Saturday, July 30, 2016

Tonight's Movies: The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

Earlier this month I watched THE BOURNE IDENTITY (2002) for the first time, based on the spy thrillers by Robert Ludlum.

This weekend I completed watching the original trilogy. Here are my takes on the next two films in the series:

...THE BOURNE SUPREMACY (2004) picks up right where THE BOURNE IDENTITY left off. More so than most sequels, it's simply an extension of the first film; Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) is still trying to understand who he is, and some of the same bad guys are still out to take him down.

As the movie begins, Jason is living in a remote area with his girlfriend Marie (Franka Potente), the only person he knows he can trust.

Before long, however, an assassin (Karl Urban of RED) locates Bourne and shows up to kill him. Once more Bourne must crisscross Europe, staying one jump ahead of those who want him dead. Among those who want Bourne erased: Ward Abbott (Brian Cox, also seen in RED) of the CIA, an evil man who kills his colleagues without a second thought.

An unexpected wrinkle for both Bourne and Abbott is CIA agent Pam Landy (Joan Allen), who begins probing Bourne's history. Allen is excellent, a real asset to the film, and I was glad to note she'll also appear in the next title.

This was a solid film which will please fans of the first movie, as it's basically more of the same, including the return of Julia Stiles as Nicky, a young Paris-based agent. The one difference is Paul Greengrass took over directing, replacing the first film's Doug Liman. I prefer Liman's smoother style; Greengrass is all about supertight closeups and a careening camera. The movie was shot by Oliver Wood, who filmed all three movies in the original trilogy.

The storytelling can be a bit convoluted at times, leaving the viewer feeling like a scorecard is needed to track the players, but if you stick with it, it all sorts itself out. At 108 minutes the film is more compact than THE BOURNE IDENTITY, which works to its benefit. The time seemed just right.

As with the original film, one of the pluses is the extensive location shooting, ranging from Germany to Moscow to India. It's a great-looking film with good atmosphere.

Parental Advisory: THE BOURNE SUPREMACY is rated PG-13 for violence, intense action, and brief language.

THE BOURNE SUPREMACY is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Amazon Instant Video. A short trailer is at IMDb.

...THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM (2007) begins exactly where THE BOURNE SUPREMACY ends, with a wounded Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) trudging through the snow in Moscow. This once again underscores that the three films are really one long story.

Certain members of the CIA still want to kill Bourne, but he edges closer to finding out why thanks to detective work by Agent Pam Landy (Joan Allen), who begins to uncover evidence of a rogue operation within the agency. The agents who were involved are desperate to kill Bourne to hide the program's existence, and eventually agent Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), who aids Bourne, is also targeted for execution.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is, for the most part, action-packed and exciting, though I suspect some aspects would become clearer to me if I sat down and watched all the movies again! There are a lot of players in a very complicated plot.

My favorite sequence was a cat and mouse game shot in London's Waterloo Station, where we spent a good deal of time during our 2009 trip to London. It was beautifully choreographed and quite thrilling.

The one place the movie falls apart is near the end, when everything grinds to a halt as Jason learns the truth about his background. Getting to that point at the end of three films should be exciting, and instead it ends up being an incredibly boring, slowwwwww sequence with underwhelming revelations.

There's some nice symmetry with a watery ending, bringing us full circle, as THE BOURNE IDENTITY began with Jason in the water, and water was also part of a key sequence in the middle film.

Like THE BOURNE SUPREMACY, THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM was directed by Paul Greengrass and filmed by Oliver Wood. The supporting cast includes Scott Glenn, Albert Finney, and David Strathairn.

Parental Advisory: THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is rated PG-13 for violence and intense action.

THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Amazon Instant Video. A brief trailer is at IMDb.

I anticipate seeing the brand-new JASON BOURNE (2016) in August, which was again directed by Greengrass, starring Damon and Stiles.

In the near future I also plan to watch THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012), the lone Bourne film to star someone other than Damon. Jeremy Renner, who plays Hawkeye in the Marvel films (most recently CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR), stars as Bourne.

Tonight's Movie: Gun the Man Down (1956) - An Olive Films DVD Review

James Arness stars in GUN THE MAN DOWN (1956), a solid Western just released on DVD and Blu-ray by Olive Films.

GUN THE MAN DOWN was made by John Wayne's Batjac Productions. It provided a starring role for Wayne's protege, James Arness, who had begun starring in the TV series GUNSMOKE the previous year; no one dreamed at that point the show would still be running two decades later!

This was also one of the earliest scripts by Burt Kennedy, whose first film released was Batjac's SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (1956), starring Randolph Scott and directed by Budd Boetticher. Kennedy wrote all my favorite Scott-Boetticher films, including SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, as well as my favorite James Garner movie, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969).

The same economical storytelling Kennedy used in SEVEN MEN FROM NOW is on display here, starting with the fast-paced introduction to the characters. Rem Anderson (Arness) participates in a bank robbery with Rankin (Robert J. Wilke) and Farley (Don Megowan), but things go south and Rem is shot. Rankin and Farley take off with the stolen $40,000 and Rem's girl Janice (Angie Dickinson), leaving the wounded Rem behind to face the sheriff.

After serving his time, Rem goes looking for Rankin and Farley, who now run a saloon. Rem reclaims his horse from Farley and later deals with a hired gun (Michael Emmet) brought to town by Rankin, all under the watchful eye of the sheriff (Emile Meyer) and his young deputy (Harry Carey Jr.). What will Rem do next?

This was a fast-paced film, clocking in at 76 minutes, buoyed by a strong cast. In a sense it saves some time casting a familiar actor like Robert J. Wilke; a classic Western villain, the audience understands at first glance that he's probably not a good man. The chink in his armor is his weak spot for Janice, although it turns out in the end that, as suspected, he really only cares about himself.

For me the relationship of Meyer and Carey was the high point of the movie; the protective, paternal Meyer likes to send Carey fishing with his little boy when things heat up, keeping him out of harm's way. At one point the sheriff tells the frustrated deputy that the town will be there for a long time, and the deputy can take care of it once the sheriff is gone.

The sheriff also has a good relationship with Rem, regularly commenting he'd hate to have to hang him. At the end the sheriff is content to sit back with his deputy and let matters play out with Rem and Rankin, hoping Rem will choose to make the right decisions.

The only drawback for me was the resolution of Janice's storyline, which cast a bit of a sad pall over the end of the movie. Dickinson had a good role as a woman who'd had a life of hard knocks but dreamed of being "respectable."  I didn't care for the abrupt end to her story.

GUN THE MAN DOWN was directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and filmed by William H. Clothier, who both worked with John Wayne many times over the years.

The Olive Films DVD is a nice widescreen black and white print. There are a few individual shots which look too grainy, but for the most part it's a nice crisp picture. Unlike most Olive Films DVDs, the disc includes the trailer, a welcome inclusion.

Thanks to Olive Films for providing a review copy of this DVD.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Crashing Hollywood (1938) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

CRASHING HOLLYWOOD is the third film I've reviewed from the new Lee Tracy RKO 4-Film Collection, available from the Warner Archive.

When I first saw CRASHING HOLLYWOOD in 2013, I found it to be a particularly fun discovery, and that impression remained the same on this viewing, 3-1/2 years later.

The film has one of Tracy's most appealing performances, plus the very funny Richard Lane and Paul Guilfoyle. There are also great settings on a train and later on the RKO lot, aka "Wonder Pictures." It's an enjoyable, fast-moving 61 minutes.

Tracy plays Michael Winslow, who heads for Hollywood hoping to be a screenwriter. On the train to California he meets Barbara (Joan Woodbury), an aspiring actress, and ex-con Herman Tibbets (Guilfoyle), who is just out of prison and wants to be a duck farmer. Herman's wife Goldie (Lee Patrick) is hoping he'll do something more lucrative, and as it turns out, Michael and Herman are hired by studio production chief Hugo Wells (Lane) to write crime dramas.

Michael and Herman are a success, although they run into trouble when one of their films is based on a real unsolved crime. There's also the complication that lead actor Tom Darcy (Bradley Page) is a dead ringer for a real crook named "The Hawk."

Tracy tones down his often manic persona in this film, being perhaps the most level-headed character of the bunch. He's positively calm compared to Lane as the fast-talking (and hilarious) studio boss. Hugo's solution to any situation is to offer a studio contract. And I loved his repeated request to Michael for "Eight pages a day!"

The young Jack Carson plays a movie director, and the cast also includes Tom Kennedy, George Irving, Frank M. Thomas, Jimmy Conlin, Alec Craig, and Willie Best.

Lew Landers, a "B" director whose films I particularly enjoy, was the director, with cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca and Frank Redman. The film was inspired by a play called LIGHTS OUT.

I've previously reviewed two other films in this set, BEHIND THE HEADLINES (1937) and CRIMINAL LAWYER (1937). I'll be reviewing the final film, FIXER DUGAN (1939), at a future date.

I'm glad that this fun film will have a wider audience thanks to the Warner Archive. The Archive DVD is a good-looking print. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

A Visit to the Orange County Fair

My husband and I enjoyed an afternoon strolling the Orange County Fair today!

I think the last time we were there we were pushing a stroller, so considering our youngest child just graduated from high school, it had definitely been a while!

We had a good time, and I felt like there were more shady walkways since we visited years ago, which was nice given that it was a warm day.

We had a very good BBQ lunch which I enjoyed a lot...

...and I can't even remember the last time I had an Icee! That really hit the spot walking around on a warm afternoon.

My husband was curious about the deep-fried Twinkies we've heard are sold at fairs, so he tried one, and he thought it was really good.

More colorful food can get deep-fried anything and chocolate-covered anything (bacon!) at the fair.

I especially enjoyed looking at the animals and some of the other fair entries.

"As high as an elephant's eye!"

All in all it was a very nice afternoon and we walked a few miles taking in the sights, so it was a "win win."

We agreed that we won't wait as long next time for a return visit to the fair.

Have a great weekend!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Around the Blogosphere This Week

Miscellaneous bits of news and fun stuff from around the internet...

...We begin this week's roundup with sad news, the passing of the great singer Marni Nixon. Nixon's famed movie dubbing work included Deborah Kerr in THE KING AND I (1956), Natalie Wood in WEST SIDE STORY (1961), and Audrey Hepburn in MY FAIR LADY (1964). She also sang on the soundtracks of Disney's CINDERELLA (1950), ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951), MARY POPPINS (1964), and MULAN (1998), and she was Sister Sophia in THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965). I was fortunate to see Nixon on stage in a nonsinging role as Henry Higgins' mother in MY FAIR LADY in 2008 (reviewed here); sadly, both Nixon and Christopher Cazenove, who played Higgins, have since passed on. Nixon's autobiography was I COULD HAVE SUNG ALL NIGHT. She was 86.

...Another great singer, Barbara Cook, has just published a memoir, THEN AND NOW, cowritten with Tom Santopietro.

...New on DVD in the Universal Vault Series: IRON MAN (1951) with Jeff Chandler, Evelyn Keyes, Stephen McNally, and Rock Hudson. That goes on the "must have" list! Thanks to reader Ashley for the tip.

...At OUT OF THE PAST Raquel has reviewed the book INTO THE DARK: THE HIDDEN WORLD OF FILM NOIR 1941-1950 by Mark Vieira. I anticipate reviewing this myself in the fairly near future.

...At Java's Journey there's a fascinating review of the book SEARCHING FOR MY FATHER, TYRONE POWER by Romina Power.

...John McElwee recently ran a wonderful post on Harold Lloyd's GIRL-SHY (1924) at Greenbriar Picture Shows. He captures many of the reasons this sunny film is such a joy to watch.

...Jessica wrote a fun review of the TV-movie GIDGET GETS MARRIED (1972) at Comet Over Hollywood. Monie Ellis, the daughter of actress Mona Freeman, played the title role, with a great supporting cast including Macdonald Carey, Don Ameche, and Joan Bennett.

...Colin's latest post at Riding the High Country is a review of Rory Calhoun in APACHE TERRITORY (1958), reviewed at this site in 2013.

...Coming to the Warner Archive in August: Fitzpatrick Traveltalks Vol. 2! My review of Vol. 1 is here.

...For those who love classic kidlit, there's a new biography of the great writer-illustrator Lois Lenski, LOIS LENSKI: STORY CATCHER, by Bobbie Malone. There's more info at Publishers Weekly. My Lenski favorites include BLUEBERRY CORNERS, STRAWBERRY GIRL, PRAIRIE SCHOOL, and I LIKE WINTER, plus I love her wonderful illustrations for Maud Hart Lovelance's BETSY-TACY series.

...Notable Passings: Los Angeles sportswriter Melvin Durslag recently died at the age of 95. I have fond memories of reading him in the L.A. Herald Examiner as a young Dodger fan..."West Coast Jazz" pianist Claude Williamson has passed away at 89...Robert Mason Pollock, the DYNASTY scriptwriter who created THE COLBYS, has passed on at 99.

Have a great week!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Tonight's Movies: They Were Expendable (1945) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) - Warner Archive Blu-ray Reviews

Two of the greatest films from director John Ford and star John Wayne have recently been released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive: THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945) and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949).

THEY WERE EXPENDABLE (1945) is possibly the greatest war film ever made, and SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) is my all-time favorite Western. The Warner Archive couldn't have made better choices to release on Blu-ray, and the resulting discs provide a wonderful viewing experience. Both films look terrific, with SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON deserving particular kudos as one of the best-looking Blu-rays I've ever watched.

THEY WERE EXPENDABLE was originally reviewed here in 2014, at which time I also provided quite a bit of background on the making of the movie. Inspired by actual people and events, it's the story of a PT boat squadron stationed in the Phillipines in the early days of WWII, when the war's outcome was far from certain.

Robert Montgomery, who also filled in as director when Ford was incapacitated, stars as Lt. John Brickley, with Wayne costarring as Lt. Rusty Ryan. Their squadron attacks Japanese boats but as the situation in the South Pacific deteriorates, they must evacuate General MacArthur from Bataan; Brickley and Ryan will eventually leave themselves, in order to train future PT boat crews. The rest of the squadron must be left behind to face the advancing Japanese.

THEY WERE EXPENDABLE is a long film at 135 minutes, but every minute is deserved. It's a powerful film about heroism under the most difficult conditions.

There are countless memorable scenes, including several officers hosting a glowing young nurse (Donna Reed) for dinner, but for me the most haunting moment comes at the end, when two men (Leon Ames and Louis Jean Heydt) graciously accept being bumped from the last plane off the island in favor of two young PT boat officers (Cameron Mitchell and Marshall Thompson). Everyone knows that the two men will likely become prisoners or be killed, but all involved, especially the men themselves, act with complete class. It's unforgettable...but then so is the entire film, a remarkable mixture of grit and poetry. It should not be missed.

Ward Bond, Jack Holt, Russell Simpson, Paul Langton, Donald Curtis, Jack Pennick, and Jeff York are among the large cast. It was shot by Joseph H. August. The screenplay by Frank Wead was based on a book by William L. White.

As with THEY WERE EXPENDABLE, it's hard for me to do anything but heap superlatives on SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON.

Last fall I reviewed SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON after seeing it in 35mm at UCLA. Just a few months later I had the chance to see the film again in a digital presentation at last spring's TCM Classic Film Festival, an experience which confirmed that YELLOW RIBBON will always be a good choice for me. That was certainly underscored watching the Blu-ray, my third time to see the movie in a year's time! It's simply not a movie I can see too often.

Incidentally, my understanding is the Blu-ray is the same restored digital print I saw at the TCM Festival.

SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON is a seemingly simple tale, with much of the film following a group of soldiers traveling through Monument Valley in a big circle, but one of the marks of a great film is finding new details on every viewing. That's certainly been the case for me.

This time around, thanks to the clarity of the Blu-ray, I especially noticed the way the breath of both men and horses is seen on screen in an early morning scene. Later, in the storm sequence, one would swear you could almost feel the wind whipping up and smell the impending rain. The immediacy of these scenes, decades after they were shot, is amazing.

The movie contains my favorite Wayne performance as the about-to-retire Captain Nathan Brittles, with Ben Johnson also especially memorable as Sgt. Tyree. Johnson's beautiful horse, Steel, was owned by his father-in-law and was considered to be one of the greatest horses in movie history.

The film is a wonderful showcase for the Ford Stock Company, including George O'Brien, Mildred Natwick, Victor MacLaglen, Arthur Shields, Harry Carey Jr., Joanne Dru, John Agar, Francis Ford, and Jack Pennick. It's a thing of beauty watching a cast like this making magic together.

Speaking of beauty, this is perhaps the most gorgeous Western ever filmed, thanks to the Oscar-winning work of Winton Hoch. Beyond the famous storm scene, which Hoch filmed under protest and which undoubtedly led to his Academy Award, the blues and yellows of the uniforms against the red-orange of Monument Valley is simply stunning. The film has surely never looked better than it does on this Blu-ray.

SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON is 104 minutes long. The screenplay was by Frank Nugent and Laurence Stallings.

Each of these Ford/Wayne Blu-rays contains the trailer, and the YELLOW RIBBON Blu-ray also includes brief home movies of Ford and Wayne on a location scouting trip in Mexico. The home movies were also included in a previous DVD release.

Both Blu-rays receive my highest recommendation.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing review copies of these Blu-rays. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Goose and the Gander (1935) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE GOOSE AND THE GANDER (1935) is a delightful comedic romp starring Kay Francis and George Brent. It's available from the Warner Archive.

The Archive released this film some time ago, but I was inspired to review it by the Archive's brand-new release IT'S A DATE (1940), in which Francis plays Deanna Durbin's mother. I'll be reviewing that title in the near future.

I first saw THE GOOSE AND THE GANDER back in 2009. I didn't remember it that well but recalled I had really enjoyed it, and that was certainly the case this time around. It's a fun film fans of the cast or romantic comedies will really enjoy.

Georgiana (Francis) is the jilted ex-wife of Ralph Summers (Ralph Forbes). She'd love to have a bit of revenge and hatches a crazy plan for Ralph to find his new wife Betty (the delightful Genevieve Tobin) spending time alone with handsome Bob McNear (Brent).

Betty and Bob end up "marooned" at Georgiana's country house, pretending to be "Mr. and Mrs. McNear." Then a pair of jewel thieves (John Eldredge and Claire Dodd) show up in Betty's stolen car and pretend to be Betty and Ralph. Lost yet? No matter, it's all quite delightful and amusing as identities are gradually untangled and true love conquers all.

Last time I saw the movie I hadn't seen "Wild Bill" Elliott's Westerns or detective movies so didn't know him well enough to pick him out in his many '30s appearances, billed as Gordon Elliott. It was thus a lot of fun to watch him in several scenes as one of Georgiana's swains at a nightclub. He's seen here in a still with Francis and Brent.

Speaking of Georgiana in the nightclub, Francis wears an Orry-Kelly gown in that scene that seems to stay on her by nothing short of a miracle! (It's seen in the same still in which Elliott appears.) She has a fantastic wardrobe, and her country house is also enviable. Oh, to live in the delicious world Warner Bros. created for Francis in this movie!

THE GOOSE AND THE GANDER was directed by Alfred E. Green and filmed in black and white by Sid Hickox. It runs just a tad over 65 minutes.

This is an older Warner Archive DVD from 2010 which doesn't seem to have been cleaned up to the extent of more recent Archive releases. The print is occasionally spotted and speckled, but on the whole it's quite watchable, and I very much enjoyed it. There are no extras.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Boss of Lonely Valley (1937)

I'm very appreciative of my friends John and Maricatrin introducing me to Buck Jones Westerns, as I've been enjoying them very much.

Earlier this year I loved UNKNOWN VALLEY (1933) and especially THE MAN TRAILER (1934), both costarring Cecilia Parker.

Jones's leading lady in BOSS OF LONELY VALLEY (1937) is Muriel Evans, with whom he made a number of films. While not quite as good as the two previously mentioned titles, I still enjoyed BOSS OF LONELY VALLEY quite well.

BOSS OF LONELY VALLEY was produced by Jones for Universal. It's a nicely made film with a good story and attractive locations.

Jones plays Steve Hanson, whose sweetheart Retta (Evans) is being cheated out of her ranch by Jake Wagner (Walter Miller). That may sound like the stuff of typical Western melodrama, but there's an atomospheric subplot about the murder of the local parson; how many times do you see a climactic shootout take place as an organist plays "Abide With Me" while a church bell rings? Great stuff.

Some of the film, perhaps the town set, was filmed in Newhall here in Southern California, but the scenic river locations were apparently filmed outside Kernville in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I love watching a movie like this and suddenly realizing that Retta's wagon driver is Hank Worden. Such familiar faces make it feel like spending time with old friends.

My only quibble was I have no idea what "Lonely Valley" referred to! Apparently the title came from a novel by Forrest Brown which was the basis of Frances Guihan's screenplay.

It should also be noted this is one of those odd Westerns where the women wear 1930s style dresses but everyone rides on horseback, without a car or telephone in sight.

BOSS OF LONELY VALLEY was directed by Ray Taylor. It was filmed by John Hickson and Allen Q. Thompson. The running time is 60 minutes.

BOSS OF LONELY VALLEY was shown a few days ago on the Starz Encore Westerns Channel.

I'm looking forward to checking out more Buck Jones Westerns!