Friday, July 3, 2015

Intruder in the Dust (1949)

Twelve years before Harper Lee published To Kill a Mockingbird, (book in 1960, movie in 1962), there was William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust (book in 1948, movie in 1949), one of the earliest books/movies to deal frankly with the social aspects of racial injustice.

In 1940s Yoknapatawpha County, rural Mississippi, black farmer Lucas Beauchamp (Juano Hernández) is accused of a murder he says he didn't commit.

As he's being led handcuffed into the jailhouse, past the glaring eyes of bigoted white men, he calls out a young man in the crowd – Chick Mallison (Claude Jarman Jr.) – and tells him to fetch his uncle, lawyer John Gavin Stevens (David Brian).

Chick had once spent a lot of time trying to pay Lucas back for a kindness, but to no avail. Uncle John assures him that Nub and Crawford Gowrie (Porter Hall and Charles Kemper), father and brother of victim Vinson Gowrie (David Clarke), won't start anything until Sunday's done.

Lucas sends Chick on a research mission to find out what kind of bullet killed Vinson Gowrie. When he gets no support or help from Uncle John, Chick takes matters into his own hands. But he does get help from a feisty old spinster, Miss Eunice Habersham (Elizabeth Patterson), and Lucas' son, Aleck (Elzie Emabuel). They head to the cemetery, but the coffin ... is ... empty.

The revelation gets Uncle John stirred up, and he calls on Sheriff Hampton (Will Geer) to do something about it. To keep the expected lynch mob from getting to Lucas, they need someone at the door – a white woman, say ... Miss Eunice. They find Vinson's body, but is it too late to save Lucas?

Here's where the truth comes out.

Intruder in the Dust is based on William Faulkner's 1948 novel. MGM Studios bought the film rights from Faulkner for $50,000, and shot the film in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. His novel contributed to his winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

The film, however, didn't even break even, with a box office about $150,000 below its production budget of $988,000.

As good a film as it is, Intruder in the Dust can’t hold a candle to To Kill a Mockingbird with its similar themes. And that’s about the size of it.

Grade: B

Quotations I Like from the Film

"In matters of life and death, a man's vocabulary is almighty small." – John Gavin Stevens (David Brian)

"Who can eat more'n two eggs?" – Sheriff Hampton (Will Geer)

"I'm going for eighty, and I'm not tired yet." – Miss Eunice Habersham (Elizabeth Patterson)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Judge (2014)

Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.) is a successful Chicago defense attorney. Very successful. So why does he walk out of the courtroom at the start of a trial, and his soon-to-be ex-wife? Because his mother just died, and Mr. Unpleasant Chicago Attorney has got to get back to his hometown of Carlinville for the funeral.

After reuniting with his brothers – younger, autistic Dale (Jeremy Strong) and older Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) – he also sits in at his recovering-alcoholic father Judge Joseph Palmer's (Robert Duvall) court. Hank and the Judge are estranged and haven't talked for a while ... at least not decently.

Hank bumps into Samantha “Sam” Powell (Vera Farmiga), his old girlfriend who owns the Flying Deer Diner. Later, out drinking with his brothers, he meets a cute bartender, Carla (Leighton Meester), and ends up making out with her in a phone booth, to his brothers' surprise.

The next day, he sees the family SUV backed into a crumbled garage door, and then discovers a broken headlight frame and deep scratches on the side of his father's 1971 Cadillac Coupe DeVille. The Judge refuses to believe it's his fault, words are exchanged and a pissed Hank leaves ... only to return when the Judge is suspected of a fatal hit and run. It's a Murder 2 arrest.

Despite all of Hank's efforts to help, the Judge obstinately shoves him aside and hires his own defense attorney – C.P. Kennedy (Dax Shepard), a nice guy, but not up to Hank's standards (he throws up before the first court appearance). Judge Warren (Ken Howard) presides; the prosecuting attorney is Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton).

Two revelations: Judge Palmer, it turns out, has colon cancer and is having chemotherapy, and Carla is Sam's unplanned daughter. Oh, there's another. To Hank's surprise, daughter Lauren (Emma Tremblay) and the Judge get along just fine.

It's times like this that bring conflicted family closer together. And that's important, because the trial is pretty rough.

Also considered for the role of Judge Palmer were Jack Nicholson and Tommy Lee Jones. Elizabeth Banks was Vera Farmiga’s competition for the role of Samantha Powell.

Despite its high audience approval ratings, The Judge only did okay at the box office, bringing in $83.7 million against its estimated $50-million budget. Robert Duvall was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar (his seventh acting nomination).

Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall are good, really good. But … everything is pretty much predictable and not very surprising.

Grade: B+

Quotations I Like from the Film

Everyone wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in a bathtub.” – Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.)

You're a shined up wooden nickel, Mr Palmer. A bully with a bag of tricks. But unlike you, I have one simple belief. That the law is the only thing capable of making people equal.” – Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton)

Did you know ninety percent of the country believes in ghosts? Less than a third in evolution? Thirty-five percent can correctly identify Homer Simpson's fictional town in which he resides, less than one percent knows the name ‘Thurgood Marshall.’ But ... when you put twelve Americans together in a jury and you ask for justice? Something just south of brilliance happens. Often as not, they get it right.” – Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey Jr.)

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Cowboys (1972)

Gold rushes affect a lot of lives, but perhaps none more so than that of Montana rancher Wil Anderson (John Wayne). His ranch hands up and join a rush at the most inopportune moment – just before they're about to embark on a 400-mile long cattle drive to Belle Fourche.

Wil and storekeeper Anse Peterson (Slim Pickens) commiserate over a bottle. Then Anse has an idea as they pass a schoolhouse: Use schoolboys. So they check out the boys in class. The next morning, 10 inexperienced boys show up at the ranch, looking for work on the drive.

They're tested aboard an unbroken filly named Crazy Alice. None really wants to go first, but the oldest boy, Slim Honeycuttt (Robert Carradine, in his film debut) gives her a good ride. The others take their turn. An older boy, Cimarron (A Martinez), also shows up, and actually breaks Crazy Alice. Wil's not sure of him, and turns him loose after an altercation,

The next morning, Wil hires the schoolboys at $50 apiece, payable at the end of the drive. And the training begins.

The new driver team: Slim Honeycutt, Fats (Alfred Barker Jr.), Dan (Nicholas Beauvy), Steve (Steve Benedict), Weedy (Norman Howell), Charlie Schwarts (Stephen R. Hudis), Stuttering Bob (Sean Kelly), Hardy Fimps (Clay O’Brien), Jimmy Phillips (Sam O’Brien), and Homer Weems (Mike Pyeatt).

Asa Watts (Bruce Dern) and two riders show up and offer their services. But Wil catches him at a lie and turns him down. Jebediah “Jeb” Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne), a substitute black camp cook (the expected cook got drunk, and then got married), shows up and is accepted.

I love it when a drive begins – the majestic music, the hoof clops, the moos, the neighs. Move 'em out! Yee haw!

Cimmaron's watching and following, he still wants in. He gets his chance. The boys become good drivers; and, because boys will make mischief, they find Jeb's liquor stash. Sip, sip, swig, gurgle, drink ... Drunk. Hangover, castor oil. Watts shows up and threatens one of the boys. Then, a boy is trampled and dies. Jeb loses a wagon wheel and falls behind, unable to help when Webb makes his move.

It gets tragic, but thanks to Jeb's plan, Webb and his men get what's coming to them.

Director Mark Rydell actually wanted George C. Scott for the Wil Anderson part (he hated John Wayne’s right-wing Vietnam War views), but gave in when Wayne pleaded with him for the role. A face that would later become very familiar – Richard Farnsworth is a member of Asa Watt’s gang.

Based on William Dale Jennings' 1971 novel, The Cowboys was criticized for implying that boys become men through acts of violence and vengeance. Me? I kind of liked the way it played out. Produced on a $6-million budget, The Cowboys earned $7.5 million at the box office.

The Cowboys became a half-hour television series on ABC. A Martinez, Robert Carradine, Sean Kelly and Clay O’Brien were part of the cast that starred Jim Davis, Diana Douglas and Moses Bun.

It's a good, old-fashioned western with the little twist, at a time when westerns were more simpatico than westerns.

Grade: A-

Quotations I Like from the Film

"Doesn't anyone larger wanna work for you?" – Jebediah “Jeb” Nightlinger (Roscoe Lee Browne)

It’s not how you’re buried, it’s how you’re remembered.” – Wil Anderson (John Wayne)

Big mouth don’t make a big man.” – Wil Anderson (John Wayne)

Friday, June 26, 2015

Legendary Amazons (2011)

Legendary Amazons is based on the Chinese stories of the Yang Clan Generals, and is set during the 11th-Century reign of Song Dynasty Emperor Renzong.

The Song Dynasty is invaded by the rival state of Western Xia. And in a brutal border fight, Yang Zongbao (Richie Jen) releases his carrier pigeon an sends it on its way to his wife, Mu Guiying (Cecilia Cheung). Mu understands the significance of the pigeon's arrival and reminisces about how they met.

Zongbao is the last Yang clan male standing and apparently dies in battle when reinforcements are not forthcoming from the Imperial Tutor Pang (Ma Wu). So what do the women of the Yang clan do? They suit up, join a small army of 10,000 and follow the elder Yang women into battle.

The women warriors and their special weapons:
  • She Saihua (Cheng Pei-pei), dragon-head crutch
  • Mother Chai Qingyun (Liu Xiaquing)
  • Eldest sister Zhou Yunjing (Ge Chunyan), double-head spear
  • Zou Lanxiu (Oshima Yukai), curling dragon Bagua Broadsword
  • Second sister Geng Jinhua (Li Jing), double hooks
  • Third sister Dong Ye’e (Jin Qiaogiao), divine bow
  • Fourth sister Meng Jinbang (Yang Zitong), double hammers
  • Fifth sister Ma Saiying (Kathy Chao), double iron staffs
  • Seventh sister Huyan Chijin (Yu Na), double-hand broadsword
  • Eighth sister Yang Yanqi (Chen Zihan), Longquan Sword
  • Ninth sister Yang Yanhying (Liu Dong), Qixing Sword
  • Yang Jinhua (Wang Ti), spear

Zongbao's son, Yang Wenguang (Xiao Mingyu), wants to go too, but only after he defeats one of the sisters in a test. In a show of unity and loyalty, they cut their hair off.

In their first, brutal battle, they discover that Zongbao is still alive and must resist all urges to rescue him, because they realize it's a trap. Of course, the headstrong, foolhardy Wenguang strikes out on his own to save his father. Facing insurmountable odds, they fight heroically, but their losses are great.

It turns out that Zongbao has been leading and training other warriors against the invaders. That's fortunate, for there is another big battle on the horizon.

I don't know about this movie. At times, it excites like a Hollywood epic spectacle, but more than half the time, it's hilariously silly and inept. The battle scenes are at times mesmerizing (as in they put my mind in a daze and made me want to doze off). One thing about Chinese movies – you really have to pay attention. Take your eyes off the screen for even a mere moment, and you're lost. Plus, it's hard to keep track of all the characters' names.

Verdict? It's pretty average.

Grade: C

Quotations I like from the film

"Today we can light lanterns for them. But who will light them for us tomorrow? Let their souls protect the border forever!" – Yang Zongbao (Richie Jen)

"To serve the emperor is like living with a tiger. The danger is no less than that in the battlefield." – She Taijun (Cheng Pei-pei)

"From now on, you can only shed blood, not tears. There are no weak men in our family!" – Princess Chai Qingyun (Liu Xiaquing)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

You Were Never Lovelier (1942)

American dancer Robert “Bob” Davis (Fred Astaire) has a difficult time getting in to see wealthy Buenos Aires nightclub owner Eduardo Acuña (Adolphe Menjou). Why? Because, along with Aunt Maria Castro (Isobel Elsom), he's selecting a trousseau for his eldest daughter's wedding.

Eduardo has brought in Xavier Cugat (playing himself) and his orchestra (themselves) to play at the wedding. Cugat, a friend of Bob, works him into the act to "audition" for Eduardo. Bob bumps into Eduordo's daughter Maria (Rita Hayworth), who's next in line to marry. He comes on to her, but she ices him.

The younger daughters – Cecy and Lita (Leslie Brooks and Adele Mara) – can’t get married to their boyfriends until Maria is married. Maria has no interest in marrying, which worries father. But he has an idea. He manufactures an admirer ... orchids and love notes, day after day.

Then one day, Bob walks into Eduardo's office at the right time and ends up delivering the orchids and note. Maria spots him and falls hard, which really complicates matters for Eduardo, who has just tossed him out of the office ... again. Eduardo convinces him to continue the deception, get her disillusioned, and then drop her kindly.

That doesn't work, of course, no matter the complications Eduardo puts them through.

Highlighting You Were Never Lovelier are the music of Cugat's orchestra and Fred Astaire's singing and dancing. Rita Hayworth isn't bad, either, particularly in the "I'm Old Fashioned" number, which became one of Fred Astaire's best-known dances. Her performance in "The Shorty George" number is quite breathtaking. Hayworth actually was Astaire's favorite dance partner.

Interesting trivia: Fred Astaire and Rita Hayworth did their rehearsals above a funeral parlor. Nan Wynn dubbed Rita Hayworth’s singing. You Were Never Lovelier was Rita Hayworth’s favorite film. Fidel Castro, then 15, was an extra somewhere in the film.

Something strange: When Bob Davis (Astaire) tap dances in Acuña’s office, his taps sound the same on both the hardwood floor and the throw rug. Huh?

You Were Never Lovelier was nominated for three Academy Awards: Music (Scoring of a Musical Picture), Music (Song), and Sound Recording.

Grade: B+

Quotations I Like from the Film

I wish you wouldn’t speak while I’m interrupting.” – Mrs. Delfina Acuña (Barbara Brown)

Would it be rude of me to inquire if there is any insanity in your family?” – Robert “Bob” Davis (Fred Astaire)

"You're as beautiful as ever, my dear. It just takes longer now." – Eduardo Acuña (Adolphe Menjou)

Just think, papa, you’ve been married longer than we’ve lived!” – Lita Acuña (Adele Mara)

Monday, June 22, 2015

12 Years a Slave (2013)

Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiifor) has it pretty good for a black man in pre-Civil War Saratoga, New York. He was born a free man, he's a talented violinist, he wears fine clothes, and he has a wife, son and daughter.

That is, until he puts his trust in a couple of fast-talking, unscrupulous circus promoters, only to wake up in Washington, D.C. and find himself in chains. After a bout of over-imbibing, he'd been sold to slavers.

Solomon's life turns into a living hell when he and five others, including two children, are sent to New Orleans, where he and four others are bought by slave trader Theophilus Freeman (Paul Giamatti)).

Solomon, now called Platt, and the two children's mother, Eliza, are sold to lumber miller William Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) and work under foreman John Tibeats (Paul Dano). Solomon proves his smarts, which irritates the hell out of jealous Tibeats. The two eventually clash, and to protect him, Ford reluctantly transfers his debt to cotton planter Edwin Epps (Michael Fassbender).

A slave girl named Patsey (Lupito Nyong'o) outpicks the men and catches Epps' eye, which upsets his wife, (Sarah Paulson). Immensely attracted to her, Epps takes advantage of Patsey. Distraught, Patsey turns to Solomon for help ending her miserable life. He refuses.

When pests ruin his crop, Epps places the men temporarily with Judge Turner (Bryan Batt), a sugar cane plantation owner. When the "plague" lifts, the slaves are sent back to Epps. Life is rough once again, but Solomon perseveres.

He gets some sympathy and help from Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt), a white carpenter who doesn't believe in slavery. It takes a while, and the path is horrid, but help eventually comes his way.

Michael Fassbender's character, Edwin Epps, was an alcoholic, so Fassbender had his makeup artist paint his mustache with alcohol to induce natural revulsion from his co-actors in scenes they had together. Vera Farmiga wanted, and auditioned for, the role of Mary Epps, but lost out to Sarah Paulson.

Based on Solomon Northrop's 1853 memoir, 12 Years a Slave was produced on a $22-million budget and enjoyed a big box office of $187.7 million. 12 Years a Slave was nominated for nine Academy Awards. It won three: Best Actress (Lupito Nyong'o, in her feature film debut), Best Screenplay, and Best Picture, the first to do so with Arabic numbers (not Roman numerals) in the title.

Personally, I thought Michael Fassbender did a terrific job as the cruel and horrid Edwin Epps. If there’s anyone who should have won an Oscar, it’s Fassbender, who was nominated for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role.

Anyone offended by the overt use of the "N" word, or blacks being called "boy," or severe and ruthless abuse of black slaves, or naked blacks being shamed, should steer away from this movie. But no matter how one may try to avoid and ignore it, that's the way it was back then.

12 Years a Slave is a pretty good movie, touching at the end, but it's not top shelf in my book.

Grade: B+

Quotations I Like from the Film

"Laws change. Social systems crumble. Universal truths are constant. It's a fact, it is plain fact that what is true and right is true and right for all. White and Black alike." – Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt)

"I don't want to survive. I want to live." – Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejiifor)

"Survival is not about certain death, it's about keeping your head down." – Clemens (Chris Chalk)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)

Dr. Who (Peter Cushing) and his granddaughters – Barbara (Jennie Linden) and her younger sister, Susan (Roberta Tovey) – are flung to another world when Barbara's boyfriend, Ian (Roy Castle), accidentally messes up inside the Doctor's time machine and spacecraft.

(The TARDIS – Time And Relative Dimension In Space – was created by the Time Lords, of which the Doctor is a member.)

The four, including Ian, end up in a petrified jungle. Dr. Who says he needs mercury to make the TARDIS work again, which compels them to search a nearby city. They are soon confronted by Daleks, who look like colorful elongated gumdrops with blinking lights.

The travelers are told the Daleks were involved in a nuclear war with the Thals. The Thals stayed outside and had an anti-radiation drug to survive. The vulnerable Daleks had to retreat to the cities in their protective suits.

Susan is allowed to go out and retrieve vials left for them by Alydon (Barrie Ingham), a friendly Thal. In exchange, the Daleks will return the Mercury dial they took from Dr. Who. But the conniving Daleks have something diabolical and ruthless in mind. They want to eliminate the friendly humanoid Thals.

When the Dalek plan fails disastrously, they decide to nuke the entire planet to get rid of the Thals, since they themselves will remain safe within the confines of the city. Dr. Who urges the Thal to fight back for their race.

Can the plan be foiled? Will the travelers return home? For the answer to the first question, you'll have to watch the movie, because I'm not telling. For the answer to the second question, there was a sequel, y'know.

The Dr. No sets are quite quaint, simplistic '60s-style, as the special effects (bring on the lava lamps!) were done in-camera. CGI was yet to be conceived.

Dancers were used to play stunt/extra Daleks when large numbers were needed. The male Thal extras received a special fee for having the chest and arm hair shaved. Speaking of fees, 11-year-old Roberta Tovey received a shilling (5 pence) whenever she aced a scene in one take. She made a lot of money, so much that director Gordon Flemying didn’t repeat the offer for the sequel.

The opening scene is funny. Both of the girls are engrossed in reading science books; Dr. Who is buried in a comic book.

Dr. Who and the Daleks was based on the BBC-TV serial, Doctor Who, and was followed in 1966 by Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. This 1965 film is actually a remake of the 1963-1964 Doctor Who TV serial episode “The Daleks.” In the TV series at the time, the Doctor was an alien time-traveler from Gallifrey.

Grade: B

Quotations I Like from the Film

"You are different from them. And they are afraid of anything different. And what people are afraid of, they try to destroy." – Dr. Who (Peter Cushing)

"We are a peaceful people. We see no reason to kill others." – Alydon (Michael Coles)

"In one hour, we will be sole masters of this planet!" – Dalek leader (unidentified)