Quick Thoughts: The Overrated and the Overlooked
Yesterday I watched two movies. One of these was a film that has been much hyped since its release, most likely due to its legendary star and its ties to the tragic deaths of its three leads. The other one is a movie that I would consider a hidden gem that has been criminally overlooked. Let’s get right to it.
With James Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo.
This is a film that I have heard a lot about over the years. After finally seeing it, I really don’t understand what all the hype is about. Sure, we get to see James Dean wearing his iconic red jacket and white t-shirt in one of his last performances. That’s about it. When a friendly game of “chicken” between “new guy” Dean and the high-school “tuff-guy” ends in the shocking death of the bully, Dean and the school nerd find themselves on the run from the bully’s cronies. Dean soon hooks up with the deceased bully’s girlfriend, played by the beautiful Natalie Wood. Just hours after her boyfriend dies a sudden death, Wood’s character can be seen running around, laughing and kissing James Dean. That seems a little quick, even by Hollywood’s standards. I’m not saying they should spend the rest of the movie sulking, but there has to be some period of grievance. I guess they figured showing the characters in mourning would make the movie even more boring than it already was. As it turned out, the movie was not only boring but completely unrealistic. I wasn’t even impressed by Dean’s performance. The only thing worth seeing in this dud is the nice work from Natalie Wood.
RIYL: I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone. Watch The Outsiders instead if you are in search of a good tragic melodrama about tough-guy teenagers.
With Christian Slater, Kevin Bacon, Gary Oldman and William H. Macy.
Murder in the First is a largely fictionalized “true story” about an Alcatraz prisoner (Kevin Bacon) who spent over three years in solitary confinement after trying to escape from the prison. Just hours after being released from the Alcatraz “dungeons,” he kills the man who betrayed him and foiled his escape plan. He is put on trial for first degree murder, and a young lawyer (Christian Slater) becomes his public defender in what is seen as an unwinnable case. The ambitions lawyer spins the case around and tries to convince the jury that the prison’s treatment of Bacon’s character is what turned him into a killer, and that Alcatraz was the real murder with the prisoner serving as the murder weapon. It is basically a run-of-the-mill courtroom drama, elevated by some interesting characters and great performances. Kevin Bacon turns in the best performance of his career as the tormented prisoner who slowly opens up to his lawyer. Gary Oldman is great as usual, as the demonic and abusive prison warden. Seek this film out if you haven’t seen it yet. I don’t know a lot of people who have.
RIYL: A Time To Kill, The Shawshank Redemption, Primal Fear