Sunday, August 28, 2016

1939 - STANLEY AND LIVINGSTONE, a true story made up of fiction

We're in Africa with Spencer Tracey as explorer Henry Stanley and his faithful companion Jeff played by a really out of place actor Walter Brennan who should be hanging around with John
Wayne instead of Tracy.  The two of them are searching for Dr David Livingstone who the world assumes has died somewhere in darkest Africa.

After a lot of adventures involving the native population chasing Stanley and his safari around, Henry Stanley does indeed run into Livingstone in the middle of nowhere.  You would think this would be the end of the film, but no.  When Stanley returns to England it seems no one will believe him that plot development takes up the rest of the film.

Since this is one of Daryl F Zanuck's personal productions. The production values are at a very high standard.  Zanuck also assigned the direction to one of his best directors Henry King.  The film is very watchable.  Zanuck even sent a 2nd unit crew to Africa to catch lots of background footage.  The problem with this film is that it is almost entirely false.

A couple of minutes on the Wikipedia page for Henry Stanley is quite a different story, Stanley was an exploiter of the African continent for the Belgium government, a racist and probably a murderer.  This was not the true story that would have played well the movie going audiences at this time.  The best thing to be said about this film is that the cast is interesting.

101 minutes.

1925 - THE BIG PARADE, a classic war film, maybe.

Considering the high reputation of this famous film, I was little surprised to see how much comedy relief there was in the first hour of this film.  I had always assumed that this was for the most part a very serious war drama. 

MGM's big star from this era, John Gilbert always seemed like a pretty boy actor for the most part.  However King Vidor or someone had him trim his mustache and he actually looks like a real person for a change.  He gives a decent performance as well.

King Vidor was one of those American film directors who could impose a person style even in a cookie cutter studio like MGM.  The battle scenes are very impressive and have an interesting visual style to them.

After consideration The Big Parade is a very good film somewhat hampered by some of the usual Hollywood storytelling, a love story, funny soldier buddies, settings that look like studio backlot sets, etc.

141 minutes.

Friday, July 29, 2016

2006 - SEARCHING FOR ORSON, another Orson Welles documentary

Another trip down the never ending road of the film career Orson Welles.  This documentary looks at his later years when one project after another was left unfinished for various reasons.

This film focuses on the relationship of Orson Welles and his "companion" Oja Kodar.  The film has the usual talking head bunch of Hollywood personalities such as Spielberg, Bogdanovich, Merv Griffin etc.

There really isn't a whole lot here.  I think most filmmakers would acknowledge that Welles was a master of the cinema.  I don't think anyone needs Spielberg to tell them that.  A few hours watching DVD's of his completed films would more than get the point across.

As always these documentaries seem to find tantalizing scenes of unfinished Welles films.  Pieces of The Dreamers, Don Quoxite, The Deep, The Merchant of Venice and The Other Side of the Wind show up throughout this film.  These unfinished films look fascinating and it's unfortunate they were never completed.

80 minutes

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

2016 - BATMAN VS SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, the extended version

Did somebody actually read the script for this film prior to shooting it?  The story is a muddled mess combining Lex Luthor, Russian terrorists, and Batman deciding the Superman is evil or something like that.  Honestly they could have taken a couple of issues of some DC comic featuring Superman and Batman and made a better and more coherent film. 

I chose to watch the extended cut of this film which I had read was a lot better than the theatrical cut.  I am starting to wonder where I read that because at 3 hours this film is still a mess and even more unforgivably a boring mess.  For a film with a couple of super heroes it's amazing how little action there is until around the last hour of the film.  To compensate for this lack of excitement during the first two hours of the film.  Several dream sequences involving Batman were added which make no sense and only make a long film seem even longer. 

The film is a setup for a Justice League of America film with appearances by Wonder Woman and Aquaman.  Good luck with that film.

181 minutes

1935 - CHARLIE CHAN IN EGYPT, enjoyable throwback to a different time

No one would mistake this film for a piece of cinematic art but it does have it's pleasures.  Chinese detective Charlie Chan is on the trail of some Egyptian artifacts stolen from a tomb that is being excavated.  He gets involved in a couple of murders and wraps the whole thing up in under 90 minutes.

Usually these Chan films had the participation of  his "#1 or #2" sons but Chan is on his own with help from the black actor Stepin Fetchit !  Seen today  the Stepin Fetchit character is pretty intense as he promotes some of the worse stereotypes of black Americans.  However Charlie Chan does not treat him in a condescending manner which is apparently left up to all the white people in the cast to take up the patronizing slack on the one black character in the film.

The mystery is a convoluted mess to put it mildly.  However I have to give the writers credit for devising weird ways to kill some of the characters off.  Nobody gets the best of mild mannered Charlie Chan who is always two steps ahead of the local police in solving the crime. 

The film is poorly directed and has to rely on Warner Oland ( a Swedish American actor) to pull the picture through.  The film is also notable for an early appearance of 40's sex symbol Rita Hayworth.

73 minutes.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

1928 - THE DOCKS OF NEW YORK - excellence in all areas

Probably as good as you are going to get in a film.  Director Josef Von Sternberg a filmmaker who struggled in the Hollywood systems always struggled with his artistic intentions and the commercial considerations of the studio.  The Docks of New York is a rare example of both of these objectives being fulfilled for a change.

The story such that it is, is about lowlifes along the waterfront in NYC.  The screenplay was written by Jules Furthman who had a long career in Hollywood.  Furthman is mostly remembered for working with Howard Hawks.

The director Josef Von Sternberg was probably as close to an artist as Hollywood would put up with.   Von Sternberg was considered a difficult individual to deal with and his abrasive personality and lack of commercial success affected his career.

This is one of Von Sternberg's best films, with great photography and lots of atmosphere.  Highly recommended

76 minutes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

2016 - LONDON HAS FALLEN - a time killer about a killer

Terrorists are running amok in London at the state funeral of the prime minister  The President of the United States is in danger.  Good thing our top Secret Service agent Mike Banning is on the job.  If someone needs to be shot or as is Banning's apparent speciality sticking knives in people's heads, he's the man for the job.

This film is strictly a by the numbers action flick.  After about a half and hour of set up the action kicks in with non stop violence.  But for the most part this is just movie violence.  The action scenes are directed to titillate and aren't particularly exciting.

The conceit of the film is that the city of London is completely overrun by middle eastern terrorists dressed as London police officers.  In a way it's almost kind of an insult to the British government and security forces.  As usual the terrorists instead of being ex Nazis are now 3rd world Arab slime balls.

How does it all end?  Will the ruthless agent Mike Banning save the president or will the Pres get his head chopped off on Youtube?

99 minutes.