Monday, January 30, 2012

Pale Rider (1985)

An Ignored Classic From Clint Eastwood

- Iconic names like John Ford, John Wayne and Sergio Leone are all synonymous with the western genre but no name is more synonymous with the genre from my perspective than Clint Eastwood. In 1985, Eastwood delivered his fifth directed western: Pale Rider. Although it was a financial success, was allowed to compete for the "Palme d'Or" at Cannes Film Festival and sees frequent play time on American television to this day, many critics and film buffs consider Pale Rider a step down the western ladder for Clint Eastwood.

I contend that Pale Rider is, in this regard, an ignored classic. While not completely written off as a bad movie, Pale Rider does seem often affectionately brushed aside as being a worthwhile western but nothing that is particularly special. Few genre films have had their positives ignored and have been more heavily disregarded for encapsulating all that we love about the genre than Pale Rider! Yes, Pale Rider is more fun and straight-forward than other Eastwood westerns, not quite matching intellectual or emotional strides with the likes of Unforgiven (1992) or The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), and borrows certain elements from Shane (1953) and Eastwood's own High Plains Drifter (1973) but that does not diminish its own excellence.

A small California mining community in the 1880s is praying for a miracle and it has come in the form of a mysterious, gun-toting "Preacher" (Clint Eastwood). Mining mogul Coy Lahood (Richard Dysart) has exhausted his lands and now looks to that which is lawfully owned by Hull Barrett (Michael Moriarty) and a small group of mining families to expand his business. Since no one is giving up their claim, Lahood and his gang have resorted to violence and intimidation in an attempt to drive the families out. The young Megan Wheeler (Sydney Penny) prays to God for help and He seems to have heard her cry: a mysterious man, apparently a preacher, rides in on a white horse to help this mining community. But where this rider helps the community by banding them together and fending off thugs he also brings danger as the Lahood gang strikes back and hires out some help of their own.

A lush, passionate film about heroism and love, Pale Rider is Eastwood's 1980s highpoint that is often overlooked as one of the best westerns ever despite its wonderful look, great characters and unforgettable moments (including one of the western genre's best final shootouts).  While Pale Rider is arguably not as interesting as other Eastwood westerns (again, invoking the legacies of Unforgiven and The Outlaw Josey Wales), it is easily the most laid-back enjoyable of Eastwood's directed westerns. A sizeable amount of violence creeps into the film that keeps the story action-packed yet grounded in the serious but Eastwood also does a great job balancing in humor and thoughtful themes regarding courage and love. Overall, Pale Rider is a highly enjoyable and uniquely exciting film thanks to Eastwood's incredible storytelling talent.

Pale Rider also is the film that marks a parting of ways between Eastwood and longtime cinematographer-collaborator Bruce Surtees (from Play Misty For Me (1971) to this film). This collaboration would end with a bang as Pale Rider looks fantastic, containing some of the finest shots in Eastwood's filmography. The colors are deep and the shadowing is very striking, while the majesty of the Sawtooth and Boulder Mountain ranges (doubling for the Sierra Nevada) is captured to amazing effect. One of the main things I particularly enjoy about western films and Clint Eastwood's films in general is the way they look - and Pale Rider certainly does not disappoint.

But in spite of these high-quality elements, Pale Rider has accumulated its share of critics. One critic in particular turned his nose up at Pale Rider, claiming that it "does nothing to disprove the wisdom that this genre is best left to the revival houses. A double feature of Shane and Eastwood's High Plains Drifter will do just fine, thanks." Pale Rider does indeed reuse some key elements from Shane and High Plains Drifter but don't worry, it is all for good. Pale Rider takes the same elements from both Shane and High Plains Drifter, improving upon what I disliked the most about both films it riffs: the characters.

One of the shared aspects of High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider is Eastwood's nameless, violent stranger who rides into town. A highly praised aspect of High Plains Drifter is the supposed ambiguity of Eastwood's lead character. I never bought into that because I thought High Plains Drifter made it quite obvious who Eastwood's "Stranger" character was. Pale Rider on the other hand paints a truly ambiguous backstory for Eastwood's character. Rather than give the audience direct insights into who the stranger character specifically is (as High Plains Drifter does with various flashback sequences), Eastwood makes several subtle inferences with spiritual and worldly overtones in regards to the true identity of the character. Unlike High Plains Drifter, which gives away the identity of the lead character in certain scenes, the identity of Eastwood's stranger in Pale Rider can only be deciphered in the minds of each individual viewer.

Shane shares a similar aspect with Pale Rider as well, specifically the central structure of the story that sees an unannounced arrival of a helpful stranger to a community in need of defense and guidance against a corrupt gang that wants their land. Some criticize the supporting cast in Pale Rider as giving bad to mediocre performances; certainly worse than that cast of Shane. I disagree. Although the cast of Pale Rider (save Eastwood) do not have the same kind of name recognition as the players in Shane (such classic talents as Van Heflin, Jean Arthur, Elisha Cook Jr. and Jack Palance), I do find them to be quite impressive: Michael Moriarty gives a great, quiet performance as Hull; John Russell is a memorable antagonist; and Sydney Penny performs her youthful role far better than her the irritating Shane counterpart Brandon De Wilde. But beyond the individual performances, I found the characters they perform to be far more interesting and multi-faceted. The supporting characters in Pale Rider seem to struggle with much more than the characters of Shane were and are much more complex.

An even more recognizable difference in the two casts is Clint Eastwood's performance as the Preacher in Pale Rider, which far surpasses that of Alan Ladd's title role performance in Shane. Despite enjoying Shane as an overall film, I found Ladd's performance incredibly dull. Ladd's Shane never made much of an impression on me as a character; he did not feel genuine or compelling. Eastwood on the other hand greatly improves upon the similar character in Pale Rider with an intense and natural presence that, in conjunction with who he is and does, makes the character likable and intriguing.

Although largely a critical and financial success upon its release, I do not feel that Pale Rider currently enjoys the reputation that it is due. Instead of being held up as a western standard, Pale Rider has seemed to settle for a "good but not great" status that I do not think is deserving at all. Few westerns emerged out of Hollywood in the 1980s and none of those that did even came close to matching the atmosphere, character and excitement of this film. Eastwood delivered a classic 1980s western for the ages in Pale Rider and I hope more film fans, critics and buffs will soon acknowledge this.

CBC Rating: 9/10

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Woman On The Run (1950)

And The Police Man and Killer, Dan,
Were Searching Everyone....

- While women tend to be at the apex of evil in many a film noir plot (the famous "femme fatale" roles), one can hardly call the genre a "man's genre." Film noir has empowered women on screen, albeit often times empowered to do bad things to the male stars. Still, while women have been essential to the genre, classic film noir rarely featured a woman protagonist. Directed by Norman Foster's (known primarily for helming a number of Mr. Moto and Charlie Chan serials), the 1950 film noir Woman On The Run is notable for its female protagonist but also for being a well-made movie.

Headstrong housewife Eleanor Johnson (Ann Sheridan) and struggling artist Frank Johnson (Ross Elliot) are, "in a way," married. Having grown apart, Frank and Eleanor live practically separate lives together in San Francisco as their marriage crumbles. But their lives are forever changed when Frank narrowly escapes death and goes on the run from the cops and the mob for witnessing a murder. Motivated by pure obligation, Eleanor searches for him, aided by an unusually helpful reporter (Dennis O'Keefe), and begins to realize more about the man she thought she knew and the extent of gravity in his current situation.

Working in Hollywood since she was 18, contracted to Paramount after winning a beauty contest, Ann Sheridan was by no means new to film by 1950. In fact, by the 1950s Sheridan's career had been falling after being a WWII pinup girl and starring a number of films in the 1930s (Angels With Dirty Faces (1938)) and 1940s (I Was A Male Order Bride (1949)). Although her blockbuster successes would forever be behind her by 1950, Ann Sheridan is terrific as Eleanor Johnson in Woman On The Run. In an age of Hollywood were actresses outlived their welcome even faster than they do in the 21st Century, Sheridan commands the screen creating a dimensional, engaging character with the killer beauty, strong screen presence and sharp frankness that defined her entire career. She never misses a beat and never backs down. Even as Sheridan convincingly allows for frequent vulnerability in Eleanor as the story progresses she never allows for any creampuff cliche or objectifying weakness, instilling a strong identity and confidence in her character. Supporting performers Dennis O'Keefe, Ross Elliot and Robert Keith are serviceable but Sheridan simply owns the whole show.

But Woman On The Run is a good show in its entirety. Carefully handling the tension and twists as well as constructing some particularly clever and memorable individual scenes, director Norman Foster forms an engrossing story and remarkable picture out of his and Alan Campbell's screenplay. The visuals, especially the shadowing and camera movements, are excellent and the film's San Francisco setting is also well captured. San Francisco has been portrayed beautifully on screen in such greats as Dirty Harry (1971), Dark Passage (1947) and Vertigo (1958) and Woman On The Run also does the City by the Bay justice. Woman On The Run is quite the film noir all-around; most noteworthy in the genre, on paper, for its memorable film noir female protagonist but ends up impressive and exciting in its own right from the eerie opening to the literal roller coaster ride of a climax.

CBC Rating: 8/10

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957)

Mr. Mitchum & Ms. Kerr Excel In Mr. Allison

- World War II has stretched into 1944, and somewhere in the South Pacific a small raft is tossed around by the waves, floating indifferently to nowhere. Time passes, and this small raft touches the beach of a small island, pouring out the exhausted United States Marine Corporal Allison (Robert Mitchum). Searching the island, he finds it populated by only one Irish nun, Sister Angela (Deborah Kerr), who has been stuck there for days. Now marooned mates, Cpl. Allison and Sister Angela get to know one another and work together for survival. As one might guess, their little vacation does not go so smoothly; the Japanese Army pops by for a visit and we are talking about one island with one man and one woman - you do the math. Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) is an unforgettable film from John Huston, a film about survival, faith, and really caring for someone.

Robert Mitchum has given a lot of great performances throughout his 50 year career in film, but he has never been seen quite like this. In Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Mitchum really opens up and lets loose as this cool and composed but tough and stop-at-nothing Marine, but the subtleties of his performance especially brings out the placid humanity of his character. It is an example of a truly riveting performance - Mitchum has never been finer. No one but Deborah Kerr would suffice in the role of Sister Angela. Through Kerr, Sister Angela is reserved but sparkling and soft yet unwavering in whatever she does. She also makes those of us who are not nuns easily and respectfully understand where her character is coming from. Mitchum and Kerr have such a great and complementing on-screen chemistry, and their cinematic tag-team is the main thing behind the film's fun and compelling nature.

John Huston was no film-making novice by 1957, and put together an excellent film with Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison. Huston gets fantastic performances from Mitchum and Kerr but the film also has an equally fantastic look. Perfect camera movements, picture quality, locations, sets and special effects serve the film wonderfully as visual treats but also as an excellent cinematic setting for the story and Mitchum and Kerr's performances.

Huston directs the film, but he also, along with John Lee Mahin, wrote the screenplay - and what a wonderfully written film this is. Adapted from Charles Shaw's novel, Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison has an engaging story with fun, thoughtful, and respectful dialogue throughout. The interaction and development of the Cpl. Allison and Sister Angela characters through the performances of Mitchum and Kerr is what this film is all about. Who knew a nun and an American Marine would have so much in common? Sure they have the common goal of staying alive on the island but they also grow close to one another and end up impacting each other in different ways. Cpl. Allison has never cared about or been much use to anyone outside the Marine Corp., he is only familiar with his past life of getting into more trouble than doing any good and his current life as a Marine. That is until he has to look after Sister Angela - suddenly things are different. Then on the other side of things, you have Sister Angela, who has not had a life outside of the church, finding herself growing closer to this Marine and thrown into the middle of a dangerous war situation.

With a great story filled with wonderful characters, warmth, humor, action, tension and suspense; film specifics of unequaled quality; and two amazing film-driving performances from Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr; Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison is an excellent and unforgettable film.

CBC Rating: 10/10

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Austin Powers Trilogy

Groovy, Baby - Three Times Over

Looking for a laugh? Then Austin Powers is the man for you! The Austin Powers films pray upon the culture of the 60s and of today and spoofs James Bond and other sixties spy programs with eccentric henchman, evil plans, secret lairs, ironically named and scantily clad women and even a John Barry-like soundtrack. Mike Myers is great and hilarious - completely lost in character and makeup - as Swinging Brit Spy Austin Powers, the evil genius Dr. Evil (although he's not exactly a "hands on" evil genius") and more. Packed with spoof humor, hilarious gags, bathroom jokes and funny cameos, the Austin Powers films have me laughing from start to finish.

In the first installment of the Austin Powers series, Austin Powers: International Man Of Mystery (1997), Dr. Evil is cryogenically frozen and escapes into space to come back at a different time. Austin Powers is then also cryogenically frozen, being the only person who can stop him. When Dr. Evil returns to earth in 1997, with a desire for world domination, he finds himself unfortunately surrounded by "frickin' idiots" and is just plain out of his element as well. So Austin Powers is thawed out of his cryogenic state to, with the help of sexy secret agent Vanessa Kensington (played by Elizabeth Hurley), stop Dr. Evil's plans of world domination. A lot has happened since Austin was frozen, the Cold War is over ("Groovy, yeah Capitalism!") and society has changed too: unprotected promiscuous sex and extensive use of drugs are not the norm (so Hollywood seems to think). Austin has to deal with his raging culture shock as he halts Dr. Evil's plan, leading to many hilarious events that end up creating a great 60s satire with International Man Of Mystery.

The second installment of the Austin Powers series, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999), is bigger, funnier and all-out better than the first. Where International Man of Mystery was a focused sixties spy genre and culture spoof, The Spy Who Shagged Me is focused more on comedic gags and humor that comes from characters more than the written word. Sure, The Spy Who Shagged Me makes less of a point than the first Austin Powers film - but if you were watching International Man Of Mystery with your brain switched on, you probably will not notice. Also, new characters make an appearance: Mini-me (Dr. Evils 1/8 sized clone), Fat Bastard (he weighs a metric ton, and is a bastard) and Felicity Shagwell (played by Heather Graham, the best Austin Powers girl of the series). In this film, Dr. Evil goes back to 1969 via a time machine to steal Austin Powers' mojo in an attempt to take him out of the equation when he tries take over the world again. The Spy Who Shagged Me is my favorite of the Austin Powers series, continuing the James Bond spoof and is filled with more and better humor.

In the third and final installment of the Austin Powers series, Austin Powers In Goldmember (2002), Austin Powers goes on yet another laugh-filled mission. Dr. Evil has employed the "crazy Dutch bastard" Goldmember (another Mike Myers-portrayed character - the count is now four, I believe) from the 1970s to help him take over the world. Where Dr. Evil has honestly tried to take over the world in the two former Austin Powers movies, despite his humorous side-escapades, he just does not care anymore here in Goldmember and is just totally screwing around - and it is hilarious. Austin has his share of extra trials outside of having to stop another Dr. Evil plot - his father Nigel Powers (Michael Caine) has brought all of Austin's daddy issues to the surface. Having to go back in time again, the Austin Powers series gets to poke fun at another decade - the 1970s. The time travel aside, Goldmember remains more of a popular culture spoof than any other of the Austin Powers movies. And with scene-to-scene hilarity, spoofs and even more cameos than the other Powers films, Goldmember is a great finale for the Austin Powers series.

CBC Rating: 7/10

Love Come Down (2000)

I Don't Want To Dance

- If Spike Lee made an after school special, it would look something like Clément Virgo's terrible 2000 film Love Come Down.

Neville (Larenz Tate) and Matthew Carter (Martin Cummings) struggle, and they have their former father and current vices to thank for it. And so the story goes: both guys struggle with their family, Neville struggles with drugs and trying to do some sort of speech routine as he meets a girl who is struggling with her multi-ethnic family tree (Deborah Cox) and Matthew struggles with his seeming need for violence. Naturally, throughout the film both characters struggle on screen in the most watered-down and lame-duck way possible, making the film nearly impossible to take seriously.

One can tell that director Virgo is trying to say something about race and family with Love Come Down but it is really hard to care one iota about any of it because of the pathetic acting, the laughable dialogue and the been-there-done that cinematic style (I am wondering if Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese should have received some credit for directing the film - or at the very least a "Thank You" at the end of the film's credits). Not helping the film is the fact that every scene is seeping with so much heavy Hollywood-perfect cherry-on-top melodrama, due to either the nature of the script or the horrid cast, that it is cinematically frustrating (the best part is when one man begins to get all buddy-buddy with his wife's former lover who fathered the child he had to raise). It is not usually a good thing when you are laughing at the sad or tender parts of a film - yet that is what occurs often while viewing Love Come Down.

See the film if you must, you will at least get a good laugh, but I suggest avoiding Love Come Down like the mother trucking plague.

CBC Rating: 2/10

Girlfight (2000)

Punches Like A Girl

- A girl fights in this film, written and directed by one of the worst filmmakers currently in the business, Karyn Kusama, and that's about it. Sure Diana Guzman (played by Michelle Rodriguez) also finds something she loves in boxing, a sport dominated by males; gets involved with a man; and struggles with school and her family - but the story is nothing special. Just about everything associated with the film is worthless.

Firstly, the acting horrible. Jaime Tirelli fairs the best but literally every other member of the entire cast gives a very weak performance - you know, the kind of performances that make you roll your eyes and ask "that's all the energy you could muster up for that line?"

Secondly, the writing is bad. If all of the heavy-handed, clichéd and sappy dialogue was not bad enough, the story is boring too; nothing important happens between the first 15 minutes and the last 15 minutes - all Diana does is train and get mad. Also, the characters are not likable in the least; no one seems to break out of their selfish ways, learn anything or develop at all.

Finally, everything that makes up the all-important visuals - lighting, coloring, production design - are huge letdowns. I get it: boxing is a grimy business of punching the stuffing out of Everlast bags and punching the lights out of your opponent. But why can other boxing films like Rocky (1976), Raging Bull (1980) and The Set-Up (1949) be gritty and stylish at the same time while all Girlfight can do is look cheap and unpleasant?

Tap out of seeing this one if you can.

CBC Rating: 3/10

A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints (2006)

Who Gave This The Green Light?

- Written and directed by Dito Montiel (adapted from his book), A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints (2006) is a story about none other than Dito Montiel - and what an uninteresting story it is.

In the present day, Dito's father has fallen ill, causing Dito to go back to his hometown of Queens, New York. On his journey back home, he revisits old memories of growing up in the mid-1980s, why he left and why he has not exactly thrilled about coming home. Unfortunately nothing in Dito's life is remotely interesting and nothing happening on screen is worth caring about. Dito gets into some teen trouble, gets a girlfriend, gets into fights with his father and ultimately gets the false impression that it would make a good film. Well, thanks, but it does not since complete dysfunction does not automatically equal a good story.

Unfortunately, the list of problems does not end here. A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints is shot in a way that is just as uninteresting as its progression of events. Shot through a third person hand-held viewing, we as the audience gets a window into Dito's life that has been done to death as of late.

The performances found in the film are also hit and miss - missing mostly. Since Robert Downey Jr. receives top billing in this film, it is only natural to think that he has the largest amount of screen time. Well, wrong! While Robert Downey Jr. does well with what little screen time he has as the grown-up Dito, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints is very much a Shia Lebouf film, as Lebouf plays the featured young Dito. The problem with that is, not only does he not begin to resemble a young Robert Downey Jr., Shia Lebouf is not a very good actor at all. The film features some good performances from Downey Jr, Melonie Diaz and Chazz Palminteri; but, for the most part, the performances found in the film are of poor quality. When the film does not feature actors who are doing a mediocre job, like Dianne Wiest and Shia LaBeouf, it is filled with actors who are just horrible in their roles like Julia Garro and especially Channing Tatum, who is absolutely painful to watch.

By and large, A Guide To Recognizing Your Saints is not made up of anything special. I would suggest avoiding this film like one avoids a life on the streets.

CBC Rating: 3/10

The Yakuza (1974)

A Surprisingly Unrecognized Yet Quite Excellent Film

- Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum) finds himself back in Japan for the first time in 25 years. His powerful friend George Tanner (Brian Keith) is in dire need of Kilmer's services, as his daughter has been kidnapped by the dangerous Yakuza (a Japanese form of the mafia) because of a business deal gone wrong. Kilmer had not planned on going back to Japan. He has a complicated past there - he fell in love with a Japanese woman, Eiko Tanaka (Keiko Kishi), at the end of World War II but painfully left when she stopped having anything to do with him upon her brother's return home. Now that Kilmer is back in Japan, he tries to rekindle what he lost 25 years ago, only to find out that his current mission has become complicated and dangerous enough....

One of Sydney Pollack's (Tootsie (1982), Out Of Africa (1985)) best and astonishingly forgotten films, 1974's The Yakuza is an excellent film about family, friends and obligation. What a great story! Written by Leonard Schrader with a little help from now Hollywood heavyweights Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver (1976)) and Robert Towne (Chinatown (1974)), The Yakuza starts off simple enough but gets very interesting and is always full of heart.

The performances are also all fantastic. A matured Robert Mitchum is excellent here in The Yakuza, giving one of his very best performances of his long career. Mitchum has a soft intensity and still carries that classic Mitchum swagger - plus he is as convincing as you can possibly get in the Harry Kilmer role. An experienced tough guy, Kilmer still is emotionally vulnerable and unable to detach himself the unfolding events throughout. And, even though he has spent years in Japan and is familiar with its customs and people, Mitchum's Kilmer still has to deal with a little bit of culture shock as well. Other members of the cast give good performances as well: Richard Jordan is all too likable as the brash but loyal Dusty, Keiko Kishi gives a warm performance as the quiet Eiko Tanaka and Ken Takakura is powerful and authoritative as the troubled but strong Ken Tanaka.

The Yakuza is also extraordinarily filmed. The camera angles and movements give the film an interesting perspective and the great, dark, neo noir-like cinematography drapes the audience in an exciting film atmosphere. Plenty of terrific and unique action scenes can be found in the film, certainly. Not very often do we see a great sword fight and a great gun fight in the same film going on at the same time - well, we do here in The Yakuza. But the action scenes are not filmed in a fun and games sort of way; they are all interestingly displayed and real brutal. Including the great story and acting into account with the spectacular visuals, Sydney Pollack's The Yakuza really fires on all cylinders to thrill, move and entertain.

CBC Rating: 10/10

The Enemy Below (1957)

Die Boote

"I have no idea what he is, what he thinks. I don't want to know the man I'm.... trying to destroy."

- Actor Dick Powell turns director here in The Enemy Below (1957), an inspiring voyage through a fictional World War II battle. Based on Denys Rayner's quite dark novel, The Enemy Below takes place during the ongoing Battle of the Atlantic where Captain Murrell (Robert Mitchum) of the American Buckley-class destroyer USS Haynes dukes it out on the high seas with Kapitän von Stolberg (Curd Jürgens) and his German U-Boat.

With a story such as this, The Enemy Below has great potential for a dark World War II film, but it ends up more of a mix between the serious and the adventurous. The Enemy Below is very well written, exploring its main characters and the futilities of war through dialogue. At the same time however, the film is actually more on the lighthearted adventure side through the film's presentation. Along with some of the more serious aspects, we are more or less taken for a ride as the two captains battle it out. It is a very exciting ride though; following these two likable and intelligent captains as well as viewing some very cool and historically interesting battle scenes (the film won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects in 1957).

The combination of Curd Jürgens and Robert Mitchum in this film ends in excellent effectiveness. Classic international actor (and future Bond bad guy) Curd Jürgens gives a very intense performance as Kapitän von Stolberg. Jürgens is great in the part, a character that is actually a respectful take on a German World War II officer. All too often we see cinematic German commanders who are Nazi zealots - but not our friend Herr von Stolberg. He is not a fan of this war or this new Germany but he certainly does care about his men and his mission. Very refreshing. Robert Mitchum is a terrific lead as the seasoned and intelligent Captain Murrell. With his usual command of his character and the screen, Mitchum brings to life this world-weary man just doing his job. Mitchum and Jürgens are the whole show but it also must be mentioned that an enthusiastic David Hedison (credited as Al Hedison but known to Bond fans everywhere as Felix Leiter) also turns in a memorable performance as the past-over naval officer Lt. Ware here in this film. Seeing the battle the way we do, from both sides, the audience gets attached to both captains and both crews and are in the unique place of not being able to fully choose one side over the other.

Dick Powell certainly made good: The Enemy Below is a great World War II action/adventure film, possibly the best naval World War II film of the 1950s.

CBC Rating: 9/10

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Over The Mountains And Through The Desert
To An Epic Adventure We Go!

- Rudyard Kipling's famous 1888 short story becomes the tremendously entertaining 1975 film through the vision and execution of legendary director John Huston. Captivated and perplexed as soon as the film begins with Michael Caine stumbling in on crutches, you are taken on a great and exciting adventure in The Man Who Would Be King. Two British ex-soldiers and current smugglers, Daniel Dravot and Peachy Carnehan, plan to sneak through a land not too keen on white dudes to a far away land, find a village, defeat its foes, become kings and then proceed to "loot the country four ways from Sunday." The film's excellent starring cast is up to their usual high standards - Michael Caine is hilarious and impassioned as Peachy Carnehan, Sean Connery is quirkier than you have ever seen him as Daniel Dravot and Christopher Plummer is as great as always as the affable, intelligent and dry Kipling. Caine and Connery are a great screen duo and the "buddy" relationship that their characters have is great fun to watch and is almost the entire film in and of itself. The other half is the film's brand of epic that you really feel. The Man Who Would Be King is an epic adventure in the purist of senses: ranging from but not limited to larger than life landscapes, exotic cultures, exciting action and great humor. But watch out, you will find a moral at the end of this story that will attack you like, well.... one thousand very angry holy men.

CBC Rating: 10/10

Billy Budd (1962)

An Entertaining & Thought-provoking
High Seas Adventure

- In an age of mutinies within the Royal Navy, the HMS Bellipotent sails mightily during Britain and France's pre-Napoleon conflict. On this ship is a young man named Billy Budd (Terence Stamp), recently impressed into the Bellipotent's service from a ship called "Rights of Man," who is a great sailor and is loved by his fellow brothers at sea. Very innocent, lighthearted, charismatic and hardworking, Billy is just plain fun guy who has won friends from the lowest ranking deck scrubber to the highest-ranking naval officer - the whole ship loves him, really. Well almost the whole ship.... Except for Master at Arms John Claggart (Robert Ryan). Claggart is the anti-Billy; a cruel man, the crew feels nothing but hatred for him and the officers hold nothing but distrust for him. While Billy Budd feeds him respect and compassion, Claggart looks for ways to bring young Billy down, meanwhile the ship's Captain Vere (Peter Ustinov) finds himself trapped in the middle of it all. Directed by Peter Ustinov, Billy Budd is a fantastic film that is entertaining but also thought-provoking.

This film has a few Biblical and philosophical interpretations but I found it to be, mainly, an exploration of the law vs justice through a story of good vs evil. For the commanding officers of the Bellipotent, a French vessel is the least of their worries; what worries them the most is what lurks aboard their own ship. When Billy Budd is suspected of a crime, these officers not only have to separate their duties as officers from their feelings as men, they have to worry about what the other members of the crew will do upon the announcement of their verdict. Billy Budd is a very well written film - contemplative, dramatic and entertaining - and a well-made film all around from the photography to the acting.

Actor Robert Ryan does what he does best as the evil Master at Arms John Claggart, being menacing and brooding to entertaining and authentic levels. While we get some understanding of Claggart through the behind-the-back grumblings of the crew, Ryan brings many other facets to the character through his performance and makes him far more interesting than just a one-dimensional evil-doer. Peter Ustinov co-stars in this film as Captain Vere while he directs and is simply fantastic with his very powerful but very subtle performance. Vere is just and intelligent but he is very much a trapped man. Trapped between Claggart and the crew,  Vere is trapped between his duty of carrying out the consequences laid out by the law and his duty to protect his men. Hollywood legends Ryan and Ustinov are brilliant headlining leads but it is Terence Stamp who steals the show with his excellent portrayal of Billy Budd. The crew loves Billy and the entire film depends upon the audience feeling exactly as the Bellipotent's crew. Luckily, Stamp absolutely convinces in the role, making the audience feel the same way through his very believable and likable performance. These three performances drive and boost Billy Budd further into film greatness (and Bond fans, look out for M, Robert Brown, in a small role).

CBC Rating: 9/10