Wednesday, July 31, 2013

MY FAVORITE RESTAURANTS 4

A few weeks ago, I spent the better part of a Saturday running errands. One of the things on my "to-do" list was to get my car's oil changed. When that task was completed, I scheduled an appointment for a haircut. I had about an hour to kill, it was lunch time, I was hungry and wouldn't you know it?  There was a Dan's Hamburgers close by the oil change place on North Lamar.

I headed over and enjoyed a very good old-fashioned cheeseburger for my lunch. I hadn't been to this Dan's location in several years. I used to frequent it more often when I lived in Central Austin. After the outstanding burger I had there the other day, I'm definitely going back as soon as possible.

There's nothing fancy here. You order at the counter and wait for your number to be called. The burgers and fries are excellent and the decor is "Early Dairy Queen". But you don't go to Dan's for what's on the walls, you go for what's on the menu. And it's all good.

MY SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINES 12

THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION April 1952

MY SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINES 11

AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION November 1978

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

PACIFIC RIM

 I've been meaning to post something about PACIFIC RIM (which I saw on opening day) here, but that top 100 film list business got in the way.

I went into this film with almost no (or least, extremely low) expectations. Contrary to many of the other films I've seen recently, PACIFIC RIM is not based on any other pre-existing property. There's not a PACIFIC RIM comic book (although there probably will be one soon), no old television show, no animated series, no line of toys, no previous film franchise in need of a reboot.

But that's not to say that PACIFIC RIM was an entirely fresh, new and original idea. After all, it's premise is simple and exciting on a very basic, primal level: giant robots vs. giant monsters. Granted, both the giant robot and giant monster sub-genres have been around for many years and in many forms but this is the first and best mash-up of those two wonderfully exhilarating movie genres.

PACIFIC RIM has deafening sound effects (this may be one of the loudest movies I've ever heard!), state-of-the-art CGI effects (the scale is finally right for these immense beings), and spectacular knock-down, rock'em-sock'em battles. The characters and plot are wafer thin, the film has far too many war movie cliches and it's hard to tell exactly what's going on in some of the action sequences. But you know what?

I didn't care. When those giant robots and giant monsters started whaling the tar out of each other I felt like a giddy ten-year-old kid again, watching a Godzilla movie at a Saturday afternoon matinee. I had a big, goofy smile on my face while watching PACIFIC RIM and despite the fact that the film underperformed at the box-office, I loved every gosh-wow minute of it. It's a B-movie jacked up on sugar and steroids with everything turned up to 11.

PACIFIC RIM is, wait for it, enormously entertaining.

MY SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINES 10

AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION August, 1978

Monday, July 29, 2013

MY FAVORITE RESTAURANTS WALK AMONG US

It's been a few weeks since I posted about any of my favorite restaurants here on my blog. Let's fix that, shall we?

The 290 Cafe is a classic diner style joint located on Hwy 290 (duh!) in beautiful Manor, Texas. It's on the right as you come into town eastbound from Austin. You can't miss it.

They serve great food at the 290 Cafe. I've eaten there several times over the years and everything I've ordered was fantastic. The last time Judy and I were there, I had an outstanding serving of meatloaf (my favorite!), green beans and mashed potatoes. I've had their burgers, fried chicken, a killer pot roast and a terrific breakfast there. Every item on the menu is good. Honest.

Friendly waitstaff, good food, reasonable prices. What more could you want? Next time you're hungry for some real down home style cooking, come on out to the 290 Cafe in Manor. You'll be glad you did.
 

MY SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINES 9

AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION May 1978

Saturday, July 27, 2013

MY TOP 100 FILMS PART TEN

Here you go. The final ten films on my list of top 100 films.

91. SUPERMAN (1978)

92. THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (1965)

93. 7 DAYS IN MAY (1964)

94. SPARTACUS (1960)

95. PLANET OF THE APES (1968)

96. APOLLO 13 (1995)

97. SHANE (1953)

98. PAPILLON (1973)

99. M (1931)

100. EASY RIDER (1969)

There you have it, my top 100 films of all time. I'll provide some post game comments in my next post. 

MY TOP 100 FILMS PART NINE

Numbers eighty-one through ninety on my list of top 100 films.

81. THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963)

82. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939)

83. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981)

84. THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957)

85. WRITTEN ON THE WIND (1956)

86. ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976)
87. PEEPING TOM (1960)

88. GOJIRA (1954)

89. THE KILLER (1989)

90. DELIVERANCE (1972)

The final ten coming up! 

MY TOP 100 FILMS PART EIGHT

Here are numbers seventy-one through eighty on my list of top 100 films.

71. UNFORGIVEN (1992)

72. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946)

73. A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (1946)

74. THE GRADUATE (1967)

75. BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967)

76. 12 ANGRY MEN (1957)

77. ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959)

78. THE EXORCIST (1973)

79. A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964)

80. IN COLD BLOOD (1967)

MY SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINES 6

FANTASTIC UNIVERSE SCIENCE FICTION June/July 1953 First Issue!

MY TOP 100 FILMS PART SEVEN

Here are numbers sixty-one through seventy of my top 100 films.

61. JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963)

62. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST (1975)

63. THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE (1962)

64.COOL HAND LUKE (1967)

65. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)

66. BULLITT (1968)

67. TOUCH OF EVIL (1958)

68. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)

69. A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957)

70. DINER (1982)

MY SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINES 5

GALAXY February 1964

Friday, July 26, 2013

MY TOP 100 FILMS PART SIX

Numbers fifty-one through sixty on my list of top 100 films.

51. GOLDFINGER (1964)

52. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946)

53. THE WILD BUNCH (1969)

54. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941)

55. BEN-HUR (1959)

56. LES YEUX SANS VISAGE (EYES WITHOUT A FACE) (1960)

57. AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973)

58. DIRTY HARRY (1971)

59. DAS BOOT (1981)

60. BLAZING SADDLES (1974)

MY TOP 100 FILMS PART FIVE


Here are selections number forty-one through fifty on my list of top 100 films.

41. HUD (1963)

42. KING KONG (1933)

43. REAR WINDOW (1954)

44. THE GENERAL (1927)

45. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971)

46. KISS ME DEADLY (1955)

47. CHINATOWN (1974)

48. STAGECOACH (1939)

49. GOODFELLAS (1990)

50. BRINGING UP BABY (1938)

We've reached the half-way point. Comments? 

MY SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINES 4

GALAXY October 1963

Thursday, July 25, 2013

MY TOP 100 FILMS PART FOUR

Here you go. Numbers thirty one through forty on my list of top 100 films.

31. THE THIRD MAN (1949)

32. THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971)

33. PATHS OF GLORY (1957)

34. NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

35. THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962)

36. JAWS (1975)

37. IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD (1963)

38. THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935)

39. THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938)

40. WINGS (1927)

MY SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINES 3

GALAXY November 1958

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

MY TOP 100 FILMS PART THREE


My top 100 films, round three.

21. PATTON (1970)

22. THE CONVERSATION (1974)

23. THE HUSTLER (1962)

24. THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948)

25. THE GRAPES OF WRATH (1940)

26. DUCK SOUP (1933)

27. STAR WARS (1977)

28. ACE IN THE HOLE (1951)

29. RAGING BULL (1980)

30. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966)

More to come. Stay tuned. Comments?

MY SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINES 2

ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION April 1954

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

MY TOP 100 FILMS PART TWO


Today, I present numbers eleven through twenty on my list of top 100 films. Honestly, the selection process doesn't get any easier. The first ten selections came to me rather quickly but I've had to devote considerable time and effort from here on out to make sure that I don't leave any films out. But that's not the hardest part. The hardest part is ranking these films. Here goes.

11. THE GODFATHER PART II (1974)

12. ALL ABOUT EVE (1950)

13. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962)

14. DR. STRANGELOVE: OR HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964)

15. PSYCHO (1960)

16. TAXI DRIVER (1976)

17. SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)

18. METROPOLIS (1926)

19. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST (1969)

20. MANHATTAN (1979)

More to come. Stay tuned. Your thoughts? 

MY SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINES 1


Over the years, I've managed to acquire a few vintage science fiction magazines. These are not technically pulp magazines, although many of the titles started out in that format. These are digest sized publications that are still way cool. I thought I'd feature some of these from time to time. Here's ASTOUNDING for January 1954.

 

Monday, July 22, 2013

MY TOP 100 FILMS PART ONE


If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know I recently covered ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's list of 100 greatest films in ten installments. EW's list caused film fans to react with shock and awe over some of their choices. I know. I was one of them.

But it is,after all, just a list, just a compilation of one person's (or several people's) opinions. It's not the law of the land and film buffs are free to accept and reject any and all of their choices. I will acknowledge that making a list of this type is no easy task and I'm sure that the staffers at EW worked long and hard to come up with their selections.

I'm going to try to provide you with my top 100 films over the next several days, time and energy permitting. I'm going to use EW's list as my template, adding and subtracting films as I see fit to give you a list of what I consider the 100 greatest films of all time. Your mileage may vary and I invite reader comments and feedback. As I said, this is just one man's opinion but I think it's an informed opinion.

Some curriculum vitae is in order here. In addition to writing about films on this blog, I have, for the last seventeen years written and contributed hundreds of film notes for the Paramount Theater's Summer Classic Film Series. I've learned a lot about the history of the cinema in the process of writing those notes and I've always tried to be fair and objective and keep my personal thoughts and feelings out of what I write.

Not so here. My blog is my place for true self-expression. If you're a regular reader you know that. When I like something, you'll know it. Same when I don't like something.

As for this movie list, I know I could come up with a somewhat different list again in a few months' time, so please don't consider this list carved in stone. It is subject to change. I can guarantee you that I've seen every film on this list. I'm not going to put a film on here based solely on it's reputation and critical standing. If I haven't seen a movie, it's not going to appear here.

There are no films made in the 21st century on this list. That doesn't mean there haven't been some really great movies made in the last thirteen years. It just means that it's far too early to tell what films are going to stand the test of time and hold up over the years to come as durable, acknowledged classics. At some point in the future, I can see myself putting such films as THE DEPARTED, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, GRAN TORINO and INCEPTION (but not AVATAR) on this list. For the same reason, there are only a handful of films from the '80s and '90s on this list. Finally, this list is guaranteed to be 100% free of the films of Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch.

And now, the top ten:

1. CITIZEN KANE (1941)

2. THE GODFATHER (1972)

3. CASABLANCA (1942)

4. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962)

5. VERTIGO (1958)

6. GONE WITH THE WIND (1939)

7. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939)

8. SEVEN SAMURAI (1954)

9. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

10. SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)

More to come. Stay tuned, keep reading and start arguing.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

THE FUNNY BUN FAMILY PICNIC


The final performance of THE FUNNY BUN FAMILY PICNIC is at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon at the Rollins Studio Theatre at the Long Center.

This is the latest production from the award-winning Pollyanna Theatre Company. Full disclosure: my lovely wife, Judy, is the director of Pollyanna and this play, which was written by resident playwright Emily Cicchini.

THE FUNNY BUN FAMILY PICNIC is, in a nutshell, Arthur Miller's DEATH OF A SALESMAN with clowns. For kids. It's nowhere near as dark as Miller's masterpiece. It's full of laughs and heart and a great message about how families can work together and everyone can achieve their dreams.

Come see this fabulous new play this afternoon and stick around for a party afterwards where you can have your picture taken with the talented cast, have your face painted and enjoy cookies and drinks. I'll be there!

THE NEW PRICE GUIDE IS HERE! THE NEW PRICE GUIDE IS HERE!


I'm as happy as Navin R. Johnson (pictured above) was when he got the new phone book because I received the new Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide in the mail yesterday.

It's the  forty-third iteration of this "bible" for comic book collectors. I haven't owned every OPG every published but I haven't missed many editions. This new one sports a nifty Superman cover by Andy Kubert and weighs in at 1168 pages, many of them in full color. It has tons of ads, market reports, articles, the Hall of Fame and of course the price guide itself.

The OPG used to come out every spring but several years ago the release date was pushed back to coincide with the San Diego Comic Con, which was a very smart marketing move. I pre-ordered my copy months ago (as I always do). Over the coming twelve months I'll read all of the articles and refer to the price guide many, many times.

 The Overstreet Price Guide is as important a piece of my comic book collecting hobby as bags, boards and comics themselves. If you collect comics, you need this book. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A LIST IN THE CROWD


Well, here we are. The final ten entries on ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's list of 100 greatest films. These ten films may be the oddest listings yet as there are only three of the ten films worthy of inclusion on the list. The others? I don't know, I smell mendacity or something like it.

91. DO THE RIGHT THING (1989). Spike Lee's breakthrough film is very good but not good enough to be on this list.

92. THE PIANO (1993). Get out of here.

93. A FACE IN THE CROWD (1957). I must confess that I'm absolutely astonished to see this film here. I think it's utterly magnificent. Andy Griffith gives the performance of his life as a television and radio star corrupted by power and influence in Elia Kazan's scathing and oh-so-prescient look behind-the-scenes of mid-century media.

94. BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005). You are kidding aren't you? Aren't you?

95. RUSHMORE (1998). I've hated every Wes Anderson film I've seen and after THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS (which was wretched), I decided to stop hitting myself in the head with this cinematic hammer.

96. SULLIVAN'S TRAVELS (1941). Come on, some one, any one, fess up. I can't be the only person who thinks that Preston Sturges is grossly overrated. Any one? Bueller?

97. DINER (1982). Another shocker. I didn't expect to see this film on this list. I adore DINER!

98. ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER (1999). I'd prefer all about the exit door.

99. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007). There will be high blood pressure and it belongs to me because of entries like this on this furshlugginer list.

100. SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957). A brilliant film. Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis are marvelous in this acidic tale of what it takes to get to the top and stay there.

There you have it. All 100 films. I have no proof of this but I strongly suspect that the EW staffers who complied this list are all of a certain age. That is, under forty. That would explain the inclusion of so many 21st and late 20th century films. It might also explain why there are so many foreign films on the list. I'd wager that the young men and women who compiled this list felt some sense of duty as hipster cineastes to include films that I don't believe anyone really and truly likes.

If you've been following my posts on this subject (thanks!) you'll note that there are many films missing in action from this list. I listed some in my last post. Where are those films? How could the EW list makers overlook those films and such other works as THE THIRD MAN, THE GRAPES OF WRATH, KISS ME DEADLY, UNFORGIVEN, BLACK NARCISSUS, PEEPING TOM and  A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH?  I could go on and on and that's just what I plan to do.

Coming soon, the ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY list of 100 greatest films as edited by me. Stay tuned.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

DID HE MAKE SIX LISTS OR ONLY ONE?


Today we look at numbers eighty-one through ninety on ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's list of 100 greatest films. Thanks for sticking with me this far. We're almost done.

81. BLADE RUNNER (1982). Maybe, but which one of the eleventy billion versions? BLADE RUNNER is a very good science fiction film but it's not as great as THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951), FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956) or INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1956). I should point out that none of those movies exist in multiple versions. The makers of those films all got them right the first time.

82. SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973). No. If we need a truly great foreign film here, how about M (1931)? Fritz Lang's influential thriller about a serial killer made Peter Lorre an international star and the film is as gripping today as it was more than eighty years ago.

83. THE WILD BUNCH (1969). Sam Peckinpah's blood-soaked elegy to a group of men out of their time is one of the greatest westerns ever made and deserving of a higher ranking on this list.
84. OLYMPIA (1938). A terrific documentary about the 1936 Berlin Olympics but I'd replace it with TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (1935).

85. DIRTY HARRY (1971). Don Siegel and Clint Eastwood combine to give us an immortal anti-hero. Certainly worthy of inclusion and a higher ranking.

86. ALL ABOUT EVE (1950). 
Really? Number eighty-six? Fasten your seat belts as this backstage, backstabbing classic takes off for a much higher ranking on this list.

87. LA DOLCE VITA (1960). These overrated foreign films are really starting to wear me out. We're at number eighty-seven on this stupid list and still missing in action are SUNSET BOULEVARD, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, PATTON, THE GODFATHER PART II, THE CONVERSATION, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, SHANE, HIGH NOON, BEN-HUR, COOL HAND LUKE, THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, HUD, THE HUSTLER, 12 ANGRY MEN, ANATOMY OF A MURDER, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, BRINGING UP BABY, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, PATHS OF GLORY and others. This is getting ridiculous.

88. THE DARK KNIGHT (2008). No, no, no. Enough with the films made in the 21st century. Stop it. Right now. Besides, I'd put SUPERMAN (1978) on this list instead any day.

89. WOODSTOCK (1970). Very well made documentary about a pivotal event in 1960s culture but it's way too long and the split screen images make it hard to focus after awhile. I'd go with Martin Scorsese's much more intimate THE LAST WALTZ (1978).

90. THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971). A great urban crime film featuring one of the greatest car chases ever filmed. No quibbles here.

Only ten more to go. Hang in there. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

MY LIST IS FOR MY FRIENDS


Today, I'll examine numbers seventy-one through eighty on ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's list of 100 greatest films. Watch out. This could get ugly.

71. AMERICAN GRAFFITI (1973). George Lucas's sophomore effort is one of the all-time great coming of age films (along with THE LAST PICTURE SHOW (1971) and DINER (1982)). Cool cars, great songs and a terrific cast of young actors make this one a winner.

72. THE 400 BLOWS (1959). Another French New Wave snooze fest. If you want a truly great French film on this list, how about EYES WITHOUT A FACE (1959), one of the most beautiful horror films ever made?

73. CABARET (1972). I've said it before, I'm not much of a fan of musicals but this one's a winner.

74. THE HURT LOCKER (2009). No. Remember the rule: no films made in the 21st century on this list. None. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

75. TOUCH OF EVIL (1958). Orson Welles's visually baroque masterpiece is the last great post war film noir. Definitely belongs on this list.

76. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA (1962). Excuse me? LAWRENCE OF ARABIA is the seventy-sixth greatest film of all time? You could put a dozen film fans in a room and ask them to start naming the truly great films and no one, not one, would name seventy five other films before mentioning LAWRENCE. I think it should be ranked in the top five. In fact, I'd go so far as to put it at number one. How such a magnificent work of art could be overlooked in favor of so many other films, many of which shouldn't even be on this list, is simply beyond me. As if this list wasn't already highly suspect, it's this dubious choice that makes the entire enterprise a farce.

77. DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975). A good movie but I'm not sure it's worthy of inclusion. There are much better films out there that still haven't made it on to this list.

78. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981). Indy, my boy, what took you so long? Should have been here much sooner.

79. NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968). At last, George Romero's original zombie gut-muncher appears. A groundbreaking, shockingly original film that is still disturbing forty-five years on.

80. DAZED AND CONFUSED (1993). Close but no cigar. Richard Linklater's valentine to mid '70s high-schoolers is dead on in every respect. I should know, I graduated from Austin High in 1974. A fun film but not good enough to be included on this list.

More to come. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

WHAT LIST DID YOU SEE CLARICE?


Today, it's numbers sixty-one through seventy of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's list of 100 greatest films.

61. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991). A great horror film featuring a career defining performance by Anthony Hopkins but LAMBS doesn't belong on this list. EW lists ROSEMARY'S BABY and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (both very good films) but where are THE EXORCIST (1973) and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD (1968)? I would argue that if you're going to have modern horror films on this list, those two belong here ahead of ROSEMARY and LAMBS.

62. E.T. THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL (1982). The third Steven Spielberg film to make this list (after JAWS and SCHINDLER'S LIST). E.T. is a heartwarming classic but if you're going to put a Spielberg film in this slot it should be RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981).

63. NETWORK (1976). Looks more prophetic now than did almost forty years ago. Great film.

64. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (1946). Terrific WWII film about three veterans and their struggles to find themselves in the post war world.

65. LAST TANGO IN PARIS (1973). Someone at EW's been sniffing glue again. TANGO was an extremely controversial film in its' day what with Marlon Brando appearing in an X-rated film and having very graphic sex ("I'll get the butter") with a much younger woman. If you want porno chic on this list (and I don't), either DEEP THROAT (1972) or THE DEVIL IN MISS JONES (1972) would be a better choice.    

66. THE SHINING (1980). A seriously flawed horror film that has no right to be on this list. This is the third Kubrick film on the list after 2001 and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE and you're telling me THE SHINING is better than DR. STRANGELOVE? No way.

67. REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (1955). The movie that made an icon of James Dean is a well made study of mid-century teen angst.

68. GOODFELLOWS (1990). One of Martin Scorsese's best films this gangster epic deserves to be on this list. One of only two films made in the 1990s that should be here. The other is UNFORGIVEN (1992).

69. DR. STRANGELOVE OR: HOW I LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND LOVE THE BOMB (1964). A hearty welcome to Dr. Strangelove, President Muffley, Captain Mandrake, Major Kong, General Turgidson and General Ripper. It's about time you guys got here and yes, you really should have been here much, much sooner.

70. L'AVVENTURA (1960). You want a really good Italian film from this year on this list? How about HERCULES (1959) with Steve Reeves? Seriously, how in the world can ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY make a list like this and exclude, thus far, any film by Sergio Leone?

More to come. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

ARE YOU SURE THIS ISN'T THE LIST OF ADRIAN MESSENGER?


We're past the halfway point on ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's list of 100 greatest films and there are still several great films that have yet to appear on this list. Here are numbers fifty-one through sixty.

51 A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964). Richard Lester's "day-in-the-life" cinema verite romp starring the Fab Four was a landmark film. Not really a traditional musical and not really a concert film, A HARD DAY'S NIGHT was something else. A great film.

52. TITANIC (1997). No. I don't care how many Oscars (and money) this film made, it's not deserving of a place on this list. If I had to pick a James Cameron film, I'd go with ALIENS.

53. STAR WARS EPISODE V: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK (1980). Some would argue that STAR WARS EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE or, as it used to be called STAR WARS, should be here in place of EMPIRE. I've got to go with EMPIRE.

54. BREATHLESS (1960). Vastly overrated French New Wave claptrap in which nothing much happens. A really boring movie that shouldn't be on this list. I often wonder if the people that pick foreign films like BREATHLESS for lists such as this really and truly like the film. I think they pick some of these movies because they think they're supposed to. I don't like BREATHLESS. It's not on my list.

55. FRANKENSTEIN (1931). James Whale's original monster movie is a monumental film but I would argue that his sequel, BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1935), is the superior film and should be on this list in this spot (if not higher).

56. SCHINDLER'S LIST (1993). The second Spielberg film to make the list. No quibble here. This is one of the very few films from the 1990s worthy of inclusion on a list like this.

57. MIDNIGHT COWBOY (1969). The first X-rated Best Picture of the Year Oscar winner is a showcase for the acting talents of Jon Voight and Dustin Hoffman, but jeez, what a depressing movie. How about PAPILLON (1973) which features terrific performances from Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen.

58. THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957). Come on, admit it. No one has ever seen this film and liked it besides Woody Allen. Geddoutta here.

59. ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN (1976). Another "odd couple" movie with Dustin Hoffman, this time co-starring with Robert Redford in a riveting true story. An outstanding film that generates a fair amount of suspense even though the ending is known by all.

60. TOP HAT (1935). Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are always a treat to watch and all of the films they made together at RKO are fun. This one's the best.

More to come. Stay tuned. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THESE PICTURES?



Continuing my breakdown of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's list of 100 greatest films, here are numbers forty-one through fifty.

41. THE ROAD WARRIOR (1981) One heckuva great action film with the second best car chase ever filmed but a top one hundred film? No way. Let's put BULLITT (1968), the movie with the best car chase ever filmed, here instead.

42. TAXI DRIVER (1976)
 "Some day a real rain will come..."
Martin Scorsese's terrifying character study of a disenfranchised man is one of the best American films of the 1970s and deserving of a place on this list.

43. THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RETURN OF THE KING (2003). N.O. No. Remember the rule, absolutely no films made in the 21st century. None. Instead of LOTR, I recommend JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS (1963). Ray Harryhausen's magnum opus is still the greatest fantasy film ever made in my opinion.

44. ON THE WATERFRONT (1954). More than just a "contender", this is a very good movie, one that should certainly be on the list.

45. MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939). This is classic Frank Capra-corn that never gets old. One of James Stewart's finest moments.

46. THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938). The greatest swashbuckler of them all.

47. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE (1971). Kubrick' ultra-violent meditation on free will still packs a punch. This is one "real horrorshow" of a classic film.

48. IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT (1934). The second Capra film in this set of ten and the third overall. ONE NIGHT set the standard for screwball comedies and it's hard to argue with a top five Oscar winner (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress & Screenplay).

49. GOLDFINGER (1964). WAH-WAH-WAAA! After all these years still the greatest Bond film of them all.

50. INTOLERANCE (1916). I've never seen D. W. Griffith's silent epic but everything I've ever read about it is positive. Still, for a silent film in this slot, how about WINGS (1927), the filmed-in-Texas WWI tearjerker and first Best Picture of the Year Oscar winner?

I'm halfway through EW's list and there are still some major films that are missing in action. Will they ever show up on this misguided mess of a list? Keep reading!  


 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

FORGET IT JAKE, IT'S ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY


Continuing my survey of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's list of 100 greatest films, here are numbers thirty-one through forty.

31. CHINATOWN (1974). No argument here. Roman Polanski's brilliant retro-noir is one of the best American films of the 1970s. A truly great film.

32. DUCK SOUP (1933).
 "I'm looking for a new minister of finance."
"You just hired one last week."
"That's the one I'm looking for!"
Hands down, one of the funniest movies ever made. This madcap farce definitely belongs on this list. Hail Fredonia!

33. THE GRADUATE (1967). A groundbreaking, landmark film. No quibbles here.

34. ADAM'S RIB (1949). Perhaps the best of the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn romantic comedies. I have no problem with putting it on the list but I don't think it should be ranked this high considering what films still haven't shown up here.

35. APOCALYPSE NOW (1979). The first war film on the list. Francis Ford Coppola's flawed Vietnam war epic is certainly one for the ages but there are better war movies that should be listed ahead of this one.

36. ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968). A truly great horror film but the case could be made to place some other significant fright films ahead of this one.

37. MANHATTAN (1979). As I stated in a previous post, MANHATTAN should switch places with ANNIE HALL on this list.

38. VERTIGO (1958). Four Alfred Hitchcock films (all good ones) rank higher than this? VERTIGO is a top five film in my estimation.

39. THE RULES OF THE GAME (1939). Another film I've never seen. According to everything I've ever read about this film it probably deserves a place on this list but probably not this high. There are still some major works missing in action.

40. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). The second Billy Wilder film to make the list, this classic film noir is a bonafide masterpiece but where's Norma Desmond? I'm still waiting.

More to come. Stay tuned

 

 




Friday, July 12, 2013

CAN WE GET A FACT CHECK ON AISLE THREE?


There are so many things wrong with Patrick Beach's article about the venerable Austin dive bar The Carousel Lounge in today's Austin 360 supplement in the Austin American-Statesman that it's hard to know where to begin.

Right off the bat, in the first paragraph, we learn that the motion picture "From Here to Eternity" opened in March 1963. Um, no. The film was released in 1953. 

Later in the piece, bartender Chris Doughitt relates the story of how legendary Austin filmmaker Terence Malick once shot a scene for a movie at the Carousel. According to Doughitt, "Malick has been my favorite actor since I was a kid." I don't know what films Mr. Doughitt has been watching but Terence Malick is a film director, not a film actor.

Perhaps most egregiously, Beach admits to playing in a band that performs at the Carousel and even goes so far as to plug an upcoming gig at the club's anniversary party tomorrow. Yes, he does make a full disclosure, but this is about as blatant a case of conflict of interest as I've ever seen. Come on Statesman, you couldn't find another writer to do a profile of the Carousel Lounge besides someone who plays in a band that performs there? Talk about free advertising.

There's also a photograph showing five people standing outside of the club "to smoke." None of the people in the photograph are smoking. In fact, none of them are even holding cigarettes. They appear to be just drinking beer and talking. No smoking going on that I can see.

I've been to the Carousel Lounge. I went one time, about twenty years ago, just to see what the place was like. It was a dive then and it's still a dive now. But it's a "cool" dive now because hipsters have discovered it. The hipsters are welcome to it but can we please get someone at the American Statesman to fact check these stories before they go to print?

WAIT, WHAT?


Continuing my breakdown of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY's list of 100 greatest movies, here are numbers twenty-one through thirty.

21. SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959). Perhaps the funniest movie ever made, Billy Wilder's classic comedy is certainly worthy of being on this list. But it's the first Wilder film to appear here and I believe that SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) deserves to be on this list before HOT.

22. TOY STORY (1995). No. Go back to my first post on this list and see my number one rule. No films made in the 21st century and very few films from the '80s and '90s should be on such a list at this time. While I recognize that TOY STORY was certainly a groundbreaking film, it simply shouldn't be on this list. Besides, THE INCREDIBLES was a better movie in my opinion.

23. NOTORIOUS (1946). The second Hitchcock thriller to appear here. NOTORIOUS is a very good film but to rank it and PSYCHO ahead of VERTIGO just doesn't seem right.

24. THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965). Okay. As I've said before, I'm not much of a fan of movie musicals but I'll admit this one's a classic.

25. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968). Stanley Kubrick's monumental landmark of a film is worthy of one of those seats at the big kids' table. A top ten choice in my opinion.

26. BICYCLE THIEVES (1948). No. I saw this film in college and was underwhelmed. I think the whole Italian Neo-Realism cycle of films is overrated.

27. THE MALTESE FALCON (1941). A very, very good film, one I've seen many times. It is widely regarded as the first film noir and John Huston does a great job in his directorial debut. But his THE TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (1948) is far and away his best film.

28. THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). Everyone's favorite childhood film should be in the top ten.

29. NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959). Hitchcock's most flat-out entertaining film is one of my all-time favorites but still, where's VERTIGO on this list?

30. SUNRISE (1927). A silent classic that I've never seen but if you want a truly brilliant silent film for this place on the list may I humbly suggest Fritz Lang's breathtaking METROPOLIS (1926). I haven't seen it as many times as Forry Ackerman did but it's gotten better each time I have seen it thanks to recent restorations of previously lost footage.

More to come. Stay tuned.

 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

MORE MOVIE MALARKEY


And now, for your consideration, numbers eleven through twenty of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY'S list of 100 Greatest Movies. (See yesterday's post for numbers one through ten.)

11. KING KONG (1933). No argument there. The original KONG is certainly a movie milestone, one of the greatest monster movies ever made and one of my all-time favorite films.

12. THE SEARCHERS (1956). I know I'm in the minority here but I just don't think that THE SEARCHERS is all that great a film. It's a fine movie, no doubt, but I feel it's somewhat overrated. I'd rank Ford's THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962) as the superior film and the best work of Ford's career in my estimation.

13. ANNIE HALL (1977). I watched this one again not long ago and it still holds up. A very good film but  I'd rank Allen's MANHATTAN (1979) ahead of it.

14. BAMBI (1942). No. I don't care if you always cry whenever you watch BAMBI, if you're going to have a full-length animated Disney feature on this list at all it should be SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS (1938), PINOCCHIO (1940) or FANTASIA (1940).

15. BLUE VELVET (1986). No films by David Lynch are allowed on any greatest films list. None.

16. SINGIN' IN THE RAIN (1952). Perhaps the greatest movie musical ever made and in many estimations deserving of a spot in the top ten. I'm not much of a fan of musicals but I do recognize that SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is a very, very good film.

17. SEVEN SAMURAI (1954). Akira Kurosawa's magnificent epic deserves a seat at the big kids' table. Definitely a top ten film.

18. JAWS (1975). No argument here.

19. PULP FICTION (1994). Mr. Tarantino, would you please join Mr. Lynch out in the hall? You're disrupting our film history class. Remember, no QT films on a greatest films list. None.

20. THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1969). I've never seen this film but I know Woody Allen loves it. Does it deserve this high a ranking considering what other classic films have thus far been omitted from EW's list? I don't think so.

More to come tomorrow. Stay tuned.



Wednesday, July 10, 2013

ENTERTAIN ME, WEAKLY


The latest issue of ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY has probably started more discussions, arguments and  exclamations of "are-you-kidding-me?" than any other issue in recent memory. EW has taken it upon itself to present lists of the 100 greatest movies, TV shows, albums, novels and more. These lists are guaranteed to be controversial as all such listings of subjective "greatness" are. I'm not going to go into their choices for TV shows, albums and novels. I just don't have the time or the interest (besides, my opinions on their album choices wouldn't be valid since I don't listen to any popular music recorded since the Beatles broke up). However, I will give you my top choices in three categories.

TV Shows: THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW
Albums: SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND
Novels: THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY by Michael Chabon

But movies, that's another thing. Again, I don't know that I'll get through their entire list but I'm going to attempt to do so here in a series of posts broken into ten selections at a time. We'll start with numbers one through ten today and hopefully cover the rest in the coming days.

Before we get to EW's list, here are some of Frank's rules about top 100 movie lists.

1. No film produced in the 21st century should appear on such a list, at least not for quite a few more years. And very few films from the 1980s and 1990s deserve to be on such lists as well. Doesn't mean good movies haven't been made in the last thirty-odd years, it just means it's too soon, from a historical standpoint, to start anointing some of these films as "greatest" (I'm looking at you SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION).

2. No films by Quentin Tarrantino or David Lynch. Period.

Now, let's take a look at EW's top ten.

1. CITIZEN KANE (1941). No argument there.

2. THE GODFATHER (1972). Yep.

3. CASABLANCA (1942). You bet

4. BONNIE AND CLYDE (1967). And suddenly, this entire list has just gone entirely off of the rails. BONNIE AND CLYDE is a landmark, important film, certainly worthy of inclusion on any 100 greatest list but number four? Here comes the first "are-you-kidding-me?"

5. PSYCHO (1960). Great film but if you're going to have a Hitchcock in the top ten, it should be VERTIGO (1958).

6. IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). I love this film, I really do and I'd put it on a 100 greatest list in a heartbeat but not in the top ten.

7. MEAN STREETS (1973). Solid work but it's not Scorsese's best film. I'd suggest TAXI DRIVER (1976), RAGING BULL (1980) or GOODFELLAS (1990).

8. THE GOLD RUSH (1925). I like Charlie Chaplin but I think Buster Keaton's THE GENERAL (1927) is a better silent comedy.

9. NASHVILLE (1975). Are you kidding me? (that's number two if you're scoring at home). NASHVILLE is a vastly overrated, completely plotless film. If you're going to have a Robert Altman film on here, I'd go with M*A*S*H (1970) or THE PLAYER, which was the last decent film Altman made. And I'd put either of them much closer to the end of the list rather than this close to the beginning.

10. GONE WITH THE WIND (1939). This immortal epic should be in the top five, in my opinion.

Okay, the can of worms is open and the gloves are off. Stay tuned for the next ten films and more outbursts of "are-you-kidding-me?"


  

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

CARSON ON TCM


I want to clue you in to a new series that's running on TCM. CARSON ON TCM debuted last week and it airs each Monday evening at 7:00 p.m. CST. The show is hosted by Conan O'Brien and it features vintage clips of Johnny Carson interviewing famous guests that appeared on THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON. So far the clips have featured interviews with Drew Barrymore, Mary Tyler Moore, Kirk Douglas, Neil Simon, George Burns, Doris Day, Charlton Heston, Tony Curtis, Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel (the latter three all appearing on the same show).

It's vintage Carson and it's the kind of material you will never see on television in this day and age. For one thing, Carson smokes on camera. Secondly, his guests aren't all there to plug some upcoming, about-to-be  released film or television show. These are honest-to-goodness conversations between Johnny and his guests and while they have their comedic moments, they also serve to illustrate just how good an interviewer Johnny Carson was. Recommended.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 8



FAMOUS MONSTERS #35 is cover dated October, 1965, just in time for Halloween that year. The cover portrait of Bela Lugosi as Dracula is a little too blue for my taste but it's still a great image. Features in this issue include THE NIGHT OF THE BLOOD BEAST, When Dracula Invaded England (actually, Lugosi on tour in the U.K.) the ever popular Mystery Photo and Godzilla, King of the Creatures.

 

ANOTHER FAVORITE RESTAURANT

MAXINE'S CAFE, ELGIN TX

Judy and I ate at Maxine's Cafe, a new restaurant in Elgin, a couple of weeks ago with Glenn and Barbara Ridings. It was our first visit to this relatively new restaurant but rest assured, it won't be the last.

Every one raved about their food both in terms of taste and the very generous servings. I had a fantastic chicken-fried steak, green beans and heavenly mashed potatoes and gravy. Outstanding!

Maxine's also features a full dessert case stocked with every variety of homemade pie you could ever want. Unfortunately, we were too full to try any of the pies but we'll definitely save room for dessert on our next visit which may be on a Sunday, when they serve breakfast all day.

Maxine's Cafe in Elgin is the second Maxine's Cafe. The original is still doing business in Bastrop. We've never been to that location but I can tell you that the Maxine's in Elgin is a winner. If you're looking for good, old-fashioned down-home food and fast, friendly service, check out Maxine's. Plus, the decor features a one-sheet from the made-in-Texas original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE movie and a framed LP of GUNFIGHTER BALLADS by Marty Robbins. For more information, go to www.maxinesonmain.com.


Saturday, July 6, 2013

ONE MORE PULP


I was digging around in my collection this afternoon and I found this item. It's a copy of MAX BRAND'S WESTERN Magazine from March, 1954. I'm not a huge Western pulp fan and I can't for the life of me recall how, when and where I got this mag but I'm glad to have it. I think it's pretty cool!

MY FAMOUS MONSTERS 7



FAMOUS MONSTERS #34, cover dated August, 1965. I was nine-years-old when I bought this beauty. Great cover image of Mr. Hyde and Forry gave us all a sneak peak of THE HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND, a German horror film I reviewed here on my blog last July.  

MY FAVORITE RESTAURANTS

THE GOOD LUCK GRILL, MANOR TX

I'm not about to turn this enterprise into a food blog and I'm sure as hell no"foodie" (and please "foodies", get over yourselves) but I thought that from time to time, I'd feature some of my favorite restaurants in the Central Texas area on my blog. You may already be aware of some of these places and you may have  eaten at them. If so, I hope you enjoyed your meal. But if you don't know about these local "joints', I'll try to fill you in on what you're missing. You might want to check some (or all of them) out and I guarantee the food is good at all of them.

Judy and I don't go out to eat very often. We much prefer to stay home and enjoy a home-cooked meal. It's cheaper and healthier. And since we live in Manor, our choices for dining out are extremely limited. When we do go out, we like to head to The Good Luck Grill, located on FM 973, just two miles north of Hwy 290 (and pretty close to our house).

The Good Luck Grill is a small little rustic building on a large parcel of land. In the summer, there's live music and washers out back. Inside, you order at the counter and wait for your number to be called. They serve a variety of food including delicious hamburgers and chicken-fried steaks. But the best item on their menu is their fried catfish and fried shrimp basket (which is what I always have). Giant pieces of catfish, huge shrimp, coleslaw and fries make a very satisfying meal. You won't leave hungry. For more info, go to their website, www.goodluckgrill.com.

Next time you're out our way, check out The Good Luck Grill. Judy and I love it.

RIDE LONESOME

"She ain't ugly."

I watched RIDE LONESOME (1959) this afternoon, one of several outstanding western films directed by Budd Boetticher and starring Randolph Scott (who would have made a great Doc Savage!).

In RIDE, Scott plays Brigade, a bounty hunter determined to capture a young killer, Billy John (James Best). But Brigade has more on his mind than simply capturing the killer and getting the reward money. He's got a score to settle with Billy John's brother, Frank (hawk-faced Lee Van Cleef). It seems that back when Brigade was a lawman, Frank murdered his wife by hanging her from a tree. Brigade knows that once he's captured Billy John, Frank will come after him. And that's just what he wants.

After Brigade captures Billy John, things get complicated when Brigade runs across a couple of would be bounty hunters, Boone (Pernell Roberts) and Whit (James Coburn, in his film debut) at a stagecoach station along with Mrs. Lane (Karen Steele), the widow of the recently deceased station master who was murdered by the mescaleros. Boone and Whit want to turn in Billy John for the reward money and the promised amnesty that goes with it so they ride along to make sure nothing happens to Brigade and his prisoner until they get to Santa Cruz. The small band is alternately pursued by the mescaleros and Frank and his gang before the showdown at the hanging tree, the site of Brigade's wife's death.

RIDE LONESOME has a great cast. Randolph Scott is terrific as the flinty, vengeance obsessed loner and the supporting cast is superb. Boetticher uses the widescreen, CinemaScope format to good advantage, filling the frame with immense, desolate landscapes in which tiny figures are located. The script, by Burt Kennedy, is tight, compact and psychologically complex. Recommended.  

TWINE TIME



As long as I'm plugging my favorite radio shows today, I've got to mention my favorite on KUTX. Twine Time with your host Paul Ray airs every Saturday night from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. on KUTX 98.9. Paul plays a great mix of classic rhythm and blues, soul, rockabilly and early rock and roll. If you like this kind of music (and I do!) tune in and give it a listen. More info available at www.kutx.org

COUNTRY GOLD

I think I've mentioned this before here on my blog but a good recommendation is always worth repeating. One of my favorite radio shows is Tom Allen's Country Gold, heard every Saturday morning from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. on KOKE FM (99.3, 98.5 and online at www.kokefm.com. Tom plays classic country music, the all time best from the all time greats and this morning he's mixing in some classic rockabilly tunes. It's a great show and a great way to start your Saturday. Give it a listen if you like this kind of music. I sure do.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

A ONCE CROWDED SKY

"...let the boy know that though some of us pass away, all of us, eventually fly."

I just finished reading A ONCE CROWDED SKY, the debut novel by Tom King. Mr. King served in the CIA as an operations officer in the Counterterrorism Center. Prior to working at the CIA, he interned at both Marvel and DC Comics. Mr. King knows something about heroes, both real and imagined. I am here to tell you that Mr. King can flat out write and ONCE CROWDED is, in my humble opinion, one of the best prose examinations of comic book superheroes I've ever read.

The text is supported by sturdy black and white illustrations by Tom Fowler liberally spaced throughout the book. Each chapter heading is the title and issue number of a comic book devoted to one of the many heroes in this story. For instance, the novel begins with ULTIMATE, THE MAN WITH THE METAL FACE #566. The setting is Arcadia City where Ultimate, the greatest superhero of them all, has just made the ultimate sacrifice. In order to stop the reality destroying menace of The Blue, Ultimate, using Star-Knight's power belt, has gathered all of the powers of all of the super-heroes unto himself and stepped into the abyss to stop the threat. He dies, the world is saved and all of the super powered men and women now find themselves ordinary people.

Except one. Pen Ultimate, the boy sidekick of Ultimate, chose not to surrender his powers in the moment of crisis and stayed home with his wife. Now, he's the only one left with super powers (some of Ultimate's superior robot technology was transplanted into him years ago). But the trouble is, according to the Prophetier, a super-hero who used to be able to see the future, "they all come back."

Another major player in this drama is the Soldier of Freedom, an ageless warrior who has fought in every American war of the 20th century armed only with his guts and twin automatics. Soldier, in a neat inversion of the Captain America trope, is deliberately put on ice at the end of every major conflict that's he called upon to fight in and thawed out to serve whenever his country needs him again.

Prophetier knows that Pen's story isn't over, that there's still a sacrifice to be made in order for the ongoing story to continue. That's because Prophetier is privy to the secret of The Blue, a well-spring of realities in which all of the heroes' lives, their team-ups, their adventures, their victories, their defeats, are displayed in vividly colorful comic book panels. The Prophetier knows that they are all living in a never ending story loop of life, death, redemption and resurrection. He wants that cycle to continue and Pen must play his part in this predetermined epic.

The trouble is, the Soldier doesn't want the story to continue. He's tired of all of the death and destruction. He wants the story to end, to quit playing "the game" as the heroes' refer to their adventures. Pen, Prophetier and Soldier collide head-on in a battle to keep the narrative going forever or to end it once and for all.

ONCE CROWDED is a gorgeously written meta-textual meditation on the need for heroic myths, for stories, for narratives of good vs. evil in all of our lives. There are plenty of well rendered action sequences but it's the characters inner-lives and their complex relationships to their fellow heroes that ring true. Heartbreakingly beautiful and lump-in-the-throat inducing at times, A ONCE CROWDED SKY fully gets why these silly stories of men and women in capes and tights ultimately matter so much to us.Thank you Mr. King for giving us a truly great book.    

 



Wednesday, July 3, 2013

BATTLE OF THE BULGE




I watched BATTLE OF THE BULGE (1965) for the first time this afternoon. It strains mightily to be an important, "event" motion picture. It was released in the now defunct Cinerama format with a running time of 170 minutes and the film includes an overture, an intermission and exit music. Pretty fancy treatment for such a mediocre war movie.

I have no beef with the cast of BATTLE. Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson went on to co-star in Sergio Leone's magnificent ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST while Bronson and Telly Savalas were both members of Robert Aldrich's THE DIRTY DOZEN. In BATTLE, Savalas plays a tank commander/black marketeer, a part that he would repeat in KELLY'S HEROES. Robert Ryan was also in THE DIRTY DOZEN and James MacArthur went on to co-star with Jack Lord in the long running television series HAWAII FIVE-O ("book 'em Danno"). Starring as the German tank general is British actor Robert Shaw who is quite good in the role (and would have made a good Doc Savage!). The film cost a small fortune and all of that money is on-screen as the production values are high, although some scenes that combine exteriors, interiors and miniatures are not entirely convincing.

No, my biggest problems with this film are two fold. First, the script by three different screenwriters (never a good sign) Philip Yordan, Milton Sperling and John Melson, plays fast and loose (very fast and loose) with actual historic events. All of the characters are fictitious, no real American or German officers or soldiers are depicted, many of the events are either entirely fictitious or very loosely based on real events and the whole enterprise plays like Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson team-up to fight and defeat Robert Shaw. On the surface that's not a bad idea for a war film but if you're going to make a film entitled BATTLE OF THE BULGE, I suspect you should try and pay attention to what really happened.

For those of you who came in late, the Battle of the Bulge took place in December, 1944 and January, 1945. It was the last great offensive of Hitler's German army, a desperate and bold attack designed to split the lines of Allied forces in France, Belgium and Luxembourg. The surprise, last-ditch offensive actually worked for awhile and the Allies suffered heavy casualties. American troops in Bastogne were surrounded by the Germans and faced a slow death through a combination of factors: enemy artillery, lack of food, ammunition, medical supplies, reinforcements and warm, dry clothing. It was bitterly cold that long ago December and the weather was as much as a killing force as the German army was.

None of this is depicted in BATTLE. Granted, there is a very brief sequence involving Bastogne but that's it. Remember, the real Battle of the Bulge took place in a heavily wooded area of Europe in the dead of winter. There was constant cloud cover (which restricted air-support for either side) and snow.

Yet, BATTLE OF THE BULGE has tank battles taking place in broad daylight under clear, sunny skies. What's more, the terrain where the action was filmed doesn't look anything like the landscape of central Europe. The hills, mountains and open, dry, dusty plains expose the fact that BATTLE was filmed on location in Spain, a beautiful country, yes, but one whose geography doesn't look anything like the location of the real battles. I'm sure the film was produced in Spain for budgetary reasons but every time I saw a Spanish landscape (and there are many) I wanted to scream. Please understand, I've never been to Spain, France, Germany, Belgium or Luxembourg but I've read enough WWII history to know that what I was seeing in BATTLE just wasn't kosher.

If you want to see a film that does a good job of addressing the real Battle of the Bulge, I recommend PATTON (although the battle is a small part of the film) and the HBO mini-series BAND OF BROTHERS (there's an entire episode devoted to the battle). But I can't recommend BATTLE OF THE BULGE unless you go into it thinking it takes place on an alternate earth. That's about the only way this bloated mess could work.
 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

OPERATION CROSSBOW



I first saw OPERATION CROSSBOW (1965) at the old Capitol Plaza theater. I was nine-years-old at the time and I thought it was a pretty exciting WWII action-adventure film. I watched it again this afternoon and it holds up fairly well. It's an earnest, solid film but it's not a great one.

Based on the true story of the development of offensive rockets by the Germans in WWII, CROSSBOW takes an almost documentary like approach to the subject matter of discovery of the enemy missile bases and their eventual destruction by British forces. Richard Johnson (who starred in Robert Wise's brilliant THE HAUNTING (1963)) is tasked by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill with finding and destroying the Nazi missile bases. He assembles a team of both military men and scientists (including John Mills and Trevor Howard) to begin "Operation: Crossbow".

The German high command established a missile testing range at Peenemunde where they were testing the V-1 rocket propelled aircraft which were essentially flying bombs. These devices, nicknamed "buzz bombs" had design flaws that could only be overcome by building a cockpit into the craft and putting a test pilot on board. These sequences feature Barbara Rueting, as a female German pilot who solves the problem and Paul Henried, as a German general. It's interesting to watch the man who played Victor Lazlo, the ultimate anti-Nazi freedom fighter in CASABLANCA (1943), play a Nazi in these scenes.

The British launch a bomber attack on Peenemunde which causes a long enough delay in the V-1 program to make the missiles unusable during D-Day (June 6th, 1944). Still, the Germans press on and rebuild the weapons and their "ski jump" launching ramps and send the missiles on their way to wreak havoc in London.

At the same time, the Germans are developing even larger, more destructive long range missiles capable of destroying both London and New York City. The V-2 and V-10's are being built and tested in a mammoth underground facility deep in the heart of Nazi Germany and the Third Reich is using hundreds of European scientists to construct the weapons.

Johnson and his team determine that they must get some agents into the facility and that's where George Peppard, Tom Courtenay and Jeremy Kemp come into play. They're all fluent in German and have scientific backgrounds. The plan is to get the men inside the underground fortress from whence they can relay information and engage in sabotage.

They set out on their mission but things instantly go wrong. Courtenay has assumed the identity of a man who is wanted by the police and he's soon arrested and executed leaving Peppard alone. Then, Sophia Loren, who is the wife of the man Peppard is impersonating, shows up. She threatens to ruin the whole operation but Peppard earns her trust and eventually makes his way into the missile base where he meets up with Kemp.

Eventually a massive air raid by British bombers is launched against the base and it's up to Peppard and Kemp to open the launch doors which will provide the bombers with a well-illuminated target. They sacrifice their own lives to do so, the bombing raid is a success and the threat of German missiles is ended.

OPERATION CROSSBOW has a good cast and good production values. The flying models are convincing, the mammoth sets of the underground missile base are spectacular and there's a fair amount of suspense at the end of the film .Believe it or not, Sophia Loren actually gets top billing in the film. That's because her husband, Carlo Ponti, was the film's producer and since he was writing the checks and calling the shots, he made sure she was top billed even though her screen time is fairly short.

While far from a great film, OPERATION CROSSBOW is a serviceable WWII yarn, the kind of movie that studios were cranking out on a regular basis in the 1960s. Thumbs up.