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  • August 10, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: 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.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • August 3, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: 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.


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • July 29, 2009

    A Scouting Life: Terror Suspects

    by Sam Hutchins

    Hoover Dam

    Hoover Dam

    As much as I loved Vegas, leaving it always left me feeling empty. Going there is a conscious choice to avoid reality; departing is a forced reconciliation with it. This time was different, however, as we had forged such a bond the night before. We arrived as three individuals and left as a group. A much nicer departure than before.

    Driving east from Vegas, you have two choices: northeast or southeast. Utah or Arizona, not great options either way. I have no love for either state, nor did I see great potential for the type of people and places Kar Wai needed in either place. We headed towards Phoenix simply as it would keep us in the southern latitudes and wasn’t Utah. The road takes you past Lake Powell and the Hoover Dam, both of which are at least interesting for a student of American history.

    Not much to report on this leg as even the two-lane back road we took was crowded with RV’s and pickup trucks towing boats. Nothing more banal than that. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the surroundings and newly formed bonds of friendship. So much so that I allowed myself to make a mistake at the Hoover Dam.

    Approaching the dam there are signs everywhere stating what you cannot do. No parking, no pulling over, no videotaping here, no photography there. It was the work of a control freak gone wild. Even though it was recently enough post 9/11 that security concerns were still reasonable, this was a bit much. As I was processing all this, Darius suddenly grabbed my shoulder.

    “Here, here, pull over.” I knew better but I did so anyway. We eased into a little turnoff right at the edge of the dam. Electrical transformers and towers loomed over us, silently harnessing the might of Mother Nature. We parked directly under a sign that forbade cars from stopping.
    “I’m not sure this is a good place for us to stop.”

    “Pfft. You Americans are so uptight. Let Darius get some shots,” chimed in Stephane. I acquiesced. Admittedly, I started snapping away as well. The sky was a stunning shade of blue and we were amidst the majesty of man and nature both. It was quite seductive. Even so, I should have seen the Fed coming.

    “Freeze! Put the cameras down and keep your hands where I can see them!”

    He wasn’t kidding. Son of a bitch hadn’t actually drawn his gun, but his hand was on it and he was ready to. I immediately set my Leica on the pavement and grabbed some sky. Stephane lowered his camera and looked at the National Park Policeman with a nasty sneer. Darius kept rolling tape of the dam in that amazingly oblivious way of his, not reacting in the slightest.

    “Hey, I’m serious!” he started towards my cameraman. I could only see this ending with Darius being maced and beaten. Stephane spoke sharply to him in French, which was both good and bad. Good as it caught Darius attention and caused him to lower his camera; bad as it immediately fixed us as dangerous foreign terrorists in the eyes of this officious little prick of a cop.

    Mind you, I am a friend of law enforcement. Enough so that I dislike the bad ones all that much more, and we had found one. I carry a badge myself and can usually flash it and walk away from situations like this one with no hassle. Not this time, my friend. All my police connections were trumped by my companion’s foreign passports and accents, particularly Darius’ recent visa stamp from his trip to Iran.

    As proud as I can be of my country, this was a shameful episode. I suppose it is a function of living in New York City, but it is easy to forget how unsophisticated the better part of this nation can be. It boggles the mind that in the twenty-first century the act of being a Frenchman taking pictures is cause for suspicion and detainment. Hasn’t this guy heard of the Louisiana Purchase? General Lafayette? The Statue of frigging Liberty? We spent a few hours being checked out, questioned and suspected. After a great deal of explaining on my part we were set free.

    The encounter gave the three of us a great deal to talk about. We debated the American character, the balance between obeying rules and taking risks in the attempt to get great pictures, and the prevalence of guns in our country. My French friends were horrified by them. It wasn’t even lunch and we had already had an adventure. As the conversation flowed, so did the road. Past the dam we encountered wide-open landscapes and soon met even more gun-toting Americans.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

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  • July 27, 2009

    Best Movies by Farr: 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!)


    Visit Best Movies by Farr for more great DVD recommendations.

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  • July 19, 2009

    A Scouting Life: A Healthy Appetite for Debauchery

    by Sam Hutchins

    Being a longtime bachelor (at the time) with a bit of money and a healthy appetite for debauchery, I have spent a lot of time in Vegas. Not only does it offer all the pleasure you like, it’s an incredibly easy weekend getaway. Two phone calls are all it takes. One to JetBlue for a ticket on flight 197 and one to Caesars’ for a room. Make the calls and the hotel will have a limo waiting for me at the airport, room is comped and it’s post time. That is pleasure, however, and this was work. I was heading to Las Vegas with no intentions of misbehaving. Felt sort of odd.

    In retrospect I clearly should have used my rating at Caesars to get the three of us a nice suite. I didn’t, however, as Kar Wai had made it quite clear that he wasn’t interested in scouting the strip. He was much more interested in the seamy underbelly of the town, so I had us staying downtown at the Golden Nugget. The rooms were booked before I got to know the fashion in which Darius and Stephane liked travelling. They were horrified by Fremont Street and downtown Vegas. The hotel was dingy, loud and offered terrible service. I looked at it as a compromise between the really sketchy places where Kar Wai wanted to be and the nicer accommodations available elsewhere. They looked at it as an awful dump of a hotel. They made no secret of their feelings about staying there.

    Wanting to compensate for the misstep, I took them to one of my favorite spots for dinner: The Palm steakhouse at Caesars’. We had a truly spectacular meal of oysters, shrimp, crab, salads, creamed spinach, fried potatoes and onions, huge slabs of prime beef and copious amounts of wine. One benefit to working with the French is the quality of wine you drink. Darius ordered the bottles and he really knows his grapes. We dropped close to a grand on dinner for the three of us, and it was worth every cent for the bonding we did around the table. Particularly as we charged it to the film.

    After many glasses of wine we really opened up and got to know one another, bragging of our victories, mourning our losses and reminiscing lost loves. The only part that got a little weird was our toasts. I was lectured on the etiquette of raising a glass with one’s confreres the proper French way. Darius insisted, and Stephane confirmed, that it is a grave insult to drink with someone without looking them directly in the eye. Darius is very seductive in the way only a Parisian can be and locking gazes with him like that made me uneasy. I felt like the cat that Pepe le Pew used to chase. I’ll take my cocktails without the intense stare, thank you.

    After dinner we made our way to Cleopatra’s Barge for some more drinks. Nothing says class like a gaudy floating bar replete with strobe lights, dry ice fog and the whitest black man in America covering Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.” I’ve had some truly epic evenings in that joint. I taught my new best buddies the game “Guess which one is a hooker,” which is a rigged contest because at Cleopatra’s Barge they pretty much all are. The guys were fascinated by the concept and kept pressing me for details as to how I knew a girl was working. Darius didn’t entirely believe me; he’s innocently charming like that. As we were leaving one particularly innocuous looking young woman approached us and asked if we wanted to party with her, helping prove my point. All in all a very nice night and a big help in getting to know each other better.

    Arriving back at the Golden Nugget, I turned to my companions and made the effort once again.

    “Meet in the lobby at eight tomorrow morning?”

    I barely got the words out of my mouth before I was told it would be nine-thirty at the earliest. As we got to our rooms Stephane pulled me aside for a private word.
    “You know, Sam, I have a great location scout in Paris that I use all the time. Best location man in all Europe. When we work together he comes by my room in the morning with a nice cappuccino and maybe a little fruit and water.”

    “We have an expression for that sort of thing in America, Stephane.”

    “What ees that?”

    “Go fuck yourself.”

    My friend and mentor Jonathan taught me long ago that you can say anything at all to someone as long as you keep the tone light and smile when you say it. Turns out he was right.

    ….

    STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT OF THE SCOUTING LIFE.

    Sam Hutchins has been working in film production for twenty years. He started as overnight security on the set of “Working Girl” while attending film school at NYU. Since 1995 he has been a location manager for some of the top names in the business. He’ll be blogging from a unique insider’s perspective on the filmmaking process, as well as speaking to his colleagues in the production community to share their experiences with you.

    Photo courtesy H20man

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