May 7th, 2014

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD (1962) *** ½

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those books they made you read in high school that wound up being not all that bad. Then they showed the movie in class afterwards and it was surprisingly better than the source material. Now, it wasn’t the best movie-related-to-an-assignment that was shown in my school (that honor belongs to Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum), but I guess it was a close second.

Everyone knows the story to this one. Small town lawyer Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) defends Tom Robinson (Brock Peters of Star Trek IV and VI fame) in a rape case. Meanwhile, he sorta lets his kids run willy-nilly around town and they dare each other to go up on the steps of the house of legendary local creep Boo Radley (Robert Duvall).

Yes, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of those “Important” movies that have a “Message”, but it doesn’t get in the way of things. The courtroom scene where Peck makes his big speech is a real doozy and the scene where he exits the court is genuinely moving. In fact, this scene is so powerful that they probably should’ve just ended things right there and it would’ve been a note-perfect movie. However, the final scenes (set on Halloween) kinda drag on, and the whole Redemption of Boo Radley sequence comes off a little bit goofy. Other than that, it’s a pretty great movie.

I like To Kill a Mockingbird a lot. Don’t get me wrong. But the only thing that sticks in my craw about this flick is that the AFI named Atticus Finch its #1 Hero on their list of the 100 Greatest Movie Heroes of All Time. And we all just know that is baloney. I mean, did he blow up the Death Star? Did he kill Jaws? Did he defeat Ivan Drago? Didn’t think so.

I mean, let’s take a second to name all the heroic stuff Atticus does in this movie.

1) He shoots a dog.

2) He loses an important court case.

Things aren’t looking so great for you in the hero department there, Atticus Finch.

Seriously, there is no way Atticus Finch could take on Luke Skywalker and win. Granted, Luke lost his hand in Empire and let his dad defeat the Emperor in Jedi, but Luke was the one that flew down the Death Star trench and landed the first major crippling blow to the Galactic Empire. Something tells me old Atticus wouldn’t know his way around an X-Wing cockpit if his life depended on it.

Next week at The Clayton: Charade!

JUSTINE (1969) ***

Justine (Romina Power) and her sister Juliet (Maria Rohm) lose their place at the convent and wind up on separate paths. While Juliet becomes a prostitute in a cathouse, Justine tries her luck as a servant girl. Eventually, she gets framed for a crime she didn’t commit and is sent to prison where she makes a daring escape alongside Mercedes McCambridge. From there on, she gets into a series of misadventures and winds up in the clutches of a slimy sex cult ran by none other than Jack Palance.

Justine is a lush and beautiful movie. The score and cinematography are excellent too. Since Justine is a Jess Franco movie, this is sort of a major coup. But just when you think it’s too good to be true, there’s an odd camera zoom or a weirdo sex scene to remind you that this is in fact, a Jess Franco flick, and all is right with the world again.

I really dug the wraparound scenes of Marquis de Sade (Klaus Kinski) being tormented by naked women in his prison cell. These visions eventually inspire him to take quill to paper and carve out the story. (I also thought it was cool that the exterior of the prison was the castle from Franco’s The Castle of Fu Manchu.) The rest of the flick has a Masterpiece Theatre Meets Skinamax vibe to it. Sure, a lot of the film is episodic (sometimes bordering on disjointed), but that sort of gives the flick an unpredictable edge to it.

Speaking of unpredictable, Jack Palance really chews up the scenery as the head of the sex cult that briefly imprisons Justine. He’s a bit miscast in the part, especially since he speaks in an oddball French accent. But although he’s miscast, he’s still a riot; overacting to the hilt. If you're a fan of the man, you'll definitely want to check it out.

AKA: Justine and Juliet. AKA: Deadly Sanctuary.

LEGENDS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: BRUCE WILLIS

TV star. Recording artist. Legend of the Silver Screen. These are just some of the words used to describe the one and only Bruce Willis. Today, we’ll take a look at three of Bruno’s recent efforts.

First up is…

PERFECT STRANGER (2007) *

Halle Berry stars as a tabloid journalist investigating the death of her friend. She apparently was having an affair with a powerful advertising executive (Bruce Willis) and then disappeared when she threatened to tell his wife. Halle gets a job as a temp at Bruno’s ad agency and starts openly flirting with him. After some drinks and a lot of online chatting, she soon gets in over her head.

Directed by James Foley (the man who directed Glengarry Glen Ross and… uh… Who’s That Girl), Perfect Stranger is essentially nothing more than a Lifetime Movie trumped up with a lot of F-Words to justify its theatrical release. The mystery surrounding Berry’s buddy’s death isn’t very involving and the side drama with her stalkery sidekick (Giovanni Ribisi) is pretty drab. The chat room scenes between Berry and Willis are unintentionally funny though, but that’s not nearly enough to make it worthwhile.

Halle Berry gives a rather bland performance and appears to be sleepwalking at several junctures. Willis fares slightly better (that means he shows signs of a pulse), but his character is neither seductive nor menacing. It’s also pretty hilarious that Willis is a rather awful ad exec. I mean he gets a big deal with Victoria’s Secret and the slogan he comes up with is, “What is Victoria’s Secret?” Seriously? A five year old could come up with that.

All in all, Perfect Stranger is a dud on all fronts. There’s no tension, no atmosphere, and no sparks between the performers. And the twist ending is pretty absurd and unbelievable. Even if you’re a fan of Bruno, you’ll find very little here to enjoy.

Our next Willis flick is…

THE COLD LIGHT OF DAY (2012) **

Henry Cavill heads to Spain for a family get together. When his family disappears, Henry has to play detective and find out what happened to them. As it turns out, Henry’s father (Bruce Willis) is a secret agent and the family has been held hostage because of some espionage that went sour. It’s then up to Henry to retrieve a mysterious briefcase in order to save his family.

Bruce Willis has little more than an extended cameo here and he isn’t given much to do I’m afraid. He’s not bad though, and shows a bit of chemistry with Cavill, but his character is killed off fairly quickly in order to set up the plot. It is pretty cool seeing him act alongside Sigourney Weaver, although they only share one brief scene together. I mean you’d think that putting John McClane and Ellen Ripley together would be gangbusters, but the filmmakers don’t really make the most of the pairing.

The Cold Light of Day is a perfunctory thriller at best, and a dull one at worst. There really isn’t a whole lot to it; just Henry trying to find a briefcase while trying not to get shot by government agents. It doesn’t help that the flick suffers from a cheap DTV look (it played in some theaters, but it definitely doesn’t sport theatrically-released production values). It’s watchable for the most part, but it falls into a predictable rhythm early on (Henry looks for his father’s killer, and just before he gets a vital clue, a shootout occurs), and it never really improves.

And finally we have…

LOOPER (2012) ** ½

There is a lot of sci-fi gobbledygook going on in Looper. Some of it doesn’t make much sense, but some of it is rather ingenious. There is a moment where a dude from the future is on the run in the present. To catch him, the bad guys just kidnap his present self and begin cutting off his digits. Naturally, the future dude slowly starts losing his fingers too. The movie is far from perfect, but this scene alone is cool enough to make you want to disregard the film’s many flaws.

Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) is a criminal who assassinates people from the future. One day, his older self (Bruce Willis) winds up being his intended target. He is unable to kill himself and winds up letting his older self go. The Old Joe then tries to kill the future crime boss known as “The Rainmaker”, who is responsible for his wife’s death in the future. The Rainmaker is of course, just a little kid now, and Young Joe decides to protect him and his mom (Emily Blunt) from his vengeful older self.

The central idea of the film is intriguing. And there are several highpoints along the way. However, once Gordon-Levitt takes it upon himself to become Blunt and her kid’s protector, the film enters a slide that it never quite recovers from. (All the telekinetic stuff involving her brat never quite works either.)

The make-up on Gordon-Levitt is pretty bad too; almost to the point of being distracting. He doesn’t much look like Bruce Willis to begin with, and he looks even less so with the make-up. The story is told well enough that I’m sure the audience would’ve bought the fact that they’re playing the same person without the silly-looking prosthetics, so I’m not sure why they even bothered.

Willis has a pretty good track record when it comes to sci-fi. Twelve Monkeys is rather great and I think Surrogates is one of the most underrated sci-fi flicks of the millennium. While Looper isn’t quite up to snuff with those films, it does offer some pretty fun moments, especially early on.

Bruce does a good job as the older version of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. And JGL is decent enough; it’s just that he’s hampered by the crappy make-up. I thought Jeff Daniels fared the best though as the gangster who was sent back in time from the future to make sure the crime syndicate ran smoothly. His character alone probably deserved its own spin-off.

Well folks, that’s going to wrap up the Legends of the Silver Screen column for a while. I’m working full time now, so it’s getting harder and harder to squeeze these columns in. But while the Legends column will be going on hiatus for the summer, I’m sure it will return this fall once my work schedule begins to wind down. I still plan on writing reviews pretty steadily though. There may be a few It Came from the Thrift Store columns in the near future however, so keep an eye out for that.