Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Greatest Show on Earth?

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) is on many Worst Best Picture Oscar lists. I decided to watch it again to see what I thought.

I was stunned at how good some of the circus acts were. The real Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Circus' 1951 troupe appears in the film, with over 1000 of its workers, and with its animals and equipment. I don't think we will ever see anything put together like this again to show what the circus was like back then. It would just be too expensive.

Some of the animal acts, the trapeze acts and the clowns were just tremendous. really, really entertaining. It was great to see the best clown of all time, Emmett Kelly and the flying trapeze scenes were done by some of the best trapeze artists ever. if you look at the film credits you will see all the famous acts who appeared as themselves. You will also see many the famous people who were spectators in the film, including Bing Crosby and Bob Hope who came to watch their friend Dorothy Lamour.

I think the circus scenes were great, and I don't think we will ever see anything like it again on the screen (without using CGI)), but ultimately the plot let down the movie.

There were a few plot lines going on. The main was the romance between Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde and Charlton Heston. There was also the subplot of James Stewart, as Buttons the Clown, always in makeup and hiding from something in his past. Then there was Lawrence Tierney, playing a gangster and trying to muscle in on the show.

None of the plots were good and they let the rest of the movie down. The worst scene was after the train crash, and people were dying all around, and Charlton Heston was trying to rally people to put the show on. Betty Hutton soon joined in as the :Show "must go on" became the rallying cry, even though people were dying all around then and lions and tigers were wandering around loose. A really terrible scene that a good director would have handled much better.

But, the movie is still worth seeing for the great circus scenes, but It definitely was not a good Best Picture Oscar winner.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Carole Lombard in Warsaw

Carole Lombard died much too young. She died in a plane crash in 1942, while returning from a war bonds tour. She was only 33 years old.

She was great in Twentieth Century (1934) and in My Man Godfrey (1936), but two of my favorite movie with her were both set in Warsaw.

Nothing Sacred (1937) is a comedy  about a young girl from Warsaw, Vermont who pretends to be dying from radiation poisoning so she can see the big city. To Be or Not to Be (1942) is set in Warsaw, Poland and is a comedy about Nazism and the war. It was Carole's last film, and she died before she ever got to see it.

These were not your typical Hollywood movies. A comedy about a girl pretending to be dying, and a comedy about the Nazis, while World War 2 was still going on, were risky, to say the least. But they both became classics because of Carole.

Monday, February 16, 2015


I really liked American Sniper. It was really controversial, with some people seeing Chris Kyle as a villain while others see him as an American hero. I thought the scenes where the camera looked through the rifle's scope and had the viewer deciding whether Chris should take the shot were tremendous. Bradley Cooper was really good.

And how about Clint? He has probably made himself in to the best actor / director combination in history. As an actor he was in the iconic Dollars Trilogy. He was Dirty Harry and starred in Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, The Outlaw Josey Wales and  Gran Torino. Iconic roles for a really good actor.

But then Clint also directed thirty seven movies including The Outlaw Josey Wales, Unforgiven, Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, Gran Torino and American Sniper.

Who else has had such a distinguished acting and directing career? Case can be made for Charlie Chaplin, Woody Allen and Orson Welles, but Clint is right up there with the best.

John Cazale

John Cazale was only in five movies. All five were nominated for Best Picture (The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part Two (1974), The Conversation (1974),  Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and The Deer Hunter (1978)

Three of the movies (both Godfathers and The Deer Hunter) won Best Picture Oscars.

John Cazale died on March 12, 1978.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thomas Mitchell

In 1939 Thomas Mitchell had a pretty good year. He won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for playing Doc Boone in Stagecoach. He also appeared in the Hunchback of Notre Dame, Gone with the Wind, Only Angels Have Wings and Mr. Smith goes to Washington. Not a bad year.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Alejandro Inarritu is looking pretty good to get the Best Director Oscar for Birdman, which has a pretty good chance of getting the Best Picture Oscar. Innarritu is not a newcomer to the scene, having made five movies since 2000. He is 52 years old and has made some really good movies.

Amores Perros (2000)
Imdb Rating : 8.1
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21 Grams (2003)
Imdb Rating : 7.7
Babel (2006)
Imdb Rating : 7.5
Biutiful (2010)
Imdb Rating : 7.5
Birdman (2014)
Imdb Rating : 8.1

Secret of the Incas (1954)

I had heard about this movie and when it recently popped up on YouTube, I thought I would give it a try.

Charlton Heston plays Harry Steele, an American living in Cuzco, Peru who has been searching for a fabled Incan treasure at Machu Picchu.

Also after the treasure is Ed Morgan (Thomas Mitchell), who will do anything he can to get his hands on the lost Incan starburst.

Robert Young plays an archeologist who is working with museums and with the Peruvian government.

The movie has been acknowledged as a major influence on Raiders of the Lost Ark. The plots of the two movies is very similar as our hero battles the bad guys as he tries to solve the clues left about a fabulous treasure. The map room sequence where a ray of light enter a room, and then is reflected to show the location of the treasure.

Raiders' costume designer Deborah Nadoolman Landis noted that the inspiration for Indiana's costume was Charlton Heston's Harry Steele in Secret of the Incas: "We did watch this film together as a crew several times, and I always thought it strange that the filmmakers did not credit it later as the inspiration for the series" and quipped that the film is "almost a shot for shot Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Not a great movie, but really interesting when you see the influence it had on Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Killer of Sheep (1977)

I watched another of Roger's Great Movie picks, Killer of Sheep from 1977. I had seen it before and really enjoyed it , and I liked it even better this time. Roger says in his review : What he captures above all in Killer of Sheep is the deadening ennui of hot, empty summer days, the dusty passage of time when windows and screen doors stood open, and the way the breathless day crawls past. And he pays attention to the heroic efforts of this man and wife to make a good home for their children. Poverty in the ghetto is not the guns and drugs we see on TV. It is more often like life in this movie: Good, honest, hard-working people trying to get by, keep up their hopes, love their children and get a little sleep."
There are so many things I like about this movie. In the way the days just unfold it reminds me of the day in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. But it is even more realistic than that. It almost looks like someone's home movies. The film is grainy and the scenes are true. The movie is well worth watching just for the music alone.
Killer of Sheep is to 1977 Watts what Rome : Open City or Germany Year Zero were to Rome or Berlin in the 1940's. It is a neorealistic look at a society with all the glamour stripped away. But unlike those societies, which were the result of the World War, the society portrayed in Killer of Sheep, is the result of the complex historical and societal events that led up to it.
There probably isn't much of a market for great movies like this. The people who are going through this kind of life want to escape from it, not be reminded of it, and others don't want to admit that it exists. However, the critically acclaimed movies of Ramin Bahrani, (Chop Shop, Goodbye Solo and Man Push Cart) do have the style and feel of Killer of Sheep.
A fascinating movie, really well done movie. Another great pick from Roger.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Leolo (1992)

I watched another of Roger's Great Movies. This was from French-Canadian writer/director Jean-Claude Lauzon and was about a boy Leo Lauzon who preferred to be called Leolo. He lives in a disturbed fantasy world that is shared with the viewers. He thinks his mother was impregnated by an Italian tomato, which makes him Italian too.
The normal things that occur in Leolo's life are not examined, but every bizarre thought that crosses his mind is thoroughly dissected.
The movie is very well done and has an excellent film score. The music is as bizarre as the scenes it complements.
This is not a movie for all tastes. It pushes the envelope way too far for me. Bestiality, insanity, drugs, voyeurism, suicide; you name it, it's in here. Another coming of age movie, Breaking Away, where the main character also has a love for all things Italian, is more my style.
I know that this movie was really well done, and beautifully composed by a very talented writer, but it just made me feel too uncomfortable. But, for those who are a lot more twisted, and enjoy bathroom style humor, Leolo could become one of their "Great Movies."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Vengeance is Mine (1979)

I watched another one of Roger's picks for his Great Movies III Book. This was a very, very disturbing movie based a true story about a serial killer on the run in 1960's Japan. the movie is filled with sex and violence.

The movie, directed by Shohei Imamura, is beautifully filmed and has great style. The movie jumps from the present to the past as the serial killer, Iwao Enokizu, looks back at the events of his life with a calm detachment.

One event, when he is very young shows a naval officer embarrassing his Catholic father in from of the village. From then on we see a very angry young man who turns in a sociopath. Is the vengeance he is taking on the world because of the incident involving his father?

The movie has a Hitchcockian feel and tone. It is disturbing the same way many of Hitchcock's movies were. It is also disturbing because we find ourselves identifying with the psycho killer. We never really find out what makes Enokizu tick. In some ways it reminded me of No Country for Old Men. Evil is out there and you maybe unlucky and run in to it : there is nothing you can really do about it.

A very good movie. One of the "Greats?" Maybe.