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No Country for Old Men (2007)
Too many problems
I realize that this movie is supposed to be very artsy, but it just doesn't work--at least, not for me. This is what I find unsupportable:
(1) There is no resolution. A novel, a movie, or a TV drama has to go somewhere with a definite change. The movie doesn't have this.
(2) There are too many unexplained occurrences, e.g., the final scene. I could go into this in more detail, but I don't want to give too much away.
(3) The villain is completely one dimensional, which is probably the fault of the directors. The scariest villains are those with redeeming qualities, some ability to function in society. Nurse Ratchet in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and Hal in "2001" are examples of what I mean. One look at or one word from the villain in "No Country" and it is obvious that he is completely and dangerously crazy. Even Charlie Manson is more presentable. Or Jeffrey Daumer. Or John Wayne Gacy. Or, or, or... I realize the actor received an Academy Award for this role, but I wouldn't have voted for him.
(4) I didn't keep count of the killings in this movie, but it has to be somewhere between 15 and 20, Maybe more. killings by the cruelest methods. If one man, in real life, accounted for that many killings in such a short period, he would be featured nightly on Nancy Grace, even on the front page of the New York Times. And no killer could just walk away from it. No, I don't think so.
(5) I couldn't always understand the dialogue, and I didn't always understand where we were. No, I'm not retarded. I paid attention. In understand other movies. I didn't have any problem with "Fargo." In short, I'm no longer much entertained by violence and bloodshed when there's no point made by the film makers. I prefer a better story with better acting.
An American in Paris (1951)
Not the sum of its parts
The color is great, although the sets are greatly romanticized. Paris isn't quite that neat and clean. Gene Kelly was a magnificent dancer and a fair singer. He makes dancing look so easy that I could do it--and I can't dance at all. Oscar Levant's dream scene at the piano is simply brilliant and offsets his poor acting. The Gershwin music is magnificent--what more can one say about it? Leslie Caron is--well, Leslie Caron. I was in love with her the first time I saw her in a movie, more than 50 years ago. Nina Foch is quite pretty, but she plays a role that we've seen too often.
There are many good things here, and yet somehow the very nice pieces never quite fit together. Perhaps the dumb love story is part of the difficulty. It's downright silly. Or perhaps it is the overdone artist's ball. Or perhaps it is the impossible ballet at the end with all those costume changes in mid-dance. All I know is that this remains in pieces and doesn't work for me as a whole.
Rootin' Tootin' Rhythm (1937)
Not so hot
Even for a B western, this wasn't very good. Compared with A westerns of the period, this is really bad.
The plot is confusing as to who is who in all that dust and with all those costume changes. There's lots of shooting, but not many dead bodies. The action scenes are interspersed with some fair to middling western tunes by the hero and others.
Gene Autry made better movies than this. This one appears to be thrown together as the movies was being shot. The ending is completely predictable and dull.
Gene even has a half-hearted love interest that comes out of nowhere and makes no sense. And he leaves her with a song.
Blues in the Night (1941)
Good music, unmemorable story line
The blues and swing music are quite good, what there was of it. Unfortunately the music keeps getting interrupted by the sort of sappy story that Hollywood usually attached to films that were billed as musicals.
Down and out musicians, riding the rails like hobos, decide to form a band at Depression's end, but they keep getting involved with gangsters, stupid club owners and a woman of very questionable morals who would break up their happy family. There's a good girl, of course, a blond singer who belongs to a philandering trumpet player. Oh, what's the use--no one would watch this for the story or to see Jack Carson or Lloyd Nolan or the rest of them.
If only there had been more of the music and less of what some might call "drama," and what I would call fast talking, poor acting treacle.
Vanilla milkshake, gone warm
The craft of fiction is a matter of physically stacking the cards. The art of fiction is doing so in a manner that no one notices that the cards have been stacked. The problem with this movie is that it is easy to see just how the writers went about working the deck. It lacks all spontaneity.
There is a nice gauzy late-depression (1939) feel to it. "Grapes of Wrath" it isn't. There's a poor family of five children and a mother (no father even though one reviewer remembered one) who works hard to keep it all together. The stove smokes in their humble but clean kitchen. There's little food in the pantry. Not far away lives a hideously wealthy old man with his grandson. By contrivance, they are put together, and after a series of near disasters (I never believed there was real jeopardy), things are put aright in a warm and fuzzy way. You sort of knew that this wasn't going to be a tragedy when you saw all those cute kids.
The acting is of the present day sitcom variety, i.e. not very good, litotes for bad. But there is one exception. The little girl, youngest of the children, is marvelous. Too often very young actors sing-song their recited lines. Not so here. What ever became of her? This is a rather nice movie to watch when you're not feeling well. It passes the time while not requiring a thing from you.
White Zombie (1932)
Great fun to watch
This isn't exactly a great movie, but it does exactly what it sets out to do, i.e., be a Gothic horror film. Set in Haiti before the advent of the automobile, a couple arrives by horse-drawn carriage at a standard remote mansion to be married. Don't ask why. They soon meet Bela Lugosi who employs several undead zombies in his factory. Lugosi and the owner of the mansion plot to kill the heroine so the mansion owner can have her, albeit dead or almost so. She dies and is entombed for a short while--and you can pretty much guess the rest of it.
There's something wickedly entertaining about all this. Lugosi is what he always is--Lugosi, with close ups of his eyes and twisted smile. The scenery is wonderful. The dialogue is campy. The outcome is predictable, but who cares? In some respects it is better than Lugosi's classic "Dracula," which ranges far afield and becomes diluted. This movie stays on point and even has a fluff of humor at the end.
Bulldog Drummond's Revenge (1937)
Pre-WWII England preserved in amber
The best part of this movie is unintended: 1937 England preserved with its autos, planes, streets and attitudes. The plot is hardly new. There's an invention (crystals in this case) that would prove disastrous if it should fall into the hands of the wrong people. Just who the wrong people are is not mentioned, but in retrospect they would seem to be the Nazis. Anyone who has watched many movies or serials from the period will recognize the plot quickly--and anticipate the ending.
The Bulldog Drummond hero bears little resemblance to the character created by "Sapper" McNeile. His marvelous series of books are about a much rougher individual who, having enjoyed the adventure and danger of the World War, advertises in the newspaper for interesting quests and assignments. Drummond of the novels is more of a daredevil than a detective.
For reasons I'd be hard pressed to explain, the makers of this movies inserted some really insipid humor--rather, attempts at humor. Drummond's sidekick, Algy, and Algy's stupid girlfriend aren't funny. They are merely annoying.
Still, this is an enjoyable view of a world now gone. Not only that, it has John Barrymore in a role that is a considerable comedown for his talents.
3:10 to Yuma (1957)
It could have been better
Perhaps I should not have watched this again after a 50-year hiatus, because I remembered it as a western masterpiece, a 10 rather than a 6. It could have been a masterpiece, but it isn't. There's too much style, too much movie tradition that overshadows realism.
For one thing, it's hard to imagine a fat herd of shorthorns in the Arizona desert, where there's no grass in evidence. For another thing, the actors are far too clean, too neat, close shaved from start to finish. One can almost smell the after shave lotion. The fictional town, Contention, Arizona, is too posh, especially the hotel which is the site of much of the plot.
But this is a character study, a tale of morality, not a realistic story of the old west. There are overtones of Rambo and High Noon, especially the latter. All this is fine, but it might have worked better, played against reality instead of the western background we've seen a hundred times.
I haven't seen the new version of this yet and may never see it. It's too bad Leone couldn't have had a go at this morality play.
Perils of Nyoka (1942)
A strange camel
It has been suggested that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee. I hasten to add that the only camels in this serial, supposedly set in Arabia, are in the same brief shot at the beginning of each serial episode. And as for Arabia, it looks suspiciously like the Iverson Ranch in California, shooting site of countless movie features and serials, so many that I have come to know those great boulders by name.
Add to this is William "Billy" Benedict, the nice, white-haired boy from the East Side Kids series; Clayton Moore, better known as the Lone Ranger; and the most dastardly villain of them all, Charles Middleton, best known for playing Ming the Merciless in three Flash Gordon serials, to say nothing of his many other nasty roles. And lest I forget, the absolute cheesiest man in a gorilla suit ever. EVER seen on film, plus a German shepherd that is actually smarter than most of the humans--and the shepherd is not a man in a dog suit. So--we have an Arabia without sand or camels, an ersatz ape, a dog, and a cast put together, one might think, by drawing straws from a list of those who were out of work. And we haven't even gotten to the plot, the acting, and the dialog.
Action consists of the usual haymaker fistfights without anyone so much as getting a fat lip, a bloody nose, a black eye, or a skinned knuckle. Even the two women get into some real donnybrooks. This might be said of all serials--except for the shapely legs as the two women rassle and pull hair. There are also lots of chases on foot and on horseback, among the boulders of the Iverson Ranch, through caves (where did that light come from?), etc. The stunt work is really find, especially for Nyoka herself. The dialog is pretty much recited right off the cue cards.
The plot is the usual serial silliness. A group of good guys, led by Nyoka compete with a group of bad guys, led by the beauteous Vultura, to find an ancient text that will revolutionize medicine, cure cancer, and make whoever locates it a great humanitarian or fabulously rich. Guess which group fits with these choices.
Did I like it? You betcha. It's just the thing to make one forget for a time one's otherwise drab and wretched life. I recommend it for that purpose.
Summer of '42 (1971)
There are several reasons to recommend this movie, but in the end and as a whole it is unconvincing. Nostalgia is fine, although not an adequate cover for the flaws. And Jennifer O'Neill's beauty alone is reason enough to keep this from falling apart completely.
I was just not convinced that a grieving young woman, on the day she received word that her husband was killed in the war, would seduce a 15-year-old boy and then leave forever next day. It would be the dream of any heterosexual youth to go to bed with Jennifer O'Neill's character, but it doesn't seem likely to happen. And it really wasn't necessary to things to go as far as they did. Dancing with him, embracing him as a crutch--fine. One senses that the subsequent bedding was to help the movie's ratings, and the sex scene just didn't fit. An adult voice over tells us that the youthful Hermie was greatly changed by the experience, but we don't see that. We have to take the adult Hermie's word for it.
I first saw this movie when it came out, more than 30 years ago. And I just watched it again, never having forgotten the beautiful Ms. O'Neill. I still liked much of it, but I'm less convinced about the ending than I was back then.
World War II propaganda
All in all, I liked this for what it was: an un-subtle manipulation of theater patrons. The main enemy in this serial is Japan, and the Japanese are diminished to Japs and Nips (always said with a slight sneer), while the Chinese are simply Chinese. There's a German ubiquitous female agent who fancies herself to be in command of the Japanese, but she is just one dimensional: harsh, nasty, humorless.
The plot is a bit thin. A peace loving Chinese province bordering the Himalayas has a secret passage (the Stillwell Road?) of some sort to India, through which vital troops and supplies could be funneled to fight the Japanese. The spiritual leader of the province agrees to reveal the secret to the Chinese and British, with numerous conditions, and the Axis tries to kidnap or kill him before he can talk. There is delay upon delay for no reason but to string this out to 13 chapters.
There are the usual hairbreadth escapes after each cliffhanger episode, and some of them are pretty silly. As in all serials, the viewer is cheated, in that a bit of film is held back, film in which the hero escapes death in the nick of time. There are also the usual fistfights without a knuckle getting skinned, the usual chases, etc.
As serials go, this is fairly standard, directed toward the puerile audience that filled theaters on Saturday afternoons.
Tarzan the Fearless (1933)
Has a bad Tarzan yell
The Tarzan of the movies was a sissy, compared with the blood thirsty apeman of the early Burroughs novels. The real Tarzan ate raw meat and the blood ran off his chin. Moviegoers might not have been up to this kind of realism. That aside, this is a worthwhile, albeit early, Tarzan film. Buster Crabbe was a better athlete than other actors who played the role; like Weismuller, Crabbe had an Olympic gold medal and was more muscular. He also had a skimpier costume in the pre-Hayes Office days.
The plot skips all over the place, probably because it was edited down from an episodic serial. The chimp is there, playing cute, as he did in almost all Tarzan films. The trapeze or vine swinging work is considerably better here. If Buster Crabbe didn't actually do it, he appeared to be quite high and hanging on precariously. Unfortunately the Tarzan yell, a trademark of these films, is a mild bleat compared with those that came later. I miss that in this version.
All in all, I'd give this a fair to good grade.
The Galloping Ghost (1931)
There are a couple of things about this serial that I really liked. One, the old vehicles and planes. Two, the street scenes of Los Angeles and a couple of scenes from football games in a bygone era.
The story is silly, never in the least convincing. The action is way, way over the top; Grange et al. flail clumsily at each other in every chapter, sometimes several times. And all sorts of horrible things happen to Grange, without him having a smudge on his suit, a scratch on his face, or even a sore knuckle from fighting. The dialog is so stiff that I winced several times. And worst of all is the acting, if it can be called that. Grange was a great football player, by all accounts, for the University of Illinois and in the NFL, but he couldn't act his way out of a paper bag. He and Babe Ruth, another poor actor in movies, should have stuck with sport.
The segues between episodes are narrated, rather than written as in most other serials. And are these segues bad! They begin each chapter after the first. Each episode ends with a villainous laugh by a man who is described as a "cripple." That was actually rather good.
This doesn't leave us with much--except the old cars, planes, trolleys, and the long ago street scenes.
Rasputin and the Empress (1932)
Interesting but overdone and inaccurate
While this film may be of interest to film purists because of the three Barrymores together for the only time, the movie is lousy history. The acting is more than a bit overdone, a carryover perhaps from the silent days when double takes and facial quirks had to tell the story. Rasputin's death is inaccurate. He was probably not poisoned at all (as an ascetic, he did not eat sweets, poisoned or otherwise), and he was shot several times, not hit over the head with a poker. And the deaths of the Romanovs was not outside in a courtyard but in a closed, dingy cellar. Their doctor died with them--he didn't escape to London. However, in defense of the screenwriter, many of the details of the Rasputin/Romanov disaster were unknown until after the fall of the Soviet Union. Several books published since, including photographs of Rasputin's dead body, for example, do much to fill out the real story.