Friday, March 13, 2009

Movie Quick Takes

I’m not usually one to review movies on a regular basis, but I’ve been catching up on some films I’ve wanted to see and one that I hadn’t watched in twenty-five years. Here are some capsule reviews of some movies I’ve seen over the past few weeks. I rank them on a 1 to 10 scale, with ten being the highest.

From Hell (2001) 6.5/10 I liked this quite a bit, even if Heather Graham is entirely too beautiful to be an 1880s "unfortunate." Funny, I never gave her a thought until I saw her all "Retroed up" in Victorian-era costume and she's quite a looker! Ian Holm is one of the world's great actors and he proves that again here. The depiction of drug abuse is also well chronicled. They sure used some serious drugs in the 19th Century! And the boomers thought that *they* invented substance abuse... I would have liked to have known more about the Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp) character, though.

Tulsa (1949) 3.5/10 Finally got Turner Classic Movies back after an eighteen month hiatus(!) and this was the first movie I watched. It held my interest only because Susan Hayward is in it, and she is the best thing about this by-the-numbers tale. In fact, in The Films of Susan Hayward book, there’s a still from this movie of an oil-splattered Hayward and yet she still looks ravishing! Unfortunately, the print of this film was just ravaged and must be public domain because the one TCM aired was washed out and damaged.

Lilies of the Field (1963) 5.5/10 Hard to believe I'd never seen this movie before and while it's a pleasant diversion, with Jerry Goldsmith's score eminently listenable (it's fun to hear the Hour of the Gun similarities), the movie is no masterwork. Sidney Poitier should not have won Best Actor over Albert Finney that year. Oh well. Sidney's overdubbed "singing" (it obviously wasn't him) didn't endear me to the film, either.

A Patch of Blue (1965) 7/10 Much better Poitier here, with an assuredness and relaxed characterization that shows what a great screen actor this guy is. This has a great performance by Shelley Winters (Best Supporting Actress) and Elizabeth Hartman acquits herself nicely, considering she had to share the screen with those titans. A gem of a Jerry Goldsmith score. The variation of the theme when the two are making beaded necklaces is absolutely charming.

The Mechanic (1972) 7.5/10 The Mechanic is warmly nostalgic! The fact that a movie about assassins qualifies as “warm nostalgia” says just how up in the clouds I was as a kid...I guess you could say, as they do in the movie, that "I lived in my mind." I watched it when I was 13 one Saturday afternoon and was completely fascinated by it. Now, having seen it recently, I appreciate it on a whole new level. There's a scene that never left my memory all these years: when Bishop (Charles Bronson) takes McKenna (Jan-Michael Vincent) to a martial arts exhibition and discusses the concept of the "old master" and the "new master." I'd forgotten which film that came from; it turned out to be this one. I think I may be becoming obsessed with this movie, mainly because the Bronson character is sophisticated, philosophical, and a man of taste! He listens to Beethoven while plotting his next hit and admires paintings by Bosch in his Mulholland Drive home. Yes, Charles Bronson: Man of Taste. It's an interesting take on action movies. The two principals have a teacher-student relationship and I like the old master imparting his wisdom on the talented newcomer. The movie boasts a knockout of a music score, an edgy, prickly, avante-garde effort by the “other” Jerry, Jerry Fielding (1922-1980). I just paid big bucks for three CDs of his that I foolishly passed on when they were first announced. I’m dumb like that.


  1. Of the movies you review here, I've seen two. (After reading your review of "Tulsa" and about the condition of the print--a rarity on TCM, but it does happen--I don't think I'll bother with it the next time it's on.) I pretty much agree with your ratings of "Lilies of the Field" and "A Patch of Blue." And you're right that Poitier didn't deserve an Oscar for this performance. Paul Newman for "Hud" (to me, one of his two best) would also have been a better choice. He'd already lost, incredibly, to Maximillian Schell for a rather bland performance in 1961, for what was his greatest performance in "The Hustler." This might have given him an edge, but apparently not. The fact that he played such a heel probably didn't help either; the Academy seems to prefer victims to baddies. Finney was equally good in "Tom Jones" but probably just wasn't well enough known at the time to be honored by the Hollywood establishment.

    I saw "Blue" in the theater when it came out and liked it but thought the premise pretty hackneyed. The three main performances were quite good, although Poitier was just a bit too saintly for my liking. I always preferred him with a bit of edge to him, as in "Lilies," "The Defiant Ones," "A Raisin in the Sun" (probably my favorite performance by him--of course, he wasn't even nominated), and "In the Heat of the Night."

    It was good to read a qualitative assessment by you of these films.

  2. I saw Tulsa when it was on recently, and thought exactly the same thing. When the color on movies is that bad and dated looking, I usually just turn the color on my television off. It makes a world of difference. I had the same problem when I rented Becky Sharpe recently-- and that one actually said "restored" version...

  3. Oh, Heather Graham is nice, alright! Seen her as Dr Molly Clock in season 4 of Scrubs? You fall in love.

  4. Saw three of these films however. Lilies of the Field was so long ago I cannot comment since I do not remember much. A Patch of Blue I saw when it came out and thought had great acting by all three of the leads. Too bad, E. Hartman died so young; she was very talented. Enjoyed "From Hell", Depp is one the finer actors today. Right about Heather looking too good for the role.


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