Out the Double Double

The Spy Who Came in from The ColdM Spy 1965

Theaters:  May 1965

Streaming:  July 2004

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  112 minutes

Genre:  Action – Classics – Drama –  Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  7.5/10

IMDB:  7.7/10

Amazon:  4.3/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  7.7/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.7/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: 1 Golden Globe

Directed by:  Martin Ritt

Written by:  Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper (screenplay), John le Carré (book)

Music by:  Sol Kaplan

Cast:  Richard Burton, Oskar Werner, Claire Bloom

Film Locations:  Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, UK

Budget:  $

Worldwide Box Office:  $7,600,000

Alec Leamas (Burton), station chief for the British “Circus” in West Berlin, has just lost one of his operatives and is recalled to London.  He is given a new mission in London to play the part of an angry alcoholic, drummed out the secret service, desperately in need of money to get by, and to make his plight as public as possible.  The East Germans take notice of his condition and entice him to defect; trading state secrets for a cushy retirement.  He agrees and is whisked off to East Berlin to be interrogated. His cover story quickly nabs a double agent in the East German spy office but Leamas finds himself a pawn rather than the checking knight.

Germany after WWII was divided into 3 sectors in which Britain, the US and the Soviet Union administered starting in 1944.  From 1944 to 1948, Berlin was administered jointly by the 3 powers but in 1949 the Soviets claimed sole possession of East Berlin and declared it the capital of Germany Democratic Republic. The post-war East Berlin economy was ruined, as it was in West Berlin, but because of Soviet control it was excluded from the Marshall Plan used to rebuild the rest of western Europe.  East Berlin’s centrally planned economy had supposedly the highest standard of living in the Soviet controlled sphere of Europe and Asia but the inhabitants were leaving the city and country in droves, with estimates of 1000 per day leaving in 1960. To stop the emigration and retain skilled workers, up went the wall in 1961 and the East German soldiers were instructed to shoot to kill anyone trying to escape.  The East Germany security forces, the Stasi, formed in 1950, tightened their grip on the East German citizens, spying on everyone to break up any dissent.  Additionally the Stasi extensively infiltrated West Germany to obtain industrial, political, and military secrets, eventually bringing down West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in 1974 because his personal secretary was an East German spy.

David John Moore Cornwell, a British writer of mysteries and spy novels under the pen name of John le Carré, worked for the English secret service until his 3rd novel in 1963, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, became an international best seller. He quit the service in that year and devoted his time to writing, mainly cold war spy novels dealing with the psychology of gamesmanship and spy craft rather than James Bond type action. His stories usually center around the moral cost of attempting to contain the communist empire without absorbing the stain of their criminality and depravity. Prior to his 1963 novel being published, Heinz Paul Johann Felfe, a German double agent that spied for everyone, Nazis, Soviets, West Germans, Brits; was caught by the West Germans, while in their employ, in 1961, and sent to prison for treason.

Paul Dehn and Guy Trosper wrote the screenplay for the movie and it follows the novel very closely. Dehn was a writer of plays, musicals and movies.  His first screenplay in 1950, Seven Days to Noon, won him an Oscar. Guy Trosper was a writer and producer from Lander, Wyoming best known for this movie and the 1962, Birdman of Alcatraz.

Martin Ritt, actor, director, writer, and producer, gives the viewer a somber message of spy craft without any glamour or gadgets.  Presenting a story about dubious principles and ugly spy results, he sticks to script and makes one of the best spy movies of all time.  This is his 2nd best movie, his 1963 Hud is his best.  The rest of his 30 or so movies are just a rehash of communist talking points and politically correct drivel. Nominated many times for Best Director he never managed to pull down Oscar or a Golden Globe.

The acting in this movie couldn’t get any better.  Richard Burton and Claire Bloom team up to create a tragic series of dichotomies revolving around youth and age, communism and freedom, innocence and cynicism, idealism and debauchery.  In the end they are both occupying the same poles, one learning nothing, the other wanting to learn no more.

This is a movie you need to add to your “Must Watch in My Lifetime” list.

Gold to End Dollars

The Good, The Bad, and The UglyM Good 1967

Theaters:  December 1966

Streaming:  November 1997

Rated:  R

Runtime:  177 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Western

els:  9.0/10

IMDB:  8.9/10

Amazon:  4.7/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  8.8/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.0/5

Metacritic Metascore:  90/100

Metacritic User Score:  9.1/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Sergio Leone

Written by:  Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli (screenplay), Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Leone (story and screenplay)

Music by:  Ennio Morricone

Cast:  Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach

Film Locations:  Spain and Italy

Budget:  $1,200,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $25,100,000

In 1862, 3 gunfighters, prowling the New Mexico Territory for easy money; the Good (Eastwood), the Bad (Van Cleef), and the Ugly (Wallach) hear tales of Confederate gold buried in a Civil War cemetery. Pairing up when convenient, going alone when it wasn’t, they set out for the golden grave at Sad Hill Cemetery but only the “Man with No Name” knows which grave. Their travels and adventures to the final resting place of Blue and Grey casualties leave a trail littered with the excesses of betrayal, brutality, deception, extortion, and death.  Honor and friendship are vices that will get you killed, according few serviceable distinctions between the good, bad, and ugly.

The movie ties its tale around the events of the Confederate Army’s Civil War New Mexico Campaign in 1862. Confederate General Henry Sibley convinced the president of the southern slave states, Jefferson Davis, to invade the western states and territories from the east side of the Rockies and continue on to California.  The goal was to capture the gold mines of the Colorado Territory, a major source of revenue for the Union’s war efforts, and the California ports.  The ports would provide additional resupply bases for the Confederates or at a minimum require the Union Navy to divert scarce resources in attempting to blockade them.  Sibley’s initial thrust, beginning in early 1862, came from Texas and continued up into New Mexico towards Santa Fe and Fort Union. The Confederates, initially successful, were eventually forced to retreat back into Texas, because Sibley’s already thin supply lines were destroyed.  Skirmishes continued for another year but the South’s New Mexico campaign lasted less than 6 months and General Sibley was demoted to logistic details, ironically the major drawback of his southwest strategic, invasion planning.

Sergio Leone may not have invented Spaghetti Westerns but he certainly raised the genre to a high and profitable art form. As a director his credits are few, just 11 movies, but his 2 trilogies, Dollars and Once Upon a Time, were critical and financial successes. Leone, additionally, has  screenplay credits for most of the movies he directed along with a second unit director credit for the 11 Oscar award-winning, 1959 film: Ben Hur. His trademark long view shots of uninviting background coupled with intense close-ups of emotion filled eyes gave his westerns a barefaced, grainy look of realism in a land of little opportunity except for those who created their own.

Ennio Morricone made his name and fortune composing the scores for Sergio Leone’s Dollars trilogy. Creating an iconic sound of wolves howling, punctuated with Indian drum beats portending events to come.  None of the Dollars movies had a large budget to work with causing Morricone to creatively improvise, using ricocheting bullets, whips, and trumpets to fill in for the missing orchestra.  His film scores eventually earned him an honorary Academy Award in 2007 and the Best Original Score Academy Award for the 2016 movie: The Hateful Eight.

Then there was Clint Eastwood. Initially reluctant to do the final movie in The Man with No Name trilogy, he agreed to it after Leone met his hefty financial demands, $250,000 plus 10% of the profits.  In the mid-1960s these were demands that stars made, not the unknown Eastwood, who previously had just played bit parts in forgettable movies.  Leone must have seen something in him though because A Fistful of Dollars, For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly made Eastwood an international star.  In these westerns Eastwood plays the part that he would reprise many more times throughout his career. That of a loner, willing to push morality and law to the limits and beyond, but showing compassion and tolerance when needed.

This movie should be on your “Must See in My Lifetime” list. If you have seen it, watch it again. A true masterpiece of writing, directing, cinematography, music and acting.

Teutonic Woe

M Dark 2014The Dark Valley

Theaters:  February 2014

Streaming:  January 2015

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  115 minutes

Genre:  Action – Drama – Mystery – Thriller

els:  5.5/10

IMDB:  7.1/10

Amazon:  3.9/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  NR/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.6/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Andreas Prochaska

Written by: Martin Ambrosch and Andreas Prochaska, (screenplay); Thomas Willmann(book)

Music by:  Matthias Weber

Cast:  Sam Riley, Tobias Moretti, Paula Beer

Film Locations:  Val Senales, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy

Budget:  $ NA

Worldwide Box Office:  $ NA

Near the close of the 19th century Greider (Riley) slowly rides his horse up into a mountain valley in the Alps, a valley of steep slopes and fir trees, shadowed by two grim, coarse looking fellows with rifles strung across their backs. As he enters a small mountain village, he approaches a group of men, the towns overlords, and asks for lodging for the winter.  He is told to go away.  Greider offers gold, lots of it, the rulers have their price and relent, allowing him to stay at the house of an old widow and her soon-to-be married daughter. The town and the stranger have secrets, mean nasty secrets; all which slowly seep out of the frozen, village grounds into the somber, cursed lives of the anti-chosen.

The movie is based on a novel written by the German author Thomas Willmann: Das Finstere Tal.  The movie is a fairly honest representation of the book except Greider in the book is a painter, in the movie he is a photographer.

Andreas Prochaska, director and writer, relatively unknown outside of Austrian-German cinematic circles, has produced a German western which, I believe he did it on purpose and is unashamed of it to boot.  This is genre that I didn’t know existed but once seen comes across exactly as you would expect; a slow, thorough, mechanistic, unemotional progression through a plot until the inevitable brings a conclusion.

This is a dark and grim movie, a movie on Valium.  No one is allowed to smile in this movie. No one is allowed to speak faster than a largo beat of a metronome. No one is happy in this movie and likely they don’t know the meaning of word.  This is, first a drama, secondly a thriller, and finally a movie about perseverance and revenge. What this movie lacks is originality, except the part about it being a German western but that’s closer to original sin than original, and vibrancy.

Unusual Detention

Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle M Jumanji 2017

Theaters:  December 2017

Streaming:  March 2018

Rated:  PG-13

Runtime:  119 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Comedy – Drama – Family – Fantasy

els:  6.0/10

IMDB:  7.1/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  6.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  4.4/5

Metacritic Metascore:  58/100

Metacritic User Score:  6.7/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Jake Kasdan

Written by:  Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Scott Rosenberg, Jeff Pinkner; (screenplay), Chris Van Allsburg (book)

Music by:  Henry Jackman

Cast:  Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Bobby Cannavale

Film Locations:  Hawaii and Georgia, US

Budget:  $90,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $942,935,000

Four high school kids, serving detention for being high school kids, discover an old Nintendo-like video console in a school store-room, complete with a Jumanji game cassette.  They hook it up to a TV set and 4 avatars appear, with the kids naturally choosing the one opposite of their true personality. After the 4th avatar is chosen they are transported into the video game, assuming the bodies of their apotheosis.  Very quickly they discover that they can die in this fantasy land of make-believe. To survive and escape they must complete the task of returning a gigantic green jewel to the eye of a rock jaguar statue.  Thus begins the slap-dash adventure of evading charging rhinos, hippos, and a crazed motorcycle gang.

The movie is based on the 1981 children’s illustrated book by Chris Van Allsburg of the same name: Jumanji.  Preceding this 2017 movie was the well-received 1995 Jumanji movie starring Robin Williams.  Allsburg followed up his book with another, similar, illustrated children’s book: Zathura; which was made into the 2005 movie: Zathura starring Tim Robbins. The screenplay for this movie is entirely predictable, all adventure and mild comedy with no real plot twists or surprises.  The one and only time I was surprised came very early in the movie when a hippo charged the avatars.  After that scene everything played out as expected.

Jake Kasdan, director of the mostly forgettable comedies, Bad Teacher, Sex Tape, along with the tolerable Walk Hard, manages to make this movie blandly humorous and almost interesting. He certainly didn’t take any risks with this family movie with the exception of penis jokes, and he definitely could have given those a rest.

Dwayne Johnson provides the backbone for this movie and turns in a great performance depicting a fearful, nervous 16 year-old. Karen Gillan’s spastic rendition of a come-on was whimsically passable but Sandra Bullock did the spaz part better in the 2000 flick: Miss Congeniality.

This is a fun family movie.  It breaks no new ground but it does entertain for a few hours. It’s rumored that Kasdan, the screenplay team of Rosenberg and Pinkner, and the principal actors are all lined up for a sequel.  It may work but new writers may have given it better odds.

 

The Last of the Old Guard

Star Wars: The Last Jedi  M Star 2017

Theaters:  December 2017

Streaming:  March 2018

Rated:  PG-13

Runtime:  152 minutes

Genre:  Action – Fantasy – Science Fiction

els:  6.0/10

IMDB:  7.4/10

Amazon:  3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  8.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.0/5

Metacritic Metascore:  85/100

Metacritic User Score:  4.5/10

Awards:  NA

Directed by:  Rian Johnson

Written by:  Rian Johnson (screenplay), George Lucas (characters)

Music by:  John Williams

Cast:  Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Andy Serkis, Benicio del Toro

Film Locations:  Bolivia, Croatia, England, Ireland

Budget:  $200,000,000

Worldwide Box Office:  $1,322,000,00

Resistance forces are fleeing their home base while the First Order fleet prepares to destroy them.  Attempting to buy some time for the evacuation, the Resistance attacks and destroys a First Order dreadnought, aka battleship, allowing the rest of the evacuation forces to escape into hyperspace. The Resistance, after their jump, believing they had bought themselves some time, soon learn that their enemy can track them through hyperspace, leaving them with but a few hours to bring about a miracle or perish.

Meanwhile Rey (Ridley) travels to Luke’s (Hamill) planet for some badly needed lessons in light sabre use, force projection, and dark side avoidance. Luke has other ideas.

Rian Johnson, writer and director of the original, exciting, thought-provoking, and well received Looper movie, takes his turn in the revolving Star Wars franchise door, by writing and directing The Last Jedi.  He succeeds in producing warm milk.  Not horrible, but he definitely is not going down in the annuals of great Star Wars directors and writers.  Then again George Lucas couldn’t direct a golf cart to the first tee either. Johnson brings together some of the elements of a great space opera; breath-taking special and visual effects, great acting, and a wonderful score but the story is just a tedious collection snippets strung together to produce a very long movie. Ok, some of the snippets are quite good such as DJ’s (del Toro) bit pieces of breaking in and out of places that he shouldn’t be able to break in and out of.

This movie is the last that will contain elements of the old guard.  Harrison Ford killed himself off in VII, Carrie Fisher passed away, and Hamill, he can act–who knew, will not be returning for IX, so Johnson spends an inordinate amount of time on character development of all the new faces. It’s all so unnecessary, mostly immaterial and boring.  The development of the players can be spread out over the life of the franchise, no need to force-feed the audience the entire buffet in one sitting.

In the end this is a fair movie; there just wasn’t enough story to hold you for 2 hours and 32 minutes.

Bad Luck Explained

Accident Man  M Accident 2018

Theaters:  NA

Streaming:  February 2018

Rated:  R

Runtime:  105 minutes

Genre:  Action – Crime – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

els:  6.0/10

IMDB:  6.1/10

Amazon:  3.8/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  NA/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.6/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:

Directed by:  Jesse V. Johnson

Written by:  Scott Adkins and Stu Small (screenplay), Pat Mills and Tony Skinner (comic)

Music by:  Sean Murray

Cast:  Scott Adkins, Ray Stevenson, David Paymer, Ashley Greene

Film Locations:  London, England

Budget:  $ NA Low-Budget Indie

Worldwide Box Office:  $ NA

Mike Fallon (Adkins) has a nice life concocting natural death for others.  Fallon is a successful contract killer that goes to great lengths to make sure his murders are not judged murders, just someone having a bad hair day or another wrong place, wrong time accident. Death is a good business so life is good until his ex-girlfriend is murdered. Piecing together the story of her death he begins to realize that his mates in the causality business may have had a hand in her demise. Fallon sets out to even the score with judo chops and bullets flying non-stop.

The movie is based on a series of comics by Pat Mills and Tony Skinner, published in 1991 in the magazine, Toxic!  The series was collected into a graphic novel, The Complete Accident Man in 2014 by Titan.

Jesse V. Johnson, stuntman in the 2012 The Amazing Spider-Man and director and writer of the incredibly bad The Last Sentinel, puts together a story and cast to produce a decent action film with few plot holes but at the same time producing nothing spectacular. Everything is a bit off.  Great martial arts scenes but it doesn’t flow together or congeal into an exciting whole.

In the end this movie is all Scott Adkins.  He produces, he writes, he acts, he fights.  It all works to a certain degree but fails to grab you, or emotionally tie you to the film.  I wouldn’t mind a sequel but hopefully with a larger budget to ratchet everything up a notch. An ok movie with some original scenes but nothing terribly memorable.

Westerns Redefined

Stagecoach  M Stagecoach 1939

Theaters:  February 1939

Streaming:  May 2010 (digitally restored)

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  96 minutes

Genre:  Action – Adventure – Classic – Drama – Romance – Western

els:  7.5/10

IMDB:  7.9/10

Amazon:  4.7/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 9.3/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.9/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards:  2 Academy Awards

Directed by:  John Ford

Written by:  Dudley Nichols (screen play), Ernest Haycox (short story)

Music by:  Gerard Carbonara

Cast:  Claire Trevor, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell, John Wayne, Andy Devine, George Bancroft, Donald Meek, Berton Churchill, Louise Platt

Film Locations:  Arizona, California, Colorado, Utah, US

Budget:  $531,374

Worldwide Box Office:  $1,103,757

A stagecoach, in 1880, carries 9 disparate members of the old west from Tonto in the Arizona Territory, through hostile Apache territory, to Lordsburg, New Mexico; all passengers with a story that needs telling.  Ringo Kid (Wayne) breaks out of jail to avenge his father’s and brother’s murder, a banker (Churchill) escaping his harping wife with ill-gotten gains, a mysterious southerner (Carradine) attracted to a pretty young lady passenger (Platt), a submissive whiskey salesman (Meek), a marshal (Bancroft) along to ride shotgun and return Ringo to prison, a prostitute (Trevor), and an alcoholic doctor (Mitchell), all compelled to Lordsburg by ghosts that don’t give a wit about the Apaches. They start off their trip in relative safety with a cavalry escort but lose it at the next town when the relief soldiers fail to show.  As they continue on their way to Lordsburg, tensions and troubles mount as the Apaches close in for the attack.

The movie is based on the 1937 Ernest Haycox short story, Stagecoach to Lordsburg, originally published as The Last Stage to Lordsburg in the 10 April 1937 issue of Colliers. Dudley Nichols, a frequent writer for John Ford movies, adapted the book for this movie.

John Ford hadn’t made a western since the 1920s. No one was making big budget westerns in the 1930s and no one wanted Wayne anywhere near a big production, especially in a starring role. Well Ford had an idea and a story that proved he was right and the experts could go teach their grandmothers to suck eggs. Ford resurrected the western, took it out of the kids’ Saturday matinée round-up, and gave the movie going public a good 30 years of great follow-up action movies involving horses and gunslingers. Oh, by the way, this movie made John Wayne the biggest name in Hollywood for decades to come. Artists are always a tough bunch to judge.

It is a rare movie when all the characters are cast just right.  Wayne the righteous bad guy-good guy, Meek the meek whiskey peddler, Trevor the conflicted prostitute; all fitting their roles like a cow hand’s wet leather glove.  Devine, along with Ken Curtis and Walter Brennan, defined the role of humorous sidekick, adding in the well oiled schtick to move the drama along. Carradine plays a good guy this time, although it is not apparent until much later in the movie whether he is a shady character or an honorable southern gentleman. Playing a drunk doesn’t get more realistic than Mitchell’s whimsical but competent doctor portrayal, for which he deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for.

This movie redefined westerns going into the 40s and 50s for the movie going public.  Not the best western every made but certainly in the top 10. Orson Wells is said to have watched this movie dozens of times to provide background and ideas for his Citizen Kane.  Watching this movie dozens of times in a short period is likely not good for your mental health but once a decade will remind you what a truly ground breaking film this was.

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