Film Review: The Best Man (1964)

Also known as: Gore Vidal’s Best Man (complete title)
Release Date: April 5th, 1964 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Frank J. Schaffner
Written by: Gore Vidal
Music by: Mort Lindsey
Cast: Henry Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Edie Adams, Margaret Leighton, Shelley Berman, Lee Tracy, Ann Sothern, Gore Vidal (cameo, uncredited)

Millar/Turman Productions, United Artists, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Y’know, it’s not that I object to your being a bastard, don’t get me wrong there. It’s your being such a stupid bastard that I object to.” – President Art Hockstader

Today is Election Day, so I wanted to watch a film about the subject. Yesterday, I reviewed 2011’s George Clooney directed The Ides of March and was fairly disappointed by it. This film, written by the legendary Gore Vidal, was at least a better experience.

One big selling point on me choosing this film to watch was due to it coming out in ’64, a year that featured one of the most interesting presidential races of all-time and because it starred two greats: Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson. Plus, I’ve never seen this and have been meaning to check it out for years.

While I can’t call this an impressive film, as I did anticipate it to be really good, it’s still engaging and it explores morality at the highest level of American politics in the time that this was made. Frankly, things were nowhere near as bad as they have become nearly sixty years later. But that’s okay, we lived in a politically charged and changing world back then but something about it was more wholesome and honest.

The performances in this movie were top notch but honestly, I was more captivated by the political debates and candidates’ platforms. It’s funny because the core things behind their issues aren’t that different from what we’re dealing with today. Although, in modern times, people are a lot more extreme and there is a widening divide that feels like it could lead to institutional collapse. But let’s not dwell on that.

The Best Man is thought provoking and engaging and it makes me wish that politicians in 2020 were in the game for the right reasons. Obviously, there were opportunists and assholes in 1964 but at least it felt more pure, less divided and both sides appeared as if they wanted to work together in some regard.

If anything, this film just made me yearn for a simpler, more unified time where our differences didn’t tear us apart but instead opened up genuine debate in an effort to make the world better.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: other films about presidential elections.

Film Review: City On Fire! (1979)

Also known as: La Cité en feu (Canadian French title)
Release Date: May 24th, 1979 (Germany)
Directed by: Alvin Rakoff
Written by: Jack Hill, Dave Lewis, Celine La Freniere
Music by: Matthew McCauley, William McCauley
Cast: Barry Newman, Susan Clark, Shelley Winters, Leslie Nielsen, James Franciscus, Ava Gardner, Henry Fonda

Astral Bellevue Pathé, Astral Films, Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), AVCO Embassy Pictures, 106 Minutes

Review:

“All it takes is one man, could be anybody… your neighbor, my neighbor… one man to destroy a city.” – Chief Albert Risley

How can a movie that boasts the talents of Henry Fonda, Shelley Winters, Ava Gardner and Leslie Nielsen be absolutely abominable? Well, if it’s an all-star ensemble thrown into a ’70s “made for TV” disaster movie, there’s your answer.

These things were rarely good. Actually, I don’t think they were ever good. Now some disaster movies are fun but those were the big Hollywood blockbusters for the big screen and only the first few at the beginning of the 1970s obsession with urban apocalypse pictures.

This one sees some disgruntled worker deliberately cause a fire at an oil refinery, which is apparently enough to burn down an entire city. Well, if you can suspend disbelief and watch this thing unfold like an unfunny version of Curb Your Enthusiasm where the city is Larry and the fire is spread by everything going wrong that could possibly go wrong at every turn.

City On Fire! is a compilation of brain farts captured on celluloid. There isn’t much about it that is worth anyone’s time and it has no redeeming factors. It’s boring, dumb and you’ll only feel sadness for the talented actors wedged into this flaming shit show.

But hey, it was lampooned on the first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when it was still on local TV in Minnesota. They never resurrected this once the show went national on Comedy Central or the Sci-Fi Channel and that’s probably for the best. It was alright to sit through once and didn’t need to be dusted off and replayed like a few other films from that inaugural season.

Rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: other terrible “made for TV” disaster movies.

Retro Relapse: Top 50 Spaghetti Westerns of All-Time

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Originally written in 2015.

Spaghetti westerns are better than westerns, at least in my opinion. Sure, there are fantastic American-made westerns but as a whole, the Italian-Spanish (sometimes German) films are superior. There is more grit, more bad ass shit and a level of violence that adds realism and authenticity to a genre that has typically been family friendly in the U.S.

The greatest film of all-time is a spaghetti western. And many of the other greatest films ever also fall into this genre.

I have spent the last several months watching a lot of these films. I have always been familiar with the greats but I had to delve deeper into the more obscure reaches of the genre. A special shout out goes to the Spaghetti Western Database for the hours of research I was able to accomplish in mostly one place. Also, thanks to Amazon, Hulu and YouTube for providing several of these films. The rest were an adventure to track down.

This list is the result of my hundreds of hours of film watching.

1. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly
2. Once Upon A Time In the West
3. The Great Silence
4. The Big Gundown
5. For A Few Dollars More
6. Django
7. A Fistful of Dollars
8. The Mercenary
9. Face to Face
10. Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot!
11. A Bullet For the General
12. Compañeros
13. Duck, You Sucker! (A Fistful of Dynamite)
14. Day of Anger
15. Keoma
16. Sabata
17. Return of Ringo
18. Death Rides A Horse
19. Cemetery Without Crosses
20. My Name Is Nobody
21. The Grand Duel
22. A Genius, Two Partners and A Dupe
23. A Pistol for Ringo
24. If You Meet Sartana, Pray For Your Death
25. The Dirty Outlaws
26. Django, Prepare a Coffin (Viva Django)
27. Run Man Run
28. Tepepa
29. Navajo Joe
30. Four of the Apocalypse
31. Massacre Time
32. Shoot the Living, Pray for the Dead
33. Mannaja
34. Django Strikes Again
35. The Return of Sabata
36. A Few Dollars For Django
37. Light the Fuse… Sartana Is Coming
38. Machine Gun Killers
39. Beyond the Law
40. Ace High
41. The Bounty Killer (The Ugly Ones)
42. Trinity Is Still My Name
43. Hellbenders
44. Django the Bastard
45. God Forgives, I Don’t
46. Minnesota Clay
47. God’s Gun
48. They Call Me Trinity
49. Ringo and His Golden Pistol (Johnny Oro)
50. Arizona Colt

Film Review: 12 Angry Men (1957)

Release Date: April 13th, 1957
Directed by: Sidney Lumet
Written by: Reginald Rose
Music by: Kenyon Hopkins
Cast: Henry Fonda, Lee J. Cobb, Ed Begley, E.G. Marshall, Jack Warden, Jack Klugman, Joseph Sweeney, Martin Balsam, John Fiedler, Edward Binns, George Voskovec, Robert Webber

Orion-Nova Productions, United Artists, 96 Minutes 

12_angry_menReview:

Being an avid film buff my entire life almost feels like complete bullshit when I haven’t seen 12 Angry Men until now.

In my defense (pun intended), I’m just not a big fan of courtroom dramas. I usually find them tedious and rambling and a complete bore to watch. Although, for some strange reason, I loved watching Perry Mason reruns with my granmum in the 80s. That was probably just more about bonding time and I was waiting for the Cubs game to start in the afternoon.

Regardless, I have always heard that 12 Angry Men was one of the absolute best movies ever made. I have also heard about how great of a director Sidney Lumet is but I haven’t seen enough of his pictures, outside of my film studies classes in high school. I am trying to rectify that injustice.

12 Angry Men is fantastic. Considering that IMDb’s Top 250 has it ranked as the fifth best film ever made, says a lot. It has an 8.9 rating on IMDb, as well as 5/5 on Amazon, 4/4 by Roger Ebert, a 94 percent by Google users and a 100 percent by critics with 97 percent audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. How many films can claim accolades like that?

The film follows twelve jurors who sit in one room, for the entire film, as they discuss a murder case. At first, everyone except one man (Henry Fonda) thinks that the verdict of guilty is an obvious one. As the movie rolls on, Fonda’s Juror No. 8 defends his stance and challenges all the other men. This leads to ninety minutes of fantastic debate about the case and the facts and what it actually means to serve on a jury. It exposes the men and their true feelings and examines their biases, their character and their morals. It is probably the most important film on the subject and I honestly feel, should be required viewing in every high school civics class.

Sidney Lumet shot this film very straightforward without any bells, whistles or special flourishes. It almost plays out like a documentary, at times.

The acting is magnificent and everything about the film feels truly organic. Henry Fonda, who I have always loved, is at his absolute best. Jack Klugman, who would later go on to star in The Odd Couple and Quincy, M.E., has never shined brighter. Ed Begley, Lee J. Cobb and Jack Warden were damn near perfection as the very vocal opposition to Fonda and those he rallied to his side.

12 Angry Men is truly a film devoid of flaws. I’m not really sure why the hell it was remade in the 90s for television. Although that version has some high critical praise, as well. Maybe I’ll watch it someday.

With as many motion pictures as I have seen in my life, it is extremely rare to find something so immaculate. 12 Angry Men is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest films I have ever experienced.

It is also just as important today, as it was in 1957.

Rating: 10/10

Film Review: Once Upon A Time In the West (1968)

Also known as: C’era una volta il West (Italy)
Release Date: December 21st, 1968 (Italy)
Directed by: Sergio Leone
Written by: Sergio Donati, Sergio Leone, Mickey Knox, Dario Argento, Bernardo Bertolucci
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson, Gabriele Ferzetti, Woody Strode

Rafran Cinematografica, Finanzia San Marco, Euro International Film, Paramount Pictures, 165 Minutes (international version), 175 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

once_upon_a_time_in_the_westReview:

Once Upon A Time In the West is currently ranked as No. 25 on IMDb’s Top 250 movies list. That makes it the 25th greatest film of all-time, as dictated by the votes of millions of IMDb users worldwide. Frankly, I think it is too low.

The fact is, I consider Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly to be the greatest film ever made. This movie, is just one very small step behind it. Once Upon A Time In the West is just about as flawless and as perfect as a film can be.

The direction by Sergio Leone is exactly what you would expect if you have seen any of his nearly immaculate films. The actors were working with a master and being as talented of a cast as they were, they all performed at their absolute best and gave audiences something gritty, real and straight from the heart. Every talent in this movie conveyed raw, honest and sincere emotion. Acting like this only comes across in a film once in a blue moon and it is even rarer if Sergio Leone, Stanley Kubrick or Akira Kurosawa aren’t in the director’s chair.

Continuing on about the stellar acting, Charles Bronson owns this film and has never been better. For a guy as talented as he is, this is certainly his magnum opus. He is a likable bad ass who carries some serious emotional baggage and a lust for revenge that is never fully revealed until the end of the film.

Henry Fonda is so good as the evil bastard Frank, that he may be one of the greatest villains in cinematic history. I couldn’t help but hate him and appreciate the acting prowess of Fonda in this dastardly role.

Jason Robards was another great addition to this cast as Cheyenne. He was kind and caring and still a bit of a bad ass as well. He needed to be, sharing the screen with Bronson and Fonda. The trichotomy of these characters was on par with the intense and intertwined relationship of the three title characters in Leone’s The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Rounding out the cast was Italian actress and model, Claudia Cardinale. She was mesmerizingly gorgeous in a way that I have never experienced in any other film. She is still the most beautiful actress and presence that I have ever seen in any film and she owned this movie like no other actress could. She had an incredibly tough task to accomplish in taking on this role and she far exceeded what was needed, which is a testament to her talent, her beauty and the direction of Sergio Leone.

Yes, I am pimping the hell out of this film. I can’t help it. When I am this passionate about something so flawless and so spectacular, it is hard for me to tone it down. There are very few films that I can consider perfect. This is one of those films.

Rating: 10/10