The Magnificent Seven

     The Magnificent Seven“Nobody throws me my guns and says, ‘run’.  Nobody”.   An outstanding western and some debate whether it is the best western of all time.  Whether it is or not may be a question, but whether it is a classic is not.  This is definitely a classic with an all-star cast of Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, Steve McQueen, James Coburn, Robert Vaughn, and Eli Wallach.  Based on the Japanese movie “Seven Samurai” by Akira Kurosawa, The Magnificent Seven was re-created as a western for American audiences.  Many of the actors and directors were so amazed by the Japanese movie, they had to re-make it for Americans as the story was too compelling.

Plot:  The plot is that a small Mexican village is being terrorized by a gang of bandits lead by Calvera (Eli Wallach).  They send 3 villagers to an American border town to find guns to fight.  They approach Chris (Yul Brynner) about their issue, but he suggests hiring gunmen to fight because they are cheaper than guns & bullets.  They beg Chris to lead them until he finally relents and recruits the other six gunmen, with each being known for their talents.  Knowing they are outnumbered by the gang, they believe Calvera will move on when he thinks he has to actually fight.  Unfortunately, they are mistaken.  Chico (Horst Bucholz), being Mexican, is able to infiltrate the gang and find out they are returning for the fight because they are broke & starving.  The Seven debate leaving because they did not expect the war and the villagers are nervous of Calvera’s rage if they lose.  Instead, The Seven decide on a suprise attack on the gang’s hideout, but no one is there.  The scared villagers have let Calvera in the village and they capture the Seven upon their return.  Fearing an American reprisal by killing them and hoping they see the villagers unworthy of protecting, he takes them out and frees them.  Despite the odds, they return to protect the villagers in an epic battle.  Seeing the courage of the Seven, the villagers take up arms and drive the men out and killing Calvera.  After the battle, some of the Seven didn’t make it.  Chris states that only the villagers won as the realization of the life of a gunman.

Commentary:  The movie is excellent and a must see for any movie fan.  Despite the all-star cast, I couldn’t help but feel the impact of Eli Wallach as Calvera.  Of the great westerns, you’ll find he’s in the better ones…The Magnificent Seven, The Good The Bad & The Ugly, & How the West was Won.  Not to mention, Wallach is in many other great, non-western films as well.  His Mexican bandit/bad guy characters were legendary.  He was believable as ruthless, but was also able to interject comedy & humor with a bit of evilness in it.  Definitely an iconic actor, but you rarely here of his contributions to films.

Trivia:  A bit of trivia in the film was the drama between Steve McQueen & Yul Brynner.  Brynner was the bigger star and felt that McQueen was trying to upstage him by using body movements, shaking bullet shells, and tipping his hat to draw attention to his character while Yul was speaking.  Brynner also tried to appear taller than McQueen, even to the point of building a little mound in the dirt, which McQueen would kick down each time he passed it.  Although Brynner specifically requested McQueen for this role in the film, Brynner later regretted it as they developed a quite contentious relationship on set.  On a positive note, Brynner was married during the filming on the set.  The decorations for the wedding were the same ones used in the fiesta scenes.  Ahhh, love on Hollywood’s dime.

This is an iconic movie and, even though its greatness level can be debated, it is a great film that I encourage you to see.

**  Just click the images to check out “The Magnificent Seven” at Amazon.com **


Independence Day

     Independence Day – BOOM….”Welcome to Earth”.  This movie is sheer fun, macho man, cliches, one-liners, and rah rah America as you can get.  I can watch this movie time and time again.  Then again, I like that cheesy stuff.  I remember seeing this movie in the theatre and the crowd standing up and applauding the American President’s speech before the epic battle.  Wow…whether you like this movie or not, you gotta admit that speech was good.  Anyway, outrageous special effects carry this movie through the plot holes and make this a great movie.  They are still amazing to this day.

The plot is, you guessed it, the aliens are here and tv is messed up.  Probably the aliens big mistake to bring the American wrath.  You don’t mess with tv.  David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) finds a hidden signal in the satallite and puts two & two together.  He grabs his father Julius (Judd Hirsch) and head to Washington to warn the President, Tom Whitmore (Bill Pulliam).  His evidence convinces him to leave and they all escape the alien attack in the nick of time.  In the meantime, USMC captain Steven Hiller (Will Smith) is called back from holiday leave to defend us.  The counter attack doesn’t go well, but Steve is able to capture an alien and take it to Area 51 with the aid of refugees lead by Russell Casse (Randy Quaid), the drunker, crop-duster who was kidnapped by aliens earlier.  In Air Force One, they debate going nuclear when Julius calls them out referencing Area 51.  They deny its existance until the Sec of Defense finally admits it does and they head to see there to see it.  The captured alien reveals their plans in error and firing the nukes is called for.  The nukes fail causing bewilderment and demoralization to everyone.  During a drunken rant of “littering the planet” by David, Julius mentions he doesn’t want David to catch cold.  The plan to save the world is born.  He’s broken through their technology.  TELL THE WORLD WE CAN SAVE THEM.  Steve & David fly the 1950’s craft to the mother ship, implant a computer virus, and shoot off a nuclear missile to take out the mother ship.  Luckily, the shot gives them the edge to escape before the aliens can catch them.  On Earth, the world wide counter offensive battle is on.  But, we just can’t get enough damage.  The aliens go to their primary weapon, the President and former fighter pilot has the target lined up, but hits a wall.  Then, here comes Russell Casse, but his missile jams.  In a final act of nobility, he flies the plane into the weapon blowing up the alien craft.  Then, we got ’em beat.  Taking them down all over the world.  David and Steve find their way back to Earth as heroes.

Despite all the plot flaws and amazing coincidences that lead to the Earth defeating the aliens, the action and special effects completely make this movie excellent to watch.  The only real criticisms are that some of the macho, oneliners is a bit over-done and 1 obvious question.  When Russell is doing his noble final act, he delivers 2 final one-liners…what?  When David and Steve fire the nuclear missile into the mother ship, they say several one-liners.  It’s like the actors were trying to out-do each other and they just put them all in the final cut.  Finally, the aliens studied us for years before invading and their technology is light years ahead of ours, but they don’t seem to have a firewall protection on in their computer system……huh?  Well, overlook it.  This isn’t one of those “thinking” movies.  It’s a roller coaster film and a fun ride all the way through.

** Just click the images to check out “Independence Day” at Amazon.com **


Indiana Jones & Raiders of the Lost Ark

      Raiders of the Lost Ark – Is there anything else that you could possibly want in a movie?  If there is, then something’s wrong with you.  This movie has it all…action, drama, romance, thrills, suspense, horror, and a bit of comedy.  This is the equivalent of a movie roller coaster and a sheer classic.  Every guy who sees this film wants to be him and any woman that sees this film wants a man like him.  And the critics agree with 94% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, a full 5 stars at Amazon.com, and is listed at #66 on AFI’s greatest films in history.  And, in 1999, the film was included in the Library of Congress’s film archive for culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant films.

The plot is that Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is an archeologist in 1936.  After getting back from one grand adventure, he’s interviewed by Army Intelligence, who informs him that the Nazis are trying to acquire religeous & occult power.  They are searching for his former mentor, Abner Ravenwood, because he has an Egyptian piece they need called the Staff of Ra.  Jones deduces that they are after the Ark of the Covenant (a Biblical chest from Israel containing the fragments of the Ten Commandments & essentially the power of God).  He travels to Nepal only to discover Ravenwood has died, but finds his daughter & bitter former lover Marion (Karen Allen).  He tries to buy the staff when the bar is raided by Nazis.  They escape, but she insists in joining him so that he can repay his debt.  They infiltrate the Nazi dig in Tanis, Egypt and Jones realizes that they have miscalculated its location.  He and a friend, Sallah, find the real Ark of the Covenant, but are captured in the process.  They’re entombed in the site, but find away to escape.  After catching up with the Nazis, who want to ship the Ark back to Berlin, but the Nazi general detours to an island to test the power of the Ark before presenting it to Hitler.  Jones reveals himself threatening to blow it up, but can not do it and is captured.  He and Marion are tied to a pole as the Nazis open the Ark.  Suddenly, kindly spirits appear and fly about, but then transform into demon images destroying the Nazis.  Army Intelligence tells Jones the Ark is being studied, but in reality is kept in a govt warehouse.

The description of the plot doesn’t due justice to how well the movie is told and the action sequences in between.  There is a constant feast for the eyes, the mind, and the heart.  Ford is as charming as ever and is all man in this movie.  However, a fun fact is that the name “Indiana” Jones doesn’t refer to anything spectacular about the state of Indiana.  In reality, George Lucas (producer) once had a dog named “Indiana” and thought it would be great to use the name for the character….woof woof….He loved that dog.  Originally released in 1981, this is the 30th anniversary of this great film.  Hard to believe it’s this old, but the movie is still excellent and will still keep you on the edge of your seat for the entire time.  It’s one of the best you’ll ever watch.

** Just click the images to check out “Raiders of the Lost Ark” at Amazon.com **


Casablanca

     Casablanca – An iconic film.  One of the reasons that I do this blog is not just to throw my opinions out there, but to also motivate myself (& others) to see the greatest films of the past through the present day.  And, Casablanca is extraordinary.  It was so good that it made me want to go hug & kiss my wife…..much to her annoyance.  Considered as the #2 greatest movie of all time by the American Film Institute (Citizine Kane is #1), has a 97% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and a 4.5 stars at Amazon.com (the few low ratings were complaints of dvd extras and not about the film), there is no doubt of the legacy of Casablanca.  When I got this movie, I expected a sappy, love story.  After all, it is the #1 love story in the history of cinema, but I was surprised at how excellently the story is told and how it was incorporated into the bigger picture of the movie.  Unlike today’s movies that take months or years to make, in the 1940’s, Hollywood was pumping out movies as fast as possible.  It’s amazing that a film on this level could be made in that environment.

The plot is a cynical American, Rick (Humphrey Bogart), runs an upscale bar & gambling house in French controlled Casablanca during WWII.  Refugees from around the world come to Casablanca to depart to America and get away from the war, but they need special papers called “letters of transit” to depart.  Ugarte (Peter Lorre), a petty thief, shows up with “letters of transit” taken from murdered Nazis and has Rick hold them.  However, he is then caught by the police leaving these priceless documents with Rick.  That’s when IIsa (Ingrid Bergman), Rick’s former lover and reason for his bitterness, appears with her husband, Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).  He’s a fugitive from the Czech Resistance.  The story of Rick & IIsa’s past is revealed and that she still has feelings for him.  But, she’s married and her husband has very important work for the war.  She tries to sway Rick for the letters of transit.  When he refuses, she pulls a gun.  But, she can’t do it.  Laszlo shows up and when talking alone, reveals that he knows Rick’s feelings.  He ask him to use the letters to save her.  Things turn as Laszlo is arrested.  Rick tricks his police friend, Louis Renault (Claude Rains) to get a bigger charge on him with a set up that would make him look good to the Germans.  He agrees.  Laszlo is released and all go to the airport for the escape.  Before the arrest can happen, Rick forces Louis to sign the letters and aid their escape.  Unfortunately, Rick must give up his love again.

The famous quotes and lines are known by everyone as they’ve been repeated and spoofed to ad nauseam.  However, when you see them in the context of the film, they really move you.  An interesting aspect of the film that I was unaware of is displayed in the iconic departure scene.  While Bogart delivers those magic words to melt your heart, the airplane behind them is actually a model with midgets dressed in jump suits acting as flight crews.  To help with the illusion, fog machines were used to cover the area.  They couldn’t afford a real plane, but showing the plane was critical to convey the “finality” of the moment.  So, by utilizing this technique, they delivered one of the greatest Hollywood moments in history.  There are some parts that may appear cheesy by today’s standards, but this movie was much better than I expected.  The acting is good, especially for Bogart who was known for his stiffness.  Claude Rains is outstanding as the corrupt & somewhat creepy police captain, Louis Renault.  And, the filming was excellent using lights, angles, and trickery to carry the mood.  Movies like this are lost on today’s CG generation.  But, you don’t need to miss out on this classic.  Most of the great movies from the past can be obtained easily and reasonably today, so why cheat yourself of the historical movies that made Hollywood famous?

**  Just click the images to check out “Casablanca” at Amazon.com **


Casino

     Casino – Has there ever been a better mafia combo than Robert De Niro & Joe Pesci?  I don’t think so.  Coming off their hit Goodfellas, the formula is recreated in Casino loosely basing this story on Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal.  With diary style commentary from the main character, you get all the drama of a mafia run casino in the 1970’s.  I have to say, most people seem to claim to have enjoyed Goodfellas more, but I think Casino is actually a better movie.  I think people consider that because the style is essentially a copycat of Goodfellas and that they saw it first, then it must be better.  I think Casino is actually better told.  However, it could be that I just relate better to the late 1970’s.  I have to say, I’m no fan of Sharon Stone, who I find to over-sell her acting, but she is actually quite good in this melodramatic roll.

The plot is that Sam Rothstein (De Niro) is a top Jewish gambler called on by the mob to run the Tangiers casino and bring in the money.  He’s extremely successful and “the bosses” send Nicky Santoro (Pesci), who is a mob enforcer, to protect him and make sure the money’s being sent back.  Nicky quickly becomes a liability pulling unsanctioned robberies and getting in trouble with the Gaming Commission.  Meanwhile, Sam falls in love with Ginger, played by Sharon Stone.  All is well until Sam discovers that Ginger is helping her former boyfriend and con man.  This is where things fall apart.  In addition, Sam makes an enemy of the local commissioner causing his license application to be denied.  To make matters worse, the money being sent “back home” was dimishing causing greater concern of mafia bosses.  The courier is caught ranting by FBI microphones and now everyone’s getting investigated.  Sam kicks Ginger out and she returns causing a big scene for domestic disturbance.  And, she and Nicky start an affair that is against mob rules and could get them both killed.  Now, the bosses think it’s time to clean house and restore order.  Unfortunately for them, the era is coming to an end.

Outstanding acting and story telling make this mafia movie better than Goodfellas.  Initially criticized for excessive violence, it has remained solid by critics and fans alike.  Rotten Tomatoes only has it as 80% by the critics, but the fans have it at 91%.  And, Amazon.com rates it at 4.5 stars.  It is an excellent drama and fun movie to watch, especially if you remember the tacky clothes of the 70’s.  As always, De Niro and Pesci deliver the goods.  If you like mafia movies, this movie is a must have for your collection.

** Just click the images to check out “Casino” at Amazon.com **


Airplane!

     Airplane! – Quite possibly the funniest movie in history.  If not, definitely top 10 on every movie list.  Rated 98% at Rotten Tomatoes and 4.5 stars at Amazon.com, this is definitely a winner.  In 2010, it was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.  The movie is full of sophmoric, juvenile, and some edgy humor that will keep anyone interested in a mindless good time laughing for the entire movie.  The gags and jokes are non-stop and quick.  You may have to even watch it a few times to actually see them all.  I’ve seen this numerous times and, even now, I go…”What did I just miss?”  Yes, that is an inflatable man groping the stewardess in the picture…Trust me, there is no education here.  You won’t learn anything from this movie.  Granted, some people might not enjoy some of the corny or ethnic humor, but those people would have to be extremely picky and looking for something to complain about.

The plot is essentially irrelevent, but here you go.  Ex-fighter pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) was traumatized by war and now fears flying.  His former stewardess girlfriend Elaine (Julie Hagerty) leaves him and he chases her on her flight trying to win her back.  Due to food poisoning, the flight crew and many passengers get sick.  The inflatable auto-pilot, “Otto”, can get them to the airport, but they need someone to land the plane.  It’s up to Ted to save everyone.  His former captain Rex Kramer (Robert Stack) tries to help him inspite of their negative history and hatred towards each other.  Striker is able to overcome his fears and land the plane with some damage.  His courage reignites Elaine’s feelings.  Otto then takes off with the plane after an inflatable woman appears.

A classic comedy spoof with an all-star cast.  Robert Hays, Julie Hagerty, Leslie Neilsen, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Barbara Billingsley (Leave it to Beaver), and a great supporting cast of no names that add some hilarious moments.  If you haven’t seen this movie, you’re cheating yourself.  Some jokes are corny.  Some are a little dated.  Some are still edgy.  However, most are still hilarious and none are overtly offensive.  I can watch this movie time and time again.  If you have kids, there is some very brief nudity.  Regardless, you may not laugh at all the jokes because so many people have copied them to this day, but I bet there are many that will leave you laughing.  As I said, I still enjoy this movie after seeing it numerous times.

**  Just click the image to see “AIRPLANE!” at Amazon.com **


Rango

     Rango – What a freakin’ strange movie this is…..wow.  I spent the first half trying to clue into the references and where this thing was going.  I was a little surprised, but they tied most of it together at the end.  Johnny Depp is good as the voice of Rango, but it is essentially Jack Sparrow you are hearing.  Ironically, you hear Bill Nighy as Rattlesnake Jake….Or, better known as Davey Jones from The 2nd & 3rd Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  Essentially, this movie pulls from many of the old westerns and movies from Chinatown, Blazing Saddles, Shakiest Gun in the West, and naturally the Clint Eastwood greats Fist Full of Dollars and The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly, which many are reviewed in earlier posts.

The plot is simple, straight forward and the story is revealed early on so that you can enjoy the remainder.  Rango (Depp) is a chameleon who gets lost in the Mojave Desert after his terrarium falls from his owner’s car.  On his own, he immediately finds himself in danger, but survives with some quick thinking.  Then, with a little help from a girl named Beans, he makes his way to the town of Dirt.  After some bragging in the saloon he finds out that the town is literally drying up.  After escaping the hawk’s wrath again, he is named Sheriff by the Mayor, voiced by Ned Beatty.  Beans, the girl who helped him earlier in the film, demands he investigates the water issue.  After following a wrong path and making enemies of the moles, he finally gains evidence of Mayor’s involvement.  That’s when the Mayor calls in Rattlesnake Jake (Nighy) to run him out of town.  That’s when he meets the Western Spirit, which any western fan recognizes as the “Man with No Name” Clint Eastwood.  Then, he knows what he must do and sets up the final showdown.  Once the town is saved, there is some very un-flattering bathing suit activity on some furry creatures….whoa…Sorry, couldn’t find any pictures of that.

Rango is a strange, but interesting movie.  Extremely well done animation and it does help to know some of the old western classics for some of the jokes.  However, it is still funny in spots even if you don’t recognize the old references.  And, keep an eye on the mariachi owls for some great one liners.  But, it also has some strange and creepy spots as well.  There is some mild profanity and some suggestive jokes, so parents should keep that in mind.  The movie is not targeted strictly to young kids.  This movie is a great change from other CGI pictures, particularly in how it is presented with a more adult theme.  Trust me, it’s not like the others and not completely for everyone.  Rotten Tomatoes has it at 88%, but Amazon.com has it at 3.5 stars indicating some of the “expectations” from parents.  Some will love this movie and others will not enjoy it very much.  If you’re a western fan, you’ll get more of the jokes and references.  However, everyone can enjoy most of the movie.  Smaller kids may not “get it” and ultimately get bored, but this movie is not trying to be The Lion King.  This movie is for older kids and many references are for the adults.  I encourage you to check it out.  As I said before….It’s different.

** Just click the images to check out “Rango” at Amazon.com **