Sunday, March 29, 2015

1953 - THE WILD ONE, an iconic film for Brando

Brando's about the only reason to watch this drama about a motorcycle gang taking over a small California town.  By now everyone is familiar with the iconic image he created with the sideburns, the bizarre cap and the leather jacket.  As silly as it should look today, it looks pretty bad ass on him.

The film opens with a disclaimer that the studio clearly stuck onto the beginning of the film.  "This is a shocking story", and concludes with "it is a public challenge."  But who was kidding who?  This film is all about violence and violent behavior.  The whole movie is a wallow in sadism,  mentally and physically.

The film was well photographed by Hal Mohr who had worked with Von Stroheim in the silent era.  Shooting a lot of scenes at night has always been a challenge for a cinematographer but Mohr does a very good job.

As silly as the film gets at times, and lets face it these guys in the motorcycle gang are not "boys" like everyone says, it's fun to watch Brando strut around as some two wheel bad boy on his Triumph cycle.

79 minutes.

2013 - IRON MAN 3, more of the same

If you've seen the first couple of Iron Man films you've seen this.

Downey still plays Tony Stark as a wise ass, Gwyneth has dieted herself down to nothing so a 40 year old woman can look like a 20 year old woman.  The rest of the cast is made up of decent actors who are clearly in it for a paycheck.

The plot is basically the same as the first two films.  There is an evil genius.  He has an army of followers.  They have strange super powers that could probably destroy Iron Man.  There is a lot of action.  Everything blows up towards the end of the film.

There will be a sequel.

130 minutes.

Friday, March 27, 2015

1975 - THE DEADLY TOWER, a TV movie based on the Charles Whitman shooting spree

This is one of those TV movies that were popular during the 1970's.  These movies would take real life events and dramatize or fictionalize them for the viewing public.  Some of them were OK occasionally they were actually good most of them were terrible.  The Deadly Tower is probably one of the better ones.  This is a dramatization of the Charles Whitman shooting from the Austin University tower in 1966 given the usual fact mixed with fiction treatment as if the actual events weren't dramatic enough.

Kurt Russell who at the time was transitioning from Disney kid actor into more "adult" roles played Whitman.  Back in the good old days of Hollywood, if you wanted to show you weren't typecast as a Disney actor you had to make a 180 degree turn and play either a crazed killer or a sexed up bimbo.  Obviously Russell decided on the killer route.  For a 1970's movie the 2nd lead is a Hispanic actor named Richard Yniguez who was one of the the cops that climbed up into the tower and finally stopped Whitman.  The rest of the cast is a couple of TV perennials, John Forsythe, & Pernell Roberts.  New York actor Clifton James again plays a redneck law enforcement officer and this appears to be an early role for Ned Beatty.

Just the actual situation itself is dramatic enough and this is probably the best part of the film.  Where things run a little off course is in the hokey dramatic events that the story veers down.  The Hispanic cop is passed over for promotion at the police department.  His wife wants him to quit his job and take something less dangerous etc.  This was the kind of stuff they would cram into these films.

This is probably one of the few films to take an anti-gun position.  At one point Forsythe yells at the gun store owner who sold all the guns and ammo to Russell without questioning what he was going to do with it.  Try getting that in a film today.  If there is one thing I am sure of, everyone in Texas probably owns a gun. 

100 minutes

Saturday, March 21, 2015

2011 - TINKER TAYLOR SOLDIER SPY, a spy thriller that only the British can do.

If I hadn't seen the original British mini series with Alec Guinness, I would have had no idea as to what was going on.  There is a double agent in British intelligence and former spy George Smiley is called in figure out who he is. 

This film is more or less a redoing of that miniseries and it's very well done.  It certainly captures the bureaucracy of the British spy organization called "The Circus."  The author John Le Carre had been
an employee of MI5 and MI6, the British intelligence services.  Le Carre must have also been familiar with with the "Cambridge Five" a group of students recruited by the Soviet Union who managed to work themselves up into high positions in British intelligence.  This is the basis of the plot of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy.

This film is superbly cast.  It has a bunch of very good British actors in it.  The pivotal character of spy George Smiley is played by Gary Oldman of all people.  This is and actor who usually specializes in playing bad guys in crummy action films.  Oldman gives a very nuanced performance as a bland bureaucrat who is also a very sharp spy.

This film is so low key that you really have to pay attention to what is going on at all times.  Still, this is a very good espionage drama.

127 minutes.

1961 - YOJIMBO - Kurosawa's samurai comedy/drama classic

Filmed after Kurosawa's The Bad Sleep Well, a dreary drama of corporate intrigue in Japanese business.   Yojimbo was a transitional film for Kurosawa and the Japanese film industry and audience.

Kurosawa mixed comedy with action in a story that had it's influences back to Dashell Hammett's novel Red Harvest, a book with enough double crosses for about three novels.

As usual, Kurosawa used a lot of his stock company of actors and most importantly Toshiro Mifune as the bad ass wandering samurai.

Yojimbo is probably one of Kurosawa's best films and is certainly a one of a kind film that has been ripped off many times.

110 minutes.

2014 - ST VINCENT, seen this one a couple of hundred times

The old chestnut about a single mom and her son who move in to a neighborhood where their next door neighbor played by Bill Murray is some old crabby reprobate curmudgeon.  Slowly everyone starts to warm up to each other because after all underneath Bill's heart of stone is a pretty nice guy.

Seen this plot more than I care to remember.  As soon as the film starts you know how it's going to end.

The cast is decent.  Bill Murray has done this crab apple guy before but he does it well.  One of my least favorite actors Melissa McCarthy actually didn't annoy me for a change and Naomi Watts is still pretty easy on the eyes.

St. Vincent is an OK time killer.

102 minutes.

Friday, March 20, 2015

1947 - MONSIEUR VERDOUX, Chaplin's legendary black comedy is a pretty poor film

I would have to give Charles Chaplin credit for trying to pull off something like this especially during the late 1940's.  A black comedy about a serial murderer was certainly an audacious idea for a film.  However, the execution of this idea is mediocre at best and just plain bad at several points in the film.

The two biggest problems in Monsieur Verdoux are the production and the direction by Chaplin.  The whole film just looks cheap.  Crappy painted backgrounds, sets that look like sets.  The film has a cramped studio look to it and I'm not talking a major studio like MGM or Warner Brothers.  As for Chaplin the director, Monsieur Verdoux is almost painful to watch.  It's essentially a film made with an outdated silent film technique which makes it one of the most old fashioned films I've seen from the 1940's.  Chaplin was a pioneer filmmaker in the early days of Hollywood but it seems like his directing style hadn't evolved much past the 1920's.

In every Charles Chaplin film the star is Chaplin himself and is he ever the star.  Every scene is about him.  He has a weird effeminate acting style and nonstop hamming technique for the camera.  No other actor even gets a remote shot at creating a character in this film since the whole thing is all about Chaplin all the time.

Finally, the whole film is kind of distasteful.  Since Chaplin is playing a serial killer of women every woman he kills seems to deserve it.  It's as if he is doing the world a favor getting rid of these shrews.
Towards the end of the film Chaplin makes a speech where he compares war to his murder sprees as if to justify his actions this seems like the height of hypocrisy since you could probably make the case that however awful these women were they certain deserved every right to live even if they weren't the moral and intellectual equal of Chaplin's character.

Unsurprisingly this film was not successful in the United States.  Between the subject matter and Chaplin's communist politics this was a further alienation of an audience that had worshiped him during the silent film phase of his career.

124 minutes.