Seven Angry Men (1955) Review

Director: Charles Marquis Warren

Genre(s): Biography, Drama, War, Western

Runtime: 90 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The 1955 biopic Seven Angry Men was actually the second time that actor Raymond Massey played John Brown on the big screen. The first film was the pro-slavery propaganda piece Santa Fe Trail (1940), where Brown was the villain. Anyway, this historical drama details the life of that famed American abolitionist, as he battles against pro-slavery forces in Kansas and what-is-now West Virginia in the years leading up to the American Civil War. It’s a very nifty movie that does justice to the legendary figure at its center.

People who have studied the life of John Brown, one of my heroes, will recognize various incidents in the picture inspired by real-life events. Yes, some of these highlights of Brown’s life – like the Sacking of Lawrence and the Battle of Osawatomie – are exaggerated to make them more cinematic, but the flick often sticks surprisingly close to the facts. A few major events are omitted from the feature, like the Battle of Black Jack and the raid into Missouri to rescue several slaves.

This is a morally complex film that doesn’t shy away from asking the big questions about extralegal violence. Raymond Massey gives a dynamite performance as the central character, although it may be too much to keep track of all of his grown sons, considering how little fleshing-out some of them are given (they make up the other six angry men of the title). The action scenes that show up are serviceable, but not above and beyond the call of duty.

Seven Angry Men is an excellent look back at the history of militant abolitionism in the years prior to the breakout of the American Civil War. However, it should be noted that an unnecessary romantic subplot occasionally brings the movie to a standstill. This, right here, is the proper John Brown motion picture to view, not that Santa Fe Trail stuff. If you enjoy this work, I’d recommend reading the book John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights by David S. Reynolds as a companion piece.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) Review

Director: Arthur Penn

Genre(s): Action, Biography, Crime, Drama, Romance

Runtime: 111 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The 1967 gangster movie Bonnie and Clyde feels just as alive, fresh, zesty, and vital now as it did during its original theatrical run. As you probably know, the plot concerns bandit duo and lovers Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty), who tear through the Central-Southern United States on a crime spree in the 1930s. One of the best of its kind, this film took the sensibilities of the French New Wave and applied them to these American folk figures.

Bonnie and Clyde remains dazzling partially because of its expert juggling of action, drama, romance, comedy, suspense, and historical context. Unless you abhor pictures that glamorize murderous criminals (which this one has a tendency to do), there’s something here for just about everybody. The feature starts off adventurous and relatively light, but, by the time of the third act, it feels like a road trip to Hell.

It’s generally a fast-paced piece of work, with some very, very good action sequences (the violence that they contain was considered shocking back in 1967). A special shout-out has to go to the cast, who all play their distinctive characters with aplomb. The Great Depression-era United States is convincingly recreated here, and the flick is surprisingly funny at times.

Bonnie and Clyde is sometimes credited with playing a critical role in tearing down the old Hollywood Production Code, which dictated what content could and couldn’t be in American movies. The film’s graphic violence, sexual undercurrents, and glorification of ruthless criminals made the Code impotent. It was soon to be replaced by the MPAA rating system (you know, like G, R, etc.). Talk about a movie that left an impact! However, this motion picture is still highly recommended, regardless of its influence and significance in cinema history.

My rating is 9 outta 10.

The Highwaymen (2019) Review

Director: John Lee Hancock

Genre(s): Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 132 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Bonnie and Clyde (1967) famously showed the Barrow Gang’s 1930s crime spree from the criminals’ points-of-view, while 2019’s The Highwaymen flips the script and reenacts it from the perspectives of the lawmen who hunted them down. It’s the Great Depression-era United States, and gangsters Bonnie Parker (Emily Brobst) and Clyde Barrow (Edward Bossert) are rampaging through the Central-Southern part of the country, with former Texas Rangers Frank Hamer (Kevin Costner) and Maney Gault (Woody Harrelson) hot on their tracks. It’s a respectable change of pace.

No, this movie isn’t nearly as good as 1967’s Bonnie and Clyde, but that doesn’t make it unnecessary. The two leads – Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson – have good chemistry and keep the leisurely-paced flick chugging along. The rural United States in the time of the Great Depression is brought to life surprisingly well, showing the breeding ground for criminals in desire of a better life. However, this film certainly does not glamorize the two crooks that the main characters are tracking down.

As I mentioned above, the pace of this picture can be, uh, leisurely. This is fine at first, but the feature does a questionable job of kicking it into high-gear when the climax approaches. Some moments of action feel sort of cheaply-made. The movie also underutilizes Kathy Bates’ character, “Ma” Ferguson, the Governor 0f Texas, who has to have Bonnie and Clyde killed or captured before they can make her look like too much of a fool.

Bonnie and Clyde are ruthless murderers here, largely kept offscreen like the beasts of a monster movie. Fortunately for the audience, the two lawmen on their trail are rendered colorfully here to make up for the lack of screentime that the two gangsters get. Overall, this film is a decent-enough diversion, but it needed a bit more pep in its step at times.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Biography, Comedy, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 180 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

This depiction of the life and times of American financial criminal Jordan Belfort (Leonard DiCaprio) is a work of pure, unrestrained id. Set in the 1980s and 1990s, gleefully obnoxious and hedonistic-to-the-power-of-x stock-broker Belfort claws his way up to the top. At three hours, it’s a long one for sure, but director Martin Scorsese ensures that this comedic biopic is never remotely boring.

The Wolf of Wall Street feels like a circus or a party (not the kind I would want to go to, though), with its orgies, oversized yachts, mountains of cocaine, and literal hundreds of “f-words.” It’s all excess, all the time. The movie is so full of amplified depraved behavior that it starts to feel like a twisted sort of experimental film after a while. Despite (perhaps because of) the incessant debauchery, this is one hilarious flick, with a style that goes for maximum impact.

As funny as all of this is, one flaw with the picture is that it doesn’t really show the consequences of the main character’s crimes on the people he swindled. It barely feels like a crime film at all for that reason. Yes, there is an FBI agent, Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler), on Jordan Belfort’s case, but this feature comes dangerously close to glorifying the law-breaking of the work-hard-play-harder man in the center of the narrative.

For a three-hour movie about wealthy thugs doing wealthy thug activities, The Wolf of Wall Street‘s story, acting, and script hold up well. The whole thing’s outrageous, but it’s handled by a master filmmaker (Scorsese) who prevents it from becoming pure schlock. This one’s not for the prudish, but, if you want to take a peak into the lives of the Rich and Sociopathic, this picture comes highly recommended.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Public Enemies (2009) Review

Director: Michael Mann

Genre(s): Action, Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 140 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Public Enemies is a solid gangster flick that has the misfortune of living in the shadow of the similar Dillinger (1973), which was written and directed by John Milius. The plot of the 2009 picture in question covers the 1930s bank-robbing spree of super-criminal John Dillinger (Johnny Depp). There’s plenty to like about this movie, but just about everything about it was topped back in the 1970s.

The ferocious gunfights that director Michael Mann is known for are very much present here. It probably has as many firearms-per-frame as 1973’s Dillinger and the shootouts are probably more realistic-feeling. The expected highlight in the action department is the firefight at a lodge known as Little Bohemia, but the other sequences of violence work exceptionally well, too.

Perhaps the biggest fault of Public Enemies is how colorless many of the supporting characters are rendered. Sure, the big players in the story get their time to shine, but most of the side members of the John Dillinger gang, for example, don’t stand out at all, which is a stark contrast to how these folks were handled in the aforementioned Dillinger. “Baby Face” Nelson (Stephen Graham) manages to steal the scenes he appears in, though.

Public Enemies is a much more somber and subdued film than 1973’s Dillinger, trying to play things closer to historical fact (although there are still several deviations from what happened in real life). It’s fairly ambitious, but it lacks the flair, pizazz, and print-the-legend audacity that the Dillinger story from John Milius had. I figure that both motion pictures are worth checking out, so make it a Dillinger double feature if you can.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) Review

Director: Marielle Heller

Genre(s): Biography, Drama

Runtime: 109 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

I can still remember what it was like when it was announced that Tom Hanks was cast as Fred Rogers in a movie. Everyone on the Internet seemed to agree that this was the casting decision of the century. The film itself is about cynical reporter Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys), who’s assigned to interview children’s television show host Mr. Rogers (the aforementioned Tom Hanks). Although I have deemed this a “Biography” picture for categorization purposes, this is not a rote biopic of the legendary nice guy.

Some may be surprised to find out that Mr. Rogers is a bit of a supporting character in his own movie. It probably shouldn’t be too much of a shock, since film thrives on conflict, and how are you supposed to make an audience feel uncomfortable if the entire flick is about calm Mr. Rogers running a T.V. program? The primary focus here is on Matthew Rhys’ journalist character, who has some serious father issues to work out.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood avoids the trap of being too cutesy by focusing on some heavy themes. Well, yes, there is some adorable content here, like Mr. Rogers’ puppets, but this is also a picture about death, forgiveness, misanthropy, fear, and anger. It’s not exactly your typical family film, but it will surely resonate with the older members of the audience.

Tom Hanks’ Fred Rogers might be a hair quirkier than the real person, but it’s still a splendid performance. It’s a fantastic feature, overall, never once losing me, despite I being the type of moviegoer who prefers shootouts, explosions, and car chases. I’m definitely not the first person to say this, but A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is one of those rare movies that comes along that makes you want to be a better person.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Richard Jewell (2019) Review

Director: Clint Eastwood

Genre(s): Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 131 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Richard Jewell is made in the terse, economical style that one would expect from a movie directed by Clint Eastwood. Its challenging story (based on true events) is about American security guard Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser), who discovers a bomb at a crowded concert at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. However, in this film, it’s really the stuff that takes place after the Olympics that really matter.

The committed performances by the cast definitely sell the picture. Originally, the title character was going to be played by Jonah Hill (who also helped produce the work), but the less-famous Paul Walter Hauser got the role in the end. I think casting a less familiar face for the lead makes the flick a more immersive experience. The resulting movie is taut and efficient, being very effective on the level of making the audience wonder what’s going to happen next.

Despite its engaging nature, the film attracted quite a bit of controversy for its depiction of reporter Kathy Scruggs (played by Olivia Wilde), who is portrayed as a sleazy, narcissistic sort who trades sex for news scoops. Scruggs, who died in 2001, was not around to defend herself, and many felt she was being railroaded the same way that the media and the government railroaded Jewell. It’s hard not to hold this against the finished product, but I don’t think it’s quite enough for me to give it a negative review.

Richard Jewell offers a few problems for viewers just trying to enjoy the picture, yet it’s far more entertaining than not. It offers up some complicated moral dilemmas and some good suspense. It goes to show that a feature doesn’t need a big gunfight at the end to be satisfying. There are parts of the flick that are on-the-nose, but it’s a solid, little drama that its target audience will definitely get a kick out of.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Irishman (2019) Review

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre(s): Biography, Crime, Drama

Runtime: 209 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

The Irishman has a lineup that you can’t argue with. It stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Joe Pesci (and Ray Romano) and is directed by Martin Scorsese. Did I mention that it’s three-and-a-half hours long? In this gangster film, which desperately tries to the mob-movie-to-end-all-mob-movies, World War II veteran Frank Sheeran (Robert De Niro) works his way into the local mob, controlled by Russell Bufalino (Joe Pesci), becoming a hitman and befriending corrupt union boss Jimmy Hoffa (Al Pacino). Is it worth investing those three-and-a-half hours into?

One of the most noteworthy of the behind-the-scenes tricks featured in The Irishman was the computer-generated de-aging done to make the actors look different ages at different points in their lives. I think this was successfully pulled off, and was probably necessary given the huge timeline this feature has to cover. Yes, this is one of the most epic-scale gangster pictures ever released, with the characters experiencing several major historical events that I won’t give away here. Despite this, some of the most entertaining moments in this flick are the comparatively smaller scenes that give the audience a slice of criminal life.

The Irishman is stuffed to the brim with content…perhaps too much. While most of the movie focuses on the three big leads, countless supporting characters come and go. Many (but not all) of the killings lack a certain gravity for this reason. It’s just another job to do. Maybe the story would’ve been served better in a mini-series format? Maybe not, I’m just throwing ideas out there.

It may have highly casual pacing, but I think The Irishman is worth checking out. It’s definitely a drama, but there are some funny scenes sprinkled in. The performances can’t be criticized, and the massive scope of the motion picture is impressive. It does border on the episodic, but many biopics do, so I suppose I can’t complain too much. The bottom line is that fans of the stars and the director will almost certainly end up satisfied. I can’t say I was as enthused with it as the critics were, but it still a gets a thumbs-up from me.

My rating is 7 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.

To Hell and Back (1955) Review

Director: Jesse Hibbs

Genre(s): Action, Biography, Drama, War

Runtime: 106 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

The main draw of To Hell and Back is to see Audie Murphy play himself, an American hero of World War II who fought in several campaigns of the European theater. The picture starts with its star as a poor, rural Texan, who joins the U.S. army as a way of helping support his family. Other than the Murphy-as-Murphy factor, this film plays out like a fairly typical grunts’-eye-view war movie.

Most viewers will probably choose to watch To Hell and Back for Murphy and the recreation of his heroics. On this level, the flick works pretty well. There’s a reasonable amount of battle scenes, but their realism is mixed. They’re explosion-heavy and oft-muddy, capturing what small-unit combat must feel like to a fair degree. On the other hand, the violence often seems sanitized, although small amounts of blood show up once in a while.

Other cons related to To Hell and Back are the pointless romance scenes, which add nothing, and the fact that the family sequences towards the beginning feel a bit schmaltzy, but they’re over soon enough. Most of the supporting characters are pretty interchangeable, which hampers the drama. Understandably, the horrible post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that Murphy suffered from post-war is left out, as the movie concludes with the end of World War II.

To Hell and Back sometimes feels like an advertisement for the American military, considering the lack of PTSD-related content and other factors, but it would be a mistake to let that deter one from watching it. I listed quite a few negatives for the film, yet the “gimmick,” if you want to call it that, at the center of the flick, Murphy playing himself, is strong enough to make it worth a watch. The humble heroism on display here keeps it afloat.

My rating is 7 outta 10.