Friday, October 31, 2014

1970 - DARKER THAN AMBER - a would be cult film

A film based on the popular Travis McGee series of detective novels.  Since I have never read any of these books and am barely aware of the character Travis McGee this was all news to me.

Darker Than Amber is supposedly considered a cult film.  But you would have to read a lot into this film to figure out where the cult status comes from.  Maybe the brutal fight scenes or the chief psychotic (what else) villain played by veteran character actor William Smith are supposed to give the film its cult status but I think that would be pushing it.

Darker Than Amber was directed by Robert Clouse whose claim to fame is Enter the Dragon.  Clouse isn't particularly adept at staging action scenes or actually any scenes for that matter.  The film kind of plods along from one story point to another, McGee falls in love, McGee solves a murder, McGee has a fight with a real touch guy, etc.

Veteran actor Rod Taylor is Travis McGee but he basically plays Rod Taylor.  Suzy Kendall who had been in some Italian Giallo films is the love interest.

96 minutes.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

1964 - MARRIAGE ITALIAN STYLE, a classic Italian film from Vittorio De Sica

A classic Italian comedy/drama from a director considerably less flamboyant than Fellini but no less important, Vittorio De Sica.  Marriage Italian Style stars larger than life personalities Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.  The story features Loren as the mistress of Mastroianni over a 20 year period.  A spouse in every way but legally Loren finally resorts to some drastic measures in their relationship.

This is Loren in her prime sex goddess period and frankly when the film started I was expecting the worst and for a while I got it.  But  De Sica was one of the few directors who could actually get a real performance out of her.  She even credibly ages without the benefit of using her looks or her bosom.  Mastroianni plays the usual excitable Italian who is somewhat of an ass. 

Mastroianni, Loren and Vittorio De Sica

The film is supposedly a comedy, but frankly there is more drama than comedy in it.  De Sica focuses on the exploitation of Italian women in a culture that is absolutely oozing with male chauvinism.

Vittorio De Sica was a  meticulous craftsman.  The film is extremely well directed with excellent color photography.

102 minutes

Friday, October 24, 2014

1993 - TOMBSTONE, back at the OK Corral

Back in Tombstone again in 1993 with another big budget production of the Wyatt Earp saga.  This time the script aims to stick a little closer to the facts and follows up the shootout at the OK Corral with all of the bloody revenge killings that occurred afterwards.  The writer Kevin Jarre probably got as true to the actual story as any Hollywood studio would allow.

Unfortunately for Jarre, who started out as the director of Tombstone, he was removed as and replaced by George Pan Cosmatos director of such action junk as Rambo 2, Escape from Athena, and Cobra.  This insured that Tombstone would have plenty of violence.

The cast of Tombstone is somewhat impressive, Kurt Russell, Sam Elliott, Bill Paxton and Val KIlmer stealing the film as Doc Holliday.  Also somewhat impressive are the mustaches these guy sport throughout the film.  At times it's impossible to tell who is who with all the facial hair everywhere.

Tombstone is a decent attempt to tell an interesting and mostly true story about the America West.  It is not an especially memorial or great western.

130 minutes.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

1957 - GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL - a big budget Western from the 1950's.

If High Noon started the "adult Western" craze in Hollywood 5 years earlier, Gunfight at the OK Corral could be the peak of this subgenre.  Producer Hal Wallis hired the best talent he could get beginning with Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster as Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp.  John Sturges starting to enter the best part of his career was the director and novelist Leon Uris wrote the screenplay.

However with all the talent involved this film really could have been a lot better.  Probably the chief problem was the screenplay.  For all the attempts to make the film "adult" Uris loads the story up with the usual cliches, the lawman whose woman wants him to give up being a sheriff, the kid brother gunned down by the evil outlaws, the rival gunmen who respect each other so much they become friends etc.  Come to think of it Leon Uris was the author of Topaz which turned out to be one of the worst Hitchcock films made.

This film certainly has a mucho macho cast.   Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, John Ireland, Dennis Hopper, Martin Milner, Lee Van Cleef, Earl Holliman, Lyle Bettger and "Bones McCoy" DeForest Kelly.  There is enough manliness in that bunch to power about three westerns.  Lancaster is all straight laced virtue as Wyatt Earp and Kirk Douglas is all over the place with his overblown performance as the tubercular Doc Holliday.  If you are a woman in this cast trying to make an impression, you can forget it.

The previous version of this story, My Darling Clementine is considered one of John Ford's best films.  However Gunfight at the OK Corral won't ever be confused with that film. 

122 minutes.

Friday, October 17, 2014

1996 - THE FRIGHTENERS, a cult director goes mainstream

5 years before Peter Jackson started releasing The Lord of the Rings films, he made a jump into big time Hollywood studio film making with this film The Frighteners.  At this point in his career Jackson was a cult horror film director who had gained some respectability with Heavenly Creatures. Robert Zemeckis and Universal Studios decided to go ahead with one of his original screenplays about a psychic detective and his ghost associates who confront a serial killer ghost.

The Frighteners was intended as a mix of very black comedy and horror.  There is a heavy influence of Ghostbusters in this film.  But the comedy horror mix was not as well executed as that film.  Jackson's low budget horror roots are evident throughout the film.  

What the film has going for it is a decent cast particularly Michael J. Fox as the sort of bogus psychic detective.  Fox was always a very sharp performer particularly when it came to comedy and in The Frighteners he needs all the good will he can generate because this film has some extremely nasty stuff in it.

The Frighteners marks the beginning of Peter Jackson's very heavy reliance on computer generated visual effects which was to reach it's nadir in The Lord of the Rings series.  Today it seems that Jackson can't make a film unless he smothers it with lots of special effects.

110 minutes.

Sunday, October 12, 2014


A failed attempt to start an Americanized series of the Stieg Larsson trilogy chronicling the adventures of journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the goth Lisbeth Salander an almost unbelievable female character who is part Superwoman, computer genius and a scary Agatha Christie detective type of character.

The remake was  meant to cash in on the Larsson trilogy by making a film set in Sweden without those pesky subtitles to translate the Swedish dialog.  However this was no cheap rip off.  The director is David Fincher who kind of specializes in  creepy thrillers like Seven, Zodiac and Panic Room.  The writer was Steven Zaillan who has been associated with classy films like Schindler's List and Gangs of New York.   This was not some lame Roger Corman production.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo 2011 version appears to follow the original 2009 film fairly closely to the best of my memory.  Maybe it's a little to close, I felt like I was watching the same film over again except no one this time sounded like that Muppet Swedish Chef puppet.  It appears there was some attempt to streamline the last part of the plot but this version has the same issues as the original film, a very messy episodic story that doesn't seem to be able to focus on one main plot.

This is one of those films where the production company wanted to have their cake and eat as much as possible.  The filmmakers wanted commercial success and awards.  In this case the end result was middling on both accounts.

158 minutes

Friday, October 10, 2014

2104 - TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION - # 4 in the series

Coming in close to 3 hours.  It's hard to believe we've come this far in this rock em sock em robot extravaganza since the 1984 cartoon series that I believe aired in syndication.  The original cartoon series was cheaply made with limited animation and simplistic plots for kids, primarily young boys.  It was all about selling toys back then.

30 years later this series is now a big budget Hollywood production although the plots are still about on the level of the cartoon series.  2007 was the first appearance of the Transformers directed by the master of large scale action, Michael Bay.  Bay has now invested about 7 years of his life in this series but since the films have made so much money I can imagine he has been well paid.  Come to think of it, I've been watching these films for 7 years now and nobody is paying me for my time.

Sick at home with food poisoning of all things, this seemed like the perfect non think film to watch while my temperature climbed to 102.  However after about an hour of robots throwing each other around  I grabbed my laptop and spent the rest of the running time of the film wasting my time on the internet while the computer generated robots constantly bashed and smashed each other.

It seems like these big robot movies have kind of worn out their welcome but this latest Transformers movie has made a lot of money guaranteeing that there will be a Transporters 5.  But let it be said this is not a good popcorn film.

165 minutes.