Weekly Update: This week was a mixture of biopics, cornball monster movies, and a couple wild cards for good measure.
Curious what else I’ve seen this year? -Click here to read the full list of movies viewed year to date-
174. Cromwell (1970)
Richard Harris plays Oliver Cromwell, the English Parliamentary Minister who overthrew a King in favor of a government free of monarchy. Alec Guinness plays King Charles, whose political policies drove the Parliament to declaring civil war against him. Cromwell is a very well-acted period epic that is cut down only by the way it condenses years of history into a handful of sequences that feel cut down. It isn’t surprising to read that the film was once significantly longer but was cut down before studio release. Someday I hope a full version surfaces, as this one shows a lot of promise but feels rushed.
175. MacArthur (1977)
General Douglas MacArthur remains a controversial figure in American history. On one hand, he played a major role in WWII and the Korean War, leading the army through some of its greatest victories, as well as led the way in rebuilding Japan as we know it today. On the other hand, his massive ego led him to defying the President of the United States on multiple occasions, including threats to expand the Korean conflict into a global one. MacArthur is one of the most powerful military figures in history, and his disobedience to civilian authority caused some major concerns. Gregory Peck stars in this biopic that doesn’t quite succeed in its stated goal of representing both sides to his personality, the hero and the egotist. Peck’s performance is stellar, one of the best of his career, but one cannot help but see through the screenplay’s clear bias towards MacArthur’s heroic side. At times the film feels downright deifying of MacArthur. This isn’t to say he was undeserving of praise, but more attention could and should have been payed to his more controversial viewpoints. Apparently the film’s budget was slashed at the last minute, forcing numerous scenes to be left un-shot. One wonders what the film might have been had this not happened.
176. Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla (1994)
When his DNA reaches outer space and is irradiated a new, more powerful Godzilla is created. Not just any Godzilla, a SPACE GODZILLA goddamn it! You can tell he’s from space because of the crystals on his shoulders… which means space? The actual plot to this one is so convoluted, and I feel like much of it was lost in the English translation. But its an excuse to see Godzilla fight a bigger, space version of himself, so sign me up!
177. The Buddy Holly Story (1978)
Gary Busey plays the young Buddy Holly through his rise to fame and prominence all the way to the night of his sudden and violent death in a plane crash. Busey is spot-on with his Holly performance, neither feeling like an impersonation nor imitation. The film plays flagrantly with historical facts, but captures the spirit of Buddy Holly as a performer beautifully.
178. La Bamba (1987)
More fact-based than The Buddy Holly Story, La Bamba stars Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens, who died in the same plane crash that killed Holly. (These two films make for a compelling double feature btw). La Bamba is the better film of the two story-wise, and with stronger musical performances thanks to Los Lobos, who provided spot-on versions of Valens’ work while also contributing heavily to the score.
179. Baahubali: The Beginning (2015)
This first part of the record-breaking Indian historical epic tells the story of a man born and raised by a commoner family who discovers he is royalty. The film then flashes back to tell the story of how this came to be, climaxing at a gigantic battle, pausing occasionally for musical sequences. The film’s biggest flaw is its over-reliance on computer-generated effects that were clearly more ambitious than the budget could produce convincingly. But this was overall very entertaining, with solid cinematography and eye-catching visuals, as well as a fantasy story that moves along at a fast pace even in spite of the over 2 hour running time.
180. The Long Gray Line (1955)
John Ford directed this biopic about Marty Maher, a Sergeant who served at the West Point Academy for over 50 years in various roles. While the early scenes feel a bit too light in tone and comical, the movie picks up steam in the 2nd act, as the character development deepens. Maher’s story is that of an average man who didn’t like the army so much as it gave him something to do with his otherwise directionless self. Over time, he became beloved as a kind of ever-presence at West Point, watching as Cadets come and go, and become officers who command him. Marty hasn’t the ambition to go anywhere beyond where he is, but his good nature makes him invaluable to the school and all who attend/work there. Shot beautifully in Cinemascope mostly on site at West Point Academy, this small film isn’t one of Ford’s masterpieces, but it’s a lesser known sleeper that is very worth looking into.
181. The Assignment (2016)
What the ever-loving fuck was Walter Hill thinking when he wrote this story of a hitman forced into Gender Reassignment surgery against his will? Michelle Rodriguez plays Frank Kitchen, the aforementioned hitman. The early scenes depicting Frank in male form are ludicrous, as the makeup team overcompensated for her utter lack of masculine features with a metric ton of fake body hair that would make the hirsute Robin Williams seem bare by comparison. Add to this a screenplay full of laughable dialogue and Sigourney Weaver being laughable as the sadistic surgeon who does the procedure. Her character feels like it is supposed to have the intelligence and sophistication of Hannibal Lector, but this is conveyed with simplistic references to obvious intellectual sources like Shakespeare/Poe quotations. Worse yet is the wrong-headedness of the story itself, which is probably why the film was protested by Trans-Rights organizations upon its release.
182. Gentlemen Broncos (2009)
Jared Hess’s most self-indulgent film, digging even deeper into his quirk bag than ever before. Hess has a distinctive style that makes his films a “love it or hate it” proposition, and this is no exception. In fact, the sheer degree of strangeness in Gentlemen Broncos may turn off some of those who loved his other movies. The story is simple enough, about a teenage home-schooled boy whose sci-fi story “Yeast Lords” is stolen by both a famous author and a local independent filmmaker at the same time, and how the boy deals with it. The movie frequently breaks for sequences starring Sam Rockwell reenacting scenes from Yeast Lords, which represent some of the most bizarre and hilarious scenes I’ve seen in recent memory. If you’re a Hess devotee, this is worth your time, but if you are turned off by his other stuff, this should be avoided at all costs.
183. Hard Times (1975)
Charles Bronson plays a drifter in the Deep South who is an experienced bare knuckle brawler. He travels from place to place taking underground gambling street fights, until one day when he meets a talkative promoter (James Coburn) who promises bigger returns if they team up. The two travel to New Orleans, where they use Bronson’s age and rough appearance to fool younger fighters into challenging him. This was director Walter Hill’s debut as a filmmaker, but in many ways it remains one of his most mature and self-assured projects. The performances from both Coburn and Bronson are excellent; this lesser known period fighting movie is well worth a look for fans of the genre.