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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.

Foyle Fans Take Note

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If you enjoy actor Michael Kitchen of Foyle's War, we have a new dvd set called The Guilty filmed in the early 90s. Kitchen plays a troubled lawyer, and the extent of the crime he commits is uncertain. The two-dvd drama follows his victim and a seemingly unconnected young man who befriends her.

If you enjoyed the Foyle's War series themes, you might enjoy a new dvd in our non- fiction collection: World War II Crimes on the British Home Front. This documentary chronicles the illegal activities taking place while most of the country was focused on the war effort. Much of the Foyle's War series deals with this subject, so the dvd should provide interesting factual background.

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?

Foyle'd Again

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Michael Kitchen is back as DCS Christopher Foyle of the Hastings police department just after the war in the Pacific. Three dvds are available (part of set 6): The Russian House, Killing Time, and The Hide. Fans of the series will be glad to see the quiet, slightly melancholic detective back in action. Foyle's trademark raised eyebrow speaks volumes as he confronts members of the intelligence service and prejudice while seeking to expose murderers. Disillusioned Foyle is determined to leave the police force, but his resignation is refused as there is no staff to replace him, so he reluctantly continues.

The first dvds in the series exposed viewers to daily life and moral quandaries in war-time England. In post-war Hastings, new challenges appear such as lack of food, housing, and employment, and displaced persons. Women find themselves alone with children born to visiting soldiers, conscientious objectors and traitors return home, and developers are keen to build on the wreckage of the recent past.

These three dvds were as compelling as the previous ones in the series. If you're not yet a fan, catch up on the earlier episodes, listed in order on I'm hoping for at least one more episode as Foyle has gone stateside.


Kenneth Branagh

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Actually, this post began it's life as something else entirely--- it was going to be an accidential film festival, linking several actors across a variety of movies. But when I got going on Kenneth Branagh I realized he needed an entire post to himself. I have always been a big fan---after all, what's not to like? The man is versatile in the extreme, managing everything from Shakespeare to Harry Potter, hero to villian---convincing as any nationality, dashing in period pieces and showing a deft hand at light comedy. He can also swashbuckle with the best of them! Let's take a look at what CPL can offer established or soon-to-be Branagh fans.

In the made for television movie Conspiracy from 2001, I simply could not tear my eyes away from his performance -- he commands attention every moment he is on screen. He is terrifyingly evil, not because he is frenzied but because he is controlling and relentless. Here is an actor at the top of his craft. The movie is the historic retelling of the infamous 1942 Wannsee Conference, where in just under three hours the Nazi's worked out the 'legal' justification for the annihilation of Europe's Jews.

Equally comfortable behind the camera, he has donned the director's cap many times---as in the first film I ever saw him in. It is 1991's Dead Again with then wife Emma Thompson and Sir Derek Jacobi. Actually all three actors rank high on the versatility meter. Branagh credits Jacobi as the reason he wanted to get into acting in the first place and the two have appeared several times together (see Mel's earlier post "Are you a Derek Jacob-ian"). This is a very smart 'whodunit' with a lot of Hitchcock overtones.

Valkyrie--- from 2008, Branagh is one of many highly recognizable stars in this true story of the attempt by several high ranking Nazi's to assasinate Hitler. Tom Cruise is actually the headliner in this and while he can often be over the top in some of his roles, he gives a very tightly controlled performance here. Branagh is as always, excellent. Rounding out the cast is Bill Nighy (even if you don't recognize the name, you will know him when you see him---lately he seems to be in everything); and Tom Wilkinson---another face you will easily recognize.

Shackleton- 2002 A&E mini-series. The true story of British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his 1914 expedition to the South Pole. Their aptly named ship,The Endurance, became stuck in pack ice and after 8 months was finally crushed. Shackleton took to the ice and led the 28 men crew across the Antarctic in what is one of the most amazing true tales of survival ever. This production is excellent, and the mini series was nominated for many awards and won a BAFTA for Best Drama Serial.

He is wonderful as the vacuous and vain Gilderoy Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

Based on the very popular mysteries by best selling Swedish author Henning Mankell, we have a 3 episode set featuring Branagh as Detective Kurt Wallander.

Try any of the Shakespeare productions he adapts, directs and appears in, including: Loves Labours Lost; Othello; As You like It; Hamlet; Much Ado About Nothing;Twelfth Night. Half the fun of these offerings is seeing Branagh direct what would be considered unusual choices for Shakesperean roles- Keeanu Reeves, Laurence Fishburne, and Denzel Washington anyone? This is very accessible Shakespeare.

He has a small role in Rabbit Proof Fence, a movie I previously recommended under Guaranteed Embarrassement Free 5. Find it by going to tags on the left side of the page and looking up 'family oriented'.

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.

Conrad Veidt

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Who in the world you ask, is Conrad Veidt? As I was watching Casablancaon TCM for maybe the 40th time, I was reminded of the interesting story of Veidt, who plays the ruthless Major Strasser in the movie. If you don't already know his story this makes a fun bit of trivia to add to your repertoire. Incidentially, although not the star, he was the highest paid cast member, beating out Bogey, Bergman and Claude Rains, to take home the not inconsiderable salary of $5000 per week.

From 1916 until his death, he appeared in well over 100 movies. He starred in two of the most well-known films of the silent era: as a murderous somnambulist in director Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and as a disfigured circus performer in The Man Who Laughs (1928). Very versatile in the silent movies, when talkies came out he became limited in his roles because of his German accent. Well known and popular at home, he was also known in German theatrical circles as a staunch anti-Nazi. So much so that as his activities came under the scrutiny of the Gestapo, a decision was made by Hitler to assassinate him (1933). Veidt found out about the plot and managed to escape Germany just ahead of the Nazi death squad sent to kill him. When Britain went to war, Veidt by then a British citizen, gave most of his estate to the war effort. He also donated a large portion of the salary from each of his new movies to the British war relief. Money he made portraying Nazi's !

He is wonderful as Strasser and Casablanca should be seen by everyone, if not 40 times, at least once.

Acting Under Orders

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I've chosen 5 movies to look at this week that examine the sometimes disastrous, even murderous orders given in war. Whether done for the right reason and things just go terribly wrong, or done for the wrong reasons, like blind ambition, these films tell the stories of the men who pay the ultimate price for acting or failing to act under orders. These movies have an impressive 40 plus nominations from the Oscars, BAFTAS, Golden Globes, and Cannes Film Festival---and many wins.

Glory 1981

Matthew Broderick heads an all star cast including Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes, Andre Braugher and Denzel Washington (in an Academy Award winning performance for best supporting actor). Colonel Robert Shaw (Broderick) commands the first all black volunteer company to fight in the civil war. Not just up against the prejudices of the south, they must also overcome difficulties amongst themselves and the men in charge of training and leading them. I watch this movie regularly--- excellent story, solid performances, wonderful cinematography and a haunting sound track.

Das boot 1989

This Golden Globe winner for Best Foreign Film tells the story of a U boat crew in 1942. The filming is so close and tight you almost experience claustrophobia. The result is a tense, mesmerizing portrayal of what it must have been like in these submerged death traps. The tag line for the movie was "Hitler sent out 40,000 men aboard German U-Boats during World War 2. Less than 10,000 returned." This movie has sub-titles.

Gallipoli 1981

Starring a very young Mel Gibson early in his career. Two young Aussies join the ANZAC forces in WW 1 and are eventually sent to fight the Turkish army at Gallipoli. What ensues is one of the bloodiest battles of WW 1- with losses (Australian, New Zealand, British, French and Turkish) estimated to be anywhere from 500,000 to 800,000-- just to secure a beach head of a few kilometers. One of my fellow bloggers finds this movie 'ham-fisted' but I have seen it more than once and find it worth the two hours.

Paths of Glory 1957

Stanley Kubrick directs Kirk Douglas in this gripping WW 1 story about a French unit commander (Douglas), an egotistical, self righteous general and the enlisted men who must suffer the consequences of their failure to follow orders.

Breaker Morant 1980

This Australian film tells the story of 3 Aussie lieutenants on trial by a British Military Court. They are charged with shooting prisoners during the Boer War (1901) in the Transvaal Republic. At court they attempt to prove that they had not done so willingly but rather had been ordered to do so by their superiors.

Answers to the post from February 21st. Scroll down to see the questions, and another twenty from an earlier post.

  1. Jaws
  2. Field of Dreams
  3. Streetcar Named Desire
  4. Apollo 13
  5. Annie Hall
  6. Psycho
  7. Godfather
  8. Dracula
  9. Almost every James Bond
  10. Star Trek-Wrath of Khan
  11. Dead Poets Society
  12. Rocky
  13. Citizen Kane
  14. Marathon Man
  15. On the Waterfront
  16. Godfather
  17. Wall Street
  18. When Harry Met Sally
  19. Grand Hotel
  20. Sunset Boulevard