THE DARK TOWER (2017) – An Inconsequential Blip on the Dark Tower Universe

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I’m guessing there are going to be a whole lot of disappointed Dark Tower fans after they watch THE DARK TOWER (2017), the new fantasy thriller based on the epic novels by Stephen King.

There are eight novels in the series, and while I haven’t read any of them, the idea that this very short movie— it clocks in at a meager 95 minutes— could do an eight book series justice is difficult to fathom. It’s just too quick and inconsequential.

Strangely, this movie version of THE DARK TOWER is supposedly a sequel of sorts to the series, as the events in the film take place after the book series ends, and I also hear there’s a possible TV series in the works. Now, a television series makes sense to me. That’s exactly the kind of canvas needed to do a book series proper justice.  The movie THE DARK TOWER as it stands would barely do a short story justice.

In a nutshell— and that’s what this movie felt like, really— THE DARK TOWER is about a boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) who’s struggling to cope with life after the death of his father.  He’s haunted by recurring bad dreams in which he sees a Gunslinger (Idris Elba) battling a Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), and it seems this Man in Black is trying to destroy a black tower, and the Gunslinger is trying to prevent this.

Jake’s mom Laurie (Katheryn Winnick) arranges for Jake to spend a weekend at an institution so he can receive help, since he’s getting into fights at school and generally having a difficult time with life, but Jake runs away and finds a portal which leads him into the world of the Gunslinger and the Man in Black.  There, he befriends the Gunslinger and helps him in his fight to stop the Man in Black from destroying the world, which will happen once the dark tower is destroyed.

Yawn.

The plot for THE DARK TOWER isn’t going to win any awards for the most compelling screenplay ever written.  The story is simple and isn’t fleshed out in the least.  And four writers worked on this thing:  Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner, Anders Thomas Jensen, and director Nikolaj Arcel.  Not that it mattered.

The story as told in this movie left me with so many unanswered questions.  Who is the Man in Black?  Why is he hell-bent on destroying Earth?  Who is the Gunslinger?  Why is he the man in charge of killing the Man in Black?  The movie provides no back stories on these characters.  I also wanted to know more about young Jake.

Things happen too quickly and too easily.  Jake finds his way into the Gunslinger’s world with about as much effort as entering a neighbor’s front door.

Again, for a movie based on an eight book series by Stephen King, the story it tells is about as skeletal as you can get.

Nor is THE DARK TOWER all that visually impressive. Director Nikolaj Arcel’s vision of the Dark Tower and its surrounding world is meh. Not much too look at, and not much going on. The scenes which take place in New York City work better, and the whole film plays better when the characters interact in modern-day surroundings.  Every time they enter the world of the Dark Tower the film slows to a crawl.

I’m a big Idris Elba fan, but he continues to land film roles in which he just isn’t allowed to do much.  He’s terrific in the lead role on the TV series LUTHER (2010-2018) but he’s yet to land a movie role in which he’s allowed to show off his talents.  Still, I enjoyed him here as the Gunslinger.

Likewise, I enjoyed Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black as well.  He was sufficiently cold and nasty, a decent villain.  Although his power to make people do whatever he says has been done a lot lately, especially on TV,  from the villain Kilgrave (David Tennant) in the Netflix Marvel series JESSICA JONES (2015), to Jesse Custer (Dominic Cooper) in the AMC series PREACHER (2016-).

In fact, my favorite part of THE DARK TOWER was watching Idris Elba and Matthew McConaughey. They’re the best part of the movie, although neither one made me really like this movie all that much. But when they’re on-screen, and they’re actually engaging in dialogue rather than running around in bland action scenes, the film is much better. Unfortunately, they don’t get to do this all that much.

Tom Taylor is decent as Jake Chambers.  Seen better, seen worse.  The rest of the cast is okay but hardly memorable.  Speaking of the TV show PREACHER, Jackie Earle Haley who was so memorable in Season 1 of that show, barely causes a stir here in a thankless role as one of the Man in Black’s minions, Sayre.

I was fairly entertained by THE DARK TOWER, but for an adventure fantasy thriller based on an eight book series by Stephen King, it’s pretty sparse.  Sadly, it’s yet another example of an inferior adaptation of a Stephen King work.

But it’s not awful.  It’s just not that good.

At the end of the day, it’s just an inconsequential blip on the Dark Tower universe.

—-END—

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016) Not So Magnificent

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A bully takes over a town, and the frustrated townspeople hire gunslingers to protect them.  It’s the story told in the classic western THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), itself a remake of an even better movie, Akira Kurosawa’s THE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954).

So, you’d hope that the folks behind this latest remake would offer audiences something new.  After all, if you’re going to remake a movie, wouldn’t you want to put your own stamp on it, to make it stand out as your own?  And that’s the biggest problem I had with this new version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (2016):  it doesn’t give us anything new or stand on its own.

The biggest culprit?  A screenplay that never really gets to the heart of the matter.  In spite of the solid acting and crisp clear directing, the story never really moves beyond the superficial.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN opens with a baddie named Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) terrorizing a small town in the old west.  He’s buying off the people’s land at ridiculously low prices, and if they won’t sell, well, his army of bandits will simply kill them.  And when some of the townsfolk object, that’s exactly what they do.

One of the men killed is the husband of Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett), a feisty woman who then sets out to hire gunslingers to free their town from Bogue’s clutches.  She meets a hired gun named Chisolm (Denzel Washington) and he turns her down until he hears the name of the man she wants stopped, Bogue, and then he changes his mind.  Chisolm and Bogue obviously share some history, which we learn about later in the story.

Chisolm rounds up a team of men to join him, with the total number eventually reaching seven.  They then spend the rest of the movie preparing to defend the town, setting things up for the obligatory climactic confrontation.

As you can see, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN tells a very simple story, and for a movie like this to work, it needs to be carried by strong characters and a lively script, neither of which are in this movie.

The characters are okay and the actors are all solid in their roles,  but they’re all very plain and straightforward.  None of them are particularly memorable. Only Vincent D’Onofrio stands out as the high-pitched soft spoken trapper Jack Horne.  D’Onofrio gives Horne something the other characters all lack:  a personality.  He’s the one memorable character in the whole lot.

I’m a big Denzel Washington fan, going back to his early years with films like CRY FREEDOM (1987) all the way through to today, although some of his recent films have been lukewarm.  Washington is fine here, but there’s just not a lot to Chisolm.  He’s a cool customer, not saying a whole lot, but unlike Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, we don’t really see Chisolm back up his persona with action, and what little he has to say is flat out dull.

Chris Pratt plays the lively gambler Josh Faraday, and it looks like Pratt is having a good time, but the problem with Faraday is nearly every line he spews is a cliche.  It’s the type of role James Garner would have played, but Garner would have anchored the charm with some realism, and Pratt doesn’t give Faraday anything that is even resembling real.

Ethan Hawke is Goodnight Robicheaux, and the most memorable thing about him is his name.  Hawke is another actor I usually enjoy, but the role he’s playing here is shallow and underdeveloped.  The same can be said for Robicheaux’s buddy Billy Rocks, played by Byung-hun Lee.

As I said, Vincent D’Onofrio is the one guy who stands out from the rest here, as the burly trapper Jack Horne.  He also gives Chris Pratt’s Faraday one of the better lines in the movie when he says of Jack, “I do believe that bear was wearing people clothes.”

And the seven are rounded out by a Mexican gunman named Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo) and a Native American named Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier).  Both of these characters are like the other five:  solid but unremarkable.

I also wasn’t overly impressed by Haley Bennett as Emma Cullen.  She sure looks feisty with her heated stares at the camera, but again I’ll blame the script.  We know very little about Emma, and she remains largely in the background while the seven do their thing, rather than being in the middle of the action.

The one other actor who does make an impression is Peter Sarsgaard as the dastardly villain Bartholomew Bogue, but that all happens in the opening sequence of the movie. Sarsgaard struts his stuff in the opening scene, making for a very dark character, giving the film a rather chilling start.  But then he disappears for the remainder of the movie, and when he returns for the climactic battle, he remains in the background,reduced to reaction shots as his army goes toe to toe with the seven.  So, unfortunately, Sarsgaard is hardly a major factor in this movie, since his best scene is the first one.

Director Antoine Fuqua , who also directed Denzel Washington in THE EQUALIZER (2014) and the film which won Washington as Oscar, TRAINING DAY (2001), does a serviceable job here.  I mean, the action scenes are clear and crisp, but they don’t wow.  The cinematography is adequate, but it didn’t blow me away.  This wild west is nowhere near as grand or picturesque as the west captured by the likes of John Ford and Howard Hawks.

Fuqua also glosses over one of the more interesting parts of the story:  the training of the townspeople to defend themselves.  There are a few fleeting scenes of our magnificent seven teaching these folks the art of self-defense, but there was so much more that could have been done.  It’s a missed opportunity in a movie that was begging for some captivating sequences.

And while the shoot-outs and fights are professionally shot— heh heh— they are way too sanitizied and neat.  First off, the film is rated PG-13, and so for the countless unfortunates who are shot, stabbed, blown up, what have you, there’s not a drop of blood anywhere.  Not that I want to see a gory bloodbath, but when things are as neat and tidy as they are in this movie, it takes away from the strength of the story.

The bigger drawback with the action scenes is that they are all so orderly.  There’s no sense of panic or pandemonium.  Take the climactic battle between the seven and the townsfolk and the army of villains.  There are people running everywhere, and yet everyone knows exactly who to shoot, without question.  It’s so precise you’d think they were wearing sports jerseys with their names on them, like having “Team Bogue” printed on their backs.  This is an all out war, people are being shot and blown up, and yet there’s no horror whatsoever associated with it, which really limits the story.

The best action sequence is when Chisolm and company first arrive in the town and put a big hurt on the thugs stationed there.  This dramatic sequence works well.  By contrast, the movie’s ending is nowhere near as riveting.

Again, the biggest culprit to this one being mediocre is its screenplay by Richard Wenk and Nic Pizzolatto, which surprised me because Wenk has written screenplays for films I’ve really enjoyed, movies like the remake of THE MECHANIC (2011) with Jason Statham, and the Sylvester Stallone all-star actioner THE EXPENDABLES 2 (2012), which I thought was the best of that series.

The screenplay to THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN tells a straightforward story without many surprises.  There are the occasional witty lines, but I’d hardly call it a lively script.  Plus it’s all so predictable, with the ending to this one never being in doubt.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN is a by the numbers western that never rises above its material or puts a distinctive stamp on the genre.

It’s not bad, but for a movie called THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, there’s nothing all that magnficent about it. Perhaps it should have been called THE STRAIGHTFORWARD SEVEN.

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Movie Lists: Gene Wilder

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Gene Wilder shrieking “Give my creation, life!” in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).

Welcome to another edition of MOVIE LISTS, the column where you’ll find lists of odds and ends about movies.  Today, we look at films starring Gene Wilder.

Wilder, who passed away on August 29, 2016, was one of the most popular comic actors on the planet between 1974-1982.  Here is a partial list of his film credits:

THE PRODUCERS (1967)- Leo Bloom- if you’ve seen this Mel Brooks comedy, you’ll remember Wilder as the neurotic producer who can’t handle it when the sure-fire flop he and co-producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel) plan— a musical about Hitler— becomes a surprise hit.  Wilder at his unstable best.

START THE REVOLUTION WITHOUT ME (1970) –  Claude/Philippe – Having fun with Donald Sutherland during the French Revolution.

WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971) – Willy Wonka – Wilder is excellent in the lead in this Roald Dahl fantasy.  I believe this is the first Gene Wilder movie I ever saw, although it’s not the movie that made me a fan.  That would happen with YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

EVERYTHING YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT SEX BUT WERE AFRAID TO ASK (1972)- Doctor Ross.  Wilder is hilarious here as a man who falls in love with a sheep in this wacky yet uneven Woody Allen comedy.  I saw this years after it came out, probably in the early 1980s when I was in college.

BLAZING SADDLES (1974) – Jim – another Gene Wilder/Mel Brooks classic that I didn’t see until years after its release, again in the early 1980s.  I was only 10 in 1974, and BLAZING SADDLES was Rated R, which meant it was off limits to me.

YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974)- Dr. Frederick Frankenstein – this one I did see shortly after it came out, as it was rated PG, and it’s the movie that made me a lifelong Gene Wilder fan.  So many amazing memorable moments in the movie, generated by Wilder and the entire cast, and of course writer/director Mel Brooks.  Among my favorite Wilder bits:  “You just made a yummy sound,” “Put the candle back,”   and “I thought I told you never to disturb me while I’m working!”  

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Gene Wilder and Peter Boyle in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974).  Hello, handsome!

THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES’ SMARTER BROTHER (1975)- Sigerson Holmes- Funny film, but tried too hard to follow the same formula as YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN with inferior results.  Wilder’s directorial debut.

SILVER STREAK (1976) – George- Wilder’s first pairing with Richard Pryor.  Probably my second favorite Gene Wilder movie behind YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

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Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder

THE WORLD’S GREATEST LOVER (1977) -Rudy Hickman- Not one of my favorites.  This was the second film Wilder directed, after THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES’ SMARTER BROTHER. The jokes just aren’t as sharp this time around.

THE FRISCO KID (1979)- Avram-  This has always been one of my favorite Gene Wilder roles and movies.  Wilder plays a rabbi on an adventure in the wild west in this unlikely charmer by director Robert Aldrich.  Co-starring Harrison Ford.

STIR CRAZY (1980) – Skip Donahue – Wilder’s second pairing with Richard Pryor might be their funniest.  Directed by Sidney Poitier.

HANKY PANKY (1982) – Michael Jordon – Wilder co-stars with future wife Gilda Radner in this box office disaster originally written to feature both Wilder and Richard Pryor again.  Once more directed by Sidney Poitier.  Wilder considered this to be one of his worst movies.

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Gilda Radner and Gene Wilder

THE WOMAN IN RED (1984) – Teddy Pierce – Another one of my favorites.  Wilder becomes obsessed with a beautiful woman in red played by Kelly LeBrock in this amiable romantic comedy.  Co-starring Charles Grodin and Gilda Radner.  Wilder directed and co-wrote this remake of a French movie, which might be his best directorial effort.

HAUNTED HONEYMOON (1986) – Larry Abbot-  Wilder once more directs himself and wife Gilda Radner, in what would be both his final directorial effort and last movie that he and Radner made together.  Not surprisingly, this unfunny film bombed at the box office.

SEE NO EVIL, HEAR NO EVIL (1989) – Dave Lyons-  Wilder’s third pairing with Richard Pryor, directed by Arthur Hiller, who also directed Wilder’s/Pryor’s first pairing, SILVER STREAK.  Early film role for Kevin Spacey.

ANOTHER YOU (1991)- George/Abe Fielding – Wilder’s fourth and final movie with Richard Pryor.  This was also Wilder’s final theatrical release.  He would make four more movies, all of them made for TV.

Okay, there you have it, a partial list of the movies starring Gene Wilder.

Gene Wilder – June 11, 1933 – August 29, 2016

Thanks for reading everybody, and I’ll see you again next time for another MOVIE LISTS column where we’ll look at more odds and ends from the movies.

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SHADOWS: GLENN STRANGE

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Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster, perhaps the most recognizable of the movie Frankenstein monsters.

Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster, arguably  the most recognizable Frankenstein monster of all time.

In The Shadows: GLENN STRANGE

By Michael Arruda

 

With a name like Glenn Strange, how could you not appear in horror movies?

Glenn Strange amassed a whopping 314 screen credits over his long career which spanned five decades, from 1930 to 1973.

Granted, most of these were in westerns, including the long running television series GUNSMOKE (1961-1973), but horror fans will forever remember Strange for his portrayal of the Frankenstein Monster in three of the Universal Frankenstein movies, the final three to be exact: HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944), HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) and ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948).  In fact, you can make the argument that it is the image of Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster, not Boris Karloff who originated the role that is the most iconic image of the classic Universal Frankenstein Monster.  It’s Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster we see in so many of the movie stills and posters.

Karloff may be the definitive Frankenstein monster (he is, without doubt), but Glenn Strange just might be the most recognizable.

Welcome everybody to another edition of In The Shadows, the column where we honor character actors from the movies, especially horror movies.  Today we look at the career of Glenn Strange, the actor whose image as the Frankenstein Monster may be the most iconic.

The majority of Glenn Strange’s 314 screen credits were in westerns, in a career that began in 1930. He finished his career on the TV show GUNSMOKE, where he enjoyed a recurring role as Sam the bartender which lasted for the full run of the series.

In addition to his three stints as the Frankenstein Monster, Strange also appeared in several other genre films. Here’s a look at Strange’s horror/science fiction credits:

 

FLASH GORDON (1936) – Robot/Soldier/Gocko – the famous Buster Crabbe serial.

THE MAD MONSTER (1942) – Petro – Gets turned into a werewolf by mad scientist George Zucco in this Grade Z thriller.

THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1942) – Man Riding Buckboard (uncredited) – bit part in this classic Lon Chaney Jr. Mummy movie from Universal.

THE BLACK RAVEN (1943) – Andy – mystery and murder in an old dark house, again with George Zucco.

THE MONSTER MAKER (1944) – Giant/Steve – another mad scientist movie. This time it’s J. Carrol Naish as Dr. Igor Markoff busy turning people into monsters.  Why?  Because he can!

HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) – the Frankenstein Monster – Glenn Strange was a natural choice to play the Monster, as he stood at nearly 6’7”. HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN, the sixth film in the Universal Frankenstein series, is memorable because it’s the first film which included all three of the major Universal monsters, Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, John Carradine as Dracula, and Glenn Strange as the Frankenstein Monster.  Also notable because Boris Karloff returned to the series after a two film hiatus, not as the Monster, but as the demented Doctor Gustav Neimann.  Decent Universal monster movie, and Strange isn’t bad as the Frankenstein Monster, although he really isn’t in the movie all that much and doesn’t get to do much of anything until the film’s final reel.  But he was good enough to return as the Monster in the next two Universal Frankenstein movies.

HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) – the Frankenstein Monster – Strange’s second stint as the Frankenstein Monster, again teaming up with Lon Chaney Jr.’s Wolf Man and John Carradine’s Dracula. Once more, has little to do until the film’s final reel where he comes back to life just in time to be destroyed yet again.

ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) – the Frankenstein Monster- The third time Strange would play the Frankenstein Monster would be the best time. Ironically, his screen time as the Monster is greatly increased in this movie, and the character probably has the most to do since the early days of the series.  Once again teamed with Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man, but this time Bela Lugosi made his triumphant return as Dracula, reprising the role for the first time since the original 1931 classic!  All in all, in spite of it being a comedy, this is one of the better Universal Monster movies.  A classic in its own right.

MASTER MINDS (1949) – Atlas, the Monster – plays a monster in this Bowery Boys horror comedy featuring yet another mad scientist who turns people into monsters, this time played by Alan Napier, famous for playing Alfred on the Adam West BATMAN TV series.

SPACE PATROL (1950-1955) – Captain Jonas – guest spot in this early 1950s space television show.

THE COLGATE COMEDY HOUR (1954) – the Frankenstein Monster – appeared as the Frankenstein Monster in an episode featuring Bud Abbott and Lou Costello.

 

Glenn Strange passed away on September 20, 1973 succumbing to lung cancer at the age of 74.

Glenn Strange: August 16, 1899 – September 20, 1973.

Thanks for reading everybody!

—Michael

THE GARNER FILES – A MEMOIR by James Garner and Jon Winokur Is As Easy Going As Its Star

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the garner filesWhat I’m Reading –The Garner Files – A Memoir by James Garner and Jon Winokur

Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

James Garner, one of my favorite actors, passed away last month on July 19, 2014 at the age of 86.

I’ve been watching THE ROCKFORD FILES, Garner’s hit TV show from the 1970s, on Netflix Streaming this year and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying it.  When THE ROCKFORD FILES premiered in 1974, I was just 10 years old and really wasn’t interested in a TV show about a private detective.  I was much more interested in the shows THE NIGHT STALKER and PLANET OF THE APES which also premiered that year.

But I remember my mom and dad watching ROCKFORD regularly.  THE ROCKFORD FILES of course went on to become a huge hit, and James Garner’s performance as the cautious, charming, often down on his luck yet tough and reliable private detective Jim Rockford is the main reason why.

With Garner’s passing, I decided to pick up and read his memoir The Garner Files – A Memoir written in 2011, to learn more about the actor responsible for creating the iconic Jim Rockford character.

James Garner did not set out to be an actor.  Garner grew up in Oklahoma during the Great Depression, and his upbringing was a rough one.  His mother died when he was four, and his father decided he was unable to properly care for Garner and his two brothers.  As Garner writes, “My father wasn’t bad.  He just wasn’t there.  He couldn’t handle the responsibility of raising three young boys.” 

 So Garner grew up living in various households and learned the value of hard work at an early age, working all sorts of different jobs.  He was drafted into the Korean War where he was wounded and received a Purple Heart, although he said it was just a minor injury. Garner explained,   You automatically get a Purple Heart if you’re wounded or killed in action against an enemy of the United States.  “Wounded” is broadly defined.  The little shrapnel scratches I got were the same as my more serious knee injuries for the purpose.  For that matter, a piece of shrapnel gets you the same medal for losing an arm.

After serving, Garner returned to California where he’d been living, and he hooked up with a friend who was a producer. Garner thought it was as good a job as any, and that’s how his career started.  He started on stage and worked his way into films.  After making some movies, Garner caught his break with the television show MAVERICK (1957-1961) which became a huge success and made him a star.  He repeated this magic with his second hit show, THE ROCKFORD FILES (1974-1980) in which he played private investigator Jim Rockford, who in James Garner’s words was pretty much the same character as Brett Maverick.

In addition to these two hit TV shows, Garner also enjoyed a long film career spanning from 1956 to 2007 in which he appeared in forty-six movies, including THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963), SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF (1969), VICTOR/VICTORIA (1982),  MURPHY’S ROMANCE (1985), SPACE COWBOYS (2000), and THE NOTEBOOK (2004) to name just a few.

In The Garner Files, Garner writes that people often thought that he was playing himself when he played Brett Maverick and Jim Rockford, but he said that wasn’t true.  He said he played a part of himself.  For example he explains that he had much more of a temper in real life than either Maverick or Rockford, and he was notorious on the golf course for being very competitive and hard on himself.

Garner describes himself as somewhat of a rebel.  The stories of his battles with Jack Warner over MAVERICK are fascinating and serve as a reminder of the bizarre world of Hollywood, where producers and studio owners made their own rules and laws. Garner stood up to this insanity, and judging by his long and successful career, I’d say he made out just fine.

It’s also a nice love story, as he peppers stories throughout the book about his wife Lois.  They fell in love instantly and were married two days after they met, and they remained married throughout Garner’s career.  At one point Garner writes that their marriage survived not because it was perfect or without rocky times, but because they understood each other and supported each other through the difficult times, even surviving a separation because they were patient enough to see it through so that when the time was right they returned to each other.

There’s also plenty of name dropping, as Garner shares his thoughts and feelings about his fellow actors.  He holds little back.  While he had high praise for fellow actor Clint Eastwood who he’d known since their early TV days and for Marlon Brando who he called the greatest movie actor ever, he had mixed feelings about Steve McQueen, saying he thought McQueen always looked like he was acting in his movies.

He had this to say about Charles Bronson:  Charlie Bronson was a pain in the ass, too.  He used and abused people, and I didn’t like it.

 Bronson and Garner had an argument over a poker game, when Garner insisted Bronson pay a young Hollywood extra the money that he owed him.

After that, Charlie went around swearing he’d never work with me again.  Throughout my life, there have been a few guys who didn’t like me because I was outspoken.  Hell, I never thought I was outspoken, I just told the truth.

And while Garner does write about making movies and his experiences making MAVERICK and THE ROCKFORD FILES, he also spends considerable time in the book discussing his other passions, like car racing, golf, and politics.  While these chapters are interesting, I have to admit I wanted to learn more about his movies and television shows.

Still, the book does contain lots of memorable stories.  My favorite because it shows Garner’s tenacity is when Garner found himself in a scuffle with an aggressive driver.  The man got out of his car and physically attacked Garner, and in spite of Garner’s size and strength, the guy went to town on him and kicked the living daylights out of him. Garner said that to survive, he decided to play dead, but as soon as the man let him go, Garner jumped out of his car and went after the man again.

They (the man & his sister) started to leave, but I figured anybody who could hit and kick me so many times without killing me wasn’t that tough.  If he’d had any punch at all, he’d have knocked me out halfway through the first round.  So I got up and went after him.

 Only later did he learn that he was tangling with an ex-Green Beret.

Like the actor and the two famous characters he created, The Garner Files is an easy going read, one that has a lot to say about the entertainment industry and life in general.

I highly recommend this memoir.

—END—

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: BRUCE DERN

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Bruce Dern hijacks the Goodyear Blimp in BLACK SUNDAY (1977)

Bruce Dern hijacks the Goodyear Blimp in BLACK SUNDAY (1977)

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: Bruce Dern

By Michael Arruda

To go along with my recent review of NEBRASKA (2013), which starred Bruce Dern in an Oscar-nominated performance, here is a partial list of movies featuring Bruce Dern, excluding his many TV credits:

MARNIE (1964) – The first film in which I saw Bruce Dern. His brief appearance in a key flashback in this Alfred Hitchcock thriller starring Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery is one of the movie’s highlights. In his one scene, Dern is oh-so-creepy, especially in his white wife-beater T-shirt.

HUSH— HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE (1964) – Hanging out with Bette Davis and Olivia de Havilland in a southern mansion in this disturbing thriller.

HANG ‘EM HIGH (1968) – Up to no good in this early Clint Eastwood western.

SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969) – One of the villainous Danby family in this comedy western starring James Garner.

THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT (1971) – One of my favorite low-budget horror movies from the 1970s. Dern plays a scientist who for some reason thinks it’s a good idea to attach the head of a murderer/rapist to his slow-witted and immensely powerful gardener. Duh!

THE COWBOYS (1972) – Dern plays the villain in this John Wayne western, giving the Duke and his group of teenage cowboys all they can handle, and then some!

SILENT RUNNING (1972) – With robots Huey & Dewey in this 1970s science fiction classic directed by Douglas Trumbull.

THE GREAT GATSBY (1974) – Even though he’s miscast as Tom Buchanan, Dern makes the role his own, and the result is a somewhat fresh interpretation of the character.

POSSE (1975) – One of my favorite Bruce Dern roles, as an outlaw on the run from sheriff Kirk Douglas in this lively western.

FAMILY PLOT (1976) – Dern returns to work with Hitchcock twelve years after MARNIE in Hitchcock’s final film, a comedy thriller about murder and psychics.

BLACK SUNDAY (1977) – Hands down, my favorite Bruce Dern role. He plays a disturbed Vietnam veteran manipulated by a terrorist group into pulling off a terrorist attack at the Super Bowl. Exciting thriller by director John Frankenheimer. Also features knock-out performances by Robert Shaw and Marthe Keller. Memorable, intense conclusion in the skies above the Super Bowl as Dern and friends hijack the Goodyear Blimp and attempt to obliterate the stadium, while Israeli agent Shaw and American agents try to stop them. Dern’s never been more psychotic.

COMING HOME (1978) – Dern received his first Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in this Vietnam veteran drama.

THE DRIVER (1978) – Dern is cast against type as a police detective chasing Ryan O’Neal’s getaway driver in this stylish thriller by director Walter Hill.

THE HAUNTING (1999) – Dern’s brief appearance does little to lift this awful remake starring Liam Neeson.

TWIXT (2011) – Stylish low-budget thriller written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Dern enjoys a substantial role as Sheriff Bobby LaGrange in this one.

DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) – Small role in Quentin Tarrantino’s instant western classic.

NEBRASKA (2013) – Dern’s performance as aging alcoholic Woody Grant earned him an Oscar Nomination for Best Actor in this quirky slice-of-life drama by director Alexander Payne.

And there you have it, some highlights from the film career of Bruce Dern.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

YOUR MOVIES LISTS: RUSSELL CROWE

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Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

Russell Crowe as Maximus in GLADIATOR (2000)

YOUR MOVIE LISTS: Russell Crowe

By Michael Arruda

Last week I unleashed THE HORROR JAR, lists of odds and ends about horror movies. Today I present YOUR MOVIE LISTS, lists of odds and ends about non-horror movies.

Kicking things off is a list of notable Russell Crowe movies. With the release of Crowe’s latest movie NOAH (2014) in theaters this weekend, here is a partial list of some prior Russell Crowe films:

L.A. CONFIDENTIAL (1997) – Kevin Spacey and Kim Basinger were the big names in this one when it came out in 1997, but it was Russell Crowe who generated all the buzz. The first time I saw Russell Crowe in a movie.

GLADIATOR (2000) – The biggie. The film that pretty much made Crowe a household name. His performance as Maximus is one of his best. Great supporting work by Oliver Reed, in what would be his final role.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001) – Crowe delivers a top-notch performance as John Nash in Ron Howard’s Oscar Winner for Best Picture. Crowe was nominated for Best Actor but lost out to Denzel Washington in TRAINING DAY.

MASTER AND COMMANDER: THE FAR SIDE OF THE WORLD (2003) – Crowe plays Captain Jack Aubrey in this rousing high seas adventure based upon the novels by Patrick O’Brian.

CINDERELLA MAN (2005) – Crowe again teams with director Ron Howard, once more with outstanding results, in this bio pic of boxer Jim Braddock.

3:10 TO YUMA (2007)- Crowe’s outlaw squares off against Christian Bale’s rancher in this exciting western which might be my favorite Russell Crowe movie. It’s certainly my favorite Russell Crowe performance. Ben Foster also delivers an exceptional supporting performance as Crowe’s psychotic right hand man Charlie Prince.

BODY OF LIES (2008) – Crowe plays a CIA agent who gives his operative on the ground (Leonardo Di Caprio) in the Middle East the runaround in this Ridley Scott directed thriller. The first time I was less than impressed with a Russell Crowe performance.

THE NEXT THREE DAYS (2010) – Crowe plays John Brennan who takes the law into his own hands to prove that his wife Lara (Elizabeth Banks) is innocent of a murder charge— but is she? A convoluted plot knocks this one down a few notches.

THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) – RZA’s stylish actioner lacks substance making this one a misfire. Crowe plays an assassin named Jack Knife. Crowe appears overweight and out of shape here.

LES MISERABLES (2012) – Crowe plays Javert opposite Hugh Jackman’s Jean Valjean in this film adaptation of the stage musical, which is based on the novel by Victor Hugo. Crowe’s singing grates throughout, but when he’s not singing he’s very good as the policeman who won’t quit.

BROKEN CITY (2013) – Crowe is a crooked mayor who tangles with an ex-cop played by Mark Wahlberg in this mediocre thriller. For me, the fifth straight underwhelming Russell Crowe film.

MAN OF STEEL (2013) – Crowe breaks out of his slump by playing Superman’s father Jor-El. His performance is one of the best parts of this mixed bag of a superhero movie.

NOAH (2014) – Crowe plays Noah in this retelling of the famous Bible story, which emphasizes action and melodrama. Crowe really shines here as the man who builds an ark and against all odds saves humankind from God’s wrath.

And that brings us up to date.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael