Sunday, April 20, 2014

2012 - PASSION, sub par Brian De Palma

Whenever Alfred Hitchcock had not had a box office success for a few films, he would "run for cover" as he called it.  This meant that he would return to the suspense thriller formula he knew how to do.  Brian De Palma clearly was trying to "run for cover" with Passion.  Unfortunately this extremely disappointing thriller was a critical and commercial flop. 

Probably De Palma's biggest mistake was in the casting of the central character.  Rachel McAdams just does not look like a cold hearted business executive who will stab anyone in the back to get ahead.  De Palma tries to sex McAdams up, but she comes off more like a little kid dressing up in some of Mommy's naughty underwear.  McAdams is apparently some kind of bisexual or lip stick lesbian who may or may not have the hots for her assistant played by Noomi Rapace who gives a real monotone performance throughout the film.  These two actors really throw the film off and it just never really recovers.

As far as De Palma's famous technique, he has all his trademark shots.  The moving camera, the split-screen shots however they all seem to add up to nothing and are kind of pointless from a story telling aspect.  In fact the famous Brian De Palma style is looking a little dated in this film. 

A director who could usually mix sex and violence in interesting thrillers.  Passion is not particularly sexy or violent.  A real disappointment from one of the cinema's top stylists

94 minutes

2011 - COWBOYS AND ALIENS, uh huh.

Getting towards the end of my space aliens invade earth and good old American ingenuity repelling  these slimy creatures film series.  Cowboys and Aliens can distinguish itself from the other two films I have seen by virtue of the fact that this preposterous premise does not have one joke or lighthearted moment in it.  Not once during this film is there even a hint to the audience that this silly film is not to be taken seriously.

The casting of the film further emphasizes the lack of fun this film should have provided.  Harrison Ford is the completely dour leader of the town who is trying to get his son back who has for reasons I never understood been kidnapped by the space aliens.  Daniel Craig, probably the most humorless actor to ever play James Bond plays a humorless cowboy trying to stop the space aliens.  It appears that Craig is pretty much a "Johnny One Note" of an actor after his performance in this thing.  The guy never cracks a smile throughout the entire film.  Good thing the film has Olivia Wilde in it because what would one of these films be without a hot chick who could get a job as a "Victoria's Secret" runway model running around.

This film has some fairly heavy hitters behind it.  Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Brian Glazer produced it.  Jon Favreau, the director of a couple Iron Man films was not unfamiliar with handling this kind of science fiction/fantasy material.  That this bunch couldn't see the weaknesses in the story material is kind of amazing.  I assume they thought the concept and title would be enough to bring in an audience.  Apparently no one wanted to do the hard work to get a decent screenplay out of this crap.

 I've seen the director Jon Favreau on You Tube doing Q and A's with directors like Martin Scorsese.  Favreau is an articulate guy and clearly seems to know what he's talking about.  So I can only imagine what was going through Favreau's head during the making of this film.  Was he thinking, "I'll stage this space alien attack the way Scorsese did in Mean Streets."

118 minutes.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

1962 - HOW THE WEST WAS WON, on Blu Ray

The Blu Ray producers spruced up a lot of this film, erasing most of the lines in the three camera filming process and generally cleaning things up quite a bit.  The film looks fairly spectacular at times if not completely perfect.  Of course you can't duplicate the Cinerama experience on a home screen.

The film itself was always kind of lumpy mess of a story.  It follows one family, the Prescott's as they move west with that "manifest destiny" attitude that gave white European Americans a reason
to go anywhere and take anything they wanted.  But I can be a little more charitable now since the whole story is just an excuse to film a bunch of spectacular scenes in the 3 camera process that at times still look very impressive. 

MGM loaded up the film with an "all star" cast signing just about everyone they could think of but the film seems to focus mostly on two actors George Peppard and Debbie Reynolds.  Three directors were hired, George Marshall, John Ford and Henry Hathaway.  Hathaway ended up directing most of the film and apparently reshot Marshall's footage.  Ford had a lot of trouble filming in the large screen process and the results were deemed marginal at best but nobody had the nerve to rework his footage since most people were afraid of him.

162 minutes

1969 - EASY RIDER, better than I thought

I was actually kind of expecting the worst for this film.  A dated piece of counterculture crap with the characters calling it other "man" about a thousand times.  I was pleasantly surprised that this film was as good as it was. 

Not much need to rehash the plot here.  Wyatt and Captain America sell their cocaine stash and with the money they receive they decide to head down to New Orleans to party during Mardi Gras.  Easy Rider is essentially a series of encounters and incidents they have on the trip. 

For a fairly modesty budgeted production, the film has very good photography and certainly has a good feeling for the southwestern part of the United States.  Hopper and Fonda were never the greatest actors in the world but they are certainly iconic on their wheels wearing their riding outfits particularly Fonda in his Captain America outfit.  Jack Nicholson shows up for a while and I actually remembered that he was a good actor before he became Jack Nicholson. 

The film certainly captures the tension the rural red neck class had dealing with anyone different from them in attitude or belief.  Something that is still around.

95 minutes

Sunday, April 6, 2014

1945 - SPELLBOUND, another Hitchcock vs Selznick film collaboration

Spellbound made a lot of money for producer David Selznick.  Selznick had the idea of producing a thriller using Freudian psychoanalysis as a background.  Selznick had Alfred Hitchcock and Ingrid Bergman under contract and they were both hot proprieties.  Ben Hecht a legendary writer wrote the screenplay (which Selznick probably rewrote).   Since it was a Selznick production everything everything was at a very high caliber.  Watching it this weekend, Spellbound now comes off as a hopeless naive film with lots of unintentional laughs particularly at the expense of psychoanalysis.

Hitchcock brought in surreal artist Salvador Dali to help visualize the dream sequences but Selznick didn't really understand what Hitchcock and Dali were up to so he had the whole thing modified and reshot.  What's left of the dream sequences are probably the only interesting parts of the film.

Ingrid Bergman and Salvador Dali chat before filming a dream sequence that was cut by Selznick

It's well know that Hitchcock and Selznick fought throughout production of the film.  Selznick insisted on using his own psychiatrist Dr. May Romm as the technical advisor during the film.  Considering the ridiculous prattle that comes out of the mouth of Ingrid Bergman playing a therapist it's entirely understand that Hitchcock had a lot of concerns about the screenplay.

Spellbound is basically just a murder mystery with a bunch of psychiatric goobly gook double talk.  The film has a few Hitchcock touches but the film is a mess and has a real dated 1940's quality to it.

111 minutes.

2012 - BATTLESHIP, another U.S military vs space aliens epic

I will have to give the production team of Battleship credit, they actually managed to work in the Hasbro board game into the film and it wasn't entirely silly it was only sort of silly.  This is the second space aliens vs the military epic I sat through this weekend.

Against all odds and trapped behind a space alien force field the plucky crew of the John Paul Jones led by their hot head temporary captain take on some wacky alien gizmos that spin around and grind up ships with circular saw blades and blow stuff up with some kind of crazy depth charge bombs. 

Compared to Battle: LA the other space alien epic I watched this weekend, this one has a higher budget and is better directed and written.  The cast is a bunch of young good looking actors and even manages to slip in a couple of hot women.  The film was targeted as a big summer release from Universal studios and was a mighty flop.  The whole concept behind the film was just too stupid.  At the very least with Battle: LA you knew that by the numbers film was a pack of cliches never to be taken seriously.

However with Battleship, the director Peter Berg who is a big fan of the United States military wants to make some statement about the "profession of arms" and the plight of the disabled veteran.  Apparently someone forgot to tell him this was a film based on a board game I was playing back in grade school with pencil and paper.

Battleship's other problem is the incredible two hour plus length of this film.  It just goes on and on from one action set piece to another.  The whole thing could have easily lost a half and hour during then editing of the film.

131 minutes.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

2011 - BATTLE LOS ANGELES, dumb but fun science fiction action stuff

If you look at the title, the cast and the director, you should have a good idea of what you are about to watch.  Space aliens are landing in Los Angeles in order to steal our water.  To the rescue is the United States Marines or specifically one squad in particular which will apparently figure out a way to take down this slimy things pretty much on their own.

The squad is the usual bunch of marine movie cliches.  There's the veteran sergeant who's about to retire, the green first lieutenant whose first command this is.  The black guy, the guy about to get married etc.  Their mission is to rescue some civilians trapped behind enemy lines which naturally includes a couple of cute kids in need rescuing.

The film is shot in the now overused "shaky cam" style with the camera bouncing around and following the squad to give it a look of "you are there" realism.  At times the camera is so shaky it's almost impossible to figure out exactly who the marines are shooting at with the spastic camera racing around all over the place. 

OK,  this film is essentially Independence Day crossed with every war movie cliche I ever sat through.  My expectations for this film were so low I actually kind of enjoyed it for the most part.  I just waited to see when they would dredge up the next film trope which was kind of fun.

116 minutes