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Found 6 results

  1. I'm watching "Firefox" for the first time since it was released in 1982. I distinctly remember the opening scene, with Clint Eastwood jogging (although, for some reason, I thought I remembered him jogging without a shirt). When I was 21 years old, I thought to myself, 'My *God*, he looks old' (he was 52). Now, my impression when I just saw that same scene was, 'My *God*, he looks young.' Unfortunately, other than seeing the movie in the theater vs. on Amazon, there's only one variable in this equation. (Actually, in a later scene, Eastwood was standing around without a shirt - he really wasn't in top shape for this film, even for a 52-year-old.) I had completely forgotten how blatantly Soviet this film was - sort of like an earlier version of "The Hunt for Red October" (1990) which I thought was just awful. However, I was studying Russian in the late 1980s, and knew enough to pick out the flaws in Red October; when I saw Firefox, Russian was like Chinese to me, so I had absolutely no idea how contrived it was. I do find it interesting just how John McCain-like Clint Eastwood's Vietnam flashback was. I also didn't realize that Firefox, like all of Malpaso's (Eastwood's Production company's) pictures since, has no opening credits after the title was displayed. One thing I'm noticing about Firefox is the incredible attention that's being paid to seemingly mundane detail (which I consider to be a huge asset; others consider it to be dull) - not a lot of action is occurring, but the Soviet atmosphere is being slowly and surely cultivated, despite the film not being shot in the Soviet Union (for Cold War reasons) - I suppose some might find the entire structure ponderous; I find it fascinating, in the way that I find Bruckner's symphonies fascinating. Just don't watch Firefox looking for an "Eastwood action movie," because you're going to spend a lot of time trying to find it. That said, Eastwood's heavily Americanized Russian accent would *never* pass muster when scrutinized by even a casual speaker, much less suspicious KGB agents screening him at a security gate - also, doesn't *anybody* around the perimeter of the ultra-secure facility know what their own pilot looks like? The special effects used for the flying scenes were known as "Reverse Bluescreen" photography, and were pioneered by John Dykstra just for this film - Dykstra was the special-effects lead for the original "Star Wars," and is almost surely a household name to anyone who cares about special effects. When the second Firefox is chasing the first, it becomes *extremely* obvious that this is a riff on Star Wars - you'll know the scene when you see it. Interestingly, not long after this, there's a scene that's a riff on, believe it or not, my favorite scene from "Wings" (1927), one pilot showing respect to the other. And after *that*, there's yet another Star War's riff - recall, "Use the force, Luke." If you want a detailed plot synopsis, there's a good one on *** SPOILER ALERT *** IMDB.
  2. "Forbidden Planet" is one of the final science-fiction films from the 1950s I feel an almost-urgent need to see - Gene Roddenberry himself said it was a major influence for "Star Trek" - within the first minute of the movie, you can easily see the inspiration for "Warp Drive." The film introduces the legendary Robby the Robot - a seven-foot-tall robot (interestingly, he makes an appearance in "Lost in Space" where he battles "Robot," for whom he was a major inspiration). The film stars Walter Pidgeon ("How Green was My Valley") as Dr. Edward Morbius, Anne Francis ("The Blackboard Jungle") as Altaira "Alba" Morbius, and Leslie Nielsen ("Airplane!") as Commander John J. Adams. It also features Warren Stevens as Lt. "Doc" Ostrow and Earl Holliman ("Where is Everybody?" on "The Twilight Zone") as Cook. If you listen even half-carefully, you'll easily be able to detect the use of a Theremin in the theme song. Recently, I've watched some important science fiction films from the 1950s: "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "The War of the Worlds," "Kiss Me Deadly," and "Forbidden Planet." Of the four, I thought that "Forbidden Planet" was, by far, the weakest of the bunch in terms of "general quality," although there's no denying the influence it had on making "Star Trek," and that alone is enough to place it in the pantheon of 1950s Science Fiction. Likewise, Robbie the Robot as an influence for "Lost in Space." As a movie? It's the weak link of the four, but there's no denying the film's influence, and you can absolutely see "Star Trek" in it, without even looking very closely. The plot is somewhat difficult to wrap your head around, and the viewer walks away from the film with something of a hollow feeling - the acting is fine, the effects quite good, and the character development is surprising, so why am feeling like I saw something "more influential than great?" I feel like I'm missing something here, and I'm hoping that discussion will help me sort things out. Can anyone out there help?
  3. I have every intention to watch the classic, 1954, Japanese film "Seven Samurai" by Akira Kurosawa, and since I've been riding so high in the saddle with American Westerns recently, I decided to watch the classic, 1960 remake first: "The Magnificent Seven," pretty-much knowing that Seven Samurai will be better, and possibly a lot better. Now, that I've watched it, I hope "Seven Samurai" is a *lot* better, because "The Magnificent Seven" was merely a good - not great - American Western, even though you'll hear otherwise from plenty of critics. Perhaps I think so because I've watched *so* many great American Westerns lately, or perhaps movie critics are like so many restaurant critics - going for big celebrities, lots of PR, tons of hype, free meals, and God knows what else. Of the so-called "great" American Westerns I've seen, only "Shane" has disappointed me more. Don't get me wrong: "The Magnificent Seven" isn't a bad movie; it's just not a great movie ... it falls somewhere in-between. It was worth watching for me only because I'm recently fixated on the genre, and also as a preparatory exercise for "Seven Samarai." Only two of the seven (plus the villain) get billing before the movie title: Yul Brynner (Chris Adams), Eli Wallach (the bandit Calvera), and Steve McQueen (Vin Tanner). The other four, Charles Bronson (Bernardo O'Reilly), Robert Vaughn (Lee, the war veteran), Brad Dexter (the mercenary), James Coburn (the knife fighter), and Horst Buchholtz (the kid, Chico), each had their own screen, but were presented after the title. The movie was filmed entirely in Mexico, which helped; I only wish the Mexican actors were either better-trained, or didn't use English as a second language, because it really showed up - granted, this is how it would be in real life, but in contrast with the suave, dramatically and well-versed Americans, the difference in acting - particularly the diction - was rather dramatic. Wow, my first impression is that Calvera is a lot like Negan on "The Walking Dead." *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** The most beautiful scene in the movie was Harry Luck's (Brad Dexter's) dying scene, in Chris Adams' (Yul Brynner's) arms. Each of "The Magnificent Seven" took this low-paying ($20 for six weeks) job for different reasons. Luck's primary reason was that he had always thought that there was something more in it for him than just a measly $20. He said to Chris, "I'd hate to die a sucker. We didn't come here just to keep an eye on a lotta corn and chili peppers, did we? ...." Chris answered, knowing Chris had mere moments to live, "Yes, Harry. You had it pegged right all along," and then told him there was a half-million dollars in buried gold, from which his share would be about $70,000 - it was all a lie to make Harry die with a smile on his face, which he did. Here are the following two stills, less than one-second apart from each other: Make note: Despite Harry Luck being a mercenary, he was a good person, and the "little white lie" told by Chris was entirely appropriate, and absolutely compelling. Harry's last words, delivered during the first photo, were, "I'll be damned." Chris's words, delivered immediately after Harry died, were, "Maybe you won't be." If only the rest of the film could have been this profound, it would have been a great movie. "The Turbulent Three": Nobody in the Seven was more dimwitted, or more wise, than Chico (Horst Buchholtz). As dumb as dirt, he was the only of the seven who walked away with First Prize. For all its hype, and for all its stars, "The Magnificent Seven" was simply not a great film; it was a good film, but it lacked coherence, and dare I say logic? Now I'm *really* hoping that "Seven Samurai" simply didn't transfer well to the Western genre - with the stars and the budget this film had, it should have been absolutely fantastic; it wasn't. It's a good movie, and worth seeing, and that's as far as I'm willing to go - what I'm really hoping is that it will deepen my appreciation for "Seven Samurai," but now I"m wondering whether or not I should see "A Bug's Life" first as well. I hate to come right out and say, "All the critics are wrong," because Rotten Tomatoes uses either a thumbs-up or thumbs-down model, and I have no problem giving this a "thumbs up," but once you get into more nuance than a simple, binary, "yes-or-no," once again, I find myself agreeing with Dave Kehr more than any other active critic: And I know I lack the specific experience to come right out and say that all the professional movie critics are wrong, but ... all the professional movie critics are wrong.
  4. I know nothing about "Blackboard Jungle" except that it's "the other" teen-angst film from 1955 that I was going to watch, along with "Rebel Without a Cause." The notorious high school principal, Mr. Warneke, is played by John Hoyt, who you'll find playing the Chief Medical Officer on the Starship Enterprise before Dr. McCoy came along in the "Star Trek" series pilot, "The Cage." (don't forget, the central action in "The Cage" takes place thirteen years before most of the current cast has come into the picture). It's amazing how many character actors you become familiar with over time - in this movie is someone I've encountered several times recently: "The Maytag Repairman," Jesse White, not credited in this film, but pictured here to the left of Glenn Ford (our right). White was in so many things I've seen lately that I'm thinking of giving him his own thread: And who's that in the glasses playing the student named Santini? It's Jameel Farah in his film debut. Interestingly, the Lebanese-American Farah (born in Toledo, OH) used his real birth name in this film; he eventually changed his stage name to Jamie Farr. You know how people say "the good old days were only old; they were never good?" This is one example of something that's both old *and* good: an ethnic actor unafraid to use his birth name for fear of being ostracized. So many famous actors, like this student, Artie West in the film, to the left of the column with curly hair and a cap on: Unfortunately, this actor, Vic Morrow - like James Dean - became more famous for how he died than how he lived. The opening of this film is a virtual parade of future Hollywood stardom, like that kid in the restroom smoking a cigarette: Twelve years later, he'd have the most successful year in all of Hollywood, winning Best Actor for "In the Heat of the Night" (yep: Sidney Poitier). Then, much later in the film, comes along Richard Deacon for a cameo: *** SPOILERS FOLLOW *** With about thirty minutes left, Richard Dadier (Glenn Ford) went from being completely ostracized by his students - with his wife threatened - to borderline accepted, for seemingly no reason. Perhaps it's Miller (Sidney Poitier) who was finally won over, and Miller is (as has been implied the entire film) leader of the gang, so to speak. The transition just seems a little abrupt to me, but regardless, it takes a *lot* of stress off of the viewer. This all happens shortly after Dadier walks in on Miller's gospel group, singing about Moses - a side of Miller that has not yet been seen before (it should be remembered that this film was released just one short year after Brown vs. Board of Education was decided). I've been negligent in not mentioning Dadier's lovely wife Anne (played by Anne Francis). Easily the main sub-plot of the film, Anne wants Richard (Glenn Ford) to move to a better school, with students who are more receptive, but she does have a secret ulterior motive: She has started to get anonymous letters, warning her about another woman - as far as the viewer can tell, these letters are absolutely untrue, and are efforts from the students to destroy Richard - that's why it's a little surprising that this all started happening right around the same time he was becoming accepted by them. With only thirty minutes left in the film, it's going to be interesting to see how this all plays out. I have a hunch that it might be Lois Hammond herself ("the other woman") sending these letters, because she might have a crush on Richard. I say that, yet it's clearly a man who has called twice to warn the (expecting) wife, and that man is shaping up to be Miller (Poitier) - why on earth would he be doing this when Richard has shown absolutely *no* sign of infidelity? Maybe Miller really *does* want Richard to get the hell out of this school, and teach somewhere he can be appreciated - that would be fitting, because Dadier has been good to Miller this entire film, and Miller knows it. I'm writing this paragraph about ten minutes after the last one - Artie West (Vic Morrow) has quietly been perhaps the strongest supporting actor in this movie, and the producer and director have *very* cleverly led the viewers to follow their own biases down one street, when it has been West all along that was the source of all troubles (although I was almost certain West was the one who slugged Richard in the alley). Vic Morrow should have been nominated for Best Supporting Actor if he wasn't, because he is *terrific* in this film. About the *only* over-the-top element (and I'm just about at the end) was when Santini (Jameel Farah) stopped West's attack with the American Flag - that was awfully heavy-handed, but I can give this fantastic movie one mulligan. Props also go to Rafael Campos who played Latino student Pete Morales - he was yet another quietly brilliant actor in this movie. If "Blackboard Jungle" was Poitier's springboard to Hollywood stardom (and his career began almost a decade earlier, so it might not have been, but *if* it was), it's perfectly understandable, because he comes across as the type of actor who America would embrace for his role in this film. He was brilliant, but so were any of a dozen other people - even small roles, such as Richard and Anne's doctor (Warner Anderson) were just brilliantly played. It's funny, I thought that the principal, Mr. Warneke (John Hoyt) was going to have such an influential role in this film, but he did almost nothing (which, in-and-of-itself, was *very* influential in terms of how the high school was run), but in terms of the movie, he was nearly non-existent, and it was the command performances of so many other actors that made "Blackboard Jungle" leaps-and-bounds better than "Rebel Without a Cause" - the former is *so* much better than the latter, that they really can't be compared; one is a period piece - a "Catcher in the Rye"-type piece of pablum, famous only for James Dean; the other, "Blackboard Jungle," is one of the finest films I've seen - easily the best "50s-era problem-teen" film I've ever watched, and if this wasn't nominated for Best Picture, and if several people weren't nominated for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor, then that's criminal. Do yourself a favor and watch this movie at all costs. I'm not going to "rank" it, but I will say that it's one of the finest movies I've ever seen - top 20? top 30? I don't know ... just see it, trust me and see it. People say this film is dated, and a product of its time; I think it's underrated, and way ahead of its time - it is *so much* more important than "Marty," which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the acting is *so much* better than it was in "Rebel Without a Cause," which had a lot more nominations - the academy simply wasn't ready for this type of movie in 1955. It's time for "Blackboard Jungle" to have a renaissance.
  5. When I was in my mid-20s (maybe in the late 80s), "The Manchurian Candidate" made a revival on the big screen, and I saw it, and really enjoyed it while also thinking it was something almost campy. Now that I've seen it a second time, I realize that I was too uneducated to appreciate the film - this was an incredibly well-done movie, somehow able to take the absolutely unbelievable - bordering on the ridiculous - and make it seem positively realistic and possible. For me, The Manchurian Candidate is almost like a "Greatest Hits" album of actors, and I cannot imagine how Frank Sinatra - and for that matter, Lawrence Harvey - weren't nominated for Best Actor (the great Angela Lansbury was nominated for Best Supporting Actress, which is reasonable, but she was outperformed by both of these men). It says a lot that The Manchurian Candidate would speak louder and more clearly, and also be more believable, to an educated 55-year-old man than an enthusiastic, but ultimately ignorant 24-year-old boy. Back in the 1980s, I considered myself very knowledgeable about film for an amateur; what I wasn't knowledgeable about was life itself. Back then, I distinctly remember talking with a Vietnam Veteran, who made an off-the-cuff remark to the extent of, "I really have trouble watching that stuff, because it messes with my mind," and I can easily see how he thought that ... now; back then, I didn't really understand. I just cannot get over how this movie managed to make something so utterly implausible seem so incredibly realistic and possible. Although I had no memory of how the film ended, I did manage to guess the ending sequence with a high degree of accuracy, but though I knew what was coming (or thought I did), nothing was ruined or compromised - the film ended exactly how it needed to - it was a heart-wrenching, but beautiful, ending to a heart-wrenching film. The Manchurian Candidate is a *big* film, with *big*, *bold* ideas and messages, and it succeeds on that level, but what makes it truly great is the individual-level, human tragedy that unfolds before our eyes. The irony of a sabotage-themed work invoking such strong feelings of patriotism - all without overtly manipulating the viewer in that regard - is amazing in-and-of itself. I'm not sure how "good" this film is rated by critics, but this is absolutely one of the most important Cold War movies I've ever seen. Sadly, people who are any younger than I am will simply not be able to relate to this in the way that I can, as my formative years were spent during the apogee of the Cold War - in elementary school, we'd crawl under our desks to simulate how we'd act in case of a nuclear-bomb attack. Although I suppose this generation of children has their own cross to bear, with being trained how to deal with school shootings - the more things change, the more they stay the same. There is a *ton* of symbolism in this movie - much of it obvious, some of it more subtle, but it's probably nearly impossible to pick it all out. You could watch this film a second time, just looking for symbols, and not waste your time. An absolutely classic film in several regards, and the best work I've ever seen from both Frank Sinatra and Lawrence Harvey.
  6. The opening of "Divorce American Style" is *very* witty - I had no idea what that man was doing conducting on the hilltop; then, it dawned on me: This is one of the most amusing first-four minutes of a movie I've seen in quite awhile (not surprisingly, it was produced by Norman Lear), and even if you don't watch the entire movie, it's worth just watching the first four minutes (assuming you can find a free copy - I paid $3.99 on Amazon Prime (has anyone else noticed that these movie services all performed a simultaneous bait-and-switch, offering "free" movies with a membership fee, then deciding to charge the membership fee *and* $2.99-3.99 per movie?)) Anyway, if someone knows of a better option, I'd be interested in knowing - I've been watching quite a few movies on my Walking Dead Diet, and they're becoming sneaky-expensive. In resuming my quest to watch all the Academy Award nominees from 1967, this is - I believe - the thirteenth nominee I've seen from that year. It stars Dick Van Dyke and Debbie Reynolds as Richard and Barbara Harmon (just remember "There's no harm in saying that barb was rich!"), a stereotypical couple who - after seventeen years of marriage - seems to have it all, but of course they don't. (I'm assuming this is the case - as with all my other recent write-ups, I'm writing this one as I go, and only reading the plot synopses up until the point that I've watched.) Speaking of Debbie Reynolds, I woke up last Friday morning only to find this on my cell phone - a top-o'-the-morning birthday present. It's kind of hard not to have a good birthday when it starts out like this: And as of this writing, I'm happy to say that Dick Van Dyke (brother of Jerry Van Dyke), Debbie Reynolds (mother of Carrie Fisher, wife of Eddie Fisher (who left Debbie to marry her "best friend," Elizabeth Taylor (something tells me Debbie did that very same dance on Eddie's grave (although Debbie later took an incredibly gracious first step in reconciling her friendship with Taylor)))), and Norman Lear (producer of "All in the Family") are all very much still with us, 49 years after Divorce American Style was released. The title is a riff on and homage to the 1961 Italian film, "Divorce Italian Style" starring Marcello Mastroianni which I thought might have been a parody of mafia killings, but isn't (wouldn't it be funny if it was?) I remember on one episode of "All in the Family," Archie Bunker is doing a crossword puzzle out loud, and says to himself, "A four-letter Italian word meaning 'Goodbye.'" After thinking about it for a second, he says, "Bang. B-A-N-G." A second, very funny scene happened when Richard and Barbara were having a shouting match just before a dinner party - the doorbell rang, and they opened the door, full of smiles - the acting was executed to a tee, and who was one of the dinner guests? "Old Leadbottom" himself: Captain Binghamton! One second: The next second: When I was a child (and I was a latchkey child, so I watched a *lot* of TV), my two favorite shows were, in order, 1) "The Dick Van Dyke Show" 2) "I Love Lucy" (I know that I Love Lucy has become more popular, but I always liked The Dick Van Dyke Show more, for whatever reason). Anyway, it's almost disturbing seeing Dick Van Dyke fighting with his wife, because he was *such* a nice man in his series - no, I take that back: It *is* disturbing to see Dick Van Dyke fighting with his wife. I also just found out, for the first time in my life, that there was no overlap between when these two shows ran: I Love Lucy (1951-1960), The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-1966). Wow, I Love Lucy was *really* ahead of its time: To think that television - and I mean the entire concept of TV sets - just went into mass production only *three years* before that series started ... I Love Lucy is historically important, no doubt about it. Quick! Think of another show from the 1950s that's more popular - I suspect you can't, and I can't either. People make fun of "Leave It To Beaver" as being Artificial America, but the ones who do forget that I Love Lucy came long before that. How did I get so far off-topic? Ha! Ha! Ha! When the argument was going through the vents, and the camera cut to the children, I was prepared for some little kid to be sobbing listening to mommy and daddy screaming at each other; instead, we get the highly amused teenager with a scorecard! Yes, it really *is* Champagne, Mumm (from Reims): If Fern looks familiar (you'll meet her about 35 minutes into the picture), it's because you used to watch "I Dream of Jeannie" (and what guy between the ages of 50 and 70 didn't?) - she's none other than Amanda Bellows (Emmaline Henry). It's pretty funny: The primary antagonist in I Dream of Jeannie was Dr. "Bellows," and the divorce attorney in Divorce American Style is Mr. "Grieff." The scene at the bank was a wonderful comedic moment - a miniature story in itself: Both the music and the freeze-frame, accusatory pointing were perfect. And *oh my goodness*! That teenager who was so entertained by writing down that argument scorecard? It's Otter from "Animal House!" Tim Matheson! He was twenty years old, and looks like he's about fifteen. This was his first-ever film ... and who knew that he was also the voice of Jonny Quest?! Remember that cartoon with Hadji and Bandit the dog? This is a seriously star-studded film: Lee Grant (Academy Award winner for Best Supporting Actress in "Shampoo") plays Dede, a prostitute; and although they haven't made appearances yet, Jason Robards (eight Tony Award nominations - more than any other male actor) plays Nelson Downs, and Tom Bosley (Howard Cunningham on "Happy Days") plays Farley. There are other, more esoteric performers that I recognize, but most people probably wouldn't; still - there's a surprising amount of famous people in this movie: Does anyone remember "When Things Were Rotten?" You'll laugh at the "uranium mine" line. A new divorce litigation partnership: Scrotusky, Cockburn, Uberdung, and Muffton (SCUM). Their motto: "Why do we charge twenty grand for a divorce? Because you'll pay it." Double cheeseburger, french fries, and a Coke: 67 cents! And product placements for both Coca-Cola and McDonald's: And then the people driving up after him also mention Coke, and the guy says to the girl, "... and you want your hamburger rare, right?" Really? Did McDonald's cook to-order in the 1967? Boy, I'm now about twenty minutes from the end, and this movie has lost a *lot* of its luster - ever since the part (at the bowling alley) where Jason Robards entered the picture, it has turned from being genuinely funny, to mostly just plain dumb - it started out with such enormous promise, but it's like the writer ran out of gags halfway through the movie, and in order to make it 1:40 in length, had to think of *something* to fill in the time - the plot has gotten really stupid, slow, and drawn out, and I haven't even cracked a smile in the last thirty minutes. Essentially, as soon as Richard and Barbara split up and started dating other people, the film has no longer been funny. And unfortunately, that lack of comedic value extended all the way until the end of the movie. The first half: funny! The second half: not funny.
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