The western as a film genre went from being the most popular form of film making in the early days of Hollywood, to one of the least seen forms of story telling in contemporary times. Part of the reason was that television drained the western of new ideas and stories. In 1959 there were 26 western themed shows airing in prime time. Those are the days of three networks and three hours a night. Today they have been replaced by crime procedurals and reality shows. As the decade of the 1960s wore on, the western film began to collapse. Sure there were successes and and surprises but by the late seventies, only Clint Eastwood appeared interested in fashioning films centered in the traditional American Western period. Westerns rally every few years and achieve moments of greatness or nostalgia. In the year 1969, three westerns managed to make an artistic achievement, a populist surge and a satisfying trip down memory lane. From the final year of the most turbulent decade in American history, I want to share Three Movies I Want Everyone to See. Continue reading
This is an easy one this week. There is no historical value, cinema language, or back story intrigue to make this a movie you should see. It is just funny as all get out with wiseacre talk, inappropriate life lessons and a cast of funny people who are just trying to entertain you for a couple of hours. If you are a fan of films like “I Love Man” or “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” then you don’t want to miss this treat starring the slacker gods Sean William Scott and Paul Rudd. This is dumb comedy done in a smart way and it has so many quotable lines that it could easily displace Caddyshack on the list of guy movies that guys will quote incessantly.
I recently spent the weekend with some friends and a guy I know well, and have been friends with for more than thirty five years, had the audacity to suggest that the remake of this film was more entertaining than the original. I instantly dropped my jaw, exclaimed loudly that he had to be kidding and then proceeded to disagree in a condescending manner. I have to apologize for the tone, it was not called for and I would not want my friend to be angry at me because I mocked his preference for the 2009 version. I do want him to know and understand that although I liked the Denzel/Travolta film, it can’t really hold a candle to the original and that vigorous defense of the 1974 classic begins now as I once more recommend a movie that I want everyone to see. Continue reading
I think everybody loves the idea of sitting around a campfire, a dark living room or driving at night in the car and listening to a spooky story. We have been trying to entertain one another since the first primitive man came back from the hunt and shared his tale of the day with the rest of the tribe. I suspect that the first ghost story told was by the next guy, who in trying to one up the hunter made his story more supernatural in nature and more interesting as a result. Ghost stories and horror pull us in because they show something that we would not want to encounter in real life but don’t mind living through vicariously. Movies have attempted to frighten audiences from the beginning. One of the most vivid images that people have of silent films is Max Schrek in Nosferatu walking out of the shadows and revealing the horror of a vampire. Universal Studios was built by the monsters they showed in their films. Monsters are not the only kind of horror that early film makers tried to exploit. Psychological terror is a subject of many early films. It was natural that at some point the process of telling the stories would become part of the story itself. That’s where anthology films began to show up and up the ante with each succeeding tale. “Dead of Night” is maybe the first well know horror anthology and it is a “Movie I Want Everyone to See”.
There is a long history of movies where nature strikes back at the human world. From the “Island of Lost Souls” to “The Happening”, Mother Nature proves that she is not someone to be messed with. (Although running away from the wind may just be the one way to mess with her that would cause her to crack up and just stop trying to wipe us out). The most fertile period of time for these farfetched stories was the post war atomic age when exposure to radiation causes giant ants, killer rabbits, and irritated amphibians. In the lengthy annals of horror films featuring monsters that are simply real creatures pushed to the brink, no animal, fish or insect has been more widely used to terrify us than the spider. Most people instinctively withdraw their hands from proximity to a spider. The hair on the back of our necks raises at the thought of one normal spider crawling across our flesh. It is therefore no surprise that outsized spiders have been a go-to critter whenever a film maker is looking for a way to scare us. Our fear of spiders is also something that is regularly mocked. In “Annie Hall, Woody Allen’s character jokes ” Honey, there’s a spider in your bathroom the size of a Buick.” It is this combination of the frightening and the ridiculous that makes “Eight Legged Freaks” a movie that I want everyone to see.
An unfortunate event has forced me to move on an idea I’ve been mulling over as a companion to this column. In addition to films that I want everyone to know about, there are actors I think everyone should know as well. I hope to post every few weeks about an unsung hero of the acting world. I want to sing the praises of men and women who have made my movie going special over the years. I could amuse you with my man crush on Gene Hackman, or get you to see how sexy Susan Sarandon is. Maybe I can convince you to go back and revisit Claude Raines or Jean Arthur. All of them will be well known however and while I want to share my enthusiasm, I want to spark a little fire for those who never really get the spotlight. It is with sadness that I launch this series with a few words about the late Ed Lauter.
Happy Texas Review by Richard Kirkham
The world is full of little movies that have charm, whimsy and a great story to tell. Once in awhile, a movie like that catches fire and becomes a critics and audiences darling. “Little Miss Sunshine” is a good example of that. It went on to garner Awards and sell tickets and DVDs for years. Unfortunately, that was not the fate of my first entry for FMR. “Happy, Texas” did enjoy some solid reviews and everyone I know who saw it has told me they enjoyed it immensely. That would be three people. This movie was made on a small budget of 1.7 million dollars, and it brought back 1.9 million in U.S. box office, without any International release that I found. That means that it lost money, because budget does not cover prints and advertising. Putting the movie in theaters cost someone some cash.
Now the film has been available since 1999, so some may have seen it on home video in some format or other. I hope you are one of those lucky people, but even more than that, I hope you are one of those people who has yet to see it and you have this joyful experience to look forward to. While I do think it has a high level of repeatability, it is a great discovery that will bring huge rewards to first time viewers. There is a funny premise, a heart warming story, and some of the best character actors around filling up the screen. This movie is flat out funny with quotable lines and awkward situations, as well as a simple plot device that drives much of the fun.
Harry Sawyer and Wayne Wayne Wayne, Jr are two convicts who get caught up in a prison break by a violent offender named Bob Maslow. They are not particularly dangerous but even more telling, they are not particularly smart. This film is not a slapstick based on their stupidity, it is a character story that follows the misadventures they get into, every time they make a decision. The biggest choice they make is to take on the personae of the two men from whom they steal an RV, in an attempt to hide in plain sight and gain access to some cash. This requires them to pass themselves off as pageant consultants for little girls in the small town of Happy, Texas. What follows should not be revealed too much, except to say they both succeed and fail in their disguise.
Since the invention of film there have been a number of stories that feature man against nature. Those stories have often cast a group of men against a an overwhelming natural force; Hurricanes, fires, floods, the cold of the poles, the heat of the desert and the savagery of animals trying to eat and live. My own experience with such films include “Jeremiah Johnson”, “The White Dawn”, and “Man in the Wilderness”. In the American film experience, a number of these stories featured explorers or pioneers in the West, seeking to survive a trip through Indian lands, to build a new life for themselves or to profit from the natural resources they find on their journey. As part of the narrative there is often contact with other cultures and that contact takes a violent turn. Regardless of whether you sympathize with native peoples whose way of life is threatened or the intruder who sometimes acts foolishly and at other time heroically, these stories can be compelling and exciting. Westerns are littered with ill fated travelers being killed in brutal ways by Indian tribes they encounter (And of course the inverse is true as well, the intruders are not healthy for the native population either). Continue reading
This is another entry in the Pre-Star Wars inventory of great science fiction movies of the early 1970s. While the story moves forward in some slightly clunky ways, and there are some premises that defy logic in order to get to the climax, the crux of the concept is exciting and fun. The even more important point is how significant the movie is to future films in the genre. It continues to reverberate even today and makes a visit to this retro futuristic amusement park a necessity for anyone who loves the action and adventure of films from Spielberg and Cameron.
To be fair, I’m about to cheat a little bit because no matter how long this commentary runs, the reason to see this film ultimately comes down to two words “Michael Caine”.