Category Archives: 3 stars

Destry Rides Again

Destry Rides Again (1939): United States – directed by George Marsahll

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some violence, and a few pants-less men

Destry Rides Again isn’t a typical Western, in many respects.  Destry himself is a non-violent pansy for much of the movie, in a move that I can applaud the filmmakers for attempting.  With Jimmy Stewart occupying a lead role alongside Marlene Dietrich, the film becomes a near-classic, held up by only a few flaws.

The story is nothing terribly original for a Western, though in late 1930’s America it probably hadn’t been tried too many times before (discounting the 1932 version of the book).  Some inconsistent tones hurt the film toward the end, but with a strong cast and a competent production, Destry Rides Again is worth watching, if only to see an early iteration of Jimmy Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd from Harvey.

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Little Miss Marker (1934)

Little Miss Marker (1934): United States – directed by Alexander Hall

Not rated by the MPAA – contains gangsters and a little girl used as betting collateral

There’s hardly been a cuter child star than Shirley TempleHenry Thomas in E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial [review here] is perhaps close, and closer still is Ronny Howard in The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.  But Shirley Temple lights up the screen every time she appears, regardless of how many times she glances off camera to look for direction.  In short shots she is radiant, practically the best part of Little Miss Marker.

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Henry V (1944)

Henry V (1944): United Kingdom – directed by Laurence Olivier

Not rated by the MPAA – contains some mild violence

Laurence Olivier’s 1944 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Henry V is a bit of an odd bird.  The full title, as given in the credits, is The Chronicle History of King Henry the Fift with His Battell Fought at Agincourt in France, a name which likely was rather bulky for a marquee.  The film itself is almost as odd as Shakespeare’s original title seems today.  It begins as a period piece, a filmed stage play in early 1600’s England, then transitions into more traditional cinematic territory.  It never finds a solid footing, however, and is tonally scattered.

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The Town

The Town (2010): United States – directed by Ben Affleck

Rated R by the MPAA – contains language, violence, sexual content, very brief nudity, drug content

There has been a shortage of car chases in adult cinema recently; The Town intends to eradicate this problem.  But to sell the film short as nothing more than an action/crime caper would be a shame, because it will disappoint the audience looking only for chases and fail to reveal some of the deeper themes of the film.

Ben Affleck has done an admirable job reshaping his career.  From his start as a pretty boy to his role as Jennifer Lopez’s stripper pole in Gigli, Affleck certainly seemed deserving of his South Park nickname: Ben Assfleck.  But then he stepped behind the camera for Gone Baby Gone, proving that he had the filmmaking chops necessary to craft a dramatic, gritty film.  More importantly, he kept himself behind the camera, forcing critics to reevaluate his supposed ego.  With The Town he remains behind the camera, but has adequately improved his acting chops so his turn as a star isn’t disappointing.

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Easy A

Easy A (2010): United States – directed by Will Gluck

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – contains language, sexual content

Easy A has been compared to Mean Girls quite favorably, something the marketing squad at Screen Gems most likely does not mind.  After all, Mean Girls was smart and witty, and had a heart; rare ingredients for a teen comedy.  And while Easy A is not quite on the level of Mean Girls, it is often smart, sometimes witty, and eventually finds its heart.

The story is explained in the first few minutes as a modern day take on The Scarlet Letter.  Olive (Emma Stone) is narrating her story to a webcam, explaining how her life ended up as it is now.  Most of the film is spent exploring her story, the story of how Olive became the most infamous slut at Ojai North High School.

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Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole (2010): United States/Australia – directed by Zach Snyder

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains violence, intense action

Many have wondered if Zach Snyder, helmer of 300, Watchmen, and the Dawn of the Dead remake, could successfully transfer his skills to a more family friendly genre.  Then initial trailers appeared, with images of owls flying in slow motion through rain (it helped knowing that the film would be in 3D), and folks were rightfully concerned.  This trepidation makes it all the more relieving that Snyder has successfully created a family friendly feature, albeit one that will appeal to more boys than girls.

The story, based on the line of books by Kathryn Lasky, is occasionally convoluted but rarely difficult to follow.  Soren (voice of Jim Sturgess) is a young barn owl, contentedly living at home with his little sister Eglantine (Adrienne DeFaria) and brother Kludd (Ryan Kwanten).  He tells his sister grand tales of the legendary Guardians of Ga’Hoole, a mysterious group of owls that protect the weak and battle evil.  Kludd is less convinced that they exist, and his cynicism spills over into his sibling rivalry with Soren.  They are just beginning to learn to fly, but Kludd’s strength and over-exertion are too loud for barn owls.  Soren’s graceful gliding is more highly praised by their parents, and this is just the beginning of their Cain and Abel conflict.

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The American

The American (2010): United States – directed by Anton Corbijn

Rated R by the MPAA – contains violence, brief language, nudity, sexuality

The American moves slowly, which makes for a pleasurable experience when filmed by someone with a photographer’s eye, such as Anton Corbijn.  A multi-national production (though financed with American funds), the film slowly explores a variety of themes through a simple story revolving around Jack.

Jack (George Clooney) is a hit man.  He is first introduced at an isolated chalet on the edge of a frozen Swedish lake.  He is accompanied by a lovely friend, Ingrid (Irina Björklund), but their relationship is brought to an abrupt halt.  Finding himself less than welcome in Sweden, Jack heads to Rome, where he is given new instructions; he is to hole up in a small hillside village and wait.

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Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969)

Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1969): United States – directed by Herbert Ross

Rated G by the MPAA – contains a little very mild language

There is a certain charm in this 1969 version of Goodbye, Mr. ChipsPeter O’Toole is sympathetic and occasionally adorable in his naivety, and his academic manners are a perfect contrast to the real world of Britain in the first half of the 20th century.  There are a number of flaws to the film, not the least of which is its excessive run time and a propensity for rather dull moments, but the unique English charm of Arthur Chipping will make the experience worthwhile for Anglophiles and fans of slow romantic films.

O’Toole is Mr. Chips, or Arthur Chipping to his passel of schoolchildren.  He is a school master at Brookfield, a respectable school for boys of reputable families.  He is strict and unpleasant, focused entirely on the education of his children.  At one point he won’t let a child out of class to compete in the tennis tournament because he intends for the class to go an extra hour.  It makes no matter that the boy’s father is Lord Sutterwick (George Baker), an important donor.

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Despicable Me

Despicable Me (2010): United States – directed by Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some cartoonish violence and mild rude humor

Despicable Me is a pleasant surprise, adequately following through on its humorous advertising campaign.  It is strange that the film feels so foreign, so un-American, and this, too, is a pleasant surprise.  The film was produced by Chris Meledandri, who produced the Ice Age movies.  But this film is a new endeavor by an upstart production company, Illumination.  It’s their first in what looks to be a long line of animated features.  I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing more of their creativity.

The story is cute without being too original, though it is one of the first of the upcoming crop of super villain-focused films.  Gru (Steve Carell) is the despicable person of the title, and he is a villain of epic proportions.  Maybe not so epic, actually, as he confesses to his minions that they only stole the small Eiffel Tower from Las Vegas.  Gru lives in an evil-looking house in a pleasant suburb.  Beneath his gothic abode is a gigantic cavern where he houses his hundreds of minions, an evil scientist named Dr. Nefarious (Russell Brand), and all of his inventions.

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House of the Devil

House of the Devil (2009): United States – directed by Ti West

Rated R by the MPAA – contains some language, blood, violence, and suspense

There haven’t been a great number of quality American horror films in the past few years.  Not that the genre has ever been particularly high-brow, but there seems to have been a more dire dearth in the past decade.  Meanwhile, European horror, including French films like Inside [review here] and High Tension and the less effective Martyrs [review here] have taken center stage as far as the genre is concerned.

For these reasons it is rather pleasant to see such a precise and measured retelling of a well-trodden story in an American horror movie.  Director Ti West knows the history of the horror film, and crafts a remarkably effective pastiche of a time when horror was much simpler, more frightening, and not afraid of blood.  Even the small things are properly honored, such as the opening titles suddenly freezing like many were in the 1970’s.  Lovers of the genre, in particular, will appreciate these little touches.

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