Archive | April, 2012

Mutiny on the bounty (1962)

30 Apr

Synopsis: Based on a true story in 1787 the HMS Bounty set sail for Tahiti under the leadership of tyrannical Captain William Bligh played by Trevor Howard. The mission is to bring back breadfruit trees to Jamaica two provide a cheap source of food to feed the slaves their. The film directed by Lewis Milestone took one year to complete and was nominated for seven academy awards including best picture.

Review: This technicolor film version of the Bounty was different than its 1935 predecessor in many respects. Trevor Howard’s Bligh was more dignified and less verbally bombastic as Charles Laughton’s Bligh. Howard’s Bligh seems to quietly relish each punishment as he redeems his inner demons by the other officers follow his tyrannical demands. He doesn’t hide his contempt for his second in command the young rich, snobbish, Lieutenant Fletcher Christian played by Marlon Brando.

Brando’s Christian starts out as a playboy and a snob and we watch his catharsis as he tries so desperately to ignore Bligh’s ongoing punishment of the crew. As a young officer he wrestles with Bligh’s insidiousness as he sorts out his allegiances to the Admiralty, Bligh and his fellow crew members. During the filming Brando’s method acting antics became legendary as he would be constantly late to the set, ill prepared and rewriting crucial scenes to his liking. Trevor Howard vowed never to work with him again and publicly called Brando the most unprofessional actor he ever worked with. After the film shoot Brando sent a letter Howard apologizing for his behavior on the shoot. Howard and Brando became friends after that and both appeared together in the first Superman Movie with Christopher Reed.

Some of the notable differences between Brando’s Christian and Gable’s come from different public views of each actor, Gable plays the womanizing, rough and tumble savior of the crew the kind of character that audiences love him to play. Brando‘s Christian is brooding, intelligent and gives deep thought to every decision he must make starting out superficial and smarmy and ending up being brooding and disillusioned. I suspect the change in his character is due to Brando having complete control over his character’s actions, motivation and search for truth. As a method actor, Brando’s   performance is nuanced and layered much to the chagrin and disdain of his fellow performers.

The movie ends differently than the 1935 version but is equally as poignant as the former.

Recommended:

Mutiny on the Bounty (1935)

30 Apr

Synopsis: Based on a factual event, the HMS Bounty left England’s shores in 1787 to set sail for Tahiti. Its mission was to travel to the island, to gather seedlings of the breadfruit tree, transport them to the West Indies, then return to Britain’s shores. Charles Laughton plays the arrogant, self-riotous and maniacal Captain William Bligh,  Clark Gable plays Lieutenant Fletcher Christian, the second in command.

Awards: 1935, Best Picture Academy Award.

Review: Bounty was directed by Frank Lloyd with the film playing on the strengths of the two lead actors. The film was a runaway success in its day and has plenty to offer to modern day movie audiences.  Interestingly enough this  film unlike say Pirates of the Caribbean relies more on coherent story telling than blowing something up to keep things moving.

Charles Laughton plays Bligh so thoroughly contemptible with an underlying insidiousness that he justifies by quoting the Naval Regulations of Admiralty.  He believes by instilling fear in his subordinates they will obey his every command without question.  On the year-long trip to Tahiti he has a man whipped 300 times even long after he the man has died, he cuts back food rations over a perceived piece of stolen cheese, and keelhauls a man to his death. Bligh does all this with a sense of duty that lacks perspective and humanity leaving a lasting disdainful impression on his crew.

Clark Gable play Fletcher Christian as evolving young officer who deep down is the complete antithesis of Bligh. Christian constantly wrestles with the orders Bligh throws at him and shows little restraint in words and deed as his underlying contempt for Bligh rises to the surface.

Once the Bounty has reached Tahiti the crew is sent ashore to find the Breadfruit saplings. Off the ship the Tahitian world is calm and peaceful as the natives welcome them with open arms. The crew including Christian meet the local women and many relationships begin to form. This is paradise for the crew as the hellish Bligh leaves them alone in order to accomplish his mission there.

When the Bounty finally gets underway the Bligh wastes no time in starting his ruthless punishments again. When the Breadfruit trees need more water than first expected he orders only one drink a day for the crew and puts the water ladle up on the highest rafter forcing the already water deprived men to climb up to the top to get the ladle, get the drink and then return it to the top again. This was the beginning of the mutiny as Christian finally leads the sailors to take over the ship. Bligh swears revenge after he put in a long boat with a few men who want to go back to England and set adrift. There is also a love story between Christian and an Island native whom he goes back for after the mutiny. 

This is a classic film and does stand-up today as an early blockbuster.  In 1962 a remake was made with Trevor Howard as Bligh and Marlon Brando as Christian. More on the remake in another review.

Recommended:

21 Jump Street

27 Apr

Image

Synopsis: 21 Jump Street is a reboot of the 80’s television show that starred Johnny Depp, Peter DeLuise and Holly Robinson Peete. The premise of the TV show, which was created by Stephen J. Cannell, centered around a squad of youthful-looking undercover police officers investigating crimes in high schools, colleges, and other teenage venues. The reboot starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum is loosely based on the original.

Review: This uneven comedy/action film was written by Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall and is both an affectionate take on the original and a fun fest for stoners and geeks. The original series was as serious as this reboot is humorous. The films weakness is the constant barrage of dick jokes, the movie poster tag-line should give you an idea of where this is going, “The Only Thing Getting Blown Tonight Is Their Cover” bdump bump.

The plot revolves around two high school classmates one a chubby, geeky smart guy named Morton Schmidt, played to the hilt by Jonah Hill and a dumb jock named Greg Jenko played so realistically it rings true by Channing Tatum. In high school Tatum laughs and makes remarks as Schmidt chokes up trying to ask a pretty and cool girl to the prom.

Jump to several years later and the two meet-up and become friends at the police academy and help each other get through classes together. Schmidt helps Jenko pass the written tests while Jenko helps Schmidt pass all the boot camp training. They are teamed together on Park Duty and ride police bicycles around the park. They finally have an opportunity to prove themselves by arresting a drug dealer, however the department had to release the guy because Jenko didn’t read him his Miranda rights. When the department chief asks Jenko and Schmidt to recite to him the 52 words that encompass the Miranda rights Jenko screws it up. They are so immature,childish and young looking that they are assigned to join a special undercover division at 21 Jump Street, run by Captain Dickson (Ice Cube) in order to infiltrate a drug ring at the local high school. Dickson is no nonsense, foul mouth, I don’t give a crap about you, son of a bitch. Ice Cube plays it over the top for a few laughs.

Things have changed since they went to high school, everything has become politically correct and the type of geeks Jenko used to make fun of are now the cool guys,needless to say Schmidt fits right in. They are undercover as teenage brothers Brad and Doug, Brad being the brains and Doug being the athlete. They are like the stoner Laurel and Hardy, there are especially hilarious moments when their file gets mixed up and Schmidt is mistaken for Doug not Brad and Jenko for Brad not Doug. Their objective to find out who the school drug dealer is and then shut down the supplier before the drugs move to other schools. Needless to say they both take the drug and the effect on the two of them is one of the bigger laughs in the movie.

The strength of the movie is lies in the relationship between Schmidt and Jenko and how they bond while trying to get in with the cool kids and geeks.  They learn the lead dealer of the drug is the popular Eric (Dave Franco), but he is not the supplier.

They go to the dealing room where Eric forces them to take the drug right there and not wait. They attempt to throw it up but are unsuccessful, and they undergo the phases of the drug while talking to their P.E. teacher, Mr. Walters (Rob Riggle), and also while running track and during band practice. The mistakes that happen at the track meet causes Eric to take a liking to Schmidt.

Schmidt also falls for Molly (Brie Larson) and even tho he is in his 20’s now he emotionally relives his geeky past and works hard to make her like him, a little to hard as she already understands how sensitive and compassionate he is and thinks he is so cool.

The film also deconstructs action films because during the obligatory chase scene no matter how many flammable gas trucks get hit or fired upon non of them blow-up, Schmidt is dismayed that nothing blows up in real life like it does on TV and the movies.

There are cameo appearances by Johnny Depp, Peter DeLuise and Holly Robinson Peete for fans of the original series.

Understand that when Hollywood runs out of ideas they tend to reboot old TV shows with a 50/50 chance of success for example: Bewitched which was a disaster and a Star Trek Reboot that was brilliant. 21 Jump Street was somewhere in the middle, not bad but not a total disaster either.

Recommended:

The Magnificent Seven

27 Apr

Image

Synopsis: The film is a remake of the Japanese masterpiece The Seven Samurai,  by Akira Kurosawa. Set in the post Civil War in Mexico and the bordering United States, a group of farmers from a Mexican village come north to hire gunmen to free their village from a ruthless gang of bandits.

Review: The music of the movie written by Elmer Bernstein stands alone as is less remembered for the film than it is for the Marlboro Man TV ads. However it is the combination of music and acting that make this the enjoyable, remembered movie classic that it has become.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, screen play by William Roberts,  directed and produced by John Sturges; a Mirisch-Alpha Picture released through United Artists. Running time: 126 minutes.
Chris . . . . . . . . Yul Brynner
Calvera . . . . . . Eli Wallach
Vin . . . . . . . . . Steve McQueen
Chico . . . . . . . Horst Buchholz
Harry . . . . . . . Brad Dexter
O’Reilly . . . . . Charles Bronson
Lee . . . . . . . . Robert Vaughn
Britt . . . . . . .  James Coburn
Old Man . . . . Vladimir Sokoloff
Petra . . . . . .  Rosenda Monteros
Hilario . . . . . Jorge Martinez de Hoyos

Yul Brenner’s character Chris is played with coolness, regret, compassion and wisdom. He understands very well what he is getting himself into when he accepts the farmers offer to help them save their village. Chris hand picks the gunmen he needs to rid the farm town of the desperadoes.

Eli Wallach plays the leader of the bandits Calvera. Wallach convinced the director that his character should have a gold tooth and a silver saddle on his horse. Wallach felt that bandits steal gold and silver, Hollywood westerns have never shown what the bad guys do with their spoils. The director, John Sturges agreed and that is how Wallach portrayed Calvera.

Steve McQueen made his screen debut as Vin a thinking man’s cowboy. He is philosophical about his choices and is always quoting wisdom passed down to him from his family and experience. Yul Brenner who had clout and casting control wanted McQueen in the picture and to his regret cast him. McQueen had his own ideas about his portrayal to the point of annoyance to Brenner who never hired McQueen again even tho sequels were made.

Horst Buchholz a German actor played Chico, (not to be confused with the Marx Brothers) a young naive would be gunslinger with more bravado than brains. His less than memorable performance paled in the face of Brenner and McQueen. He was a bit of comic relief and the young male who falls in love with a young Mexican farm girl.

Brad Dexter plays Harry Luck the least remembered character in the film. He is after a fortune of gold and silver he believes is in a nonexistent nearby mine and is the true motivation behind the others wanting to save the town. He really doesn’t do much here except whine about the low pay he will receive as well as carrying on about the fortune he expects to dig up.

Charles Bronson plays O’Reilly a half Mexican half Irish man who protects the children in the town as much as they try to protect him.

Robert Vaughn plays gunslinger Lee who secretly lost his nerve. He needs to prove to himself that he can still handle a gun. Chris after discovering Lee waiting for him in his room asks, “Thought you were looking for the Johnson brothers?” Lee comments, “I found them.” This gives Lee reason enough to run and hide.

James Coburn ( pre-In Like Flint) plays Britt the fastest gunslinger and knife thrower in the territory. He is both cool, fast and savvy. This is the film that made Coburn a star.

The film influenced the way modern westerns were made and has become an iconic western film in the process. It is available on Blu-ray and Netflix. This is a don’t miss classic.

Recommended: 

Casablanca 70th Anniversary DVD

26 Apr

Image

Synopsis: Arguably the most memorable film ever produced has been restored on this 3 disc blu-ray anniversary set to pristine condition. The story is centered around Rick Blaine (Humphrey Bogart), a world-weary ex-freedom fighter who runs a nightclub in Casablanca during the early part of WWII. Despite pressure from the local authorities, notably the crafty Capt. Renault (Claude Rains), Rick’s Cafe has become a haven for refugees looking to purchase illicit letters of transit which will allow them to escape to America. One day, to Rick’s great surprise, he is approached by the famed rebel Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid) and his wife, Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), Rick’s true love who deserted him when the Nazis invaded Paris. She still wants Victor to escape to America, but now that she’s renewed her love for Rick, she wants to stay behind in Casablanca. “You must do the thinking for both of us,” she says to Rick. He does, and becomes a patriot in doing so. The film is #2 on AFI’s all time classic films list and was directed by Michael Curtiz.

Review: One does not review a film like Casablanca but just watches and remains in awe of the classic war-torn love story as it unfolds before your eyes. Warner Brothers has taken the time to restore the print to near perfection, no scratches or surface noise just a clean, crisp clear view. The audio has also been upgraded and doesn’t have the scratchiness of an old analog soundtrack. In short this is the edition of Casablanca we have been waiting for, for a long time.

This one film that has held up decade after decade and has become an American film-making Icon. I remember around the 40th Anniversary of the film it was released in theaters, I watched it at a theater in Manhattan. needless to say when Bogart’s Blaine explains to German Major Strasser (Conrad Veidt), ” Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn’t advise you to try to invade”, there was cheering and applause in the audience, never mind the knowing laughter.  Certainly this classic story deserves new audiences and perhaps the DVD will serve that purpose. There is also a nationwide showing of the restored film in selected theaters.  Kudos to TCM (Turner Classic Movies) and film fans who have brought this back to theater going audiences.

Extras include: Disc 1: Commentary by Roger Ebert and historian Rudy Behlmer as well as a two minute introduction by Lauren Bacall (Mrs. Humphrey Bogart). Disc 2: A one hour and twenty minute 1988 “Bacall on Bogart” documentary and a thirty-five minute making-of documentary “You Must Remember This: A Tribute to Casablanca”. Next is a seven minute feature with Bogart’s son and Bergman’s daughter titled “As Time Goes By: The Children Remember”, along with the eight minute 1995 cartoon spoof “Carrotblanca”. A selection of deleted scenes and outtakes, totaling about seven minutes, are of particular interest here (though there is no sound for any of them), and a “Production Research” gallery. Of lesser interest is the premiere episode from the 1955 “Casablanca” TV series titled “Who Holds Tomorrow?”, it’s a noble failure and clocks in at about nineteen minutes. Disc 3: An hour-long 1993 documentary “Jack Warner: The Last Mogul”. Also included is a small book of production photos, office memos, lobby & poster cards, and a passport holder and luggage tag emblazoned with “Casablanca”.

In short this why we fell in love with the movies in the first place. “You must remember this…..”

Recommended:

the Descendants

25 Apr

Synopsis: From Alexander Payne, the creator of the Oscar-winning Sideways, set in Hawaii, The Descendants is a sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic journey for Matt King (George Clooney) an indifferent husband and father of two girls, who is forced to re-examine his past and embrace his future when his wife suffers a boating accident off of Waikiki. The event leads to a rapprochement with his young daughters while Matt wrestles with a decision to sell the family’s land handed down from Hawaiian royalty and missionaries. The film was nominated for an Oscar for Clooney as best actor and was up for best picture as well.

Review: The film is a juxtapose of lightness and drama centered around a moving performance by George Clooney as Matt King.  The story takes place in Hawaii as King goes on a journey to discover himself, his worth as a husband, and “the back up parent” of two daughters after his wife has a tragic boating accident and lies in a coma in the hospital.  His ten year old daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) gets into trouble because she is acting out her anger over her mother by throwing chairs into their swimming pool, using foul language and berating classmates. King’s other daughter Alex (Shailene Woodley) is a rebellious typical teenage young lady who lives on another island in a boarding school. King learns his wife is going to die and he has to tell his daughters, his wife’s friends and relatives. When he goes to bring home Alex to talk to her about mother’s condition Alex look’s at her father and realizes that he hasn’t a clue to her behavior.  She tells him that mom has been cheating on him for months and if he didn’t spend so much time at work and neglecting his family perhaps this never would have happened. This is when the journey, catharsis and healing really begin.

When King finds out the name of his wife’s lover from the husband of a couple his wife was friend’s with, Alex and her father bond over trying to find the guy. King just wants to see him and find closure, his intelligence and restraint rule over his inner jealousy and contempt. Clooney’s portrayal navigates through the emotions with intensity and humor when he finally confronts the guy.  Shailene Woodley‘s Alex, realistically portrays the young teen who has to take on an adult role but emotionally isn’t near up to the task, despite her rude bravado. Nick Krause  plays Alex’s goofy tag-along pal Sid, who has a gift for saying the wrong thing, especially in front of Alex’s grumpy grandpa (Robert Forster) who belts him in the eye for being stupid.  Also notable are Beau Bridges, as a laid-back, long haired cousin who understands the business end of selling the family property, and Judy Greer brings a subtle sub-surface hurt to the wife of the “other man” in King’s wife’s life.

The film strength lies in the journey and you cry and laugh over King reuniting his family under such extraordinary but real circumstances. He goes from being out of loop about his wife’s private life to bringing closure, warmth and understanding to his two daughters. The film is available on DVD, Blu-ray, Netflix, Redbox and On Demand.

Recommended:

Disneynature Chimpanzee

22 Apr

Synopsis: The fourth and best of the Disneynature series takes us on an adventure into the rain forest of the Ivory Coast of Africa. It is the story of a chimpanzee named Oscar and his family’s fight for survival in their ancestral home in the wild’s of the rain forest.

Review: I will begin by sharing with you the history of Walt Disney films and their depictions of the natural world around us. Between the years of 1948 to the early 1960’s Disney produced a series documentaries of films entitled “True Life Adventure”. The films such as Seal Island, Wonders of the Sea and the Living Desert garnered eight Academy Awards and make no mistake set the tone for the nature documentaries that followed. The influence was seen in The National Geographic Specials, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and of course Animal Planet. Walt Disney’s nephew Roy Disney was an assistant editor on these films and went on to hold a major stake in his family’s company for many years.

Chimpanzee employs the use of HD Cinematography and the world that unfolds before your eyes immerses you into the beauty of the natural world, it is breath taking.  Tim Allen of Home Improvement and Toy Story (Buzz Lightyear) fame narrates the story giving it a sense of humanity and humor.  The story centers around a tribe of Chimpanzees that includes a 3 year old chimp named Oscar and his relationship with his father the alpha male of the tribe, Freddy. Oscar’s world is filled with day to day survival and he is completely dependent on his mother who tries to teach him how to survive. There is humor in the way the young chimp learns to break open forest nuts with first a tree branch and then a rock, the harder the nut the bigger the tool, such as a log or a rock is not missed on Mr. Allen’s hint of sarcasm. The nuts mean nourishment, as do ants, the right tool is needed, a branch is used to capture the ants from inside a tree trunk.

Across the forest is a rival clan headed by the aging alpha male aptly named Scar. Freddy’s side of the forest has the nut trees needed for Scar’s family’s sustenance and survival.  Scar’s plan is to ultimately survive by battling for the food supply. In Scar’s first surprise attack Oscar’s family is scattered and his mother is lost in the battle, presumably eaten by leopards. Oscar who is left alone is too young to fend for himself and has become an outcast from the surviving members of his clan.

What happens next is both remarkable and unheard of in the chimpanzee kingdom, Freddy takes on the responsibility of caring for the baby chimp. The relationship that develops pulls at your heart strings with a strong sense of humanity that unfolds as Freddy lovingly grooms and cares for Oscar in much the same way Oscar’s mother did.

We also learn that chimps are carnivores and eat smaller monkeys.  The fascinating scene of Freddie and his clan going in for the attack using intelligence over might is riveting. There is no blood-shed depicted only the suggestion of the kill as the camera hovers over the trees and the music gets a little ominous. The movie is rated G so the most graphic it gets is watching a chimp chewing on a bone.

When Scar and his family returns to take the nut trees, Freddie is preoccupied caring for Oscar and a battle takes place between Scar and Freddie.  The moment has you cheering for Freddie as Oscar looks on with a look of genuine concern on his face.

The cinematography is magnificent and the use of HD time-lapse photography shows us both the wonder and beauty of the ever growing living forest.  It is a reminder that nature is a powerful force and only the fit will survive.

Judging from the quiet of the young children in the packed multiplex, I would say Disney has a hit on it’s hands, once again proving that Disney is the king of family entertainment.

Recommended: