Ten Favorite SOUTHERN GOTHIC Movies

Southern-Gothic-image

Below is a list of my favorite movies with the theme of Southern Gothic:

 

TEN FAVORITE SOUTHERN GOTHIC MOVIES

1 - Written on the Wind

1. “Written on the Wind” (1956) – Douglas Sirk directed this lush adaptation of Robert Wilder’s 1945 novel about the damaging effects of a self-indulgent Texas family whose wealth stems from oil. The movie starred Rock Hudson, Lauren Bacall, Robert Stack and Oscar winner Dorothy Malone.

 

2 - The Beguiled

2. “The Beguiled” (1971) – Clint Eastwood starred in this surprisingly effective adaptation of Thomas P. Cullinan’s 1966 novel about a Union soldier’s stay at a girl’s school in 1863 Mississippi. Directed by Don Siegel, the movie co-starred Geraldine Page and Elizabeth Hartman.

 

3 - Eves Bayou

3. “Eve’s Bayou” (1997) – Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield and Debbie Morgan starred in this excellent tale about the affects of a Louisiana doctor’s extramarital affairs upon his family. The movie was written and directed by Kasi Lemmons.

 

4 - The Long Hot Summer 1985

4. “The Long Hot Summer” (1985) – Don Johnson and Judith Ivey starred in this excellent television remake of the 1958 film about an ambitious drifter’s experiences with a wealthy Mississippi family. Stuart Cooper directed this two-part television movie.

 

5 - Interview With a Vampire

5. “Interview With the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles” (1994) – Neil Jordan directed this excellent adaptation of Anne Rice’s 1976 novel about a former Louisiana planter-turned-vampire, who recalls his past history with a young reporter. Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt starred.

 

6 - Heavens Prisoners

6. “Heaven’s Prisoners” (1996) – Alec Baldwin starred in this interesting adaptation of James Lee Burke’s 1988 novel about a former New Orleans detective, who investigates the circumstances behind a mysterious plane crash. Directed by Phil Joanou, the movie co-starred Kelly Lynch, Eric Roberts, Teri Hatcher and Mary Stuart Masterson.

 

7 - The Story of Temple Drake

7. “The Story of Temple Drake” (1933) – Miriam Hopkins starred in this controversial adaptation of William Faulkner’s 1931 novel, “Sanctuary”; which told the story of a young Southern socialite who falls into the hands of a brutal gangster. Stephen Roberts directed.

 

8 - The Skeleton Key

8. “The Skeleton Key” (2005) – Kate Hudson starred in this atmospheric thriller about a New Orleans hospice, who becomes entangled in a mystery surrounding an old Louisiana plantation manor and Hoodoo rituals. Directed by Iain Sofley, the movie co-starred Gena Rowland, Peter Sarsgaard and John Hurt.

 

9 - One False Move

9. “One False Move” (1992) – Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton starred in this fascinating crime thriller about a Arkansas sheriff anticipating the arrival of three violent drug dealers. Directed by Carl Franklin, the movie co-starred Cynda Williams and Michael Beach.

 

10 - The Long Hot Summer 1958

10. “The Long Hot Summer” (1958) – Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward starred in this original adaptation of three William Faulkner novellas about the experiences of an ambitious drifter with a wealthy Mississippi family. The movie was directed by Martin Ritt.

Advertisements

“J. EDGAR” (2011) Review

“J. EDGAR” (2011) Review

Actor/director Clint Eastwood directed his third – or possibly fourth – biopic film, during his career, with “J. EDGAR”, an examination of the career and private life of F.B.I. director, J. Edgar Hoover. The movie starred Leonard Di Caprio as the infamous lawman. 

“J. EDGAR” is a 137 minute movie that spanned Hoover’s career in a series of flashbacks. The movie begins in the early 1960s, when the famed F.B.I. director is recounting his forty-to-fifty years as a Federal lawman. Hoover’s recollections span from his participation in the Palmer Raids – a series of attempts by the U.S. Department of Justice to arrest and deport radical leftists, especially anarchists, from the United States, his appointment as director of the Bureau of Investigations in the 1920s, his “War on Crime” campaign in the 1930s, the Lindbergh Baby kidnapping during the same decade and his investigation of civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr.. The movie also focuses on his use of blackmail to retain his position with the F.B.I., and his relationships with both his mother and Clyde Tolson, his assistant director for the Bureau.

I do not think I would ever regard “J. EDGAR” as one of Eastwood’s best work. It had the potential to be a top-notch film. But a slightly incoherent script written by Dustin Lance Black prevented the movie from reaching its potential. One, the movie’s use of flashbacks started fine. But somewhere in the movie’s second half, this use fell flat. I suspect that my problem with the flashbacks was that Black’s script and Eastwood’s direction seemed inconsistent and slightly confusing.

Another problem I had with “J. EDGAR” was its focus on the Lindbergh Kidnapping Case. It was simply too much. Hoover reached the heights of his fame as the Bureau’s director, because of the manhunt for Midwestern criminals such as John Dillinger, Alvin Karpis and Charles Floyd. I realize that this topic was also covered in Michael Mann’s 2009 crime drama,“PUBLIC ENEMIES”. But Eastwood and Black seemed determined to ignore the topic, aside from Hoover’s bouts of jealousy toward the agent that hunted down many of these criminals – Melvin Purvis. Instead, Eastwood and Black decided to focus a great deal on the Bureau’s participation in the Lindbergh case. Too much, if you want my opinion. The film never touched on the Bureau’s dealings or lack of with organized crime. I find this a pity, because one of the most memorable moments in Hoover’s career was his so-called “arrest” of gangster Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, a publicity stunt supported by columnist Walter Winchell.

Fortunately, “J. EDGAR” was not a complete loss. I must admit that despite its flaws, it was a solid and entertaining movie. Eastwood’s direction seemed to be at its best in scenes that featured anarchist Luigi Galleani’s attempted to assassinate Hoover’s boss, Mitchell Palmer with a mail bomb; Hoover’s meeting with Herbert Norman Schwarzkopf and Charles Lindbergh; a highly charged scene between Hoover and his mother regarding his sexual preference; and especially the scenes featuring Hoover’s relationship with Tolson. Most movie or television productions tend to portray the relationship between the two men with a slight tawdriness. Eastwood and Black’s portrayal of the Hoover-Tolson relationship struck me as surprisingly tasteful and compassionate – especially since other aspects of Hoover’s life and character was portrayed with less sympathy.

I must admit that Tom Stern’s cinematography was a solid piece of work, but it did not exactly blow my mind. And if I must be frank, I was not exactly enamored of the film’s slightly gray tone. I also felt slightly leery of the makeup created for Di Caprio, Arnie Hammer and Naomi Watts. The makeup did not seem effective in aging the three leads in the 1960s and 70s sequences. However, I was impressed by James J. Murakami’s production designs that conveyed the years between 1919 and 1972. I believe the re-creation of the early and mid 20th century would not have been complete without Deborah Hopper’s superb costume designs.

The biggest virtue of “J. EDGAR” turned out to be its cast. Once again, Leonardo Di Caprio rose to the occasion and gave a superb portrayal of a complex and some would say, difficult personality. As usual, Di Caprio managed to inject a good deal of sympathy and poignancy into a historical figure that has a negative reputation over the years. I had been impressed by Armie Hammer’s solid portrayal of the Winklevoss twins in last year’s “THE SOCIAL NETWORK”. But he really outdid himself as Hoover’s right hand man, Clyde Tolson – especially in the scenes featuring the pair’s relationship. Judi Dench gave her usual solid performance as Hoover’s strong-willed mother, Anna Marie Hoover. But in the scene featuring Mrs. Hoover’s disapproval of her son’s sexual lifestyle, she was brilliant and slightly scary. Naomi Watts gave a solid and slightly melancholic performance as Hoover’s faithful secretary, Helen Gandy. “J. EDGAR” also featured solid support from the likes Josh Lucas as the introverted Charles Lindbergh, Dermot Mulroney as the ineffectual New Jersey State Police superintendent Herbert N. Schwarzkopf, Lea Thompson as Lela Rogers (Ginger’s mother) Geoff Pierson as the intense Mitchell Palmer and Jeffrey Donovan as Attorney General Robert Kennedy. However, I was a little confused by Donovan’s slightly exaggerated take on Kennedy’s Boston accent, considering that Donovan is also a native of Massachusetts.

I noticed that “J. EDGAR” did not earn enough to make a profit at the box office. In a way, I can see why. I feel that it was a solid movie that failed to live up to any potential it could have achieved – especially at the hands of a first-rate director like Clint Eastwood. But thanks to his direction, the movie’s production designs and a first-rate cast led by the superb Leonardo Di Caprio, “J. EDGAR” still proved to be a somewhat entertaining and solid film.

“HEREAFTER” (2010) Review

 

“HEREAFTER” (2010) Review

Clint Eastwood reunited with Matt Damon for “HEREAFTER”, a fantasy drama about three people who are affected by death in different way in parallel stories. Damon portrayed a San Francisco factory worker named George who is able to communicate with the dead. Belgian actress Cécile de France portrayed a French television journalist who barely survived a tsunami, while on vacation. And twin brothers Frankie and George McLaren portrayed Marcus and Jason, an English boy and his elder twin brother, who is killed in a car accident.

I wish I could say that I loved ”HEREAFTER”, but I would be lying. I did not hate it. I found myself mildly interested in the stories of George, Marie and Marcus. Eastwood and screenwriter Peter Morgan provided enough pathos in their stories – especially Marcus’ story – to make me somewhat interested in their fate. ”HEREAFTER” had two outstanding scenes that knocked my socks off. One of the sequences centered on Marie’s harrowing experiences with a tsunami, which was featured in the movie’s opening scene. The other centered on the disastrous ending of a potential romance between George and a fellow cooking school student portrayed by Bryce Dallas Howard, when her curiosity over his ability forced her to face a dark secret from her past. I also found myself moved by Marcus’ inability to recover from his twin brother’s death. But despite these virtues, ”HEREAFTER” did not strike me as one the year’s more interesting movies.

The major problem I had with ”HEREAFTER” centered on the film’s pacing. I found it so damn slow. Really. About seventy minutes into the film, I found myself struggling to stay awake. I thought that Eastwood had finally overcome his penchant for directing slow-moving films. Apparently, I was wrong. Another problem I had with the film was that the three storylines really had nothing to do with one another. Each of the plotlines could have easily been a single episode from an anthology television series about death and the afterlife. The movie’s conclusion at a book fair in London held the three plotlines together. And quite frankly, I was not that impressed by it. The plot device that Morgan used to connect the three main characters struck me as incredibly contrived . . . and weak.

If there is one thing I can say about ”HEREAFTER” is that it lacked bad performance. The entire cast did a solid job, with one or two outstanding performances. Although they came off as a bit stiff in one scene early in the film, the McLauren brothers did a solid job in portraying the grieving Marcus and his dead twin, Jason. Cécile de France ably conveyed Marie’s emotional journey from the successful television journalist, to a traumatized woman, whose near death experience during a tsunami led her to slowly question her existence. Matt Damon gave an excellent performance as George, the factory worker who used to be a professional psychic, thanks to ability to communicate with the dead. I thought he was very subtle as a man desperate to live a normal and not deal with the emotional impacts of his clients’ reunions with dead loved ones and the exposures of family secrets. The best performance, in my opinion, came from Bryce Dallas Howard, who portrayed a fellow cooking school student name Melanie, to whom George becomes romantically attracted. She was emotional and superb as her character first goads George into reading her memories and eventually regrets her actions, when he unexpectedly exposes the sexual abuse her father had inflicted upon her as a child.

Like Eastwood’s 1997’s opus, ”MIDNGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL””HEREAFTER” is interesting enough for someone to watch at home . . . on a rainy day. But its slow pacing, fractured storylines and utterly contrived ending made me realize that I would never consider it a masterpiece, let alone one of my favorite movies.

“KELLY’S HEROES” (1970) Review

“KELLY’S HEROES” (1970) Review

When one thinks of acclaimed movies about World War II, titles such as 1962’s ”THE LONGEST DAY” or 1998’s”SAVING PRIVATE RYAN” come to mind. But an offbeat movie about a group of U.S. Army soldiers that go AWOL behind enemy lines to rob Nazi gold from a bank in a small French town does not conjure up images of Academy Award statuettes in one’s mind. In fact, I doubt that 1970’s ”KELLY’S HEROES” had ever received a prestigious award or nomination. 

”KELLY’S HEROES” began on a stormy night in 1944 France, in which a U.S. Army private named Kelly was ordered by his sergeant to find a German officer for information on the best taverns, restaurants, hotels and whorehouses in the nearby town of Nancy. Do you see where this is going? Instead, Kelly managed to nab a German officer who, in a state of alcoholic bleariness, revealed the location of a cache of Nazi gold being held at a bank in the German-held town of Clermont. Kelly then convinced the rest of the men in his squad and their gruff sergeant – Big Joe – to take advantage of the three-day furlough being offered to go after the gold. After all, their less than competent company commander, Captain Maitland, is rarely around to lead them and he had plans for a trip to Paris. Kelly also recruited an acid-tongued and avaricious supply sergeant named Crapgame and a proto-hippie tank commander named Oddball for support in his little caper. What followed was a hilarious, caustic and epic journey for a group of weary soldiers, determined to benefit somehow from a brutal war.

One aspect about ”KELLY’S HEROES” that struck me as . . . interesting was that the majority of the cast seemed to be between the ages of 30 and 45 during the movie’s production and looked it. Including the film’s main star, Clint Eastwood. The Army uniforms wore by most of the cast seemed historically questionable. One of the characters, namely Oddball, behaved like a slightly aged 1969/70 hippie with a questionable New York accent, instead of a 1940s Army sergeant. There are NO female characters in this movie whatsoever. The pacing threatened to bog down two-thirds into the film. And yet . . . and yet I LOVE this movie. In fact, I never get tired of watching it.

What do I love about ”KELLY’S HEROES”? Well, I could start with the screenplay, written by Troy Kennedy-Martin. It is a first-rate war story/caper that went into detail over Kelly’s discovery about the gold, his recruitment of his squad for the mission, the journey to Clermont . . . everything. Another aspect of the movie I had enjoyed was the witty dialogue. And who had received the cream of it? Who else but the King of Insults, Don Rickles. The movie also had some first-rate action that included a firefight near a field booby-trapped with mines, an attack upon a Nazi fuel depot by Oddball and his tank unit, and the final assault on Clermont that ended with a humorous and ironic twist. My favorite action sequence centered on the tank unit’s attack upon the Nazi fuel depot. There was something surreal and bizarre about Oddball’s tanks blowing nearly everyone to hell, while country-western music blasted from their speakers.

What did I love most about ”KELLY’S HEROES”? The characters, of course. Clint Eastwood portrayed the caper’s brainchild, Kelly – the former officer who was busted down to private. There was nothing particularly unique about Eastwood’s performance. Well . . . I must admit that I found his reactions to the lunatic characters around him rather funny. Especially when he interacted with the likes of Oddball. There are times – especially in this movie – when I feel that Eastwood might be one of the best reactors in Hollywood. Telly Savalas gave Eastwood a run for his money in terms of screen presence as Kelly’s sardonic, yet practical squad leader, Big Joe. After all, Kelly needed Big Joe’s cooperation to convince the rest of the squad to join him in on the caper. Whereas Eastwood reacted to the lunacy around him with facial expressions, Savalas did so with some very funny and caustic remarks.

Don Rickles. What can I say about his performance? He surely earned his moniker as the King of Insult Comedy in this movie. The man seemed to have twice the number of witticisms as the rest of the cast put together. And his performance as Crapgame, the caustic and avaricious supply sergeant was spot on. Donald Sutherland’s portrayal of the loopy tank sergeant, Oddball, is probably my favorite performance in the entire movie. On the surface, Sutherland’s Oddball seemed out of sync in a movie set during World War II. If ”KELLY’S HEROES” had been set during the Vietnam War, his Oddball would fit in beautifully. Ironically, Sutherland’s performance is one of the reasons why I love this movie. I really enjoyed watching Eastwood, Savalas, Rickles and especially Gavin McLeod (who played Oddball’s machine gunner and mechanic) reacting to his lunacy and hippie-style dialogue. A year before he had shot to fame as Archie Bunker in ”ALL IN THE FAMILY”, Carroll O’Connor appeared in this movie as the squad’s gung-ho division commander, Major General Colt. O’Connor literally infused the screen with a raw energy in his portrayal of the aggressive general with a tendency to refer to military action in football terms.

”KELLY’S HEROES” also had the good fortune to be filled with some memorable supporting characters that were portrayed by some first-rate actors. Stuart Margolin first made his presence known as Big Joe’s pragmatic and witty radio operator, Little Joe. Jeff Morris and Harry Dean Stanton provided plenty of comic relief as a pair of Southern-born soldiers that also happened to be friends. Richard Davalos (grandfather of Alexa Davalos of ”ANGEL” and ”DEFIANCE”) gave a memorable performance as the squad’s trigger happy marksman, Private Gutowski. Four years before”CHINATOWN”, Perry Lopez was hilarious as the slightly dim-witted Private Petuko. Karl-Otto Alberty made a brief, but memorable appearance as the German tank commander in Clermont who ended up standing between our ”Heroes”and the gold inside in the bank. And Gavin McLeod turned out to be a perfect straight man to Sutherland’s loopy Oddball as the latter’s exasperated mechanic and gunner.

While perusing the Wikipedia website, I discovered that ”KELLY’S HEROES” had placed at #34 on the 100 Greatest War Movies list. Frankly, I would heartily agree. In fact, the movie appeared on my list of ten favorite World War II movies of all time. That is how much I love it.

“THE CHANGELING” (2008) Review

”CHANGELING” (2008) Review

Set in Los Angeles of the late 1920s, ”CHANGELING” is based upon a true story about a single mother who realized that the boy returned to her after a kidnapping is not her son. After confronting the city authorities, they vilified her as delusional and an unfit mother. The movie’s events were related to the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, an infamous kidnapping and murder case that was uncovered in 1928. 

J. Michael Straczynski, creator and producer of the Award winning science-fiction television series, ”BABYLON 5”, had been tipped off by a contact at the Los Angeles City Hall about the case of Christine Collins and the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. He wrote a screenplay based upon the case and submitted it Brian Grazer and Ron Howard of Imagine Entertainment. Howard was slated to direct the film. But due to a scheduling conflict, Howard was unable to accept the assignment and it was offered to Clint Eastwood. Academy Award winning actress Angelina Jolie was cast as the anguished mother, Christine Collins. The cast also included John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly, Amy Ryan, Jason Butler Harner, Colm Feore, and Geoff Pierson.

I might as well say it. I really enjoyed ”CHANGELING”. I enjoyed it more than I thought possible. When I first learned about the movie, I thought it would end up as some missing child story with a science-fiction twist. After all, the movie had been scripted by Straczynski. I eventually discovered that the movie was simply based upon a true life crime that occurred in Los Angeles in the late 1920s. And since the movie, which happened to be two hours and 41 minutes long, was directed by Clint Eastwood . . . well, I feared that it would turn into another one of his slow-paced films that would leave me struggling to stay conscious. Thankfully, it did not happen. As he had done in ”FLAGS OF OUR FATHER”, Eastwood managed to forego his usual snail-like pacing and do Straczynski’s superb script justice with what I believe is one of his best works.

”CHANGELING” is a very engrossing story about single mother Christine Collins’ (Jolie) efforts to find her missing son Walter and deal with the antipathy and lack of interest of the Los Angeles Police Department. Collins’ interactions with the LAPD and especially Police Captain J.J. Jones (Donovan) were especially fascinating. The story took an even darker tone when a more competent police officer named Detective Ybarra (Kelly) made a connection to the disappearance of Collins’ son to a possible case involving a serial killer of young boys. Judging from what I have read about Christine Collins and the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, Eastwood and Straczynski did a superb job of recapturing both the era and the actual case. Mind you, the movie is not completely accurate. After all, Jolie must be at least 15 years younger than the real Christine Collins was in 1928. But I am speaking of a Hollywood film, not a documentary.

Judging by the excellent performances in the film, it was easy for me to see that the cast really benefitted from Eastwood’s direction and Straczynski’s script. But to be honest, not even the best director or script could ever guarantee a good performance. Which is why I feel that ”CHANGELING” was very lucky in its cast . . . especially with its leading lady. Despite winning two Golden Globe awards, a Screen Actors Guild award and an Oscar, Angelina Jolie has never really developed a reputation as a first-rate actress. Sometimes I wonder if the media and the public are so blinded by her looks and image that they fail to realize how truly talented she is. I would certainly rate Christine Collins as one of Jolie’s best performances. She managed to completely submerge into her role of the ladylike Mrs. Collins who has to overcome her natural reticence to resist the L.A.P.D.’s lie that the boy returned to her some five months after her son’s disappearance is the latter. Although most moviegoers and critics tend to be impressed by emotional and showy performances, I tend to be impressed by more subtle acting. And there are two scenes that featured Jolie at her subtle best – one featured an interview Collins had with an analyst inside a city psychiatric ward and the other centered around Captain Jones’ last efforts to convince her that the boy found in Illinois and delivered to her was her son Walter. I had feared that the Hollywood community would overlook her performance and fail to give her a nomination.  Thankfully, Jolie managed to earn a slew of acting nominations for her performance . . . including Academy Award and Golden Globe nods.

Jolie received strong support from four actors in particular – John Malkovich, Jeffrey Donovan, Michael Kelly and Jason Butler Harner. Malkovich gave a solid performance as a Los Angeles evangelist named Reverend Gustav Briegleb who has been outspoken against the Los Angeles Police Department’s incompetence and corruption. His soliloquy about the police department not only gave me chills, it also reminded me that not much in Los Angeles politics have not changed in eighty years. In his chilling performance as Police Captain J.J. Jones, Jeffrey Donovan proved his versatility as an actor in a performance that bordered on subtle intimidation. Michael Kelly portrayed Detective Ybarra, the L.A. cop who discovered the link between Walter Collins and a serial killer . . . and he did so with a solid performance that matched Malkovich’s. The one actor who really impressed me was Jason Butler Harner, who gave a creepy performance as serial killer Gordon Northcott. The filmmakers had hired Harner due to the latter’s physical resemblance to the real Northcott. Physical resemblance aside, the actor’s performance could have easily become over-the-top. But Harner managed to inject a strong creepiness into the role without turning the character into a caricature.

I did have a few quibbles about ”CHANGELING”. Earlier I had marveled at the movie’s pacing despite Eastwood’s role as director and the 141 minute running time. And I stand by every word. But I must admit there was one point in the film in which it threatened to drag . . . namely the last fifteen or twenty minutes. One could suggest that the movie’s finale could have easily been deleted. But considering what had been revealed in those final moments, I doubt that would have been wise. One last quibble I had was Oscar nominee Amy Ryan’s role as a prostitute and fellow inmate of Collins’ at a city psychiatric ward. The filmmakers might as well have credited her appearance as a cameo. Despite Ryan’s excellent performance, her appearance in the film struck me nothing more than a waste of time.

No movie is perfect and as I had pointed out, ”CHANGELING” had a few imperfections. But in the end it turned out to be a fascinating look into a period in the history of Los Angeles. Thanks to Eastwood’s direction, Straczynski’s script, Angelina Jolie and a very talented supporting cast; ”CHANGELING” turned out to be an engrossing tale of crime and corruption that has already made my list of favorite movies for 2008.