More Desert Island Movies

Back in Time

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
                – from Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Last night I watched Skyfall again, on the new EPIX movie network. As I was watching, I could still hear the whispers of things I believe are true. That makes this review something more about how time manipulates us than the movie, about how technology fights a battle with experience that only one can win.

This Bond, Daniel Craig in his third film in the 50 year old series, is older and he sometimes fails. That sounds familiar to all of us who began watching Bond decades ago. We are older and we have sometimes failed. We have been rushed along the rapids of the internet and the laptop and over the waterfall of the smart phone and Facebook and we are still here. To most of us, to me at least, new technologies are challenges to be overcome, mastered. I’m not sure anyone born in the last thirty years sees technology that way.

“I can do more damage on my laptop sitting in my pajamas before my first cup of Earl Grey than you can do in a year in the field,” the new Q, played by a very young looking Ben Whishaw, tells Bond at their first meeting.

All these new toys are part of this generation’s every day life. I was born, however, on the cusp of all this. Too young to be caught up in the tidal wave of cultural change that washed the first Bond away in the late 1960’s, and too old to believe that any technology fundamentally changed me, or the world. My grandmother went to town in a horse-drawn cart when she was a girl. Before she died, men talked to her through a piece of furniture with a picture tube from the moon. But those technologies weren’t there during the depression when her husband died and she had to raise four children by herself, and that experience molded her more than a man on the moon.

I’m not saying that technology isn’t good or we don’t need it. We couldn’t live our lives today without it. We reject it at our own peril. And the Bond of Skyfall, the old dog, knows his job better because of his experiences, but he may not be as good at it because the technology he needs to do it now is not part of who he is, like it is part of the new Q.

These were the whispers I heard while I watched the movie. They were drowned out, occasionally, by other voices, voices that asked why so many recent spy thrillers have a list of deep cover agents that’s been stolen. It’s a fall back of the story telling somehow, like the machines taking over in so many science fiction movies. Actually, it’s the rise of the machine in Skyfall, too. But they haven’t taken over just yet.

No, Skyfall is a harbinger of the old, when men were men and women were Bond girls. Much of that feeling is due to Daniel Craig. I thought Clive Owen would have been a better choice when they selected a new Bond three movies ago, but Craig has been a revelation. I had been caught up in the savoir-faire shell Bond had become, mostly a caricature of Sean Connery’s James Bond. But I am glad to see, finally, a Bond to match the original. Someone a little uneasy in the halls of power, almost a gentleman, but grittier. And the three Daniel Craig Bond films, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, are the best three consecutive Bond films since the first three, Dr. No, From Russia with Love and Goldfinger.

Judi Dench as M tells us why this new Bond is better when she quotes the Tennyson lines above. After she speaks these lines, the Bond we always knew was there reveals himself anew. This Bond will not yield, his experience will not let him. So, when M asks him, “Where are we going?”

Bond answers, “Back in time.”

Hero Worship – Man of Steel

I should have waited to post my super hero movie list. I took my son to see Man of Steel yesterday. It is the new Superman reboot from Zack Snyder, and it is one of the best of the bunch. It makes the 2006 Superman Returns even more irrelevant than it already is.

There is plenty of capes and x-ray vision and Lois Lane in this new telling, but this is a human movie, about fathers and sons and mothers and teenagers and everyday heroes. It is in quiet moments when the power of this film are manifest, moments when a mother weeps for the child she will never see again but willingly surrenders or when she fears her son will be out of her reach if everyone knows what he can do or when fathers protect their sons with the shield of their own lives. And even in the cringing, 9/11 collapsing skyscrapers of the movie’s final battle scenes there are little human moments that save the ending from being swamped in CGI, scenes of cops shepherding people to safety as the city falls down on them or a hand to hold when fear has gripped the heart.

But I wax poetic, to my shame. It is only a movie about someone who does not exist. Perhaps, though, we would all be better off if a bit of the Man of Steel stayed here with us.

Title Director
Batman Begins (2005) Christopher Nolan
Iron Man (2008) Jon Favreau
The Incredibles (2004) Brad Bird
Man of Steel (2013) Zack Snyder
Unbreakable (2000) M. Night Shyamalan
The Avengers (2012) Joss Whedon
Hancock (2008) Peter Berg
X-Men: First Class (2011) Matthew Vaughn
Thor (2011) Kenneth Branagh
Constantine (2005) Francis Lawrence

Hero Worship

Ever since we turned the calendar to the twenty-first century, Hollywood has turned it’s gaze upon heroes. Not soldiers or fire fighters or that guy who dives into a frozen river to save someone from a sinking car, but SUPER heroes. There have been more movies about comic book super heroes since 2000 than in all the prior years of cinema’s history. We’ve had super hero series, like Batman and Spider Man and Iron Man (man, that’s a lot of man’s). We’ve had movies about what it means to be a super hero, like Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan’s last decent movie, and Kick-Ass and Hancock. Some have worked (Christopher Nolan’s Batman series) and some haven’t (like anything associated with the name Spider Man).

But whether it works or not, I’m good with all this super heroing. Maybe it’s just me, but I like it when the bad guys aren’t really the good guys or when all we find out about the good guys is how bad they really are. Just give me the red blooded American, John Wayne swagger, hero treatment. And that’s what this current crop of super hero movies is, for the most part. Even Hollywood has generally left it’s political and social commentary on the cutting room floor and given us films about super heroes and not social justice.

These are my ten favorites, but there are so many I’m sure some of your favorites didn’t make my cut. Or maybe I just didn’t pick the film from the series you would choose. Let me know what I was crazy to leave off the list.

Title Director
Batman Begins (2005) Christopher Nolan
Iron Man (2008) Jon Favreau
The Incredibles (2004) Brad Bird
Unbreakable (2000) M. Night Shyamalan
The Avengers (2012) Joss Whedon
Hancock (2008) Peter Berg
X-Men: First Class (2011) Matthew Vaughn
Thor (2011) Kenneth Branagh
Constantine (2005) Francis Lawrence
Chronicle (2012) Josh Trank

Character Study

I first saw Bridge on the River Kwai when I was a little boy, maybe five or six. I was sick and sleeping in bed with my mother. The movie was playing on the 13″ black and white TV on her dresser. It was the late movie, the one that used to come on after the local news, and I was sick, but I stayed up, “glued to the TV” as my mom liked to say. I has been one of my favorite films ever since. It’s a great story, yes, and I’ve read the book by Pierre Boulle (the same author who wrote Planet of the Apes). BUt it has become for me an insight on how different those British blokes are from us Americans.

At the point in the film when William Holden’s character, an American navel officer who escaped from the Japanese concentration camp, is being being asked by a British officer, played by Jack Hawkins, to return with him and his team to blow up the bridge being built at the camp.

Holden says, “Do your intelligence people have any idea what happened to (British) Colonel Nicholson? He had the guts of a maniac. They were about to shoot him, and he didn’t bat an eye.”

And Hawkins responds, “I suppose if you’re about to be shot, there isn’t a great deal you can do.”

Not an American response. We are John Wayne. We are going to fight the dying of the light. The scene below shows that British character even more vividly, and it is the one scene I will still stay up to watch.

VIEW of Colonel Saito pacing in his quarters
and Colonel Nicholson being escorted inside.

Good evening, Colonel.
Do you mind sitting over here?
I am having rather a late supper.
(Walking to table)
English corned beef.

No, thank you.

Produce of Scotland.
I prefer it to saki.
I spent three years in London, you know.
I studied at the London Polytechnic.
(Passing a drink to Colonel Nicholson)


Later, perhaps.


I was not a good artist.
My father disapproved.
He felt I belonged in the army,
so I changed from art to engineering.

I must tell you, Colonel Saito,
I intend to make a full report
of your activities in this camp.

I do not think
you quite realize my position.
I must carry out my orders.

Oh, quite, quite.

My orders are to complete the bridge
by the 12th day of May.
Time is short.
I only have 12 weeks.

No doubt.

Therefore, I am compelled
to use all available personnel.

But no officers, except
in an administrative capacity.

But officers are working
along the entire railway.
You know it! I know it!

I’m not responsible for the actions
of other commanding officers.
Personally, I’m appalled.

Let us not get excited.
Will you have a cigar?

No, thank you.

When I said all officers must work,
naturally I never meant you,
the commanding officer.
My orders were only intended
for officers below–

None of my officers
will do manual labor.

I was about to say, I have been
thinking the matter over,
and decided to put majors and above
on administrative duties,
leaving only the junior officers
to lend a hand.

I’m afraid not.
The Convention’s clear on that point.

Do you know what will happen to me
if the bridge is not ready in time?

I haven’t the foggiest.

I’ll have to kill myself.
What would you do if you are me?

I suppose if I were you,
I’d have to kill myself.
(Taking the drink from the table.)

(Rising from the table.)
I warn you, Colonel.
If I am to die,
others will die before me.
Do you understand that?

Major Clipton did mention
something to that effect.


That won’t solve your problem.
But I’m sure we can arrive
at a proper solution.
Please sit down.
(Colonel Saito sits back down.)
Now, tell me, Colonel,
do you or do you not agree that the
first job of an officer is command?

Of course.

Take this bridge of yours.
It’s quite an enormous undertaking.
And to be frank, I have grave doubts
whether your lieutenant, uh,
What’s his name?


Is capable of tackling a job
of such importance.
On the other hand,
I have officers,
Reeves and Hughes for instance,
who’ve built bridges
all over India.
The men respect them.
It’s essential for an officer
to have that respect, I’m sure you agree.
If he loses it, he ceases to command.
And what happens then?
Demoralization and chaos.
A pretty poor commander I would be
if I allowed that to happen to my men.
(Taking another drink)

Perhaps you are not aware
that the bridge is now
under my personal command.

And may I ask,
are you satisfied with the work?

I am not!

You’ve proved my point.

I hate the British!

You are defeated,
but you have no shame.

You are stubborn,
but have no pride.

You endure,
but you have no courage.

I hate the British!

It’s pointless going on like this.

Stay there!

VIEW of Japanese officer entering room with
guards and removing Colonel Nicholson.

The New Disney

Pixar is what Disney used to be. I know, I know, Disney owns Pixar. So, even if Disney can’t make a quality animated film any more, at least it still knows a good thing when it sees it. The first three films on this list are also my top three overall animated films, but this list remained difficult to compile for a few reasons. First, Pixar has only made 13 animated features. Second, which three get left off this list – for me those are A Bug’s Life, Up and Brave. And, most importantly, the first five on this list are so good it is hard to put any of the others in the same category.

As an extension of “Pixar is the new Disney,” John Lasseter is becoming the new Walt. His vision and storytelling are climbing a mountain scaled by very few. He has also had the insight, or is it foresight, to identify remarkable talents like Brad Bird and Andrew Stanton. They each have two of the films on this list. But now they have begun to dip their toe in live action film making, with varying success. Is that pressure from Disney? or a natural outgrowth of their creative drive?

That leads to an even more compelling question. Will Pixar be able to continue to add to their stable of talent and extend the success of Pixar? Toy Story 3 and Brave featured first time directors for Pixar. The third Toy Story installment was a fitting and compassionate conclusion to the trilogy. Brave, however, seemed to step into some murky Disney waters. Let’s pray Pixar continues to succeed. Every kid, after all, needs a little Disney now and then.

Title Director
WALL-E Andrew Stanton
Finding Nemo Andrew Stanton
The Incredibles Brad Bird
Monsters, Inc. Peter Docter
Toy Story John Lasseter
Toy Story 2 John Lasseter
Toy Story 3 Lee Unkrich
Ratatouille Brad Bird
Cars John Lasseter
Cars 2 John Lasseter

Have you seen any of these?

I’m always behind on movies. I don’t go to see many in the theater. I have my own theater at home, one where I can pause the film if I need to get a soda or go to the restroom. Still, most of these came out in the last year or so. Many of them are not the most popular, box office blockbusters, but they are all worth a watch, with a story to tell or an actor or director I like or based on a book I’ve read. And for whatever reason I watched any of these films in the first place, these are the ones I wanted to watch again.

Title Director
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo David Fincher
Super 8 J.J. Abrams
Get Low Aaron Schneider
The Rum Diary Bruce Robinson
Midnight in Paris Woody Allen
For Greater Glory Dean Wright
The Debt John Madden
Kill the Irishman Jonathan Hensleigh
Brighton Rock Rowan Joffe
Get the Gringo Adrian Grunberg

Desert Island Directors

How do you choose what movies to watch? Who’s in it? What it’s about? One of the first things I do is look at who is directing the movie. If any of these guys make a new movie (excepting the ones that are dead, of course), I want to see it. Even the dead guys can get in on the act if it’s one of their films I haven’t seen before. That doesn’t mean the movie is always great, but the way these guys translate ideas into vision appeals to me.

David Lean
Billy Wilder
Tony Scott
John Lasseter
Joel & Ethan Coen
Tim Burton
John Ford
Woody Allen
Steven Spielberg
Wes Anderson

My Classic Movies

This is a very personal list. This is not “the greatest classic movies of all time” or anything like that. These are just old films that captured me, sometimes in just some small way – like Walter Brennan’s “You ever been stung by a dead bee?” in To Have and Have Not, or the incredible, masterpiece images of the passion of Christ in the the first minutes of Barabbas. I’m sure you’ll find yourself saying things like “Why To Catch a Thief and not Vertigo or Rear Window?” (because there have never been two more beautiful people in a more beautiful place than Grace Kelly and Cary Grant on the French Riviera), but if you haven’t seen any of these, you should take a look. Maybe you’ll find something to like, too.

Title Director
To Have and Have Not Howard Hawks
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Richard Brooks
The Sun Also Rises Henry King
Sabrina Billy Wilder
Our Man in Havana Carol Reed
The Searchers John Ford
Barabbas Richard Fleischer
The Night of the Iguana John Huston
The Killers Robert Siodmak
To Catch a Thief Alfred Hitchcock

Sweat Pea’s Desert Island Movies

I wonder what my top 10 movies were when I was nine. More live action I think – I seem to remember Herbie the Love Bug, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, even The Ugly Dachshund. But my favorites were mostly animated movies then, too – Lady and the Tramp, The Aristocats, The Jungle Book. Sweet Pea is only nine, and she already has a list of Desert Island Movies. I’ll keep watching and see how her list evolves.

Film Director
1 The Nightmare Before Christmas Henry Selick
2 Alice in Wonderland (2010) Tim Burton
3 Wall-E Andrew Stanton
4 Toy Story 3 Lee Unkrich
5 Megamind Tom McGrath
6 Bambi James Algar & Samuel Armstrong
7 Lady and the Tramp Clyde Geronimi
8 Madagascar Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath
9 Madagascar 2: Escape 2 Africa Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath
10 Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam Paul Hoen

Brittany’s Desert Island Movies

At least I’ve seen all of these films, too, except for Como Ague Para Chocolate. They didn’t make my Desert Island Movies, but I guess if I got stuck on an island with these films I’d be okay with that.

Film Director
1 Pulp Fiction Quentin Tarantino
2 Kill Bill Volume One Quentin Tarantino
3 The Joy Luck Club Wayne Wang
4 The Shawshank Redemption Frank Darabont
5 Beauty and the Beast Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise
6 Como Agua Para Chocolate Alfonso Arau
7 Almost Famous Cameron Crowe
8 Rashomon Akira Kurosawa
9 The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence John Ford
10 Dogville Lars von Trier

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