The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, February 28, 2015


When you think of prisoner of war movies, World War II-era flicks dominate the landscape with movies like The Great Escape and Bridge on the River Kwai. There are others of course, some from the Korean and Vietnam Wars. But as if there wasn't already a scarcity of Civil War movies, there definitely aren't many Civil War P.O.W. movies. How about a gem, a made-for-TV flick from the mid-1990s? That's 1996's Andersonville.

During the battle of Cold Harbor in early June 1864, a group of Union troops from a Massachusetts regiment, including Corporal Josiah Day (Jarrod Emick) and Sergeant McSpadden (Frederic Forrest), are captured by Confederate forces. Packed into cattle cars, the Union infantry is shipped south to a prison camp that is quickly gaining a reputation for all the wrong reasons. It's called Andersonville, and thousands and thousands of prisoners are confined in a stockade meant for less than 8,000. Food, water and rations are limited, and the maniacal camp commandant, Capt. Henry Wirtz (Jan Triska), rules the camp with an iron fist. Josiah, McSpadden and their fellow Massachusetts men have no idea what awaits them in a prison camp where men drop like flies each day from disease, starvation and even a murdering group of prisoners called Raiders. Can they survive? As Andersonville wears on them, do they even want to survive?

Have you heard of Ted Turner? Well, he's quirky, rich and a Civil War enthusiast. Having already backed the 1993 Civil War epic Gettysburg, Turner turned his sights on this made-for-TV venture, bringing to the small screen a generally forgotten, truly dark part of American history. Once fighting began in 1861, both the Union and Confederate sides now had to deal with the ever-increasing number of prisoners of war. Clocking in at 167 minutes, 'Andersonville' is a horrifying, moving and realistic portrayal of the worst Civil War prison camp. Built in 1864, over 45,000 prisoners were held there, and over 13,000 died in just over a year-plus. The truth is horrifying just reading about it, but seeing it? Quite the moving experience.

With Turner backing the production, no expenses were cut short. An entire set was built almost to the exact measurements of the actual prison camp (it's a little bit smaller) to provide just a stunning visual for all the wrong reasons. Acres and acres of makeshift tents and shelters -- usually just holes in the ground covered with tarps -- stretch as far as the eye can see, prisoners packed into the camp like sardines. With no sanitation, you can only imagine how absolutely filthy and disease-ridden the camp was. Director John Frankenheimer brings this god-forsaken place to life, using long tracking shots that have the camera navigating through this claustrophobic, filthy, death lingering in the air, horrific location to life. By the end of the movie, you're exhausted, beaten up and truly get a sense of what living in the camp was like.

'Andersonville' utilizes an ensemble cast with some familiar faces, even some stage actors, but no huge stars. Playing the everyman hero, Emick -- a stage actor -- is our window into the camp as Josiah, an educated, well-spoken soldier who vows to survive no matter what it takes. Forrest too is excellent as the tough Sgt. McSpadden who wants nothing more than to get his Massachusetts men through this living hell. The prisoners we meet are a combination of those new Massachusetts infantry who arrive and the Pennsylvania miners who welcome them in, even letting them in their desperate escape attempt. Ted Marcoux plays Martin, one of the miners and simply a good man in who we see a horrific physical transformation over his time in the camp.

Also worth mentioning in a very solid supporting part is Cliff De Young (Glory, Centennial) as Sgt. Gleason, the leader of the Pennsylvania men who welcomes in the Massachusetts contingent. Experienced miners in the coal mines, Gleason's men are digging a tunnel under the wall. Their odds? Slim, but anything is better than staying in the camp. Also look for Jayce Bartok, Justin Henry, Andrew Kavovit, Olek Krupa, Thomas Wilson, Peter Murnik, and Gregory Sporleder as other key Union prisoners we meet. Frederick Coffin and William Sanderson play the leaders of the Raiders, more intent on survival than anything, even if it means attacking and killing fellow prisoners. Also look for William H. Macy as a Confederate officer tasked with examining what goes on within Andersonville's walls.

Originally broadcast over two separate nights, the story tries to accomplish a ton. The first half introduces our characters, the camp and the desperate escape attempt via tunnel while the second half shows the effort to rid the camp of raiders while also showing the horrific physical wear and tear the prisoners go through. It all builds to quite the ending, one that packs quite the emotional punch. It's heartbreaking with a last twist and ends on a quiet, somber note that shows the real horror of the camp. Highly recommended, an incredibly difficult movie to watch but one that is incredibly worthwhile.

Andersonville (1996): ****/****

Thursday, February 26, 2015


By the 1980s, the western genre had unfortunately gone by the wayside. The often white-washed entries of the 1950s, the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and the revisionist westerns of the 1970s had done a number on fans, and the genre was never quite the same. I'm still not sure why dammit! Maybe I was meant to grow up during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s! After the 70s, the western became few and far between, like 1985's Silverado, a throwback western I've seen bits and pieces of but only saw all the way through...well, this time.

Having served a five-year jail sentence for a murder that was actually self-defense, a drifter named Emmett (Scott Glenn) is riding west with California as his ultimate destination. Riding deep into the desert, Emmett finds something his eyes just don't believe. Lying in long underwear in the sand is a man named Paden (Kevin Kline) who tells the story of how he was double-crossed and left to die with no water or supplies. The two pair up and keep on heading west, both with their own objectives. What awaits them? First, they'll find out Emmett's younger brother, Jake (Kevin Costner), is about to be hung for a murder that sounds fishy while also running into a man, Mal (Danny Glover), heading west to help his family run their small homestead and ranch. The trail ahead won't be easy though as a corrupt rancher and his equally corrupt sheriff are wreaking havoc on the town of Silverado, the town they're all heading to.

I caught the first 45 minutes of this 1985 western a few years back. I liked it, didn't love it, but never got back to it. Well, Encore Westerns tempted me once too often with it on its schedule. My biggest takeaway? Director Lawrence Kasdan (who also wrote the screenplay with his brother, Mark) loves westerns. LOVES them. He must have grown up watching countless westerns because in the same way Indiana Jones and Star Wars did, 'Silverado' plays like a tribute film to its genre predecessors while also creating its own identity. I guess it makes sense because Kasdan wrote Raiders, Empire and Jedi. Go figure! It feels familiar -- in a good way -- and the lines are blurred some, but from the start things are pretty clear. The good guys are good and the bad guys are corrupt, greedy and evil. Entertaining in the best kind of way.

What I remember struggling with was the almost complete lack of a story. There are characters. There are some vignettes here and there. But a linear story? No, not really. We meet a ton of characters, things are kinda laid out, and then eventually, the good guys face off against those dastardly bad guys. It can be frustrating, but the payoff is worth it. Just know that getting there can be a tad slow in a 133-minute flick.

If you've seen Kasdan's writing credits -- read it HERE -- it's clear he's at his strongest with ensembles, typically tough guy ensembles. That is the biggest strength here in 'Silverado,' specifically with his four main heroes, Kline, Glenn, Glover and Costner. These are archetypal western characters, and they don't disappoint. Kline's Paden is the former gunslinger with a checkered past, Glenn's Emmett the amiable but tough as nails drifter, Costner's Jake the fun-loving, hard-living, cocky youngster, and Glover's Mal the ice water in his veins rifleman and family man. Kline doesn't scream 'wild west gunfighter,' but he's the coolest character. Glenn and Glover are similarly strong with Costner the only relative weak link in the bunch. It's not his fault, but the character is just a bit too goofy. Still, the strength is in the group. By the time you see the gun-slinging quartet ride to the final showdown, you're fully on their side.

Who else to look for? Let's talk baddies. Brian Dennehy is Sheriff Cobb, an imposing, brutish man who used to ride with Paden and is now working with a local rancher to buy up all the land around the town. Jeff Fahey is solid as his enforcer of sorts, Tyree. Jeff Goldblum has some fun as Slick, a gambler who arrives in Silverado looking for some easy cash. I thought the best supporting part was Linda Hunt (later of NCIS: LA) as Stella, the diminutive but feisty owner of the Silverado saloon. And in the out of left field department, John Cleese plays a sheriff in another town who comes across our heroes' trail. Also look for Rosanna Arquette, James Gammon and Lynn Whitfield in other supporting roles. If there's a weakness in the cast, it's that beyond Dennehy the villains aren't developed much or even on-screen. The evil rancher is almost an afterthought. The depth of the cast is still very impressive.

So westerns, they like their guns. 'Silverado' is a movie for those with a gun fetish. Scene after scene bring these guns to life from the hard, metallic click of the Henry rifle being loaded to a six-shooter being cocked and fired. The guns end up becoming additional characters. The action is pretty violent but never overly graphic. In the throwback fashion, it's good, old-fashioned, rip-roaring action. A rare "cold" western with snow and the mountains instead of the dusty prairies, this is a western that truly appreciates the genre it's come from. An Oscar-nominated musical score (little too adoring at times), a fun cast, fun vignettes and entertaining throughout. One of those perfect 3-star movies, best watched with a big tub of popcorn.

Silverado (1985): ***/****

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Revengers

As I've mentioned before, I've got a list in my head of hard-to-find movies that I've long sought. An interesting cast, a intriguing story, anything and everything, it can be anything that catches my eye. Today's entry? A 1972 western, The Revengers, that I found recently at the local Barnes and Noble. It was a tad pricey for a movie I've never seen, but this is one that's been on the list for too long to risk passing up. Did it pass the test?

A Civil War veteran with a distinguished war record, John Benedict (William Holden) has put the war behind him and is now running a successful ranch in Colorado. His life is thrown into chaos though when he returns from a hunt to find his wife and four children brutally murdered. A posse catches some of those responsible, Comancheros working with raiding Comanche Indians, who identify the leader of the attack, a one-eyed renegade named Tarp. Wanting nothing more than to exact revenge on the renegade, Benedict rides into Texas and then Mexico, ultimately leaving a posse behind. He tracks Tarp down to an isolated trading post but the odds are stacked against him. Needing help to kill Tarp, Benedict takes desperate measures, recruiting six convicts from a prison mine in the hills in Mexico. Will they turn on him the first chance they get? Can Benedict hold them together long enough to get the job done?

Yikes, what a weird movie. The 1970s were a weird time for the western genre in general, but this one was really weird. It's from director Daniel Mann and was a bomb in theaters upon its release. 'Revengers' has the distinct feel of an American western but with touches of a made-for-TV flick with some touches of ultra-violent spaghetti western mixed in. So unfortunately it is all of those and none of those because it never quite picks a tone. The positives though? Filmed in New Mexico, this is quite the good-looking western with some unique locations that I've never seen in a western before. The western-themed score features some rock overtones too, kinda odd but it works in a bizarre fashion. Go figure. There's something entertaining and oddly appealing just the same even if I can't honestly say that it's "just good."

The basic premise for 'Revengers' is a tweak on the 1967 WWII movie, The Dirty Dozen (one of my favorites). One halfway decent guy, a team of convicts turned mercenaries of sorts, unleash them on some impossible, mostly suicidal mission. I loved the DD and really enjoyed knockoffs and quasi-knockoffs using a similar premise. I thought I'd enjoy (maybe love) this one. I didn't. Holden is solid but nothing flashy as John Benedict, the revenge-seeking rancher who wants to kill the man who helped lead the attack on his family and ranch.

His Revengers? There's some recognizable faces and some cool parts, starting with Ernest Borgnine hamming it up as Hoop, a former Comanchero himself who'd turn on his own mother for a profit. There's also Job (Woody Strode), a runaway slave who killed his pursuers and ended up in prison, Quiberon (Roger Hanin), a woman-loving deserter from Maximillian's army and a bandito, Zweig (Reinhard Kolldehoff), the mad German, Chamaco (Jorge Luke), the young Mexican assassin, and Cholo (Jorge Martinez de Hoyos), the philosophizing revolutionary. The international, dynamic feel to the quasi-vigilante group is very cool. Like the movie and story itself, there is a ton of potential that never quite jells. Benedict treats his convict partners as equals, addressing them as 'Mr. ...' and they come to respect the man who handed them their freedom.

That's where things get to be a little disjointed. By a little, I mean a lot. The build-up is entertaining but familiar, seemingly shooting for something action-heavy and dumb and fun. It's a movie that is 108 minutes long and takes a big, surprising departure a little past the halfway point. I didn't see it coming AT ALL. However, it isn't just that the departure happens. It's that the twist throws the rest of the movie for a loop that it never really recovers from. We're shown that most of a year passes, the Revengers develop into friends, becoming almost a bounty hunting gang -- randomly shooting down attackers at one point -- and Benedict has become something else, something he never wanted to be. That device is used several times, jumps in stories moving things forward without warning in a flash.

And in the end, that becomes it's ultimate undoing. 'Revengers' has absolutely no idea what it wants to say or do, much less how to do it. I would have loved to see a story that focused far more on the dynamic between Benedict and the men who become his unlikely allies. That premise could have been at the helm of a really good to maybe great western. Instead, it never clicks as intended. Even the ending disappoints, kinda a limp finish for a story that could have built to something ultra-violent and dark and surprising. In other parts, look for Susan Hayward and Arthur Hunnicutt. Ultimately a disappointment but one that did entertain me overall. Probably more of a two-star review, but with that cast, I'll give it a slight bump. The print on the DVD is a beauty for those wavering over what to do concerning a purchase.

The Revengers (1972): ** 1/2 /****

Tuesday, February 17, 2015


Way back in 2004 -- good Lord, that's 11 years ago already -- I was introduced to Patrick Wilson with one of my favorite movies, the newest version of The Alamo. In the decade-plus since (again, it's 11 freaking years later), Wilson has worked steadily and turned in some very solid performances. He hasn't taken that next step though, no star-making role that helped him take the next step. Courtesy of some studio shenanigans, this next flick might not be that role, but Wilson, well, he absolutely steals 2014's Stretch.

After several years in Los Angeles trying to become an actor, a man named Stretch (Wilson) has cleaned himself up after a particularly bad break-up with the girl (Brooklyn Decker) he was about to propose to. He kicked a drug and drinking problem and has slowly but surely been paying off his gambling debt. Well, all his plans are kinda up in the air now. Working as a limo driver, he's threatened by his boss to pick things up, to help the company, and to do so NOW. That's the least of his problems though. As he's off to pick up a client, his bookie chases him down with a menacing thought. His debt has been bought by a rival bookie, and now Stretch has until midnight to pay up the $6,000 he owes. What sounds impossible might not be too bad if his next client, eccentric billionaire Roger Karos (Chris Pine) somehow comes through with a huge tip. What's getting that tip entail? Even Stretch doesn't know what awaits.

This helter-skelter crime thriller (with some very funny moments mixed in) from director Joe Carnahan (who also wrote the screenplay) has a less than pleasant production run. Originally scheduled for a theatrical release March 2014, it was scrapped and only released via iTunes, Amazon and On-Demand this past fall, October 2014. Biggest takeaway? I don't know what kind of response 'Stretch' would have gotten in theaters, but I loved it. Smart, funny, stylish and featuring a deep, talented cast that looks to be having a ball. It isn't your normal old action thriller either, trying to be something different, something better. In a movie age of lowest common denominator -- what appeals to the most viewers -- it's cool and refreshing to see a movie just try something different. When it works? All the better, and Stretch works in a big way.

It starts with a style. Voiceover narration is nothing new in crime thrillers, but this one is almost non-stop. If Wilson's Stretch isn't actually talking on-screen, the narration kicks in. That could be a deal-breaker, but man, it works. Stretch wants to be an actor and as he gets deeper and deeper into this whirlwind of a night, he becomes that actor, pretending to be all sorts of things to get in and out of all these messes. As a CSI Miami producer once told him, 'Own your space.' Well, he does. The basis for the story is a sub-genre, the overnight movie where a whole bunch of stuff happens in one extended night. 'Stretch' was filmed in Los Angeles at night, a world unto itself and all the people and goofs and crazies that our intrepid, troubled limo driver will come across. It gets crazier by the minute, and I laughed and loved it throughout. Style to burn but not a style that tries too hard.

There's a certain charm to Wilson's titular character and a credit to Wilson in general. Our desperate, not so heroic limo driver isn't the most likable character. He's a bit of an a-hole. Now that said...I did like him. You're rooting for him because it's just too goofy not to. I thought Wilson was great here. He's excellent delivering the narration as the action develops, as we hear his thoughts in the moment of how to improvise, how to get through this night alive and with some cash. By the end of the movie, he's beat up, bloodied and bruised, and you feel like you've been through the ringer with him. A sign and show of the talent he has, talent that will hopefully lead to more bigger and better parts.

I thought it was odd that co-star Chris Pine went uncredited for his part here. He's previously worked with Carnahan on Smokin' Aces and has the second-most screentime of the entire cast. Blah blah blah I guess. He's a scene-stealer. His Karos is unhinged, possibly a lunatic and an alpha-male who doesn't have a care in the world...although he definitely should. Similar to his part in Horrible Bosses 2, Pine just commits to the craziness/goofiness and goes for it. The result is that it feels real and funny, not forced. His chemistry with Wilson is perfect as the night goes on, two guys playing off each other seamlessly. Also, stick around for the outtakes in the credits. There's a ton of laughs, but the best scenes have Wilson and Pine trying not to crack up in what looks to be an improvised scene. Very funny stuff.

The cast overall is excellent. Also look for Ed Helms as Karl -- with a 'K' -- a limo driver who killed himself and now serves as Stretch's conscious of sorts...while sporting a mustache he grew in Hell. Yeah, go with it. It works. Jessica Alba plays Charlie, Stretch's dispatcher trying to help him out with some major clients while James Badge Dale plays Laurent, a mystery man caught up in the nighttime full of betrayal and international intrigue. Appearing as themselves as clients are David Hasselhoff and Ray Liotta (another Smokin' Aces co-star) while Randy Couture appears in uncredited fashion as El Jovi, a rival limo client with some extravagances. Matthew Willig is memorable as Boris, his tow-truck driving brother and enforcer.

In the end, things are wrapped up a little too tidy for my liking, but overall, I loved this movie. A thrill ride in 94 minutes, the pace never slows down and it's entertaining and fun throughout. Highly recommended tracking it down.

Stretch (2014): *** 1/2 /****

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Story of G.I. Joe

I went to Indiana University in Bloomington for college, getting my journalism degree from the IU School of Journalism. The building was named Ernie Pyle Hall or shortened to 'the Pyle.' The school was named after famed journalist and war correspondent Ernie Pyle who rose to fame during World War II for his columns about the fighting in Europe and the Pacific. His exploits were given a feature film adaptation in a criminally forgotten war film, 1945's The Story of G.I. Joe.

It's 1942 in North Africa and inexperienced American troops are being pushed back on all fronts against the veteran German troops. A journalist and columnist from Indiana, 42-year old Ernie Pyle (Burgess Meredith) joins the American infantry on the front lines looking to tell their stories for the American people back in the states. The tide begins to turn though as the green Americans learn how to fight, pushing the Germans back and winning North Africa. As the war jumps to Italy, Pyle is right there with the troops, documenting everything he sees. Pyle keeps moving around but always seems to find himself with one infantry company with its commander, Captain Bill Walker (Robert Mitchum), and troops not only getting to know him but welcoming him in, the journalist becoming one of them. What does the war hold though? What awaits both Pyle and the American troops?

What an excellent movie. I think the biggest compliment I can give is that 'Joe' is one of the most authentic war movies ever made. It's not just authentic though. It's real, emotional and resonates long after viewing. Director William Wellman wants to tell the story of the grunts, the men on the front lines and does so without any huge displays of patriotism or heroism. These are just 20-somethings who just want to get home. The quickest way to accomplish that? Win the next battle and the next until they get to Berlin. We don't meet any staff officers or get a wider, bigger picture of the war. We get to know the troops, see them on the march, in combat, waiting and waiting. In ways that movies with a much bigger reputation/following didn't do, you really get the sense of what it was like being in the infantry in WWII.

That authenticity comes from Pyle's writings, two of his compilation books serving as inspiration for the screenplay (writers Leopold Atlas, Guy Endore, Philip Stevenson) that was nominated for an Academy Award. Pyle's columns were simple and straightforward, effective because he got a message across that left quite the impression. A relative unknown at the time, Meredith was cast as Pyle, bringing the man to life with a quiet, understated performance. He steals the movie in subtle fashion. Like Pyle's columns, Meredith isn't overbearing or trying too hard. Like good journalists, he listens and looks and waits for the story. He doesn't force it.

It's a feeling that reflects the entire movie. Nothing feels forced. A lot of ground is covered, but you don't feel rushed. There's a natural flow to the story. Overall, 'Joe' is ahead of its time. It was released the summer of 1945 as the war was winding down, but there's not an ounce of propaganda involved. It's just war. We see the effects of battle on the troops, some eventually cracking. We see the looks in the soldiers' faces as they look back on a fallen comrade. They don't talk about the power or glory of war. It's a dirty, nasty business and people die. It is a little touch, but the soldiers have beards and mustaches, the product of days and weeks up at the front without a rest. 'Joe' was filmed in a stark, minimalist black and white that leaves all the focus on the story. There are some beautiful shots throughout mixed in with all the dreary waiting and waiting for something to happen.

In 1945, Mitchum had been working for several years in Hollywood, usually with supporting roles. This is a supporting role, but my goodness, what a part. He was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Lt. (later Captain) Walker, the commander of C Company, 18th Infantry. With Meredith as Pyle, Mitchum's Walker provides the heart of the movie. A genuine friendship develops between the two men, one a 43-year old writer, the other a young officer trying to get his men through the war unscathed. Like his best parts, Mitchum is the picture of realism. There aren't BIG, LOUD moments but real, emotional ones. His scene with Pyle during the battle for Monte Cassino shows the wear and tear on him, the war stripping him down as he sees the casualties mount. It is a subtle, perfect scene, Mitchum showing all the talent we'd come to expect to see in the coming years.

One other performance is really worth mentioning, and that's Freddie Steele as Sgt. Warnicki, a hard-edged, tough NCO who all the men look up to, including Walker and Pyle. A former boxer who had a short-lived career in Hollywood, Steele is excellent. It's just a fascinating character. His main storyline is that he receives a record from his wife who's recorded his young son's voice, a voice he's never heard. Problem? He needs a record player, the payoff a heartbreaking conclusion. The other infantry include Wally Cassell as fun-loving Dendaro, John R. Reilly as Murphy, a washed-out pilot, and William Murphy as Mew, just trying to fill out his life insurance form.

There are too many moments to mention. There's combat -- Walker and Warnicki working up a bombed-out street to take out 2 German snipers -- and then the more personal, the company resting on Christmas in a brief respite from battle. I loved Mew trying to figure out what name to write on his insurance form. I loved Arab, the little mutt dog the company adopts. It all builds to a very real, very moving, heartbreaking ending. This is war seen through the eyes of one of the best war correspondents to ever write. An excellent movie, one of the best war movies ever made.

The Story of G.I. Joe (1945): ****/****
Rewrite of March 2009 review

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Klansman

It seems pretty simple if you ask me. You're making a movie so you want to assemble the best group of talent you can to make a successful movie. Right? Well, sometimes even that isn't enough. Sometimes even a ton of talent can't prevent a stinker. Here we are with another iTunes discovery I found, 1974's The Klansman.

In a small Southern town during the Civil Rights movement, Sheriff Track Bascomb (Lee Marvin) constantly has his hands full keeping the peace. His work is cut out for him with the KKK boasting a strong contingent in the county, but a majority of the population is African-American. The problem? It's the whites who control his job security come election time. It's a lose-lose battle, and it's about to be much, much worse. A white woman is raped by a black man and soon after the bodies begin to pile up until ultimately part of the KKK rapes a black woman. An upcoming demonstration to get the African-Americans in town to get out and vote is fast approaching, and the county has turned into a powder keg just waiting to be set off. Track is in trouble and his saving grace may be a rich local man, Breck Stancill (Richard Burton), who has absolutely no use for the KKK or its "objectives." The problem though...Stancill may be too extreme in his counter to help.

I was born in 1985 so it's difficult for me to get my ahead around the Civil Rights movement. Sure, I can read books, watch movies, shows and documentaries about it, but I'll never really know horrific the time truly was. It is a time period often explored through film, recently with movies like Selma but also including Malcolm X, In the Heat of the Night, Mississippi Burning and many more. This may sound obvious, but if you're going to take on a Civil Rights movie, it should probably have...well, a serious tone. Or at least I'd think so. You don't want to get too over the top. Just let the story and characters speak for themselves. 'Klansman' decided not to go down that route.

Yikes. What a stinker. This racially-charged drama is from director Terence Young who directed far better movies like Dr. No, Thunderball, From Russia With Love, Triple Cross and several others. This is just a lousy movie. It starts with the tone. Frighteningly enough, the racism we see on display from our KKK members was probably pretty accurate. On the other hand, it plays out here in almost cartoonish fashion to the point I was laughing out loud at this dreck. The n-word is used so many times by sneering, driveling hillbilly yokels you become numb to it. And that becomes the issue. 'Klansman' is so overdone and over the top that any potential impact or message is beyond muddled. Instead, it plays out like a spoof of sorts. If the message is 'No one wins with racism'.....well, thanks. Quite the message.

Searching through the iTunes movie library, this one caught my eye because of the cast assembled. Unfortunately, that's as far as it went. I didn't look any further into it, and I most definitely should have. There goes $2.99 (even off a gift card) I'll never get back. The production stories indicated that star Richard Burton needed three bottles of vodka a day to get over a back injury. It shows. Delivering his lines in an odd Southern(ish) accent, Burton mumbles and stumbles his way through the movie in a really bad part. The scary part? Co-star Lee Marvin supposedly matched Burton drink-for-drink and ends up delivering the movie's best performance. His Sheriff is torn between his duty, what he believes, what the job means in support of his family, and what he knows is right and wrong.

Too bad then that Marvin's pretty decent performance is lost in a winding, kinda episodic story that doesn't really know where it's going or how to get there. There are too many characters, too many subplots that go by the wayside. The rest of the cast includes Cameron Mitchell as Deputy Butt Cutt Cates, hamming it up with hate, O.J. Simpson (taking a break from football) as Garth, a rifle-wielding vigilante, Lola Falana as Loretta, a friend of Breck's who becomes a KKK target, David Huddleston as the mayor and KKK head honcho, Luciana Paluzzi (obviously dubbed) as Trixie, the police secretary who has a thing with Breck, and Linda Evans as Nancy, the white woman raped in the movie's opening scenes.

It's just a bad movie that doesn't deserve too much more analysis. Bad script, out of place soundtrack, and an ending that would have been halfway decent if the build-up wasn't so painful. I wouldn't have continued watching if I hadn't paid $2.99 to rent it. Watch at your own risk!!!

The Klansman (1974): */****

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Mask of Zorro

My first introduction the character of Zorro goes back to a Disney Sing-A-Long VHS tape (Yes, VHS, and it was awesome), the theme imprinting itself on my young brain. Listen HERE, and you're welcome. The Zorro character has gone onto bigger and better things, including a late 90s swashbuckling adventure that I missed out as a 13-year old. Here's 1998's The Mask of Zorro.

It's the early 1820s in California -- then still a Spanish territory -- and the people are constantly kept down by the Spanish governor, Don Rafael Montero (Stuart Wilson). Providing a thorn in his side is Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins), a rich landowner who has an alter-ego known as Zorro, a masked bandit and expert swordsman who protects the people and baffles the Spanish governor. Montero finally catches up with Zorro though before being sent back to Spain amidst a revolution, dumping the landowner turned bandit in a dumpy prison while also wreaking havoc on Vega's family. Some 20 years later, Vega is wasting away but he manages to pull off a daring escape. What prompts it? He finds out Montero has returned to California with plans to take over the territory. Vega needs help to exact revenge though and finds it in the form of a vengeful Mexican bandit, Alejandro (Antonio Banderas), who must undergo quite the transformation -- with Vega's help -- to exact his revenge and possibly save California in the process from a whole lot of trouble.

The Zorro character's inception dates back to author Johnston McCulley in the late 1910s, the character appearing in some pulp fiction with his popularity quickly spreading. Zorro has appeared in books since then as well as comic books, TV shows and movies on an international level, not just in the United States. As I mentioned, I missed this 1998 adventure when it first came out -- being a punky teenager and all -- but here I sit to catch up with it. 'Mask' was a big success, earning positive reviews and making $250 million in theaters. The reasoning?

From director Martin Campbell, 'Mask' feels like a throwback to swashbuckling movies of Hollywood's Golden Age dating back to the 1930s and 1940s. What did it remind me of most? Maybe the best adventure flick of all time, 1939's The Adventures of Robin Hood. No, this isn't even remotely classic, but my goodness, what a fun movie. The production was somewhat troubled with some casting drama and Robert Rodriguez dropping out (with Campbell replacing him), but it doesn't affect things in the least. The formula is simple. The good guys are honorable, loyal and heroic. The bad guys are evil, despicable, greedy, backstabbing and will no doubt get their comeuppance. The story is a tad long at 136 minutes, but there's not much downtime with a series of swordfights and action scenes sprinkled throughout. In an age where action movies often have a message, it's fun to see a movie that's

Who better to play the suave, smooth swordsman than suave, smooth Antonio Banderas? I submit that NO ONE would have been better. Just like in Desperado, probably his most well-known roles along with Puss-In-Boots, Banderas just commits to the part. He's manic energy on the screen, and it works so effortlessly and well. You like Banderas' Alejandro turned Zorro, you're rooting for him, and Banderas looks to be having a ton of fun every minute he's on-screen. It's the Spanish actor at his best. It doesn't hurt either that his supporting cast is excellent, especially his chemistry with Hopkins (a somewhat unlikely Spaniard) and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Elena, the governor's daughter -- with a secret -- who takes a liking to Alejandro, all the while not knowing who he is or what he's up to. The mentor-student relationship between Hopkins and Banderas is excellent, and the chemistry between Zeta-Jones is palpable, whether it be their salsa dance scene or their later swordfight.

So Banderas, Hopkins and Zeta-Jones, that's enough, right? Those are the best parts, but there's more. Wilson is okay as the bigger villain, that dastardly greedy returning governor, but the best villain is Matt Letscher as Captain Harrison Love, apparently a U.S. Army officer working with the Mexicans? It's never really explained, but who cares I guess, he's easy to hate. Also look for Stuart Wilson and Pedro Armendariz Jr. as two Dons, landowners who team up with Montero in his plot to take over California. Smaller parts go to Victor Rivers as Alejandro's brother, a famous bandit, while western character actor L.Q. Jones delivers a small but memorable part as Three-Fingered Jack, an infamous bandit.

As I read some about the making of the movie, it was cool to find out at least part of the story and characters are based in reality of 1850s California history. Now there are some major freedoms taken with that story, but it's always interesting. With a score from composer James Horner and filming on-location in Mexico, the look, sound and feel of the movie is pretty spot-on. The set pieces from a fun training montage to the action-heavy finale at a gold mine carved into the side of a mountain are all pretty memorable. It's that pretty perfect popcorn movie. Sit back and enjoy.

The Mask of Zorro (1998): ***/****

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Gambler (2014)

Oh, how quick we forget. Yes, it's time for another unnecessary remake review. Way back in November 2013, I reviewed 1974's The Gambler, James Caan playing a literature professor with an extreme gambling problem. Well, it's 40-plus years later so let's revamp things! Here we are with 2014's The Gambler.

Walking into an oceanfront underground casino, Jim Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) is carrying a suitcase packed with $10,000. He promptly goes up thousands and thousands of dollars...and then promptly loses it in one bet at the roulette wheel. That's just the start of his problems. A literature professor and respected writer, Bennett is in serious debt. Like $260,000 debt, and that money is coming due very quickly. He only has seven days to come up with the money or else, well, it's not going to end well for him. So already in ridiculous amounts of debt, Bennett borrows more money -- some $50,000 -- from a brutal loan shark (Michael Kenneth Williams) with a similarly fast approaching payment date. The clock is ticking. Can Bennett get his hands on all that money? Will his severe, obsessive gambling addiction even allow the possibility of getting out clean?

So my usual stance on remakes is pretty simple. There needs to be a reason for that remake to be made. Was the original really bad? Was there a ton of wasted potential? That's pretty much it. For the most part, if a movie was good, great or a classic, it doesn't need to be remade. This remake from director Rupert Wyatt is an interesting mix of the above reasons. The Caan version is pretty good (I gave it three stars), but it isn't a hugely well-known flick. Good but not great so where do we sit in the remake department? I, for one, liked this new flick a lot, flaws and all.

I'll say this going in. Not that any movie about gambling addiction is going to be real pleasant, but this is one dark, brooding flick. It starts with Wahlberg's lead performance as Jim Bennett. I was curious how the performance would go, and I came away impressed. Wahlberg is a blue-collar kind of actor, typically playing tough guys, cops, boxers, armed forces, that sort of thing. How about a well-read, intelligent English literature professor? Not exactly a role you'd associate with Wahlberg, but I thought he did an excellent job as Professor Bennett. This is one sad sack of a character, beaten down by the world even though it appears he's been given no real reason to be so downbeat. Maybe the best compliment is that Wahlberg isn't just being a tough guy. He gets to show off his acting chops and doesn't disappoint. Big shoes to fill playing a part James Caan played, but Wahlberg is excellent.

As for the movie itself, I similarly liked it a lot. It's a remake, but thankfully not a scene for scene remake. With a script from William Monahan (The Departed, London Boulevard) that uses the original screenplay as a jumping off point, the new 'Gambler' has some similarities but tries to carve out a niche for itself. It works. The story is different. Wyatt does a good job stylizing the story without going overboard. Title cards count down the days to Bennett's payment deadline. The soundtrack features a good mix of the score from Jon Brion and Theo Green with an eclectic mix of actual sounds with everyone from M83 to a Radiohead cover to Cole Porter and a lot in between. It isn't a flashy visual movie, but you look back and think it's definitely a visually interesting movie.

Much like the 1974 version, the 2014 remake features a strong ensemble cast. The best part goes to John Goodman as Frank, a physically massive, intimidating bear of a loan shark. His scenes with Wahlberg's Bennett are the highlights, Frank giving a great speech about the power of money in everyone's life. Kenneth Williams is similarly very good (read = intimidating and frightening) with Alvin Ing rounding out all the possible loan sharks. Brie Larson plays Amy, one of Bennett's students who has a natural feeling for writing, an excellent supporting part. Oh, and Jessica Lange is very strong as Roberta, Jim's mother who's at the end of her string with her gambling addicted son. Also look for Andre Braugher, Domenick Lombardozzi, George Kennedy, Richard Schiff and Emory Cohen in some other key supporting parts.

Watching a man struggle through the depths of his gambling addiction, it's a frightening, fascinating picture. The gambling scenes are intense and uncomfortable as they're intended to be. We see the highs and lows, the ups and downs with a man who is up enough to pay off his debts only to see him continue to bet as he feels that winning high. That crazy adrenaline rush. There are flaws, and I thought the ending tapped the brakes far too much. There was a natural ending about three minutes earlier that would have been perfect in the open-ended finale department. As is, it's a finale that is a little too tidy. You know what though? I really liked this remake throughout. Well worth checking out.

The Gambler (2014): ***/****

Friday, February 6, 2015

Sol Madrid

Though the name might not be instantly recognizable, director Brian G. Hutton has been at the helm of two of my favorite movies, both of them WWII flicks, Where Eagles Dare and Kelly's Heroes. He only directed nine movies while also acting in film and television so those directing efforts? Gotta scoop them up when you can. Turner Classic Movies helped me out last week, screening 1968's Sol Madrid.

An undercover Interpol officer with a checkered past, Sol Madrid (David McCallum) has been tasked with possibly his most dangerous mission yet. A longtime right-hand man to a Mafia boss in NYC, Harry Mitchell (Pat Hingle) has gone rogue and stole $500,000 from the boss while running away with said boss' girlfriend. The catch? Mitchell has a computer-like mind and is able to remember everything he's ever done for the Mob. If Interpol or the FBI can bring him in and convince him to testify, the case is almost a sure thing against the Mafia. Madrid follows some leads and finds out that Mitchell has headed south of the border to Mexico and is hiding out with a rival mob boss in Acapulco. How can Madrid get to him and then convince him? Well, it starts with finding the mob boss' girlfriend, Stacey (Stella Stevens), and convincing her to help with the promise of protection. Can it all work out?

Even considering the very cool cast assembled here, I'd never even remotely heard of this one. But courtesy of TCM, here we sit! This is a movie I wanted to love but ended up only liking it. I'll get into the cast more in a bit, but it's NUTS! Filmed in Acapulco, featuring an appropriately quirky score from Lalo Schifrin, and a style and winding story that seems like a 1960s bizarre-o film noir...'Madrid' should have been better. That's it. It just should have been better in plain and simple words. This is a 1960s crime thriller that is missing that one special thing to make it a really solid, memorable flick. As is? It's okay, pretty cool in moments, kinda dumb/weird in others.

That cast, it's worth watching just to see the collection of talent assembled. Let's start with the other Man from U.N.C.L.E., David McCallum himself. He never grew into a huge star -- he's probably most well-known for his Ducky role in NCIS -- but it's always cool to see him in a leading role, especially an anti-hero role like this. We meet Sol Madrid as he's resting in an apartment full of drugged-out heroin users. What an introduction! From there, it's one cold-blooded decision after another, all the while observing what's going on around him and planning steps in advance of everyone around him. Brutal, calculating and looking at the bottom line, Madrid risks it all over and over again. And that name? Sol Madrid?!? Sounds very fake, but damn, I wish I had a badass, ridiculously goofy and cool name like that.

I'm a sucker for ensemble casts though, and what we've got here for 'Madrid' is pretty impressive. Stevens specialized in these type of roles in the late 60s and early 70s as the damaged woman so it's right in her wheelhouse! She certainly has some fiery scenes with McCallum's Madrid. How about some tough guys?!? Hey, everybody, it's Telly Savalas as Emil Dietrich, a drug supplier with a rivalry against the Mafia! Next up, Ricardo Montalban as Jalisco, another undercover officer and Madrid's contact who may be too comfortable in his job. Oh, and there's Rip Torn as Villanova, the mob boss with a vengeful streak right up his back. Not a bad group, huh?

Also look for Paul Lukas as an older, experienced mobster, Michael Ansara as a Mexican police officer, Perry Lopez as Francisco, Dietrich's enforcer, and Michael Conrad as Scarpi, a mafia hitman tasked with killing Madrid and Stacey.

Probably the biggest flaw in this 90-minute flick is the story. It's far from pointed and doesn't seem to know where it's going, where it wants to end up. To get his hands on Mitchell, McCallum's Madrid partners up with Dietrich to bring huge amounts of heroin into the U.S. In a painfully slow scene, we actually see the smuggling effort, bringing an already slow pace down to a snail's speed. Things pick up in the final act with some good twists and finally some action, but as a whole, this isn't a consistent movie. Decent, pretty entertaining but with some serious flaws.

Sol Madrid (1968): ** 1/2 /****

Thursday, February 5, 2015


So you know what's all the rage these days? Go figure, but it's....FOOD!!! I mean that statement semi-seriously though. From the ever-expanding and ever-popular Food Network with shows like Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and Chopped to the Travel Channel with its reliance on food-based shows, FOOD...IS...EVERYWHERE. Cooking reality shows are even popping up on network TV. In other words, strike while the iron is hot. Here's 2014's Chef.

A chef with quite the following, quite the reputation in the culinary community, Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) has a solid job at a highly respected restaurant in Los Angeles. When he hears word that a respected food critic who backed him with a glowing review years ago is coming to the restaurant, Carl plans a unique, innovative menu that differs from the everyday menu. That's the plan at least. The owner insists otherwise, the critics rips apart the blase food, and Carl gets fired when he explodes at the critic a few days later, an explosion that goes viral. Now with no job and no money, Carl must figure out what's next for him. That viral video has all but doomed any jobs he could get, but his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) brings up an idea she's brought up before only to get shot down. What if Carl got back to basics and opened up a food truck? The respected chef wants nothing to do with it at first but he also doesn't have a ton of other options...

More and more, I've found my mood is impacting my movie-going experience more than I thought. Now, a good movie is a good movie, but this very likable family comedy/drama hit all the right notes for me. Favreau wrote, directed and starred in this flick from last year that capitalizes on all the food buzz wherever you turn, assembling a familiar but always enjoyable screenplay, an impressive cast, and a feel-good story that's just missing too often when it comes to flicks hitting theaters every week. It isn't an instant classic, but I watched Chef and something resonated with me. Hopefully it does with you too, regardless of your feelings about food and eating.

I've always liked Jon Favreau dating back to his guest starring days on Friends to his directing the Iron Man flicks and a whole bunch of stuff in between. His Carl Casper character is definitely an interesting one, a once rising chef who's kinda leveled off through no fault of his own. A middle-aged man having a midlife crisis is nothing new in basically any form of film, television and literature, but like the film as a whole, there's an energy Favreau brings to the part. He's not perfect, trying to balance his career while still being a good father to his 10-year old son, Percy (a very impressive Emjay Anthony), who wants nothing more than to hang out with his dad. Sure, it can be a tad sugary sweet at times, but if you like the characters and are rooting for them, does it matter? Credit to Favreau though, keeping a lot of plates -- writing, directing, starring -- spinning and doing it well.

As for Favreau off-screen, his co-stars and fellow actors must like the guy. He put together quite the cast of big name stars, many of them agreeing to take a smaller part, extended cameos. But first, the bigger parts, the most essential ones. I loved John Leguizamo as Martin, Carl's longtime friend, fellow chef and a rising star in his own right. I've always been a Leguizamo fan but he just looks to be having a lot of fun and it shows throughout. Vergara too is excellent in toned down role from what we see on ABC's Modern Family. As Carl's ex-wife, she avoids any shrill ex stereotypes (thankfully), Vergara doing a fine job in the part.

Also look for Bobby Cannavale as Tony, Carl's sous chef, Scarlett Johansson as the restaurant hostess and quasi-girlfriend, Dustin Hoffman as the stuck in his ways restaurant owner, Oliver Platt as the food critic with a way with a dig, Amy Sedaris as an agent/publicist trying to help Carl, and an actor named Robert Downey Jr. as a possible business partner for Carl with a link to his past.

This isn't an out and out comedy. It's a family drama with a lot of laughs. I genuinely laughed out loud far more than I thought I would. 'Chef' has some fun early as Carl is introduced to the world of Twitter through Percy, through all sorts of social media that can be good and bad. That all adds a nice dimension to the story in its second half as Carl and Percy with some help from Martin open up a food truck in Miami and road trip it across America back to Los Angeles. It's cool to see a pleasant, nice, funny and very enjoyable movie that features a fun Latino and Cuban-themed soundtrack. Definitely one worth picking up. Just beware. I don't recommend watching this movie on an empty stomach. It's a delicious flick.

Chef (2014): *** 1/2 /****

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Longest Day

When you look back through history, certain dates hold a higher place in the history books. It can be someone's birth, someone's death, or just have an amazing historical significance in terms of impact on the world. High up on that list is June 6, 1944, the day Allied forces invaded Normandy, better known as D-Day. In the age of gigantic, sprawling epics, one of the best movies of the 1960s tackles the immense subject, 1962's The Longest Day.

A plot description wouldn't do this flick justice. It's just infeasible. The history will serve as a big enough jumping off point. After four-plus years of war, Allied forces had massed for months, all prepping for the invasion of Europe, hopefully taking back the continent from Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Third Reich. The invasion was months and years in planning, millions of men, millions of tons of equipment, thousands and thousands of ships, trucks, jeeps and tanks waiting to be unleashed at Normandy and in the French countryside. What was the mystery? The Allies tried desperately to keep the location of the invasion -- Normandy -- secret to help save lives and make the invasion smoother. The Germans similarly tried desperately to discover where the attack was coming. The war hung in the balance along with millions of lives, not just those taking part in the attack but all over the world. Not bad for historical significance, huh?

So tackling that premise in movie form seems a rather daunting task if you ask me. In the age of the epic, this one doesn't disappoint. At 178 minutes, 'Longest' covers a ridiculous amount of ground in a story that takes place over about a 36-hour time span. We see the Allies deciding the time is finally right after days of wavering while the Germans decide if this is the actual invasion or just a feint, a distraction to throw them off. Based on the book by Cornelius Ryan, it is told in docu-drama style as we meet all the participants from the high command to the soldiers, paratroopers to resistance fighters, townspeople to priests and everything and everyone in between. This isn't a movie about characters, but instead about the spectacle and immensity of what happened. If the Allied invasion on D-Day didn't work, who knows how the world would have changed?

Just a huge movie but one that never feels rushed or forced. The three-hour running time absolutely flies by. It was filmed in black and white, giving it an appropriately dated look. Maybe color takes away from what's on-screen, but the decision to film in black and white simply put, works. Ken Annakin, Andrew Marton and Bernhard Wicki combine to direct this behemoth epic and to handle it well. Technically speaking, it is a virtually flawless film. Some stock footage is sprinkled here and there, but many of the locations where the actual events took place were used as filming locations. Talk about authenticity, it can be downright eerie watching some of the scenes knowing the locations' history. The score from Maurice Jarre is used in appropriate doses with the main theme (listen HERE) a memorable piece of music that's always stuck with me.

As an epic though, one thing was required more than just about anything else. That requirement? A cast of seemingly thousands. Literally everyone in Hollywood and stars internationally were required to star in this movie. Okay, a slight exaggeration, but you get my point. Most of these parts were nothing more than cameos, but just as a taste of the ridiculous star power on display, we get John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, Henry Fonda, Richard Burton, Edmond O'Brien, Rod Steiger, even a pre-James Bond Sean Connery. Many of those parts only required an on-screen appearance of a minute or two -- some for much more -- but their presence alone...just wowza. The scary part? That's only a somewhat small taste of the depth of the cast that truly brings an international flavor to the D-Day proceedings with German, French, British, American and many more brought together.

The Longest Day is an epic, plain and simple, but for every scene where the scope and scale impresses, I loved the quieter, personal and often times, terrifyingly real scenes just as effective and memorable. I loved Richard Todd as a paratrooper commander tasked with landing in France via glider and taking a key bridge and holding until reinforcements arrive...if they can. The scene where American paratroopers, including strung-up Red Buttons, overshoot their landing zone and land in a German town is tragic and moving. One paratrooper (Sal Mineo) making a tragic decision is surprising and intensely real. I especially liked the simplicity of a late scene between Burton's RAF pilot and Richard Beymer's American paratrooper discussing the necessary evil of the day but also the lunacy of it. I think the best, most iconic moment has Hans Christian Blech's German officer finally spotting the invasion force in the English Channel when the fog clears. His face drops and he mumbles 'Die invasion,' all set to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. Just a ton of great moments like this.

The other counter to those scenes are the BIG moments, and that's where the technical comes into play. One tremendous scene has a German fighter strafing the beaches, all of which we see from the perspective of the plane. Hundreds and thousands of extras scramble for cover underneath in a remarkable visual scene. The same later in 'Longest' when French commandos fight their way up a street in a French town, a helicopter (I think) filming all the action. As well, the scene of the paratroopers coming down on the German-held Sainte-Mere-Eglise is a horrifying scene that utilizes some very cool camerawork. Also look for a cool scene where American Rangers -- including Robert Wagner, George Segal, Paul Anka, Fabian, Tommy Sands -- scale the cliffs of Pointe de Huc, all trying to knock out a key German emplacement. Some especially memorable moments, not all of them action scenes.

Because I don't want to forget anyone but don't want to overdo it describing EVERY character, also look for Eddie Albert, Irina Demick, Mel Ferrer, Steve Forest, Gert Frobe, Leo Genn, Jeffrey Hunter, Curd Jurgens, Peter Lawford, Christian MarquandRoddy McDowall, Kenneth More, Wolfgang Preiss, Ron Randell, Jean Servais, Norman Rossington, Tom Tryon, Peter van Eyck and Stuart Whitman. Okay, I'll take a breath now.

The Longest Day isn't the best war movie around, but it's one of my favorites. It tries to accomplish a ton and succeeds on just about every level. The history, the scale, the spectacle, the gigantic cast, the moments that resonate amongst all the epic qualities. It also serves as an excellent companion piece to the more recent Saving Private Ryan. Nowhere near as violent, but a more far-reaching story. A gem from the age of epics.

The Longest Day (1962): ****/****

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Long and the Short and the Tall

So I'm kinda slow sometimes. I'm not the most tech-oriented of people so I just kinda assumed iTunes just offered music downloads and rentals of new movies. Yeah...nope. There's hundreds and thousands of movies available to rent and/or buy!!! You'd think I would have realized this years ago, but anyhoo, here we sit. I found a flick I've long sought out, 1961's The Long and the Short and the Tall.

During the Japanese invasion of Burma in 1942, a small, seven-man patrol commanded by Sgt. Mitchem (Richard Todd) is deep in the jungle miles away from their base camp. Their mission? Record sounds of troop movements and vehicles moving through the jungle that will be used to trick Japanese troops into thinking they're facing more opposition than they really are. With his right-hand man, Corporal Johnstone (Richard Harris), at his side, Mitchem is trying to keep things in line with inexperienced soldiers making up the patrol. As they prepare to wrap up the mission, the patrol begins to have radio issues, and the men begin to question if something is up. Several are convinced they've been cut off by Japanese troops, and they're now on their own deep in the jungle. Can they make it back to the camp? Their situation is muddled even more when a lone Japanese soldier walks into their camp. Now they're alone and isolated and also have to decide what to do with their prisoner.

Talk about a dark, anti-war flick. This is your movie if you're looking for one. Director Leslie Norman helms this British film that's based off a play and doesn't have much of a reputation built up over the years. It's surprising in that sense because 'Long' is quite the quality movie. Sure, it has flaws but it tries things that movies weren't even thinking of trying, much less attempting yet. Filmed in a stark black and white, the story was filmed on indoor sets in England. Rather than film in real jungles, the decision works. The plants and vegetation permeate the screen to give things quite the claustrophobic feel that hangs in the air. The Japanese troops could be anywhere, but we just can't see them. Music is kept to a minimum with very little taking away from the ever-developing story.

For both good and bad, one of the most interesting things in 'Long' is the dialogue. Based off a play, this is movie dependent on an abundance of dialogue. Why does it work? It feels authentic...when I could understand it. The patrol is made up of soldiers from all over Great Britain, Scotland and Ireland so we get all sorts of thick brogues and cockney accents. This is a movie dependent on getting to know the soldiers through these conversations. We learn little about them in terms of background, but we start to see their personalities, their dynamics, their rivalries, their hatreds. At times, it gets to be a little much because it just wears on your ears, 90-plus minutes of soldiers bitching and moaning at each other.

So in terms of reality, 'Long' gets big points. These aren't heroic, gung-ho soldiers seeking glory. They just want to stay alive. Todd and Harris are good together as the only two veterans among the group. There's also Laurence Harvey as Bamforth, an annoying motormouth from London, Ronald Fraser as MacLeish, the wishy-washy Scotsman, David McCallum as Whitaker, the mousy radioman, John Meillon as Smith, the most intelligent among the group but simply looking to follow orders, and John Rees as Evans, Bamforth's friend and a bit of a follower. There isn't a likable man in the bunch, just less despicable individuals. This isn't an anti-war movie made about Vietnam. This was made in the early 1960s and is already beginning to reflect how the world felt about war and violence and so-called bravery and heroism. Quite a cast, all of them playing humans, not robotic killing machines. Harvey especially hams it up, pushing buttons left and right to the point he's unbearable as a character. Quite the performance if you think of it that way.

It's in the last half that things really take a turn for the dark when the patrol takes a prisoner (Kenji Takaki) and must decide what to do about him. Take him along? Leave him behind to possibly talk? Or the most uncomfortable option...kill him in cold-blood?  The story blends morality, ethics, survival, the rules of war, right and wrong, all of it as the situation gets harrier and harrier. The finale takes some interesting turns, some of them more predictable than others, but they work. Overall, it's a really good movie that's missing that special something. I really recommend it, but it's more of a quality movie than an entertaining movie. Still worth chasing it down but know what you're getting into here.

The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961): ** 1/2 /****