Sunday, August 23, 2015

1974 - THIEVES LIKE US, boring make that very boring Robert Altman film

This is the kind of self indulgent film that really hurt Robert Altman's career not that he would probably have cared very much.  This is a love story/crime drama set in the rural south.  Thieves Like Us is almost the antithesis of Bonnie and Clyde.

Altman lingers on the atmosphere and the character touches throughout the film at the complete expense of audience involvement.  There is just absolutely no way you can get interested in these stupid rural redneck characters must less stay awake watching them which was a major challenge by the way.

As for the cast, were there ever less charismatic romantic leads than Keith Carradine and Shelley Duvall?  At least Bonnie and Clyde had Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway to engage the audience.  Between the mumbling of Carradine and Duvall and Altman's notorious manipulation of the film's soundtrack with his multi channel mix it's almost impossible to hear the dialog.  Well at least the film looks kind of cool particularly with some soft dreamy long shots at the beginning of the film.

However films like this pass their phony indulgence as "Art" at the expense of the viewer.

123 minutes.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

1985 - FLETCH, modest but enjoyable comedy/mystery

Chevy Chase wise crack's his way through a fairly decent mystery as investigative reporter Irwin Fletcher.  The director is Michael Ritchie who turns in a competent professional job on the downside of his career.

Chevy Chase's wiseguy persona got mighty tiresome after a while but Fletch plays to his strong suit.  He improvised a lot during filming and got to play a lot of different characters since he was supposed to be an undercover reporter.

Fletch has a good cast of character actors, Richard Libertini, George Wendt, Joe Don Baker and Tim Matheson.  The film is also short so it doesn't wear out it's welcome coming in at around and hour and a half.

98 minutes.

1981 - RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK , slick commercial Hollywood filmmaking at it's best

Obviously Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were the main creative figures behind this film.  However there were a number of top line professionals that made this film a success.

The cinematographer Douglas Slocombe had been working in films since the 1940's.  His very impressive list of films included, The Man in the White Suit, The Lavender Hill Mob, The Lion in Winter, the first three Indiana Jones films, and 2nd unit on Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Apparently Slocombe barely used a light meter when he was shooting.

2nd unit director Mickey Moore had been staging action scenes in films like Patton, Gunfight of the OK Corral, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Man Who Would Be King, and the first three Indiana Jones films as well.  This guy worked into his 80's.

Spielberg's long time editor Michael Kahn had started out editing Hogan's Heroes and had worked on a number of blackploitation films which included Truck Turner, Black Belt Jones, and The Spook Who Sat by the Door.  He's still working with Spielberg at age 80.

115 minutes.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

1962 - ESCAPE FROM ZAHRAIN, very entertaining chase film.

A very good action/adventure film from a decent director Ronald Neame.

Yul Brynner is the leader of an Arab group attempting to bring reforms to his repressive Middle Eastern country.  Yul's escaping in an ambulance across the desert from the troops of his country's repressive government.  Along the way he picks up an eclectic group of people which includes character actor Jack Warden who is very entertaining.  OK the film is essentially a rehash of John Ford's Stagecoach but if you are going to steal steal from the best.

Ronald Neame was known for well made entertainments and this film fits the bill.  It's fast paced, well photographed and edited. 

A modest film that just happens to be an entertaining one.

93 minutes.

2012 - HITCHCOCK, fantasy based on the making of the film Psycho

As close to a travesty about filmmaking as you could find.  Hitchcock is supposedly a recreation of the events behind the making of Psycho.  The film gets almost nothing right about this trend setting film.  Well about the only thing it gets right is that Hitchcock made a film called Psycho.

They put together a good cast for the film, Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his wife Alms, Toni Collette as Hitchock's loyal assistant Peggy Robinson, Scarlett Johansson as Janet Leigh, well you get the picture. 

There are a lot of recreations centering around the Hitchcock's personal lives. The film tries to get inside Hitchcock's head regarding his need to shake up his career to stay relevant as he moved into the 1960's.  There is a real goofy storytelling device which has Hitchcock having imaginary conversations with the real life Psycho character Ed Gein.  In another particularly icky scene the film postulates that Alma Hitchcock may have had an affair with the writer Winfield Cook.  The film also show Hitchcock acting up on the set due to his emotional turmoil. All of this stuff is mostly untrue or exaggerated at best.

The big problem this film has is trying to explain Hitchcock's creative process.  It's well known that Hitchcock created his films in his office behind a desk working with the writer to define scenes and create characters.  Hitchcock also usually story boarded his entire film before he began filming.  Sitting in an office working doesn't really make for dramatic storytelling.

98 minutes.

1963 - COME BLOW YOUR HORN, Neil Simon, Frank Sinatra = predictable comedy

Frank's a hipster dude salesguy working for his father's company selling plastic fruit.  Frank's also a real ladies man stringing women along like they were fish on a hook.  Frank's brother played by Tony Bill the future producer of The Sting wants to be a chick magnet like Frank.  Their parents want them to settle down with some nice Jewish girls. 

The film is based on a play by Neil Simon.  It was adapted for the screen by Norman Lear.  Lear made his reputation not in movie but on TV with such series as All in the Family, Good Times, One Day at a Time, etc.  Lear was a liberal who's shows reflected his personality and frankly these shows have dated badly with all of their sloppy liberal sentiment.  Bud Yorkin his producing partner was the director of this film.

Yeah Ring a ding ding Frank

You get what you get with this film since it's based on a Neil Simon play.  Lots and lots of tiresome Jewish jokes, some cheap sentiment, lots of pathos and Frank Sinatra singing a song in the middle of this film for no particular reason. The whole film does reek of the early 60's with Sinatra's bachelor pad an over designed nightmare of garish furniture and carpeting.  In fact Sinatra himself is a complete anachronism with his middle aged lady killer character.  This film is just hopelessly dated.

I guess this is what passed for comedy in the early 1960's since Come Blow Your Horn made a nice chunk of change for Paramount.

112 minutes.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

1965 - IN HARM'S WAY, Otto Preminger's navy epic

Otto Preminger's World War II epic about navy life was dismissed by most critics when it was released but it's a good film that deserved better.   John Wayne is front and center in one of those all star casts.  Patricia Neal is his love interest and is a strong enough actor to stand up to the Duke.  Kirk Douglas plays an antihero character who is Admiral Wayne's second in command. 

Preminger rounded up a decent supporting cast and the wide screen black and white photography at times looks pretty spectacular.  The final sea battle was criticized for looking a little too much like models in a studio swimming pool.  The battle is certainly a noisy confusing mess but real war is a noisy confusing mess.

Everyone expected fireworks from the liberal director and the very right wing star but apparently they were very respectful of each other. 

A good war drama that the public stayed away from unfortunately.

165 minutes.