Sunday, August 24, 2014

Expendables 3 (2014)

Having enjoyed the first two Expendables movies, of course I had to see the third.  And I loved it.  I'm not sure if I like 2 or 3 better.  Both have things I like about them.

The biggest flaw for me in the third one is that Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone) recruits some new Expendables to take on a mission.  It's all in an effort to keep his friends alive, which is a cool plot point and all, except for one thing.  I don't go to an Expendables movie to see newcomers.  I mean, duh?  I'm here to spend time with the actors I grew up with, as the first two movies have set them up:  to be smart asses while taking out scores of bad guys and blowing things up.  So I was a bit meh for awhile... but then turns out, that time with the young set actually pays off, when the big finale kicks things back into high gear.  And I actually found myself liking the newcomers... couldn't tell you the characters' names, except for Luna, but none of them were annoying, they did snazzy things, and they could hold their own.  I particularly enjoyed how (spoilers!!) they throw out Stallone's plan and re-engineer the capture of the bad guy with the use of high tech gear instead of brute force -- and it gets pulled off flawlessly.  That was cool.  The movie doesn't put them there to show they're amateurs, just that they're the new generation and have a different way of going about things.  It's a nice contrast to how the original Expendables team attacks head-first, and a dead-on reminder of how the world has changed from 1985 to current.

Mel Gibson is the bad guy this go around, playing a former Expendables, now an arms dealer wanted for war crimes.  He is perfect in the role, and he pretty much stole all his scenes.  "If you want something done right..."  I loved the final showdown between him and Stallone, how it wasn't dragged out forever, and I like how the fight ended (and it was different enough from the Van Damme fight in 2 to keep me happy).

But the best part of this movie, hands down, is Antonio Banderas as Galgo.  I haven't laughed so frequently and so loudly in what feels like forever.  His character was so unexpectedly hilarious. It is entirely possible I laughed every single time he opened his mouth.  Not joking.  I was not expecting him to be funny, which in turn just made it even funnier.

I was quite pleased with Harrison Ford too.  He seemed to be having a great time in his action scenes, and for the first time in years, he was back to acting like the sassy Harrison Ford I grew up loving.  He also had quite a few lines that made laugh out loud, particularly his inability to understand Jason Statham's character.  At the end, when he says, "I haven't had so much fun in ages," I felt like that was Ford himself talking, not just his character.

As with the last film, Jet Li gets next to no screen time, but it's still fun to see him, even for a few minutes.  I loved Arnold again, and he has a bigger role this time.  Wesley Snipes and Kelsey Grammer were great to have along as well.  All these actors feel like old friends, and I simply enjoy spending time with them.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Upcoming blogathon!

Hamlette of Hamlette's Soliloquy is hosting a Piratical Blogathon on September 19th, which just happens to be International Talk Like a Pirate Day.  There are already a bunch of people signed up to post about pirate movies, books, and pirates in general.  There will be classic pirate films like The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood as well as newer films.  If you're interested in participating, please sail over to Hamlette's blog to sign up. 


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Richard Boone: A Knight Without Armor in a Savage Land

I've loved Richard Boone since the first time I saw him in Big Jake.  I realize that's a rather odd first-viewing impression, considering he's the bad guy... but none of that mattered.  He just had a certain charisma and presence and strength and power and intelligence that I was instantly attracted to.  It's also hard to find a villain that is a truly worthy adversary for John Wayne, and Richard Boone filled that role with ease.  I always looked for him in movies, but it wasn't until twenty years later that I finally got to see a Have Gun, Will Travel episode.  If I hadn't already loved him, that show would have done it.  The show is so well-written, so tight in its half-hour time slot, and Paladin... well, Paladin is magnificent.  Full of depth and nuance and laughter and anger and deadly competence.  He quotes classics in every other episode, goes to the opera, and helps those in need.  If I was in trouble, I'd wire Paladin, that's for sure.

I've always wanted to know more about him, so I picked up this biography by David Rothel.  It's not a normal biography, in that it doesn't tell the story of his life.  Instead, it's a composite image, composed of facts about his life, quotes and poetry from him, interviews with family and co-workers, and a viewer's guide to his movies and television shows.  The format makes for a very quick read.  The interviews were my favorite part, and I would happily have read more of those.  I liked the ones from his family best, as they were the most informative, but the various people he worked with also provide glimpses into the working man as a nice balance.

And I love him even more after reading this book.  I read a quote somewhere from someone who had said he was a lot like Paladin, and he really is.  Extremely intelligent, loved the arts, painted and wrote, worked hard, played hard, didn't put up with baloney from anyone, and supported his family and friends.  I loved reading about how much he loved children, and the charity work he did for them.

There are only two of his poems included, and I wish there were more... at the same time, I'm happy there aren't, because they are devastating to read.  The two included were ones he had written during WWII, in which he served in the Navy as a aerial gunner.  He suffered severe PTSD after the war, and wouldn't fly in a plane until fifteen years after the war ended.  The poems... There's a quote in the book from actor Jan Merlin that I particularly liked.  He said, "One of my favorite people to work with was Audie Murphy; I worked with him several times.  We never mentioned the war.  He had his European war and I had my Japanese.  What was there to talk about?  If you were in it, you knew about it; if you weren't, then you'd never understand.  It's as simple as that."

And that sums up the power of the poems.  The world of fear and death Richard Boone describes so fiercely and emotionally is one I hope I'll never understand.  But that does not make those poems any less powerful.

I really enjoyed this glimpse into his life (and also into the lives of the people who were interviewed), and I respect his talents as an actor even more.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Sea Wolves (1980)

I've always wanted to see this movie, but never could track it down.  I mean Gregory Peck, David Niven, Roger Moore, Trevor Howard, Patrick Macnee in a WWII movie filmed on location in India and directed by Andrew V. McLaglen?  I'm there!  And it turns out it was an enjoyable movie, though really, how can you go wrong with that cast?

The film is based on a true story.  A German U-Boat has been sinking Allied shipping with uncanny precision.  Gregory Peck and Roger Moore, as two British Intelligence officers, are tasked with finding out how its being done and putting a stop to it.  Turns out the Germans are transmitting the info from a freighter harbored in the neutral harbor of Goa.  Nothing can be done officially to stop them because of Portugal's neutrality in the war.  So, they bring in the veterans of the Calcutta Light Horse, all civilians now, and they stage a daring attack on the German freighter.

It's a nice combo of spy movie -- Gregory Peck and Roger Moore pose as tea merchants while they root out the spies in Goa -- and war movie -- the attack on the ship.  Roger Moore's is very Bond-like, romancing the German spy, taking out bad guys, wearing a tuxedo.  David Niven plays the retired colonel of the Calcutta Light Horse (who as a group last saw active service in the Boer War). Gregory Peck is solid as the leader.

Things I particularly liked:

1.  The veterans of the Calcutta Light Horse are awesome.  Nowadays, they play polo at their club.  All of them tried to get into WWII, but were turned down because of their age, etc.  So when asked to volunteer for a dangerous unofficial mission (no info given on what that mission is), where no credit, pay, awards, acknowledgement, or honor will ever be given to any of them, they volunteer immediately, to a man.  And proceed to acquit themselves admirably.  Kenneth Griffith is particularly amusing as Charlie Wilton, trying to keep the decrepit engine running on the boat they steal.  His reaction to being ordered to stay with the ship's engine rather than boarding the freighter is priceless.  But all the men are great, all have their moments.  I love the sequence before they head out, where each is working on getting back in shape -- doing pushups, lifting weights, etc. -- while their wives and secretaries look at them like they're nuts.

2.  The spy, Mrs. Cromwell, played by the lovely Barbara Kellerman, is not to be trifled with.  She carries a folding knife in her purse and kills anyone who gets in her way!  I love that the movie doesn't hide the identity of the German spies from the audience.  This is a suspense film, not a mystery.  And knowing she's a fink while Roger Moore falls in love with her provides a lot of tension.  I like also that she likes him too and has to struggle a bit with her own feelings in order to get her job done.  It rounds her out, gives her dimension. 

3.  The attack on the German ship seems very realistic and not very "Hollywood." Characters make mistakes, get wounded, etc. all in a very natural way.  It made the ending both exciting, tense, and still enjoyable.

I really enjoyed this one.

Monday, July 21, 2014

One Little Indian (1973)

This is not a review.  I actually haven't even seen this movie yet.  But I own the score, of course, as it's composed by Jerry Goldsmith, and it has always gotten a lot of play time in my house.  I've been listening to it a lot the last couple of days, since hearing James Garner passed away.  I'm surprised how melancholy his death has made me, considering how little of his work I've seen.  But after my recent viewing of Hour of the Gun and how much I loved him in it, I was starting to look for more of his work, and his death felt all the more sad.

I've never watched Maverick or Rockford Files, or any of the standard James Garner fare, it seems.  But even so, he still made an strong impression on me in just the few things I have watched.

But the first thing I always think of, when I think of James Garner is not The Great Escape, or even his wonderful portrayal of Wyatt Earp.  It's the score to One Little Indian.  This music always gives me an image of him.  RIP, Mr. Garner.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Kit 2003-2014

I had to say goodbye to another beloved pet today, my cat, Kit.  He was named after Kit Walker, the Phantom, because of the ghostly white markings on his legs.  He was a shoulder cat, would ride everywhere around the house on my shoulders.  And he had the tiniest, breathiest meow I've ever heard on a cat.  He would come running and squawk at me whenever I put dishes away, it was the funniest thing. He loved food in general and always had to have his canned food every morning, but marshmallows were the one thing he went completely nuts for.  He would do anything to get one.

(Max and Kit, Max wondering why the cat was trying to sleep against him and hoping he would go away.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Really wanted to catch this in the theater, but it wasn't to be.  My family did just catch up with it on DVD a couple nights ago, and everyone loved it.  I really regret not making a theater viewing work, because this movie would have been even more delightful on the big screen, with the way it's filmed and the attention to detail (and the hilarious animation sections).

What a difficult film to describe!  A story within a story within a story, each section set in a different decade, with a whole ton of wacky characters, all played by famous actors, having crazy adventures.  All the actors look like they're having a blast acting in this movie.  It is by turns wacky, sweet, serious, laugh-out-loud funny, violent, poignant, and bitter-sweet.  Definitely not a film for everyone, as it earns its R rating, but it appeals to sense of humor.  My family thought it was very Monty Python-esque in its sense of comedy, and my oldest niece is running out to buy herself her own a copy immediately.

The movie centers around Ralph Fiennes as M. Gustave, the world-famous concierge of the Grand Budapest Hotel.  I'm not quite sure how someone can play a pompous, shallow, vain, impeccable polite, warm-hearted man and still make him rather endearing, but Ralph Fiennes always has had charisma to spare, and he pulls it off.  He is hilarious in the role.  When one of his regular wealthy hotel patrons dies mysteriously, he rushes off to pay his respects -- and see if she left him anything in her will.  She did, the most valuable painting in her collection.  Her son Dimitri (Adrien Brody) wants it for himself, and promptly has M. Gustave framed for her murder. M. Gustave and Zero, his lobby boy (and one of the multiple narrators), work to prove his innocence through the rest of the movie. 

Things I particularly loved.  Includes minor spoilers.

Jeff Goldblum's cat-loving ethical lawyer. "Not agreed."  He is probably my favorite character.
Bill Murray and the whole rest of the Society of Crossed Keys
Willem Dafoe flashing his business card around.  Okay, really, Willem Dafoe anytime he was on screen
The pacing of the film
The prison escape, worth the price of admission alone!  Probably my favorite scene.
The dialogue
The narration
The funicular and the cable cars
The framing of each shot - beautiful!
The 1932 version of the hotel, with its lovely interior.
The costumes
The memorable score by Alexandre Desplat. It's as wacky as the movie, but in just the right way.

I really can't wait to watch it again and catch the little things I missed the first time.  I suspect my family will watch this one quite frequently.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Favorite Superhero/Comic book movies

I thought I'd continue with a few more favorites lists.  Superhero/comic book movies this go-round.  And I suck at this one.  Yes, that's right.  I couldn't come up with ten.  I guess that leaves room for Avengers 2 (hopefully) and other future films!

There's a few more films I like - Iron Man 3, X-Men 2, X-Men 3, Thor 2, but none of those are genuine favorites.  They're just enjoyable films.  Captain America: Winter Soldier would have made the list -- except that it is unwatchable due to the way it was filmed.  The incessant camera motion was so nauseating that I felt like I spent more time looking away from the screen than looking at it.  I will probably never be able to watch it again, and that makes another movie where the directors made me hate them for ruining what would have been a favorite.  There might be some other movies I love that have comic books origins that I'm unfamiliar with, and I'll add them on if I find them.  I only had Star Wars comics growing up, so very little comic book experience.

And no.  I am most decidedly not a Batman or Spiderman fan. Neither holds any appeal for me whatsoever.

1. The Avengers
2. The Shadow
3. The Rocketeer
4. Iron Man 2
5. The Phantom
6. X-Men Origins: Wolverine
7. ?
8. ?
9. ?

These were the only ones I could think of that I return to over and over.  I realize I have movies on here that most people wouldn't pick.  Like I'm the only person I know who vastly prefers Iron Man 2 to the other IM movies, although it has a few things I'd change if I could.  And of all the X-Men movies, I think Origins is probably the least popular among moviegoers.  But I never read the comic books, so I have no issues there, and I also recently realized I greatly prefer spending time with the characters of Origins to the characters of the other X-Men movies.  I am just not a fan of Magneto or Prof. X or Storm, Jean Grey, Cyclops, etc.  The only one I truly like in those movies is Wolverine.  But I love all the characters introduced in Origins.  So, if I'm in the mood for Wolverine, it's the movie I'm going to put in the DVD player.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cloudburst (1952)

Sometimes, I just randomly select a movie off Netflix instant viewing.  Not too long ago, I picked Cloudburst, starring Robert Preston.  It's a movie I'd never heard of, but Robert Preston is an interesting actor, and this one made me curious enough to watch.  It was a lot darker and more violent than I expected.

The movie follows a man (Preston) as he hunts down the two escaped cons who ran down his pregnant wife in a hit-and-run car accident.  The movie is set post WWII, and I liked how his contacts from the war, as well as his training, come into play.  He is a specialist in cryptography, who now runs a team in England deciphering various coded messages.  It's not entirely a straight-forward revenge tale, as a Scotland Yard detective finds a coded message (dropped by Preston when he catches up to one of the killers), and comes to Preston to have him decode it.  Preston ends up helping track himself down.

My favorite parts of this film were the tie-ins with WWII.  Preston's combat experience, his friends in the Resistance with a wealth of knowledge on tracking and avoiding being detected... even Scotland Yard has two detectives who served with Preston and carry the same combat knowledge.  As Preston basically reverts to a wartime mentality in his hunt for vengeance, his friend has moved on and knows the things Preston asks him to do in the movie -- things that once kept them alive in the war -- are no longer acceptable in a peacetime setting.  I found that fascinating.  I wish it had explored that contrast even more, but it was a fairly short movie with a brisk pace to a satisfying conclusion.  I also enjoyed watching the detective (Colin Tapley) put things together. 

This is not a film I'll probably watch again, but it was quite intriguing.  I also liked watching the team of cryptographers working hard on decoding various messages.  That's definitely not a job I could do!  Would take way too much patience and systematic thinking.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Favorite Animated Movies

With a six-year-old nephew around, we watch a lot of animated movies, although I'm still amazed how many animated movies (old and new) I have not seen yet.  Of the ones I have seen, here's my personal top ten favorites list.

I made this list by looking at all the animated movies I love (which is a large list), and then asking one simple question:  "if I never see this movie again, would I be okay with that?"  If the answer is no, it makes the favorite list, which I then narrowed down to ten.  If the answer is yes, the film stays on the "I love this movie!" list, but doesn't advance to favorite status.  I've been revising all my favorite list using this criteria.  It's quite a useful question and really helps me narrow down my current favorites.  I find I answer "yes" and drop a movie off the current favorite list for multiple reasons.  Sometimes, I've simply seen a movie so many times, it's part of my consciousness and I can quote it, etc., but I've overdone it and have no desire to actually see it again right now (although if it came on, I would still watch it).

As for which movies I love, (and this applies to every favorite movie I have), I have to want to be one or more characters in the film, and those characters almost always have to be protecting someone, or some ideal, or some place, or some thing.  There's also almost always some kind of beautiful scenery or locations in my favorite movies. I've come to realize that beauty is a key element that draws me to one movie over another.  It's actually mostly why Kung Fu Panda makes this list.  It is such a beautiful movie -- I might even rank it the most beautiful of all of these -- with the most exquisite colors and scenery.  I oooh and ahhhh every time I see it.  There are so many moments in Kung Fu Panda that I want a picture of to put on my wall.  I love the story and characters, beside, but man, do I really love how they chose to animate this movie.

1. Rango
2. Epic
3. Tangled
4. Up
5. Wall-E
6. The Lorax
7. How to Train your Dragon 2
8. Brave
9. Wallace & Grommit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
10. Kung Fu Panda
11. Puss in Boots

Okay, I cheated and included eleven, but Puss in Boots is sort of a tie with Kung Fu Panda, sooooo...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

How to Train Your Dragon 2 (2014)

I went to see this movie over the weekend with my sister and six-year-old nephew.  I liked it so much, I will probably go back and see it a second time before it leaves the theater.

I've only seen the first one on DVD.  I remember when it came out in the theater, but the trailer didn't really grab me, and I skipped at the time.  That was a mistake!  After I finally got to see it on DVD, I was surprised and delighted to find out it was a totally different movie than what I had been expecting.  I loved the characters, loved the story, loved the dragons -- particularly Toothless, who ranks as my second favorite cinematic dragon behind Dragonslayer's Vermithrax.  How to Train Your Dragon popped right onto my top ten favorite animated movies list.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that the trailer for the sequel didn't grab me either, but once again, the movie turned out to be quite different and far better than my expectations.

How to Train Your Dragon 2 is set in a bright, colorful, and beautiful world.  The first one used a much darker and somber color palette until the very end, and that is not a bad thing.  It's exactly what the first film required.  But, I can't help but love how beautiful the second film is.  This is a world I want to go into.  I also loved the characters a lot more in the second movie. All of the setup is out of the way, the initial character conflicts are behind us.  Everything has moved forward, there are new issues, everyone works together, and I really like the direction the movie took.  The second movie has more lighter moments than the first one (Ruffnut was particularly hilarious), and at the same time, the sequel has the same wonderful heart as the first film.  I cared even more for what happened to the characters, and I personally found the plot and outcome very satisfying.  Lots of action, lots of dragons, lots of beauty, lots of emotion.  John Powell's score was quite good, better than the first movie's score.

I wasn't sure when I got out of the theater on Saturday which of the two movies I liked better, but we watched the first one again tonight, and yep, as much as I love it -- which is a lot -- I enjoyed the second one even more.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hour of the Gun (1967)

I deliberately avoided this movie in the past for a couple reasons.  One was I was not a James Garner fan, but the big one was that this movie's soundtrack is one of my favorite Jerry Goldsmith scores, and I didn't want to know what was happening in the movie. I write to this score a lot and have my own images, and I didn't want those ruined by reality.  (I have quite a few movies I haven't seen simply because I love the music too much.)

Well, too bad I waited so long, because to my surprise, I really loved this movie.  And I really really loved James Garner.  I've never been that fond of him only because most of what he does seems to be so light-hearted and that's never going to be my go-to.  But, dude, there is nothing light-hearted about James Garner's portrayal of Wyatt Earp.  Serious, cold, quiet, downright grim sometimes, but absolutely wonderful and exactly what I wanted in this movie.  He was MARVELOUS and immediately jumped up to my second favorite cinematic version of Wyatt Earp (Kevin Costner's still got the number one position, but Garner's a very close second).

I was fascinated to find that this movie is directed by John Sturges, who also directed The Gunfight at the OK Corral!  Not often does one director make two movies about the same topic, let alone two such very different movies.  As fond as I am of Gunfight (admittedly, mostly for Kirk Douglas and the theme song), this one has everything Gunfight lacked.  Well, that's not quite right.  More accurately, they're complementary films.  Gunfight deals primarily with the setup and ends on the titular fight.  Hour of the Gun opens with the fight and depicts events that occurred afterwards.

And what an opening!  It might be one of my new favorite Western movie opening scenes.  It jumps right into things with no lead in. There's no talking for the first four minutes, just score.  We just watch each side gather, prepare, and head on into the fight.  It was so unexpectedly tense and perfect, I had to back up the DVD and watch it again as soon as I'd finished the movie.  It also sets the dark tone for what follows.  This film is most definitely not treading any ground -- visually, emotionally, or plotwise -- covered in Gunfight at the OK Corral.  And I like that a lot.

Now, I'll also state right up front, that I'm not looking for an historically accurate movie whenever I watch a Wyatt Earp movie.  I have two biographies of Wyatt Earp on my shelf and I've read them both.  I know what really happened.  I'm more interested in a movie that works on its own merits, and if facts are changed, I couldn't care less as long as the changes are consistent for that movie.  But at the same time, it was quite cool to find a movie that did quite a bit of stuff right.  I think this is the only movie I've seen so far that has Virgil and Morgan not shot on the same night.  That was cool.  (I also understand and appreciate why events get condensed in other versions, cuz having months go by doesn't always keep a plot moving.  I'm a writer; I'm quite okay with that.)

I also quite enjoyed Jason Robards' version of Doc Holliday.  He had lots of little moments I really appreciated, and one big one, where he lays into Wyatt in a magnificent speech.  I may have to pick up this movie on DVD just so I can watch that scene whenever I want.  He's the right Holliday for this movie's tone and events, and a good foil/friend for this particular Wyatt Earp.

Robert Ryan plays Ike Clanton and he also gets a bunch of little moments I loved.  Like in the beginning, he's wearing his holster, and the minute the fight starts, he ducks into a building and ditches it so he can look all innocent a minute late.  Hah!  This movie required a focus for the revenge portion, and it lets Clanton be that focus, which works quite well in context. He is quite the scheming, slimy villain in this.

I'm a sucker for those deliberate, open walks/rides into enemy territory, and this one has multiple versions of that.  It never gets old for me. I think I like Holliday and Wyatt riding through a Mexican village to face Clanton at the end the best of the lot.

But mostly, I simply loved this movie because I loved Garner's Wyatt Earp. Who thought I'd say that about a James Garner character?  But he nails this one.