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Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Sheriff (John Wayne) has made a catch – local crook Burdette got arrested after killing a bystander. His brother alerts the gang, and a stand-off begins. The prisoner cannot be brought out of town, and the Marshall will only be coming in a couple of days. Sheriff and deputies Stumpy and Dude (Dean Martin) team up with pretty love interest Feathers to get through the days.
An interesting melange of hard-ass cliché Western and romantic musical. Not too much music, but there are two or three scenes when Dean martin is allowed to bring the action to a halt, sit in a rocking chair or a bathtub and give us a very mellow tune. But most of the time, the expected shoot-outs, plots and traps happen. The showdown involving a surprise hero Stumpy and a lot of dynamite seems a bit short cut, as if they were running out of film stock and needed to rush off the final scenes. A much lighter bit of entertainment than “The Searchers” that I watched a day earlier, but with prototypical characters that are worth liking. It is no surprise that John Wayne’s presence is solid, but especially Dean Martin surprised me with subtle acting and a very cool screen presence.

Ethan returns home after months (or years) on the road. Upon his arrival, he is immediately dragged into a quest for two girls from his family that got kidnapped by a posse of Comanches. It takes him and his fellows years, and what they find is not what they had hoped for.
Often quoted as one of the great Westerns, if not the great movies of all times, the film makes it easy to show why that is. There is very little Western romanticism and heroism. John Wayne’s Ethan is superior in his instincts, experiences and skills, but even he is fallible, a sometimes angry and desperate man who realises that his life’s core may be empty and the quest he is on in vain. Not because he will not find the girls, but because it may not be worth looking for them. He rampages among a herd of buffalo (a scene that may well be the inspiration for Lawrence of Arabia’s “no prisoners!” massacre?), he breaks down and cries upon finding bodies, he turns around only to start again, because that is all he has to do. John Ford dares to be bleak and artistic, he makes huge jumps in narrative time, finds unorthodox images (such as snow-covered desert plains) and apart from the showdown, he moves towards what could easily have been the first neo-Western, pessimistic and devoid of hope. The end looks as if suggested by the studio management, and hence is not quite coherent, but overall this movie leaves an impression of depth and seriousness, making it more akin to what followed from Eastwood than what preceded it. There’s even some humour in-between, especially in the long scene when a letter from the search party is read to those waiting at home, where one of the Searchers narrates his adventures, involving him getting married by accident to a fat squaw. Yet even those moments are but short relief, because the light pleasure of the moment gets turned on its head when moments later he realises that he virtually condemned his wife to death by sending her sway carelessly.

Plot as in the tv show of the same name. Relocating the action to the US requires some adjustments for plot, in particular the background of the House representative as a defense expert battling against the private contractors, while the original featured, if I remember correctly, the Health lobby. Similarly ruthless, no doubt, but I feel a bit tired of the Blackwater bashing, maybe it is more interesting to use the not so obvious industry, as the BBC show did.

Ben Affleck as Stephen Collins has not a lot to do (and since my recent Kevin Smith marathon, that is all the better, because I will never be able to grant him a serious expression again – or an adult character, for that matter), his wife nothing at all – to the point that when she is involved in the final “confession scene” in the news room, it is completely unclear why she needs to be there and why everybody is staring at her as if she was important in this. Chubby Gladiator is fine for the role, in principle, only that John Simms is so much better, more serious and energetic and real and desperate. It is not just out of principle, but out of failure of very specific characterisations and plot elements, that I stand by my opinion that this story should not have been condensed into a movie. The original short series was just perfect to show the evolution of the characters, and in Hollywood’s executive summary version, the key plot twists towards the end just fall flat on their face (plus they leave you wonder how often per night you can postpone a final editorial deadline for a national newspaper).

After Richard Nixon steps down as US president, David Frost – UK boulevard journalist of varying success – sees his chance to get a coup by convincing Nixon to a series of interview “to set things straight”. Between financial woes about the costly production, immense research requirement, and the growing feeling that Nixon is not the kind of opponent one should pick in a one-on-one interview situation, the deadline of the show is approaching.
Firstly, the movie leaves you a bit alone with history. It is clearly made for an American audience that has detailed knowledge about the happenings around the Watergate scandal, Nixon’s involvement in the Vietnam war, the public opinion at the time, the hearings, impeachment procedures and the Nixon tapes. To be honest, if a European movie would expect as much from a US audience (e.g. on the Second World War or Nazi Germany), this would be answered with utter lack of comprehension. The indication of historical events edited over the opening credits is but a small effort to bring people on track. I had the impression the film starts with the expectation that the audience knows quite a bit about the facts, and has a clear opinion formed against Nixon (whom many still see as evil impersonated). Interestingly, when you watch the film without this starting attitude, there is little not to like about Nixon. From a clean sheet, he easily wins your sympathy by way of charm, rhetoric and argument. Especially with a smug and slightly slimy boulevard entertainer like Frost, sympathies must be clearly allocated. One of the two takes history and man’s role in it seriously and tries to shape it, the other seeks to find some way to earn some million dollars by exposing the fallacies of another man. That Nixon is frequently depicted as monetary greedy seemed like an effort to create at least something set in the presence to justify letting him go down.

An office of real-estate developing salesmen is challenged by their company to either improve performance or go. In their desperation, some of them plot a heist to lay their hands on the safe with the latest “leads”, addresses of promising potential buyers. Indeed, next day, a break-in has happened, and the police is investigating.
Very very strange to try to explain what the film is about. The one-line starting-point turns into a psycho-drama of epic proportions – but on a microscopic scale. Ahem. The sad character played by an aged Jack Lemmon, still believing that he is competitive after years of failure (a very Willi Lohman character), Ed Harris being nothing short of creepy in his plotting of the theft, and most formidably (find it on YouTube, maybe as part of the “20 Mega-rants of film history”) the man who insulted his baby daughter on the phone, Alec Baldwin. His introductory speech, laying out the problem, the challenge, the rules and the impossibility that any of the losers present to hear his speech will ever be able to close any deal before hell freezes over, this speech indeed is movie history and I watched it about seven times now, need to practice more for the next Jour Fixe. Al Pacino (yes, this film is rimful of really weird stars) may log this in to be among his top 5 ever performances. And whoever played the man who wanted to sign some land but now his wife told him to cancel it and who throws himself into the charm machinery that is Al Pacino deserves and Oscar and compensation money anyway. Fabulous drama, and I cannot wait to check out next time the stage play comes around. (why did it take me 15 years to watch this I have no idea… was it a hit back when it came out?).

I never understand this kind of gangster film, usually because I never manage to concentrate on the interellationship between all those gangster characters, and if that happens, I never know whom to blame: script, diretor, me? In the case of Michael Mann’s latest film, I would say we are all to blame. He focuses a lot on the two main opponents, a bank robber (who, dear US producers, is nowhere near as famous internationally as you seem to believe) and the copper chasing him. We have seen that in various settings, not the least in Mann’s own “Heat”, but also there are clear traces of the “Untouchables”, if only the three-piece suits (never worn with more sex than through Andy Garcia – what’s he doing these days??). The film has fabulous moments, mostly when the irony that belongs more to Johnny Depp’s look than to Dillinger’s character takes over (the visit at the Dillinger task force in the police headqarters is an example – I am positive that cool was Depp cool, not Dillinger cool). The use of HD footage throughout makes for a look that takes some time to adjust to. If one does not adjust, you could believe that film was shot with the same equipment than any given porn flic, so you better take it for innovative camera dynamics instead. No seriously, I keep not understanding why you need to use this kind of technology when you can afford proper film. Next thing is they shoot it on 3D… because we can!
As most “based on a true story” movies (I keep remembering “Zodiac” for this), there is a certain anti-climax that comes with real life, and despite all the effort put into the showdown, it comes down to *** spoiler now, ok, also before, but now really! *** it comes down to the cops waiting for Dillinger in front of a cinema, waiting for him to come out and gunning him down. There is not much thrill that can come out of such a prosaic ending.
Christian Bale assessment line: still not a useful actor, overrated. I do not expect his hype to last much longer. Much better suited for roles where he does not need to move his neck.

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