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  • December 17, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: 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.

  • December 10, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: 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.

  • November 15, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: 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.

  • November 12, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: 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.

  • October 21, 2012

    Best Movies by Farr: 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.

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