Bernhardt column: Moves for a rainy day

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 8, 2011

A sea of mediocrity is swamping Hollywood these days.
Donít believe me? For every ěThe Kingís Speechî out there, youíll find at least two or three ěMars Needs Momsî or ěGnomeo and Julietsî lurking about ófilms that fail to exactly whet my appetite for the theatrical experience I used to crave so much.
I recently sat through a series of previews at our local cineplex and can confidently predict a bleak spring, unless you happen to like films designed to go straight to video game.
The coffers are so barren, weíre about to suffer a remake of the movie ěArthur,î barely 30 years old. I know they remake movies all the timeÖ.but ěArthurî? Doesnít the original suffice? That one at least had some charm, and of course that killer performance by John Gielgud.
Itís at times like these I find myself reaching for movies that tripped my switch years ago and havenít lost their appeal through the years. My measuring stick for a successful film is the answer to one simple question:
Now that I own a DVD copy of the film, will I actually pull it out and watch it from time to time?
Few films in my DVD library pass this test. I bought the original Christopher Reeve ěSupermanî movie shortly after buying my first DVD player, and have never bothered to even clean the dust off of it. I doubt that I ever will, which is not only a measure of my view of the filmís worth, but a testimony to my cleaning skills.
Iíd like to recommend four films to you that do pass the test. They werenít all blockbusters at the time of their original release, but I watch them regularly, and they seem new each time I see them.
The first is a little known comedy from 1982, ěMy Favorite Year.î It didnít stir a lot of interest in its initial release, but itís a lighthearted look back at the early days of television when programming was live and anything could happen.
Peter OíToole plays Alan Swan, a fading, alcoholic film star reduced to appearing on the small screen on a 1950s network show that more than casually resembles ěSid Caesarís Your Show of Shows.î
In fact, each major character is based on a real-life counterpart. Mark Linn Bakerís young writer Benjy Stone is Mel Brooks early in his career, and OíToole himself is basically playing Errol Flynn. The film is funny and warm, and well worth two hours on a rainy Saturday.
The same is true of 1996ís ěThat Thing You Do,î a nostalgic look at the pop music industry in the mid-í60s. This film pops up regularly on VH1, and with good reason.
Tom Hanks wrote and directed the film but plays only a supporting role as the manager of a new group sensation known as the One-ders. Everyone keeps mispronouncing their name as the ěO-Needers,î and the growing problems within the group only amplify during their short stay at the top of the charts.
There are strong performances from Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler and Hanks himself, who proves that you donít need a starring role to shine.
In the western category, you canít go wrong with the later version of ě3:10 to Yuma.î I saw the original years ago and was unimpressed, but the 2007 treatment is gripping and authentic, with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe leading the cast.
Iíll get a lot of argument on this, but I think itís the best western ever made ó or at least right up there with John Wayneís ěBig Jake.î
Finally, to satisfy my thirst for a good courtroom drama, thereís the 1982 Paul Newman film ěThe Verdict.î This film paints a gritty picture of an alcoholic lawyer trying to salvage his career and self-respect by taking on a medical malpractice case.
Newmanís Frank Galvin is pitted against the high dollar legal machine of Ed Concannon, portrayed masterfully by James Mason late in his career. I find myself watching simple scenes in this movie over and over, marveling at the depth of the performances from these two giants.
I saw this movie theatrically on New Yearís Eve in 1982 with friends, and my interest in it has never diminished. Yours wonít either, you have my promise.
So the next time you feel that Hollywood is abandoning you, pull out one of these movies and remind yourself of just how much pleasure a good ó truly good ó film can produce.
Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.