Classic Movie Review: The Wild Bunch (1969)


Title: The Wild Bunch
Release Date: June 18, 1969
Director: Sam Peckinpah
Production Company: Warner Bros.-Seven Arts
Summary/Review:

The Wild Bunch tells one of the most familiar stories in film history. A group of aging outlaws lead by Pike Bishop (William Holden) and his sidekick Dutch Engstrom (Ernest Borgnine) try for one last score with a heist of silver from the railroad.  The heist is a bust and soon the surviving members of the Wild Bunch find themselves on the run over the border into Mexico pursued by Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), a former member of the gang now deputized by the railroad company as a bounty hunter.

The big difference between The Wild Bunch and earlier Westerns is that in 1969 the production code is no more.  Expletives are shouted, womens’ breasts are bared, and every bullet shot hits its target with an explosion of flesh and blood. (Previously all I knew about Sam Peckinpaugh was from a Monty Python sketch which I thought was exaggerating the blood and gore, but now I know better). A bigger change from earlier Hollywood is that all moral certitude is gone as the gang of anti-heroes does what they need to do to survive.

The Wild Bunch is essentially the template followed by action-adventure films for the ensuing 50 years.  It feels like an oddball among the other movies on the AFI 100 list but I can see it deserving a shot for being an influence.  And while this isn’t a movie I particularly enjoyed, it was worth watching it once.

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Miss Juneteenth (2020)


Title: Miss Juneteenth
Release Date: June 19, 2020
Director: Channing Godfrey Peoples
Production Company: Sailor Bear | Ley Line Entertainment
Summary/Review:

By a wonderful coincidence, Miss Juneteenth came up on my watchlist just in time for me to post my review on Juneteenth.  The movie concerns Turquoise Jone (Nicole Beharie, previously in 42), a woman who won the Miss Juneteenth scholarship pageant in Fort Worth, Texas when she was 15, but now struggling to make ends meet as single mom and a waitress at a bar.  She registers her own daughter Kay (Alexis Chikaeze) for the Miss Juneteenth pageant, even though Kai is not enthusiastic and would rather join the dance team.  Turquoise maintains a tenuous relationship with Kai’s father Ronnie (Kendrick Sampson), although he’s irresponsible about supporting his daughter.

The plot is predictable in that it’s a story of a parent trying to live out their own dreams through their child.  But it’s a predictable story because it’s so true to life, and the film is filled with both heartache and sweetness.  Beharie is terrific in the lead role, and Chikaeze is promising young actor who I think can have a great career in film if she wants it.

Rating: ***

Documentary Movie Review: The Thin Blue Line (1988) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “T” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “T” documentaries I’ve reviewed are 13th, Titicut Follies, Tower, and Trekkies.

Title: The Thin Blue Line
Release Date: August 25, 1988
Director: Errol Morris
Production Company: American Playhouse | Channel 4 Television Corporation | Third Floor Productions
Summary/Review:

This is the third documentary movie directed by Errol Morris after Gates of Heaven (1978) and Vernon, Florida (1981).  Like its predecessors, the movie is largely made up of interviews with various people edited together to tell a story.  The production values are much glossier and the soundtrack is scored by Phillip Glass.

A big change in this movie is the use of dramatic reenactments as the central crime in the movie is recreated several times from different perspectives. Typically, I cringe at dramatic reenactments and this movie has been credited (blamed for?) introducing them into hacky true crime tv shows from the 1990s to the present.  But under the direction of Morris, the reenactments appear more like art film shorts, and the way they show different people’s interpretation of the events has lead to the movie being compared to Rashomon.

The movie focuses on the murder of a Dallas police officer at a traffic stop in 1976, and the conviction of Randall Adams for the crime.  The movie’s thesis is that Adams is innocent of the murder, and examines the weak evidence against him while hypothesizing why the criminal justice system persisted in their case against him.  Interviewees include Adams, David Harris (the actual murderer), witnesses, judges, lawyers, and detectives.  Morris not only made an intriguing documentary, but the attention to the case lead to Texas overturning the conviction of Adams the following year.

Rating: ***1/2

Classic Movie Review: The Last Picture Show (1971)


Title: The Last Picture Show
Release Date: October 22, 1971
Director: Peter Bogdanovich
Production Company: BBS Productions
Summary/Review:

No one warned me that this movie is so bleak.  I thought I was going to be watching a comedy.  Filmed in black-and-white with Orson Welles-style direction, The Last Picture Show depicts a year in the early 50s in a run-down town in the Texas oil region.  The cast features a collection of future movie stars who all look impossibly young.

The film focuses on three teenagers during their senior year of high school and immediately after graduation: Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms) who seems to be basically decent but struggling with what to do with his life, his best friend Duane Jackson (Jeff Bridges) who is more of an arrogant jock, and Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), the prettiest girl in town from a wealthier family, but still as lost as the rest of them.  The heart of the town is Sam the Lion (veteran Western actor Ben Johnson), the owner of the cafe, pool hall, and movie theater, and Genevieve (Eileen Brennan), the cafe waitress, each of whom acts as surrogate parents for the teenagers.  The rest of the adults in town seem as lost as anyone else and mostly shame the boys for losing their high school football games.

There’s not much future in Anarene, Texas.  The boys can become roughnecks or go to war in Korea.  Jacy can go to college but doesn’t seem interested. In the meantime they can kill time at the pool hall or the picture show, or engage in the town’s favorite hobby: sex.  You can tell this movie was made in the 1970s because suddenly there are nekkid people everywhere. And their interweaving sexual encounters make up the better part of the film. Sonny has an affair with Ruth (Cloris Leachman), the depressed wife of his high school football coach. Jacy moves from Duane to a rich boy from Wichita to Sonny, seemingly trying out using her sexuality to become a master manipulator, but not having her heart in it.

If I haven’t made it clear, this is a sad movie.  The emotion depth of the characters is brilliantly portrayed even if lacking joy or hope.  I think this is a movie that’s going to stay with me for a long time.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Wide Awake! by Parquet Courts


 

Album: Wide Awake!
Artist: Parquet Courts
Release Date: May 18, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Violence
  • Before the Water Gets Too High
  • Mardi Gras Beads
  • Almost Had To Start A Fight/In and Out of Patience
  • Tenderness

Thoughts:  The Parquet Courts are an indie rock band from New York City by way of Texas.  Produced by Danger Mouse, the music has a lot of elements of classic punk rock mixed with funk, psychedelia, Everley Brothers-style harmonies, dub reggae, and pub sing-a-longs.  This approach could be generic but the Parquet Courts manage to make a joyful sound that’s even danceable.  Despite the amalgam of retro sounds, the lyrics of this album are “woke” (ast the title implies) focusing on current issues, albeit not through specific references but via moods that are rooted in our times.
Rating: ****

Movie Review: Tower (2016) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “T” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “T” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Trekkies.

TitleTower
Release Date: March 13, 2016
Director: Keith Maitland
Production Company: Go-Valley
Summary/Review:

Tower pushes the limits of documentary film. It recreates the events of the 1966 University of Texas tower shootings using a hyper realistic form of animation with the words of survivors spoken by actors. It’s effective at putting the audience into the chaos of the massacre and showing the youth of most of the people involved. There are some neat effects such as animation of the KTBX radio mobile unit overlaid over archival film of the University of Texas campus. There are also cinematic asides such as depictions of visions a man may have seen as suffered from heat stroke or a women’s Day-Glo daydream about her romance with her now murdered boyfriend.

The woman, Claire Wilson, is one of the key figures in the movie. An 18-year-old student and 8 months pregnant, Wilson was the first person shot from the tower, killing her baby. Her boyfriend Thomas Frederick Eckman was killed instantly by the next shot. Wilson lay on the broiling pavement for nearly 90 minutes wondering if she would live. In one of the many acts of bravery that day, another student Rita Star Pattern ran into the line of fire and lay by Wilson, keeping her conscious and her spirits up. In one of the more stunning moments of the film as Wilson wonders if she would live the animation dissolves to reveal a very much alive Claire Wilson in her 60s.

Another key figure is John “Artly” Fox, a student who heard news of the shooting and not realizing the severity of what was happening, went to campus to check it out. Fox found himself in the midst of the terror, and with a friend would eventually run out to carry Wilson to safety. Other subjects include the police officers and curiously a bookstore employee who reach the tower and kill the shooter.

This was not the first mass shooting in US history, and not even the first school shooting, but in 1966 they was definitely not a public awareness of this kind of random violence in public places. This is evident in the ad hoc approach that first responders made in response to the shooting. The aftermath was also very different from what we’d expect today. There was no candlelight ceremony, no memorial service, no monument on the campus until 2006. In fact, the university was only closed for one day. The survivors did not speak of the event at all. Remarkably, Wilson and Fox did not meet again until the making of this movie, and they discuss how therapeutic it is for them to speak of the shooting.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

This documentary vividly recreates the terror of a mass shooting and depicts the long lasting trauma of crimes that have become all too familiar to us in the present day.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Read: Guns by Stephen King is a concise case for the necessary regulation of firearms in the United States, a call that’s fallen on deaf ears since at least 1966.

Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming.
Rating: ****

Book Review: What was the Alamo? by Pam Pollack


Author: Pam Pollack
TitleWhat was the Alamo?
Publication Info: New York, New York, USA : Grosset & Dunlap, an Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., [2013]
Summary/Review:

The Alamo is something this northeasterner only knew the vague details about, so I was pleased to read this children’s history book with my son.  Interesting details include the infighting and poor planning of the “heroes” of the Alamo that contributed to their defeat, as well as a broader picture of the conflicts among the Mexicans and American settlers in Texas.

Rating: ***