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  • September 30, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Amazing Audrey

    by John Farr

    Audrey Hepburn led a legendary life and career. This week, Reel 13 will air her classic, “The Nun’s Story.” If it’s been a while since you’ve seen Audrey at her best, John Farr has three of her finest to recommend.


    Charade (1963)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Parisian Regina Lampert (Audrey Hepburn) knew she had marital problems, but when her errant husband gets mysteriously killed, she finds being a widow even more troublesome. It seems her husband was involved in hijacking some significant loot during the war, and now some of his past comrades- including Tex (James Coburn), Herman (George Kennedy) and Leo (Ned Glass), want to know where the money went. H. Bartholemew (Walter Matthau) is the government agent also interested in the case, and suave Peter Joshua (Cary Grant) the gallant older man who serves as Regina’s protector. But is Peter really on Regina’s side?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    This Hitchcock homage provides a last glimpse of Cary as leading man. At sixty, the actor still brings off his trademark persona superbly. Hepburn is also in top form as the put-upon damsel in distress. Deftly combining mystery, romance, and humor, director Donen creates a chic, sophisticated mood via gorgeous Paris locations and a smooth Mancini score. The villains are mean enough to be taken seriously, but exhibit enough idiosyncrasies to seem human (Coburn has particular fun as Tex). As top-drawer entertainment, “Charade” is the real thing.


    Two for the Road (1967)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    The ups and downs of matrimony are deftly explored via vacations past and present in the lives of affluent couple Joanna (Audrey Hepburn) and Mark Wallace (Albert Finney). We see the bloom of early passion recede as over time the couple adjusts to new life priorities and struggles to maintain their intimacy and affection.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    This smart, knowing romance projects director Donen’s signature style, with Hepburn the essence of sixties chic, and Finney (in his prime) the epitome of a salty, rugged leading man. European locales and a memorable Henry Mancini score add the requisite zing to this mature, nuanced love story. William Daniels and Eleanor Bron are also memorable as another married couple who cause Joanna and Mark to examine the state of their own union.


    Wait Until Dark (1967)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Blinded in an accident, Manhattan housewife Susy Hendrix (Audrey Hepburn) is terrorized by a gang of killers after a large quantity of heroin stashed in a doll her husband, Sam (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), unwittingly accepted from a woman on a plane trip. Led by Roat (Alan Arkin), the thugs will stop at nothing to recover the fortune, but Susy’s no pushover.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Audrey Hepburn ventures into edgy territory in Terence Young’s “Wait Until Dark,” based on the stage play by Frederick Knott (writer of “Dial M for Murder”). The Oscar-nominated actress excels in the role of a sightless woman fighting for her life in a basement New York flat, and Richard Crenna is solid as her unlikely protector. Still, it’s Alan Arkin who really sets your teeth on edge playing one of the screen’s creepiest villains. This nifty suspenser starts slowly but builds to a terrifying climax. Just wait.


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

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  • September 16, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Darker Dassin

    by John Farr

    Once a successful Hollywood director, Connecticut-born Jules Dassin turned to Europe to revive his film career after being blacklisted in the years after WW2. Here are three of his darker films from his Hollywood noir days.


    Brute Force (1947)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Tough, unsmiling inmate Joe Collins (Burt Lancaster) has spent much of his long prison term butting heads with sadistic, power-hungry Captain Munsey (Hume Cronyn). Sentenced to a merciless work detail in the subterranean drain pipe after one of Munsey’s stool pigeons is killed in a machine-shop accident, Collins determines to hatch a breakout plan with his cellmates.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Made just prior to “Naked City,” Dassin’s gritty prison melodrama puts a twist on the archetypal bust-out scheme by revisiting, in flashback, the pre-penitentiary lives of Collins – ably played by an intense young Lancaster – and his crew, colorfully brought to life by character actors Whit Bissell, Howard Duff, and John Hoyt. In a fine performance, Charles Bickford appears as the prison’s gruff de facto leader and newspaper editor who throws in his lot with Collins. The other ace in Dassin’s deck is Cronyn, playing a corrupt, savage prison guard bent on bringing “discipline” to his inmates, while nursing a megalomaniacal ambition to replace the wimpy Warden. Aside from the ominous noir visuals, Dassin explores issues endemic to prison life and wraps them up in an ugly finale meant to evoke a Nazi bloodbath.


    The Naked City (1948)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    When a high-class model is murdered in her bathtub on New York’s Upper West Side, veteran detective Lt. Dan Muldoon (Barry Fitzgerald) is called in to solve the crime. Tediously reconstructing the previous 18 months of the young woman’s decadent social life, Muldoon, along with sidekick Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor), pursues a seemingly endless string of weak leads and no-account witnesses in hopes of cracking the case.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Shot entirely on location in 1940s Manhattan, this semi-documentary police procedural offers a day-to-day look at the life of the Big Apple, its varied denizens, and the routine of two cops-old hand Fitzgerald (who quietly steals the film) and the dutiful but still green Taylor–out to catch to catch the killer of a young model. Soon the fast-talking Frank Niles, who knew the deceased and has no alibi, emerges as the prime suspect. Director Dassin handles all the action with a matter-of-fact directness, but the great achievement of “City” is its verisimilitude of character and place, along with a final chase scene on the Williamsburg Bridge that will steal your breath away. There might be “8 million stories in the naked city,” but this sinister crime drama was the first-and still the best. Trivia note: this film was said to have inspired “Dragnet”.


    Thieves’ Highway (1949)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Returning home from World War II, stout-hearted mechanic Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) is angered upon learning that devious trucking boss Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb) is to blame for the accident that left his father legless. Vowing revenge, Nick colludes with fellow driver Ed (Millard Mitchell) to expose Figlia’s crooked racket, even if it means breaking the law.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Like Raoul Walsh’s 1940 film “They Drive by Night,” Dassin’s drama deals with the hard-line culture of rig drivers who transport goods and produce from state to state, often at great risk to their health and livelihood, and their connection to underworld crime. Cobb is terrific as the pitiless Figlia, and Conte is stalwart as the war vet whose quest for vengeance leads him down a dangerous path-away from alienated fiancée Polly (Barbara Lawrence) and into the arms of prostitute Rica, played by the luscious Valentina Cortesa. Dassin’s second to last film before his blacklist-related exile in France, “Highway” is road noir at its redline best.


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

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  • September 6, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Superb Susan Sarandon

    by John Farr

    John Farr sends a salute to the star of this week’s Reel 13 Classic, the superb Susan Sarandon.


    Atlantic City (1980)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Lou Pasco (Burt Lancaster) is a remnant of the old Atlantic City, a fading numbers runner who takes care of Grace (Kate Reid), the lonely, elderly widow of a mob boss. His neighbor Sally Matthews (Sarandon) is a symbol of the city’s coming revitalization with legalized gambling – a young waitress and aspiring blackjack dealer who hopes one day to work in a Monte Carlo casino. Lou comes into unexpected money via a botched drug deal, and finally gets the chance to live the dream he’d almost given up on, one that includes a new wardrobe, a wad of cash, and Sally on his arm. But will Lou’s new reality last, and will Sally make her own dreams come true?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Hypnotic film by French director Louis Malle deals with themes of decay and regeneration in both character and setting. Lou represents the past, Sally the future, with Atlantic City itself the transitional present which makes it possible for this unlikely duo to connect. Sarandon is luminous, but Lancaster’s Lou forms the movie’s heart and soul. Top-notch script by John Guare completes this winning package.


    Bull Durham (1988)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Shelton’s winning romantic comedy is set in the special world of minor league baseball, exploring the dynamics (and rivalry) between two very different teammates – seasoned veteran Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), and rookie hot-shot Nuke La Loosh (Tim Robbins). Complicating matters further is the femme fatale that comes between them: a bewitching baseball “groupie” named Annie (Susan Sarandon). Which player will take home that prize?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    This wry comedy delivers irresistible entertainment, evoking the more- shall we say, informal- atmosphere of life in the minors. Star Costner is appealingly mellow, and Sarandon skillfully plays her character as sexy, funny and wise, all at once. Still, Robbins steals the movie in showy role as the dim-bulb rookie. Director Shelton was Oscar-nominated for his salty, funny script- and no wonder. Play ball!


    Dead Man Walking (1995)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    When Sister Helen Prejean (Susan Sarandon), a Catholic nun and anti-death-penalty activist, receives a letter from Matthew Poncelet (Penn), soon to be executed for the rape and murder of two teenage girls, she resolves to pay him a visit. Though Matthew is far from sympathetic, Sister Helen agrees to be his spiritual advisor and advocate, and lobbies for a new hearing on Matthew’s sentence.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Adapted from Sister Helen Prejean’s non-fiction book by actor/director Tim Robbins, “Dead Man Walking” is an intense, harrowing account of one woman’s dogged attempt to assure spiritual (if not earthly) redemption for a condemned killer. Penn is ideally cast as the convict, but Susan Sarandon’s stripped-down performance as his spiritual guide is courageous, gut-wrenching work, fully meriting that year’s Oscar. Unavoidably depressing, “Dead Man Walking” is also very real, shedding light into spaces we could easily ignore, but shouldn’t.


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

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  • August 31, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Royal Reels

    by John Farr

    This week, Reel 13 will air The Madness of King George, and to expand your palette of films about royalty, John Farr shares three of his favorite movies about monarchs.


    The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    In this cheeky look at the controversial life and loves of King Henry VIII, Charles Laughton portrays the over-indulgent monarch, who challenged church doctrine by marrying not once but six times. From Anne Boleyn to Anne of Cleves, Henry proves himself to be a haughty conqueror of women, and quite enamored of his power-at least until he meets his match.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Henry VIII’s unusual life has been covered in many films, but this lavish early depiction has its own magic, primarily owing to Laughton’s dynamic, Oscar-winning portrayal, in a role he was born to play. Laughton is ably supported by a dashing Robert Donat as Henry’s cuckolding subject, and the dark and stunning Merle Oberon as the endearingly dim-witted Boleyn.


    The Lion in Winter (1968)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Hoping to retain his grip on power, 12th-century King Henry II (Peter O’Toole) summons his estranged, exiled wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine (Katharine Hepburn), for a Christmas Eve meeting with their three sons, Richard the Lion-Hearted (Anthony Hopkins), Prince Geoffrey (John Castle), and Prince John (Nigel Terry), to determine who will succeed to the throne. As Henry and Eleanor lock in a vicious battle of words, the remaining family members-including Henry’s mistress Alais (Jane Merrow) and her teenage brother King Philip of France (Timothy Dalton)-try to outmaneuver each other in their quest for dominance.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Shot on location in France and the British Isles, and based on an excoriating play by Richard Goldman, “Lion” is a wit-fueled, magnificently acted parable of power-lust and extreme family dysfunction. O’Toole and Oscar winner Hepburn are superb as the grizzled, sarcastic regent and his cunning wife, locked in a never-ending exchange of venomous criticisms. A youthful Anthony Hopkins, in a spirited turn, pops off some of the best insults. Aside from the endless machinations of various family members, Harvey adds period flavor with authentic costumes and gloomy, tone-perfect settings. When this “Lion” roars, you’ll be hooked.


    Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown (1997)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    With the premature death of her beloved husband Prince Albert in the 1860s, Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) has withdrawn from her subjects into a period of mourning and seclusion. A Scottish stable worker named John Brown (Billy Connolly), whom Albert had admired, is summoned to the Queen’s service. Brown’s common-sense directness and strength draw her out, and literally and figuratively, place the Queen back on her horse.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    “Mrs. Brown” beautifully recounts one of the most unconventional, unlikely romances in history. The close and affectionate friendship that grows between Victoria and lower-class Highlander Brown scandalized Britain then, and will fascinate audiences now. Judi Dench is glorious to watch in a role that gilded her path to Hollywood, and brilliant comic Connolly shows he can act with the best.


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

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  • August 24, 2011

    Best Movies by Farr: Anti-War Cinema

    by John Farr

    Richard Lester’s How I Won the War, this week’s Reel 13 Classic, is a unique film in a long tradition of anti-war movies. John Farr suggests three more essential entries.


    Paths of Glory (1957)

    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.


    Coming Home (1978)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Fonda plays Sally, a Veterans’ hospital volunteer, whose husband (Bruce Dern) is away in Vietnam. At the hospital, she befriends Luke (John Voight), a paraplegic, as a result of the same war. Luke’s bitterness is gradually overcome by his relationship with Sally, which evolves into a love affair. When her husband returns from overseas, he, Sally and Luke have a lot to sort through.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    A love story to be sure, but also a highly original take on the human price of war. This riveting film is propelled by intense performances from the three leads, all of whom were Oscar-nominated (both Voight and Fonda won). A triumph from the late, talented Hal Ashby.


    Breaker Morant (1980)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    When war breaks out in 1899 between Great Britain and the Boers (African settlers of Dutch heritage), a number of Australians volunteer to serve in the British army. In the heat of battle, a group of Boer prisoners and a German missionary are killed by an Australian unit, and three men–including Lieutenant Harry “Breaker” Morant (Edward Woodward)–are court-martialed for murder, to placate both the Germans and the Boers, who may be ready to make peace.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    One of the high points in Australian cinema, Beresford’s devastating film recounts the true story of Australian soldiers martyred for political expediency. Accurately depicting the injustice visited upon these three “colonials” by their British commanders, “Morant” is also a magnificent character study. Thompson is terrific as the lawyer who defends the men, but Woodward’s resonant, heart-rending performance in the title role is reason enough to see this stunning film.


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

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