Day 119: The Sheik

The Camel Clutch

The Camel Clutch

Flipping through Netflix recently and stumbled upon The Sheik, an interesting documentary about former WWF star The Iron Sheik (Khosrow Vaziri). It’s like other wrestling documentaries with its rag-to-riches-to-rags storyline, tales of debauchery on the road, and gruesome injuries that limit the wrestler’s post-spotlight life.

Growing up as a WWF fan in the late 70s and early 80s, the Iron Sheik was one of my favorite heels (bad guys), along with Rowdy Roddy Piper. His tag team matches with the Russian Nikolai Volkoff were legendary and they were the perfect foils during the Cold War. No other tag team inspired the venom of the crowd like the Sheik and Volkoff.

The movie is sad, though, as the Sheik struggles with addiction and health problems caused by his life in the squared circle. He’s a proud father if not a perfect one, and he’s had to deal with the murder of one of his daughters. Thankfully, there is a bit of redemption for this former superstar: family friends help the Sheik become an Internet sensation, translating his unique Sheik-speak into 140-character blasts on Twitter.

I was filled with a warm nostalgia while watching the film and couldn’t help but root for The Sheik to find better health and happiness. I think it’s good enough to recommend to non-fans, but those who used to put their younger siblings in the Camel Clutch will find a lot to like about The Sheik.

Day 57: High Noon

High Noon

High Noon

(This is part of my ongoing series on my quest to watch all 100 of AFI’s Greatest American Films of All Time)

27. High Noon

This was one of the movies that I watched as part of a Film Studies class a lifetime ago and still enjoy after several viewings. My exposure to black-and-white Westerns to that point had been the reruns on TV; nothing ever grabbed my attention enough to make me fall in love with the genre. High Noon was different, though, and it’s all because of Gary Cooper. He’s brilliant as Will Kane, the weary and soon-to-be retired marshall of a small town of weak-minded folk. Shot in near real-time, it’s an atypical Western, with Cooper as a vulnerable and very human hero of the film.

If there’s a weakness in this film, it’s the lack of action, but again it’s not your standard cowboy movie (the closing gunfight is great, though). Cooper is dressed in black, which was normally the bad guys’ color. Instead of rallying the town behind him, he finds himself alone, practically begging people to become deputies and make a stand against an incoming gang of bad guys looking for revenge. I love how Cooper maintains a stoic yet approachable presence throughout the film.

There’s a scene near the end when he seems overwhelmed by everything and he sets his head down to take a breather. It lasts only a few seconds, but it tells so much of the story: he knows he’s facing insurmountable odds and most likely a certain death and nobody has his back. I’m not sure most heroes of ’50s-era movies were shown in such a weak, powerless position.

Cooper’s vulnerability and his stand amongst the cowards of his town is what has always appealed to me. He’s not doing the popular thing, but he’s doing the right thing.

Other well-known actors in High Noon: Grace Kelly, Lloyd Bridges, and Harry Morgan (billed as Henry Morgan). All are good, but not as great as Cooper, who won the Oscar for Best Actor. And every time I see Lloyd Bridges in any old film, I blame Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker for making me think, “Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop …

My rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Day 51: 20 Feet From Stardom

20 Feet From Stardom: Claudia Lennear

20 Feet From Stardom: Claudia Lennear

My wife and I finally saw 20 Feet From Stardom, the Oscar-winning documentary about the back-up singers for some of popular music’s most famous acts. It was a wonderful film filled with amazing music and it’s easy to see why it is so highly regarded; it’s a real crowdpleaser.

Tonight we went to a Q&A with one of the singers, Claudia Lennear, as part of the Black History Month Celebration in Rancho Cucamonga. She was interviewed by a local DJ and talked about her life in and out of the music business. I got a kick out of hearing her talk about how Keith Richards scared her and how David Bowie was at her daughter’s birthday party.

After the Q&A, we got to meet her and take photos with her. She was a delight to chat with, even for just a moment, and it made me feel good that she’s finally getting the recognition that she deserves.

Day 38: Shane

Shane poster from IMDB

Shane poster from IMDB

(This is part of my ongoing series on my quest to watch all 100 of AFI’s Greatest American Films of All Time)

45. Shane

From the opening scene I wished I could’ve seen Shane on the big screen. Shot in Technicolor, the film looks gorgeous from beginning to end and wound up winning an Academy Award for Cinematography for its beautiful panoramic and lush views of Wyoming.

Aside from the cinematography, I liked Shane, but didn’t love it. Perhaps if I had seen it upon its initial release, I would’ve enjoyed it. But, over 50 years later, it didn’t pack the punch that I’m sure it had in 1950s. Alan Ladd is good as Shane, the handsome stranger who rides into town, trying to leave his gunslinging ways behind him. The star of the movie for me, though, was Van Hefln as Joe Starrett, the hard-working homesteader fighting for his family. How interesting it would have been had Ladd and Heflin swtiched parts. Also noteworthy was Jack Palance (credited as Walter Jack Palance), who was awesome as the gunslinger Wilson; he’s menacing and a strong presence whenever he’s given screen time

The character of Starrett’s son Little Joe nearly ruined the film for me. He’s an annoying kid in an Annakin-Skywalker-in-Episode-I kind of way. Other reviews I’ve read talk about Little Joe being the audience’s way into the story; he represents the fresh set of eyes for this straight-forward Western. I thought he was a whiny brat at times.

The action scenes were terrific. Given the period it was released in, I’m sure audiences were thrilled by Shane. For me, this was a solid Western, but one in which its age is beginning to show.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.


Day 34: Annie Hall

Annie Hall

Annie Hall

(This is part of my ongoing series on my quest to watch all 100 of AFI’s Greatest American Films of All Time)

35. Annie Hall

I had mixed feelings about watching Annie Hall. I’m not a Woody Allen fan; the whole neurotic New Yorker schtick does nothing for me. Of course, his relationship with Soon-Yi doesn’t exactly endear me to him, either.

Still, I tried to keep an open mind about Annie Hall. Early on, it was all Woody and his neuroses; my eyes rolling in my head, looking at my watch. I was surprised at how often he broke the fourth wall; Frank Underwood would be proud. Allen’s character is a comedian and the film follows his exploits in love and his various relationships. There are a lot of clever lines and insights throughout the movie, but at times I felt like I was watching a stand-up act in the guise of a dramedy: people don’t actually talk like this, do they?

Fortunately, before I found myself questioning my cinematic quest, Diane Keaton shows up. She’s the perfect foil for Allen’s character; young, cute, and charming. Scenes appear to brighten up when she’s in them, offsetting the morose and miserable Allen. After watching and re-watching her in the Godfather series, I’d forgotten that she was more than the wife of Michael Corleone. Thanks to her role as Annie Hall (supposedly based on her true self), the film is bearable, even to a non-Woody-Allen-fan as myself.

Overall, I enjoyed Annie Hall. I loved the scenes of late ’70s New York and Los Angeles (Fatburger and Tail o’ the Pup!) and the cameos (Paul Simon, Jeff Goldblum, Carol Kane, Shelley Duvall, and Christopher Walken). For the most part it’s entertaining, if a bit grating at times, due to Allen’s presence. Not sure I’d include it in my Top 100 list, but I can see why it’s well-regarded. Just not by me.

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

Day 9: Movie Time


93. The French Connection

As I wrote at the start of 2015, one of my goals this year is to watch all 100 of the AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films of All Time. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for awhile, but never committed to until now. I’m not watching them in any particular order, just whatever I’m in the mood for or have readily available.

Last night I fired up Netflix for the first film on my cinematic journey: William Friedkin’s The French Connection (No. 93 on the AFI list). I’d never watched the movie from beginning to end, just catching clips here and there over the years. Of course, I knew about The Chase, having seen it in various Hollywood retrospectives. It’s what everybody talks about and for good reason: it’s awesome and exciting.

The other thing that everybody talks about? Gene Hackman. He’s brilliant as Popeye Doyle and absolutely owns every scene he’s in. He’s racist, drinks too much, and obsessed with his case. Roy Scheider is solid as his partner Cloudy. Critics have raved about the chemistry between the two, but I feel like almost anyone could’ve been paired with Hackman; he’s that good.

According to film historians, the violence was cutting-edge at the time, but it’s tame by today’s standards. I loved how Friedkin went with a documentary feel to a lot of the movie. He captured a lot of the grittiness of early ’70s New York and it never felt like I was watching the action on a soundstage. I’m not sure why English subtitles weren’t added to the scenes in French; was it supposed to add mystery and intrigue? I just felt frustrated that I hadn’t done better in my college French classes.

Overall, I liked The French Connection. It’s a solid crime thriller with an anti-hero lead. Watch it for Hackman’s Oscar-winning performance and the exhilarating non-CGI car chase.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.