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The Rocketeer (Joe Johnson, 1991)
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In the summer of 1991, I went to the theatre and watched The Rocketeer and knew for a fact that it would be a huge hit. It had flying, sci-fi, Hollywood, gangsters, Howard Hughes, Jennifer Connelly, Alan Arkin in a terrific role, an Errol Flynn-type villain, a Rondo Hatton-type henchman, Nazis, zeppelins in Los Angeles, and just a general love for moviemaking and movie lore. Well, it made a respectable $46 million but it wasn't a hit, so it's one of several times that I was wrong about a movie's success, but I wasn't wrong about its entertainment value. The Rocketeer is still a slambang adventure, a full-blown romance, a paean to Hollywood during its Golden Years, and especially, a tribute to all the men and women who sacrificed themselves to the improvement of the aviation industry.

The film takes place in 1938, and Howard Hughes has just manufactured the first flying jet pack for humans, and a certain Nazi will stop at nothing to get it for the Third Reich. Meanwhile, a simple pilot (Bill Campbell) loves a Hollywood extra (Jennifer Connelly) but he and his mentor (Alan Arkin) become embroiled in a humongous mess involving the rocket pack. This is all set in the midst of late 1930s Hollywood and Howard Hughes (The Stepfather's Terry O'Quinn) plays an important supporting role in the non-stop action, comedy and special effects. I cannot recommend The Rocketeer highly enough for people who want to watch pure entertainment. The only thing I can say against it is that in its joyful glee to provide maximum entertainment that it maybe goes on an extra ten minutes somewhere about two-thirds of the way through.
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It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. - John Wooden
My IMDb page



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The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986)




"Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid." One of the greatest advertising tags to any movie proves to be truth in advertising in what I consider Cronenberg's best film by about a million miles. Somehow, the characters in this film, Seth (Jeff Goldblum) and Roni (Geena Davis), are so empathetic and wonderfully portrayed by the pair of actors that they turn the film into a pure tragedy, almost ranking with Brooksfilms' own The Elephant Man or The Hunchback of Notre Dame which this film occasionally resembles visually. Jeff Goldblum gives a performance worthy of an Oscar, let alone the nomination he was robbed of, and Geena Davis (who married him the next year) is equally spectacular in a film which delves into characters and reality in a way which this year's Watchmen was totally incapable of doing. Seth Brundle in The Fly has more humanity in his "fly hair" than all the Watchmen combined. Now, whether you want to argue that the Watchmen are fleshed out in the graphic novel or not, I'll stand by my statement because Brundle doesn't have a flippin' backstory to somehow try to convince you that he's worthy of your care and concern. However, he does have Goldblum's eyes, voice, wit and intelligence.

The Fly
is a pure horror film. What it shows the audience is disgusting and pathetic, but it never begs for any forgiveness, and that's exactly why the characters earn it; they all behave as woefully human as people you and I know. Yes, even the character I consider the Bastard in the film, John Getz (Blood Simple) as Roni's scummy boss, seems to somehow redeem himself and turn into a form of human being at the end when he's the most-deformed. The Fly is a straight-out masterpiece to me. It's not only Cronenberg's most mature film, it's his funniest, most-romantic, most complete and fulfilled flick, no matter what you may think of the way it ends so quickly. In fact, the ending most reminds me of another fave film of mine from the '80s which many of our younger MoFos seem to misunderstand, An American Werewolf in London. The endings of both films are so quick only to emphasize the shocking tragedy involved while not wallowing in any sentimentality to make you think differently than the disturbing imagery to which you have just been witness.



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Manhattan (Woody Allen, 1979)
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Woody Allen made Manhattan as an effort to combine his most serious comedy to date [the Oscar-winning Annie Hall (1977)] with his attempt to make a full-blooded Ingmar Bergman film [Interiors (1978)]. The result was a love letter to NYC, and in fact, Manhattan probably uses more NYC landmarks than any other Allen film, and that's really saying something, even if Woody and all his characters have enough neuroses to fill up Bergman's entire filmography. The strength of Manhattan is that Woody makes the most-mature character the second-youngest one in the entire film. Tracy (Mariel Hemingway) is Woody's 17-year-old lover when the film begins, and she and Woody treat each other as comfortably as an old married couple would (I'm speaking from experience here). However, all of Woody's friends are having marital/sexual problems which are totally unnecessaty if you were lucky enough to cohabit with an Angelic soul such as Tracy. Of course, Woody loves being able to teach and form a pliable, yet intelligent mind about film and music (forgive me, Sarah) and avail himself of her youthful, sexual body, but he keeps acting like she will have to move on because "this is only a temporary thing" on your way to a more-mature life.

To me, the ending's key lies in both Woody's realization of what makes life worth living and in Mariel's (Tracy's) line that "you have to have a little faith in people." Woody spent the entire movie blowing her off even though he basically loved her but treated her as some student/pet/Galatea. The scene just before this one (Scene 10) is also important so I think I have to post it too -- did it. Woody backtracks and hmms and haws to try to get Tracy to do the exact opposite he recommended the entire film, but when Tracy calls him on it and says that he has "to have a little faith in people", Woody looks around (knowing it's not really that good a thing) but eventually he smiles because he knows that if he was ever going to have faith in anybody, it would be Tracy, the Sweetest Heart to ever grace a human body in Woody Allen history.:



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Room at the Top (Jack Clayton, 1959)




That's a good poster so I wanted to show it even though it's a bit misleading as to what exactly occurs in this film, another powerful one about people trying to live a life which is somewhere between reality and wish fulfillment... or is that reality and a nightmare? Joe Lampton (Laurence Harvey) moves from his lower class town into the city to take a better job and he immediately picks Susan (Heather Sears), the daughter of the wealthiest man "at the Top", as his future bride. Joe doesn't have any silly emotional connections to love and marriage; he just knows that he's had 25 years "without", so he wants to make up for it by getting as many years as he can "with" money and all that money can buy. Of course, Joe will have to overcome Susan's family and boyfriend. Meanwhile, Joe takes a liking to older Frenchwoman Alice (Simone Signoret, well-deserving of her Best Actress Oscar playing one of the most vulnerable, yet passionate women ever on the screen) who's trapped in a loveless marriage. Eventually Joe and Alice begin an intense affair, both physically and emotionally, even though Joe never wavers from his plan to have Susan.

This film, which is certainly one of the more powerful dramas, is crammed with witty, satiric dialogue which helps to build up the point that most everybody lets everybody know what they really think of each other. Of course, Joe has to keep secrets from both his women, and as things come to a shattering conclusion, Joe is the character who seems to grow the most, or does he? It'll be up to you to decide what the ending truly means but to me it means "Masterpiece". This is the kind of film which might be considered a soap opera except that it doesn't whitewash, sell or overly emote anything, except for superb storytelling and filmmaking, courtesy of director Clayton (The Innocents).



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Dan in Real Life (Peter Hedges, 2007)



This lowkey romantic/family comedy sneaks up on you because at first it seems a bit predictable and underplayed, but eventually, the cast, characters and story win you over just enough to feel good about liking it. Dan (Steve Carell) is a middle-aged widower with three beautiful daughters ranging from about eight-to-18-years-of-age. Every year, his family gets together at his parents' New England home, but this year, Dan seems to be having more problems with his two older daughters concerning driving and dating. Dan is extremely lonely in his romantic life, but in his parents' town, he finds lovely, intelligent Marie (Juliette Binoche) and they immediately hit it off at the local bookstore. Little does Dan realize that this wonderful woman is actually the girlfriend of his brother (Dane Cook) on the way to his parent's home. Needless to say, the remainder of the holiday is very awkward for both Dan and Marie. What makes the film honest, touching and amusing is that the actors are all very good at finding the offbeat humor in such a situation. Now, I'll admit that this plot has been used before, but this one includes things which make it work in a simple manner. Among those scenes would include the dancing scene with Dan's other date during the holiday, "Ruthie With the Pig Face" (Emily Blunt), the scene where Dan and Marie are trapped in the turned-on shower while Dan's eldest daughter is having a heart-to-heart with Marie, and especially the Talent Show scene where Dan helps his Bro try to win his lady love by singing Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door"



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Effi Briest (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1974)
Art House Rating




Fassbinder tries to capture the aloofness he took from this 19th-century classic German novel in two striking manners, both which will go a long way to determine how much the viewer enjoys the film. First, for a film about teenage girl Effi Briest (Hanna Schgulla) leaving her family to marry a successful older nobleman (Wolfgang Schenk), the director shoots in black-and-white and drops the two lead characters into an estate filled with mirrors, curtains, sculptures, see-through doors, etc. Almost all of the scenes involving these two characters are filmed so that they are separated by all these objects surrounding them, and their dialogue often consists of formal exchanges where they either disagree with each other's opinions or are unable to understand them. There is a lot of dialogue in the film too, so if you do not understand German it could cause one to have to either miss the dialogue or the visuals, but as I say, they seem to reflect and counterpoint each other anyway. The other way Fassbinder fills out his story is by having another important character presented in an entirely different manner. Effi's husband is often away on business, so she seeks companionship from a Major (Ulli Lommel) during these times. Most of their activities are filmed outdoors and described by a narrator (Fassbinder) who is basically allowed to illustrate the most-emotional feelings which Effi has. This film fits in well with Fassbinder's evolution of fitting his technique and style specifically to each project, so it would be perfect to study in a film class on Fassbinder. I feel it's somewhat less-successful as a film to try to enjoy, although the cinematography and sets are aesthetically-pleasing. For those who care, this is the actual on-screen title of this movie: Fontane Effi Briest oder viele, die eine Ahnung haben von ihren Möglichkeiten und ihren Bedürfnissen und trotzdem das herrschende System in ihrem Kopf akzeptieren durch ihre Taten und es somit festigen und durchaus bestätigen.



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7th Heaven (Frank Borzage, 1927)



One of the greatest silent films ever, made at Fox Studios at the same time that Janet Gaynor made Sunrise there with F.W. Murnau. This is the perfect example of a film which utilizes the most-shameful melodrama to make superb entertainment. There is just something about the characters and Borzage's realistic, yet "angelic" direction (first Best Director in Oscar history) which makes this film seem far superior to any others which go out of their way to seem like 19th-century Simon Legree laugh-a-thons. Maybe I'm wrong, but Murnau and Borzage (often considered the most-romantic Hollywood director of the first decade of talkies) seemed to push each other to streamline silent storytelling and to especially create awesome sets for their films to live and breathe in. Gaynor's soul shines through the entire film in one of the greatest female performances of the '20s. Another thing to consider is that even before The Jazz Singer was released that this film played in theatres with a "filmed" musical score, some synchronized sound effects and a song at the end. Let me put it this way: even if you think this film is unbelievably hokey, you will be entertained and surprised, far beyond what you could ever imagine. Please report back to me because I've only scratched the surface of this flick. (I don't have the time... )

This DVD had the "restoration" of Borzage's The River which starred Charles Farrell from 7th Heaven and a sexy actress named Mary Duncan. It's full of sex, yet most of the rest of the plot was never filmed or lost. It looks like an enormous production though. I cannot give it a rating, but if you Netflix 7th Heaven, be sure to flip it over to see what's left of The River (1929).



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Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)
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David Thewlis gives a blistering performance as 28-year-old Mancunian Johnny who, based on what happens in the one day presented here, seems to live a dismal, brutal life which is somehow also filled with lots of sex and scintillating intellectual discussions. Right from the beginning of the film, Johnny is raping a woman in an alley and then steals a car and flees to London where he goes to the flat of ex-girlfriend Louise (Lesley Sharp), but she's at work, so Louise's flatmate Sophie (Katrin Cartlidge) lets him in to wait for her. From here, the film follows Johnny on an episodic journey which seems to turn him from one of the most-amoral wankers in sight to a visionary genius and back again. Most of the film's dialogue was apparently worked out by the actors during a long rehearsal period before shooting, and Thewlis is allowed to ruminate on the end of the world as well as be incredibly witty about it even while many of the people he talks to probably don't understand what he's going on about. I would probably think even more highly of the film if the bastard character of Jeremy (Greg Crutwell) were better-explained or perhaps cut entirely out of the film. As it is, he seems there to show viewers that there are worse men than Johnny but it's a facile comparison since Jeremy is so superficial and Johnny is so complex. Even so, this is still probably Leigh's best film and it looks really good too with expert Dick Pope cinematography capturing the look of an almost ruined urban blight which has obviously contributed to the hopelessness of many of the characters.



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Swiss Family Robinson (Ken Annakin, 1960)



This is another one of those Disney films which is basically a real adventure and isn't really dumbed-down at all for the kids. (True, there are a few seconds near the end where some camera trickery and reversal of the film threatens to turn it silly, but for a two-hour movie, I find it forgivable.) The classic children's book is pretty much turned into a classic adventure film, one of Disney's best along with 20000 Leagues Under the Sea. John Mills and Dorothy McGuire are excellent as the parents who get shipwrecked on a tropical island on the way to New Guinea with their three sons. The threat of pirates, led by Captain Sessue Hayakawa, is ever present, but the family is able to take the best parts of the ship and make the fanciest tree house anyone has ever made (and was present at Disneyland for about 40 years before they turned it into the Tarzan Treehouse). The sons, from eldest to youngest, are played by James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran; the two elder boys go into a major competition after they rescue a young woman (Janet Munro) from the pirates while scouting the outskirts of the island. It all culminates in an attack by the pirates on the family's stronghold which is rigged with explosives and pits with wild animals. I enjoyed this film as a kid and I still enjoy it. The beautiful beaches and jungles of Tobago substitute for the South Seas and provide a realistic location for all the action and character growth, and the film reminded Brenda and me again of how much we'd enjoy it to just get away from everything, hopefully for as long as possible.



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Georgy Girl (Silvio Narizzano, 1966)



Georgy Girl starts out with the hit title song by the Seekers while we follow frumpy Georgy (Lynn Redgrave) walking down the London streets in search of something to give her life over to. She's got a lot of love to give, but since she's a "big girl", nobody takes her that seriously, except for maybe her rich "godfather" (James Mason), the boss of Georgy's Dad (Bill Owen), who has amorous eyes for Georgy despite repeated rebuffs. In fact, Dad and Mum (Clare Kelly) don't understand what Georgy is doing with her life, especially when she conducts music lessons upstairs at her parent's home. Georgy shares a flat with beautiful but bored young Meredith (Charlotte Rampling) who's pregnant again by her boyfriend Jos (Alan Bates). This time, Meredith wants to have the baby, but she and Jos are drifting apart and he starts to pay more attention to Georgy. Eventually what seems like a hopeless situation turns out in the end, although it's unclear how happy things will ever be. Lynn Redgrave is excellent in her Oscar-nominated performance and provides most of the film's heart and soul although Alan Bates can certainly be charming and has one outright hilarious scene of embarrassment towards the end. The Swingin' Sixties are certainly on display here, but deep down of course, Georgy Girl is actually something of an old-fashioned flick since the heroine is basically the only person in the film who always does the right thing. It's still very watchable but it's not as fresh or funny today as say, Alfie or Morgan!.



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Putney Swope (Robert Downey, 1969)
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Robert Downey Jr.'s dad directed this satire on corporate advertising during the height of the Black Power movement, and although it has quite a few laugh-out-loud commercials in it, it's a bit too one-note to qualify as a success. Putney Swope (Arnold Johnson) is the token black man on the Board of Directors of a huge advertising agency, but when the President dies, he's accidentally elected to take his place and quickly changes the company's white bread traditions to those of his Soul Brothers and Sisters. Some of his ad campaigns are hilarious and the entire flick is refreshingly un-P.C. However, there are few things which hurt the overall effect of the film, and for me, number one is that Putney's voice is dubbed by none other than the director himself. At first, it provides some weird comedy to the mix, but once it becomes clear that we're hearing a white guy's voice substituting for the new Black "Prince", it somewhat blunts what I think was the intended effect. Another flaw I find with the film is that it gets awfully repetitive, so if you think it's overall funnier than I do, then you'll probably think even the repetitious parts are funny, but I didn't find them to be. I also wish that Antonio Fargas's "Arab" character had more screen time. Even so, I'm going to rewatch this film again because when it started I was somewhat caught off guard by Downey's absurdist leanings even though I was smiling quite a bit and obviously should have been prepared since I'd already seen his Greaser's Palace.



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Mr. Brooks (Bruce A. Evans, 2007)
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The writing team that brought us Starman and Stand by Me are back with one of them directing a different kind of flick, one where Kevin Costner convincingly plays a fastidious serial killer who, although happily married (to Marg Helgenberger), with a college-aged daughter (Daniele Panabaker) and "Man of the Year" in his local business community, just has to periodically let off steam by becoming the Thumbprint Killer, aided and abetted by his imaginary sidekick Marshall (William Hurt). This latest murder committed by Mr. Brooks was witnessed through an open window by an up-and-coming psycho photographer known as "Mr. Smith" (Dane Cook), who basically blackmails Mr. Brooks to take him on his next murder. There's also a millionaire policewoman [don't ask] (Demi Moore) who's in the middle of a nasty divorce and takes an active interest in trying to again solve the case of the Thumbprint Killer. Mr. Brooks isn't campy at all and it delivers a surprising amount of sex and violence to go along with a complex cat-and-mouse plot. In fact, there seems to be about four cats and maybe eight mice in the film, so along with delivering some mostly-intelligent psychology and suspense, Mr. Brooks always keeps you guessing when and if the various shoes set up during the flick will drop and in what order. This film should even be solid entertainment for any Costner haters out there... I dare say.



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The Witches (Nicolas Roeg, 1990)
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You should already know that I'm a heretic around here (and elsewhere) and often say things which other film buffs/historians can only shake their heads at. Well, here comes another one. This is my fave Nic Roeg film. I was hooked right from the opening credits, flying over the snowy Scandinavian mountains and ending in a spooky Norwegian village where the wise Grandma (Mai Zetterling) of young Luke (Jasen Fisher) tells him scary warnings on how to protect himself from murderous witches. This being a Roald Dahl story, three people die in the first ten minutes, and the majority of the film is set at an enormous hotel at the English seaside where Granny, Luke and Luke's two pet mice just coincidentally come to stay where a convention of witches is meeting under the auspex of the Grand High Witch (Anjelica Huston) herself, who once cut off one of Granny's fingers. Luke makes friends with Bruno (Charlie Potter) and eventually both boys are turned into mice by the witches whose ultimate plan is to turn all children of the world into mice and then destroy them. The film begins as a dark, suspenseful thriller and then turns into something resembling a kid's version of an Indiana Jones movie with expert special effects and makeup. The supporting cast is full of familiar faces and farceurs, including Rowan Atkinson as the hotel manager, Bill Paterson and Brenda Blethyn as Bruno's parents, Jane Horrocks as the High Witch's secretary, Jenny Runacre as an English witch working in the hotel and Jim Carter as the Head Chef who would like nothing better than to cut off one of the boy's tails with a carving knife. Sure, one could quibble about such details as using rat stand-ins for the mice, but I'm not going to do that here.



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Keetje Tippel (Paul Verhoeven, 1975)




I saw this and Verhoeven's earlier Turkish Delight at the theatre in the mid-1970s and subsequently watched his epic Soldier of Orange at the art house. Turkish Delight was a self-imposed X rating here in the U.S. and this film got an R even though it has a shadow of a fully-erect penis seen on a wall right next to the face of the lead character who then proceeds to lose her virginity to the guy attached to said hard-on. Keetje Tippel is about an impoverished Dutch family who moves to Amsterdam in 1881 to try to find work and make a living. Keetje (Monique van de ven) is the family's beautiful, eldest daughter, and she proceeds to take several poor-paying jobs where she's always taken advantage of. Eventually she becomes a prostitute and her eyes are awakened as to the pitiful working conditions for almost the entire proletariat. So yes, although Verhoeven was always obsessed with sex and violence, he shows a political awareness in some of his Dutch films which is mostly lacking from his mainstream American entertainments. This film does feature Rutger Hauer as a man whom Keetje wants to grow old with and is gorgeously photographed (slums and all) by Verhoeven regular, Jan de Bont. What seems the most incredible of all is that Keetje Tippel is based on an autobiographical novel by Neel Doff who became a very popular socialist author and this film claims was nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature although the veracity of that claim is open to question.



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The Dark at the Top of the Stairs (Delbert Mann, 1960)



William Inge's play is turned into superb, honest entertainment. Even though it's over 50 years old and set in the 1920s, this film really seems to be about important issues which are affecting most everybody today. For example, how is Dad (Robert Preston) going to find a job to take care of his family? He had a traveling salesman job which supported them but his business is becoming extinct (he sells supplies for horses and the internal combustion engine has taken over). Now, since Mom (Dorothy McGuire) and Dad are having difficulty with their lovemaking because he's gone too often and they don't have as much money as she thinks they need, how is he even going to tell her that he lost his job? They quarrel and he goes off to see a lifelong friend (Angela Lansbury) who has carried a torch for him since school days, but he's never been unfaithful to his wife, so they just talk and she gives him a place to sleep. Mom calls over her older sister (Eve Arden) and her milquetoast husband (Frank Overton) to try to comfort her when Dad storms out of the house. Meanwhile, their daughter (Shirley Knight) is scared to death to wear her fancy new dress to a country club dance, but she feels much better when she learns who her blind date is, but even these kids can't even get a chance to have a childhood because of adults' petty prejudices. Then there's the family's younger son (Robert Eyer) who enjoys collecting photographs of silent movie stars, fireflies and bullfrogs. He seems like maybe he can be a kid, but wait a minute.... This flick still retains all the plainspoken honesty, tragedy and humor about what it means to be alive, and Robert Preston in particular is in standout form, fresh from his Broadway popularity in The Music Man. There are no simple answers to life's problems but everyone has to go through them no matter how difficult they can be, but this wonderful film does illuminate that there's more than just dark at the top of the stairs.



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El Cid (Anthony Mann, 1961)
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Gargantuan epic, filled with romance, action, beautiful Spanish landscapes and castles and what may well be Miklos Rozsa's greatest musical score is also crammed with love won. lost and returned. A young man named Rodrigo (Charlton Heston) is on the way to his marriage ceremony to the beautiful Chimene (Sophia Loren), but he finds himself enthrusted into the middle of Spanish/Moor political struggle/war when he allows two Moor nobles free, and one of them [Moutamin (Douglas Wilmer)] becomes Rodrigo's greatest ally in his never-ending battles against both the Moors and the Spanish kings who seem to hate him as much as possible until they need him. Rodrigo is named a traitor and his marriage is off, especially when he chooses to do hand-to-hand combat with the Spanish King's champion, who just happens to be Chimene's father. Rodrigo is triumphant but is banished from Spain and his fiancee hates his guts and vows that she will get someone to avenge her father's death.

El Cid shows Anthony Mann already fully transitioned from his down-and-dirty westerns into his epic filmmaking style. He had already made the 1960 remake of Cimarron which basically transferred him from western to epic, but this film pushed him so far over the top that it's almost impossible to compare El Cid to later movies. For example, El Cid most resembles such modern epics to me as The Two Towers and The Return of the King, but this film has no CGI and the familial and love relationships are presented in an honestly-human manner. El Cid has an incredible action scene in the joust/duel between Rodrigo and Chimere's dad. Watch this to see why El Cid was loved by so many and hated by almost just as many.

El Cid is three hours long but it has to cut a lot out of the story of Rodrigo, Chimere and all those who loved and hated him. During the filming, Heston and Loren apparently hated each other, so that added a lot of truth to the first half of the flick where she honestly does seem to hate him. The thing about El Cid which I love the best is that it shows Christians and Muslims living together in peace. True, they are fighting all the way to the end of the flick, but that one Muslim King whom El Cid saves early on stays loyal to him throughout the remainder of the film, no matter whether El Cid is fighting the Spanish or the Moors. There are numerous scenes in El Cid which qualify as classics and it's amazing that at least half of them seem to be those which show all the Spanish fighting with each other and all the Moors banding together. As I said previously, if we lived our lives in our current wars in Asia regarding terrorism anywhere near the same way that El Cid did, we'd have already won the Hearts and Minds of at least half of all the known terrorists out there. Unfortunately, we now seem to live in an unfortunate world where it's all or nothing, and with those odds, we get WAY TOO MUCH NOTHING.



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Twelve O'Clock High (Henry King, 1949)



Terrific film about the psychological and physical hardships which American pilots had to undergo during the height of WWII when they were forced to bomb Germany during the daytime, often in good weather. The number of flights required of each man continues to rise even though more and more of them are "cracking up" from the pressure and the trauma of seeing their brethren shot out of the sky. The film is told in flashback as Adjutant Major Stovall (Oscar Winner Dean Jagger - Best Supporting Actor) returns to the now-barren English airfield in 1949 and relives what happened in 1942 and 1943 with his group. The popular commander, Col. Davenport (Gary Merrill), isn't getting enough precision bombing out of his men (or so headquarters thinks because they believe him to be too friendly with the men), and he's replaced by the "sterner" General Savage (Gregory Peck), who's immediately confronted by an entire group of unhappy men who all want to transfer out of his outfit because they think what's happened to Davenport is unfair. Savage, with the help of Stovall (he "loses" the transfer paperwork) is able to bring the men around eventually and proves to them that they can do things which are seemingly impossible and needed if the Allies are to win the war. What makes Twelve O'Clock High still so potent is that it's all about the people who have to risk their lives on a daily basis for the good of humankind. It's definitely not a gung-ho war film; in fact, it's a very potent anti-war film, but it's one of those films which makes the case that some wars are necessary and have to be won, no matter what the cost. The fact that the cost is the blood and broken bodies of men and the never-ending heartbreak of their families is just one reason why it's a classic film, not just a classic war film.



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The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982)



The Thing is a wild reimaging of the Hawks/Nyby 1951 flick and closer in tone to the original John W. Campbell Jr story which is apparently one of the first sci-fi stories about shape-shifters from outer space. At the time of its release, The Thing wasn't really greeted with good reviews, but I've always loved it, and I find it to be Carpenter's masterpiece. It's a lean, mean, fighting machine with almost nothing in the way of wasted scenes and a strong sense of its own capability of holding your interest while taking it's sweet time in building things up. Now, Carpenter has always tried to build his films in a similar fashion, but to me, this is the one where he's far more successful than ever before or since. Maybe it's the exotic location of Antarctica. Who can name more than five films, not including documentaries and cartoons, which take place on that continent? Maybe it's the mind-boggling special and makeup effects which to this day are some of the most-disgusting-yet-witty displays of violent destruction of life ever depicted on film. Maybe it's the combo of the men's camraderie and their contempt of each other because once it becomes clear what the hell this thing is and what it wants to do, it makes the all-male cast want to keep to themselves even though they all would probably like to have someone cover their back if they could only trust them. Both Twelve O'Clock High and The Thing are about men facing impossible odds in an attempt to survive and theoretically help save humankind. In The Thing, there's a computer calculation which states that if the ONE Thing were left to its own devices, it would take over every single living thing on earth in about three years. So yeah, that showdown at the end of The Thing, which reminds me more of John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (Dobbs and Curtin betting on who's going to fall asleep first) than it does anything in Hawks' Red River or the original The Thing (Hawks being Carpenter's fave director), is basically about the survival of the human race.



Swiss Family Robinson (Ken Annakin, 1960)



This is another one of those Disney films which is basically a real adventure and isn't really dumbed-down at all for the kids. (True, there are a few seconds near the end where some camera trickery and reversal of the film threatens to turn it silly, but for a two-hour movie, I find it forgivable.) The classic children's book is pretty much turned into a classic adventure film, one of Disney's best along with 20000 Leagues Under the Sea. John Mills and Dorothy McGuire are excellent as the parents who get shipwrecked on a tropical island on the way to New Guinea with their three sons. The threat of pirates, led by Captain Sessue Hayakawa, is ever present, but the family is able to take the best parts of the ship and make the fanciest tree house anyone has ever made (and was present at Disneyland for about 40 years before they turned it into the Tarzan Treehouse). The sons, from eldest to youngest, are played by James MacArthur, Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcoran; the two elder boys go into a major competition after they rescue a young woman (Janet Munro) from the pirates while scouting the outskirts of the island. It all culminates in an attack by the pirates on the family's stronghold which is rigged with explosives and pits with wild animals. I enjoyed this film as a kid and I still enjoy it. The beautiful beaches and jungles of Tobago substitute for the South Seas and provide a realistic location for all the action and character growth, and the film reminded Brenda and me again of how much we'd enjoy it to just get away from everything, hopefully for as long as possible.

Just was talking to my kids about this one at breakfast. My sister and I loved it as kids and watched it constantly. I think they would love it but it's hard to get them to branch out much.
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Will have to sit down and read through the ones i've seen once the barrage stops haha.

Just watched my second Mann: The Naked Spur the other day. Have liked both i've seen so looking forward to El Cid . Have heard Seventh Heaven is great, good to see you like it. Also so glad you like Naked wasn't sure what you thought of that. The Witches is fantastic, have to see that again at some point.