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Night Passage

Really a nice 50s western
Would I rather watch this film (again) or a recent super-hero film?

Answer: this one.

It is a far-more-than-competent 50s western, with some really great stars and less-known characters (like Oliver Carey, wife of Harry Carey and mother of Harry Carey, Jr.). The music and scenery are great, and beautiful.

The story is compelling and solid.

(and, frankly, Audie Murphy was great in it. He was a far more accomplished actor than he is usually given credit for. He is easy to watch, comfortable in any role, and gives a very solid performance in any film.

Jimmy Stewart could sing, and he could do a decent soft shoe. Do a youtube search and you will find him. Is it OK that I wish he was still alive and making movies? Is it OK that I wish Audie Murphy was still alive and making movies?

The Last Wagon

A western worth remembering...from the heyday of westerns
Born in 1948 I went to western films every week during the 50s with my father. We both loved them.

I remember this one well. And played it out frequently in the fields next to my childhood home.

I still enjoy it. My wife and I are going to watch it again tonight, maybe the 10th time I have seen it in my life. As with most westerns, it has not aged well, although it is clear that the major story line isn't really about the "Indians" but instead is about "good" white people versus "bad" white people.

To this day I enjoy watching Tommy Rettig. He was the original Jeff in Lassie, and I can still hum the final music to that show.

It was a simpler time, and I miss it. This film is fun, with breathtaking scenery, good acting, and a fine story.

In a Valley of Violence

Witty, clever, different, and VERY fun
This film is ostensibly a "western." But it is more than that.

For starters, it isn't a modern version of a western, but instead is more akin to the old spaghetti westerns. The music, the sets, the graphics, etc., are both an homage to spaghetti westerns and a humorous take-off on them.

The plot is one you have seen in many westerns. A drifter comes into a small town that is controlled by a psychopath, conflict ensues, and there is a gun battle where the drifter "saves" the town.

On one level that is all this is. On another, it is a wry, and dry, take-off on this old, familiar tale because in this film the drifter doesn't go after the town bullies to liberate the town but because they killed his dog.

That's right. This is a film where the battle-hardened, killer hero is mush when his dog is killed. He cries.

So, right there, you don't have a traditional western or a traditional spaghetti western. In NO OTHER western I have ever seen (hundreds, as I am a die-hard fan) has the hero ever cried. Even Nathan Brittles wasn't crying in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon when he went to his wife's grave.

This guy cries and then exacts his revenge.

Now, Ethan Hawk is great in this. Just a week earlier we had seen the (dreadful) remake of The Magnificent Seven, which he is also in. However, this film, In a Valley of Violence, is far superior. In Mag 7 II, the town "bully" has hundreds of hired gunmen, all of whom meet their deaths in about 20 minutes. It is so absurd as to be ridiculous.

In Valley, there are 4, maybe 5, and none of them are even close to competent, or even scary. There is a bully, his dad, and three guys who just needed a job because they couldn't do anything else.

And the gun battle is hilarious. You realize, while watching this film, that you have been had. It starts off to be a standard western, and slowly evolves into rib splitting humor as you watch the gun "battle" unfold. The dialogue is clever. And the humor doesn't beat you over the head. In fact, it is understated, which makes it even better.

We enjoyed this film. We will watch it again. Just give it a chance. It will be especially rewarding for people who have a history with old-fashioned westerns, as it is a wry, dry take-off on them that pounds you with subtlety and intelligent humor.

Enjoy, pilgrim!

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

Should be called Marvel's King Arthur
This is a boring remake of a lovely story. It doesn't hold a candle to previous efforts to tell about the Arthurian legend (such as Excalibur, King Arthur, or even Camelot).

It's actually a superhero movie. Arthur isn't a man wielding a sword but instead is a Marvel Superhero who, as soon as he grasps the sword, can do all manner of magic tricks with it. And has great POWER!!! The story drags. And at times is weird (the bad guy played by Jude Law gets his own super power by, wait for it, killing some woman he loves and feeding her to a giant octopus).

I guess Charlie Hunnam is an acquired taste. I haven't acquired it. He seems wooden, delivering Iron-Man-like witticisms that fall flat. (while we are at it, was Arthur really that witty when facing danger? I didn't know that).

It is a huge spectacle, complete with explosions and a universe that looks more like it was from Lord of the Rings than it was from early England (there are even the same CGI huge elephants from LOTR that must have been laying around the set lot).

We actually paid good money to watch this. But, in contrast to the bad guy in the movie, I'm not going to kill a woman I love so I can feed her to a huge octopus with human faces so I can get a super power to get my money back).


I thought Alexander was a brilliant general: stupid me
In this film you wouldn't know it. He was in battles, but the battles seemed little more than two armies going at it. What I would have enjoyed was learning about his thinking about military strategy, his tactics, his philosophies, how he implemented his ideas on the battlefield.

Instead, we get a (very boring) story of Alexander as being a mama's boy and as someone trying unsuccessfully to please his father. It is the story of a neurotic, not of one of the greatest generals of all time.

There are a few great battles, but after awhile they too get boring. What was happening? All you see is the small picture (guys hacking each other up). You don't see Alexander planning, plotting, strategizing, analyzing, etc. He's just another guy hacking away.

He doesn't come across as a great man.

The decision to jump around in history is puzzling. It makes the film hard to follow and disjointed. We don't get a sense of change in him, or in the world, or in his leadership or his generalship. It's cute, but distracting.

The film is as bad as most people have rated it to be. There is nothing about him that would make me want to follow him. Instead, I'd want to give him a hankie so he would have something to cry into.

Thursday's Game

Incredibly sweet, funny, and memorable
I saw this on TV in 1974. I subsequently found out it had been completed 3 years earlier, but could not be sold as a movie. Hence it was a throw-away on TV.

WHAT A SHAME! It is one of the sweetest films I have ever seen. Wilder and Newhart lead an all-star cast in a low-key, and funny story about two men who continue to "play" their Thursday night poker game, long after it ends (on a hilarious note).

Really, nothing happens in the film. It is just a story about these two men's marriages.

James Brooks wrote it. He also was responsible for As Good as it Gets, Terms of Endearment, and a lot of well-crafted TV shows. He's the real deal, and so was this film.

I finally located a VHS copy, and now have one to watch whenever I want.

USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage

Very moving; very accurate; a worth-see
For reasons that escape us, this movie has received terrible reviews.

OK, so the special effects aren't mind-blowing. If you need that, go see something in the Star Wars franchise.

But this film does a good job of showing what it was like in the Pacific Ocean after the U.S.S. Indianapolis was sunk---and how it was the U. S. Navy that was at fault. The captain took the blame, but it wasn't his fault.

The film does a great job of showing the tension among the men while injuries, starvation, and sharks rapidly killed off several of them. A horrifying spectacle of what it was like for those young men.

Both my wife and I are glad we saw it. We both have several relatives who were in the military, including in WWII, and this is a story that should be told.

Our advice? Ignore the negativity and watch it. You will learn something and be moved at the bravery of these men.

The Mad

A different take on the Zombie genre
One thing I learned from this film: Billy Zane is a better actor than I ever thought he was.

We found this film to be thoroughly enjoyable. It was kind of the Airplane of zombie films. You aren't going to be scared, there is no suspense.

Instead, you get a lot of intelligent dialogue, disguised as dumb dialogue. If that makes sense to you, you will enjoy the film.

Maggie Castle was an actress we had never heard of. Sometimes it seems odd as to why some actors and actresses make the big time while others do not. She is actually quite good in her role.

We found the film to be a fun evening's entertainment. It is different and clever.

p.s. The zombies sound like cows. We'll leave you to figure out why.

To the Ends of the Earth

Sea adventure without battles, but with heart
This is a 4 1/2 hour film about a voyage from England to Australia. On board is a young English gentleman who writes about his voyage.

At first his writings are distant and objective. But as the voyage progresses, and he learns about the sea and about a world he could not imagine (and other people who he had never been around), his writings become more personal.

Nobody is a hero. Everybody just "is." The acting is superb, especially by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jared Harris, the Captain. There is no fake drama on-board. The Captain is not a Captain Bligh.

Instead, it is a creaky old man-o-war trying to get to Australia on its last legs. Months at sea in a cramped space around the same old people.

Because there are no glorious battles the voyage is, in some ways, as slow for the viewer as it is for the sailors and passengers. But never boring.

The series has a heart. It is lovely, exciting, and interesting. Cumberbatch, in an early role, displays the talent that we have come to expect from him in recent years. He carries the show.

It is a must watch. One of the best things we have watched in years.

Chasing Madoff

Could have been a LOT better
The basic story was ripe for an excellent documentary. It was about how a small group of people tried warning others about Madoff. They failed, but not for lack of trying, and good for them for trying.

However, the documentary itself is far too dramatic. After awhile it was tiring to hear the small group tout itself as being extraordinarily brave. The main guy who stuck with it ended up looking as disturbed as Madoff--living in a paranoid fantasy world where his family was in constant danger.

It runs about an hour and a half. It would have been a very good 50-minute documentary. But it drags on and on, often not getting anywhere.

Too bad. It had a real story to tell.

Also missing is any investigative reporting, after the fact, about why the people who were alerted (looking at you SEC, Wall Street Journal) didn't act? We still don't know why from this documentary.

No Name on the Bullet

Audie Murphy: In one of his best roles
This film shows a different side of Audie Murphy's acting talent. Instead of the easy-going style that was evident in most of his films, here he is really rather psychopathic.

And he does it well.

The story is that he is a professional gun-man, who has come to town presumably to kill.....someone. But who? His presence creates chaos for the town, as all of the people who have every done anyone any harm are convinced he is after them. A fascinating, and substantive plot---much more than what one usually sees in what is essentially a B-western (the film is only about 90 minutes, clearly intended for a double feature).

It is well acted up and down the line, with a large number of 1950s western character actors in supporting roles.

Anybody who is a westerns fan will enjoy it. And anybody who is an Audie Murphy fan (and everybody should be!) will enjoy it.

Swamp Ape

It's difficult to say what the worse part of this film is
The acting? Laughable. The dialogue? Unbelievable The monster? Now I know what happened to that old carpet that I threw out onto the curb last year.

In the ratings there are a lot of 10's, fully 30% of them. Then the rest of the ratings seem to hover toward the bottom. Clearly what happened is that they got their friends to rate it highly.

We wanted a throw away movie for tonight, so thought we'd try it. It was one hour long, which tells you all you need to know.

Where to start (I mean after stealing my old carpet)? A bunch of college students go collecting something in the Everglades. They have no idea what they are doing, but one of them fills a stopper with water. The professor does nothing but berate them. We don't even know what he is a professor of.

The monster seems to prefer women who are having their periods, so there are a number of period "jokes." One of the actors, also the director and writer, runs around most of the movie showing off his buff physique in his whitey tighties, the resident Native American (who they call "chief" believe it or not) is so clearly from India or somewhere and not Native American, the gun is a toy, the black woman is supposed to be funny because she eats everything that doesn't move fast enough, and then they start disappearing (but not quickly enough).

It isn't even good in a campy-bad way. It's just bad in every way.

I hope these folks have day jobs.

Goodbye, Miss Turlock

Very sweet
My mother taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Iowa, in the 1940s. Several years ago we drove to the spot where the schoolhouse was, to find it had been torn down.

Each morning she had to arrive early to the freezing building to light a coal stove for the children who would arrive later.

These schoolhouses were the centers of their communities.

I remember this film when I saw it in the 1950s, as a short accompanying the major feature. It stuck with me, not knowing at the time that my mother taught at one. And so after several google searches I found it, 60 years later, on YouTube.

It is sentimental, of course, but nothing wrong with that. And it contains the stereotype of the "old maid" schoolteacher. My mother wasn't an old maid, as the fact of my existence proves. There were few jobs that women could have all of their lives back then other than teaching school.

We have decided to show this to our grandchildren, to give them an idea of something that their great grandmother did. We think it will mean something to them.

Miss Turlock is presented as compassionate and wise. And a good teacher. It was a life to be proud of.

A sweet little film depicting a part of rural life in the first half of the Twentieth Century.


Wow! Fantastic!
This is a film about time travel, and about a mystery.

It is complex, fast, and not for the lazy of mind. It is too difficult to figure out on first glance.

But it is great entertainment.

Of course, Zoe Bell is awesome. She's great to watch in a movie because she's a good actress, but also she was a stunt double, and exudes a sense of power that most actresses don't.

You have to pay attention.

It's a great evening of fun. A low-budget thriller, well written, and well acted. In a short period of time all of the actors have developed a sense of character. All are good actors, although none are familiar.

and it even has some humor.

Enjoy an evening of fun, challenge, and good movie making.


Exciting and well done
This is a film about a photojournalist who gets in over her head.

Zoe Bell does a great job with the role, and the supporting cast is excellent.

It is exciting, fun, and tense. The scenery is beautiful.

It is sweet to see a female action figure who actually looks like she could do it. Bell is a stunt double, who looks like she could take down a lot of men. She is athletic and quick.

She also happens to be a good actress.

Want a fun evening with a movie that won't make you think or leave you feeling bad? This one is a good bet. My wife and I both enjoyed it, and we are not enamored with just any old movie.

Into the Grizzly Maze

Dead Teenager movie.....with a bear instead of a scary guy
The most enjoyable part of this film was laughing at how ridiculous it is.

There is no spoiler by telling you that a group of people are out in the wilderness, and there is a bear out there too. And the bear systematically kills people off.

And people do what they always do in dead teenager movies--they split up. Have none of them ever seen a dead teenager movie to know that you aren't supposed to do that? (but this movie is just a collection of old plot devices, including a Butch Cassidy/Sundance Kid jumping off a cliff into the water to escape thingy).

But it was the ridiculous aspects of the film that made it impossible to experience any tension. Billy Bob Thornton is a "hunter" who walks around in the mountainous woods WITH HIS HORSE in tow. What's with the horse? He is always close to the group of four people, and they not only don't have a horse but are carrying a woman who is injured. You can't even ride the thing in those types of mountainous areas. He won't let the injured woman ride his horse because he's hunting the bear (nice guy) although, as I say, he doesn't move any faster with the horse than they do without it. The woman with a stake through her leg might have appreciated the ride.

And the bear? I think Bart the Bear ought to sue his agent. He's made to look slow and stupid. The people, even carting along their wounded mate, CAN OUTRUN HIM! A grizzly bear can cover 35 mph going uphill or downhill, but this thing can't get up to even a few feet an hour. He is often shown about 100 feet behind the group, but somehow they outrun him.

Not only that, but the big game hunter, a sheriff's deputy, the sheriff, and a guy who practically lived in these woods with his father can't hit the broad side of a barn with their rifles. Even when the bear is only 100 feet away they keep hitting branches and rocks. Really, they deserved to die. But unfortunately, they didn't--not die that is. Bart does, which you can probably guess, and he shouldn't. He's the most likable one in the movie....even if he is kind of slow.

Then there is the hearing impaired naturalist who is out hiking without any equipment, and then when she sees the bear manages to lose her bear spray. And get caught in her own snare, which she had just set. But, no matter, three sets of people manage to find her in an area the size of Rhode Island, and take her to safety.

The best advice in the movie, advice you'll want to heed, was "don't shoot a bear if it's heading toward you." Instead, you are supposed to shoot it from its side. So, do you yell real loud: "HEY BEAR, PLEASE TURN SIDEWAYS?" The great stupid hunter, Billy Bob, has three shots at this bear lumbering at him at less than 1 mph and misses all three! All three! (but it might have been different if the bear had been more cooperative and had turned sideways).

For the bad guys, and the nonessential guys, the bear tears them apart within seconds. When it's the good guys, they can fight and wrestle for minutes with no apparent harm. And kill him with a knife, just like Davy Crockett, who kil't him a b'ar when he was only three. A knife against a grizzly? One swat and you'd be dead, but not our heroes!

(In all fairness, it's our fault. When we went to return a movie to the kiosk it was filled, and we couldn't return it unless we rented another one. This is what we got)

The Best of Times

Sweet, funny, innocent. One of my favorites
Fell in love with this movie when I first saw it in a theater in 1986. It has not lost its charm, as I have enjoyed it about every 2-3 years since.

The plot is about replaying a football game where Taft high school, a perennial loser, almost beats the best team. Except on a crucial play, Williams drops an easy pass.

He can't move on, and initiates a rematch. It is at one level a fairly decent sports movie--think Hoosiers with funnier people.

The film has heart. Both men have problems with their wives, who they love deeply and who love them dearly. Russell, in particular, is touching in how he refuses to fix up his wife's car so she can leave him, and then when he finally does......well, see the film. It's very sweet.

The extras are a hoot, especially M. Emmet Walsh (who is never in a bad movie). There are even a couple of fun musical numbers.

I liked Robin Williams more in films like this one than in his manic comic routines. In this film he actually seems happy.

I can heartily recommend this film. It isn't dated because it is from a time that really never existed. I think I'll watch it again this week, as a matter of fact.

Everyman's War

Hard to believe it is this good
This is a low-budget film made by two men whose father is depicted in it.

There are no recognizable stars, and it is clear that it was low budget.

Yet, it was exciting, moving, and real.

The film tells the story of a small group of (very young) men in World War II who fight at the Battle of the Bulge. Perhaps because there were no recognizable stars, the young men seemed very real. The acting was not first rate in all cases, but that did not detract from the realism.

The producers made the best use of the money they had, and the fact that it was clearly low budget did not detract from the quality.

This is not Saving Private Ryan, but you know what? It's not that far behind it.

After Earth

A terrific sci-fi film
This film creates a new world, and immerses us in it. It is exciting and, as early Shyamalan films were, touching.

The story, as other reviewers have noted, focuses on Jaden Smith's character, with Will Smith playing a smaller and more constricted role.

Through a set of circumstances, this father and son find themselves lost on a future earth, an unknown number of years after humans have abandoned it. The plot involves the boy's adventures attempting to rescue them.

The special effects are awesome. A beautiful science fiction world has been created, both on earth and elsewhere.

As opposed to many of the current monsters-invading-earth films, this one is more low key, a bit slower, and a bit more thoughtful. I suppose this is one reason why some people have indicated that it is "boring." Personally, I found it engaging for this reason. For me, the pace was just right in order to enjoy the experience, and the excitement when it was there seemed more "real." I found Jaden Smith's acting to be acceptable for someone of his age and experience. Certainly he is no Haley Joel Osment (who is?), but I did not find his acting a distraction as some reviewers have.

I think that a lot of the negativity is due to the fact that Will Smith is basically moving the runner to second so he can score. He isn't the center of this film, but is content to do what is necessary for the part. Go into it realizing that you are not going to see a typical Will Smith film, and if you do, I think you may find it quite enjoyable.

I also wonder if some of the negativity toward this film is because Shyamalan has been producing some stinkers recently. I wonder if there is a bit of piling on because of this, not giving this film a real chance.

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