Dangerous Decisions, Then and Now
Reviews by Ken Burke
I invite you to join me on a regular basis to see how my responses to current cinematic offerings compare to the critical establishment, which I’ll refer to as either the CCAL (Collective Critics at Large) when they’re supportive or the OCCU (Often Cranky Critics Universe) when they go negative.
True History of the Kelly Gang (Justin Kurzel) rated R
“Executive Summary” (no spoilers): According to summaries I’ve read (cited in my review just below) about Ned Kelly and his later-19th century Australian chums, True History of the Kelly Gang is relatively true (gets a reasonable number of facts right), but, still, it’s a work of fiction based on a novel (of the same name by Peter Carey , so if you want to know more about Ned’s life you might start with the resources I note “down under” this opening). That said, True History ... is a very engaging film (available for low-cost rental on Amazon Prime, elsewhere) following the life of an adolescent growing up in a hardscrabble area where his community of Irish is looked down upon by the English-heritage hierarchy so Ned’s soon introduced to a life of crime as a means of getting by, then when a bit older finds himself in deeper trouble trying to protect his brother, ultimately resulting in his small gang of 4 with a large following going up against the authorities in Victoria Provence. There are more details in the review if you’re ready for the full story, but I’d encourage watching it as a fine exploration of intra-familial strife (I cite Australians who disagree) with excellent acting by George MacKay (1917) as Ned, Essie Davis as his mother, Russell Crowe as the bushranger (outlaw) who trains Ned in the criminal arts. In Short Takes you’ll find a more condensed review of Extraction, a violent but well-directed movie about an assassin, rival drug lords, a kidnapped kid, lots of action (and death)—more direct summary farther below; also in that section I’ll offer suggestions for some worthwhile choices on the Turner Classic Movies channel (but, just like the Related Links information, too much text for full-line-justified-layout like this, at least to be done by this burned-out-BlogSpot-posting-guy—tedious software!) plus my usual dose of industry-related-trivia, this time largely about theaters in a few states pondering a reopening date.
Here’s the trailer:
(Use the full screen button in the image’s lower right to enlarge it; activate
that same button or use the “esc” keyboard key to return to normal size.)
If you can abide plot spoilers read on, but as this blog’s intended for those who’ve seen the film—or want to save some bucks—to help any of you who want to learn more details yet avoid important plot-reveals I’ll identify any give-away sentences/sentence-clusters like this:
⇒The first and last words will be noted with arrows and red.⇐ OK, now continue on if you prefer.
What Happens: In the southeast Australian Province of Victoria (contains Melbourne) in 1867 we meet 12-year-old Ned Kelly (Orlando Schwerdt), along with his parents, John “Red” Kelly (Ben Corbett) and Ellen Kelly (Essie Davis), plus his 7 siblings living in a combination of poverty (the case for much of their territory’s populace) and social distain toward their Irish heritage from the local English snobs, whether actual authorities (usually the police force) or just more-prosperous-landowners. In opening voiceover narration from adult Ned to his young child he writes a diary (with his understanding that to verify the truth of your existence you need to write your own history), explaining how Red was a better man than official records would indicate, having been sent to Australia as a prisoner, then jailed again as this film begins for killing a neighbor’s cow so the family could have a decent meal—even though young Ned was the culprit, admitted his crime, but Red’s hauled off anyway. Not that Dad was an ideal parent, but he certainly didn’t deserve to die during his 6-month-sentence living in a little shack in the countryside, an early incident setting Ned’s growing hostilities toward those powerbrokers in this immediate site and surrounding communities.
Even when an opportunity opens up by Ned becoming friends with rich neighbor Dick Shelton (Chase Oosterweghel) leading to Mrs. Shelton (Claudia Karvan) offering to send the Kelly boy away to a good school, Ellen rejects it as part of her general despising of the English or anyone with power over herself or her children, although she’s willing to tolerate local cop Sgt. O’Neill (Charlie Hunnam) kissing her, telling Ned to stay strong when Dad dies. Ellen’s chief attentions, though, go to well-established Harry Power (Russell Crowe) who claims to be taking Ned north with him to bring back some cattle, but then we find out Ellen sold the boy to Power who’s going to teach him the ways of the bushranger (an outlaw living in the wilderness) by robbing travelers and other criminal actions, including catching O’Neill off-guard when he’s with a prostitute, tying a rope around his penis, threating groin injury. When the Sergeant tries to escape Ned shoots him in the leg (although aiming for the crotch), which results in Harry being hauled off to jail. Ned manages to make it home for the time being, fights with Ellen, they reconcile, then Ned’s arrested by O’Neill. He's a young adult when we see him again, as a brutal boxer for the entertainment of “gentlemen” in some rich establishment, with Joe Byrne (Sean Keenan) along now as his manager/close friend.
Back home again, Ned (now George MacKay) finds things he doesn’t like—Mom’s with George King (Marlon Williams), a cocky-Californian not much older than Ned, while brother Dan (Earl Cave) and buddy Steve Hart (Louis Hewison) are horse thieves, not helping relations with local cops (they also wear dresses, convincing victims they’re crazy so they’re not pursued)—and something he prefers, prostitute Mary Hearn (Thomasin McKenzie), although she has a baby. Another frequent guest where Mary works is Constable Alexander Fitzpatrick (Nicholas Hoult) who can’t complain much about Ned’s family given his own proclivities, such as hanging around the whorehouse nude, says he’ll try to not have Dan charged with horse theft (he’s overruled by superiors so Dan gets a 16-month-sentence) in return for an introduction to Ned’s sister, Kate (Josephine Blazier). But, the Constable ruins everything by telling Ned the baby’s father is George (who leaves, just as Ned rides off with Dan). Fitzpatrick wants Ellen’s help in catching them but she refuses, just as Ned barges into the Constable’s home to make a deal but to no avail. Ned then recruits a small army (the Sons of Sieve, in honor of legendary Irish terrorists [some would say “dissidents”]*) to go to war with the Victoria police force (he also shows himself amenable to Joe’s need for physical closeness), even as Mary’s now pregnant by Ned but rarely sees him (when she does, there’s another confrontation with Fitzpatrick where he's shot in the hand; Ned escapes while Ellen’s sent to prison [in a padded cell]).
⇒Ned's gang now often wears dresses or homemade armor (inspired by U.S. Civil War’s ironclad-warship, the USS Monitor) to make them imperious to bullets while they’re robbing banks, confronting/killing cops. Ned’s most notorious scheme is to detail a train of Victoria police, but his plan’s revealed, the train stops short of the missing rail, a small army descends on Ned’s hideout where his followers have deserted him leaving only the other 3 original gang members who endure an assault until all but Ned are dead. He goes forth in his armor, bouncing off many bullets until some gaps in his protection allow him to be seriously wounded, captured, tried, sent off to prison to be hung (Ellen’s allowed to visit him; we get more VO from Ned’s history to his child), a crowd roaring approval of the verdict. In the last scene we see a dark, empty jailhouse as the camera slows moves away from Ned’s dead body hanging from the rafters in 1880, at the mere age of 25.⇐
*Doug Morrissey of The Sydney Morning Herald offhandedly-debunks the idea of Kelly’s gang or the original Sons of Sieve being cross-dressers, nor could he find anything heroic about Ned’s life.
So What? After a good number of recent reviews of mine focused on the artier-side of cinema, I decided this week’s attention should be turned to less-lofty-topics of slam-bang-action (although True History … also provides useful sociopolitical commentary on 19th-century Australia for my naïve understanding—not that citizens of that country I've linked to here here would necessarily accept that), maybe just to get my blood pumping a bit more after many weeks of Shelter-In-Place-tranquility. This exploration of the notorious (some would say patriotic, but that attitude might well be coming from those who’ve recently been protesting in various U.S. states about opening the economy up again, arguing their freedom “trumps” the overall situation of public health) Kelly Gang’s particularly interesting to me because—as a guy who spent decades teaching film history (me that is, not Ned)—it recalls the designated-first-feature-film ever, The Story of the Kelly Gang (Charles Tait, 1906), a running time just over 1 hour (early notation of what would constitute a feature unlike the more-standard-15-to-20-min.-shorts of the early 20th century), a breakthrough for the emerging film industry, although it would take another decade for features to become more regular offerings (some outdated film history texts mistakenly claim the first feature was either Italy’s Quo Vadis [Enrico Guazzoni, 1913] or the U.S.A.’s The Birth of a Nation [D.W. Griffith, 1915]; both of these do, however, have running times more akin to what we now know as features, the former at 2 hrs., the latter at 3 [when you can find quasi-full-restorations, not always an easy task]). If interested, you can see fragments of the 1906 Kelly silent epic (14½ min.)—it no longer exists in full-length—as well as read commentary about it, plus a very detailed dose of verbal description.
If those options interest you, I suggest an exploration of Kelly’s bio in a short, official version or an enormous one, extensively documented. Based on my perusal of all these items, I’d say True History … does a decent job of being true to some of its history (in broad outlines at least, although I didn’t find any mention of outlaws wearing dresses; Paul Byrnes of The Sydney Morning Herald [like his colleague cited not far above] isn’t supportive of this depiction or the film as a whole). In these fictionalized dramas, though, truth always has to take a backseat to on-screen-impact, which is certainly the case here, no matter how many factual-details may have been altered to smooth the compelling script along (we should always be leery of learning history only from dramatic films, just as we should always be extremely cautious of learning COVID-19 recovery tactics from an ill-informed, economy-obsessed President; however, the opening graphic of True Story … says “Nothing You Are About to See Is True,” so, sarcastic intentions or not, I guess we’re forewarned [but warnings about Trump’s ineptitude should also have been better heeded by many U.S. voters]).
Bottom Line Final Comments: My response to True Story of the Kelly Gang is a good example of subjective reactions to an event and the need for honestly on my part in admitting how whatever the true story of Ned Kelly may be it matters little to me in regard to my encounter with this film, which I found to be engaging in character development, arguably-justified in some of Ned’s hatred for the law but increasingly-less-so as the level of his gang’s violence increases, a tale of resistance to oppression that easily leads to clashing-evaluations about the protagonist as anti-hero vs. villain. (I had the same response decades ago when I first saw Bonnie and Clyde [Arthur Penn, 1967] because I knew the real outlaws weren’t nearly as romantically-honorable during the dark days of the Depression as depicted in that film [nor as physically-attractive as Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty], but they were the perfect embodiments of anti-establishment actions against a callous bureaucracy and a divided-nation for the Vietnam War/Civil Rights protests of its time of release, simply displaced into the 1930s for some historical-buffering of their criminal actions; plus, that film’s a masterpiece of script, acting, direction, editing, cinematography, soundtrack so history easily took a backseat to art.) Based on the CCAL response, I’m not the only one to be so impressed with the concept/construction/execution (sorry, Ned, no pun intended) of True History … which got 76% positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, a 75% average score from Metacritic (more details on both in the Related Links section much farther below), Peter Travers of RollingStone offering typical praise: “The details of Kelly’s life are sometimes borrowed, but more often messed with by Kurzel, […] the movie is less a biopic than a surrealist attempt to show Ned, played with blazing intensity by 1917‘s George MacKay, as the product of his own time and deranged imagination. […] Kurzel and his crew of merry, malicious pranksters blow the dust off a calcified outlaw history to bring something elemental and transgressive to the screen.” Of course, just a few big screens got to show this film because, due to almost-complete-coronavirus-shutdowns, it’s played in only 5 domestic (U.S.-Canada) theaters, taking in a mere $9,939 plus however you’d measure its exposure on Amazon Prime where it rents for $5.99 (no 30-day-fee-waivers for rentals).
Yet, if the actual “true” history of Ned Kelly—as the writers I’ve cited from The Sydney Morning Herald have offered it—compared to what’s depicted here were as off-putting to me as it is to them (as would be, in my sensibilities, a docudrama about President Kennedy’s assassination showing celebrations in the streets rather than the national mourning that really occurred) then I’d not be able to ignore fictionalizations (Travers notes Kelly had no child to write his history for) shown here despite the verified impact of script, acting, audio-visualization. Bottom line, this film works quite well for me in many aspects, may be too violent/too distant from historical accounts in places for others to appreciate. Maybe we'll agree, though, on my Musical Metaphor to put these comments to rest (my standard device to end a review) with an option suggested by my wife, Nina (who’s not all that keen on cinematic violence [or any other kind] but found herself likewise in support of True History ...) when I was whittling away on a mental block, trying to come up with something that speaks (or sings) in a relevant manner; she said, “How about ‘Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys’" (written by Ed and Patsy Bruce , made famous by some guys surnamed Jennings and Nelson on their 1978 Waylon & Willie album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1 CfRfD3lN0 (a 1983 live version by these C&W “outlaws” [Kelly would approve]) where the emphasis isn’t on “Lone Star belt buckles and old faded Levi’s” (my wardrobe) but still resonates with Ned in terms of “If you don’t understand him and he don’t die young He’ll probably just fade away,” in that he did die young, became a major figure in Australian folklore in competing positive vs. negative fashions. As with the U.S. cowboys in the song, Ned could be described as “Them that don't know him won't like him And them that do sometimes won't know how to take him He ain't wrong [debatable about Ned, but let’s just finish the thought here] he's just different But his pride won't let him do things to make you think he's right.” Some critics (probably some viewers as well) may not think Ned (or Kurzel) could do much of anything “to make you think he’s right,” but if you’re willing to invest 6 bucks to find out for yourself, my hope is you’ll be supportive, feel like you’ve spent a couple of useful hours (depending on your possible Australian standpoint), even if you’ve never been “doctors and lawyers and such,” but maybe you could be a film critic, gathering up a Zoom crowd to hear you pontificate (yeah, maybe stealing horses would be a more honorable profession).
SHORT TAKES (spoilers also appear here)
Extraction (Sam Hargrave) rated R
A brutal mercenary accepts the task of freeing the kidnapped son of the major drug lord of India from the major drug lord of Bangladesh because lack of ransom leads to the kid’s death; this cheery plot has lots of brutal action, well-planned/well-shot battles, and the Hulk-y presence of Chris Hemsworth as the liberator; if you expect nothing more, it’s a thrilling ride.
Here’s the trailer:
Before reading any further, I’ll ask you to refer to the plot spoilers warning far above.
If I needed to switch gears from contemplation to action for a change of pace, Extraction certainly fits the bill quite well even though if this were a theatrical choice where I’d have to pay about $20 for a couple of tickets (while Nina’s, not a particular fan of this type of movie she had few qualms about watching Chris Hemsworth as Thor for a couple of hours several times [one of the few attractions, along with Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, that had her accompanying me to most of the Avengers catalogue over the past decade]) I’d probably hesitate considerably more than with the current situation of streaming it for free with my existing Netflix membership (you can get it for free too, even if you’re not a member, with their current policy of a no-charge-30-day-introduction); the CCAL’s veering toward OCCU territory as well here with 67% mildly-positive-reviews at RT, a not-so-supportive 56% MC average score (more details below on both in Related Links), but it has been praised for its well-choreographed-fight-scenes (which do get more bloody as the movie progresses if that's a concern for you), a likely result given Hargrave’s previous work as a second-unit-director for Joe and Anthony Russo, the guiding forces of the 2-part Avengers finale (… Infinity War , review in our May 3, 2018 posting; … Endgame , review in our May 1, 2019 posting), along with their presence as producers of Extraction (Hemsworth also joining several others in variations of that role) plus Joe Russo adapting the screenplay from his own graphic novel, Ciudad (made with Ande Parks, Fernando León González). If deadly action doesn’t put you off, you’ve certainly got something intense to occupy your time for a couple of hours here, although I can easily imagine one of my (former, until the pandemic subsides) regular-Friday-night-viewing-companions having little interest in this because he’d likely not have any concern for any of the characters. That might easily be the case with other viewers as well because the basic situation involves a black-market-mercenary, Tyler Rake (Hemsworth), recruited to rescue within 16 hours the teenage son, Ovi Mahajan Jr. (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), of India’s biggest drug lord (currently imprisoned, not able to pay the price) from ransom-demanding Amir Asif (Priyanshu Painyuli), the biggest, baddest drug lord of Bangladesh. It’s true, no one wants to see an innocent kid being used as a pawn in a power struggle between ruthless criminals, but you shouldn’t be totally written off if you don’t really care what happens here, as the chickens come home to roost on these international-thugs, reminding them how their actions can easily take a toll on their blameless-loved-ones, although the grim-collateral-damage inflicted on Asif’s footsoldiers has to be accepted, I suppose, within this crime-based-context as a risk these guys signed up for even as they attempt to avoid it.
The kid’s held in seemingly-impenetrable-Dhaka, Bangladesh where Amir’s thugs are backed up by corrupt agents of the "law'; however, Rake’s effective in extracting Ovi, then escapes Saju (Randeep Hooda)—a top “soldier” for Ovi’s father trying to grab Ovi for his own purposes—as more chaos occurs, ultimately blowing away/killing in hand-to-hand-combat many other would-be-captors (see the 2 videos as the second connection to Extraction in Related Links not far below for portions of these marvelously-orchestrated-scenes). ⇒More trouble happens (of course; we’re barely through half of this plot) when Rake and Ovi hide out with the former’s former-colleague, Gaspar (David Harbour), who turns on them, overcome with the $10 million bounty for killing Ovi; Rake and Gaspar struggle, Gaspar’s about to kill Rake with a knife, but Ovi saves the day using Gaspar’s gun. Rake then turns to Saju, convinces him to reassert his allegiance to the Mahajan family for the final confrontation. In a harrowing scene on/near a huge bridge, Rake provides enough distraction for Ovi to escape in a helicopter (helped by some nice bazooka work from Nik Khan [Golshifteh Farahani]—another Rake associate—taking out some of Asif’s forces), but Rake’s intended departure’s thwarted when he’s shot in the neck, then throws himself over the bridge into the waters far below. 8 months later Khan kills Asif, then we see Ovi at a swimming pool back in Mumbai, India with a slightly-out-of-focus-figure in the crowd seemingly watching him, giving us a hint Rake survived after all. Speculations now swirl around the question of whether Rake died or not and, even if so, might a prequel, or, if not, might some form of sequel, be in the works for the future?⇐
Certainly, there’s financial incentive for more additions to this narrative as it was the most-watched-movie on Netflix (if you've got an older version of Safari this link may not work but it's OK on Firefox and Chrome) after its debut last week (this article also lists the top 10 of the week’s downloads on Amazon Prime, FandangoNOW, Spectrum, and iTunes with Trolls World Tour [Walt Dohrn] the most-watched on those first 3 [made a global $1.9 million in moviehouses because it rolled out in mid-March, 2020 just as the shutdowns began, now costs $19.99 to rent on Prime], Bad Boys for Life [Bilall Fallah, Adil El Arbi] as #1 for the latter [pulled in $419 million worldwide in theatrical release, seems to be $5.99 now for streaming]; by comparison, True Story of the Kelly Gang didn’t make the top 10 in either Prime or iTunes despite being available in both). While you wouldn’t have to pay at this point for any Netflix streaming (unless you availed yourself of their generosity more than 30 days ago), in a way you get your money’s worth with Extraction even if you (like me) are already a paid subscriber, that is if you enjoy watching credits because a hefty part of this 117 min. running time is taken up with naming just about everyone in India, Thailand, and Bangladesh (where all cinematography was done, not sure about location of post-production work).
If you just like to see people get slammed around (whether you’re rooting for them or not) in spectacular-fight-scenes-choreography and don’t get too riled up by concerns of a "white savior" making the difference that darker-skinned-commandos don’t seem to be capable of (although, like James Bond, Tyler Rake certainly doesn’t pull off this rescue entirely by himself, depending greatly on help from South Asia natives aplenty just as Bond often relied on the technological/military-might of Great Britain to help quell his adversaries), then Extraction might be a pleasant-enough diversion for you (while still being gruesome); it kept me entertained (of course, drinking a strong Long Island Ice Tea while watching it didn’t hurt my enjoyment; you might want to consider something similar), but after having seen at least some of the same antics of Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) and John Wick (Keanu Reeves) respectively in the Taken (Pierre Morel, 2008; Olivier Megaton, 2012; Megaton, 2015) and John Wick (Chad Stahelski, 2014 [review in our December 4, 2014 posting]; 2017; 2019) series respectively I’ve had enough of this kind of thing, will be glad to get back to some more serious cinematics next week. Consequently, my chosen Musical Metaphor for Extraction may be more about my desire to do a quick wrap-up of these comments, then move on to something else (probably watching fascinating episodes of PBS’ early-WW II drama, World on Fire [new ones continue on Sundays 8pm Eastern/Pacific through May 17, 2020; reruns likely easily available]) so here’s The Animals doing “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” (written by Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, in contention for various singers before Eric Burdon and company got it out first, on their 1965 Animal Tracks album) at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3mgapAcVdU because not only do I “gotta” get out of this realm of moviedom but Rake and Ovi “gotta get out of this place If it’s the last thing we ever do We gotta get out of this place ‘cause [kid], there’s a better life for me and you”—well, probably for Ovi but not so decisive (yet) for Rake. Check later if you're that bored.
Suggestions for TCM cablecasts
At least until the pandemic subsides Two Guys also want to encourage you to consider movies you might be interested in that don’t require subscriptions to Netflix, Amazon Prime, similar Internet platforms (we may well be stuck inside for longer than those 30-day free initial offers), or premium-tier-cable-TV-fees. While there are a good number of video networks offering movies of various sorts (mostly broken up by commercials), one dependable source of fine cinematic programming is Turner Classic Movies (available in lots of basic-cable-packages) so I’ll be offering suggestions of possible choices for you running from Thursday afternoon of the current week (given that I usually get this blog posted by early Thursday mornings) on through Thursday morning of the following week. All times are U.S. Eastern Daylight so if you see something of interest please verify actual show time in your area for the day listed. These recommendations are particular favorites (no matter what time they’re on, although some early-day-ones might need to be recorded, watched later), but there’s considerably more to pick from on TCM; feel free to peruse their entire schedule.
Thursday, April 30, 2020 (beginning a week filled with winners, easily lengthening my intended “quick” intros to some of them, but hopefully the extra info will be useful for you)
8:00 PM Network (Sidney Lumet, 1976) Brilliant satire from Paddy Chayefsky (Oscar) about TV news, ratings, soulless corporations, and “mad prophet” Howard Beale, a harbinger of Reality TV and Social Media. Ned Beatty’s CEO rant is priceless. Excellent cast: Peter Finch (Oscar), William Holden, Faye Dunaway (Oscar), Robert Duval, and Beatrice Straight (Oscar).
10:15 PM Dog Day Afternoon (Sidney Lumet, 1975) Godfather-alums Al Pacino and John Cazale attempt a bank robbery (based in fact) to raise cash for sex reassignment surgery for Pacino’s lover, a botched job resulting in hostages, a standoff, crowd support for the robbers, with Pacino shouting “Attica! Attica!” (referencing an unpopular, vicious assault on a NY prison riot/hostage situation). Won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, great acting showcase for Pacino.
Friday, May 1, 2020
2:30 AM Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) Career-defining accomplishment for Scorsese, screenwriter Paul Schrader, star Robert De Niro plus terrific acting by Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Albert Brooks, and young Jodie Foster detailing a psychotic man attempting to kill both a Presidential candidate and a pimp. Paraphrasing Travis Bickle, “If you ain’t ‘looking at me,’ you’re missin’ a lot.” A grim masterpiece with continuing social reverberations.
3:45 PM Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Richard Brooks, 1958) Not as bluntly controversial as the Tennessee Williams play, this still burns with passion, hatred, loads of interpersonal misery as alcoholic, depressive Brick’s (Paul Newman) chastised by both his fed-up wife, Maggie “the cat” (Elizabeth Taylor), and his ever-dismissive, dying father, Big Daddy (Burl Ives). Maybe you have to be from the South (like I am) to appreciate how true to some lives this fictional story ultimately is.
11:45 PM Close Encounters of the Third Kind (Steven Spielberg, 1977) A benign sci-fi movie about the public arrival of extraterrestrial beings leading to awe and international cooperation rather than inter-species-warfare, although Richard Dreyfuss “alien”-ates himself from his family obsessing to travel to the landing site; also stars Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, Bob Balaban, and famed French director François Truffaut. Heartwarming without becoming sappy; Oscar for Best Cinematography.
Saturday, May 2, 2020
12:00 PM The Public Enemy (William A. Wellman, 1931) A defining movie of the gangster genre made during the Depression/Prohibition-era when such tough criminals (James Cagney) were seen as dangerous mobsters but also somewhat-idolized by a broke, jobless public before the 1934 Hollywood Production Code sanitized such on-screen depictions, despite these earlier stories having “crime doesn’t pay” messages. Contains the infamous Mae Clarke grapefruit scene.
1:30 PM My Darling Clementine (John Ford, 1946) One of the hallmarks of the western genre, about the famous (somewhat-fictionalized) gunfight at the OK Corral with Marshall Wyatt Earp (Henry Fonda), Doc Holliday (Victor Mature) as Doc Holliday taking on the Clanton gang, Linda Darnell as Doc’s somewhat-love interest, Cathy Downs as Clementine, shifting from Doc to Wyatt. Verifies a foundational premise of academic study of the western myth as frontier vs. civilization.
3:15 PM On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954) Deserving winner of 8 Oscars including Best Picture, Director, Actor (Marlon Brando), Supporting Actress (Eva Marie Saint). A mob/union boss (Lee J. Cobb) runs the waterfront but a sub-honcho’s (Rod Steiger) in trouble because his brother’s (Brando) witnessed a killing, is being pressured to testify by a priest (Karl Malden). Contains the famous “I coulda been a contenda” scene between Brando and Steiger.
5:15 PM 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) Sci-fi spectacular and on my All-Time Top 10, with a lot of mysterious, difficult interpretations at its time of release (since clarified with a novel and a sequel) about a powerful object that enhances human evolution, then sends astronauts to Jupiter, aided/thwarted by super-computer, HAL 9000. “Star Gate” scene at the end was truly groundbreaking for its time, still impressive (contributed to the Oscar for Special Visual Effects).
8:00 PM Singin’ in the Rain (Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, 1952) The beloved-musical (another standard reference for achievement in its genre) starring Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, Donald O’Connor, Jean Hagen, and Cyd Charisse about Hollywood’s clumsy transition into sound movies, featuring the fabulous “Broadway Melody” sequence, one of the most grand of all MGM spectaculars.
Sunday, May 3, 2020
3:30 AM A Day at the Races (Sam Wood, 1937) Probably the last truly effective Marx Bros. movie with Groucho, Harpo, and Chico at their zany best in a crazy scheme to rescue a sanitarium from being purchased by a racetrack owner by winning a horserace. Contains the usual breakaways to lavish musical numbers (a racially-cringeworthy one here, unfortunately), lots of silliness otherwise.
Monday, May 4, 2020
3:45 AM Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) A masterpiece of Italian Neorealism (Honorary Oscar) about a man in poverty-stricken postwar Rome whose bike, desperately needed for work, is stolen so he has only a couple of days to search the huge city trying to find it. Another entry on my All-Time Top 10 (warning, though: it’s genuinely heartbreaking reflecting those terrible times).
8:00 PM Splendor in the Grass (Elia Kazan, 1961) Set in 1928 Kansas, this is the story of a teenager (Natalie Wood) who resists sex with her boyfriend (Warren Beatty) only for each of them to suffer various forms of anguish as the Depression hits, further increasing the ongoing drama (still plays as tragic, not corny, at least for me). William Inge won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
10:15 PM The Searchers (John Ford, 1956) Widely-regarded as one of the best westerns ever, this focuses on a Civil War Confederate vet (John Wayne) with a hatred for Indians because they kidnapped his niece as a child, killed other relatives, so he’s on a quest to bring her home but now-adolescent Debbie (Natalie Wood) wants to stay with Chief Scar leading to intolerance and deaths.
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
3:00 AM Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) Iconic James Dean role, a strong contender for best of his 3 powerful cinematic appearances (before his untimely death), as he plays a troubled teen whose independent streak just brings more difficulties from adults and a local gang, even as he tries to distance himself from his problems, escape from all of this hostility into a new life with
his new friends (Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo) but new crises swirl around them.
5:15 PM The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948) In the 1920s 3 men (Humphrey Bogart, Tim Holt, Walter Huston) go to Mexico searching for gold which they find but greed, suspicion, and brutality await these prospectors as events go from bad to worse; contains the famous line: “I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!” (often slightly misquoted). Oscars
for Best Director, Supporting Actor (W. Huston), Adapted Screenplay (J. Huston).
If you’d like to have a PDF of ratings/summaries of this week's reviews, suggestions for TCM cablecasts, links to Two Guys info click this link to access then save, print, or whatever you need.
Other Cinema-Related Stuff: Here are some items you might be interested in: (1) Film production companies and theaters not eager to start up again in Georgia (with a chart of closed theater chains); (2) A theater in Tulsa, OK plans to open in May (also has that closure chart); (3) Never to be outdone by Oklahoma, Texas governor allows theaters to open this Friday but only at 25% capacity, yet there seems to be little enthusiasm to do so; (4) Concerns when the pandemic subsides movie fans will have become so conditioned to streaming that theaters will be able to survive only by playing blockbusters; (5) When operational, AMC Theaters won't show Universal movies because they put Trolls World Tour out to Video On Demand (VOD) and will simultaneously use VOD/theaters when the latter’s available again instead of waiting 90 days; (6) Same for Cineworld/Regal Cinemas against Universal (also, a list of intended-theatrical-releases now to be streamed); (7) Motion Picture Academy will be encouraging patrons back into theaters when open, along with new Oscar rules for this year; (8) National Association of Theater Owners (NATO) thoughts about reopening; (9) Czech Republic tentatively set to reopen theaters on May 25, 2020, first in Europe; and (10) Star Wars fans, don’t forget to celebrate on Monday, May the 4th—but maybe not in the way Disney recently indicated.
4/30/2020—Here’s a warning for you! Two Guys in the Dark may have to be on hiatus next week because my elderly computer may well need replacing; if so, I’ll be back up and running as soon as I can once everything’s stabilized into a new machine—another option might be a very short posting so we’ll just see what happens after I can get this current mess to “press.”
As usual during these shutdown times, I’ll close out this section with Joni Mitchell’s "Big Yellow Taxi" (from her 1970 Ladies of the Canyon album)—because “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone”—and a reminder you can search streaming/rental/purchase movie options at JustWatch.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
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Here’s more information about True History of the Kelly Gang:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LIE3wqKMKKE (15:25 animated biography of Ned Kelly,
very informative [ads may interrupt at 2:30, 11:30]) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGN7WZX9zec (17:57 interview with actors George MacKay and Charlie Hunnam)
Here’s more information about Extraction:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_M6DabJ7GYM (3:06 anatomy of a scene by director Sam Hargrave [Rake and Ovi running, trying to escape Saju]) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cf3YJM_TxSQ (5:45 more action in the following scene as Rake overcomes a squad of opponents, analyzed by Hargrave and actor Chris Hemsworth)
Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at https://accounts.google.com/NewAccount if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post. You can also leave comments at our Facebook page, although you may have to somehow connect with us at that site in order to do it (most FB procedures are still a bit of a mystery to us old farts).
If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my email address of email@example.com. (But if you truly have too much time on your hands you might want to explore some even-longer-and-more-obtuse-than-my-film-reviews—if that even seems possible—academic articles about various cinematic topics at my website,
https://kenburke.academia.edu, which could really give you something to talk to me about.)
If we did talk, though, you’d easily see how my early-70s-age informs my references, Musical Metaphors, etc. in these reviews because I’m clearly a guy of the later 20th century, not so much the contemporary world. I’ve come to accept my ongoing situation, though, realizing we all (if fate allows) keep getting older, we just have to embrace it, as Joni Mitchell did so well in "The Circle Game" offering sage advice even when she was quite young herself.
By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker. But wherever the rest of my body may be my heart’s always with my longtime-companion, lover, and wife, Nina Kindblad, so here’s our favorite shared song—Neil Young’s "Harvest Moon"
—from the performance we saw at the Desert Trip concerts in Indio, CA on October 15, 2016 (as a full moon was rising over the stadium) because “I’m still in love with you,” my dearest, a never-changing-reality even as the moon waxes and wanes over the months/years to come.
OUR POSTINGS PROBABLY LOOK BEST ON THE MOST CURRENT VERSIONS OF MAC OS AND THE SAFARI WEB BROWSER (although Google Chrome usually is decent also); OTHERWISE, BE FOREWARNED THE LAYOUT MAY SEEM MESSY AT TIMES.
Finally, for the data-oriented among you, Google stats say over the past month (which they seem to measure from right now back 30 days) the total unique hits at this site were 31,351 (as always, we thank all of you for your support with our hopes you’ll continue to be regular readers); below is a snapshot of where and by what means those responses have come from within the previous week: