Movie Review – The Last Picture Show

The Last Picture Show (1971)
Written by Larry McMurtry and Peter Bogdanovich
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich

We continue our “The World is Hell” series with this look at decaying rural life in an increasingly industrialized and inhuman America. Peter Bogdanovich has directed one movie, Targets (1966), and was searching for his next film. One day waiting in line at the grocery store checkout, he spied a paperback copy of Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show. Reading the back cover, he noted it was kids growing up in Texas and didn’t really feel any immediate connection and put it back. Weeks later, actor Sal Mineo shared a copy of the book with Bogdanovich’s then-wife Polly Platt and the director wondered if he wasn’t being led to do something with this text. McMurtry would come on board to help with the screenplay, and the film was shot in his hometown of Archer City in north-central Texas. The combination of this profoundly New York filmmaker and a story of the loss of innocence in Texas would be a perfect match.

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Patron Pick – Bad Day at Black Rock

This is a special reward available to Patreon patrons who pledge at the $10 or $20 a month levels. Each month those patrons will pick a film for me to review. They also get to include some of their own thoughts about the movie, if they choose. This Pick comes from Matt Harris.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
Written by Don McGuire and Millard Kaufman
Directed by John Sturges

The frenzy of war often brings the greatest evil out of people. Humans have a penchant for looking for an Other to blame for their ills and the sins of the world. We don’t have to go too far back in our history to find an endless parade of atrocities and hate crimes perpetrated on these Others. The murders and savagery never quell the sense of discontent in the perpetrators, instead planting a ball of guilt in their stomach that festers & boils. How foolishly we target individuals rather than the systems in the place that create war and strife. Easier to kill an innocent person who doesn’t look like you or speaks a different language than work for solidarity to overcome the wrong we all feel. Bad Day at Black Rock is a modern folktale about justice being visited on people guilty of such crimes.

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Movie Review – Dead Poets Society

Dead Poets Society (1989)
Written by Tom Schulman
Directed by Peter Weir

Dead Poets Society was undoubtedly a box office success and garnered much positive acclaim from critics. In college in the early 2000s, I met several people who loved this movie, especially fellow English majors. You might love this movie. I didn’t watch it for the first time until around 2006, and so this was only my second watch, but…this is such a cheesy ass movie, not in a good or charming way. I was astonished that Weir would direct this, and he was working towards making Green Card when Jeffrey Katzenberg reached out to him about Dead Poets Society. I find the movie to be some of the worst examples of maudlin shallow sentiment and a film that began Robin Williams’ path down, making ridiculous pseudo inspirational tripe.

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Movie Review – Forbidden Planet

Forbidden Planet (1955)
Written by Cyril Hume
Directed by Fred M. Wilcox

I was utterly blown away by Forbidden Planet, which was helped because I went into my first viewing with pretty low expectations. I kept seeing the picture pop up on Best of Science Fiction lists, but from the images I’d seen, it looked like a collection of a lot of sci-fi cliches. I’d seen Robby the Robot in pop culture since I was a child and always associate him with The Robot from Lost in Space. Leslie Neilsen is the protagonist, and his association with comedy probably had me expecting something cheesier. What I was met with was a psychedelic powerhouse of a science fiction movie that certainly pushed the boundaries when it was released. 

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Movie Review – The Day the Earth Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
Written by Edmund H. North
Directed by Robert Wise

This month (May 2021), I will be looking at films considered Science Fiction Masterworks. In October, I did this with some horror movies and wanted to do something similar. Science fiction is an extensive film category that has overlaps with other genres like comedy, action, and horror. It can also be very futuristic and high tech or grounded in our present-day with light elements of the fantastic. To start things off, I watched The Day the Earth Stood Still. I know some things about this movie, the theremin music by Bernard Hermann, the famous “Klaatu Barada Nikto” phrase, and the opening scene of the flying saucer landing in the middle of Washington D.C. A remake was done in 2008, which I have heard was dismal, while the original has garnered a ton of praise.

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Movie Review – Early Summer

Early Summer (1951)
Written by Kogo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu
Directed by Yasujirō Ozu

As the second part of Ozu’s Noriko trilogy, Early Summer is a more complex examination of post-War Japanese lives across three generations of a family. Setsuko Hara returns to play another character named Noriko, like in Late Spring. Chishū Ryū, who played the father in Late Spring, plays the eldest brother in Early Summer. Once again, a young woman living with her parents and being pressured into marriage is at the forefront of the plot. This time the story has more layers and humor, always remaining tender and empathetic with all its characters.

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Movie Review – Early Spring

Early Spring (1956)
Written by Kōgo Noda & Yasujirō Ozu
Directed by Yasujirō Ozu

Since I became deeply interested in film & filmmakers, Yasujirō Ozu’s name has been one that has come across my radar time & time again. Anytime a piece of criticism would talk about Japanese cinema’s great directors, it was Akira Kurosawa & Ozu. For whatever reason, I’d never sat down to watch an Ozu film, my list of movies piling up while ignoring those listed as essential. Not much about Ozu’s early life stands out, the son of a fertilizer salesman, living a relatively Japanese middle-class life in the 1910s. Things get interesting as he became a young adult starting with his expulsion from his boarding school dormitory after being caught writing a love letter to another boy. While Ozu’s sexuality was never confirmed before his death in 1963, he seemed to at least be questioning who he was attracted to.

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Movie Review – The African Queen

The African Queen (1951)
Written by John Huston, James Agee, Peter Viertel, and John Collier
Directed by John Huston

Despite his track record of dark, crime-centric movies, John Huston was also a romantic. That was on full display in The African Queen. This wasn’t Huston’s last film with Humphrey Bogart, but it is considered his last great film working with the actor. He was working with a lighter, comedy type of film. Huston also shot on location in Uganda and the Congo. The African Queen was a Technicolor picture that added difficulty to the production. The cameras needed for the Technicolor process were large and somewhat unwieldy. But in an effort for authenticity, Huston refused to shoot most of the picture on a soundstage.

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Movie Review – The Asphalt Jungle

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Written by Ben Maddow & John Huston
Directed by John Huston

John Huston was fascinated with the state of the urban in post-War America. We saw in Key Largo that there was a looming fear that the old Prohibition-era mobs would return to power. In The Asphalt Jungle, Huston takes a much more nuanced look at the criminal element, refusing to present them as one-dimensional and no good. The Asphalt Jungle was a challenge to get made as MGM studio head Louis B. Mayer did not like it. He was overridden by the head of production, Isadore “Dore” Schary. Schary was a Jew born in New Jersey who eventually worked his way up to run MGM after Mayer left when his direction was losing the studio money. Mayer favored dazzling wholesome spectacles, while Schary wanted darker movies that had a message. 

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Movie Review – North by Northwest

North by Northwest (1959)
Written by Ernest Lehman
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

In my opinion, Alfred Hitchcock’s best works are his dark, psychological films. But, he did manage to deliver something outside of the box with North by Northwest. This is a classic Cold War espionage story about a case of mistaken identity and the fallout that ensues. It’s filled to the brim with Hitchcock’s wry humor and livened up by screenwriter Ernest Lehman. The final product is a lavish and certainly expensive film with the production traveling across the United States as its protagonist tries to get to the bottom of how he became entangled in this mess.

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