Monday, November 25, 2019

Top Ten Screwball Comedies

            What’s a screwball comedy?
            It’s generally considered to be a sub-genre of the romantic comedy. Its gilded age was the late 30’s to late 40’s. The screwball was usually a “guy gets girl” story featuring characters who were rich and privileged. There’re lots of theories about why these comedies about the wealthy sprang from the Great Depression. I think it was pure escapism. Everyone was worried about money and they wanted to visit a world where cash wasn’t a problem. For the most part the people who populated screwballs were concerned about loftier things like love or paleontology. They existed in a world where their greatest fear was social embarrassment.

 Bringing Up Baby – Katharine Hepburn as Susan Vance ...
The quintessential screwball. A movie with nothing on its mind but to entertain. Howard Hawks and Cary Grant were on a creative and box office roll following His Girl Friday and Only Angels Have Wings when they came onto this project. Katherine Hepburn was in a career slump and looking like box office poison when this role rescued her from obscurity. Hepburn plays a Main Line Society girl who has the hots for paleontologist Grant. All Cary wants is the intercostals clavicle that will complete his brontosaurus. All Hepburn wants is to remain in his company long enough to get him to fall for her. Add in a runaway leopard (make that TWO runaway leopards) and you have the classic screwball comedy. This one is so seamless that it takes multiple viewings to see how Hawks and his screenwriters strung it together in a series of comedy set pieces that blend one into the other with nary a ripple. Brilliant entertainment.

 Watch The Miracle of Morgan's Creek Full Movie | Watch The ...

A Preston Sturges classic considered risqué when it came out in ’44. The always hilarious Betty Hutton stars as a girl who volunteers to help entertain a bunch of G.I.s being transported through her small town on the way to the fighting in WWII. She does more than entertain one of them when she finds herself waking up in the morning with a wedding ring and no recollection of who the bridegroom was or where and how she got married! Worse yet, it turns out she’s pregnant! (though the “p” word is never used in the movie.) She turns to her oldest pal in town, Eddie Bracken who specialized in playing affable 4-Fs left out of the service in a handful of pictures. Bracken is nearly forgotten now (he had a pivotal role in Home Alone 2 as the toy shop owner.) but in his day he often played a character driven more and more frantic by the events swirling around him. Bracken’s ability to reflect rising mayhem with his three octave voice and endless expressions of shock and dismay are unparalleled. He’s the loveable victim. Always credulous but never naïve. On hand also is the Strurges regular William Demerest who’s at his most flammable in this picture. He’s a tower of simmering rage and always funny.

 Old Movie Critic: I Love You Again
William Powell and Myrna Loy in one of their incomparable pairings. Directed by S.S. Van Dyne, their frequent collaborator and director of most of the Thin Man movies. Powell is a man with amnesia. Or at last he HAD amnesia until it’s cured and he remembers that he’s a confidence trickster who’s been living a life as a milktoast middle class business man for the past ten years. And he can’t REMEMBER the past ten years. He follows the clues to a small town a pottery business he runs. It’s the perfect set-up for a confidence man and he plans to rob the business blind and take off with the proceeds. Until he meets Loy, the woman he’s forgotten he’s been married to all these years, and falls head over heels for her. But she wants nothing to do with Powell as he’s just a boring old stick-in-the-mud. But she only knows the amnesiac Powell not the smart and dashing con man he is in reality. Can William woo Myrna without revealing his sordid past? Or should he just take the money and run? A dizzying story of mistaken identity and lost memory.


Alfred Hitchcock’s only straight-up comedy. Robert Montgomery and Carole Lombard learn that their marriage of eight years was illegal and they’ve actually been living in sin all this time. Montgomery makes the bonehead play of not telling Lombard right away and this sets off a calamitous chain of events that threatens them ever making their marriage legal. Montgomery is hysterical in several sequences in which he goes to great lengths to avoid humiliation only to compound his embarrassment.  Lombard is, as always, irresistible in a role that allows her to act childish, demure, seductive and sly often all at once. She’s not only cute but she’s funny when she’s angry and she’s angry a lot in this one. It also features Jack Carson in the supporting cast. If you’re not familiar with Jack Carson you should be. He was often the best thing in the movies he appeared in. He specialized in playing shallow braggarts who were honest, goodhearted lugs despite their self-centered natures. The dumb jock, the best buddy, the dimwitted schemer. The closest modern equivalent would be Patrick Warburton. Carson is ALWAYS a scream.

The Lady Eve: Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda – Girls Do Film

Preston Sturges wrote and directed this story of a father and daughter confidence team played by Charles Coburn and Barbara Stanwyck. Babs is slick and sexy and overpowers a withdrawn and wealthy nerd played by Henry Fonda while both are on a cruise voyage. But they meet again under other circumstances and Stanwyck falls for Fonda but she has to convince him that this time it’s for real. Real romantic tension grows to a suspenseful level in a comedy with true edge and heart. Smart and sophisticated with a great performance from blustery Eugene Roche.
              This movie is also remarkable for its innovative warping of the usual romantic comedy formula in a way that has never been duplicated. Sturges has Stanwyck's character go through one metamorphosis after another as regards her feelings for Fonda. And Fonda's character responds to these changes with transformations his own all while each remain seamlessly in character with zero contrivance. 

His Girl Friday, directed by Howard Hawks | Film review

Howard Hawks convinced writers Charles MacArthur and Ben Hecht to re-draft their hugely-popular hit play Front Page with one simple alteration; a gender change for ace reporter Hildy Johnson to make her the ex-wife of crusading editor Walter Page. The result makes perfect sense and adds a welcome degree of sexual tension and romantic complication to the story. Rosalind Russell gives as good as she gets from ex-hubby and current boss Cary Grant. Russell is planning to leave the paper and marry stolid and sure Ralph Bellamy. But Grant is willing to turn the town upside down to manipulate her into staying long enough to fall in love with him again. It’s as sharp and cynical a fast-paced comedy you’ll ever see. It bears repeated viewings to catch the full range of the asides and exchanges. In addition to MacArthur and Hecht’s bristling dialogue you have Grant ad-libbing all over the place. Russell was so flummoxed by Grant’s going off the script that she hired an outside writer on her own to come up with quips to shoot back at him! (Cary caught on and asked if he could see her cheat sheet.) In addition to a classic screwball it’s also still timely in its comments on the state of journalism and media control of public events.

It Happened One Night | Events | Coral Gables Art Cinema

Frank Capra directs what is not only one of the great screwball comedies of all time but perhaps one of the five most influential films ever made. The plot will sound very familiar to even a casual filmgoer as it is a mainstay of romantic comedy. Every romantic comedy (and plenty of romantic dramas) owes something to this one. Claudette Colbert is a poor little rich girl who runs away from her father and a huge inheritance to marry a no-good cad. Newspapermen scour the country for word of the runaway heiress. But it’s Clark Gable who finds her and vows to stay by her side to keep his scoop to himself. He hates her and she hates him. He thinks she’s a stuck-up, spoiled brat and she thinks he’s a heartless mercenary who ruins lives for profit. But they’re stuck with one another for a variety of reasons and a series of circumstances that make them fall…well, you know this story. Add a gay boyfriend for the heroine and you have half of the Julia Roberts movies ever made. Hollywood has been twisting and bending and recasting this story since It Happened One Night swept the Oscars the year it came out. But this is the original and is still unsurpassed for charm, laughs, wit and sophistication.

Loretta Young is a bestselling feminist author who thinks both marriage and men are useless. Into her life comes Ray Milland and, through a series of events that could only happen in a screwball, they are forced into a sham marriage.  Her publisher wants her to stay in the phony marriage just long enough to write a books about matrimony before getting divorced. He can't get the academic position he wants as long as he's a bachelor. But, thanks to propinquity, their platonic relationship turns to romance leading to further complications. What's created is a gag-rich environment driven by the irrepressible charm of its leads.
Carole Lombard and Fred MacMurray in The Princess Comes Across (1936)

No list of screwballs would be complete without at least one Fred MacMurray entry. The actor made a career of light romantic roles teamed often with Claudette Colbert in one effective comedy after another whole both were under contract to Columbia. Here, he stars with Carole Lombard as a wise-talking musician attracted to a foreign countess who turns out to be neither. The action takes place aboard an ocean liner, the setting for more than one of the movies on this list. Comoplicatoon upon complication ensue as Lombard first hides her identity from MacMurray then needs his help to conceal it. Of course, love intrudes along the way to break down the guard of these two cynical, world-weary heels. Throw blackmail and murder into the mix and you have an unbeatable formula for these two star to play against. 

If You Could Only Cook (1935) – Mike's Take On the Movies ...

Jean Arthur starred in a string of screwball and romantic comedies usually playing bachelorette everygirls opposite Ray Milland, Fred MacMurray or Melvin Douglas. Her squeaky tremulous cartoonish voice was certainly unique and added to her sharp delivery and impeccable comedic timing. Here she's teamed with Herbert Marshall who falls for her hard enough to walk away from his millionaire lifestyle to pretend to be an unemployed butler just to stay in her company. The pair take a job as servants to a dangerous gangster played by Leo Carillo with Lionel Stander as his hired goon Flash. All is capably overseen by comedy veteran William Seiter. Another reliable entry from Columbia, the studio that created the genre and returned to the screwball comedy goldmine again and again for more than a decade. 


“Night and Day” | Simon Partridge - Elegant Vocals


FRIEND: Maybe you just forgot where you met her.
ASTAIRE: If I forgot a girl like that I’d remember it.

 The Thin Man movies • Eve Out of the Garden


NORA: And they say you were shot four times in the tabloids.
NICK: Nonsense. They never came anywhere near my tabloids.

Once Upon A Time In The West (1969) | (1/4) | Opening ...


JACK ELAM: Looks like we’re shy one horse.
BRONSON: No. You brought two too many.

Escape from Alcatraz Movie Review (1979) | The Movie Buff


CONVICT: What kind of childhood did you have?

Diane Keaton - Photo 14 - Pictures - CBS News


NAPOLEON: I shall invade you just as I invaded Russia.
DIANE KEATON: Well, I’m a lot smaller.

The Chaney Blogathon: Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet ...


LAWRENCE TALBOT: You don’t understand. when the moon is full I become a wolf.
WILBUR: Yeah, you and half a million other guys.

 China Seas (1935) Tay Garnett « Twenty Four Frames


Gable is having a torture device, an iron boot, being tightened on his foot by Malay pirates.
WALLACE BEERY: Tell ‘em what they wanna know!
GABLE: I wear a Nine-C.

 Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid in the best scene ♥ - YouTube


SUNDANCE: I can’t swim.
BUTCH: Hell, the fall will kill ya.

Psycho III (1986) - AZ Movies

Norman is speaking to a woman who has attempted to commit suicide in the Bates Motel.

WOMAN: Sorry about the mess in the bathroom
NORMAN: I’ve seen it worse.

Brian Quinn of Impractical Jokers on "I Love You, I Know ...


LEIA: I love you.
HAN: I know.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

My friend Tom Lyle

Tom and I first met at a comic convention, of course. It was the heady days of the mid-80’s when comics were in the midst of a sales boom spread across the bigs as well as a dozen new, upstart indie publishers. I was a hungry writer on the make and Tom was a hungry artist on the make. I needed a regular penciler and inker for a back-up feature I was writing, and Tom jumped on board for what would be the start of a collaboration that would last for years and take us both to bigger and better things in our careers.
It’s rare for me to find an artist who can keep up with me and Tom came closer than anyone. Way closer. He was as all-in for comics as I was, living and breathing them, a total commitment. We were both total deadline hawks.
I got a call from DC Comics’ managing editor once because Tom had turned in the complete art for an issue and there was no script for the next issue waiting. I had to point out that Tom had handed the issue in two months ahead of deadline and thirty days before my next script was due. I never let him run that close again. In fact, thanks to my experience with Tom, I built longer and longer lead times into my schedule.
In addition to being a comics creating duo, we also travelled a lot together. Because we were living in the same town at the time we often flew, trained and drove together to summits, store appearances and conventions. Sometimes spending days in each other’s’ company and, on one occasion, an entire week travelling by Amtrak to a Batman retreat and straight on from there to the Mid-Ohio con by series of puddle jumper flights. We were younger then and tireless self-promoters. If that wasn’t enough, we also hiked together, doing sections of the Appalachian Trail. Even out there in the wild Pennsylvania hills it was an effort to stay ahead of him.
Over more than thirty years of friendship we always looked out for one another. I would bring him in on jobs, and he’d bring me in on jobs. To this day I’m working on a regular assignment that Tom lined up for me. Thanks, brother.
We were each a different breed of cat from one another but shared a love for making comics that made everything else irrelevant. Tom was always good company with a wicked sense of humor and the kind of infectious laugh that always made you join in even if it was your balls he was busting.
And he was a straight shooter. You wouldn’t ask him his opinion unless you wanted the unvarnished truth. I think that’s what made him such a good collaborator. I always knew where Tom stood on any subject. He didn’t hold back.
It’s going to take me a while to realize, to really understand, that I’ll never get another phone call from Tom. There will be no more catching up with one another. I’ll still be expecting to see him at a convention. I’ll have to stop myself from asking one of the many students of his that I run into how their professor is doing. Like any loss, there’s a void now that can only be filled with memories. And, there’s a whole lot of fans and peers and friends who are sharing that feeling with me today and will do so for a long time.
Goodbye, buddy and Godspeed.

Sunday, November 17, 2019


LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) Ben Foster is amazing, as always, as a disassociated vet living a reclusive life in a public park with his daughter until the authorities discover them and attempt to reform their lives. A heartbreaking story told with minimal dialogue and zero pathos. Here's a movie that makes you think without telling you what to think and one of those rare films that steps back to offer a snapshot of our time. I took some stuff away from it that I'm not sure were the filmmakers intentions, perhaps there is a deeper point they're making here about where we stand as a society. Whatever their aim, they caused me to reevaluate and that's always a good thing. Thomasin McKenzie is equal to Ben Foster's performance in every way, allowing us to see into her emotional changes with her eyes and body language alone.

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ANGRY RED PLANET (1959) Cheapjack product from American/International by sometimes good Ib Melchior and always schlocky Sid Pink. A cast of B-List actors heads to Mars in what looks like a storeroom with a porthole. On the planet they encounter a giant amoeba and the film's iconic rat/possum/crab/spider monster. Exteriors on Mars are shot through the process of CINEMAGIC created by comic book and trading card entrepreneur Norman Maurer. The process is just leaving the lens wide open and tinting the scenes in red, to hide the wretched sets and rushed background paintings. All the dialogue is right on the money (that's a bad thing) and attempts to explain all the effects that weren't allowed by the budget. I'm glad I saw it because I've always been curious about it. It might have gone down a lot better with a few drinks and a room full of friends.

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ALITA BATTLE ANGEL (2019) Adapted from a classic manga and run through the usual YA novel storytelling tropes, this is one big eye-candy assault built on a sturdy framework of discovery and revenge. Not a whole lot new here for long-time fans of SF. But then, we're not the audience for this. Loads and loads of action with the cast doing their best to make it work though the James Cameron touches are apparent in some painful dialogue right out of an 80s action flick (and not of the good ones). It's fun and surprisingly violent but of the bloodless variety that's allowable to get a PG-13 rating.

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THE GIANT CLAW (1957) A UFO reported by an civilian aviation engineer turns out to be an impossibly large bird "as big as a battleship" that continues on to threaten all life on Earth. What might have been a passable big creature programmer is utterly undermined by the title monster who turns out to be a cartoonish buzzard that would have been more at home in a Muppet movie than a monster movie. Even funnier than the big goggle-eyed turkey are the reactions the cast have to it. Mara Corday's gasp of horror at seeing this googly party puppet leering at her from a slide show image made me laugh out loud. It really makes you wonder at the level (or lack) of embarrassment that producers of this brand of crap must have felt. I mean, at some point, they had to show it to the studio and distributors. Seriously, for fourteen bucks, some papier mache and a glimpse at a comic book, they could have come up with something better than this.

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CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) Hammer's only lycanthropic effort as far as I know. After this tedious effort it's not hard to imagine why. Oliver Reed's iconic werewolf make-up is the only thing worth remembering about this tiresome exercise that spends nearly 80% of its running time telling the origin of the werewolf before we ever see a glimpse of his bad furry self. Most stories like this at least treat us to a werewolf attack at the beginning to get things rolling. This movie opts for a genesis involving an abusive nobleman, a beggar, rape, a mute serving girl and...hey, what was the name of this movie? Oliver Reed has a face made for playing a werewolf and would have killed in a transition scene but, alas, there's not one in the entire movie. And they should have hired a stuntman for the later scenes. Oliver might have been game but he doesn't appear to have been particularly athletic (or sober) enough to impart the feral qualities of a wolf leaping around the rooftops of a Castilian village. A damn shame really and missed opportunity. They had a good cast, excellent sets and a fantastic make-up design and then just chose to punt.

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GILDERSLEEVE'S GHOST (1944) Characters from the super popular radio show The Great Gildersleeve, in one of four movie versions. This one is set in the ever-sturdy haunted house framework so often used for comedies in the 30's and 40's. Is there a classic comedian who DIDN'T spend the night in a creepy old mansion filled with spooks, monsters and killers? This time out, Gildy and his entire cast spend a stormy night in a house populated by mad scientists, a sometimes-invisible chorus girl and multiple gorillas (one real and two faux apes). The laughs come steady especially if you're already familiar with the characters. And, for me, any movie with folks running around in gorilla costumes (the more obvious the better) is a must-see. Nicodemus Stewart, an African-American comic actor with a long career, gets a lot of screen time as Chauncy the chauffeur and every moment is welcome. I know we're supposed to look back with scorn on black actors in these "feets don't leave me now" roles but I have to recognize that this man worked hard for every laugh and is charming, likable, and effective in extended comic sequences. His character was not a Gildersleeve regular and an addition to the movie but the director knew gold when he saw it and just let the camera roll.

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GO TELL THE SPARTANS (1978) Solid war flick set in Vietnam in 1964, a period not often covered in Nam era movies. Burt Lancaster is fine form as a passed-over major assigned the thankless task of creating defensive positions in VC-infested areas. Vets will no doubt find a lot of to scoff at here. I know I had a problem with a firebase set at the base of a hill with thick jungle growth right up to the perimeter wire. But, as an actioner is serves its purpose and has loads of the peculiar brand of cynicism that movie-makers can't resist putting in movies about the Vietnam conflict. I have to say though that the cynicism works both ways in this one allowing you to make up your own mind.Cast of fine character actors like Marc Singer, Craig Wasson and Jonathan Goldsmith, better know as The Most Interesting Man In The World.

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L'emmerdeur /A PAIN IN THE ASS (1973) Lino Ventura is a hitman preparing to assassinate a witness in a corruption trial from a hotel room window. But in the room next to his, suicidal cuckold Jacques Brel is doing everything possible to ruin a perfectly planned murder. Slow burn comedy that comes together perfectly for its final act. Ventura finds his comedy niche here getting most of the laughs without the use of dialogue beyond long-suffering sighs. Was remade in 1981 as a Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau vehicle with less success. 

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Il était une fois un flic/FLIC STORY (1972) Dedicated bachelor and tough-guy detective Michael Constantin poses as husband to Mireille Darc and father to her nine-year-old boy in an attempt to find millions in missing heroin. A classic Georges Lautner comedy crime with easy laughs, breezy plot and enough action to keep things moving briskly. Some cleverly constructed scenes and a lot of humor at the expense of Americans.

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THE ABOMINABLE DR PHIBES (1971) Weird and wonderful horror pastiche and one of Vincent Price's best vehicles. Anton Phibes seeks to murder the doctors responsible for his wife's untimely death using methods borrowed from the plagues of Egypt. Droll English humor drier than the banks of the Thames at low tide. Inventive art deco sets with clockwork musicians, secret chambers, glass floors and ghastly traps. Price appears to be having the time of his life as the deadpan Phibes. A pity this franchise went no farther than two entries.

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Quelques messieurs trop tranquilles/SOME TOO QUIET GENTLEMEN (1973) A television piece about a sleepy rural French village in need of tourists draws a band of hippies to set up camp on the grounds of a nearby castle. Culture clashes ensue and are soon complicated by the murder of a local man. But the villagers and the "beatniks" join forces to get to the bottom of a mystery involving a treasure hidden in the local graveyard. A bit muddled plot-wise (as you have probably already surmised) but still a lot of fun in the vein of most Georges Lautner comedies. It features a comic Rene Jullienne car chase and all ends in a shoot-out. Miou Miou has a small role for all you Miou Miou fans. And the best running gag, about a bus full of singing children, made me laugh every single time.

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ANIMAL CRACKERS (1930) Adapted from a stage review of the same name, this is the Marx Brother's second feature film and I think it's probably an accurate representation of the theater production. All the rat-a-tat pacing and practiced chemistry of the boys (all four this time) is on display. Chico and Harpo adapt to film with seemingly no effort. But it's fascinating to watch Groucho attempting to maintain the stream-of-consciousness ad-lib style he used on stage but now in a different medium. Even in the clutches he regains control with asides the audience as everyone around him tries to keep up. The plot is a wafer thin hammock about stolen art and fraudulent paintings that allows the boys to bounce around the opulent sets making their particular brand of mayhem.

A BETTER TOMORROW (1986) The movie that jump-started the HK action movie explosion of the 80's and 90's. John Woo builds an Asian gangster epic on a Hollywood model, borrowing a sturdy plot formula that goes back to Cagney and Bogart as well as segues and editing styles not normally associated with Hong Kong productions at the time. Add to that mix the chaos-fueled shootouts that would become a signature of the genre and change forever the way that action scenes are shot. It's a modern tragedy with loads and heart displayed along with the buckets of blood spilled. And this would be the breakout film for Chow Yun Fat that would eventually turn him into an international star. A pity that H'wood never allowed him much of a chance to show his full range in productions here.

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FRONTIER MARSHAL (1939) A wholly inaccurate but robust western second feature concerning the events in Tombstone that led to the gunfight in the O.K. Corral. Randolph Scott as Wyatt and Caesar Romero as Doc in a fun oater outing with all the trappings of dance hall girls, saloon fights, shoot-outs stage hold-ups and chases through the California desert. It's a richly realized picture with loads of period detail and a large cast of extras all under the expert guise of programmer king Sol Wurzel who always knew how to get every dime up on the screen. And it features the Fox back lot town set in its full glory and all the trimmings. My second favorite back lot town set (after Columbia's) with its wide streets, varied building and the main drag that ran down a slope. Also, Lon Chaney and Ward Bond in small roles.

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Ne nous fâchons pas/LET'S NOT GET ANGRY (1966) Lino Ventura as a mobster who's left the life only to agree to do one small favor for some former cronies. This leads him and former partner-in-crime Michael Constantin to become guardian angels for sad sack Jean Lefebvre who has British mobsters (dressed as mods!) looking to kill him. Classic Georges Lautner caper comedy and Ventura getting ever more comfortable in his slow-burn comedic personality. Loads of preposterous 60's style action and Mireille Darc brings her charm to bear as the forlorn wife of the intended victim.

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BANDOLERO! (1968) This one falls into the "pretty darn good" category of westerns. Outlaw Dean Martin is set to hang until brother James Stewart shows up as the hangman! What follows is a chase down into Mexico with Raquel Welch as a hostage and a posse led by George Kennedy. Violent action against the sky stuff with a blood soaked ending. But it's all made unremarkable by unimaginative or indifferent direction by Andrew V. MacLagen who never really graduated from being a TV director. But the cast is strong and it all moves along briskly. And Dean Martin's love for being in westerns is obvious.

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ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) Billy Wilder turns his understanding of life in America loose on the cynicism inherent on the world of journalism. Kirk Douglas is an ambitious heel who risks the life of a man trapped in a cave in order to write the Big Story that will return him to a desk at a major paper. He turns one man's tragedy into a literal circus as thousands arrive to be on the scene of his breaking story. This is seamless and thoughtful film making that challenges the hold that media has on the public. What I like about it is that, in the end, it shows that all of the abuses and exploitation come from the hucksters and power brokers. The examples of the gullible public are portrayed, in the end, as misled but good-hearted and caring. It also happens to be engrossing entertainment that engages from beginning to end.

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FINAL DESTINATION (2000) This first entry in the highly successful horror franchise started life as a rejected episode for THE X FILES. While boarding a jet for a flight to France with classmates, a teenager has a vision of the plane exploding in mid-air. He has a panic attack that results in a fight that ends with several students and a teacher getting ejected from the flight and, you betcha, the plane explodes in mid-air. Now, having cheated Death, the survivors are stalked by the grim reaper in the order in which they should have died. Smart, creepy entertainment that uses telegraphing to a degree never before seen in cinema. The villain of the piece is never seen, never personified except as a fleeting, shapeless shadow. And you'll never hear Rocky Mountain High in the same way again.
These movies are like salted peanuts to me, so I'll probably wind up watching the rest of them before Halloween.

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TOY STORY 4 (2019) A fine and worthy final act for this franchise. The theme isn't quite as deep as previous entries but still resonates with a story about leaving your comfort zone and moving on with life. The toys' new owner comes back from her first day at kindergarten with a new "friend" made from a spork, pipe cleaner and modeling clay. Forky suffers from an existential crisis that sends the cast into their most wide-ranging and free-wheeling adventure of all. Loads of great gags, running jokes and Easter eggs abound in a chase story that carries a lot of fun new characters along in its wake. And there's an astounding antique store environment that must have taken a year to construct virtually. And Ducky and Bunny (Key and Peele) have a series of imagined adventures that are inspired to say the least.

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On aura tout vu/NOW WE'VE SEEN IT ALL (1976) Wannabe film director Pierre Richard sells his friend's "sensitive and tasteful" political allegory screenplay to a porno producer. His decision to sell out is challenged by his girlfriend Miou Miou who is (perhaps) willing to sacrifice her own dignity to show him the error of his ways. What follows is French farce cast against the tectonic cultural shifts of the 70's.

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FINAL DESTINATION 2 (2003) Ali Larter's back to lay down the new ground rules for this sequel that features a horrific chain reaction highway accident rather than a plane crash. Not as tightly constructed as the first film and it appears that the lion share of the budget went into the opening crash sequence. Still, it all moves along at a raid clip as Death stalks a new cast of young adults. This one builds on the first movie and sets in stone all the gimmicks, red herrings and visceral surprises that are the hallmarks of this franchise.

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FINAL DESTINATION 3 (2006) The writer and director of the first film return for more of the same. The formula remains in place with death stalking Mary Elizabeth Winstead this time following a spectacular roller coaster accident. This time out, the filmmakers invest a lot in the emotional toll taken on the surviving characters which draws us into their lives and makes them far more sympathetic than the usual horror movie stereotypes. Excepting, of course, the pair of Valley girl hotties. No sense breaking EVERY rule. A by-product of this effort to provide more development is that the deaths seem all that more sadistic.

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FINAL DESTINATION 5 (2011) Salted peanuts, I tell you! Except for #4 which is like one of those shriveled, pasty peanuts that make you regret not looking in the shell first. That said, 5 restores the franchise's appeal as well as its budget as an epic bridge collapse leads to a half dozen young adults (and their boss David Koechner) are stalked by death in offices, factory floors and, eventually, by each other. The end twist is a honey.

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IN CHINA THEY EAT DOGS (1999) Wild, freewheeling and brutal Danish crime movie with a dark streak of humor throughout. A bank loan officer seeks the solution to a moral quandary with the help of his psychopathic estranged brother played to perfection by Kim Bodnia. Events quickly spin out of control as one bad decision after another lead to a cascade of rising catastrophe that can only end in a bloodbath. the immediate, cinema verite approach makes this an in-your-face experience that provides one ghastly surprise after another.

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ARSENIC AND OLD LACE (1944) The film version of the enormously successful play directed with the sure comic hand of Frank Capra and a cast led by Cary Grant at his most kinetic and aided by a flawless cast of character actors including Jack Carson, James Gleason, Edward Everett Horton and Peter Lorre. Priscilla Lane is equal to the task of keeping up with Cary's antics and Raymond Massey is excellent despite being given the unenviable task of filling in for Boris Karloff who broke records in this role on stage. Very funny and marvelously constructed comedy that's not afraid to go dark (even scary) when needed. It mostly takes place on the same massive set for the most part but never feels stagy or contrived.

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WAG THE DOG (1997) This movie seems quaint now that we're all witnesses to the blatant media manipulation that's all around us 24/7. Eleven days before an election the sitting president sexually molests a Girl Scout and his team calls in a fixer who then hires a Hollywood producer to create a phony war to distract the media. The idea that only the president's staff would be conducting a disinformation campaign looks naive in the current political climate. Still, it's shocking that a movie this specific to the antics of the Clinton administration even got made. It's also the first time a clear connection between Washington and Hollywood is portrayed. And the film still works as a parody and a parable. The highlight of the film is Dustin Hoffman's bravura performance portraying, essentially, Robert Evans, the powerhouse movie producer. It's also the height of irony that Robert DeNiro plays the fixer, a man who creates fictions to protect his masters. And co-writer David Mamet's touches are evident everywhere. "Surest thing you know."

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KONTROLL (2003) A Hungarian film set entirely in Bucharest's subway system. Ostensibly, it's about ticket checkers who board the trains making passengers show their tickets or passes and the adventures they have performing that, apparently dangerous, task. Loads of subplots about a murderer pushing people onto the tracks, a narcoleptic ticket checker, a mysterious girl in a bear costume who acts a kind of guardian angel for commuters and the hunt for a prankster named Bootsie. At the core is a character who lives 24/7 in the tunnels and on the platforms and his struggle to return the surface and a normal life. At time scary, at others frightening and often touching but always absorbing. I'm gonna have to look for other films by this director.

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ROUGHSHOD (1941) A pretty good western starring Robert Sterling as a rancher travelling with his kid brother when they come across a wagon load of "dancehall girls" stranded in the wilderness. The rest of the story is a "boy meets girl" affair with background tension provided by John Ireland leading a trio of killers seeking to settle a score with Sterling. Ireland always made for a good amoral creep. Not an action oater by any means but more concerned with character relationships and how the relationship between the lead and Gloria Grahame will work out. Mostly shot in exteriors in the Sierras and loads of vivid period detail and senses that the filmmakers were going strong for verisimilitude as well as a more "adult" approach to the genre. An interesting attempt that makes me curious about how audiences at the time responded to it.

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THE KING (2019) A Netflix production that encapsulates and adapts the plots all three of Shakespeare's Henry plays into one epic story. It's an ambitious idea and works as a period epic if not as a history. The production is an adaption of an existing work not an attempt to dramatize actual history. Just as the Bard did, this movie truncates and simplifies the history of the time while keeping the gist of the events. That said, it's rich in period detail and features the best depiction of the battle of Agincourt ever put in film. And I have to respect the writers for even attempting to re-write the Crispin's Day speech. They maintain the feel of the famous pep talk but give it a more immediate, top-of-my-head feel that makes it more dramatically in line with this production. It's never going to make anyone forget the original but it's a damned good effort.

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BANDIDO! (1956) I'm a sucker for any story set in revolutionary Mexico. This one is a solid action entry with Robert Mitchum as a cynical,wise-talking gringo with a suitcase full of hand grenades looking to deal for a hidden cache of arms to the highest bidder. Gilbert Roland gives his usual bravura performance as a revolutionary leader and Ursula Thiess is wooden as the love interest. Richard Fleischer directs with his usual sure hand and eye for action set pieces.

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CASINO (1995) With THE IRISHMAN coming to Netflix in a few weeks I had an itch to check out Scorcese's last good gangster epic. (Yes, I said "good.") This story of the mob's final days of calling all the shots in Vegas pales next to GOODFELLAS. But then, so do most gangster flicks. This dark and dour tale of excess and its consequences runs down the same rails as every other mobster bio but who cares? We watch these movies like folks used to gather around the campfire to hear about the last great hunt. The familiarity of the gangster movie, like the western, is its main attraction. Sure, we all know where it's going but HOW it gets there is the treat. Robert DeNiro is the mob's choice to run the Tangiers but things get complicated when Joe Pesci shows up like a jackal to the waterhole. Bobby's problems only worsen when he falls for a bundle of damaged goods played by Sharon Stone. It all ends brutally for some and bittersweet for others. And I love seeing Don Rickles in a sizable dramatic role with only a fleeting glimpse of his "Hey, dummy" persona.
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HOW I LIVE NOW (2013) I thought this was typical young adult stuff going in but was quickly corrected of that by this movie's unflinching approach to the material. American teen Daisy arrives in rural England to stay with cousins just in time for some kind of violent insurrection to break out. The cause and causes are never made clear and all to the better in this unsettling story of escape and survival. Not an outright thriller but there's still plenty of suspense in a story filled with characters you learn to care deeply about. Despite the young cast, this is a very grown-up film with some marvelous performances.

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GUN FURY (1953) Pretty darn good western. Solid, fast-paced script by Irving Wallace and Roy Huggins (the creator of Maverick). Rock Hudson gives a placeholder performance in the lead as a rancher whose bride (Donna Reed) is taken hostage by an outlaw gang heading for Mexico. The gang is populated by a trio of our favorite desperadoes, Lee Marvin, Leo Gordon and Neville Brand. Lots of action set against Little Monument Valley and Columbia's great western sets, Director Raoul Walsh is a sure hand at the action stuff and those scenes are all solid. A fine programmer western.

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LIVING WITH YOURSELF (2019) Intriguing series from Netflix with two performers I always enjoy watching. Paul Rudd visits a spa on the recommendation of a co-worker only to discover that their treatment involves making a "better" cloned replacement for him. What follows is a story that wrings very possibility from a high concept in a way I haven't seen since GROUNDHOG DAY. Rudd's performance is quite astounding in both parts and plays each version of his character with subtle nuances that put the story over the top. Aisling Bea is her usual excellent self as his very confused and conflicted wife. The chemistry between the two (or three?) leads to scenes that are funny, touching and, sometimes, chilling. This series is a high wire act tonally and both the writing and direction are up to the task. The 30 minute (and shorter) episodes fly by.

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ULZANA'S RAID (1972) A detachment of cavalry are ordered to pursue a band of Apaches who have jumped the reservation to go on a raid. The unit is led by an inexperienced officer played by Bruce Davidson and aided by grizzled sergeant Richard Jaeckel and even more grizzled scout Burt Lancaster. The movie is a portrait of a small unit action against a determined enemy. I'd bet my last peso that critics at the time saw it as an allegory for the Vietnam "conflict." But it's actually a fine boots and saddles western that clearly and accurately shows the kind of chess game these outfits had to play with a tough resourceful people who called the high desert home. It's also an unblinking portrayal of the kind of behavior that earned the Apache their fearsome reputation and the kind of cold calculus that was required to merely survive encounters with them. A solid cast under the direction of Robert Aldrich. If I have any complaints it's the kind of "house" look that Universal movies had in this period. The studio was consumed with making certain that their theatrical features would "read" well on TV screens and insisted that scenes be over-lit, free of dust and subtle color gradations and the action kept to the center of the screen. Further marring the movie is a "house" musical score by Frank DeVol that's jaunty when it should be filled with foreboding. Someone at Universal sure LOVED harmonicas. They needed one of the Jerrys (Goldsmith or Fielding) on this one.

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NEVADA SMITH (1966) Classic big screen action-against-the-sky western starring Steve McQueen as a young man who matures to manhood on the vengeance trail, hunting down the three men who murdered his parents. His journey takes him to a cowtown, a chain gang in the Louisiana bayous and the gold fields of California in a relentless hunt for the men who did him wrong. A great cast that includes Brian Keith, Arthur Kennedy, Paul Fix, Suzanne Pleshette, Karl Malden and other western stalwarts. Henry Hathaway keeps things moving with some solid action set pieces My favorite is the knife fight in the cow pen. And the use of the natural scenery is perfection giving this movie a true sense of scale. And McQueen is McQueen, looking like he was born to perform all the tasks and stunts asked of him. The dude rode a horse with the same level of skill he brought to driving race cars. Gorgeous cinematography by Lucien Ballard and a rousing, iconic musical score by Alfred Newman.

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TARZAN FINDS A SON! (1939) One of the best of the Weissmuller Tarzans and the introduction of Johnny Sheffield as Boy. I adored this movie when I was a kid and, upon re-watching it, it's not hard to see why. This movie packs a lot into a tight eighty-eight minutes. Doomed safaris, dangerous natives, animal attacks, chases, a plane crash and, of course, swimming sequences shot in Silver Springs, Florida. But what puts the movie over as absorbing entertainment is its string emotional through-line. Maureen O'Sullivan's (as Jane) conflicted emotions over surrendering Boy to his actual relatives provides the heart as well as many of the complications and conflicts that are created directly by her actions. The action is big and the production earnest and I'm sure audiences at the time were thrilled. And, as always, Cheeta is genius in every scene.

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MERRILL'S MARAUDERS (1962) Jeff Chandler leads a special force of soldiers into the Burmese jungle to thwart an offensive by the Japanese army. He's aided by a cast of Warner Brothers contract players on hiatus from their various western TV series. Ty Hardin, Will Hutchins and Peter Brown are solid along with Claude Akins and others. The Philippine locations accurately portray the harsh conditions of the Burmese jungles and swamps. Directed by Sam Fuller whose special touch at this kind of material is evident everywhere. He had a real feel (drawn from his own experiences) for the emotional and physical toll combat takes on soldiers and this is exhibited in several touching scenes. It's a war action flick all the way but takes time to show the bleakness and confusion of the battlefield.

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TARZAN AND HIS MATE (1934) The last pre-code Tarzan movie goes all out to challenge the censors including amped up violence, racy dialogue and Maureen O'Sullivan swimming in the nude. All the goodies you expect in a Weissmuller Tarzan flick, a nefarious safari up to no good, nasty cannibals and a return trip to the elephant's graveyard. The great apes appear for the last time in the MGM version and the new, permanent. Cheeta is introduced for the first time and makes a big impression. Loads of brutal action and tons of suspenseful moments. And Neil Hamilton (TV's Commissioner Gordon) as Jane's old flame. And I'd love to know where all those lions and elephants at the climax came from. I'm guessing those scenes were shot here in Florida using animal on hiatus from a circus or two.

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CREATURE WITH THE ATOM BRAIN (1955) Using some highly suspect science, a gangster and a mad scientist (never a good combination) team up to create undead hitmen they control by radio waves sent to an atomic receiver installed in the brains of their zombie slaves. Using this complex method they use automation to put hard working murderers out of a job. But The Authorities are soon onto their dastardly plot and sit around offices discussing how incredible it all is. At the time this might have seen like a creepy concept, I guess. Mostly it comes off as a cheesy programmer that takes too long to get going.

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THREE VIOLENT PEOPLE (1956) Consistently reliable director Rudolph Maté helms this muy macho western starring bull-headed Texas rancher Charlton Heston who falls for newcomer Anne Baxter. But it's only a matter of time before he finds out his blushing bride is a former "dancehall girl" fresh out of Nawlins. Loads of action with carpetbaggers out to steal everyone's land in the post-war Lone Star state. Great cast with Gilbert Roland as the gran vaquero with five sons (including Robert Blake and Jamie Farr!) and Tom Tryon as Chuck's bitter, one-armed brother. Heston is great in the role he always plays best; the judgmental son of a bitch. Excellent example of the big screen "empire" brand of western.

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MAN WITHOUT A STAR (1955) One of my personal favorites in the western genre and for good reason. A time capsule example of a sprawling, big screen 1950's western. Kirk Douglas is a wandering cowhand with loads of savvy and tons of charm that hides a dark nature. He rolls into a cowtown to wind up in the middle of a range war between Jeanne Crain, an opportunist from the East and a gaggle of "honest" ranchers. From the Frankie Laine theme song to the saloon fights, shoot-outs, stampedes and smoldering glances through the trail dust. Mostly shot outdoors with an eye for period detail and big vistas shot by Robert Surtees and directed by the sure hand of King Vidor from a Borden Chase screenplay that's flawlessly paced and packed with breezy dialogue exchanges. But this is Kirk's show from beginning to end and we see both sides of his usual persona; the irrepressible scamp as well as the man who's dangerous to know.
And, in what seems at first glance to be a near-parody performance, Douglas plays the role with an authority that makes what he's doing look easy. But the role is a challenging one as he has to shift tones throughout the film and never in a direct arc. He performs this task without ever letting you see the gears changing. We even get to see him sing and play the banjo and, surprise, he's great in that scene too and it helps that his breaking into song plays a part in advancing the story rather than interrupting it.
The bad guy does not disappoint either as the trail boss of the Texans who ride in at the second act is played by Richard Boone.
This movie is sheer entertainment from beginning to end as a collection of Hollywood legends come together to make a great example of a crowd-pleasing oater.

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THE TREASURE OF RUBY HILLS (1955) This one was made the same year as the western in my previous review and practically its polar opposite. This no-budget western from Allied Artists looks to have been churned out to play as an afternoon movie on television. Zachery Scott, who almost exclusively played bad guys, takes a pay cut to be the hero for once. The results are lackluster in a back-lot western with way too much plot crammed into its hour and nine minutes running time. Ostensibly a range war movie though we never see any range or any cattle. And there's so many characters with conflicting motives that much of the dialogue in the third act has the actors reminding one another of characters' names as well as the plot. The highlight of the film is the "hero" watching from concealment as two gangs try to massacre one another. The movie also features some of the fattest cowboys ever to appear on film. The only noteworthy performance in the whole deal is by Lee Van Cleef playing the kind of smirky gunfighter that he practically patented.

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THE PROFESSIONALS (1966) If you're looking for a he-man adventure story with loads of action look no farther. Lee Marvin (at the start of a hell of a roll in his career after his Academy Award win) joins with Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan and Woody Strode as a perfectly cast quartet of mercenaries hired by an oil millionaire to retrieve his kidnapped wife from the fortress of a Mexican bandit. But all is not what it seems. Claudia Cardinale as the woman worth every penny of a 100K ransom and Jack Palance as the man who took her.
This is epic stuff, flawlessly photographed with an intelligent, witty script by director Richard Brooks. The entire cast is in top form in a story loaded with twists and turns, exciting action set-pieces and nail-biting suspense moments.
The story is also told with an economy that's to be admired. The film opens with four sequences that introduce us to the characters and inform us of the kind of men they are. Time elapsed? Two and a half minutes! The rest of the story moves ahead with a deliberate authority that doesn't waste a single scene. There's always something going on from bits of period detail, character touches, humor to establishing the environment and conditions.
Superior entertainment.

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THE MEG (2018) Jason Statham leads a team that checks all the diversity boxes to hunt down a prehistoric shark off the coast of China. Well constructed, eye-candy, summertime blockbuster stuff and it's just fine when viewed that way. The movie follows the time-tested formula of the hero who needs to redeem himself by confronting the very thing that sent him to ruin. That happens to be a giant shark. Rising action, "surprises" that most will see coming, a cast of potential chum who all die on schedule and a big, crazy close. It's put together with professional skill but little passion or inventiveness or even one line of original dialogue. That's not to say it's not all fun, just not great fun.

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DON'T GO NEAR THE WATER (1957) From the end of WWII until the release of M.A.S.H. (1970), service comedies were a reliable moneymaker on TV and at the movies with the high water mark being MISTER ROBERTS (1955). This forgettable programmer is not one of the better ones. The story features Glenn Ford as a sailor in a US Navy PR unit stationed well behind the front lines in the Pacific. I suppose that all sorts of hi-jinks, ironic comments on military life and farcical situations with female service members in the source material was seen as good grist for a comedy. The result is an unfunny movie indifferently directed with a cast trying hard but with little to do but smirk, mug and wink at a series of vague innuendos. The movie is episodic to the degree that it never actually seems to get started.

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Les pétroleuses/THE LEGEND OF FRENCHIE KING (1971) Very silly western pastiche from France that owes more to Lucky Luke than it does to John Ford. Brigitte Bardot is the leader of an all-female outlaw gang who come upon the dead to land holding oil. Claudia Cardinale is a rancher who wants the land for herself and her brothers. What follows is a near-plotless series of encounters between the two leads with gunfights, fistfights and lots and lots of clothes being ripped. Adding to the weirdness is Michael J. Pollard as the town marshal and the only English speaking member of the cast. The conceit here is that the town was founded and populated by Frenchmen. Hence the outdoor seating at the saloon!

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GUNFIGHTERS (1947) Randolph Scott is done with all the challenges to his fast gun status and hangs up his Colts to re-start his life in ranching. But he soon runs into a murder mystery and is tempted to strap on the six-guns and dispense some frontier justice. A time-tested plot line this time adapted form a Zane Grey novel. It all results in an okay western that goes through the motions and has a few clever 1940's style dialogue exchanges. Lookalike female leads do NOT help in a story that's just too damned complicated for its short running time. Scott is stalwart, sardonic and tough as always in a western that has the look of a Roy Rogers programmer without the singing but with loads of colorful costumes and an apparently endless selection of neck scarves. It's a Columbia feature but, sadly, does not take place in that studio's awesome western back lot town.

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GENTLEMEN BRONCOS (2009) After the box-office bomb NACHO LIBRE, writer-director Jared Hess returns to material closer to his sleeper hit NAPOLEON DYNAMITE. Benjamin is an introverted nerd who has his SF novel stolen by uber nerd Chevalier and seeks justice. If the movie had hewed closer to the brief synopsis I provided here it might have been a moneymaker. Hess gets us interested in the story and then takes off on tangents that come off as padding. This episodic approach was perfectly suited to Napoleon Dynamite which was more of a portrait than a narrative. But here, he has a compelling story of heartbreak and injustice and only uses it to link a series of what are essentially vignettes that do little to advance things along. I'm not a strong adherent to three act structure myself but I do no better than to have your second act take up 75% of your story. The main character's pain is so palpable, he's just so damned put upon, that the story demands that the wrongs he suffers create actions on his part that are stymied again and again so that the payoff at the very end of the film is all that much sweeter. Everyone in the cast is all in for the quirky, awkward pace of the film and Jermain Clement is everyone's nightmare version of the egotistical auteur who plagiarizes the hero's novel. And Sam Rockwell appears to be having the time of his life portraying Bronco in the various imagined versions of THE YEAST LORDS; the novel in question. More story, less quirk could have made this a modest box office success and an enduring cult classic.

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