IMDb member since March 2002
    Lifetime Total
    IMDb Member
    18 years


Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Dead Poets' Society Shanghaied by British Navy!
You know, most of the midshipmen and many of the younger sailors DO look like they got lost on the way to the Dead Poets' Society set. Do they all have to look like Ethan Hawke? In a way, it kind of figures. Director Weir directed Dead Poets' Society.

I have to say, though, that Russell Crowe made a better ship's captain than Robin Williams would have.

Seriously, did anyone on this side of the pond understand the dialogue? I watched at home and played and re-played certain scenes so I could make some sense of the dialogue. At times, I thought I was watching Darby O'Gill and the Little People. I expected Little Max to exclaim, "I am King Brian of Knocknasheega!"

Even so, it was a good movie, and it accurately depicted two-thirds rum and the lash) of what life in the Royal Navy was like (omitting, happily, the other third: sodomy).

The cinematography is superb. The attention to detail, especially the uniforms and weaponry, is likewise superb. I thought there was fairly good character development between the Captain and the Surgeon, but it isn't clear why the cultivated midshipmen aren't back at Rugby enjoying a scrum.

It's pointless to nitpick. It is an entertaining film. Sit back and relax. 8 out of 10

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Keira Knightley as Winona Ryder
This movie is a composite of every action fantasy pic made since . . . well, since The Goonies.

Every scene was purloined from some other movie. I must admit, I was slightly stumped trying to remember where I had heard, "Jack, Jack," before, but then I recalled the 1976 version of King Kong, and Charles Grodin's appeal to Jeff Bridges' character: "Jack, Jack . . . ."

I was amazed at the resemblance of Keira Knightley to Johnny Depp's old flame, Winona Ryder. When Johnny's tattoo is revealed, I half expected it to reveal "Wino," not some reference to the East India Company. (You do know that Johnny altered his "Winona" tattoo to read "Wino," don't you?)

You know, this movie does nothing more than overload the senses. In fact, it's an assault on the nervous system. This is what movie making has become.

This movie made Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes look like Citizen Kane.

This movie ranks in IMDb's Top 250. Sad.

Open Range

Not Shane, But Highly Entertaining
First, I wish to thank Kevin Costner for making Westerns. Although long out of favor, they tell America's "story" better than any other genre (and even if you don't like the story, there's always the cinematography -- have a look at "Legends of the Fall," when you can).

It's not "Shane," but it isn't bad. Unlike Shane, here is a real twist: the Free Grazers are the good guys; the sod busters are the bad guys. Very interesting.

Many of the movie's parts appear elsewhere: Silverado and Lonesome Dove come immediately to mind. Who cares . . . .

I wondered whether I would look at Robert Duvall and his character and see Texas Ranger Augustus McRae. Indeed, sometimes I saw Gus (for example, in the bar room scene where he delivers his lecture on good vs. evil), and at other times I didn't (for example, during most of the gun fight). I think Duvall has a hard time living down Captain Gus, and he knows it. So what .. . .

The gunfight is extraordinary. The weapons were historically accurate, the sounds were right, and the poor marksmanship was realistic. The re-created town is a masterpiece. This long scene is a work of art.

The relationship between Costner and Bening isn't really developed, the evil sheriff and the maniacal rancher don't have enough screen time, what motivates the last-minute heroics of the townspeople is unclear, and the movie, itself, with the exception of the gunfight, could have been made for television, but everything considered, it is a highly entertaining film.

Rent this movie and enjoy it.

Gods and Generals

Extraordinary Effort Yields Rich Rewards
Steve Schear's review (a few reviews prior to mine) is "right on the money," so it makes my task much easier. I will explore a few side issues.

First, to the many people who found the movie "offensive," try to understand that not everyone shares your view of history. I am sure there were scenes in "Gangs of New York" that equally offended you, because in that movie, Northerners were betraying their racial hatred, and such things do not fit neatly into today's prevailing view: North, Good; South, Bad. Hurrah for Director Ron Maxwell, who sets the tone very early, when Gen. Lee tells Montgomery Blair: "I never thought I would see the day when a President would invade his own country."

Second, the movie is very careful to point out that Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee were STILL in the Union at the time of Fort Sumter. It was only Lincoln's call for volunteers to wage war on Americans that caused these states to secede from the Union. Until then, they had refused to follow the lead of the Lower South's Cotton States.

I said this about "Gettysburg," and I will say it about "G and G." I am sorry that the director did not find a way to accurately depict the carnage on the battlefield (like "Braveheart" did, for example). G and G did a better job than Gettysburg in showing that one artillery round could eliminate an entire file of soldiers, but missing from the film is the decaptitations, the "exploding" bodies, the splattered brains, and the man in front of you who simply "vaporized." There were first hand reports of soldiers being wounded by flying "teeth" and "shards of bone." Now, where do you suppose the teeth and the bone came from? I guess there is no way to adequately capture such carnage on film, Braveheart notwithstanding.

I am also sorry that Director Maxwell could not replicate the mad dash of the animals from the woods as Jackson's 25,000 men silently crept up on Hooker's right flank at Chancellorsville. First hand reports described the Union camps as being overrun by deer, raccoons, skunks, and varmints of every kind, fleeing the woods and rushing into the open ground of the camps. Now, what do you suppose was in those woods causing those animals to rush through the Union camps?

The movie is long because the War was long. The scenes showing Stonewall Jackson's loving relationship with the little girl ("Anna") are touching, and important to understanding his character. Yes, he was an Old Testament Joshua, but was capable of feeling and sadness.

The soldiers on both sides are depicted as quite human, and the scene where Johnny Reb and Billy Yank exchange coffee and tobacco is moving. It happened, and Director Maxwell captured it perfectly.

The DVD contained a number of worthwhile extras. I learned something, too. I have read hundreds of books about the War over forty years, including many first hand journals and diaries, and I am satisfied that slavery was NOT the primary cause of the War. It is taught that way because it doesn't require any analysis. Slavery is bad. No, the War was inevitable because the sections, North and South, despised each other, and once the North pulled ahead of the South in the Electoral College (and Virginia could no longer control the White House), the North started shoving the South around, and the protective tariff, alone, prompted the Nullification Crisis in the 1830's and sewed the seeds of secession thirty years later. But what I learned, despite all of the above, is that, from the slave's point of view, the war WAS about slavery. And that point of view must be factored in among all the others.

The movie was a herculean effort. Stay with it and marvel at the directors' energy and effort. It is a monument in filmmaking.

Gangs of New York

Suppressed History Finally Surfaces
I am a Civil War "buff," so I wanted to see this movie the moment I heard it was being made. Yes, the New York Draft Riots did happen, just two weeks AFTER the Northern victory at Gettysburg, demonstrating that the outcome of the War was anything but certain, even after Lee had been forced to retreat to the south bank of the Potomac River. Today, many would find this surprising.

The movie did take some license, however. There was no wholesale firing on civilians by Union soldiers. In fact, reported deaths after three days of rioting were less than one-hundred. Many of the dead were randomly selected blacks, who were hanged and mutilated (which was accurately depicted in the film). Today, many would also find this surprising, because the schools teach that the North was good, and the South was bad. The truth is that blacks were subjected to inhumane treatment everywhere, especially in the Nothern cities.

There was also no firing by offshore naval vessels. That was artistic license. (My source for all of the above is a doctoral dissertation that was published about ten years ago titled "The New York City Draft Riots.")

The movie makes the important point that the North had run out of "home grown" manpower to fight the South. Had it not been for Irish and German volunteers through 1863, and black volunteers in 1864, the North would have sued for peace. The 1864 Democratic Platform promised to bring the War to a swift and speedy conclusion.

Bravo to Scorsese for bringing all of this to light. In the meantime, the movie is about twenty minutes to long. The brothel scenes, the "uptown" scenes, and some of the scenes in the catacombs struck me as slow and superfluous. On the other hand, the street scenes and the scenes of the random gangs (of which I wish there were more) were glorious.

One thing Scorsese left out, however: The mountains of animal and human waste in the streets! Not long after his movie was released, the History Channel produced a documentary on the Five Points area, and it is staggering to consider the tons and tons of animal and human waste piling up in the streets, and the thousands of gallons of urine running in the gutters. There were old photos of waste in the streets stacked six feet high. Needless to say, infant mortality in such a fetid environment was about 50%. Scorsese leaves this out, and there is scarcely a horse in the movie.

Day-Lewis does a superb job with a character that is unevenly developed. He is a homicidal thug in the beginning, a menacing, but somewhat benign, presence in the middle, and a psychotic killer in the end. It isn't really clear why he vacillates the way he does. Bi-polar, I guess. DiCaprio proves he can act, and he exudes a manliness he did not possess in earlier films. Diaz turns in a creditable performance. The cast of thousands adds a nice touch to the film.

I would never say this is a "great" film, but it certainly is worth a look. Kudos to Scorsese for the herculean effort, and a tip of the kepi for the poetic ending, which reminded me of the ending in 1936's "San Francisco."

The Four Feathers

AKA How My Turkey Got Plucked
Oh, boy. I wanted to like this movie. British imperialism, pageantry, uniforms, action . . . what a potent brew! What a toxic mess!

First, the director never does make up his mind whether this is a "love story" or a "buddy movie."

Second, there are too many scenes . . . and they are muddled, at best.

Third, the cinematography is too confusing, and the camera never does take advantage of the topography.

Fourth, who is the Sudanese, and why does he keep helping Harry? His friendship with Harry is actually more compelling than Harry's friendship with his regimental messmates.

How does Jack get back to London? Don't ask.

The dungeon scenes make no sense.

The battle scenes are unimpressive, save for the few aerial shots.

Where was "Rule Britannia" when we needed it?

The film is a disaster.

For a good movie with a similar theme, see "The Light Horseman." And, there is always the superb "Gallipoli."

High Plains Drifter

A Classic Morality Play
First, I do not see this film as a continuation of the Sergio Leone films, which were "high opera." The spaghetti western trilogy told simple stories, and had simple, tidy endings. This film is a character study, and it requires multiple viewings to absorb its nuances. And as for an ending? Pick one.

I agree with those who find similarities in this film and in "Unforgiven," a film that did not work for me. This film, however, worked for me on many levels.

Who exactly is Eastwood's character (the "stranger")? It isn't clear, but there are many clues, and the answer to the riddle keeps us returning to the film time after time.

There is something between Eastwood's character and Verna Bloom's character. What is it? What does she know about the stranger? It's hard to say. She, herself, is a very eerie presence.

Billy, who plays "Mordecai," nearly steals this film. Interestingly, he played the mayor of the Munchkins in "The Wizard of Oz." The sheriff is superb, and so is the barber (who shows up again in "The Outlaw Josie Wales" as the ferry operator). Where does Eastwood find these people?

I thought the three "bad" guys were miscast. Geoffrey Lewis does not come across as a psychopath to me. On the other hand, I was happy to see that one of his buddies was the creepy guy who worked at the diner in "In the Heat of the Night." He could have played Norman Bates.

It would have been better if the three gunslingers at the beginning of the film -- really bad looking dudes -- had switched roles with the three "bad" guys at the end of the film.

This is a very stylish, if violent, movie, and the fact that it is a western is superfluous to the story it tells. In exposing the dark underbelly of the small town, the film reminds one of "Blue Velvet," which followed years later.

This film isn't for everybody. One wonders if Eastwood deliberately made "The Outlaw Josie Wales" three years later to reassure fans that he could still make a traditional western. In fact, as a traditional western, "Josie" ranks with "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," "The Searchers," "Shane," and "Red River."

This film is not for traditionalists. It is a challenge for many. But, it pays off in so many ways, and I highly recommend it. 9 out of 10.

Captain Corelli's Mandolin

When Character Was King
Warning: If the Coen Brothers or David Lynch define your taste in film, disregard this review and move on.

Yes, I borrowed the "one line summary" from the book about President Ronald Reagan, but, among other virtues, this movie emphasizes the role that character plays in the lives of honorable human beings. This film is full of honest, decent people, and they have integrity to spare. In a word, they have "character."

A small nitpick: Unless you know the history of WW II, you probably don't know that, from Captain Correlli's arrival on the island to the fall of Mussolini, 3 and one-half years have passed. The average viewer might think the romance was of the "whirlwind" variety. That is not so. The romance develops slowly, which gives it both dignity and meaning. The film's deliberate pace may be the director's way of marking time.

Some reviews have criticized Cage's Italian accent. The Italian-speaking members of my family assure me that his accent is quite good.

The history was right on the mark. Yes, the Germans turned against their Italian allies, who, for the most part, were reluctant allies from the start. If you find that shocking, keep in mind that the French Mediterranean fleet was blown up by the British in 1940, just after France's capitulation, lest it fall in the hands of the Vichy government, or worse, the Nazis.

The depiction of the Italians as educated and cultured was a compliment to an educated and cultured civilization.

This film was beautifully photographed, and its story was lyrical. The script was not thought-provoking, nor was it clever, but here was a situation where confusion and cleverness were not needed, nor would they have been appropriate.

The story is tender, and the message is uplifting. The characters are honest, brave, earnest, sympathetic, and likeable. It's a nice little film. 8/10.

Apocalypse Now

Editing Achievement
Whether or not you like the "short" version, you owe it to yourself to see the long version, i.e., "Apocalpyse Now--Redux," to appreciate the amazing editing that went into the film to produce the short version. It was not only brilliant, it was courageous. I cannot imagine what was going through Coppola's head when he axed the sumptuous plantation scene, but he did it, and, in the final analysis, the scene WAS superfluous and unnecessary to the story. The encounter with the USO Playboy Bunnies was also dropped, mercifully so.

There were other more subtle edits that worked out well. For example, in the long version, the Sam Bottoms character steals Robert Duvall's character's surf board. This little bit of mischief, and Duvall's reaction to it, diminish Duvall's stature as the uber warrior, and dilute the impression he has made on us, the viewers. Both are fully restored in the short version.

The longer version does explain, however, what happened to little Larry Fishburne. And the longer version also connects Sam Bottoms' drugged out, zoned out character to the fatalities that occur among the crew before the party reaches Kurtz and his command. I got to where I despised the Bottoms character. In the short version, he's just plain old "Surfer Joe."

The two versions of this movie have given me a greater understanding of the painstaking process behind editing.

As for the movie, it is a masterpiece, I think, but with a less than fully satisfactory ending, not unlike the United States' 13-year involvement in Viet Nam. Maybe that was Coppola's point.

The short version is not kind to Brando, but the long version restores some luster (but not much) to Brando's reputation. The long version does help to develop Brando's character (Kurtz), which is needed. Even so, Kurtz is a murky guy, just like the world he lives in, and I would have to think that they are the deliberate creations of Coppola.

"Apocalypse Now" is a superb depiction of war and all of its many ambiguities. For a much earlier treatment, see Milestone's "All Quiet on the Western Front" (1930). Bravo, Mr. Coppola!

Gosford Park

Uh, Seriously Folks
Please, drop what you are doing, and borrow, buy, or rent Alan Bridges' brilliant film, "The Shooting Party" (1985). (If you can't find it, look for it on the Bravo channel.) Then, compare/contrast that film to/with Altman's movie.

Uh, seriously folks, ever since "Nashville" (1975), Altman has been coasting. If someone had just told him then, that, for the sake of the listening audience (except for those watching at home with the benefit of subtitles), it helps if the actors take turns talking--one at a time--perhaps we would have been spared more than a quarter-century of auditory confusion, to say nothing of having to turn the volume all the way up to distinguish the half-dozen English/American/Scottish dialects that assault you from every direction, and in competition with background noise, as you must in this movie. Really, what was originally a clever convention is now an annoying and unnecessary contrivance.

And then there is the small matter of the story. "Nashville" convinced Altman that he could film a succession of scenes, most of them disconnected, and he would have a story. The next year (1976), Altman rolled out "Buffalo Bill & the Indians," really one of the worst movies EVER made, and yet a few critics raved about it, evidently convincing Altman that he had found THE formula. There is a tiny story hidden away in "Gosford Park," but it does not emerge until the last twenty minutes.

It's not that "Gosford Park" is a bad film, it isn't. Instead, it's an ordinary film. Nothing exceptional. The actors? Sure, they're talented, but they weren't challenged in this movie. This is not Shakespeare.

And the costumes? They hardly make a film. Check out Buffalo Bill's and Annie Oakley's duds in the 1976 film.

I had a slight problem with the setting--1932. It would have been better had the story been set in 1922 or, better, in 1912 (see "The Shooting Party"). By 1932, Britain was in the middle of the worldwide depression (it was not just an American phenomenon), and the lifestyle depicted in "Gosford Park" had essentially disappeared (although obviously not the class distinctions). This is a minor nitpick.

I do think Altman had trouble deciding whether he was making "Murder by Death," "Clue," "Upstairs, Downstairs," or the extraordinary "The Shooting Party." It contains elements of all four. There wasn't a single scene in the movie that was not derivative of some other movie or television series.

There have been so many truly excellent British productions in the last ten or 15 years, but this wasn't one of them. It's an expensively produced melodrama that is nice to look at, but it took too long to tell, and has almost nothing else going for it. See "The Shooting Party."

Monster's Ball

Compressed, But Effective
Warning: One or two very minor spoilers.

This is an excellent movie that portrays a large segment of American society without gratuitously "trashing" its members (as the Coen brothers are fond of doing). Oh sure, Billy Bob Thornton's character is a racist, but not because he lives in Louisiana, but because he and his family are warped, ignorant, morally bankrupt, and dumbed-down.

The characters are not fully developed. That would have taken another two hours, at least. Halle Berry's relationship with Puff Daddy Combs is important, but it isn't clear to what extent it is important, or exactly how it shapes her relationship with Billy Bob Thornton. Billy Bob's reaction to the shooting in his living room is, I suppose, believable, considering how emotionally "numb" everyone in the household is, but it is still hard to fathom. But, the director did a masterful job given the time constraints of a two-hour movie and the incredible amount of material within the story.

The torrid love scene near the end of the film was not offensive, but as a major turning point in the relationship between Billy and Halle, I think it was unnecessary. In fact, the two of them could have gently caressed, and the effect would have been the same.

I thought Halle showed excellent range in her acting skills, and I think she earned her Oscar. I also think that Billy Bob has staked his claim to being one of the generation's finer actors.

It's a good movie. It's all about forgiveness, redemption, and hope. Billy Bob is right: Things are going to be all right.

Mulholland Dr.

The Roar of Laughter
Before this dreadful movie reached the half-way point, I knew that the "art house" reviewers among us (almost all of the regular contributors) would rave about this movie, but Good God, who could have guessed they would rave it right into the TOP 100?!!!!!!

Folks, David Lynch, like the Coen brothers, has got you where he (they) want you: In the wallet. They are laughing all the way to the bank, and at you.

I know, I know. I'm just a Philistine who thinks he ought to be entertained for $8. My mistake.

The script is neither intelligent nor clever. The acting is neither subtle nor nuanced. (Most of the actors can scarcely conceal their contempt for the script and the direction, nay, the absurdity of the overall production.)

Oh, but I forgot: Since everything is blue and hazy, it's a "masterpiece." And let's not forget the soundtrack: Ah, the sound of a match igniting (amplified by a factor of 1000). Music to my ears!

Even the baffling "The Big Sleep" (before the filler material was added in 1946) is more satisfying than this pretentious waste of celluloid.

The best part of the movie: The babe lipsyncing to Linda Scott's "Every Little Star," an awesome make-out song from about '61. And the scene with "Medical Center's" Chad Everett is a classic.

Lynch has his moments, but when one has to "know" the director's mind, to understand his picture, then I would have to say that his EGO is a very, very big problem.

What is it about us that we no longer have any expectations, let alone any standards?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

"The Goonies," Part II
Children's fantasies reached high tide in the early '80's, but by 1985's "The Goonies," the run was over. The genre was exhausted. Except for the technology, nothing is new.

It should not come as a surprise to anyone that director Chris Columbus co-wrote "The Goonies." This explains why so much of "Harry Potter" consists of Ritalin-driven 11-year-olds emitting long howls of . . . . . what? Anguish? Surprise? Revulsion? One is never quite sure.

It's just an awful movie.

What need or needs does a movie like this fill in the lives of so many millions? It is baffling.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

And You Thought "Planet of the Apes" Was Bad!
This is an awful film.

But first, an historical note: The Confederate battle flag is the centerpiece of an ugly scene in this film involving the Ku Klux Klan. For the record, the Confederate battle flag was NEVER associated with the Ku Klux Klan during its heyday. If you take the time to look at any of the news reels from the 1920's and 1930's, including film clips of the thousands of robed klansmen marching down Washington, D.C.'s Constitution Avenue, the only flag you will see is "Old Glory." The Confederate battle flag was MISAPPROPRIATED in the late 1950's and in the 1960's by groups opposing the integration of the public schools and, later, by the handful of "yahoos" in this country who claim to be sepratists and Aryans, ad nauseum. The point is that Hollywood's fixation on the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of evil is a continuing slander on the memory of millions of Americans who fought for independence.

But, back to the film. I dislike the Coens because they are not just mannered, they are pretentious. Come on, folks. Be honest. The Coens are indulging themselves. And we, that small slice of the movie-going public with the brain cells to write a review, are letting them get away with it.

The story? What story? It's just a series of scenes. Unless you know something about Southern American history, the movie makes absolutely no sense. Even then, it's a reach. The "story" takes place in Mississippi, but the real Governor Pappy ("Pass the biscuits, please") O'Daniel was a Texan, and the film's theme song, "You are my Sunshine," was written by Louisiana's Depression-era governor, Jimmy Davis. Symptomatic with the way Hollywood views the South, I suppose the Coens are trying to cover it all in one film.

The characters? George Clooney is laughable as Ulysses Everett McGill. This man obviously never spent one day on a chain gang, or one day in the South, pretend or otherwise. Burt Reynolds would have been better, but then the art house crowd would never have gone for it. Holly Hunter? Her pained expressions were all too real, I am afraid. She has no direction, no scenes, no lines, no personality, and no interest in the film. And what a waste! She's a real Southerner with a real Southern charm and attitude.

Tim Blake Nelson as Delmar O'Donnell is just too painful to watch. He had me wishing the witches had turned HIM into a toad. But, on the other hand, he represents the Coens' view of Southern people, so his performance is not atypical. Charles Durning is completely wasted as Gov. O'Daniel. The man has some range, but here he is just a one-note blowhard. (Remember him in "The Sting" and in "Tootsie"?) John Goodman? Oh, please.

I did not care about any of the characters. I thought the Coens were going to do something with Tommy Johnson (played by Chris Thomas), thinking perhaps that he would be the Coens' version of "Leadbelly," but he makes no contribution. We know nothing about him. In the end, he's just a black guy with a guitar. Michael Baldacci's turn as "Baby Face" Nelson is filler.

Not surprisingly, it is hard to like ANYBODY in this film, which is characteristic of a film by the Coens.

The film did win a couple of Oscars, including one for cinematography. But how? Many of the daytime scenes are hazy and desperately in need of a filter, and those outdoor shots that are attractive, are no more attractive than the outdoor scenes you see in a typical episode of "The Crocodile Hunter."

I wonder what Tim Burton is up to these days?

Chato's Land

No Heroes Here
This Western is beautifully and graphically filmed, and Michael Winner brings his trademark intensity to the project, but his "Lawman" (also 1971) with Burt Lancaster is a much better film.

The problem with this film is that none of the characters have any redeeming qualities, not even Bronson's "Chato." Since this film was made in 1970-71, one may expect the white guys to personify evil and the Indians to personify goodness, but here, the cruelty on both sides is relentless and obsessive. As the movie unfolded, I began rooting against "Chato."

Lancaster's "Lawman" is likewise a flawed character, but in that movie the character development is more thorough, and one can appreciate the very complicated character that Lancaster's "Lawman" is. In this film, Bronson's "Chato" is a savage in a savage land.

This film is a bleak assessment. Perhaps there are ties to Viet Nam that I would see if I viewed it a second time. I can't do that.

Out of Africa

Out of Patience
This is a stupefying bad film.

It would be easy to "blame" it on Sidney Pollock, who, like George Cukor before him, seems to excel at making a "woman's picture," but unlike most of Cukor's work, this film is just dull, dull, dull.

Nevertheless, when it came out, the critics were unanimous in their praise. Meryl Streep was the darling of the film industry, Brandauer was the European star who every one wanted, and Redford was Redford. In truth, Streep's Dutch accent was nothing, if not annoying, and Brandauer looked as if he were on life support. Redford? The Englishman? This movie drove him out of acting and into directing. Name one important acting role he has had since this pretentious movie.

Sure, it was based on an autobiography, but the story, if there was one, was not compelling. If I had not been attending with my wife and another couple, I would have gotten up and walked out.

You see, handsome photography and an exotic locale, together with name stars, do not a great movie make. You have to care about the characters, and what happens to them. The stilted dialogue, the lack of action, Brandauer's indifference, Redford's wooden acting, the weak story line, the formulaic direction, and the excessive length of the picture trump what may have been an interesting autobiography written by a woman who moved to Kenya in the early 20th Century.

This film is a monument to excess, but the investors were rewarded handsomely. Commercially successful, the movie fails on all other levels.

The Last Picture Show

Gone With the Wind
Please read the previous reviews. They capture the essence of this movie far better than I can.

But there is a line spoken mid-way through the movie, where Sam the Lion is peering into the pickup truck to wish the boys farewell before they begin their long weekend journey to Mexico, that cannot help but make an indelible impression on anyone born before 1950: "We'll see you."

With that one line, we are instantly filled with apprehension about the future, and nostalgia for the past.

The cinematography is reminiscent of Ford; the dialogue, which seems as if it might have been written the morning the scene was shot, is reminiscent of Hawks.

The film is an homage to the past, a bow to the uncertain future. It is a masterpiece.

Jimmy Sue!!!

The Grapes of Wrath

A Triumph in Record Time
They say that you should wait 20 or 30 years before attempting to capture an historical event on film. That is why it was remarkable that Oliver Stone was able to capture the "feel" of Viet Nam (in "Platoon") so soon (13 years) after America's withdrawal. Usually, an honest perspective takes more time to develop.

But, when you consider that John Steinbeck and John Ford needed less than ten years to bring the 1932 "dust bowl" to life, you really have to admire their magnificent achievement.

Of course, in 1940, Ford could not film much of the graphic squalor described in the novel. For example, the film cannot show a starving hobo suckling at the breast of a young Rose of Sharon, who has milk to spare following the death of her baby. But, far from degradation, Rose of Sharon's gesture is a reflection of the goodness that resides within her, and that quality is well illustrated in the character development seen on the screen. Tom Joad may be an ex-con, but he is a good man.

One of the commentaries (below) uses this film to rant about the exploitation in today's society. That completely misses the point. Ford, who was as conservative as anyone in Hollywood, even more conservative than John Wayne, used this movie to show that Man can triumph, despite the natural and human barriers that are put in his way.

This is ultimately a movie about hope and the human spirit.

Planet of the Apes

Spend the day at the Zoo
This is an awful film. Poor direction, poor cinematography, poor acting, weird casting (Kris Kristofferson?), ridiculous dialogue--is it a serious film, or is it a parody? Who knows?

And the incomprehensible conclusion! Don't bother rewinding and rewatching. It makes no sense.

Do yourself a favor. Skip the video and spend the day at the zoo.

Rio Lobo

The Duke in Transition
When I decided to write a review of Rio Lobo, I had every expectation of visiting the website and finding that the movie's weighted average was a 2.5. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it's a 7.5, and that's actually a half-point higher than my own score. To cut to the chase: I liked Rio Lobo.

It was fashionable in 1970 to trash Rio Lobo because (a) it was the supposedly feeble, last effort of a great director, Howard Hawks, who had supposedly lost interest in the picture; (b) it was too derivative of Rio Bravo and El Dorado; (c) the Duke was too old to play the part of a cavalry colonel (to say nothing of being too big; the average cavalryman in the Civil War was 5'7" and 135 lbs.); (d) the supporting cast was pathetic; (e) the production values were poor; and (f) the movie paled in comparison to Little Big Man, which was released at the same time. Much of the criticism was true. But, it was fun to watch, anyway.

Ford had his cavalry trilogy, and Hawks had his Rio trilogy, and the Duke was in all six of them. The Ford set is a cut above the Hawks set, but all six films are worth watching. Ford was working with Wayne (1947-50) at a time when Wayne's acting ability was still very much in question. And Ford succeeded on every level, especially in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, where the character development of Capt. Nathan Brittles (Wayne) is nothing but sheer genius. Hawks, on the other hand, had (by 1959, in Rio Bravo) a very established star, and was thereby free to dwell more on story telling than he was on character development. Besides, with those amazing exteriors, the cinemagography alone was worth the cost of admission to all six pictures.

The Duke was too old to play a romantic lead in this picture (but so was Cary Grant in his last picture, Walk, Don't Run, when he, too, was about 63 years-old.) The fact that he was not a "threat" to O'Neill's character (in those pre-Viagra days) was nothing more than an extension of the persona the Duke captured the year before in True Grit, and would continue to build on in such films as The Cowboys and The Shootist. Let's face it: Wayne was becoming a likeable old coot.

Hawks was, according to reports, disappointed in Jennifer O'Neill, and by the last reel, her part has been cut in favor of Sherry Lansing's part. (Hawks did the same thing to John Ireland's part in Red River, 30 years earlier.) Actually, O'Neill didn't do THAT bad. My problem with her is that she couldn't decide whether she would play her part as the New York high-fashion model that she was, or as Kim Darby reprising her role in True Grit. At times, O'Neill's semi-imitation of Darby gets on one's nerves.

And, Hawks was rightfully disappointed in the desultory performances of the supporting cast, with the exception of Lansing and Jack Elam. The Confederate cavalry captain: He might as well have been created by computer graphics, for all the vitality he brings to the role. But, take a look at the stock players, including Hank Worden ("Old Mose" in The Searchers) and Jim Davis (Jock Ewing of Dallas fame). These are virtually cameos, if not walk-on parts, but they are effective.

I do not think Hawks gave up on this film, at least, not to the extent that people have claimed. Yakima Canutt ably handled the second unit, and the train hijacking he directed (with Hawks' help) was unusual and exciting; the cinematography, but for the occasional lighting or filtering error, was acceptable; and the editing was fairly crisp. The interior sets were shabby, that is true.

But what carries the picture is the wonderful dialogue, and Wayne. The dialogue is "pure Hawks": spare, unambiguous, natural, and realistic. Wayne's onscreen personal is so great, and his presence so magnificent, that all of the films shortcomings are rendered irrelevant.

Thank you, Mr. Hawks. Well done.

The Searchers

An American Epic
This is one of the greatest films ever made, and it is not surprising that it is in the "Top 250." I would assign it to the Top 20.

It is a film of epic proportion, and it tells an epic tale. It involves a 7-year search for Wayne's niece, who has been kidnaped by renegade Indians.

There is a subtext in this movie, as there was in "Shane," involving the love between a single man and a married woman, although in this film it is far more central to the story and to Wayne's character.

As Wayne, a Confederate cavalryman, returns from the Civil War to his brother's homestead in barren West Texas (in 1868, amid ominous hints that he may have led a lawless life in the three years after the War ended in 1865), he is welcomed by his extended family, including his sister-in-law.

The chemistry between Wayne and his brother's wife is repressed by both, but study the early scenes very carefully. Pay particular attention to the scene in the bedroom where she caresses his great coat, and where they are saying goodbye. Ward Bond's character senses the attachment, and during the goodbye scene he quietly looks the other way to give them some privacy, while finishing his coffee and donut.

The relationship between Wayne's character and his sister-in-law must yield to the story line, but I have no doubt that his love for her is what powers his maniacal 7-year quest to find his niece (her daughter), a search that takes him through blizzards and across deserts, and pits him against one danger after another.

The master, John Ford, was never better, and his company of stock actors is on hand. Hank Worden, playing Old Mose, is hilarious, sympathetic, and important to the film's conclusion. Wayne's son in real life, Patrick Wayne (in a very early role), is wonderful as the brand new shave-tail cavalry lieutenant. Ken Curtis, who later gained fame as "Festus" on the "Gunsmoke" series, is perfect as Charlie. And, Jeffrey Hunter does very well as the adopted nephew, who accompanies Wayne on the quest.

John Wayne exhibits a remarkable acting talent in this picture. As in "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and quite a few others, he demonstrated throughout the film that he was one of Hollywood's best actors. His performance here was inspired. He speaks one of my favorite lines, early in the movie. Ward Bond attempts to swear him in as a Texas Ranger, but Wayne declines, saying it wouldn't be "legal." He explains that he took his oath to support the "Confederate States of America," and a man is good for only "one oath at a time." That is pure John Ford.

From the panoramic opening scene to the unforgettable closing frame, and throughout the film, there echoes the haunting refrain of the Civil War ballad, "Lorena": "The years creep slowly by Lorena, the dew is on the grass again . . . . " I cannot imagine anyone watching this film and not feeling some yearning for the distant past.

The beautiful cinematography, the sweeping grandeur, the epic story line, the appealing cast, the excellent script, the director of directors: They all converged at this movie, somewhere in Monument Valley, and there will never be anything like it again.


One of the best films ever made
It is hard to say which is the better Western: "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon," "The Searchers," or "Shane." Others, of course, are in the mix, including "Red River," "Stagecoach," "My Darling Clementine," and "The Ox-Bow Incident," to name most of the films in a very exclusive fraternity. They are all superb, and every one should be in the Top 100 of all films ever made, and several are.

"Shane" succeeds on every level. The scenery (filmed in the Grand Tetons) is breathtaking. The acting is superb, especially the inspired performances of Brandon de Wilde as the boy and "Walter" (Jack) Palance as the gunfighter. And Alan Ladd's performance is understated, dignified, and believable. Van Heflin is wonderfully stolid as the determined homesteader. The supporting cast is excellent, and the script reflects a fascinating blend of human emotions.

The dispute between "cattleman" and "farmer/sod buster" is honestly depicted, with the cattleman--nominally the "bad" guy--given every opportunity to state his case, which he does very well.

It isn't obvious that Alan Ladd's and Jean Arthur's characters are in love, although clearly there is chemistry between the two. It doesn't matter: The thought that she would break her wedding vows or that he would betray his friend is anathema to both of them.

The final showdown is a classical moment in film history. Even the dog in the saloon seems to dread the moment. What a scene!

This film isn't so much about good versus evil as it is about a clash of cultures. It is little wonder that it was nominated for Best Picture. One doesn't have to be a Western fan to know that this was a very special, and even inspirational, film. Show it to the youngsters.

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

The Inspired Work of an Inspired Director
It is really difficult to understand why this film only averages a 7.6 in imdb.com's poll.

Yes, Westerns are passe, but the production values that went into this film are equaled by only two other Westerns, "Shane" and "The Searchers." Certainly "Yellow Ribbon" represents the work of one of America's most gifted directors, John Ford, at high tide. It is astonishing to think that there was so much more to come, including "The Searchers."

To begin, the movie was shot in color in Monument Valley (which straddles the Utah/Arizona border). Ford shot a number of films in Monument Valley ("Stagecoach," "Fort Apache,"), but until now they were in B&W. This film is breathtakingly beautiful, and I believe it won an Oscar for Best Cinematography.

The historical interpretations, particularly in the Indian village and at the fort, are painstakingly accurate. Part of the set is still standing, and visitors to Monument Valley may enter the small quarters where Wayne's character lived, and where the opening scene was filmed, at nearby Gouldings.

What really sets this film apart is its unapologetic devotion to honor, to loyalty, to duty, and to country within the context of a wonderfully developed story involving a cavalry officer and his men. The same traits are assigned to the Indians, who are not without virtue.

There is a particularly poignant scene involving the burial of a grizzled cavalryman. It is pure Ford.

And, the Ford "company" of stock actors is on hand, which is to say the best character actors working in Hollywood in the late 1940's.

The movie has been criticized as being too sentimental. Considering the times today, that is hardly a flaw. And, as the years have gone by, the industry has come to realize that Wayne's portrayal of Captain Nathan Brittles was extraordinary in every respect. Ford and Wayne: There has never been a better combination.

Show this film to your youngsters.

Red River

Incredible Movie, Incredulous Ending
I have recently read the definitive biography on the great Howard Hawks, and no survey of his work can be complete without a look, a second look, and even a third look at this film.

John Wayne is superb, and when viewing this film, and John Ford's cavalry trilogy that followed right afterward, one has to wonder why critics ever doubted Wayne's acting ability. He did win a sentimental Oscar in 1969 for "True Grit," but his gritty performance in "Red River" really deserves praise.

And Montgomery Clift! No one thought he could move from the New York stage to the desert southwest, but his performance was excellent in every way, and provides a perfect foil to the driven, maniacal role played so well by Wayne. Take a look at Clift rolling his cigarette out on the windy prairie. No one could have done it better.

The production values are outstanding. The stampede is both frightening and eerie. (Good old black and white cinematography!) The supporting cast contains a number of the old familiar faces, and they look as if they were born to the saddle.

The role of Cherry (played by John Ireland) is as large as Wayne's and Clift's in the book, but it is cut to ribbons in the movie, apparently the result of some spat Ireland had with Hawks. The Hawks biography explains that the book upon which the movie was based was butchered by the screenwriters for reasons that aren't entirely clear. Certainly, the wagon train episode is unrealistic, as is the introduction of an apparent love triangle, which does nothing more than weakly explain (perhaps) the unusual, even strange, ending of this film.

Ah yes, the ending. No one liked it: Not the author, not the screenwriters, not Wayne, not Hawks, not Clift, not Ireland, and not the film critics (at first). However, the public loved it. And, all things considered, this is a great picture.

"Red River's" majestic sweep is so grand that it ranks as one of the best Westerns ever made, although not quite as satisfying as "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" or "The Searchers" (either one of which could have earned Wayne a Best Actor Oscar). Even so, "Red River" is a 10.

Where Eagles Dare

A Sign of Better things to come
Younger viewers might be put off by the apparent "hokiness" of the sets, the acting, the script, and the overall implausibility of it all, but this is wonderful escapist fare, especially when viewed within the context of the rapidly deteriorating James Bond series, to say nothing of the annoying "cute" films that dominated the 60's. (See my review of "Cat Ballou," for an explanation.) This movie signaled the viewing public that Hollywood was going to try a little harder in the next decade.

Where Eagles Dare is pure entertainment, no more an no less, and it does not aspire to anything higher. But, it is not predictable. There is a plot twist at every opportunity and the script, while certainly not Shakespeare, requires careful listening.

The movie is a reminder that Richard Burton used to be young and vigorous, and the part was actually something of a breakout role for him, after having been stuck in all of those awful films with Elizabeth Taylor for most of the 60's.

Sit back and enjoy this engaging World War II thriller.

See all reviews