Favorite Films Set in the 1950s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in the decade of the 1950s:

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1950s

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1. L.A. Confidential (1997) – Curtis Hanson directed this outstanding adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1990 novel about three Los Angeles police detectives drawn into a case involving a diner massacre. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce and Oscar winner Kim Basinger starred.

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2. “Grease” (1978) – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in this entertaining adaptation of the 1971 Broadway musical about a pair of teenage star-crossed lovers in the 1950s. Randal Kleiser directed.

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3. “The Godfather, Part II” (1974) – Francis Ford Coppola directed his Oscar winning sequel to the 1972 Oscar winning adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel. Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Oscar winner Robert De Niro starred.

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4. “Quiz Show” (1994) – Robert Redford directed this intriguing adaptation of Richard Goodwin’s 1968 memoir, “Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties”, about the game show scandals of the late 1950s. Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow and John Tuturro starred.

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5. “The Mirror Crack’d (1980) – Angela Landsbury starred as Miss Jane Marple in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1962 novel. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie also starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Edward Fox.

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6. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” (2008) – Harrison Ford returned for the fourth time as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones in this adventurous tale in which he is drawn into the search for artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie was produced by him and George Lucas.

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7. “Champagne For One: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001)” – Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin starred as Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe in this television adaptation of Rex Stout’s 1958 novel. The two-part movie was part of A&E Channel’s “A NERO WOLFE MYSTERY” series.

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8. “Hollywoodland” (2006) – Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck starred in this intriguing tale about a private detective’s investigation into the life and death of actor George Reeves. Allen Coulter directed.

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9. “My Week With Marilyn” (2011) – Oscar nominee Michelle Williams starred as Marilyn Monroe in this adaptation of Colin Clark’s two books about his brief relationship with the actress. Directed by Simon Curtis, the movie co-starred Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Redmayne as Clark.

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10. “Boycott” (2001) – Jeffrey Wright starred as Dr. Martin Luther King in this television adaptation of Stewart Burns’ book,“Daybreak of Freedom”, about the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. Directed by Clark Johnson, the movie co-starred Terrence Howard and C.C.H. Pounder.

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Honorable Mention: “Mulholland Falls” (1996) – Nick Nolte starred in this entertaining noir drama about a married Los Angeles Police detective investigating the murder of a high-priced prostitute, with whom he had an affair. The movie was directed by Lee Tamahori.

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“LAWLESS” (2012) Review

 

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“LAWLESS” (2012) Review

A Virginia-born writer named Matt Bondurant wrote a historical novel called “The Wettest County in the World” back in 2008. He based the novel on the exploits of his grandfather and two granduncles, who ran a massive moonshine operation during the later years of the Prohibition era, in the mountains of southwest Virginia. Four years later, a movie version of Bondurant’s novel finally hit the movie screens at the end of the summer. 

Renamed “LAWLESS”, the movie began in 1931 in Franklin County, Virgina; where three brothers – Forest, Howard and Jack Bondurant – run a successful moonshine business with the help of their friend, Cricket Pate. The brothers use a bar as a front for their illegal activities. And not only do they provide well-made moonshine to the Franklin County locals, but also to gangsters like Floyd Banner of Chicago. Two people arrive in Franklin County that prove to have a major impact upon the lives the Bondurant brothers. The first to arrive is a Chicago dancer named Maggie Beauford, who is hired as a waitress for their bar and slowly becomes romantically involved with the oldest brother, Forest. Not long after Maggie’s arrival, a Federal Special Deputy Charly Rakes arrives in Franklin County and demands that all county bootleggers – including the Bondurants – give him a cut of their profits. Although the other bootleggers surrender to Rakes’ intimidation tactics and decide to give him a cut, Forest Bondurant refuses to do the same. Rakes and his men set out to intimidate and terrorize the Bondurants into giving him a cut of their profits. And when that fails, he decides to go after their distillery and destroy it.

Most of the story is told through the eyes of the youngest Bondurant – Jack. At the beginning of the story, Jack is an inexperienced and sometimes introverted young man, who is kept out of the family’s shine business, aside from acting as a driver for their deliveries. When Rakes gives him a severe beating as a warning to the family, Forest chides Jack for being unable to defend himself. But after Forest is nearly killed by two of Rakes’ men, Jack takes matters into his hands and sets with his friend Cricket to deliver a shipment of booze to Floyd Banner in Chicago. Jack returns with profit for the family and himself. But his newly discovered self confidence leads him to make mistakes that not only endanger his family’s moonshine operation, but also the lives of Cricket and the girl he loves, a German-American Baptist named Bertha Mannix.

“LAWLESS” turned out to be a very entertaining movie for me. But before I discuss how much I enjoyed the movie, I have to talk about its flaws. I believe that “LAWLESS” had two major flaws. One, director John Hillcoat delivered an unevenly paced movie. The first third of the movie took its time in setting up both the characters and the story. In fact, the pacing was so slow that I was in danger of either falling asleep or losing interest in the movie. I have one last complaint and it deals with the movie’s introduction of the Floyd Banner character. I found the introduction of the Banner character rather irrelevant and unnecessary. In the movie, Banner arrived in Franklin County to shoot a competitor, exchange a glance with Jack Bondurant and return to Chicago. I found the entire scene irrelevant and a skimpy excuse to introduce Gary Oldman into the film. Especially since the Floyd Banner role proved to be rather small and serve as nothing more than a plot device to increase Jack’s role as a moonshiner.

But once the movie was set up, “LAWLESS” proved to be very satisfying and entertaining. One aspect of the film that I truly enjoyed was the manner in which it recaptured so many details of early Depression-era Appalachian South. Hillcoat did a marvelous job in allowing the movie to permeate with atmosphere. However, Hilcoat did not achieve this superb re-creation on his own. He received help from the likes of cinematogrpher Benoît Delhomme, whose photography of the western Georgia locations struck me as breathtaking; Gershon Ginsburg’s beautiful art direction and Chris Kennedy’s production designs. I was especially impressed by Margot Wilson’s costume designs. For years, Hollywood seemed to have difficulty in re-creating accurate costumes for the early 1930. The movie industry has improved a great deal over the past decade or so. And this was especially apparent in how Wilson’s costumes not only accurately reflect the movie’s period setting, but also the character and social positions of the characters. An excellent example of this proved to be the costumes worn by Shia Labeouf. He began the movie wearing clean, yet tight fitting clothes – including pants that were obviously too short. During the movie’s second half, his wardrobe not only improved, but also became decidedly more flashy, reflecting his personal success in the moonshine business.

Although I found screenwriter Nick Cave’s introduction of the movie’s character, setting and plot rather slow; I must admit that the movie’s overall story proved to be well written. I wonder if many critics and moviegoers had suspected“LAWLESS” would end up as some dramatic version of “THE DUKES OF HAZZARD” with plenty of high-octane action and cliched Southern stock characters. Or that it would turned out to be some take on the founding of NASCAR. Thankfully, none of those scenarios came to fruition. “LAWLESS” proved to be an intelligent mixture of a well done family drama and crime saga. First of all, Cave’s script not only explored the Bondurants’ illegal activities and how it attracted the attention of the law, symbolized in the form of the corrupted Federal officer Charly Rakes. But it also explored the Bondurants themselves – the intimidating Forest, who had developed a reputation for evading death; the easy-going and hard-drinking Howard, who also possessed a hair triggered temper; and youngest brother Jack, whose inexperience, introverted nature and distaste for violence led him to be disregarded by his older brothers as a dependable participant in their moonshine business.

The producers and Hilcoat certainly picked the right actors to portray the Bondurant brothers. I hope that Shia Labeouf will finally shake off his reputation as a mere tool dominated by special effects in over-the-top action films. He did a superb job in slowly developing Jack Bondurant’s character from the insecure and immature boy to someone with a lot more confidence. I believe that Forest Bondurant might prove to be one of my favorite roles that Tom Hardy has ever portrayed. He did a marvelous job projecting an intimidating and commanding aura in his character. The character attracted a bit of a in-joke that originated with a local myth that nothing or no one call kill him. It was good to see Jason Clarke again, whom I have not seen in a movie since 2009’s “PUBLIC ENEMIES”. He was great as the easy going, yet hard drinking middle brother Howard.

I noticed that Australian actress Mia Wasikowska received a higher billing in the movie’s credits than Jessica Chastain. I am a bit surprised, considering that her role proved to be smaller. Mind you, I had no problems with her solid portrayal of Jack Bondurant’s love, Bertha Minnix. But her performance and role seemed minor in compare to Chastain, who had the juicier role as Chicago showgirl-turned-waitress, Maggie Beauford. Chastain was superb as world weary dancer who left Chicago to escape its chaos and mindless violence, only to find herself in the middle of more chaos in the form of the Bondurants’ feud with Charly Rakes. And I was especially impressed with one scene between her and Hardy, as she struggled to suppress news of the rape she had endured at the hands of Forest’s attackers. Many critics claimed that Gary Oldman had chewed the scenery in his brief appearance as Chicago gangster Floyd Banner. Aside from one moment when he lost his temper with a subordinate, I found Oldman’s performance rather subdued. And he did a pretty good job in his one major scene. I believe that many critics had managed to overlook Guy Pearce’s over-the-top performance as Federal deputy, Charly Rakes. With his slicked back hair, shaved eyebrows, exaggerated body language and effiminate manner, Pearce radiated urban eccentricity at its extreme. Yet, for some reason, the performance worked, due to Pearce’s ability to infuse a great deal of subtle menace within the exaggerated persona. The movie also benefited from some solid performances from the likes of Dane DeHaan, who portrayed Jack’s best friend Cricket Pate; Bill Camp, who portrayed Franklin County’s backbone, Sheriff Hodges; and Lew Temple as the morally questionable Deputy Henry Abshire.

I realize that “LAWLESS” is not perfect. I feel that the slow pace in the first third of the film and the unnecessary manner of the Floyd Banner character’s introduction prevented it from being a truly first-rate movie. But thanks to Nick Cave’s adaptation of Matt Bondurant’s tale, solid direction from John Hillcoat and a superb cast led by Shia Labeouf and Tom Hardy, “LAWLESS” still managed to become a fascinating tale of family bonds during the last years of Prohibition . . . and one of my favorite movies of the summer of 2012.

“INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS” (2008) Review

 

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”INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” (2008)  Review

As much as I enjoyed this latest installment of the INDIANA JONES saga – ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL”, I had found myself perplexed by it. There was something about the movie’s tone that failed to strike a chord similar to the past three movies. It took a second viewing of the movie for me to understand that it had a lot to do with its setting. 

”INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” is set in 1957, in which Colonel-Doctor Irina Spalko (Cate Blanchett) leads a convoy of Soviet troops, dressed as American soldiers on a mission to infiltrate a military base in the Nevada desert called “Hangar 51”. Spalko and her men force Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) to lead them to a crate holding the remains of an extraterrestrial creature that crashed ten years before in Roswell, New Mexico. When Jones attempts to escape, he is foiled by his old partner, George “Mac” McHale (Ray Winstone), who reveals that he is working with the Soviets. Jones then escapes on a rocket sled into the desert, where he stumbles upon a nuclear test town and survives a nuclear blast by hiding in a lead-lined refrigerator. While being debriefed, Jones discovers he is under FBI investigation because his friend Mac is a Soviet agent. Jones returns to Marshall College, where he is offered a leave of absence to avoid being fired because of the investigation. As he is leaving, Jones is stopped by Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) and told that his old colleague, Harold Oxley (John Hurt), disappeared after discovering a crystal skull in Peru.

Like 2007’s ”LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD”, I had harbored some serious doubts on whether George Lucas and Steven Spielberg could relive the old magic of their previous three Indiana Jones adventures of the 1980s. Needless to say, my fears proved to be groundless. Like the Bruce Willis “DIE HARD” movie, this fourth installment ended up being very entertaining. And although it had some of the old magic of ”RAIDERS”,”TEMPLE OF DOOM” and ”LAST CRUSADE”, it had a tone that made it different from the other three. It took a movie review by someone named Lazypadawan and a second viewing of the movie to not only notice the difference, but to eventually appreciate it.

The main problem I originally had with ”CRYSTAL SKULL” was the presence of a spaceship at the end of the story. The City of Gold that Indy, Spalko, Oxley and others wanted to find, ended up with something to do with . . . an inter-dimensional being. One might as well call it an alien, judging by its look. This is something that has never been seen in an Indiana Jones film before. And of course it has not. The other three movies had been set in the 1930s. It would be only natural that they had a feel of a 30s B-serial adventure. But I made the mistake of expecting a 1930s serial adventure in a story set in the late 1950s. What I should have realized – and what Lazypadawan had pointed out in her review – was that ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” was not supposed to be a 30s serial adventure set in the 1950s. It was supposed to be a send up of the 1950s “B” movies. And what are the elements of a “B” movie from the 1950s? Here are just a few:

*atomic power
*the presence of Soviet troops or spies
*science fiction
*horror
*hybrid of science fiction and horror
*conflicts between biker hoods and high school/college jocks
*the “Red” scare
*Soviet (and American) interests in psychic paranormal activities and UFOs

”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” had most, if not all elements in the film. I had just read a review in which someone had complained that the movie seemed like a “rip-off” of a cheesy B-movie. I had made that same mistake when I saw the spaceship sequence near the end of the movie. But now I know better. Lucas and Spielberg had every intention of the movie being a “rip-off” of 1950s B-movies. Like I had said before, it would only make sense.

Someone else had mentioned that Harrison Ford had not seemed this animated in years. I am not surprised. Indiana Jones had always been amongst his favorite characters. And it really showed in his performance. It is also nice to see that after 27 years, his chemistry with Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood) seemed as strong as ever. By the way, she was great. And I was very impressed by Shia LaBeouf as Marion and Indy’s love child – Mutt Williams aka Henry Jones III. As much as I liked his performance in ”TRANSFORMERS”, I have always thought it seemed a bit too frantic for my tastes. I much preferred his role as Henry III (I’m sorry, but I can barely bring myself to say – let alone write – “Mutt”). LaBeouf managed to convey a strong screen presence that matched Ford, without resorting to the frantic acting he had utilized in “TRANSFORMERS”. Like Ford, I could tell that Cate Blanchett really enjoyed her role as the villainous Soviet Colonel-Doctor Spalko. She was as obsessive and ruthless as the past Indy villains. But Blanchett’s performance had a verve and theatricality I have not seen since Amrish Puri’s portrayal of Mola Ram in ”THE TEMPLE OF DOOM”. And John Hurt filled Denholm Elliot’s role as friend/mentor of the Jones family quite beautifully. But unlike Marcus Brody, Harold Oxley had a good reason for his loopy behavior. I also enjoyed Ray Winstone’s performance as Indy’s treacherous old friend and colleague, McHale. In a way, he reminded me of the Elsa Schneider character in “LAST CRUSADE”. But as much as I like Alison Doody, I must say that Winstone’s take on a very morally ambiguous character had been handled with more skill.

Is there anything about ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” that I disliked? Well, I was not impressed by John Williams’ score. There was nothing original or memorable about it, aside from moments of the old Indy theme being rehashed. Rather disappointing. Nor was I fond of the movie’s heavy-handed style of action and special effects. However, I could honestly complain about the same about the other three films. But the one thing that really irritated me was the sequence featuring the villain’s defeat/destruction. In the end, it was not Indy who had defeated the villain or set her destruction in motion. It was the inter-dimensional being. In other words, Indy became nothing more than a passive bystander of the villain’s defeat. This is the one major fault I have noticed in two other Indiana Jones films. And it gave those films – at least in my eyes – an anticlimatic feeling that I found disappointing. In ”RAIDERS”, the opening of the Ark of the Covenant set in motion Belloq and the Nazis’ deaths. Both Indy and Marion were tied to a pole, unable to do anything except keep their eyes closed. In ”THE LAST CRUSADE”, Elsa Schneider turned out to be responsible for the main villain’s death and the destruction of his men through her handling of the Grail Cup. Perhaps Lucas and Spielberg were trying to convey some message about humans being too arrogant to take heed of things/beings that are more powerful or more evolved than mankind. But that same message had also been conveyed in ”TEMPLE OF DOOM”. Only in that particular movie, it was Indy’s actions – invoking the power of Shiva with the Sanakara stone – that led to Mola Ram’s destruction. Perhaps this is why I have always found the 1984 movie’s finale a lot more impressive than those of the other three movies.

But despite my initial confusion on what Lucas and Spielberg were doing with the movie’s 1950s theme, along with my disappointment of the score and the handling of the villain’s defeat, I found ”KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL” to be very enjoyable. It was great to see Indiana Jones back in action, again. And even more satisfying was his marriage to his lady love, Marion Ravenwood, in the end. After 30 odd years, those two finally got it right.