Archives for category: The Pantheon of the Underrated

You’re no Donna Reed–and that’s okay by me.

Directed by Otto Preminger

Written by Wendell Mayes

Starring James Stewart, Ben Gazzara, Lee Remick

It is said of the classic movie stars that they were people you liked spending time with. The knock on the Cary Grants and John Waynes, of course, is that they were just playing themselves, playing the same role again and again.

There’s much truth in that, but there’s also something to be said for consistency of performance–and for plain old personality. I was reminded of this recently while on an extended road trip. I had inserted a DVD of Anatomy of a Murder into my laptop so I could watch it whenever I had some down time. As it happened, I ended up watching a 160-minute movie over the course of a week.

That doesn’t sound like much of an endorsement for a film, but Anatomy felt more like a tightly-written thriller than you enjoy returning to again and again. (You also end up re-watching scenes repeatedly, as you might reread a page where you have a bookmark.) The main reason why I was in no hurry for the film to end was Jimmy Stewart.

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“We shall make a new start. A fresh beginning. Here the blessings of the earth are bestowed upon all. None need grow poor. Here there is good ground for all, and no cost but one’s labor. We shall build a true common wealth, hard work and self reliance our virtues. We shall have no landlords to wreck us with high rents or extort the fruit of our labor.” — John Smith, paddling upriver in the New World.

Written and Directed by Terrence Malick

Starring Colin Ferrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christian Bale

The first time I saw Terrence Malick’s The New World, I denied it my full attention.  I had my computer in my lap, watching the film with one eye.

Then, about a half hour into the film, I felt myself choke up, out of nowhere. It was affecting me, even at a distance, for reasons I didn’t understand. From then, it held me. So much so that when it was over, I sat down and watched it again. I can’t remember the last time I did that with a DVD.

The New World is like no movie I’ve ever seen, I think. Not even like Malick’s own The Thin Red Line. It’s a towering achievement, a powerful experience, one that is felt on an almost unconscious level.  The film is one of the most gorgeous ever shot, delivering images of such concentrated beauty that they’ll take your breath away.

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How do they get the cameras up there?

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams

I watched Sherlock Holmes with expectations lowered—knowing that maybe if the film managed to surprise me a few times, or if Robert Downey could work his (almost undefinable) charm, I’d probably leave satisfied.

Well, I can report that my plan worked. When the movie ended, I didn’t feel like I had donated two hours that I would never recover. Downey was indeed his usual watchable self. (I watched one season of “Ally McBeal” just to observe him in action—and yes, those likely are hours that could have been better spent), Jude Law was the movie’s secret weapon, while, unfortunately, Rachel McAdams, Notebook Girl, the actress I always think is Anne Hathaway, looked she had shown up in Victorian London after jumping on the wrong flight at LAX.

But still there was a vague unease and I realized it had set in somewhere around the third act—that feeling that you are being set up for a big action climax because, yes, that’s how big Hollywood films are supposed to work. But it didn’t feel like something to anticipate. It more felt like something to be endured.

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