July 31, 2005

A weakness for westerns (and Ann Margaret)

There was really no reason for me to pick up The Train Robbers, a 1973 John Wayne western, other than the fact it was a western, for which I have a weakness.

But ... in the interests of full disclosure I must say - Ann Margaret? 1973? Well!

Who could resist the Ann Margaret of the 1970's?

Not that there's anything salacious in the film. It is a John Wayne movie after all. Still, Margaret plays a pretty good drunk in one of the campfire scenes.

And the movie overall ... well, it's good but forgettable. Except for one aspect - the look. I just loved the way this movie was shot. Director Burt Kennedy appears to have had a very definite look in mind.

Anyway ... Enough blah blah here. I've uploaded my review of The Train Robbers.

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July 30, 2005

Getting reacquainted with William Powell

I’ve fallen behind in quite a few things this week but I thought it worth taking a moment to point out a few William Powell things, such as a William Powell Tribute over at Classic Movies. (I had no idea he started out playing bad guys in silent movies.)

There are a couple of reasons why I find Powell worth looking at now. For one, he’s one of my favourites of the old Hollywood stars. (As I’ve mentioned before, he stars in my favourite movie, My Man Godfrey with Carole Lombard.)

But also, on Tuesday (August 2nd) Warners releases The Complete Thin Man Collection on DVD. I’ve mentioned this several times – but that’s because I’m pretty jazzed about this one. (For those interested, have a look at DVD Town's review by John Puccio.)

In the meantime, and for what it’s worth, here’s what I scribbled about a couple of great William Powell movies:

- My Man Godfrey (1936)
- The Thin Man (1934)

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July 24, 2005

For the record, I love Finding Neverland

Just in case I don't ever get around to writing a review of Finding Neverland, I'd like to say I've watched it three times already (or is it four?) and have loved it each time.

Don't let the fact that it is "sweet" throw you ... It's a very good film about creativity, imagination and childhood, but from an adult perspective.

And it somehow manages to be a great film despite all that! How'd they manage to do that?

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July 17, 2005

Million Dollar Baby is great cinema

Although he's one of my favourite directors I can never think of anything to write about Clint Eastwood's movies.

Which is why my take on Million Dollar Baby comes across as less than my best effort.

I think the problem is that I like the movies so much, they work so well as good, engaging stories, I forget I'm watching a movie.

In the case of Million Dollar Baby, I think it's one of the best movies of the last few years. I think it's this good because it is such a well told story. It's remarkably well constructed, well-performed and effortlessly executed. And there is no cinematic flim-flam to oversell it as an "important" movie.

It's just there. And it's great. And here's my review.

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July 11, 2005

Bad Day makes for a good night

I just watched Bad Day at Black Rock (1955, directed by John Sturges). It wasn't good.

It was great.

It isn't just that it's a good story, a kind of western that isn't a western (yes, I know that makes no sense - but it does when you see it). It's such a well-executed film. It's so well-constructed, so well put together, it's a great pleasure to watch.

I know I threaten to write reviews here in The Burble all the time ... but never follow through. But this time, yes, I promise to scratch out something on this movie because it is so good.

At least, I think it is. And, dammit, I'm right. Very highly recommended.

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July 10, 2005

The Thin Man collects himself

The Thin Man poster
Good grief ... Can I possibly resist this? Not likely. Set for release August 2nd from Warner Bros., The Thin Man Collection.

Now this really is classic stuff with William Powell and Myrna Loy. The downside, for me, is that it includes The Thin Man, which I already have. This is a very sneaky twist on the DVD double dip.

Still, This is a seven disc collection. At least, it's billed as such. Since I've seen only six movies listed I'm assuming the seventh disc must be a special features one. Based on what Warners included on The Errol Flynn Signature Collection, I'm hopeful it will be good.

Here are the six movies the set includes:

- The Thin Man
- After the Thin Man
- Another Thin Man
- Shadow of the Thin Man
- The Thin Man Goes Home
- Song of the Thin Man

Update: According to one review on Amazon.com the seventh disc containing special features is, "... entitled 'Alias Nick and Nora,' with two documentaries on William Powell and Myrna Loy. Other highlights are two radio adaptations of the series, as well as comedy, musical and mystery shorts, and cartoons ..."

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Something is missing from Meet the Fockers

Meet the FockersI just watched Meet the Fockers and I think I've figured out at least one of the problems with the Meet the Parents movies.

First of all, it has to be said that both movies begin with a great comic premise. In fact, the premise alone is enough to draw you into seeing the movies - or at least, it should. Secondly, it's important to say that both movies (Meet the Parents and Meet the Fockers) are good, comic movies. They are definitely worth seeing.

But for me, in both cases, they fall short. And I've been scratching my head trying to figure out why.

While I don't think it's the only reason, one of the problems for me is the Ben Stiller character. For the most part, the movies use him as a prop rather than as a character. This is highlighted in Meet the Fockers in the jail scene where we finally see his character, Greg Focker, stop being a prop - someone to whom bad things happen - and step up to assert himself.

It's not simply that he's asserting himself in the scene, it's that we finally see something more than a schmoe to whom bad things happen.

I'm not saying he should be Hamlet. But until this scene occurs, while the movie's various comic scenes are amusing, there's not much to make it a compelling story.

I dunno. While I like both movies, both miss the mark for me because I'm never fully engaged. And I think the reason is because they make Stiller's Greg the focal point of the movie without making him particularly interesting. And I think this essentially a script problem.

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July 9, 2005

Melodramatic noir - Crawford, Curtiz and Mildred Pierce

With Warner recently releasing (and re-releasing) a number of older Hollywood movies, individually and in sets (such as The Bette Davis Collection, The Joan Crawford Collection and The Complete James Dean Collection), I thought it worthwhile to take a second look at some of those movies I already had.

A few days ago I re-highlighted the review I did a while ago of Now, Voyager (Bette Davis). Now, I thought I'd highlight Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford), a much better film and one definitely worth seeing, if you haven't already. (If you have seen it, then I'd say it's worth a second look now.) It's directed by Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Hood).

For lack of a better term, I'd call it melodramatic noir. While a soap opera-ish quality mixed with noir may not seem the best blend, the result is not disagreeable. In fact, it works in an odd way. And Crawford gives a marvellous performance as Mildred, a mother obsessed with giving her bitchy daughter everything she wants.

I've got my review here.

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Briefly, I sing the praises of Tony Scott

I just finishing watching Crimson Tide and you know ... I saw it back when it came out in 1995, I've seen it several times since, and I've just seen it again. And every time I do I like it.

It's good as an action movie. But it's better than the usual run of action movies. There is a real story and very compelling characters (portrayed by Gene Hackman and Denzel Washington).

Actually, I watched this movie yet again because it was directed by Tony Scott (True Romance). And the only reason I bring that up is because a day or two ago I rewatched (yet again) Man On Fire, which I really like. And will hopefully scribble something about in a day or two.

Anyway ... want to see three really good, fast-paced yet involving movies? Try: Crimson Tide, True Romance or Man On Fire.

Better yet, try them all.

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July 8, 2005

A lousy week for movies on DVD

The pickin's are slim this week as far as recent DVD releases go. (They've been this way in most recent weeks.) This may partly explain why I've been so engaged by the the first season of Bewitched.

But when new releases kind of suck it's not necessarily a bad thing.

It's a chance to go back to some DVDs that have been out for a while and enjoy them - because they are worth seeing again.

One that comes to mind is Arsenic and Old Lace, an old Frank Capra film from 1944. As DVDs go, it won't win any awards for special features and so on. But it's a damn fine movie. Very funny. In black and white and starring Cary Grant, who I've always liked (and have mentioned several times).

So do yourself a favour and give it a gander. Here's my review.

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July 4, 2005

Bring a hankie for Now, Voyager

It's essentially a soap opera of the 1940's Hollywood variety. And while I wouldn't normally find that terribly appealing, I liked Now, Voyager (starring Bette Davis).

It's available individually or in The Bette Davis Collection boxed set. The collection is a bit annoying to me given that at least two of the movies included (Now, Voyager and Dark Victory) had been previously available ... and I have both. So the set is a waste of time for me.

Getting back to Now, Voyager ... Back when I first got the disc, a couple of years ago, I wrote a short review of it.

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Twentieth Century and ... Gina Lollobrigida?

I have no idea why, and I couldn't be bothered looking into it to come up with an answer, but when I did a general search on IMDb.com for Twentieth Century (thinking I'd get the 1934 movie) the first result was Gina Lollobrigida.

Not that I object to Gina Lollobrigida. When I was hitting puberty she was one of those celebrity women I thought was hotter than a pistol. In fact, the Gina Lollobrigida of my imagination is still hotter than a pistol.

But I've no idea why her name came up when I was searching Twentieth Century.

And all of the above is my way of getting around to saying I watched Howard Hawk's Twentieth Century tonight. And I'm still mulling it over as try to figure out what I think about it. More importantly, how I feel about it.

I don't think it was as good as I was hoping, as good as I was led to believe. But that doesn't mean it wasn't good ... just not up to what I had been expecting.

But I'm still thinking this one over.

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July 3, 2005

Stripes extended is very annoying

An extended version of the 1981 movie Stripes seems like ... umm, well there's sort of a sado-masochistic quality to it. I mean, when I saw there was an extended version my first question was, "Whatever for?"

Having seen Stripes - Extended Cut, I'm even more puzzled. This is not a great movie. So the idea of extending something that was dragging to begin with strikes me as an unnecessarily painful exercise.

Granted, the movie has moments. The problem is, that is all it has. Between those moments are some pretty dreary bits connecting them (and I use the word "connecting" very loosely).

My favourite part of the entire movie is John Candy. How I wish there had been more with him. Seeing him here reminded me of just how good he was and how I wish he had lived longer to make more films.

Bill Murray is also quite good. You can see him doing the obligatory "Bill Murray" performance, meeting expectations so to speak, but you also see him attempting to do something more within the limitations of what the film allowed. There's the very good scene with Murray and Warren Oates ("You want to take a swing at me?") that is more dramatic than comic - it makes you wish there had been more moments like this to put more meat on this movie's skinny bones.

This looks like, and comes across as, a movie by very young, inexperienced filmmakers, people who have good instincts (especially comic instincts) but who haven't yet figured out how to make the pieces cohere. They've understood from movies like Animal House that "slob jokes" have worked for them, but haven't yet figured out how to craft that kind of comic sensibility into a fully realized movie.

Basically, their storytelling abilities haven't matured yet.

As for the DVD

I don't know what they were thinking when they put this DVD together but it certainly wasn't the viewer. If you watch the extended version, every time an added scene begins text appears at the bottom of screen announcing it. It apears again when the added scene ends.

This is incredibly annoying and serves only to disrupt the film. It's also unncessary given that the added scenes are not of the same picture quality as the rest of the film. In other words, they look different (less clean) so you can tell they are added scenes. (I have to be honest - I only watched the first one. I couldn't bring myself to watch a movie that had text introducing certain scenes so I switched to the theatrical version. It should also be pointed out that the added scenes can be watched separately in the special features.)

Then there is the theatrical version of the movie ... It keeps freezing for a moment every time an added scene has been included in the extended version.

The end result is neither version of the movie is very good from a movie watching perspective. In both cases, the flow of the film is disrupted - either by text announcing scenes in the extended version, or brief pauses in the theatrical version.

For me, the best part of this disc was the two part documentary of the film's making, "Stars and Stripes." It's quite good.

Out of five stars, I would give Stripes - Extended Cut two.

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July 2, 2005

Errol Flynn's wicked ways - book review

I finished reading Errol Flynn's autobiography My Wicked, Wicked Ways and I loved it. I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants an entertaining read.

Flynn comes across as a great raconteur, a teller of tall tales. His favourite subject is himself but, that's to be expected I suppose in an autobiography.

He may not be the most reliable authority on Hollywood, but he's certainly the most fun. His style is breezy and funny.

So ... I've updated and added to what I wrote earlier (now that I've finished the book) and have posted it as a book review.

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