Tag: Movies

WB Top 100: Around the World in 80 Days (1956)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


Calling 1956’s “Around the World in 80 Days” anything less than a monumental achievement would be unfair. Its breadth, its beauty, and its journey have no analogue in any of the films we have watched in this series thus far. Yet, as we traversed the globe on a comedic adventure, I felt like more than eighty days had passed between the movie’s beginning and it’s somehow-abrupt end.

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Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jules Verne, “Around the World in 80 Days” stars David Niven as Phileas Fogg and Cantinflas as Passepartout. Set in 1872, Phileas Fogg, a highly punctual English gentleman, takes a bet from the other gentleman in the Reform Club (an all-male private club of which Mr. Fogg is a member). The wager falls on whether or not Phileas can circumnavigate the globe in 80 days or less to which he alone believes he is capable. Joining Phileas is Passepartout, his newly hired valet and the film’s primary source of comedy.

I was unsure what to expect from this movie. Though familiar with the work of Jules Verne, I have never had the pleasure of reading any of his writing, and have only experienced his ideas filtered through the minds of others throughout a myriad of pop culture adaptations and homages. In regards to the film’s authenticity to its source, I cannot attest, but I did not expect an outright comedy. To be frank, “Around the World in 80 Days” was not for me. I rarely laughed and far too many scenes seemed to go on until their jokes turned to tedium.

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That is not to say there was nothing I enjoyed in the movie. “Around the World in 80 Days” is still a beautiful film. Shot on location around the world, if this film were shot today, it would likely be limited to one or two major locations or heavily feature CGI. More than the plot or humor, traveling various countrysides on train or seeing things from the perspective of a hot-air balloon was plenty of adventure for me.

The acting is also fantastic. Prior to watch, I had no real experience with either David Niven or Cantinflas. Both gave spirited performances. I enjoyed the overly English gentleman of Phileas Fogg. In many ways, he is an atypical protagonist in this kind of film, and the fact that someone like him (distant, a bit cold, too posh) ends up with the girl rather than his lady-chasing valet struck me as odd. In some ways, I found Phileas to be a kind of proto-Doctor Who character, sorting out the world’s problems and making the impossible happen as only a white Englishman can!

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In regards to his valet Passepartout, I have no idea what the studio paid Cantinflas, but I can guarantee it was not enough. This man did everything: comedy, stunts, dances, etc. The script did him little justice, yet I found impossible to take my eyes off the man. Sure, some of that was me staring at his horrible facial hair, but the vast majority was my awe at his immense talent.

Beyond Niven and Cantinflas, “Around the World in 80 Days” was loaded with familiar faces. A young Shirley MacLaine plays Indian Princess Aouda (yeah, we rolled our eyes too). Charles Boyier, Peter Lorre, and Frank Sinatra all have brief cameos. Those are only the ones I noticed, though it appears there were many more (such as Cesar Romero, television’s Joker, as a henchman and Buster Keaton as a train conductor).

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In trying to recall much more of the film for this review, most has already been forgotten. Other than the positives above, I just remember being bored when the movie wasn’t showing off a few sweeping shots of an authentic location. Cantinflas’s bullfighting scene stands out still as in it nothing happened but the same exact motions on repeat. I applaud the actor for getting in the arena with a bull, but either it is a dull sport or the film’s depiction of it is less than thrilling.

Like the punctual Phileas Fogg, I can easily see this film circumnavigating pop culture every few decades to arrive on time to be remade anew with a different aging actor and a fresh face of comedy. This is exactly the kind of family-friendly adventure movie that demands a seat at the movie theater and a bag of popcorn. That is not to say the movie is timeless, just easy. Watch it for the scenery porn and the cameos.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: The Searchers (1956)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


John Wayne was synonymous with masculinity in our household growing up. To this day, my father, an ardent fan of Wayne’s and all Westerns, refers to his coffee as “John Wayne coffee” whenever he takes it black (which is often). In 1956’s “The Searchers” starring John Wayne, his character adds a scoop of sugar to his coffee and that was the first sign that this was all a facade.

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Despite the reverence for John Wayne growing up, I never took to his movies or Westerns at all. My father and grandfather were big fans, but science fiction and fantasy took an early hold on me. As “The Searchers” began, I admitted to Diane that I had never watched a John Wayne film all the way through and then we both realized that the only thing either of us had seen him to completion was that one episode of I Love Lucy.

“The Searchers” stars John Wayne as Ethan Edward, a man returning to his brother’s home after an eight year absence where he presumably fought in the American Civil War and the Mexican Revolutionary War. Shortly after returning home, Comanches attack and murder Ethan’s extended family and run off with his two nieces. Ethan is left with Martin (played by Jeffrey Hunter), a part-Cherokee orphan raised by Ethan’s brother’s family, and the two set off to find the girls and seek revenge.

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Ethan Edward is the best and worst thing about “The Searchers”. While he does experience some character development (slightly less racist and more accepting of Martin’s heritage), it comes at a glacial speed considering the movie covers a five year period. Wayne’s performance fascinated me and I instantly was drawn in to his ruggedness. It’s immediately evident why young men would want to emulate a tough guy like John Wayne, even when the character of Ethan Edward is nigh unlikable. He’s racist, rude, has a problem with authority, and is shaded by mysteries. Where has he been? Is he a good guy? Is he a criminal? These are all questions the movie had me asking and left me asking since there was so little resolution.

In truth, we neither liked nor disliked this film. Similar to “Giant”, I imagine more creative control and tighter editing could cut a great film out of so much material. Too much of “The Searcher” plods along and left me feeling bored. While some of these stretches helped establish an atmosphere and mood, more often than not they left me feeling as empty as the countryside they rode over. Much of their journey was summarized in a letter, which likely saved time and money on production, but I wish that had been the crux of the film. I never got a feel for Ethan or Martin and the characters barely change from the beginning of the film to its end, despite spending five years traveling together. I also struggled to root for Ethan and his blood lust or Martin and his earnest ineptitude despite their reasoning being justified.

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I did feel somewhat impressed by the film’s depiction of Native Americans. Sure, many of the action scenes involve lemming-like Native Americans falling over for seemingly no reason, but at least their characters are given dignity, narratively-speaking. Though underexplored, Chief Scar, the film’s Native American villain played by German-American Henry Brandon, is seeking vengeance for wrongs done to him and his people by whites. Other Native Americans also fall victim to Chief Scar and, to an extent, help the main characters in their journey.

Moving from Native Americans to the main characters, I felt the film had tone issues in its final act. There is an entire secondary plot about Martin and his love interest Laurie (Vera Miles). It leads to a humorous wedding scene where a returning Martin is shocked to find Laurie marrying another man and, as much I enjoyed it, it did not fit in with this moody vengeance plot “The Searchers” tried to focus on. It ends with a Yankee soldier asking if their men will be ready because Chief Scar just so happens to be in the area again and they want to launch an offensive. This soldier is the butt of several jokes and it is all a roundabout way of getting the movie and its characters to an actual climax (complete with happy ending).

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“The Searchers” is shot beautifully with many amazing outdoor shots (including a horseback ride through deep snow that looked treacherous). Other times, it is a Western shot in a studio with cheap backgrounds. In the things not depicted or examined – Chief Scar’s vengeance, Ethan’s past, the romantic eyes made between Ethan and his sister-in-law – I found myself wandering back to them while the film trudged along with what it was willing to show me. There is a lot here to enjoy, but they are pieces independent of the tighter, more focused, or more revelatory film I wanted to see. In my opinion, “The Searchers” was just okay.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: Giant (1956)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


As the saying goes, “Everything is bigger in Texas”, and whoever first uttered that phrase must have been referring specifically to 1956’s “Giant”, a 200+ minute historical drama about a fictional Texas family with over a half-million acres of land and all the problems that come with being wealthy and white in the 20th century. Shot and acted beautifully, “Giant” attempts to be a compelling Western following the lives of Leslie Lynton (Elizabeth Taylor) as she begins married life on the ranch of rich Texan Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) and on through until the couple welcome their grandchildren into the world. Despite its quality, this script left me bored.

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Those look like power lines. Unsure when the USA got those, but I will excuse it for the excellent greenery shots.


Of all the films we have watched thus far, the closest comparison is “Cimarron”. Both “Cimarron” and “Giant” are based on books of the same name by American author Edna Ferber. Like “Cimarron”, “Giant” is an epic portrayal of a family over several decades in a place (the American West in the 1900s) undergoing major social and cultural changes. Both films also have female characters who attempt to break up the patriarchy and assert themselves as coequals to the men in the story and they both touch upon the subject of racism.

While it took research to realize that both films shared a similar origin, in comparing a film I liked (“Cimarron”) with a film that I found to be quite dull (this one), the reasons for one’s success over the others are clear. “Giant” suffers in its character arcs, devotes less time to the agency of its female lead, and never felt like it was about anything or had something to say. The similarly epic “Cimarron” also had this issue, but the narrative was better anchored by the character arc and subsequent focus on its female lead as she made her way in a world independent of her absent husband.

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There was some chemistry between these two. 


As aimless as it was, “Giant” is not without its highlights. As I mentioned before, the film was shot and acted beautifully. Early on, we meet Elizabeth Taylor’s Leslie in a verdant, green Maryland as she is wooed by Rock Hudson’s looks and the wealth of his character Bick Benedict. When the movie flashes forward to her arrival in Texas and at his ranch house, we see a vast, flat desert wasteland. It is never a question that Bick is rich, but the imagery drives home the idea that Texas is still largely a blank page to be written upon.

The story seems to bounce back-and-forth between “fish out of water” and female empowerment until it skips a few years ahead and resolves either plot in the interim. In general, I do not mind these kinds of films that are epic in the years they cover rather than scope of the journey, but the pacing never made sense and I felt disoriented by the movie’s frequent, unannounced time jumps. They do a great job with hair and makeup to age the leads, but other characters, such as the family uncle who lives on the ranch with them, appear to remain the same age for many years.

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The aging job was really well done.


While the plot fought to put us all to sleep, the acting did just the opposite. Rock Hudson gives a powerful performance and has the clearest arc of the entire cast. Early on, he is racist to the point of ignoring a sick child of a Mexican-American family that works on his ranch until his wife forces the issue. Toward the end of the film, in an intense diner fight scene, he defends the right of a Mexican family to eat there because his son married to a Mexican woman and he now has a Mexican daughter-in-law and a half-Mexican grandson. It’s not much of an arc since he still refers to his grandson by a racist term, but the parts of “Giant” that deal with these topics are easily the film’s highlights.

Rock Hudson was also ridiculously handsome in this movie. I am just saying.

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This whole progressive woman plot went nowhere.


Elizabeth Taylor also turned in a fantastic performance, though her character seemed to matter less and less as the movie progressed. Early on, she stages a sit-in because she wants to be allowed to talk politics with the menfolk. It’s the first outward sign of her progressive bent and another contribution to the film’s overall theme of progress and change in the American West. By the end of the movie, she is still just a wife and a mother, roles women typically play, and never arises to some additional prominence like Sabra in “Cimarron” who becomes the first female congresswoman from the state of Oklahoma.

Finally, we arrive at James Dean in his last role. Dean would die before the release of “Giant”. In the movie, he plays Jett Rink, a hired hand on Benedict’s ranch who falls in unrequited love with Leslie. He and Bick do not get along, but Bick’s sister (who dies early in the film from a horseback riding accident) leaves him a piece of the family land in her will. Jett tries to get Leslie’s attention, but, like Leslie, the film wastes little time on their relationship. Jett eventually strikes oil on the land and quickly becomes richer than the Benedicts and becomes a famous Texan oil tycoon.

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This could’ve been Dean at his very best if the movie were in anyway about his character.


It’s a shame the script failed Dean as Jett or that he spends so much of the movie mentioned but not seen. Jett never recovers from his love of Leslie and he carries that burden throughout the film. He attempts to court Leslie and Bick’s daughter who is much younger than him, but she gently turns him down. Dean’s portrayal of the embittered but wealthy man is spot-on and a great departure from the other two roles we have seen him in as a moody teen. In the movie’s final scenes featuring Jett, as he is surrounded by the opulence and triumph of his wealth, he sours the scene with his alcoholism and despair. In truth, I couldn’t take my eyes off the character anytime he was on screen, and if he had been a bigger focus of the film, the plot would have benefited.

There was a strangeness to seeing James Dean play a character older than he would ever be or watching him for the third and final time in a movie. He has survived on as a pop culture icon, but in seeing the full canon of his film work, I have a much greater understanding of what was lost. Though a lesser part, his turn at Jett Rink in “Giant” proves that he was a talented young actor with unseen potential and secures the tragedy of his early death.

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He’s a cowboy!


As a follow-up to “Rebel Without A Cause”, I should also mention that both Sal Mineo and Dennis Hopper make appearances. The former plays the sick Mexican child who lives on to make an appearance at a Christmas party, utter only a couple lines, and get shipped off to World War II to die off screen. The latter plays Bick Benedict’s son, the same son who would marry a Mexican woman. It was a treat seeing Dennis Hopper play a much more prominent role. Unlike his later movies, in “Giant”, he played a far less opposing character though his intensity is evident in just his second film credit.

It is a shame that there was so much to be enjoyed about “Giant” when the overall film left me grateful it was over. Unlike “Cimarron”, which benefited from the scope of time it covered, “Giant” would have benefited from being a smaller film. The movie does convey the evolution of Texas over the period of history it covers, but with all the grace of reading the cliff notes and none of the deeper introspection I wanted. “Giant” took a giant leap through Texas history and stumbled.

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You got to know when to hold ’em …

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: Rebel Without A Cause (1955)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


After enjoying “East of Eden”, I was excited to finally see “Rebel Without A Cause” and more of James Dean. Like so many films on this list, “Rebel …” is a movie most have heard of but, as time goes by, few have seen. Now having watched it, we can safely say that it has aged very poorly.

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If Don Adams were in this too, then it would be a much better movie.

The second film on our list to star James Dean, this 1955 picture follows Dean as Jim Stark, a moody teenager and the new kid in town. “Rebel Without A Cause” depicts teenage violence and criminality in a way that I imagine alarmed many people at the time. The film opens with three teenagers brought into a police station for unrelated reasons. Our protagonist, Jim, was arrested for public intoxication, Plato (played by Sal Mineo) for murdering puppies, and Judy (Natalie Wood) for a curfew violation.

Each teenager takes turns admitting their problems at home to Detective Ray (Edward Platt, who I recognized instantly as the Chief from television’s Get Smart). Jim is frustrated by his father (Jim Backus, who I also recognized instantly as Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island) because he never stands up to Jim’s mother and the two always fight. Plato was abandoned by his father as a child and his mother is always away, so he is constantly in the care of the family maid. Judy is no longer treated like a little girl by her father and she feels ignored by him, so she finds different ways to act up in hopes of getting his attention.

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#Thirsty4Thurston

All three teenagers are released. Despite only interacting with one another minimally while at the station, through the course of the following day, both at school and on a field trip, the three will meet one another, become friends, and fall in love. They will also be involved in a knife fight, an accidental suicide, breaking-and-entering, several murder attempts including a police officer, another breaking-and-entering, and one will lose their life to a police officer. It really is the busiest first day of school ever put to film.

To understand why we disliked “Rebel Without A Cause” it is important to first understand what made this film groundbreaking at the time and why I think many of its parts are still significant, even though the sum of those parts was severely lacking for us.

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Museums are always better with a knife fight.

First, I found it fascinating that the movie depicts a disturbed teenager (Plato) who is ostracized and bullied by other kids, his extreme acts of violence are ignored (murdering puppies), and he is left with insufficient adult supervision and easy access to a gun which he is willing to use. This fascinated me because too often I feel like our culture depicts youth violence, especially gun violence, and to some extent bullying, as a post-Columbine problem. Clearly that is a mischaracterization if a movie in 1955 was already (and thankfully so) depicting this issue.

The movie’s depiction of teenage violence is most important to me because it is an easy argument against older generations that talk about surviving bullying like it’s a badge of honor and a rite of passage that all children should be required to go through, rather than helped to avoid. In the case of the accidental suicide, Jim, as the new kid at school, is challenged by Judy’s boyfriend Buzz to a game of chicken where the object is to drive a car at a cliff as fast as possible and jump out of said car as late as possible before it careens off into the water. Luckily, I was never challenged to such feats of strength and determination as a child, but if that is in any way a representation of the level of bullying in 1955, then I think we are all better getting as far away from that as humanly possible.

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I thought this was a legitimately cool shot.

Second, though it is problematic, I enjoyed that “Rebel Without A Cause” tried to be about more than just moody teenagers and tried exploring some of the psychology as to why these teenagers were acting in antisocial, criminal, and horrible ways. Plato was under-explored, unfortunately, and Judy’s plot felt tacked-on, but I loved Jim’s reasoning. When contrasting the demeanor and persona Jim must adopt to survive “normal” teenage life with his father’s softer approach to confrontation, I fully understand Jim’s inability to reconcile his father’s position in their household with what the world keeps telling him a man should be. While the movie does little to depict the arguments of his parents in a way that justifies Jim’s feelings, it is an interesting example of a reality not yet able to come to terms with maleness and fatherhood as soft and supportive rather than brash, aggressive, and powerful.

Finally, there is James Dean himself. As mentioned in the “East of Eden” review, it is hard to judge James Dean, the cultural icon, for his acting ability on one performance alone. While obviously typecast in a similar role, Dean can hit several emotional high notes and its easier for us to understand the immense potential he had as a very young actor.

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This is a dumb horror movie death in a dumb teenage drama movie.

Now, with all of that said, “Rebel Without A Cause” was a disappointing film for us both. Knowing nothing about the plot before seeing it, the film has aged poorly and was one of the more frustrating movies we have seen in a long time. For instance, the movie takes place over a single night, but that night seems to stretch to the point that all believability is lost.

Further adding fuel to this fire, no one in this movie acts like a normal person. It felt like someone took the character intelligence from modern slasher movies and forced it into a teenage drama. For example, Buzz dies when he failed to jump out of his car, and all the teenagers drive off. Before Jim makes it back home afterward, the police have been notified and pictures of the accident have already appeared on the news, but when Jim admits to his parents that he was involved, they don’t support his need to come forward to the police because they want someone else to tell the police. It makes no sense and the Buzz story, much like his life in that car on that cliff, drops off almost instantly in favor of three of his goons (one is even named Goon and played by a very young Dennis Hopper) wanting to get Jim for ratting them out to the police. Of course, Jim did not get to tell the police because, like the puppy-murderer-releasing bastards that they are, they ignore troubled teen Jim when he comes to unburden himself.

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Somehow the puppy-killer is a good guy and someone we are supposed to by sympathetic toward?

Even the teenagers act erratically. Jim is a whirlwind of emotions, which is explained, but Judy falls in love with a boy she just met after her boyfriend careens off a cliff to his death in the same night. And Plato, by far one of the creepiest characters we have seen yet, was both disturbed and disturbing. If you have seen “The Room” and recall the neighbor kid of an ambiguous age who clings on to a couple far too closely, even in their bedroom with them, that is Plato exactly only somehow less creepy (and likely the basis for “The Room” character). Plato treats Jim like he is his dad. If the field of psychology was better defined at the time, then the writers of “Rebel Without A Cause” may have had enough to research and use in their script, but it just wasn’t there yet, and it shows in how the movie depicts these psychologically-weird character relationships.

There is a lot to enjoy about this movie and I mean no harm to its importance at the time, but the story is all over the place, the film needed to be edited for logic, and most of the topics and social commentary have been done better by more current media with a fuller understanding of child psychology. That’s not to discount how prescient this film was and remains. Even with its convolutions, there are important messages to extract from a movie like “Rebel Without A Cause” that are still relevant today. This movie isn’t far off from the phenomenon of something like Thirteen Reasons Why on Netflix or any other similar movie or television show that attempts to tackle topics that sadly and tragically go undiscussed or under discussed regarding teenagers. As much as I ended up hating watching this movie, I cannot hate that it exists.

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Happy endings!

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: East of Eden (1955)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


1955’s film “East of Eden”, starring James Dean, is the first movie on our list to star the actor and the first time we have seen him act. In his tragically short life, all three films featuring James Dean are featured in this box set. Along with “East of Eden”, there is also “Rebel Without A Cause” and “Giant”. Given his status as a cultural icon, our reviews for these films will spend a lot of time on James Dean, but, at least in the case of this film, “East of Eden” is worth seeing regardless (and perhaps because) of James Dean.

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No joke, this movie is shot so beautifully with some really interesting direction. For instance, this shot on a moving train.

Adapted from renowned American author John Steinbeck’s 1952 novel, the film takes place in California in the late 1910s shortly before the United States got involved in World War I. Primarily taken from the book’s second half, the 1955 film version of “East of Eden” focuses on the relationship between two brothers, Cal (James Dean) and Aron (Richard Davalos), with their father Adam (Raymond Massey), a successful farmer with a reputation for his goodness and Christian values. While Aron is the perfect child and his father’s favorite, Cal is a troubled young man desperate to understand who he is and why his father will not accept him for it.

The cinematography in “East of Eden” does a fantastic job of bringing rural California to the big screen. Shot in CinemaScope, the film holds up well today. Like “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”, it is great to see another film shot on location, especially in a part of California that isn’t Hollywood or one of the state’s major cities.

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Or this shot at an angle that heightens the aggression of Adam.

On first impression, Diane and I were both mixed on the acting of James Dean. He did a convincing job of playing a troubled youth, but my prior knowledge of Steinbeck had me worried this would be a Lennie situation from Of Mice and Men (in other words, a mentally unstable character). Without another role to judge him against, neither of us felt comfortable negatively reviewing Dean’s work in “East of Eden”. In truth, he is compelling here and brings plenty of emotion to the role. In the film’s climax when he presents a gift he believes will win his father’s love, Dean’s Cal finds only heartbreak from the disapproval he receives in response. That heartbreak is the audience’s heartbreak as well when Cal’s eagerness throughout the entire film to please his father turns into absolute despair.

We were also impressed by Raymond Massey’s Adam and Richard Davalos’ Aron. From one of the film’s earliest scenes, Adam confesses that while he understood his son Aron, he never understood his other son Cal. The movie doesn’t explore Adam’s morality too deeply nor does it try to expose him as a fraud. His confusion over his son Cal is to be expected since Cal often does what he wants despite any repercussions such as when he steals a coal shoot to help his father’s business. Aron, a mirror image of Adam, never has to try to earn his father’s approval since everything he does is in accordance with how Adam would wish it be done.

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Or scenes like this which frame the father with the two brothers standing apart from one another.

Like the book, “East of Eden” the film is a retelling of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. In the book, there is more explanation and background (since it covers several generations), but the film seems to do a good job distilling the highlights. There is no attempt to be clever or to hide this retelling either. Cain and Abel are mentioned specifically and Adam’s religion is a major part of his character.

Diane and I took a long walk after watching the movie. At first, I had little to say, but as we talked and shared our opinions, we both realized that there is a lot of subtext to “East of Eden”. For instance, during the film’s climax, Cal reveals to Aron that their mother is still alive despite their father telling them otherwise all their lives and that she is a woman of ill repute. The shock of Aron learning about his mother and other related events causes Adam to have a stroke. Despite stating earlier that nothing would cause him to join the war, Aron enlists and runs off to fight in World War I the next morning leaving Cal to take care of a father who he claims he no longer needs. Paralyzed and with limited speaking, Adam asks Cal to send away his annoying nurse and Cal takes this as a sign that he should remain and look after his father.

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Or a scene like this which Dean acts the shit out of with just his eyes and body language.

Without Adam confirming it, Cal states that his father wishes for him to remain by his side. Like Abel who was murdered by Cain, in the novel, Aron goes off to war because of Cal’s actions and dies. Unlike the myth where Cain is forced into exile, here Cal remains behind in an exile of his own choosing (the constant torture of trying to appease an overly moral man) and Adam also joins him in exile perhaps to pay for failing Cal as a father.

Or, at least that is my take. More surface-level, Cal tells his father that it is his choice what kind of man he is and that he chooses to remain by Adam’s side to take care of him. Adam sheds a tear because his son did listen to his lessons and may finally turn his life around. Cal understands that he has the power to be a good person now and he assumes the position of Abel (the favored child) while his brother petulantly marches off to a war he never believed in as his first and last act of defiance against his lying father.

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Or, finally, Dean on a swing (complete with the camera moving to match his momentum).

Either way, “East of Eden” is a solid film and one worth having a few chats about. The film looks great, the acting is compelling, and the story will hold your interest. Diane and I both enjoyed this film and we look forward to confirming whether or not James Dean was a great actor.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


Sometimes it can be a real challenge to review a movie with any kind of objectivity. So I won’t. Welcome to our next movie, 1954’s “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers”, a musical about rape and Stockholm Syndrome, all played for laughs.

Set in the 1850s, Adam Pontipee (played by singer Howard Keel) arrives at a nearby town to buy supplies. He and his six brothers live in the wilderness, but every six months or so he comes around for trade. This time, he is also looking for a woman who can cook and clean for him since the food back home sucks and the place looks like seven men live there. One song later, he finds his bride-to-be, Milly (Jane Powell) and convinces her to marry him by withholding everything about where he lives and who he lives with.

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I’m here for six months of tobacco and women.

Milly returns with Adam and is immediately disappointed. On the way back, he let her make a fool of herself with a song about it being just the two of them, so the additional six brothers was a bit of a shock. The brothers gawk at seeing a woman, likely for the first time ever, but soon have her cooking and cleaning.

Milly eventually turns things around and ends up teaching the brothers the manners they never learned as uncouth mountain men. The movie seems charming enough at this point, if a bit quaint. After lessons and color-coordinated clothes are made, Milly takes all of the men to a social in town where they can meet women of their own. It leads to the movie’s only redeeming scene in which the brothers dance off against the local suitors in hopes of winning a future bride. It goes on forever, but it is one of the more unique musical sequences we have seen yet. The sequence takes full advantage of having dancers and gymnasts in the cast, including some very innovative dance sequences on a balance-beam like structure.

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Ignoring the obvious issues, this movie does have some solid dance sequences and songs.

Despite getting the upper hand in the dancing, the barn raising (literally a contest to build a barn for some other dude, such a hootenanny) doesn’t go so well. Bitter, the local men make multiple homicide attempts by throwing/tossing hammers, wildly swinging wooden boards, or pushing the brothers off ladders. It does a great job of earning sympathy for the brothers, but they eventually cave in at Adam’s urging and a brawl ensues. Women don’t like brutes who practice self-defense, so the brothers and Milly leave the town empty-handed.

It is around this time that the movie takes a dark, troubling turn. When Milly moved in, she brought with her a book by the Roman writer Plutarch that tells the story of the Sabine women. In the story, better known as “The Rape of the Sabine Women” (rape is used here in the slightly less unpleasant sense of “kidnapping”), Roman men abduct en masse women from other nearby cities to take as brides since they are short on women. Since this is the only book they own, Adam decides the brothers should just steal their brides instead of winning them the sissy-way of courtin’ and the like.

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Cue laugh track for the bag-over-head abductions!

And that is exactly where the film goes. Adam and his brothers ride down to the town in the dark of night and the dead of winter. There is a series of abduction antics that are shot and written similarly to any sitcom. It’s a wonder the film didn’t opt to have a laugh track to really sell the hilarious kidnappings.

The alarms get sounded and the men of the town rally to protect their property from the rapists. They make chase, but Adam, our other heroes, and their catch narrowly avoid an avalanche that conveniently cuts off the pass until Spring. The change in the season is conveniently long enough for the women to fall in love with the brothers, even after Milly kicks them all out of the main house to protect the other women’s virtues or some such nonsense.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda appears as the leader of the thirsty town suitors.

The movie ends with the men of the town coming to the women’s rescue, but as Milly recently had a baby with Adam, all the women claim they are the baby’s mother. Rather than kill the men, the townspeople let them live since each one might potentially be the father of a ruined woman’s child.

It is all bullshit and this is a terrible movie by all standards. Avoid at all costs.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

WB Top 100: A Star is Born (1954 & 2018)

During the 2017 holiday season, I got a great deal on the Best of Warner Bros. 100 Film Collection. Diane and I haven’t seen most of these movies, but we are committed to watching one a week and writing a short review.


I never seek out tearjerkers, but after seeing two versions of “A Star is Born” over the last week, I am starting to appreciate the catharsis of films-as-emotional release. I am not opposed to crying – it is not an affront to my masculinity or any such garbage – but I typically prefer more positive or upbeat films. Rather than two separate reviews, this week we are going to review 1954’s “A Star is Born” for our list and 2018’s “A Star is Born” just for the pleasure of it, simultaneously.

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There was a ton of footage originally cut from the 1954 version. Much was restored, but in our version, there was also several scenes that were just set photos with audio tracks. It took us a second to realize what was happening.

If you are unfamiliar, the original “A Star is Born” was released in 1937, but the film was officially remade in 1954, 1976, and 2018. The announcement of any remake these days tends to be received with the same cries of how Hollywood is “no longer” original. Well, remakes and being unoriginal are as old as Hollywood itself if you look at examples like “A Star is Born”.

All the films follow a similar theme: a woman at the beginning of her career falls in love with a man at the end of his. Try as she might and despite their love, the man repeatedly fails to overcome the weight of his own life. To protect his beloved and her career, the man realizes his presence will only hold her back from her dreams and he chooses to take his own life to, in his view, save hers. There are obviously variations to all these elements, but that’s the generally structure of the narrative in each.

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The colors for the 1954 film are really something given its age.

In comparing the 1954 and 2018 remakes, I feel far less jaded about than idea than I once did. Like so many, I usually shrugged anytime I saw a new version of an old favorite being announced. It seems like we are stuck in an endless cycle of repeating ourselves.

That is both true and untrue. If I had considered for a moment my love of the ancient epics from Homer or, more generally, my love of myths and the storytelling of those myths, originality only happens once and everything original happened long, long ago.

 

This sentiment is echoed in the 2018 version of “A Star is Born”. The film follows an established musician named Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) who falls in love with a singer named Ally (Lady Gaga) as he helps launch her music career overnight with an unrehearsed duet of one of her original songs at one of his concerns. In falling in love with Ally, Jackson remarks that music is “twelve notes and the octave repeats … it’s the same story over and over” but it’s the way Ally uses those twelve notes and the things she has to say with her lyrics that he falls in love with.

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I really fell in love with these two falling in love.

These two versions of the same story follow many of the same beats. While 2018’s version cast its leads as musicians, the 1954 version casts them as actors. Judy Garland returns on our list to play Esther Blodgett, an aspiring singer who is discovered by the actor Norman Maine (James Mason) in the early stages of his career decline. Lady Gaga gave a great performance in her version, but Judy Garland’s singing was phenomenal and well-utilized in the frequent musical numbers she performs as her character’s acting career has a rocket-strapped to it by her sheer talent.

In both films, the initial courtship and romance comes off creepy and stalkeresque. Both Cooper and Mason’s Maines are sympathetic characters from the outset, as both deal with blatant, toxic alcoholism. At the same time, the way they pursue Ally or Esther would have invoked serious concern if I were the target. I am grateful that neither story dwells overlong on these courtships as I think doing so would detract from the overall flow of either story, but an additional scene for each may have helped smooth out what otherwise feels like a hunter and prey scenario which, if I had different expectations for where the story was headed, might’ve led me to believe these were a different, more horrifying movies.

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I knew Judy Garland could do it all, but she does it all to an otherworldly degree of talent in this film.

Of course, once the romance blooms, both films hit their stride. In either case, I was drawn in by the chemistry of the couples. Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga each give fantastic performances. Lady Gaga was especially appealing to me and did nothing to detract or take me out of the film as you might expect with a less experienced actress. I believed in their love and wanted them to survive the weathered, worn down ills afflicting Cooper’s Jackson Maine.

Similarly, though with less chemistry, I was near equally invested in Judy Garland and James Mason and their love. My favorite scene in the 1954 version follows James Mason’s Norman Maine, his contract with the studio terminated because of his declining talent and the liabilities of his alcoholism, as he spends the day in their Malibu home. He is clearly bored as he putts golf balls in the living room and finds ways to occupy his time.

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I loved that Esther noticed her husband had spent the entire day wasting his time but never said anything. That’s the value of someone who knows how to tell a story visually.

When Esther arrives home, still in costume from practice for her next big production, they embrace, and he tells her that he has been teaching himself to cook. As Norman wanders off to fetch dinner since the servants have been sent home, you see Esther’s shocked and surprised face as she looks around the room and realizes how her husband has obviously spent the day doing nothing. When he returns, she tells him about her production and, to boost his spirits, performs the whole song and dance number in their living room. As he laughs with her and cheers her on, you see how much in love he is with her and how happy he is for her. The scene ends when a mailman interrupts to deliver a package for Esther but uses her stage name for Norman’s surname rather than recognizing Norman Maine, a man who was once famous.

While you might expect either film to be about the jealousy of a veteran husband of his upstart wife, neither film explores that idea. In a more positive, progressive way, both films are about loyal, loving husbands who only want the best for their wives and their careers. As damaged as they each are, jealousy never really enters the picture.

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Heart breaking in both films.

Despite dealing with the lives of very famous people, the downfall for both Maines is unfortunately a very common disease: alcoholism. Even though they both interrupt award shows with their inebriation (in 1954, it is the Academy Awards; in 2018, the Grammys), their wives stick with them through the scandal and embarrassment and are willing to give up their careers to take care of them. But, in both versions, each Maine chooses suicide when they realize they will not get better and that their demons will only drag down the dreams of the women they love.

Though not the kind of movies I typically watch, I found both films to be compelling and worth seeing. Diane ended up favoring the 2018 version while I preferred the 1954 film. We were in overall agreement with our likes and dislikes of each, so the difference is more of preference rather than of quality. I found Norman Maine and his fall to be a more compelling arc than Jackson Maine’s, while she strongly preferred the chemistry of Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga to James Mason and Judy Garland. In either case, these are two excellent films and a great example of how remaking something can take the exact same notes and make them compelling with a new voice. Like great music covers, both films are worthy of being on any playlist.

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“This is Mrs. Norman Maine.” – Even just revisiting the movie to take screenshots, hearing this line again teared me up.

For other reviews, make sure to check out the Warner Brother’s Top 100 Film’s page.

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