Tuesday, April 10, 2007


I could offer a few quasi-legitimate excuses for my delinquency, but they’re so mundane that I think I’ll just cop to laziness. I have been reading and watching movies, so here are two quick hits:
"The Departed"
Director: Martin Scorsese 2006
Overwrought tough-guy nonsense. Scorsese’s best films (“Mean Streets,” Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,”" GoodFellas”) are almost documentary in their realism. The actors—particularly Robert DeNiro—never strike a false moment. But “The Departed” seems contrived, its ending incomprehensible, the carnage so over-the-top that “Titus Andronicus” seems a comedy. I felt nothing for these characters. Of course, this would be the film that won Scorsese his overdue Oscar.
"The Big Country"
Director: William Wyler, 1958
Wyler is so unfashionable these days that he’s probably due a rediscovery. "The Big Country" is one of those sprawling, psychological Westerns so popular in the 1950s. An impressive cast—Gregory Peck, Jean Simmons, Carroll Baker, Charlton Heston, Burl Ives and Charles Bickford—plays out various Freudian themes (father-son and father-daughter attachments, the meaning of manhood). They might have resolved their differences differently had they spent more time on the couch and less on their horses. "The Big Country" doesn’t have the oozing ripeness of the block of cheese that was "Duel in the Sun" (1946, King Vidor), but it has its moments. Based on a novel by Donald Hamilton, whose most famous creation was Matt Helm (a hardboiled, take-no-prisoners spy in Hamilton’s Fawcett Gold Medal originals, not to be confused with the farcial character played by Dean Martin in a series of ludicrous James Bond ripoffs).
"The Big Country" also has one of the greatest scores ever written, a Coplandesque take by Jerome Moross, who should have won the Oscar that year (the winner was "The Old Man and the Sea"—when was the last time you hummed anything from that?). Moross also wrote the beautiful, stirring music for "The Cardinal," Otto Preminger’s flawed but moving 1963 film. Go on iTunes and download the two themes. Well worth the 99 cents Apple charges per song.
And speaking of the 1958 Oscars, the hosts were Bob Hope, Laurence Olivier, Jerry Lewis, Tony Randall and Mort Sahl, an eclectic lineup, to say the least.


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