The movies selected for review are the choice of the reviewer. Depending on your source for DVDs, they may or may not be available that particular week, so you may want to clip the SOFA CINEMA column for future reference. Suggestions for DVD titles are welcome. Enjoy the movies.
SOFA CINEMA is enjoying kayaking the waterways of the beautiful Northwest during the month of August and is taking this wonderful opportunity to recommend a handful of memorable films you might have missed the first time around. Enjoy!
BOYS' NIGHT OUT (GIRLS CAN WATCH, TOO!):
Caissons, Cars, & Cowboys
"Letters from Iwo Jima"
Shades of gray. How appropriate that Clint Eastwood made the directorial decision to film "Letters from Iwo Jima" in black and white. Statistics show that the film-going public (or in this case "renting" public) prefers watching films in color. The same public prefers not to read subtitles and for the most part likes to be on the winning side when the end credits roll.
Well, there is no "winning" side to this film that depicts the last days of battle between U.S. Marines and the Japanese troops on the remote island. More that 7,000 Americans and more than 20,000 Japanese were casualties after 40 days of fighting.
Ken Watanabe, a familiar face to American audiences, portrays General Kuribayashi. He arrives to command a mission he knows intellectually is doomed from the start. Educated in the United States, he is well aware of the challenge he faces in engaging weary, hungry and outnumbered soldiers to do battle.
"Letters from Iwo Jima" was almost an afterthought. While filming "Flags of Our Fathers," Eastwood created "Letters ..." from the script by newcomer Iris Yamashita, a young Japanese-American woman. The films have location and incident in common, but very little else. ("Flags ..." centers around the famous flag-raising on the island by a handful of Marines and the events that followed.)
It was uncomfortable watching a film where there was no clear distinction between good guys and bad guys. Whether studying history or reading current events usually only one side of the story is presented. When we were young, we bought the "good guys wear white hats" theory without question. As adults, we should question the realities of war and take a hard look at how the "black hats" are being portrayed. More often than not, all soldiers are "guys" in shades of gray.
Cars are fun. "Cars" is fun. Animated films seem to be released on DVD every other day, so unless you're using anything and everything in the DVD format as a babysitter to numb the younger set, you need to be discerning about what you rent or what you buy for the home library.
A pretty sure bet is anything associated with PIXAR - "Finding Nemo" is the best one in years, also "Monsters Inc." and, of course, "Toy Story." How does "Cars" hold up by comparison? Not too bad, particularly if you're a NASCAR fan.
The plot is predictable and it's long at more than two hours for little ones to make it through in one sitting, but "Cars" is fairly harmless as it weaves its way across the desert landscape. There's enough benign innuendo to entertain anyone over 14 and the end credits are worth the wait.
Voiceovers by Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy and Paul Newman (yep, that Paul Newman) add to the raspy flavor of the adventure.
"Cars" will either rev your engine or stall halfway through, but the little ones probably will enjoy the ride.
Who knows why a movie stays with you over the years? Released in 1980, "Tom Horn" was the next to the last picture Steve McQueen ever made. Based on the life and death of the U.S. scout of the same name, the movie sticks fairly close to the reality of the man and it is worthy of being dusted off the shelf for either a first or second viewing.
Late in his career, Horn was hired by cattle barons in Wyoming to put an end to rustling, no questions asked. Everyone was appreciative until the gunfighter was accused of killing a young boy from a far distance.
McQueen melds into the backdrop of the Old West as comfortably as the saddle on his favorite horse. He delivers his lines with a laconic cadence that makes Horn not only believable, but attractive. It's no wonder the local schoolmarm (Linda Evans) falls for his gruff charm.
Performances by Western staples Richard Farnsworth and Slim Pickens are welcome additions to the cast, but, honestly, the star of "Tom Horn" is the scenery. Shot by cinematographer John Alonzo, the West never seemed so expansive. Alonzo captured the soul of the character every time Horn/McQueen gazed off in the distance. Although the story was set in Wyoming, it was shot in Arizona and Mexico.
But none of that truly matters, any more than the matter of Horn's innocence or guilt. "Tom Horn" is more about a way of life long gone.
Rebecca Redshaw worked in the film industry in Los Angeles for 25 years. A novelist and playwright, she has published in numerous magazines and newspapers in addition to teaching fiction. She is the Arts & Entertainment critic for the international entertainment Web site NotesFromHollywood.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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