This is like a treasure hunt. These unloved movies are going cheap, but there is nothing cheap about the acting talent in the batch of movies I bought – top notch performances by Clint Eastwood, Shirley MacLaine, Audrey Hepburn, Ben Bratt, Sandra Bullock, Michael Caine and Steve Martin. Guys, keep you expectations low and buy these DVDs while they still see the light of day. With the “streaming wave” taking over the movie business, once gone these DVDs will not be back. I found a few DVDs worth buying and watching (only one flop), and so can you by browsing a few minutes. So grab your China Virus mask and get going. Below are reviews of my most recent Raid which I codenamed “Hurricane Backfire”.
Two Mules for Sister Sara 1970 western adventure romance
There is a lot to like about this movie: The rugged setting of the Mexican desert, a musical score by the legend, Ennio Morricone; two Hollywood icons, MacLaine and Eastwood, while still in their prime, and putting it all together is veteran director Don Siegel who would direct Clint the following year in the 1971 blockbuster hit, Dirty Harry. Siegel had a talent for action scenes, and in this film, the final shootout does not disappoint. My favorite part of the movie is Shirley MacLaine. Lately, she’s been typecast as a sassy, old crow with gruff one-liners, but in this 1970 performance, she plays a damsel in distress and a nun. She is charming and sexy even when dressed in a nun frock. Clint is by turns chivalrous and tough, and unlike the Spaghetti Western trilogy, has a chance to display his romantic and dry-wit-comedy talents. He has terrific screen chemistry with Shirley, and they make a fun, offbeat couple. Highly recommended even for people not the biggest fans of the western genre.
Crazy Heart 2009 drama music romance
It's hard to criticize any movie starring Jeff Bridges and Robert Duvall, but when the credits rolled I was thinking: I saw this exact same storyline back in the 1980s: Tender Mercies. The 1983 film is a classic with five Oscar nominations including two wins. Veteran actor Robert Duvall, as Mac Sledge, won (his first and only) Lead Best Actor Academy award. So, to me, this is Tender Mercies redux, with a serious casting flaw. I could not buy the romance between "Bad" Blake and Jean. The miscasting was pure Hollywood Geezer-Gidget. Jean, played by Maggie Gyllenhall is nearly thirty years younger than Bridges, and her being a NYC Ashkenazi Jew, would be lucky to name one Country Music song or star. Blake smoked like a chimney and guzzled whiskey while she behaves like a normal, respectable adult. The sex scene was far-fetched given the age and condition of Blake, but that is the Hollywood way. Watch this for the well done country music scenes, and expect zero romance chemistry. It seems we have a favorite Hollywood trope: A broken-down, middle-aged country singer is reformed by a good woman who happens to be twenty or thirty years younger. The lead male actor is awarded the Oscar.
The Great Raid 2005 action drama war
This war movie is a throwback to the post-1945 era when the filmmakers still had a vivid recall of the war, including the intense fear and uncertainty that Americans experienced during the war. The Great Raid feels like it was made in the early ’40s, but that the studio splurged on the budget to film it in Technicolor, and due to studio conflicts could not hire Errol Flynn for the starring role. Never mind Errol, Ben Bratt does a terrific job. The main plot of the movie is a classic war movie theme – a small band of men, trudge through the jungle led by a tough, smart alpha male, and attempt a heroic, desperate mission behind enemy lines. If you have seen Objective, Burma then you get the idea; simply substitute the Cabanatuan POW camp for a radar station.
The opening scene of the film fills in the backstory of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines and the resulting American defeat in 1942 – the worst in American military history. Particularly effective is the use of actual black and white news reels showing American POWs and the Japanese captors. The intro makes a slow transition to color and begins the movie.
The film is based on true events and tells the storyline from three prospectives: 1) The American Ranger Battalion on the secret rescue mission in the Philippines. 2) American POW camp at Cabanatuan – the target of the raid, and 3) A Manila hospital where an American nurse (Connie Nielson) smuggles medicine to the POW camp via the Filipino guerrilla network. I was far more interested in the planning and execution of the raid, but the balance of screen time worked well and did not bog down the story.
The best and most suspenseful scenes occur when the Ranger battalion duck and dodge the Japanese troops and tanks on their way to attack the POW camp to free the American prisoners. It is not entirely an American mission; the Filipino guerillas play a crucial role in the raid as scouts and, with their intimate knowledge of the countryside around the camp, the Filipino commander helps plan the actual attack.
It’s a shame that this movie was not a box office success, and was panned by the increasingly radical-feminized media culture. Although this is one of the great war movies of the modern era, I’ve read criticism describing the film as "propaganda" with "negative Japanese stereotypes", when the reality is Japanese brutality was much more horrific than shown in this film. Of the 27,000 Americans taken prisoner by the Japanese, a shocking 40 percent died in captivity. That compares with just one percent of American prisoners who died in German POW camps (Link to more on Japanese war crimes and source here).
The Great Raid is the second best American-made Pacific War film I have seen; the best one being the recent 2019 remake of Midway. Both movies should be required viewing in all high school history classrooms. Both are underrated movies that salute the greatest generation and American courage and skill.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s 1961 romance comedy drama
A few movies in every decade serve as a time capsule that future generations will watch, and ask, "Was it really like that?" Breakfast at Tiffany's is one of those movies, and that may be the best reason to watch it. In an odd way, the story about wacky party girl Holly Golightly is a farewell to the safe, prosperous 1950s. Take for instance the iconic opening scene where we see Holly, played by the glamourous Audrey Hepburn, hop out of a cab, coffee and donut in hand, and walk the deserted streets of New York City at dawn to window shop at Tiffany’s while sipping hot coffee. The melancholy tune of “Moon River” plays softly in the background. The simple dreamy scene is a powerful statement about early 1960s America. NYC has undergone drastic change in the sixty years since this movie was made. The safe, clean city of 1961 is now a dangerous, multicultural shithole infested with trashy hobo camps, roaming bands of smash and grab thieves, and violent gangs. Can you imagine watching a beautiful, defenseless girl in a little black dress roaming around the city in the wee hours of the morning nowadays, without worrying about her safety?
Just as every decade has its own style of parties that can never be repeated or relived by later generations, Breakfast at Tiffany's perfectly captures the 1960s party atmosphere. If you never went to one of those parties, this movie will show us what we missed. Everyone is clean cut, well dressed and having fun. The host is the bartender, as it was considered rude to have guests bother with mixing their own drinks. No kids allowed –adult only. A favorite scene at Holly’s party shows a lady wearing her hair in a tall beehive, and Holly’s super long cigarette holder catches it on fire. A man dumps his cocktail on her head; problem solved. They party on without skipping a beat.
Audrey Hepburn is a natural at projecting an innocent, carefree attitude, which is necessary for Holly Golightly's character – a well-mannered, attractive New York City socialite who charms everyone who comes in her path. George Peppard's character, Paul, serves as the audience's perspective, and as he gets to know more about Holly, he sees that her fairy tale life is very far from the true situation. Without revealing too much about the plot, I’ll add that actually both Holly and Paul are social climbers and hustlers – getting by on their good looks and wits. Do these two fall in love? And will they starve to death? Watch the movie and see for yourself.
Miss Congeniality 2000 crime comedy romance
Sandra Bullock plays tomboy Gracie Hart, a FBI field agent, alongside Ben Bratt. When the bureau becomes aware of a bomb threat in the Miss United States beauty pageant, Sandra goes undercover as one of the contestants. The FBI team first meets with the pageants host and hostess, hilariously played by Candice Bergman and William Shatner, to set the stage for Gracie to make it to the top five. Gracie’s next stop is a full beauty makeover and “charm lessons” from the ace Beauty Pageant Consultant, Victor Melling (Michael Caine in a pink shirt). The transformation is stunning when she makes her grand entrance in a short, short tight dress. This film is full of laughs, and a fantastic hallmark to the end of the never-to-be-repeated 90s comedies that you can only truly appreciate if you experienced it first-hand. There are politically incorrect jokes, risqué sexual innuendo, and underlying conservative values. Of course the girls go on parade in bathing suits, but the highlight had to be the talent contest scenes. No spoilers but you will remember it and smile the next day. In the modern era of Fem-Nazis and Fantasy Girl Power, the premise of highlighting a beauty contest in a positive manner, as in celebrating female beauty, would never get made into a film today. But, in the 90s, it was a great idea, and this film was wildly popular at the box office. And who does not love Sandra Bullock in one of her very best comedy performances?
Dirty Rotten Scoundrels 1988 crime comedy
It takes one to know one, so when the older, more experienced conman, who relieves wealthy, gullible women of their jewels to finance his “noble cause”, observes another much younger con man moving into his territory he decides his resort town isn’t big enough for two scam artists. The plot is the exact same as the 1964 movie, Bedtime Story, starring David Niven and Marlon Brando. In this newer version, Michael Caine takes on the role of the senior con artist while Steve Martin plays the new kid on the block, who concocts elaborate, sad sack stories about his ailing grandmother. The duel between the two crooks is filled with a combination of funny gags, clever jokes, disguises and long set-ups—plus plot twists I never saw coming! A fun light-weight comedy gem from the 80’s with outstanding acting by Caine, Martin and Glenne Headly.
Quick Change 1990 comedy crime
In the opening scene Bill Murray, in ridiculous clown garb, makes his way into a NYC bank, executes a clever bank robbery and evades the police dragnet. From that point on it was all downhill. It devolved into a silly comedy of errors: missed freeway signs, car trouble, etc. None of it was funny and in fact was just painful to watch. We are expected to believe that the gang is smart enough to pull off a major bank robbery, yet too stupid to find the fucking airport. I am a Bill Murray fan and enjoy the crime-comedy genre, so I really wanted to like this flick, but it was a flop. Maybe the reason was the lack of chemistry between the main three characters, or maybe it was the co-director curse, but I found the movie tedious after the first twenty minutes.
Written by Ben Clark. Copyright 2016-2019. All rights reserved.