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    The Big Trail (1930)

    The Big Trail (1930) is an essential item in any history of the American Western for two reasons. The first is that it was John Wayne's starring debut, and the second is that it introduced a widescreen process called "Fox Grandeur." However, both of those things failed with the immense, costly failure of the movie. Wayne would slink back to the purgatory of bad "B" movies for nine more years (until Stagecoach), and widescreen movies didn't show up again until 1958. Part of the high cost is that many scenes were filmed twice, once for the 35mm camera and once for the 70mm camera. Comparisons of certain shots show that landscapes were better served by the bigger format and that close-ups were more complete in the smaller format (they were cropped for the wide format). Director Raoul Walsh's compositions are amazing, using clutter and landscape and space to fascinatingly emotional effect. (It was far too expensive and troublesome to actually move a camera.) However, the storytelling is leaden and numbingly slow, relying heavily on dialogue to dole out information. Subsequently, the actors are stuck performing as if in a community theater play. Walsh picked up the pieces and made another movie with Wayne ten years later, Dark Command (1940), and then made a much more psychologically nuanced Western, Pursued (1947). read more...
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      The Big Trail (1930)

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      • With: John Wayne, Marguerite Churchill, El Brendel, Tully Marshall, Tyrone Power, David Rollins, Frederick Burton, Ian Keith, Charles Stevens, Louise Carver, Ward Bond, Iron Eyes Cody
      • Written by: Hal G. Evarts, Marie Boyle, Jack Peabody, Florence Postal
      • Directed by: Raoul Walsh
      • MPAA Rating: NR
      • Running Time: 122 minutes
      • Release Date: 10/01/1930
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      A Perfect Day (2016)

      This low-key drama is at its best when it paints a picture of a specific place and time, and a culture of expats at work. It then avoids overt hysteria as well as punishing horrors-of-war messages. A Perfect Day isn't necessarily a great movie; there's not much at stake, and humor is sparse, and it can't help feeling a little heavy from time to time, but thanks to its compressed time frame (just 24 hours) and its strong performances, it's quite interesting. read more...
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        A Perfect Day (2016)

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        • With: Benicio Del Toro, Tim Robbins, Olga Kurylenko, Mélanie Thierry, Fedja Stukan, Eldar Residovic, Sergio López, Nenad Vukelic
        • Written by: Fernando León de Aranoa, Diego Farias, based on a novel by Paula Farias
        • Directed by: Fernando León de Aranoa
        • MPAA Rating: R for language including some sexual references
        • Running Time: 106 minutes
        • Release Date: 01/14/2016
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        The Last of Robin Hood (2014)

        To their credit, co-writers and co-directors Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland have not told the full life story of Flynn, but -- like some of the best recent biopics -- have focused on a specific time and a specific story. In this case, it covers Flynn's two-year relationship with the teenage Beverly Aadland (Dakota Fanning), when Flynn was nearing fifty and reaching the end of his life. Beverly's stage mom (Susan Sarandon) came along for the ride, doing what stage moms do, worrying, but also enabling. After that, it's all fairly typical. Flynn tries to get parts for Beverly, but she's not much of an actress. (In one scene, he pitches Stanley Kubrick on the idea of his playing Humbert Humbert to Beverly's Lolita.) Meanwhile, his health continues to fail. read more...
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          The Last of Robin Hood (2014)

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          • With: Kevin Kline, Dakota Fanning, Susan Sarandon, Patrick St. Esprit, Matthew Kane, Max Casella, Sean Flynn, Bryan Batt, Jane McNeill
          • Written by: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
          • Directed by: Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland
          • MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and language
          • Running Time: 94 minutes
          • Release Date: 09/04/2014
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          A Coffee in Berlin (2014)

          I'm so glad people are making black-and-white movies again. Last year, I reviewed four new black-and-white movies, and three of them made my year's ten best list (the fourth was a runner-up). Black-and-white has a whole different feel from color; it can make things seem darker, scarier, more romantic, more profound, more timeless. I wanted to see A Coffee in Berlin, I admit, partly because of the black-and-white. Yet no cinematography can make a good film great. A Coffee in Berlin is only a good film, but it does have a very good ending. read more...
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            A Coffee in Berlin (2014)

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            • With: Tom Schilling, Marc Hosemann, Friederike Kempter, Justus von Dohnányi, Katharina Schüttler, Arnd Klawitter, Martin Brambach, Steffen Jürgens, Michael Gwisdek
            • Written by: Jan-Ole Gerster
            • Directed by: Jan-Ole Gerster
            • MPAA Rating: NR
            • Language: German, with English subtitles
            • Running Time: 83 minutes
            • Release Date: 06/19/2014
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            Frank (2014)

            Lenny Abrahamson's Frank starts off with a strong idea, the image of the man in the fake head. This basic, but powerful image toys with several great themes, including the nature of identity, the nature of physical appearance, or even themes of art versus commerce. But though Frank touches the surface of these ideas, and it's certainly entertaining enough, it seems more content to squeeze into the framework of a familiar kind of quirky, art-house comedy-drama than to dig much deeper. read more...
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              Frank (2014)

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              • With: Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy, Francois Civil, Carla Azar, Tess Harper, Bruce McIntosh, Haley Derryberry, Lauren Poole
              • Written by: Jon Ronson, Peter Straughan
              • Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
              • MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual content
              • Running Time: 95 minutes
              • Release Date: 08/14/2014
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