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Max (2002)

This is a very intense, well acted, and interesting account of the relationship of Adolf Hitler (Noah Taylor) to gallery owner Max Rothman (John Cusack), who tries to encourage the young war veteran as an artist. The situations and settings are excellent.

Because of variety in human agendas, one must always be especially on guard with historical movies, but this one seems objective. There is one scene, however, where Hitler's enthusiastic style in outdoor speech making is badly exaggerated relative to anger. He is made to sound so out of control and vicious, that had he actually spoken in this manner, he would never have been taken seriously by anybody for anything. View this otherwise superb movie and see if you agree.



Warren Beatty

McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971)

Atmospheric western with a nagging suspense that comes from a bad mistake the hero makes, which we worry will probably get him killed. Because he's a likable character we hope he can rectify the mistake in time, but increasingly we feel that he's probably not going to get the chance.

McCabe is offered a competitive price for his whorehouse-restaurant operation from some very dangerous and impatient mining people. Like any good businessman he wants to get the best price he can and holds out for a better offer. He overestimates the amount of time that the buyers want to spend dickering with small business owners. When McCabe's refusal reaches the top people they dispatch henchmen to deal with the problem. McCabe wants to do business at this point, but no one will talk. The tragic ending is strangely softened by deep snow and the cozy closeness of opium elsewhere.

Million Dollar Baby (2004)

My qualification and impulse to review a film about boxing are nonexistent. I don't like stories about the private lives of society's little people, and have no sympathy with those who willingly get their brains knocked out for nothing: in gang rivalries, on battlefields, or in the boxing ring.

In society there are two kinds of masochism, sexual and social. Masochism in sex, when well directed to please a beautiful feisty partner can be very productive, but in every other area of life it is self-destructive and stupid. A friend asked me to review this film, so despite my disqualifying personal values I will say a few things about it anyway.

Clint Eastwood is, and has always been, a great actor and excellent film director. This movie offers no exception to this. The general details of production, lighting, sound, lean powerful dialog, and the acting all around are superb.

Hillary Swank is charming as Maggie, a simple back country girl, who seeks training as a boxer. She's a likable person, and shows a nice mixture of innocent vulnerability with tough directness. What Hillary does with facial expressions and reactions to Frankie's initial refusals to train her is better than anything she could have said with dialog.

As Maggie learns to box well she becomes hell-bent on winning fight after fight, and does so. She knocks out all her opponents in the first round. Frankie has to get after her about not nailing them quite so quickly. It scares away the competition.

I was surprised about the discretionary power that fight managers have to keep their boxers out of the ring with anybody that might beat them. I thought the idea was to see who is best. Apparently a well managed fighter has to lay back like a pool hustler to build the opponents' expectations, and then let loose with their true ability in the final matches nearer to the championship fight.

Morgan Freeman narrates the story, and as usual, is impressive with his disarming aura of calm self-assured wisdom. He plays Eddie, a retired fighter who works at the gym training younger fighters. Most of the exposition for backstory is between Eddie and Frankie as dialog about relevant events of years gone by.

There are things in this movie that make me shiver: The reference to "detached retina", Frankie's instruction to "keep hitting the sciatic nerve", also the warning Frankie gives Maggie, after snapping her nose back into place, that in two minutes the nose will "spray blood like a geyser all over the front row".

True toughness is always impressive, but in my humble opinion, only false values will allow people to seek out this kind of life for themselves. I was going to write a treatise about heroism: Eddie's toughing it out, round after round, in a long ago fight only to lose an eye in the end. Maggie's unflinching persistence to win. The problem is, I'd be faking it. I like to say only what I really think.

The one thing which really tweaked my emotion in this tour-de-force of human misery is the question of assisted suicide. I consider hospital personnel who keep people alive against their will as being nothing more than torturers who use a misapplied Hippocratic Oath and society’s fanatical religious-based laws as an excuse handed down to them from other more important torturers. "We are just following orders" they say.

Happily I did find my needed ration of heroism at the end of the story, but I won't tell. Something Frankie does, shows him, in my eyes, to be a true hero in the highest sense of the word. It led me to wonder what might have happened afterward, because there is little mention of any aftermath in Eddie's narration. If you like boxing movies, see this masterpiece, and the ending, for yourself.

Mississippi Burning (1988)

Engrossing suspenseful true story about the murder of three young civil rights workers in the 1960s. Interesting interplay of ideas between the uninvolved idealistic northern viewpoint of Agent Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) and the experienced practical small-town southern viewpoint of Agent Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman).



Murder in the Heartland

Murder in the Heartland (1993)

Seeing true stories is the best use of time for the viewer, and this is a really good one. Very suspenseful and chilling the way Charles Starkweather kills Carol Ann Fugate's family and the way she, out of infatuation and fear, goes along with him. Then follows a spree of other murders. Eleven in all. Tim Roth and Fairuza Balk are totally realistic. The period feel is excellent. Twenty years earlier "Badlands" dealt with this same story, and is also an excellent film, but this version uses the real names and numbers, which seems like a good idea with a true story.



Nana

Nana (1968)

British TV miniseries staring Katherine Schofield as Nana, the actress and courtesan. Not only does she have the men standing in line, but making complete fools of themselves, selling off all their chateaux to be with her, and even worse things. Faucherty, after squandering everything, locks himself in a burning stable with his prize racehorses to die with them rather than be parted from them in life. This is 1870s French decadence at it's very finest. Very well acted. I saw this on PBS in the early 1970s.



The New Kids

The New Kids (1985)

This is a better than average film about teenage bullies harassing the good guys. The bullies are more determined and go much further than usual. I found the ending poetic and deeply satisfying.



Niagara

Niagara (1953)

This is a very good movie. A film noir, but without dark shadows, mostly nice daytime scenery instead. Dramatic and suspenseful and, in many ways very much like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, the visual imagery is superb. Iconic Niagara Falls flanked by archetypal Marylin Monroe. With a few days in a nice little motel room who could ask for more? But the husband gets more than he expected.



The Night of the Hunter

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Robert Mitchum is very scary in this story about an insane minister who murders widows for their savings. I read the book, also excellent. The two children of Willa Harper see their mother underwater in the river displaying an "extra mouth" where the preacher cut her throat the night before. He chases the kids down river to get the stolen bank money hidden in the little girls doll. Very well acted and suspenseful.



North and South

North and South (1985)

One of the great epic TV miniseries marking the Golden Age of American culture in the 1980s. Historical dramas simply don't get any better than this. The script, settings, costumes, and acting are superb. It's a nice touch to see "Gone With The Wind" veteran, Olivia de Havilland, as Mrs. Neal.

Kirstie Alley is striking and memorable as Virgilia Hazard. What a disarmingly beautiful and charming woman. If only George's sister weren't crazy. Imagine her as a wife with him as a brother-in-law. Terrible ironies surround everything about the Civil War. The splendid story continues in North and South Book II.



Northwest Passage

Northwest Passage (1940)

This is a true story about an impossible overland trek by Rogers Rangers. Lack of food leads to many difficulties. One ranger becomes mad with hunger and resorts to cannibalism. In camp there is an appetizing daydream which made me feel hungry. What I roughly remember is "....yams, and hams cured black, with sweet brown rum and red cigars from the Sugar Islands."

At the end there is a memorable scene where Langdon Towne, remaining behind this time with his beautiful new wife, listens as Major Rogers tells the next group of men about the great adventure ahead in search of the fabled Northwest Passage. This is real American stuff, and makes one very proud, except for the ranger conflict with first-wave immigrant populations. The new thinking is that the Injuns are erroneously called "native" because they came here from Europe via the Alaskan Land Bridge fourteen thousand years ago.



Manhattan

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

This is one of my favorite of all movies. Great American epic. Realistic and grim. Casted very well, including the kids that played the gangsters as children. I felt involved right from the beginning, because three of the kids looked just like kids I hung around with in Natick, MA from age five to seven. In Winter we had long ruthless snowball fights, and in Summer used rocks instead.

There's one very well acted scene where young Patsy (Brian Bloom) is about to have a visit with a young girl. This will cost him a fancy frosted cake that he brought for her. As he waits, he studies the cake and realizes he can scoop some of the excess frosting with his finger without anyone knowing the difference. But his appraisal of what is excess frosting keeps growing and he keeps scooping. Finally he just capitulates and ravenously devours the entire cake.



Orphan

Orphan (2009)

Overcast skies add the perfect mood to this dark and suspenseful story about an adopted child who turns out to be very different than anyone could possibly suspect.



Tom Tryon

The Other (1972)

Most people call this a horror movie. I call it a suspenseful psychological mystery with occult overtones. It's about a little boy, who is both psychopathic because he does very bad things to other people, and schizophrenic because he does these things in a fantasy world of total hallucination. The narration follows just the boy's perceptions, so we don't know that they are hallucinations until the end. The occult part is enchanting, but ancillary, and involves either real or imagined astral projection into a flying crow's body so as to see through the crow's eyes what he sees. I also read the book. Both are equally as brilliant. Tom Tryon was a very smart man for an actor. 

 

Out of the Past (1947)

Classic film noir with Robert Mitchum as Private Eye Jeff Bailey. I envied Bailey because of the 1947 eye candy as he drives through Bridgeport California to meet with Whit Sterling (Kirk Douglas), who lives in a fine house on Lake Tahoe with a view of Emerald Cove. A very nice time and place to have had a little money.

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

One of Clint Eastwood's best characters. Josey Wales is a peaceful southern farmer during the Civil War, who loses his family to murdering Union renegades. He joins Quantrill's Raiders for awhile to hit back at the Union. In a surrender betrayal, where many unarmed men are chopped to pieces with a Gatling Gun, Josey turns the gun back on the bad guys, rendering himself a fugitive in the process. Then he heads west, meets Granny Hawkins, teams up with settlers, finds a pretty girlfriend, and makes peace with the Injuns. His past finally catches up to him, but the story ends very well. Very good movie.



Clint Eastwood

Pale Rider (1985)

Much has been written about the parallels between this movie and "Shane". There are far too many to be coincidental, but this movie is by no means a remake. Even with all the enjoyable similarities, the feel of this movie is very different from "Shane". Like many of Clint Eastwood's fine westerns this story has a subtle underlying mystical component. Is this stranger with pale horse more than just a minister? Is he the Rider mentioned in prophesy? In any case he makes a big difference for all the people he encounters. Michael Moriarty plays a likable cool headed family man, Hull Barret. And it's great to see John Russel again as Marshall Stockburn. In the long ago Sunday night Warner Brothers western "Lawman" he played Marshall Dan Troop.



Tatum & Ryan O'Neal

Paper Moon (1973)

"Drink your Knee High. Eat your Coney Island!" This is a really delightful movie with interesting story, charming dialog, wonderful acting, and good camera work. One of my real favorites. I'll never tire of seeing it again every now and then.

The black and white format works very well in this movie, but I personally feel that black and white does not give genuine period flavor, because real life is in full color. Just because most of the movies from an earlier period are in black and white doesn't mandate that contemporary movies set in that period need to be black and white as well. Many will hate me for saying this, but to me, black and white is simply inferior technology. Although many creative people did good things with it, I doubt that if good color film had been available at low cost long ago, that anybody would have bothered to develop black and white expressionism for it's own sake.



Troy Donahue and Claudette Colbert

Parrish (1961)

Parrish is a very well acted morality play about the conflicts, compromises, and troubles a young man, Parrish McLean (Troy Donahue) must overcome to be successful and happy in the Connecticut River Valley of the 1950s. When the story was current, I was very young and enjoyed both the book and and the movie immensely.

Dean Jagger's portrayal of Sala Post will always remain to me a prototype for the good friend and mentor. For a large portion of the story I even liked the villain Judd Raike (Karl Malden). I admired his fierce driving ambition, mental sharpness, and fatherly determination to teach Parrish the tobacco business. At the end, however, I suffered a big disappointment in the way he treated his wife Ellen (Claudette Colbert). At this point I saw that he was also a weak sleazy lack-love, not just a wolf among sheep.

Similar movies are "From the Terrace" and "The Young Philadelphians" both with Paul Newman. I like feature-length movie soap operas because they depict the struggles that serious people cook up during peacetime. To me, this beats living in Bosnia, where ongoing war determines too much of what happens to individuals. When most of our entertainment centers around murder, insanity, cops vs. dope dealers, we have become to accepting and apathetic. People who enjoy these vile themes, however, usually think of themselves as facing reality. Why not work to change such realities rather tan merely "facing" them?



Patton

Patton (1970)

Splendid epic account of how George Patton manages to fulfill his chosen military destiny in spite of military protocol which threatens to keep him from it. All this is in connection with winning a war that should never have happened in the first place. I love the spirit of the man I see portrayed in this movie and wish I could have known him. Having grown up in a later time with better historical information, however, I cannot share in his misapprehension about the necessity of World War II. Despite his lack of information, his intentions remain to me unimpeachable.

Peterson Comments on World War II

Narration of protagonist Waldron Sigfried Valdison in "Of Heroic Destiny" by Roy C. Peterson ~

November 20, 1945
War trials begin in Nuremberg. Too bad those who framed the Treaty of Versailles won't be held accountable as well. They structured things so that their banker friends would be able to finance another war, and it worked. Under such terms good hardworking Germans would have to elect a strong leader like Hitler to save them from Communism. The virulent anti Semitism was an accident of history that few could have foreseen.

October 1, 1946
Attend last days of trials at Nuremberg. Get a few pale smiles from old friends, but mostly the whole business is very sad. International Military Tribunal hands down twenty one verdicts. Eleven are sentenced to death. The Russians murdered far more people than the Nazis, but they are not criminals because they are on the winning side. The entire struggle is a very clownish enterprise. National Socialism vs International Socialism. Two equally false economic ideas with the international bankers manipulating the politicians and lending money to both sides. Just as in the last war I love all the people involved, but they are all just a bunch of dopes when it comes to economics. The world has been made safe for Democracy by leaving half of Europe under Socialist dictators. Capitalism is what works, not Socialism. None of this had to happen. It's a pity that phony economic theory could have become so interwoven with high Christian ideals and heroic Norse values connected with the simple preservation of our race. Both sides have been led equally astray. This war only illustrates the terrible consequences that can occur when men of power and those who support them are not well rounded in their education. I know that Russia will slowly build a capital base and will be able to initiate free enterprise eventually. I just hope I live long enough to see it. ~ from "Of Heroic Destiny"



The Pawnbroker

The Pawnbroker (1964)

One of the finest jobs of acting I've ever seen. Rod Steiger is brilliant as Sol Nazerman, a concentration camp survivor whose whole family was killed, now struggling to keep humanity and love alive within himself. This isn't easy in the ghetto environment of New York City. Near the end, Sol deliverers an angry historical diatribe about what it is to be a Jew. One of the best monologues I've ever heard in any movie. I almost chose it for my acting class, but felt that I could never do it justice.



Peyton Place

Peyton Place (1957)

A friend of mine knew Grace Metalious. She told me that "Peyton Place" is based on Clairemont, New Hampshire. In "Return to Peyton Place" however, White River Junction Vermont is mentioned as being a short drive away, making West Lebanon or Hanover New Hampshire the only technical possibitities.

I have been on location in many of the places filmed in both movies and they vastly exceed in number the locations mentioned in the IMDb production details. This, of course, is only geography. Life in small towns everywhere is like Peyton Place. That's why everybody loves this story so much, because it's about the generic American small town. Many joys and sorrows, and worth every minute.



Curse of the Black Pearl

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

The formal analytical approach on this one was requested by a friend.

Tag-line:
A likable 18th century pirate captain joins a blacksmith to rescue the
Governor of England's daughter, which quest is complicated by an evil pirate
captain and his crew, all of whom can't be killed because they're already dead.

Main Character:
Pirate Captain Jack Sparrow

At Stake:
Fast ship and crew wanted by Jack for ongoing piracy.

Jeopardy:
Jack may not get what he seeks. This would force him to
seek normal employment. Also he could lose easily his life.

Obstacles:
1. The British Navy wants to hang Jack.
2. Captain Barbossa and crew want to kill Jack.
3. Jack falls under the Aztec curse.

Important Thread:
Situations and people are not always what they at first appear to be ~
1. Humble blacksmith is also a master swordsman and swashbuckling adventurer.
2. Barbossa's crew look like normal thugs until you see them in the moonlight.
3. Yes, Jack is a scallywag, but not really a bad person at heart.

Main Theme:
Love and simple human decency are vastly more important
than rigid protocol and the absolute letter of law.

This is a charming movie. I especially enjoyed the cute scene
with two happy people singing "It's a Pirate's Life for Me".



Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006)

Thank goodness for Walt Disney. There is much strangeness here. There is a sea captain who has tentacles where his beard should be. I felt sorry for him until I saw that the tentacles could play organ in accompaniment to his hands. Long ago Disney gave us a scary giant squid in "20,000,000 Leagues Under the Sea" but wait till you see his cousin, the octopus, in this one.



The Prestige (2006)

Christin Bale and Hugh Jackman are adversaries in this complex and strange tale about turn-of-the-19th-century stage magicians. The mythology surrounding electrical wizard Nicola Tesla (David Bowie) is an important part of that period and very much enhances this film. Good special effects and acting all around. Totally fascinating.



Psycho

Psycho (1960)

I saw Psycho in 1960, like everybody else. The story and the characters have stayed with us. In 1971, I was co-owner of a small motel recently knocked off the main tourist route by Interstate 495 in Massachusetts. Business was very slow. There was even a swamp behind the house. I was in charge the front desk. One day an old school chum and his wife dropped in. He slyly asked me "So, Peterson, how is it out here all alone? You getting into the Norman Bates trip?"

Hitchcock's use of deeply seated primal imagery is legendary. This movie is no exception. Marion's wide open eye as she lies murdered on the shower floor. Her blood mixing with water as it spirals down the drain. An insane old woman (we still think) with a kitchen knife stabbing a man repeatedly in the face as he runs backwards screaming down a long flight of stairs. This will certainly teach Detective Arbogast not to break into Norman Bate's house ever again!

Psycho is one of the most shocking and scary movies ever made. The night I saw it I had to walk some distance on a dark street to get home. In those days I always carried a stiletto when hitchhiking, but this particular night I was unarmed. I've never felt so completely and deeply terrified in my life, before or since.

Hitchcock possessed a remarkable power to enchant and frighten the viewer. The primal images in this film remain permanently fixed in the psyches of all who have seen them. To this day there are many who are very careful to lock the bathroom door whenever they shower.



Public Enemies

Public Enemies (2009)

It's good to see Johnny show his range by playing a real tough guy. The acting is good all around. There is a scene I found particularly moving. Dillinger's girlfriend, Billie Frechette (Marion Cotillard), is being beaten up by a bad-ass interrogator and is rescued by Melvin Purvis (Christian Bale). Good and evil sort out in very strange ways, and there are very big differences between people. Watch the movie and see what I mean.



Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Much is made about the unusual sequencing of component stories in this American classic. I think it would be just as good with normal sequencing. What really makes this movie good is situations, dialog, character development, fine acting, and good camera work. All the characters, no matter how likable Tarantino makes them, are very bad or stupid people except the hero, Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis), because he grabs a Samurai sword and greatly imperils his own future to strike a blow for simple human normalcy. There are levels of evil, and a man must make choices. Some things are just too rotten to endure. See what I mean when you enjoy this landmark film.