The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Review

Director: Jonathan Demme

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 118 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Intense from the get-go, The Silence of the Lambs is an instant classic that won an Oscar for Best Picture, the only horror movie to win that award so far. The plot follows aspiring FBI agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), who must use the help of imprisoned cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to catch a woman-murdering serial killer nicknamed “Buffalo Bill” (Ted Levine). Does it deserve its reputation as one of the finest psychological thrillers of all time? I’d say so.

It just might be the perfect performances that keep The Silence of the Lambs on track. Anthony Hopkins gives a masterclass acting job as cannibalistic psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter, effortlessly getting under the skin of the viewers. The mind games he plays are enough to warrant giving the feature a thumbs-up. His role won him an Oscar and Dr. Lecter was named the number-one villain in American cinema history as part of the American Film Institute’s AFI’s 100 Years…100 Heroes & Villains retrospective in 2003. It would be a mistake to forget about Jodie Foster, who also won an Oscar for her part. Her character was named the sixth greatest American screen hero in the celebration mentioned above.

Dark, serious, and macabre, The Silence of the Lambs earns its R rating, but doesn’t go overboard with the gore, probably making it watchable for most adult audiences. It’s very fast-paced and efficient, making the minutes fly by when experiencing it. If I had to find a fault with it, it would be that the ending feels less conclusive and a bit more sequel-baity than desirable, but that’s a minor flaw.

This bone-chilling horror-thriller flick is nothing short of gripping. Even the critics generally loved it, even if they seem to avoid calling it a “horror movie,” favoring the term “thriller.” Perhaps they were too embarrassed to admit that they liked an entry into the horror genre? Also, just how big is “Buffal0 Bill’s” basement supposed to be anyway?

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Roaring Twenties (1939) Review

Director: Raoul Walsh

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of the last, if not the last, of the major gangster pictures of the 1930s, The Roaring Twenties ends a chapter in mob movie history on a decent note. The story here is about World War I veteran Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney), who gets mixed up with bootleggers during Prohibition and rises up among their ranks. It feels more epic-scale than many other films in this subgenre, but some intimacy is lost in translation.

The Roaring Twenties tries to juggle many elements: action, romance, music, historical background, etc., trying to please every type of moviegoer. The main plot of the flick is often overcome by a love triangle, and there’s just as much singing as there is shoot-’em-up, bang-bang stuff. The truth is, it feels more nostalgic than hard-boiled, lacking a certain meanness necessary for this sort of crime feature to work properly.

That being said, the action sequences are pretty good when they arrive (the movie definitely ends on a high note). There are some engaging montages to express the passage of time, although the narration for these sequences (done by John Deering) feels a bit dated nowadays. Raoul Walsh’s direction is solid, but the clean-feeling script doesn’t always help him.

The Roaring Twenties is just too romantic for its own good, both in the sense of the lovey-dovey stuff and in terms of rose-tinted nostalgia. It feels like one of James Cagney’s “bigger” films, but it’s certainly not among his best, in my book. It just doesn’t have the ultra-gritty intimacy of The Public Enemy (1931), the heroic badassery of ‘G’ Men (1935), or the lurid sadism of White Heat (1949). I’m not saying “don’t watch it,” just keep your expectations in check.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Petrified Forest (1936) Review

Director: Archie Mayo

Genre(s): Crime, Drama, Romance

Runtime: 82 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The Petrified Forest was the film that caused the world to take notice of Humphrey Bogart. It’s not his best movie, but it’s still a good one. One day, a small group of gangsters led by Duke Mantee (Humphrey Bogart) hold hostage a remote diner/gas station in the middle of the Western United States, crashing a love triangle between wandering poet-at-heart Alan Squier (Leslie Howard), the diner’s waitress, Gabrielle Maple (Bette Davis), and the gas station attendant, Boze Hertzlinger (Dick Foran). It’s a compact, atmospheric drama with clearly-drawn characters

For a crime picture, this one takes place entirely outside of gangland. In fact, being based on a 1935 play of the same title, almost all of the action takes place at a roadside diner “on the edge of nowhere” or its immediate exterior. You can tell it was based on a play, but this doesn’t hurt the flick. I wouldn’t recommend The Petrified Forest if you’re just looking for physical action, though, as the body count is minuscule, although there is a shootout at the end.

For the most part, it’s the characters that keep this feature afloat. This is Humphrey Bogart’s show, as he plays his role – sort of a more murderous version of John Dillinger – with a tightly-wound intensity. Leslie Howard’s character is an insufferable asshole, but he certainly stands out. Also worthy of note is Gramp Maple (Charley Grapewin), Bette Davis’ character’s grandfather, an old-timer who just can’t wait to see somebody get killed. The few interactions between the two black characters, a gangster named Slim (Slim Thompson) and a chauffeur for a rich couple named Joseph (John Alexander) are priceless.

The Petrified Forest is very much above-average, even if it sometimes threatens to sink under Howard’s character’s philosophical ramblings. Fortunately for the audience, Bogart and his crew show up, adding some extra tension. Fans of Bogie or of relatively early organized crime movies will want to seek this one out.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

‘Gung Ho!’: The Story of Carlson’s Makin Island Raiders (1943) Review

Director: Ray Enright

Genre(s): Action, War

Runtime: 88 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Made in the middle of World War II, ‘Gung Ho!’: The Story of Carlson’s Makin Island Raiders is a rough-and-tumble war actioner designed to raise the spirits of the American populace and remind them what they’re fighting for. Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, an elite team of American Marines is assembled for a secret mission during World War II. Their objective: raid the Japanese-occupied outpost of Makin Island, killing all enemy soldiers and leveling the place. Based on a true story, this a swell piece of propaganda.

Humorous at times, Gung Ho! does an able job of the building up to the final action sequences on Makin Island. The training scenes are cool and the part where the raiders are packed into submarines like sardines elicits a greater sense of claustrophobia than anything in Das Boot (1981). The battle scenes in the third act are very good, packed with gunfire, stabbings, and big explosions.

What holds Gung Ho! back from being one of the greats is that many of its characters are, more or less, interchangeable. Just about the only folks in the picture to make an impression are Colonel Thorwald (Randolph Scott) and “Pig-Iron” (Robert Mitchum), and that’s because they’re played by famous actors. There’s also some minor romance towards the beginning of the runtime that doesn’t have a significant payoff. Gung Ho! is sometimes derided as it’s a piece of war-time propaganda partially made to whip up hatred of the Japanese. I don’t really hold this against the film, though.

Gung Ho! is, in my opinion, one of the better combat movies to be released during World War II. As bloodthirsty as it occasionally is, its heart is in the right place. It’s not as slick as some of the other flicks from this time period and many of its characters get lost in the shuffle, but this is still a piece of cinema that begs to be watched by war film addicts.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Halloween (2018) Review

Director: David Gordon Green

Genre(s): Horror, Thriller

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

2018’s Halloween doesn’t exactly have the freshest-sounding plot in cinema history. Exactly forty years after his murderous rampage through Haddonfield, Illinois, silent killer Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle) escapes from a mental hospital bus to resume his attacks on the local population. This entry into the series ignores all other installments in the franchise except for Halloween (1978). Even if it retcons the history of the Halloween films, this is still an excellent horror picture.

This, right here, is the real deal among slasher flicks. Okay, it’s not as terrific as the 1978 original, but it comes close enough to make it a worthy feature. Michael Myers is the pure-evil force of nature that he should be, delivering quite the body count. While there is gore and a “jump scare” or two, 2018’s Halloween does not overly rely on them to bring the scares. The filmmakers prove that they can make a scene intense with or without bloodshed.

The woman who faced off against Myers in the first movie, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), returns here, as a traumatized, gun-toting, agoraphobic paranoiac. It’s more sad than “badass,” but I think that’s the intention. Halloween also has a few bits of humor spread around in the mix, which is welcome, as it would’ve been difficult sitting on the edge of one’s chair the entire time.

With the exception of one contrived, yet forgivable, twist (if you’ve seen the film, you know the one I’m talking about), Halloween is an outstanding work of horror. It reworks the formula just enough for modern audiences, while retaining elements that made the 1978 movie soar. It may seem like a lot of work watching all the other members of the Halloween series to get to this one, but, since this one only considers the first movie canon, you don’t really have to.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1957) Review

Director: John Sturges

Genre(s): Biography, Western

Runtime: 122 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a bit on the disappointing side, considering it was directed by John Sturges, one of the better (possibly the best) action-adventure directors out there at the time of its release. Still, it has a few redeeming values that may make it worth a watch for the curious. During the Wild West period, lawman Wyatt Earp (Burt Lancaster) befriends dentist-turned-gunslinging-gambler Doc Holliday (Kirk Douglas), with their camaraderie coming in handy when the former needs to face down the villainous Clanton clan at the O.K. Corral.

This movie is, well, pretty talky. Sure, sometimes guns or knives do the talking, but most of the film is jibber-jabber. Add to this a loose plot that doesn’t get focused until about halfway through and there is trouble. The feud between the Earp family and the Clantons feels a little undercooked, with that conflict not really getting explained until relatively late in the flick’s runtime (okay, it’s not that late, but it should’ve been introduced sooner). Both Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday have separate romantic subplots (well, if you could call Holliday’s “romantic”) that further bring the feature down.

Despite these flaws, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral benefits from a sensational final shootout that just might be the best firefight in western movie history up to the point of this picture’s release. Dimitri Tiomkin’s musical score is appropriately epic, complete with a catchy theme song sung by Frankie Laine. The macho bonding between Burt Lancaster’s Earp and Kirk Douglas’ Holliday is also cool to watch.

I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the Sturges’ best movies, thanks to a story that sometimes meanders. It would’ve benefited from a tighter script. However, the titular action sequence, the music, and chemistry between the two leads may draw in some viewers. Also, don’t come here looking for historical accuracy. At the end of the day, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is just okay.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Last Train from Gun Hill (1959) Review

Director: John Sturges

Genre(s): Drama, Western

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of the movies that director John Sturges brought to the world before his two masterpieces – The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963) – was 1959’s Last Train from Gun Hill. In the Old West, Marshal Matt Morgan (Kirk Douglas) sets out to the town of Gun Hill to arrest the two men who raped and murdered his Native American wife, Catherine (Ziva Rodann). However, that town is now completely under the domination of his former best friend Craig Belden (Anthony Quinn), now a mob-boss-like cattle baron. To complicate matters, Belden’s son, Rick (Earl Holliman), is one of the killers.

The film’s plot may sound a bit unwieldy in text, but the relatively straightforward storytelling keeps things understandable. The only aspect slowing down the action is a subplot involving the character of Linda (Carolyn Jones), which probably could’ve been reduced to tighten up the picture. Still, physical action is fairly common in Last Train from Gun Hill, although these moments are pretty short. For a while, the film feels like Die Hard (1988) set in a Wild West hotel.

The feature’s musical score is average, despite being provided by the great Dimitri Tiomkin. Although the primary draw of this western is to see Kirk Douglas and Anthony Quinn face off against each other, I feel the need to point out a couple of members of the supporting cast. Brad Dexter, who would play Harry Luck in The Magnificent Seven, shows up as Beero (nice name), Quinn’s character’s head henchman. Also, the guy who plays Lee Smithers, the member of the raping duo who’s not Earl Holliman’s Rick, is Brian G. Hutton, who would go on to direct Where Eagles Dare (1968) and Kelly’s Heroes (1970).

Fans of John Sturges will probably enjoy this no-frills, pro-law-and-order western film. It’s no life-changing experience, but it is a rock-solid movie with a respectable amount of action and an intriguing plot. If you’ve seen it and liked it, I’d highly recommend the other two classics directed by Sturges that I mentioned at the beginning of this review.

My rating is 7 outta 10.