Last night I watched for the first time the American film classic Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford, Sidney Poiter, Vic Morrow, Anne Francis, and Richard Kiley. This is the story of a determined and resilient new high school teacher thrown into a den of wolves – actually a bunch of secondary school miscreants determined to make life hell for the new English teacher. Sidney Poiter plays a student and seems too old and/or mature for the role. Anne Francis plays the supportive wife and is forced to recite some terrifically anachronistic supportive wife shtick. I was most impressed with Vic Morrow’s performance as the toughest of the junior hoods, and completely wowed by the similarities between his acting and performances I’ve seen from daughter Jennifer Jason-Leigh. I mean, it’s uncanny! On a personal note, Glenn Ford is the spitting image of my ex-bf R. F. and certainly brought back some memories for me.
Grade: B+ for Glenn Ford’s and Vic Morrow’s excellent performances, with points off for dialogue and plot anachronisms, but added points for making me think about biological determinism
Léon the Professional is currently rated at #37 in the IMDB top rated movies list, and I have just gotten around to seeing it (what kind of film buff am I?). Directed by Frenchman Luc Besson, it’s thematically presages his famous lady-assassin film La Femme Nikita (although made after that film). Natalie Portman, in her first starring role, is at 12 the most self-assured pre-pubescent actress in the history of film making. She is formidable. She plays an orphan who latches onto Leon the Professional (hitman) (played by Spanish-French actor Jean Reno) out of desperation. The pair develop a touching relationship – there are not many films where a father/daughter relationship is so beautifully developed. Both leads are fantastic, and Gary Oldman adds manic drug-addled crazy gusto goodness as a crooked DEA cop.
Grade: A for great acting, beautiful film making, and an unconventional love story
This is a fascinating documentary about reclusive artist Henry Darger who produced some of the most arresting and original American outsider/folk art of the 20th century. Probably not many people have heard of him… I know I hadn’t. Darger walked a fine line between madness and manic genius, but there is little question of his talent. To understand his art, one must understand his life, and the film seeks to make that link. The filmmaker is clearly enchanted by the work. I won’t reveal too much, but this film is a must-see for art appreciators.
Grade: A, for pure charm, and for championing the cause of a great under appreciated artist
I finally got around to seeing 300. This of course is the tale of 300 brave Spartans (and a few allies) who took on a giant Persian army in Greece ca. 450 B.C. O.K, the movie is a home-erotic beef fest, but I don’t have a problem with that. The film actually takes as its visual inspiration Frank Miller’s comic book telling of the tale. I enjoyed it so much more than the last film based on Miller’s work, “Sin City”, which I honestly thought was an execrable piece of filth. I super enjoyed seeing Gerard Butler running around mostly semi-naked in this film. And sincerely he was a terrific King Leonidas. I’m sure the real King Xerxes was not a 9-foot tall ambisexual having a snit, but one can’t question artistic license.
Grade: B+ for stunning CGI visuals and boffo male pulchritudinousness
“The Black Dahlia” is film director Brian De Palma’s interpretation of James Ellroy’s book of the same name. The story is partly based on the facts of the case – Elizabeth Short’s horrific murder in one of the seedier sections of LA in 1947. The resolution is from Ellroy’s imagination. Ellroy was partially inspired and motivated to tell Elizabeth Short’s story because of the murder of his own mother when he was a boy … Ellroy’s “My Dark Places” is a non-fictional account for his search for her murderer(s). I’ve read this and it’s riveting with a hard-boiled novelist kind of approach.
Back to the movie… despite being generally panned by the critics and in imdb user reviews, I found the film watchable and interesting. The principals are all solid and believable. The problem here is De Palma’s rather flat, detached, and sepia-toned visuals. Also… one goes to see a De Palma movie expecting some ridiculously stylish and over-the-top visuals & plot elements (see “Dressed to Kill”, “Scarface”, “Body Double”)… but the approach here is rather plodding, staid, and as I said, detached.
I grade the movie B for achieving basic competence and holding my attention for 2 hours.