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All reviews - Movies (110)

brute

Posted : 5 years, 7 months ago on 24 November 2011 06:10 (A review of Brute Force)

Burt Lancaster had one of his first starring roles in this hard-hitting prison drama. Capt. Munsey (Hume Cronyn) is a cruel, corrupt prison guard who has his own less-than-ethical ways of dealing with inmates, enough so that Joe Collins (Lancaster) -- the toughest inmate in the cell block -- has decided to break out. Collins tries to persuade Gallagher (Charles Bickford), the unofficial leader of the inmates and editor of the prison newspaper, to join him, but Gallagher thinks Collins' plan won't work. However, Collins does have the support of his cellmates, most of whom, like himself, wandered into a life of crime thanks to love and good intentions. Tom Lister (Whit Bissell) was an accountant who altered the books so he could buy his wife a mink coat. Soldier (Howard Duff) fell in love with an Italian girl during World War II and took the rap for her when she murdered her father. Collins pulled a bank job to raise money to pay for an operation that could possibly get his girl out of a wheelchair. And Spencer (John Hoyt) made the mistake of getting involved with a female con artist. After Munsey drives Tom to suicide and prevents Gallagher from obtaining parole, Gallagher joins up with Collins and his men in the escape attempt. Director Jules Dassin would next direct the influential noir drama The Naked City; six years later, he would move to Europe after political blacklisting prevented him from continuing to work in the United States


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bicycle

Posted : 5 years, 7 months ago on 22 November 2011 11:34 (A review of Beijing Bicycle)

A young man from rural China struggles to make good in Beijing in this drama, which suggests an updated and relocated variation on the neorealist classic Ladri di Biciclette. Guei (Cui Lin) is a teenager who arrives in the big city looking for work; he and a handful of other youngsters are hired as bicycle messengers, with their employer giving them new mountain bikes under the condition that they're paid ten yuan for each message they deliver, and the bicycles are theirs once they've made 58 trips. Guei discovers the job is not an easy one, as he deals with the complexity of the huge city, confusion over who gets what message, and the condescending attitude Beijing residents often display toward the new arrivals. Guei is determined to make good and is close to owning his bike when it's stolen; Guei's boss tells him the only way he can keep is job is if he can find the bicycle, which, in a city the size of Beijing, is no easy task. Against all odds, Guei finds the bicycle, but it's now in the hands of Jian (Li Bin), who claims he got it at a second-hand shop and isn't about to give it up. Guei steals the bike back from Jian, but now has to deal with the teenaged tough and his roughneck friends. Shiqisuide Danche was produced as part of a series of films from young Chinese directors called "Tales of Three Cities," co-produced by French and Taiwanese companies.


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story

Posted : 5 years, 7 months ago on 22 November 2011 11:32 (A review of West Side Story)

Romeo and Juliet is updated to the tenements of New York City in this Oscar-winning musical landmark. Adapted by Ernest Lehman from the Broadway production, the movie opens with an overhead shot of Manhattan, an effect that director Robert Wise would repeat over the Alps in The Sound of Music four years later. We are introduced to two rival street gangs: the Jets, second-generation American teens, and the Sharks, Puerto Rican immigrants. When the war between the Jets and Sharks reaches a fever pitch, Jets leader Riff (Russ Tamblyn) decides to challenge the Sharks to one last "winner take all" rumble. He decides to meet Sharks leader Bernardo (George Chakiris) for a war council at a gymnasium dance; to bolster his argument, Riff wants his old pal Tony (Richard Beymer), the cofounder of the Jets, to come along. But Tony has set his sights on vistas beyond the neighborhood and has fallen in love with Bernardo's sister, Maria (Natalie Wood), a love that, as in Romeo and Juliet, will eventually end in tragedy. In contrast to the usual slash-and-burn policy of Hollywood musical adaptations, all the songs written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim for the original Broadway production of West Side Story were retained for the film version, although some alterations were made to appease the Hollywood censors, and the original order of two songs was reversed for stronger dramatic impact. The movie more than retains the original choreography of Jerome Robbins, which is recreated in some of the most startling and balletic dance sequences ever recorded on film. West Side Story won an almost-record ten Oscars, including Best Picture, supporting awards to Chakiris and Rita Moreno as Bernardo's girlfriend, Anita, and Best Director to Robbins and Wise. Richard Beymer's singing was dubbed by Jimmy Bryant, Natalie Wood's by Marni Nixon (who also dubbed Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady), and Rita Moreno's by Betty Wand. The film's New York tenement locations were later razed to make room for Lincoln Cente


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west

Posted : 5 years, 7 months ago on 22 November 2011 11:30 (A review of How the West Was Won)

Filmed in panoramic Cinerama, this star-studded, epic Western adventure is a true cinematic classic. Three legendary directors (Henry Hathaway, John Ford, and George Marshall) combine their skills to tell the story of three families and their travels from the Erie Canal to California between 1839 and 1889. Spencer Tracy narrates the film, which cost an estimated 15 million dollars to complete. In the first segment, "The Rivers," pioneer Zebulon Prescott (Karl Malden) sets out to settle in the West with his wife (Agnes Moorehead) and their four children. Along with other settlers and river pirates, they run into mountain man Linus Rawlings (James Stewart), who sells animal hides. The Prescotts try to raft down the Ohio River in a raft, but only daughters Lilith (Debbie Reynolds) and Eve (Carroll Baker) survive. Eve and Linus get married, while Lilith continues on. In the second segment, "The Plains," Lilith ends up singing in a saloon in St. Louis, but she really wants to head west in a wagon train led by Roger Morgan (Robert Preston). Along the way, she's accompanied by the roguish gambler Cleve Van Valen (Gregory Peck), who claims he can protect her. After he saves her life during an Indian attack, they get married and move to San Francisco. In the third segment, "The Civil War," Eve and Linus' son, Zeb (George Peppard), fights for the Union. After he's forced to kill his Confederate friend, he returns home and gives the family farm to his brother. In the fourth segment, "The Railroads," Zeb fights with his railroad boss (Richard Widmark), who wants to cut straight through Indian territory. Zeb's co-worker Jethro (Henry Fonda) refuses to cut through the land, so he quits and moves to the mountains. After the railway camp is destroyed, Zeb heads for the mountains to visit him. In the fifth segment, "The Outlaws," Lilith is an old widow traveling from California to Arizona to stay with her nephew Zeb on his ranch. However, he has to fight a gang of desperadoes first. How the West Was Won garnered three Oscars, for screenplay, film editing, and sound production.


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rio

Posted : 5 years, 7 months ago on 22 November 2011 11:29 (A review of Rio Grande)

John Wayne stars as Lt. Col. Kirby Yorke, whose devotion to duty has cost him his marriage to his beloved Kathleen (Maureen O'Hara). Yorke gets word that his son, Jeff (Claude Jarman Jr.) -- whom he hasn't seen in 15 years -- has been dropped as a cadet from West Point, and that he lied about his age to enlist in the cavalry, in an effort to redeem himself. By chance, the boy is then assigned to his father's post. Once more, as a function of his duty as a cavalry officer, Yorke must sacrifice his love of family -- he cannot show any preferential treatment to the boy, or exhibit any sign of love and affection. But Jeff is too strong to be injured by his father's actions, and already enough of a man that he is befriended by two older recruits, troopers Tyree (Ben Johnson) and Boone (Harry Carey Jr.), who watch out for him while taking him in as a virtual equal. Yorke's resolve is further tested when his estranged wife, Kathleen, arrives at the post, the better to look after her son -- and possibly to buy back the boy's enlistment, which Yorke, as commanding officer in a remote post with a critical shortage of men, can't and won't permit. After an attack by the Apaches, Yorke orders the post's women and children to be moved to safety, and Jeff is assigned as part of the troop conducting the caravan, despite his wish to participate in the planned action against the Apaches. The caravan is attacked, and the wagon with the children is taken by the Apaches to their encampment in a deserted village across the Rio Grande in Mexico. Yorke has been given permission by General Sheridan (J. Carrol Naish) to take his men into Mexico in pursuit of the Apaches, but the punitive expedition is now a rescue mission, as the Indians' night-time vengeance dance is the prelude to certain slaughter of the children at daybreak. As part of the mission, it's up to Tyree, the slyest man in the troop, to infiltrate the enemy camp, and he chooses Jeff and Boone as the two men he wants with him on this dangerous mission.


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the searchers

Posted : 5 years, 7 months ago on 22 November 2011 11:27 (A review of The Searchers)

if John Ford is the greatest Western director, The Searchers is arguably his greatest film, at once a grand outdoor spectacle like such Ford classics as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) and Rio Grande (1950) and a film about one man's troubling moral codes, a big-screen adventure of the 1950s that anticipated the complex themes and characters that would dominate the 1970s. John Wayne plays Ethan Edwards, a former Confederate soldier who returns to his brother Aaron's frontier cabin three years after the end of the Civil War. Ethan still has his rebel uniform and weapons, a large stash of Yankee gold, and no explanations as to where he's been since Lee's surrender. A loner not comfortable in the bosom of his family, Ethan also harbors a bitter hatred of Indians (though he knows their lore and language well) and trusts no one but himself. Ethan and Martin Pawley (Jeffrey Hunter), Aaron's adopted son, join a makeshift band of Texas Rangers fending off an assault by renegade Comanches. Before they can run off the Indians, several homes are attacked, and Ethan returns to discover his brother and sister-in-law dead and their two daughters kidnapped. While they soon learn that one of the girls is dead, the other, Debbie, is still alive, and with obsessive determination, Ethan and Martin spend the next five years in a relentless search for Debbie -- and for Scar (Henry Brandon), the fearsome Comanche chief who abducted her. But while Martin wants to save his sister and bring her home, Ethan seems primarily motivated by his hatred of the Comanches; it's hard to say if he wants to rescue Debbie or murder the girl who has lived with Indians too long to be considered "white." John Wayne gives perhaps his finest performance in a role that predated screen antiheroes of the 1970s; by the film's conclusion, his single-minded obsession seems less like heroism and more like madness. Wayne bravely refuses to soft-pedal Ethan's ugly side, and the result is a remarkable portrait of a man incapable of answering to anyone but himself, who ultimately has more in common with his despised Indians than with his more "civilized" brethren. Natalie Wood is striking in her brief role as the 16-year-old Debbie, lost between two worlds, and Winton C. Hoch's Technicolor photography captures Monument Valley's savage beauty with subtle grace. The Searchers paved the way for such revisionist Westerns as The Wild Bunch (1969) and McCabe & Mrs. Miller (1971), and its influence on movies from Taxi Driver (1976) to Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Star Wars (1977) testifies to its lasting importance.


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escape

Posted : 5 years, 7 months ago on 21 November 2011 12:01 (A review of Escape from Fort Bravo)



”ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO” (1953) Review

Years ago, I used to watch a great deal of old movies on late night television. My two favorite channels that offered these movies were Turner Network Television (TNT) and the American Movies Classic (AMC), which used to air movies without any commercial breaks. On TNT, I had stumbled across a Western movie originally released by MGM Studios in 1953 called ”ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO” (1953) and fell in love with it. After watching my recently purchased DVD copy of the movie, I could see why it became a favorite of mine.

Directed by John Sturges during the first decade of his directorial career, ”ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO” told the story of a Union Army officer that served as the second-in-command of a prisoner-of-war camp located in the Arizona Territory in 1863. The movie’s opening pretty much set the stage of what kind of character Captain Roper was, as it depicted him dragging an escaped Confederate prisoner back to Fort Bravo. The fact that Roper was on horseback and his prisoner – a Lieutenant Bailey – was on foot pretty much established the Union officer as a hard-nosed and ruthless man. That flint-like personality was exacerbated by his cynicism, revealed in his reactions to the other characters’ disapproval of his treatment of Bailey. However, chaos soon arrived in the form of one Carla Forrester, a Texas belle who arrived at Fort Bravo to serve as maid-of-honor at the wedding of Alice Owens, the daughter of Fort Bravo’s commanding officer, Colonel Owens. Carla was also there to ensure the escape of the prisoners’ ranking officer, her fiancé Captain John Marsh and a few of his men. In order to keep their Union jailers distracted, Carla set out to seduce and romance the fort’s most feared man – Captain Roper.

When I first saw ”ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO”, I never thought I would become such a diehard fan of the movie. Do not get me wrong. It was not the best or innovative Western I had ever seen. Screenwriters Frank Fenton and an unaccredited Michael Pate had created a solid character study about conflicts – both political and personal – between the Union and Confederate troops in the Civil War Southwest, and the conflict between the Apaches and everyone else. The movie even had a happy ending – somewhat. Yet, Sturges, Fenton and Pate managed to lift a solid tale into something more fascinating by infusing a great deal of emotion and complexity in the main characters And it were these complex characters that truly made ”ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO” for me. The characters seemed to seethe with an array of emotions that eventually burst forth as the movie unfolded. Many of these emotions seemed to center around the story’s main character.

One of those characters happened to be Carla Forrester. And Eleanor Parker managed to do a top-notch job in portraying the bundle of contradictions that simmered underneath her ladylike façade. Parker portrayed Carla as a cool Southern belle with impeccable manners and a talent for seduction. Her Carla also possessed the ruthlessness to browbeat a reluctant pro-Southern storekeeper into helping Marsh and his men escape; a boldness that allowed her to chase after Roper in an age where women were valued for being passive; and a great deal of passion for Marsh and later, Roper. One of the more interesting aspects of Parker’s performance was expessing Carla’s struggles to suppress her feelings for Roper. Recently, I learned that Parker had earned the nickname Woman of a Thousand Faces. Judging from her portrayal of Carla Forrester, I would say that she deserved the name.

I have been a fan of John Forsythe since his years as Charlie Townsend’s voice in ”CHARLIE’S ANGELS” (1976-1981) and his work on the ABC nighttime soap opera ”DYNASTY” (1981-1989). But I must admit that I found his performance in ”ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO” somewhat perplexing. On one hand, Forsythe did a solid job in portraying John Marsh’s patience, intelligence and slightly caustic nature - especially in scenes that featured Marsh's exchanges with his fellow Confederate prisoners. However, there seemed to be something not quite . . . right about the character. I do not know if the fault lay with Forsythe’s performance or Fenton and Pate’s screenplay. The problem with the Marsh character or Forsythe’s acting seemed to be Marsh’s successful ability to suppress his emotions. There were times when I wondered if the only true feelings that Marsh had centered around his desire to escape. And when he finally did express his his jealousy toward Carla’s feelings about Roper – it came off as slightly unconvincing. Either Forsythe had failed to sell it . . . or Fenton and Pate failed to allow Marsh to express his jealousy until it was too late in the story.

I certainly cannot accuse William Demarest and William Campbell for giving unconvincing performances. The pair portrayed two of the Confederate prisoners – the wise “old” man Sergeant Campbell and the cocky young Cabot Young. The pair seemed to be engaged in some kind of verbal warfare that I found a lot of fun. Yet, it also seemed to hint some kind of mild dislike between the two – until the ending revealed their true feelings for each other. Two other performances caught my attention – John Lupo as the cowardly Confederate officer Lieutenant Bailey and Richard Anderson (of ”THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN” and ”THE BIONIC WOMAN” fame) as the soon-to-be husband of Alice Owen, Lieutenant Beecher. What made these two characters interesting was that each man – in his own way – seemed capable of some kind of courage. Although a physical coward, Bailey possessed the courage to openly admit his limitations. And Beecher had no qualms about openly expressing his disapproval of Roper’s ruthlessness, despite being the captain’s subordinate.

While writing this review, it occurred to me that I had yet to comment on William Holden’s performance as the hard-nosed Captain Roper. The same year (1953) that MGM released ”ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO”, Paramount released Billy Wilder’s movie, ”STALAG 17” - the movie that featured Holden’s Oscar winning performance. If I had my way, I would have given Holden the Oscar for his performances in both movies. What I found amazing about his portrayal of Roper is that in the hands of a lesser actor, the character could have easily ended up one-dimensional. Ironically, most of the supporting characters seemed to view him as a one-dimensional hard ass. Yet, Holden managed to effectively convey Roper’s complexity by perfectly balancing the character’s ruthlessness with an intelligent, witty and passionate man. In the end, he actor did a superb job in combining the many aspects of Roper’s personality into a complex and interesting character.

MGM’s Oscar winning costume designer Helen Rose added color to the movie with some lush costumes befitting the movie’s early 1860s setting. Unfortunately, Rose made one serious misstep with a yellow evening gown worn by Eleanor Parker:



The gown seemed more befitting of a movie set in the early 1950s, instead of the 1860s. It is not surprising that Rose had received her Oscar nominations and wins for movies in a modern setting. I also have to commend cinematographer Robert Surtees for capturing the Southwest landscape (Southern California and New Mexico) without overwhelming the performers. Surtees also made use of the Ansco cameras to give the movie a rich and lush aura, allowing the desert to seem more colorful than usual.

Surprisingly, Frank Fenton and Michael Pate’s script for ”ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO” seemed to bear a small, yet striking resemblance to John Ford’s 1939 classic, ”STAGECOACH”. Both movies are basically character studies of a group of people in a Western setting – namely the Southwest – that included action against the Apaches in the final acts. And the Apaches in both films proved to be nothing more than plot devices to drive the characters’ situations forward. However, Sturges and the two screenwriters gave the Apaches’ roles a twist by portraying them as an organized military unit, instead of a bunch of rampaging “savages”, during a sequence that featured Roper, Carla, Beecher, Marsh, Bailey, Campbell and Young under besiege by the Apaches’ “bombardment” of arrow similar to Henry V’s use of English and Welsh longbowmen at the Battle of Agincourt. And unlike the John Wayne and Claire Trevor characters in ”STAGECOACH”, this movie left the fate of Roper and Carla’s future romance in the air. After all, she had assisted in the Confederates’ escape.

It is a shame that ”ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO” has never been considered when top Hollywood Westers are discussed. Or even when John Sturges’ career is discussed. Frankly, I believe the movie deserves to be considered. Sturges had taken Frank Fenton and Michael Pate’s sharp screenplay and a top notch cast to create a tense and complex Western that I feel is one of the best I have seen to come out of the Hollywood studio era.


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the one that got away

Posted : 5 years, 7 months ago on 21 November 2011 03:46 (A review of The One That Got Away)

It's Tommies and Jerries left right and centre in this British made movie about one man's desperate attempts to flee from capture.

The One That Got Away is based on the true story of Franz von Werra (Hardy Kruger), allegedly the only German PoW to escape back to his homeland. If you read up on the man you'll see how accurate this portrayal actually is, admittedly with a few rather more dramatic scenes thrown in for good measure.

The good news is that The One That Got Away isn't a war film and its focus is much more upon humanity and breaking down the barriers of nationality. Bearing in mind that it was released just 12 years after the end of the war, I imagine that many people would be shocked to see a German pilot being portrayed as the main protagonist and very much the hero of the piece.

The film's weakness lies in the fact that everybody is so nice and friendly. Sure, the guards have their moments, but the others seems pretty reasonable overall. I find it hard to believe that people would allow a man, who clearly could have been German, to walk around a train station willy nilly and offer him food and hot drinks. I know I didn't pay much attention in history class at school, but this struck me as a little ridiculous.

There also appear to some severe time issues. I found it hard to comprehend that it was set over the duration of many months when the whole thing seems to fly by in a couple of days, and somehow Kruger is always well shaven, with neat hair, despite being out in the harsh British terrain for days on end.

This is an entertaining, lighthearted film and Kruger has enough charisma to pull off the arrogant (oh so friendly) lead. There are no surprises - you know exactly what's going to happen, but that's not the point. It's watchable and perfectly suited for a rainy afternoon.


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the great

Posted : 5 years, 7 months ago on 21 November 2011 03:43 (A review of The Great Escape)

The Great Escape is based on the true story of a group of Allied prisoners of war who managed to escape from an allegedly impenetrable Nazi prison camp during World War II. At the beginning of the film, the Nazis gather all their most devious and troublesome POWs and place them at a new prison camp, which was designed to be impervious to escapes. Immediately, the prisoners develop a scheme where they will leave the camp by building three separate escape tunnels. Richard Attenborough is the British soldier who masterminds the whole plan, and who commands his motley squad--featuring Charles Bronson as a Polish trench-digging expert, James Garner as an American with a talent for theft, Donald Pleasence as a masterful forger, and Steve McQueen as an American rebel--through the construction of the tunnels and, eventually, their escape. An epic adventure film, The Great Escape runs nearly three hours, featuring a rousing Elmer Bernstein score and exciting action sequences -- including a notorious motorcycle chase between McQueen and the Nazis -- the likes of which had never been seen before in Hollywood productions.


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Escape from Fort Bravo review

Posted : 5 years, 7 months ago on 20 November 2011 07:31 (A review of Escape from Fort Bravo)

I just saw this movie on TV today and agree that it was very well made and acted. I guess I really like Western
cavalry and Indian themes and I also recommend Duel at Diablo as another
"cornered by the Apaches" scary film.
I really love the scenery in such movies and also today have watched THE SEARCHERS and JOHNNY GUITAR.


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