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A group of unique directors and the essential works that you've got to see.

||| John Sturges |||
John Sturges

Helming the “Magnificent Seven” should be reason enough, demonstrating that Sturges had the happy talent of taking what was considered strictly “male” oriented stories and making them sexy enough and humorous enough to appeal to female movie-goer as well.

Sturges takes this star-studded gunslinger film based on the Japanese favorite "The Seven Samurai", and makes it a bone fide all-American classic featuring Yul Brynner. At the request of Mexican peasants, Brynner recruits a band of fellow mercenaries, half of whom Sturges introduces as the next generation of action film super-stars including Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Steve McQueen. Widescreen!

Sturges is responsible for what is renowned as one of the greatest war films ever made, featuring Steve McQueen and his unforgettably daring motorcycle jumps in the face of the enemy. Allied prisoners escape from a German POW camp in this superior effort, noted for a brilliant international cast and Elmer Bernstein's triumphant score. Widescreen!

This day in the life of a stranger in an isolated town has since been done to death, and this is why. In the hands of a lesser director the talents of this exceedingly manly cast (Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan) would otherwise overwhelm this compelling drama with a prejudice theme, but Sturges is able to maintain a firm grasp of the reigns, keeping his actors this side of mellow drama. Widescreen!

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Blades of Glory

By BrianOrndorf

March 29th, 2007

There's nothing wrong with a Will Ferrell sports comedy. The genre has served the man well ("Talladega Nights"). However, put Ferrell in a comedy without the benefit of top-tier supporting talent and the milk tends to curdle quickly.

Blades of Glory

As figure skating rivals at the top of their league, boorish Chazz Michael Michaels (Will Ferrell) and blonde cream puff Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder) are both tossed out of the sport when they brawl at a championship ceremony. Years later, an ambitious coach (Craig T. Nelson) decides to try the impossible: make the two men skating partners to challenge the current reigning champs of the sport, the Van Waldenberg siblings (Amy Poehler and Will Arnett). At first resentful and angry, Chazz and Jimmy soon learn the beauty of teamwork, and combine their talents to race for the gold.

“Blades of Glory” is such a pushover comedy vehicle for Ferrell, I’m surprised he could even stay awake while filming it. The script requires nothing more than his potent brand of oblong machismo and Ferrell is more than ready to dish it out for the film any way he can. It serves “Blades” well, since lackadaisical Ferrell is better than no Ferrell at all. As porn star/athlete Chad Michael Michaels, Ferrell gets to lumber through the film dishing out lurid come-ons to women and homophobic winces to his skating partner. Ferrell is funny, but he’s a scattergun in the film, tossing out his jokes without much care or patience. When faced with Will Arnett and Jon Heder, you can sense Ferrell is overcompensating on purpose.

While I wait patiently for Jon Heder’s 15 minutes of fame to wrap up, I’m still at a complete loss on what makes him so irresistible to casting directors. The man can barely spit out his dialog, and standing next to a panther like Ferrell, Heder’s comic timing is toothy and hopeless. The awkward actor fits the feminine skating outfits just fine, but he’s uneven ice when it comes time for him to trade laughs with Ferrell. Heavens, what someone sly such as Paul Rudd could’ve done with this richly vulnerable character. It hurts to consider the possibilities.

Will Arnett is thankfully only issued a small supporting part here, but he’s another actor with a compulsion to overplay his hand for effect. As if the audience didn’t know this was a comedy from the wild feathered hair, bedazzled outfits, and use of Queen’s “Flash Gordon” theme for the grand finale, Arnett elects to arch his eyebrow with every punchline, adding the right amount of comedic indication to completely annihilate the laugh. Arnett also manages to smother co-star Amy Poehler with his poison, taking away the one golden opportunity “Blades” had to match Ferrell’s lunacy.

Co-directed by ad men Josh Gordon and Will Speck, “Blades” nails some generous skating goofiness that’s hard to resist. The film reminds me of Ferrell’s 2005 misfire “Kicking & Screaming” as an idea with ripe comic potential, but some screwy wiring in the execution. Gordon and Speck have the right scheme to let Ferrell lead the way, but after a good 45 minutes of free-form skate slapstick, the attempt to nurture some type of plot involving double-crosses and sexual miscommunication falls pretty flat, and lets the air out of the whole thing. While the film never gets deeply dramatic, it does start to hesitate at all the wrong moments.

A more ripened director was in order to make “Blades of Glory” tighter, faster, and more inventive than this end result. It’s a great premise, but just not confident enough to realize its full triple axel potential.

My rating: C+