Movies I’ve recently seen: Almost Famous ֍ Young Mr. Lincoln ֍ Planet of the Apes ֍ The Saphead

While reviewing films for the SFFilm Festival, I found some time to just enjoy some old movies. Click a picture’s title to find how you can see one.

A- Almost Famous (2000)

The story would be unbelievable if similar events happened to writer/director Cameron Crowe in his adolescence. In 1973, a 15-year-old boy gets a chance to travel with an up-and-coming rock band while writing about the experience for Rolling Stone. (Magazine editor Ben Fong-Torres doesn’t know that his new reporter is too young to grow a beard.) The too-young reporter gets a major education in deceit, travel, drugs, and you can guess the rest. The cast includes Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, and Zooey Deschanel. Great music throughout.

B+ Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)

John Ford serves up a hearty meal of Americana along with providing a murder mystery. Henry Fonda gives a fine performance as a young, self-taught lawyer who would eventually save the Union and help free the slaves. Fonda plays Lincoln as an awkward, shy man with a deep sense of fair play and a good sense of humor. He knows nothing about his destiny, but Alfred Newman’s musical score certainly does. One of the best films made about the man my parents chose for a baby’s name.

B- Planet of the Apes (1968)

Yes, there are many sequels and remakes, none of which I’ve seen, but the first simian sci-fi movie hasn’t aged well. If you don’t know the story, American astronauts splashdown on a planet where people are dumb animals and English-speaking apes run civilization. It’s not so much science fiction than science fable, and you can feel Rod (Twilight Zone) Serling’s work on the screenplay. Charlton Heston plays the human hero among talking apes. And yes, it’s still fun to hear Heston cry out “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!”

C+ The Saphead (1920)

Buster Keaton’s first feature – not as a filmmaker but just an actor – is a major disappointment. The script is based on a Victorian melodrama that was creaky in 1920. Although Keaton plays the romantic lead, he isn’t on screen much, especially in the first half. But when he’s onscreen, he’s somewhat funny. He plays a rich fool who seems to do everything wrong. There’s very little of Keaton’s acrobatics until the end, when he saves the day without knowing what he’s doing. Surprisingly, it was a hit, and helped Keaton to become a major star.