Tag Archives: Henry Fonda

Challenge Week 18: Fail-Safe

If Ken’s other film Mortal Kombat had me a bit apprehensive going into it, I was pretty excited about this one – a political thriller based on the same book as Dr. Strangelove (and released the same year), but with a totally straight rather than satirical take on it. It’s been years since I’ve seen Strangelove, and that’s probably good, as it gave this one a chance to stand on its own with little comparison.

At the height of the Cold War, a bomber squadron in Alaska mistakenly gets the message to drop nuclear bombs on Moscow, and thanks to all the fail-safe systems built into their protocols, there’s basically nothing the government, even the president, can do to stop them. It’s a nightmare of automated military orders gone wrong, of paranoia-driven conspiracy theories run amok, and the dangers of an overly efficient war machine.

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Scorecard: June-September 2013

This has been a long time in the works. Even after I decided to just go with picture instead of blurbs and the whole bit, it still took me like two weeks to put together. Lots of interruptions lately. The baby is crawling, and she has the best cord-finding radar I’ve ever seen. Anyway. Not a lot of films watched the past few months, but a good variety, I think. Unsurprisingly Joss Whedon comes out on top.

What I Loved

Much Ado About Nothing

Ed Wood

The World’s End

Fort Apache

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Quick Thoughts: Fort Apache

It took me several years to get around to the first part of John Ford’s informal Cavalry Trilogy, and I’m not sure why, unless it’s simply that both of the other entries (1949’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and 1950’s Rio Grande) both fell into the “liked okay” territory for me, so I wasn’t hugely excited about tracking down Fort Apache despite the added bonus of Henry Fonda and the added curiosity of a teenage Shirley Temple.

I definitely should’ve sought it out sooner, though. This is easily the strongest of the three films, and continues the excellent streak of westerns I’ve been watching lately. Fonda plays a by-the-book cavalry officer sent to oversee a fort on the western frontier who comes into conflict with the men already stationed there over dress code, etiquette, and Indian fighting techniques – oh, and the little matter of one of the young soldiers wanting to date his daughter.

In a way, it’s kind of like the WWI stories I enjoy so much, which basically show the demise of an old way of fighting in the face of a new one. Here, Fonda’s straight-laced sense of military honor is simply not matched to the Indian’s guerilla tactics or the rough exterior required to survive on the frontier. He’s contrasted with his second-in-command John Wayne, who is a seasoned frontier soldier and both knows and respects the Indians. Throughout most of the film, it’s really frustrating to watch Fonda, because he’s pretty pig-headed in the face of advice from Wayne and the other men. He makes some pretty terrible decisions, especially a major one toward the end that flouts the goodwill Wayne had worked to build with an exiled Indian chief.

I should’ve expected this from a Ford film, but both the plotting and character work here is really great, and as easy as it is to be against Fonda, his final scenes are tragic – the tragedy of a man who simply couldn’t break free of his preconceptions and wasn’t ready for the new world of the frontier. Back to my WWI comparison, it’s not unlike the sense of tragedy we feel for Erich von Stroheim and his class in Grand Illusion, despite that character supervising a German POW camp. It’s a false nobility these characters have, to be sure, yet there is still nobility there as they watch the world they knew disintegrate before their eyes.

Fort Apache of course works as an adventure film as well, with Monument Valley shown in all its glory, and a dangerous illicit trip to Mexico as a nice little stealth centerpiece before the all-out battle of the end. I’m not a huge fan of Shirley Temple as a “grown-up” (she’s about 16 or 17 here); she can’t quite shed the cutesy little girl persona. But the fort home life scenes here do their job nicely, providing a contrast to the military action of the main plot and a very immediate sense of what the men are risking. The military setting gives the film a different feel than a lot of westerns, which I didn’t care for as much in Ford’s other two cavalry films, but it works quite well here.

Scorecard: April 2012

[At the end of every month I post a rundown of the movies I saw that month, tallying them according to how much I did or didn’t like them. You can always see my recent watches here and my ongoing list of bests for the whole year here.]

AKA, the TCM Classic Film Festival edition. There are a few others mixed in, but the majority of these are from that Fest. Which means it was a damn good month of moviewatching. Oh, and apparently my two favorite new-to-me films were both silent. I honestly do not try to do this, people. It just happens that way, I swear.

What I Loved

Girl Shy

I wouldn’t say Harold Lloyd is a recent discovery for me as I continue my odyssey through silent film; I saw Safety Last quite a while ago and always included him as one of the great silent comedians. But beyond that obligatory name-checking, I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to his work. I was very grateful to put that to rights this month with not one but THREE Lloyd films seen at the TCM Fest and at Cinefamily, and the presentation of Girl Shy at the Egyptian Theatre will definitely go down as a lifetime filmgoing highlight. This film is awesome, taking the nerdy, girl-shy Harold through a series of misadventures whereupon he meets a girl and overcomes his stuttering shyness as he tells her about his book – which is about how to get all kinds of women to fall in love with you. It’s extremely charming and quite funny, and all capped off with one of the most incredible chase stunt sequences I’ve ever seen, and yes, I’m including Keaton’s motorcycle chase in Sherlock Jr. in that assessment. Just when you think Lloyd has done about all he can do with this gag, he tops himself and does something even more gasp-worthy. Insta-favorite. Full review on Row Three.

1924 USA. Director: Fred C. Newmeyer, Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Richard Daniels, Carleton Griffith.
Seen April 14 at the TCM Film Fest, Egyptian Theatre.
Flickchart ranking: 372 out of 2930

For Heaven’s Sake

My other Lloyd experience was a double feature (the other one is a bit lower on the list) Cinefamily and the Silent Treatment showed in honor of Lloyd’s April birthday. These were actually before Girl Shy, and were already enough to solidify my Lloyd fandom, I liked them so much. Particularly this one. Thoughtless millionaire Lloyd accidentally funds an inner-city mission, but his apathy turns to extreme interest when he meets the preacher’s lovely daughter. I really enjoyed this film, which has two fantastic extended chase/action sequences – one with Lloyd provoking all the street thugs he can find into chasing him right into the mission (where he wins their loyalty by nonchalantly passing the collection plate to rid them of stolen jewelry before a police search), the other with Lloyd trying to corral a group of five drunk friends and get back to the mission for his wedding. Both are filled with physical gags and insane stunts, all done with a charm and physicality that belies Lloyd’s milquetoast first impression.

1926 USA. Director: Sam Taylor. Starring: Harold Lloyd, Jobyna Ralston, Noah Young.
Seen April 4 at Cinefamily.
Flickchart ranking: 512 out of 2930

Cabin in the Woods

I’ve been looking forward to this Joss Whedon-penned horror film for literally years now, as it went through distributor hell along with everything else MGM owned as they fought bankruptcy. In fact, I’ve been watching its progress so long that I remember being disappointed that I was going to have to watch a horror film to keep up with Whedon, because I wasn’t into horror films yet. Thankfully by the time it came out, I had overcome that hurdle and managed to see and enjoy most of the films Cabin in the Woods references, plus this film isn’t really going for scares as much as laughs and meta in-jokes, which are precisely up my alley. I had a great time with this film, which is extremely clever in the way it plays with expectations, horror tropes, and manipulation. I won’t go as far as some in saying that revolutionizes the horror genre – it doesn’t do that so much as celebrate it, poke loving fun at it, and layer a great workplace comedy in on top of it. It’s a lark, not a deep satire, and that’s fine. I laughed a lot, gasped some, and had a ginormous smile plastered on my face the whole time.

2012 USA. Director: Drew Goddard. Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Fran Kranz, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Bradley Whitford, Richard Jenkins, Amy Acker.
Seen April 21 at AMC Burbank 16.
Flickchart ranking: 534 out of 2930

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Scorecard: August 2011

A long time ago I used to do a monthly round-up of films I saw during the month. I stopped doing it when I started writing for Row Three, but I don’t really have time to write up full reviews for everything over there. Some capsules go into our joint Movies We Watched series, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to do a quick little overview of everything I watched over here as well, if only because so many films seem to be getting by without me voicing my opinion on them at all, and I don’t like that. Note that if I DID write a capsule in Movies We Watched, I’ll likely copy it over here with only slight modifications.

So here’s everything I saw in August – not a very long list; I’ve been missing my 15-movies-a-month goal lately, but film festival months (in which I often watch 25 or more) make up for it. You can always see the latest films I’ve watched listed on my Watching page, and my running Best list on my Best of This Year page.

What I Loved

Attack the Block

After hearing about this film from all the geek and fanboy blogs for months, I went into it interested, but wary; these things get overhyped easily. But all the praise for Attack the Block is fully warranted. In a summer of costumed superheroes, this movie has hoodie thugs from South London. In a summer of flashy CGI, this movie has barely-seen yet terrifying alien creatures. In a summer of fun but relatively shallow action films, this movie has a raft of fully-developed characters, each with their own arc. It manages to successfully blend high-octane thrills with social commentary, the way good sci-fi/horror should, without ever condescending. I had a great time with this film, and it’ll stick with me for a while.
2011 UK. Director: Joe Cornish. Starring: John Bogeya, Jodie Whittaker, Luke Treadaway, Nick Frost.
Seen August 13 at an AMC multiplex.

The Grapes of Wrath

This is one that has been on my List of Shame (great films that I SHOULD’VE seen by now) for ten or fifteen years now. Literally. I’m not sure why I’ve put it off so long, other than it rather seemed like a film that would be more message-y and depressing than I prefer. I should’ve known better. Photographed by Gregg Toland, the low light, high-contrast look of the film makes it almost a proto-noir. That Expressionist surrealism lends an unearthly quality to the otherwise very earthy and mundane story of Oklahoma farmers pushed off their land in the Dust Bowl. The journey is at times excruciating, but in grand Old Hollywood style, it never fails to be gripping, and the suspense surrounding Fonda’s fugitive status was a welcome surprise for me. That said, it’s definitely Darwell who steals the show, getting the most poignant moments of all as Fonda’s long-suffering mother.
1940 USA. Director: John Ford. Starring: Henry Fonda, Jane Darwell, John Carradine.
Seen August 6 on Netflix Instant Watch.

Batman: The Movie

From The Grapes of Wrath to Batman, eh? That’s how I roll. Look, this movie is ridiculous. It has a ridiculous script, filled with preposterous circumstances, idiotic line readings, he most inscrutable riddles ever, and not just one, but THREE villains after Batman and Robin. Oh, and an exploding shark. It’s at least five times campier even than the Adam West TV show. And I loved every second of it.
1966 USA. Director: Leslie H. Martinson. Starring: Adam West, Burt Ward, Frank Gorshin, Lee Meriwether, Cesar Romero.
Seen August 29 on Netflix Instant Watch.

What I Liked

For a Few Dollars More

I finally finished Leone’s Man With No Name trilogy this month, having watched them all out of order. Thankfully, it’s only a loose trilogy, so it doesn’t much matter what order you see them in. This middle chapter takes a robbery/revenge plot involving Lee van Cleef, a bounty hunter who competes with laconic Clint Eastwood for a bounty on a notorious outlaw in the midst of a plan to rob a bank. The central robbery itself is pretty cool to watch in planning and execution, and it’s interesting for a western to spend so much time with both the “good guys” and “bad guys”. The audacity of the daylight robbery fits right in with the visual flair of the film in general and the (as always) epic score from Ennio Morricone. Perhaps most interesting is how much of a side seat Eastwood takes to the main drive of the plot, even standing aside while van Cleef stands off with his lifelong nemesis.
1965 Italy. Director: Sergio Leone. Starring: Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonté.
Seen August 20 on Blu-ray.

Aliens

And another from my List of Shame, one that many many people have been nagging me to watch for a very long time. I had put it off after being less than enthused with the first film when I saw it ages ago (but I do want to rewatch it now), but I ended up quite enjoying it. It’s a great example of how to build a good and suspenseful action story; it stays full throttle for most of the time, but it never loses sight of Ripley, and it allows her to gradually build into the action heroine she is at the end by using traits and skills established early on. The emotional throughline involving Newt is predictable, but effective. My one complaint with the film is the over-determined machismo of the marines – I got the point, but some of those early boasting scenes went on far too long. Overall, though, a more than solid film that more sci-fi actioners should learn from.
1986 USA. Director: James Cameron. Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Paul Resier, Bill Paxton.
Seen August 27 on DVD.

Taking Off

I went into this not knowing anything about it other than it was directed by Milos Forman. Turns out it was his first film in the United States, the story of a teenager “taking off” to live with her hippie friends and leaving her parents to search for her plays out in a combination of wistful musical numbers (by such up and comers as Carly Simon and Kathy Bates; Ike and Tina Turner show up for a more rousing tune) and dryly absurd scenarios involving the parents. In fact, we spend most of our time with the parents as they stumble around trying to figure out what to do and how to make sense of the changing world – a scene where they go to a meeting of parents of runaway children and learn to smoke marijuana is priceless. But infused in all the hilarity and absurdity is a very real sense of yearning, a need to connect both across generations and within your own. It’s a fascinating film – often ridiculous, but just as often genuinely moving.
1971 USA. Director: Milos Forman. Starring: Buck Henry, Lynn Carlin, Linnea Hitchcock, Georgia Engel.
Seen August 24 at Cinefamily.

Scarlet Street

I watched The Woman in the Window a few weeks ago liked it enough to want to check out this film, made the year later with the same director and lead cast. It begins with a similar setup, with Robinson as a mild-mannered middle-aged man who bonds with some peers while wondering whether he could ever be attractive to a young woman. When he saves damsel in distress Joan Bennett from an apparent attacker, it seems the answer might be yes, but Bennett somehow gathers from his discussion of the amateur art he does that he makes a lot of money from it and she and her boyfriend set out to swindle him out of it, playing on his gullible infatuation with her. The plotting in The Woman in the Window is a bit stronger overall, but this one has the advantage of not copping out the ending.
1945 USA. Director: Fritz Lang. Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Dan Duryea.
Seen August 15 on Netflix Instant Watch.

Zazie dans le metro

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this for YEARS, ever since I first heard of it and learned that it wasn’t available in the US basically at all. The combination of New Wave era Louis Malle and playfully postmodern writer Raymond Queneau attracted me greatly, so when Criterion announced the disc, I knew it’d be a blind buy. And now that I’ve seen it, I’m not entirely sure what I make of it. I enjoyed watching it, but it is much more non-linear and absurdist than I expected, with Zazie’s trip to Paris to stay with her uncle pretty much going every which way. There are probably satirical themes under the surface that I simply didn’t get on a single viewing (or may not at all, with my almost wholly-cinematically based knowledge of the era). Yet, even superficially it’s an awfully fun ride, akin to Tati’s Playtime, but with more obscure themes.
1960 France. Director: Louis Malle. Starring: Philippe Noiret, Catherine Demongeot, Hubert Deschamps, Carla Marlier.
Seen August 13 on Blu-ray.

What I Thought Was Okay

The Barker

I didn’t realize until I saw the list of characters in the credits that this is the same story as Hoop-la, Clara Bow’s final film (1933) which I saw at the TCM Festival this year. There are some notable differences, especially that this film stays focused on the older title character, a carnival barker. The Bow film is slightly rewritten (more than slightly toward the end) to focus on her character, who is decidedly secondary here. Unfortunately, this film is pretty rote without the luminous presence of Bow, and it’s difficult to refrain from comparing them. The one major interesting thing about The Barker is that it’s right on the cusp of the sound revolution, and has several sequences in full synchronized sound, while others remain fully silent, with title cards and everything. For that bit of historical curiosity alone it’s worth checking out.
1928 USA. Director: George Fitzmaurice. Starring: Milton Sills, Dorothy Mackaill, Betty Compson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Seen August 3 at Cinefamily.

Bonnie’s Kids

It’s hard to know where to put movies like this, a soft-core exploitation film from the 1970s. I tend to find these films laughably fun, and that’s pretty much where Bonnie’s Kids fell, but it’s by no means an actual good film. Tiffany Bolling and Robin Mattson are the two kids, but Bonnie has already died before the picture starts, leaving her young daughters (one in her early 20s, the other about 15) with a potentially abusive stepfather in a town of apparent statutory rapists in waiting. They skedaddle to Hollywood where their uncle lives, and get embroiled in some sort of thievery plot he’s got going on. Part crime, part T&A, not particularly memorable nor absurd enough to be up there with Batman, but a fun bad movie to watch.
1973 USA. Director: Arthur Marks. Starring: Tiffany Bolling, Steve Sandor, Robin Mattson.
Seen August 13 on DVD.

Totals:
Films seen in August: 10
Films seen in theatres in August: 3
List of Shame films seen in August: 3
2011 films seen in August: 1
1980s films seen in August: 1
1970s films seen in August: 2
1960s films seen in August: 3
1940s films seen in August: 2
1920s films seen in August: 1
American films seen in August: 7
French films seen in August: 1
British films seen in August: 1
Italian films seen in August: 1