Short Takes: Recent Viewings

Grandma (2015) Paul Weitz

Grandma_for-oldiesStrained relationships, the kind we all face at one time or another in life with both family and friends, is at the heart of this small comedy/drama. It centers around the quirky and crotchety Ellie (Lily Tomlin), an aging poet who has not been able to write since her lesbian lover of more than thirty years passed away. Into her life comes her grandchild, young and pregnant. She wants to have an abortion but has no money.

The characters are well drawn and nicely performed though Lily Tomlin’s performance is a real standout. She’s just wonderful. Some jokes went over the head of the folks I saw the film with, particularly the one when they arrive at the abortion client and Tomlin quips about The Bad Seed who socked her in the face, No one else in the audience got the joke but me who busted out laughing amongst an audience of quietness. Continue reading

The Tall T (1957) Budd Boetticher

talltThe Tall T is a superbly bleak western from Budd Boetticher. Boasting a screenplay by Burt Kennedy, based on a short story by Elmore Leonard, it stars Randolph Scott as rancher Pat Brennan. After losing his horse in a bet with a fellow rancher, Brennan is now walking his way back to his place. Along the trial comes a stagecoach. Hired by sleazy accountant, Willard Mims (John Hubbard), the coach is making a special run carrying Mims and his newly married bride Doretta (Maureen O’Sullivan), the plain Jane daughter  of a rich coal mine owner. The couple are on their honeymoon. Seeing Brennan along the road, the coach’s driver stops and picks him up despite Willard’s complaints that he hired the coach for his personal use. Continue reading

Harper (1966) Jack Smight

Harper3 By 1966, the private eye had been regulated to television. Shows like 77 Sunset Strip, Peter Gunn, Hawaiian Eye, Honey West and Johnny Staccato are just a few of the better known shows that began in the late 1950’s and/or the early 1960’s. Part of the reason for the decline on the big screen had to do with the rise of James Bond and his fellow international spies. Foreign intrigue, fancy gadgets, sexy women and criminals with more on their mind than just robbery and mayhem superseded the bedroom antics of the lowly P.I. Continue reading

The Ox Bow Incident William Wellman

ox-bowAt this point in his career, Henry Fonda was not happy with most of the films he had made. Steinbeck’s classic novel, The Grapes of Wrath, was certainly one he was proud of, and thanks to John Ford, he got the role of a lifetime. Like Brando as Stanley Kowalski, or Cagney as George M. Cohan, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else fitting the role of Tom Joad other than Henry Fonda. But there was a price to be paid for getting that part. 20th Century Fox honcho, Darryl F. Zanuck would only give him the role if he signed a contract with the studio. One of the films he made for Fox during this period was The Ox-Bow Incident, based on Walter Van Tilbert Clark’s extraordinary novel. Directed by William “Wild Bill” Wellman, the film is an oddity in westerns of the period. In 1943, the war was on and most films focused on lightweight escapist entertainment, a two hour break from worrying about husbands, fathers, sons and the horrors of what was happening in the world. The Ox-Bow Incident was not lightweight entertainment, it was a downbeat, ugly look at humanity with little gun play. Instead it focused on vigilantism, group mentality that reduced men to the lowest primal level of thoughts and deeds.  It is arguably the first psychological western ever made. Continue reading

Guest Blogger at Rick’s Classic Film and Tv Cafe


This month Rick, over at the Classic Film and TV Café, just began a new monthly series, The Best Movies You May Never Have Seen. I am one of three guest bloggers honored to be part of this inaugural post. You can check out my post as well as two other fine articles by Patricia from Caftan Woman and Yvette from in so many words…
Below is the link that will lead you there…

It Happened in Brooklyn (1947) Richard Whorf

Happened5As the title states, It Happened it Brooklyn, takes place in New York City’s largest, population wise, borough. To be more specific, the film takes place in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn at New Utrecht High School. It’s located on 80th street between New Utrecht Avenue and 16th Avenue. That’s about three blocks from where I lived long ago. I am being so specific here because, as you may have already guess, New Utrecht, is my high school alma mater. Most of the film, except for a few early scenes in the film, take place at the school. Of course, the school you see on screen is a set in Hollywood. To see the real school, all one has to do is watch the opening credits of Welcome Back, Kotter. Those shot of the school in the background as an elevated train passes by is New Utrecht. As an aside, the series star, Gabe Kaplan was an alumni of the school. Continue reading

Short Takes: New Films and Old

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Guy Ritchie)

uncleAn atrocity of one of the great TV shows from the 1960’s. Where to start? Well, the two leads, Henry Clavill and Arnie Hammer, have zero chemistry together as a team. Throughout the movie they just seemed uncomfortable in each other’s presence. Then there is the story which never feels menacing enough, though it involves the threat of a nuclear bomb being stolen. There are some good lines and droll humor here and there, but unfortunately, our two “heroes” cannot deliver the lines with any sense of ironic humor. The film is based on the 1960’s hit TV show, but the resemblance between the show and this film in non-existent. There is no T.H.R.U.S.H., no U.N.C.L.E. organizations and barely any camaraderie between our two spies who seem to hate each other for most of the film. The film is a complete bastardized version of the show. It desperately wants to seem hip and cool, of course it does, it has Guy Ritchie directing, It’s not. It’s just painful. The ending  clearly sets you up for a sequel which I suspect will never be made. Continue reading