Sunday, January 25, 2015

1975 - ADVENTURES OF THE WILDERNESS FAMILY, of historical interest.

The Adventures of the Wilderness, is a family entertainment.  The film is wholesome almost to a fault.  This bunch has to be some of the whitest white people on the planet.  Yet the message of the film somewhat muddles up all of this wholesomeness.  The family has left Denver because of the smog and industrialization that has made the daughter sick.  Apparently moving out of Denver to the suburbs wasn't an option.  This family has chosen to move way the hell out to the middle of nowhere.  This "granola live off the land" existence is somewhat at odds with the message of the film which appears to be the American way of life sucks so lets go into the woods and grow stuff like a bunch of hippies.

What plot there is pretty much involves building a log cabin for everyone to live in, talk about togetherness.  The log cabin building is frequently interrupted by someone, usually one of the kids being chased by a wild animal with Dad coming to the rescue.  And that's it.  There's no soul searching about the children being isolated from human contact, no introspection about what it means to co exist with nature,  just a lot of scenes of kids getting chased by bears, or wolves or cougars.

The director is Stewart Raffill who made a lot of these kinds of films.  Besides The Wilderness Family, his film making cannon includes Across The Great Divide, The Sea Gypsies and that E.T. rip off Mac and Me. 

These films were usually advertised on television with the ads running so often that it basically hynotized the viewer into dragging himself or herself and family to see these films.  Considering the relatively low budget these films were made on (there's lots of shots of the boom mike dropping into view), these film made some decent money.

100 minutes.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

1945 - THE SEVENTH VEIL, incredibly over the top and incredibly entertaining drama

This is a mix of classical music and psychology which would probably give 50 Shades of Grey a run for it's money in the sexual masochism department.  British actor Ann Todd really plays off of her ice princess look is the ward of James Mason her rich benefactor who all but physically tortures her into becoming a famous classical pianist.  When Todd falls in love with an artist, Mason takes his cane and hits Todd's hands with it so she will never be able to perform again.  This is the high point of the film.

Into the mix with Mason and Todd's fun and games is Herbert Lom as the psychiatrist tying to straighten things.  This film would have a viewer believe that one visit to Lom and with a little shot of some kind of narcotic, Todd is running her mouth off to Lom about her strange private life.  Herbert Lom is probably remembered today as Chief Inspector Dreyfuss in the Pink Panther movies.

All this stuff is very entertaining for some reason and this film was a huge hit in England in the 1940's.  Even watching it today it is incredibly easy to get caught up in this story and I'm not actually sure why.  Is it Mason's performance or Todd's porcelain looks?  Do the classical music excerpts that run throughout the film add a layer of class to the film? Finally, is the strange masochist streak that runs through the Mason and Todd relationship some sort of erotic turn on for an audience?

Whatever is going on in this film it's very entertaining and something of a forerunner in the erotic thriller genre.

94 minutes

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

1959 - Ten Seconds to Hell, is subpar Aldrich

In probably a match made in Hell.   Robert Aldrich teamed up with Hammer Studios to make this film about a bomb disposal unit working in Berlin at the end of World War II.  Aldrich cast Jeff Chandler, Jack Palance and Martine Carol.  In a typically perverse Aldrich move, Jeff Chandler who usually played good guys is the bad guy and Jack Palance who usually played bad guys is the good guy.  Marine Carol was sort of a "oh la la" Marilyn Monroe sex symbol because in movies you always have to have a girl.

The plot involves a bomb disposal unit of ex German soldiers who one by one get blown to smithereens by unexploded British bombs.  The tension arises from figuring out who will survive this suicidal job.

The chief problem with Ten Seconds to Hell is that it is kind of boring.  The bomb disposal scenes should have had almost a Hitchcockian approach to ramping up the suspense but curiously these scenes are completely lacking in any kind of interest or tension.  Supposedly Hammer Studios was so disappointed in the finished film that they removed about 30 minutes from Aldrich's original cut.  Aldrich felt that this made the film incomprehensible but after viewing this film and in particular the scenes involving the disarming of the bombs I don't think adding 30 minutes to the running time would have helped this story.

Robert Aldrich was always a director who liked his films a little over the top.  In this case it would seem that in spite of Jack Palance's rather eccentric performance, the finished film was just to conventional for such a dramatic subject.

93 minutes

Sunday, January 11, 2015

2014 - INTO THE WOODS, another attempt at a film musical

Here we go again, another shot at making a contemporary musical in a genre that is mostly dead these days.  Into the Woods is based on the Sondheim Broadway musical which was a reworking of classic fairy tales with a modern twist.  Sondheim and his associate James Lapine's big insight in this film is that fairy tales don't always have happy endings.  This is something that I will not be going through life worrying about.

As is the trend with contemporary musicals these days.  The cast is made up of actors who can barely carry a tune.  But the nice thing about a Steve Sondheim song is that they mostly don't worry about tunes it's mostly a lot of rhythmic patter.  Between the non singers and the non songs it's fairly easy to juggle a singing performance out of an actor who is not a professional singer.

The chief exception to this non singer actor stuff is Meryl Streep.  After slaughtering about every ABBA song she got near in Mama Mia.  Streep takes a shot at murdering some of the songs in this film.  Streep tops it off with her very broad performance as the witch.  I know the witch is probably supposed to be a larger than life character but she could at least come off like she wasn't phoning it in.

The basic fact is that there is no longer the talent or resources to make film musicals anymore.  This genre died out with MGM in the 1950's.   That a mediocre film like Into the Woods could get decent reviews and box office show how far the musical genre has fallen.  Still, this isn't the worst thing I have seen.

124 minutes

1963 - THE BIRDS, probably the last good Hitchcock film.

With the death of Rod Taylor it was a good opportunity to look at one of Taylor's better films, The Birds.  The Birds is the beginning of Alfred Hitchcock's association with Universal Studios.  It also stands out as the last good Hitchcock picture.  Everything starts to go downhill for Hitchcock after this film. 

Hitchcock directs The Birds.

The Birds is also the first appearance of Hitchock's ingenue Tippi Hedren, who it appears Hitchcock developed a supposedly unhealthy obsession with. Hedren was a model who Hitchcock personally groomed for stardom.  Her lack of acting experience really hurt Marnie and her career never really recovered. 

However, The Birds is a very good film, extremely well directed by Hitchcock.  The special effects are now routinely criticized but considering the number of challenges just getting live birds to do anything I would say they are a significant achievement. 

Hitchcock very deliberately kept the motivations and actions of the birds a mystery and the film has been frequently described as Hitchcock's end of the world film.  There is certainly an apocalyptic subtext that runs throughout the film.  In any case, this is a film made by a master film maker.

119 minutes.

Friday, January 9, 2015

1960 - THE TIME MACHINE, a good George Pal film.

Considering the modest budget that George Pal had to work with, The Time Machine is a pretty impressive film.  This film looks good, the sets, photography and special effects have a real charm to them.  Most importantly the time machine itself is one cool looking prop.

The film has a small but interesting group of actors.  Character actors such as Whit Bissell, Alan Young, Sebastian Cabot and Tom Helmore are fun to see.   Rod Taylor is perfectly cast as the scientist who can jump into action when the Morlocks are ready to start chomping on his pretty Eloi girlfriend played by the very pretty Yvette Mimieux. 

This was a film that made a big impression on me when I was a kid and it still holds up pretty well.  A good cast and story can carry a film a long way and make for a very entertaining viewing experience.

103 minutes.

2014 - JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT, another reboot

An attempt to reboot the Tom Clancy "Jack Ryan" series with a new plot and a new cast.  The last try was with Ben Affleck as Clancy in The Sum of All Fears.  This one has what the studio considered to be a hot young cast, Chris Pine and Keira Knightley,  Throw in a couple of veterans, Kevin Costner and Kenneth Branagh with Branagh directing and I'm sure everyone thought they had another potential franchise.

What the studio got was just an OK spy thriller.  There's nothing particularly bad about this film but it's just a "seen it all before" spy movie with the usual fight scenes, sneaking around stuff and a last minute race to stop a terrorist attack on New York City.

Chris Pine and Keira Knightley are the leads.  The chief problem with them is their complete lack of chemistry as a couple.  Also, the script has to do a lot of contortions to get them together for the big spy mission  it really makes no sense she would follow him to Russia for a romantic weekend and frankly hurts the credibility of the plot.  Branagh is the Russian bad guy in this film.  He's got the smooth sophisticated evil super villain down but if you've seen any James Bond films at all you've seen this character before. 

The action scenes are OK but again nothing special.  This film ends up being strictly a time killer not good, not bad, really not anything.

105 minutes.