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  • November 16, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Laudable Tommy Lee

    by John Farr

    This week, one of John Farr’s favorite working actors makes an appearance on Reel 13. Here’s John’s selection of can’t-miss Tommy Lee Jones performances.


    Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Based on the life of country-music star Loretta Lynn, this affecting film traces Lynn’s rise from humble beginnings in the coal-mining hills of Kentucky to star of the Grand Old Opry. Her husband Mooney (Tommy Lee Jones) serves as muse and manager, but finds his role minimized once she hits it big. As for Loretta, the touring life is anything but glamorous. Yet through a range of conflicts which could easily demolish other unions, Mooney and Loretta’s love endures.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Apted’s affecting, flavorful biopic is the tale of a young woman intent on using her musical gift to escape an impoverished mountain life, and also the unvarnished story of a real marriage, filled with bruises and bumps, that still manages to last. Spacek won the Oscar that year for her note-perfect performance as Loretta (which included singing her own parts), but Jones is every bit as good as Mooney. Also look for an impressive take by Beverly D’Angelo on the legendary Patsy Cline.


    The Fugitive (1993)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Andrew Davis’s adaptation of the 60′s TV series involves Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford), a prominent Chicago doctor accused of murdering his wife. The jury doesn’t buy Kimble’s story about confronting a one-armed man in his apartment the night his wife was killed, and he is convicted. When Kimble escapes custody, he hunts the real culprit, and ace U.S Marshal Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones) gets assigned to track him down. Will Gerard get to Kimble before the doctor can clear himself?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    A textbook example of a first-rate thriller, buoyed by Davis’s breathless pacing and a picture-stealing performance from Jones, who won an Oscar. Drawing from his Indiana Jones days, Ford is just right as the besieged hero always one step ahead of disaster, but Jones’s Gerard, whose drive is offset by a wry, folksy humor, is intensely charismatic as the intrepid hound-dog on Kimble’s trail. Over ten years after its initial release, it’s worth another peek if you haven’t seen it since. First-timers should definitely plunge.


    No Country for Old Men (2007)

    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Deep in the desert of West Texas, lone hunter Llewelyn Moss (Josh Brolin) stumbles upon a $2 million cache in the aftermath of a professional drug deal gone very bad. When he returns to retrieve the money, he sets in motion a long, violent chain of events. Though he doesn’t realize it yet, an unfathomably evil killer named Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) is methodically tailing him, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Meanwhile local sheriff Bell (Tommy Lee Jones), wearied and disillusioned by his job, maintains a slow-motion pursuit.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy, the Coen brothers’ multiple Oscar winner is their darkest movie yet, featuring an outstanding performance by Bardem as an enigmatic madman whose weapon of choice is a cattle-bolt stun gun. Brolin and Jones turn in solid work, too, as men whose personal experience with violence colors their decision-making in markedly different ways. Tense and gripping, “No Country” taps into our anxieties about a world that seems to have lost its sense of moral order.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • November 9, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Great Greta

    by John Farr

    John Farr investigates the mysterious Greta Garbo in three of her best roles.


    Grand Hotel (1932)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Stars Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Wallace Beery and John and Lionel Barrymore play out several interwoven stories, mixing intrigue, romance and murder, all occurring among the various guests at Berlin’s posh Grand Hotel.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    MGM – the most prestigious studio from Hollywood’s golden age – paints on the gloss for this first class ensemble production. Garbo and John Barrymore stand out as the doomed lovers, who meet under most unusual circumstances. Brother Lionel is also memorable as a timid, terminally ill clerk on his last sprees. Grand Hotel was among the first MGM sound dramas to showcase two things: first, the studios’ undeniable flair for adapting serious literary material to motion pictures; and second, its unparalleled ability to attract and retain star talent. The movie still dazzles nearly seventy-five years after its release.


    Anna Karenina (1935)

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    Caught in a loveless marriage to the cold, formal Karenin (Rathbone), the stunning Anna Karenina (Greta Garbo) is in a vulnerable state as she travels by train to Moscow to visit her brother’s family. There, she meets the dashing Count Vronsky (Freidric March), a career officer, who immediately falls for her. Fighting her feelings, she returns to St. Petersburg, but Vronsky, undeterred, catches the same train. Anna soon realizes this sudden, obsessive love may cause her to lose everything, including her beloved little boy, Sergei (Freddie Bartholemew), but she seems powerless to control her feelings.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Leo Tolstoy’s epic romance, though significantly condensed, makes a fitting subject for this glossy, glamorous MGM film adaptation. Garbo, the studio’s biggest female star at the time, is perfectly suited to play the tragic heroine (in fact, this was a re-make of 1927’s “Love”, in which she essayed the same role opposite John Gilbert). Eight years later, with sound thrown in, she is only more mesmerizing. Sporting a pencil moustache, March assumes the Vronsky role with conviction and the requisite ardor, while Rathbone scores in a steely turn as the wronged husband. If you’re looking for a living example of what the top studio in Hollywood could produce during its Golden Age, check out the literate and sumptuous “Anna Karenina”.


    Camille (1936)

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    In 1847 France, Marguerite Gautier (Greta Garbo) is one of Paris’s most sought-after courtesans. On the night she is to be introduced to the fabulously rich Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell), she has an encounter with Armand Duval (Robert Taylor), a courtly, lovestruck lawyer from the provinces who promises he will love her till the day he dies. The free-spirited Gautier, ailing from a weak heart, becomes Varville’s lover and the recipient of his monetary favors, but Armand is persistent. Will he gain Marguerite’s pledge of eternal love?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, the tragic, oft-told love story of the Lady of the Camellias here gets the grand treatment from Cukor, MGM, and the resplendent Garbo – whose face, as always, seems lit with white gold by cameraman William Daniels. Taylor is solid and impossibly handsome as the starry-eyed suitor who pines for, wins, then loses the woman of his dreams, and Daniell downright odious as the wealthy baron, especially in a scene where he is pounding a high-spirited tune on the piano in a fit of barely suppressed rage. Scene-stealer Barrymore has a brief but important role as Armand’s father, and Laura Hope Crewes excels as Marguerite’s mercenary elder friend, Prudence. With splendid acting, brilliant direction, and lush production values, “Camille” will win your heart.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • November 2, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Steinbeck on Screen

    by John Farr

    John Steinbeck involved himself in some pretty interesting collaborations with the best filmmakers of his time. Here are three of John Farr’s favorites.


    The Grapes of Wrath (1940)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Triumphant film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s book, tells story of the Joad family, farming Okies who lose everything in the infamous Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. They are forced to pack their meager possessions in a jalopy and drive west to California in a desperate search for a second chance.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Directed by the brilliant John Ford, this movie is pure cinematic poetry, with Henry Fonda giving the performance of his career as Tom Joad and actress Jane Darwell winning an Oscar for her brilliant portrayal of Tom’s beleaguered mother. It is a movie that speaks to the indomitable nature of the human spirit.


    Lifeboat (1944)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    In the Second War, an American vessel carrying civilians is sunk by a German U-boat, but not before the U-Boat is destroyed by return fire. An unlikely group of survivors end up in a single lifeboat, including war correspondent Connie Porter (Tallulah Bankhead), engine room mate John Kovac (John Hodiak), business tycoon Charles “Ritt” Rittenhouse (Henry Hull), and sailors Stanley “Sparks” Garrett (Hume Cronyn) and Gus Smith (William Bendix). Most intriguing, however, is the presence of a refugee from the U-boat named Willy (Walter Slezak), who speaks no English and inspires heated controversy. Will this colorful group survive until they’re rescued, or kill each other off while waiting?

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    “Lifeboat” delivers an intense, provocative take on human nature stretched to its breaking point, as the water-logged group is forced to confront a tricky question: When the Nazi who sunk your ship wants space in your lifeboat, do you play by the rules of the jungle, or the Geneva Convention? An ingenious, unusual entry in the Hitchcock oeuvre, just watch how the Master handles the challenge of doing his trademark cameo. Bendix and Bankhead (in a rare film role) stand out in a stellar ensemble cast.


    East of Eden (1955)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    “Eden” is the age-old, redemptive story of Cain and Abel, updated to 1917 Monterey, originating via the pen of writer John Steinbeck (best-known for “The Grapes Of Wrath”). In his first starring film role, the iconic Dean plays “bad” son Cal, who aches for the love and approval of his upright, uptight father, Adam Trask (Raymond Massey). Harris plays Abra, the love interest of “favored” brother, Aron (Richard Davalos). Ultimately, she becomes romantically torn between the two brothers.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    Another ‘50s Kazan landmark, “Eden” boasts vibrant color and atmosphere, top-flight performances and a dazzling screenplay adapted from the Steinbeck novel by Paul Osborn. Oscar-nominated Dean, Harris, Ives and Oscar-winner Van Fleet (as Cal’s reclusive, disreputable mother) all comprise a stellar ensemble. Don’t pass this classic by.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • October 13, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Later Jack

    by John Farr

    Tim Burton’s Batman stars Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader, but Jack Nicholson steals the film. Here are three more Nicholson standouts from later in his career.


    A Few Good Men (1992)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Assigned to defend two Marines accused of murder at Guantanamo Bay, pampered, insouciant Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) thinks he’s dealing with an open-and-shut case, and strikes a plea bargain with prosecutor Capt. Jack Ross (Kevin Bacon). But Lt. Commander JoAnne Galloway (Moore), brought in to assist the sharp but inexperienced Kaffee, points out discrepancies in the testimony and convinces him to pursue the case in court. The more they dig, the more secrets they uncover, leading them right up the ladder of top Navy brass.

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    This engrossing military-legal thriller from director Rob Reiner soars thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s gripping, expertly paced script (based on his hit Broadway play) and a brawny, high-wattage cast: Cruise and Moore make a winning pair of legal eagles, Bacon is commanding as Kaffee’s courtroom nemesis, and Jack Nicholson delivers one of his most indelible performances as Guantanamo Bay’s ranking officer, the arrogant, tough-as-nails Lt. Col. Nathan Jessup, who may or may not know more than he claims. Dealing with illegal hazing, government cover-ups, and the outer limits of military honor, “Men” packs a double-barreled wallop. Can you handle the truth?


    As Good As It Gets (1997)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    Melvin Udall (Jack 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.


    About Schmidt (2002)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
    After a long career of dutiful service to an Omaha insurance company, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) retires and finds himself trapped in a meaningless existence with nothing much to look forward to. When his wife Helen (June Squibb) dies suddenly, Schmidt decides his own days may be few, so he packs up a whale-size Winnebago and sets out for Denver, where he hopes to convince daughter Jeannie (Hope Davis) not to marry dim-witted salesman Randall (Dermot Mulroney).

    WHY I LOVE IT:
    This indelible dramedy by the director of “Sideways” examines regret, loss, and melancholic self-awareness. Nicholson gives a brave, brilliant performance as Schmidt, a decidedly unglamorous, ordinary man disappointed in his life, his marriage, and his daughter, achieving a late-career high. Mulroney, Davis, and the formidable Kathy Bates – playing Randall’s randy mother – all provide exceptional support, but this movie really belongs to Jack, who brings ingenuous warmth and heartbreaking honesty to his role. Based on Louis Begley’s novel, “Schmidt” strikes just the right balance between despair and hopefulness, poignant tragedy and hilarious hijinks.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • October 6, 2010

    Reel 13 is your ticket to the New York Film Festival

    Another New York Film Festival brought great movies from across the world to the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Program Director (and Reel 13 Indies host) Richard Pena gives a recap of some of this year’s highlights.

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