Category: Movie Review

Movie Review: The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band


Does modern politics with its robocalls and attack ads have you down? Try politics in the 1888 with a musical score attached.

The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band is a film that doesn’t get a whole lot of love in online reviews at least by people who post standalone reviews on their website. The 1968 Disney Musical is more often panned than praise. Yet, it was a favorite of mine growing up and I had an opportunity to watch it again and it deserves better than its gotten. So here goes.

In 1888, the Bauers are a musically talented family living in Missouri. The head of the house (Buddy Ebsen) is a soft-spoken Republican but his father is an outspoken Democrat (Walter Brennan) who wants to take the family band to St. Louis to perform at the Democratic Convention.  Much to her grandfather’s chagrin, the eldest daughter is in love with a young Republican newspaperman (John Davidson) from the Dakota territory who wants to move the whole family and as many other Republicans as he can out to the Dakota territories to justify the bid to have the Dakotas admitted as two separate states and then to assure those states remain Republican.

If you love American history, this film is a great look back at a little known chapter. Their portrayal of the Dakota Territory politics makes clear that passion and even pettiness is nothing new to American politics, although the issues were arguably not as hot or fundamentally divisive in 1888 as it was today. It also reveals the Democratic and Republican Parties of the era were vastly different entities from their modern counterparts, so it’s hard to charge the The One and Only, Genuine, Original Family Band with any bias. The movie is full of ironic political moments. At a rally, one man complains that Cleveland refuses to take action to reduce the government surplus. In the election night event, as befits, a Hollywood musical, the two parties held one election night party and Democrats and Republicans taunted each other in songs. In one memorable portion, proponents of one side sang about their candidate’s pledges and the other side proclaimed, “Ahh, that’s politics.”Then they recited their own candidate’s similar platform and declared, “That’s statesmanship.”

The music has not been praised by most, as the song have been viewed as forgettable. Indeed, it doesn’t measure up to the great musicals like The Sound of Music or even Disney’s earlier hits like Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. It’s also true that Grandpa’s tribute to Grover Cleveland goes on way too long.  However, the movie features the stirring song, “Dakota”  sung by Davidson. It’s a stirring tribute and it’s stuck with me through the years as one of those songs that will all the sudden pop in my head. Then there’s the delightful, “‘Bout Time” sung by Davidson and co-star Lesley Ann Warren.

What makes the movie great are the great performances by Brennan, Davidson, and Ebsen and the movie’s message.  As Grandpa, Brennan is at his cantankerous best, constantly stirring up trouble as the loudest Democrat in a Republican-dominated town. He’s sincere, well-intentioned, and patriotic.

Ebsen’s as Calvin Bower is a pillar of quiet strength. He respects his father, and goes along with his dad’s goal of singing at the Democratic Convention. When asked by a Democratic representative how he can be a Republican and want to come sing his father’s tribute to Grover Cleveland at the Democratic Conventions, Calvin replies that the song would not be well-received at a Republican Convention.

However,  Calvin  stands up to his father when his antics threaten his daughter’s happiness. And its Calvin who brings the town together at the end of the movie with a simple speech.

Davidson is great as a mix of romantic lead, a political firebrand, and also a respectful and noble opponent of Grandpa Bower’s political goals.  Davidson’s Joe Carder remains a noble and decent man who is still passionate about his politics.

This is a movie without villains, but with plenty of conflict. The Bower family pulls together despite politics and sacrifices for one another.  Calvin is ready to wait a year to go to Dakota despite the fact that good land will be gone to fulfill his father’s dream of going to the Democratic  Convention. His dad chooses to give up his dream for the sake of his children and grandchildren. For the Bower’s family comes before party politics. And at the end of the day, the movie ends with the town joining hands to work together once the Presidency and the Dakotas fate had been decided.

Such an ending probably seemed too idealistic and simple when the film was released in 1968. The assassinations of both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, as well as violence at the 1968 Democratic Conventions marred the election year. It may seem even more disconnected from our present reality when presidential elections lead to people either declaring the election fraudulent, suggesting that the United States be divided, or threatening to move to a foreign country.  But to me, the end leaves me a little nostalgic.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin

Tintin may be one of the most fun characters that most Americans have never heard of.  Tintin was the creation of the Belgian Cartoonist Herge over a period of nearly 50 years. Tintin is a Belgian investigative journalist who travels the world, getting caught up with one adventure after another, along with his faithful dog, Snowy and usually accompanied by his friend, Captain Haddock. The character came to Americavia HBO and later Nickelodeon through the BBC series which has the same name as the 2011 film, The Adventures of Tintin. 

In the Adventures of Tintin, our intrepid hero buys a model boat at an outdoor market. Two separate buyers are desperate to get the boat and offering top dollar, Professor Sakharine and an American named Barnaby. Tintin’s curiosity is aroused by their  and he begins to investigate.  The boat is stolen and Barnaby is murdered on Tintin’s doorstep but he finds the key clue, which is then lost to a pick pocket right under the noses of the ever-incompetent Scotland Yard duo of Thompson and Thomson. Not knowing the clue was lost, Sakharine has Tintin kidnapped and brought on board the SS Karaboudjan and imprisoned in the hold until he’ll reveal the location of the clue. Tintin breaks out of the hold with the help of his intrepid dog,  Snowy and encounters Captain Braddock for the first time. Braddock, an alcoholic who has lost control of his own ship, holds the key to the treasure that Sakharine’s after. Tintin and  Braddock must stay alive, stop Sakharine and find the treasure.

It’s rare that a movie made in 2011 will get a review here, but The Adventures of Tintin has a definite golden age feel to it. Much of the credit for that has to go to Director/C0-Producer Steven Speilberg. Speilberg has a great respect for the golden age of Hollywood and he’s able to tap into that to create works that appeal to modern audiences such as the Indiana Jones movies or Speilberg’s animated programs in the 1990s, such as Animanics.

The Adventures of Tintin could be best described as a new old movie. It’s brand new in it’s stunning performance capture animation, particularly if you were able to watch it in 3D at the theaters as my wife and I did last week.  The movie was a feast of visual effects and stunning animation.

But it also was old in the sense that there was no attempt to update the characters or plot lines. Captain Braddock still starts out as a drunk, Thompson and Thomson are still incompetent, Tintin remains his tough but virtuous self, and through the nearly two hour film, only one woman appears on screen. All this creates a sort of rollicking and bloodless adventure flick that’s become increasingly rare in recent years and was far more common in the 1930s and 40s. The only part of the film that seems more modern is a “believe in yourself” heart to heart between Tintin and Braddock, which was actually pretty well done.

Tintin lacks the rugged looks of Indiana Jones, with a very mild appearance, but he’s plenty tough when the chips are down. In one of my favorite scenes, Braddock and Tintin are caught in the middle of the ocean on the remains of a lifeboat when the villain sends an airplane after them to finish off Tintin and capture Braddock.

Tintin: I’ve got bad news! We’ve got one bullet left!
Haddock: Oh, great. And what’s the good news?
Tintin: We’ve got one bullet left.

Tintin then fires a perfect shot that brings down the airplane.

The Adventures of Tintin is somewhat overlong as the plots for three separate books were combined. This leaves plenty of time for Tintin to show its fantastic action scenes. However, given the films length, it was almost too much of a good thing. Speilberg has stated that  future installments will only be based on two books, so hopefully that will lead to more compact films.

Overall the movie was a lot of fun, a technical marvel, and a showcase of the Talent of Spielberg, and the enduring fun of Herge’s stories.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Telefilm Review: Appointment with Death (2009)

“Your appointment with death was always to be here…”

In Appointment with Death(2009), Poirot arrives inSyria to follow the expedition of Lord Boyton (Tim Curry), who is searching for the head of John the Baptist. While there, Poirot witnesses Lady Boyton’s unpleasant behavior towards everyone other than her husband and overhears two of her children talking about how she must die.

And die she does. She’s found stabbed to death from her perch in the sun above the excavations where she watched her husband’s team excavating. Poirot is asked to investigate, but there are more secrets being kept by members of the party other than murder. Poirot (David Suchet) must sort through them all to find the real killer.

Review:

The acting in this telefilm is superb. David Suchet is his usual self and is supported by a fantastic cast of supporting players including Curry who has a great scene with Poirot in a cave where the two retell an ancient fable that’s written on the wall. This foreshadows much of the rest of the story and forms a narrative that suggests that no matter how long evil is unpunished, judgment and death finally catch up with the perpetrators.

Suchet was spell-binding in a 23 minute wrap-up of the case in which he deals with all the “red fish” in the case and reveals all.

The story (while not at all faithful to the book it’s supposedly adapting) is compelling and well-written. The teleplay like the later adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express is a product of its times, as it focuses on Lady Boyton’s sadistic abuse of her children from childhood to the present, and is in many ways reflective of frustration with the pervasiveness with this sort of behavior and the seeming inability or unwillingness of the courts to punish it.  It is a very dark story, yet the writers do manage to work a few rays of hope into what is a very heavy ending.

Appointment with Death also features stunning cinematography, as well as a powerful soundtrack that makes it a solid mystery.

Of course, as mentioned earlier the film deviates so much from the original novel, it’s barely recognizable. It’s addition of characters, subtraction of characters, change of murder methods and murder motives, change of location has been documented by many sites.

Clearly, Christie fans who complain about the movies have a point as the changes from Christie’s original are extreme. Ideally, if you title a movie by a book title and say it’s an adaptation, the movie should keep to the book. And if you’re going to make something vastly different, it ought to have a different title just as the 1940s Sherlock Holmes movies which borrowed elements from the Arthur Conan Doyle Stories were titled completely different from the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories.

One also has to ask whatever to the cozy mystery series? The original series of one hour Poirot episodes was more genteel, while recent films have taken a more gritty turn. The changes seem to be the result of ratings pressure. Scripted television of any sort is in an endangered species and if a TV show is going to be shot as an expensive period piece, it better draw rating. So far, these grittier Poirots have succeeded as the series has drawn good ratings and been renewed and perhaps will generate interests in the original stories.

Despite its departures from the source material, Appointment with Death is a compelling story in its own right and one of my favorite mystery films of recent years.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Movie Review: Evil Under the Sun (1982)

In Evil Under the Sun, Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) mixes business with pleasure. An insurance company calls Poirot in when the wealthy Sir Horace Blatt (Colin Blakely) requests to have a necklace insured for a large sum of money and the necklace turns out to be a paste copy.  Blatt tells Poirot that he gave the necklace to a woman he intended to marry named Arlena, but that she opted to marry someone else and returned the necklace. She’s staying at an Island resort where Poirot and Sir Horace can confront her.

So Poirot heads off to a beautiful island resort where he relaxes and watches the situation escalate as it becomes apparent that everyone at the resort from the owner on down has cause to hate Arlena (Diana Rigg), from the owner to her husband, to the wife of a man she’s having a very indiscrete affair with. About an hour into the movie, she is murdered–to the surprise of no one familiar with Agatha Christie stories– and it falls to Hercule Poirot to find the killer. However, Poirot pool of suspect begins to dwindle as it looks like everybody has an alibi.

Review:

First, let me take a moment to praise the cinematography. The result is truly beautiful and Evil Under the Sun does a great job of bringing this fantastic setting to life.

As to the mystery itself, Evil Under the Sun is solid. The Edgar-nominated movie delivers a tough puzzle for the viewers to solve (even though, it took a long time to get to the inevitable murder.) The mystery was well-paced as I kept wondering how Poirot was going to crack this one. The story delivers a classic payoff.

The supporting cast was superb. It wasn’t star-studded, but rather filled with competent character actors who made the story work. The best supporting performance came from Jane Birkin as the wife of the murder victim’s lover.

As for Poirot himself, this was my first time seeing Ustinov as Poirot and I thought that he was okay in the role. He certainly wasn’t as good as David Suchet, and was a little too comical for my liking, but his performance was servicable.

One final note for parents. The movie is rated PG, but this film was relased in 1982 prior to the establishment of the PG13 rating which would have better suited the film due to some adult content.

Rating: 4.25 stars out of 5.0

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Movie Review: Going My Way

I’d never heard of Going My Way until I was searching through my instant watch queue on Netflix, though I’d heard of its sequel, The Bells of St. Mary.

Going My Way stars Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O’Malley, a young priest from St. Louis who has been given the task of setting in order a troubled New York City parish on the verge of bankruptcy and with many of its youth involved in crime. Father O’Malley must do so without hurting the feelings of elderly priest Father Fitzgibbons (platyed beautifully by Barry Fitzgerald.)

While Crosby was one of the most talented singers and showmen of his generation, his performance as Father O’Malley was anything but showy. Father O’Malley comes off as a “right guy” who is humble and graceful. While technically, he’s been put “in charge” of the parish by the Bishop, he refuses to assert himself, but respects the work of Father Fitzgibbons.

Barry Fitzgerald was equally masterful with Father Fitzgibbons. His portrayal of Father Fitzgibbons is as a stubborn man set in his ways, but with a kind heart and dedication that has kept him at his parish for 45 years, seperated from his aging mother.

What makes the movie work is the chemistry between the two characters. In these type of films, it’s often tempting to play up a sense of rivalry between the old minister and the young one. Yet, Going My Way takes an entirely different tact, as the old man the young one grow to love and respect each other.

It’s a bit of a misnomer to call this film a musical, as the characters rarely sing in this two hour film. Crosby does sing a few times, and when he does, it’s powerful. Perhaps one of the most informative scenes was when Father O’Malley was advising a young singer who was gesturing as she sang. Father O’Malley criticized the gesturing and suggested that she needed to was to put  more emotion into her singing.

And that’s what made Crosby’s singing is the film so memorable. Whether, it was, the soft and mellow title song or the debut, “Swinging on a Star,” he delivered it with just the right emotion.

My favorite scene was the one in which Father O’Malley put Father Fitzgibbons to bed after the older priest to bed. They’d talked about their mothers and how Father Fitzgibbons hadn’t seen his 90 year old mother in 45 years. Father Fitzgibbons asked if O’Malley knew “Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra” and Crosby sang it beautifully:

The film wasn’t perfect. At two hours, it could have been quite a bit shorter without some extraneous plot elements such as seeing the Metropolitan Opera perform one scene from Carmen, and the budding romance of the banker’s son. However, the latter subplot did provide one of the film’s best scenes.

However, these are very minor shortcomings in a great film, and the featured attraction is the warmth of Crosby and Fitzgerald to create a timeless classic.

Additional Information:

This film was featured on Screen Guild Theater in 1945 with Crosby and Fitzgerald reprising their starring roles.

Currently, it is available on Netflix Instant Watch for those who Netflix members. Click here for Netflix.

Also, it’s available on Amazon:

Note: Sales made through the links in this post will result in small compensation to me at no additional cost to the consumer.