Johnny Ross (Felice Orlandi) is due to be the surprise witness at a mob trial in San Francisco, and needs protective custody to keep him safe over the weekend leading up to the trial. Politician Walter Chalmers (Robert Vaughn) is behind Ross’ appearance, and enlists the high profile Police Lieutenant Frank Bullitt (Steve McQueen) to run the operation, but as can be expected, not everything goes to plan.
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The Godfather Part II

In 1900’s Corleone, Sicily, a young Vito Andolini is left the only surviving member of his family after his father, brother and mother are all killed by the local mafia head, Don Ciccio. Vito flees to New York and adopts the new surname Corleone, and eventually finds that perhaps the best way of life for him is similar to the one that led to his family’s demise. Inter-cut with this story and following on from the events of The Godfather, a now in-charge Michael (Al Pacino), Vito’s youngest son, struggles to maintain his power with threats on many sides, including possibly one from within the family.
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The Godfather

Don Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is the head, or Godfather, of his family and crime syndicate in 1940s New York. He receives a request to move into narcotics by up-and-comer Sollozzo (Al Lettieri), but when Vito declines, the Tattaglia family, with whom Sollozzo is in business, attempt to kill Vito and break the Corleone family apart. With Vito in hospital, it is up to his children – headstrong firebrand Sonny (James Caan), simple Fredo (John Cazale), newly married Connie (Talia Shire), war veteran Michael (Al Pacino) and adopted Tom (Robert Duvall) to resolve matters.
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The life and career of long-serving news anchor Howard Beale (Peter Finch) has taken a downward slide recently after his wife left him and he sank into drink, and his once high ratings have fallen to the point where his network, UBS, is forced to let him go. After being told he has just 2 weeks left on the air Howard broadcasts that in a week he will kill himself, live and during his show. Understandably he is immediately taken off the air by Frank Hackett (Robert Duvall), a rising executive surreptitiously taking over UBS from the inside, however Howard’s best friend and manager Max Schumacher (William Holden) is able to allow Howard one last show, for a chance at a dignified farewell, which Howard takes and runs with, instead offering up some frank and hard truths the general public eats up. Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), UBS’ new head of programming, sees potential in Howard’s popularity, and adapts his news show to suit, but what is more the important, the ratings or their host’s sanity?
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The Conversation

In San Francisco, profession surveillance expert Harry Caul (Gene Hackman) is working on his latest assignment, recording a discussion between a man and a woman in a busy courtyard. Having successfully recorded their conversation, Harry begins to grow suspicious that passing on the recordings to his employer may result in some dire consequences for those involved, as happened to Harry on another job sometime ago, which directly caused the murders of three people.
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Sling Blade

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

Karl Childers (Billy Bob Thornton) was sent to a correctional facility at the age of twelve. He grew up living in a shed out the back of his parents’ property, sleeping in a hole in the ground he’d dug himself and being picked on by pretty much everyone, especially his father and a local boy named Jesse Dixon. One day, Karl saw Dixon apparently trying to rape his mother, and killed Dixon with a sling blade but, when his mother seems distressed and angry, Karl kills her too, and is thus locked up. Some years later, Karl has grown up and served his time, and is due for release into the world. The only problem is, he doesn’t know anyone willing to take him in. His doctor sets him up with a minimum wage job and limited accommodation, but can Karl make it on the outside, and does he even want to?2
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In Korea, 1951, the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital receives two new surgeons in the forms of Captain Hawkeye Pierce (Donald Sutherland) and Capatin Duke Forrest (Tom Skerritt). They aren’t what you’d typically expect from army surgeons, preferring to put a large portion of their efforts into relaxing and goofing off instead of actually getting down to work, which doesn’t sit well with the current head surgeon, Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall). Burns, who also shares a tent with the new recruits, is a religious man who abstains from alcohol, so is essentially the polar opposite of the newcomers, so they set about having him removed from the hospital, and he is replaced by the much more fun-loving Captain Trapper McIntyre (Elliott Gould), with whom the guys have many adventures.      still-of-tom-skerritt,-donald-sutherland-and-elliott-gould-in-mash-(1970)-large-picture
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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

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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