Archive for the ‘War’ Category

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Like everyone else who writes about films, I’m working on a year-end top-ten movies-of-2014 list. Here are some short pieces I wrote throughout the year about some of the contenders:



That cover image encapsulates THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL — and maybe even Wes Anderson’s entire career so far — so perfectly: It’s an invented monument of a building in the countryside of a nation that does not exist, soaked in color and leaping out from its drab surroundings. That bright pink hotel looks to me like a rich, fancy dessert, the kind that you can’t attack all at once, not even back when you were a candy-craving kid.

THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is the most Wes Anderson-y of all the Wes Anderson movies to date — he has with each subsequent film come up with an intricately-designed, entirely invented realm in which his casts of eccentrics and potty-mouthed poets take refuge from the world the rest of us know — Max Fischer’s school plays, Royal Tenenbaum’s mansion in the middle of Harlem, Steve Zissou’s ship (the Belafonte), the Darjeeling Limited (the finely-painted train traversing India), every minute of THE FANTASTIC MR. FOX, Sam and Suzy’s secret cove (which they call “Moonrise Kingdom”).

This time around, the sphere of existence inhabited by the film’s characters travels beyond the titular location — Anderson has invented an entire country! Not only that, but the story is a flashback within a flashback: Tom Wilkinson plays the older version of Jude Law, who plays a writer interviewing the owner of the hotel who is played by F. Murray Abraham, who in turn recounts the escapades of his younger self (played by the winningly expressive Tony Revolori), the apprentice to a charismatic iconoclast named Gustave H. (a thrillingly unlikely comic performance by Ralph Fiennes — twice as funny here as he was in 2008’s IN BRUGES), who has a flair for theatrics and a lust for geriatrics. Credit for outstanding achievement in protrayal of the latter arena goes to Tilda Swinton, who appears in beautifully grotesque make-up and luxe costuming.

It’s even more whimsical than it sounds, and normally I can’t stand whimsy. But the effusiveness of THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL, and nearly every performance within it, is contagious. The cast is a menagerie of wonderful actors, most of whom have at least once worked with Anderson before. The newcomers fit right in with the stock players — even Harvey Keitel, perhaps the most unlikely casting choice of them all, who nimbly plays past his characteristic gruffness, as a heavily tattooed gulag lifer. Keitel has rarely been this animated and enthusiastic.

Don’t mistake this for an unequivocal rave — THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL continues the odd trend of Anderson underusing Bill Murray, which has been going on since THE LIFE AQUATIC. (I get the feeling Bill Murray keeps showing up just because he enjoys the company, and Wes Anderson keeps finding a place for him just because he’s goddamn Bill Murray and if you’ve got his number you use it.)

But I did enjoy the time I spent with this movie, particularly any of the scenes with either Tilda Swinton or Willem Dafoe, both of whom add unforgettable new grotesques to their lengthy repertoires. I also liked that THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL is the most violent Wes Anderson film  since THE LIFE AQUATIC; the moments of darkness are essential to counterbalance the otherwise madcap nature of the proceedings, and they disarm the common argument (one I’ve flirted with at times but invariably discounted) that Anderson as a filmmaker is merely an indulgent quirkster.

I’m really not sure where Wes Anderson can go next, since THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL goes so far up into what he does that I’m not sure he can go any further. I’d love to see him attempt a hardcore genre picture — maybe science-fiction or even horror –but I won’t count my chickens.

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This is a quietly astounding movie, one which is not nearly as well-remembered as it could and probably should be.  ACT OF VIOLENCE began as a story by Collier Young, who was married to and divorced from Ida Lupino and Joan Fontaine. That’s a pretty interesting off-screen life. The script is by Robert L. Richards, who also wrote WINCHESTER ’73 and GORGO but was blacklisted on account of his left-leaning beliefs, which very likely are trace elements noticeable in the finished film. Directed by Fred Zinnemann (who also made HIGH NOON and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY), ACT OF VIOLENCE isn’t overtly political but is easily applicable to many of the major social issues of its era, and still.


Act of Violence


Robert Ryan plays Joe, a crippled POW who returns to plague a local war hero, Frank, played by Van Heflin (from POSSESSED and SHANE), and by proxy his young wife, played by Janet Leigh (of PSYCHO fame).  Joe is so furious in the pursuit of his quarry that Frank, in frantic desperation, turns to some shady characters for protection, namely an aging prostitute, a lawyer, and a hitman. It’s a shockingly rapid moral decline, or else a violent stripping-away of heroic tropes. The look of the film reflects this descent into darkness, beginning in glorious day and heading into an unfathomable night.




ACT OF VIOLENCE was lit and shot by the cinematographer Robert Surtees, Oscar-nominated sixteen times over — and father to Bruce, a talented cinematographer in his own right who shot many of my favorite movies and worked frequently with Clint Eastwood.


Act of Violence


Why is Ryan’s character so intent on wreaking vengeance on a small-town  an all-American hero, his former friend)?  The answer to that question is truly surprising – in my opinion this film is one of the great morality plays of the film noir era.  In ACT OF VIOLENCE, Ryan literally emerges from shadows; he’s intense, and scary, and ultimately, entirely within comprehension, as the kind of tormented figure that is created by wartime. Torment is something Robert Ryan played particularly well, so fans of his should rush to see this film. And if you aren’t already a fan, this is exactly the kind of movie that’ll make you one.




This piece is expanded a little from my capsule review included in my tribute to the great Robert Ryan. Check it out!




The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

The Inglorious Bastards (1978)    The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

And please note the spelling, because the Quentin Tarantino movie from 2009 is called “INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.” That movie is great, but it ain’t this one.

THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, please note spelling and emphasis, is the original piece that started it all.  It was directed by Enzo G. Castellari (HIGH CRIME, GREAT WHITE, 1990: THE BRONX WARRIORS), one of the better-known and busier auteurs in Italy whose work has since been sporadically rediscovered in America, along parallel journeys, by B-movie maniacs such as the esteemed Mr. Tarantino. The first Castellari movie I think I saw was a spaghetti Western called KEOMA, which sent me on a path through the maestro’s work that ultimately ended me at a double feature of BATTLE SQUADRON and STREET LAW that turned out to have been introduced by no less than Sr. Castellari and Mr. Tarantino themselves!  QT was bringing the maestro along with him on the preliminary press tour for INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.  This appearance is online, amazingly…

In that clip they’re discussing 1969’s BATTLE SQUADRON, a.k.a. EAGLES OVER LONDON, an Italian-made movie about the German aerial assault on the United Kingdom.  Say what?  Yup.   Besides “spaghetti Westerns”, did you know that the Italians made “spaghetti World War Two movies”? It’s a little-known bit of trivia that is charming and weird and just a little culturally and historically mind-blowing, considering where Italy stood at the time — you know, on the other side.  Enzo Castellari made several of these films, known to some as “macaroni combat” films.  In my barely-educated opinion, THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS is one of the best of its kind.  It’s set up to be a movie just like THE DIRTY DOZEN, an all-star team of mean men on a mission, albeit one which features virtually no recognizable faces (on this side of the world at least.) The Bastard team is

1. Bo Svenson (BREAKING POINT), who’s something like a super-sized Steve McQueen;

2. Peter Hooten (ORCA), as the butch guy in an ascot who’s supposed to have the anti-authority John Cassavetes role;

3. An Italian 1970s Black-Sabbath-looking guy who has a downright shocking hairdo reveal;

4. A whiny little dude who’s the most likely to be fertilizer before the end credits roll;

5. A German turncoat [spoiler!] who rocks the 1970s Jew-fro look so hard that he puts both Will Ferell and Seth Rogen together to shame;

and best of all,

6. Fred Williamson (VIGILANTE), otherwise known as “The Hammer.”

The Inglorious Bastards (1978) The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

Fred Williamson rules this movie. He really plays his character in this movie like Bugs Bunny – mischievous, anarchic, and hilarious. He dominates so much that the movie was released in several markets under the inimitable title G.I. BRO.  The Hammer is the main reason, alongside the gunfights and the explosions and the lake full of naked blond German spies, that you will have a total blast watching THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS.

The Hammer

To be honest, seeing this one before the Tarantino movie hurt my experience of the Tarantino movie.  Tarantino tends to favor the long-ass conversation and there ain’t too much of that here.  Not that what QT did do isn’t terrific, but after seeing the original, you kind of yearn to see a more literal approximation of a Castellari film — more action, less talk, more titties.  Then again, that’s what we have the original for.  I recommend it.

Severin Films has a three-disc edition that includes a ton of extras and a CD of the rousing Francesco De Masi score.  Get it if you can; see the movie regardless.  As far as midnight movie experiences go — because let’s face it, you ain’t likely to be watching this during the day — this is absolutely one of the better ones imaginable.

Petition me for a more thorough review on Twitter: @jonnyabomb

The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

The Inglorious Bastards (1978)

Red Tails (2012)



RED TAILS is a big-budget rendition of the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen, the 332nd Fighter Group of the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American pilot squad in our country’s history, a fact that means everything. Remember that the seeds of the Civil Rights movement were still en years away, and desegregation was not even officially a word. The Tuskegee Airmen weren’t just a noble concept; they were all-the-way heroic. So named because they were trained in Tuskegee, AL, these pilots were the result of twenty years of advocacy by, among others, African-Americans who were barred from service in the first World War. Before they could fly combat missions (a sore spot the movie details), the 332nd flew bomber escort missions, acting as midair bodyguards for the white pilots on actual combat missions. When they were finally sent to fly on their own, they excelled. They shot down German jets and destroyed German trains, trucks, boats, barges, destroyers, and military factories. A couple hundred of the almost one-thousand of them didn’t survive the war. The unit was awarded a long list of Flying Crosses, Bronze Stars, and Purple Hearts. They were called “Red Tails” due to the distinctive crimson paint on the tail section of their planes.




Despite an interest in the great true story behind RED TAILS, I failed to see it when it was released theatrically in January of last year. 2012 was a crowded time for movies, but beyond that, this particular movie arrived to positively toxic word of mouth. I still wanted to see the movie, but I didn’t rush. Now, if you watch RED TAILS and poke around online for reviews, you will see something very clearly: The movie is not jump-out-of-your-seat-and-tell-everybody great, but nor is it remotely as bad as its reviews, which are generally venomous and nasty.


The reason is that most reviewers didn’t review the movie RED TAILS. They reviewed its producer, George Lucas. I’m sure I have been guilty in the past of looking beyond a movie to write about other things besides the actual movie in front of me, so I can’t condemn the practice, but it was a widespread and noticeable mania in this case. RED TAILS is the passion project of George Lucas, who talked for years in interviews of getting it made. His reasons are his reasons. Maybe his reasons are only that it’s a great story. That didn’t matter to most critics. They wanted to write about STAR WARS.


Older critics blame George Lucas’ STAR WARS and Steven Spielberg’s JAWS for the glut of offal that followed, the thirty years of summertime blockbuster bombast made by less-talented fans and craven capitalists. Younger critics, particularly those hailing from my generation, feel burned by George Lucas. He made some movies when we were young that we loved (three STAR WARS and three INDIANA JONES‘s), and then he made some follow-ups (three STAR WARS and one INDIANA JONES) that we did not love. That we kind of hated. “The new STAR WARS movies suck,” most of us have said. “George Lucas ruined my childhood,” the drama queens among us have said. Now, as for me, I haven’t gone back to revisit the newer STAR WARS movies since I first saw them, but nor have I gone back to the originals in over a decade. George Lucas didn’t ruin my childhood. He made some super-imaginative movies that I loved as a kid, but as a result of my changing tastes, haven’t felt a need to obsessively revisit, the way many of my peer group do. Apparently I’m coming at this from a slightly different place than many people my age. Ain’t no grudge being born on these shoulders. I’m not going to hold STAR WARS against RED TAILS.


Also, George Lucas didn’t direct RED TAILS. But here’s what he did do:


  • Hired African-American writers to sculpt the story. John Ridley, original writer of THREE KINGS, did the first drafts, and Aaron McGruder (THE BOONDOCKS) worked on it afterwards.


  • Hired a young African-American director, Anthony Hemingway, to helm the project.


  • Hired a huge, talented, predominantly black cast, anchored by the more famous Terrence Howard and Cuba Gooding Jr. but primarily spotlighting terrific up-and-comers such as Nate Parker, David Oyelowo, Leslie Odom Jr., and Michael B. Jordan.


  • Hired an African-American composer, Terence Blanchard, the best in the business regardless of race, over the more obvious Lucasfilm choice, John Williams.


  • Hired the now-departed Lee A. Archer Jr., original Tuskegee flying ace, as technical consultant.


  • Supported the project with all of the filmmaking resources he has amassed over the years, including having the legendary editor Ben Burtt contribute to the film and having Industrial Light & Magic do the effects.


  • Hired the legendary Joe Kubert to draw that killer poster up at the head of this post.


  • Covered the $58 million budget out of his own money. That’s not including $35 million he paid for distribution.


  • Made the press rounds to promote the film on the basis of his own celebrity, despite the fact that he was bound to take a metric ton of shit from all the legions of angry STAR WARS nerds along the way.


  • He didn’t have to do any of these things, by the way. He could have waited for the rest of Hollywood to put this story up on a big screen. (That would have been a long wait.)


Now, those are only the facts, son. I’m hardly a George Lucas apologist. I like good movies as much as you do. And so I’m not able to argue that the finished product can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the very best World War II filmmaking, not even those made by Lucas’s pal Spielberg. RED TAILS isn’t as viscerally involving as SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and it isn’t as layered or affecting as BAND OF BROTHERS. It’s somewhat superficial, leaning back on firmly-established cliches when you’d like to see some real fire, some rage. I mean, these guys are fighting the Nazis. I’m the guy who thinks INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS didn’t go far enough. Judge me however you see fit, but: It’s as satisfying for me to watch black guys shooting down Nazis as it is to watch Jews doing the same. I love watching Nazis get killed onscreen. It’s one of the best things about movies. The violence in this movie is somewhat sanitized, certainly removed, not impassioned. Maybe that’s more healthy, but it’s also the less bloody, less emotionally-invested approach — with all the work I did to back away from STAR WARS earlier, it’s still a fair comparison to liken the best moments of RED TAILS to the part of RETURN OF THE JEDI where Lando Calrissian blows up the Death Star.


Still, is that the worst thing? RED TAILS is all broad strokes. It’s corny. It has some very likable actors saying some very purple dialogue that isn’t eminently quotable on its own. It’s got some cheesy romance. It’s got real production value in the sets and the costuming. It has state-of-the-art effects, its dogfight scenes being its most tangible and thrilling moments by a wide margin. Its score is all pomp and circumstance and yet stirring all the same.


Holy shit, I feel like I’m describing the original STAR WARS.


Here’s a question: Don’t little black kids have the same right to have a STAR WARS as little white kids do? Isn’t it a decent thing that George Lucas at least tried?


RED TAILS isn’t a great movie. You can find a more detailed accounting of why that is in the reviews by Wesley Morris and the late Roger Ebert. They give you the honest take-away. RED TAILS is most enjoyable when it’s about the planes, not the people. And that’s a let-down. This story deserves to be made into a great movie. Still, it’s hardly awful or a waste of your time. It isn’t an embarassment. It’s way, way better than all three prequels. It’s a diverting rendition of an important story that deserves telling, on the widest screen possible. Lee Archer should be way more famous than Yoda or Boba Fett. If watching RED TAILS makes little kids — black or white — look up his name, it’s a success for that alone.





Red Tails (2012)

Red Tails (2012)

Red Tails (2012)


MEN IN WAR (1957)


MEN IN WAR is a 1957 film directed by Anthony Mann, from a script by Philip Yordan which was adapted from a novel by someone named Van Van Praag (awesome).  Even though the majority of movies of the era were being shot in Technicolor, MEN IN WAR is in black and white.  I wonder if that was a budgetary issue, an aesthetic decision, or something else.  I’d be projecting, as I haven’t been able to dig up an answer to that question just yet, but there is something to the idea that black and white is a more fitting format for this story.  It’s less Hollywood-idyllic, and more stark and unforgiving.  There’s redemption in it, but not in a sweeping, overstated way.  It’s an unabashed tribute to the American military, but an appropriately business-like one.  The score by Elmer Bernstein is typically right on-point to the movie’s aims.  It’s lovely and effective music, and outside of the title song (whose lyrics are a little too on-the-nose to ever play by today’s standards), it’s as relevant still as the rest of the movie is.




MEN IN WAR stars Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray, two of the most underrated movie stars of the 1940s and 1950s, and two of my all-time favorites.  Ryan is the dark figure with the world-weary eyes and fighter’s frame who is best known by today’s audiences, if at all, from his small role in THE DIRTY DOZEN.   His career was much longer and more distinguished than that, as described by this tribute that I wrote in honor of the man and ten of his greatest movies.

Ray, for his part, is possibly even less well-remembered today, although the reasons why are hard to understand.  (It may have something to do with the apparently sad later years.)  At his peak, Ray had an appealing, gravel-gargling voice and an every-day tough-guy manner that are enormously charismatic.  I can’t help but think of Michael Chiklis when I think of Aldo Ray, although Quentin Tarantino thought of Brad Pitt.  (Pitt’s character in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, Aldo Raine, is a direct tribute to this iconoclastic actor.)  Ray also didn’t have the broadest filmography, having not appeared in as many memorable films as he probably deserved to have.  Remind me to write up a nifty film noir called NIGHTFALL that Aldo Ray starred in, the same year as MEN IN WAR.   Generally Ray played scrappy tough guys, outsiders with big mouths and big attitudes.  That’s what he plays here.




MEN IN WAR takes place on a very specific date: September 6th 1950.   It takes place during the Korean War, which is interesting, because in 1957 that wasn’t too far in the past.  Just as historically interesting, both Robert Ryan and Aldo Ray served during World War II, Ray having seen action in Japan.  One has to imagine that this added to the naturalistic performances that this movie displays, something of a hallmark of Anthony Mann’s films.


MEN IN WAR (1957)


Ryan plays a beleaguered lieutenant, Benson, whose forces have been diminished and separated from any communication with the rest of the American presence in Korea.  He needs to get his men to safety, and they’re already beginning to fall apart.  Vic Morrow (now best known as Jennifer Jason Leigh’s dad) makes a strong impression as a shell-shocked young soldier.  So does James Edwards as Sergeant Killan, a kind-hearted African-American G.I. who is a friend to Morrow’s character and, unfortunately, due to cinematic conventions, doomed.  The scene where Killan stops in a clearing to decorate his helmet with the wildflowers he finds, ending as it does with his silent murder by encroaching commandos, is one of the movie’s most striking images.



Aldo Ray enters the movie in a Jeep, carrying his commanding officer alongside him, even though the colonel has been rendered mute by minefire and, presumably, having witnessed too much carnage.  Ray’s character identifies himself only as Montana, a rambunctious and headstrong G.I. who is fed up with battle and only cares to get his colonel to safety.  Ryan’s character wants to requisition the Jeep, and Montana’s services, in order to press on with his diminished forces.  Ray’s character, even out-ranked as he is, resists every step of the way.  The movie centers around the conflict between the two men.



It’s a vivid conflict, and it’s profoundly effective, enacted as it is by two such charismatic actors.  The appeal of Ryan and Ray is very different, but equally potent.  Ryan, so often a convincing heavy but in this case allowed to play the kind of role here that his obvious real-life decency fits like a glove, is a quieter, sterner kind of a good guy.  Ray is the more quintessentially American character, brash and arrogant — although you also see his point.  The main question of the movie is about what is the right thing to do in the chaos of war, to look out for self or to fight as part of the unit, even if the latter seems hopeless.  It’s not exactly as if Montana is being selfish — he seems to care about his Colonel as much as, if not more than, himself.  But ultimately, as pro-military as this movie is, Montana must come to understand and embrace Benson’s all-for-one ethos.  That the movie brings us, the audience, to see things the same way, and to appreciate the very real heroism of the men who fight our battles for us overseas, is why it is still a captivating piece of work today, and obviously still just as relevant.  There can be no doubt that Steven Spielberg saw this movie before making SAVING PRIVATE RYAN.  MEN IN WAR is a little more ambiguous than that much more recent film, but it is just as effective at approximating the senses and textures of battle — an amazing feat, for a movie fifty years old.


Today being Memorial Day, if you’re looking for an appropriate movie to mark the occasion and spark reflection, let me please recommend this one.





MEN IN WAR (1957)

Brothers (2009)

BROTHERS is a movie that has kind of slipped through the cracks.  It showed up towards the end of 2009, but not in enough time for me to see it for my Best-Of list.  It’s been nominated for some awards already, but not enough to make people feel like they ought to go out and see it.  It’s got some actors who people like, but it looks like a downer.  It doesn’t look like fun.

Well yeah, it isn’t much fun.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t any good.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t even a little but important.  It sure does have the pedigree:  Jim Sheridan, the Irish director who showed his skill at creating detailed, likable characters in 2002’s IN AMERICA, directed from a script by David Benioff, the big-name Hollywood screenwriter who showed a similar skill in his script for 25th HOUR. The trio of lead characters, played by Natalie Portman, Jake Gyllenhaal, and the astounding-in-this-movie Tobey Maguire, are convincing and heartbreaking.  They’re aided by ace supporting performances by reliable actors such as Sam Shepard and Clifton Collins Jr., and by two of the best performances I’ve seen from little children since, well, IN AMERICA.  The two little girls who play Maguire’s daughters are deeply affecting. Also due for mention is Frederick Elmes, the hall of fame cinematographer who has worked with David Lynch, Jim Jarmusch, Ang Lee, and Charlie Kaufman, who shot the movie with understatement and grace.  The movie was shot largely in New Mexico, and it shows.  This doesn’t look like L.A.  This looks like elsewhere in America, the parts of America where you find the people who actually have to fight our wars for us.

That’s what this movie did for me, by the way.  It made me think about those people, who need to be thought about.  Whatever else minor flaws keep it from being considered a quote-unquote great film, BROTHERS is expert at detailing the realities of post-traumatic stress disorder. I left BROTHERS crushed and thoroughly sad – this movie is about something that is really happening right now to people our age and younger, who are sent overseas to kill and to take bullets and to watch their fellows die, only to return home without any kind of adequate psychological counseling.

BROTHERS is a wartime movie, and that’s the real reason for its lack of box-office and cultural heat.  People just aren’t interested in seeing this kind of story at the movies.  That’s starting to bother me.  There’s a massive disconnect between the America whose sons and daughters are sent overseas to fight and die, and the other America, which I fully admit to being a part of, whose lives are affected more by the recession or any number of concerns other than the war in the Middle East.  Unless we personally know someone in the military, unless we’re the type of person who follows and cares about the news, some of us are not forced to think much about the fact that we are actually at war.  We might be unemployed and stressed about that, but we don’t have to worry about the physical safety of our friends and family, or just as much at-risk, the psychological toll of their experiences.

So instead we go to see a movie like AVATAR for a fourth or fifth time, which surely isn’t wrong, but then again, if we have that kind of free time, maybe it is somewhat wrong to ignore a movie that might make us think about something that matters.  (I’m only singling AVATAR out here because it’s become the most popular movie of all time as all of this other stuff is happening in the world.)  As I have written already elsewhere, AVATAR is fun but meaningless; it is the ultimate movie of the moment expressly because it is about escaping reality – both in the way that Jake Sully escapes his wheelchair to become a nine-foot-tall forest god, and in the way that literally the act of watching the movie in those 3-D glasses is an escape.  It’s a video game movie.  It’s a luxury.  The very fact that I can post these thoughts on the internet, and any number of AVATAR fans are free to potentially comment on the many reasons why I’m wrong, is a luxury.  We’re very lucky to be able to sit at our computers and argue over and read about escapist movies.  But just recognize that it’s a distraction, ultimately meaningless comparatively.  AVATAR isn’t about anything but coolness.  There’s a place for that, to be sure, especially for those people who actually need a little escape.  But it’s not the only movie out there.  That’s all I’m saying.

BROTHERS forced me to think about something other than my own life.  I haven’t been exactly the same since I saw it.  It somehow changed my thinking, just the tiniest bit. If that isn’t an important movie, I don’t know what is.

You can still see BROTHERS theatrically in many cities, I think.  If you have the time, give it a chance.  Don’t let me make it sound like homework – it’s not in the least bit boring.  When I call BROTHERS a good movie, that doesn’t mean “good for you” – it really means “good movie.”


From January 18, 2010.




Southern Comfort (1981)


Walter Hill has a new movie coming out this week called BULLET TO THE HEAD.  I’m cautiously looking forward to it, since I am a fan of many of Walter Hill’s movies.  This new one can go any of a few different ways, but I’m on board for any movie that gives sizable roles to Sarah Shahi and Sung Kang.  (You’ll know those names better someday soon.)

Here’s what I had to say about 48 HRS.,  STREETS OF FIRE, and TRESPASS.  And as of today, for Daily Grindhouse, I have had some words about SOUTHERN COMFORT:


>>>READ IT HERE!!!<<<


And I’m always reachable here:  @jonnyabomb





Waltz With Bashir is an astonishing piece of work – it’s a dreamy reconstruction of one man’s recollection of his experiences in the Israeli military during the Lebanon War in the early 1980s.  The director, Ari Folman, wrote for the original Israeli incarnation of the TV show “In Treatment” and that background in pop psychology shows – this is a searching and introspective story.  It’s not entirely fictional, but it’s certainly not a documentary either.  The harsh world in wartime and the realm of dreams swirl together and co-mingle.

Necessarily then, Waltz With Bashir is an animated movie.  The choice is crucial to the movie’s effect:  It’s colorful and mesmerizing and upsetting.  It is NOT rotoscoped.  All of the animation is meticulously choreographed and depicted, under the art direction of David Polonsky with contributions from, among others, two artists whose work I adore, the brothers Tomer Hanuka and Asaf Hanuka.  (If you’ve picked up a newspaper or a magazine in the past decade, you know their work.)  On a visual basis alone, Waltz With Bashir is a necessity.  Combined with the emotionally conflicted and self-exploratory storytelling method which Folman employs, Waltz With Bashir is a film unlike any other.  It’s not an exaggeration to pronounce that I have very rarely seen a medium so well matched to its message.

I can’t exactly say that I loved this movie – it left me feeling more than a little anguished and sad.  But it is very clearly a work of cinematic art that has made some valuable observations about the real world, and as such, I sincerely recommend that it be seen by as many people as possible as soon as possible.  See it with your deepest friend.



This beautiful portrait was taken by @SethKushner.

Hollywood legend Ernest Borgnine passed away Sunday, July 8th, 2012.  He was 95, which is not young.  But anyone who suggests that his age makes the loss much easier would be mistaken.  There are people who are irreplaceable, and this was most certainly one.  Ernest Borgnine, or Ernie to his fans, had more than sixty years in the movie business — just think of how many stories he must have had left to relay.  Though he gave plenty of great interviews over the years, that probably was only a fraction.  With Ernest Borgnine goes a unique and eternally ingratiating talent, and a pivotal bridge that spans Old Hollywood, New Hollywood, and the modern age we’re currently living in.  For this post I’ve collected a ton of pictures and posters of the many movies I’ve seen Ernest Borgnine in.  I will touch on most of these movies (and maybe more) in the longer appreciative piece I am working on, but in the meantime, please enjoy these movie memories of a true original.

Check out this great interview also.

Find Ernie in the southwestern hemisphere.


I did not rush out to see this movie on the largest possible screens when it was released nearly six years ago, and more the fool I for that.  It’s kind of incredible.

In their list of the top fifty films of the past decade, the Onion’s A.V. Club, one of my favorite daily web destinations, rated Terrence Malick’s The New World at number nine.  It was nominated for an Academy Award for Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography.  (Malick’s movies are always visual fireworks.)  Roger Ebert gave it four stars and called Malick “a visionary.”  Despite all this, The New World isn’t as well remembered as it could be.

Why is that?  I’m not the guy to ask.  I mean, I have some answers, but they won’t sound good to everybody.  I guess I’d reluctantly agree that Terrence Malick’s movies aren’t for everyone.  I’d argue that you really have to love movies to love his movies.  Most people apparently don’t love movies that much.  Your friend with the Scarface poster probably doesn’t love movies as much as he thinks he does.  Scarface is cool and all, but the well-rounded person doesn’t watch only one movie over and over again.  Really loving movies means being open to movies that aren’t the most obvious or accessible.

To appreciate what Malick does, you also have to be open to qualities which are too rare to modern movies, such as thoughtfulness and meditation, appreciation of the natural world, even spirituality.  (And not the obvious or accessible kind of spirituality, either.)  Though Malick (The Thin Red Line) has already directed a better World War II movie than Michael Bay(Pearl Harbor) has, guess whose movies are more popular?  I don’t like to be elitist, but we really are talking about sophistication here.  You don’t like it?  Cool.  I don’t either.  Prove me wrong.  Pay to watch these wonderful movies.

And The New World, in my opinion, is pretty wonderful.  It’s where cinematic art and American history meet.  It’s the story of Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher), the Native American girl whose life was altered by the arrival of the Jamestown expedition, which introduced her to Captain John Smith (Colin Farrell), her first love.  That relationship is battered by the collision of the Native people and the English settlers, and it ultimately doesn’t survive the trip, though consolation arrives in the form of John Rolfe (Christian Bale), a good man who became the father of her son.

A lot of us have heard this story before, in one form or another.  Hell, it was a Disney cartoon.   It’s popular history, but not that currently popular.  Malick’s method is to bring the past lumbering back to life, like a dinosaur rediscovering its bite.  The first time you see those colonial ships, matched with the unusually good score by James Horner (normally cornier), there’s a vivid majesty to the movie that makes it more interesting than Social Studies ever was back in grade school.

In The New World, Malick is specifically addressing the very moment of conception of the United States, beginning, as he posits, with Pocahontas, portrayed here as the first true American, a knowing and canny survivor.   This movie makes you love America all over again, the way you love Pocahontas as she’s conjured here, luminous, sweet, and full of promise.  (She’s a teenager so it’s a very innocent kind of love.)  Colin Farrell is really good at playing the mutinous rogue, a basically violent man, but he’s very tender in his scenes with her.  It doesn’t feel wrong.  Even more is the case with Christian Bale, dropping his usual intensity and playing a genuinely decent man for once.  Internet creeps who talk trash about these two stars probably haven’t seen how good they are in this movie.  Oh, and Christopher Plummer is in it too, as the leader of the expedition, Captain Newport, typically dignified and magnetic and a little bit sinister.  I don’t think we have to debate his greatness at this point in time.

I’m not sure yet how deep into history The New World actually goes (John Smith and John Rolfe were real people, but was Captain Newport? and does it matter?), but to me it’s thoroughly convincing no matter how much of it is actually true.  Does that make sense?  There’s a truly epic sweep to this movie — normally when I describe a movie as “epic”, I’m talking about scope or distance, but in this case the epicness actually feels like it spans a gap of centuries.  Malick, as ever, is able to evoke all the most ancient platitudes of storytelling and moviemaking, and to make them true through his poetic vision.

Yeah, I’d say it’s worth watching.






Suggested reading:


Days Of Heaven.

In Bruges.