Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A man without armor...

I've been watching the 4th season of Have Gun-Will Travel (this show is absolutely, without a doubt or even a close challenger, my favorite Western television series ever, and Paladin my favorite Western TV hero). To my delight, they just had what we would probably call today a crossover episode -- the writers combined HG-WT with Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days! Paladin helped Phileas Fogg et al get to Reno from San Francisco.

When I was young, I must have read my copy of Around the World in 80 Days a hundred times and then some. I absolutely loved the book. It's actually the only Jules Verne book I truly love. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Journey to the Center of the Earth made great movies, but I don't particularly enjoy either book. Around the World, however, is a fabulous book, and I have yet to see a movie version I like.

The thought of Paladin and Fogg together makes me rub my hands with glee... unfortunately, the concept was far better than it played out, and it was a very disappointing episode (the only disappointing ep of the season so far). Fogg was made out to be a bit of an idiot, which is not at all how he is in the book. Paladin and idiots never mix well, because he does not suffer fools. Now if Fogg had been more true to his book character, the two of them butting heads would have been most enjoyable. Instead, we get Paladin saving Fogg's hide when it shouldn't have needed saving to begin with. Weak story. An odd side plot about some Colonel (who was in civilian clothes) challenging Fogg to a duel was the main conflict in preventing him from keeping to his rigid schedule, and it never worked right. It was played for laughs, without being particularly funny. I think the ep was aiming for a stiff upper lip British stereotype humorously clashing with Old West pragmatism/violence, instead of a real story. Too bad, because this could have been a great episode.

Makes me want to re-write it, naturally, into the episode I wanted to see.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Not fond of change when none was necessary

What the heck? IMDb has changed their page format from easy-to-read to stupid-and-annoying to read. Where you used to see everything on one page, now you have to click on the "more credits" button (on multiple sections) to get to the rest. Which you have to scroll down to find first. And there is a preponderance of pictures and images that space things out so much you're scrolling downwards forever. What, people can't read any more? Everything has to be visual?

So, one of my favorite and most frequently visited websites for info has become one of my least favorite to navigate. Thanks, guys.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A couple of Westerns

When I'm feeling melancholy, I turn to music. I find it interesting, that in these moods, it is invariably Jerry Goldsmith, and specifically, his Western film/tv scores I turn to. 100 Rifles, Rio Conchos, The Loner, Take a Hard Ride, Bandolero, Hour of the Gun... these are what I crave most, where I find my solace, the music I want to turn up and crawl inside until I become one with the notes. I'm not sure why.

I tend to turn to Western films for viewing as well. I watched two new ones this past week, both with Richard Widmark.

Cheyenne Autumn (1964). Big star cast, great scenery, okay movie. This one I liked mostly for Richard Widmark. He's playing a good guy here, a genuinely good guy, and as much as I like him when he's smirking and evil, I really really like him when he's good, and I wish he'd had even more screen time. He's one of the few characters sympathetic to the Cheyenne plight, who is working to help them within the constraints of his position as Army captain. I particularly like his scenes with Patrick Wayne, who starts out not the least bit sympathetic, and I would really have liked to have decked him myself. He makes his own foolish mistakes though and comes around, though. Sean McClory played my other favorite character, a doctor who finally stands up to Karl Malden. Sean McClory's one of those very underrated actors that deserves more appreciation.

(I want Richard Widmark's jacket.)

The movie has an odd section in the middle with Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday (Jimmy Stewart and Arthur Kennedy, respectively) that is comedic and just a bizarre interlude in the middle of everything else. Pick that section up and put in another movie, and I'd probably really like it -- it's very funny -- but it sure didn't belong here. Edward G. Robinson shows up in a small but pivotal role and manages to steal every scene he's in. But he does tend to do that.

The thing I liked least about the film was the score. I'm afraid, I am just not an Alex North fan. There is not one score he's written that I even remotely like. I was also mad that the streaming video on Netflix was not widescreen, other than the opening credits. What's up with that? Grrrr.

Yellow Sky (1948) - now why the heck haven't I seen this movie before?? I loved this movie! Gregory Peck plays the leader of the outlaw band. They rob a bank and flee into the desert, barely make it to a ghost town where an old prospector and his granddaughter are living alone. The granddaughter is played by one of my favorite actresses, Anne Baxter, and boy howdy, I LOVE her in this movie. She's packing and she can use rifle and pistol very well -- and fists! One of my favorite moments -- she slugs Gregory Peck in the jaw! Dude! Gregory Peck! She's young and pretty and tough and vulnerable, and she really carries a lot of the weight of the film. There's a lot of scenes where she says nothing, and you can tell exactly what she's thinking. She is wonderful. If she wasn't one of my favorites already, this movie would have put her there.

Richard Widmark is a well-dressed, smart, sly, double-crossing gambler ruled almost exclusively by his own greed. He's back in top bad guy form, and he's great here. The opposite of his Captain Archer in Cheyenne Autumn. That smirk and giggling laugh of his are so perfect when he's lounging about contemplating wrong doings. His character would have come out on top, too, except for one big flaw... he's hasty. He needs a little more patience. All that gold could have been his.

A lot of this one was filmed in the Alabama Hills, Mt. Whitney and the glorious High Sierra in the background. Gorgeous country, and those rocks are always a great place for a bit of cat and mouse. I've hiked the Alabama Hills, and that place just never loses its magic. Yellow Sky was entertaining start to finish. Almost a bit noirish, more character-oriented than usual, with the outlaw band turning on each other when confronted with a fortune in gold and one woman, their strengths and weaknesses brought out by the situation. The other supporting characters are all strong. I particularly liked Charles Kemper as Walrus, who fills his canteen with whiskey instead of water... and then gets stuck without water in the desert. He was very believable throughout the film.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Strange threesome

I've been watching a lot of movies lately, but I've been very remiss about posting about them. Just haven't been in a posting mood. Anyway, I'll try and fill in some of the blanks with some short reviews.

Under the Mountain
(2009) - rented from Netflix for Sam Neill, 'natch. Who I loved. This was an interesting movie. Sort of Lovecraft meets Lord of the Rings. Our heroes have to pitch something into the volcano to destroy the Big Bad Evil while extremely creepy minions try to kill them. There isn't enough to this movie to really make it work right. But if you check your brain at the door, the lead actors are all quite engaging and fun to watch. This is billed as a family movie, but I wouldn't let any youngsters watch it. The Wilberforces are flat-out freaky (very nice make up and effects on them), and their dialogue is nicely not-human in cadence and wording. Sam Neill was wonderful, as usual, his character a bit shady and lost, redeeming himself at the end. Mmmm.

Speaking of checking your brain at the door, I went to the movie theater and saw an actual currently playing movie! I just couldn't resist going to see The Expendables. Yeah, yeah, but I grew up on violent action movies and this sounded right up my alley. Of course, I also had this misconception that Bruce Willis was going to have more than 5 minutes of screen time (I love Bruce Willis), but you know, he got one of the funniest moments, and he got to threaten Sylvester Stallone. I'd say that's a win.

As for the movie, it was a fun popcorn flick, not too much plot, not too much character, but enough of each to backbone the explosions, shoot-'em-ups, and hand-to-hand fights. I was surprised at how much I liked the Expendables themselves. In particularly Jason Statham's character and Jet Li's character, who hands down got the funniest dialogue. There was one great action sequence (the plane escape), the rest was par for the course.

Fun, but good lord, I can handle a lot of violence, but really, do we need that much blood and flying body parts? Really? It's all very cartoonish, but still I was a bit surprised by how gory it was. Not one I'd want to own, but I'm glad I saw it in the theater.

Father is a Bachelor (1950). (Thank you, Kate!!) We're still in brainless territory, but this one is a very cute and harmless film. William Holden plays part of a medicine show act who gets stranded in a town when his boss is arrested. He hides out, does some fishing, discovers a houseful of orphans and ends up caring for them, problems ensue, problems get solved. There really is nothing more to this movie than cute, but that's okay. When the cute is William Holden, I'm fine with it. However, there's also that bunch of kids. I liked the boys, but the little girl just made me roll my eyes and wish her elsewhere. There is a hilarious scene though when WH thinks he can make her a dress to replace a ruined one. This is a bit of a musical too, with lots of singing... only someone's dubbing over WH, and it's not a good match. Sigh. All's well that ends well, though, and this was overall a pleasant, if not particularly memorable movie.

Oh, and I have this pet peeve about actors who can't chop wood. I can't remember what movie it was now, but there was some modern movie with some buff guy who was supposed to be chopping wood, and he couldn't do it. He was doing these short little choppy swings that would accomplish nothing. I've chopped wood, and when I can swing an axe in a full overhead swing and split a piece of wood in two, and some manly actor can't when he's playing a character who's supposed to be able to... well, it irritates me greatly. It's just one of those pet peeve things. Not that I had any doubts on the matter, but I'm pleased to say William Holden chops wood beautifully.

Day 30- Your favourite film of all time

My, but this is a familiar question! Didn't I answer this before?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Day 29- Favourite film from your childhood

Well, duh! Star Wars. Of course.

Han shot first.

Compare and contrast

I just watched Operation Valkyrie (2004) and Valkyrie (2008) . The former is a German film made for TV, the latter, the big budget Tom Cruise movie. Guess which one I liked better?

Yeah, the German one.

They're actually surprisingly similar. Both run through the events, without much background or detail, but the German film brought in more of the character motives, and it felt more fleshed out. It was also tighter and, to me, more emotional. Tom Cruise didn't do a bad job, but Sebastian Koch as Stauffenberg was much more interesting and... animated? than Cruise. I definitely believed in him and his determination. I can't say that about Tom Cruise's portrayal. I liked almost all the German actors in the key roles better than the big budget version. There was this solidarity and emotion to them that the same characters in Valkyrie lacked. Operation Valkyrie version also was, oddly, easier to follow. Which seems odd, as I thought it moved too quickly, and I would have loved another half hour. But seeing its counterpart, Valkyrie gave out no more information (and in some cases, less) and wasted time with a lot of excess "pretty" shots... troops mobilizing, long driving shots, and annoying "this is what's going to happen if we stick to the plan" visuals as plans were explained. etc. Just let me watch it as it happens! I don't need previews to understand what you're telling me. Operation Valkyrie cut to the chase, and I appreciated that. I also preferred listening to the dialog in German.

I did watch the German film first, so I have to wonder if I would feel differently had I watched them the other way around? No, probably not, because Operation Valkyrie was still tighter, and still better acted, and had better music. Valkyrie has that heavy-handed dirge-like music, the kind that pounds you over the head with "pay attention, the good guys are losing, feel bad now!" Blech.

Valkrie did have the always wonderful Ken Brannagh and also Thomas Kretschmann, though Ken was only really in the beginning and Thomas only in the end (but yowza! he got to have a swimming scene, so I'm not complaining too much about his lack of screen time).

But Operation Valkyrie had Hardy Kruger Jr., who is Hardy Kruger's son and also a very handsome and fine actor. I really enjoyed watching him. He had a pretty large role, so that made me happy. I'd love to catch him in other things.