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We watched Emperor of the North on DVD the other night, starring Lee Marvin as A No. 1, Ernest Borgnine as Shack and Keith Carradine as Cigaret, directed by Robert Aldrich. This 1973 flick features Marvin as the king of the hobos vs Borgnine as the violent and ruthless railroad bull, who will do anything to ensure nobody rides for free. Keith Carrodine plays a talented young hobo, full of piss and vinegar, who thinks one day he can take over as king. This movie has trains and hobos and Lee Marvin, not to mention a theme song by Marty Robbins, a recipe for success if you ask me. It’s very stylized in parts and the violence in it is quite nasty, but overall both Tuffy P and I enjoyed it. Tuffy remembers seeing it on television years ago, but this was the first time I saw this film.
We watched the film Songcatcher tonight. It’s a 2001 flick directed by Maggie Greenwald and starring Janet McTeer with cameos by Taj Mahal and Iris Dement. The music is mostly good but still this movie was disappointing. Neither the characters nor the story are very convincing, and I didn’t learn anything interesting about life in Appalachia. No wonder I didn’t even know this one existed when it came out a dozen years ago. Let’s call this one an OK Timewaster.
This afternoon Tuffy and I and our friend Toni trundled down to the Bell TIFF Lightbox to see a movie called Computer Chess. It’s a film set in the early 80s about a weekend tournament in which computers play one another at chess. It is a very odd film, but not without its moments. I confess I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually liked it and I think it lulled us to a state of collective semi-consciousness at one point. I think it was a comedy (I hope so), and parts were indeed very funny, particularly a strange sub-plot involving a therapy group, as well as a number of unexplained shots of various cats residing in the hotel hosting the tournament. There are some interesting ideas in this film, but it suffers from being too slow and clunky. I know, it tries to be slow and clunky. Don’t you get it, silly? Ya, I get it. Parts of this oddball film are strangely compelling, but just not enough parts of it.
Mud is a coming of age boys adventure story, a tried and true (if possibly tired old) genre. There was plenty of opportunity for this to be a bad movie, but no, no, no, go see this one. Writer/director Jeff Nichols pulls it off. Great story, fine acting, a well-paced atmospheric presentation. If I have any beef with this film at all, I would say it is a little bit longer than it needed to be, but that can easily be forgiven in a movie that has so many positives.
We watched The Cincinnati Kid the other night, the 1965 flick directed by Norman Jewison and starring Steve McQueen. I’ve never been a big Steve McQueen fan but I really liked this poker movie. This was made back when people played stud poker as opposed to whatever that Texas Holdem game is that’s so popular today. In this film they played 5 card stud. I remember as a kid that my dad liked to play 7 card stud or straight 7 as he sometimes called it. I’m not a poker player. I like games but I didn’t inherit the gambling gene from my father. I don’t enjoy casinos or the horse races or any of that. I did like this movie though.
Steve McQueen played the Kid. The Kid wanted to be The Man but he wasn’t. The Man was Edward G. Robinson. The Kid was good and The Man appeared to be ripe for the taking, but he wasn’t The Man for nothing. Karl Malden played The Shooter. I think that was because he was a straight shooter. That’s why they wanted him to be the dealer, because they could trust him. He was being squeezed by Rip Torn though, who wanted to see The Kid take down The Man, squeezed into doing a little cheating to help out The Kid. The Kid wanted none of that. He wanted to take down The Man fair and square. Ann-Margret played Melba, who was married to Shooter but who wanted to jump in the sack with The Kid. Tuesday Weld played Christian, who was with The Kid, but who knows why, since he didn’t treat her very well. The cast was filled out by the likes of Joan Blondel and Cab Calloway.
I enjoyed McQueen’s understated performance and also the quirky moodiness of the film. It’s your basic poker film, done up just right with a fine cast and a decent script.
Recently I wrote about re-reading Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (who also wrote my fave fishing book, Trout Madness). Tonight we watched the film. Do you remember it? It was made in 1959, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Jimmy Stewart and Ben Gazarra and Lee Remick and Eve Arden and Arthur O’Connell and George C. Scott as Claude Dancer. What a cast, what a movie. What a soundtrack too, by Duke Ellington, who also has a cameo. I’ve traveled around the Upper Michigan Peninsula, where the film was made, chasing trout, and I camped at Big Bay where the film was shot. I have to say though, that I’ve never heard any jazz on the UP. Maybe it had a happening jazz scene in 1959, but I bet when I was there, you would have a hard time finding a live jazz band in the nearest small city, Marquette. Parts of the film are very faithful to the novel and other parts were invented for the film. The courtroom drama is brilliant! If you’ve never seen this movie, I highly recommend it.
On the weekend we went to see a film called Olympus has Fallen. It was about a group of nasty terrorist types who took over the White House leaving a disgraced former secret service dude to save the day singlehandedly. Honest. We didn’t make it to the end, but we can imagine what happened plenty well enough. Amazingly, we were among very few people who bailed. Credit goes to those who stuck it out for the entirety of this turkey. For those who like to watch stuff get blown up and people killed, this movie has plenty of that. It features a really dumb and poorly written script which balances the acting, which also stunk. In fact, everything about this one stunk. Even Morgan Freeman stunk.
We watched this Hitchcock classic tonight. I had seen it before, a couple times in fact, but it was so many years ago, my memory had Robert Vaughan rather than Robert Walker playing the scheming Bruno Anthony opposite Farley Granger as tennis ace Guy Haines.
This film is visually fantastic, from the first scene, focusing on the legs and feet of crowds in a train station to the final hyper-dramatic (if implausible) carousel crash scene. This story shouldn’t really hold together, but Hitchcock was a master storyteller (and yes, one of my favourite directors)and even though I knew the story, I put aside my disbelief and went along for the ride.
We ventured out to see Life of Pi tonight. Boy was I surprised when we were handed 3-D glasses. I suggested to Tuffy P that we see this one, but had I known it was in 3-D, I would have chosen a different film. I don’t like wearing 3-D glasses, at least in part because I have to wear them over my normal glasses. As well, I find the 3-D effects to be strange and artificial, at least some of the time.
In the case of Life of Pi, felt it would have been a better film if the filmmaker had made the commitment to make it without 3-D. It would have been a shorter film, and would not have taken the time to languish in filmic effects, and I would have been fine with that. On the whole, my biggest criticism of the film is that it was too long in any case. I think a full half hour could have been edited out and the film would have been stronger.
Still, it is a beautiful work and a fantastic story and it’s well worth seeing.
Yesterday was a very unusual day for us in that we watched two films. We saw Skyfall at the cinema, and late last night, we watched The Train on television. The train is a 1965 film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Burt Lancaster and Paul Scofield. It’s set in France in 1944 and it’s about the attempt by a Nazi Colonel to steal a trainload of paintings – French national art treasures – and transport them to Germany. Scofield is the Colonel and Burt Lancaster is the train man who also happens to be part of the French underground.
Can paintings be worth dying for? What if they’re really really good paintings or really important paintings? Would it matter if the paintings were antiquities or modern? In The Train, the paintings appear to be mostly modern or at least painted within the last century. What if those paintings are symbolic of a world free of fascism? The German Colonel claims to have some special appreciation for the paintings even though he acknowledges that to the Nazis their value is only in their cash value to Germany. Labiche, the Lancaster character, initially is not interested in saving the paintings. He doesn’t know these paintings and they hold no special meaning for him. He’s much more focused on helping the allies blow up a train yard full of armaments. However, along the way he changes his attitude and resolves to save the paintings.
The Train is beautifully shot in black and white. Without all the technical wizardry we saw in Skyfall earlier in the day, Frankenheimer created a film as visually satisfying as it is riveting. Performances are very solid throughout. It’s really a fantastic film. Last night was the first time I watched The Train. In fact, I knew nothing about it going in. We happened to see the teaser for the film earlier in the evening on TVO and resolved to try to stay up for it. It had a late start (for us at least) and I was tired after a long and difficult week. I’d love to watch this one a second time to take in more of the detail. Great film.