8/17/09

The Multi-Monday where The Bard, Jesse James, and Francois Truffaut Race Across the Country

Just back with a couple of quick hits to update my weekend watches. As usual I have a handful of flicks that I've checked out, but this week there's no common theme. It's just what I felt like checking out. I’ve lately been reading Sam Fuller’s autobiography, A Third Face: My Tale of Writing, Fighting and Filmmaking. It got me interested in seeing his first film in the director’s chair, I Shot Jesse James. Fuller never wanted to do a Western, but when he gave his producer the choice between the story of Cassius plotting to kill Caesar or Bob Ford, the producer was much more interested in the proven genre rather than a Roman epic.

I Shot Jesse James is the story of Robert Ford, a member of the James Gang and one of Jesse’s best friends. He shot Jesse in an attempt to get free of the bank robber life and settle down with his sweetie. Unfortunately, things don’t turn out as he plans, and Ford’s notoriety and guilt gradually wear the man down. Bob Ford is played by John Ireland (Casey Affleck played the same role in the recent version of the tale), and I really enjoyed his performance as the regretful gunman. It’s hard to feel sorry for him, and the movie doesn’t really make you try. There are plenty of other likable characters to get behind instead. If the movie had one real drawback it was Reed Hadley as Jesse James. It wasn’t that Hadley was bad, but he just didn’t fit the bill for Jesse James with his immaculate outfits and neatly trimmed beard. I know this was the era before the Western really got dusty, but anytime I see one of these spotless Westerns it bothers me just a bit. Hadley personifies why that is. If you’re not familiar with Fuller’s movies, then don’t start here. Thankfully, I had seen the excellent Pickup on South Street or I would be less inclined to continue into his catalog.

Speaking of continuing into a catalog, I had been meaning to see another Francois Truffaut film ever since watching The Bride Wore Black some time ago. I was at my local library recently I picked up The 400 Blows which is widely regarded as a cinematic masterpiece. I don’t really have much to say about the film personally. It just really wasn’t my cup of tea. I will be the first to admit that dramatic film is not something I particularly cotton to, and though The 400 Blows did contain some funny parts, the story is so fraught with drama and sadness that I had trouble staying interested. What saved the film for me were the incredible visuals of the Parisian streets of the 1950’s. The entire film from start to finish was stunningly photographed, and for that reason alone I can see how it gained its reputation. For fans of Foreign drama this movie is surely a must see, but if you like a little more zest in your offerings from overseas, then check out one of his later thrillers instead.

Having about lulled myself into some kind of vampiric torpor, I was glad to apply an antidote of nonsense and kick back with Hamlet 2. British comic Steve Coogan stars as failed actor Dana Marschz, the head of drama at a Tucson, Az high school. The drama program has been canceled, and it’s in no small part due to Dana’s productions of film classics like Erin Brockovich. In a last ditch attempt to save his department, he intends to put on one final show, a sequel to Hamlet. (“That’s right, the deuce.”) Great performances from Coogan as well as cameos from Amy Pohler and Elizabeth Shue keep the movie punchy and laugh out loud funny. I had heard about the musical number, “Rock me Sexy Jesus”, and I thought the film probably could not live up to how funny that title was. It proved me way wrong and kept me laughing throughout.

I must have still had cameos on the mind when I picked my last watch for this weekend. It’s a film basically built on them. Adrienne Barbeau, Farrah Fawcett, Dean Martin, Jackie Chan, Roger Moore, Mel Tillis, and dozens more join Burt and Dom for a little film called Cannonball Run. This silly movie built around a coast to coast race always brings back happy memories for me. I recall seeing it the first time in a kid’s summer movie series. My parents had purchased me the ticket that got me in to see flicks like Pipi Longstocking and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, but mixed in with those films we also got to see stuff like Cannonball Run, Smokey and the Bandit, and Every Which Way But Loose. You know, the good old flicks people wouldn’t let their 7-10 year old see nowadays.

I put in Cannonball Run while Fran, Ms. Directed, and I sat down to play some board games on Sunday night. Nothing is more fun that popping in a classic bit of cheese like this and having some fun with friends. As I only have two days between now and one year mark, I’ve been thinking back a lot to how genre movies have impacted my life, and more specifically this past year. I’ve met so many good folks here in the blog world and the real world because of my love of film, and I can’t underestimate the influence it’s had in my life. Having a weekend full of flicks like this makes me glad that I have so much left still to explore, and so many old time favorites to cherish. Now that I’ve got all introspective for a moment, I’ll wrap up the ol’ Grab Bag for this Monday, and I’ll look forward to seeing all you folks back here later.

1 comment:

  1. I have never seen Jesse James,but it sounds like something i want to check out. Hamlet2 and Canonball Run are both hilarious. All 3 reviews were nicely done!

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