Ken’s Movie Diary 2017 – Week 23

Weekly Update: Another week in hospital, another random bunch of streaming films watched.

Curious what else I’ve seen this year? -Click here to read the full list of movies viewed year to date-

184. The Mechanic (1972)

Charles Bronson stars as a hitman for the mob who is revered for his clean work. Bronson meets the son of a young man who he assassinated (Jan Michael Vincent) who is fascinated with Bronson’s line of work.  Comfortable with the irony of the situation, Bronson takes Jan Michael Vincent under his wing and trains him as his protégé. Since this is a Michael Winner film, there really is no subtext or deeper themes, just fetishization of violence.  But Bronson gives a solid performance and the movie has plenty to satisfy genre fanatics.  Just don’t come looking for good dialogue.

185. Park Row (1952)

Samuel Fuller was a journalist before working in movies and Park Row was his love-letter to the industry. It is the mid-1800s in New York, and the biggest American newspapers are based on the titular street. The film depicts a conflict between two newspapers, one young and idealistic, one established and less than reliable.  Park Row is a rallying cry for the Fourth Estate, a challenge to rise to high ideals and report the news honestly and with integrity. The film can occasionally fall into melodrama, and certainly can be accused of preaching, but in this day of media confusion, where one doesn’t know whose side of the story to trust, the message of Park Row is uniquely relevant.

186. Silver City (2004)

This George W. Bush-era political satire by director John Sayles tells a compelling and often funny mystery story set within the campaign of a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Colorado. When a body is discovered on the site of the candidate’s (Chris Cooper) shoot for a political commercial, the campaign manager (Richard Dreyfuss) hires a private investigator (Danny Huston) to look into the background of a handful of potential political enemies, and he discovers a conspiracy of environmental neglect and corruption. The movie meanders a bit too much in the 2nd act, despite a strong start, and never quite catches its breath.  But the film is full of solid performances and a strongly written screenplay that justifies a viewing for fans of political satire.

187. The Glass Shield (1994)

Director Charles Burnett’s first foray into “commercial” filmmaking is a workable police drama about racism with a strong message and solid performances. The script is the film’s weakest point, with dialogue that feels right out of a soap opera. Every character is written too “on the nose”, with one-dimensional motivations. The 3rd act struggles to come to a justifiable conclusion, and winds up falling somewhere on the weak end of “acceptable” in terms of viewer satisfaction.  Burnett wisely didn’t return to making films like this, instead focusing on smaller character pieces which befitted his style far more.

188. That Guy Dick Miller (2014)

If you don’t know Dick Miller, you’ve probably never seen a movie by Director Joe Dante or Roger Corman. As this documentary’s title indicates, Dick Miller is one of those ever-present “that guy” character actors who often will appear in just a single scene of a movie, just to say a few lines, but are capable of carrying a full film on their own as well.  Miller has a winning and affable New Yorker personality that endeared him to numerous directors and scored him a solid working career that continues to this day.  This doc traces the origins of Miller’s semi-stardom to its roots.  An excellent documentary for B-movie fans.

189. The Night of the Generals (1967)

This unique war film plays out more like a mystery, as it focuses on the murder of a prostitute in Warsaw in the 1940s during the German Occupation.  The Investigator in charge, Major Grau (Omar Sharif), has narrowed his search to three unlikely targets: General von Seidlitz-Gabler (Charles Gray), General Kahlenberge (Donald Pleasence), and General Tanz (Peter O’Toole). The investigation is played out alongside the backdrop of Operation Valkyrie; the plot to kill Hitler.  This subplot unfortunately serves little to advance the mystery and comes off feeling like an unnecessary extra that just slows the pacing down. Still, WWII film buffs will get a lot out of this, and as a bonus, the movie features Peter O’Toole delivering a truly sinister performance.

190. The Secret of Roan Inish (1994)

This Irish fairytale written and directed by John Sayles tells the story of Fiona, a little girl who moves in with her grandparents in the seaside village near the island where she was born.  Years ago when the family island was being evacuated due to the war, Fiona’s infant brother Jaime washed away with the tide, his bassinet washing away faster than any boat could catch up.  When Fiona arrives at her grandparents, she takes in the local folktales of the region, particularly one about her own family, indicating an ancestor once married a Selkie (a seal who can becomes human after shedding their hide).  Soon she sees signs of a person living on the abandoned island, and a mystery unfolds that will change her family’s life forever. This is a beautiful little story heaped in Celtic lore. Not dissimilar thematically to the animated feature Song of the Sea, and highly recommended for fans of that film or those looking for a good family-friendly story.

191. Go for Sisters (2014)

John Sayles wrote and directed this film about a Parole Officer (Lisa Gay Hamilton) who discovers her adult son, who she hasn’t had contact with in some time, has disappeared and is wanted for questioning in connection to a murder.  She enlists the help of a client/friend (Yolonda Ross) who knows the streets, as well as an ex-DEA agent (Edward James Olmos), and they trace the son’s movements to Mexico.  Go for Sisters was shot for under a million dollars over just 19 days, and combined with a strong script and solid performances is a small triumph of low-budget filmmaking. As with all Sayles films, the focus is on character development rather than action, but Lisa Gay Hamilton’s stellar performance as a worried but determined mother anchor the film and hold interest for the 2 hour runtime.

192. Limbo (1999)

John Sayles’ Limbo starts off not unlike many of his ensemble films, focusing on numerous characters who populate a community, but this time around the film takes a late in the game twist that changes your interpretation of the film’s themes altogether. To go into more details would spoil it, so I’ll recommend you go into this one cold. Needless to say, the film’s title is incredibly important in your interpretation of the story. Stellar lead performances from David Strathairn and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio ground the film in reality. This is one of Sayles’ most thought-provoking films.

193. Sunshine State (2002)

This comedy/drama about an aging seaside community feels like something out of a Carl Hiaasen novel. The fictional community of Delrona Beach, Florida is struggling to redefine itself years after its tourist season has peaked.  The town used to be home to one of the largest African American summer tourist crowds in the deep South, but after segregation ended, many went elsewhere as they were able to for the first time in their lives. Meanwhile developers have been buying up tracts of land, with eyes on a planned high value gated community to be established.  The film focuses on several families and how they are dealing with their town’s changing makeup.  Sunshine State is overlong, but features some of Sayles’ funniest characters and some very profound discussion on the subject of changing times. All through the film, a Greek chorus of sorts is embodied in a group of affluent golfers whose un-PC discussions set the tone for the rest of the story.

About Oberst von Berauscht

Oberst Von Berauscht once retained the services of a Gypsy to imbue in him the ability to accurately describe the artistic qualities of a film up to seven decimal points. To maintain this unique skill, he must feast on the blood of a virgin every Harvest Moon, or failing that (and he usually does), he can also make a dog do that thing they do where they twist their heads slightly (you know, when they're confused about something) at least a few times a week. I've gotten way off track here... The point is, Oberst is one of the website's founders, so... yeah

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