REEL 13
Best Movies by Farr
  • November 17, 2013

    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.

    • comments (1)
  • October 27, 2013

    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.

    • comments (1)
  • October 20, 2013

    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.

    • comments (0)
  • October 13, 2013

    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.

    • comments (1)
  • October 6, 2013

    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.

    • comments (1)
  • September 30, 2013

    Brilliant Burt Lancaster

    by John Farr

    Burt Lancaster understood the importance of choosing the right roles. John Farr covers three of his finest.


    The Train (1964)

    What It’s About:
    In the waning days of the Nazi occupation, cold-blooded Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield) pushes through a plan to transport a sizeable shipment of priceless art from Paris to Germany by train. Specifically, the Colonel has his beady eye on paintings by Renoir, Monet, Van Gogh, and Picasso. Determined to keep France’s art treasures where they belong, railroad worker Paul Labiche (Burt Lancaster) takes on the tricky, dangerous task of derailing this mission, with the help of some gallant friends in the Resistance.

    Why I Love It:
    Based on a real incident, John Frankenheimer’s pulse-pounding war film is lean and riveting, as Lancaster and team work intrepidly to foil Von Waldheim’s exacting plans. Burt is restrained and no-nonsense as Labiche- thankfully he doesn’t even attempt a French accent, with Scofield icy perfection as the ruthless Nazi. The luminous Moreau is fabulous as well in a small but pivotal role.If you like movies with plenty of action and suspense, don’t miss “The Train”.


    The Professionals (1966)

    What It’s About:
    When a lawless Mexican revolutionary named Raza (Jack Palance) abducts the gorgeous Maria (Claudia Cardinale) for ransom, wealthy Texas rancher Grant (Ralph Bellamy) hires the only men he knows have a chance of rescuing his wife: horse trainer Hans (Robert Ryan), tracker and longbow expert Jake (Woody Strode), and stoic leader Fardan (Lee Marvin), who posts bail to recruit his womanizing best pal, explosives pro Dolworth (Burt Lancaster), for this tricky job. The trek is dangerous, with bandidos in the canyons and Raza’s trigger-happy watchmen on patrol, but with $10,000 each on the barrelhead if they bring Maria back, the men are highly determined.

    Why I Love It:
    Richard Brooks’s self-penned, high-energy Western, set in the waning years of the Mexican Revolution in 1917, is a tense, gritty and exciting horse drama. The teaming of Marvin and Lancaster, playing Raza’s disenchanted ex-amigos, works brilliantly, while Strode and Ryan offer fine support as talented sidekicks. Italian bombshell Cardinale, in her first English-speaking role, provides plenty of fiery va-va voom, too, especially in league with Palance’s rough-riding Raza, who proves to be quite a romantic himself. Filmed on location in Nevada, “The Professionals” is a rousing, thoughtful action movie that deals with questions of money versus morality, and the last gasp of noble frontier idealism.


    The Swimmer (1968)

    What It’s About:
    Hopping from one backyard swimming pool to another in suburban Connecticut, affluent, middle-aged ad executive Ned (Burt Lancaster) appears to be fit and happy. His neighbors, however, seem distraught and worried about Ned’s mental state, and it slowly becomes evident that his destination is not just home, but a reckoning with the devastating truth of his past- and present.

    Why I Love It:
    Perry’s heart-wrenching adaptation of the celebrated John Cheever short story digs under the skin of suburban malaise to reveal a kind of festering wound of disappointment, represented by a man absolutely naked in his psychological trauma. Lancaster never really gave a bad performance, but here he is riveting, playing a manic, effusively upbeat man who keeps insisting to everyone that he’s “okay”. Slowly, of course, we come to realize some darker things about Ned, and why he’s really not okay at all. Perry handles the slow reveal with magisterial grace, with all of it building to a shattering final image. Stylishly photographed and robustly acted, this unforgettable film will swim through your brain for a long time.


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

    • comments (0)
  • September 22, 2013

    The Lady Vanishes

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of the great train movies directed by Alfred Hitchcock.


    The Lady Vanishes (1938)

    What It’s About:
    When elderly Miss Froy (May Whitty) disappears without a trace on a train en route to England, her acquaintance Iris (Margaret Lockwood) searches every cabin and corner-without success. Stranger still, the other passengers deny this charming old lady ever existed. Despite their skepticism and her own increasing self-doubt, Iris pursues the truth with the aid of handsome musician Gilbert (Michael Redgrave), who’s more attracted to Iris than to the mystery.

    Why I Love It:
    Hitchcock’s timeless classic begins on a high comic note, then quickly transforms into a suspense film with political overtones. As in “The 39 Steps,” the priceless banter between the heroine and her unlikely ally elevates what is already a nifty nail-biter into something infinitely more special: a romantic mystery. The cast of eccentrics-especially two English tourists played by Basil Radford and Naughton Wayne-give this “Lady” extra punch, and Dame May Whitty is adorable as the elusive old lady who causes all the fuss.

    • comments (0)
  • September 15, 2013

    Need-to-Watch Norman Jewison

    by John Farr

    Prolific director Norman Jewison has hemled dozens of films, many of them considered classics. John Farr delves into Jewison’s middle 1980s output to recommend three need-to-see films.


    A Soldier’s Story (1984)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    In the rigidly segregated military of the American South during the 1940s, a highly unpopular black sergeant named Vernon Waters (Adolph Caesar) is found murdered.The starchy, all-business Captain Davenport (Howard E. Rollins), a black officer, visits the base to launch an official inquiry, and gets more than he bargained for. Though the investigation proves much more charged and complex than expected, the determined Davenport sees it through to a surprise conclusion.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Based on Charles Fuller’s play, which he also adapted to the screen, this cerebral mystery operates on several levels, as we get to know the murdered man through flashbacks and see how many people had a motive to kill him. Set on top of this is the condescension with which the inquiry is treated by the white brass. All these ingredients make for a meaty, involving murder tale, shedding stark light on the racism of the time. A young Denzel Washington is particularly strong in an early pivotal role, and the late Caesar was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of the loathsome Waters (note: both had originated their roles on stage.) This “Story” was also Academy-nominated for Best Picture and Screenplay; it’s easy to see why.


    Agnes of God (1985)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    A bizarre occurrence is reported in a Catholic convent: a young nun, Sister Agnes (Meg Tilly), is found bloodied but alive in her room, along with her new-born child, now dead. Court appointed psychiatrist Martha Livingstone (Jane Fonda) is sent to the convent to investigate. There she comes up against formidable Mother Superior Miriam Ruth (Anne Bancroft), who seems as intent on protecting the child-like Agnes as Martha is on uncovering the truth.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Norman Jewison’s adaptation of the hit Broadway play makes for a gripping spiritual mystery, where no conventional solutions or answers materialize. The movie works as both whodunit and drama, as two strong women, one representing science, the other faith, go head-to-head to explain an unthinkable crime and determine the fate of the innocent at its center. All three leads make the most of what they’re given, with the late Anne Bancroft and young Tilly particularly good (both were Oscar-nominated). An involving, thought-provoking film from skilled veteran Jewison.


    Moonstruck (1987)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Loretta (Cher) is a young Italian-American widow set to marry Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). Only problem: while Johnny’s away in Italy caring for his dying mother, Loretta falls for Johnny’s wayward younger brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage). Meanwhile, Loretta’s mother Rose (Olympia Dukakis) has her own romantic troubles, trying to keep the embers burning with preoccupied husband Cosmo (Gardenia). Just how will all these messy issues of “amore” work themselves out?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Nominated for the Best Picture Oscar and winning statuettes for co-stars Cher and Dukakis, this movie overflows with off-kilter charm and humor. Cher hits all the right notes as the bewildered Loretta, but Dukakis comes off best in the tricky role of Rose – a rare woman who’s as wise about herself as others and faces a challenging personal situation with grace and dignity. A flavorful, heartwarming delight from director Norman Jewison.


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

    • comments (4)
  • August 11, 2013

    The Parallax View

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of his favorite Warren Beatty films, directed by Alan J. Pakula.


    The Parallax View (1974)

    What It’s About: Reporter Joe Frady (Warren Beatty) is onto a terrifying, wide-ranging conspiracy in the wake of a prominent senator’s assassination. He must substantiate his theory to editor Bill Rintels (Hume Cronyn), who has reason to doubt him thanks to past irresponsible behaviors. Frady does indeed have a tiger by the tail, and the burning question becomes: will he manage to live long enough to get his scoop?

    Why I Love It:
    One of our top political paranoia thrillers, director Pakula uses this story to stir up close-to-the-surface fears and doubts about hidden machinations deeply embedded in our country’s recent past. The result is eerily compelling. Direction, script and acting are uniformly excellent, and the film’s climax is particularly intense. This subtle, intelligent thriller ranks among our favorite Beatty outings, with a jittery Prentiss and nicely seasoned Cronyn providing first-rate support among a stellar cast. Michael Small’s memorable music score also adds to the tension. View this!

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

    • comments (0)
  • July 13, 2013

    The Taking of Pelham One Two Three

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses a clever suspense film that showcases Walter Matthau’s versatility, directed by Joseph Sargent.


    The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)

    What It’s About: The responsibilities of the New York City Transit police are considerable, especially when a group of criminals takes a subway train hostage between stations. Then the whole crazy town gets into the act. Luckily laconic Lieutenant Zach “Z” Garber (Walter Matthau) is the man on the scene, and he’s determined to flush out his clever quarry before gang ringleader Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw) fulfills his promise of killing the passengers one-by-one.

    Why I Love It:
    Joseph Sargent’s pulsating cat-and-mouse thriller gives off a potent seventies flavor, a time when the Big Apple was in fiscal crisis. Salty New York characters are in abundance, and dog-faced Matthau fits right in, effortlessly assuming the jaded, rumpled contours of veteran Manhattan cop. As Z’s chief nemesis, Shaw’s Mr. Blue is a study in contrasts: cold, sharp, organized, and ruthless. In a city already coming apart at the seams, can overextended authorities prevail over these audacious criminals?

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

    • comments (0)
  • July 7, 2013

    The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses Norman Jewison’s hilarious cold war comedy co-starring Carl Reiner.


    The Russians Are Coming (1966)

    What It’s About: When an off-course submarine runs aground just off the coast of New England, Soviet commander Lt. Rozanov (Alan Arkin) and two English-speaking crewmen try to finagle a boat with enough juice to free them. Unfortunately, their attempt to impersonate Norwegians doesn’t fly in town, and Sheriff Link Mattocks (Brian Keith) spreads word that the communists are finally invading.

    Why I Love It:
    One of the nuttiest Cold War comedies of the 1960s, Norman Jewison’s box-office hit “The Russians Are Coming” has a broad, frantic quality that will resonate with kids, past and present. Oscar nominee Arkin stands out as the desperate Russian commander trying to avoid an international incident, and Jonathan Winters is a howl as an unhinged deputy sheriff mobilizing the nearby village. Note: a short advance briefing on the dynamics of the Cold War will likely increase your kids’ enjoyment of this movie.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

    • comments (0)
  • June 30, 2013

    Pulp Fiction (1994)

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses John Travolta’s big comeback film, directed by Quentin Tarantino.


    Pulp Fiction (1994)

    What It’s About: Ground-breaking film tracks various Los Angeles lowlifes-including two hit men, Vincent Vega (John Travolta) and Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson)-whose fates are entwined with fading boxer Butch (Bruce Willis), underworld boss Marsellus (Ving Rhames), and his wife Mia ( Uma Thurman), a gorgeous moll with a nose for trouble.

    Why I Love It:
    A genre-twisting, savagely funny tour de force, with vignettes of bantering hit-men, crooked boxers, petty thieves, and an alluring gangster’s wife, all cutting back and forth in time. With its exhilarating, entertaining stew of pop-culture references courtesy of director/screenwriter Tarantino and co-writer Roger Avary, “Pulp” earns its status as one of the most influential films of the ’90s. For those able to tolerate its blend of pitch-black comedy and brutal violence (it’s not for everyone), it’s a must-see film. Famous as John Travolta’s comeback vehicle.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

    • comments (0)
Page 1 of 1512345...10...Last »