REEL 13
Best Movies by Farr
  • August 17, 2009

    Comedies about Eccentrics

    by John Farr

    Feeling like an oddball? John Farr suggests you watch these comedies.


    Harold and Maude (1972)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    A comedy about the unlikeliest of May-December romances: Harold (Bud Cort) is a bright, eccentric nineteen year old fixated on death, Maude a 79 year old free spirit whose singular obsession remains the wonder of life and living. This movie traces how these two unlikely characters connect and form a loving relationship.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A warm and quirky comic gem that’s built a sizable cult following over the years. Director Hal Ashby’s second feature boasts inspired casting, with veteran stage actress Ruth Gordon irresistible as Maude and Bud Cort so ideal for Harold that the young actor was forever typecast as a weirdo, as mentor Robert Altman had sagely predicted. Fabulous soundtrack from Cat Stevens.


    Being There (1979)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Sellers’s second-to-last film proved to himself and the world that when called upon, he could be a superb serious actor. Ingenious tale written by Jerzy Kozinski tells of Chance, a child-like gardener in Washington, D.C., whose only education has come through television. Through a twist of fate, after his old employer dies, Chance (re-dubbed Chauncey Gardner) ends up in the home of powerful wheeler-dealer Benjamin Rand (Melvyn Douglas) and his lonely younger wife Eve (Shirley MacLaine). Rand sees the stuff of genius in Chauncey’s simple pronouncements, and soon the humble gardener has the ear of some even more powerful people.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Top “70′s director Hal Ashby’s adaptation of Jerzy Kozinski’s original black comedy is a triumph, due to Sellers’s bravura lead performance and terrific turns from supporting players Douglas (who netted an Oscar), MacLaine, and the gravelly Jack Warden as the President. Smart, funny and thought-provoking, the film’s enduring poignancy comes from the fact that Sellers had only one year to live when he made the film. If you love Peter Sellers, you’ll love “Being There”.


    As Good As It Gets (1996)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Melvin Udall ( Nicholson) is an obsessive-compulsive neurotic with no friends, who ironically makes his living as a successful romance novelist. Melvin is forced to come out of his shell when gay neighbor Simon is injured and Melvin must care for his dog. Then there is Melvin’s growing attachment to the waitress who works at the diner he frequents. Carol (Helen Hunt) can handle Melvin (a major achievement), but she has a lot more on her plate, including carrying for an asthmatic son. Is this a scenario where love could blossom? You’d be surprised.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    James L. Brooks’s quirky, touching film brims with humanity, as three societal misfits find each other and against steep odds, ultimately connect. Nicholson fits oddball Melvin like a defective glove, but it’s Oscar winner Helen Hunt who steals the film as the beleaguered, world-weary Carol. An unlikely romance with a big heart, this gem truly lives up to its title.


    The Big Lebowski (1998)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Super laid-back ’60s dropout Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski enjoys hanging loose and getting high with his two bowling pals, cranky Vietnam vet Walter Sobchak (John Goodman) and easygoing ex-surfer Donny (Steve Buscemi). But his groovy-loser L.A. lifestyle is about to undergo a massive makeover when some thugs looking for a millionaire named “Jeff Lebowski” bust into his Venice bungalow and drag him into a tangled kidnapping scheme.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Ace filmmaking team Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo”) took more than a few pages from Raymond Chandler’s seedy L.A. noir novels to create this absurdly comic caper masterpiece. Bridges is riotous as the unflappable aging hippie who finds himself embroiled in double and triple extortion plots-think Phillip Marlowe on a bag of weed-while superb sidekicks Goodman and Buscemi get to sling around a lot of ripe witticisms. Also great is John Turturro, playing a vulgar-mouthed champion bowler named Jesus, and Julianne Moore, fetching as an “erotic artist.” In typical Coen fashion, the camerawork is wildly offbeat, the dialogue sharp, and the performances goofy and intriguing. Don’t miss this kooky homage to the weird world of noir.


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  • August 10, 2009

    Gary Cooper = American

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed Meet John Doe, you might also enjoy these great films featuring Gary Cooper:


    Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1936)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Simple country boy Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) inherits an immense fortune from a wealthy distant relative he doesn’t even know, and must then navigate a sea of handlers and hand-out requests to make sense of his new life as multi-millionaire. But those who think they can manipulate this tuba-playing rube are soon in for a rude awakening.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Quintessential Capra charmer is one of Cooper’s most appealing comic forays, as his plain-talking homespun personification of rural America out-foxes all those smug and greedy city-slickers. Arthur is also terrific as Babe Bennett, the hard-nosed lady journalist who first ridicules, then falls for Longfellow, much to her own surprise. One of the screen’s authentic classics, this is pixilated comedy at its very best. Beware the Sandler re-make.


    Sergeant York (1941)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Incredible but true story concerns wild, hard-drinking Tennessee country farmer and crack shot Alvin York (Gary Cooper), who finally gets religion through a freak accident. When called to serve in the First War, his faith tells him to become a conscientious objector, but ultimately Alvin is forced to go overseas to fight. There, his marksmanship and gallantry help him kill, wound or capture over 100 German soldiers virtually single-handedly, making him the most famous and decorated enlisted man in the army.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Hawks’s timely patriotic biopic of this virtually forgotten hero provided Cooper with another seminal role (he won the Oscar, beating out Orson Welles in “Citizen Kane”, among others), and helped to prepare our nation for the next impending world conflict. Prolific character actor Brennan (Oscar-nominated as well) excels as Alvin’s plain-spoken pastor, and ingénue Leslie makes an adorable love interest. A truly amazing story, unfolding on-screen with Hawks’s customary subtlety and skill. Don’t forget to salute this Sergeant.


    Pride of the Yankees (1942)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Romanticized portrayal of Yankee Lou Gehrig’s life and career makes baseball a metaphor for our country’s noblest defining traits: determination, humility, and raw courage as Gehrig faces a rare and fatal disease (soon to be named after him), with the same grace and finesse he displayed as a ballplayer.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Potent inspiration for a country newly at war, the film still holds up with lots of patriotic flavoring. and the pungent, inspiring atmosphere of a simpler time and place. The magnetic Cooper was never better, and we even get a glimpse of Babe Ruth playing himself in this picture. A sentimental chestnut that never grows stale, reflecting a time when heroes were real.


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  • August 3, 2009

    John Sayles’ Best

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed Lone Star, you might also enjoy these great John Sayles’ films:


    Matewan (1987)

    Matewan

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    United Mine Workers union rep Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper) has his hands full organizing a cohesive group in the small West Virginia town of Matewan, as they comprise white, black, and Italian factions unaccustomed to interacting outside the pit. But when the Stone Mountain Coal Company-which owns the stores and homes of its workers-announces a lowering of wages, Joe’s message to the Appalachian miners is simple: there is strength in numbers. As the strike begins to spread, the iron-fisted owning interest gears up for a violent, full-fledged showdown.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    One of the best films of the 1980s, John Sayles’s evocative “Matewan” takes us back to the 1920s, and the primitive, perilous lives of coal miners in West Virginia. Flavorful, meticulous recreation of time and place is enhanced by powerful performances, particularly from Cooper and a majestic James Earl Jones playing a miner called “Few Clothes” Johnson. With legendary lenser Haskell Wexler providing sumptuous visuals, and a cathartic climax involving the bloody, historic shootout that put Matewan on the map, this may well be Sayles’s finest hour.


    Eight Men Out (1988)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Re-creation of one of baseball’s darkest moments: the fixing of the 1919 World Series where members of the Chicago White Sox were bribed by gambling interests to throw games.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Writer/Director Sayles creates rich period flavor, and his script does full justice to this tragic story. His cast of rising young actors are uniformly strong, including John Cusack, Charlie Sheen, David Strathairn and D.B Sweeney.


    The Secret Of Roan Inish (1994)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    After her mother dies, plucky young Fiona (Jeni Courtney) goes to live with her grandparents. They dwell right across from their prior island home, Roan Inish, which the family abandoned a few years earlier, when, at high-tide, Fiona’s baby brother Jamie drifted out to sea in his wooden cradle. Soon Fiona is hearing tales about “selkies”–seals that turn into humans–and rumors that the island is still occupied. Could little Jamie still be alive?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Set on the West Coast of Ireland in the late 1940s, John Sayles’s splendid “Secret” tracks one youngster’s attempt to uncover a mystery that sheds light on her family’s history and the fate of her little brother. This intimate, deliberately paced fable casts its spell gradually, but leaves you feeling snug and satisfied. The film benefits from lush cinematography by Haskell Wexler, and first-rate turns from Courtney as Fiona and Mick Lally as kindly grandfather Hugh. If you love the water and believe in magic, watch this small gem of a movie.


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  • July 27, 2009

    Early Woody

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed Annie Hall, you might also enjoy these great early Woody Allen films:


    Take The Money and Run (1969)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Ever since he was a boy, wimpy milquetoast Virgil Starkwell (Woody Allen) has had a compulsion to steal, only to bungle it horribly at the crucial moment. Now grown, Virgil has capitalized on that childhood promise and become a pitifully ineffectual career criminal whos gone from getting his hand stuck in the gumball machine to flubbing his own hold-up notes.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Presented as a mock documentary complete with narration by radio ham Jackson Beck, Allen’s hilarious directorial debut is nuttier and loaded with more gags than his later, more sophisticated New York films. But that’s exactly why it works: The laughs are goofy and often puerile, and for all the zippy one-liners that don’t quite elicit a full-belly guffaw, Allen piles on with cutting satire (focused mostly on footage of presidents Nixon and Eisenhower). You’ll have a lot of fun watching this manic genius at work in one of his earlier comedic efforts.


    Bananas (1971)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Hoping to rekindle their romance, neurotic New York product tester Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen) follows the girl of his dreams, idealistic activist Nancy (Louise Lasser), to the tiny Latin American nation of “San Marcos,” where she’s assisting rebels attempting to overthrow General Vargas (Carlos Montalban). Nancy wants nothing to do with Fielding, who is received as a dinner guest by the wily, scheming Vargas. After the rebels capture Fielding, circumstances lead him to become, unwittingly, the dictator of the country.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Allen’s hilariously wise-mouthed shlub tosses off an arsenal of tart one-liners in “Bananas,” a madcap slapstick comedy that pokes fun at Fidel Castro, tabloid TV (Howard Cosell has a starring role, lampooning himself), the C.I.A., Jewish mothers, and unrequited love. A crazed homage to Don Quixote and the Marx brothers, “Bananas” was Allen’s second film, and the first over which he exercised complete creative control. Sylvester Stallone even has a cameo as a mugger. Go “Bananas”!


    Sleeper (1973)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Greenwich Village store owner Miles Monroe (Woody Allen) reluctantly enters the hospital in 1973, needing treatment for an ulcer. Cryogenically frozen by his surgeon when the procedure fails, Miles reawakens in a bleak future world ruled by an unseen Orwellian Leader. Forced to disguise himself as an android to evade police, Miles eventually teams up with Pollyanna-ish greeting-card writer Luna Schlosser (Diane Keaton) and joins the underground resistance.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    An absurdist parody of sci-fi movies, Allen’s “Sleeper” deftly mixes witty one-liners and nutty sight gags to lampoon the absurdities of contemporary society. Allen reaches Buster Keaton-esque comedic greatness here-battling a giant pudding, surviving an Orgasmatron, morphing into Blanche Dubois-and has a naturally funny, gentle rapport with Keaton, the perfect foil. With Allen’s own Dixieland score providing a manic tempo for all the pratfalls and arch social commentary, “Sleeper” is one of the writer-director’s looniest and most hilarious efforts.


    Love and Death (1975)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Set during the Napoleonic Wars, noted intellectual and coward Boris Grushenko (Woody Allen) adores the beautiful Sonja, but she only has eyes for Boris’s mind. Sonja finally agrees to marry him, then enlists Boris in a daring scheme to assassinate Napoleon. Of course, all these shenanigans only serve to confirm the utter futility of human existence-but hey, it’s better than being dead!

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Director/writer/star Allen hits dizzying comedic heights in this zany spoof of Russian literature. Diane Keaton continues to build on her distinctively ditzy persona as the idealistic but scattered Sonja. Populated with assorted other colorful types, the film’s sustained hilarity makes it fully worthy of repeat visits. (Don’t miss that side-splitting scene at the opera where Boris makes goo-goo eyes at the buxom countess!)


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  • July 19, 2009

    Lolita

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed Lolita, you might also enjoy these great films:


    Baby Doll

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In the Deep South, glum-faced cotton-gin proprietor Archie (Karl Malden) is married to coy, dim-witted teenage nymph Baby Doll (Carroll Baker), who sleeps in a crib, sucks her thumb, and refuses to yield her virginity to her husband until her 20th birthday. When wily Sicilian rival Silva Vaccaro (Eli Wallach, a Broadway veteran in his film debut) arrives with plans to take over Archie’s business – and his lovely young wife – Archie’s insecurities turn quickly into raging, desperate acts of jealousy.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Notorious in its time as the filthiest picture ever made, this steamy, depraved black comedy from the poison pen of Tennessee Williams is expertly handled by Kazan, who had the picture shot in crisp, stark black-and-white. Malden’s disturbing portrayal of cuckold-to-be Archie is a far cry from his later TV stint on “Streets of San Francisco”, believe me. But also see it for a wonderfully sleazy Wallach, and the Oscar-nominated Baker, who scores as manipulative coquette Baby Doll, especially in a porch-swing scene with the lusty Silva. One of Kazan’s trashiest efforts – in the best sense.


    The Killing

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    A documentary-like depiction of an intricate race track robbery, master-minded by one Johnny Clay (Sterling Hayden). A small-timer, Clay may be in over his head and his crew senses it. The film gives off a palpable tension and sense of impending doom, but the job goes ahead anyway.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Skillfully paced, edge-of-your-seat entertainment, accented by vivid characterizations (Elisha Cook and Marie Windsor stand out as a dysfunctional couple) and stark, striking cinematography from Lucien Ballard. This picture put Kubrick on the map. Watch and witness the budding of a cinematic genius. Co-scripted by the director with Jim Thompson, who also wrote “The Grifters.”


    Paths of Glory

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    An aloof, ambitious French general (Adolphe Menjou) sends his men out on a suicide mission during the First World War, and when they ultimately retreat, selects three soldiers at random to face charges of cowardice, for which the sentence is death. Guilt-ridden and seething with injustice, the soldiers’ commander (Kirk Douglas) defends his men in the court martial proceedings.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Few films expose war’s insanity more starkly, contrasting the all-powerful, remote armchair generals with young recruits, mere pawns in an obscene political game, who get slaughtered on the front line of the war to end all wars. We share Douglas’ righteous fury at the plight of his men as the rushed sham of a trial progresses. One of Stanley Kubrick’s earlier, less self-indulgent gems, this stark, disturbing anti-war film hasn’t aged a bit.


    American Beauty

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Leading an empty suburban life with his uptight, real-estate-agent wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), and depressed teenage daughter, Jane (Thora Birch), sardonic fortysomething Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey) decides to overhaul his body–and his life–when he falls madly in lust with gorgeous nubile Angela (Mena Suvari), Jane’s flirtatious best friend.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This superlative drama by theater director Sam Mendes peers at the dark side of American middle-class life with ripe, risqué humor and aching poignancy. Both screenwriter Alan Ball and cinematographer Conrad L. Hall were honored along with Mendes at the 1999 Academy Awards for their evocation of suburban alienation, but Kevin Spacey, whose cool, cynical narration constitutes the film’s central nervous system, deserved all the acclaim he received for bringing Lester to life (including a Best Actor Oscar). Working in a subplot involving Lester’s new neighbors, an unhinged Marine (Chris Cooper) and his artsy, drug-dealing son (Wes Bentley), Mendes gives this “Beauty” a gut-wrenching finale that completes Lester’s transformation.


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  • July 19, 2009

    Sylvia

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed Sylvia, you might also enjoy these great films:


    Hard Eight

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Down and out after blowing it all at the casinos, doltish amateur John (John C. Reilly) is slumped outside a Reno coffee shop counting his last dimes when Sydney (Philip Baker Hall), a long-faced veteran card sharp, buys him breakfast and offers him some priceless tips. Two years later, Sydney and John are partners, but John threatens to blow their business venture when he falls for Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow), a dim-witted Vegas cocktail waitress who turns tricks on the side.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Before he became famous as the director of “Boogie Nights,” Altman acolyte Anderson directed this intriguing indie about three hard-luck denizens of the seedy Nevada casino scene. Anderson’s forte (like his late mentor’s) is his feel for atmosphere and character, and here he builds “Eight” from quiet, somber drama to shocking neo-noir, especially once Samuel L. Jackson steps into the picture as a blackmailing thug. Reilly and Paltrow (playing boldly against type) shine as tragic casualties of their own low-watt brain cells, and Hall is superb as the heavy-lidded, avuncular gambler with inscrutable aims of his own. If you like a bit of Vegas sleaze with your slow-burning thriller, drop a dime on “Hard Eight.”


    Layer Cake

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Matthew Vaughn’s twisty gangster picture concerns a nameless cocaine middleman (Daniel Craig) who foolishly believes he’s got his risky business well under control and can get out anytime he pleases. His cocky efficiency annoys one of his superiors however, and soon our hero’s tidy little enterprise is turned upside down with a couple of distracting side-bar assignments, which lead to some double- and triple-crosses. Is our nameless anti-hero clever enough to put himself back together again?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Breathless and slick, intelligent and dense, this dynamite thriller marks an auspicious directorial debut for Vaughn, who produced Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch”. This picture lacks the black humor of these earlier features, but trumps them both on sheer impact and excitement. Craig is terrific in the lead, though two other performances- Colm Meaney as elder crook Gene and Michael Gambon as ringleader Eddie Temple- elevate the film to immediate classic status. I say: let them eat “Cake”.


    Control

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Corbijn’s searing biopic follows the personal and professional travails of Ian Curtis (Sam Riley), front man for the seminal Manchester post-punk outfit Joy Division, who hanged himself at the peak of his fame. In the mid 1970s, Curtis forms a band, fathers a child with devoted Deborah (Samantha Morton), and attempts to manage an extreme form of epilepsy, all while battling the inner torment that would eventually consume him.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    With his debut film, photographer Anton Corbijn recreates the milieu of working-class Britain and the raw Manchester dance music of that era with an almost documentary fidelity to tone and detail. But it’s the wrenching performance of newcomer Sam Riley, channeling the turmoil and isolative temperament of Curtis, and a gutsy turn by Samantha Morton as his aggrieved wife, that gives this film its edgy emotional force. Filmed in stark black-and-white, “Control” is an elegy to the existential agonies of a legendary figure who will forever epitomize the British post-punk music scene.


    The Bridge

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Inspired by a story in The New Yorker, documentarian Eric Steel spent an entire year filming San Franciscos Golden Gate Bridge, the worlds most popular suicide destination, with a small crew, training a zoom lens on potential jumpers. Weaving in frank, stirring interviews with friends and family members of those who did leap to their deathssome caught on filmSteel gives us a remarkable glimpse of how mental illness, untreated depression, and a crushing sense of hopelessness drives many well-loved people to end their lives.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Though some may balk at the “snuff film” aspect of Steel’s project, “Bridge” is actually a fascinating, compassionate film that humanizes those who succumbed to their personal demons. Not only does it carry a strong anti-suicide message-one impossibly lucky survivor of the jump, teenager Eric, is one of the film’s most compelling voices-it also offers valuable insights into our shared life experience of love and despair, anger and disappointment. Despite its somber, too-seldom-discussed subject matter, “The Bridge” is an important film with a haunting, elegiac feel.


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  • July 13, 2009

    Billy Elliot

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed Billy Elliot, you might also enjoy these great films:


    Gregory’s Girl

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Gregory (John Gordon Sinclair) is hitting that awkward stage of adolescence. Tall and gangly, he finds his soccer skills are suffering. Worse yet, he may lose his position on the team to a girl, Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), who’s cool, pretty and athletic. Rather than feel threatened, Gregory sets his sights on her, and is soon involved in a bewildering, tentative romance. When relations begin to cool with Dorothy, Gregory turns to ten year old sister Madeline (Allison Forster) for advice. Soon enough, he learns there are plenty of fish in the sea.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Bill Forsyth’s delightful coming-of-age film rings consistently true, recreating those universal growing pains experienced by boys in their teens. Lovely Scotland setting (admittedly with some thick accents to decipher) and appealing juvenile performances make this a keeper. Forster is adorable as Gregory’s wise, precocious sister. A subtle charmer.


    The Hours

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Plot moves seamlessly among three different time periods and women: the fragile existence of gifted but disturbed writer Virginia Woolf (Nicole Kidman) as she starts writing “Mrs. Dalloway”; the claustrophobic life of Laura (Julianne Moore) a housewife and mother in late 1940s L.A. whose reading of Woolf’s book causes a numbing depression to surface; and the predicament of Clarissa (Meryl Streep) a modern-day, Dalloway-like book editor, whose lifetime project, a dying author played by Ed Harris, is receding before her eyes. Each interwoven tale plays out a variation on Woolf’s own isolation and sense of futility.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A subtle, literate meditation on life’s hidden detours which direct us away from self-knowledge and fulfillment. Stephen Daldry’s ambitious piece succeeds as intense, disturbing drama, showcasing prodigious talents of Streep, Moore, and Kidman (who won Oscar). Ed Harris, Toni Collette, and John C. Reilly also shine in this memorable film.


    The Fallen Idol

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In the absence of a strong parental figure, young Phillipe (Bobby Henrey), the 8-year-old son of a French ambassador, has come to revere household butler Baines (Ralph Richardson), his trusted caretaker and confidante, but reviles Mrs. Baines (Sonia Dresdel), his shrewish, scolding wife. When Baines comes under suspicion for murder, however, the boy’s loyalties are tested.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Told from a child’s point of view, Reed’s absorbing adaptation of Graham Greene’s short story follows the relationship between a lonely boy (whose pet plaything is, alas, a garden snake) and his caring gentleman domestic. Richardson and Dresdel are marvelous as well-heeled embassy servants whose marriage is empty and bloodless, and whose staircase squabble over Baines’s lover Julie (Michele Morgan) results in tragedy. Fusing elements of suspense with a hushed marital drama, Reed sets up the dichotomy between Phillipe’s observations of events and the adult world’s with depth and sensitivity to his innocence. Pay tribute to “The Fallen Idol.”


    Millions

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    British widower Ronnie (James Nesbitt) moves his young sons Anthony and Damian (Lewis McGibbon and Alex Etel) to a new community after their mother dies, and one day, a large bag bulging with British pounds literally falls out of the sky, landing on Damian’s outdoor cardboard hide-out. The brothers must then figure out how to dispose of this cash, and fast, as within days Britain’s monetary transfer to the Euro will make the pound notes worthless.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Quirky, ingenious and altogether charming fantasy/comedy from director Danny Boyle combines warmth, humor and suspense, as predictably, the previous owners of the ill-begotten cash become vitally interested in its recovery. Young Etel steals the show as the adorable Damian, who happens to be an authority on all the saints, communes with them often, and fittingly, wants to use the money to help the poor but doesn’t quite know how to do it. Boyle paints his story in vivid colors, so that its darker aspects never overshadow the prevailing sense of fun and wonder. Tip-top entertainment for the whole family, though some plot intricacies may be lost on the smaller fry. Never mind- “Millions” will still hold them.


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  • July 13, 2009

    How I Won the War

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed How I Won the War, you might also enjoy these great films:


    A Hard Day’s Night

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    With “A Hard Day’s Night”, director Richard Lester not only unveils the inner workings of a rock n’ roll band experiencing a virtually unprecedented super-stardom, he also breathes new life into musical film itself. The disarming charisma and spontaneous energy of the Beatles made no traditional plot necessary. It was sufficient to portray a day in the life of the world’s most talked about rock band.“The boys”, as they’re constantly referred to, spend their time narrowly avoiding masses of hysterical fans, jumping into cars and trains which in turn take them to the next hotel room, or sound stage, or performance hall. They each face this hectic life with humor and relative calm. And then they perform!

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Lester’s documentary-style shooting makes all the proceedings feel breathtakingly real- at first we assume everyone is improvising, though this was not the case. (Only John had the confidence to do it). Regardless, all four Beatles were natural performers, especially John and Ringo. The Fab Four are also matched here with fine British character actors like Norman Rossington (as their manager), and Wilfrid Brambell (as Paul’s incorrigible grandfather), who provide additional comic support and flavoring. “Night” remains the perfect introduction to Beatlemania for your kids- in all, a breathtaking, joyful musical ride.


    Help!

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When Eastern religious cultists Clang (Leo McKern) and Ahme (Eleanor Bron) discover that a sacred ruby ring has come into the possession of Ringo Starr-it seems a fan gave it to him and now he can’t remove it-they give chase. Exasperated, the Beatles drummer goes to scientist Foot (Victor Spinetti) for help. But Foot wants the ring for himself, so Ringo and the Fab Four lead the whole kooky crew on a globe-trotting, wild goose chase.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This fabulously goofy, intermittently brilliant romp features some of the finest pop music you’ll ever hear. Richard Lester’s “Help!” was the director’s second (and first color) collaboration with the world-famous Beatles. The “Fab Four”- John, Paul, George, and Ringo- evoke mod, mop-haired versions of the Marx Brothers, while the supporting players-including Roy Kinnear as Foot’s assistant-exhibit fine comedic timing. And McKern’s Clang strays about as far from his signature Rumpole portrayal as you’ll likely ever see. Ebullient, frenzied, silly, but always fun, “Help!” is a madcap portrait of four Liverpool lads who really were going places.


    Petulia

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Archie Bollen (George C. Scott) is a middle-aged San Francisco physician in the midst of a divorce. After meeting Archie at a gala event, sexy, troubled socialite Petulia (Julie Christie) pursues him avidly, hoping to embark on a torrid affair, even though she is married to David (Richard Chamberlain), a handsome swinger with an abusive streak. But Petulia has another connection to Archie too, a secret bond she never divulges, even as their lives become increasingly tangled.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Set in San Francisco at the height of the Summer of Love, Lester’s stylish melodrama pays homage to the swinging sixties in more ways than one. Through jarring jump cuts, flashbacks and “flash forwards,” and glimpses of the Grateful Dead performing for a crowd of gyrating hipsters, the director evokes the psychedelic ethos of the era as a way in to the turbulent lives of Archie and Petulia, each of whom is suffering a private torment: she is a victim of abuse, while he just wants to “feel something.” Scott and Christie are exemplary in their roles, while Chamberlain gets to look pretty, sulk, and act like a cad. Lensed by Nicholas Roeg, “Petulia” is a trippy tale of love and confusion that explores the humid underside of flower power.


    Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In this satirical doomsday thriller, a U.S. bomber piloted by Major Kong (Slim Pickens) receives a signal to release its nuclear payload on Russia. When the unfortunate Captain Mandrake (Peter Sellers) seeks out Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden) to learn why he ordered the drop, and why he’s placed his Air Force base on lockdown, it’s quickly evident the general has lost his marbles. Meanwhile, President Muffley (Sellers again) meets with senior advisers, including a hawkish general (George C. Scott) and the oddly sinister nuclear scientist Dr. Strangelove (Sellers), to review their limited options to save the planet.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    The most inspired piece of Cold War satire ever and one of the screen’s supreme black comedies, Kubrick’s 1964 “Strangelove” confronted jittery audiences in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and not long after the advent of the H bomb. With Kubrick’s twisted genius as director and screenwriter in full bloom, and peerless performances by Peter Sellers (in three roles), Scott, and the unhinged Hayden, the film is unbearably funny and extremely disturbing all at once.


    M*A*S*H*

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Robert Altman’s black comedy details the shenanigans of three rogue surgeons (Donald Sutherland, Elliot Gould, and Tom Skerritt) assigned to a mobile army surgical hospital during the Korean War. Their hijinks distract them from the daily horrors they face in the operating room.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Ground-breaking film is likely Altman’s greatest work, a subtle and seamless blending of comedy and anti-war film that’s as fresh and irreverent today as when released. (Extensive use of overlapping dialogue sequences was a first at the time.) Top-notch performances throughout and at times, unbearably funny.


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  • July 6, 2009

    The Triplets of Belleville

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed The Triplets of Belleville, you might also enjoy these great films:


    M. Hulot’s Holiday

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Before Inspector Clouseau, there was the gifted actor/director Jacques Tati and his creation, Monsieur Hulot: a kind eccentric who, in his physical interactions, appears out of step with the modern world. This first Hulot film lampoons the conventions of the French as they travel en-masse to the seaside during one sweltering summer. Predictably, Hulot’s presence livens things up considerably.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    The first fabulous Hulot picture where sound and dialogue are mere accents to the observance of mundane, everyday activity. Tati’s brilliance lies in showing us just how, with Hulot’s special touch, these rituals and routines can be put off kilter. The result: a masterpiece of subtle visual humor and an homage to the forgotten conventions of silent film comedy.


    Mon Oncle

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Unemployed Parisian M. Hulot (Jacques Tati) lives in a baffling, ultra-modern world, especially when he gets lost in the gadget-packed, whatsit maze of his sister’s house. Sweetly naive, the clumsy bohemian escorts his nephew, Gerald Arpel (Alain Becourt), home from school each day, only to court disaster when he wanders through the Arpels’ mechanically enhanced home.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    France’s answer to Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, comic genius Jacques Tati leads us on an uproarious trek through the futuristic 1950s in “Mon Oncle,” his first color feature. With hardly any dialogue, Tati orchestrates one hilarious pratfall sequence after another, involving everything from wild gizmos to click-clacking high heels, and even a downbeat dachsund. Like Chaplin, Tati was a perfectionist, and the Oscar-winning “Mon Oncle” is exactly that: A perfect collision of madcap slapstick and social satire, with a Tramp-like heart.


    Playtime

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    M. Hulot (Jacques Tati), a Parisian bewildered by modern technology, spends one hectic morning attempting to keep an appointment with M. Giffard (Georges Montant) in a towering, ultra-modern office building filled with automaton-like workers. Meanwhile, a group of American tourists including Barbara (Dennek) disembark at Orly airport and take a bus to their hotel. He and she eventually meet in the hustle and bustle of a glitzy, shimmering new supper club, once Hulot has navigated the whirring, humming cityscape that entraps him.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Preceded almost ten years earlier by “Mon Oncle,” this marvelous French comedy continues the misadventures of Tati’s Chaplin-esque everyman, M. Hulot. The most dazzling and technically accomplished of his films, “Playtime” is a light satire on the mesmerizing and disorienting effects of technology. Filmed in 70mm on a vast set-an extant metropolis that Parisians dubbed “Tati-ville”-”Playtime” is a jaw-dropping spectacle that certainly reflects the director’s wistful regard for simpler times. Still, the carnival-like sequence in the nightclub and the symphonic traffic jam that close the film feel warm, fun, and somehow exquisitely human.


    Traffic

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    This jittery, genre-crossing drama follows three interwoven storylines: the efforts of Mexican narcotics cop Javier (Oscar winner Benicio Del Toro) to bust up the Obregon cartel; the parallel work of San Diego DEA agents Ray Castro and Montel Gordon (Luis Guzman and Don Cheadle), whose arrest of a drug-trafficking kingpin forces his pregnant wife Helena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to deal with underworld associates; and the ironic ignorance of newly minted U.S. drug czar Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), a man strikingly unaware that his privileged, high-school-age daughter Caroline (Erika Christensen) has become a free-basing cokehead.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Scripted by Stephen Gaghan from an acclaimed BBC miniseries, Soderbergh’s Oscar-winning “Traffic” is a hard-hitting, superbly stylized exposé of the war on drugs. Visually slick and masterfully directed, the film works beautifully as an ensemble drama of interconnected vignettes, and as a wake-up call to parents, educators, and clueless officials, highlighting the insidious ways illegal narcotics infiltrate the culture-and the mostly ineffective means we have of rooting them out. An exhilarating reality check that’ll keep you hooked.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • July 6, 2009

    Gigot

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed Gigot, you might also enjoy these great films:


    The Hustler

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    “Fast Eddie” Felson (Paul Newman) is a charismatic California pool shark with a wide streak of arrogance to match his considerable skill. After he loses big to the legendary Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), Eddie hits the skids and falls for fellow lost soul Sarah (Piper Laurie). Trying to hustle his way back to the top of his game, he entrusts his future to oily promoter Bert Gordon (George C. Scott), who promises him riches and fame. But will Gordon deliver if Eddie does?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A gritty, atmospheric picture about the tense world of high-stakes pool, Rossen’s “The Hustler” features some of Newman’s best work-to-date. “Fast Eddie” may be a young virtuoso with a pool cue, but his maturity hasn’t caught up with his moves, and he learns some hard lessons in pool and life from Minnesota Fats, played to cool perfection by the late, great Gleason. Scott also stands out as a ruthless backer, and Piper Laurie does a sad, sensitive turn as a lonely woman on the fringes who falls under Eddie’s spell. Though Newman was Oscar-nominated, he’d have to reprise the role twenty-five years later (in “The Color Of Money”) to win the statuette. I prefer this, his original outing.


    A Guide for the Married Man

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Gene Kelly’s comedy has the married Paul Manning (Walter Matthau) getting a crash course on the finer points of adultery from also married veteran adulterer Ed Stander (Robert Morse). The lessons Ed imparts are acted out in sequences featuring a long line of guest stars, including Jack Benny, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner, Art Carney, Phil Silvers, Wally Cox, Lucille Ball, and Jayne Mansfield.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    One of the more side-splitting comedies of the 1960s, dated and politically incorrect in the extreme, which only makes it funnier today. Director Gene Kelly (yes-he was also a dancer) deserves kudos for taking the most delicate of subject matter and toeing the line of good taste like an expert tightrope walker. Both Matthau and Morse are a riot together, but some of those cameos take the cake: in particular, look for the Reiner, Ball and Carney sequences. Also, dig that catchy title tune by The Turtles-like the rest of the movie, it’s quintessential sixties.


    Inherit the Wind

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In this courtroom drama based on the landmark Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s, defense lawyer Henry Drummond (Spencer Tracy) and fundamentalist prosecutor Matthew Brady (Fredric March) face off when schoolteacher Bertram Cates (Dick York), is put in jail for teaching evolution in tiny Hillsboro, Tennessee, with the arrest instigated by his girlfriend’s disapproving father, Rev. Jeremiah Brown (Claude Akins).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Kramer’s spellbinding film features a deft performance by Tracy as the rumpled, deceptively plain-spoken Drummond (modeled on Clarence Darrow), matched by March’s larger than life, virtuoso turn as Matthew Brady (based on William Jennings Bryan). Just sit back, pretend you’re sitting in that humid courtroom, and watch two old pros at work. You’ll re-live history. Also look for Gene Kelly in one of his only serious, non-dancing roles as a cynical journalist based on H.L. Mencken.


    An American In Paris

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Gerry Mulligan (Gene Kelly) is an impoverished painter plying his trade in the City of Lights. When a beautiful French girl (Leslie Caron) sets the artist’s heart aflame, he’s beside himself. Only problem is, his close friend Henri, a nightclub singer, is in love with her too.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Set to an incomparable Gershwin score, this exquisite film still mesmerizes. Gorgeously photographed by John Alton, and invigorating from first song to last, “American” swept the 1951 Oscars, thanks to the winning talents of producer Arthur Freed, star Kelly, and director Minnelli. The climactic ballet sequence, performed to the title tune by Kelly and Caron, is one of the most dazzling musical set-pieces ever captured on celluloid.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • June 29, 2009

    32A

    by John Farr

    If you enjoyed 32A, you might also enjoy these great films:


    The Commitments

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Group of young working-class Dubliners share a love for American soul music- and pull together a band to perform their favorite hits. And guess what-they’re good. Tracing the band’s genesis puts us in the home of band leader Jimmy Rabbitte (Robert Arkins) whose immediate family looks bewildered at all the activity and whose Dad (Colm Meaney) only has ears for Elvis.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    An exuberant, funny, feel-good musical comedy from director Alan Parker. Granted, you have to pay attention to get all the dialogue through all the thick Irish accents and colloquialisms, but you’ll still be able to share the fun and laughs. And when the music starts, all barriers come down, as the group pulls off toe-tapping renditions of some immortal R&B classics. The band audition scenes are priceless.


    The Snapper

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    When unmarried 20-year-old Irish gal Sharon (Tina Kellegher) informs her parents that she’s pregnant, and even refuses to name the irresponsible seed man, the unexpected happens: The large, closely knit family takes it all in stride and tries to be supportive, especially her proud, big-hearted father Dessie (Colm Meaney). But when the neighborhood gossips start wagging their tongues, it all gets too personal for Dessie, and Sharon begins to wonder if moving out isn’t the best thing for everyone.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Written by Roddy Doyle (“The Commitments”), who adapted the script from his own Tarrytown novel, Frears’s “Snapper” lets us cozy up with an eccentric bunch. Like any big family, the Curleys are constantly bickering at each other, but Frears quickly establishes just how tight everyone is, too—especially Dessie and Sharon, who talk turkey while sharing pints at the pub. “Snapper” zeroes in on the special nature of this father-daughter relationship, with Meaney in excellent form as a kindly, slightly overprotective dad, and Kellegher equally good at uproarious girl chatter, deep mortification, and even late-night anxiety. A lovely and bittersweet slice of Irish life.


    Once

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    An Irish singer-songwriter with a lingering broken heart (Glen Hansard) meets a spunky Czech immigrant (Markéta Irglová) while busking on the streets of Dublin and discovers that she has a special musical talent. The two become warm friends and collaborators, but love proves more complex and elusive.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    John Carney’s gorgeously spare drama has a homemade feel that fits perfectly the story of two people with some emotional baggage who nevertheless find a way to connect through music. Real-life bards Hansard (of the Irish band, The Frames) and Irglova (an artist in her own right) write beautiful songs together, and their performances as actors and singers in “Once” couldn’t feel more natural, or tug at your heartstrings any more insistently. Kudos to Carney (Hansard’s former bass player) for having the courage to tell such a blissfully simple story.


    Welcome To The Dollhouse

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Dorky, bespectacled seventh grader Dawn Weiner (Heather Matarazzo) is the most viciously harassed adolescent in her middle school, where she’s spurned by the cool crowd and menaced by thuggish Brandon (Brendan Sexton), who enjoys threatening “Weiner Dog” with rape. Home life is also grim: Her older brother is a bookish whiz, her younger sister a button-cute ballerina, while Dawn barely registers on her family’s radar. What’s a geeky girl to do?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A harrowingly accurate, darkly hilarious look at that time of life most of us would prefer to forget, Solondz’s portrait of gawky pre-adolescence visits all the landmarks of childhood hell: peer abuse, sexual awkwardness, and the general sense that people are the source of all misery. Matarazzo is fantastic as the ostracized, alienated tween who suffers the insults and indignities of her peers with stoic resignation. Sexton (“Kids”) also registers well as Dawn’s cruel, glowering classmate. “Dollhouse” isn’t for younger kids, but teens and grown-ups will appreciate its bitingly funny blend of pathos and punishment.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • June 22, 2009

    Charade

    by John Farr

    You might also enjoy these great films:


    Suspicion

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    The shy but wealthy Lina McLaidlaw (Joan Fontaine) marries suave, penniless Johnnie Aysgarth (Cary Grant) despite warnings that he’s a gold-digging playboy. Before long, Johnnie appears to show his true colors when he gets involved in an embezzlement scheme-and his partner Beaky (Nigel Bruce) turns up dead. Though lacking hard evidence, Lina begins to suspect her husband is a killer, and fears he may come for her next.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Hitchcock’s psychological thriller is as tightly plotted and crisply directed as any of the master’s finest works. The tension builds slowly and inexorably, as the bookish, increasingly frightened Lina waits passively for her nightly glass of (poisoned?) milk, fearing the worst. Fontaine, who appeared the previous year in Hitchcock’s “Rebecca,” won an Oscar for her role as the rattled wife, while Grant is superb as a cynical charmer. “Suspicion” is sure to thrill anyone in the mood for subtle romantic intrigue.


    Notorious

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    American intelligence officers tracking Nazis in post-war South America coerce Alicia Hubermann (Ingrid Bergman), daughter of an executed Nazi spy, to use her feminine wiles to implicate more of her father’s colleagues, including one Alex Sebastian. Before the assignment is disclosed; however, American agent Devlin (Cary Grant) and Alicia have already begun a passionate romance, complicating matters going forward.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    “Notorious” still delivers outstanding suspense, with director Hitchcock at his most subtle. The story of a fallen woman-first redeemed by love, then put in peril- is riveting throughout, and stars Grant and Bergman emit powerful on-screen chemistry. Acting laurels also go to supporting player Rains, who’s never been smoother or slimier than here, playing a Nazi agent. But then, just look at his friends-and that mother! Don’t miss the climax, nothing less than pure, understated genius.


    To Catch A Thief

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    On the sun-drenched French Riviera, someone is relieving rich women of their precious jewels, and all the evidence points to retired cat burglar John Robie (Cary Grant). Reluctant to sit for questioning, “The Cat” evades investigators who show up at his luxe villa and-with the help of London insurer H.H. Hughson (John Williams)-cozies up to wealthy American widow Mrs. Stevens (Jesse Royce Landis), who he believes may be his imitator’s next victim.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Paramount’s new two-disk “Centennial Edition” has re-mastered audio and crystal-clear color. Filmed in VistaVision by Oscar winner Robert Burks, Hitchcock’s swanky, breezy suspense film takes a simple idea-one cat burglar on the tail of another-and spins it into cinematic gold. With his customary wit and sexual innuendo, the director positions tanned star Cary Grant on a collision course with the resplendent Kelly, who never looked more ravishing as spoiled heiress Francie Stevens, especially in a wide-brimmed white sun hat and bathing outfit Jackie O would have coveted. When they kiss, there are literally fireworks on-screen, a technique Hitch used to keep the censors from snipping his film. You’ll have a lot of fun catching this “Thief.”


    North by Northwest

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    By chance, martini-swilling adman Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for a top spy, and set up for murder. He then finds himself in the unfamiliar position of fugitive, criss-crossing the country in search of the real culprit, his only chance of survival. Along the way, he meet the beautiful but mysterious Eve Kendall (Eva Marie-Saint), who wants to help him. But is she who or what she seems?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Fifty years after release, “Northwest” provides gripping, colorful entertainment for the whole family, full of the Master’s trademark twists and turns. Only Cary could undertake such a rugged and dangerous journey and keep looking marvelous with no change of clothes. Eva Marie-Saint is appropriately enigmatic and alluring as the icy blonde who may or may not be in his corner. But it’s James Mason’s treacherous turn as the cold-blooded enemy agent that stays etched in your memory.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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