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Tag Archive: John Wayne


Review by C.J. Bunce

With costumes designed by Anna B. Sheppard, the designer for Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers, Inglourious Basterds, and Captain America: The First Avenger, you know your World War II movie is in good hands.

The first ninety minutes of Overlord is the stuff of the classic World War II movie.  Think Guns of Navarone or Von Ryan’s Express or a later film, Force 10 From Navarone.  It’s also modern in the way of Inglourious Basterds, but that movie if it had been filmed by John Carpenter, complete with special effects from The Thing and action from They Live.  It also co-stars Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt Russell (also Goldie Hawn’s son) as the tough and confident Corporal Ford, a John Wayne role like he plays like he’s been making movies for 40 years.  If that isn’t enough to go out and get your hands on Overlord, I don’t know what you could want.

It begins with a paratrooper drop, filmed believably, like Memphis Belle, but with the action of Edge of Tomorrow.  The first 40 minutes follows British actor Jovan Adepo as American soldier Private Boyce, a nice, naïve kid drafted recently and dropped into harm’s way behind enemy lines in France the day before D-Day.  Like Starship Troopers and Edge of Tomorrow, this is 100% authentic war, look and feel, and we follow Ford and boyce and their squad from the air on down to the gates of a town where they hide out and plan to blow up a German radio tower.  Despite J.J. Abrams producing this film and hints to the contrary, don’t expect aliens or zombies–this is not a secret Cloverfield 4.  What Boyce, Ford, & Co. find is a lab beneath the tower where the Germans are conducting experiments on the local French villagers and their own men.  It’s here where the story takes a turn for the weird.

The first 90 minutes are brilliant, face-paced, heart-pounding, nail-biting stuff.  Young director Julius Avery and writer Billy Ray pursue the lore of the German experiments toward a the creation of a “superman” or “super soldier” and what that might be like.  To their credit, they approach this like the Korean series Kingdom, which looked to a virus as the creation of a village of zombie-like villagers.  Here Avery and Ray look to twisted science as well, but they add in a bit of a fountain of youth element as part of the creation of these soldiers.  Spoiler:  They don’t all turn out exactly as planned by the Germans.

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It’s a little difficult to get your head around.  Eight years ago when I suggested going to your video rental store to watch the ultimate Fourth of July movie–Jaws–we still had several video rental stores in every town.  It’s very different now with streaming services (have you finished Season 3 of Stranger Things yet on Netflix?) and any Blu-ray you want available overnight for purchase from retailers like Amazon.  To be fair, you can still rent movies, the plastic disc kind, at local Redbox machines, and Family Video still has a good footprint across the nation and a broad video selection (pretty much Blu-rays prevail, so sorry to people still with only VHS and plain ol’ DVDs).  Back in 2011 when I listed some recommended viewing material for Independence Day here at borg, I mentioned some films including my pick for today.

Every audience, every moviegoer, is after something different.  If you’re looking for action try on Captain America: The First Avenger, or even binge the entire Captain America series of films.  The first Independence Day movie from 1996 has your dose of sci-fi, and it’s an easy choice to go to especially if you’re too young to have watched it before.  Even Independence Day–the day, not the movie–means different things to different people.  I would recommend to anyone films like Dave, The American President, The Post, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, All the President’s Men, Sergeant York, Far and Away, The Last of the Mohicans, Lincoln, Glory, and Dances with Wolves–each covers some aspect of what America stands for.  Actually Frank Capra has more in the category, too, including Meet John Doe and State of the Union.  

Four of my favorites are playing on Turner Classic Movies/TCM today.  At 8:30 a.m. Central is John Ford′s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, followed at 10:30 a.m. Central by Ford’s Fort Apache These are some of the famed director’s finest works, and high points for both Henry Fonda, John Wayne, and Maureen O’Hara, plus the stories tell other tales of the American experience (and both rate high on my all-time best Westerns list here).  A recent anthology film fits the bill for today well–that’s the Coen Brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, which we reviewed here at borg last year.  It tells several stories of the pain, struggle, and sacrifice of peoples from throughout the world coming together to build a nation.  But what’s that sure-fire Fourth of July movie that should appeal to everyone?

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When you’re discussing Sylvester Stallone, a discussion of Arnold Schwarzenegger won’t be too far behind.  Both reigned as the box office action heroes of the 1980s and 1990s, with Sly always a bit behind Arnold.  I was pleasantly surprised in 2013 when Arnold returned to acting in his first lead performance in a decade as a past-his-prime sheriff of a sleepy southwest town in the sleeper action movie The Last Stand It could have been worked into a sequel from all sorts of his past works, but it was a re-introduction of what the action hero looks like in his 60s, and the result should be fun for any fan of the arguably the biggest movie star Hollywood has seen.  Unlike Arnold, Stallone never took a break to try another career.  He’s been in essence a working actor since he created Rocky in 1976.  He also seemed to try to reach beyond celebrity star status to the more dramatic in James Mangold’s Cop Land, which could have easily earned him an Oscar nod.

In Stallone’s sixth return to his Rocky Balboa character in Creed, Stallone’s performance again was something that pushed the action norm to something different, like Cop Land.  And like Arnold’s The Last Stand, audiences saw what this action hero looks like in an acclaimed movie in his 60s.  Stallone has had a great career, with three major franchises under his belt in Rocky, Rambo, and The Expendables And soon his fifth foray into the character of John Rambo will reveal the action hero in his 70s.  John Wayne, the prior decades’ version of Arnold and Sly, made several action films in his 60s, but never made any films in his 70s, and here is Stallone on his second major franchise film in his 70s.  Take a look at the first trailer for his next film, Rambo: Last Blood, below.

Stallone’s John Rambo could have taken a more dramatic turn when introduced in 1982 in First Blood, but instead the movie opted to be another blood and guts revenge story, the kind that Chuck Norris would later be known for.  Followed by more forgettable films Rambo: First Blood Part II in 1985, Rambo III in 1988, and Rambo ten years later in 2008, the franchise keeps returning because audiences keep going back for more.  His fans could easily have figured that, as with his sixth Rocky movie, Rocky Balboa, his 2008 film in this franchise, Rambo, was going to be his last.  But this is the era of 1980s nostalgia, thanks to binge-watching television shows on Netflix and the throwback elements celebrated in the streaming provider’s series Stranger Things.  So now is the time movies like Creed can happen.  And another Rambo.  Check out the first trailer below for Rambo: Last Blood:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If Turner Classic Movies says that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then the discussion is over finally, right?

It’s that time of year again and Turner Classic Movies is back showing some of the best Christmas movies from across the decades.  This year host Ben Mankiewicz is interviewing author Jeremy Arnold before and after the screening of movies Arnold has selected to feature in his new book, TCM: Christmas in the Movies–30 Classics to Celebrate the Season.  And yes, Arnold’s list includes Die Hard.  So as the British say, “end of.”  Most readers and movie fans will likely agree with at least twenty of the selections discussed in the book, and the rest are there ready for some good discussions with friends over some egg nog this holiday season.

It’s also likely this bucket list of movies has several films that even avid movie watchers may have missed.  I set up my DVR to pick up a few in the book I hadn’t seen yet and was surprised at how superb a selection Holiday Affair is.  It stars Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum, Wendell Corey, Henry Morgan, plus young Gordon Gebert in what must be the best-ever performance by a child actor in a Christmas movie.  This is exactly the kind of value you get with a book like Christmas in the Movies–this movie will now be added to my own favorite Christmas movie list.  For each entry Arnold discusses the actors, plot, audience reception and the impact of the film, and why it’s a good Christmas season film for audiences today.

Along with Die Hard, which is smartly defended by Arnold, you’ll find the usual suspects like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Elf, plus some lesser known gems, like Remember the Night, the first of four films that would pair Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, plus Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten in I’ll Be Seeing You, and Humphrey Bogart in We’re No AngelsArnold picks up genre films Gremlins and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and even a few Westerns, including 3 Godfathers starring John Wayne.

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the-sand-pebbles

In honor of servicemen and servicewomen this Memorial Day weekend, today we’re recommending ten classic war movies as selected by retired U.S. Navy third class petty officer and electrician’s mate Milton L. Bunce, Jr. who served aboard the USS Goodrich DDR 831 in the Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea and the USS Hancock CVA-19 in the Pacific before and during the early days of the Vietnam War.

If you’re looking for some realism and detail, he’s picked some great classics and any one will hit the mark for you this weekend.

The Wings of Eagles

The Wings of Eagles is director John Ford’s 1957 biopic about his friend, U.S. Navy pilot Frank “Spig” Wead, considered one of the best biopics committed to film.  It stars John Wayne, Dan Dailey, Maureen O’Hara, and Ward Bond, and provides a splice of the history of aviation’s role in combat.  Keep an eye out for the great early airplanes in the aircraft carrier scenes.  And the character of Captain Hazard was based on real-life U.S. Army Air Corps Reserve officer Jimmy Doolittle.

Twelve O'clock High

Twelve O’Clock High is a 1949 Darryl F. Zanuck production about the U.S  Army’s Eighth Air Force flying daytime bombing missions against Nazi Germany and occupied France during World War II.  It’s one of those dramas that will soon be on your list of best films if you haven’t seen it yet.  These airmen are realistically portrayed keeping up the good fight against a seemingly never-ending battle where failure was not an option.  Check out some outstanding acting by star Gregory Peck.  This film is on the Library of Congress National Film Registry.

guns of navarone

Based on an Alistair MacLean’s 1957 novel that was inspired by the Battle of Leros during the Dodecanese Campaign of World War II, the 1961 J. Lee Thompson film The Guns of Navarone is an epic adventure war movie like no other.  The filming location in and around Athens, Greece and top-notch acting by the powerhouse trio of Gregory Peck, David Niven, and Anthony Quinn add to a suspenseful movie about a multi-national team attempting to destroy a mountain fortress.  And it’s a great action movie.  (Milton was on liberty in Athens in 1960 where he visited some of the filming locations around the time of production).

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Attenborough in Jurassic Park

The motion picture industry lost a great director and character actor this weekend with the passing of Richard Attenborough at age 90.  Attenborough likely will be best remembered because of his starring role as the jolly John Hammond, the “spared no expense” creator of the dinosaur theme park in Jurassic Park (1993).  Rightly so.  The adventure film will go down as one of the biggest blockbusters of all time, and his performance is a big reason for it.  Michael Crichton’s Hammond had been killed off in the original novel, but there was too much of the amiable Attenborough in the film version of Hammond and Steven Spielberg knew audiences wouldn’t stand for a similar fate for the film version.  Attenborough would return to the role again in The Lost World (1997).

But Attenborough’s greatest feat was not being an actor, as he would take up making movies behind the camera with a second successful career as a major studio director.  That work earned him an Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director for Gandhi in 1982.  He went on to a decade of critically acclaimed directing gigs, helming A Chorus Line (1985) with Michael Douglas, Cry Freedom (1987) with Denzel Washington and Kevin Kline, Robert Downey’ Jr.’s acting comeback in Chaplin (1992), and Shadowlands (1993) with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.

Attenborough McQueen The Sand Pebbles

Never the guy for leading man roles, the character actor proved his skill with three other great films, two of which earned him Golden Globe Awards for Supporting Actor:  For Albert Blossom in Doctor Doolittle (1967) and Frenchy Burgoyne in the 1920s naval drama starring Steve McQueen, The Sand Pebbles (1966).  He’ll also be known for his performance as squadron leader Big X in The Great Escape (1963).  And he even played opposite John Wayne in his brief detour from Westerns in the cool 1975 cop film Brannigan.  But his best role in film?  It’s one not to be missed.

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The Equalizer poster A

This weekend’s release of the first trailer for The Equalizer, starring Denzel Washington as Robert McCall, a role originally cast in the 1980s by British actor Edward Woodward in a successful four-season television series, brings up yet again the age-old question of when you can change a character’s race or sex in a retelling and when you can’t, or shouldn’t.

Can Kojak, originally played by Telly Savalas, an American actor of Greek heritage, be played by a black actor, so long as he’s also bald (as played by Ving Rhames in the 2005 remake)?

When adapting comic books to film, can you change Perry White (as in The Amazing Spider-man series) and Nick Fury ( as in The Avengers movie series) from white to black?  Can you change Johnny Storm from white to Latin (as in the next Fantastic Four)?  Does it matter that his sister is played by someone white?  What if the sister is Latin and the brother is white (as in the first Fantastic Four movies)?  Should Wonder Woman be played by anyone who isn’t Greek (see American Lynda Carter in the 1970s TV series or Israeli actress Gal Gadot in the forthcoming Superman vs Batman)?  Can Harvey Dent be black (as played by Billy Dee Williams in the 1989 Batman)?  A black orphan Annie (another new film)?

Equalizer teaser poster

How much of any of these characters–the essential elements of these characters–is about what their race is?  Is any?

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emily-blunt-edge-of-tomorrow

Review by C.J. Bunce

The challenge will fall to the coming years.  Watching and re-watching Edge of Tomorrow to count how many days take place in the movie.  How many days Tom Cruise’s character dies.  How many days Emily Blunt kills him, putting a new spin on the phrase “blunt force trauma”.  if you read movie ads or trailers none of these are a surprise.  Live.  Die.  Repeat.  No more apt tagline has ever been attached to a movie.

For decades soldiers could look to classic war movies for inspiration.  John Wayne performances, like his Sgt. Stryker from Sands of Iwo Jima or Gregory Peck’s General Savage come to mind.  Michael Ironside left an enduring mark with his Lt. Raszcak in Starship Troopers.  Now there’s a new movie to absorb some inspiration to take action, survive, and maybe even win in that next impossible battle beyond the next trench.

ALL YOU NEED IS KILL

Loosely based on the world created by 39-year-old Japanese author Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s war novel All You Need is Kill, which we gave rave reviews to earlier here at borg.com, Edge of Tomorrow is also completely different.  If you think you want to read the novel before the movie, hold off.  The first 30 minutes might leave you frustrated.  If you haven’t read the novel, Edge of Tomorrow stands by itself as a butt-kicking, take no prisoners, tale of a future in its last days before domination by an otherworldly threat.  That said, after the movie you’ll be in for an even better ride with the book.

The action and war sequences will have you comparing it to Aliens and Predator.  The otherworldly threat is of the Ender’s Game and Starship Troopers variety.  The story’s hook will have you thinking of the best video game you ever played.  Sakurazaka’s well-developed world, steeped in good science fiction tradition, is key to making this otherwise improbable story play out in an engaging way that will have you quickly jumping in for the ride.  The hook is the Groundhog Day reset of each day, and that part is a good part of the fun, but you’ll find a lot more with these characters and their persistence.

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Django Unchained - Still A

By C.J. Bunce

How does a Western get nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award in 2013? As recently as two years ago the remake of True Grit was nominated for Best Picture and nine other nominations—but did not net a single win.  But would it have been nominated if it hadn’t been directed by the quirky directing duo of Joel and Ethan Coen?  Five years earlier Brokeback Mountain, a film with a Western—or at least a cowboy– theme was also nominated for Best Picture, winning three of eight nominations.  It took director Ang Lee and a completely non-Western plot for that to happen.  Then you have to go back to Unforgiven in 1992, which actually won Best Picture and four of nine of its nominations, to find the last major, critically acclaimed Western.

What made Unforgiven win?  Certainly by supplying one of the two most popular Western actors of all time as the film’s lead helped, even if it was one of his more bland performances, with Clint Eastwood also serving as director. (Yes, John Wayne still remains the #1 most popular Western actor ever).  But more importantly, like the few notable Westerns since, it had a very non-standard plot for a Western.  With its gunfighter-turns-farmer-turns-gunfighter-one-last-time story, it was basically a dark sequel to John Wayne’s Angel and the Badman.  You could keep going—back to Dances with Wolves in 1990, an example of the “epic Western” which seemed to reward the director and acting efforts of rising star Kevin Costner more than the movie as a Western genre masterpiece.  Or back to Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid in 1969, probably the last classic era Western to be nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, winning five awards, including a key win for the script by William Goldman.  Then go back to the also-quirky Cat Ballou in 1965 starring Jane Fonda—the rare Western notable for featuring a female lead.

Going back even further gets you into the classic era of Westerns, and throws you into the strange era of “epic Westerns” getting recognized by the Academy.  These were movies that in hindsight are really not as well done as many smaller pictures of the period, but their huge all-star casts and expensive sets made the films hard to ignore, such as How the West Was Won, The Alamo, and Giant.  Surprisingly you have to look back to the adaptation of Louis L’Amour’s Hondo starring John Wayne in 1953 to get back to the era of the “hero Western” as recipient of an Academy nod, a film up there with Shane and High Noon as successful and admired Westerns receiving acclaim by the Academy.

Schultz and Django

But if you put aside the classic Western and look at what has been selected by the Academy since the 1960s it makes a lot of sense that Quentin Tarentino’s Django Unchained is not only a Best Picture nominee this year, but a real contender for the win.  Set in the South two years before the Civil War, the film follows a slave named Django (Jamie Foxx) whose past owners lead him to meet up with German-born, dentist-turned-bounty hunter Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz).  Schultz’s next target is the wanted-dead-or-alive Brittle brothers, and only Django can help him literally recognize his bounty.  Schultz serves as mentor in survival and pursuit skills for Django who is squarely focused on rescuing long-lost wife Broomhilda (Kerry Washington).  The search ultimately leads to a more complicated than necessary scheme to buy Broomhilda from infamous plantation owner Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), if only his loyal house slave Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) will not stand in the way.

So what is the formula for a successful Western in the 21st century and why should Django Unchained make the cut?

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I really like Arnold Schwarzenegger, the actor.  He’s in a rare group of current actors like Tom Cruise, who, no matter what he does outside acting, so long as he keeps making good movies I’ll keep showing up to watch him.

In many ways Arnold is like his Expendables and now Expendables 2 brethren, especially Sylvester Stallone, whose self-made rise to fame was a lot like Arnold’s, and Bruce Willis, who seems to churn out movies of all types like nobody else.  But Arnold is also one of those bigger-than-life/megastar/film legend/superstars who could arguably be lumped in with John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.  These three have a more distinctive, almost superhuman aura.  And just as Wayne and Eastwood did, it looks like Arnold is entering a distinct “third act” of his career.  You can look back and see Wayne in his B-movie days before Stagecoach, where Clint was making TV shows like Maverick and Rawhide, and Arnie was getting his sea-legs as Conan the Barbarian.  Then with their second acts they all made it to the bigtime, Wayne with John Ford Westerns and war movies, Clint with spaghetti Westerns and then Dirty Harry, and Arnold with his blockbuster action films: Predator, Terminator 1&2, and True Lies.

So what’s next?  Wayne got gruff in his elder years as highlighted in his Rooster Cogburn role.  As did Clint, even going back ten years he began this new life persona as old man, but always a modern take on what it means to be an old man.  His character as a geezer in Gran Torino is nothing like Dirty Harry or The Man with No Name, but it’s still one of his best performances.

So what about Arnold?  After his hiatus as California’s Governator, he slips back into movies this month with his bit part in Expendables 2.  But his first film returning in a leading role is due out after the holidays: The Last Stand.  Arnie’s stilted acting shown in the first trailer for the film put aside, I see some things I may like in this new action flick.

First, I loved The Rock/Dwayne Johnson in his remake of Walking Tall, co-starring Johnny Knoxville.  I didn’t think that film could be remade and I loved the result.  The plot of this film seems strangely similar.  And that’s Johnny Knoxville again… in apparently the same role!  Although–Knoxville looks a bit more psychotic than normal here.  And that’s saying a lot for the guy from Jackass and MIB 2.

Next, I really liked Sylvester Stallone’s performance as a worn down police officer caught in the middle of a culture of bad cops in the universally praised film Cop Land.  This movie, from the preview, feels like it could be a similar work for Arnold–a grizzled lawman needing to step up and take a stand, maybe the last stand, as the movie’s title would indicate.

It also reminds me a bit of Chris Cooper in Lone Star.

They are certainly not standout roles for John Wayne, but he played a cop twice toward the end of his career, in McQ and Brannigan.  And despite the dated look, both are darned good movies.  This type of role may be a good way for everyone to get back liking–and cheering for–our returning megastar.

And finally there is that Clint Eastwood gruff, cracked speech thing.  Call it tough as nails, call it dry, it is partly why we see Clint as the tough guy we see him as today.  Is this the future of the once young and pumped-up Arnold on the big screen, moving from his classic “Ah-nold” accent to a raspy smoker-like delivery?

Check out the trailer:

The Last Stand, directed by South Korean director Jee-woon Kim, hits theaters January 18, 2013.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com