Tag Archives: Movies

Classic Movie Watch — Harper (1966)

1966’s Harper is not only one of the great Paul Newman’s best and most enjoyable films. It’s also by this late date a bit of an under looked classic with a remarkable creative pedigree. Based on the great Ross MacDonald’s first Lew Archer novel, The Moving Target, and capturing the bubbling striking and strangeness of burgeoning, fast moving California in the post war era, Harper is an excellent crime thriller with a first-rate cast. Not only is there the always terrific Newman as the title character at his most wry, nimble and reluctantly heroic.  The film is also packed with other standout actors like the screen legends Lauren Bacall, Shelly Winters, Julie Harris, Janet Leigh and Robert Wagner. Great character actors also play their parts notably the always indelible Strother Martin, Robert Webber and Harold Gould. The movie was also legendary screenwriter William Goldman‘s big breakthrough, establishing him as a major Hollywood writer and adaptor of work and essentially launching his long successful career in the movies. It was capably directed by Jack Smight with a nice light touch, who also went on a pretty good run later in the 60s and 70s helming films like No Way to Treat a Lady (from a novel by Goldman), The Illustrated Man, Airport 1975 and Midway. Finally Harper was shot by the great Conrad Hall and the film has a terrifically bright and colorful California feel even though it is essentially a noir in content.

Without giving too much away, down on his luck private investigator Lew Harper is hired by an old friend, an ex- Assistant DA and now private attorney Alfred Graves (Arthur Hill) to investigate the disappearance of his client, millionaire grower and developer, Ralph Sampson. The unlikeable Sampson has disappeared en route to LA while flying back from Vegas and his wife, the beautiful but ice cold and disabled Elaine Sampson (Bacall) wants to find out what happened if only to catch him stepping out on her. Harper also meets Sampson’s daughter from another marriage, Miranda (played by a very kittenish Pamela Tiffin) and her boyfriend and Sampson’s private pilot, Alan Taggert (Wagner), who also happens to be the last person to see Sampson before he went missing at the LA airport after ordering a limo. By searching Sampson’s private bungalow Harper finds a picture of faded starlet Fay Estabrook (Winters), whom he tracks down and finds to be overweight and alcoholic. Harper gets her drunk to pump her for info and from Fay’s web of strange connections he’s led to even more unseemly characters such as the nightclub singer and junkie Betty Fraley (Harris), Fay’s vicious husband Troy (Webber) and the bogus holy man Claude (the one-of-a-kind Martin). Deeper crimes are uncovered including kidnapping, human trafficking and even murder and no one is entirely what they seem.

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If that all sounds complicated it is. True to the Ross MacDonald style there are a lot of characters to keep track of and a lot of plot twists to follow and throw the audience off balance. Harper uses his wits more than his fists to move the case forward, though he is more than capable in either hand-to-hand combat or with a gun. He’s a step above the local police and he doesn’t mind letting them know it to their face. He takes more than a few beatings and serious risks to his life but, like all great detectives, is compelled to stay on the case and see it through no matter were it may lead. As personified by Paul Newman, Harper is never grim but always wise-cracking, quick witted, effortlessly masculine with a appropriately sardonic take on his gray-shaded word and the people in it. It’s one of Newman’s subtly great performances in that it comes across so effortlessly, as though Harper were just a second skin he was slipping on, and ranks right up there with Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (another Goldman screenplay) and The Sting for moving Newman away from the “angry young man” stereotype of his earlier career — a sort of alternative Brando — and into the persona of the affably cynical, world wise, wise-cracking and sometimes reluctant hero that served him and us as theater-goers so well. The direction is crisp and manages to fit in all its twists and turns in a highly enjoyable and never draggy 2 hours. And of course the brilliant screenplay does justice to MacDonald’s original novel even elevating the humor somewhat to keep the dialogue fast and clever, rife with sharp ripostes and cutting lines. It’s tough and violent enough without being exploitative and it’s one of those movies where everything just seems to hum along like a well-oiled machine with just enough oddness and ingenuity to prevent it from being an exercise in formula or slickness. In short, if you’re a Paul Newman fan and crime thriller fan and you haven’t  seen Harper yet what are you waiting for? It’s a mid-60s knockout and you are going to love it.

Just a couple of quick asides: Legend has it that the character was changed from the original Archer to Harper because Newman liked H names and thought they were lucky (see Hud, Hombre, The Hustler, etc). Other sources say that because the producers only has the rights to The Moving Target and no other MacDonald works at that time they didn’t want to use Archer. In fact another Harper/Archer movie was made nearly 10 years later with Newman reprising his role and playing alongside his wife Joanne Woodward in The Drowning Pool (1975). The location was shifted from MacDonald’s beloved coastal California to New Orleans and while the plot was equally byzantine if not more so and the cast of characters just as compelling the film plays a lot more seriously and almost has a grim feel to it. Not a bad thriller by any means but definitely not the nimble, witty masterpiece that the original Harper is. It’s also worth mentioning that the original Archer books themselves are definitely worthy of a read. They are a major cut above most detective fiction and MacDonald earns his high praise as the natural successor to Raymond Chandler as a superlative writer of hard-boiled crime fiction with his Lew Archer grabbing the baton from Chandler’s iconic Philip Marlowe and ably running with it.

RIP Roger Moore, 1927 – 2017

The heroes of our youth continue to fade away. So it is with the passing of Sir Roger Moore Tuesday, May 23 at the age of 89 after a life very well spent. The Guardian’s obituary is here.

Moore was “our” James Bond for those of us growing up in the 1970s and early 80s, an impossibly suave and arch version of Ian Fleming’s iconic super spy. Taking over the role at 45 from the great Sean Connery and Aussie George Lazenby, who flamed out after one very good outing (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Moore slowly moved the portrayal of Bond away from the super macho style that Connery personified and into a more self-aware, almost ironic approach. With his first two outings as Bond, the very good blacksploitation hybrid Live And Let Die and the rather less effective The Man With the Golden Gun, Moore seemed to be trying to split the diferrence between his own mischievous personality and the hardness of the Connery era, including slapping women around nonchalantly. But as two-time Bond movie alum Maude Adams famously remarked that was simply not Roger. And as the movies became more gadget driven and wilder in concept, culminating in the very wacky Moonraker that tried to capitalize on the Star Wars craze by putting Bond into space, Moore’s self-aware bemusement served the ever more hyperbolic franchise well. Even if today’s pundits are quick to dismiss the Moore era as lightweight and his portrayal of Bond as lacking in gravitas this misses the zeitgeist of when his films were made. The 70s were not a time of gravitas but rather The Me Decade, a time of partying down and sexual abandon, of thinking less and doing more. And so Moore’s Bond was simply suitable to the times. He seemed to recognize that his perfect features constituted the most important weapon in Bond’s ultimate pursuit, the conquest of women while in the service of the Queen. It’s certainly no accident that he essayed the role 7 times over 12 years, even if by his last outing in 1985’s A View To A Kill his knees seemed to be showing their 57 years more than that well-tanned face. Yet he still managed to take on the Amazonian Grace Jones and a very nasty Christopher Walken, as well as bed Tanya Roberts in the process, so you could say Moore’s Bond retained the good stuff even in his swan song.

Moore had been a major international TV star before being cast in Live And Let Die in 1973. His big break came when he took over from James Garner as his British cousin on Maverick in the early 1960s after working regularly in other action roles on American television. Most importantly, he played Simon Templar in The Saint from 1962 to 1969, a cultured thief who only steals from other criminals. The series was a huge hit both in England and in the US and probably put Moore on Albert Broccoli’s radar as a potential future Bond. He was also immensely enjoyable as one half of the wealthy oil-and-water crime fighting duo in The Persuaders! alongside a manic Tony Curtis, bickering and galavanting their way through jet set Europe and generally having a ball. While the series was not the big hit in the States that the producers hoped it remains a very enjoyable cult classic and peak super suave Moore (check out his very early-70s self-designed wardrobe as Lord Brett Sinclair). After his time as Bond, Sir Roger became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador due to the example and influence of his friend, Audrey Hepburn. He was knighted by the British Empire in 2003 for his years of service doing that worthwhile charitable work and his special focus on helping children in the developing world.

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Roger Moore liked beautiful women, finely tailored clothes, good cigars and good drink and most of all pleasant company. He loved playing  James Bond and never struggled with being strongly identified with the role, as so many of the other actors have (with the notable exception of Pierce Brosnan). For him, Bond and his ever wilder and more humorous adventures were all great fun to be approached with a raised eyebrow and a good quip but not too much perspiration. There was never any doubt he was going to accomplish his mission, kill the villain and sleep with the girl. He made the James Bond movie a terrifically enjoyable experience during a time when the films were real blockbuster summer events. His was an angst-free Bond for a hedonistic era, helping perfect an over-the-top formula that simply worked like a charm nearly every time. If tastes have changed and authenticity is now the new fetish that is no fault of Moore’s. He had the light touch at the right moment and his films remain the most consistently and purely fun of the franchise’s epic run. So godspeed to Sir Roger Moore and may he rest in peace. He brought the world a lot of joy and entertainment and did a lot of good work in his long time on this earth. He is the first cinema Bond to pass on and certainly one of the most loved. But even with that towering cinematic accomplishment he’ll be even more fondly remembered as Roger Moore the kind, funny and very generous human being. Just read this great anecdote from a fan who met him as a child and then again as an adult for proof of that.

Merry Christmas from MFL!

Merry Christmas to all our loyal regular readers and casual visitors. Wishing you and your families the very best this Holiday Season and a joyous, prosperous & healthy New Year!

Today we’re going (very) old school with this clip from 1954’s White Christmas. This Holiday classic featuring the inimitable Bing Crosby singing Irving Berlin’s songs ably assisted by the very funny Danny Kaye, the charming songstress Rosemary Clooney (George’s aunt) and the amazing dancer Vera-Ellen. Helmed by the great Michael Curtiz of Casablanca fame, White Christmas is a very funny musical and dance extravaganza with enough sentimentality to warm the heart of even the Grinchiest viewer. If you’re having trouble getting into the spirit of the season, this slice of 1950s post-War Americana will do the trick like the visual equivalent of turkey with all the trimmings and a cup of egg nog. Merry, merry!

RIP Gene Wilder, 1933 – 2016

When the great comic actor Gene Wilder passed away on August 29th at the age of 83 due to complications from Alzheimer’s it felt just as though a favorite eccentric uncle had died. (The New York Times obituary is here.) For those of us who grew up in the late 1960s, 70s and 80s Wilder left an indelible impression. If you enjoyed funny movies in the least (and really, who doesn’t?), Wilder was one of the joys of the cinema during that period, all the more so because there was nobody before or since who quite possessed his unique blend of neurotic mania and soulful mensch-ness. Even when Wilder was portraying a character a little bit naughty, like Leo Bloom in the original The Producers, the unpredictable Willy Wonka of chocolate factory fame, a descendent of Victor Frankenstein compelled to pursue the same macabre obsessions as his infamous grandfather or a wrongly convicted con alongside his great comedy partner Richard Prior in Stir Crazy, Wilder always seemed to juxtapose a sweetness with his delightfully manic outbursts.

After studying acting at the Old Vic in England and the HB Studio in New York, the Milwaukee-born Wilder first came to wide attention with a small but impactful role in Warren Beatty and Arthur Penn’s seminal Bonnie and Clyde (1967), interrupting the film’s otherwise grim narrative with a burst of humor as a rather eager and happy hostage. But his major breakthrough came a year later in Mel Brooks’ all-time classic, the hysterically funny The Producers. As the nebbishy and neurotic Leo Bloom, Wilder was perfectly matched with the bigger-than-life, morally bankrupt has-been theater producer Max Bialystock, played to the hilt by the peerless Zero Mostel. Amidst the side-splitting opening sequence, as Bloom is abruptly initiated into Bialytsock’s crazy world when he comes to do the producer’s accounting books, it is Bloom who conceives of the idea of raising much more money than needed for a production so bad that it is doomed to close on opening night, thereby allowing the surplus cash to be kept. Bialystock runs with it, coercing Bloom to be his accomplice. They then find a fantastically wretched play called “Springtime for Hitler” and the rest is cinematic comedy history.

His next major role was as the title character in 1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Though not a major hit at the time it became a cult classic with some likening it to a latter day Wizard of Oz, a film that works as both a kids’ movie and something more profound, and Wilder’s influence can be seen throughout in his unique bits of improvisation and inspiration. Johnny Depp was good in the remake but it’s hard to think of anyone other than Gene Wilder as the definitive Willy Wonka, especially when delivering his unexpectedly poignant song, “Pure Imagination.”

He was drafted again by Brooks, as a last minute replacement no less, for 1974’s screamingly funny Western satire, Blazing Saddles. Against type, Wilder played a laconic gunman with a drinking problem given renewed purpose by his fast friendship with the town’s besieged new black sheriff, played by Clevon Little. As if that wasn’t enough comedy gold, that same year Brooks and Wilder collaborated on the brilliant Young Frankenstein, a masterpiece that was Wilder’s concept and that he co-wrote. Filmed in beautiful black and white as an elaborate sendup of 1930s Universal-style horror, Young Frankenstein became a classic in its own right with an unparalleled ensemble cast — including Cloris Leachman, Teri Garr, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars and newcomers Marty Feldman and Peter Boyle — and pitch perfect direction and screenplay. It stands as one of the great collaborative movies of all time and is arguably both Brooks and Wilder’s best work.

1976 saw a magical bit of good casting as Wilder was paired with Richard Pryor for the first time in Silver Streak. Alongside the wonderful Jill Clayburgh in this very good, very funny comedy-thriller about murder and mayhem aboard an LA-to-Chicago train, the two men made cinema history as the first bi-racial comedy duo and audiences loved their unlikely, yin-yang chemistry. As a result, Wilder and Pryor would make three more films together, 1980’s excellent prison comedy Stir Crazy (directed by Sidney Poitier!), the underrated See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) and finally Another You in 1991 when Pryor was already greatly diminished by multiple sclerosis.

Wilder found another impactful partnership when he met Gilda Radner on the set of 1981’s Hanky Panky. The two became comedy royalty when they married in 1984. But the relationship ended tragically when Radner passed away in 1989, a victim of ovarian cancer. This loss inspired Wilder to establish an early detection center in Los Angeles, as well as co-founding Gilda’s Club in New York City, a non-profit support group for cancer patients and their families that now has branches throughout the United States (where it is now known as the Cancer Support Community) and Canada. Wilder found love again when he met Karen Webb while working on See No Evil and they married in 1991. They remained together until his death, a much longer if less romanticized relationship than his union with Gilda Radner, so spare a thought for Ms. Webb at this sad time as well.

Though Gene Wilder had largely retired from acting since the early 1990s, instead concentrating on writing, the importance of his best work grew over the years as his special films became part of the greater pop cultural and comedy firmament. That makes it extra difficult to lose such an original actor who got the laughs because he played his characters so truthfully, one who was always so audaciously alive and vibrant on screen. For those of us who grew up with his movies it feels as if we’ve lost a very funny older friend, one we could turn to for a guaranteed laugh no matter how the world was treating us. But we must also remember that Gene Wilder lived a wonderfully full life, was a truly good man and left a massively joyful contribution to the world that survives him via his films. And if we’re being just a little sentimental, it’s not hard to imagine Gene reunited with Richard and Gilda and Marty and Peter and Kenny and Madeline someplace special, cutting up with them all again, his explosive, utterly contagious laugh ringing out through the ether in the company of fine old friends.

Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Rebecca Ferguson

In 2015’s surprisingly good installment of the action adventure evergreen, Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, Rebecca Ferguson didn’t just hold her own with the franchise’s superstar, Tom Cruise. She proved to be his co-equal, which is no mean feat for any actress. The 32-year-old Anglo-Swedish import’s memorable portrayal of Ilsa Faust, a morally ambiguous rogue MI6 agent, is every bit the match for Cruise’s Ethan Hunt.

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A striking beauty with remarkable martial arts, weapons and vehicle handling abilities, it is Faust’s mental brilliance that truly makes her such a confounding and alluring opponent for the Mission: Impossible team. And with a stunning choice of apparel for an opera assassination showing off her feline grace and wonderfully muscular physique, Ms. Ferguson certainly made a profoundly favorable impression on many a movie goer.

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Born in Stockholm to a Swedish father & British mother, Rebecca began modeling in her teens and had a breakout success in the Swedish soap, Nya tider, at the tender age of 17. This led to more TV and film work in Scandinavia until she came to broader attention with her titular role in the BBC’s The White Queen. While the historical drama failed to garner a huge audience, Rebecca’s portrayal of Elizabeth Woodville, scheming consort of King Edward IV during the War of the Roses, received high marks, including a Golden Globe award for best actress in a miniseries.

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In 2014 she had a good little role in the Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson vehicle, Hercules, and had another miniseries lead in Lifetime’s Biblical drama, The Red Tent, where she played Dinah, daughter of Jacob and brother to Joseph, alongside Minnie Driver & Deborah Winger.

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Then came her standout work in Rogue Nation and the good news that Ms. Ferguson’s formidable Ilsa Faust should be staying on for the sequel, M:I 6, when that ramps up. With a number of other projects in post-production, as well as her own Tango studio to help keep her in nimble and muscular good shape, the multi-national, multi-talented Ms. Ferguson is primed for even more and better work. And with a winning combination of natural beauty and physical grace, she’s also likely to keep on making the kinds of impressions that only a very few talented and appealing actresses seem able to manage on a regular basis. It should be interesting to watch where Rebecca Ferguson goes from here. Our guess is it’ll be pretty far.

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Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Léa Seydoux

It’s fairly obvious that when a new Bond Girl debuts she is going to be a stunner. And in 2015’s Spectre, the ravishing Léa Seydoux most definitely lived up to the hype. But her Dr. Madeleine Swann is also tough and resourceful enough to be a match for Daniel Craig’s James Bond. And not just in the bedroom. In fact, Bond would never extract himself from his various life-threatening predicaments without Dr. Swann’s assistance taking on the title’s ultra-deadly criminal organization. And if Spectre turned the stunning Ms. Seydoux into an overnight pop culture phenomenon, the truth is that the 30-year-old French actress has been busy earning her place in the spotlight for several years now.

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Born in Paris to well-off and media-connected parents, Léa origially wanted to be an opera singer and did not start to pursue acting until her late teens. After some work modeling and appearing in short films, she broke through with 2008’s The Beautiful Person, which garnered her awards for best upcoming actress at Cannes and at the Césars. From there she was off and running, as the film world took notice of not just her natural peaches-and-cream, blue-eyed Gallic beauty but also her impressive acting chops and emotional daring.

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Ms. Seydoux had small roles in big pictures, Tarrantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2009) and Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood (2010). Then in 2011 Woody Allen picked her out for a plum role in his excellent Midnight In Paris and she landed a lead role in the latest installment of the Tom Cruise action blockbuster franchise, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol

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She was back working in France for two big critical successes, as the servant girl witnessing Marie Antoinette’s last days in Farewell, My Queen and the controversially erotic art house smash, Blue Is the Warmest Color.

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And now she’s won the double-edged immortality that comes with being a Bond Girl. But Léa Seydoux’s steel-wrapped-in-silk portrayal of Madeleine Swann may be the most formidable member of that illustrious club since Honor Blackman’s Pussy Galore… and without having to be stuck with a campy name to boot.

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It’s only fitting that she and Craig walk off into the sunset to close out this excellent era of the Bond saga. But with her wonderful abilities as an actress and a face that the camera loves and is built to melt hearts, there’s no way we’ve seen the last of Ms. Seydoux. Which is surely a good thing because we’re looking forward to her future career being as impressive and exciting as her astonishing start.



Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Annabelle Wallis

There is a moment in the enjoyably pulpy biographical BBC miniseries, Fleming, when the actress portraying Muriel Wright, Ian Fleming’s wartime flame and proto-Bond girl, walks away from the camera in her full-body tan leather motorcycle courier’s suit. She looks over her shoulder with a develish grin and a flip of her blond locks as if to say a cheerfully insouciant goodbye to her none-too-loyal lover. It’s in that moment that the viewer realizes he’s watching an actresss destined for big things. That actress is the stunning Annabelle Wallis.

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The 31-year-old Briton was born in Oxford but spent her formidable years abroad in Portugal, where she became fluent not only in Portuguese but also French and Spanish. A niece of the legendary Richard Harris and cousin to the talented Jared Harris of Mad Men fame, it seems only fitting that Annabelle joined the family business. After several small roles she broke through in Showtime’s The Tudors as Jane Seymour, third wife to Jonathan Rhys Myers’ Henry VIII.

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From there she was in the regrettably short-lived retro swinging stewardess series, Pan Am, alongside fellow blonde bombshell Margot Robbie and the always excellent Christina Ricci. Then in 2014 she was the inspiration for the archetypal Bond girl in two memorable episodes of Fleming opposite the up-and-coming Dominic Cooper in the titular role. That year was good to her, as she was also a lead in the supernatural thriller Annabelle and back on TV making a big impression with a major role in BBC’s excellent gangster series, Peaky Blinders, as the complex Grace Burgess alongside Cillian Murphy’s fierce crime boss.

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With several more features in pre- and post-production, as well as a highly publicized romance with Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin, Ms. Wallis is surely poised to keep her momentum going. And with such a diverse range of quality work already on her impressive resume can it be long before Hollywood sees what we see in the fair-haired lass and starts putting her in big time leading roles?

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True, with an attractiveness based on beautiful but not perfect features and sly wit, Annabelle is not the airbrushed, cookie cutter ingenue that makes her the “safe” pick for a leading lady. But with her impressive acting chops and that undefinable undercurrent of intrigue that she brings to every role, not to mention that fleeting, fetching smile, it seems to us that she’s the cure for the ordinary actress. We’d certainly take her in period costume or full length leather jump suit six days a week and twice on Sundays.

Classic Movie Watch — The Dirty Dozen (1967)

In a case of supremely ironic timing, Robert Aldrich’s The Dirty Dozen was released in 1967 at the height of the “Summer of Love.” As one of the toughest, nastiest and most fatalistic classic war movies, there is not a lot of love in the Dirty Dozen. But there is a killer plot, action galore and a very cool, badass ensemble cast of male stars who make the whole thing tick over like clockwork. Sharing the hard bitten cynicism and mordant humor that came to dominate the best 1960s WWII films like The Bridge At Remagen, Kelly’s Heroes and Where Eagles Dare, Dirty Dozen reflects both the experiences of the actual combat veterans who contributed to the making of the film, as well as the creeping disillusionment with the nation’s quickly souring military involvement in Vietnam. After the recent Spielbergian gloss given to World War II in the violent but heroic Saving Private Ryan and the excellent and idealistic Band of Brothers, where the action is doubtless brutal but the characters themselves are invariably heroic, one wonders whether today’s moviegoing public would be ready to accept a deranged group of criminal misfits like “The Dozen” as their heroes. But the audiences of the late 1960s made the film a colossal hit, so maybe that says something about the differing need for hero worship between that generation versus ours.

Loosely based on actual events, the plot of The Dirty Dozen unfolds in classic three-act action-adventure epic style: Picking the Men, Training the Men and the Mission. Only in this case the “elite force” being assembled is drawn from a group of convicts in military lockup facing either death sentences or decades-long prison time. And the mission is a suicidal attack on a German staff officer “rest & relaxation” chateau behind enemy lines in pre-D-Day Normandy. Drawing the unenviable task of assembling these misfits into a cohesive commando unit is maverick Major John Reisman, played by the inimitable Lee Marvin. If The Big Heat is Marvin’s apotheosis as the ultra-heavy villain, The Dirty Dozen reflects the archetype of Marvin’s remarkable second act as a lead actor in big films: still the hard man capable of extreme violence but in the end possessed of an individual code of honor that turns him from bad guy into ambiguous hero. As it would again later in Sam Fuller’s excellent The Big Red One, Marvin’s real life combat service as a Marine in the Pacific Theater, were he saw fierce action and was badly wounded, informs his performance as the sardonic and relentless Major Reisman as he badgers, threatens and cajoles his convict team into a cohesive fighting unit. Like many great coaches and military leaders, Reisman’s genius is to realize that if he can get the group of men to hate him they will in turn bond with each other.

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And what a group! Featuring some of the most macho and physically imposing 1960’s actors, as well as some bona fide rising stars, the convicts include Charles Bronson as an honorable German-speaking Polish American convicted of shooting his unit’s cowardly medic; football great Jim Brown as another decent guy wrongly convicted of murder in a case of self defense against a racist attack (this is actually the film that prompted Brown’s premature retirement from the NFL); the towering Clint Walker as a gentle giant with a fierce temper; Telly Savalas as a despicable and crazy Bible-spouting southern racist and woman hater; a young Donald Sutherland as a dim but mischievous private; and a sterling John Cassavetes as a Chicago gangster with a serious problem with authority. Cassavetes really shines among this esteemed company, seeming to channel the ghost of Humphrey Bogart as he proves the biggest obstacle to Reisman’s grand plan, resisting him at every turn through sarcasm and tooth-baring indolence. Continue reading

Gorgeous Lady of the Week — Alicia Vikander

Rising star Alicia Vikander has the look. It’s not so much the look of a perfectly polished Hollywood ingenue. It’s more intangible, more a throwback to the intriguing attractiveness possessed by those international actresses who graced the films of Truffaut and Godard in the 1960s like Anna Kerina and Jeanne Moreau. Beautiful in a soulful way and possessed of deep waters rushing beneath a placid surface, the 27-year-old Swedish actress has poise and grace rarely seen in younger performers these days, perhaps as a result of her training as a dancer. With a raft of strong performances already under her belt, Ms. Vikander is still not quite a household name yet. But she’s about to be.

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Born in Gothenburg and the daughter of an actress, Alicia spent her formative years training to be a ballerina at the Royal Swedish Ballet School. But injuries and a burning desire to act sent her on a different path in her late teens and she found success on the Swedish soap opera, Andra Avenyn, at the age of 20. Jumping off from there she made her critically praised film debut in the Swedish film Pure, garnering several prestigious European awards for that 2010 feature.

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Ms. Vikander broke through in the English speaking world with her role as Kitty in 2012’s adaptation of the classic weepy, Anna Kerenina, which starred Keira Knightly and Jude Law. And after making such a big impact in that relatively small role she was off to the races. After more work in Europe, she featured in The Fifth Estate (2013), the Aussie Son of a Gun (2014) and the British independent film, Testament of Youth (2015). But the movie that really put her on the radar of the general theater-going audience was 2015’s Ex Machina, Alex Garland’s spine-tinglingly dystopian directorial debut. Her role as a highly evolved artificial intelligence in beguiling semi-human form was one of the more interesting female characters to come along in years. While the exceptionally strong writing obviously did a lot of the work for the cast, which includes the outstanding Oscar Isaac and Domhnall Gleason, Vikander’s sympathetic and unsettling work as a beautiful android pitted against humans in a life or death examination for her worthiness to exist is quite simply a tour de force. Visionary as it is, Ex Machina would not have been as great without the actress’s stunning portrayal.

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Her breakthrough as Ava the Android officially cemented Alicia Vikander’s status as one of the hottest Swedish imports since Lena Olin. She starred in this summer’s big budget Man From U.N.C.L.E. and will appear in a slew of upcoming mainstream movies, such as Burnt with Bradley Cooper, Tulip Fever with Christoph Waltz, The Light Between the Oceans with Michael Fassbender, her now ex-boyfrirend, as well as an upcoming Bourne Identity sequel. Now that is a busy lady!

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Projecting a tender vulnerability wrapped around a steel core and with hypnotic brown eyes that always seem to hold you in their gaze, Ms. Vikander is also blessed with the acting chops to go far. She could well be this generation’s Juliette Binoche and should be aided by having an even better command of English than the great French actress. Only time will tell, of course. But one thing’s for certain: Alicia Vikander is a compelling actress well worth watching, especially if she continues to do smaller, independent films and doesn’t get swallowed up by the Hollywood Borg. We’re looking forward to watching what should be a stellar career for years to come.

Classic movie watch — The Big Heat (1953)

If you’re looking for the precursor to Dirty Harry and a thousand other righteous vigilante cops in the cinema look no further than Fritz Lang‘s 1953 film noir masterpiece, The Big Heat. Starring the underrated Glenn Ford as crusading homicide detective Dave Bannion, The Big Heat unspools like an Eisenhower-era nightmare, peeling away the veneer of wholesomeness from a mid-sized metropolis to reveal the festering corruption beneath. With bracingly modern use of brutal violence, Heat is one of Lang’s top crime masterpieces in a career filled with them, and the film still retains its power to shock and disturb today. Like so much of the Austrian genius’ output, which includes genre-defining classics like Metropolis, M, Fury and Scarlet Street, the phrase “ahead of its time” sticks to the The Big Heat. No matter how many times you’ve viewed it, you’ll come away astonished at the remarkable moral distance the film has traveled from start to finish.

While investigating a colleague’s alleged suicide and after talking to the seemingly bereaved widow, Ford’s Detective Bannion is contacted by the dead man’s mistress who reveals that not only was he keeping her on the side but that he was living far beyond the means of a policeman’s salary. After returning to push for answers from the now chilly dead cop’s wife, Bannion is then told to back off by his lieutenant. But when the mistress is found murdered, her body covered with cigarette burns, and O’Bannion begins receiving threatening calls at his home, he goes to the house of the local organized crime figure and Mr. Big, Mike Laguna (played by legendary voice actor Alexander Scourby), to confront him. Laguna offers to buy Bannion off but the straight arrow cop will have none of it. Seeing that Bannion cannot be deterred by the usual methods, the mob plans to murder Bannion by rigging his car to blow up. But when his wife ends up turning the ignition instead and his department continues to stonewall him, Bannion resigns from the force to begin a one-man crusade against Laguna and his fellow “thieves”.

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Chief among those accomplices is Laguna’s enforcer, Vince Stone. Played to vicious perfection by the great Lee Marvin, at the peak of his early career powers when he was one of the most badass “heavies” in the movies, Marvin’s Stone is a pure psychopath capable of truly terrifying acts of sudden violence, especially against women. Continue reading