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by John Hamilton 05.04.2015 85 days ago
at 12:46 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Reel Redux: The Revenant

The most recent recipient of the Best Director Oscar, Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman), will have a new film for 2015 —The Revenant. This movie tells the true story of early-19th entury frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), who was mauled by a bear during a trapping expedition and is left for dead by his hunting partners (Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, Domhnall Gleeson). But it turns out that he’s alive and is now on a quest for revenge.

Some of you are probably tilting your head and wondering why I’m talking about this film instead of something like the new string of Disney live action adaptations that are coming up. The reason is because this is essentially a remake of a 1971 Richard Harris (the original Dumbledore) movie called Man in the Wilderness. It’s a similar story but with names changed, more characters added and the main character, Zachary Bass, is only targeting one person, Captain Henry (John Huston).

I think Man in the Wilderness is an underrated gem from the ‘70s about a man’s struggle for survival and what motivates him to continue his quest. But even though this is a film that I like a lot, I don’t have a problem with it being remade.

First of all, it is trying something a bit different with the story and style. For one thing, Iñárritu seems to be sticking closer to what actually happened. He’s keeping it to just about Glass and his three hunting companions, which I’m sure will be very engaging. In the original film it just kept the drama between the relationship with Bass and Henry all the while trying to juggle more than a dozen members of the expedition; with this small group of characters we get a chance to get engaged with all of them.

One interesting aspect that Iñárritu is doing is that apparently he is filming in natural light — no studio lighting, no artificial lighting or anything. This could add a really nice flavor to the movie. This could help emphasize the survival aspect especially given the fact that it’s in the summer time in a rather untamed part of the country.

Now, as for the casting choices, I’m mixed when it comes to the choice of Leonardo DiCaprio as Hugh Glass. I mean, there’s nothing really about him that screams mountain man or frontiersman. But then again this could a very good role for him; it’s very different from his usual parts where he typically plays an overly confident one-percenter type or a wide eyed dreamer. It could be right up there with his performance as Calvin Candy in Django Unchained as something different and surprisingly suiting. Though I still would have preferred the original casting choice — Christian Bale.

As of right now, this is a film I’m really looking forward to seeing. Yes, I do recommend the original Harris film, but this new retelling may inspire those in the future and may bring in a whole new audience. Remakes/retellings are not always a bad thing, people, it’s best to keep an open mind. 


 
 
by John Hamilton 04.23.2015 96 days ago
at 01:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Forgotten Classics: Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier

Reviewing lesser-known films that stand the test of time

We all have that one Disney movie that we love dearly. The one film that, despite whatever age we are, we can watch and enjoy. For me there are several that meet that criteria: The Three Caballeros (1945), Beauty and the Beast (1991), The Great Mouse Detective (1986) and countless others. But the one film that takes the No. 1 spot on my list is Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier, Disney’s take on the adventures of famed frontiersman and one-time congressman. The movie’s plot ranges from his time in the Creek Wars to his congress years to his final stand at the Alamo.

If I may get personal for a moment: I was obsessed with this movie when I was kid. I couldn’t get enough Crockett related stuff. I even dressed up as Crockett for Halloween one year. I was heartbroken when the film’s lead actor, Fess Parker, passed away in 2010. So, yes, this movie meant a lot to me. In a way, it set me on the path to my love of films and shaped me in a lot of ways.

I’m sure to some people the biggest flaw with the movie is that the plot is a rather romanticized telling of Crockett’s adventures. There’s very rarely a moment where he isn’t an upstanding guy, but to me that kind of works for the film. Walt Disney had no pretentions about this film (originally a mini-series) — he wasn’t planning on making this a super deep movie with complex characters and themes. What Disney wanted to do was take an iconic American folk hero and give the intended audience a person to look up to and root for. To me, you couldn’t anyone more perfect than actor and future wine maker Fess Parker.

Now as I stated before, Crockett’s portrayal in the film is a romanticized, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some powerful moments — outside of the heroic times — with him. For me, one of the best emotional moments in the film is when Crockett receives word about his wife’s death. His sidekick throughout the film Georgie Russell (Buddy Ebsen) reads a letter delivering the unfortunate news and you can see the news slowly sinking into him. Russell consoles him and asks him if there’s something he can do, and all Crockett says is, “Just give me some time to think.” He then slowly and quietly walks into the woods to try and figure out what to do without his other half. Without any dialogue or music playing, we get a true sense how deeply this has affected him.

The film doesn’t shy away from all the historical facts; the most obvious example is that in the end he and his comrades die at the Alamo. Granted, they don’t show Crockett’s death onscreen but, then again, given how nobody knows how Crockett actually died it makes sense that we don’t see it. The movie ends with him swinging his rifle like a club at the overwhelming forces without a hint of fear.

Like a lot of classic Disney films, it features many great qualities: It has a memorable soundtrack that will have you humming its songs for hours on end; a great sense of adventure and excitement; and a terrific cavalcade of characters performed by great character actors. I mentioned earlier Parker and Ebsen who have amazing chemistry together. There’s also stunt-man Nick Cravat as the mute Comanche Indian named Busted Luck who shows that not only does he have bravery but he's also very witty and smart. There’s a great scene where he foils a trickster’s attempt at swindling him out of food. Speaking of which, there’s the dandy riverboat gambler Thimblerig played by Hans Conried who is a delight in every scene. Some of you know him best as the voice of Captain Hook in Disney’s Peter Pan (1953) and as Thorin in Rankin/Bass’ version of The Hobbit (1977).

If you haven’t seen this Disney gem, do yourself a favor and check it out, especially if you have youngsters. Then check out the prequel Davy Crockett and the River Pirates featuring the fun and bombastic character actor Jeff York as Mike Fink, King of the River.


 
 
by Steven Rosen 04.16.2015 104 days ago
at 08:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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'Carol' Will Be in Competition at Cannes

It's official.

Carol, the 1950s-set drama about an affair between two women that was filmed last year in Cincinnati, will compete for the Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival. That will be its long-awaited premiere.

It is one of only two films by U.S. directors in the much-vaunted competition, according to Variety. The announcement was made at a press conference in Cannes today.

Directed by Todd Haynes (I'm Not There, Far From Heaven) with Christine Vachon as one of its producers, the film stars Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara and Sarah Paulson and is based on the novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith. Variety succinctly describes Carol's story as "about a lonely young department-store clerk who falls for an elegant older woman in 1950s New York."

Besides Haynes, the only other U.S. director with a new film in competition at Cannes is Gus Van Sant, whose The Sea of Trees stars Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe as two men who meet in Japan's "Suicide Forest."

However, because financing of movies is often international, Carol is actually listed as a U.S.-U.K. co-production. And another film in competition by a non-U.S. director, the French-Canadian Denis Villeneuve's Sicario, is listed as solely a U.S. production.

Because the 14 films announced for competition are lower than in past years, Variety suggests several more may be added. This will be the 68th annual Cannes Film Festival, the world's most prestigious, and occurs May 13-24.

To read the full Variety story, go here.

 
 
by John Hamilton 04.14.2015 105 days ago
at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Forgotten Classics: Quigley Down Under

Reviewing lesser-known films that stand the test of time

As I said in my in Silverado review, western films fell out of popularity during the ‘80s and ‘90s with some obvious exceptions. One of these was the TV miniseries Lonesome Dove, based on the novel of the same name by Larry McMurtry. On a side note: Lonesome Dove is probably my favorite novel of all time and you should all read it.

What connection does that miniseries have to today’s film Quigley Down Under? Both feature the same director, Simon Wincer, and the same music composer, Basil Poledouris, but unfortunately the film was sort of passed over when it should have been watched and at least given the compliment of, “that was pretty good.”

Quigley Down Under is the story of an American cowboy and skilled sharpshooter named Matthew Quigley (Tom Selleck) who receives a job on an Australian ranch run by Elliott Marston (Alan Rickman). But upon his arrival, Quigley runs into a woman named Cora (Laura San Giacomo) who confuses Quigley for her abandoning husband Roy and he finds out that his job will be shooting the native Aborigines. Quigley disapproves of what Marston wants to do and goes against him, only to be left for dead in the Australian desert with Cora. He must survive the harsh environment and then stop Marston from continuing his cruel treatment of natives.

It does kind of surprise me how well Australia’s Outback works as a setting for a western. It really shouldn’t, though — the scale of the desert almost matches the grand scale of Monument Valley on the Arizona-Utah state line. Add in the intense heat and it adds another element of suspense for the story.

One of the best elements in the movie is the script itself. It has a very good story and some great dialogue, which is delivered with charm courtesy of Magnum, P.I.’s Selleck. It makes me wonder why this film was passed up by Warner Bros. The role of Quigley was originally offered to Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood, and while I could see Eastwood doing this kind of role I think Selleck fits perfectly.

The other performances are also very good. Rickman is also great as the villain who wishes to be a Wild West gunslinger. So, yes Harry Potter fans, you get to see Prof. Snape in a gun duel.

The real highlight performance comes from Laura San Giacomo. She just steals every scene  she’s in as the half-crazed woman who has demons of her own. During her first few scenes she could be seen as a just another forced comedic character but as time goes on we hear about her back story and see what led her to her crazy attitude.

As I mentioned before, the movie’s film score was compose by the last Basil Poledouris. To me, Poledouris is a film composer that deserves to be held in the same regard as people like Elmer Bernstein and John Williams. The music he composed for this movie, along with Robocop, Starship Trooper and every other film he’s worked on is amazing. It can capture a sense of excitement and it can be touching as well.

If you haven’t checked this film out then do yourself a favor and track down a couple in the near future.


 
 
by John Hamilton 04.07.2015 112 days ago
at 12:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Forgotten Classics: Death on the Nile

The year 2014 was a great one for movies — a really, really good year. Sure, there were duds and bombs just like any other year, but there were seriously so many good films that it was tough to properly list off my favorites in a satisfying order. One of my favorites of last year was Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The movie reminded me of two Agatha Christie movies from the 1970s, Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978), the latter of which is my personal favorite of the two.

Based on the mystery novel of the same name, Death on the Nile tells of Christie’s famous Belgium (not French) detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) as he investigates the murder of the beautiful newlywed heiress Linnet Ridgeway-Doyle (Jane Birkin) on the Egyptian riverboat S.S. Karnak. The mystery is made all the more difficult considering how everyone on board the ship hated her in one way: from the bitter and begrudged nurse Miss Bowers (Maggie Smith), whose family was ruined by the Ridgeways, to the exotic and eccentric novelist Salome Otterbourne (Angela Lansburg), who was threatened to be sued by Linnet for defamation. With the help of his friend Col. Race (David Niven), Poirot must track down the killer before the ship reaches its final destination.

In the Sidney Lumet-directed Murder on the Orient Express, Poirot was portrayed by Oscar-nominated actor Albert Finney. While Finney certainly did look the part of the famed detective, for me between him and Peter Ustinov, I have to go with the latter. The main reason is because Ustinov seems to fit the persona. Finney, while being a good actor, seemed to talk too fast and rushed through lines, while Ustinov took things slower and seemed much more like the intelligent private investigator who was motivated by morality attempted to keep more unlawful activities from happening. He also sports a splendid mustache, which is very vital to the character.

One reason The Grand Budapest Hotel reminded me of these kind of films was because of the all-star cast. Death on the Nile features Ustinov but also stars the aforementioned Maggie Smith (Prof. McGonagall in the Harry Potter series) and Angela Lansbury (Mrs. Potts in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast) but it also features Hollywood legend Bette Davis (All About Eve), George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke), Olivia Hussey (1968 version of Romeo & Juliet), Mia Farrow (1974 adaptation of The Great Gatsby) and one of my favorite character actors, Jack Warden (12 Angry Men). Speaking of Grand Budapest Hotel’s cast: I could totally see Ralph Fiennes portraying Poirot in a movie.

But what about the actual mystery in the movie? It is pretty interesting. Yes, it is a rather standard whodunit sort of scenario where they go through the list of suspects until they come to the final decision. But with the given scenario of everyone having a reason to hate her and the fact that anyone could have gotten to her, it does make you wonder. The result is something that I’m sure a lot of people won’t see coming.

It’s a real treat for anyone who loves a good murder mystery and enjoys the works of Agatha Christie.

One final similarity that this film has with The Grand Budapest Hotel: both won Best Costume Design at the Oscars. 

 
 
by Steven Rosen 03.27.2015 123 days ago
at 08:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Cincinnati-Filmed 'Carol' to Premiere at Cannes?

Carol, the drama about a romance between a younger and older woman in 1950s New York that was filmed in Cincinnati last spring, may have its premiere in May at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival in France.

Variety, which closely follows the film industry, yesterday published a speculative report about what may be appearing at this years Cannes, the world's most important film festival. It said, in part:

"Looking to represent North America in competition are [Todd] Haynes’ Carol, a 1950s lesbian love story starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, and [Denis] Villeneuve’s Sicario, a south-of-the-border crime drama starring Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Josh Brolin. Slots may also be reserved in the official selection for Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special, a science-fiction chase thriller starring Adam Driver and Michael Shannon, and Gus Van Sant’s The Sea of Trees, a suicide drama starring Matthew McConaughey and Ken Watanabe."

Based on a novel The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith, Carol has impeccable credentials for Cannes. The director is Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven, I'm Not There), a producer is Christine Vachon, and it stars Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett and Oscar-nominee Rooney Mara. The film came here with the assistance of the Greater Cincinnati and North Kentucky Film Commission.

This year's Cannes Festival occurs May 13-24. The full official-selection lineup will be announced April 16.

 
 
by John Hamilton 03.26.2015 124 days ago
at 01:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Reel Redux: Top 10 Good Remakes

Today, whenever the terms “remake,” “reboot” or anything like that pop up in terms of film or TV, people automatically assume the worst thing imaginable. While I won’t deny the fact that there have been several remakes that have been pointless, there have been a lot of remakes that have been very good and, in a lot of cases, have improved on a few aspects.

Now, I’m not claiming that the 10 I’m listing off are “better” than the original. Instead, these films (listed by release date in chronological order) are evidence that a remake is not an automatic seal of sucking.

The Magnificent Seven (1960, John Sturges)

I’m sure some of you saw this coming given what my first "Reel Redux" was about, but none the less this is still a pretty good film. A remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, this version doesn’t do too much different from the original film but it is still holds up through its fine acting, amazing music score and story.

A Fistful of Dollars (1964, Sergio Leone)

Another remake of a Kurosawa film, this time a remake of his film Yojimbo. In this film you see the foundations of Eastwood’s most famous screen persona, many of Leone’s trademarks and an awesome final duel. A good stepping stone for anyone wanting to get into Spaghetti Westerns.

The Thing (1982, John Carpenter)

Yes, believe it or not there are some good horror remakes, and this was one. John Carpenter’s remake of the Howard Hawks-produced The Thing from Another World ups the ante with the suspense and gore. This is not for the faint of heart. But it’s more than just a gore-fest — it’s a film with amazing suspense and atmosphere.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986, Frank Oz)

This music adaptation of the Roger Corman B-movie is a genuine delight and definitely improves on a few aspects of the original, mainly the special effects. That glorious Audrey II puppet is a testament to how great practical effects can be. Also, Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops is a perfect voice for Audrey II.

Beauty and the Beast (1991, Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise)

This classic Disney animated musical actually has a lot in common with the 1946 French surrealist adaptation by Jean Cocteau. Both beasts have a similar design, both feature a castle of human servants that are also appliances, and both have a Gaston equivalent. But of course the animated version does do a few things differently, mainly musical numbers, funny side characters and, of course, being a cartoon.

Homeward Bound – The Incredible Journey (1993, Duwayne Dunham)

Here’s another Disney remake that proved its worth. A remake of the 1963 movie just called The Incredible Journey, this renditions seems to hold up for anyone because of the animals. All three have distinct voices and personas that make us love and root for them.

The Birdcage (1996, Mike Nichols)

A film by the late Mike Nichols and starring the late Robin Williams is a remake of a French-Italian film called La Cage aux Folle. With the combined comedic charm and brilliance of Williams and Nathan Lane, it’s no wonder why Nichols had a hard time holding his laughter during some of the scenes. My words won’t do it justice — you just have to watch.

Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001-2003, Peter Jackson)

If we’re loosely defining the term remake, Jackson’s fantasy trilogy is technically a remake of Ralph Bakshi’s Lord of the Rings (1978) and Rankin/Bass’ Return of the King. If you’ve seen those animated films then you can see why Jackson’s are usually the preferred versions. Jackson's films create an epic fantasy environment, they have an amazing film score and feature some awesome battle sequences.

3:10 to Yuma (2007, James Mangold)

Many hold the original 1957 film as a classic and it is, but Mangold’s version doesn’t try to duplicate it. Instead he goes the action route, and it does not disappoint. The gunfights are stunning throughout the film. Also, the chemistry between Christian Bale and Russell Crowe is stunning, and it also has a great villain performance from Ben Foster.

True Grit (2010, Ethan & Joel Coen)

My first two listed were westerns and so we end with two westerns. The Coen Brother’s version of the manhunt of Tom Chaney is truly phenomenal. The Coens stay close to the tone and style of Charles Portis’ original book by sticking to the dryer tone, keeping it less romanticized and “Hollywood.” And it features some trying fantastic performances from everyone.

 
 
by John Hamilton 03.19.2015 131 days ago
at 10:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Reel Redux: Ghostbusters and the Potential Cinematic Universe

In the first installment of "Reel Redux" I brought up the upcoming Ghosbusters reboot, so I figured I’d talk about it more in this edition.

I don’t think I need to remind you about what Ghostbusters is, right? Well, for the five of you who don’t know the plot, here’s a summary: The titular group of the franchise are scientists who go around New York City busting ghosts. There, that was easy.

How could anyone not love these movies, or at least the first one? You have the sarcastic Bill Murray, the enthusiastic Dan Aykroyd, the late Harold Ramis, who possessed great dry comedic timing (he also co-wrote the screenplay with Aykroyd), and Ernie Hudson as the Everyman. Not only that, but they’re given giant laser cannons for zapping and trapping ghosts of all shapes are sizes! What’s not to like?

Recently it was announced that a reboot is in the works, this time featuring an all-female cast. This version will feature Kristin Wiig (Bridesmaids), Oscar-nominee Melissa McCarthy and Saturday Night Live cast members Leslie Jones and Kate McKinnon.

Right off the bat I’ll say it: I am not opposed to the idea of an all-female cast. Not at all. Although I was kind of hoping to see Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the cast. To paraphrase someone on Twitter (I couldn’t find the original tweet) who said it best, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are today’s equivalent of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd.

But nevertheless I’m all for this cast. I mean, why not? Why not have an all-female cast? But there is one thing that makes me worried about it. I’m worried that all this movie will be, “It’s the Ghosbusters… but they’re girls!” And that’s it. I’m worried that the film will make jokes about the fact that this time around the group will be played by girls. For example, they’ll paint the Ecto-1 pink, or have one of the girls put a bunch of flowers on their proton pack. One can only hope they don’t resort to that.

There’s one other thing that has popped up involving the Ghosbusters franchise that is causing a bit of stir: Sony is planning on having an all-male cast in yet another Ghostbusters reboot, thus building its own cinematic universe to go along with it. Oh dear.

On the surface I have no problem with the idea of Sony wanting to build a Ghosbusters universe — it sounds incredibly cool — but Sony has a short but rather poor history of trying to build a universe with popular franchises. Mainly, their attempts at building an Amazing Spider-Man franchise. I’m not calling those films bad, mind you, but it’s obvious that Sony was trying a little too hard to compete with Marvel’s cinematic universe.

The concept of an expanded universe is nothing new to Ghostbusters. I’m mainly referring to the ending of the 2009 video game where the four original members hinted about opening another office in another city, which sounds awesome to me.

But again, my concern is with who’s handling it. If I was handling it, I would take it very slowly. Let the first movie come out, see how well that did and if it did well, then I’d work on the next film. Which seems like it should be obvious, but, whatever, I’m not the head of a major film studio.

One thing I’m hoping for at some point in the franchise, which may not happen, is I’d like to see a New Generation kind of movie. Recruit Aykroyd and Hudson as their characters and have them train a new group. Make it a mixed group of people of various backgrounds. I’m not asking for a Captain Planet kind of thing, but have this be about  the old guys passing the torch onto the next group. It could be good.

In the meantime, I will wait and check out the new installment and hope for the best and I will, of course, check out the originals and enjoy them because no matter what happens those films will still be there.

 
 
by John Hamilton 03.11.2015 139 days ago
at 01:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Reel Redux: 'The Magnificent Seven' Remake

In recent movie news, there has been an announcement that a certain classic film franchise will be given a remake with a whole new cast. No, I’m not talking about Ghostbusters; I’m talking about the remake of theThe Magnificent Seven.

For those unaware: The Magnificent Seven was a 1960 western directed by the very underrated John Sturges. The story tells of seven gunmen who are hired by members of a poor Mexican village to chase away a bandit named Calvera (Eli Wallach) who has been harassing people and stealing their food and crops.

The movie was not just a traditional shoot ‘em up western; it was a film that took advantage of having seven characters and giving them all unique backstories. It’s also a film that is along the lines of George Stevens’s Shane, in that it’s a movie that doesn’t glorify the gunfighter’s life. It shows that each of them lead a rather unfulfilled life as a constant weary traveler.

The film also boasts a cast of legends. There’s Academy Award winner Yul Brynner as the cool and collected leader Chris; Steve McQueen as the drifting gunman Vin; Charles Bronson as the penniless and kid-friendly hired gun Bernardo O’Reilly; the voice of Mr. Waternoose in Monsters Inc. James Coburn as the silent knifesman Britt; and the late and great Wallach as Calvera the bandit.

It also has one of the best scores ever composed for a movie by Elmer Bernstein. Even if you’ve never seen the film you’ll recognize the music.

Now, like any film being remade, there will be a small crowd of people crying havoc and wanting to let slip the dogs of war, because there have been a lot of cases in which remakes haven’t turned out too spectacular. But many people often forget that The Magnificent Seven was actually a remake itself. It’s a western version of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Seven Samurai. It would technically later be remade by Pixar in A Bug’s Life.

I’ve long since went astray from being the angry Cinephile who went on long rants about how “Hollywood sucks,” and “Movies aren’t as good as they used to be,” and other such nonsense. Now these days I keep an open mind and to wait and see the film before I say anything.

Attached to direct the film is Antoine Fuqua, whose resume includes: The Equalizer, an adaptation of the hit 1980s show; 2004’s King Arthur; and Training Day, the film that earned Denzel Washington his second Academy Award win. Not a bad choice. I won’t claim he’s the best director, but he’s far from terrible. It could be worse; they could have Jonathan Liebesman directing it.

There have already been a couple casting choices made, including the aforementioned Denzel Washington, his Training Day co-star Ethan Hawke and even Star-Lord himself Chris Pratt has apparently signed on. That’s a pretty good cast in my book. But I’m just trying to imagine who else would be involved: Maybe they could get Jeremy Renner for one of the seven, and maybe a great character actor of today like Jon Bernthal, Steve Zahn or Barry Pepper. There are loads of possibilities.

I also see no problem in having Washington play the part of Chris the leader. In the original film, Chris is very calm and collected but just as intense, and a one-liner from him can let you know things mean business. I think Washington is perfectly capable of that.

The plot? From what I’ve heard, the plot is slightly different from the original. Apparently it’s about a widow (Haley Bennett) who hires Chris to help avenge the death of her husband who died at the hands of a gold baron and his thugs who have taken over her town. It could work and it’s a nice update to the original story.

To conclude: I’m sure the original 1960 film will remain superior, and a favorite of mine, but I am kind of looking forward to seeing this film and what it has to offer. Let’s not lose our heads and let’s see what the film has to offer. I hope it’s at least better than The Magnificent Seven Ride (1972).

 
 
by John Hamilton 03.09.2015
at 09:02 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
 
 
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Forgotten Classics: Zulu

Reviewing lesser-known films that stand the test of time

When I mention war films, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Probably titles like Saving Private Ryan or, more recently, something like the controversial and much-debated American Sniper. But what if I ask about British war films? Maybe you’d think of Lawrence of Arabia and one or two others. What about the 1964 film Zulu? I’m going to guess that not that many are familiar with this one, let along the actual Anglo-Zulu War. But you don’t really need to know all the ins and outs of the conflict to enjoy and appreciate this movie.

The movie is based on the 1879 Battle of Rorke’s Drift, in which roughly 150 British and Welsh soldiers faced off against an overwhelming number of Zulu warriors at a mission station in southern Africa. In a lot of ways it’s almost the British equivalent of the Battle of the Alamo — the difference in this case being the British soldiers won their battle, whereas all the defenders of the Alamo died.

Let’s get this out of the way: Yes, there are a lot of historical inaccuracies in the movie. But anybody who has ever seen a “Based on a True Story” movie should be aware of that by now.

To me, some of the best war films out there are not the ones that are overly patriotic and about ‘us vs. them,’ but ones that show us who the people are on both sides or, at the very least, films that don’t broad-brush the other side. With Zulu, we get that. Neither side is portrayed as the hero nor the villain; they’re two powerful forces, in their own way, who duke it out in combat. Both are proven to be worthy adversaries who don’t give up without a fight.

One thing I love about this film is the use of sound. The movie seems to use chats, songs and sounds as a motif about the sides. Probably the most effective use is when the Zulus arrive, coming over the ridge making a huge clatter with their assegai (short spears) and shields. One of the officers in charge, Gonville Bromhead (played by Michael Caine in his first film), says that it sounds, “Like a train…in the distance.” This comparison works rather well. It’s this constant clamor created that gives the audience an idea that the British are up against an almost unstoppable force. And when the near 4,000 Zulus pop up on the ridge, it seals the envelope.

Along with the drumming, the Zulus also have their own war chants which are another form used to intimidate the defenders, but on the morning of the second day the defenders reply with their own battle cry, the military march “Men of Harlech.” I see this as director Cy Enfield’s way of showing that even though these men are in a war against each other, they do have similarities. But the beautiful medleys of the British and Zulus are disrupted with the continuous roar and volley of rifle fire. And at the end of the battle many lay dead; although they are victorious, there’s no cheers to be shouted. But the Zulus do offer a final chant of respect to their worthy adversaries.

At the end, Bromhead is asked by the more experienced officer John Chard (Stanley Baker) what he thought of his first action. Bromhead replies with “Sick,” and Chard follows it with, “You’d have to alive to be sick.” A clever indication of the creative team’s thoughts on war.

There are many other great things to say about the film. The dynamic between Baker and Caine is fantastic, and supporting performances from James Booth as the drunk, petty thief Henry Hook (one of the controversial inaccuracies) and Nigel Greene as the tough but kindhearted Colour Sgt. Bourne are great. The performances from then-Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi and his people are impressive. Also the cinematography by Stephen Dade is gorgeous, he makes every shot interesting. It almost reminds me of a John Ford Western.

 
 

 

 

 
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