To Kill A Mockingbird

Maycomb, Alabama, sometime in the 1930s. Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) is the town’s lawyer, the lone parent to children Jem (Philip Alford) and Scout (Mary Badham), and potentially the greatest and most noble human being ever conjured up by the mind of a writer. When he is asked to take on an impossible case – defending a young black man accused of raping a white woman in the infuriatingly racist deep south – Atticus takes on the case. The whole thing is shown from the point of view of the children and… wait… is that Robert Duvall?!? With hair?!?maxresdefault

To Kill A Mockingbird is my pick this month for both my blind spot entry for Ryan at the Matinee, and also my Most Anticipated 1001 Movie from the shortlist I created last year. It’s one of those films I’d been meaning to see for a long time – I’ve owned it on DVD for well over a year now – and now I’ve finally gotten around to it, partially inspired by the latest episode of the FilmWhys podcast, which is partially devoted to this film and I look forward to listening to it. I read the book, written by Harper Lee and published in 1960, a little over a year ago, and damn near fell in love with it. I think most people get assigned it in school, but alas that was not the case for me, instead I was lumbered with The Color Purple, of which a review shall appear of the filmed version some point next month, as part of my Least Anticipated 1001 Movies project, which should give you some idea of my feelings towards the book. However, I feel that had I been assigned Mockingbird in school or college I would not have liked it as much, so perhaps I should feel grateful.Gregory-Peck-as-Atticus-Finch-in-To-Kill-a-Mockingbird-1962As it is, and as is more often the case, I feel Mockingbird works better as a book than as a film. That’s not to say it’s a bad film – far from it in fact – it’s just the novel allows for greater depth and the capacity to include more scenes which I missed when watching the film. For example, the impact of the hole in the tree being cemented over is much more keenly felt in the book than here, where it’s almost skipped over. It’s key to a fairly significant relationship which becomes watered down as a result. Elsewhere, I found the lifestyle of the Cunninghams – neighbours of the Finch family, and whose son Walter Jr. attends school with Scout – to be poorly explained, and had I not read the book I might have been a little lost as to why things occur as they do. That being said, other areas are vastly improved upon. The character of Finch – with whom Peck won the Best Acting Oscar, questionably over Peter O’Toole’s Lawrence of Arabia – has a commanding, granite-like presence, with Peck perfectly embodying Atticus’ intolerance of violence and determination to set the right example for his kids. At times the role is subtly underplayed, but I never felt like Peck was just coasting. His closing speech is beyond powerful, and moving in a manner far more affecting than on paper. The fact that it was created via one long take really adds to the effect too.tokillmockngbrd_146pyxurzElsewhere, Brock Peters is magnetic in a supporting role as Tom Robinson, the accused man who immediately, unquestionably must be innocent from the moment we lay eyes upon him. When he is called to the stand for questioning he all but blew me away with his performance, with the sweat beading on his brown. I’m not a huge fan of child actors, but the two here performed well enough. I can’t quite comprehend Badham’s Oscar nomination for Supporting Actress however. That doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me, though I’m not too well acquainted with many films from 1963, so perhaps it was a slow year for supporting female performances. Duvall, who crops up in a wordless role, seems to me to be a clear inspiration in movement terms for Johnny Depp’s Edward Scissorhands almost thirty years later. The two both have an innocence and awkwardness about them; an inability to control the dangerous power within. This was Duvall’s first performance in a film, and as a way to begin a career it’s pretty much unparalleled.ToKillMockngbrd_133PyxurzIn general I’m not normally a fan of meandering, largely plotless films, especially those regarding life as a child – see my less than positive review of Stand By Me for proof of that – so the first act of the film, which follows the exploits of Jem, Scout and their summertime neighbour Dill (John Megna) is my least favourite. It isn’t necessarily bad, and there are some terrific scenes within it – the rabid dog is a particular highlight – but I was very glad when the court case plot became more prominent far earlier than in the original novel. The way in which we are shown the film, predominantly through the eyes of the children, is extremely well implemented. Some scenes are shot at their head height, such as an early assault on the house of Boo Radley, a legendary but secretive local figure, and during said assault, when the kids are accosted by some unseen man, the person remains concealed in shadows because the children look away or cover their eyes – if they don’t see him, neither do we. This technique is repeated again much later in the film, when a moment of action is lost to us because Scout’s view is once again impaired. I complained about this kind of thing in the recent Godzilla movie – cutting away from the action to someone watching it on TV – but here it works, adding to the sense of us seeing life through the eyes of a child.Gregory-Peck-in-To-Kill-a-MockingbirdI’ve heard elsewhere that the score has been lauded as one of the film’s most accomplished areas. I’m not a music guy, hence why I rarely discuss it in my reviews, but personally I found it overzealous and at times almost comical. The use of a glockenspiel during the raid on Boo’s porch almost ruined what would have otherwise been a very tense scene. However, fortunately it’s not enough to detract from what is a thoroughly compelling and very moralistic story. As book-to-film adaptations go, I struggle to think of many that I prefer. Were I redo-ing the Top 10 list I created last year, I think it would sit nicely between Into The Wild and High Fidelity. It’s definitely worth a watch – though I’d recommend the book first – and whilst it perhaps isn’t the shining pinnacle of perfection I’d been expecting, it’s still a very good, solid drama.

Choose Film 8/10

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Dawn of the Dead (2004)

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

I normally use the first paragraph or so of my reviews to outline the plot of the film. However, in terms of Zack Snyder’s semi-remake of George A. Romero’s 70s horror movie, that plot can be summed up in one word: Zombies. Ok, maybe two words: Zombies attack. Or ten: Zombies attack a town, survivors hole up in a mall. Yeah, that’ll do it. Either way, it doesn’t really need an entire paragraph to talk about it, because as set-ups go it’s a fairly rudimentary one.

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The Mighty Ducks

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

Gordon Bombay was a child hockey prodigy, with both the talent and ambition required to make it all the way. What he lacked, however, was the ability to thrive under the intense pressure applied by the coach of his team, Jack Riley (Lane Smith) of the The Hawks. After missing a vital shot (“You miss this shot; you’re not just letting me down, you’re letting your whole team down!”) and providing the Hawks with their only second place banner in history, Gordon gave up on the sport and became a successful lawyer, whose arrogance and underhand tactics were not overly appreciated by the courts or his company. When his latest case gets Gordon reprimanded he goes out drinking and gets himself arrested for driving under the influence. In order to keep the firm’s name from being dragged down with him, Gordon is instead sentenced to community service, teaching hockey to the local District 5 team, whose very first game happens to be against the Hawks, still coached by Jack Riley. Will Gordon learn to be a team player? Will his past love of hockey break through his frosty exterior? And will he be able to instil these hopeless kids into a formidable sporting team? It’s an early 90s kids sport film, what do you think?
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Boogie Nights

At the tail end of the 70s, times were a-changin’ for many folks, including those involved in the production of adult films. Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) is bussing tables in a nightclub, regularly frequented by porn director Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds), his cast and crew. Adams, who later will become known as Dirk Diggler, is somewhat gifted in a manner that would be beneficial in adult cinema, so he soon finds himself working in Jack’s pictures. This film chronicles the highs and lows of working in such an industry, not just for Dirk, but Jack, his leading lady Amber Waves (Julianne Moore), other cast members Reed Rothchild (John C. Reilly), Buck Swope (Don Cheadle), Becky Barnett (Nicole Ari Parker) and Rollergirl (Heather Graham) and their crew, including Little Bill (William H. Macy) and Scotty J. (Philip Seymour Hoffman).Boogie 04 Continue reading

Fargo

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

Car salesman Jerry Lundegaard (William H. Macy) is a bit down on his luck. He’s run up some pretty substantial debts, and will be in trouble for fraudulent affairs any day now, as soon as the bank realise the cars he has been claiming against don’t actually exist. The solution to his problem? Arrange for his wife to be kidnapped, so Jerry can collect on the ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. Unfortunately the miscreants hired to do the kidnapping, Carl and Gaear (Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare), bungle the escape, leaving enough clues for the police chief, a heavily pregnant Marge Gunderson (Frances McDormand), to begin tracking everyone down and sorting this mess out.

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Open Range

This review was originally written as part of my USA Road Trip series for French Toast Sunday.

A small-time cattle operation, led by Robert Duvall’s Boss Spearman, sets up grazing near the town of Harmonville, with the intention of moving on before they do any major damage to the local vegetation. When one of their number doesn’t return from a supply run to the town, Spearman and his right hand man Charley (Kevin Costner) head to Harmonville in search of their friend, only to find he’s been beaten and locked up by the town marshal (James Russo), at the behest of Harmonville’s ruthless land owner Baxter (Michael Gambon). Baxter, it would seem, isn’t too keen on free-grazers around his land, and he makes it all too clear to Boss and Charley that if they plan to hang around, bad things are going to happen to them and their herd. Unfortunately for everyone, Charley and Boss are more concerned with enacting vengeance for their man than anything else, so needless to say things get a mite violent in town.
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