Thursday, June 28, 2012

163. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943)

Running Time: 75 minutes
Directed By: William A. Wellman
Written By: Lamar Trotti, from novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark
Main Cast: Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Anthony Quinn, William Eythe, Harry Morgan
Click here to view the trailer


I've invented a new phrase that I'm going to try and work into the blog as often as I can. The phrase is "slump buster" and is needed when a film comes along and really pulls me out of a string of disappointing movies. Yeah, I realize "Rio Bravo" was a good one, but beyond that I've been in a real funk lately. That ended today with the viewing of "The Ox-Bow Incident", the first official slump buster!

The film runs only seventy-five minutes long and stars Henry Fonda as Carter, a man who rides into a Nevada town after being away for an unspecified amount of time. Carter, along with his pal Croft (Morgan), hitch their horses outside a local saloon and within five minutes find themselves in a fist fight with another local. Carter's the type who gets calmed by a good fist fight, whether he wins or loses. Meanwhile, there's talk in town of a group of rustlers who have been going around and stealing farmer's cattle. Soon, more horrendous news comes, when word breaks that Larry Kinkaid has been shot and killed. In town, at the saloon, a lynch mob quickly forms, while the Sheriff is away on business and the deputy Sheriff doesn't waste time deputizing the lot of them and leading them through the cold, dark night to find the man or men who shot down Kinkaid. Led by Major Gerald Tetley (Eythe), the mob find the men they're looking for in the Ox-Bow canyon. There are three of them, Donald Martin (Andrews), a young, able-bodied, husband with two children, Juan Martinez (Quinn), a Mexican and a simple-minded, old man. They have in their possession fifty head of Kinkaid's cattle, which they claim to have purchased from Kinkaid. The don't have a bill of sale for the cattle, citing that Kinkaid promised to mail it to them later. They also have a revolver that members of the mob recognize as belonging to Larry Kinkaid, Martinez stating that he found it along the road. The three strangers' story isn't holding much water with the lynch mob (composed of approximately twenty-five people) and as night turns to day, the crowd (save for seven of them) are becoming more and more blood thirsty.


Who here doesn't love Henry Fonda? A show of hands, please. Okay, those of you who have just raised your hands, please leave my classroom immediately. I'm kidding, of course, but how can you not love the guy? I'd be hard pressed to think of an actor who I enjoy watching more than Henry Fonda. I'd even be bold enough to call him my all-time favorite actor (and even more bold enough to say that "12 Angry Men" MAY BE my favorite of the near 500 films I've watched from THE BOOK, thus far). I could watch the guy run dialogue with a push broom for ninety minutes and still call it an '8/10' effort. I'll start by saying that I'd seen "The Ox-Bow Incident" prior to today. I saw it for the first time approximately a month before I started the journey through the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book and loved it then, as I did today. I saw someone mention on another site, that it reminded them of a Western version of "12 Angry Men", just with a different outcome and that's exactly what I was thinking as I watched it today. I saw another man mention that "The Ox-Bow Incident" should be required viewing for everyone and I wholeheartedly agree. The biggest revelation that I took from "Ox-Bow" is the absolute senselessness of the killings and how you can probably flip open the daily newspaper everyday and read about killings that are just as senseless. It was as if the characters in this film were so bored (because the only things to do in their town were drink, eat, fight, play poker or sleep) that they found an excuse to go out and lynch three innocents. They had bloodshed on their mind from the beginning and no matter what the three innocents said, they were going to end the night with a rope necktie. The characters (the ones who are FOR the lynching, anyway) are enough to make you sick and you could collectively call them one of the baddest villains in the history of cinema.

That's why the end is so satisfying. When the Sheriff finally rides into town and brings news that Kinkaid isn't dead at all and says "God have mercy on you, because I sure won't". The tables have turned. Now the accusers have become the accused and without a shadow of a doubt, they're guilty. The parts are played perfectly by everyone involved. I already mentioned that the bad guys - Major Tetley, Farnley, Jenny Grier and Mapes - all are enough to make you sick, so that says right there that they did their job. I also loved Leigh Wipper (who, for some reason, wasn't mentioned in the credits) and Harry Davenport. Big credit goes to the three victims too, who almost made you want to bawl your eyes out. I think I may have sympathized the most with Francis Ford's character (brother of John Ford), the simple-minded, elderly man who literally begged for his life, pleading with his accusers. I would actually go so far as to call the cast perfect. The film does a good job of making it obvious that these three are innocent, especially when you have Henry Fonda standing up for them. That way, we can sympathize with the innocent accused throughout, without ever second guessing where our sympathies lie. I couldn't remember how the film ended, from the first time I saw it, but I kept saying, over and over in my head, "please let it end with the reading of THE LETTER" and it did, a perfect ending to a perfect film. Here it is, in case you forgot how it read, a real fantastic way to end a picture, with a good speech:

Carter reads the letter aloud to a packed saloon.
My dear Wife, Mr. Davies will tell you what's happening here tonight. He's a good man and has done everything he can for me. I suppose there are some other good men here, too, only they don't seem to realize what they're doing. They're the ones I feel sorry for. 'Cause it'll be over for me in a little while, but they'll have to go on remembering for the rest of their lives. A man just naturally can't take the law into his own hands and hang people without hurtin' everybody in the world, 'cause then he's just not breaking one law but all laws. Law is a lot more than words you put in a book, or judges or lawyers or sheriffs you hire to carry it out. It's everything people ever have found out about justice and what's right and wrong. It's the very conscience of humanity. There can't be any such thing as civilization unless people have a conscience, because if people touch God anywhere, where is it except through their conscience? And what is anybody's conscience except a little piece of the conscience of all men that ever lived? I guess that's all I've got to say except kiss the babies for me and God bless you. Your husband, Donald.

RATING: 10/10  Might as well call it a shoo-in for the TOP 20 list and if it makes it, that will make the fourth straight TOP 20 list that has featured a Henry Fonda picture, as a Fonda movie has nabbed the top spot of the last two TOP 20 lists.


June 28, 2012  12:07am

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kubrick Week - COMING SOON

960. Safar e Ghandehar/Kandahar (2001)

Running Time: 85 minutes
Directed By: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Written By: Mohsen Makhmalbaf
Main Cast: Nelofer Pazira, Hassan Tantai, Sadou Teymouri, Hoyatala Hakimi, Ike Ogut
Click here to view the trailer


With "Hawks Week" behind me, I move ahead and wrap up the final thirteen films of this 100. Remember that this 100 was scheduled with the idea of being 40s and 2000s thick and that will become very noticeable with these final films. 

Nafas (Pazira) is an Afghan born women, who fled to Canada when she was young and became a successful reporter. When the film opens, we learn of letters that have been written to her, from her sister, who still lives in Afghanistan, in Kandahar. The letters express a deep depression from her sister, who plans to kill herself during the next eclipse, which is just three days away. Nafas goes to Afghanistan, in hopes of making it to Kandahar, despite heavy patrol and strict regulations, to save her sister's life. Along the way, she meets many people, who try and help her make it to her destination. At first, she travels with a family, playing herself off as a man's wife. Later, when the road becomes too dangerous, the family dump her and she travels with a young, poverty stricken boy, who agrees to show her the way to Kandahar for $50 American. When she meets with an intellectual and understanding doctor, he convinces her to send the boy home, as he is only out to help her for the money and does not care about her safety. The doctor takes her as far as the Red Cross, where she meets a man with only one arm, who agrees to take her the rest of the way to Kandahar.

To be honest, I went into this one expecting to not like it. I've seen several middle-eastern films during my journey through THE BOOK and none of them have really seemed to deliver. I wouldn't go so far as to call this one a "must see", but it was surprising how good it really was. The film keep the viewer entertained, with certain scenes that succeed in drawing the viewers attention to the tragedy stricken world that the Afghan people were/are living in. Certain key scenes include a group of very young children being taught to recite the Koran and recite the capabilities of assault weapons, the revealing and practice of an uneducated, American doctor and a scene at a Red Cross, where limbless victims of land mine explosions argue for wooden legs. The story sticks together pretty well and plays out like a very tragic road movie, with Nafas taking many different guides and routes on her way into Kandahar, all the while running out of time before the eclipse.

Of course, this isn't a fantastic movie or anything. The director splices staged scenes with documentary style footage and the editing is a bit wonky, to say the least. The middle-eastern music is a little tough on the ear and the actors don't seem very pronounced. What I mean is, the film opens with Nafas narrating, reading words into a tape recorder that she plans to give to her sister and all the while, there's a helicopter whirling around her. You can barely hear her and that's a running thing throughout the picture, with the actor's voices failing to reach appropriate volumes. Otherwise, if you go in expecting very little, I think you'll be surprised at how enjoyable the film can be. The title alone suggests that the word "enjoyable" shouldn't come into play, especially when you factor in the time period that it was made (right before 9/11), however it actually is and it isn't bad.

RATING: 6/10  More than likely, this one has no shot at a spot on my TOP 20, but it's worth a look, at least.


June 27, 2012  12:10pm

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Two Darrens - COMING SOON

And I'm not talking about "I Dream of Jeannie"!

352. RIO BRAVO (1959)

Running Time: 141 minutes
Directed By: Howard Hawks
Written By: Leigh Brackett, Jules Furthman, from story by B.H. McCampbell
Main Cast: John Wayne, Dean Martin, Ricky Nelson, Angie Dickinson, Walter Brennan
Click here to view the trailer


I can't say that I'm all that upset to see "Hawks Week" come to an end. What started out with a bang, quickly fizzled out, as the "Hawks Week" offerings did little to peak my interest in the classic director. I guess, however, that there is some saving grace, as the week ends almost as good as it started.

The film begins by introducing us to the central characters, while offering no dialogue and allowing us to gather the essential information. We learn that "Dude" (a.k.a. Borrachon, Spanish for drunk) will do anything to get a drink. We learn that John T. Chance (Wayne) is the Sheriff of this small, western town and we witness Joe Burdette kill an unarmed man, leading to his arrest. Chance takes Burdette back to the jail, ordering one of his deputies, the crippled and disgruntled Stumpy (Brennan), to keep watch over him. Chance also calls on his former deputy, Dude (Martin), for assistance, hoping that Dude can hold back his alcohol problem long enough to keep Burdette pinned until the Marshall comes to pick him up. It won't be easy though, as Burdette's brother Nathan sends men in to hold the town hostage, placing a man on every street corner and just waiting for the opportune time to spring Joe. Meanwhile, a stage coach rolls into town, carrying two more of the central characters: the gunslinger, Colorado (Nelson) and a vivacious brunette, known for dawning feather boas (Dickinson). Chance ends up falling for Feathers, Dude is tempted by the drink, Stumpy wants some action and Colorado wants to help. It's all presented in classic, western fashion, complete with swinging saloon doors, bad guys you don't want to mess with and heroes that (may or may not) have their number.

Actually, if I wanted to, I could find a lot to nitpick about when it comes to "Rio Bravo". I wish Hawks would have simmered down the story and just put Wayne, Martin, Nelson and Brennan inside the jailhouse and treated the majority of the picture like a zombie flick, with the heroes inside and the bad guys outside, trying to get in. You could've beefed up the dialogue to keep the viewer occupied and really played up the suspense of Nathan Burdette and his crew trying to bust Joe. Instead, Hawks found it more suitable to focus on the relationship between Chance and Feathers and him-hawed around the main focus, which should've been the boys trying to survive in the town that is being held under siege. Dickinson's character was actually quite irrelevant to the story and really only added a female lead and a love interest for Wayne's character. She could easily have been cut completely out of the picture and I think it would've done wonders to excel the story and keep the dull moments to a bare minimum. On the other hand, she wasn't hard to look at and if only her role would've been trimmed down substantially, it would've been better all around. I loved Wayne in this. He played exactly the type of character you expect him to play. Forget about the guy he played in "Red River", which was basically the bad guy; this is the type of character The Duke was meant to portray. Martin and Nelson proved that they're more than just a sweet set of pipes and I honestly cannot wait to see another Dean Martin flick, as he proved to be a fantastic actor. Brennan is Brennan and he always seems to know his part well and play it perfectly.

It's hard to argue against this one or criticize it. When it comes down to nut cuttin' time, this one has everything you could ask for in a Western. It has some really great, classic scenes too. The scene where Chance and Dude chase a shooter into a bar and only find him when the blood from his wound drips into a glass of beer, sitting on the counter. The beginning and ending portions are also mastered to perfection and the entire atmosphere of the picture, the suspense that is built and the danger that is presented all work to fuel the fire of "Rio Bravo". I think I've also learned that when it comes to Westerns, I think they're better presented in TechniColor. The blues of the wide open sky, clashing with the dusty brown of the plains. The rustic buildings, the silver stars pinned on the chests of the heroes and the shining black rifles held in the hands of the bad guys. Black and white westerns are more common, but if you ask me, I've rarely seen a GREAT black & white western. Just a thought, that I thought I'd throw out there.

RATING: 7.5/10  Well I'm glad "Hawks Week" ended on a high note. I could see this one growing on me even more with the passage of a little time.



When you talk about Howard Hawks, you're talking about probably the most classic of the classic filmmakers. His films didn't have a lot of surprises. They're the types of old films that scare more modern film audiences away from delving into classic films. They're very old fashioned and of their time and they tell stories that sometimes aren't appealing anymore. I've recently called him the Steven Spielberg of the first half of the century. He made the films that people wanted to slap down money to see. Whether he was telling stories about Army Sergeant's, private dicks, cattle ranchers or old west sheriff's, people wanted to hear the stories he was going to tell. While his films didn't always appeal to me, when they did, they usually delivered in droves. The following is a ranking of the eleven Howard Hawks features from THE BOOK. Enjoy!

1. Bringing Up Baby
2. Sergeant York
3. Rio Bravo
4. Only Angels Have Wings
5. Scarface
6. His Girl Friday
7. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
8. To Have and Have Not
9. The Big Sleep
10. Red River
11. The Big Sky

June 26, 2012  5:06pm

Monday, June 25, 2012

262. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Running Time: 90 minutes
Directed By: Howard Hawks
Written By: Charles Lederer, from novel by Anita Loos and play by Joseph Fields and Anita Loos
Main Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Jane Russell, Charles Coburn, Elliott Reid, Tommy Noonan
Click here to view the trailer


Well it's good to be back here on the blog again, after a few days spent deep in the heart of Ohio. I did have a fantastic time in the Buckeye State, but am ready to finalize this 100 with the watching of these final fifteen films, including the final two installments in the "Hawks Week" festivities.

The film stars Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell as Lorelei Lee and Dorothy Shaw respectively, two showgirls and best friends. Lee is a bit of a ditz, falling for any man with a large wallet and has a penchant for diamonds, proclaiming that they are a "girl's best friend". Dorothy is the exact opposite, holding detest for rich playboys and opening her heart to someone with less of a bank account. In the beginning of the film, Lorelei accepts the marriage proposal of a rich admirer, Gus (Noonan), and plans to set sail for France, where she plans to wed her new beau.  The problem is that Gus' father disapproves of Lorelei and therefore stops Gus from sailing with her. Lorelei decides to make the trip anyway, with Dorothy and Gus' father sends a private investigator aboard the vessel, to spy on Lorelei and report back to him. While aboard the ship, Lorelei is once again distracted by a rich man, in the form of the much older "Piggy" Beekman (Coburn), who owns a diamond mine and introduces her to the tiara ("I just love finding new places to wear diamonds"). Meanwhile, Dorothy falls for the private investigator, Ernie Malone (Reid), although she doesn't know he's a P.I...yet.

Well, "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" was certainly a step in the right direction for Howard Hawks, as he comes off the heels of four stinkers, if you ask me. I can't say I loved as much as certain people obviously did, but it wasn't a hard ninety minutes to get through and it kept me mildly entertained throughout. Jane Russell was an absolute bombshell in her heyday and as far as my eyes could tell, she had no right playing second fiddle to Marilyn Monroe, who's character was more annoying than sexy. The first half of the film is filled with musical numbers and for the most part, they're pretty catchy little tunes. I particularly favored Russell's rendition of "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love", as she strutted around in a black, halter-like top and black, strappy sandals and ends the number being thrown into a pull, surrounded by muscle men, wearing only their skivvies. I really don't have much else to add to this one. It wasn't fantastic or blow-away or anything, but it wasn't a flop on my personal tastes, like "Red River" and "The Big Sky", so I can't really complain THAT much. The musical portion of the movie starts to fizzle out when we get to the second half and we're left with the thin plot to carry us to the end of the film and Monroe's rendition of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend".

RATING: 6/10  Nothing worth writing home about, but nothing worth getting bent out of shape over. I'm still looking forward to "Rio Bravo" and have high hopes that it will conclude "Hawks Week" on a high note.


June 25, 2012  4:39pm

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Final 15 and Other Notes

Well folks, we've hit the home stretch, the part of the 100 where I come in and start to wrap things up and guide you to the finish line of another batch of one hundred "must see" films. Last 100, I came in and posted a "final fifteen", so I figured I'd do the same this time, so you all know what to expect as we make our final descent.

I also wanted to let everyone know that I'll be out of town for a few days, starting tomorrow. I'll be heading deep into Ohio to visit some of my wife's family (well, I guess that makes them my family too, huh?) and I won't be back until Sunday evening. So, don't expect anything out of me until, at the very least, Sunday night, although Monday is more plausible. As always, I hope everyone has been enjoying the reviews and my thoughts. I want to thank the few new followers that I've picked up and hope that you have fun taking this journey with me.

Anyway, I'm rambling. Here are the final fifteen films that I'll be watching for this 100, before I make my fifth TOP 20 list. Remember, as always, everything is tentative. Things become unavailable on Netflix everyday and so, if that were to happen, of course, this list would change. However, barring any unexpected circumstances, this will be the next fifteen films I'll be watching as part of my "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" journey.

1. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953 - Howard Hawks)
2. Rio Bravo (1959 - Howard Hawks)
3. Casablanca (1942 - Michael Curtiz)
4. The Reckless Moment (1949 - Max Ophuls)
5. The Ox-Bow Incident (1943 - William A. Wellman)
6. Adam's Rib (1949 - George Cukor)
7. Kandahar (2001 - Mohsen Makhmalbaf)
8. Amores Perros (2000 - Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu)
9. Good Bye, Lenin! (2003 - Wolfgang Becker)
10. Go, See and Become (2005 - Radu Mihaileanu)
11. Downfall (2004 - Oliver Hirschbiegel)
12. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007 - Julian Schnabel)
13. Pi (1998 - Darren Aronofsky)
14. Requiem for a Dream (2000 - Darren Aronofsky)
15. Easy Rider (1969 - Dennis Hopper)

There you go. I'm sure that won't be the order I'll be watching them in, but it should be the next fifteen I will be watching. I'll see you back here on Sunday night/Monday. Until then, have a great (official) kickoff to your summer!

June 20, 2012  5:55pm

Kubrick Week - COMING SOON

157. Meshes of the Afternoon (1943)

Running Time: 14 minutes
Directed By: Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid
Written By: Maya Deren
Main Cast: Maya Deren, Alexander Hammid


Although this did, indeed, come from YouTube, if you don't want to watch it while sitting in front of your computer, it is also available on Netflix, as part of a Maya Deren collection.

"Meshes of the Afternoon" is an experimental film and we all know how I feel about those. With the exception of "Wavelength", I've pretty much trashed all experimental cinema that I have watched and unfortunately, "Meshes" will endure the same criticism. If I'd had a notebook as I watched this film, here are some of the words and phrases I would've jotted down: knife, mirror face, flower, loneliness, dream. The whole fourteen minutes of "Meshes of the Afternoon" is, seemingly, a dream. It involves a woman picking up a flower, wondering through her home and encountering a figure, which has a mirror as a face and is dresses in all black. Later, the figure transforms into a man, seemingly her husband. I couldn't make heads or tails of it, to tell you the truth. The film has no dialogue and is very short, which, in my view, makes it almost impossible to form an opinion on.

I'd really like to know what went through the heads of the writers of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" when they sat down with a blank page and started to compile this list of supposed "must see" films. Did they honestly start rattling off titles like "12 Angry Men", "Rear Window", "The Shawshank Redemption", "Amarcord" and then suddenly say, "Oooh, what about Meshes of the Afternoon?" I find it incredibly difficult to fathom what they were thinking when they felt the need to include this on their list of the 1001 must see pictures. I just do not get it. Trust me folks, there is nothing...I repeat, nothing must see about "Meshes of the Afternoon". If you'd like to go ahead and see it anyway, then by all means do so, because the damn thing only clocks in at fourteen minutes. However, if I were you, I'd save my time. Honestly, this BOOK boggles my mind sometimes. I'm grateful to it, for showing me films that I wouldn't have otherwise seen, but sometimes it's just frustrating.

RATING: 1/10  I don't get experimental films and honestly, I find it very difficult to deem anything that doesn't even run fifteen minutes a "must see", but that's just me. God, talk about a slump...I'm in one!


June 20, 2012  5:33pm

249. The Big Sky (1952)

Running Time: 140 minutes
Directed By: Howard Hawks
Written By: A.B. Guthrie Jr., Dudley Nichols, from novel by A.B. Guthrie Jr.
Main Cast: Kirk Douglas, Dewey Martin, Elizabeth Threatt, Arthur Hunnicutt, Steven Geray
Click here to view the trailer


What started as a week that I was highly looking forward to, "Hawks Week" has turned into an absolute nightmare, with only "Sergeant York" living up to the reputation that Howard Hawks left behind. Beyond that, I had a set of Bogey & Bacall failures and "Red River", which was an epic fail. However, I'm not sure it can get any worse, as "The Big Sky" clocks in at a whopping 140 minute snooze-fest.

The film centers around Jim Deakins (Douglas) and is set in 1832, in the mid-west. Early on, Jim meets up with Boone Caudill (Martin), who is initially hostile toward Jim, but wind up becoming best friends. The duo travel to St. Louis, in search of Boone's uncle, a hunter & trapper named Zeb Calloway (Hunnicutt). After a barroom brawl, Jim and Boone land themselves in jail, where they're surprised to see they have a third cellmate, which turns out to be Uncle Zeb. Zeb lets the boys in on an expedition that he and a man named Frenchy (Geray) are organizing, so that they can trade with the Blackfoot Indians. From there, the film is really underway as Frenchy, Zeb, Jim and Boone, join an entire crew of traders and head up the Missouri River, via a keelboat. During the trip, Jim and Boone find out that Frenchy has stashed an Indian woman aboard the boat, in an attempt to use her as a hostage to entice the Blackfoot into trading with them. The whole time the crew is also being followed by The Missouri Company, a rival group of fur traders.

"The Big Sky" was the type of film you'd find my grandparents watching on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, when we'd go to visit them, many years ago. My grandparents loved old Westerns and it wasn't unusual to walk in and find their eyes glued to the television, as they rooted on "The Duke" or watched guys like Kirk Douglas travel up the river, playing cowboys and Indians. It's also the type of film that I'd quietly wish they'd turn off. When I was that age, I was pretty close minded as to the films that I'd watch. I was against anything black & white and I remember swearing hatred toward Westerns, even though I'd never seen one in it's entirety. Today, I'm much more open, have learned to love the beauty that black & white cinema offers and have even found a few Westerns that have really "wowed" me (don't forget that "Once Upon a Time in the West" was the #1 spot of my last TOP 20). However, "The Big Sky" was just awful, plain and simple. Actually, lets backtrack, it started out okay. I was into the characters and ready to see if Kirk Douglas could pull off a pioneer. I was enjoying Douglas and I was with the film, right up to the point that the keelboat set sail and I realized that this was basically the same movie as "Red River", except we were going to travel by boat, rather than by horseback. We were still going to be going from point A to point B, in a classic, western, traveling movie. I thought, maybe this could be a little more exciting, but boy was I wrong.

Almost nothing here appealed to me. It was entirely too long and there wasn't enough good to fill out a film that hit almost two and a half hours. I'm not even going to continue harping. I didn't like it and that's that. It bored me to tears, it offered nothing exciting or interesting and I could not wait for it to end. Oh, and speaking of the end, it took forever to finally get there. The film truly ended at about the 110 minute mark, but they somehow managed to drag the damn thing out for another half hour and tack on more and more crap, that could've been sewed up inside of five minutes. Geesh, I'm just angry at this entry.

RATING: 2/10  I can't go '1', because it started out okay, but boy did that end in a hurry. Next up: "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes".


June 20, 2012  3:00pm

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

206. Red River (1948)

Running Time: 133 minutes
Directed By: Howard Hawks
Written By: Borden Chase, Charles Schnee
Main Cast: John Wayne, Montgomery Clift, Walter Brennan, Joanne Dru, John Ireland
Click here to view the trailer


Man, oh man, these "Hawks Weeks" films have gone from great ("Sergeant York") to really awful, as "Red River" has officially taken the top spot on my "Worst Howard Hawks Films" list. But before the John Wayne fanatics come at me with rifles raised, allow me the chance to explain.

Thomas Dunson (Wayne) has big aspirations. In the beginning of the film, he abandons a wagon train and decides to head to Texas, along with his sidekick Groot (Brennan) and start a cattle ranch. At the time, Dunson has one bull in his possession. The next day, Dunson and Groot come upon a boy who was traveling with the wagon train, which had been attacked by Indians, the boy being the only survivor of the attack. Dunson takes the mouthy boy under his wing, mainly because the boy is in possession of a cow. Dunson finds his land and vows that in ten years he'll have a successful ranch. Fourteen years later, his dreams have come true and along with Groot and the boy, who is now a man, Matthew Garth (Clift), they've raised approximately ten thousand head of cattle. The only problem is that the war has left the country in an economic depression and cattle in Texas aren't worth much. Dunson knows that unless they can move the herd North, to a more populous and prosperous land, they'll lose everything. Dunson makes plans to drive the cattle to Missouri, along the Chisholm Trail. Along with a group of men, Dunson, Groot and Matt drive their ten thousand head North, but, of course, trouble lies ahead.

Call me crazy, but I guess I just don't find cattle drives all that exciting. When your entire plot hinges on taking ten thousand cattle from point A to point B and you still need over two hours of film time to get them there, then count me out. I just couldn't get into this film. It did absolutely nothing for me. My other BIG problem with this western was the lack of a bad guy. Where was the bad dude, with the gnarly mustache, the black duds and the hand that was almost as fast as the good guy's? If you were forced to pick a bad guy out of "Red River", then you'd have to point to Wayne and "The Duke" is never a bad guy. Of course, here he's a huge jerk, which is as un-American as Hitler scarfing down a German Chocolate Cake. Since when does John Wayne not play the gallant hero, they guy you love to cheer on? Since 1948 apparently! Also, Montgomery Clift didn't make a very good cowboy, if you ask me. I'd much prefer watching Monty woo Elizabeth Taylor or as a private in the Army. He just doesn't look like the type of guy I'd envision wrangling cattle in the Old West.


I really don't know what else to say, other than "Red River" was a real clock-watcher of a movie. I honestly couldn't wait for it to end. It bored me to tears and I just couldn't get wound up by cows. The ending is also very...soft, to say the least. I'm used to Westerns where there's a big shootout at the end, with good and evil meeting in the streets and settling their score. You know, a "this town's not big enough for the both of us" kind of thing. Instead, here we get a father and his adopted son exchanging punches for a few seconds and then being belittled by a woman, who convinces them that they shouldn't be fighting. Really? John Wayne got cooled off by a dame? Perhaps it was just the fact that this Western was a little different than the ones I'm used to. I'm pretty sure Sergio Leone and his brand of Westerns have ruined all other films in the genre for me. Although, I'm still looking forward to "Rio Bravo".

RATING: 3.5/10  Yikes! "Hawks Week" is really going to hell in a hand basket, isn't it? Oh well, I still have high hopes for "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and, as I said, "Rio Bravo". Next up: "The Big Sky".


June 19, 2012  1:07pm

Monday, June 18, 2012

Kubrick Week - COMING SOON

189. The Big Sleep (1946)

Running Time: 114 minutes
Directed By: Howard Hawks
Written By: William Faulkner, from novel by Raymond Chandler
Main Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, Dorothy Malone
Click here to view the trailer


I'll try to keep my plot synopsis of "The Big Sleep" easy to understand, unlike the actual plot of "The Big Sleep", which will require pen, paper and a pie chart to keep in order.

Philip Marlowe (Bogart) is a P.I. living in Los Angeles and as the film opens he finds himself at the doorstep of the Sternwood residence. He's been hired by General Sternwood, a wheelchair bound, ailing old man who wishes to procure Marlowe's services in a blackmailing scheme that he's been targeted in. Someone has sent notes to Gen. Sternwood, requesting that he pay gambling debts, that the youngest of his two daughters, Carmen (Vickers), racked up. Gen. Sternwood wants the man who sent the notes, A.G. Geiger, to be "dealt with". Once Marlowe is guaranteed that he'll get his $25, plus expenses, he's on the case. It doesn't even take a half an hour of film time before A.G. Geiger winds up dead and a host of other bad guys are introduced, sending Marlowe down the dark and seedy rabbit hole that is Los Angeles. Marlowe also becomes acquainted with Gen. Sternwood's eldest daughter, Vivian (Bacall), whom he has eyes for, a vicious dame whom he can't resist. There's also a sub-plot involving a previous, missing private investigator, who was hired by the Sternwood's prior to Marlowe; a man named Sean Regan.

Apparently, the story goes that Howard Hawks asked Raymond Chandler to explain to him the twists and turns that make up "The Big Sleep" and Chandler offered a short reply: "I have no idea." To be honest, I kind of gave up on trying to figure everything out at about the halfway mark. It's not that I mind being challenged by a complex film once in a while, it's just that trying to keep all the characters in order took away from just kicking back and enjoying the film. For God's sake, they introduced characters that didn't even appear in the film, like Sean Regan. The character of Sean Regan is mentioned numerously in the film, yet he is never introduced and his plot basically goes nowhere. At the end of the film, there's even a line where Marlowe says something to the effect of "I don't know what's going on and we're never going to have all the answers" (I'm paraphrasing), which basically says that we've thrown a whole lot of information at you and we don't expect you to know what's going on, because our own characters don't even really know what's going on.

Bogart wasn't bad here and actually, I liked him better here than I did in "To Have and Have Not". In fact, the most amusing I've ever see Humphrey was during a scene in "The Big Sleep" where Marlowe bend up the bill of his fedora, puts on a pair of shades and is walks into a book store, pretending to be a rare book collector and asking for a third edition of "Ben-Hur". He reminded me of Jerry Lewis in that scene, talking with a high pitched voice - it's actually one of the few things I'll remember this film for. The other thing I'll remember "The Big Sleep" for is the atmosphere, as it's classic film-noir and really captures the essence of the dark side of cinema, putting it's main character into violent, gritty situations. However, it just didn't all work out for me and ultimately, I just wanted it to end.

RATING: 5/10  Slightly better than "To Have and Have Not", but not by much. I'll gladly say farewell to the Hawks/Bogey team and welcome in the Hawks/Duke team. Next up: "Red River".


June 18, 2012  9:15pm

Sunday, June 17, 2012

167. To Have and Have Not (1944)

Running Time: 100 minutes
Directed By: Howard Hawks
Written By: Jules Furthman, from novel by Ernest Hemingway
Main Cast: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Walter Brennan, Dolores Moran, Hoagy Carmichael
Click here to view the trailer


No sooner did I get finished praising Howard Hawks for being a versatile director, one that can turn any unappealing story into something that I want to watch, then he hands me a very BORING film. I hate to use the word "boring" when describing a bad film, but, trust me, it's a word that fits perfectly here, in regards to "To Have and Have Not".

Harry Morgan (Bogart) owns a fishing boat, which he rents out to paying customers in Fort de France, Martinique. The film is set in 1940, shortly after France has fallen to Germany, during their successful invasion. Morgan doesn't have any political affiliation and doesn't care one way or another whether the resistance reigns or falls. The only Harry Morgan concerns himself with is getting paid when a customer rents his boat for the day. Harry also has a sidekick on the boat, an elderly drunk named Eddie (Brennan), who judges people based on their answer to the question: "Have you ever been stung by a dead bee?".  Later, Harry meets Marie a.k.a. Slim (Bacall), a crafty pickpocket trying to make enough money for a plane ticket out of France. One night, Harry and Slim's favorite hangout, a little place owned by a little man named Frenchy, is shot up and when the police arrive, Harry and Slim are taken in for questioning. Harry makes enemies with the police Captain right away and later, decides to help Frenchy smuggle some members of the resistance into Martinique, mostly because all the money he had to his name was seized by the police. With a romance budding between Harry and Slim, a smuggled man and wife hiding in the basement of Frenchy's (the husband, of whom, has been shot in the arm) and the police breathing down all their backs, there's plenty of irons on the fire.

However, just because there are irons on the fire doesn't mean you're smellin' home cookin'. I have absolutely no idea what that's supposed to mean, but what I meant for it to mean was that, despite the amount of action and goings on in "To Have and Have Not", it's still a fairly boring picture. Now, as I was saying above, I really hate chalking a film up as boring and leaving it at that. I usually like to elaborate on that argument, because the argument of boring is one that is cited so many times, without proper argument to back up the claim. I just had absolutely no interest in Harry Morgan, Slim, the French Resistance or the smuggled members of their party. There didn't even seem to be enough story here to fill out one hundred minutes of film time. I mean, when you dissect it, what's really happening here? Harry Morgan is a fisherman with no political affiliation, who gets talked into helping the resistance smuggle in a few members of their party. Is that really enough for an entire film? It really wasn't.

Plus, I can't say I've ever really been a big fan of Bogey. I know, I know, I'm a movie fan and as a movie fan, it's a right of passage to enjoy a good Humphrey Bogart film, but I'll be damned if he doesn't always play the same guy. According to THE BOOK, Harry Morgan and Rick Blaine are almost interchangeable. Now, I haven't seen "Casablanca" in quite a few years, but that seems about right to me, if memory serves. Sam Spade even has the same demeanor as the two of them and beyond that I can't talk intelligently about Bogart characters, but I've seen enough clips to know that Bogart is always fed a bunch of clever lines, usually said from under the rim of some sort of hat, with a bit of snarkiness to them, while a cigarette dangles from his lips. Lauren Bacall didn't impress me that much either, basically portraying the female equivalent of Bogart. In fact, it was the minor characters that I got the most enjoyment out of here. Once again I enjoyed Walter Brennan very much and now I'm not so sorry that my father made me listen to "Old Rivers" so much, whenever he made me track it down on YouTube. Hoagy Carmichael is always enjoyable in films too and usually provides a good tune or two, to at least give your ears a rest. Here he belts out a song called "Hong Kong Blues" and if I wasn't dying for this film to end, I would've rewound and listened a second time.

RATING: 4/10  I can't go too much higher than that. It's a shame too, because I was really expecting Hawks to wind up with an unscathed record. Oh well, there's always next time. Next up: "The Big Sleep".


June 17, 2012  12:27am

Friday, June 15, 2012

145. Sergeant York (1941)

Running Time: 134 minutes
Directed By: Howard Hawks
Written By: Harry Chandlee, Abem Finkel
Main Cast: Gary Cooper, Walter Brennan, Joan Leslie, George Tobias, Margaret Wycherly
Click here to view the trailer


The last big event of this 100, "Hawks Week", kicks off with a bang, as I take in my first Howard Hawks directed film in nearly two years (the last one being "His Girl Friday", back on July 23, 2010), "Sergeant York".

The film is mainly set in Pall Mall, Tennessee in the Valley of the Three Forks of the Wolf, where Alvin York (Cooper) spends his days becoming infamous as the town drunk. The rest of his family and most of the town, for that matter, are God fearing folks, the type of folks you'll find crowded into a church during services, singing hymns and stamping their feet. One day, Mama York (Wycherly) calls Alvin home so that he can tend to the family farm. Alvin spends his days plowing the field, hunting game and doing his usual chores. Later, Alvin meets Gracie Williams (Leslie), the town beauty, whom he falls head over heels for. Alvin sets his sights on a piece of bottom land and works for sixty days, trying to earn enough money to buy the land so that he can ask Gracie to marry him and build a home there. Alvin isn't able to scrounge up the money in time to buy the land, but undergoes a spiritual awakening when he is struck by lightning during a violent rainstorm. Alvin makes his way to the church and from that point on considers himself a man of God, following the gospel religiously, along with the guidance of Pastor Pile (Brennan). At somewhere about the halfway mark of the movie, the United States throws it's hat into the ring of World War I and Alvin, despite trying to get out of it on a conscientious objector exemption, is sent to Europe to fight for his country. Of course, basic training comes first, where Alvin turns heads with his exceptional marksman skills, citing that he's a self taught sharpshooter.

I could be wrong, but it seems to me that Howard Hawks was the early half of the century's equivalent to Steven Spielberg.  He made the films that the general public would slap down their money for and usually drew big box office numbers. "Sergeant York" was no exception to this, becoming the highest grossing film of 1941, beating out classics like "Citizen Kane" and "The Maltese Falcon". This picture is pure, classic Hollywood and films like this always make me wonder where Hollywood went wrong. In 1941, it was quality film making like this that was heralded by it's Hollywood makers and today, in 2012, it's big budget films like "The Avengers" or "Twilight" that make Hollywood brag. At what point did Hollywood go from selling quality films, like "York", to selling teen fronted movies, that lack any sort of real quality film making? Perhaps, it's the audience that's changed. Perhaps we've become less cultivated and thus, we're sold on films that offer glitz and glamour, rather than films that offer a good story and a little bit of inspiration, which is exactly what "York" offers.

I can't necessarily pinpoint why I liked "Sergeant York", I can only say that I really enjoyed it. It was a story that drew me in and didn't let go until Alvin York was coming home to mama. I actually dreaded it going in, because I assumed it was going to be just another classic Hollywood war story and that it wasn't going to be up my alley. Instead, we spend about an hour and fifteen minutes before we even go to war, establishing the character of Alvin York and then sending him into the trenches. This way, we're familiar with the character who is going to fight and it's not just another guy in camouflage marching to war. The whole story flowed along just beautifully for a nearly two and a half hour picture. It's cast turned in fine performances, with Gary Cooper finally proving why he always gets mentioned among Hollywood's most famous of the classic leading men. I can't say I was ever to blown away by him in anything else of his that I've watched, but Cooper did a magnificent job here. I also really enjoyed Walter Brennan as the pastor. Hawks seems to have a way of turning all of his stories into interesting ones, even if the story he's telling you isn't your kind of story. I don't like war films or films about war heroes, yet I loved "Sergeant York". I couldn't care less about pilots and aviation, yet "Only Angels Have Wings" was a good movie. Hell, it was Howard Hawks who finally showed me a stellar Cary Grant film, in "Bringing Up Baby". After watching "Sergeant York" and witnessing it's greatness, I am genuinely excited for the next six Howard Hawks films that will make up "Hawks Week".

RATING: 9/10  It got a little bit too Hollywood in certain parts and certain pieces of dialogue were just WAY too corny ("This is where we change cars, Alvin. The end of the line"), but otherwise it was pretty flawless. Next up: "To Have and Have Not".


June 15, 2012  2:12am

Sins of Omission - Entry #94: ZODIAC (2007)

Running Time: 157 minutes Directed By: David Fincher  Written By: James Vanderbilt, based on the book by Robert Graysmith Main Cast : Jake...