Some Hidden Film Gems, and Some Guy Named Burt Lancaster...Who Knew?!?

So, I mentioned I just finished up on a project. At the tail end of the film me (and my fellow artists) spent long hours cleaning up drawings and making them very pretty so that a version of the movie could be screened for the public in a very polished and beautiful form.

To be honest it got a little tedious at times (but it was totally worth it, the screening went great and everything looked awesome). So to alleviate the tedium of cleaning up sketches day after day I made great use of my Netflix subscription.

There are a ton of great movies that you can stream directly over your computer (or Wii, or Xbox, or PS3 I think, or your Roku device) if you subscribe to Netflix. And it's unlimited - you can stream as much as you want. Most of their streaming choices are older movies, although many new ones are available too. So as I drew I spent many hours watching (well, mostly "listening", because I was drawing, but you know what I mean) movies on my computer. And I discovered a bunch of great movies I'd never even heard of before.

So in case some of you are ever in the same situation I'll share some recommendations with you. But as I said I only listened to and half-watched these films and I sort of wonder if maybe they just seemed good because they relieved my tedium so well. So take my advice with a grain of salt please! Also these type of films my not be everybody's cup of tea, exactly...I'll try to give an honest taste of what type of film they are in my description.

Also, in general, I definitely do not recommend watching movies while you're trying to animate or storyboard (or any other type of artistic job)! Personally I don't believe in even listening to music while animating or storyboarding! That's right, you heard me. Personally I find that listening to music uses a part of my brain that I need to do my job, and I think my work suffers when I listen to music. I know many people will disagree but that's my opinion based on my experience. The only time I ever listen to music or watch movies is when I'm cleaning up drawings and I need something to keep me going out of sheer desperation.

Okay, one more side note before we get to today's recommendations (and more coming soon). Anyone ever hear of the actor Burt Lancaster? I mean we've all heard of him, right? But I'd swear I've never seen a Burt Lancaster movie before, and all of a sudden I discovered a bunch, and now I'm kind of shocked that he doesn't seem to be remembered as well as some of his contemporaries. Because I thought he was really good....but then again, I mostly listened to these films like I said. Maybe I'm missing something? Does he have an odd nervous tick that I missed because I was drawing and not watching? Anyway...

I haven't watched "The Manchurian Candidate" in a long time but I liked it when I saw it originally. I think it's the only movie directed by John Frankenheimer that I've ever seen...until "The Train". "The Train" is a WWII thriller about a group of French resistance fighters trying to keep a train of famous French paintings in France long enough for the Allies to liberate France. The Germans are trying to get the train to Germany before the Allies catch up. Burt Lancaster plays a French railroad official who ends up forced to drive the train, knowing that if the train reaches Germany he and his fellow French rail workers will be killed and the paintings will be lost to France forever. The Germans know that if they can get the paintings to Germany that they will be able to use them to finance a renewed war effort.

Frankenheimer apparently called it "the last Black and White action film" and I'll have to take his word for it. There were a lot of (I assume) great French character actors that rounded out the cast and gave the film a lot of humor and heart. Many of the other actors seemed so clearly French that it might bother some that Lancaster stands out as so clearly not French...but I found his performance so good that I didn't mind. Also Paul Schofield is great as the German commander determined to get the paintings out of France, and he's an English actor, so I'm sure people who are German will watch the movie and say "that guy's clearly not German".

It's a very smart and suspenseful thriller and holds up better than many films from that era. There was a lot of entertainment mined from how the French tried to constantly fool the Germans in many inventive ways and I never really knew what was going to happen next. I'm a sucker for WWII movies and I thought this one was so well done that I was shocked that I'd never heard about it before.

Another film that also felt ahead of it's time is the Burt Lancaster and Gary Cooper western "Vera Cruz". It also features bit parts by a young Ernest Borgnine and Charles Bronson. Cooper and Lancaster play two gunmen who get involved in the Mexican Revolution (the one against Maximilian) and end up working together (and against each other) to steal a fortune in gold. This film is much darker than I would have thought, as it was made in the early 50's. Lancaster's character is not a nice guy and does some surprisingly selfish and shocking things to make sure he gets his share of the wealth. Many critics seem to think this film was a big inspiration for Sergio Leone's westerns and I believe it. In fact the plot of this film is somewhat similar to Leone's "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" (one of my favorite films) and so I was, again, surprised I'd never heard of it. Like WWII movies I'm a sucker for Westerns. If you like Westerns too check this one out.

Another Western starring Lancaster (along with Lee Marvin, Woody Strode and Jack Palance) is "The Professionals". Once again, I have to say that this film felt surprisingly modern. And also I can't believe I'd never heard of it before! Certainly there are a lot worse westerns that are more well-known. A ragtag band of misfits (is there any other kind?) is hired by a man to rescue his wife from a notorious Mexican outlaw (played by Palance). It's a lot of fun. For those that quibble about such things, Palance is about as convincing as a Mexican as Lancaster is as a Frenchman. So if that's going to bother you then you've been warned. But I really enjoyed this movie. I haven't seem a lot of Lee Marvin movies but after seeing this I definitely get why he has such a legendary reputation.

The best part about streaming these movies is that you can start them and then, if you're not really enjoying them, you can just turn them off and all you've lost is the time you spent watching them. All the streaming you want is included in your basic monthly fee (as far as I know...check to make sure, I don't know about all the plans!) and so why not try some films you've never heard of before? It's a great way to experiment and discover some hidden gems.

More coming soon!