REEL 13
Best Movies by Farr
  • January 4, 2013

    Black Narcissus

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses an earlier Deborah Kerr film, directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.


    Black Narcissus (1947)

    What It’s About:
    When young Sister Clodagh (Deborah Kerr) is asked to open a convent-hospital in a former brothel perched high above a small village in India, she readily agrees, despite knowing hardships lie ahead. Once there, she’s greeted by a sardonic Englishman, Mr. Dean (David Farrar), who takes great delight in ruffling Sister Clodagh’s habit. But it’s jealous, unstable Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) who eventually succumbs to the dark allure of the exotic, windswept setting.

    Why I Love It:
    Another great success for “Red Shoes” helmers Powell-Pressburger, “Narcissus” is an absorbing, finely acted British melodrama about the secular problems facing a new mother superior in an unfamiliar, potentially hostile new environment. The directors even stirred controversy by developing a subtle yet credible sexual tension between the luminous Kerr and hunky Farrar. Jack Cardiff’s Oscar-winning Technicolor photography and Alfred Junge’s hand-crafted art design give this film exceptional production values to boot. And Kathleen Byron’s celebrated turn as the unhinged Sister Ruth climaxes in a suspenseful sequence that’s hard to forget.

    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

    • comments (0)
  • December 28, 2012

    3:10 to Yuma

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses a suspenseful western film, directed by Delmer Daves.


    3:10 to Yuma (1957)

    What It’s About:
    Heflin plays Dan Evans, a local rancher in need of cash due to a drought who, to save his livelihood, takes on the dangerous task of guarding and escorting outlaw Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) to the train which will carry him to the halls of justice. The hitch: Wade’s gang is in town, and they’re determined to prevent their boss from making the 3:10 to Yuma.

    Why I Love It:
    Based on an Elmore Leonard story, Delmer Daves’s film (in a new special edition) is a sharp psychological western in the vein of another better-known classic, “High Noon.” Taut and suspenseful, “Yuma” also tells a very human story, as Evans’s own self-respect and principles are as much at stake in this situation as money. “3:10″ is intelligent and skillfully paced, boasting top-notch turns from the two leads.

    • comments (0)
  • December 17, 2012

    I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses Mervyn LeRoy’s Oscar-nominated prison movie, starring Paul Muni.


    I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932)

    What It’s About:
    Sentenced to ten years on a chain gang for a restaurant holdup he was forced to participate in, hard-luck WWI vet James Allen (Paul Muni) sees his dreams of becoming an architect vanish. Unable to take the vicious, dehumanizing prison routine he’s been condemned to, Allen escapes, holes up in Chicago, and begins a new life. But his past will not desert him so easily.

    Why I Love It:
    Anchored by Paul Muni’s gut-wrenching performance, Mervyn LeRoy’s socially outraged “Gang” is based on real-life escapee Robert Elliott Burns’s Depression-era memoirs. In fact, LeRoy’s gritty, unflinching depiction of the sadistic brutality of chain gangs proved so unpopular in Georgia, where the practice was perfected, that the state’s governor banned the film! Burns himself helped out with the script, and was eventually pardoned after the film’s release. Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1933, “Chain Gang” set the bar high for future prison movies, and its influence, which extends down to “Cool Hand Luke,” can’t be overstated.

    • comments (0)
  • December 10, 2012

    Thomas Crown Affair

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses Steve McQueen’s coolest film, directed by Norman Jewison.


    Thomas Crown Affair (1968)

    What It’s About:
    After suave tycoon Thomas Crown (Steve McQueen) plans and executes a bank robbery for his own amusement, crack insurance investigator Vicky Anderson (Faye Dunaway) is assigned to the case. As Crown and Anderson cautiously circle each other, suspicion mingles with the laws of attraction. Will romance or justice win the day?

    Why I Love It:
    This sleek, stylized movie’s chic trappings and star chemistry still comprise a winning formula. It’s fun to see the usually scruffy McQueen dressed to the nines in the title role, but Dunaway’s the revelation. Stacked up against the wily, macho Crown, Vicky is his match in looks, confidence, and brains, so the inevitable seduction feels balanced and mutual. “Crown” is a sexy, suspenseful cat-and-mouse game waged between equals, with a nifty surprise finish. Innovative split screen cinematography from Haskell Wexler and a romantic Michel Legrand soundtrack make this one of the top “sixties time capsule” films.

    • comments (0)
  • November 15, 2012

    Zorba the Greek

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses the multiple Oscar-winning movie starring Anthony Quinn, directed by Michael Cacoyannis.


    Zorba the Greek (1964)

    What It’s About:
    On his way to Crete to resuscitate a mine inherited from his father, buttoned-down British writer Basil (Alan Bates) meets Zorba (Anthony Quinn), a lusty, larger-than-life figure who agrees to handle the duties of foreman. Though oddly matched, the pair quickly become inseparable. Settling into Greek village life proves less felicitous, however, especially in the troubled relationships that Zorba and timid Basil cultivate with two local women.

    Why I Love It:
    Based on the novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, the multiple Oscar-winning “Zorba” is all about Quinn’s indelible, galvanic performance. A bon vivant who exhorts Basil to “loosen your belt and go find trouble”, Zorba is a hurricane of manic energy and strapping muscularity, but also great tenderness. Bates portrays the cerebral, sissyish Basil with perfect restraint, while Oscar winner Kedrova (as ailing French hotelier Mme. Hortense) and Eleni Anousaki (as a stunningly gorgeous widow) provide excellent support as doomed love interests. Zesty and passionate, even in its darkest half-hour, Cacoyannis’s “Zorba” is an irresistibly salty portrait of Greek life.

    • comments (0)
  • November 12, 2012

    Cop Land

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses the best Sylvester Stallone movie, written and directed by James Mangold.


    Cop Land (1997)

    What It’s About:Half deaf Freddy Heflin (Sylvester Stallone) is sheriff of a quiet New Jersey suburb whose residents include a large percentage of New York cops, including local hot-shot Ray Donlan (Harvey Keitel). When a crime occurs on his turf involving Donlan and his other policeman buddies, Freddy investigates and is soon on to a conspiracy which could cost him his friendships and his life.

    Why I Love It:
    Stallone wisely took the nuanced, meaty role of Freddy as a change of pace from his usual comic book hero parts, and he is surprisingly good here. Keitel also scores as the crooked cop with the most to lose who vastly underestimates Freddy’s determination. Liotta also excels in an intense performance as Freddy’s only friend. Smart and suspenseful, “Cop Land” is one crime drama that’s criminally under-rated.

    • comments (0)
  • October 21, 2012

    Kramer vs. Kramer

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses the movie that won Dustin Hoffman his first Oscar, directed by Robert Benton.


    Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)

    What It’s About:On the brink of a big promotion, caffeinated, pre-occupied ad-man Ted Kramer (Dustin Hoffman) gets the wind knocked out of him when wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) abruptly announces she’s leaving him and their young son, Billy (Justin Henry). Facing the sudden need to balance career demands with caring for a young son he barely knows, Ted makes the hard choices necessary to be there for Billy. But when Joanna returns unexpectedly, a nasty custody battle ensues. Under these circumstances, can anybody win in the end?

    Why I Love It:
    In 1979, Hoffman hit a career high point, and Streep solidified her own stardom, with director Benton’s near-flawless marital drama, depicting the dissolution of a marriage with unerring sensitivity. Touching performances from all three leads help bring an insightful script to heart-wrenching life. At Oscar time, “Kramer” won Best Picture, Benton took the honors for both direction and screenplay, Hoffman nabbed Best Actor, and Meryl scored her second consecutive nod, this time taking home the statuette for Supporting Actress.

    • comments (0)
  • October 14, 2012

    Seven Days in May

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses the powerful political thriller starring Burt Lancaster, directed by John Frankenheimer.


    Seven Days in May (1964)

    What It’s About:Outraged that US President Jordan Lyman (Fredric March) has signed a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviets, Gen. James M. Scott (Burt Lancaster) plots a coup d’etat with other Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lyman is alerted to the conspiracy by Scott’s aide, Col. “Jiggs” Casey (Kirk Douglas), and races against the clock to neutralize the general’s traitorous plan.

    Why I Love It:
    Two years after “The Manchurian Candidate,” director Frankenheimer scored again with this gripping political thriller. Beyond serving as a showcase for two frequently paired stars – Lancaster as a power-mad general, Douglas as the principled whistle-blower, the movie works because in the context of the paranoic Cold War era, the premise feels all-too-plausible. Stark black-and-white photography and brisk pacing only add to the film’s breathless tension. Screenplay by Rod Serling, based on Fletcher Knebel’s book.

    • comments (0)
  • October 12, 2012

    Red River

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses first of five Howard Hawks/John Wayne features.


    Red River (1948)

    Bitter, unyielding cattle breeder Tom Dunson (John Wayne) has been forced to take his large herd through treacherous territory to save his business. His adopted son Matthew (Montgomery Clift, in his film debut)-orphaned years ago in an Indian massacre-joins him, but when the two cross swords over Dunson’s obsessiveness, the older man loses his powerful temper and expels his ward, vowing to kill him if and when he next sees him.

    Why I Love It:
    Director Howard Hawks gave western icon John Wayne another indelible, ruggedly stubborn character to play in his masterful “Red River,” a high point of their many collaborations. Populated by colorful supporting characters, including the salty Walter Brennan as camp cook Groot Nadine, “River” combines psychological drama, action, and suspense in a stirring, expansive western landscape. The final settling of scores between Wayne and Clift is unforgettable.

    • comments (0)
  • October 5, 2012

    The Letter

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Bette Davis’ classic films, directed by William Wyler.


    The Letter (1940)

    When Leslie Crosbie (Bette Davis), mistress of a rubber plantation in Malaysia, shoots and kills a male friend who pops in and makes advances, trusting husband Robert (Herbert Marshall) wants to protect his shaken bride as best he can. But close friend and lawyer Howard Joyce (James Stephenson) is suspicious of Leslie’s story, owing to the existence of an incriminating letter in the possession of the victim’s Eurasian widow (Gale Sondergaard).

    Why I Love It:
    Adapted from a story by W. Somerset Maugham, “The Letter” is a taut, riveting suspense picture. After the huge success of 1938′s “Jezebel,” director Wyler was asked to helm another Davis picture- and again he hit pay dirt, crafting a dark, sultry atmosphere that complements all the scandalous intrigue. Davis is tops as the lady we love to hate, and Sondergaard’s wordless turn as the wronged woman nearly steals the show. (Trivia note: Wyler, Davis, and Marshall would all reunite the following year for “The Little Foxes”).

    • comments (0)
  • September 23, 2012

    Henry V

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses the exceptional adaptation of Shakespeare’s finest historical play, starring and directed by Kenneth Branagh.


    Henry V (1989)

    What It’s About:
    When a flap-up with King Charles of France (Paul Scofield) escalates into full-blown war, England’s hotheaded soldier-king Henry V (Kenneth Branagh) assembles an army to invade the Gallic homeland. Drastically outnumbered, Henry rallies courage and leads his men to victory at the Battle of Agincourt, all the while wooing France’s comely Princess Catherine (Emma Thompson).

    Why I Love It:
    With this exceptional adaptation of Shakespeare’s finest historical play, English upstart Kenneth Branagh proved himself worthy of the heights set by Sir Laurence Olivier, whose own 1944 production still shines. Branagh updated the look and feel of the Bard’s drama for modern film-going audiences, making Prince Hal a ferocious, charismatic hero of the battlefield and giving his mud- and blood-soaked war scenes a visceral punch. Plus, how can you argue with a cast that includes luminaries like Dench, Holm, Jacobi, and a who’s who of British theater?

    • comments (0)
  • September 16, 2012

    A Raisin in the Sun

    by John Farr

    John Farr discusses one of Sidney Poitier’s magnificent films, directed by Daniel Petrie.


    A Raisin in the Sun (1961)

    What It’s About:
    Walter Lee Younger (Sidney Poitier) is a proud but frustrated young man counting on his recently widowed mother, Lena (Claudia McNeil), to let him invest her $10,000 life-insurance check in a business which could lift him and his family out of their dead-end existence. Despite her son’s entreaties, Lena plans to buy a home and leave Chicago’s South Side for good, stoking Walter’s anguish and resentment.

    Why I Love It:
    Based on Lorraine Hansberry’s play, Daniel Petrie’s magnificent “A Raisin In The Sun” provides an ideal star vehicle for young Poitier’s explosive talent. The actor projects barely suppressed rage as he pleads with Claudia McNeil’s resolute matriarch, who wants to use her money to buy a new home. Poitier’s raw desperation is palpable as his one chance to better himself slips away. See this for Poitier’s intense performance, and McNeil’s equally powerful turn as his mother. Ruby Dee also scores as Ruth, Walter’s long-suffering wife.

    • comments (0)
Page 3 of 1512345...10...Last »