Posts Tagged ‘chas andrews

14
Dec
16

#33. The Wild Bunch (1969)

wild_bunch

Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Robert Ryan, and Edmond O’Brien

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

The Short, Short Version:

Holden is Pike, an Old West gang leader living in a time coming to a close. After a small-town bank heist is found to be a setup him and his gang (Borgnine, Johnson, Oates among them) make their way to Mexico. On their trail is Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), a former gang member who worked with Pike before being captured. Now in the employ of the railroad Thornton has 30 days to capture Pike using a ragtag group of come-alongers interested in the money. Pike strikes a deal with a Mexican General named Mapache for a load of 16 guns. Pike must keep his own crew together while getting the guns and not getting caught by Thornton. However, the General has some plot twists of his own…

Why This Made the Top 40:

I remember first buying the DVD from a Wal-Mart rack in Carbondale, IL while being in school there. One of my friends, Jason H., was emphatic. “There are like 300 Mexicans that die in one scene alone! It’s the bloodiest movie ever made.” I took it back to my dorm room, threw the disc into my computer, and watched it from my computer screen. Loved it. The final showdown scene was everything he said it was.

It’s been a few years since I’ve watched the film and now I have a 4k TV. Plasma aside, Warner Bros. did a great job transferring the film to blu-ray. For the most part it looks amazing. Sure, sometimes the excessive clouds of dust and smoke seem a little flat but overall the deep focus of the film makes it feel vibrant. One could complain about this and the sound being a little flat but it was a product of its time. Maybe one day it’ll all be cleared up but until then this transfer is a good enough one.

As for the film itself it turned me onto more of Peckinpah’s work. I almost considered “Major Dundee” and “Straw Dogs” but in the end I came back to “The Wild Bunch.” I do also recommend “The Getaway.” “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” not so much.

14
Dec
16

#34. THX 1138 (1971)

thx_1138

Starring Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence, and Maggie McOmie

Directed by George Lucas

The Short, Short Version:

It’s some point in the future and everyone has a shaved head, wears white, and is on drugs for everything to avoid human emotion. THX 1138 (Duvall) repairs androids and lives with a female roommate LUH (McOmie), who switches some of his pills for hers. The result is a spiral from them having sex and being caught, to a “watcher” named SEN (Pleasence) trying to force THX to be his roommate, to LUH being pregnant, to THX being “taken away” to stay with other “undesirables.”

Why This Made the 40:

I have always wanted to watch this movie. While in film school at SIU-C I had viewed the original student-film version, “Electronic Boutique,” which I thought was interesting. This seems as if first-time director Lucas was taking jabs at California culture or maybe prophecizing Big Pharma. Either way it’s an interesting treatise on societal disconnection not unlike “Brave New World.”

I watched the “Director’s Cut” version and from what I can tell as compared to the original there are more effects that Lucas tried to “blend in” with what he shot at that time. It makes for a funky looking film, but not in a bad way. It’s not the greatest sci-fi movie you’ll watch but it’s not the worst either.

11
Dec
16

#35. Hero (2002)

heromovieposter

Starring Jet Li, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Maggie Cheung

Directed by Zhang Yimou

The Short, Short Version:

Set in the time before the Great Wall of China, Jet Li is the Nameless Man who’s not too different than Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name.” China is divided into seven warring factions and Nameless approaches the Emperor Qin claiming his victories over master fighters Broken Sword, Sky, and Flying Snow. Upon speaking with Qin he relays the stories of how he beat all three. What we’re then treated to is three stories about how it all went down. The real reason behind the assassinations and Qin’s fate unravel as the tales unfold.

Why This Made the 40:

I had never watched it before this week. I remember someone saying that I would like it, giving it to me, and I can’t remember who. Did I like it? Sure. I think I didn’t watch it when it came out due to thee fact that I’m just not a big person on fantasy stories; kinda pick-and-choose. I did go to a theatre and watch, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and wasn’t really all that impressed. It looked nice but too much “wire-fu” and the story wasn’t all that great. Again, my opinion.

This time around being removed from the early aughts wire-fu movement I can say that I enjoyed the film. It pays homage to a few other films you may know. I mentioned earlier that Li’s character reminded me of the old Sergio Leone Clint Eastwood character. Aside from that there are a few references back to Kurasowa’s, “Rashomon,” in story structure and the fight with Broken Sword. At one point in the film (minor spoiler) a calligraphy teacher’s in a building being hit by multitudes of arrows. He commands his students to stay in their places as he is. Sitting cross-legged on the floor arrows fly around him much like the retired Emperor in, “Ran.” I’m sure there are several more references in this film.

Again, I’m not a huge fan of Asian cinema but every now and then there’s one I like. For it’s breathtaking scenery and mis en scene, “Hero,” is an incredibly beautiful movie. I actually went looking for it on Blu-ray as I only have the DVD version which is constantly grainy/pixelated. The one advantage to having the DVD version is that the original Mandarin Chinese 5.1 DTS sound mix is incredible while the video is, unfortunately, lackluster. Meanwhile the word is that the Blu-ray looks incredible while unfortunately the DTS 5.1 mix is the English dubbed version. Apparently, it’s one or the other…

08
Dec
16

#36. The Tragedy of MacBeth (1971)

the-tragedy-of-macbeth-movie-poster

Starring Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw, and Terence Bayler.

Directed by Roman Polanski

The Short, Short Version:

Finch is MacBeth, the Scottish Thane of Glam who happens upon three witches who tell him that he’ll be the new Thane of Cawdor as well as the King of Scotland. Next thing he knows he IS the Thane of Cawdor as well but once King Duncan’s son Malcolm is crowned Prince MacBeth is less about redemption and more about retribution as he kills Duncan and becomes King. Following the Despot’s Guide to Complete Rule he sets to murder anyone else who may be able to claim the throne from him. One last trip to the witches gives him the prophecy, “… till Birnam forest come to Dunsinane,” which boggles and infuriates him but faster than you can say, “Ides of March,” MacBeth is overturned and beheaded.

Why This Made the 40:

In what also feels a lifetime ago it was a pick by my high school senior English teacher, Mr. Gleaves. Usually Shakespeare’s stuff feels stilted (c’mon… how many times do you use “thane,” or “thee,” or thou sayest?” without some sense of mockery?) but watching it on a 13” TV suspended from the ceiling I was transfixed. This was what Shakespeare was at its core – dark, bloody, gritty, dirty, and violent. I would later happen upon the reason for that – Polanski directed the movie following the murder of his wife, model Sharon Tate. For those of you who don’t know Polanski was in a relationship with Tate who, on a certain fateful night, became a victim of slaying by the followers of Charles Manson. Manson sent his followers to a house that was initially owned by a certain record producer who Manson wanted dead but was since sold to another person. Manson’s followers didn’t know the difference and murdered everyone there. Polanski, grief-stricken, decided to plunge himself back into his work. Playboy owner and founder Hugh Hefner, feeling sorry for the death of Tate, assisted in bankrolling/producing the movie. Polanski’s hurt, anger, pain, and rage are reflected in the film and, knowing that, gives a context to the violence on screen. I recommend this film not as a celebration of a tragedy but as a darkly personal catharsis wrapped in a Shakespearean tragedy. It’s not the grass on the ground but the dirt and worms underneath. Forget any of the Hammer film sets or anything Kenneth Branagh put out – this is the must watch.

06
Dec
16

#38. Carlito’s Way

carlitos-way

Starring Al Pacino, Sean Penn, Penelope Ann Miller, and John Leguizamo.

Directed by Brian De Palma

Short, Short Version:

It’s notably the Eighties and former “J.P. Morgan of the smack business” gangster Carlito Brigante (Pacino) has his 30-year sentence overturned via his lawyer Kleinfeld (Penn) proving that the police conducted illegal investigations on him. “Free at last!” Brigante espouses his renewed faith in the world and swears he’ll never go back to what he did before. Problem is that the rest of his social circle doesn’t feel that’s the right move to make. The story of one man’s quest for redemption comes to the conclusion that sometimes you’re just as far in as you’ll ever be out.

Why this made the 40:

Aside from being in my favorites category the film is literally in my Top Ten Favorite Films of All Time. Sure, Pacino may be a stretch for being Cuban however the film is done so well you forget about that idea. Brigante enters as a flawd character trying to do the straight and narrow – invest on a friend’s car sales business in the Florida Keys. As he tries redeeming himself to society and keeping out of jail he finds himself dragged back into the thick of it: his best friend/lawyer Kleinfeld (who has now turned into a gangster himself) not only enlists him to help dispose of some guys yet also offers him to the D.A. on trumped-up drug charges. His second-in-command at the club he winds up owning sells him out to another up-and-coming gangster, Benny Blanco (Leguizamo). The girlfriend he broke up with 6 years ago is dancing at a high-end strip club (surprise!) and they get back together. For everything he’s trying to do right by not doing anything at all everything goes wrong. Call it fatalism.

I’ve enjoyed De Palma’s work: “Carrie,” “Dressed to Kill,” “Blow Out,” “Scarface,” “The Untouchables,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Femme Fatale,” etc. While being more of a “modern Hitchcock,” De Palma crafts interesting moments of drama and action while sneaking in the style (except for “Dressed to Kill,” which is pretty much a Hitchcock film in its own right). In the case of “Carlito’s Way,” as Penn’s Kleinfeld becomes more and more coke-addled/insane, the camera takes on more and more “Dutch angles.” De Palma also goes the extra mile and does 360-degree movement around the characters while doing Dutch angles (I don’t know of any other instance of this) thus heightening paranoia. Also of note: the scene where Kleinman is going to Riker’s Island Barge and the camera pulls back as he’s walking alone is a very Hitchcockian shot.

From it’s one-liners (“Favor’s gonna kill you faster than a bullet,” “You think you’re big time? You’re gonna fuckin’ die, big time!”) to the shots to the script (David Koepp) to its actors, “Carlito’s Way” is a helluva movie all-around and not just my favorite De Palma but one of my faves overall.

03
Dec
16

#40 Key Largo

#40: Key Largo

keylargo

Starring Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, Edward G. Robinson, Lionel Barrymore, and Claire Trevor

Directed by John Huston

The Short, Short Version:

Bogey plays Major Frank McCloud, a soldier-turned-drifter whose conscience leads him to the Keys, specifically Key Largo to the Hotel Largo which is ran by the father (Barrymore) and wife (Bacall) of fallen comrade George Temple. Upon entering the Hotel Largo he’s eyed by several of the guests there whose reasons for staying are above suspicion until he, the owner and daughter-in-law, and a cop are all held hostage by Al Capone-inspired gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson). Rocco, surrounded by his gang and former singer/moll Gaye Dawn (Trevor), has other plans: getting the dough for his counterfeit money and heading back to Cuba where he was deported to. Add to the mix an impending hurricane, a sheriff, and Seminole brothers on the run, and you have a taught, tense thriller.

Why this made the 40:

The Forty for 40 list has four categories. This came from the Top Ten Influential Directors category for being directed by John Huston. Huston is the noted director of such classics as “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “The Asphalt Jungle,” “The African Queen,” and “The Man Who Would Be King,” among others. While “Key Largo,” is also a Bogey movie, it has a sensibility that “Maltese Falcon,” does not that makes for it to be an underrated film. What makes this film, more than the others, are the characters. From the thug “Angel” to the moll to the coward soldier McCloud having to confront his internal demons and summoning everything he can to take on underworld emperor Rocco, “Key Largo,” rides the line between noir crime drama and thriller. The interactions between Bogey and Robinson alone are worth watching – Bogart’s downtrodden “wiseguy” versus Robinson’s “larger than life” Napoleonic- Al Capone really makes the film.

Other important notes: the music. It was used for effect as much as the silence and the sound effects. Moments of empathy/sympathy would be underscored by a small musical piece. Silence swelled the dry awkwardness of the divergent characters all being in one room. The sound effects of the hurricane hitting the hotel amplified Rocco’s paranoia and lack of total control.

And, the photography. Based on a play (loosely, I’ve read) the film only alternates in what room(s) the characters gather in. Almost all interactions happen when most of the characters are all assembled in one place and as such they all have to be/seem/feel separate from one-another. The lighting does well-enough to give that three-dimensional feel when you see the various angles shot within the room they’re in. Every now-and-then you can also get that noir feel by the shadows from staircases, faces half-hidden in the shadows, etc. Working within noir sensibilities there are the mirror shots whereby a character is looking at the mirror and we see not only them but everyone behind them; a kind-of action/reaction tit for tat. Innovative stuff. I also recommend the final scene between Bogart and Robinson; it’s one of the best shot.

Aside from these things I think that I really enjoy “Key Largo” because it feels like the movie you watch to enjoy as opposed to the one you watch just to have seen it. Sure, I enjoyed the other Huston movies and in some ways they are superior. Maybe it’s like the band Steely Dan – yeah, they made good music and people like them but not everyone lists them as their “go to” band. While it’s not the “go to” for Bogart, Robinson, or Huston it does deserve mention and appreciation.

Here’s the trailer:

And also this little ditty from the Eighties…

16
Nov
15

Did ‘Spectre’ Stand a Ghost of a Chance?

spectre

Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Lea Seydoux, and Andrew Scottt.

Directed by Sam Mendes

ME: “Dad, what do you think of the new ‘Bond’ movies?”

DAD: “Well, the stories kinda suck.”

ME: “What do you think of Daniel Craig as Bond?”

DAD: “He’s good but I wished they had retired the character after he [Albert Broccoli] died.”

True conversation.

Not too far from the premiere weekend crowd I watched “Spectre,” the much-anticipated sequel/next-installment of the James Bond franchise, last Tuesday. Oh, boy. Is it entirely disappointing? Is it worth the price? Read on.

I can honestly say that I’ve grown up watching Bond but from the viewpoint of a different side of Bond: the post-Dalton/Pierce Brosnan Bond. While Timothy Dalton played a grittier, more “real” side of James Bond (far from the suave Roger Moore Bond) Brosnan’s Bond was one now having to compete with the feminist 90s giving him smart female counterparts that were either Bond girls or even M herself (Judi Dench took over the traditionally male role of ‘M’ in “GoldenEye”). Famke Janssen, Michelle Yeoh, Sophie Marceau, Halle Berry were all strong, independent female characters to the counteract James Bond and while the latter two Brosnan movies left a lot to be desired (namely a decent story) the actors and characters they played stood out and above the source material. However, “Die Another Day” was the death-knell for Brosnan’s Bond.

His successor, as you now know, was Daniel Craig. With the reboot/remake/origin movies being the way Hollywood was going it was only fitting that Craig start BEFORE “00” status as Bond “rough around the edges” Craig’s portrayal was a breath of fresh air for the franchise and washed out the bad taste in our mouth left from the fourth Brosnan feature. Here was a new Bond before being suave, using gadgets, guns, cars, women… this was the indoctrination of a character with over 20 films of history and we were more than glad to have him. While “Casino Royale” shifted the direction of the wind being blown to keep Bond sailing, “Quantum of Solace” was a dead calm of a “sequel.” The director and producers failed to learn the lessons of “License to Kill” in that James Bond is NOT a character out for vengeance but the “savior” of queen and country. Trying for a different wind director Sam Mendes was brought in for the third venture, “Skyfall,” which proved to be even better than “Casino Royale” and made us almost forget about “Quantum…” With the audience and critical acclaim of “Skyfall” Mendes returned for the latest venture, “Spectre,” and unfortunately succumbed to tripping the trope fantastic.

Warning. Spoilers ahead.

“The dead are alive…” are the first words greeting us as we pan into a crowd in Mexico City on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). James Bond (Craig) and a companion are masked and moving through the crowded celebration. Once behind closed doors Bond goes on “personal assignment” which ends in a building being demolished and an overly long fight inside a helicopter over the crowd. Back in England Bond answers to M’s (Fiennes) interrogation saying that he was on “holiday.” M is furious and puts Bond on suspension before having to face James Bond Trope #1: The not-so-secret spy agency is in imminent threat of being dissolved. Ever since “GoldenEye” someone working for the British government keeps asking “Why is Bond even out there? Isn’t the Cold War over? Do we even need spies?” etc. It never fails. The best response given was Judi Dench as M saying, “He’s doing his job!” Again, this has been going on for 20 years only this time M is finding that a new security agency, CNS, is bringing together all technology to be the eyes and ears of the intelligence agency without having to leave home and Bond’s vacation may have caused their time to be cut even more.

Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are secretly being utilized by Bond to uncover a massive, secret organization. His reasoning? Cinematic Trope #2: a character leaves the main protagonist information saying, “If something happens to me, then, this…” M (Dench) left such a message for Bond to hunt down and kill one Marco Sciarra (Allesandro Cremona). Bond sneaks out of England, finds Mrs. Sciarra (Bellucci), hooks up for the night (Bond Trope #3), and infiltrates a Spectre town-hall meeting before barely getting out alive. Realizing that he recognized the guy running the meeting we’re now taken to…

The residence of Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), the most common thread of all of the Craig Bond films. Apparently Mr. White is on the outs with Spectre (unclear if it was a matter or conscience or being behind with dues) and gives up info on his daughter before “checking out.” Continuing the quest for vengeance we go to…

An upscale office building somewhere in/around the Alps were estranged daughter Madeleine Swann (Seydoux) works. Bond introduces himself, she gets captured (Trope #4) and even though she’s lived her life being the daughter of a spy/assassin she does little more than keep herself from being drugged via syringe. Wait, she saves Bond’s life a little later (Trope #5: Being knocked down doesn’t necessarily mean knocked-out) and they fall in love with as little chemistry as possible (Trope #6?)

Meanwhile, back in England…

The all-seeing, all-knowing new privately-funded security network is about to go live. The “00” program has been disbanded. Bond is now rogue and M refuses to help as CNS can here/see/read everything transmitted. Bond is rogue. And now we go back to the middle of the desert in North Africa were Bond and Swann encounter…

The villain’s secret lair (feel free to pronounce that a la Dr. Evil). Standing outside giant circle in the middle of the desert Bond and Swann are greeted and taken into the head of Spectre, one Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Waltz). James’s history is exposed as we find that when his parents died a man adopted him and he became the step-brother. The step-brother purportedly died in an avalanche as well as his father only to come back as Blofeld (mom’s last name). The avalanche was no accident; Blofeld killed his dad in retaliation for getting a step-brother. Rough.

That’s as far as I’m going with the story. You know James Bond is going to survive/win; nothing new under the sun there. My complaints are: checking off the tropes just to advance the story, action sequences that just ran too long, under use of Monica Bellucci, a boring story, and a lackluster movie theme, Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On the Wall.” On the plus side when the humor works it works and Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw get to do more stuff. The opening segment is reminiscent of “Touch of Evil” and is one of the coolest Bond openings for Craig and company, if not overall. The beginning is good, the middle struggles and is drawn out, but the end was really good.

My grade: C