A-Z Film Challenge: Day Ten

Not even half way through, and up to the letter ‘J’. Choices are a little thinner on the ground here, but I have still found a few good ones to select, and my top choice is already definite.

Starting with a fantasy film from my youth, ‘Jason and The Argonauts’ (1963) was made before CGI had ever been imagined, and special effects had to be contrived using small models, and stop-motion animation. This ancient tale of a band of Greek warriors setting sail into the unknown in search of the legendary Golden Fleece, was brought to the screen with a solid cast, and the special talents of model maker Ray Harryhausen. Who can forget the ‘army of skeletons’, or the immense metal statue of ‘Talos’? This is an all-action film, beautifully made, that still holds up in the 21st century. Stirring stuff!

I have yet to see ‘The Revenant’, but the story of a fur trapper living in the wilderness of the old west has already been done long before, and very well too. In one of his best performances, Robert Redford gave life to ‘Jeremiah Johnson’, in Sidney Pollack’s 1972 film of that name. Filmed in stunning locations, with a small cast including Will Geer, and some wonderful native American actors, this just felt so authentic back then, and still does. The sense of isolation and occasional great danger are so well conveyed, you will feel as if you are there. And you are unlikely to ever forget the scenery either.

A quick spin thorough the World Cinema ‘J’ titles will give us ‘Jean de Florette’ (1986). This French film tells a heartbreaking period story with superb performances from Gerard Depardieu, Yves Montand, and Daniel Auteuil. From China, there is the visually stunning ‘Ju Dou’ (1990). Set in the early 1900s, this tragic tale of a love triangle has stayed in my mind. Wonderful location filming and eye-popping use of colour, complement powerful and emotional performances. And it has the talented Gong-Li in the lead role. Japanese horror films once dominated the market for that genre, and they don’t get any better than ‘Ju-On’ (2000). I am rarely frightened by a film, but this one really gave me the creeps. It is a cinematic definition of ‘less is more’, and never loses its grip on your attention. The last of my subtitled selections is ‘Johnny Mad Dog’ (2008). Set in a fictional country that we all know is Liberia, it highlights the shameful use of boy soldiers, in a brutal civil war. The young men in the cast deliver outstanding performances, dealing with the uneasy themes of murder, rape, and being forced into the army. I doubt you will ever forget it. I know I haven’t.

Whatever you think of the conspiracy theory surrounding the assassination of John Kennedy, you cannot fail to admire the sheer scope of Oliver Stone’s 1991 film, ‘JFK’. The cast list is a who’s-who of many great actors, and despite the considerable running time of three and a half hours, the film never loses its grip on the viewer. I loved it then, and still do. Gary Oldman is utterly convincing as Oswald, and Tommy Lee Jones puts in a memorable turn as Clay Shaw. Add the central performance from Kevin Kostner, and character roles for Jack Lemmon, John Candy, Joe Pesci, Donald Sutherland, and so many more I could name, and this film delivers in every way imaginable.

Sometimes it is nice just to sit back and enjoy a gripping thriller, even if you already know who the killer is, and can see through every hole in the plot. Even better if the cast is convincing, and the script and editing are top notch too. Jeff Bridges and Glenn Close are both very good actors. Put them together in one film, add some murders and mystery, and you have ‘Jagged Edge’ (1985). I watched this again recently on TV, and even knowing the twist, and the final scene, I still enjoyed it immensely. Great courtroom scenes, and support from the reliable Pete Coyote too. It’s a good one!

As I get to my top choice for ‘J’, I can sense that you are already thinking of all those good films that I missed. That’s OK, as it leaves plenty for discussion later. So, here we go.

The films of Quentin Tarantino have a habit of dividing film fans. Many adore everything he does, others criticise him for stealing too many themes and ideas from other films. I am firmly in the fan category where he is concerned, but not blindly, and not always. He has a tendency to silliness that can sometimes work, but not always. There is no silliness here. Not only today’s pick, but high on the list of my all-time films, ‘Jackie Brown’ (1997) is my favourite and most complete Tarantino film. From the opening long-shot, as Pam Grier walks through an airport to the soundtrack playing ‘Across 110th Street’, I sat in the cinema and instinctively knew that I was going to love this film. And I was right. I could write a post about how much I love this film. With the solid Robert Forster as the wonderfully-named bail bondsman Max Cherry, to Robert De Niro’s against-type shabby hoodlum, everything about this film just oozes quality. Good music, sharp dialogue, and sassy characters, the more I type this, the better I like the film.

You get Samuel L. Jackson as a drug-dealing, gun-running crook, A brilliantly air-headed Bridget Fonda as his unfaithful girlfriend, and Michael Keaton as the Federal Agent too. Pam Grier as the airline stewardess mixed up in crime as a courier dominates the film with her standout performance. Forster’s lovelorn bail bondsman perfectly pitches the world-weary man looking for something in life. The plot has enough murder, double-dealing, sufficient twists and turns, and great location filming to satisfy any viewer. It never flags, and just keeps getting better, as it goes on. I don’t often use the word ‘flawless’, but this is.

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63 thoughts on “A-Z Film Challenge: Day Ten

  1. I’m going to have to add “Jaws” to your list, Pete … not that I ever saw the movie or thought it was great, but because if we left it off, my author-pal, Tim Baker, would go ballistic! So this one is for you, Timmy! “We’re going to need a bigger screen!”

    As for your “J” list, I do remember seeing “Jason and the Argonauts” during the 60s with my father. Either it was a series of badly dubbed sword-and-sandals running on TV at the time or we saw them at the Royal Ontario Museum. I do remember going there regularly with Dad to see the free movies they offered.

    And the other movies you mentioned … I have some catching up to do as I have not seen a-one!

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  2. Here’s another vote, to include “Jaws”. Long before “The Blair Witch Project” and all that jerky, grainy, “found footage,” stuff, I think “Jaws” was a terrific movie, maybe because in parts it seemed to homemade in places, kinda believable because it was maybe pasted together from a family Super8 reel, everyone out of their depth. Dreyfuss normally bugs me, but his smart-aleck manner was perfect for this, Robert Shaw seemed truly unstable in an entertaining way, and Roy Scheider was very believable as a city cop who hated water, because that ‘s where you drown. Even Bruce, the mechanical shark, who gets criticized for looking mechanical, was pretty good really, because sharks really don’t have a lot of personality, I’ve watched them in aquariums and they do look like gray animatronic thugs. The musical score, also perfect.

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      1. Thanks, Pete, I’m enjoying your movie marathon.
        “Blair Witch Project” and it’s promotional scheme were clever, what bugged me was the seemed to be the underlying principle, which was urban folks’ fear and rejection of the forests themselves, even when there’s no ghostly witches around. “Woods Are Creepy” was the basic attitude. But yes a very effective movie.

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        1. I know a lot of people around here (mostly women, but some men) who will not go into the local woodland, even in broad daylight. It seems they have some primal fear of being attacked that doesn’t involve witchcraft or the supernatural. Coming from a big city, where real attack is all too possible, I have never shared that fear of natural surroundings.
          Best wishes, Pete.

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    1. Thanks for that welcome addition, Susan. I have seen Juno, and it’s a very good film indeed. Canada is often used as a ‘film set’ to represent American towns. But then there is Donald Sutherland, and his son Kiefer, both Canadian nationals, who so many people think are Americans. I will forgive the fact that Canada also gave us Justin Bieber! πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I was surprised by how much I liked The Revenant – a smelly man surviving against the odds isn’t immediately attractive to me – I thought it was superbly filmed – and di Caprio is magnificent within the limitations of suffering. Yep, a conscious paradox – in real life there’s no end to suffering, but in art there are diminishing returns. Enjoying this series immensely – you are my favourite film critic.

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  4. So am I allowed Django, the D is silent after all πŸ™‚ If not pop it in the D’s, and thinking about D (I’m a little slow) I would like to mention Dead Poets Society, which I have enjoyed watching a few occasions.
    In Cold Blood, you managed to keep me awake past 11pm! I remembered the last scene which makes me think I must have seen it when I was young. Quite a film, worthy of your I top spot.

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  5. I saw “Jean de Florette” and “Jackie Brown” at the movie theater, and remember watching “Jason and the Argonauts” on TV as a child. I’m also a fan of Quentin Tarantino, though I haven’t seen his latest film.

    Johnrieber mentioned “Jaws” (1975). That’s on my short list, and I’ve also read the book by Peter Benchley in both French and English. Also on my short list: Jurassic Park (1993)/Jurassic Park III (2001), “John Carter” (2012), and “Joan of Arc” (1999). You might be surprised to see “John Carter” here, but this is a very well-made fantasy that, in my opinion, is far more creative and entertaining than anything George Lucas has ever produced. “Joan of Arc” is a made-for-television mini-series that could have been released in theaters. Starring Leelee Sobieski as Jeanne d’Arc, the film has an impressive cast that includes Peter O’Toole, Shirley MacLaine, Maximilian Schell, Jacqueline Bisset, Powers Boothe, and Neil Patrick Harris. (By the way, Sobieski would later go on to star in the suspenseful film, “Joy Ride” [2001], which, ironically, also stars Paul Walker.)

    I notice that Wikipedia, when listing “J” films, includes all the James Bond features. But, of course, none of them actually start with the tenth letter of the alphabet.

    I’m sure Johnrieber will be happy to hear that my pick is Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws.” This is one of those rare instances where the film is actually better than the book. It’s also the best shark film ever made (although, for sheer entertainment, there’s always “Deep Blue Sea” [1999]). “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Jaws’ was amazing at the time, though in hindsight, the rubber shark is hard to take seriously. Great quotes though, and Robert Shaw to enjoy too. I would not accept that Bond films should be under ‘J’, so I am happy not to have consulted Wikipedia.
      As for Joan of Arc, I recall your liking for that mini-series. I also thought that Milla Jovovich was superb as Joan in ‘The Messenger’, Luke Besson’s 1999 version of that story. And we got Malkovich as a bonus!
      Thanks as always for your input, David.
      (I haven’t seen ‘John Carter’, but any film that transports a US Civil War soldier to Mars, and has Willem Dafoe in it too, has to be worth a look.)
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Jackie Brown is a great choice! My favourite Tarantino too. And you also covered what would have been my suggestions – Ju Dou (my first and favourite Zhang Yimou film) and Jean de Florette. So no more from me today.

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    1. Nice to be ‘in synch’ today, ozflicks. More Chinese films to come, certainly, as well as quite a few others from my favourite director, who just happens to be Japanese!
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  7. can’t contribute quite yet as DC’ s Justice League hasn’t been released till November but it will be my fave for ‘J’ I’m sure! Ben Affleck, Henry Cavell,Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Amy Adams,Jesse Eisenberg t name but a few of the big stars in this project, can’t wait!

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  8. Jackie Brown is a great choice. Most recently I appreciated Natalie Portman in Jackie. Others include the musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, the 1959 version of Journey to the Center of the Earth, Jane Eyre (with William Hurt). The first Jurassic Park.

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    1. I haven’t seen ‘Jackie’ but recall you liking it. Hurt was very good in ‘Jane Eyre’ though I have a fondness for the 1943 version, with Orson Welles. Thanks as always for your suggestions, Cindy.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I haven’t watched a couple of your recommendations. Although I don’t read that much in French, the story of Jean de Florette captured me even in my limited French and the movie is gorgeous. After all these years I still have a soft spot for Reservoir Dogs (I remember watching the preview in London courtesy of Time Out and being blown over. And It always makes me think of David Mamet) although I agree Jackie Brown is great. From the complex narrative point-of-view I prefer Pulp Fiction, but it’s a hard choice. K tomorrow…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I also liked Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. I just prefer the ‘retro’ style of Jackie Brown, maybe because of it being based on the Elmore Leonard pulp fiction novel, ‘Rum Punch’.
      I was expecting you to go with ‘Jamon Jamon’, for the Spanish connection! πŸ™‚
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

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