Sunday, August 2, 2015


This kind of ordinary documentary has a great subject matter, the attempt to make another film version of The Island of Dr. Moreau by a first time director named Richard Stanley who seems to have a screw or two loose. 

A film where about everything went wrong from the selection of a location which was an hour from civilization to the cast while involved Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer two shall we say difficult actors.  Naturally with these two characters and a relatively novice director things fell apart almost immediately.  The production came to a grinding halt while the director Richard Stanley was fired and a replacement was sought.

The replacement turned out to be John Frankenheimer a guy who had not been involved in a good project since 1973's The Iceman Cometh.  Frankenheimer bullied his cast and crew to get through the production but meet his match in Brando who was clearly in it for the paycheck and probably realized the film was essentially a hopeless mess. 

The documentary has interviews with Richard Stanley, members of the cast and crew with the exception of Brando and Frankenheimer who have passed away.  Val Kilmer refused to be interviewed.  The documentary is essential viewing and demonstrates how difficult it is to make a film and in particular a decent film when the odds of it being any good are stacked against it from the outset.

96 minutes.

2005 - KINKY BOOTS, the feel good cross dressing movie

This trite piece of feel good junk is the kind of thing your significant other will like as you set through and wonder at first "why is this simple little film so long?"  On additional reflection "why is this film so by the numbers?"

A old fashioned British shoe factory is about to go out of business with everyone losing their jobs and livelihood etc.  To the rescue is a cross dressing performer named Lola who manages to get the factory to manufacture a line of sexy boots for men or something like that.

As everyone works together, lessons about life are learned, feelings are hurt people make up with each other everyone works together and hey drag queens are just like you and me.


106 minutes.

Friday, July 31, 2015

1960 - BREATHLESS - or À bout de souffle

Goddard's first film in his peculiar choppy style is sort of a takeoff on a cheap American gangster film.  In fact, Francois Truffaut has a story credit on the film.  However Goddard essentially improvised the film so I doubt the film and Truffaut's story have much in common.

Considering the direction Goddard's film career was to take this is a very watchable film.  The locations in Paris which are fun to look at were filmed by Raoul Coutard who specialized in on location photography for the French "New Wave." 

Jean-Paul Belmondo is the petty gangster who acts like Humphrey Bogart and Jean Seberg is his American girlfriend.  Breathless has a very long scene with these two actors which involves Belmondo trying to persuade Seberg to sleep with him.  There is also an appearance by Jean-Pierre Melville as an author spouting lots of trite musing about women and the nature of love.  Goddard was a big fan of Melville who was essentially an independent filmmaker before they invented the word.

I enjoyed Breathless a lot because believe me it gets to be a real chore watching Goddard films as his career rolls along.

90 minutes

2015- AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON - more of the same

Successfully marketed and hyped as one of the must see summer films, this film isn't that bad and in fact is rather entertaining although way to long.

The gang is back from the first film and this time they are fighting an evil robot who has decided to destroy mankind and take over the world for reasons that aren't entirely clear.  The dialog isn't too bad the action scenes while not really exciting are pretty decent and the whole cast seems to be into the spirit of this superhero spectacular.

So what's the problem.  Well the law of diminishing returns may be starting to kick in.  Ultron the evil robot while evil,  is actually kind of a charming fellow with a personality not unlike the Robinson robot from Lost in Space.  Actually it would have been fun to see his evil plan succeed because if would have at least moved the series into a different direction rather than the usual superhero's save the world stuff.  After all there is only so much you can do with these comic book story lines.

Probably one of the major reasons I enjoyed this film was that it was showing at a decent 2nd run movie theater.  Paying $3.00 a ticket is certainly less painful than full first run prices.

141 minutes

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

1963 - IT'S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD, on Blu Ray

Stanley Kramer's over the top slapstick comedy has a real over the top cast of comics.  How a filmmaker like Kramer who usually made dreary 50's and 60's preachy liberal films got it in his head that he was the guy to film this epic widescreen comedy will probably forever be a mystery.

This film is essentially a car chase comedy.  The cars race around the California desert highways while the cast does it comedy shtick thing.  The film also has some spectacular airplane stunts and Johnathan Winters is funny as a dumb tow truck operator who destroys a gas station when he loses his temper.

Dick Shawn (dancing with Barrie Chase) is the ultimate "mama's boy" the son of the very loud Ethel Merman.  Towards the end of the film Kramer throws in Peter Falk and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson as a couple of cab drivers just to mix it up more.

Frankly Kramer's director is in his usual blunderbuss get it done style.  The basic comedy situation and the expert stunt, model and miniature effects make the film work.  Let's not forget no computer generated effects were used in this film.

161 minutes.

1940 - THE LETTER, classic 40's Hollywood at it's best.

Bette Davis is the British wife of a planter played by the great Herbert Marshall.  The film opens will Davis emptying a revolver into a man she claims was trying to rape her.  As the plot proceeds Davis's lawyer realizes that the dead man was actually her lover who had planned to break it off with her.

This is classic Hollywood film studio stuff.  The director was William Wyler.  The writer Howard Koch adapted the Somerset Maugham play based on a real incident.  But towering over everyone is Warner Brother's diva star Bette Davis who expertly inhabits her leading role.

Apparently the strong willed Davis, who could be a terror on a set when she wanted to be worked well with the equally tough minded Wyler, a professional who always insisted on doing it his way. These two personalities made three good pictures together. 

Finally, you have to give a lot of credit to the studio technicians who made it happen, The Letter was filmed completely in the studio, the film's technical aspects are at a very high level.

95 minutes.

1959 - SHADOWS - John Cassevettes first film

A film that is an acknowledged "classic" of the independent film movement.  This should strike fear into the hearts of any film lover.  Early independent film means, grainy black and white footage usually filmed in 16mm, poor editing and questionable acting from what is usually a nonprofessional cast.  Shadows has all of these things.

Shadows apparently existed in two versions.  The first was supposedly a meandering improvisation.  Cassevettes reworked this version and added scripted scenes and cut the running time down.  So Cassevettes's title card at the end of the film is somewhat misleading.

But this is a very remarkable piece of work.  Just the New York City atmosphere alone is worth viewing this film.  This film is positively drenched in the feel of late 50's New York.  The acting may be kind of rough but it certainly contributes to the authenticity of the film.

Shadows must have seemed like a real change of pace for critics and serious film goers when it was released.  1959 was the year of North by Northwest and Rio Bravo.  But is was also the year of commercial dreck like Pillow Talk, Operation Petticoat and The Shaggy Dog.