Weekly Update: December 8th marks Kirk Douglas’ 100th birthday, and he’s still going! I spent this week playing catch-up on various Douglas classics that I’ve missed.
Curious what else I’ve seen on my quest to watch 365 new-to-me movies in 2016? -Click here to read the full list of movies viewed year to date-
457. Allied (2016)
Max (Brad Pitt) parachutes into French Morocco during the early years of WWII, for a secret mission. He meets his contact, Marianne (Marion Cotillard), who has set up a backstory for Max as her Parisian husband. Max, who is Canadian, speaks fluent French, and with some coaching on accents, the two are able to pass muster and attend a gathering at the German Embassy in Casablanca, at which they assassinate the German ambassador. During this torrential time, the two spies fall in love and Max proposes to Marianne shortly after escaping to England. Some time passes, and they settle down and have a baby together, but Max is informed one day that Marianne may have been a German spy all along.
Allied is a potboiler WWII-era espionage drama, checking all of the right boxes off of every scene, but never really rising above its base genre material. The film cries out for some style, or some inventive choices, but director Robert Zemeckis gives the movie a clean, albeit professional veneer which feels overly polished. There are some stellar visual moments, but they come at such calculated times that it always has the feeling of being forced, like scenes such as one where the couple make love for the first time in a car surrounded by a dust storm, or a scene where the baby is born outdoors during an air raid with fire and explosions all around them. It feels as if Zemeckis looked at his Director of Photography and screamed “SYMBOLISM”!
458. Don’t Think Twice (2016)
Mike Birbiglia’s follow up to his directoral debut Sleepwalk with Me is a sensitive and often hilarious look at the break-up of a New York area improv troupe. On the same day they learn the theater they’ve performed at is going out of business, one of the members of the “The Commune” learns that he’s got a real shot at TV fame, being hired for popular sketch show “Weekend Live”. Each of the members deal with the news in their own ways, some acting out jealously, others waddling in a pool of self-doubt. Deeply seeded in the culture of the comedy world, the movie is full of insider references without feeling too inside baseball.
459. Ben and Arthur (2002)
Billed as being the LGBT equivalent of The Room, Ben and Arthur tells the story of the eponymous couple struggling with their rights to get gay married in the face of a crazy ex-wife on one hand, and a crazy religious zealot brother on the other hand. Ben and Arthur is deeply amateurish, clearly shot on no budget and in the bachelor apartments of a handful of friends. A wonderful example of this is the indoor scenes at a church, where the asymmetrical gold paint covered cardboard cross distracts from the 2nd worst painting of Jesus ever made hanging proudly on the wall next to a window made of elementary school art project style “tissue-paper stained glass”. The dialogue and acting is equally hilarious, particularly in the final 20 or so minutes. Much of the film is incompetent, but it never quite reaches the wonderful lengths of crazy that make films such as Fateful Findings and Dangerous Men so watchable.
460. Out of the Past (1947)
Robert Mitchum and Kirk Douglas were both given their most high profile roles in this Film Noir about a man struggling to outlive the demons of a grim past he created. Mitchum plays Jeff, a former San Francisco private investigator now living as the owner of a gas station in a small California town. Several years prior, he was hired by gangster Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas) to find and bring back his girlfriend Kathie who shot him and stole $40,000 of his money. When Jeff catches up to the Kathie (Jane Greer), the two fall in love and Jeff eschews his contract with Whit. Things go bad when Kathie kills Jeff’s ex-partner and leaves him to mop up the problem. Years later, Whit’s crony locates Jeff and blackmails him into a scheme that promises to bring only tragedy. The movie is a solid example of Film Noir, and one of the classics that stands strong alongside the greats like Double Indemnity and Laura.
461. Lust for Life (1956)
Vincent Van Gogh was a Dutch painter whose obsessiveness and raging temperament made him an outcast among European society. But as Lust for Life shows, Van Gogh (Kirk Douglas) led a complex life that went beyond the obsession with the canvas. Starting out directionless and seeking a path, the young Van Gogh did work preaching to the poor miners in a small mining community. It is there he became obsessed with the toil of humanity, and devoted his artistic explorations to reconciling it with the inherent beauty of nature. Anthony Quinn plays an equally fiery presence as painter Paul Gauguin, whose friendship/rivalry with Van Gogh fueled some of their best works, even while Van Gogh’s mental state deteriorated. The film is pure performance, with Douglas giving his career’s most explosive and theatrical performance.
462. Last Train from Gun Hill (1959)
When a sheriff’s (Kirk Douglas) wife is brutally raped and murdered, he investigates and finds a saddle lost nearby the body. The saddle belongs to that of a wealthy rancher Craig (Anthony Quinn), and his son is the one responsible. The sheriff takes the train out to the rancher’s town and captures the son, holding up in the hotel waiting on the train to return. Meanwhile, the rancher’s men surround the hotel and a siege begins. Dealing with much heavier themes than Westerns of the time usually explore, Last Train from Gun Hill is ultimately a potboiler Western made exciting by taking some chances in subject matter.
463. Ace in the Hole (1951)
This deeply cynical film about the news media follows Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas), an ace reporter who has nevertheless managed to get himself fired from multiple news outlets. Struggling to find work, he winds up in Albuquerque, where he talks his way into a position and begins looking for the next big story. Finally, he finds one when a man becomes trapped in a tunnel while searching for ancient relics. Chuck knows that human interest stories make big headlines, and wastes no time building the story up as much as possible, even colluding with local law enforcement to extend the length of the rescue by days. The film portrays the media circus and voyeurism in a way that is even more relevant today.
464. De Palma (2016)
The world of director Brian De Palma is that of a filmmaker pursuing his own vision with utter determination, as this documentary demonstrates. Through use of lengthy interview segments with the pioneering filmmaker and archival footage, a picture is drawn of a man whose unease with compromise made his mainstream successes rare, and critical praise equally uncommon… at least initially. What is most fascinating about this documentary is the way that De Palma casually and honestly explains his thoughts on why he’s seldom broken out of cult status as a director. One of the most honest self-appraisals you’re bound to see this year.
465. The Red Turtle (2016)
A man is shipwrecked on a deserted island, and when he builds a raft to leave, finds his craft destroyed. He rebuilds and it is destroyed, again and again. Eventually he finds that the culprit is a giant Red Turtle. And then things get weird, then strangely less weird, then weird again. And to give anything more about the plot would spoil a wonderfully passionate, simple story. The animation (by Studio Ghibli) is fantastic, and the art design and direction by Dutch Animator Michael Dudok de Wit brings a wonderful mix of European and Asian influences to the visual style. Highly recommended for fans of animation for adults.
466. The Final Countdown (1980)
Starring Kirk Douglas & Martin Sheen, The Final Countdown is a sci-fi story about a modern U.S. Naval Aircraft Carrier being transported back in time to December 6, 1941; the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The film deals very believably with the time-travel concept and in keeping with the best hard sci-fi asks the tough questions of how and when intervention in history can take place, or if it is necessary. This isn’t a film for those hoping for big sweeping battle sequences or heavy action, but there is more than enough to recommend for fans of a good sci-fi story. Fans of The Twilight Zone or Star Trek are cordially invited!
467. Pass Thru (2016)
The story of Pass Thru is that of a mysterious and powerful visitor to Earth who has come to cleanse humanity of its weaknesses, and to challenge the human race to better itself. Words alone cannot being to describe the films of director Neil Breen. Breen is a visionary genius of the highest order, soldiering on boldly and independently of any studio system. The film is also a technical marvel, with numerous sweeping aerial shots of the desert landscape. The film is also a message film, bringing together all of the most important politics of the modern world to bear. I promise that you haven’t experienced this sort of a film before anywhere… promise!
468. The Devil’s Disciple (1959)
Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play of the same name, The Devil’s Disciple is a rousing tale from the American Revolution. Burt Lancaster plays Reverend Anthony Anderson, outspoken neutral in the war, in a town of outspoken neutrals. But one day when a member of his parish is hanged for no obvious reason, it begins his internal struggle of loyalties. When the disgruntled son of the hanged man (Kirk Douglas) arrives in town, speaking openly of revolution and touting his own more humanist philosophy, a path is set for the two to collide. This rivalry comes to an end when General John Burgoyne’s army enters town and begins seeking out spies. The film has a wonderfully wry wit and a sardonic sense of humor that brings some color to what would otherwise be melodrama.