jbacks3

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Reviews

Backfire
(1950)

Overbearing Score...
I'd like to nominate Backfire as having the most overbearing, obnoxious musical score in the history of motion pictures. Every scene features ominous music to the point of distraction (1947's Angel & the Badman stands on a plateau just below Backfire... but sounds like Wayne & Co. simply recycled a serial soundtrack to save money). Backfire's music undermines every scene, creating the nauseating feeling that every frame is bursting with suspense... essentially validating Ivan Triesault's (as the director Von Ellstein) complaint (paraphrased) in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) that every scene cannot be climactic. This is a textbook example of how less is more in film noir.

Neighbors
(2014)

I have to admit there were laughs...
I've always regarded Seth Rogen as a potheaded version of Adam Sandler. In a perfect world, both of these guys wouldn't find work in Hollywood beyond bagging groceries at Ralph's on Van Nuys Blvd. Sandler is responsible for drek like Little Nicky and Jack & Jill, whereas Rogen should be held criminally responsible for The Green Hornet. And it was only out of equal parts boredom and trepidation that I saw Neighbors today. It's crude, predictable and takes wild stabs at shock value for laughs. Some of them work (I'm a tough crowd and there were 3 laugh out loud gags)... but whether you like Neighbors or not will depend on your tolerance for dick jokes, recreational drug use and lactation. This is not a kid's movie. Neighbors looks like Citizen Kane compared to The Green Hornet. I'll be generous and call this a 6, only because it exceeded my low expectations.

The Wolf of Wall Street
(2013)

Marty... please stop with the voice over narrations already...
Wow, WoWS is getting critically mauled on these user reviews! But indulge my 2-cents: What works: The level of acting is terrific. I'm not a Jonah Hill fan and I'll give his chops (rumor has it he was paid a paltry $60K in what's purported to be a $100 million production--- if true, he was robbed). His Donnie Azoff (aka in real life as Danny Porus) is a difficult character, having no redeeming qualities to draw from. DiCaprio also manages to pull off a convincing Jordan Belfort and as he possesses a face that has refuses to age, we see Belfort as a hungry 23-year old through about 1998. DiCaprio has a firm grip on the guy, and there's one outlandish scene involving a fistful of Quaaludes that kick in at an inopportune moment. Watching Leo chemically melt on a pay phone and throw his body like a mangled Slinky is the one best scene in the film. What doesn't work: The script is pointless. There's no moral center, not a single redeeming character to empathize with. The inevitable outcome happens with no great surprises, no clever plot twists, nothing. These people are all scumbags. A lot has been said about the nudity. I'm no prude and find it sadly amusing that we Americans don't bat an eye at catastrophic body counts in mindless action movies but howl at skin. But okay, WoWS has an unusually high amount of nudity, sex, raunch and Marty seems perfectly willing to give us what he wants. And I will agree that it should probably have been more correctly released as an NC-17 (the fact that this received a R at all makes me question the rating board itself). Another criticism: I've grown tired of the Scorsese narration. It worked in Goodfellas and Casino but without a tighter script, listing to a voice over pieced out over 3 hours weighs the film down. Although I enjoyed it more than most people here, it would've been greatly improved by whittling 25 minutes off a better script.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
(2013)

Easily Stiller's Best...
Living in Chiang Mai, Thailand doesn't lend itself to seeing a wide variety of English- language films. You hit the 4th floor of one of the big malls and cross your fingers... today, this ritual paid off: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a thoroughly enjoyable experience (wait, wasn't this the guy to subjected me to Zoolander and Starsky & Hutch?). TSLWM is, at the core, about remaining engaged to life. This 2013 Mitty has little in common with it's 66-year namesake (Kaye's garish Technicolor daydreams advanced the plot line, here they're symptomatic of a 42-year old man realization he's lived disconnected to life itself). Kaye carried his daydreams into his conscious world, Stiller just checks out.-- but this isn't wrong here. Stiller's Mitty is forced to come to grips with the fear of entering middle age and having been nowhere and having practically done nothing. His most significant friend is a freelance photographer (Sean Penn) who he's never actually met--- through 16 years of contact through his work cataloging photo negatives for a dying Life Magazine. His leap into the rest of the world is amazing... taking us to parts of the world unknown to Hollywood (I could add that this is easily the best movie ever shot in Iceland)--- and it's great to see something again that leaves you smiling walking out of the theater (weird phenomenon: no one left until the lights came on! The theater was packed full of us foreigners and not one person left--- I've never seen that happen--- this could also be described as the perfect date movie for middle aged people who met on Match.com).

Johnny O'Clock
(1947)

Fell Apart toward the End...
Johnny O'Clock has a lot of what's right about a noir: the illicit setting (here, a high-class illicit gambling den), the right period (Truman years), appropriately well done B&W cinematography with a strong focal character (a particularly steel cold Powell). Lee J. Cobb's on hand in what could be called his classic persona as the dogged detective. There's an unusual hint of homosexuality with Powell's live-in, what? Butler? Assistant? Man-servant? What's wrong? Alas, plenty. The script is barely a whodunnit. The murderer is revealed with a yawn a little over halfway through. Thug Gomez's shoes would've been more convincingly filled by Eddie G. or Edward Arnold--- he's adequate but hollow. The final shoot out is anti-climactic and Cobb's lethargic hunt for a wounded Powell is pretty lame, especially with the accompanying dialog. I love 40's noir and this one probably showed a lot of promise in the first draft (Rossen had little experience at this point in his career), but was desperately in need of a re-write. Look for Jeff Chandler at the 36 minute mark making his film debut. Johnny O'Clock is 'Oh so-so.

Taken 2
(2012)

One of the worst sequels ever made
Taken 2: the audience. It's difficult to say anything positive about this mechanically constructed piece of crap. The fact that it earned over $100 million in profits is a horrid testament to the movie going public who apparently don't mind bad scripts, xenophobia, the suspension of disbelief required to have grenades tossed within a major city and not attract the attention of the police, horrible fight scene staging, and a ridiculously stupid drivers test subplot. This should be used by film schools everywhere as a textbook example of a bad sequel.

What I really hated: the daughter is, in fact, played by a 30 year old actress who happens to look 30. Overprotective Liam obsesses about her having a boyfriend (gasp!) and the impact it has on her all-important drivers test... Yet she drives like an F1 driver with a stick while dodging bullets in Istambul.

The writer-director also managed to relocate Albania and place it next to Turkey.

How people can pass through post 9/11 borders armed to the teeth.

And how it cheats the audience out of the fight scenes, real reason most of them were drawn to the damn thing in the first place. They are flash edited and incomprehensible, robbing any impact that would've made the stinking thing at least somewhat redeemable.

This is a bad, bad, bad movie. I gave it an overly generous 1.

Vegas
(2012)

count the anachronisms!
1960? Whoa! Someone needs to study what 1960 looked like. I saw 1962 Ford Galaxy police cars... a '63 Plymouth and in the scene where Quaid knocks the biker off his bike... a 1967 Pontiac Le Mans! What year is it supposed to be? News flash to the producers and set designer: motorcycles in 1960 didn't have disc brakes. You also have the mayor's flunkie driving around in a 1963 Pontiac. I just don't understand how a production can be this sloppy. Go back and watch CRIME STORY... that series got it right. Why do they bother with a period drama if they don't even try to make it look right? Aiiiigh. I realize this may seem trivial but I believe set design matters. For me watching people drive '63 T-Birds in 1960 is like watching a super tanker float by in a viking movie (see Lee Majors' epic The Norseman) or spying William Shatner wearing a Seiko watch in The Barbary Coast.

21 Jump Street
(2012)

A good movie...?
21 Jump Street (the series) is notable for just about 1 thing: Johnny Depp, who's matured into an interesting actor. How 21 Jump Street (the movie) rates these glowing reviews is beyond my comprehension. It's dumb... the central characters are not believable as cops or high school students. The plot--- what there is--- involves infiltrating a designer drug operation. The best that can be said about this mess is that it's ---slightly--- more coherent than most other idiotic TV show retreads (Starsky & Hutch being the crap standard against which I measure them all). Hollywood: Please stop making TV show adaptations!!! They all blow! But if anyone's interested I have a boffo idea for a HAZEL update...

Chronicle
(2012)

Impressive battery life in that video camera...
Okay... here's what's wrong with Chronicle: 1) Urine-poor plot development, especially regarding contact with alien "force." C'mon, the entire episode is distilled down to exploring a hole in the ground. Chronicle makes alien contact almost boring. 2) Headache-inducing use of hand-held video cameras. We've all been Blair witched and Paranormal Activitied to death already (and wasn't there that gimmicky alien Godzilla-type thing a few years back too?). Please stop doing this crap! 3) The kid turns into an alpha predator without a lot of reason. Yes, his dad is a drunken jackass, but c'mon, his wife is dying! 4) There's one long weird pointless scene where the introspective philosophical kid knocks on a girl's door that goes nowhere. It should've been cut. It's useless and left me thinking the reason for it had been left on the editing room floor.

The good: 1) The unknown actors are fine, but ill served by a shallow script. I liked the black kid who did a likable "young Barrack Obama" role, but his presence seemed a little too P.C., like a McDonald's commercial that hits every racial demographic. 2) Special effects are OK. Not terrific, but serviceable.

Not a great movie by any means and clearly aimed at 15-17 year olds. I wish there would've been a product placement for whatever batteries were used in that camera... I can't get 8 minutes out of anything I buy!

Jeanne Eagels
(1957)

Jeff Chandler keeps his shirt on...
Hollywood has always had a real problem with biopics. Most of them are factually laughable (Night and Day, Words and Music, Rhapsody in Blue, W.C. Fields and Me, Gable & Lombard, etc.)... the best of the bunch might be 1942's Yankee Doodle Dandy and 1955's Love Me or Leave Me (with Doris Day as Ruth Etting), but even they play fast and loose with facts. Jeanne Eagles is utterly frustrating. It features a top notch director, George Sidney and top notch period set design. Icy Kim Novak, who looks right for the title role, is all over the map. Some of her scenes are merely competent, in too many others she's chewing scenery (reminding me of Elizabeth Berkley's god-awful performance in 1995's Showgirls). Her performance was severely panned in the contemporary press reviews--- in my opinion, justified. The film gets a few things right: Eagles' 18-month Actor's Equity suspension, roughly sketches her rocky marriage to ex-football hero Ted Coy (here transformed as "John Donohue") but emphasizes Eagles' alcoholism over her wildly suspect heroin addiction. Many other facts are ignored (Eagles was never a carnival performer, and she'd been previously married). Interestingly, a reference to her "taking dope" is only mentioned once in the film, by Eagles herself. Most seriously, the script errs in attributing her death at age 39 as a suicide. Jeanne Eagles was undoubtedly a mess and a polyglot substance abuser, so in a perverse way it's fitting the movie suffers a similar fate. Kudos to art directors Bill Kiernan (who later did Funny Girl and The Cowboys) and Alfred E. Spencer; their work substantially contributed to making this watchable. Novak would recover and go on to immortality in Vertigo. Co-star Jeff Chandler (his part is total fiction and he's somewhat miscast here) would make 11 more films only to die unexpectedly of blood poisoning after back surgery in 1961 while his final film was in post production. Jeanne Eagles is not the worst biopic you'll ever see... it just should've been so much better with another star (Kim Stanley perhaps?). 4/10.

Dark City
(1950)

Not that old black magic...
Dark City is likely most notable as being Chuck Heston's film debut. But it's also worth seeing for then-supporting actor Jack Webb (actually quite good) teaming with Harry Morgan, some 16 years before they'd pair up in the color reincarnation of Dragnet 1966. It's also significant in the script acknowledging the ugly possibilities of returning to post-WWII society (albeit without the impact of the vaguely similar theme of 1932's I Am A Fugitive Of a Chain Gain and WWI, or the more recent The Best Years of Our Lives). With the talent involved I'd expected a noir classic... but Dark City solidly misses the mark. What's wrong? I can name 3 things: The subplot involving grieving widow Viveca Lindfors is all wrong and slows the picture down to a crawl (and frankly it makes Heston look creepy in the pursuit of her--- without giving away why). The suspense of the mystery homicidally-inclined brother just isn't there. And I personally hated the lip sync'd intrusion of Lizbeth Scott's songs (I found myself saying "why weren't these whittled down in the editing room?"). Director William Dieterle's career was inexplicably on a slide by 1950 and his work here could best be described as yeoman-like. There's absolutely nothing wrong with any of the performances... it's just the script needed about 20 pages tossed and the musical numbers axed.

Murder Over New York
(1940)

I'll never go on another case again without a gat....
I love the Chan series but it takes an element of disbelief. You have to either accept (or ignore) the fact that Charlie never seems to spend much time in Hawaii (making one wonder what the Honolulu PD actually pays him to do) and much like Philo Vance or Nick Charles, has some sort-of official status everywhere he goes. And if you watch enough of these, you begin to see the same Fox contract players popping up over and over again as red herrings, jilted lovers and "adventuresses." This '40 entry has Charlie coincidentally meeting up with an old friend (bad omen--- his friends have a shorter life expectancy than the doomed red shirted yeomen beamed down in Star Trek episodes) Scotland Yard on a plane en route to a police convention. Charlie enlists himself in solving his friend's murder and by default, the case he was working on. No. 2 son Jimmy Chan (played by 25-year old Victor Sen Yung) seems to exist to state obvious inane comments or offer wildly improbable facts--- most notably identifying a new poison gas by smell (he must be a whizz undergrad back in California). Watch for Shemp Howard as a phony Hindu in a line up and future Captain Marvel Frank Coghlan Jr. in a bit part as a coat room clerk in a men's club. This is a fair entry but suffers somewhat from the lack of an exotic setting (Paris, Berlin... Reno!) or the occasional supernatural elements found in several of the others (...Egypt, ...Secret, Castle in the Desert). It's one of the most straight forward whodunits of the entire Fox films.

Ghost
(1990)

Still entertains, one big flaw...
Ghost, unfairly I think, gets slammed for bad acting and miscasting. I just saw it again (unfortunately on commercial-laden AMC) last night for perhaps the 5th time and it's held up remarkably well. My biggest gripe is the god-awful "evil" special effects that contrast so poorly against some exemplary night shots of New York. I can sense Adam Greenberg howling at the special effects supervisor. It leaves me wondering how much better it could be made today from just a technical standpoint. Swayze did his best work here and injected just the right level of humor and horror--- unfortunately some of it is marred by less than state of the art SFX work (oddly, I could make the same argument to STARMAN, albeit Jeff Bridges' performance was far superior). Still watchable and highly entertaining! An 8.

Jewel Robbery
(1932)

An almost forgotten Kay Francis vehicle
Warner Brothers was bleeding some serious red ink in 1932. The public's once-insatiable talkie curiosity had worn off and the Depression had tightened it's stranglehold on America, causing ticket prices to drop below 1930-31 levels. Against this reality, the studio had actively pursued marginal Broadway plays it rightly thought could be had on the cheap and improved on; Ladislas Fordor's comedy "Ekszerrablás a Váci-uccában" (or "Jewel Robbery"), adapted for the stage by Bertram Bloch. The play had blown through the Booth Theatre after just 54 performances in front of half-filled seats. Purchased for a reported $10,000, the property came in at cost low enough to justify giving it an A-effort. Newly hired screenwriter Erwin S. Gelsey rewrote the play and recent German émigré William Dieterle was enlisted to direct. At this point Warner's was spending about $300,000 on it's A-efforts and was sandbagging it's huge losses (they would continue into 1936) from profits squirreled away from the salad days of 1928-31. Jewel Robbery did nothing to help it's 1932 bottom line. The film flopped miserably (critics cited Kay Francis' interpretation of a morally objectionable philandering Viennese trophy wife). The fact was, there wasn't much Depression era audiences could relate to. Warner's injection of sex and marijuana would doom any hope of eking out re-release profits after the 1934 Production Code kicked in and the property would remain virtually unseen until the inception of TCM. To contemporary audiences, Jewel Robbery is a pre-code hoot. To Jack L. Warner, it was an ulcer.

The Wizard of Oz
(1939)

Always a delight
This rightfully ranks on the list of most folks' 10 best of all time. I grew up with it on annual re-runs (in the fog of my brain they were always hosted by Danny Kaye) that were a big deal every Easter. The film itself is full of ironies: it was released in August, 1939 to an indifferent audience and bombed. Producer Mervyn LeRoy was so financially damaged he swore never to put another cent of his own money in another movie. No adaption of Oz has ever been a hit in it's initial release. The film didn't achieve it's classic status until it was recycled on TV in the 50's (more irony: the vast majority of the first TV audiences viewed it in blazing black & white, taking out much of it's color transforming wallop). The back story production drama is well documented and only adds to the film's mystique. Unlike so many movies of our childhood, it remains as delightful as ever. It's an honest 10/10.

The Tourist
(2010)

The camera loves Angelina
Being I now reluctantly fall squarely in the midst of some manufactured adult target audience demographic, I was looking forward to seeing a film with a degree of intelligence with minimal CGI enhancements (Venice itself looks gorgeous and its polluted waterways may have been CGI'd, but I digress). The Tourist is 90% Angelina Jolie looking stunning. Johnny Depp looks surprisingly paunchy, reminding me of a bearded chipmunk, sleepwalking through his role. The rather implausible plot invites dissection after viewing, as numerous gaping holes exist. The action/chase scenes are rather uninspired, feeling like outtakes from a lesser Bond installment. Still, the audience gets a taste of a locale seldom seen in American movies and there's some cute humor regarding Depp's inept choice of languages (although one might ask why he's not mistakenly reverting to Portugese vs. Spanish, another question best left alone until the lights come on). If you want to see a much better movie in a similar vein, rent 1963's Charade. The Tourist is no classic, but mildly entertaining.

Hearts of the West
(1975)

Almost Unseen
The mid-70's saw a misguided false nostalgia for early Hollywood. I'd like to think it was on account of the last few octogenarian (and up) moguls dying off (Samuel Goldwyn died at 94 in '74, Jack L. Warner passed in the fall of '78 at 86, Darryl F. Zanuck, ill with Alzheimer's, dying in '79) and that the younger turks sensed something. Unfortunately what spewed forth was mostly crap: Gable and Lombard, W.C. Fields and Me, the dull interpretations of The Great Gatsby, The Last Tycoon, and the cinematic nadir: Won Ton Ton the Dog that Saved Hollywood... a film so utterly awful that they must've thought Rin Tin Tin would sue. Nickelodeon belongs in there somewhere too. But along the way there were a few minor gems, namely, underrated The Day of the Locust (particularly for Burgess Meredith's performance) and Hearts of the West, which I saw in a theater in Portland it's brief release. I don't think it rated a week's screen time. Inarguably, the plot's thin stuff, but Jeff Bridges' Lewis Tater ranks as his best pre-Starman turn as an actor. He took naiveté to an entirely new plateau. Andy Griffith delivers a nice performance as an amiable, if duplicitous character actor who's descended into a life in poverty row oaters. The then-50-year old Griffith had just recovered from a serious medical condition and hadn't been seen in a feature film since a 1969 flop, Angel in My Pocket. Griffith here is far, far removed from anyone's image of Sheriff Andy Taylor. The supporting cast is superb, especially Alan Arkin who captures the essential cheapness of a Gower Gulch producer/director... he seems to be based on Mascot's Nat Levine. Don't look for the picture to go much of anywhere, just enjoy the ride. I liken the experience very similar to 1982's Cannery Row; you know you've seen better pictures, but you never somehow enjoyed one more and you don't exactly know why.

Nickelodeon
(1976)

Should've been great
This has to be one of the most aggravating movies ever made. With the possible exception of Marty Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich has the knowledge of the era. Unfortunately, the setting (1910-15) is the only thing that Bogdanovich gets right. Why slapstick? Nearly everyone is miscast (Reynolds, Ritter, who seems oblivious to the period), vapid (the beautiful Jane Hitchcock) or wasted (Stevens) and everyone is embroiled in a disjointed script (which seems oddly like a first draft) that abruptly jumps from slapstick to melodrama to comedy. I'd imagine that anyone interested in seeing the film would have some interest in embryonic filmmaking, but Nickelodeon is a total mess. The best scenes come at the very end; I'll disagree with another reviewer on one point: I felt that Ryan O'Neal's emotion while watching "The Clansman" (AKA Birth of a Nation") was the sad realization that he'd never make a film of that caliber, not that he was capable of better things. In some ways, Nickelodeon seems to be the culmination of so many period Hollywood films released in the mid 70's that went horribly wrong (W.C. Fields and Me, Gable and Lombard, Won Ton Ton, the Dog that Saved Hollywood)--- the two best (Day of the Locust, and the almost unseen Hearts of the West were also flawed); Nickelodeon is, considering the director and the budget, the worst offender, since it should've been so much better. It's a train wreck.

Outcast Lady
(1934)

Weepy post-code.
This is an MGM chick flick, 1934- style. Constance Bennett, a first class actress, is Iris, a penniless heiress (I'm still trying to get my brain around how she and her drunken brother can live so well despite their circumstances... they have servants who work whilst politely grumbling over not being paid) who loves the Napier, (Herbert Marshall) son of a prominent English family with interests in India. His father (Henry Stephenson) bans their marriage and each goes off in different directions while carrying awfully large torches for each other. My problems with the production: 1) Marshall is ill-fitted as the somewhat spineless son--- he's 44 here (!) 2) Stephenson is a real one-dimensional turd until the big revelation. 3) The ending (I won't give it away, but it doesn't really fit with Iris' temperament). Connie Bennett ranks (along with Kay Francis and Bebe Daniels) as one of the most underrated actresses around and is always fascinating to watch... even in pedestrian soap like this.

The Singing Marine
(1937)

Over Long and Over Baked.
By 1937 Dick Powell was acutely aware of his dwindling prospects as a crooner. Unfortunately, The Singing Marine is a textbook example of just the type of film he was aching to distance himself from--- something that wouldn't happen until his move to Paramount in 1942. This over long musical comedy co-stars newcomer Doris Weston (imagine Sonja Henie without the skates or accent); she's cute but the 19-year old fails to make a memorable impression. Her career spanned less than 3 years and 6 features, 2 shorts and a serial between Warner's and the financially wobbly "New" Universal Pictures. Sadly, she'd die of cancer in her early 40's.

The Singing Marine was one of Warner's 'A' pictures for 1937. It features the backbone of the studio's stock character troupe: Allen Jenkins, Addison Richards, goofy Hugh Herbert, Guinn Williams... but look for harmonica maestro Larry Adler doing his thing (Chinese Larry? I think HUAC might've even used that one against you too) in the Shanghai finale and keep your eyes peeled for Ward Bond in one of his don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-me-keeping-the-groceries-coming-in walk-on's he did throughout the 1930's.

I find myself looking at any pre-WW2 film with military elements as a Japanese spy. To this day I'm convinced one of the reasons we were attacked is Lou Costello in "Buck Privates." The Singing Marine certainly did us no favors with the mentality that a USMC enlistment could be bought off, or perhaps it was the corps' apparent fondness for wienie roasts. See this for Adler's haunting harmonica rift... but be prepared to walk away wondering why 20-minutes weren't left on the cutting room floor.

China Girl
(1942)

Ever seen the ending to "Bataan"?
Henry Hathaway starts this seldom-seen WW2 drama off with some of the most effectively brutal executions seen in a wartime movie. Then there's the scene where hero George Montgomery and Victor McLaglen crawl through a ditch of dead Chinese. As if 1942 audiences didn't hate the Japanese enough in the year since Pearl Harbor...

The problem with China Girl is the Ben Hecht (I can't believe it's possible to complain about Hecht) script (based on an idea prodded out of the prolific ghost-pen of Darryl F. Zanuck). Montgomery plays a faux-Clark Gable-ish newsreel cameraman suspected of being a spy, who in the midst of his escape snatches some intelligence seemingly vital to the Japanese. Now unfortunately, you can forget all that. It becomes a love story as Montgomery woos exotic (but not very Chinese looking) Gene Tierney. Except that McLaglen and his confederate moll (Lynn Bari, who also has the hots for George) have their own agenda. Except you can forget all about that too. The plot goes nowhere and serves as an excuse to show further Japanese atrocities against Chinese children. No spoilers here... it's just that the movie feels pointless plot-wise. Tierney was the hottest actress at 20th Century Fox from '41-44... her acting ability was respectably serviceable (best when playing a cold bitch from hell) but few ever melted a camera the way she did. I was astonished how Montgomery moved around on credit--- I think he still owed stereotypical-yet-now un-P.C. Bobby Blake at least $450 (in reality the kid probably would have cut him). The best part of China Girl is the set design, the worst part is how it manipulates the audience. Where'd the plot go?

Men in War
(1957)

"I'm Taking a Crapper.."
Director Anthony Mann helmed some of the best westerns of the 50's: Winchester '73, Naked Spur, The Man from Laramie and Tin Star. By 1957, the Korean War must've been a debacle Americans wanted to just forget about (yes, I realize Lewis Milestone's Pork Chop Hill was still 2 years off), and using a mediocre WW2 pulp novel as source material (although largely unused) must've made for a tough pitch. The result is more a reworked version of 1934's Lost Patrol than an original work. Ryan is a tough platoon leader trying to maneuver his 17 surrounded troops back behind the lines. During their trek they encounter a tough sergeant, Aldo Ray (imagine him as Ernest Borgnine's brother), whose on a mission to deliver his shell-shocked colonel (veteran actor Robert Keith, Brian Keith's father) to safety after his men were wiped out. Look for the tragic 26-year old Vic Morrow (whom with Ray and Ryan will soon reteam for Mann's then-steamy God's Little Acre the following year)--- this was only his 4th feature film. The problem with the film is there's no typical plot arc no John Ford symbolism, no character depth. It's merely a march of attrition. TCM finally has a decent print.

Dragnet 1967: The Interrogation
(1967)
Episode 4, Season 1

See it for "The Speech" alone!
Kent McCord must've made a helluva impression on Jack Webb as he'd continue to appear intermittently in these later color Dragnets even after landing his co-starring role on Webb's second hit show Adam-12 in 1968. I usually give McCord rather low marks for his acting range, but he's almost impressive here, expressing enough anguish to evoke the first truly great color Dragnet Friday rant. It's a terrific spiel, Webb's heartfelt-yet-monotone delivery is DVR worthy (paraphrasing: "The citizens of Los Angeles pay you nineteen cents an hour to do a thankless job with an unflattering haircut...") And it has a cool twist-a-roo ending where McCord discovers his mother had apparently given up his monozygotic evil twin brother up for adoption. Watch this and see why you should never volunteer for a polygraph! Really good entry folks!

Dragnet 1967: Juvenile Division: DR-19
(1969)
Episode 19, Season 3

One of the better '69's
Dragnet fans regard season 3 as a mixed bag. Webb loaded the season with talky episodes that had less than gripping plot lines involving public affairs and the dreaded "night off at the Gannon's House" where Joe wears what could very well be Ozzie Nelson's sweater. Occasionally something camp would sneak in (The Crimson Crusader episode leaps to mind) but Juvenile Division: DR-19 actually demonstrates some degree of Webb's acting range. He grimaces! To be fair, both Gannon and Friday show a fair amount of disgust (approaching anguish, maybe) at the sight of child abuse. Relative unknown Elizabeth Knowles cuts a pretty good picture of an uber bitch mom-from-hell... imagine Joan Crawford armed with an electrical cord. The sentiment feels real and Webb rightly wears his black & white heart on his sleeve here. Decent entry!

Brooklyn's Finest
(2009)

Major disappointment
The best that can be said about Brooklyn's Finest is that the acting is, with the possible exception of Ellen Barkin's angry-Fed character (although this could be rightly blamed on the script), completely competent. However, there's much wrong here, namely: The film lacks a center. Do we really care about any of these characters? Richard Gere's character is easily dismissed; he's a burn out who's ending an un-illustrious 22-year career in uniform--- we see him do no actual police work and there's nothing to indicate he ever did anything on the job except patronize hookers. Again, Gere's competent in an thankless role. Wesley Snipes looks happy to be doing something other than being evicted from Vegas casinos and starring in home gym infomercials. He's somewhat sympathetic, but it's another thankless role as a drug lord. Don Cheadle does the best turn here, his ambition to make Detective 1st Grade is seriously compromised by his affection for Snipes' Chaz. Less thankless, but muddled. Chaz's enemies are his enemies, but we don't care. Barkin's character is crawling up his backside in typical fashion. No surprises. Ethan Hawke's motivations are illogical (at one point, NYPD rookies are incorrectly said to earn a $20K starting salary--- it's really $44,722 + overtime). He's uber-Catholic but kills at the slightest monetary provocation (oye, over mold?!). The story--- which is more like 3 characters in search of a plot, grinds along until they converge in a Crash-style finale that defies motivational logic (Gere finally does actual police work after he retires??? Hmmm... I find this hard to believe). And who lit this film? It's easily the darkest (and I do mean dark...) movie I've ever seen. It's really hard to see what's going on and you'll be sorely tempted to adjust the contrast on your TV. In the end, you'd be more entertained by The Shield (pick any season). This was an unpleasant experience, all for reasons beyond the actors' control.

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