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Four Jacks

by Moe - 2 Comment(s)

I always keep an eye out for a possibly overlooked series I can throw your way and I've found a couple of very good ones. And because they both happened to have in the starring role somebody named Jack, that led me to throw in two other well know Jacks- Reacher and Ryan.

From 2012 let’s start with Tom Cruise bringing life to Lee Child’s very popular anti-hero, Jack Reacher. Cruise stars as the title character, a former Major in the US Army Military Police Corp who has opted out of a life of duty but still attracts trouble like a magnet. This series was ripe to be made into a movie, and came with a built in audience of legions of fans from around the world. But when word first leaked that the diminutive Cruise was going to be playing the 6’ 5” behemoth, fans were outraged. There were talks of boycotts and other such nonsense, but then fans really do not like their legends messed with. Also people do seem to divide into the two Cruise camps, 'love him or hate him' more readily than for a lot of other actors. Because I try hard to disassociate actors from their real life personalities I can say I almost always enjoy Cruise's performances. And not being a particular fan of the books, I didn't have a lot invested in the character, so I was able to take this movie on it’s own merit. It worked for me, was worth my two hours and did well enough at the box office that a sequel is planned.

Jack Irish is an Australian television series originally broadcast as made for t.v movies and did well so they pulled it together into sets. It stars Aussie Guy Pearce, an actor who first came to North American audiences' attention as the ambitious Ed Exley in 1997’s excellent LA Confidential. Pearce is another actor I have always enjoyed and rarely does he miss the mark.

A great way to find unexpected recommendations is to pick up one thing- like Borgen or Jack Irish- watch the trailers and then get directed to more unexpected and potentially unnoticed series. So with help from Sue, this is how Jack Taylor came to my attention. This one stars Iain Glen who you will recognize from many things--- like Jorah Mormont in all four seasons of Game of Thrones and in the first season of Downton Abbey.

Now Jack Ryan has been kicking around a long time in film, in many incarnations and over a varied time line. He first made his appearance in 1990 in The Hunt for Red October and was played by Alec Baldwin---good movie. He next appeared in 1992 in Patriot Games and again in 1994 in A Clear and present Danger, both times played by Harrison Ford---I still go out of my way to watch these. Then Hollywood did something strange in 2002 and brought out a prequel starring Ben Affleck, The Sum of All Fears--- if you’ve seen it you’ll know what I mean about strange time lines. Nonetheless, good enough to invest your time in. Then nothing until 2014 when the character was resurrected for Jack Ryan, Shadow Recruit, starring Chris Pine, StarTrek’s rebooted James Tiberius Kirk. I’ll let you make up your own minds about this one.

Not the Movie About the Doctor

by Melanie

The Awakening is a 2011 ghost story/suspense feature. It is set in England, post World War I , in a manor house converted to a school. Naturally, there are unexplained deaths and an extra student body who appears blurrily in the yearly group portait.

Enter Florence Cathcart, played by hot ticket actress Rebecca Hall (The Prestige) a non-believing ghosthunter hired to expose fakes and chicanery. Lucky for her, and us, one of the teachers is played by Dominic West (The Wire, The Hour) and romance ensues! Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake, Cranford) plays the over-friendly schoolmistress.

There's plenty of make-you-jump-scenes, but be forewarned, this is a psychological thriller for those who enjoyed The Woman in Black, and The Village and movies of that ilk, not horror movies like Saw. The "awakening" in the movie is downright psychiatric, but I'll leave it at that. Fans of Midsomer Murders and period British fare such as Downtown Abbey might enjoy this one, too.

Disruptions to the Space Time Continuum

by Moe - 1 Comment(s)

I do love anything to do with the bending of the space time continuum- even if it doesn't always make sense and often leaves me scratching my head. And the really bad ones have been known to leave me yelling at my tv that just wouldn't work!!! In fact I enjoy them so much I've devoted entire posts to just such movies.

Now fellow movie maniac Mat introduced me to this little gem from Spain---Los cronocrimenes---Timecrimes, and I must say it lived up to everything he said about it. Done without a bunch of CGI that leaves you looking for a quiet place to rest your eyes, this movie is lean, even sparse. No fancy sets, no high profile actors, just a nice tight sci-fi thriller. You aren't here to watch the special effects, you are here to try to figure out what happened and more importantly, could it work.

It won't be everyone's cup of tea but it sure worked for me. Even with English sub-titles.

Johnny D & John C

by Moe - 1 Comment(s)

Whenever I think 'quirky', two actors come to mind. One is Johnny Depp and the other is John Cusack. Both have been around for a lot of years, both are highly versatile and both can be counted on to give solid performances---especially in very offbeat films. It's interesting to see that both also have new releases in the theatres at the moment. The Raven is loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's poem of the same name and features Cusask. Dark Shadows is a re-imagining of the 1966 TV cult classic and features Depp as an imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins. Truth be told, I will give both of these a pass until they come out on DVD, but we have lots of other Depp and Cusack titles that showcase their talents.

Forget the mainstream Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, we've all seen and enjoyed them, and try these from Depp: Edward Scissorhands, Rango, Don Juan DeMarco, Benny and Joon and the wonderful and truly strange Ed Wood. We also have the original tv series that launched his career and made him the heartthrob of most North American teens---21 Jump Street. I recently watched The Rum Diary and although not a great film it did qualify as mildly quirky, is well acted, and had more than enough to keep me with it.

Cusack has never really been main stream, or at least not since his days as a member of the brat pack in the 80's. Try him out in what is likely one of the most bizarre movies ever---Being John Malcovich. Also Grosse Pointe Blank and the same roll reprised in War Inc ---written by Cusack---and yes that is him doing his own stunts-he has a black belt in kick boxing.

Now to end this post, let me say that the two Johns have in their filmography to my mind several VERY scary movies. 1408 with Cusack just scares the milk and cookies out of me every time I watch it- and I can't stop watching it. And Depp is often at his best when he plays the 'in over his head' protagonist like in Sleepy Hollow. Also, From Hell (a Jack the Ripper retelling-very bloody and dark) and Secret Window.

Funky 70s films I: The Conversation

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Sign out this 1974 Francis Ford Coppola gem if you stumble across it, or place a hold on The Conversation, by clicking on the title. The Conversation stars Gene Hackman as a private surveillance expert with a haunted past. He's hired by a corporate executive, or probably the exec's sinister administrative assistant played by a young Harrison Ford (!), to wire tap his wife (Cindy Williams of Laverne and Shirley!) and her lover in a public plaza. Hackman's hypervigilant Harry Caul starts to unravel as the assignment progresses. There's a great long opening shot and other great film techniques as well as strong acting from the leads and excellent Scott Joplin-esque piano solos by David Shire in the background. Requisite 70s funkiness includes wide ties, the rapid bongo music during the fight scene and the first words heard in the film referring to "getting it on." Be sure to watch the original trailer (love the hammy voice-over) and the short documentary about Coppola's process of filming. For more Gene-Hackmania, check out our earlier blog post "Whose Afraid of Gene Hackman?"

by Mel

Here Comes the Judge

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One of our first posts way back in 2008 was the American Film Industries 10 top 10. Check it out because there are 100 great movies listed here and believe it or not, CPL has all of them. Wow! All of the courtroom dramas contained in that list are superior movies and if you haven't seen them all, make sure to try and do so.

Here are a few more to consider.

The Rainmaker with a young Matt Damon and John Voight and based on John Grisham's best seller.

Place in the Sun with two of Hollywood's most beautiful people---Liz Taylor and Montgomery Cliff---I go out of my way to watch this one. Really, only the last 20 minutes is courtroom, but the movie is just so darn good.

Hart's War---no running across broken glass in bare feet (Die Hard), no airport teminals blowing up (Die Hard 2), no car chases (Die Hard 3)---just a surprisingly good dramatic performance from Bruce Willis. A trial takes place for a murder committed in a WW 2 German prisoner of war camp.

The Crucible---lots of recognizable faces in this 96 adaptation of the Arthur Miller story of the same name. With Joan Allen, Winona Ryder, Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Scofield---a spurned lover and accusations of witchcraft.

Caine Mutiny---one of my two favourite Bogart movie (the other being Casablanca)---a US Naval captain shows signs of mental instability which jeopardizes his ship and crew.

Philadelphia---mega-hit from 1993 that won Tom Hanks his first of two consequtive Oscars (followed the next year with Forest Gump). Grab the hankies for this one-you will barely recognize Hanks by the end of the film.

Amistada lesser known Steven Spielberg from 1997---with Matthew McConaughy (one of his rare performances where he manages to go through an entire movie without taking his shirt off) and Anthony Hopkins. Based on real life events surrounding the only known case of slaves on a transport ship attempting a takeover.

Two more from Grisham The Firm---with Tom Cruise and Gene Hackman and Runaway Jury with John Cusack, Hackman and Rachel Wiesz.

And because all of these are just so darn serious (as befits courtrooms dramas) why not lighten up with My Cousin Vinny?


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There's nothing like watching a movie and thinking that you know what's going on and then being hit with a whammo! Or the wonderful anticipation of suspecting that something is about to happen, but unsure of what it might be ! Especially when they are really cunning twists. Now in some of these recommendations you may have previously heard things, or you may figure it out for yourself just before the denoument, but I guarantee there are a couple here you won't see coming. And even if you are clever and 'expect the unexpected', it wont detract one iota from these excellent movies. And I am very happy to say that not a single one of these films features 'I was only dreaming' as the plot twist!

The first 4 have all previously been recommended under other categories, but they are certainly worth revisiting.

Shutter Island- this is the latest collaboration between DiCaprio and Scorcese and I expect it will do very well at the 2010 Oscars next year. It is an excellent story from writer Dennis Lehane. DiCaprio is sent to ominous Shutter Island to search for a woman who has escaped from a hospital for the criminally insane.

The Sting-- an oldie but a goodie. Lots of fun with Paul Newman and Robert Redford.

Witness for the Prosecution- From the fertile mind of Agatha Christie and directed by Billy Wilder. This classic from 1957 stars Marlene Deitrich, Tyrone Power and Charles Laughton.

Sixth Sense--- even if you've seen it and know the ending, it's fun to revisit and catch all the clues you missed in the first viewing. With Bruce Willis, Toni Colette and Haley Joel Osment--who steals every scene he is in.

These next 6 are all brand new recommendations.

Body Heat- back in the 80's Kathleen Turner and William Hurt were everywhere on the screen. Individually they did some really excellent films. Together, they sizzle in this stylish murder mystery. Also features Mickey Rourke in his first incarnation as an actor. Don't pass on this one (currently on order)---very film noir.

Solyent Green---this ending is so well known, it's now part of the cultural zeitgeist, but this 1973 offering from Charlton Heston deserves its cult status. And although we don't currently have it, look for the other Heston classic with a 'gotcha' ending- Planet of the Apes.

The Usual Suspects---an above average heist/thriller, this won Kevin Spacey an Oscar for best supporting actor. Lots of other big names de jour.

Wait Until Dark--- now this one might not be a gotcha in the same sense as some of the others I've featured, but this is an excellent thriller and waiting for the outcome of the movie will keep you on the edge of your seat. I remember being in my late teens the first time I saw this and just about swallowing my head I screamed so loud. What fun!!

And if you read my recent Christopher Nolan post I promised to tell you about a movie of his that I absolutely love. Drama, fantasy, mystery, thriller--- this just works on every level. Starring two actors that turn up frequently in our posts---Michael Caine and Christian Bale---with the added bonus of sultry Scarlett Johansson and hunky Hugh Jackman. Once friends, now bitter rivals, two magicians seek to create the ultimate on-stage illusion---The Prestige.

And thanks to co-worker Leslie for suggesting I do a post on surprise endings.

Who's Afraid of Gene Hackman?

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Gene Hackman's entire career is made of tough-as-nails types, but he does it so well, I can't stop watching. According to Internet Movie Database, Hackman was a marine, which explains why he's convincing as the military figure or patriarch.

Hackman's also one of those actors who has been "in every movie ever made," I commented to blogger Moe recently, who found that he has been in over 99 productions... To see the starring roles he's allegedly turned down (the lead in Indiana Jones (!), for one), see Because he's "been in every movie ever made," I can't review them all here. Lean way back in your seat, grit your teeth and be prepared to watch these features from CPL's collection of Gene Hackman movies:

Hackman plays Little Bill in Unforgiven (see the Best Westerns post on this blog for a review). According to IMDB, he scared himself into avoiding violent films after this edgy role.

In another pairing with Clint Eastwood, Absolute Power, Hackman plays the president of the U.S., who is connected to a woman's murder. This movie is based on David Baldacci's novel, also in the collection.

In John Grisham's Runaway Jury, the tension is in the courtroom battle between a manufacturer and litigant. Hackman is the scary expert who attempts to discredit witnesses.

I haven't yet watched Twilight starring Hackman and Susan Sarandon as husband and wife, but I just get the feeling Hackman will be scary. The plot has Paul Newman's character investigating the mysterious disappearance of a woman's first husband. Guess who plays the sinister second husband? Don't confuse this with the teen vampire movie blockbuster of the same name.

Hackman is less scary as a conservative father meeting his future son-in-law's same-sex parents in the charming comedy The Birdcage (a remake of La Cage aux folles) starring Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. Don't miss him in The Royal Tenenbaums as the misguided patriarch of a kooky family. A kinder, gentler Hackman in the end but he's still pretty grumpy...

To find many more Gene Hackman roles on dvd at CPL enter "Gene Hackman" in the search field. You will notice that he is now a novelist.

Mob Rule

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No, this isn't a post of movies about THE Mob (which I think there are far too many of anyway). This is a post about what happens when mob mentality takes over and people allow themselves for whatever reason to be subsumed by a group. Now this was harder to put together than I first thought when I came up with the idea. There are plenty of Westerns with this theme- lynch mobs abound in the old west. And certainly many war movies are prime examples of 'group think'. So after racking my brain, here is what I finally came up with.

Lord of the Flies---perhaps the quintessential story of what happens when mob mentality takes over. All the more frightening as the perpetrators and victims are a group of priveleged, well raised children.

12 Angry Men---a Henry Fonda classic about the jury in a murder case trying to reach a decision.

The Ox-bow Incident---again with Henry, this movie easily makes it onto my top 10 favorite Westerns. This works well on so many levels but it works best as a study of men being led by blind conviction to an idea

Hotel Rwanda---take generations of tribal hatred, a government openly soliciting murder, Peace Keeping forces hamstrung by their own mandate. Just in case this isnt enough, add a world community not particularly paying attention and you have the story of the horror that was Rwanda. Don Cheadle stars as one man who tries to take a stand against the genocide. We also have the excellent non-fiction Shake Hands With The Devil---the story of Canadian Lt. Gen.Romeo Dallaire and his command of the United Nations mission to Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.

Rod Serling often chose to examine what happens to people when put under pressure in a group. Check out any of The Twilight Zone--- we have lots!

If you ever come across the movies Rosewood, Fury (Spencer Tracy), 1984, or M, make sure you take the time to watch them. All are excellent examples of this theme.

Great Escapes

by Melanie Kolbeins - 0 Comment(s)

Of course you can not do any such list without having the quintessential Great Escape from 1963. It is the incredible true story of the mass escape of 76 Allied POWs from Stalag Luft III in March of 1944. This has a huge all-star cast, featuring many of the heavy hitters of the day--- Steve McQueen, James Garner, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn (incidentially McQueen, Bronson and Coburn appeared together in the Magnificent Seven, one of my favorite westerns). This movie appears fairly regularly on television (actually they both do), but if you missed it, or just want to revisit it, now is the time. It is a great story.

Rescue Dawn from 2006. This film tells the real-life story of U.S. fighter pilot Dieter Dengler, a German-American shot down and captured in Laos during the Vietnam War. He was the only known POW to escape from a Laos prison. It features Christian Bale (Batman Begins) as Dengler. Bale looks rail thin here, but not as bad as in The Machinist, a role for which he lost an astonishing 63 pounds. Bale, an actor known for fully embracing his characters (as witnessed by what he regularly puts his body through) does in fact, eat those maggots.

Papillon from 1973 again with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman as inmates of the notorious Devil's Island in French Guiana circa 1930's. This movie was incredibly popular at the time of its release, and being a period piece actually stands up well. Ocassionally a little campy, it still tells a remarkable tale of hardship, endurance and ultimate triumph.

The Killing Fields--- Covering the U.S. pullout from Vietnam in 1975, this is the story of two men---a New York Times correspondent and his Cambodian friend and translator Dith Pran. The reporter coerces his friend to remain behind in order to keep filing news reports. As Saigon falls the correspondent is released, but Pran is captured by the dreaded Khmer Rouge. The rest of the film details Pran's harrowing experiences at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, and his attempt to escape. This is an excellent movie but has very graphic scenes of violence.

These first four are all movies based on real life events. For some good fictional 'triumph over adversity' stories, try Cast Away with Tom Hanks from 2000---the plane crash is amazing, as is the self dentistry!

Or how about the popular television series Prison Break from 2005.

Want to get your head bent? Try any or all of the 17 near psychedelic episodes of The Prisoner from 1967. Not into the 60's groove? How about Alexander Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo--- we have two versions---French with Gerard Depardieu and the quite stylish 2003 with Guy Pearce and Jim Caviezel---who is currently starring on tv in a remake of----The Prisoner.

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