Monday, January 28, 2008


First off let me state that I have never been a Jack Nicholson fan. I’ve tolerated him in most movies and, to me at least, his acting seems to be stereo-typed where he always plays the same type character roles. So, having seen him once, you’ve seen him in everything (my opinion). On the other hand, I’ve always liked Morgan Freeman, ever since watching him with my kids when he was on The Electric Company. (Now that dates me!). So, I went into THE BUCKET LIST with mixed feelings, but the premise was enough to make me want to go.

The story is about two men, from totally different ends of life, society and perspective, who are forced to room together in a hospital cancer ward for a very long period of time while. Edward Cole, played by Jack Nicholson, is a billionaire self-made executive and Carter Chambers, played by Morgan Freeman, is a working class mechanic who never attained his real desire to be a history teacher how keeps sharp by knowing all the answers to all the Jeopardy questions ever written. Both are suffering with terminal cancer. This is the only thing they have in common. They eventually become friends and come up with a “Bucket List” of things they want to do before they “kick the bucket”.

The list contains such items (that are supposed to ring your heart and mind with the wonders of the human spirit – right!) as skydiving, racing in a Mustang 350 GT, getting a tattoo, visit the Taj Mahal, the Pyramids, Rome, Africa, laugh until you cry, see something majestic (whatever that really means), help a complete stranger for the good … you get the picture.

So, our two “heroes” set off to fulfill the list mainly due to Edward’s unlimited funds and desire to go out with a bang. This is what I see as the “typical” stereo-typed Nicholson role. It is who he plays all the time (granted, I haven’t see all his films), but it’s what I have come to expect from his roles. Carter decides to go with him and as they strut off around the world, they become the best of friends.

At this point, and very early on in the film I might add, is where I start to feel uncomfortable. Here is Carter, married for 46+ years, a devoted husband, father and grandfather, deciding to ignore his family, especially his wife who pleads for him not to go, and doing the most selfish act in his life. It doesn’t make sense to me and it is out of character for the Carter we learn about to this point. Now a lot of “new agers” will say, “What’s wrong with him doing all the things he always wanted to do but never had the chance to?” to which I would reply, and what about his wife’s dreams that she will never have fulfilled? (Believe me, folks, this is my very, very short answer!)

This movie was directed by Rob “Meathead” Reiner, who I believe wanted this film to be a comedy based on the adventures of these two guys as they run around the world doing their bucket list, having funny adventures, a few laughs and then, realizing who they are, come to grips with the real meaning of life. But, mainly, this was to be a comedy. I respect Rob and he has done a lot of really great stuff in the past, but, I think with this one he misses the bucket. There are some really funny moments with Edward and Carter seeing the world, but nothing that wasn’t done before or even unexpected. It just didn’t have what it needed to tell the story. I fear it was the writing and directing more than the acting.

I found the acting generally good, with Jack playing the Jack role and Morgan playing … well, the Morgan role, if you get my drift here. There is nothing too new here. At this point I will give Jack a plus-up. Yes, me, giving Jack Nicholson a plus-up. I liked the sincerity that he played in the end on the film … how he changed. I found this very convincing and well done, much to my surprise. I felt that I could identify with both the Edward Cole's that he played in the film. But, alas, it was too little, too late.

I’ll have to give this a 7 out of 10 on my humble rating scale. Don’t blame me, the cat made me do it!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008



In the winter of 1797, illness has forced a band of Cheyenne to migrate to the south, leaving behind those who were too weak or sick to travel. The aging warrior, Windwalker (Trevor Howard), is ill and dying. His family, which consists of his son Smiling Wolf (Nick Ramus), Smiling Wolf’s wife and three children, stay with him after the band leaves. While laying in bed, he tells his grandchildren about his life as a young brave, his marriage to his beautiful Tashina, the blessing of having twins born and the pain of having Tashina die young and one of his children stolen by Crow warriors, the enemy of the Cheyenne.

After Windwalker dies, his family starts their journey to the south, unaware that a Crow war party is stalking them. But the Great Spirit awakens Windwalker for a final mission to complete his life’s journey.

This is a wonderful story and well written and well narrated by Nick Ramus and is told as we would have believed it was told around Indian campfires. This is an American Indian story. There are no white men and no white man influence anywhere in the story. The photography is beautiful. Again, a small regret that the best cinematography equipment wasn’t available for this movie. The shots could have been spectacular. But, some of the shots are still pretty awesome. The scenes of Nick Ramus majestically riding his white war horse are scenes that will always come to my mind whenever I think of American Indian warriors. That horse is beautiful.

It wasn’t hard to fit Trevor Howard into the role of an Indian here. I would have preferred a Native American to play the part, but the distraction of the very English Howard was only minor. If you didn’t know who Trevor Howard was, you wouldn’t have noticed. All the other actors are excellent in their roles and it doesn’t take long to get swept up in the story. The film is fascinating as the story unfolds and has a totally satisfying conclusion, which is more than I can say for most films. The dialog that Windwalker has with the Great Spirit during the film is a nice way to express what is going on in his mind as he tries to figure out what is happening around him and the confusion he is having because he knows he should be dead but isn’t. There are a lot of nice touches in this film.

Needless to say, this is one of my favorite films. Well worth the time to see. I rate this a 9 out of 10 on my modest rating scale.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


Well, folks, I never intended on seeing this movie, even though I'm a sucker for SCI-FI/Monster movies. But, I had recommendations from more than one person who saw it and though it was great. So, I went for it.

CLOVERFIELD is about a group of young people in New York City who are having a farewell party for one of them who is relocating to Japan (how appropriate for Godzilla fans) for a new employment opportunity, and are caught in an attack by a giant Godzilla sized monster-thingy that attacks the city. The entire movie is a replay of the video tape that is being shot starting before the party and continuing through all the events encountered by these folks while the attack is going on. When I say this is a video replay, it is just that. The camera is jerked around, dropped, poorly aimed, etc all for effect.

The movie starts out telling you that this is a video stored in military archives regarding events surrounding what is labeled as Code Name: CLOVERFIELD by the military, hence the name of the film. The original title was 1/18/2008, which was the release date of the film. Now that that part is out of the way, the next 20 plus minutes of this film concerns the personal videos of the people as they get ready for the party and certain inter-personal relationships between people in the film. I found this long and drawn out, I didn't like the people, their attitudes, their drunkeness and obsession with who is sleeping with who. I really didn't care. I found myself trying to stay focused on the movie instead of wondering what I would cook for dinner that night.

When the attack eventually comes, we are as much in the dark (no pun intended since this happens in the middle of the night) as those in the video are about what is happening. This, of course, was the intent and design of the film. We see destruction and panic and people die and people loot stores and all those statements on society that are supposed to make us shake our heads. At this point, I have to mention the controversy that recently arose with some people saying that the film exploits 911. All I can say to this is, I see why they would say this, with the falling buildings and dust and debris reminding us of what the Twin Towers looked like as they fell, but that is what falling buildings and debris look like in a big city, DUH, and I wish these people would just go away and get a life. There is zero exploitation here. It was filmed in New York City because it has so many recognizable buildings and landmarks that are easily recognized by the audience. That's it. Nothing more.

The rest of the movie concerns a subset of our little group of potential munchkins trying to get out of Manhattan. As their little group gets smaller and smaller, they encounter the military, which conveniently tell our group that they don't know what they are fighting, but it is winning. (I couldn't help but wonder how they got M-1 tanks into downtown Manhattan so quick!) We never really get to see more than a few parts of this monster until the end ... let's just say it's different. Also, it spawns all kinds of little ones that remind me of the creatures in the film PITCH BLACK that, of course, like to eat people. Golly Sgt. Carter ... surprise, surprise!

At one crucial point, our lead character gets a cell phone call from his estranged girlfriend/lover/whatever she was, who is trapped and injured in her apartment. Our little band of braveniks run off to try to save her. Of course we know what direction she is in, now, don't we! At this point I especially love one of the girls in our group running around in her high heels though the streets and rubble and never having a problem or complaining about them. She eventually takes then off while climbing a staircase to the apartment building. Good for her!

They find our poor little helpless girl, with a metal concrete support rod, which is still in the concrete, protruding through her shoulder and a good two feet beyond. But, our heroes manage to lift her out and 10 minutes later she is running down the street with no assistance even though she must have lost half the blood in her body.

I won't continue with my criticism of, if you haven't figured it out by now, a pretty poor movie. I will admit there were some situations that generated suspense and the CGI was very good. I can't compare this to other monster movies, because this isn't really a monster movie. The end is pathetic, even though I wasn't surprised how it ended, and I am left with a lot of unanswered questions, like: Where did the monster come from; the movie tells us, who cares? What happened to him ... er, it? Why is it that a creature that is 40 or 50 stories tall, can see one little person on the ground and eat just him? I want to know what the camera and battery used by these folks in the film was. It recorded, used its light, and used night vision mode for at least 6 hours without a recharge!! "I just gotta get me one of those!"

I was personally disappointed in this movie. It didn't hold my interest except for in a few spots, and even though the CGI effects were quite good, I still couldn't wait for it to be over. I can't give it more that a 5 out of 10.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

MAN HUNT (1941)

MAN HUNT is a movie I hadn’t seen until recently. I thought I had seen most of the popular pre-war and WWII propaganda films, but somehow I had missed this one; surprisingly, since it has a good cast of Walter Pidgeon, Joan Bennett and George Sanders, with supporting cast of John Carradine and Roddy McDowell, and directed by Fritz Lang to boot.

The story is about a British big game hunter, Captain Alan Thorndike, played by Walter Pidgeon, for who regular hunting is no longer a challenge, so he challenges himself to a "sporting stalk" of Adolf Hitler during the summer of 1939. Sneaking into Bertesgarten, Hitler’s retreat, Thorndike manages to get Hitler in his rifle sites. He pulls the trigger and click; nothing happens. The "sport" was merely in seeing if he could do it. But, as Thorndike starts to crawl away, he pauses and thinks for a few moments, and then crawls back to where he first took the “shot”. He now puts a bullet in the chamber. Is he really going to shoot, or is this just another ego trip for him? As he takes aim, a sentry jumps him, the gun goes off and he is captured.

Thorndike is brought before the Gestapo, I assume, commander, effectively played by George Sanders, where he is beaten as they try to extract a confession and then try to get him to sign a paper stating the he was working for the British Government. When he refuses to sign, on moral grounds yet, they try to kill him by making his death look like an accident and then they can blame the British anyway. But, our hero escapes and manages to get back to England where he is pursued by Sanders and other German spies which he tries to elude with the help of a “lady of the evening”, Joan Bennett, who just happens to get involved.

The plot is very good and very believable with not even the smallest details overlooked and has a lot of suspense with twists and turns. You never know who is a German agent in England in 1939! The actors play their parts well and the direction is what you would expect from the caliber of Fritz Lang. There is a little bit of “My Fair Lady” in the story line in the scenes with lower class Bennett and upper class Pidgeon showing the extremes of the social chain in England. These scenes are a sidelight to the main plot, but are wonderfully shot and directed. And Pidgeon is just so naive ... is that a statement on the snobbery of the upper class or something else?

I will say, however, I was VERY disappointed in the ending, finale, conclusion or whatever you want to call the part of the film that is after the plot is concluded; the last 5 minutes. It seemed like an after thought, like it was just thrown in or the original was removed and replaced with this. You’ll know what I mean when you see the film.

I would have given this an 8 out of 10 except for the ending which forces me to give it only 7 out of 10. But, over-all, this is a very good film taking in consideration it was filmed in 1940 and release in 1941. By the way, the film is in black and white even though some of these attachments are color.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Beast With 5 Fingers

Now here’s one that you may or may not have seen. THE BEAST WITH 5 FINGERS is a typical late ‘40s, let’s play the audience horror movie that only has one good thing to recommend it; and that is Peter Lorre.

The story concerns a crippled pianist, played by Victor Francen, living in an Italian village who dies and leaves his estate to his caretaker nurse, played by Andrea King. The locals in the town believe that evil has taken over the villa after several murders are committed and it is believed that the severed hand from the pianist’s corpse the grandfather of Thing in the Addams family) is responsible for the deaths. The story now turns in to a supernatural who-done-it with an array of possible suspects including, the nurse (King), the nurse’s fiancĂ© (Robert Alda), the only two blood relatives of the deceased, the secretary of the pianist (Peter Lorre), and of course, the hand. Rounding out the cast is the inevitable police Commissario (J. Carrol Naish), who must try to make sense out of all this in the Miss Marple/Poirot style and is pretty good in the support role.

The movie starts out poorly acted and is very slow for at least the first half of the film. Alda provides one of the most boring performances I’ve ever seen with a total lack of emotion. The film shows its low budget, poor script writing and lack of scene continuity and scene jumping that I found irritating to say the least.

What makes this movie (fill in your own words here … good, almost good, great, tolerable, etc) is the performance by Peter Lorre when he faces the “beast”. It is a masterful performance, the stuff that Peter Lorre is known for. It's too bad it's only about 15 minutes of the film. I won’t go into details, because I don’t want to spoil the story if you haven’t seen it. Unfortunately, to get to this performance, you have to go through the “not so good” parts of the movie, because the story line and set-up for his performance are necessary. There are some good special effects in the film, also. I say “good” meaning for 1946. The performance of Victor Francen should also be noted. His portrayal of a formally famed, now paralyzed pianist with his anger and obsessions is well done and makes the film work (if you think the film works); and this performance sets up the believability of the "beast".

So again, this is worth seeing if you want to see a small portion of “Peter Lorre 101”, or just have some fun around the tube watching some nonsense vintage ‘40’s horror flick. I just gotta hand it to them, I rate it a 7 out of 10.