Two outstanding movies are featured in this week's DVD column.
Based on an actual story about a bank specializing in filtering money for criminal and terrorist activities in the 1980s, "The International" is the rarest of films: a thinking person's action film that avoids the cliches of the genre.
There are no "funny" remarks as the hero bests the villain. There are no love scenes between the male and female leads. There are no illogical chases or gratuitous gun battles. Instead there is a gripping story about two law enforcement agents trying their best to derail an international bank that funds terrorism.
Clive Owen plays an Interpol agent named Salinger who is clearly obsessed with bringing the bank down and Naomi Watts is a New York City assistant district attorney with the same goal. Their problem is how to topple a huge international banking firm that from the outside is deemed respectable and whose reach extends into a number of governments.
As much of an action film fan that I am, I was happy to see an action film with intelligence and a fast-moving, compelling plot. The performances are top notch with veteran German character actor Amin Mueller-Stahl frequently stealing scenes as a bank official with a conscience.
The other scene-stealer is the use of European locations and buildings in the film. And wait until you see the recreation of the Guggenheim Museum and an amazing gun battle there. Be sure to see the extra documentary on how they staged this scene.
If you like this film you should seek out director Tom Tykwer's other great action movie - also with a brain - "Run Lola Run," on DVD.
Another film in the Paramount Centennial Collection, many critics think this John Ford western as his last great film. Although he made several more films, this one seems to cap his great output of Westerns.
Some younger film fans may overlook Ford today, but he was truly one of our great filmmakers. Orson Welles was once asked who were his biggest directorial influences and his reply was "The old masters: John Ford, John Ford and John Ford." Although some of Ford's films are better than others, his movies generally have a richness of story and character that are his hallmarks.
Like many of his great westerns, "Stagecoach," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and "Fort Apache," there is an element of sadness and human frailty that is a contrast to the traditional themes of heroism and the overcoming of adversity typical to many westerns. "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" is the pinnacle of this theme as the story revolves around a senator who returns to his western hometown for the funeral of his friend the man whose actions catapulted him to prominence.
James Stewart played the eastern lawyer who comes to the basically lawless town of Shinbone with the lofty idea of establishing a practice. Instead he winds up washing dishes in the local restaurant. When bullied by local thug Liberty Valance (Lee Marvin) he is forced to learn how to defend himself under the tutelage of a local rancher (John Wayne).
When Stewart is credited with killing Valance, his political career begins, but he is clearly troubled about living a lie.
The film has a great line in it in which a western newspaper man tells Stewart's character, "This is the west, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
Although Stewart was a little old in 1962 to play the idealistic young attorney, he and Wayne worked well together and Marvin played a great heavy. Vera Miles is very appealing as the female lead and should have had a more prominent career.
The extras on this two-disc set include commentary by Ford historian and filmmaker Peter Bogdanovitch as well as a lengthy documentary on the making of the film.
This is a classic film and worthy of discovery by people who've never seen it before.
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