Saturday, April 28, 2012

Ride the High Country (1962)

RATING: 9/10 John Wayne went out with a bang in The Shootist.

Randolph Scott rode off into the sunset with Ride the High Country.

The American actor made plenty of westerns in his career including The Desperadoes and Frontier Marshal.


ride the high country 1962, director Sam Peckinpah's second big-screen effort, is his final credit. This fine effort, filmed in glorious colour at Inyo National Forest, is a fitting farewell.

Peckinpah has great fun turning the traditional conventions of the western genre upside down.


Time has passed Gil Westrum (McCrea) by. He has earned his living trying to do the right thing by enforcing the law. For his troubles, Gil has dodged bullets and lost the woman he loved to a rancher. His feet ache after a day's ride and his memory isn't as good as it once was.

Spectators line the street when Westrum rides into town at the film's start. He modestly waves to them, but he's not why they're there. Heck, a man on a camel is racing against horse riders. "You're in the way," a police officer (police officer!) tells him. Westrum wears glasses to read. His shirt is fraying.

His days of top-of-the-line work are pretty much gone. He perks up when he's offered a job bringing gold out of a mining camp. Westrum needs help. He bumps into his old partner, Steve Judd (Randolph Scott), at a travelling circus. Judd bills himself as The Oregon Kid, a wee bit of a fabrication to put food on the table.


He's not the man Westrum remembers. Judd wants the gold. If he can't convince Westrum to change his law-abiding ways, he'll gladly embrace a more sinister Plan B. Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) is a young hotshot who comes along for the ride. He's in cahoots with Judd, but doubts all the talk in the world won't change Westrum's mind.

The trio meet Elsa Knudsen after a day's ride. Her father, Joshua (R.G. Armstrong), is more than happy to keep her in isolation. Elsa wants her freedom and the chance to marry her bethroed. He just happens to be working in the mining camp. She slips away to ride with Westrum and company.

That's Ride the High Country's simple set-up. Westrum stays true to his ways. His hired help plan to double-cross him. Knudsen gets caught up a man she really shouldn't marry.

Ride the High Country offers some great humour, solid action and a loving farewell to a genre that entertained so many movie-goers for decades. Stagecoach, Red River, The Searchers and The Ox-Bow Incident are some of the finest westerns ever made.


It's a genre seldom seen in theatres now. There was a spurt in the mid-1980s with releases such as Silverado and Pale Rider. Unforgiven won four Oscars, including best picture and director (Clint Eastwood) in 1993. Val Kilmer's Wyatt Earp's Revenge, went to video in 2012. Sigh.

FUN FACTS: Peckinpah's last credit was helming the music video for Julian Lennon's Too Late for Goodbyes.

Mariette Hartley made her movie debut in Ride the High Country.

Ron Starr has just 13 credits to his name including G.I. Blues with Elvis Presley in 1960.

R.G. Armstrong turns 95 in 2012. He appeared in Metallica's Enter Sandman video. Armstrong was Pruneface in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy.

Joel McCrea was another veteran of the western genre. His final film was Mustang Country, with The Duke's son, Patrick, in 1976.

Ride the High Country boasts a solid score from George Bassman. He handled orchestral and vocal arrangements for The Wizard of Oz.

And We Knew How to Dance (1994)

RATING: 10/10

Set your sights on this fantastic Canadian documentary.

This 55-minute release from the National Film Board of Canada is an absolute gem of social history from 1994.


Director Maureen Judge's film features interviews with 12 women, aged 86 to 101, who helped on the homefront during the First World War.

They worked in munitions factories, on farms and in hospitals.

These women signed on for various reasons. Their brothers, fathers or men they knew enlisted. Or, they saw recruitment ads. Some, just like teenaged boys, lied about their ages so they could participate in the Great War.


They experienced homesickness, sexism and hostility, but also enjoyed great camaraderie, independence and, in 1918, the vote.

The ladies relate some social mores of the day. Some may leave today's women under 20 scratching their heads. Money earned was turned over to parents. It'd be "vulgar" for a woman to wear slacks. Adultery was considered as serious a wrong-doing as murder. Now, websites offer wives a chance to find men for an affair. Times sure have changed.

The documentary features contemporary performances of war-time songs by Canadian musical group, The Holly Cole Trio. The choice is fitting since Cole is known for reimagining older songs.


There was plenty of media coverage when Canada's last First World War veteran, John Babcock, died in February 2010 at age 109. And We Knew How to Dance was made just in time. Many of the women interviewed in this film are seen in wheelchairs, using walkers or moving slowly with the assistance of others. Their time would soon come to an end too. "I guess they're all gone now," one woman suggests about her former co-workers.

And We Knew How to Dance isn't for sale on Amazon in Canada or the United States, but can be viewed on the NFB's website at

Watch it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Inside Job (2010)

RATING: 9/10

Viewers get their money's worth with this Oscar-winning documentary.

Director Charles Ferguson's 2010 release about the global economic meltdown in 2008 is must-see viewing for just about everyone on the planet.

With actor Matt Damon's sombre narration, Inside Job does a very good job of explaining, in meat and potato terms, how trillions of dollars, thousands of jobs and homes were all lost in the most painful economic hammering the world has seen since the Great Depression.

Folks, you cannot afford to miss this powerul film that deservedly won an Oscar for best documentary in 2011.

If you follow business and politics, see this film. Inside Job speaks with a who's who of the financial sector including Eliot Spitzer, former governor of New York and New York attorney general, Barney Frank, Democratic representative for Massachusetts, key brass from the International Monetary Fund and Paul Volcker, chairman of the economic recovery advisory board.

If you love President Barack Obama and how America is run, see this film. Pundits interviewed in this film suggest his is "a Wall Street government" that plugged leaders from said New York financial centre into major positions with Obama's administration. The American financial sector pours, literally, billions of dollars into lobbying politicians and making campaign donations.

Republicans don't look so hot either. Inside Job suggests the seeds of the 2008 meltdown began about 30 years earlier when President Ronald Reagan began deregulating the American financial industry. The documentary also critical of the last two leaders of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan.

If you think academics in America offer independent thought on economic policy, see this film. Inside Job suggests economics some professors at major American universities earns a very nice side income working for the financial industry. Inside Job interviews some of them. Their responses make for fascinating viewing.

Readers, I have worked as a reporter for more than a decade. Spokespersons for companies and governments are very smooth with the media. Several get tripped up when answering questions. Rather than ambushing leaders as Michael Moore would, the makers of Insdie Job calmly confront business leaders with facts.

If you're curious about how top talent in the American financial industry are wired, see this film. Inside Job suggests earning lots of money, and then finding ways to spend said cash, are their two prime drivers in life. Big houses. Sports cars. Drugs. Prostitutes. Bring 'em on.

If you're an American citizen who feels a little less prosperous these days, see this film. Inside Job suggests a whopping 80% of Americans have lost ground financially between 1980 and 2007.

Inside Job notes financial quagmires have steadily grown more serious since the 1980s. What can the world's population expect the next time disaster hits?

See this movie.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Redacted (2007)

Brian DePalma is consistent.

He left me scratching my head, and wishing I had a night of my life back, when I watched Raising Cain with John Lithgow and Lolita Davidovich in 1992. There was one saving grace. My connection with the student newspaper at Brock University meant I saw the film for free. For that, I give thanks.


Here I am, 20 years later, watching his Iraqi war film, Redacted. The first half of this 90-minute effort from 2007 works pretty well. There's a definite sense of tension as American soldiers man a checkpoint in Iraq. Redacted earns points here. There are signs in Arabic and English to stop. It's suggested about 50% of Iraqi people are illiterate. All kinds of signage won't help these folks, and as the film points out, plenty die even they few are insurgents.

The symbolism is none-too-subtle with an American soldier watching a scorpion getting taken down by a bunch of ants. Get it? The scorpion is the American war machine. The ants are ordinary Iraqis. The Wild Bunch featured a similar scene about 40 years before Redacted came along.


But Redacted goes way off the rails when its story starts to get into the real-life event that inspired its making -- the rape and murder of an Iraqi teenager by American soliders.

We know Angel Salazar (Izzy Diaz) is filming anything, and everything, for his efforts to get into film school when he's out of the army. But taking along a camera to film said sexual assault and murder? Angel must be dumber than a post to think his actions will merit acclaim stateside.

Is DePalma trying to make American soldiers not look too bad by having the culprits include Reno Flake (Patrick Carroll), who chose service in Iraq Rush is livid at the Iraqi people when an improvised explosive device kills Master Sgt. Sweet (Ty Jones), but it's stupid behaviour by American troops that sure helps lead to his death.


What makes Redacted interesting is the different ways the story is told - from the perspective of American soldiers, a French documentary crew, television crews from the area and Europe, Skype conversations and blog posts.

But even this unique approach to storytelling can save Redacted. It's bad.

Viewers be warned. There's a graphic beheading. A series of photographs of Iraqi war dead ends the film.

RATING: 4/10

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

All Quiet on the Western Front (1979)

RATING: 7.5/10

A powerful war novel makes a so-so television movie.

The big screen version of All Quiet on the Western Front attracted plenty of attention when it was released in 1930.

The drama about German soldiers experiencing the horrors of trench warfare during the First World War earned Academy Awards for best picture and director (Lewis Milestone).

A television effort followed nearly 50 years later under the hand of Delbert Mann (Marty, That Touch of Mink). Is there some symbolism at work when one of the first images is of a shell hitting a church? Some may wonder if God forgot about so many doomed men in the trenches.

You'd be hard-pressed to find much German talent in this 130-minute film. America, England and even Czechoslovakia, where the movie was shot, are all represented in the film's cast. Germany, not so much.

Mann reunites with Marty star Ernest Borgnine at Katczinksy, the veteran soldier who takes Paul Baumer (Richard Thomas) and several of his classmates under his wing when they first arrive in No Man's Land.

Kat, as he's called, advises his new comrades to forget what they've learned during basic training. He offers life-saving advice on why a shovel is a more effective killing tool than a bayonet.

Thomas was familiar to American audiences from the television family drama, The Waltons. His comrades are mostly English actors such as Matthew Evans (Muller), Dominic Jephcott (Leer) and Mark Drewry (Tjaden). Few gained much attention in North America, although Ewan Stewart (Detering) was 1st Officer Murdoch in James Cameron's Titanic.

Baumer is a soft-spoken teenager who enjoys sketching animals. His teacher, Kantorek (Donald Pleasence), calls him a dreamer. Kantorek is very big on encouraging his students to fight for the Fatherland.

"You are our iron youth," he tells his charges on the last day of class before graduation.
"The time for duty has begun."

Twenty members of Baumer's class enrol in the army. One by one they are killed in action, suffer serious wounds or go missing.

Baumer experiences hell at war and at home. He struggles with seeing his friends die, then having to put up with his eager father (Michael Sheard) eager to trot him around town in his uniform to show him off when he's on leave. A friend's mother wants the grisly details of her son's death and questions why Paul is still alive when her child is dead.

The movie is fairly faithful to German author Erich Maria Remarque's must read book. This movie lover is a huge fan of Remarque's work. Some scenes in this film just don't ring true, or could have benefitted from the additional detail Remarque includes in his work.

Yet other scenes, where Paul meets his dead friend's mother, and when he writes a letter to his own mother (Patricia Neal) describing how war has changed him, are incredibly powerful.

The violence depicted in the first 30 minutes of Stephen Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan is overwhelming. Eager to fight? Watch that film. Will another filmmaker bring All Quiet on the Wester Front to the screen in the 21st century complete with graphic depictions of trench warfare?

Well, yes.

Mimi Leder (Pay It Forward) is tagged to direct a new film version of this book, Internet Movie Database reports.

Hints of that brutality are included in this film. Bodies fly through the air during shelling. Cries of pain are heard. A severed hand hangs from barbed wire.

Men still fight and die. Paul's friends planned to become ministers, lawyers and foresters. Two survive. All Quiet dares to suggest the enemy's humanity and war's ability to grind up countless lives.

FUN FACTS: Michael Sheard played Admiral Ozzel in The Empire Strikes Back.

Matthew Evans only has two acting credits. Directing television shows is his forte.

This isn't a fun fact. Mark Drewry, who appeared as Tjaden, died in 2004 at age 49. He died of injuries he suffered in a collision when he was riding a bike.

Ian Holm, Bilbo in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, was the recruits' nemesis, Himmelstoss.

Donald Pleasence was Blythe 'The Forger' in another great war film, The Great Escape.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Murder, My Sweet (1944)

RATING: 8/10

Keep a notepad, and a couple of pens, handy for this film directed by Edward Dmytryk (The Caine Mutiny).

Sure, there's no cast of thousands in this 1944 effort based on a Philip Marlowe mystery by Raymond Chandler.


But this movie fan was scratching his head several times during its 95-minute running time trying to figure out who was doing what to whom.

Private eye Marlowe (Clifton Webb) is hired by a very imposing thug, Moose Malloy (Mike Mazurki), who was recently sprung from jail. Eight years after last seeing her, Moose is eager to meet up again with dancer Velma Valento.

Marlowe's investigation introduces him to Lindsay Marriott (Douglas Walton), a man who has ties to the very rich Mr. Grayley (Miles Mander), his much younger and sexier wife, Helen (Claire Trevor), and Grayley's daughter Ann (Anne Shirley). Ann's not too impressed with her step-mother, but still loves her father.


Take these six characters, add in savvy jewel fence Jules Amthor (Otto Kruger) and police detective Lieut. Randall (Donald Douglas) and audiences are left trying to figure out where this plot, about a stolen jade necklace worth plenty of dough, is headed.

Even with a storyline that likely needs more than one viewing to really make sense, Murder, My Sweet offers plenty of entertainment.

Malloy's first appearance on screen is one of the creepiest I've seen in some time. He's not the sharpest tool in the drawer, but he's definitely the deadliest. Marlowe repeatedly struggles with how best not to ignite Malloy's anger.

Webb makes a solid Marlowe. Some of his lines fall well short, but many are spot on.


"I stir up trouble on the side," he suggests when he first meets Mr. Grayley.

Noting Ann's quite pleasing figure, Marlowe offers this gem, "I seem to remember you from one of my dreams, one of the better ones."

When she wants Marlowe to stop his investigation, he warns her sooner or later, everything that's going on is going to be known anyway. Does she want to be hurt now, or later? "Cancer doesn't stop growing because you ask it to," he tells her. "You're hanging on to something that's going to smack you."

Murdeer, My Sweet offers more than a chance to kill time. It's another great film noir for audiences who want to be challenged and enjoy a script that offers plenty of bite.

FUN FACTS: Murder, My Sweet was Anne Shirley's last film role. A child actress, she made her debut in The Hidden Woman in 1922. Shirley appeared in 68 films. She died in 1993 at age 75. Shirley married Adrian Scott, Murder, My Sweet's producer, in 1945.

Embarassed to say I didn't remember Claire Trevor appeared in John Ford's western masterpiece, Stagecoach, in 1939. She won a best supporting Oscar for Key Largo in 1949.

Mike Mazurki appeared in Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy in 1990. He died the same year that film was released.

Some day I have to watch Won Ton Ton: The Dog who Saved Hollywood. So many actors who've appeared in films I've written about, such as Mazurki, have appeared in this 1976 release.

Lindsay Marriott appeared in the 1934 version of Mutiny on the Bounty. That film is also reviewed by Reel Popcorn Junkie.

Donald Douglas appeared in 110 films between 1929 and 1945. He died that year. Douglas was 40.