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

1985 - MAD MAX BEYOND THUNDERDOME, the third in the Mel Gibson series.

After hitting a high point with The Road Warrior,  there was hope that the next Mad Max film would continue the trend setting action scenes and settings of the first two films. 

This time Max ends up in "Bartertown" ruled by Tina Tuner (showing a lot of cleavage) as Aunty Entity.  Max ends up fighting in an arena known as Thunderdome for Aunty Entity in order for her to consolidate her power.  Max runs a foul of Entity and is exiled into the Australian desert.  So far in the film all is well, with lots of weird characters and a great fight in the Thunderdome.  Then things start to go downhill pretty quickly.

Max ends up being rescued by a group of kids living in at an oasis.  The kids seem like they stumbled out of Lord of the Flies and somehow wandered onto the set of this film.  The film also starts to turn into a comedy of all things with lots of silly slapstick gags involving the kids.

As was the custom in the previous films, this film has another spectacular chase sequence and I suppose it's unfair to compare it to The Road Warrior car chase but this chase is somewhat of a disappointment.  Overall the film is a real letdown from the first two films.

107 minutes.

1966 - THE FORTUNE COOKIE, another cynical Billy Wilder comedy.

Billy Wilder comes to the end of his box office run with this contemptuous comedy about a CBS cameraman injured at a football game who decides to sue the NFL for bodily injuries.  Jack Lemmon is the cameraman and Walter Matthau is his shyster attorney "Whiplash Willie"  who is also his brother-in-law. 

Jack Lemmon is playing the likable everyman with a touch of corruption in him that Wilder liked to write.  Lemmon could play these kind of roles in his sleep after appearing in films like Days of Wine and Roses, The Apartment, Irma La Douce and How to Murder Your Wife.  However the real star is Walter Matthau as the crooked attorney.  Matthau gets all of the good lines and blusters and overacts all over the place so of course he won and Academy Award for this over the top and obvious performance. 

This was the film that critics began to notice that Wilder's comedy style was getting harsher with characters so contemptuous they were impossible to even remotely sympathize with.  While most films were being filmed in color in the mid 1960's Wilder perversely shot this film in black and white to give it an ugly look.

In spite of working with his usual writing partner I.A.L. Diamond, The Fortune Cookie's jokes are not really that funny or witty.  Sure it has a few funny situations but for the most part the humor found in a lot of Billy Wilder's older films is missing.   The film also seems to have a rather nasty misogynist streak running through it as well.

125 minutes.