Movie Review: “Chandler” (1971)

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It may be the most confusing movie ever made. By no means is that a good thing here. It skips right past intriguing and mystifying and right to, “What the hell is going on?” In a way, it reminded me of Scream and Scream Again; a movie where we think we know what’s happening in the beginning, and then as the scenes and endless subplots get introduced, we get lost and it all falls apart. Chandler has the look and feel of a good detective story. Starring one of my favorite character actors, the underrated Warren Oates, we are expecting a rough and tumble, edgy plot with a decent level of violence. It never comes.

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Frank Sinatra, “Suddenly”, and the JFK Assassination

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Suddenly is a 1954 film directed by Lewis Allen which depicts an assassination attempt on the life of the President of the United States. Produced just nine years prior to the JFK assassination, it is impossible to not draw some comparisons, no matter how minor. But it runs a little deeper with this film starring Frank Sinatra as the lead assassin and Sterling Hayden as a proud sheriff who will try to foil the plot. The internet is a wonderful source of rumors, including one which stated that Lee Harvey Oswald watched Suddenly less than a week before his infamous deed. Others state it was his “favorite movie” and some have gone so far as to put those words in the mouth of his brother when interviewed after Kennedy’s death and even Marina herself. Like many of the conspiracy theory aspects, these go unfounded. Two books (one a biography of Sinatra, another on Oswald) have each reinforced this, but again, there is no proof—no Dallas or nearby theater schedule or TV guide listings, which would have no-doubt been discovered by now. There was also no home video at the time, so this almost absolutely rules this out. However, if you have seen the movie then you can see why a rumor such as this would not only spread, but carry weight.

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Movie Review: “Beyond the Poseidon Adventure” (1979)

beyond-the-poseidon-adventure-poster-mort-kunstlerSince its initial release, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure has been mercilessly attacked for being the sequel to the 1972 classic disaster film that never should have been made. Reviewers in 1979 ripped it a new one, as have most viewers, generally, in the years to follow. But how bad is it? I had a chance to view the film on TCM the other day, and I have to admit, I actually enjoyed it and didn’t think it was horrible. When you consider all the atrocious sequels to be made after the initial classic was such a blockbuster, this is pretty good in comparison. Yes, the story requires one enormous suspension of disbelief after another, but if you put that aside, we have a decent and exciting adventure movie that has the same production values as the original. The finished product is not perfect, but it is far from the nightmare people have painted it out to be.

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Ranking the Jesus Films

Pasolini (seated) on the set of THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MATTHEW, prior to filming John's baptizing of Jesus.
Pasolini (seated) on the set of THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MATTHEW, prior to filming John’s baptizing of Jesus.

It bothers me that Jesus has never once been portrayed actually looking like the real Jesus would have looked like two-thousand years ago. In every major Hollywood and otherwise film, we see a white man with white disciples preaching to white crowds. He would not have had light skin and flowing light-brown hair, and certainly would not have had blue eyes, Jeffrey. Jesus would have been dark-skinned—or very tan, to say the least—with dark hair, and would have been short, probably barely five-feet tall. His followers would have looked the same. Just take a look at what Arabic and Middle Eastern people look like today, and you would find what the majority of characters in the Jesus story looked like. It is also irksome that Jesus has never been performed by a Jewish actor, and from a storytelling point of view, not once have we seen a secular characterization of him as strictly a social and political revolutionary, not a religious figure. In this daring and politically correct world we live in, we can surmise that one or all three of these gripes will inevitably be fulfilled. That said, there certainly have been enough biblical films over the years to find some good ones, and for this essay, I chose to stay strictly to the ones about Jesus. Forgive me if there are any not on the list, and I did choose to go with films only in the sound era:

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Reviews of Three Forgettable John Wayne Movies I Recently Watched

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John Wayne is a man’s man. His movies are often packed with action and require little thinking (which can be refreshing), but sometimes, he churns in a very good performance and his film goes down in history as legendary. According to my IMDB, I have seen more than 50 of his movies, meaning if you factor out most of his early 1930’s B-level projects before becoming “The Duke”, you could say that I have seen all of his major films. However, prior to this week, that was not the case. My viewership of his movies has declined in recent years as my taste has changed slightly, but when I saw TCM was having a marathon of his, I went through the guide and saw a few that I had somehow missed so far in my lifetime.

“What’s that? A John Wayne movie you haven’t seen, Greg? Go git ’em!” my subconscious told me. So, I recorded the three films below and set out to watch them this week. However, I found that there was probably a reason why I had never seen them, though I had indeed heard of them all. They simply just aren’t that good. Not to say they are “bad”, but as stated in the title of this article, they are forgettable, to say the least. Below are reviews of three John Wayne movies that I thought were “okay”, even though I would never watch them again, and cannot really recommend them all that much, for various reasons, and mostly not even due to Wayne himself.

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Movies So Terrible I Didn’t Even Want to Review Them: Volume 1

Back when I was a hockey writer and covered the New York Rangers, I noticed a trend in my blog posts. When the team won, I would put up a game recap, and maybe get five or six reads in the course of the next few hours. It could have been the game of the season, and no one would bother to read what I had to say. However, when the team lost, or played exceptionally bad, that same styled game recap would garner 30 or 40 hits almost instantaneously after posting. It was then that I realized that people only wanted to read negative stuff! I admit, writing a good, scathing article is immensely more fun than saying something nice. I like to think I am an extremely fair person, and I try to always give credit where credit is due, but boy, do I love to dole out a good ripping! I have taken a slightly different approach with my movie reviews, though. When I watch something amazing, I am quick to put it on here and say why I thought it was incredible. But, when I watch something that was just good, unless there was something particular about it I thought was worth mentioning, like a history-related flick, I tend to let it slip through the cracks. Then come the awful, almost unbearable movies, which I feel that I need to review as a public service. And out of all three of these categories, guess which one is the most read? You guessed it, the terrible ones!

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Movie Review: Get the Gringo (2012)

I had not seen a new Mel Gibson film since he went off the deep end a few years ago, but because I was such a big fan of his, I could not pass up the $7.50 Blu-Ray offer at Wal-Mart for his latest flick, the action-packed Get the Gringo. Very rarely do I buy movies that I have never seen, but this was well worth the risk as I found myself enjoying it from start to finish. Before I get into a summary of the film, let’s just say that this seemed like an 80’s action movie, meaning it was completely unrealistic in premise, yet entertaining as all hell. If I had to make a comparison, I would say it was like Payback meets Lethal Weapon meets Taken, considering the different plot twists and level of violence present. It is hard to believe this was a straight-to-video release in the United States, given the extremely high production value and $20 million budget that had the special effects of a present-day Hollywood blockbuster. The fact that this movie is so little-known and un-advertised is proof positive at how far down Mel Gibson’s career has fallen due to his outbursts and tirades over the years. Had he been in good standing with Hollywood, and had production companies and distributors not been afraid to touch any of his products, this would have easily been smash hit, no doubt pulling in at least $100 million. But alas, here we are, and even all these years later, Gibson’s penance in staying away from roles has not been enough. Say what you want about him, though, this was him at his action-thriller finest, bringing back the good old days when he was on top of the world.

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Movie Review: The Phantom Carriage (1920)

For someone who touts himself as a film buff who has seen many different kinds of movies throughout many different eras, the one style that I have always had a problem sitting through are silent movies. Masterpieces such as Nosferatu and Metropolis have only garnered my attention for roughly half of the showing before I quit—perhaps I should give them another go. Nevertheless, to date, I have only been able to sit through two in their entirety: Carl Theodore Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (I am also a big fan of his groundbreaking horror flick Vampyr, which is nearly silent, save for a few sounds and lines of dialogue here and there that do not really advance the story), and after last night, The Phantom Carriage, directed by Victor Sjostrom. I decided to take a gamble and buy the Criterion Collection edition of the film on Blu-Ray, after being captivated by its eerie cover picture of a ghostly carriage, with a sickle in the hands of its driver. I have never been so engrossed by a silent film, and never thought it would even be possible. The background music certainly helped it along, and overall, it was an outstanding viewing experience.

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Movie Review: You Don’t Know Jack (2010)

Before I get to the actual review, I just wanted to share a little story with you. On Thursday, with You Don’t Know Jack on the way from Netflix, I decided to play a little joke in my chemistry class because it was a lab day and we would all be wearing our lab coats for the first time. Looking like a doctor with it on, I made a name tag and wrote “Dr. Kevorkian” on it, and stuck it in my chest pocket. Everyone got a kick out of it, including the professor, but just because they thought it was funny that I was pretending to be a doctor, and not about what the name tag said. Excluding my two lab partners, who knew what I was going to do, not one person in the class recognized the name, and whenever someone squinted their eyes to read what the name said, I would say it out loud, hoping to set off a light bulb in someone’s head, but no one noticed. For the two hours I was there, my real last name could have been Kevorkian for all they knew. Needless to say, I died a little inside (no pun intended).

Anyway, on to the actual film, once again HBO comes through with a spectacular special. I actually like their movies better than their miniseries’, and must be one of those rare people who was not crazy over Band of Brothers, but I loved Conspiracy, and thought it was filled with tremendous performances. This one, You Don’t Know Jack, tackled one of the most controversial issues of the 1990’s (if not still today), regarding euthanasia and the rights a terminally ill person has to end their life with assisted suicide. Dr. Jack Kevorkian pioneered the “service” by helping more than 130 patients end their lives.

For someone who was portrayed as an insane serial killer who went around murdering handicapped people in the middle of the night, this movie does a lot to show the truth, and does much to humanize and sympathize with the man who became known as “Dr. Death”. Here we see the thoroughly calculated goings-on that went in to each suicide, including a recorded consultation, signing of consent forms, and then the actual death of the patient. It shows what each person went through, along with their families, and because I had never really thought of this topic before, it really put the idea of euthanasia into perspective. After watching this film, I think I have taken Kevorkian’s side, and that if a person is suffering and is beyond all hope of recovery, as long as they are of clear mind and body and want to make such a decision, who are we to stop them?

This actually shows Kevorkian turning some patients down, either because their illness was not severe enough, or they were too depressed to think rationally. It was hard not choking up while some of the would-be’s told their stories, asking to have their lives ended, including a best friend of Kevorkian, played by Susan Sarandon who was suffering from an incurable Pancreatic cancer. As leader of the Hemlock Society, an organization that supports a person’s right to die, as soon as she developed the disease, she knew she was going to see her friend.

Kevorkian representing himself in court, rather than use his lawyer. His lack of legal knowledge ultimately led to his 1999 conviction.

As Kevorkian, Al Pacino does an absolutely fantastic job in his portrayal. Down to the look, walk, and talk (okay, his Michigan accent was a big exaggerated), Pacino does not act like the doctor, he becomes the doctor. I have not seen every one of his films, but from what I have seen, I believe this to be his best performance, and certainly worthy of the Emmy and Golden Globe Awards he won, and the Satellite and Screen Actors Guild awards he was nominated for. Had this been a theatrical feature, my bet would be that he would win an Oscar.

John Goodman also gets decent screen time as the doctor’s medical supplier and camera operator, and was also nominated for two awards. Danny Huston, who you will recognize from the HBO series John Adams, plays Kevorkian’s lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, and gives a decent performance as well, because he has to separate from his personal belief in not siding with assisted suicide, but sticking up for Kevorkian because he believes the law is wrong.

All in all, there were killer performances and scenes all around. The movie was humorous, in showing Kevorkian’s health-conscious eccentricities, his relationship with his sister, played by Brenda Vaccaro, and when he walks into the courtroom dressed like a man from the 1700’s, because he believes the laws are dated, and even makes reference to the inquisition. Yet there is the obvious underlying dark side to this film, because from start to finish, all it is really about is death. There are no gory scenes for those that might be squeamish—the patients are either killed by lethal injection or with a gas mask over there face. I also really appreciate the showing of Kevorkian’s paintings, which are beautifully morbid if I may say so, and show how talented and brilliant of a man he really was, despite being portrayed as a lunatic.

It sticks very close to the facts, and follows him from his first victim all the way up until 1999, when he was sentenced to ten years in prison for murder, after he injected his last victim himself, to prove a point, rather than have the patient pull the plug. I will give this movie an 8 out of 10, and would definitely watch it again. As strange as Pacino is in this performance, he works it to perfection. I highly recommend this film to all who enjoy great acting…and a little bit of 90’s history (was it really that long ago?).

Movie Review: Rebecca (1997)

A ghost story without ghosts and a tale of a haunted house without a haunting, is how I would describe Rebecca, which was yet another version of Daphne Du Maurier’s classic Gothic romance novel that has enthralled audiences for more than seventy years. One might think that a remake of a legendary movie, which starred Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, and which was directed by Alfred Hitchcock, would not be worthy of a review, but this version is as good as, if not better, than the original.

Made in 1997 for PBS Masterpiece Theater, this film shows no effects of a low-budget made for television movie as it seems the producers spared no expense in recreating both 1920’s England and Monte Carlo. The story would seem to be rather simple at first, but then it gets much deeper and twisted and what appears to be a love story between an older gentleman and a young lady becomes a dark, and haunting tragedy of true love…or so it seems.

Maxim De Winter, played by Charles Dance, is a newly widowed and ultra wealthy British gentleman who is taking a vacation in Monte Carlo where he meets the nineteen year old personal assistant of another rich traveler, who is played by Faye Dunaway. The young girl would be Emilia Fox, making her first appearance in a major film project. Though Dunaway’s character is trying to seduce De Winter, it is actually her assistant that he will fall in love with. A relationship quickly forms between the two, but not without its hazards as he quickly notes he is more than twice her age. They put that aside and form a loving relationship, to which he asks her to marry him and take her home to his famous mansion, called Manderley. Though overwhelmed and starstruck, she agrees and the two travel back to England.

The lady who would become Mrs. De Winter (we never find out her real name) still does not know much about her new husband, only that he recently lost his wife when she died in a nighttime boating accident. Her name is Rebecca and is so struck with grief that he does not permit anyone to speak her name in his presence, or reference anything she had done.

She is introduced to the head maid, and personal assistant of the late Rebecca, known simply as Mrs. Danvers, who is played hauntingly brilliant by Diana Rigg in an Emmy Award-winning role. The new Mrs. De Winter quickly discovers Danvers’ undying love for Rebecca, a woman she knew her whole life, and someone who she devoted countless hours to, in a borderline obsession of affection. She really does not think much about it, or her husband, as the loss was not a long time ago and they must be still grieving, but it only gets worse as comparisons keep being drawn up between her and Rebecca, and she threatens to leave Maxim because she feels she will never be able to be as good as her.

Diana Rigg gives a haunting and exquisite portrayal as the obsessed, grief-stricken maid, Mrs. Danvers.

As the movie goes on, they have a costume party and Danvers suggests Mrs. De Winter wear a certain dress, and when she reveals herself to the party guests, they all stand in shock, and Maxim has a conniption. She later finds out that Rebecca wore that dress at the last party she attended before she died, and that Danvers did it intentionally to cause trouble. Mrs. De Winter is upset as well, but cannot understand why Maxim is still grieving as badly as he is.

SPOILER ALERT: As the story continues, it grows even more complex as the perfect marriage between Maxim and Rebecca is revealed to be anything but. The chain of events that lead up to the fatal boating accident include an affair between Rebecca and her cousin, played by Jonathon Cake, and that her boating accident was not an accident at all, but that Maxim killed her because he couldn’t stand her and her wicked ways anymore—she never loved him, or anyone else for that matter. Danvers reveals that it was all just a game, and she was the only one Rebecca ever really loved. This has to be one of the best twists ever written, because for the entire movie we think it is grief Maxim is stricken with, but it is actually guilt and insecurity over the murder. This isn’t all—another boating accident in the bay leads to an accidental discovery, one of the boat that Rebecca sank on. She had been killed on land, then placed in the boat which was intentionally sunk to hide it.

After an inquest with the coroner, which Ian McDiarmid makes an appearance as, a threat of blackmail, and an investigation, no proof can be tied to Maxim as the murderer. The conversations that follow are complex and heated, and Danvers is still grieving when she attempts to burn down Manderley, to erase all the memories of Rebecca, as if she still haunts the place with a ghostly presence. SPOILER ALERT OVER.

Overall, this is a fantastic and clever movie, especially since I never put much stock in TV remakes, but the British and Masterpiece are always an exception to that rule. Every single character in this story is played to perfection. Emilia Fox starts out as young and innocent, but transforms into a more mature and aware adult by the film’s conclusion. Charles Dance does not seem out of place at all as the millionaire gentleman, and Diana Rigg gives the performance of a lifetime.

Everything from the casting, scenery, sets, music, mood, and tone are perfect, though this three-hour and ten minute movie could have probably had at least a half hour cut from it. I never read the novel, but my mom who has read it many times says this was spot-on, and even more accurate than the Hitchcock version, so I suppose the extended length of time was warranted. As I said earlier, this is a ghost story without any ghosts—it has the feel of a haunted house horror movie, but neatly and carefully strays from that to remain an all-time classic. My final grade? 8 out of 10. Highly recommended—enjoy!