Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Jeff's #86: Rio Grande

#86: Rio Grande (John Ford, 1950)

For some reason, I couldn't get the movie poster to paste on here.  Oh well.  I love John Ford.  Along with Hitchcock, he may appear on my list more times than any other filmmaker.  Some days, I truly feel like he is my favorite.

I wish I had watched this again, so that I could say more about it.  But, I do think it is underrated and one of Ford's best films.  Every shot is essentially perfect- the work of an absolute expert.  I love the central conflict between duty and family and the way it depicts the initial hesitancy of reunion as the characters slowly learn to embrace reconciliation.  It also features the first pairing between Wayne and O'Hara, one of cinema's finest couples.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Brandon's #84: Schindler's List (Steven Spielberg, 1993)

Jeff brought it to my attention that there are a sect of people who think this movie is too upbeat. I've never been shy about questioning the motivations behind pack verdicts. I think the stigma surrounding both the director and the best pic win play a larger roll. Some of us prefer the underdogs. But assuming some truly penalize this for being too existentially soft, I submit the scene when the women, recently purchased and thus saved from Auschwitz, are separated from their children. Schindler swoops in and offers some bogus excuse regarding the size of their hands and cleaning artillery shells. They are saved. They board the train and it departs, but Spielberg lingers on the people entering the death camp, people that Schindler was given the chance to save instead. It's a Bunuelian moment, one poor creature saved whilst one is led cruelly to its doom.

It's not that I give a shit if the populist iconoclast interjects enough pessimism and gloom to the proceedings (though he does). He's crafted an exquisite document of the best and worst of humanity.

I know its problems, like all of the director's films there is an impulse to skew facts, lighten the overall load, rectify the ugliness. I don't ask for perfection. I accept his optimism. The greatness outweighs the slag.

At the end of the day, this is a film about survival, the moral burden of survival. It's about the wounds that probably won't heal. I find it very moving and that's enough.

Jeff's #87: Hail the Conquering Hero

#87: Hail the Conquering Hero (Preston Sturges, 1944)

Sorry for disappearing on here for the past few weeks.  Unfortunately, I've been going through some rough personal stuff and have spent the last couple weeks reeling and recovering, but happy to say that I'm in much better spot now.  I'm a little too far behind to do lengthy write-ups for each catch-up pick, so I'll just post my belated picks with a sentence or two for now.  Once I'm caught back up, I'll do my best to resume normal writing.  Glad to be back.

Didn't get a chance to rewatch this, but I've long considered it my favorite Sturges film.  Not sure if it's his best, but it wins out in my book for the incredibly sweet nature and compassion it boasts underneath all of the zaniness.  Plus, Ella Raines.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Chris' #83: Road to Utopia (Hal Walker, 1946)

Starring: Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Dorothy Lamour, Robert Benchley
Director: Hal Walker
Writers: Norman Panama, Melvin Frank
Release Date: February 27, 1946

Quick Synopsis: At the turn of the century, Duke and Chester, two vaudeville performers, go to Alaska to make their fortune.

First Time
I didn't see any mention of this film on my old CR5FC blog, but I have to imagine it was sometime in 2012. Jeff has that On the Road with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope Collection on DVD, so I watched his copy.

Why it's on the List
I'll be honest; I took a stab in the dark here by listing Road to Utopia ahead of The Paleface. When I made my list, I hadn't seen either in years and based the order off of memory alone. I also assumed that Bing and Bob would outrank Bob and Jane Russell, and I have to admit now that this was the wrong call (for me). After rewatching both this weekend, I enjoyed The Paleface more.

Don't get me wrong, Road to Utopia is also a lot of fun and I do enjoy it. It's not as if I'll move this down my list; rather, I'll probably move The Paleface, Gremlins 2, and Big Trouble in Little China up.

A big reason why The Paleface works so well is due to the audience's investment in both Bob Hope and Jane Russell. When Bob isn't in a scene, Jane carries the film (and vice versa). For most of Road to Utopia, Bob and Bing share the screen. In the moments when only one is on screen, it obviously still works. But when neither are featured, I tended to get distracted during my rewatch this morning.

I also don't mean to offend Dorothy Lamour in this way; I do like her quite a bit. She's great in the other Road pictures and My Favorite Brunette as well. Her talent as an actor and a singer are unquestioned. And there's no reason to compare Lamour and Jane Russell, but after pulling off this double-feature, it feels difficult to avoid. Jane Russell is so much more dynamic, though Lamour does have that double-threat quality.

This is an unorthodox write-up; I shouldn't spend too much time talking about how I like other movies more, especially since there is a lot to appreciate about Road to Utopia. This is the only Road representative on my list, and of the ones I've seen, it is my favorite (though I'd be nice to truly confirm that with a marathon). If memory serves, this is definitely the zaniest and most meta of the franchise. I love in the inclusion of Robert Benchley as the narrator. That kind of call seems way ahead of its time.

As I wrote yesterday, Hope plays off of other actors so well, and the partnership of Bing and Bob is one of the best on-screen pairings of all-time. The banter is top-notch, and I love that they frequently take shots at each other's characters and real-life personas. Bing and Bob movies ooze competition, and because they both have very different qualities to offer, it's always captivating.

Bing Crosby's voice is so soothing and melodic. Last year, my grandfather was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. Thankfully he's still with us, but whenever I see or hear Bing Crosby, I'll think of my grandfather for the rest of my life. Bing is his favorite singer. These old movies are a great way to bridge the gap between generations. When I told my grandfather that I liked the Road movies a few months back, his face lit up. My dad's side of the family is of Irish descent, so of course they have more love for Bing than Dean Martin or Frank Sinatra. (I don't have the heart to tell them that Dean is my favorite of the three, ha.)

And speaking of Sinatra, I love the joke about him in this (at the expense of Bing Crosby). I also how big they go with this script - talking animals, references to the studio, etc. Unless I'm missing something, there were three more Road movies after this one (none of which I've actually seen, I'm pretty sure), but Road to Utopia has that kitchen sink vibe to it. The film is jam-packed, and it feels like a fitting culmination of the franchise.

Additional Notes/Stats

  • I'd like to add more Bob Hope to the next iteration of my top 100. Brandon brought up The Princess and the Pirate in the comments section of my Paleface write-up; I want to rewatch that and many others, in addition to seeing more in general.
  • This is it for Bing Crosby. Holiday Inn stands out in my mind as another one of best. But feel free to send me other deep-cut recommendations.

Jeff's #88: Grave of the Fireflies

Jeff's #88: Grave of the Fireflies (Isao Takahata, 1988)

This came out the year I was born, but I only saw it for the first time a few years ago.  I first watched the Japanese version with English subtitles (the superior viewing experience), but there is a free English-dubbed version available to download on Archive.org, so thankfully I was able to download and rewatch.  Here's the link to the download if anyone's interested.  If you've seen it, you're fully aware that it lives up to its reputation as one of the saddest movies ever made.  If you haven't seen it, be prepared - it's achingly tragic.

You probably only ever need to see GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES once, but I'm glad I rewatched it. This time around I was mostly struck by its use of silence and stillness and the gleeful moments of childish play.  It's partially an anti-war film, but I think it's even more general than that.  It's a cry for compassion and goodwill towards our fellow human beings on earth, especially all of the children around us who are so vulnerable.  The lives of the two children in GOTF are as fragile and fleeting as fireflies.  They burn at dusk with a momentary radiance and then extinguish in the morning light.  No one in their isolating, war-ridden community seems to notice or care.  How precious their lives are.  How tragic they have been made so expendable.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Chris' #84: The Paleface (Norman McLeod, 1948)

Starring: Bob Hope, Jane Russell, Robert Armstrong, Iris Adrian
Director: Norman Z. McLeod
Writers: Jack Rose, Melville Shavelson
Release Date: December 24, 1948

Quick Synopsis: Calamity Jane is dispatched to find out who's smuggling rifles to Native Americans, and winds up married to a hapless correspondence school dentist as part of her cover.

First Time
March 2012. It was a Netflix DVD rental and I may have watched this one with Jeff? I can't remember. Between late 2011 and early 2012, I was on big Bob Hope kick and saw many of his movies for the first time.

Why it's on the List
I love Bob Hope. How could you not? I love his cowardly movie persona and it'll never feel stale to me. His physical appearance, his voice, his delivery--they're all wrapped up in a great comedic package. He's one of my favorite performers of all-time, and if I'm ever in a bad mood, all I have to do is put on a Bob Hope movie to get out of it.

Another great thing about Bob is that he plays off of other actors so well; The Paleface is a prime example of this. Pairing Bob's cowardice with the true grit of Jane Russell is a match made in heaven. I haven't seen Russell in much, but every time I have, she's been amazing. To be pervy for a second (I'm adopting that from Brandon since it's accurate here), she's obviously very sexy in this. But more than that, I like her whole vibe; she's a badass who's perfect for the role of Calamity Jane.

Hope gets top billing in this, but I like that he and Russell both have their own storylines and character arcs. The romance between the two isn't overdone; Russell's feelings for Hope play out in a very natural way. There isn't a scene where Calamity Jane confides in someone that she's developing a fondness for "Painless" Potter. The script doesn't patronize the audience in that way.

My favorite moments occur when our two characters arrive in Buffalo Flats. Hope then gets to play the role of an intrepid cowboy, and it's very well done and hilarious. I regret not writing down my favorite jokes when I rewatched it this morning, but that entire sequence had me laughing a ton.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is one of two Bob Hope movies on my list. I'll be writing about the another one tomorrow. I could have easily added more, but ultimately I decided to go with my top two for this list.
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is another great Jane Russell movie, but it didn't make my list. This is it for her, and really, I need to see more of her work. His Kind of Woman and Double Dynamite look interesting.
  • I haven't seen the sequel, Son of Paleface, nor the 1922 Paleface with Buster Keaton.

JRO's #84: Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963)

I'm not sure why I picked this one. I think it was just a dumb mistake. 7th Voyage of Sinbad was actually the more influential and more watched film of my childhood. I think I meant to put that one on the list, but somehow wrote Jason and the Argonauts instead. Sinbad should be here. Or maybe it's a tie. The thing about both Jason and Sinbad is that they're both not so great as movies. The scripts are bad to okay. The acting is bad to okay. But none of that matters. Because the reason this film is on the list is the obvious reason that this film makes it on any list: Ray Harryhausen's magic effects. Another honorable mention is Valley of Gwangi.

JRO's #85: Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock, 1951)


'nuff said.

JRO's #86: Decision at Sundown (Budd Boetticher, 1957)

It's a happy coincidence that Brandon and I chose a Boetticher film for #86. My list has been set in stone since I first made it so I'm not simply responding to his pick.

This is the only Boetticher on my list, but I maybe would have made room for all of them if I had re-watched them. I've only seen them all once (and by "all," I mean the five in the boxed set I have).

I did re-watch this one.

But I'm behind on posting here and just need to put up my picks instead of stressing about writing about them.

Decision is a revenge picture. I like it as much as I do because of how things shake out at the end. Frustrated and frustrating, the ending is satisfying.

'nuff said.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Chris' #85: Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter, 1986)

Starring: Kurt Russell, Kim Cattrall, Dennis Dun, James Hong, Victor Wong, Suzee Pai
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Gary Goldman, David Z. Weinstein, Adaptation: W.D. Richter
Release Date: July 1, 1986

Quick Plot Synopsis: Uhhh....

First Time
Last year, around the same time as my first viewing of Pretty in Pink. Again, I was trying to catch up on 80s movies that I had missed. But I did see various scenes of Big Trouble in Little China before then. I remember catching some of it at Brandon's old place a few years back.

Why it's on the List
Big Trouble in Little China is a film that is very confident with its identity. It's intentionally trashy, action-packed, and hilarious--with the perfect balance of each. I'm not a big fan of action movies, but because BTiLC approaches the genre with a consistent level of humor and self-awareness, I find it very palatable.

I never truly appreciated Kurt Russell until I saw this from beginning to end. He's perfect, and I can't imagine that he gives a better performance in anything else (but feel free to let me know if you disagree). As Jack Burton, Russell pulls off one of the greatest John Wayne impressions ever, albeit a parody version.

Jack Burton is also the perfect embodiment of the United States. He's confident, even though he doesn't understand much of what is going on, and when the fighting starts, he's either unconscious or too busy trying to push a dead body off of himself. I love the fact that even though Jack Burton talks and acts like an action hero, he really isn't one.

Not only does Russell get to play a John Wayne-type in this, but he also gets to act like a square, in the form of Henry Swanson.

This scene is a lot of fun and it'll amuse me every time.

But Russell isn't the only one who shines in this; Dennis Dun also does a tremendous job. The two actors make a great team, but Dun's charisma and likability allow him to easily hold his own. And while I've never been much a Kim Cattrall fan (not that I've really seen her in anything anyway), I love her in this. Sure she's attractive, but she's also very cool in this. She's perfect for the role of Gracie Law. I love her tough and assured demeanor. 

The dialogue in this rules, with such great lines as, "You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we're not back by dawn...call the president," and "May the wings of liberty never lose a feather." Moments of exposition are equally entertaining; for example, when Lo Pan is discussed for the first time: "You mean the Lo Pan that's chairman of the National Orient Bank and owns the Wing Kong Trading Company, but who's so reclusive that no one has laid eyes on him in years?" Exposition is best when it's this detailed and over the top.

I also shouldn't fail to mention the special effects, the set design, and the costumes in this. Great work all around, especially the effects, which is obviously Carpenter's specialty. There's a lot to highlight, but when old Lo Pan's head glows a bright red, it looks amazing.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the only John Carpenter movie on my list. Halloween is great, but it's on my 200-101list for now. I am trying to catch up on more of Carpenter's work. I'm a newfound horror fan.
  • Kurt Russell won't be making another appearance on my list, I'm sorry to say. I really want to rewatch Death Proof.
  • Dennis Dun should be getting more work. I see that he was on the short-lived HBO series Luck, but I've never seen an episode of it.
  • Every time I watch this movie, I enjoy it a little bit more...so this will probably move up my list.
  • There are talks of a Dwayne Johnson remake of this movie...ugh.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Brandon's #85: Underworld U.S.A. (Sam Fuller, 1961)

"Sam Fuller made a film as good as he talked it." That was Martin Scorsese talking about his hero on the DVD for UNDERWORLD U.S.A., the movie that I think finds him comfy in that perfect balance between nutty and in complete control. I debated using THE STEEL HELMET or MERRILL'S MARAUDERS, even PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET, FORTY GUNS, WHITE DOG, THE BIG RED ONE, THE NAKED KISS, and RUN OF THE ARROW would suffice. Fuller had many famous peers worshipping him; Godard, Truffaut, Eastwood, Wenders, Rohmer, Spielberg, and Tarantino, who dedicated JACKIE BROWN to him in 1997, the year of his death. He was one of the best, not just celebrated for his unhinged approach to everything. There is a true balance to the chaos.

Fuller was a crime reporter at 17, ten years later he was fighting in the second Great War, where he earned a Bronze Star, Silver Star, and Purple Heart. He wrote pulp novels and screenplays before directing. His movies were alive and busy. The violence was always a little horrific and even scary. The characters were damaged goods, almost always doomed. He saw it all and spared us none of it, the ugliest of us especially.

I first saw a Fuller film when I was ten, THE BIG RED ONE, where I remembered two things: Mark Hamill and some guy getting his dick blown off. I've now seen most of his work, though I'd love to give SHOCK CORRIDOR, THE NAKED KISS, and HOUSE OF BAMBOO another glance. I chose UNDERWORLD U.S.A. for now. That's the beauty of this wing-it method.

It's a revenge-driven plot, of the chilliest order. The kind where our hero befriends and betrays, gets up real close and then turns the knife. If the mob wasn't so much worse we might actually object, but these are the kind of gangsters that wipe out women and children so it's easy to relish the carnage. In the midst of such evil, you kinda need a nut like Tolly to bring balance and order back. I think I probably prefer THE STEEL HELMET so maybe we will revisit our beloved Uncle Sam.

Chris' #86: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Joe Dante, 1990)

Starring: Zach Galligan, Phoebe Cates, John Glover, Robert J. Prosky, Robert Picardo, Christopher Lee
Director: Joe Dante
Writer: Charles S. Haas
Release Date: June 15, 1990

First Time
I don't remember the exact year, but it was sometime in the early 90s. There's a good chance that this was the only Gremlins movie I saw when I was younger. I watched both movies last year and pretty much all of the first one felt very new to me.

Why it's on the List
In my ET write-up, I mentioned that there was another instance on my list of a creature being dressed up as woman that creeped me out back in the day. This is that movie.

In this case, kid me was weirded out by the sexualization of this^ nasty ass creature. I vividly remember feeling uncomfortable during these moments in the film and not liking them.

Rewatching this as an adult is a lot of fun, especially after seeing the first film as well. It is truly insane and I mean that in the best possible way. The New Batch is the perfect sequel because it's not just a recreation of the first one; it builds off of Gremlins in a very ambitious way. The first one wasn't much of a horror film (if at all), so it doesn't feel like a betrayal to the franchise for the second movie to go off in such a ridiculously cartoonish direction. Dante and crew were willing to take the sequel off the edge of a cliff, only to land safely and carve out its own place in the world.

I love how the film progresses. Eventually smaller scenes are inserted for the sole purpose of executing a joke; for example, the parody of an iconic scene from The Phantom of the Opera. I love the commitment to the comedy, and many of the best moments are in the details. When Grandpa Fred (Prosky) sits down for an interview with Brain Gremlin, a little gremlin hand comes into frame to apply some last minute makeup to Grandpa Fred's face. It makes me laugh every time.

Being too meta can be problematic for a lot of projects, but that's not the case here. Leonard Maltin reviewing the first Gremlins movie is a nice touch, as is Hulk Hogan intimidating a couple of gremlins in the projection booth to put the film back on.

Most of the performances are fairly broad, but there's also some decent depth to most of the characters. Robert Picardo (who I just saw in an episode of Justify) plays a heartless prick very well, but the female gremlin's obsession with him kinda humanizes the character a bit. John Glover is amazing in this - most of the time his character is too busy stuck up his own ass, but his child-like wonder and enthusiasm is infectious.

As an adult now, Billy (Zach Galligan) really grows into the role of the likable everyman. His relationship with Kate (Phoebe Cates) is very strong and withstands the test of Marla, allowing it to feel more authentic than most movie relationships. I also appreciate the fact that the film avoids that tired cycle of a couple being tested, fighting, and then reconciling. But I will say that while Kate is very supportive of her fiance, it's not as if she is given a lot to do in the movie. But Cates makes the most of every scene. Her shining moment comes in the form of monologue about Lincoln that is eventually interrupted.

I would watch a spin-off movie with Murray Futterman (played by Dick Miller) going to different vacation spots with his wife (played by Jackie Joseph), only to find that all his holidays are ruined by gremlin outbreaks.

Gizmo acting like Rambo will always bring me a lot of joy.

The movies ages very well, I would say. There are some cool effects - the paper shredder death, for example. But also, the animation with the flying gremlin still looks great.

There is a bit of a nostalgia factor here, but I feel it fully withstands all of that and truly belongs on this list.

Additional Notes/Stats
  • This is the third of nine sequels on my list.
  • The only Joe Dante movies I've seen are the two Gremlins movies and Small Soldiers. I'm not too familiar with his other work. I'm sure Brandon will educate me during the course of this project.
  • This is the only Phoebe Cates movie on my list. I've never seen Fast Times at Ridgemont High from beginning to end, and haven't seen any of her other movies.
  • Speaking of Cates (and her family), shout out to Hunter Davidsohn for his great work on Frankie Cosmos' album Next Thing. I listened to it again today on the way home from Philly.
  • This is the second Christopher Lee movie on my list (LOTRThe Two Towers being the first, obviously). This is it for him; I'm not too familiar with the horror movies that made him a legend.
  • Tuco from Breaking Bad is in Gremlins 2. He plays a delivery guy and has a couple of lines. I thought that was pretty neat and noteworthy. Gotta get caught up on Better Call Saul.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Brandon's #86: Seven Men From Now (Budd Boetticher, 1956)

John's mention of Randolph Scott got me thinking about his six collusions with Budd Boetticher. I dare it was one of the best director/actor partnerships in the movies, known as the Ranown Cycle. The movies mostly found Scott riding lonesome and stumbling across some hapless group, unfit in the Darwinian sense for frontier life. His character occupies a space between the essentially good and mostly evil, evil meaning selfish and prone to violence. He reluctantly becomes their protector, often fulfilling acts of vengeance foretold in backstory.

And yet these acts of retribution often feel fruitless and empty, I think by design. I hesitate to call it "moral complexity," both because it's a worn out term and because the beauty of these films are, in fact, their simplicity. SEVEN MEN FROM NOW also has Lee Marvin bestriding that moral divide. I hated seeing him lured to the wrong side, knowing this ultimately sealed his fate. Boetticher's use of the Alabama Hills and Lone Pine landscape is crucial, like Mann and Ford's more celebrated work. It's also lean and mean, no fuss no muss one hour and eighteen spare beautiful minutes. Thus you cowards have no excuse to miss out on this.

On a side note, Lou left us and I miss him a lot.