael Phelps (Margaret Whitten). It is her intention to field a team destined for last place so she can move the team to Miami where she can make money and get out of Cleveland. A team is assembled from a group of hasbeens and never wases. The manager is plucked from a tire repair shop. One of the pitchers is just released from prison. The catcher has bad knees and is called up from Mexico.

The two most seasoned actors, Sheen and Berenger had just finished work on "Platoon." Sheen had been a pitcher in high school; Berenger's throws were dubbed by Steve Yeager. What this film does very well is to take you inside of a strange Major League team. A player not called to tryouts, Willie Mays Hayes (Wesley Snipes) makes the team.
The power hitter Pedro Carrano (Dennis Haysbert) is a Cuban defector who practices Voodo. He keeps a statue of Jobu in his locker. He makes regular sacrifices to this God. The manager, Lou Brown (Thomas Gammon) manages to knit the team together when he discovers Phelps' plan. He produces a life size photo replica of the owner; for each victory the team will remove a piece of the clothing cover.

The final clever piece of the puzzle is casting Bob Uecker as Harry Doyle the Indians radio announcer. Doyle dabs himself with Jack Daniels, fakes audience response, and calls pitches "Just a little bit outside." Vaughn acquires the nickname, "Wild Thing." He could throw 100 mph, but couldn't throw strikes. Glasses solve his vision problems, and he becomes a fan favorite. The song "Wild Thing" is played when he makes his way to the mound. The common practice of having music for closers comes from the film. In 2016 two Cleveland players found a replica of Jobu and placed it in a locker where it was duly worshipped.

It cost $11 million and had a US box office of nearly $50 million. It is a cult classic which still holds up today. It is available on Prime until the end of the month.. Forget your cares for 107 minutes.
 

storrsroars

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"Major League"-David Ward-1989

In the story, the club owner dies and the ownership passes to his wife, Rachael Phelps (Margaret Whitten). It is her intention to field a team destined for last place so she can move the team to Miami where she can make money and get out of Cleveland.
It's amusing now to think that the idea of moving an MLB team to Miami would lead to greater revenue and profit.
 
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"The King and I"-Walter Lang-1956

This an opulent film inthe MGM tradition. Yul Brenner won both a Tony and an Oscar for his portrayal of King Mongkut. He didn't receive an Emmy as the TV show was a failure. Deborah Kerr is an excellent actress with a wide range. My favorite performance is in the "Sundowners." This has a couple of catchy tunes :"Whistle a Happy Tune" and "Getting to Know You," but it isn't one of Rogers and Hammerstein's best scores. What makes this property a
likely choice for remakes is the story. A musical re-make is supposedly in the works.

The exotic nature of the locale and the relationship between a South East Asian Monarch and a widowed English governess was a sure hit dating all the way back to Anna Leonowens memoir published in 1872. It was Margaret Landon's novelization of the story that really was a super hit. A movie starring Rex Harrison, Anna and the King, came out in 1947. The Broadway Musical began in 1951; it ran for almost 1300 performances. MGM was the home of the spectacular musical in the '50's. The film was banned in Thailand. It was seen to be demeaning to the monarchy and to Mongkut. Anna Leonowens was a fantasist. He background is largely a fiction. The likely reason seems to be that she was Anglo Indian. She was the child of a British non com serving in the Indian Army and a woman of racially mixed heritage. She wasn't born in Wales, and her husband wasn't a British officer. He was a clerk.
Apparently ,she was hired only as an English teacher and not a governess.

Watch the film for its virtues including a brilliant piece of choreography by Jerome Robbins which is Tuptin's (Rita Moreno) adaptation of "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Yul Brenner is brilliant. Still about the only thing which is accurate in the plot is that Anna Leonowens did teach in Siam. The king died when she was on leave in England. It's still enjoyable today.
 
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The T.A.M.I. Show (1964 and The Stax Volt Revue Live in Norway (1967)


The Teenage Awards Music International 1964 concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium had passed into legend for 40+ years until The Shout Factory did a major restoration of long forgotten and inferior footage in 2010. Fortunately, the entire concert is available on YouTube streaming free. It features 3,000 screaming sub teens and teens from the local junior and senior high schools.

For some reason Jan and Dean were brought in to host. Besides the Beatles, the major missing group is The Four Seasons. There price of $45,000 was too high. The plan was to simulcast the concert. Then a film would be shown all over the country. Years later a VHS tape was put out. The quality was poor, but it circulated world wide. The DVD opens with one of the earliest skareboarding sequences ever filmed As to the line-up think Top O' The Pops.
The show opens with Chuck Berry and "Johnny B. Goode." Berry is solid, but not as brilliant as he was other times live. There is a story that Berry would never appear on stage without cash in hand. In order the performers are:Jan and Dean, Chuck Berry, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Leslie Gore, The Beach Boys, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, The Supremes, the Barbarians, James Brown and the Famous Flames, and the Rolling Stones. The Barbarians were one of the first underground groups.

The most memorable segment is the James Brown Performance. You can watch a half dozen live performances of his, but this one is the gold standard. This is the performance the band watches in "The Commitments." This performance shows why one of his nicknames was "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." The Stones didn't want to appear after Brown, but they did. This is very much pre vintage Stones. Leslie Gore is decent, but she is static. Live performance is not her metier, but "You Don't Own Me" and "It.s My Party" are true classics. The Motown Groups have been much better other times. The Beach Boys didn't play concerts in this period. In the 80's they emerged as a classic concert band.

The sound is very good (mono) and the print is good. The camera work is pedestrian, despite that this is a moment in history before the much better known 60's concerts. This was the trailblazer.

Stax was founded by James Stewart and Estelle Axton in Memphis. The vocalists were Black but the backing groups: Booker T, and the M. G.'s and the Markays were racially mixed. The M.G."s , Memphis Group, had Booker T group leader and organ player, Al Jackson on drums. and two whites Steve Cropper on guitar and Donald Duck
Dunn on bass. They had there own hits, most memorably "Green Onions." Atlantic which distributed Stax believed that a tour of Stax Artists would really open up the European market. The were right the UK provided a generational market for Soul Music. We have looked at the much better known WattStax concert. Motown made pop soul, particularly in the 60's. Stax was unvarnished; it never reached the Pop heights of Motown, but it remained a musical influence for decades.

A number of the concerts in this tour were recorded, but the one in Norway is the only full concert we have on film. The sound quality isn't the best, but the energy is there. This is available on YouTube for free. The program begins with interviews with some of the participants 40years later. The highlights are the performances by Sam and Dave and Otis. Well worth a look. The Tami show is a better option marginally.

"Please. Please. Please..."take a look
 
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"From Here to Eternity"-Fred Zinneman-1953
"The Hurt Locker"-Kathryn Bigelow-2008

On the surface it doesn't seem like these films have much in common. "The Hurt Locker" features action scenes throughout. "From Here to Eternity" deals primarily with the pre WWII army. One link between the two films is that all the major characters are military professionals. It's obvious in "From Here to Eternity"; this is the peace time army in Hawaii. "The Hurt Locker" is set in 2994, but all the principals, James, Sanborn, and Eldridge have been in the army for at least five years. The emphasis in both films is the interior of the characters. There is a scene late in "The Hurt Locker" where James (Jeremy Renner) is in the US playing with his son where he talks about loosing things you love. He remarks that he now only loves one thing. For a moment we perhaps can believe that the one love is his son. When the film ends with his return to Iraq and his walking off the plane, we know that what he loves is being
an explosives squad leader. Both Walden (Burt Lancaster) and Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) are lifers. Prewitt affirms several times that he is a 30 year man. Even with Karen Holmes (Deborah Kerr) love on one side, Warden never puts in a request for officer training. Prewitt at least has Maggio (Frank Sinatra) with whom he is very close. Warden has no one.

Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) has no one to mourn for him. He wants a son, but he is afraid of commitment. Prewitt tries to return to his unit during the Japanese attack of Pearl Harbor leaving behind Alma/Lorene (Donna Reed). He is shot by a US soldier. Walden standing over the dead body admits to admiring Prewitt. Sanborn thinks James is crazy/dangerous.

In "From Here to Eternity" the villains are Captain Holmes and Fatso Judson (Ernest Borgnine) who abuse their authority, Holmes only avoids court martial by resigning, Prewitt kills Fatso in a knife fight. In "The Hurt Locker"
the villains are insurgents, shadowy figures mostly seen at a distance. When James develops a minor relationship with a young Iraqi he calls Beckham it fails. He believes Beckham has been made into a corpse bomb. Later he sees Beckham again soccer ball in hand still selling DVDs. Every civilian is a potential enemy, trust no one. When James tries to disarm a suicide bomb vest on a good local, he fails.

Both these films are excellent. Both won multiple Oscars including Best Film and Best Director. Fred Zinneman made a bunch of top films: "The Sundowners", "A Man for All Season' and "High Noon" to name a few. He was able to cast the film as he wanted. He wanted to shoot in black and white; he got his way. It was one of Columbia's best box office hits of the '50's. Interestingly, it was the screen writer, Daniel Taradish, who pushed Zinneman as a director. James Jones' novel was considered toxic because of language, situations like prostitution and sexually transmitted disease. Jones didn't like the adaptation. Making a 950 page novel into a two hour film is no easy feat. The studio had a two hour rule, no films longer than two hours. The extras were soldiers. Wardrobes were scavenged, but they are period authentic. Sinatra was in a very low point in his career. He made only $8,000 for the film, but the Oscar revitalized his career. Clift thought he would win the Oscar for Best Actor. When he didn't it contributed to his prolonged drunken binges. He worked really hard on his characterization; he learned to play the bugle, and he took boxing lessons, less successfully. Zinneman credited him with helping Sinatra and Donna Reed. This is probably the high water mark of his career.

I had originally planned to just comment on "From Here to Eternity", but I watched "The Hurt Locker" yesterday, and I immediately thought about how similar these films are in tone. "The Hurt Locker" is available on Prime until the end of the month. "From Here to Eternity" s available on 123movies.

"The Hurt Locker" was scripted by Mark Boal "Valley of Ellah" and "Zero Dark Thirty") ; he was implanted with a Bomb Disposal Unit in Iraq. It was filmed in Jordan using hand held cameras. Bigelow shot over 100 hours of film
She maintains that no scenes were cut. Mackie has made many films; both he and Renner appear in the Avengers series, but this is probably their peak performance. Renner wore a real bomb suit during filming. He does his own stunts, and even the long shots were done by Renner. Unusually for a major film; the foreign box office was far bigger than the US box office. Bigelow was the first woman to receive the Oscar for best director.

Both these films offer a bleak view of the military life; however, few films about war are more compelling. They become more involving with repeated viewings. My highest recommendations

.
 
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The T.A.M.I. Show (1964 and The Stax Volt Revue Live in Norway (1967)


The Teenage Awards Music International 1964 concert at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium had passed into legend for 40+ years until The Shout Factory did a major restoration of long forgotten and inferior footage in 2010. Fortunately, the entire concert is available on YouTube streaming free. It features 3,000 screaming sub teens and teens from the local junior and senior high schools.

For some reason Jan and Dean were brought in to host. Besides the Beatles, the major missing group is The Four Seasons. There price of $45,000 was too high. The plan was to simulcast the concert. Then a film would be shown all over the country. Years later a VHS tape was put out. The quality was poor, but it circulated world wide. The DVD opens with one of the earliest skareboarding sequences ever filmed As to the line-up think Top O' The Pops.
The show opens with Chuck Berry and "Johnny B. Goode." Berry is solid, but not as brilliant as he was other times live. There is a story that Berry would never appear on stage without cash in hand. In order the performers are:Jan and Dean, Chuck Berry, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Leslie Gore, The Beach Boys, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, The Supremes, the Barbarians, James Brown and the Famous Flames, and the Rolling Stones. The Barbarians were one of the first underground groups.

The most memorable segment is the James Brown Performance. You can watch a half dozen live performances of his, but this one is the gold standard. This is the performance the band watches in "The Commitments." This performance shows why one of his nicknames was "The Hardest Working Man in Show Business." The Stones didn't want to appear after Brown, but they did. This is very much pre vintage Stones. Leslie Gore is decent, but she is static. Live performance is not her metier, but "You Don't Own Me" and "It.s My Party" are true classics. The Motown Groups have been much better other times. The Beach Boys didn't play concerts in this period. In the 80's they emerged as a classic concert band.

The sound is very good (mono) and the print is good. The camera work is pedestrian, despite that this is a moment in history before the much better known 60's concerts. This was the trailblazer.

Stax was founded by James Stewart and Estelle Axton in Memphis. The vocalists were Black but the backing groups: Booker T, and the M. G.'s and the Markays were racially mixed. The M.G."s , Memphis Group, had Booker T group leader and organ player, Al Jackson on drums. and two whites Steve Cropper on guitar and Donald Duck
Dunn on bass. They had there own hits, most memorably "Green Onions." Atlantic which distributed Stax believed that a tour of Stax Artists would really open up the European market. The were right the UK provided a generational market for Soul Music. We have looked at the much better known WattStax concert. Motown made pop soul, particularly in the 60's. Stax was unvarnished; it never reached the Pop heights of Motown, but it remained a musical influence for decades.

A number of the concerts in this tour were recorded, but the one in Norway is the only full concert we have on film. The sound quality isn't the best, but the energy is there. This is available on YouTube for free. The program begins with interviews with some of the participants 40years later. The highlights are the performances by Sam and Dave and Otis. Well worth a look. The Tami show is a better option marginally.

"Please. Please. Please..."take a look

I saw "The T.A.M.I. Show" several months ago on Turner Classic Movies when they were doing a weekend of concert films. I agree that it is well worth watching, especially if this stuff fits your musical tastes. While the entire concert is interesting, there is no question about it, James Brown and his band are the the big standouts. Brown is simply mesmerizing. Also interesting to see The Rolling Stones pretty much at the beginning of their career.
 
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"The Odd Couple"-Gene Saks-1968

Neil Simon is a name I haven't thought about in a while. He was virtually a God on Broadway and in movies. This is perhaps his most iconic show. Most people remember the iconic TV show of the1970's starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. My favorite episode is "Password." If you are willing to take a 7 day trial; you can watch it on CBS All Access. Walter Matthau played Oscar n Broadway; he won a Tony. His co-star wasn't deemed popular enough, so Jack Lemon was hired for$1 million. Matthau received only $300,000. Paramount thought abut Billy Wilder, but he wanted the earth, moon, and the stars. Paramount could have opted for Mike Nichols who directed the Broadway production, but Gene Saks was chosen. He made few if any changes to the stage blocking; Ebert details his sins inhis review. Still this was a huge hit for Paramount. It ran for 14 weeks in Radio City Music Hall and made $3 million.

I love the beginning. We see the bright lights of the big city; Neil Hefti's theme is in the background. Felix walks into a hotel to rent a room. The clerk offers him 304. Felix asks for something higher, he receives the key for 914.
When he enters the room he pulls out an envelope. He puts his wallet in the envelope. The envelope has writing on the outside. We realize that he is planning to commit suicide. He struggles to open the window; he re-injures his back. In due course Felix ends up at Oscar's weekly poker game. By this time the gang realizes that his 12 year marriage to Frances has broken up. Naturally, Oscar offers the "comforts" of his 8 room apartment to Felix.

It would be destructive to your enjoying this film on Prime, but yes, as you remember the Coo Coo Pigeon sisters are involved, as well as Speed, Murrray the cop, Vinnie the usual winner, and Roy ,the Friday Night Poker Gang. Of course the film was remade with female principals, there was a cartoon version, several foreign versions, another TV version in 2015. We are left with the memories of Felix Unger, the only man in the word with clenched hair. Who else would send a suicide telegram? He actually prevented Oscar, one of the highest paid sportswriters on the East Coast, from seeing a game ending triple play while he was covering a Mets game.

This was the second of ten pairings of Lemmon and Mathau. I remember a bit form their first: Matthau, playing a sleezy lawyer, needs to make a phone call from a pay phone. He had just given his children his change to put in a box to help unwed mothers. Naturally, he shakes the change out of the donation box and makes the call. Lennon and Matthau were great friends; they generally played the same characters over the years, but the humor remained surprisingly fresh. That film is "The Fortune Cookie."
 
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"Glass"-M. Night Shyamalan-2019

Superheroes could they be real? This is the question Shyamalan asks in this film. It is the third entry into what is ostensibly a trilogy. I haven't seen "Split", and I haven't seen "Unbreakable" in many years. I liked this film a lot; I find myself in the minority. I found the premise interesting. Can we find instances of humans doing seemingly superhuman things. There are numerous examples of a mother lifting a car to save a child. There is an area of psychic research probing such areas as mindreading and telekinesis. The power of prayer has been researched. The actuality of multiple personalities has been some what acknowledged. The theory has it that trauma can cause multiple personalities. In the film one character, Kevin Wendall Crumb (James McAvoy) has split 22 times; the most
frightening character, the Beast, is the protector. He has gone far from protector to become a serial killer. Other splits defer to him and even help him find and cage prey.

The named character, Elijah Glass, has a rare condition which means his bones are highly breakable. This is offered as a possible explanation for a deviant character which involves payback to physically normal. Mr. Glass, Samuel L.J Jackson, discovers that he has been the creator of two super beings, The Beast and The Overseer, David Dunn (Bruce Willis). Mr Glass is currently a patient in Ravenhill Memorial Institution. The Overseer is a vigilante who attempts to stop crime. He is more Batman than Superman. His alter ego was created by trauma.

David Dunn runs a security service shop with his son Joseph ( Spencer Treat Clarke). Joseph is aware of his father's powers (superstrength and intuition). His father takes daily walks looking for crimes. His costume is minimal, only a green rain slicker.

Each of the three central characters, The Beast, The Overseer, and Mr. Glass, has a real world connection. For Dunn it is his son Joseph, for Mr. Glass it is his mother, Charlayne Woodward. When he is dying, he asks his mother: "I wasn't a mistake?" She replies: "No, You were spectacular." For The Beast his connection is Casey Cooke (Ann Taylor Joy). She has the ability to touch The Beast and bring out Kevin Wendall Crumb.

When all three characters find themselves in Ravenhill, they are under the "Care" of a psychiatrist, Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson). She endeavors to convince them that their powers are not supernatural and can be explained by
science. Her agenda is hidden. In the film's concluding action sequence, she has all 3 killed. However, Mr. Glass
has arranged that this sequence be taped. The three human connections band together to release the tapes to the internet. This sets up the possibility of a sequel.

The visuals are excellent. The principals give solid performances. Bruce Willis is Bruce Willis. Samuel L. Jackson does many little things to nail his performance. McAvoy has the monumental task of being 20 people in one body. That he is credible is remarkable.

Shyamalan is often criticized for his egotism. Others find him a solid director, but a poor screenwriter. I was involved from beginning to end with this film. However, there are three distinct endings. I find the second and third endings over the top. I like the idea that superheroes can exist. I don't need an anti-superhero cabal, nor a tack on for a sequel. Very highly recommended.
 
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The Hurt Locker was an excellent film. What the film is really about is addiction. Renner does an incredible job as A+ soldier who is actually sick. He will go to any length feed his adrenaline addiction even if if puts his fellow soldiers in danger or gets them killed. This addiction is positive trait in combat or dismantling a bomb --but nowhere else in life. He is a misfit. Others around him see it and know it. He is as great a danger to them as he is to the enemy. It is a true and frightening portrait of the insanity of war. To call this movie gripping is an understandment.
 
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The Hurt Locker was an excellent film. What the film is really about is addiction. Renner does an incredible job as A+ soldier who is actually sick. He will go to any length feed his adrenaline addiction even if if puts his fellow soldiers in danger or gets them killed. This addiction is positive trait in combat or dismantling a bomb --but nowhere else in life. He is a misfit. Others around him see it and know it. He is as great a danger to them as he is to the enemy. It is a true and frightening portrait of the insanity of war. To call this movie gripping is an understandment.
This film shows something rarely seen in war films; the hero, and yes he is a hero, needs to see a psychiatrist. It is interesting that there is a psychiatrist character in the film. He isn't examining Renner; there is no film evidence that the Army is even worried by his behavior. What does this say about the Army? Good films often pose important questions with out providing any answers.
 
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This film shows something rarely seen in war films; the hero, and yes he is a hero, needs to see a psychiatrist. It is interesting that there is a psychiatrist character in the film. He isn't examining Renner; there is no film evidence that the Army is even worried by his behavior. What does this say about the Army? Good films often pose important questions with out providing any answers.

Great point. I think this is a vastly unrated movie. In the attached scene, Renner has just disarmed a bomb. He lights up a smoke like he just finished having sex. His comrades are pissed, Renner just just endangered all of them with his cowboy stunt. Then a bird Colonel shows up and wants to shake the hand of the "wild man." This is great writing and great film making. It epitomizes the films.

 
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the film is filled with choice bits like this. Bomb Disposal is a "Mad, Mad, World". and we just accept it. Is it surprising that "heroes" like Renner emerge? The film opens with the death of Renner's predecessor who was following procedure. The film ends with Renner getting off the plane with a 365 day in country stint before he can be rotated out. Remember how often we saw how many days the unit had left in the rotation? It is a mark of a quality film that a perceptive viewer can see the development when the viewer reflects on what happened earlier.

You're right this film is underappreciated. I discovered that on re-viewing the film. Your comments confirm this.
Yarders watch this film (again).
 
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"Julius Caesar"-Joseph Mankiewicz-1953

"You blocks, you stones, you worse than senseless thing. You hard hearts; you cruel men of Rome."

In my green youth in high school, we studied a Shakespeare play every year in English. The rotation was "Romeo and Juliet", "Julius Caesar", "Macbeth", and "Hamlet." I had the same English teacher, Dr. Gilbert Hunt, sophomore and junior years. One of the many techniques he used to motivate us was to offer an extra A for memorizing lines of
poetry. I received many extra A's; sixty+ years later I can still recite many of the lines I learned. We also watched this movie in class. Marlon Brando received first billing, but this was his only Shakespeare role in film.

Looking back this seems a strange choice for MGM. That was the studio with "more stars than there in the heavens>" It was filmed in black and white not color; it wasn't loaded with Hollywood stars. Mankiewicz and John Houseman (producer) were responsible for filming in black and white and the casting. Brando was Mankiewicz's
choice. Brando had already had his first great success, " A Streetcar Named Desire," but given his "method acting" training he was deemed an off beat choice. Most of the other principals were English and John Gielgud (Cassius) in particular were known for their stage performances. Gielgud had not appeared in a film since 1941. Greer Garson (Calpurnia), Deborah Kerr (Portia), and James Mason (Brutus) were film actors, but they had strong stage backgrounds. Louis Calhern (Caesar) and Edmund O' Brien( Casca) were Hollywood character actors. It is interesting that Mason among others thought O'Brien's performance the best in the film. Brando was the one who received an Oscar nomination.

John Houseman was a veteran of the New York stage. He was heavily involved with Orson Welles' Mercury theater, but they had a falling out. Only Shakespeare receives writing credit, but those of you familiar with the Bard are aware that the plays run four plus hours uncut. I suspect that Houseman supervised the cuts. The film runs around two hours. As with many Shakespearian plays the battle of Phillippi ending seems an afterthought.
Still dictates of Elizabethan theater demanded that the conspirators be punished.

Today this film is generally recognized as the best film version. The acting is universally good; I find Brando, Mason, and Kerr's portrayals to be memorable. Brando's funeral oration as Marc Anthony is riveting. "Friends, Romans , Countrymen, I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.., Watch how he uses "Brutus is an honorable man.." It changes meaning and becomes more and more spiteful. Then after defeating the conspirators and standing over Brutus' dead body; Anthony calls him the "noblest Roman of them all."

There is an available free streaming version of this classic. Love the poetry, greatly admire the acting, and Mankiewicz's direction is on point. Yes, is a stagey version, but its merits are undeniable.
 
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"High Noon"-Fred Zinnemann-1952

This is considered one of the greatest westerns of all time. Cooper's career was in decline, and his name had just fallen of the list of top ten box office stars. He signed for a much smaller salary than usual, but he received a % of the profits. This was an independent production; it was released through United Artists, Stanley Kramer was the producer. He was influential in cutting the film and in how the classic song was used. The song is of course "Do Not Forsake Me." The version on screen is by Tex Ritter, but there were other even more popular recordings. Dimitri Tompkin, who wrote the music, also composed and conducted the score for which he won an Oscar. He used the song as a motif throughout the film. Think back to Casablanca where "As Time Goes By" has a similar importance.
Carl Foreman wrote the script, but he and Kramer discovered a similar story published in a pulp. Kramer had Foreman buy the rights to the story.

This was Carl Foreman's last script before he was blacklisted. He and Cooper became friends despite Cooper being a well known conservative. In later years Foreman wrote that Cooper was the only major star who supported him. It is often alleged that the script showed how Foreman's friends backed away from helping him. Zinnemann has always said that he didn't realize this. The film was nominated for Best Picture, but it lost to "The Greatest Show on Earth." That film is often considered the worst best picture ever. Hedda Hopper and John Wayne fought against "High Noon." In an unusual twist, Cooper had Wayne accept his Best Actor Oscar at the award ceremony.

The film opens with three gang members meeting up and traveling to meet the noon train at a small town in New Mexico Territory. The gang leader, Frank Miller (Ian McDonald) has been pardoned. He plans to kill the US Marshall, Will Kane (Gary Cooper). He put Miller away; he saved the town, and he took up with Miller's girl, Helen Ramirez (Katy Jurado). She is a businesswoman. She owns the hotel, the bar, and the store. She broke up with Will Kane over a year ago. She has taken up with Kane's deputy, Harv Pell (Lloyd Bridges).

On this Sunday Will Kane is retiring and getting married. His bride, Amy Foster (Grace Kelly) is a Quaker, so the marriage is before a Justice of the Peace. Across town the local church is filled. The station master rushes into the wedding ceremony with a telegram reporting that Frank Miller is on the noon train. Some townspeople have witnessed the three other gang members ride through the town and wait at the railroad station.

The film covers the last hour in real time with frequent inter cuts to clocks. Originally, the newlyweds leave town in a buckboard. Against his wife's objections, Kane returns to town. It is his duty to protect the town, and he argues to Amy; they will never be safe because Frank Miller will pursue them. Amy says she is leaving him. She buys a train ticket, and returns to the hotel where she waits for the train. Grace Kelly's portrayal is often considered flat; I concur. However, Kramer stated that he chose Kelly because he wanted the innocence, and the lack of confidence on screen. However, in my mind Katy Jurado's performance deserved at least an Oscar nomination. She is great both in her scenes with the weasely Lloyd Bridges where she says he isn't really a real man despite broad shoulders, and telling Kelly to get a gun and stand by her man.

As the clocks tick down, Kane tries and fails to recruit a posse to defend the town. All his friends tell him to leave town. As the train pulls into the station, Helen and Amy arrive in the buckboard. They are taking the train out of town. Frank puts on his gun; he and his three gang members walk into town to kill Kane. We see Kane alone on the main street awaiting the confrontation.

Nothing is wasted in this film. Every shot matters; there is no fluff. Zinnemann fought against colorization. He lost, but today the film is acknowledged as a black and white masterpiece. The film ends with the shootout. The only tag on is Kane throwing his badge to the ground, and once again getting on the buckboard with his wife and riding out of town.

I saw this as a child at a Saturday Matinee. I have watched this several times in the intervening 60+ years. I can still see that poster in my mind's eye. It is refreshing to find that I still enjoy greatly a film that I first saw through the eyes of a 12 year old boy, no first runs for me at that age. This is available to stream for free. This is justifiably considered a classic. It re-established Cooper as a major box office star. It was the favorite film of multiple presidents, and it is still referenced by critics and film nerds today. It even played a role in Polish liberation in the 1980's.
 
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"Mr. Deeds Goes to Town"-Frank Capra-1936

Capra's autobiography is called 'The Name Above the Title." This film is the first time it ever occurred. Columbia was a poverty row studio; Capra bot only elevated the profile; he made Columbia a lot of money. Most of Capra's films are available in pristine restorations by the Library of Congress. The three most widely seen Capra films today are: "It Happened One Night," "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "It's a Wonderful Life." The first made Clark Gable a superstar and remains a classic screwball comedy. "Mr. Smith..." was supposed to be a kind of sequel to "Mr. Deeds...", but Cooper was unavailable so Jimmy Stewart payed opposite Jean Arthur. "It's a Wonderful Life: was surprisingly a box office failure. It was rescued by PBS holiday broadcasts. Capra was an immigrant and very much a patriot. He spent WWII making films for the Army.

Capra was one of the few directors in the studio system who controlled what films he made, the casting, the crew, and the editing. When studio reps even including the head, Harry Cahn, came to the set he stopped production. This cost money, so the studio generally left him alone. The studio was concerned that "Mr. Deeds..." didn't have a conventional hero. Capra hashed out stories with his writers, but Robert Riskin wrote the dialogue. Capra had wanted to shoot "Lost Horizon"as the follow-up to "It Happened One Night," but due to the availability of Ronald Coleman, "Mr. Deeds..." was shot first. Cooper was his first choice, but Jean Arthur was an unknown. Capra liked her looks and voice. She had massive, debilitating stage fright, but her performance in this film made her a star.

Capra and Riskin liked the idea of a small town eccentric inheriting a huge fortune. This was the era of the tabloid press and reporters who would do almost anything for a story which would sell a lot of papers. The film opens with a single car accident in Europe. Multi millionaire, Harry Semple, is dead, and his will leaves his entire fortune to an unknown young man, Longfellow Deeds, living in Mandrake Falls, Vermont. He is a tuba player in the town band, captain of the volunteer fire department, co-owner of a local business, but his major income comes from writing poetry for greeting cards. Still single at 28, he is looking for a damsel in distress.

There is a common theme in much of American history, fiction, and film about the conflict between innocence and big city corruption. Perhaps it began originally with the fight between Hamilton and Jefferson over the nature of the new nation. It continues with the idea of the possibilities of the frontier, and it is modified to include the vision of immigrants. It is interesting that when Deeds decides to give away his fortune, he gives it to farmers. This goes straight back to Jefferson believing in purity of rural values. Deeds is a victim of corrupt big city lawyers, the tabloid press in the person of Babe Bennet who passes herself off as a damsel in distress, Maggie Dawson. She gives him the nickname Cinderella Man. His innocence becomes a punchline.

Deeds becomes depressed; he refuses to defend himself when the corrupt law firm sues to have him declared mentally incompetent. When he finally decides to respond, the court scene has some classic moments around pixilated and activities used to aid thinking. Robert Riskin coined the term doodling in the dialogue. This was a major financial success for the studio. Capra had the ability to construct moral fables which moved movie-goers.
That we consider these fables trite and unrealistic today is more a reflection of us than of Capra. What fables would Capra construct if he were active today?

That said, this is not as successful as several of his other pictures for me. Still this is still a memorable film, seeing Cary Cooper slid down a bannister is a hoot. This is beautifully restored, but unfortunately free streaming options all seem to entail hurdles. Highly recommended for the acting and the dialogue. You do need to have a little whimsy in your soul to really enjoy Capra.
 
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"Ran"-Akira Kurosawa-1985

Kurosawa began thinking about and planning this film in 1975. He was nominated for an Oscar as was his cinematographer, neither won. Peter O'Toole suggested Kurosawa make a King Lear. The writers of this script include Kurosawa and Shakespeare and two others. As Kurosawa tells it, originally the film was to be based on a 16th century daimyo, Mori Motonari. The incident in the film where he asks each of his three sons to break three arrows together is a story attached to Motonari. As he developed the story, he found the King Lear narrative becoming a larger part of the story. Kurosawa was in his middle seventies during filming, Motanari was 71 when he died. The historical character died of cancer and old age; there is no suggestion of insanity.

Kurosawa confronted many problems making this film. He was considered both too old fashioned and too Western in Japan. He couldn't raise the money for what promised to be a very expensive film with a risky local market. Serge Silverman found funding in Europe. The film original was released on DVD by Studio Canal. Thus this was a joint Franco-Japanese production. Kurosawa had begun drawings for the film 10 years before. Making the elaborate costumes took between 2 and 3 years. There were no miniatures used. The castle destroyed in the film was built for the film. The camera positions had to be perfect because signs of the 20th century were all around. The film used 1400 extras and 200 horses. Horses had to be imported from the United States.

The technical hurdles were not the only problem. Kurosawa was going blind. He had to rely on his production to realize his meticulous shots catalogued in his book of drawings. For a film director to lose his sight is like Beethoven losing his hearing. Ang Lee deals with a similar problem is "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman." Here a noted chef loses his sense of taste. Kurosawa's wife died during shooting; he only took one day off

Instead of three daughters like Lear; Hidetora has three sons: Toro, Jiro, and Saburo. The film opens with a boar hunt. Hidetora rejects eating the wily old boar killed in the hunt. The old meat will be too tough. There is a short discussion concerning Saburo's marriage. Hidetora falls asleep. Everyone else exits, but Hidetora dreams. When he awakes, he has decided to relinquish his power, but not his title and banner to his eldest son. Three sons will support each other, and if the three stay together, they will be unbreakable. This is shown by Hidetora giving each son three arrows together to try and break. Saburo, who argued that the plan is dangerous and unrealistic, breaks the three arrows after his brother fail. Saburo is banished.

Hidetora"s mental condition declines swiftly. Having him and his retinue at the first castle is untenable. The eldest son, Toro, is weak, but his wife , Lady Kende is reminiscent of Lady Macbeth. Hidetora murder her family, and the first castle used to be her family home. Hidetora leaves with his retinue for the second castle held by Jiro. He is already plotting against his brother. Hidetori is allowed to enterthe castle, but his retinue is kept outside the gate.
Hidetori leaves a journeys to the third castle with no lord in residence. Saburo is in exile, and his loyal troops vacate the castle. A battle for the third castle ensues. Hidetora's retinue is destroyed, his women commit suicide, and he is left alone. His madness is complete. There is a stunning scene where the crazed Hidetora exits the burning castle. He is framed with the castle as the backdrop and the two armies of his sons' with different color banners separated. They allow the insane great lord to walk away. He is discovered on the plain by Saburo's loyal retainer and the "Fool." Meanwhile back at the burning fort the eldest son is shot and killed by Jiro's retainer.

Ran is often translated as chaos. Hidetora's madness dooms everyone. The Fool (Pita) comments on the unfolding disaster. "Man is born crying, when he cries enough he dies," "In a mad world, only the mad are sane," and "Some people can get long without God, but everyone seems to need a devil." The fool is not native to Japan. This is one of the three stunning lead performances in the film. Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) is an incredibly difficult roe. It began with 4+ hours of makeup, but the variety of compelling facial expressions, movents, and tone of voice add up to a master work. Finally, Lady Kende (Myenko Harada) is riveting. The make-up is strange, but that is only the beginning. Talk about unleashing inner demons.

The film is often said to be set in medieval Japan. Historically, it is set in the mid 16th century, It actually has to be after 1543 when western muskets from Portugal arrived in Japan. Mori Motinari died in 1571. In western terms this is late Renaissance. Japan was still under the Shogunate which was trying to limit foreign contact.

This is available on Prime. This isn't my favorite Kurosawa opus, but at worst it is near great. The pace may bother some viewers. It slips from chaotic battles, to meanderings. The final image is troubling, a blind flute player narrowly avoids falling off a destroyed castle.
 

HuskyHawk

The triumphant return of the Blues Brothers.
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"Ran"-Akira Kurosawa-1985

Kurosawa began thinking about and planning this film in 1975. He was nominated for an Oscar as was his cinematographer, neither won. Peter O'Toole suggested Kurosawa make a King Lear. The writers of this script include Kurosawa and Shakespeare and two others. As Kurosawa tells it, originally the film was to be based on a 16th century daimyo, Mori Motonari. The incident in the film where he asks each of his three sons to break three arrows together is a story attached to Motonari. As he developed the story, he found the King Lear narrative becoming a larger part of the story. Kurosawa was in his middle seventies during filming, Motanari was 71 when he died. The historical character died of cancer and old age; there is no suggestion of insanity.

Kurosawa confronted many problems making this film. He was considered both too old fashioned and too Western in Japan. He couldn't raise the money for what promised to be a very expensive film with a risky local market. Serge Silverman found funding in Europe. The film original was released on DVD by Studio Canal. Thus this was a joint Franco-Japanese production. Kurosawa had begun drawings for the film 10 years before. Making the elaborate costumes took between 2 and 3 years. There were no miniatures used. The castle destroyed in the film was built for the film. The camera positions had to be perfect because signs of the 20th century were all around. The film used 1400 extras and 200 horses. Horses had to be imported from the United States.

The technical hurdles were not the only problem. Kurosawa was going blind. He had to rely on his production to realize his meticulous shots catalogued in his book of drawings. For a film director to lose his sight is like Beethoven losing his hearing. Ang Lee deals with a similar problem is "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman." Here a noted chef loses his sense of taste. Kurosawa's wife died during shooting; he only took one day off

Instead of three daughters like Lear; Hidetora has three sons: Toro, Jiro, and Saburo. The film opens with a boar hunt. Hidetora rejects eating the wily old boar killed in the hunt. The old meat will be too tough. There is a short discussion concerning Saburo's marriage. Hidetora falls asleep. Everyone else exits, but Hidetora dreams. When he awakes, he has decided to relinquish his power, but not his title and banner to his eldest son. Three sons will support each other, and if the three stay together, they will be unbreakable. This is shown by Hidetora giving each son three arrows together to try and break. Saburo, who argued that the plan is dangerous and unrealistic, breaks the three arrows after his brother fail. Saburo is banished.

Hidetora"s mental condition declines swiftly. Having him and his retinue at the first castle is untenable. The eldest son, Toro, is weak, but his wife , Lady Kende is reminiscent of Lady Macbeth. Hidetora murder her family, and the first castle used to be her family home. Hidetora leaves with his retinue for the second castle held by Jiro. He is already plotting against his brother. Hidetori is allowed to enterthe castle, but his retinue is kept outside the gate.
Hidetori leaves a journeys to the third castle with no lord in residence. Saburo is in exile, and his loyal troops vacate the castle. A battle for the third castle ensues. Hidetora's retinue is destroyed, his women commit suicide, and he is left alone. His madness is complete. There is a stunning scene where the crazed Hidetora exits the burning castle. He is framed with the castle as the backdrop and the two armies of his sons' with different color banners separated. They allow the insane great lord to walk away. He is discovered on the plain by Saburo's loyal retainer and the "Fool." Meanwhile back at the burning fort the eldest son is shot and killed by Jiro's retainer.

Ran is often translated as chaos. Hidetora's madness dooms everyone. The Fool (Pita) comments on the unfolding disaster. "Man is born crying, when he cries enough he dies," "In a mad world, only the mad are sane," and "Some people can get long without God, but everyone seems to need a devil." The fool is not native to Japan. This is one of the three stunning lead performances in the film. Hidetora (Tatsuya Nakadai) is an incredibly difficult roe. It began with 4+ hours of makeup, but the variety of compelling facial expressions, movents, and tone of voice add up to a master work. Finally, Lady Kende (Myenko Harada) is riveting. The make-up is strange, but that is only the beginning. Talk about unleashing inner demons.

The film is often said to be set in medieval Japan. Historically, it is set in the mid 16th century, It actually has to be after 1543 when western muskets from Portugal arrived in Japan. Mori Motinari died in 1571. In western terms this is late Renaissance. Japan was still under the Shogunate which was trying to limit foreign contact.

This is available on Prime. This isn't my favorite Kurosawa opus, but at worst it is near great. The pace may bother some viewers. It slips from chaotic battles, to meanderings. The final image is troubling, a blind flute player narrowly avoids falling off a destroyed castle.

This was an assigned film in my UConn film class. It's superb stuff. Much of his earlier work is certainly worth watching, and U.S. filmmakers stole from him plenty.
 
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"Dazed and Confused"-Richard Linklater-1993

It is just serendipity that this film appears the day after a UConn loss which has left this fan dazed and confused. It was supposed to appear yesterday before the game. I was focusing on the game, so I didn't post. I step up to take a well deserved barracking for my egregious error. Apparently, the basketball Gods took notice. My failing on the path of Boneyard searching is no less heinous because it was inadvertent.

Richard Linklater is a favorite of mine. He is a self taught triple threat, writer, producer, and director. One of the many reasons I am drawn to his films is because of their versatility. He started out with "Slacker" and "Dazed and Confused" which caught moments in time of an emerging seemingly aimless generation. It is difficult to realize the he is 60 now. D and C is not a recognizable High School situation for me. I graduated in 1959, but I was teaching high school in 1976. The inner city HS where I taught didn't listen to the same music. Personally, I was still into Southern Soul even with the decline of Stax there was still "I Can't Stand the Rain" and of course the great Al Green, but this soundtrack is one of the best ever. "Cherry Bomb", "School's Out," "Why Can't We be Friends," "Slow Ride,"
"Livin' in the USA," and so many more.

It is the last day of school in 1976. In Texas this is in late May, but for us in Connecticut it was middle to late June depending upon snow days. We missed out on the car culture in Hartford. We did have high school football in a sense, but not in the Texas way. Basketball was the big thing. However, we never had coaches that crazy. The notion of rising seniors running around with wood paddles going after rising freshmen just wasn't a thing. MJ wasn't a big open thing. Surprisingly, selected teachers got briefings on gangs with foreign ties.

The film has no real plot; that is by design. The film covers the activities of dozens of different teenagers. They just want to have a good time. A massive party is derailed when the keg delivery happens early, so groups are driving around looking for action. It is interesting that the focus is not on the graduating seniors; rising seniors are flexing their muscles, and the new freshmen are their designated prey. The film ends with a drive to purchase Aerosmith tickets.

One other key to the film's cult status is the unbelievable roster of future acting talent in the film. Mila Jovavich, Rory Cochrane, Adam Goldberg, Cole Hauser, Ben Afleck, Parker Posey, Matthew McConanaughey to name just a few. A major female star of the future is just glimpsed for a second. Some of the actors in key roles never really made it.

So we have future star watching and a great soundtrack, but that tells us little about the films virtues. The film captures 24 hours in time. I clearly wasn't there, and I graduated from high school before Linklater was born. He has the ability to put his audience in real time situations. He had me in this high school aura thing; zymurg knows high school, I accepted that I was seeing this high school experience in real time. He has taken me "Before" three times; I certainly have never had a romantic meeting in Paris. I never taught in the school of rock. I didn't work in the Mercury theater. I have never had the feeling that he was trying to trick the audience in any f his films. Take "Boyhood" we have in front of us snapshots of a boy's life. What is different is that he shot the scenes over a seven year period. We know it is fiction, but this effort makes it more real.

This is available on Prime. The rest is up to you.
 

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