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Films Worth Viewing

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"Blade Runner 2049-Dennis Villeneuve-2017

Sometimes watching a film might actually be a journey. Unlike some of you I have a strong tendency to pack beforehand. I'm not one for jumping off cliffs, generally. SciFi is a medium in both print and visuals which encourages jumping off cliffs. I grew up reading Asimov and Heinlein; I subscribed to "Fantasy and Science Fiction;" I wasn't a Comic Book guy. That's probably my loss considering that Comic Books and their descendants Graphic Novels rule. The original "Blade Runner" is based on a Phillip K. Dick novel "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep." Ridley Scott made the original film; he spent 30 years trying to get it right. He was involved directly in making the sequel.

ScFi in general is not optimistic about the future. Things were bad enough in 2019 in this universe; they've gotten worse in 2049. Now the responsibility for dealing with replicants is the responsibility of specially designed replicants. K (Ryan Gosling) is on a case; he discovers a mystery. Did the unthinkable happen; did a replicant bear a child? K brings a skeleton and tufts of hair back to base. Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) warns K that what he has discovered threatens society/civilization with a new civil war. This generation of replicants are programmed to obey. Their memories are all carefully implanted; they are given intensive check-ups after missions. These check-ups are used to determine whether or not their experiences have changed their basic program. This is one of the many interesting bits of information we gain. Humans learn through experiences. In K's case, this learning should make him better at his job. However, it may also corrupt his program. I believe that it would help comprehension if you were to pack the original "Blade Runner" prior to viewing this film.

Villeneuve has revealed that he used the first cut and the final version as his starting points for this sequel. Ridely Scott was involved early on even before Villeneuve was brought on. Scott's vision was the starting point for this film. Villeneuve is involved in the "Dune" project. While he has some positive feelings about the Lynch film; he finds it not faithful to the story. This film had a very large budget ($150 million); the active participation of Ridley Scott, and brilliant cinematography and visual effects (both Oscar winning.) When I watched this film I was enscorceled for the first 90 minutes. Then it slowed down for me. Ridley Scott admitted that it was too long, but he felt he was partially to blame. He pushed to have lots of elements in the film. Two hours and forty-four minutes was too long for me. It is widely considered that the length hurt the box office.

This is highly recommended. I liked some of the inventions; the virtual reality girlfriend, Joi, is an interesting addition, The fact that she can develop into a being who has experiences is well conceived. The plot devices dealing with memory, and the consideration of what is "Real" and what is implanted are thought provoking. I like films which leave me with interesting questions. If SciFi is a favorite genre; this is must viewing. This is a film I will return to.
 
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"Tight Little Island"-Alexander Mackendrick-1949

Shh, this was called "Whiskey Galore!" in the UK, but another example of the Hays Office at work. One couldn't use a distilled or fermented beverage in a title. This was Mackendrick's first film ("The Man in the White Suit" and "Sweet Smell of Success"). This was Ealing's first big year ("Passport to Pimlico" and "Kind Hearts and Coronets"). Surprisingly, this was Ealing's first big success in the US. The story is set on the fictitious island of
Todday in the Hebrides. In 1943 a cargo ship carrying 50,000 cases sank near the island. The island was suffering because the lone pub had run out of Whiskey. The villagers form a rescue party to save the precious cargo. They rescue hundreds of cases of this valuable cargo. This is discovered by the local commander of the Home Guard. He summons revenue agents to the island. What follows is a whiskey war full of whimsey, caprice, and comedy.

The film features John Greenwood ("The Man in the White Suit:), James Robinson Justice ("Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines"), and Gordon Jackson (the butler in "Upstairs Downstairs"). Local islanders made up much of the cast. This is one of the few Ealing comedies I hadn't seen. It's a solid little film; it was re-made in 2016 quite poorly. It is available to stream for free.

Recommended, but attend "Kind Hearts and Coronets" at Cine Studio if you can.

Next up "The Ipcress File." I wrote too soon; it's only available to stream for free in Australia.
 
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"Tight Little Island"-Alexander Mackendrick-1949

Shh, this was called "Whiskey Galore!" in the UK, but another example of the Hays Office at work. One couldn't use a distilled or fermented beverage in a title. This was Mackendrick's first film ("The Man in the White Suit" and "Sweet Smell of Success"). This was Ealing's first big year ("Passport to Pimlico" and "Kind Hearts and Coronets"). Surprisingly, this was Ealing's first big success in the US. The story is set on the fictitious island of
Todday in the Hebrides. In 1943 a cargo ship carrying 50,000 cases sank near the island. The island was suffering because the lone pub had run out of Whiskey. The villagers form a rescue party to save the precious cargo. They rescue hundreds of cases of this valuable cargo. This is discovered by the local commander of the Home Guard. He summons revenue agents to the island. What follows is a whiskey war full of whimsey, caprice, and comedy.

The film features John Greenwood ("The Man in the White Suit:), James Robinson Justice ("Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines"), and Gordon Jackson (the butler in "Upstairs Downstairs"). Local islanders made up much of the cast. This is one of the few Ealing comedies I hadn't seen. It's a solid little film; it was re-made in 2016 quite poorly. It is available to stream for free.

Recommended, but attend "Kind Hearts and Coronets" at Cine Studio if you can.

Next up "The Ipcress File." I wrote too soon; it's only available to stream for free in Australia.
I saw "Whisky Galore!" several years ago, it is a solid British comedy. For those who wish to sample this film, Turner Classic Movies happens to be showing it this coming Friday night.
 
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"Ghost World"-Terry Zwigoff-2001

What is the meaning of the title? What is the meaning of the end of the film? The title comes from Daniel Clowes's graphic novel. The novel tells the stories of Enid and Rebecca two young women poised to enter the adult world after high school. So could the ghost world be the interregnum between being a teen or an adult?
Using this as a template, one might say Rebecca seems to be moving Forward; she has a job and she is ready to move into her own apartment. Enid hasn't escaped high school; instead of a diploma at graduation she was handed a notification that she had to take a summer art course to graduate. Does ghost world refer to the two girls mocking attitude and emotional distance from their surroundings? They were not part of high school world. In one sense of course they were; they went to high school physically. The goal of high school is to prepare one for adulthood. One path an individual might take is to use high school as a stepping stone to college. Both girls have rejected this, apparently.

Confused? I know I am. In the original graphic novel there is no Seymour. His life is stalled. He works as an assistant manager in the corporate office of a fast food corporation. He is a collector of vintage recordings and
graphic art. He has no emotional attachments. He places an advertisement in the personals of a local newspaper. This ad is pounced upon by Becca and Enid. They play a trick laced with petty cruelty when Enid calls to set up a meeting with a woman Seymour had a moment. They observe him at a restaurant. Enid records the moment with a drawing in her book.

Enid searches out Seymour. He has a booth at a flea market on Saturdays. She purchases a record of classic blues music. One song on the record captivates her. She listens to the track multiple times. She takes Becca to a gathering at Seymours' apartment. The other people at the party are older and several are collectors of vintage 78's. While Enid sees the record collection; Becca is hit on by a sleeze. Enid is drawn to Seymour; Becca has no interest in Seymour's world.

Think back to "Wings of Desire;" the angels watch human life. They observe and record. Enid does this graphically. She keeps a notebook where she records scenes she observes. Perhaps the world of an observer is the ghost world. When Enid tries to intervene the world is broken. She tries to set up Seymour with a real date. The results are not good. Seymour ends up in therapy and the relationship between Becca and Enid is broken.

The acting of the principals Enid (Thora Birch), Becca (Scarlett Johanson),and Seymour (Steve Buscemi) is excellent. The visual milieu is interesting filled with many quirky details. The script was solid enough to be nominated for an Oscar. Critics liked this film; it didn't do well at the box office. It has become something of a cult classic. There are several sites where viewers try to unravel the meaning of the film, particularly the ending. An elderly man sits on the bench waiting for a bus. Unfortunately, the bus line has discontinued service on this route. One night an empty bus appears and the old man gets on board. Enid appears at the stop with a small bag. She waits; the empty bus appears. She gets on board and the bus vanishes in to the night as the film ends. Many viewers believe that this indicates Enid commits suicide. In the review in the NY Times the reviewer sees Enid as a film critic. I believe that the critic doesn't accept the ending as final. Certainly, the film has lived beyond its sell by date. Highly recommended. It is available to stream for free on Amazon Prime.
 
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The Ox-Bow Incident-William Wellman-1943

This short (75 minute) film is extremely well made and deals with an important problem. The film is based on the debut novel by Walter Van Tillburg Clark. In 1885 a small Nevada town is rocked by the rumor that a local rancher has been murdered by rustlers. The sheriff is out of town ,so the posse formed is only semi legal.

The posse finds 3 men with the rancher's cattle. This confirms their guilt. When a vote is taken, only seven vote to investigate further. The "rustlers"in both the book and the filrm duly hanged. The 3 rustlers are played by Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, and John Ford"s older brother. The chief protagonist is played by Henry Fonda.

The sheriff arrives, the rancher was shot but lives; the real rustlers are captured, but the hangings are history.
The sheriff vows the law will deal harshly with the lynch mob, but both the book and the film leave this as an unanswered question.

The film is available on DVD and streaming. I suggest that if you plan to buy the DVD, you opt for one of the several collections which feature this film. I have the Henry Ford Collection on Fox. This 10 film collection includes "Drums Along the Mohawk." "The Grapes of Wrath," "My Darling Clementine," and "The Longest Day."
Just saw this movie for the first time. Absolutely terrific, with a great ending.
 
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"The Longest Day"-Darryl F. Zanuck-1962

No, Zanuck didn't direct the film. Ken Annakin, Andrew Morton, and Bernard Wicki did. Annakin directed the French and English sections. Morton directed the American sections, and Wicki directed the German sections.
Somehow Zanuck was able to get armies from France, Great Britain, and the US to co-operate. They provided soldiers. The US Sixth Fleet provided ships. Much of the film was shot in Cyprus. They avoided a local nudist beach. Stars were recruited and fitted into cameo roles. Sometimes the fit was uncomfortable as in the case of John Wayne playing a Lieutenant Colonel in the 82 Airborne. He was twice as old as his real life counterpart. Robert Mitchum playing a assistant division commander on Omaha Beach was excellent. Quite a few of the actors had been a part of the invasion. Colin Maud lent his shillelagh to actor Kenneth More who played the Beach Master with the bulldog, Winston.

The detail was drawn from Cornelius Ryan's book "The Longest Day." Ryan wrote the script along with Romain Gary, James Jones and several others. Zanuck and Ryan detested each other; communication was through a third party. Ryan had sold the rights to his book to another production company. Their film fell through; Zanuck acquired the rights for $175,000. Two versions were filmed. In one everyone spoke English; in the second everyone spoke their own language and subtitles were used. The second one was the format which was released.

20th Century Fox was simultaneously filming "Cleopatra" with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. This film which cost $40 million almost sank the studio. Money was more than tight; Zanuck loaned Longest Day money to finish the film. The cost has been reported at $7.5, $8, and $10 million. The initial box office was $30 million. What is more surprising is that when re-issued in 1969 the film grossed over $2.8 million in its first week in the US. It saved Fox.

It was filmed in black and white so documentary footage could be inserted. I think that Zanuck believed that black and white pictures would be more real for the audience. Spielberg made the same decision almost half a century later with "Schindler's List." It was nominated for five Oscars: Art Direction, Editing, Cinematography, Best Picture, and Special Effects. It won for Cinematography and Special Effects. Paul Anka wrote the theme; Maurice Jarre wrote the score and conducted the music. Surprising it is available to stream for free; I think 1,2,3 has it.

I saw this first in a theater. It was a major event. It runs about three hours. I have watched it many times since. This time I had more critical distance; I don't think this is a great film, but it is a very good film. Bosley Crother wrote in the NY Times: "It is hard to think of a picture...doing anymore or any better or leaving one feeling any more exposed to the horror of war than this one does." Highly recommended.
 
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"The Longest Day"-Darryl F. Zanuck-1962

No, Zanuck didn't direct the film. Ken Annakin, Andrew Morton, and Bernard Wicki did. Annakin directed the French and English sections. Morton directed the American sections, and Wicki directed the German sections.
Somehow Zanuck was able to get armies from France, Great Britain, and the US to co-operate. They provided soldiers. The US Sixth Fleet provided ships. Much of the film was shot in Cyprus. They avoided a local nudist beach. Stars were recruited and fitted into cameo roles. Sometimes the fit was uncomfortable as in the case of John Wayne playing a Lieutenant Colonel in the 82 Airborne. He was twice as old as his real life counterpart. Robert Mitchum playing a assistant division commander on Omaha Beach was excellent. Quite a few of the actors had been a part of the invasion. Colin Maud lent his shillelagh to actor Kenneth More who played the Beach Master with the bulldog, Winston.

The detail was drawn from Cornelius Ryan's book "The Longest Day." Ryan wrote the script along with Romain Gary, James Jones and several others. Zanuck and Ryan detested each other; communication was through a third party. Ryan had sold the rights to his book to another production company. Their film fell through; Zanuck acquired the rights for $175,000. Two versions were filmed. In one everyone spoke English; in the second everyone spoke their own language and subtitles were used. The second one was the format which was released.

20th Century Fox was simultaneously filming "Cleopatra" with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. This film which cost $40 million almost sank the studio. Money was more than tight; Zanuck loaned Longest Day money to finish the film. The cost has been reported at $7.5, $8, and $10 million. The initial box office was $30 million. What is more surprising is that when re-issued in 1969 the film grossed over $2.8 million in its first week in the US. It saved Fox.

It was filmed in black and white so documentary footage could be inserted. I think that Zanuck believed that black and white pictures would be more real for the audience. Spielberg made the same decision almost half a century later with "Schindler's List." It was nominated for five Oscars: Art Direction, Editing, Cinematography, Best Picture, and Special Effects. It won for Cinematography and Special Effects. Paul Anka wrote the theme; Maurice Jarre wrote the score and conducted the music. Surprising it is available to stream for free; I think 1,2,3 has it.

I saw this first in a theater. It was a major event. It runs about three hours. I have watched it many times since. This time I had more critical distance; I don't think this is a great film, but it is a very good film. Bosley Crother wrote in the NY Times: "It is hard to think of a picture...doing anymore or any better or leaving one feeling any more exposed to the horror of war than this one does." Highly recommended.
This is another one of those films that we will watch any time it shows up on television. My wife absolutely loves "The Longest Day". I think it is very, very good, and very watchable with a star studded cast to look out for. That it is very entertaining in addition to showing the "horrors of war" as mentioned above is no mean accomplishment.
 
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"Ghostbusters"-Ivan Reitman-1984

I took advantage of a free weekend of HBO. While everything I watched was at least decent; it was all downbeat. ""Ghostbusters" was/is a worthy relief. I assume that this is home space for most 'Yarders. I hadn't watched this film in a few years. The movie had a script written by Ackroyd and Ramis that served mainly as guidelines. It is acknowledged that much of the dialogue was improvised.

Three former university researchers form a company after being fired from their research positions. They call this company Ghostbusters. They develop a system of capturing and containing a variety of supernatural entities. New York City has become a central point of influence of the supernatural. The fledgling company has more work than they can handle. Bill Murray plays his usual quipping self; he isn't a nice person. His partners, Ramis and Ackroyd, are more "scientific" and likable. Their first call comes from Sigourney Weaver whose refrigerator is inhabited by an ancient Sumerian god, Gozer. Despite Murray's romantic interest, the team does nothing to solve her problem. Partially because in a very short time, weeks or months; they have become not only business successes but cultural icons. It should be mentioned that the movie became a cultural icon; I was unable to find merchandise figures. However, I discovered that a new "Ghostbusters" will arrive this year.

The trailer looked pretty good, so a new generation will experience this whimsy. I liked my re-viewing of "Ghostbusters." I was never a superfan, but I enjoyed seeing it in a theater. For me it was a solid comedy; it never approached "Groundhog Day." This is still worth viewing. If you have Comcast, you can watch it for free.

BTW I watched the HBO film "Deadwood" this is well worth viewing if you are familiar with the series. If not you may find the Milch dialogue hard to understand and you will be catching up on a huge backstory.
 
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"Ace in the Hole"-Billy Wilder-1951

This film was forgotten for about 50 years. Kirk Douglas was on loan from Warner Brothers for $150,000 out of a 1.8 $ million budget. It didn't make money. Wilder's contract with Paramount gave him a % of the profits; they deducted the loses from this film from his profits from "Stalag 17". Wilder was a writer as well as director and producer.

Kirk Douglas plays Chuck Tatum a sensationalist reporter who has lost big jobs with major papers for a variety of reasons. He ends up in New Mexico where he talks himself into a job with a truth centered publisher Jacob Q. Boot, Porter Hall. A year passes Tatum is still waiting for the big story which will take him back to a big metropolitan daily. He and a junior photographer, Herbie Cook (Robert Arthur) are assigned to cover a rattlesnake roundup. On the way they stop to get gas and they discover that a local man is trapped in a cave in the Mountain of Seven Vultures. Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) hunts the caves which are Indian burial grounds for artifacts. Chuck senses a major story waiting to be exposed. His guiding principle is :"Bad news sells best. Good news is no news." In his initial report he sensationalizes the story. He brings in echoes of Floyd Collins, and he finds an Indian curse like the curse of King Tut's tomb. He becomes the person who crawls to Leo with sandwiches and coffee. He becomes a central figure creating alliances with the wife, Lorraine Minosa (Jan Sterling) and the Sheriff Gus Kretzer ( Ray Teal.) This becomes Chuck's show. He calls the Sheriff and the crew which will attempt to rescue Leo by shoring up the interior of the cave.

Chuck deals with each crisis the unloving wife, the sheriff's re-election bid, and the need to delay the rescue to maximize the coverage. Chuck maintains his contacts with Leo so he can continue to control the story. Thousands of people flock to the site including dozens of reporters. Unfortunately the situation worsens. Leo is in failing health and the substitute plan of drilling won't reach him in time. Unfortunately, the drilling has made the old plan of shoring up the walls impossible.

Chuck never intended that the story would result in Leo's death. We are never sure that his desire wasn't based on the concept that a rescued Leo would make a better story. Still the ending is uncompromising; everything falls apart for Chuck as Leo dies. This is a great performance by Kirk Douglas. He had more range as an actor than he is often given credit for, We are left with the question at the end of the film does Chuck really feel bad because he lost his possible career breakthrough or because his actions caused Leo's death.

This is a very good film. It is available for free streaming. I don't rate this as highly as some prominent critics do. Still this is well worth viewing.
 
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"The Train"-John Frankenheimer-1964

This is Burt Lancaster's picture. Since the films made by his production company had lost money for UA. He made a deal to make four films for $150,000 rather his usual fee $750,000. He also got Arthur Penn fired after 3 days because Penn's vision was a discussion of the value of great art to the nation's psyche.

The story is based on a book by Rose Villard which discuses her work in the Underground protecting French Art.
The movie has a train carrying thousands of great pieces of modern art packed in crates rescued by the French Underground. This didn't happen; the actual train was stopped by clever use of the bureaucracy which kept the train moving around the city of Paris. One train was actually seized by the Resistance, and that formed the template for this film.

Lancaster plays Pierre Labiche, a French railroad supervisor. He has led an Underground group for years. Many have been killed or arrested by the Germans. The group has only three members. It is August 1944; Paris is expected to fall any day. The Germans are preparing to leave France. Colonel von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) is a lover of degenerative (modern) art. He plans to take the entire contents of a museum and transport it to Germany. He argues to his superiors that this art is more marketable than gold. The French curator, Rose Villard (Suzanne Flon), approaches the Resistance to prevent the transport of these masterpieces to Germany.

This sets up the central conflict in the film. What is the value of great works of art compared with the human lives which will be lost saving them? Labiche is not an art lover; he is much more concerned with cargoes which have obvious military value. The Resistance is run by French leaders in England; these leaders place a high value on the art. Labiche is drawn reluctantly into trying to save the art. In the end of the film the art has become the prize battled for by von Waldheim and Labiche. It has become very personal.

What makes this film a standout is its realism. Real trains were used. They crash into one another. The director almost gets killed shooting a sequence where a train avoids straffing by going into a tunnel. Lancaster did all his own stunts. Including loosening rails and causing a derailment. Frakenheimer was justly proud of this film. Unfortunately, it didn't make money. I rate this film as near great to great. I should mention that Jeanne Moreau plays an inn keeper who has lost her husband in the war. She helps Lancaster knowing that more widows will be made through his actions. Von Waldheim calls Labiche a lump of flesh because he will never understand or appreciate great art. The acting is first rate, but it is the action scenes and the underlying question of intangibles versus real human lives that make the film captivating.

My highest recommendation. It is available to stream for free.
 
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"I'm All Right Jack"-John Boulting-1959

We have looked at the Ealing comedies; this film is one of the most prominent representatives of Shepperton Studios flock of British comedies. Many actors appeared in films made in both studios. Peter Sellers was only one of many actors with such a background. This film established Sellers as a major comic star in British films.

He wasn't top billed, that went to Ian Carmichael who played Stanley Windbush. Windbush after his service in WW II and his subsequent graduation from Oxford is seeking an executive position in industry. After several disastrous interviews his uncle offers him a position in his missile factory. This position is as a worker and not as an executive. Stanley makes his first mistake when he doesn't realize that he has to join the union in order to work in the plant. The chief steward, Fred Kite (Peter Sellers) takes this issue to the factory manager Major Hitchcock (Terry Thomas). They reach agreement; Stanley keeps his job, and Fred Kite offers him a room in his house which is closer to the factory than his aunt Dolly's (Margaret Rutherford) house. Stanley is taken with Kite's blonde buxom daughter.

Stanley is a true innocent. He is operating a fork lift and following "work Rules"lifting a single crate on a pallet.
He doesn't understand that a polite stranger asks him about his job is a warning. Who is this stranger? He is a management time and motion study spy. When it comes out that Stanley has worked more efficiently than other workers and that management will raise work standards based on his observed behavior; he becomes a pariah. The workers go on strike; Stanley is sent to Coventry. The strike quickly spreads throughout the country; millions are out of work.

This is still a funny film. It made a lot of money and, Sellers won the BAFTA award as best actor. I re-watched the film for this essay; it stands up remarkably well. This is a happy conclusion and an affirmation that my memory isn't always faulty. Sellers is a remarkable actor. Other films of his which are top notch include" " A Shot in the Dark," "Being There," and "The World of Henry Orient." This is highly recommended and it's available to stream for free. Enjoy!
 
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"I'm All Right Jack"-John Boulting-1959

We have looked at the Ealing comedies; this film is one of the most prominent representatives of Shepperton Studios flock of British comedies. Many actors appeared in films made in both studios. Peter Sellers was only one of many actors with such a background. This film established Sellers as a major comic star in British films.

He wasn't top billed, that went to Ian Carmichael who played Stanley Windbush. Windbush after his service in WW II and his subsequent graduation from Oxford is seeking an executive position in industry. After several disastrous interviews his uncle offers him a position in his missile factory. This position is as a worker and not as an executive. Stanley makes his first mistake when he doesn't realize that he has to join the union in order to work in the plant. The Jimmy steward, Fred Kite (Peter Sellers) takes this issue to the factory manager Major Hitchcock (Terry Thomas). They reach agreement; Stanley keeps his job, and Fred Kite offers him a room in his house which is closer to the factory than his aunt Dolly's (Margaret Rutherford) house. Stanley is taken with Kite's blonde buxom daughter.

Stanley is a true innocent. He is operating a fork lift and following "work Rules"lifting a single crate on a pallet.
He doesn't understand that a polite stranger asks him about his job is a warning. Who is this stranger? He is a management time and motion study spy. When it comes out that Stanley has worked more efficiently than other workers and that management will raise work standards based on his observed behavior; he becomes a pariah. The workers go on strike; Stanley is sent to Coventry. The strike quickly spreads throughout the country; millions are out of work.

This is still a funny film. It made a lot of money and, Sellers won the BAFTA award as best actor. I re-watched the film for this essay; it stands up remarkably well. This is a happy conclusion and an affirmation that my memory isn't always faulty. Sellers is a remarkable actor. Other films of his which are top notch include" " A Shot in the Dark," "Being There," and "The World of Henry Orient." This is highly recommended and it's available to stream for free. Enjoy!
Another top notch British comedy with Peter Sellers is "The Naked Truth". This film is from 1957, just before he became a film comedy superstar. I saw it for the first time about a year and a half ago, and thought it was hilarious. Another great early Sellers movie is "The Mouse That Roared", which I believe I saw for the first time when I was either a teenager or in college. That one has really stuck with me over the years, it is simply a great satire. In both these films Sellers played multiple roles, hardly a surprise for him.
 
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"Chak De India"-Shimat Amir-2007
3 Idiots-Rajkumar Hirani-2009
"Evaru"-Venkat Ranji-2019

Yesterday was Republic Day in India. This marks the adoption of the Indian Constitution 70 years ago. I've had a bad run of movies lately. I won't detail my misadventures except to say; I watched a lot of movies. As I've mentioned, Amazon Prime has a big basket of Indian films available for free streaming; these 3 are in that large group. "Chek De India" is the story of a disgraced former captain of the Indian Field Hockey team who returns to coach the Woman's National Field Hockey Team in the world championships. It is loosely based on a real story. The film was a resounding popular success; sales of hockey equipment went up 30%, and the song from the movie has become an unofficial anthem of Indian national teams. The template is a well traveled pathway. This is a sports underdog story with a happy ending. It is quite well done. I doubt many of you have much experience with field hockey. Unusual for Indian films; this features a cast of unknowns, and it focuses on young women in sport. There have been a number of films in US and elsewhere which have featured women's sports, but they have been independent productions; this was a major studio effort, big budget film This is worth viewing.

"3 Idiots" is perhaps the most popular Indian film world wide. This film not only made a lot of money, but it has achieved iconic status. There are dozens of sites which honor the memories of the audience. The story follows
4 students at a prestigious Indian Engineering college. The film is set in New Delhi, but it was filmed (college sequences) in Bangalore. The site is what was the Tata Institute and became the Indian Institute of Technology, and it now has another name. The film follows three idiots and one antagonist through four years. The central idiot , Pancho, is an idealist. After his graduation as the top student in his class, Pancho disappears making no contact with his friends. Ten years pass and finally information about Pancho's whereabouts surfaces. The two idiots and the antagonist begin a search. There is quite a bit of humor and a major critique of Indian education along the way. This is well worth viewing, highly recommended.

The final film "Evaru" is in Telegu rather than Hindi. It is also by a first time director. It is based on a Spanish film I haven't seen. The story begins with a spectacular crime; the wife of a prominent businessman kills a senior Indian Police Officer who raped her. Think "Rashoman" we are confronted with a variety of explanations coming from a police officer and the victim/murderer during a lengthy interview. It starts well and loses its way. This is marginal for viewing.

Of the three; "Three Idiots" is the best option. If you have an interest in world cinema; then this is must viewing.
 
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"Speed"-Jan de Bont-1994

This is a classic action film. It is almost entirely action. It opens with a stalled elevator fitted with a bomb and the bomber demanding over $3 million for the release of the passengers. We are now more familiar with bombers who set up bombs for a cause. Howard Payne's (Dennis Hopper) cause is a big payout for his retirement. Two members of the LAPD Swat Team, Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) and Barry (Jeff Daniels) are tasked with removing the bomb and/orgetting the passengers out of the elevator. They succeed, but they believe that the bomber has killed himself. He has survived and he has another plan. He rigs two city buses with bombs. He blows the first one up just as the driver is starting his route and before he has picked up any passengers. Jack witnesses the destruction and Payne tells him that the second bomb is on bus 2525 running from Santa Monica to downtown. Jack successfully boards the moving bus; the bomb is set to go off if the bus' speed falls below 50 mph. A young woman, Annie (Sandra Bullock) ends up driving the bus after the driver is shot. Most of the film deals with the trials and tribulations of the bus trying to maintain its speed in freeway and city traffic.

The film was made by a first time director, Jan de Bont. He had plenty of experience as the cinematographer for some notable action films including "Die Hard." Graham Yost wrote the basic script with Josh Weedon doing an uncredited re-write. The film used around a dozen buses; two were destroyed, several were modified to shoot internal scenes. Several others were used to film the regular exterior scenes. Others were modified to hit cars, make a leap in an unfinished portion of the freeway, ride on the wheels on one side during a severe turn. This was before the days of extensive CGI, so real buses did the stunt work. At one point in the film a house is blown up. The film paid the owners $5,000 and rebuilt their house. The budget was only $30 million; it grossed $350 million world wide. If you can find the DVD Special Edition at your Library; the extras are well worth your time.

I hadn't watched the film in years before my recent viewing. It was definitely worth another look, The film is non stop thrills. The characters are pretty one dimensional, and the last major action sequence on a subway train seems over kill. We are not watching for subtlety; we want high voltage brilliantly conceived and filmed action. The few bits of humor aren't bad, but again this is all action all the time. Jan de Bont was never to find this groove again. After several expensive failures, he returned to cinematography. If you accept this film for what it is; then you will have an excellent time. Very Highly recommended.
 
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"Restrepo"-Sebastian Junger and Tim Heatherington-2010

This is an Oscar nominated documentary that covers "One platoon, One Valley, One Year." It is actually 15 months which a platoon of US army troops go to the Karengal Valley in Afghanistan which CNN called "The most dangerous place in the world." Junger and Heatherington were embedded with the troops in 2007 and 2008. The film has two elements actual filming when the troops go about their lives in a part of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan. The second part of the film cut into this live in a war zone are interviews with the survivors in Italy. Junger financed the film on his own. Heatherington was killed in Libya several years later. Junger has gone on to make other films and write other books about the experiences of American soldiers in battle and when they return home.

This film has plenty of fire fights, but the Taliban are almost never seen. The first death in the platoon is PFC Juan Restrepo a medic. He was eccentric and very popular. His death shook up the men of Battle Company, but when they set up a forward base they named it for him. The object of the forward base was to enable the Company to bring the battle to the Taliban. Emphasis is given to the war aims of winning hearts and minds of the locals. Captain Dan Kearney has weekly meetings with the local elders to explain what improvements the
Us intended to make to their lives. In addition to protecting the local areas from Taliban raids, projects including building a road and schools were to happen. I should mention hat there is no narration by the film crew. We don't see the projects; the soldiers we see are fighters. Whether or not other troops ever started these projects we don't know.

The major offensive move is Operation Rock Avalanche. It was an attempt to push further into Taliban territory. It was a nerve wracking few days where the unit took heavy casualties. No attempt was made to hold the territory. Shortly thereafter the unit is flown to Italy for debriefing prior to the end of their deployment. Some of the soldiers end their army career, but most remain. They end up in various units abroad and in the US. Some return to Afghanistan. The base camp Restrepo is given up in 2010.

The movie gives an unvarnished picture of US troops in combat. It is noisy and confusing, but we do see the
closeness of the unit; their concern for each other, and their determination to do their job. The so called big picture issues are not in the forefront. The biggest issue is survival for the individual and his friends. The interviews in Italy allow us to know a little more about individual soldiers. The DVD extras include deleted scenes and more interviews. There are also short bits of information about what happened to some of the men post deployment.

Sebastian Junger first became well known for his bestselling book "Perfect Storm." He continued to write for a variety of magazines. His next book "Fire" is a collection of these pieces. One of these is relevant to answering the question why would he embed with US soldiers in Afghanistan. This section deals with his meeting with Ahmed Shah Masood the leader of the Northern Alliance. Masood was the single most important leader of the Afhan resistance to the Soviet Union. After the Soviets were expelled, the country descended into chaos or perhaps greater chaos is a better term. He tried to form a stable government from a situation of warring factions and ideologies. The Taliban were radical Islamists who had support from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. They became the dominant force in Afghanistan. Masood was the only major holdout. Junger was smuggled in to meet him. He spent two weeks in Masood's territory. There is a short video (48 minutes) documenting this visit. It is available for free streaming: "Into the Forbidden Zone." Masood warned just before his assassination that radical Islamists from Afghanistan would attack the US.
I believe that this initial visit inspired Junger to be embedded in Afghanistan.

Both these films are very highly recommended. Junger is an observer, not a commentator in these works. He has retained close ties to the soldiers in "Restrepo", but he has continued to write about a variety of topics.
There a number of videos of him speaking and being interviewed available. I should mention that his work was my real entry to Afghanistan. I had put this aside for years until watching "Restrepo." I hope some of you have already seen his film, and that others will take a chance on it.
 
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" Wizard of Oz"-Victor Fleming-1939

It took five directors and ten screenwriters to make this film. It went way over budget and it wasn't a success in its initial release. It did excellent business abroad in '39 and '40. King Vidor was brought in to finish the film when Fleming left for "Gone With the Wind." Vidor filmed the Kansas portions in sepia tones. Toto got stepped on by a crew member; Margaret Hamilton was badly burned in the scene where the wicked witch takes off from Munchkinland; and Buddy Ebsen had to leave the tin man role because the makeup made him sick. The film was cut from 120 minutes to 102 minutes after the previews.

I saw the film in a theater in 2018. It was a special showing in one of the 3 theaters around the country which had premiers 80 years before. Few films have maintained the interest of the public for such a long time. It has almost universal appeal. Salman Rushdie saw the film in Bombay, and it made him want to become a writer. His first story had an Oz theme. The scene where Dorothy opens the second door and first sees Oz takes us from our world to a different world; "over the rainbow" as Dorothy puts it to Toto. We have moved from a sepia tinted world to glorious technicolor. Dreams are in technicolor, and the film explains Dorothy's experiences as just a dream. Dorothy doesn't accept this, but she probably grows up and pushes her experiences of Oz to the back of her mind. We lose something when we put away the dreams of our childhood.

For most of the cast this was the high point of their movie careers. Frank L. Baum's Oz stories have been filmed dozens of times, but this remains the high point. The ruby slippers were silver in the book; they became red because they would look better in Technicolor. Frank Morgan plays five roles in this film: Professor Miracle, the Wizard, and three citizens of Oz. "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" is but one of the many memorable lines. "Over the Rainbow" has been voted the greatest film song. A reprise of the song when Dorothy has been captured by the wicked witch was one of the cuts made prior to release. It had the crew crying, and it is available on a Rhino CD which has all the music from the film. It was a major success on TV, but now TCM owns the rights, and it is only available there. So unless you have a DVD you can't watch it right away. It appears on screens periodically at festivals and other special events. This is a film which merits viewing again and again. This is a great film.
 
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If only "Over the Rainbow" didn't cause me actual physical pain.
 
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"The Secret in Their Eyes"-Juan Jose Campanella-2009

Campanella wrote the screenplay with the author of the novel(Sacheri) on which it is based. The film intercuts the present 1999 with the past 1974-75. It opens with Benjamin Esposito attempting to write a novel based on a rape/murder case which has troubled him for 25 years. The film is set in Argentina primarily in Buenos Aires. Esposito is a retired Justice Department employee. This can be a little confusing; the justice system is quite different than that in the US. Esposito functions both as a clerk and as an investigator. In 1974 a new person is introduced into the office. She, Irene Menendez Hastings, is a lawyer who will supervise the office under a judge. She is upper class and American educated. Esposito is immediately taken with her. This sets up the second major thread in the film, the attraction between Benjamin and Irene.

The acting is excellent and the two plot threads are handled skillfully, but I think that it is the cinematography which really raises this film from very good to world class. When we first see the body of the rape/murder victim we are shocked, but there is an almost beautiful horror. Then Esposito looks a number of photos of the victims life. The photos help Benjamin in two ways, First as an investigator he uses the photos to identify a possible suspect; second as an author he uses the photos to help in the creation of a real character. There is a scene at a soccer match where a suspect is chased through the stadium which is brilliantly filmed.

This film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010. This film was a major success with critics and at the box office. You can easily find reviews of critics and viewers online. It is one of the top 250 best reviewed films at IMDb. It is not quite like anything else I've seen. Very highly recommended. Next up are two foreign films: "Goodbye Lenin" and "12" both Oscar nominees. Kirk Douglas died yesterday, so I will conclude a year of comments with a film featuring this great actor. Then I will close this thread. I will provide an index, and then I will open a new thread for the second year of films worth viewing.
 
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"Goodbye Lenin"-Wolfgang Becker-2003

This is one of 3 important films made in Germany which looked at history early in the 21st century, The two others are"Downfall' which looks at the last days of Hitler, and "The Lives of Others" which looks at the spying by the Stassi, the state police, on East German Citizens. This is a multi layered film. Remember "Amelie" where Jeunet creates an enhanced reality for his central character? Here Becker has the son try to re-create a past reality to "save" his mother. It is set in the year where the wall between East and West Berlin came down and Germany was re-unified.

Many years before the doctor father of Alex and Arianne escapes to the West. Their mother has a mental breakdown. She emerges as a dedicated,award winning citizen of the East German regime. Fast forward to 1989
Alex, a non political person, joins a massive protest march. His mother, on her way to an awards ceremony, is stopped by the traffic tie-up, she emerges from the cab to witness her son's arrest. She has a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital. Alex is released from jail. He goes to the hospital where he finds his mother in a coma.
The coma lasts eight months. During her coma, the world has changed. The wall comes down; there is free movement between East and West Germany, and the East German government falls apart. Capitalism has triumphed. The doctor warns Alex that his mother's condition is precarious; another heart attack would likely kill her. Alex fears that the loss of the East German Socialist state could kill his mother. Alex takes on the mission to re-create the lost world of communism.

This is not an easy task. Alex must get the family, friends, and neighbors to go along. This is only the start; he will have to find communist food brands which have gone off the market; he will have to create new State television programs. There has to be new news to explain the changes visible from their apartment. Things really become complicated when the mother is well enough to take a walk.

This film was honored with many awards, but not an Oscar. It made quite a bit of money. One interesting tidbit: in the last two years of his life;Lenin was hospitalized. Stalin constructed an elaborate system to keep him from knowing the political and social issues of the day. Well worth viewing.
 
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"Paths of Glory"- Stanley Kubrick=1957

The title comes from Gray's "Elegy" "The path of glory lead but to the grave." Kubrick wrote the script with Calder Willingham, and Jim Thompson the well known writer of detective fiction. It was filmed in Germany; most of the extras were German police. The recreation of the trenches was accurate according to Winston Churchill. The film was a flop in the US, and it did even worse in Europe. It was banned in France until the mid-seventies. Germany banned it sympathy with France. There was a famous strike of French soldiers on the Western Front in 1917. Maybe strike is a slight misnomer; the troops were willing to defend,but they refused to attack. They wanted the Americans and tanks. The film is set in 1916.

The basic plot is that a General from the High Command virtually forces a division commander to attack a heavily fortified German position, the "anthill." He entrusts the attack to the 701st regiment commanded by Colonel Dax, Kirk Douglas. The attack is a disaster; none of the troops reach the German lines; some never leave the trenches. Still the slaughter is profound. A court martial is set up to try some representative soldiers for cowardice. Three soldiers are selected, one from each battalion. If convicted; they will be executed. Dax is their defense counsel. He tries hard, but the court is determined to convict. I should mention that 26 soldiers were executed for the 2017 strike. I still have the feeling that this film is depicting reality, the story has elements drawn from several real events. It never feels as if it was cobbled together. Dax finds some devastating information about the division commander's performance on the attack day. He reports this to the representative from the High Command, Adolph Menjou, in an attempt to stop the soldiers from being shot.
It doesn't work; Menjou thinks Dax is angling for the command of the division. The film ends with the 701st regiment returning to the front.

This is a film I've seen several times, and it's one of Douglas' best performances. Coming back to it after many years; I don't find this to be a great film, but it is near great.

"!2" is a Russian re-make of "12 Angry Men." It was Russia's official entry to the Oscar's. It is notas good as the original, but it is quite good and well worth viewing. Next closing down this thread and finally creating a table of contents.
 

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