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.

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.

Bullets from the Past

22 Bullets  (L’immortel, original title — French Audio, English Subtitles)M 22 Bullets 2010

Rated:  NR

Runtime:  115-117 minutes

Genre:  Action  – Crime – Drama – International – Mystery – Suspense – Thriller

Theaters:  Europe – March 2010

Streaming:  US – February 2014

els:  5.5/10

IMDB:  6.7/10

Amazon:  4.1/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics:  5.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience:  3.3/5

Metacritic Metascore:  NA/100

Metacritic User Score:  NA/10

Awards: NA

Directed by:  Richard Berry

Written by:  Eric Assous and Richard Berry (screenplay), Franz-Olivier Giesbert (book)

Music by:  Klaus Badelt

Cast:  Jean Reno, Kad Merad, Jean-Pierre Darroussin

Film Locations:  Avignon, Marseille, Paris, France

Budget: $20,000,000

Worldwide Take: $21,300,000

Charlie Mattei (Jean Reno) after a career as a gangster wants to retire and spend the rest of his life peacefully with his family; a wife and 2 children.  Well, if wishes were politicians, thieves would rule — oh wait.  Mattei leaves his gangster business to his old criminal friend, Tony Zacchia (Kad Merad), and for 3 years he actually enjoys some peace until someone has 8 mobsters pump Charlie full of chemically accelerated lead. Charlie miraculously survives and recovers from the damage of 22 bullets and sets out to find those responsible; first without bloodshed then when that doesn’t work, firmer measures are employed.

The movie is loosely based on the real life Marseille mobster, Jacques “Jacky Le Mat” Imbert, who in the 1950s specialized in burglaries, hold-ups, and general thuggery.  By 1960s he added extortion, kidnapping and murder to his resume and was, and still is, considered the “Last Godfather” within French crime circles. In the late 1970 Imbert was gunned down by several mobsters associated with his old crime boss, Tony Zampa.  Doctors removed 22 pieces of metal from his body including 7 bullets.  He survived but his right hand was paralyzed.  Later 11 mobsters working for Zampa were gunned down in apparent retaliation for the failed hit. Police suspected and arrested Imbert but released him after 6 months for lack of evidence in the murders.  He reportedly retired when released but continued to associate with gangsters in Paris including the angelic, drug kingpin Francis “The Belgian” Vanverberghe of  The French Connection infamy.

Richard Berry, director, screenwriter and actor, known mainly for his work in French cinema, puts together a glossy gangster movie with great acting talent and replete with all the essential scenes of murder and car chases but little in the way of pizzazz or a hold-onto-your-seat intensity.  The movie at first has visions of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather but quickly degenerates into a story too-many-times told with an uneven delivery of what, in the end, is another pedestrian revenge flick.  The movie keeps your interest but the character development is spotty for the secondary actors, leaving the viewer occasionally lost in the gun-smoke of plot development.  Berry could have also left out the morality lectures from gangsters; way too out-of-place for this genera. Honor among thieves is one thing but mobsters as altar boys is a step too far.

Jean Reno plays Charlie Mattei with his usual aplomb and sophistication which always makes him one of the more, if not the most interesting person in a movie.  Think Leon in The Professional or the inspector Captain Bezu Fache  in Da Vinci Code.

This is an average revenge movie with some interesting and creative scenes of the bad guys delivering justice to the bad guys but it never gets past the formulaic, and thus, predictable plot.  The movie could have been much more with less mobster morality, more with less graphic in your face violence, more with less regularity; a few real plot twists would have taken this movie to another, more interesting level.

All Chan, All Good

The Foreigner (Theaters-September 2017; Streaming-January 2018) Rated: R  Runtime: M Foreigner 2017113-114 minutes

Genre: Action-Crime-Drama-Mystery-Suspense-Thriller

els – 7.0/10

IMDb – 7.1/10

Amazon – 4.6/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 5.9/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.8/5

Metacritic Metascore – 55/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.1/10

Directed by: Martin Campbell

Written by: David Marconi (screenplay), Stephan Leather (novel)

Music by: Cliff Martinez

Cast: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan

Film Locations:  London, England; Larne, Northern Ireland

Budget: $35,000,000

Worldwide Box Office: $140,793,485

Quan (Chan), a widower, lives a quiet London life, looking after his only daughter and his restaurant, his only major concerns are the boys chasing after his beloved teenaged girl.  Then a new IRA faction blows up a bank, killing his little girl, who was shopping at a dress shop adjacent to the bank, and Quan’s life and priorities change. He wants to know who killed his daughter, who was responsible.  He wants justice.  When the officials are unable to give him any names or promise any arrests, soon, he organizes his vigilante squad of one and slowly narrows down the possibilities; Jackie Chan style, but without malice for dogs or the innocent.

Jackie Chan steps past his normal fun side, giving the audience a taste of his drama and emotional acting abilities, and proves that his serious character portrayals are real, believable and effective.  Not since his role as a morose handyman in the 2010 Karate Kid have I seen him in such a convincing dramatic role, but this time the screenplay (Marconi) and supporting actors are not relegating him to a least common denominator of mediocrity and cheesiness.  The screenplay flows well, it’s coherent, and has enough twists to keep you guessing, but it does have a flaw, and unfortunately its a big one. Brosnan’s Liam Hennessy role is muddled, his level of involvement and guilt in the IRA bombing is never completely resolved. Maybe it’s intentional but it adds clutter to the plot and its conclusion. That aside, this is a typical Martin Campbell film, full of action, intrigue and entertainment, always spot on and fun; ok, maybe the Green Hornet was a dud, but usually his films are a must see, as is this one.

This was a fun action-drama to watch.  Jackie Chan displays what made him famous, his martial arts moves, but in the film he also displays his serious side and lets us know that, yes, he can play that part.

Friendship and Vengeance

The Ballad of Lefty Brown  (Theaters-2017; Streaming-2017)  Rated: R  Runtime: 111 minutesM Lefty 2017

Genre: Action-Drama-Mystery-Thriller-Western

els – 7.5/10

IMDb – 6.3/10

Amazon – 4.0/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 6.2/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 3.6/5

Metacritic Metascore – 63/100

Metacritic User Score – 7.5/10

Directed by: Jared Moshe

Written by: Jared Moshe

Music by: H. Scott Salinas

Cast: Bill Pullman, Peter Fonda, Joe Anderson, Tommy Flanagan

Film Locations:  Montana–cities of: Bannack, Virginia City, Nevada City and Harrison

Budget:  NA

Lefty Brown (Pullman), a hapless cowboy and life long partner and friend to his boss, the newly elected senator from Montana, Edward Johnson (Fonda), are riding the grassy hills, searching for horse thieves, when they are bushwhacked by a group of rascally devils in which Johnson is killed and Lefty is knocked silly but survives. As Lefty regains his senses, what little he ever had, he vows vengeance on the killers of his companion of 40 years. Thus begins the Lefty’s quest across the desolate and open lands of Montana, hunting for the killers of his one true friend; a hunt that tests his fortitude, his courage, and his loyalty, but it is the hunt for the truth that ultimately defines his essence as a man.

In 1955 Gunsmoke premiered on CBS television and ran for 20 years and 635 episodes, during which time it became quintessence of the western genre and likely, the most beloved. The core, twin pillars of the show included the just and honorable, but isolated, Marshall Dillon (James Arness) and his trusty but ornery sidekick: Fetus (Ken Curtis). The Ballad of Lefty Brown is the story of Fetus with Chester’s (Dennis Weaver) limp thrown in for good measure, out to avenge Matt’s death. Pullman plays Fetus aka Lefty to absolute perfection.  It is one of the greatest pieces of acting that I have seen in years. I hope they reserve one of the best actor awards for him. His acting is worth the price of admission, but watch it also for the supporting acting, the fervent story and the grand panoramic cinematography.

Good Ape — Bad Ape

War for the Planet of the Apes  (2017)  PG-13  Runtime: 140 minutesM War Apes

Genre: Drama-Action-Adventure-SciFi-War

els – 7.0/10

IMDb – 7.6/10

Amazon – 3.5/5 stars

Rotten Tomatoes Critics – 8.1/10

Rotten Tomatoes Audience – 4.1/5

Metacritic Metascore – 82/100

Metacritic User Score – 8.1/10

Directed by: Matt Reeves

Written by: Mark Bomback, Matt Reeves

Produced by: Peter Chernin, Dylan Clark, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Music by: Michael Giacchino

Cast: Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, Steve Zahn

M Ape 1968War for the Planet of the Apes is the third, and unlikely the last for Cornelius is just a young monkey, installment of the Planet of the Apes reboot series, or if you are keeping track, the eighth movie since the original 1968 Plant of the Apes film. Keeping the story front and center, director-writer Matt Reeves, and co-writer Mark Bomback have created a compelling drama with just enough action-adventure-war added to maintain the tempo and interest in this 2 hour and 10 minute epic about biblical-type survival, family, and revenge.

Caesar played by Andy Serkis delivers a compelling performance of a compassionate angry ape, succumbing to baser instincts of survival, eventually finding peace through the delicate innocence of a mute little girl; enabling him to assume the mantle of Moses, leading his people from bondage. It might be a tad much to have both Caesar and Moses on the same stage, but it does seem to work.

Woody Harrelson, playing the hard, single vision, blinders on, Colonel, finally has found a role, post Cheers, to showcase his talents. Harrelson produces a highly believable persona of a driven man that allows the survival of his species to obscure the other options available to this other-wise intelligent character.

Bad Ape played by Steve Zahn provides the comic relief that so far has not entered into this franchise.  A short 2007 song by Bad Religion seems to provide some predictive pathos for Bad Ape and the movie as a whole.

Murder
Bad Religion – written by Brett W. Gurewitz and Greg Graffin – 2007

If you didn’t know your world’s a pile of s—
Listen to a riddle that’ll tickle every bit of it

Ha ha ha!

Ape shall not murder, ape wasn’t so sure
Bad ape, you made a mistake
Annihilation in a cannibal war
Well, cultivation might have served you
Might have raised you up unscathed
If you had called that f—– by its name…

Did you listen to the arbiter’s beck and call?
Did you find what you were looking for or not at all?

Not at all!

Ape shall not murder, ape take the cure
Bad ape you made a mistake
Annihilation in a cannibal war
Culture might have cured you
And raised you up unscathed
If you had called that f—– by its name…

Say the name!
Say the name!
Say the name!

The film is not a must see, but it is a worthy addition to the trilogy.  The title sells the movie as something that it isn’t: a war movie; it’s a drama about survival-family-revenge with some battle scenes thrown in to quicken the pace.

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