Jubal: A Shakespearean Western

This is my first contribution to the CinemaShame project for 2016. Checkout CinemaShame for more film penance.

I did not complete any shames for 2015 after March. Shame on me. But I’m back and going to give it another go. I’m kicking off 2016 with a look at a western. The first I saw in 2016 was also a western, Quentin Tarrantino’s The Hateful Eight so I felt that genre was […]

https://cinemashame.wordpress.com/2016/01/29/jubal-a-shakespearean-western/

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Film Review: The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

  

The Man from UNCLE is an adaptation of the 1960s Spy-Fi series that was partially developed by Ian Fleming in the wake of the spy genre frenzy cultivated by the success of the James Bond films. Henry Cavill stars as the suave American agent Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as Russian spy Illya Kuryakin. Alicia Vikander also stars as Gabby Teller and Hugh Grant as Alexander Waverly.

This film was a home run for me. It made my favorites of 2015 and really scratched that spy action itch for me. As a major James Bond fan I was letdown a little by Spectre. Click here for my review of Bond 24. The film chronicles the first meeting of Solo and Kuryakin. 

 
This movie is equal parts fun and serious. One of my criticisms of Spectre is that these two things weren’t balanced. In The Man from UNCLE, it works. It does not move too deep into either territory. The performances are pretty cool across the board. Cavill has the mannerisms of Robert Vaughn down with his rendition of Solo and Armie Hammer kills it as the towering Kuryakin. Alicia Vikander as Gabby brings some spice to the team and Hugh Grant as Waverly has such presence. One complaint that I have is that there isn’t a whole lot of Waverly until the third act. 

  
I’m not a huge fan of Guy Ritchie’s work. I find him too much in the way with his style. Yet this movie he is a bit restrained. It looks fantastic and he lets the work fall on his 3 leads instead of his camerawork. This is easily my favorite of his filmography. There is such a flair to the 60s/ Cold War vibe that meshes well. I almost wish that Ritchie would make movies set in this era. It works well for him. Another point to commend is the music. A fantastic mix of songs and score sets the mood throughout the entire film.

  
The Man from UNCLE is an underrated spy film and a gem of 2015. Because of its flying under the radar, it’s hard to see a sequel being made. If a movie ever deserve a chance to prove itself again it’s this one. It’s fun, has some great action, great music selection and has an pretty damn good cast. This is one I’d recommend everyone give a shot. 

Final Rating (4.5/5)

What’s old is new again – Mario Puzo’s The Godfather: The Complete Epic 1901-1959

I am a huge fan of the Godfather films. The first is certainly one of my favorite films ever and Part II is arguably one of, if not the best sequel ever filmed. I think what draws me to them is not the crime element, but the character study of the Corleone family and Al Pacino’s Michael in particular. To see the descent of this man who was once so idealistic into a force to be reckoned with is amazing. I know it’s all subjective I feel these two films you can attach the term “masterpiece” to. 

 I’ve read before about The Complete Epic. This originally began as a TV version of the first two films cut in chronological order. The Godfather Part II, for those who don’t know shows a parallel story between the descent of Michael and the rise of his father Vito. The scenes with young Vito (Robert DeNiro in an Oscar-winning performance) obviously take place before the original film. This version takes all those scenes and places them at the beginning of the film, followed by the events of the first film and concluding with the main story of Part II. This version recently aired on HBO and is currently available on HBO Go and I imagine is also available On Demand if you have a subscription. If you have never seen these films go see them as separate films first. Then come back and watch The Complete Epic. The story will make sense either way but the impact of the story shifts subtly in each version as I will explain.

First I have to say, I love this version! I’ve seen both of these films many times and it felt like I was watching for the first time. There is over an hour of scenes that did not make the separate film releases that really add to the experience. In the original versions these would have seemed superfluous but added back to this version gives us an extra insight into characters and for me help formulate new ways to think about them. For example there are some added moments with James Caan’s Sonny in the moments after his father is shot. Normally we all know Sonny as a hothead, but these few extra moments with him getting the news, dealing with it and mobilizing his people shows that perhaps his temper doesn’t boil when you don’t give him time to simmer. At least that’s how I interpreted it. 

 Another aspect I did enjoy was Vito’s story at the beginning. Robert DeNiro has such charisma in that role and once his early years are complete and we move on to Marlon Brando playing Vito, it feels like a perfect character evolution and I still sense the presence of DeNiro in Brando’s performance even though it is the other way around. 

 There is one thing however that is lost by placing Vito’s story in the beginning and that is the parallel between his rise to power and his son Michael’s descent as a human being. It was a decision that made The Godfather Part II a great film. But there is still something positive about it. Now father and son bookend the film. We see the spectrum that the Corleone men sit on. Vito even as a young man built himself up to a point. There was line that he would intend to stay on one side of and cross when needed. Not a moment before nor after. Michael, went beyond that point. He crossed that line that his father tried not to cross and became what Vito did not want for himself not any of his sons. It makes you wonder were there signs in Michael’s childhood that Vito noticed which would be why he told him he never wanted this life for him. It’s a different way at looking at the two men. Oh and one more thing, the origin of Hyman Roth. I’ll just leave that there.

 Watching The Godfather Epic has given the crime saga an new lease on life for me. It’s a new movie. I knew the story but  now I feel I have more to chew on. If you are a fan of these films I recommend you give this version a chance. I really hope this gets a blu-Ray release in the future! 

   

The DeaconsDen 10 Favorite Episodes of The Twilight Zone

  Every year, sometimes even 2 times a year, SyFy shows its Twilight Zone marathon. Normally it’s aired with the episodes out of order, but for the 2016 New Year’s edition the entire series was shown in order from start to finish. The Twilight Zone is one of my favorite shows off all-time. I began watching when I was child and went to Walt Disney World in Florida. At that time they had just opened the new ride Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It was 1995 and I was 10 years old. The ride was amazing and to this day is still my favorite in the whole Disney resort. After the ride there is a shop that has all TZ merchandise and I walked through that with such wide eyes. I had no idea what this show was but I wanted more. I asked my father can I get a VHS with some episodes. He told me no. Since the reruns air on tv, I just had to watch SyFy, then known as the Sci-Fi Channel for the next showing. Originally I though the ride was based on an episode but found out that wasn’t the case. Then the big day came when I sat down in front of the tv in my parents room and watched my first Twilight Zone episode, The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank. I was bummed out to say the least. Yet I stuck with it and watched every Tuesday it was on the schedule. I was amazed with the stories and the twists and the hidden meanings. I love this show and Rod Serling to me is a creative genius for bringing it to us. This is why I have decided to list my 10 favorite Twilight Zone episodes. There will be no spoilers of episodes. You can check out the series on Netflix, Amazon or Hulu. Let’s begin!

10) The Jungle – Season 3 Episode 12 Written by Charles Beaumont  John Dehner plays a man whose construction firm is building a dam in Africa and is cursed by witch doctors with black magic. He obviously doesn’t believe it until mysterious things begin happening and the urban jungle in which he lives begins to feel a bit more like the real thing. This is a very tense episode with a supernatural vibe and Beaumont is a master at writing stories like that.

    9) The Obsolete Man – Season 2 Episode 29 Written by Rod Serling  Burgess Meredith is Romney Wordsworth. A librarian who is sentenced to death for being of no further use in a future totalitarian society. But Wordsworth may yet have one more piece of influence before his demise. I love this episode mainly for the dialogue between Wordsworth and the  Chancellor played by Fritz Weaver

      8.) The Grave – Season 3 Episode 7 Written by Montgomery Pittman 

      Lee Marvin portrays a gunslinger who comes to town to kill an outlaw only to find out that he has already been killed by a group of townspeople. They then challenge him to go to to the grave of the outlaw and plunge a knife into it. This is another episode mostly dependent on dialogue and it creates an eeary atmosphere. A great blend of supernatural and western.

      7) The Midnight Sun –  Season 3 Episode 10 Written by Rod Serling 

       I feel bad placing this one at number 7 because it’s probably top 5 in terms of quality but there a few episodes that I enjoy a tad bit more. A great episode starring Lois Nettleton as a woman faced with the impending doom as the earth moves closer to the sun. One of the best things about Twilight Zone is that the premise of an episode may scare you without the episode itself being scary. This is one of those episodes.

      6) The Jeopardy Room – Season 5 Episode 29 Written by Rod Serling & Directed by Richard Donner 

       

      Maybe this episode is the secret origin of Rollin Hand as it stars a pre-Mission: Impossible Martin Landau as a man trying to defect. He is trapped in a room rigged with a bomb while a hitman and his assistant are watching him from across the street. As one of only 2 episodes that have no supernatural or science fiction elements, The Jeopardy Room is a really taut episode with a bit of tension as it is a nice peak into the Cold War era that was going on at the time.

      5) Third from the Sun Season 1 Episode 14Teleplay by Rod Serling. Based on a short story by Richard Matheson 

       

      Fritz Weaver’s first appearance on the show is a standout for me as he plays a man who attempts to steal an experimental spacecraft to get his family off the planet before it goes into a nuclear war. This is made difficult by his boss who is suspicious of his actions and follows him. The stakes are really personal in this story and that’s what breaks it into my top 5.

      4) The Masks Season 5 Episode 25 – Written by Rod Serling and Directed by Ida Lupino 

       

      Ida Lupino is the only actor and only woman to have starred in a TZ episode and direct one also. And for me she did not disappoint in this story of a dying millionaire and his family on Mardi Gras. He challenges his family to wear masks for the entire night in order to reciever their inheritance. Again you can sense a theme with my favorites in that I like the episodes that get into the premise early and then have you sweat it out. This is another fine example of feeling suffocated like the family with the masks on.

       3) The Howling Man – Season 2 Episode 5 Written by Charles Beaumont Directed by Douglas Heyes 

       
      One of the series best installments is the story of a man seeking refuge in a hermitage during a storm. While there he meets the Brotherhood of Truth and he mysterious guest locked up at the hermitage. A really haunting episode that Beaumont pens to near perfection.

      2) Eye of the Beholder – Season 2 Episode 6 Written by Rod Serling 

       
      It’s fitting that number 2 is literally the next episode after The Howling Man. In this a woman is attempting to have surgery to fix her face so that she can look like everyone else in the world. An excellent episode, particularly in the use of shadows that I didn’t even realize at the time what the story was trying to accomplish. Once I did see the end result, it solidified this as one the best and my second favorite episode ever.

      Before I reveal my favorite Twilight Zone episode, I wanted to provide a few honorable mentions that I do like but didn’t make the top 10:

      I Am the Night-Color Me Black

      The Silence

      On Thursday We Leave for Home

      The Invaders

      An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge

      And now for the big moment. The DeaconsDen favorite episode of The Twilight Zone is….

      1) And When the Sky was Opened – Season 1 Episode 11 Written By Rod Serling based on a short story by Richard Matheson 

       
      Three astronauts return from a flight only to find out that they may not belong here. Sounds like an odd and confusing premise? It certainly was to me the first time I saw this episode. As the three men question what is happening to them you see the terror in them. By episode’s end, I had no idea what to think of this episode or to make sense of it. All I knew was that it really unnerved me and sticks with me to this day. A real fear of the unknown.

      There you have it folks. The DeaconsDen 10 favorite Twilight Zone episodes. What are some of your favorites? Let me know! 

        Film Review: The Hateful Eight

          The first film review for 2016 will be the 8th film by Quentin Tarrantino. The Hateful Eight is a mystery/western film that involves eight strangers in a cabin during a blizzard. It invokes feelings of stories by Agatha Christie and if you pay close attention, John Carpenter’s The Thing.

        Things begin when Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) who is hauling 3 bounties in the snow, comes upon John Ruth (Kurt Russell). Ruth also know as The Hangman is escorting murder suspect Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the the town of Red Rock for hanging. After picking up confederate Lost Causer Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) they head to Minnie’s Haberdashery for refuge from the storm. Upon arriving they also meet cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), Red Rock hangman Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), Bob the Mexican (Demián Bichir) and Confederate general Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). Once all the pieces arrive what follows in one bloody affair that only Quentin Tarrantino can deliver. 

         I had the opportunity to see this film in 70mm as part of the Roadshow experience. Even got this quaint program book. 

         
        Like movie goers of the past we were treated to an Overture while people took their seats and an intermission halfway through. The 70mm presentation was fantastic. This was the first I have ever seen such a presentation and I was amazed at the scope and clarity that I had previously had only seen with digital. This was true old school filmmaking and being a student of film, Tarrantino made the absolute most of it. Stunning shots of frozen mountaintops and landscapes really immerse you in the setting. It’s about as close to an IMAX film you can get that isn’t actually an IMAX film. 

         One of Tarrantino’s biggest strengths is his dialogue and this movie is no different. Any other film I’d be bored with what seems like pedantic banter, but in Tarrantino’s films I hang on every word. I think what enhances this is the cast which I personally feel is perfect. I have 3 standouts from the cast. Sam Jackson, a Tarrantino veteran is superb as always playing a grizzled bounty hunter who most certainly knows the world he operates in. Second is Jennifer Jason Leigh who as Domergue literally takes quite a beating, but is certainly on the level of these killers and bounty hunters. Keep in mind that none of the characters are likeable people at all. They are all pretty despicable but you tend to side with some over the others. And the last standout of the cast is Walton Goggins as Chris Mannix. Goggins is a scene stealer throughout as he plays a confederate man but damn it if he doesn’t have some charm. Any scene with him and Jackson is golden. I really would love to see a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for him.

        There is nothing in The Hateful Eight that isn’t present in any other QT flick. You are gonna get your violence, language etc. The film runs at 3 hours 7 minutes for the roadshow version and 2 hours 47 minutes for the regular, theatrical version. However to me the long length felt like a breeze as the film has some great pacing and not a moment is wasted. 

         Quentin Tarrantino has a tough filmography to rank. I am not yet sure where The Hateful Eight ranks for me as far as my QT rankings. It’s not at the bottom. That goes to Death Proof, but I can tell you this for sure. The Hateful Eight is a lot of fun and Tarrantino blending genres like he does best.

        Final Rating (5/5): Great casting, direction and pacing. Walton Goggins is the highlight of the cast.