Monday, May 25, 2015

1994 - THE MADNESS OF KING GEORGE, yes another film about the British royals

Yes, it's another film about British royalty which means powdered wigs, women's gown with lots of major bosom uplift and lots of uniforms and starched pants.  The film is adapted from the play of almost the same name.  The play is actually called The Madness of King George III.  For some reason they dropped the roman numerals in the screen version.

The film is a character study of England's King George The III the monarch who saw the American colonies gain their independence from England.  Apparently George The III had a few mental problems which is storyline of the play.  The drama comes from seeing if George will get his marbles back before the British Parliament strips him of his powers and gives them to his indolent son.

The cast is one of those only in England can we find these actors bunch.  Ian Holm, Rupert Everett, Rupert Graves, Amanda Donohoe, Geoffrey Palmer, Helen Mirren (with her clothes on for a change) and Nigel Hawthorne recreating his stage role as the nutty King.

The film is a good character study although George the III is so extremely dislikable when he's sane that it's a little hard to work up much sympathy for him when he is trying to recover from his mental illness.  In any case the film is probably best enjoyed by that certain bunch of people known as Anglophiles.  Frankly, you can see this kind of stuff on public television Sunday nights way to often.

107 minutes

Sunday, May 24, 2015

2005 - THE PRIZE WINNER OF DEFIANCE, OHIO - an OK middle class drama.

"Based on a true story" says the title card at the beginning of the film and who will ever know how true this is.  In order to support her large family because her alcoholic husband is blowing every paycheck on booze.  Evelyn Ryan enters lots and lots of contests and wins enough stuff to keep the family afloat financially.

Julianne Moore plays Evelyn Ryan and she has the look down and gives a very good performance.  The film has a few clever bits with characters breaking the 4th wall and talking directly to the viewer.  The production is modest but decent and the film has an upbeat ending with a message of sort of 50's female empowerment.

The film underperformed at the box office and it's easy to understand why.  The problem was with the casting of Julianne Moore.  Moore is a fine actress but she is not really what I would call a star.  Nobody lines up to see the latest Julianne Moore film.  She may play to the art house crowd but she is nobody's idea of a commercial star.

This film popped up on Netflix and that's probably the perfect place for it.  The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio.  Plays perfectly well while sitting at home in front of the TV.

99 minutes.

Monday, May 18, 2015

2015 - MAX MAX: FURY ROAD, violent rehash of the previous Max Max films.

After a long pause Mad Max is back in a film that has a lot of kinetic energy and lots of cars and people getting smashed and flattened.  The director George Miller uses his old visual references and tricks from his previous films and if the viewer has seen these shots before in Miller's other car chase films, he sure knows how to use them.

Tom Hardy takes over for Mel Gibson whose presence is frankly kind of missed.  Charlize Theron wa very stunning woman is actually the star of the film and it's not a glamour babe part for her.  Miller has even perversely used computer trickery to remove one of her arms and put a prostethic gripper in it's place.  Next to Theron, Hardy is more of a reactor than driver in this film as she basically beats the crap out of him and any other man that gets in her way.

Fury Road has a lot of scenes and situations from the other films.  The chief villain, Immortan Joe is definitely a call back to The Humungous from The Road Warrior.  Immortan Joe's fortress, The Citadel is clearly Bartertown from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.  The car chases in this film are extremely well done, but they do remind me an awful lot of the final chase in The Road Warrior.  In fact the weirdo's in this film could be related to the other weirdo's that populated the first three films.

Probably the most interesting thing about this film is the strong feminist slant the runs throughout the film.  This is one of the few ''balls to the wall" action films where the women call all the shots fighting a testosterone dripping bunch of violent crazies.

120 minutes

Saturday, May 9, 2015

1940 - FLASH GORDON CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE, third in the trilogy.

Watched the 90 minute edited version of this over 3 hour serial and I doubt I could have lasted much past 92 minutes if this was any longer.  It seems that the evil Emperor Ming is spraying earth with a purple mist that causes people to drop dead in the middle of the street.  To the rescue are Flash Gordon, Dale Arden and Professor Zarkov flying off to the planet Mongo in their phallic spaceship. At the planet Mongo the ruler,  Emperor Ming, an oriental looking villain with a very western accent is behind this evil scheme.  I think it goes without saying that this Ming character is one of the most offensively racist characters in 1940's films.

For an action serial primarily aimed at the 1940's Saturday kiddie crowd these Flash Gordon stories have always had a very strange lack of action.  The spaceships fly around in circles held up by wires while the backdrop whizzes by.  The fights are more like two guys duking it out in a poor man's professional wrestling contest.  Finally the acting to put it mildly is poor.  I get that this is a low budget production and that the intended audience of kids probably aren't interested in subtle acting but come on.

I suppose in some way you can argue that Flash Gordon is the very poor relation to the Star Wars films.  Certainly all of the troupes of the genre are present, the evil empire, the evil emperor and the colorful worlds just ripe for the marketing of a line of toys for the kiddies.

Still, even for a serial this is mighty weak storytelling.

87 minutes.

2013 - 47 RONIN, is a weird mix of samurai and oriental fantasy film

Obviously looking to rehash some of Keanu Reeves Matrix moments and make some money at the same time.  Somebody dreamed up the idea of mixing the legend of the 47 Ronin with lots of monsters and mysticism.  As if the original idea of samurai warriors avenging their dead master wasn't dramatic enough this film adds lots of substandard CG monsters and witches to the mix. 

Casting Reeves was an attempt to add some international box office insurance to what is a national legend only in Japan.  However I would argue people don't line up to see Keanu Reeves films (if they line up at all for any film these days).  Studios spending lots of money on elaborate fantasy films better know what they are doing.  There are any only so many Lord of the Rings epic type stories floating around out there.

The only somewhat redeeming feature of this film is the action stuff and after a while even that gets tiresome.  Obviously Keanau is going to defeat all of the phoney looking monsters since a plot point is that Keanu can sense magic or in this case computer magic.

The film is trying for a sense of epic tragedy but it's only a tragedy of wasted time in front of the TV.

118 minutes.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

1988 - APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH, lazy Agatha Christie mystery make that very lazy

 Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of a mean matriarch who is vacationing with her family in the middle east in this strictly by the numbers murder mystery.  This is a Cannon film production the studio responsible for such classics as Lifeforce and Ninja III:  The Domination.

Hack director Michael Winner put together an interesting cast, Lauren Bacall, Peter Ustinov, Haley Mills, Carrie Fisher and an interesting actor named Jenny Seagrove who wasn't able to really get a career going in films. 

However even a decent cast has to deal with the artistic ambitions of Michael Winner and there isn't a whole lot any of them can do about that.  Winner stages ever scene with his usual direct (coarse) approach to filming a movie. 

The chief liability in this film is the Agatha Christie murder plot.  Once again Christie withholds information from the viewer and spends an unending amount of time focusing on the time of the murder.  Was it a 4:00 pm or 4:30 pm or 4:45 pm etc.  Christie wrote a lot of murder mysteries and they weren't all winners but come to think of it mysteries kind of annoy me anyway.

102 minutes

1964 - ONIBABA, or Demon Hag

This is an exceptional drama with elements of horror from Japanese director Kaneto Shindo.  Two women living in a marsh during the medieval Japanese war period make their living by killing samurai soldiers and robbing them of their weapons and armour.  Into their lives comes a former soldier to upset their existence.

As atmospheric as you could ask for in an eastern Gothic film like this.  The marsh setting with the tall reeds is claustrophobic the photography is suitably creepy especially at night and there is a highly charged erotic atmosphere to the whole film.

This is a unique horror film.  Well worth a look.

103 minutes.