NETWORK (1976) revisited

March 17, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. It was the year after ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST and the year before ANNIE HALL. 1976 was good for the underdog as Sylvester Stallone’s ROCKY won the Oscar for Best Picture, edging out such (now) classic films as TAXI DRIVER, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, and the film we are going to talk about here, NETWORK.

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” That’s the lasting quote most recite when asked about NETWORK. And since those folks are generally energetically emphatic as they recall the line, it says quite a bit about the influence and ongoing impact of the film. In fact, many believe much of what the film warned us about has come to pass – and is even happening right now!

The story begins with (fictional) UBS network news anchor Howard Beale being let go after many years on the job. His personal issues have become a problem, and unlike his competitors Walter Cronkite and John Chancellor, he’s no longer dependable. With two weeks remaining until his final broadcast, Beale goes off script and creates a firestorm of emotion in the viewing audience as he promises on-air suicide and rants about TV programming, journalism, and society as a whole. People across the country take him up on his direction to go to the window and yell out the above mentioned catchphrase. What follows cuts to the core of the film’s theme. Beale’s friends worry about his mental well-being, while others at the network are concerned only with the ratings bump, and how best to capitalize on his revived and re-engaged audience.

What had previously been a respectable newscast, transitions into what we recognize today as a Reality TV show. Beale is provided a pulpit to rail against the establishment and the general public for its acceptance or surrender. He criticizes those who have given up reading books and have allowed TV to guide their thoughts (sound familiar?). Beale proclaims “television is a carnival” even as he becomes its lead barker, and proudly accepts his new label as “an angry prophet denouncing hypocrisies of our time.” It’s now been over 40 years since the film premiered, and the parallels to today’s world are crystal clear.

As with any quality film, there are multiple sub-plots and story lines, as well as numerous characters we get to know. There is an ambitious program director willing to make her mark by any means necessary. All of this turmoil occurs while UBS is going through a corporate takeover, so we get a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes political wranglings of those in power and those striving to be. An inner-office romance blends with the reckoning that accompanies middle age, and the resulting cracks in a long-term marriage. In yet another jab at the TV industry, a brainstorm leads to the birth of the “Death Hour”, an idea for a series based on the illegal and often violent actions of a terrorist group called the Ecumenical Liberation Army. The negotiations with this group are either the funniest or the most dangerous of the film, depending on your perspective. In keeping with the era, we are reminded of the ongoing economic recession, and get news flashes on the situation with kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst, plus the two assassination attempts on then President Gerald Ford. These doses of reality add the necessary gravitas to the film to prevent it from dipping into soap opera territory.

 The cast is stellar and deep. Peter Finch plays Howard Beale. Mr. Finch died in January 1977 at age 60, and a couple of months later was named the Oscar winner for Best Actor, becoming the first acting winner to be so awarded posthumously (later joined by Heath Ledger). He was previously nominated for SUNDAY BLOODY SUNDAY (1971). Although he was talented and had a fine acting career, he might be best remembered in Hollywood lore for his ongoing affair with Vivian Leigh, who was married to Laurence Olivier at the time. Sir Olivier was also Mr. Finch’s acting mentor. In his role as Howard Beale, Finch got to chew scenery at the level every actor dreams of.

Faye Dunaway plays the ambitious program director Diana Christensen. She won the Oscar for Best Actress, and had previously been nominated for BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967, a role she chose over Elaine in THE GRADUATE) and CHINATOWN (1974). She also appeared (with her NETWORK co-star William Holden) in THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974), and is unfortunately remembered for her frightening portrayal of Joan Crawford in MOMMY DEAREST, giving wire hanger nightmares to an entire generation. Her first marriage was to Peter Wolf of the J. Geils Band, and more recently you’ll recall her as co-presenter with Warren Beatty, and part of the calamity at the 2017 Oscars when LA LA LAND was erroneously named Best Picture before the confusion was cleared and MOONLIGHT was awarded the statuette. Dunaway’s Diana is unabashedly ambitious and flounces through the newsroom taking no prisoners. Her relationship with Holden’s character has one of the more unusual on screen love-making sequences, as she continues to talk shop as things heat up.

William Holden plays Max Schumacher, the veteran news director forced out of his job for placing more importance on protecting his friend Howard than in increasing the ratings and revenue of the broadcast. Mr. Holden died in 1981 at age 63 from injuries sustained during a fall. He was a Best Actor Oscar winner for STALAG 17 (1953), and a nominee for NETWORK and SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950). Mr. Holden also appeared in other classic films as PICNIC (1956), THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI (1957), THE WILD BUNCH (1969), and THE TOWERING INFERNO (1974). He once shared an apartment with baseball great Hank Greenberg while both were serving in the military (1943), and was Best Man at the wedding of Ronald and Nancy Reagan. As Max, Holden captures the middle-age frustrations of a man unwilling to live with the cultural change of the new conglomerate owner, and equally uneasy with a marriage that has grown too stale. His stereotypical fling with the exciting younger woman ends as expected … only with a world class monologue.

Robert Duvall is Frank Hackett, the cut-throat front line manager brought in by the new owners to shake things up and create some profit.  Mr. Duvall is still working today at age 88, and began his career on TV in 1960. He won a Best Actor Oscar for TENDER MERCIES (1983), and was nominated six other times for performances in THE GODFATHER (1972), APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), THE GREAT SANTINI (1979), THE APOSTLE (1997), A CIVIL ACTION (1998), and THE JUDGE (2014). He also appeared in BULLITT (1968), MASH (as Frank Burns, 1970), THE GODFATHER II (1974), THE NATURAL (1984), and Larry McMurtry’s classic western series “Lonesome Dove” (1989). You might also remember him as Boo Radley, quietly hiding behind the door in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962), though he’s likely best remembered for a certain character’s love of napalm in the morning. Duvall’s Hackett is a symbol of blind ambition and thirst for power.

 Beatrice Straight won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for playing Louise, Max’s scorned wife. She’s only in only a couple of scenes, and her approximately 5 minutes on screen remains the briefest to win an acting Oscar. Ms. Straight acted in very few movies, and spent most of her acting career in TV projects and on stage, though many will recall her as one of the scientists in POLTERGEIST (1982). When Louise rips into Max, she’s speaking for the untold number of middle-aged women who have been in that situation … simultaneously angry, hurt and afraid.

Ned Beatty plays Arthur Jensen, an eccentric network executive, and with basically one powerful and memorable scene, received the only Oscar nomination of his 45 year career. Mr. Beatty’s first screen appearance was in DELIVERANCE (1972) and his pig squeals haunted many viewers (including yours truly). He has also played delicious villains, the everyman, and buffoons, and appeared in such fine movies as NASHVILLE (1975), ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN (NETWORK’s Oscar competition), SILVER STREAK (1976), SUPERMAN (1978), SUPERMAN II (1980), THE BIG EASY (1986), RUDY (1993), and more recently as the voice of Lotso in TOY STORY 3 (2010). He hasn’t acted in the past 5 years, and turns 82 years old this year.

You might think that is already an incredible lineup of acting legends, but we aren’t done yet. Wesley Addy appears as network executive Nelson Chaney, and Mr. Addy was also in one of my favorite film noirs, Robert Aldrich’s KISS ME DEADLY (1955). Kathy Cronkite plays radical activist Mary Ann Gilford, and Ms. Cronkite is the daughter of news icon (and University of Texas graduate) Walter Cronkite (who also appears in clips). Conchata Ferrell is part of the UBS creative team, and Ms. Ferrell is now best known as Berta on “Two and a Half Men” and as the pizza shop proprietor in MYSTIC PIZZA (1988). Ken Kercheval plays Merrill Grant, and “Dallas” fans will recognize him as JR Ewing’s nemesis, Cliff Barnes. Making a brief appearance is Lane Smith, whom we all remember as Joe Pesci’s opposing counsel in MY COUSIN VINNY (1992), and in a blink-and-you’ll miss it role in the terrorist negotiation scene is an uncredited Lance Henriksen. Mr. Henriksen now has a cult following after his chilling role in ALIENS (1986). He’s also appeared in many other classic films over the years: DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975), CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977), THE RIGHT STUFF (1983), THE TERMINATOR (1984), and he has over 250 screen credits. Lastly, you might recognize the voice of the film’s narrator. Lee Richardson is an actor and the voice of more than one hundred commercials.

NETWORK was directed by the great Sidney Lumet. He received one of his 5 Best Director Oscar nominations … the other four were 12 ANGRY MEN (1957), DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975), PRINCE OF THE CITY (1981), and THE VERDICT (1982). He also directed THE HILL (1965), SERPICO (1973), MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974), RUNNING ON EMPTY (1988), and his final film BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (2007). Mr. Lumet received an honorary Oscar in 2005, and died in 2007 at age 86. One of Lumet’s four wives was Gloria Vanderbilt, and his book “Making Movies” is a must read for any aspiring filmmaker.

Writer Paddy Chayefsky gets much of the credit for the success of NETWORK, and rightfully so. The script is a work of art, and brought him one of his three Oscars. The other two were MARTY (1955) and THE HOSPITAL (1971), making him one of only five three-time writing winners. He also wrote cult favorite ALTERED STATES (novel and screenplay) and adapted PAINT YOUR WAGON (1969) for the screen. Mr. Chayefsky’s influence can be seen (and especially heard) in the dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin, one of today’s most celebrated writers. Mr. Chayefsky died in 1981 at age 58.

The film won 4 Oscars (Actor, Actress, Supporting Actress, Original Screenplay) and was nominated for six others. The 3 acting wins tie it for most ever with A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE (1951), and it’s the only movie to date with 5 acting nominations. It’s also highly probable that NETWORK is the only film where the Best Actor and Best Actress don’t share any screen time together. Owen Roizman was nominated for Cinematography, and his other nominations include THE EXORCIST (1973), TOOTSIE (1982), WYATT EARP (1994) and THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971) … that’s right, he filmed the infamous car chase scene. Alan Heim was nominated for Editing, an Oscar he would later win for ALL THAT JAZZ (1979).

Relevant seems too weak as a description to make the point of how the film’s message stands up today. Television should be a vehicle that informs and educates instead of serving up drivel like dating and quirky personality shows. Of course entertainment is an important piece of the puzzle, but we shouldn’t end up holding an empty bag. One of the final scenes in the film highlights the lack of scruples from the executive team. A final decision is made that at first seems over-the-top, but is it really so hard to believe? Howard Beale is a man who has lost, or is losing, his mind – but the network milks him until that cash cow is dry. We can’t help but note the themes that still hit home today: corporate and personal greed, ambition, grief, mismatched relationships, the misuse of power, the willingness to sit back and accept, and the fear of life with no purpose.

ROCKY was the only 1976 film to eclipse $100 million at the box office, and in addition to the other Oscar nominated films listed in the first paragraph, 1976 also blessed us with horror classics CARRIE and THE OMEN, thrillers like MARATHON MAN (“Is it safe?”) and KING KONG (Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges), BOUND FOR GLORY (the 5th Best Picture nominee) and Barbra Streisand’s A STAR IS BORN, comedy classics BAD NEWS BEARS and THE PINK PANTHER STRIKES AGAIN, and Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, FAMILY PLOT. 1976 was also the year we lost Agatha Christie, Busby Berkeley, Howard Hughes, Fritz Lang, Dalton Trumbo, Alastair Sim, and Sal Mineo (a still unsolved murder). Forty-three years later, NETWORK lives on as a lesson we have yet to learn.

***NOTE: another thing to notice is the natural teeth of Faye Dunaway, Robert Duvall and Peter Finch. Comparing it to the blindingly bright pearly whites of today’s actors provides quite the contrast.

watch the trailer:

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WIDOWS (2018)

November 15, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Woman power. Black power. Racist old white men. Corrupt politicians. Abusive husbands. Cheating white husbands. Racist cops. Men are bad. Women are strong and good. If a filmmaker were to blend all of these stereotypes into a single movie, then as movie goers we should expect an ultra-talented filmmaker like Steve McQueen to go beyond conventional genre. Unfortunately, a nice twist on the heist movie formula from Lynda La Plante’s novel turns into predictability that whips us with societal clichés posing as societal insight.

I seem to be one of the few not raving about this movie. Hey it has the director behind  Best Picture Oscar winner 12 YEARS A SLAVE (Mr. McQueen),  a screenplay he co-wrote with Gillian Flynn (GONE GIRL) from the aforementioned novel by Lynda La Plante, and a deep and talented cast of popular actors. It ticks every box and it’s likely to be a crowd-pleaser, despite my disappointment. Every spot where I expected intrigue, the film instead delivered yet another eye-roll and easy-to-spot twist with a cultural lesson. Each of the actors does tremendous work, it just happens to be with material they could perform in their sleep.

It’s the kind of film where audience members talk to the screen – and it plays like that’s the desired reaction. This is the 4th generation of the source material, including 3 previous TV mini-series (1983, 1985, 2002). It makes sense that this material would be better suited to multiple episodes, rather than hurried through 2 hours. There are too many characters who get short-changed, and so little time to let the personalities breathe and grow. But this is about delivering as many messages as possible.

A strong premise is based in Chicago, and finds a team of four burglars on a job gone wrong. This leaves a mobster/politician looking to the four widows (hence the title) for reparations. Since the women have no money, their only hope is to tackle the next job their men had planned. Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, and Carrie Coon play the widows, though only the first three are given much to do, as the talented Ms. Coon is short-changed. In fact, Ms. Davis is such a strong screen presence that she dominates every scene she is in – she’s a true powerhouse. Even Liam Neeson can’t hang with her. Colin Farrell appears as a smarmy politician and Robert Duvall is his f-word spouting former Alderman dad. Cynthia Erivo has a nice supporting turn in support of the women, and Bryan Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya, Jacki Weaver, Garret Dillahunt, Kevin J O’Connor, Lukas Haas, and Jon Bernthal fill out the deep cast … see what I mean about too many characters and too little time?

There is no single thing to point at as the cause for letdown. The story just needed to be smarter and stop trying so hard to comment on current societal ills. As an example, a quick-trigger cop shooting an innocent young African-American male seems thrown in for the sole purpose of ensuring white guilt and an emotional outburst from the audience. It’s difficult to even term this film as manipulating since we see the turns coming far in advance. Two far superior message films released earlier this year are Spike Lee’s BLACKKKLANSMAN and Boots Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU. For those who need only emotion and little intellect in their movies, this not-so-thrilling heist might work. For the rest of you, it’s good eye-roll practice.

watch the trailer:


THE JUDGE (2014)

October 11, 2014

judge Greetings again from the darkness. It’s hard to beat a good on screen courtroom drama for tension and conflict. Despite centering around a long time judge accused of manslaughter and being defended by his estranged son, a hotshot defense attorney, this one eschews gritty courtroom action in favor of uncomfortable and explosive family dynamics. And thanks to the acting abilities of Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr, that’s a good thing.

Mr. Downey’s Iron Man/Tony Stark character has ingrained in movie goers his motor-mouthed smart-aleck persona that fits very well with the lacking-a-conscience cocky defense attorney who only defends the type of white collar criminals who can afford his unmatched courtroom savvy. When Hank (Downey) returns home for the funeral of his mother, we quickly witness the strained relationship with his demanding-perfection magistrate father (Duvall), and the historical family details slow-drip for the next couple of hours.

Hank’s older brother (Vincent D’Onofrio) was once a promising baseball player whose career was cut short after an automobile accident (with a crucial component). Hank’s younger brother (Jeremy Strong, who played Lee Harvey Oswald in Parkland) is a mentally handicapped young man attached to his video camera. Hank also (of course) runs into his high school sweetheart (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter (Leighton Meester), as a reminder of what he left behind in his quaint hometown when he chose fortune and big city life.

John Grisham has made a career, actually two (books and movies), dissecting lawyers and courtrooms. As you might imagine, director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus) doesn’t have Grisham’s eye and ear for the courtroom, so the script often slips into manipulative melodrama during the trial (think Grisham-lite). But the scenes between Duvall and Downey more than make up for the fluffy parts. The kitchen confrontation and the bathroom sequence couldn’t be any more different, or any more powerful. One is the exorcism of a parent-child relationship gone bad, and the other is a vivid depiction of old age and disease.

This is old-fashioned mainstream movie-making. It’s about relationships and family and personality and life choices. There are no explosions or CGI or car chases. Even the key crime happens off screen. It’s also not breaking any new ground, and if not for the acting, could be just another TV movie. A perfect example is Vera Farmiga, who brings an edge to a role that otherwise would be superfluous. Same with Hank’s brothers. Both roles are severely underwritten, but D’Onofrio and Strong somehow make them work. Billy Bob Thornton brings a presence to an otherwise not-believable role as a slick special prosecutor wearing $1000 suits. Even Dax Shepard plays his comic relief country-bumpkin attorney slash furniture re-seller in an understated (for him) manner.

Other support work is provided by Ken Howard as the judge, Emma Trembley (Hank’s daughter), Balthazar Getty as the deputy with a grudge, Grace Zabriske as the victim’s vengeance seeking mother, David Krumholtz as a District Attorney, and Denis O’Hare as Duvall’s doctor.

In better hands, the script could have become much sharper and the film much crisper. Prepare for cheese and schmaltz, but it’s difficult to imagine more fun than watching Duvall and Downey go nose to nose and toe to toe. If you stay for closing credits, you’ll hear Willie Nelson wobbly warble through a Coldplay song.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you want to see two excellent actors battle each other as only resentful father and sons can

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: even a single teaspoon of courtroom schmaltz is more than your movie doctor recommends

watch the trailer:

 


TENDER MERCIES (1983) revisited

January 22, 2014

tender mercies Greetings again from the darkness. What a cinematic treat to revisit this movie on the big screen some 30 years after its release. Standing in stark contrast to the superhero and graphic novel special effects extravaganzas of today, this little film takes a slow, simmering approach as it deals with real emotions of life.

Robert Duvall won his only (so far) Oscar (he’s been nominated 6 times) for playing Mac Sledge, a divorced former C&W singer/songwriter who spends each day trying to kill the pain by draining bottles of booze. The similarities to Jeff Bridges’ 2009 film Crazy Heart are unmistakable, but this film is much quieter with emotions being relayed through the eyes and body language of the key characters.

Mac’s gradual path to redemption comes courtesy of war-widow Rosa Lee, played exceedingly well by Tess Harper (her first feature film). Rosa Lee runs a gas station/hotel while raising her young boy named Sonny (Allan Hubbard in his only screen appearance). As the story develops, we meet Mac’s ex-wife Dixie, played by a bombastic Betty Buckley (the mom from TV’s “Eight is Enough”, a Tony winner, the helpful teacher in the original Carrie) as she lives a life of luxury and insecurity courtesy of a career singing Mac’s songs. Their daughter is played by Ellen Barkin in only her second screen appearance (Diner, 1982). Dixie’s manager offers us a chance to see the always superb Wilford Brimley with his drawling charm.

The story was written by the remarkable Horton Foote (a native Texan), who also won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. Mr. Foote also won an Oscar for adapting Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird for the screen, was nominated for The Trip to Bountiful, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955, and was nicknamed the “American Chekov”. His works always captured the essence of what makes people tick, and how they deal with adversity. He passed away in 2009 at age 92.

Australian director Bruce Beresford was coming off the masterful Breaker Morant (nominated for his screenplay) and was surprised to be chosen to direct his first American film. He would later go on to direct Driving Miss Daisy, winner of the Best Picture Oscar. Mr. Beresford is now in his 7th decade of film work spanning his 1959 short film and his TV mini-series “Bonnie & Clyde” from 2013.

This is such a no-frills, down-to-earth presentation that it’s easy to be tricked into thinking it’s a simple story about simple people. Instead, these are complicated folks leading complicated lives in a seemingly quiet manner. Mostly they are re-assembling the pieces as best they can … some are better at it than others. The core of these people is captured in Mac’s line: “I don’t trust happiness. I never did. I never will“.

***NOTE: Wilford Brimley, a former Marine in the Korean War, spent time as personal bodyguard to billionaire Howard Hughes.

***NOTE: Not to be outdone in reference to billionaires, Ellen Barkin spent 7 years married to Ron Perelman, billionaire Chairman of Revlon.  She has since resumed her career.

watch the original trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkRvzcektB0


JACK REACHER (2012)

December 22, 2012

jack Greetings again from the darkness. Lee Child has written 17 Jack Reacher books since 1997, and it’s a bit surprising that it took Hollywood this long to latch on to this enigmatic lone wolf drifter who doesn’t so much care about laws as he does right and wrong. Fans of the books were outraged when it was announced Tom Cruise would play the 6’5 hulking Reacher, as much of the character’s appeal stems from his ability to physically dominate a situation while using very few words.

Unfortunately I can’t ease the minds of those fans of the pulpy series, but rather to encourage them to give this a shot. Author Child was probably ecstatic when Mr. Cruise took an interest in the character, despite the obvious conflicts. Very few actors can command screen presence like Cruise, especially in action sequences. That’s where this gets a bit jack2dicey. This is not an action movie. It’s an investigative mystery thriller that includes 3-4 action sequences.

The film has a real 1970’s feel to it along the lines of Billy Jack or Walking Tall mixed with Dirty Harry and numerous westerns with strong, silent types, and of course, the timeless pulpy detective stories. See, Reacher is a former military investigator with a mind that is always a step or two ahead of everyone else. He looks at the obvious evidence and immediately notes a list of doubts where none previously existed.  So, he is smarter than you.  He can fight better than you.  And he is travels much lighter than you.

jack4 A seemingly random sniper attack is a bold way to begin a movie given recent real-life events, but the opening sequence is executed with methodical precision and daring so that we can quickly believe in Reacher’s conspiracy theories. In the blink of an eye, Reacher has appeared out of nowhere (his usual address) and is in the middle of the investigation being conducted by the lawyer of the wrongly accused James Barr (Joseph Sikora). The defense lawyer is played by Rosamund Pike, whose character is the daughter of the District Attorney (Richard Jenkins). The police detective is played by David Oyelowo and it’s easy to tell something isn’t completely right within the walls of city hall.

Reacher roams the beautiful city of Pittsburgh asking questions and piecing together the puzzle left behind by creepy villain The Zec (Werner Herzog) and his henchman Charlie (Jai Courtney). We get three Reacher fistfights, a Bullit type car chase in a muscle-bound 1970 Chevelle, and some military sharp-shooting from the depths of a quarry. What we don’t get is the Hollywood jack5tradition of a Cruise sprint. Not once do we see his trademark all-out dash to or from something. In fact, his attempt at moving like a larger man often reminded me of his Stacee Jaxx strut from the recent musical Rock of Ages.

Director Christopher McQuarrie won an Oscar, and my ever-lasting respect, for his The Usual Suspects screenplay. This story is infinitely less-complicated, but it does offer some fun moments thanks to the Reacher character. Maybe things would be a little better if a guy like Reacher really existed … totally off the grid and taking down the bad guys that the cops can’t quite catch. Sounds a bit like “Dexter”, only Reacher’s code includes doling out physical pain and then moving on to the next town … with a new set of Goodwill duds and a fresh toothbrush.

Caleb Deschanel (Director of Photography) provides a really sharp look to the film and, thankfully, doesn’t cheat on the action scenes. Herzog (a highly respected director) has a great look for a bad guy, but is painfully under-utilized here. Rosamund Pike jack3may simply be my least favorite actress working today. Bug eyes and long legs do not an actress make.  Even Reacher had little “interest” in her. Robert DuVall makes a colorful appearance as the late-arriving character that breaks open the case, and he seems to relish the reunion with his Days of Thunder co-star. The most interesting character and actor to me was Jai Courtney (pictured, left), who will be seen next as Bruce Willis’ son in A Good Day to Die Hard.

If you haven’t read the Lee Child books, you will probably readily accept Cruise as Reacher. If you are a fan of the franchise, your eyes and brain will have massive conflicts for the first hour, but then acceptance creeps in, and you’ll probably agree that it’s a simple, effective piece of entertainment … far superior to most Nicolas Cage movies these days!

**NOTE: don’t miss Lee Child as the policeman who releasaes Reacher’s personal items back to him.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of investigative thrillers that are sprinkled with actions scenes and car chases OR you just want to see and hear a very cool ’70 Chevelle

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are such a devoted fan of Lee Child’s books that you refuse to accept the 5″7 Tom Cruise as the 6’5 Jack Reacher OR like me, you hope the kidnappers had struck much earlier on Rosamund Pike’s character.

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kK7y8Ou0VvM


THE GODFATHER II (1974) revisited

April 21, 2012

 Six weeks ago was The Godfather in a theatre setting. This time it was the exceptional sequel, which generated an equal amount of movie bliss. Experiencing these two classic movies on the big screen almost 40 years after release reinforces what great films they are … and how few truly great films get made. We are reminded that a powerful well-written story, world class cast, visionary director, brilliant photographer and stunning composer are all necessary components for movie greatness.

This sequel explores three time periods: the journey of 9 year old Vito to the U.S., his rise to power in Little Italy, and Corleone life after Vito’s death. Some find the cuts to varying timelines to be distracting. Personally, I find it fascinating and a very effective way to tell the entire story. Watching an almost mute 9 year old Vito land on Ellis Island and transform into a twenty-something community “leader” is one of the more powerful and unlikely events ever seen on screen. Mixing that with Al Pacino holding little back as a power-mongering Michael is downright frightening. If you doubt this, look at it from the perspective of Diane Keaton‘s May, or John Cazale‘s Fredo.

The film received 11 Oscar nominations and won 6, including Best Picture. Robert DeNiro won for his tremendous turn as young Vito, in a performance with very little English. This is early DeNiro … the Mean Streets, Taxi Driver era. DeNiro and Marlon Brando remain the only two actors to have won Oscars for playing the same character. DeNiro’s Supporting Actor competition came from two other cast members: Lee Strasberg as Hyman Roth (supposedly based on Meyer Lansky) and Michael V Gazzo as Pentangeli. Mr. Strasberg was the famed acting teacher whose prized pupils included none other than Al Pacino (who talked him into taking this role). Strasberg was also bequeathed 75% of the Marilyn Monroe estate and there was much scandal after his death when his widow auctioned off most of it.  Gazzo’s grizzled look and voice dominate his scenes and leave you feeling uneasy about what’s really going on with him.

 Here are a few other interesting points.  Most of this script was original for the film, though the background story of Vito was drawn from Mario Puzo‘s novel. Director Francis Ford Coppola considered casting Joe Pesci as the young Clemenza, but ultimately decided on Bruno Kirby. Dominic Chianese plays Hyman Roth’s right hand man Johnny Ola. Chianese has been recently seen in both The Sopranos and Boardwalk Empire. B-Movie mogul Roger Corman plays one of the Senators on the committee interrogating Michael and Pentangeli. Harry Dean Stanton plays one of the FBI bodyguards, and former heartthrob Troy Donahue plays Connie’s (Talia Shire) goofy boyfriend Merle. One of my favorite characters in the film is Don Fanucci, robustly played by Gastone Moschin. His strutting and preening always creeps me out and makes me laugh.

Besides being the first sequel to win a Best Picture Oscar, The Godfather II is simply one of the finest films ever made. At 200 minutes, it requires both a time and mental commitment, but along with The Godfather, Coppola and Puzo have provided us exemplary story telling through expert filmmaking … and a piece of movie history.

here is a link to my comments on the original: https://moviereviewsfromthedark.wordpress.com/2012/03/03/the-godfather-1972-revisited/

below is a link to the trailer, but be warned … it contains 3 plus minutes of actual footage.  If you have not seen the film, I would not recommend watching the trailer:

 


GET LOW (2009)

August 22, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. I am not familiar with director Aaron Schneider, who apparently has done mostly cinematography work on TV for the past 10 years. He must feel like a lottery winner getting to direct his first feature film and having a cast with Robert Duvall and Sissy Spacek.

This is a very odd film centered on the story of 1930’s Tennessee backwoods recluse Felix Bush, played exceedingly well (no surprise) by Robert Duvall. We learn – slowly – that Felix has been in a self-imposed exile carrying enormous guilt over an incident from 40 years prior. The wonderful thing is that it takes us just about the entire film to discover what caused this guilt and how Felix has dealt with it.

Over that 40 years, the legend of old man Bush has grown with the town people. It is approaching Tall Tale status when he whips up on a local wise-ass on one of his rare visits to town. When Felix realizes that stories have been concocted about him over the years, he heads to local funeral home to arrange a “funeral party” where everyone can come and tell their stories … while he is still alive!  The local mortician is played by Bill Murray and I can best describe his personality as eager opportunist.

While this appears to be a slow moving story, it really isn’t. The real motivation for the party, a reconnection with the past and a cleansing confession all play parts in this fine story. Sissy Spacek plays a painful link to Felix’ past, as well as a key to this latest/last event.

Excellent performances by Duvall, Spacek,  and Bill Cobbs really make this one work. While Bill Murray and Lucas Black hold up their end by supplying a bit of humor and purity, respectively, the story really belongs to Duvall. His ability to convey emotion with a grunt or facial expression is just amazing to watch.

My only real complaint with the film is that it lasted about 2 minutes too long. The perfect ending had occurred and then we are dealt one final, seemingly forced scene. A minor quibble with a film that kept me fully engaged.