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  • November 17, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: Swing Time

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses the best Astaire-Rogers movie, directed by George Stevens.


    The Americanization of Emily (1964)

    What It’s About:
    John “Lucky” Garnett (Fred Astaire) isn’t so lucky in matters of love. He’s late to his own wedding, and his perturbed would-be father-in-law won’t give him a return engagement until Lucky raises a large sum of money to properly support his daughter. So off the dancer/performer goes with his loyal pal “Pop” (Victor Moore) to make his fortune in New York. There, he quickly meets dance instructor Penny Carroll (Ginger Rogers), and soon all thoughts of his fiancee evaporate. Lucky and Penny (get it?) are soon a couple on and off the dance floor, but before they can twirl themselves away to wedded bliss, there remain some romantic strings to untangle.

    Why I Love It:
    George Stevens’s classic Astaire-Rogers entry too often takes a back seat to the prior year’s “Top Hat”, and shouldn’t, as it’s every bit as good. The dancing sequences are unmatched in the series, particularly the “Bojangles of Harlem” number, and the gossamer Kern-Fields score includes the immortal “The Way You Look Tonight”, and the overlooked “Never Gonna Dance”, among others. Victor Moore provides appealing comic relief, along with “Top Hat” veterans Eric Blore and Helen Broderick. One of the screen’s tip-top musicals.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • October 27, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: The Americanization of Emily

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses Julie Andrews’ war film, directed by Arthur Hiller.


    The Americanization of Emily (1964)

    What It’s About:
    Officer Charlie Madison (James Garner) has a dream job in World War II catering to the luxurious needs of a two-star admiral (Melvyn Douglas). He advocates for cowardice and survival, but when he meets Emily Barham (Julie Andrews), a principled English war widow, she challenges his self-serving outlook. The two still fall helplessly in love, but will the war keep them together or split them up?

    Why I Love It:
    Written by the gifted Paddy Chayefsky, this is one of the sharper anti-war satires out there. Both leads are solid, with Andrews particularly impressive in her first non-singing role. Veterans Douglas and James Coburn (as Charlie’s womanizing fellow officer) almost steal the movie, however. Fall in love with “Emily”, a touching and engrossing film with something to say.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • October 20, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: Crucial Cage

    by John Farr

    Although his reputation has faded somewhat due to questionable role choices, Nic Cage was once one of Hollywood’s brightest stars. John Farr recommends you revisit three crucial Cage classics.


    Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Depressed Hollywood screenwriter Ben (Nicolas Cage) arrives in Las Vegas with one goal: to drink himself to death. On the Strip one night, he picks up fresh-faced hooker Sera (Elizabeth Shue), who takes a liking to the self-destructive Ben. As their friendship turns into a damaged love affair, they accept each other unconditionally, with Sera agreeing never to ask Ben to stop drinking-no matter what.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Filmed on a shoestring by Figgis, who also contributed the haunting jazz score, “Vegas” is a fearlessly downbeat love story about desperation and despair that was rapturously received at the box office in 1995. Cage won an Oscar for his gritty, go-for-broke portrayal of the suicidal Ben, and Shue made the leap from TV’s “Melrose Place” to the big screen with her convincingly raw, Oscar-nominated performance-especially in one horrific motel scene. Adapted from John O’Brien’s novel, “Vegas” is one cinematic bender that leaves a strangely blissful hangover.


    Face/Off (1997)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Deranged criminal mastermind Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage), currently in a coma, has planted a biological weapon somewhere in LA and only his equally psychotic brother Pollux (Allesandro Nivola) knows where. Crack FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) has a long, painful history battling the Troys, and undergoes a radical medical procedure transferring Castor’s face to his own, in hopes that once he’s reunited with Pollux in prison, the ever loyal little brother will talk. But the insensate Castor’s got life in him yet, and unfortunately, Archer has left his own face behind.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Despite the grotesque, almost preposterous premise, Hong Kong director John Woo’s second American-made actioner has all the savage bite, black humor, and balletic fight choreography of his best-known Asian films. Deliberately mythic in concept, “Face/Off” probes questions of honor, identity, and morality while giving Travolta and Cage plenty of leeway to stretch their archetypal good-and-evil personas. Ingenious, kinetic and reveling in its choreographed, over the top violence, “Face/Off” is a complex thriller that’s bloody good fun.


    Adaptation (2002)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Sad-sack, chronically self-doubting Hollywood screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) is hired to script “The Orchid Thief”, written by New Yorker scribe Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep). Obsessed with the foxy author, and struggling with how to faithfully adapt the tale of Orleans’s intriguing friendship with a renegade rare-flower expert John Laroche (Chris Cooper), Kaufman becomes increasingly stressed, unhinged, and of course, innovative in his approach. Meanwhile, studio producer Valerie Thomas (Swinton) is breathing down his neck.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    This brilliant meta-narrative and hilarious spoof of Hollywood’s formulaic approach to telling stories, “Adaptation” is the brainchild of Jonze and real-life writer Kaufman, who had teamed earlier on “Being John Malkovich.” In fact, Kaufman really was hired to adapt the Orlean book, and took a chance writing a zany, highly inventive script about his neurotic inability to wedge it into a conventional plot structure. He also invented a fictitious alter ego, twin brother Donald, who despite being a noodle-brained philistine, knows how to write a crack blockbuster. Cage’s sweaty, uncomfortable turn in both roles is pure angst-filled genius, and pros Streep, Swinton and Cooper (who nabbed an Oscar) match his inspired playing throughout.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more reviews of the best movies.

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  • October 13, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: Sabrina

    by John Farr

    You will fall in love with Audrey Hepburn once again after watching this film. John Farr explains why.


    Sabrina (1954)

    What It’s About:
    Shipped off to Paris for lessons in cooking and refinement, charming Sabrina (Audrey Hepburn)-the daughter of a chauffeur for the wealthy Long Island Larrabee clan-returns a sophisticated woman. Playboy David Larrabee (William Holden) is enthralled, but his responsible older brother Linus (Humphrey Bogart) has arranged for David to marry an heiress, and woos Sabrina himself to keep them apart.

    Why I Love It:
    Hepburn blossoms as Sabrina, perhaps the world’s most enchanting and cultivated chauffeur’s daughter. Under Wilder’s capable wing (he both directed and wrote the screenplay), the young Oscar-nominated star smoothly makes the transition from a skinny awkward girl who fantasizes about life among the privileged classes to the stunning object of desire for both handsome Holden and the more mature Bogart (who reportedly stepped in for Cary Grant at the last minute). And even Bogie can’t help himself. “Sabrina” is that all-too-rare thing: an intelligent, effervescent, and infectious comedy.

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  • October 6, 2013

    Best Movies by Farr: A Face in the Crowd

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses Andy Griffith’s first and best film, directed by Elia Kazan.


    A Face in the Crowd (1957)

    What It’s About:
    Local radio interviewer Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) decides to interview transients at the local jail for a human-interest story. There, she spots a drunken Arkansas hayseed named Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith), whom she discovers has a rare gift for gab and song. Before long, due to Marcia’s initial boosting, “Lonesome” becomes a wildly popular network TV star. Little does she know she’s creating a monster.

    Why I Love It:
    This engrossing and sobering tale about the precarious and poisonous nature of fame in our mass-media age seems even more timely today. Budd Schulberg’s script literally sizzles, and Neal is superb. As to Andy, this role made him, but he sure is a long way from Mayberry! The sterling supporting cast includes a young Lee Remick as Betty Lou, Lonesome’s baton twirling, clueless child bride, Tony Franciosa as a slimeball talent agent, and the legendary Walter Matthau as a wise but weary network executive. This is one “Face” you’ll never forget.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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