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WNM Movie Night Liner Notes

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Search Feature

Search Title: Search Director: Year Seen:  


Title: Director [Year]
"Hard Eight" Paul Thomas Anderson [1996]
"Fantasia" James Algar, Samuel Armstrong [1940]
"The First Great Train Robbery" Michael Crichton [1979]
"The Enemy Below" Dick Powell [1957]
"Cookie‘s Fortune" Robert Altman [1999]
"The Swimmer" Frank Perry [1968]
"The Naked City" Jules Dassin [1948]
Warning: 'Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!' has a multiple reviews. Or the review title does not match the movie title.
"UP!" Russ Meyer [1976]
"Taxi Driver" Martin Scorsese [1976]
"Unforgiven" Clint Eastwood [1992]
"The Apartment" Billy Wilder [1960]
"Mutiny on the Bounty" Frank Lloyd [1935]
"Sunset Boulevard" Billy Wilder [1950]
"Norma Rae" Martin Ritt [1979]
"LA Story" Mick Jackson [1991]
"Men In Black " Barry Sonnenfeld [1997]
"Some Like It Hot" Billy Wilder [1959]
"The Cardinal" Otto Preminger [1963]
"84 Charlie Mopic" Patrick Duncan [1989]
"Only Angels Have Wings" Howard Hawks [1939]
"Caligula" Tinto Brass [1979]
"South Pacific" Joshua Logan [1958]
"Apocalypse Now" Francis Ford Coppola [1979]
"Super Mario Bros."* Annabel Jankel, Rocky Morton [1993]
Warning: 'Sex, Lies and Videotape' has a multiple reviews. Or the review title does not match the movie title.
"The Man Who Would Be King" John Huston [1975]
"The Four Feathers" Zoltan Korda [1939]
"Enemy at the Gates" Jean-Jacques [2001]
"Murder By Death" Robert Moore [1976]
"Porgy and Bess" Otto Preminger [1959]
"Gunga Din"* George Stevens [1939]
"Trainspotting" Danny Boyle [1995]
"Eyes Wide Shut"* Stanley Kubrick [1999]
"Cookie's Fortune"* Robert Altman [1999]

* Indicates that our staff is still researching the information for the review, Stay Tuned!™

Liner Notes.

© 2002 WNM and the respective authors. "All Rights Reserved."

"Hard Eight" [Paul Thomas Anderson] 1996

"Short notice I know, but pressed for time and I have no consensus, so I propose Hard Eight [1996] for tonight. I have located a copy of it, but don‘t have it in my hands yet. Let‘s assume I do get it.

"Hard Eight is directed and written by Paul Thomas Anderson, who was more or less disovered at Sundance in ‘95. The acting and dialog in this small film hooked some of the big critics hard. It can be compared with David Mamet‘s House of Games [1987], which we have seen. If you didn‘t like House of Games, you won‘t like Hard Eight.

"Some critics complain that Hard Eight is not good film noir. It isn‘t clear to me that it was supposed to be film noir, although some of the basic noir elements are there. Regardless, for the lead actor, Phillip Baker Hall, this was the role of a lifetime. It is hard to imagine a better job could be done."


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"Fantasia" [James Algar, Samuel Armstrong] 1940

"Naturally, Craig couldn‘t just write a simple review, so here it is:

--Craig Milo Rogers

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"The First Great Train Robbery" [Michael Crichton] 1979

"The First Great Train Robbery has an interesting cast including Sean Connery and Donald Sutherland. It is set in Victorian Enland where Sutherland and Connery wish to rob a moving train‘s safe. They need wax impressions of keys, coffins, dead cats, and a great deal of planning in order to pull it off. It is an intersting move and Mr. Connery is a much younger adventurer than his James Bond days (1964). There is plenty of the always popular jumping off of and crawling along the top of moving trains."


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"The Enemy Below" [Dick Powell] 1957

"The Enemy Below was directed by Dick Powell. It is one of the better films concerning WWII. It stars Robet Mitchum as the captain of a US destroyer and Curt Jurgens as the captain of a German U-Boat. Both men give fine and believable performances as war-weary professionals. The film won an Oscar for special effects.

"On the surface this film would seem uninspiring, just another submarine movie. Three things set it apart. First, it concentrates heavily on one cat-and-mouse encounter and on the tactical moves and countermoves. Second, this film is free of patriotic black and white characterization. The opposition is not viewed as an object for propaganda. This is unusual for any war film and notable in 1957. Finally, both the US and German captains are given extensive parts. Viewers usually can sympathise with both characters, who see each other as war-weary professionals.

"Dick Powell was primariy known as an actor. He directed five films, of which this is the best and provides evidence that he knew his craft. Unfortunately, one of the five films is the infamous The Conqueror [1956], which is on some ten-worst lists. This now camp classic cast John Wayne as Genghis Kahn and Susan Hayward as a mongol temptress."


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"Cookie‘s Fortune" [Robert Altman] 1999

"Cookie‘s Fortune [1999] was directed by Robert Altman and written by Anne Rapp. Altman is one of the best working directors in Hollywood. Nominated for best director and best picture seven times, the Oscar has eluded him so far. Altman is best known for MASH [1970], Nashville [1975], The Player [1993] and, most recently, the rather experimental Gosford Park [2001], for which he won the AFI best director award.

"The plot concerns who is to be held for the murder of Cookie Orcutt, a very independent minded older woman, well-played by Patricia Neal, who has decided to commit suicide. Unfortunately, one of her relatives, played by Glenn Close, is too proper, overbearing and self-important for her own good. She alters the suicide to look like a homicide and the plot thickens.

"Altman gives us here an odd combination of slice-of-life and comedy. Well written by Rapp in her first screenplay, the film is populated by several slightly odd but believable characters living in a contemporary small Mississippi town. Underlying this is the suspicion that a homicide has occurred, but the event is just not treated with the grim determination that one expects when a beloved public figure is murdered. That this works is probably due to the viewer realizing that no murder has in fact occurred. Things roll along very pleasantly to a surprising but appropriate conclusion."


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"The Swimmer" [Frank Perry] 1968

"For weeks we have tried to find a copy of The Swimmer [1968] and have been ... denied. Checking several chains and independents, it seems only two places in West LA have a copy ... Vidiots is one of them. The tape has been rented so frequently that for the last few weeks that copy has been unavailable. Curse be the film-school students. However, as of 4pm today that tape is not rented!

"Tonite we watch The Swimmer, a film now considered to have been very underrated when it was released.

"The Swimmer is based upon a John Cheever short story. Directed by Frank Perry, the film stars Burt Lancaster and Kim Hunter. The story involves a mid-50‘s executive, Ned Merrill, who is swimming his way across his Westchester neighborhood, pool by pool, on his way home. Immediately, you know something is just not right about Ned. He engages his neighbors in conversation as he progresses, but he drifts, looking at each pool obsessively.

"Ned tries to lose himself in his earlier life, each pool reminding him of some well-remembered event in his past. One sees that below the pristine surface of life in an upper-class suburb not all is strawberries and cream. The neighbors are not really his friends anymore, but alcohlic, shallow, distant achievers, who seem not all that human and who perhaps know something about Ned‘s circumstances that the viewer does not. This is an unusual film in which mental imbalance and social cruelty are the principal topics. This material is not what audiences generally wish to pay money to see.

"Mental illness was a subject that Frank Perry had successfully treated before in David and Lisa [1962], his first film and one that got him an Oscar nomination. Although Perry made a few good films, his talent was mercurial. Sometimes he did poor work, such as Mommie Dearest [1981], for which he won worst screenplay and worst director awards, while other times he was on his game, as with Rancho Deluxe [1975].

"Although Lancaster was 55 when he made this film, like Cornel Wilde or Jack Lalanne, he remained extremely fit in his later life. Few older actors would want a role in which they remained clad in a bathing suit for almost the entire film.

"This film is considered arty, so one art point will be awarded those who watch it. Art points may be banked and redeemed at a later date to suggest watching a less respectable film. There are two-art-point films, few are in English though. Ingmar Bergman comes to mind."


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"The Naked City" [Jules Dassin] 1948

"The Naked City was directed by Jules Dassin and stars Barry Fitzgerald in the leading role of the Irish detective Lieut. Dan Muldoon. The Naked City is considered one of the better film noir. It may not seem surprising to those watching it now, but in its day it broke a lot of ground. It was the first film to accurately represent investigative procedures of a police department. In that sense it is the wellspring that virtually all subsequent police shows and movies draw upon. Told in a matter-of-fact manner with some voice-over, it is clear that the TV series Dragnet was modeled on it.

"Naked City was also supposedly the first film entirely shot on location in New York City. This lent it an unusual realism for its day. It was nominated for three academy awards and won two, for cinematography and editing. It also inspired a TV series of the same name.

"Jules Dassin was born in Connecticut and was one of those who were blacklisted during the McCarthy era of the late 40s and 50‘s. He apprenticed with Alfred Hitchcock and made a number of forgettable films until he directed The Canterville Ghost [1944] with Charles Laughton. He then made his mark directing Hollywood films about criminals, of which Naked City is perhaps the best.

"By 1950 Dassin was informed on by Edward Dmytryk in HUAC hearings and forced to England by blacklisting. In England Dassin made Night and the City [1950] and Rififi [1955] in France, which is considered one of the best movies to ever focus on a crime. It earned Dassin a best director award at Cannes. He later went on to make Never On Sunday [1960] with his wife Melina Mercouri, which earned him best director and screenplay academy award nominations. Dassin never forgave the USA and, though he was rehabiitated by the mid-60‘s, he remained in exile in Switzerland.

"Edward Dmytryk was one of the Hollywood Ten who refused to cooperate with HUAC in 1947. He was sentenced to a year in federal prison for contempt and his career was ruined. In 1950 he decided to become an informer in exchange for being de-blacklisted. This ignominious action was to haunt him throughout his remaining career.

"The other principal informer who ruined lives in Hollywood was Elia Kazan. Unlike Dmytryk, Kazan wanted to inform on others and did so. Many lives were ruined by Kazan and Dmytryk. Kazan was never forgiven by many in Hollywood. When he was given a lifetime achievement Oscar in 1999, many in the audience refused to applaud or left the auditorium. Members of the Communist party cell Kazan once belonged to claimed that Kazan did not name everyone in the cell, only those he didn‘t like."


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"Faster, Pusscat! Kill! Kill!" [Russ Meyer] 1965

"Faster, Pusscat! Kill! Kill! [1965] is one of the more respected films made by T&A specialist Russ Meyer. Meyer is the person who brought the X-rated film out from under the smokers and onto marquees. His film The Immoral Mr. Teas [1959] is generally credited with this accomplishment in the USA. It also gave Meyer a career and helped make him a wealthy man.

"Meyer is perhaps the earliest director to use rapid cuts stylistically. He is also the earliest director to attempt a comic-book style of film shooting and direction. In a sense, he pioneered techniques now commonly used in Hollywood action movies. Meyer was so successful at the box office, that after Vixen! [1968] he was asked to create a film for 20th Century Fox, a project which turned into Beyond the Valley of the Dolls [1970] co-written by Roger Ebert.

"Faster Pusseycat is usually considered to be more than just a titilating film. It is an oddly disturbing film about a tough, larger than life female criminal, played by Tura Sultana, who is perfect for the role. She uses her physical assets and her strength to intimidate those around her.

"Although not shot intentionally as a lesbian dominance film, Faster Pussycat has taken on that role of late. Men are treated as sexual objects and abused by women in some of Meyer‘s film, but most graphically here. Meyer didn‘t directly intend that. He filmed Faster Pussycat as an experimental contrast to an earlier film that had bad men abusing women.

"The acting in Faster Pusycat cannot be called great. It is the frank and unusual roles that women play in this film that earns it a place in film history. It is a now considered a cult film and remains popular in Europe where it is often shown at revivals."


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"UP!" [Russ Meyer] 1976

"Up! [1976] is one of Russ Meyer‘s later films. Meyer tries to create a T&A romp that pokes fun at classic Greek plays. A naked Kitten Natividad takes the place of the chorus. It has an amusing opening, as we find where Hitler ended up after the war and what he spends his quality time doing. But by and large, this film can‘t live up to its opening and didn‘t work as well as it might have.

"For those looking for a good color Russ Meyer film, Supervixens [1975] or Cherry, Harry and Raquel [1969] are better choices."


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"Taxi Driver" [Martin Scorsese] 1976

"Pot luck turned out to be Taxi Driver [1976], one of the AFI top 100 list.

"Taxi Driver was directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader. Many have written reams about this disturbing film. Nominated for best picture, score, supporting actress and actor, the film won no awards, probably due to its subject matter.

"The central character is Travis Bickle, well-played by Robert DeNiro. Bickle is a tragic loner who life has trapped into a bleak and empty existence. Bickle has made a series of poor choices. He is relatively uneducated with few if any prospects. One can understand why he joined the Marines during the Vietnam war era.

"Upon returning home, one sees that Bickle is emotionally disturbed by his wartime experiences. He has little drive to better himself and there is little that he can do. What money Bickle makes he gets working as a cabby at night, which lets him see all the moral decay that the city night life offers. Since he lives in New York City, his money affords him only a squalid little apartment.

"This background sets the stage for the film as Bickle tries to become a ‘real person‘, one that has relationships with women, becomes successful and makes a name for himself. But Bickle is unattractive, inexperinced and clumsy with women, whether with the sophisticated political worker played by Cybill Shepherd or the underage hooker Iris, played by Jodie Foster. After failures with women, he decides to make a name for himself in the one way he knows, that of violence.

"Bickle is a man with no moral compass. Killing a senatorial candidate or a bunch of low-life pimps and drug dealers, it‘s all the same to him. It isn‘t a question of right or wrong, just opportunity. Prevented by undercover agents from killing the politician, Bickle decides to free Iris from her life of sin and drugs, killing whoever gets in his way.

"Bickle emerges from this a newspaper hero, who successfully removed Iris from her slavery as a hooker, returning her to a respectable middle-class existence. His several killings to do this are no matter. Bickle has made a name for himself. In his mind he has become somebody and, as he expected, is now treated with and worthy of some respect.

"Life often imitates art. That is a statement that should be reversed actually, but in Taxi Driver‘s case, life did imitate the film. In 1981 John Hinkley tried to assassinate President Reagan to impress Jodie Foster. Hinkley had seen Taxi Driver and was impressed with Travis Bickle‘s character, so he set out to do what Bickle couldn‘t do, assassinate a politician"


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"Unforgiven" [Clint Eastwood] 1992

"Requests to watch another fine Clint Eastwood western came in. Since we already saw The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, the easy choice is Unforgiven.

"Unforgiven is generally recognized as one of the best western films made. Usually seen as Eastwood‘s best film to date, it was nominated for nine academy awards. Eastwood won best director and picture Oscars and was nominated for best actor. The picture also won best supporting actor for Gene Hackman and editing.

"It is impressive to see how much Clint Eastwood has learned during his career. Classed along with The Wild Bunch [1969] and Red River [1948], there is little weak in Unforgiven. This is a polished effort. Acting, cinematography and screenplay are fine. The characterizations are believable and for some viewers quite disturbing.

"The central character in the film is Willam Munny, played by Eastwood. Munny has been compared to Travis Bickle from Taxi Driver [1976]. But whereas Bickle is uneducated and mentally disturbed, Munny is none of those things. Like Taxi Driver, the film ends without moral resolution.

"Unforgiven is not a classic western. The classic elements are there, but they are tarnished with realism and an impurity of purpose. There are no traditional heroes in this film, only men of varying wickedness of heart. The screenplay sets out to demythologize the western and does so. Eastwood acquired the rights to this screenplay in the 1970‘s but postponed production until he felt ready to make the film.

"In passing it should be mentioned that the film only partially ‘demythologizes‘ the western. The basicly false premise of a Wild West is left intact. Without that myth there would be no westerns."


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"The Apartment" [Billy Wilder] 1960

"The Apartment [1960] was directed by Billy Wilder and starred Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. It was nominated for ten academy awards and won Wilder Oscars for best picture, director and screenplay. Lemmon and MacLaine were nominated for best actor and actress.

"Wilder made films for adults. The Apartment is one of his best. The lead characters are Lemmon as C.C. Baxter and MacLaine and Fran Kubelik. Baxter is an organization man, a clerical cog in a big machine, trying to get promoted into management. Kubelik is an elevator operator trying to do the same thing by having an affair with a slippery manager whom she hopes will divorce and marry her.

"Not a simple romantic comedy, there is a careful balance here, between light comedy and the serious. The characters are played as real people who try to get ahead by sacrificing some of their integrity. The viewer can feel for the main characters and is rewarded when they both realize that the sacrifice costs way too much and that they would be better off being true to themselves and with each another."


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"Mutiny on the Bounty" [Frank Lloyd] 1935

"Mutiny on the Bounty [1935] was the first attempt by Hollywood to make a move based upon the Nordhoff and Hall trilogy about the 1787 Bounty mutiny and its aftermath. Nominated for eight oscars, Bounty won best picture. The cast in this film was considered amazingly strong. Unique in academy history, it produced three best actor nominations, for Charles Laughton as Captain Bligh, Clark Gable as Lt. Fletcher Christian and Franchot Tone as midshipman Roger Byam.

"The weaknesses in this classic film arise from its departing from the truth for dramatic or romantic effect. Most notably, the shore scenes on Tahiti are formulaic and not up to the qualtity level of the rest of the picture. The strength of this film, apart from the script and acting is the convincing direction and action. Most of this film was shot at sea.

"The director Frank Lloyd is now largely forgotten, although he was nominated for best director five times and won twice, for The Lady Divine [1929] and Cavalcade [1933]. Lloyd was one of the 36 founders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Most of his directing occurred during the silent era.

"The Bounty trilogy has been done twice since by Hollywood:

" Mutiny on the Bounty [1962] starring Trevor Howard as Capt. Bligh and Marlon Brando as Fletcer Christian. This production was badly hurt by Brando‘s towering ego and rages that caused many to quit working with him. The film never recovered from this and a series of other problems. This version cost $27 millions and bombed at the box office.

" The Bounty [1984] starring Anthony Hopkins as Capt. Bligh and Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian. This version is by far the most accurate one."


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"Sunset Boulevard" [Billy Wilder] 1950

"Sunset Boulevard [1950] is a film-noir classic and considered Billy Wilder‘s best film. It was nominated for 11 academy awards, including all the major awards. It won for best screenplay, music and art direction.

"One of the great directors and writers, little needs to be said about Billy Wilder, who made both great comedies and dramas. The screenplay was co-written by Charles Brackett, who was nominated for ten academy awards. Brackett won for Lost Weekend [1945] and Sunset Boulevard (both along with Wilder), Titanic [1953] and for lifetime achievement.

"Sunset Boulevard is a complex, self-referential film that focuses on the fragility of fame and cruelty of Hollywood and self-loathing. Norma Desmond is fading silent film actress. Her career is long over. She deludes herself by imagining a glorious comeback. Her former principal director‘s career is now also over and he is reduced to being her butler. Out of respect he gently shields her from her own insanity. Into this environment comes Joe Gillis, played by William Holden. Gillis is an out-of-work writer who is kept and plays the gigolo to Ms. Desmond. What he does not really grasp is how dangerously insane she actually is.

"Norma is played by Gloria Swanson, who was once a great silent film actress and whose career was long over in 1950. Her butler is played by Eric von Stroheim, who was once a great silent film director and indeed was one of Swanson‘s directors. His career as a director was also long over in 1950.

"A famous detail in this film is that a portion of one of Desmond‘s silent films is screened in the film for Gillis. The film clips screened are in fact from Queen Kelly [1929] which starred Swanson and which was directed by Stroheim. Swanson and Stroheim are in effect playing themselves for this part of the film. It is ironic that this performance by Swanson is not only considered the best of her career, but one of the best performances by any actress on film."
[Editor‘s Note: Billy Wilder passed away as we watched this file - a true loss.]

"The film was shot at the Getty mansion, which was then on Wilshire at Irving. Getty replaced his mansion with a corporate office tower some years later. Mutiny on the Bounty [1962] starring Trevor Howard as Capt. Bligh and Marlon Brando as Fletcer Christian. This production was badly hurt by Brando‘s towering ego and rages that caused many to quit working with him. The film never recovered from this and a series of other problems. This version cost $27 millions and bombed at the box office.

" The Bounty [1984] starring Anthony Hopkins as Capt. Bligh and Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian. This version is by far the most accurate one."


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"Norma Rae" [Martin Ritt] 1979

"Norma Rae [1979] is the movie that put Sally Field on the quality map. She won her best actress Oscar in this film about the fight to unionize a cotton mill in rural south. This film has little or no music in it. However, it did have a title song "It Goes Like It Goes", by Norman Gimbel and David Shire, which took home the best music Oscar. Norma Rae was nominated for best picture and screenplay as well.

"The film was directed by Martin Ritt, who won his best director Oscar for Hud [1963]. Ritt is a workman-like director who has tackled some difficult projects, such as The Spy Who Came In from the Cold [1965], but his brilliance in Hud seems not equaled since. Union struggles are a subject Ritt tackled before in The Molly Maguires [1970]. Norma Rae is the better and more accurate film.

"Field has a strong role in Norma Rae, who as a single mother of two works along with her parents at a hard cotton mill job in small town. Hardship, poor treatment by management and a sympathetic jewish union organizer win her over to the union cause. Small-town attitudes and prejudices are not sugar-coated. Other fine performances by Field are to be found in Places in the Heart [1984], for which she won her second best actress Oscar, and the underrated Murphy‘s Romance [1985], which was also directed by Martin Ritt.

"At the time of its release this movie was politically correct and was perhaps accorded more than its fair share of accolades. Unionization didn‘t save the textile workers their jobs though. Most of the textile factories went the way of buggy-whip factories. Pro-union viewers may find it a little too soft and management is portrayed as simplistically bad. It is still a well-acted story though and remains a good example of union struggle."


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"LA Story" [Mick Jackson] 1991

"LA Story [1991] was written by and stars Steve Martin. Almost without a doubt it is Martin‘s best film writing effort to date. The script is well-polished and in places delightful. The film was directed by Mick Jackson, primarily known for his work in TV.

"LA Story takes a light-hearted look at life among the well-to-do boomer set in Los Angeles. Martin plays Harris Telemacher, a TV weatherman searching for true romance. Telemacher is at times absurd, but surrounded by the absurdities of life in LA, he fits in just fine. Martin treats Telemacher and his LA world sentimentally in a manner reminiscent of a P.G. Wodehouse story.

"This film may seem forced to those who have not spent a good deal of time living inside LA. Indeed, insiders tended to give this film much better reviews than did outsiders. One wonders whether outsiders think the absurdities of the LA lifestyle are just creations of Hollywood. Insiders know better."


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"Men In Black " [Barry Sonnenfeld] 1997

"Last week we watched Men In Black (or MIB) where Mr. Jones (Tommy Lee Jones) and Mr. Smith (Will Smith) as Agent Kay and Agent Jay Protected us form the scum of the Universe. Unfortunately after a flash of red light I don‘t remember anything about the move.

"Tommy Lee Jones play Agent Kay. A wise, world-weary and ultra-alienated secret agent has cornerd the market on existential angst. Bugs check into hismmory; unfortunately they don‘t check out. He also Agent Jay‘s mentor.

"Will Smith‘s, plays Agent Jay. Faster than a speeding cephlapoid, He‘s the newest member of the galaxy‘s elite police force. And he makes that black suit lok good.

"Linda Fiorentino played Dr. Laurel Weaver. As the Medical Examiner in the New York City morgue, this queen of the Undead has seen it all... But thanks to the Men in Black, she doesn‘t remember a thing.

"Rip Torn played Agent Zed. He‘s MIB‘s fearless leader. Zed has faced every intergalactic horror known to man. Wherther he can survive the arrival of Agent Jay is another question."


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"Some Like It Hot" [Billy Wilder] 1959

"Last week was interrupted, so we are showing what would have been the film then, Some Like It Hot [1959]. Although I don‘t have a copy now, it should be easy to pick up.

"Some Like It Hot [1959] is considered the best Billy Wilder comedy. It is screwball comedy that follows in the footsteps of films such as Bringing Up Baby [1938]. Starring Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon, Some Like It Hot also forever enshrines Marilyn Monroe‘s reputation as an actress and light comedian. Getting such a performance from the insecure, unprofessional Monroe was apparently one of Wilder‘s great accomplishments. Although nominated for six Oscars, the film won only for best costume. Several strong films were made in 1959.

"Billy Wilder was an accomplished director when he fled Nazi Germany in the early 1930‘s. Wilder came to Hollywood knowing no english, but with good contacts due to other ex-patriots that had preceeded him. He roomed with Peter Lorre, who helped break him into Hollywood.

"Wilder‘s Hollywood career first achieved notoriety directing and writing with Charles Brackett, a partnership that produced Ninotchka [1939] and Sunset Blvd. [1950]. That partnership dissolved and in 1957 Wilder formed another with I.A.L. Diamond. This second period in Wilder‘s Hollywood career resulted in Some Like It Hot and Irma La Deuce [1963].

"Some Like It Hot takes place at the end of the Roaring Twenties. The plot is set into motion by the Valentine‘s Day Massacre of February 14th, 1929. Stylistically, the material evokes a black and white era in history and film, so Wilder decided not to use color. It‘s hard to argue with success.

"The warehouse where the St. Valentine‘s Day Massacre occurred was the SMC Cartage Company, 2122 North Clark in Chicago. Six of Bugs Moran‘s gang and an unlucky optometrist were lined up against the brick back wall of the building and machine gunned. Six were killed outright, the seventh died later in a hospital with twenty-two bullet wounds. Although the case remains a mystery, it is generally conceded that Al Capone ordered these killings in retaliation for an attempt on his life made by Moran. The outcry that followed the murders signalled the beginning of the end for Capone.

"The Cartage building had of course become famous and a tourist attraction. The front of the building was later turned into an antique store. Few customers wanted to look at furniture though. They were more interested in the severely bullet-pocked back wall behind the business. The business closed.

"In 1967 the Cartage building was demolished. Apparently, historical societies only consider landmarks worthy of preservation when they evoke warm, cuddly feelings. An enterprising Canadian, George Patey, realized how important that back wall was, purchased it and carefully dismantled it, recording each brick and where it was located in the wall. They were recently offered for sale.

"The SMC Cartage site is now the fenced front lawn of a nursing home. If you ever just happen to be strolling by, the tree in the middle is approximately where the back wall stood. Some late night passers-by have reported hearing screams coming from the yard."


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"The Cardinal" [Otto Preminger] 1963



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"84 Charlie Mopic" [Patrick Duncan] 1989

"Due to a request for a good war film, we are watching 84 Charlie Mopic [1989].

"Sometimes small, inexpensive productions by independent unknowns can surprise you. 84 Charlie Mopic [1989] is one of these and it became a springboard for the writer/director Patrick Duncan, who later wrote Mr. Holland‘s Opus [1995] and the traditional Hollywood war movie Courage Under Fire [1996].

"84 Charlie Mopic must be considered by Hollywood standards to be a huge flop. The film grossed only $154,000 in the USA, which is a reasonable take for only one film at one theater, and that miserable showing was after being championed by Ebert and Siskel as one of the best movies of the year. The film stars nobody whose name would go up on a marquee and its plot seems mysterious by Hollywood standards, no love interest and no evil villain. If you want to earn the big bucks, have stars and formulaic plots.

"84 Charlie Mopic is shot in a pure cinema verite style, by handheld camera and from the cameraman‘s point of view. The sound is consistent with what you get from a simple on-camera mike. Many critics intensely diskliked this, accusing the film of being amateurish and stereotypical. But there is another explanation, that of attention to realism.

"The film tells the story of one particular patrol by a squad of US soldiers during the Vietnam war and tries to sacrifice nothing to realism. It succeeds in this so well, that if you do not let people see the credits, many think it a documentary. It is also at times a difficult and disturbing film to watch.

"This film is only available on VHS and the first few minutes are a bit beat up, but the tape seems fine thereafter."


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"Only Angels Have Wings" [Howard Hawks] 1939



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"Caligula" [Tinto Brass] 1979



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"South Pacific" [Joshua Logan] 1958



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"Apocalypse Now" [Francis Ford Coppola] 1979

"Tonite we are watching Apocalypse Now [1979].

"Apocalypse Now [1979] was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, who also co-wrote the screenplay with John Milius. The principal cast is Martin Sheen, Marlon Brando and Robert Duvall.

"Apocalypse is one of the truly great wartime films. It was nominated for eight academy awards, winning sound and cinematography. It lost best picture to Kramer vs. Kramer [1979], also losing best director and writing to Robert Benton for Kramer vs. Kramer.

"Apocalypse is a disturbing and at times unpleasant film, which goes some way to explaining its losses. However, twenty some years have passed and it seems pretty clear that the academy made a mistake. Apocalypse Now remains a work of power, while Kramer vs. Kramer has receded along with its era.

"Many superlatives have been written about this film. Much has been said about how difficult it was to make. Apocalypse is called by many critics a key film of the century. The Vietnam war has been the subject of four fine films, The Deer Hunter[1978], Platoon [1986] and Full Metal Jacket [1987]. Apocalypse is generally considered the best. Based upon Joseph Conrad‘s novel "Heart of Darkness", it is certainly the darkest and most mysterious of the four.

"Writing about the recent Pearl Harbor [2001], Roger Ebert said that one can easily determine whether or not Pearl Harbor is mediocre. Screen it against Apocalyse and the answer is obvious."


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"Sex, Lies, and Videotape" [Steven Soderbergh] 1989



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"The Man Who Would Be King" [John Huston] 1975

"Based upon a Rudyard Kipling story, The Man Who Would Be King was directed and co-written by John Huston. Michael Caine and Sean Connery star as two adventurers, with Christpher Plummer in a minor supporting role as Rudyard Kipling.

"The story involves two somewhat shady British colonials who decide to seek their fortune in Afghanistan. They are mistaken for gods by a wealthy, native tribe, but they don‘t act like gods.

"This was a life-long pet project of Huston‘s, who had hoped to make it many years earlier, with Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart playing the adventurers. Later it became a vehicle for Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, then Paul Newman and Robert Redford. None of these actors would be convincing as Brits and it was Newman who suggested Caine and Connery.

"The film is a throwback to the time when Hollywood made its classic swashbuckling films. The story was not intended as a moral play by Kipling, though elements of racism are clearly apparent and the lead characters plainly are not on the up and up. Huston directed it as a throughly enjoyable action film involving two close friends, what is often called a buddy film. Though not up to the level of Huston‘s earlier adventure The African Queen [1951], it is still quite good. The action and visuals are top notch. Some consider it a classic.

"Trivia: Sean Connery as Daniel Dravot, plays god and tries to take a native wife. The wife is played by Shakira Caine, who was then and remains Michael Caine‘s wife."


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"The Four Feathers" [Zoltan Korda] 1939

"The Four Feathers [1939] is based upon the novel by A.E.W Mason that is so popular it has been filmed seven times, the most recent version opening last week. The 1939 version was the fifth version and is widely considered to be the best. It is remembered for its beauty and superbly handled action scenes. By comparison, the 2002 version was altered to be politically correct, which seems to have been a poison pill.

"The Four Feathers was directed by Zoltan Korda and stars Jon Clements, Ralph Richardson and C. Aubrey Smith as principals. Nomimated for a best cinemtography Oscar, Korda shot this on location in Sudan, where the novel was set, in Technicolor.

"The film is a set piece of Victorian sentiment, a moral play about the redemption of character through personal courage. Historically, the story owes its existence to the death of Chinese Gordon and the fall of Khartoum on 26 January 1885. The action takes place as the Sudan is being taken back from the "fuzzy wuzzies" or dervishes, who were under the command of Mohammed Ahmed, otherwise known as The Mahdi, or the expected one.

"The producing/directing team of Alexander and Zoltan Korda are credited as making some of the finest films to depict English and British history. This is a bit odd, considering they were Hungarians. For whatever reasons, the Kordas were British superpatriots. They obtained the original film rights to Lawrence of Arabia and The Bridge on the River Kwai, but refused to make them because they felt it would be unpatriotic.

"Trivia: Korda was up for best film at the 1939 Venice Film Festival. Fortunately, he lost. The winner took home the Mussolini Cup.

" The Mahdi forces were defeated at Omdurman by Lord General Kitchener on 2 Sept. 1898. Winston Churchill wrote the historic treatise on this, The River War, in 1899. He makes clear how impressive British planning and logistics once were. The sun never set for good reason. It is interesting that Churchill‘s comments about the horror of war, descriptions of battle, death and his distinctly un-Victorian sentiments are deleted in the abridged version now available.

" Some Dervishes who survived the battle were used as aged extras in the film."


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"Enemy at the Gates" [Jean-Jacques] 2001

"Enemy at the Gates [2001] was directed and co-written by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Jude Law and Ed Harris play the two principal characters, Vassily Zaitsev and Major Koenig, with Bob Hoskins and Joseph Fiennes in support.

"This is an expensive, well orchestrated film with a large cast that takes place during the investment and destruction of the city of Stalingrad in 1941/42. The sets are completely convincing, the action for the first part of the film believable and gut wrenching. The first portion of the film, which sets the background, is easily on a par with Saving Private Ryan [1998].

"Although inspired by true events, a duel between two snipers, one German and one Soviet, the film is only very loosely built around those events. Admittedly, a sniper duel is not the most visually exciting thing. What real snipers did usually was worm their way into a good vantage point, often spending hours to survey an area to do so. Then they wait patiently, take one shot and then displace because their position may have been spotted. When two snipers are hunting one another, each becomes even more cautious.

"Zaitsev did exist and was the Soviet Union‘s most famous sniper. Major Koenig is likely fictional in this role. Historically, the loser here, probably Colonel Heinz Thorwald, was spotted by the reflection of sunlight off his scope, then tricked into thinking he had hit Zaitsev, who then shot him as he displaced. The duel between the two took three days.

"One would expect some liberties to be taken to keep viewer interest, but if too many liberties are taken the film risks seeming contrived and that happens here. What would a war story be without a battlefield love triangle. Well, generally it would have the advantage of being real. This is not a mistake Private Ryan made and this film does suffer for that. It remains a good war movie, just not a great one."


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"Murder By Death" [Robert Moore] 1976

"Murder By Death [1976] is an ensemble comedy written by Neil Simon and directed by Robert Moore. The cast includes Truman Capote, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, David Niven, and Peter Sellers, among others. The cast is obviously a strong one and it gives fine comedic performances.

"Whereas Young Frankenstein [1974] poked fun at old horror movie standards, Murder By Death does the same for mystery standards, and particularly the detectives in them. Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, Nick and Nora Charles, Poirot and Miss Marple are each skewered, while the setting is reminiscent of Agatha Christie‘s Ten Little Indians.

"If perhaps not as inspired as Young Frankenstein, Murder By Death is nonetheless quite entertaining. Although it certainly helps to be familiar with the stereotypes being parodied, that is not essential to enjoying the comedy."


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"Porgy and Bess" [Otto Preminger] 1959

"Porgy and Bess [1959] is the film version of the famous Gershwin folk opera. The 1934 opera was a collaboration between DuBose Heyward, George and Ira Gershwin and was based upon the 1926 DuBose Heyward novel, "Porgy", a stylistic account of the black working poor in Charleston. Heyward wrote the lyrics to the most famous song in the opera, Summertime.

"Porgy takes place in a poor rundown river neighborhood called Catfish Row. The central character, Porgy, is a crippled beggar who roams the streets in a cart pulled by a goat. Heyward based this character on a man named Goat Sammy who lived in Charleston. Other principal male characters are Crown, a murdering womanizer, and Sportin‘ Life, a cocaine dealer.

"The opera version of Porgy and Bess is now synonymous with the name of the composer of its music, George Gershwin. Although now an American musical staple, the opera was not successful during his lifetime. Critics were extremely harsh when it opened in New York in 1935. It was called an "aggrandized musical show", "only half alive", another predicted it would be the first of Gershwin‘s major works to be forgotten. The New York Herald Tribune called it "trite and feeble."

"So much for the critics, since it is now generally recognized as the best American opera, sharing the great operatic stages with the likes of Bizet and Wagner. The Europeans were not so critical. Porgy was staged at La Scala in the ‘50s. It did not show at the MET until 1985.

"As for the film, Porgy and Bess was nominated for four Oscars. It won for best musical score naturally. Originally to be directed by Ruben Mamoulian, who had creative differences with producer Samuel Goldwyn, the film was eventually directed by Otto Preminger. The cast of Porgy speaks for itself. Sidney Poitier plays Porgy, Dorothy Dandridge plays Bess, Sammy Davis Jr. has the role of Sportin‘ Life, Pearl Bailey the role of Maria, Brock Peters the role of Crown and Diahann Carroll that of Clara.

"The characters of Porgy and Bess are not realistic and while the opera was subject to some black opposition in the 1930s, after WWII a new consciousness had arisen among blacks. That dislike deepened as the civil rights movement blossomed. Thus, Porgy was in serious trouble before it was made into a film. Produced in the late 1950‘s, its creation was strongly opposed by many black intellectuals. This caused some casting problems.

"Goldwyn wanted the cast for Porgy and Bess to include the best black singing and acting talent of its time. He wanted Harry Belafonte for the role of Porgy, but Belafonte refused the role for political reasons. Sidney Poitier took the role under duress and with great missgivings. Poitier remains sensitive to this day about his playing a role in a film that he greatly disliked. However, his performance did not suffer.

"Neither Dorothy Dandridge, Diahann Carroll nor Poitier had operatic ranges to their voices, so they were dubbed when singing by Adele Addison, Loulie Jean Norman and Robert McFerrin. Without knowing this though, one cannot tell from the film that they were dubbed.

"Like the opera, the film was neither a commercial nor a critical success. The Gershwin estate is said to have fought with Goldwyn regarding the addition of dialog between the songs. This was a foolish objection as not only was it tastefully done, but a film is not an opera. Goldwyn had the right to make a film version and he did. However, the estate had the rights to the music. It took its bat and ball home after the film‘s contractual first run was over.

"The result has been that Porgy and Bess cannot be screened commercially without approval of the trust, which rarely allows a showing anywhere. It was never released for video, laserdisk or DVD. Consequently, it has been seen by only a small number of people for the last few decades. Prior to the one showing at the Egyptian in Hollywood, 29 November 2002, it was seen at Brooklyn College in 1998 at the 100th anniversary of George Gershwin‘s birth. The only place where it can be viewed regularly is by reservation at the Library of Congress.

"The sad truth is that the hatred of the estate for this film may doom it to destruction. No archival negative is known to exist and the very few prints that remain are patchworks that attempt to preserve what can be.

"Those fortunate enough to have seen the film can see for themselves that the criticism of the film is destined to suffer the same fate as criticism leveled at the original opera. The music is wonderful, the performances vital and the staging fine."


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"Trainspotting" [Danny Boyle] 1995

"Trainspotting [1995], directed by Danny Boyle, developed great word-of-mouth. The film provides a sometimes serious, sometimes humorous view of life and camaraderie among heroin addicts in Edinburgh, Scotland. The screenplay was written by John Hodge, based upon the novel by Irvine Walsh. Hodge received a nomination for best screenplay. Ewan McGregor plays the lead and delivers a fine performance.

"Trainspotting is a ‘buddy‘ film, but instead of the tragedy of war creating the friendships, here the group bonds are forged by the shared experience of heroin addiction. The dialog in the film sparkles and takes no prisoners. At times it is hard to understand the heavily accented and slang-laden lines, but that is a minor annoyance in comparison to the film‘s strengths and adds to its authenticity.

"This film was attacked by War-On-Drugs supporters as a pro-drug film. That is a simplistic view. The addict lives depicted in the film were both bleak, missing many basic creature comforts and at times tragic. What the addicts did have was friendship, built upon their shared experiences as addicts. To criticise this film as pro-drug, one must also criticise films depicting comradeship during war as pro-war.

"Boyle generally chooses material that is a bit odd and risky. Previously, he made Shallow Grave [1994], which was a reasonably good thriller, but not up to Trainspotting‘s level. While not consistently fine, Doyle‘s work has the promise that comes with both talent and the taking of risks."


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Last update on Jan 15, 2010 at 12:15:10.