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  • October 5, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Deep Depp

    by John Farr

    This week, Reel 13 airs the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp cult hit, Edward Scissorhands. Here’s a look, courtesy John Farr, at three of Johnny Depp’s unheralded leading performances.


    What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In small-town Endora, young Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is the de facto household head, caring for his retarded brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), endlessly mortified teen sister, Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt), and 500-lb. widowed mother (Darlene Cates), who hasn’t left the house since Gilbert’s dad hanged himself. Gilbert constantly negotiates a flurry of demands without fail, but when a well-traveled gal named Becky (Juliette Lewis) rolls into town with her grandmother, Gilbert gets his first taste of freedom.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Adapted by Peter Hedges from his novel, Hallstrom’s endearing, offbeat drama features soulful heartthrob Depp as a fatherless young man with lots of worries and little time for his own happiness. Oscar nominee DiCaprio gives a remarkably tender performance as Arnie, a mentally challenged kid who’s difficult to deal with but impossible not to love. Hallstrom develops the quirkier aspects of Hedges’s story-including Gilbert’s involvement with a lonely wife and a worldly newcomer-with a light comic touch. Excellent support from Lewis, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover, and nonactress Cates kicks things up a notch. Beneath its unusual skin, this “Grape” is quite sweet.


    Ed Wood (1994)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Fledgling LA director Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) has a perverse passion for putting on god-awful plays featuring a company of outcasts and nobodies – like transvestite-to-be Bunny Breckinridge (Bill Murray) and Ed’s tolerant girlfriend, Dolores Fuller (Sarah Jessica Parker). Undaunted by failure, Wood – a secret cross-dresser himsel f -finally gets a shot at directing a low-budget film for B-movie producer George Weiss (Mike Starr). But Wood’s biggest boost comes when he meets and befriends his idol, Bela Lugosi (Martin Landau), now an aging, drug-addicted has-been.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This suitably quirky, beautifully acted homage to real-life B-movie hack Ed Wood, creator of “Plan 9 from Outer Space” and other bizarre turkeys, could have played the facts of his strange life strictly for laughs. Instead, Burton portrays this oddball visionary with extraordinary warmth and kindred sympathy, in effect honoring the outlandishly awful movies he made. Depp is marvelous in the lead role, giving Wood a bit of mad naivete as he fumbles his way through Hollywood’s lower depths. And Landau’s crabby performance as the ailing, morphine-addled Lugosi won him an Oscar. Filmed in glorious black-and-white, “Ed Wood” is a droll, endearing tribute to an artless wonder.


    Finding Neverland (2004)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Married Scottish playwright J.M. Barrie (Johnny Depp), meets a widow, Sylvia Davies (Kate Winslet), with four young boys he becomes very attached to, and is inspired to write “Peter Pan,” an ode to everlasting youth that would become a children’s classic. But Barrie’s efforts to produce the play at the Duke of York’s theater in London are fraught with difficulty, even as his love for the Davies clan continues to grow.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Man-child Depp is perfectly cast in this endearing biopic about Barrie’s relationship with the family who inspired his greatest and most beloved work, and his comely co-star, Kate Winslet, fits the bill just as nicely. Depp has always taken eccentric roles, but here he plays the real-life writer with authentic human warmth. Forster allows us to see the world as Barrie does, depicting not just the emotional pangs (grief and the passing of loved ones is a theme in his life) but the flights of fancy soaring in his imagination, and the effect is charming. See this one with the kids, or just for your own enchantment.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • September 28, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Killer Cruise

    by John Farr

    This week, Reel 13 airs the Tom Cruise classic, Rain Man. And just in case you can’t get enough of Tom, John Farr recommends three of his favorite Cruise vehicles.


    Born on the Fourth of July (1989)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    This riveting biopic of Vietnam protester Ron Kovic (Tom Cruise) opens with his all-American upbringing in Massapequa, NY, and entry into the war as a deeply patriotic enlisted man. Later, Kovic returns home disillusioned and psychologically scarred from a bullet wound that’s left him paralyzed from the waist down. Alienated and adrift in Mexico, the hard-drinking vet eventually begins to pull his life together, devoting his energies to anti-war activism.
    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Helmed by “Platoon” director and Vietnam vet Stone, “Born” is a profoundly moving portrait of a macho athlete whose horrific battle experience causes him to reassess his politics and reorient his give-’em-hell attitude. Cruise, in an ambitious turn away from heartthrob roles, plays Kovic with precision and conviction, especially at his darkest moments, delivering the finest work of his career. Co-written by Stone and Kovic, “Born” reflects the pain and anger felt by an entire generation of returning US soldiers, and will leave a lasting impression.


    Jerry Maguire (1996)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) is a sports-agent who’s seen better days. Undermined and outflanked by ruthless colleague Bob Sugar (Jay Mohr), Jerry goes solo, with a solo client: pro footballer Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), who believes he needs his head examined, and whose mantra to Jerry seems unending: “Show me the money!” Just when things seem at their bleakest, Jerry meets Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellwegger) and her young son Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki). Once Dorothy becomes Jerry’s assistant, things begin to look up on all fronts, and we have the makings of an authentic David Versus Goliath story.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Cameron Crowe’s directorial breakthrough (he also scripted) is an infectious comedy-romance buoyed by a star-making turn from Zellwegger, and an Oscar-winning comic performance from Gooding. Young Lipnicki is pretty appealing too, and all provide Cruise with plenty of opportunities to shine. Razor-sharp yet very human satire ends up really warming the heart.


    Magnolia (1999)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    In the San Fernando Valley, a male nurse (Philip Seymour Hoffman) caring for a dying media titan (Jason Robards) tries to contact macho sex guru T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise) to tell him about his estranged father’s fading condition. Meanwhile, an ailing TV quiz-show host, Jimmy Gator (Philip Baker Hall), hopes to reconnect with his drugged-out daughter (Melora Walters), who’s being courted by a tender-hearted cop (John C. Reilly) in this sprawling drama of intersecting lives and fortunes.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Anderson’s magnum opus is an ensemble film like none we’ve seen since the heyday of Altman, clearly the young writer-director’s inspiration. Each member of the impressive cast, including Julianne Moore as a pill-popping wife and William H. Macy as a grown-up child celebrity, bring an angst-filled depth to the themes of personal and familial dysfunction that have defined Anderson’s work since “Boogie Nights.” Plus, playing a misogynistic motivational speaker, Tom Cruise registers with one of his most powerful performances ever. “Magnolia” is a revelatory, emotionally cathartic film full of energy and a robust enthusiasm for cinema. Despite a final, overwrought “plague” sequence which blunts its overall impact, this film remains a breathtaking psychological drama, full of twists, turns, and sing-songy surprises.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • August 24, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Special Spencer

    by John Farr

    This week, Reel 13 airs the Spencer Tracy classic, Father’s Little Dividend. To mark the occasion, John Farr suggests a trio of pictures from his all-time favorite screen actor, the very special Spencer Tracy.


    Libeled Lady (1936)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    The ever-smooth Powell plays Bill Chandler, a freelance journalist hired by his old newspaper to squelch a libel suit brought by society heiress Connie Allenbury (Myrna Loy). To do this, Bill must make Connie fall in love with him and then place her in a compromising position. Ultimately, he melts her icy exterior, but ends up falling in love himself. What’s a smitten newspaperman to do?

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1936, Jack Conway’s underexposed screwball comedy is a raucous farce buzzing with zany humor, thanks to a flurry of impeccable one-liners delivered by Powell and Loy, reunited from their pairing in “The Thin Man.” Playing Haggerty, the newspaper’s frantic editor, and Gladys, his continually jilted fiancée, Tracy and Harlow round out a stellar foursome in this fast-paced, ingenious laugh-fest.


    Woman of the Year (1942)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Two columnists on the same newspaper–Tess Harding (Katharine Hepburn), a female world-affairs commentator, and Sam Craig (Spencer Tracy), a down-to-earth sportswriter-start a feud in print over the pointlessness of sports, but fall in love after Sam takes Tess to her first baseball game. This leads to a blissful walk down the aisle, but both soon find that married life together involves responsibilities which are at odds with their other priorities.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    This is romance cinema at its best, exposing with subtlety and humor the phenomenon of two people, opposites in every respect, falling head over heels for each other. The issue then becomes figuring out how to make it work. Watching the picture today, it’s no surprise that Tracy, a gruff, blocky Irish Midwesterner, and Hepburn, a refined, patrician New England beauty, started their famous romance on this movie. Their differences create their unique chemistry and we can’t help but fall in love with them.


    Inherit the Wind (1960)

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    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 (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.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • August 17, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Late Kate

    by John Farr

    This week, Reel 13 airs the Cary Grant/Katharine Hepburn classic, Bringing Up Baby. To mark the occasion, John Farr suggests a trio of late, great Katharine Hepburn pictures.


    Adam’s Rib (1949)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Adam and Amanda Bonner (Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn), an otherwise happily married pair of lawyers, find their relationship sorely tested when they end up opposing each other in court in an attempted murder case involving another husband (Tom Ewell) and wife (Judy Holliday, in her debut).

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    George Cukor’s “Rib” may just be the ultimate battle of the sexes comedy, waged both in and out of the courtroom. Perhaps Tracy and Hepburn’s best overall film, their on-screen chemistry was never more effective than here. The script by Garson Kanin and Ruth Gordon is razor sharp and supporting performances from newcomers Ewell, Holliday and David Wayne are uniformly inspired. Judy’s turn as a wronged wife put her career in overdrive.


    The African Queen (1951)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Coarse-tongued, boozy steamer captain Charlie Allnut (Humphrey Bogart), a supplier of trade goods to East African villages during WWI, offers to take prim, imperious Rose Sayer (Katharine Hepburn) back to civilization after her husband, a British missionary, dies during a German attack. Charlie and Rose have an oil-and-water rapport, but over the ensuing days, as they face a gauntlet of perils on the arduous journey home, their mutual hostility softens and then turns much sweeter.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Scripted by James Agee, Huston’s hugely entertaining “African Queen” pairs a grizzled Bogart with the lovably straitlaced and ever-haughty Hepburn for a bumpy ride down a treacherous river, where a German gunboat is lurking, along with leeches, rapids, and (surprise!) romance. According to Hepburn’s memoir (and several books), it was a hell of a shoot for everyone concerned, but DP John Cardiff managed to render the humid environs of East Africa in majestic, eye-popping Technicolor. Sterling performances by Hepburn and Bogart (who nabbed the Oscar for his turn as the cantankerous river rat) are the best reason to revisit “African Queen,” though. Opposites attract!


    Long Day’s Journey into Night (1962)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Set during one long summer day in 1912, this film focuses on the Tyrones, a family that has seen better days. James (Ralph Richardson),once a fine Shakespearean actor, has emptily played the same offstage role for years, while eldest son Jamie (Jason Robards), a failure on the boards, drowns his sorrows in alcohol. Budding writer Edmund (Dean Stockwell) is recovering from TB, and mother Mary (Katharine Hepburn), recently released from an institution, is slowly losing her grip on reality to the ravages of drug-addiction. As the day wears on, resentments surface-and ultimately consume-this tragic clan.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Sidney Lumet’s slow-burning adaptation of Eugene O’Neill’s semi-autobiographical play depicts a theatrical family’s slow disintegration with haunting precision. Ralph Richardson is ideally cast as the fading family patriarch, while both Robards and Stockwell (O’Neill’s proxy) are superb as the two sons, each consumed by their own afflictions. Hepburn executes a tour-de-force as the fragile, brain-addled Mary Tyrone, a spectral symbol of the family’s decay from within. Lumet wisely sticks to the letter of the play, and the results are unforgettable.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • August 10, 2010

    Best Movies by Farr: Vintage Coop

    by John Farr

    This week, Reel 13 airs the Gary Cooper classic, Meet John Doe. To mark the occasion, John Farr suggests a trio of classic Cooper vehicles.


    Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)

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    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)

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    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.


    Friendly Persuasion (1956)

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    WHAT IT’S ABOUT:

    Jess Birdwell (Gary Cooper) and his minister wife Eliza (Dorothy McGuire) are happily raising their three children in the pacifist, hospitable ways of the Quaker faith. But as the Civil War looms close to home, their eldest son, Josh (Anthony Perkins), joins the Home Guard to defend their community against Rebel raiders, forcing them to examine their faith and conscience.

    WHY I LOVE IT:

    Based on the popular novel by Jessamyn West, “Persuasion” is a sensitive portrayal of Quaker lifeways with flashes of merry humor, especially around Jess, who can’t resist racing a neighbor’s buggy or the allure of a new pump organ – both frowned upon by his stoic religion. Blacklister Michael Wilson’s progressive-minded script doesn’t shy from weighing militarism against Christian love, and Wyler’s solid direction of stars Cooper and McGuire makes their love for each other seem unfailingly genuine. Future “Psycho” star Perkins is also excellent as the gangly, intense teen who joins the Union defenders against his parents’ wishes. For a quaint, incisive look at old-time Quaker life, try a bit of “Friendly Persuasion.”


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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