Saturday, April 30, 2011
Legendary erotic film from Czechoslovakia seems more like a soap opera. Farmer girl sleeps with city slicker, city slicker gets her pregnant, farmer girl meets rich guy and marries him instead city slicker shows up and farmer girl almost screws up her marriage to rich guy by getting involved once again with the city slicker. All My Children meets Closely Watched Trains as it were.
The film is basically remembered for one erotic scene at the beginning that involves the woman withering back and forth in supposed ecstasy with alternating shots of the camera rocking back and forth, pretty corny stuff these days.
The rest of the film is yet another trite love triangle story. But I suppose there are only so many ways to tell this kind of story. The director uses a lot of closeups and throws in some arty shots of dripping water and speeding trains symbolizing god knows what.
The two things I came away with from this film are that the actor Ita Rina, looks pretty good especially when they film her in closeup and that guys sure used a lot of hair care product back in the 20's. They must have left grease spots on their high backed chairs wherever they sat down.
Richard Burton and the director Henry Hathaway must have really needed some cash when they filmed this war story.
Raid On Rommel is in the great tradition of Universal Studios crapness. The film is shot with a next to no budget somewhere in I'm guessing the desert in California, all the scenes with stuff blowing up are cribbed from another film called Tobruck and the whole thing has that cheap television feel to it which isn't surprising considering it was originally intended as a TV movie that was released to theaters instead.
Universal Studios (or Universal Pictures) is an interesting entertainment company to consider for a moment. Taken over by a talent agency called MCA. MCA transformed it into a provider of very middle brow entertainment into the 1960's and 70's. A lot of the TV shows and made for TV movies came out of Universal. People grew up on films and shows like The Sword of Ali Baba, Fluffy, McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force, Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? and the mad scientist turns people into snakes epic, SSSSSSS to name a few.
Universal was where Steven Spielberg got his start and it certainly influenced his film sensibility. Universal was also where Alfred Hitchcock finished his career, and once he signed with them the quality of his films dropped off dramatically.
Friday, April 29, 2011
Typical 1970's action/comedy/war film with a bizzaro cast to put it mildly.
First off, you have the romantic team of Telly Savalas and Claudia Cardinale. Sonny Bono, and Richard Roundtree are wandering around in it for no particular reason. Roger Moore is playing a German prison camp officer and Elliott Gould and Stephanie Powers are USO entertainers who are prisoners in Roger's POW camp. Old time Hollywood star David Niven is also in it playing some sort of art historian good at mowing down German's occasionally.
The plot has something to do with stealing Greek art treasures and German V-2 rockets which are going to be used against the invading Allied fleet. Lots of stuff gets blown up and lots of machine guns get shot. This is all kind of standard undemanding action crap for the most part with the exception of an exciting motorcycle chase. It's shot on location in Greece so it looks real pretty.
The chief reason to watch this junk is Telly Savalas who is an actual Greek. He walks through his role as Zeno a former Monk. Savalas acts like this whole save the Allies from the German V-2 rockets plot is basically just a big joke, which it obviously is.
You can spend worse ways to squander your life away then watching Escape to Athena.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
The mighty Spartan army of 300 macho guys hold off the Persian army in this lame on location would be epic.
The dialog is incredibly stiff and you have to sit through almost an hour of the film listening to the usual sword and sandal bluster before there finally is some fighting.
However the battle scenes are the usual bunch of long shots of soldiers marching followed by closeups of guys banging on each other's shields with their swords for a while.
The cast is actually pretty decent but the stuff that comes out of their mouths:
"Who can understand the way of the gods? They create lovely girls and then turn them into wives."
"Either return carrying this shield in victory or carried on the shield in death."
"Truth is a heady wine. A politician must never exaggerate people's capacity for it."
50's actor Richard Egan a piece of Hollywood beefcake, is the king of Sparta, apparently the decision was made during the production for him to wear some kind of mid life crisis perm haircut. Sir Ralph Richardson shows up billed as Sir Ralph Richardson to give the film some class. The film also has a couple of young lovers who play young lovers.
The film was directed by Rudolph Mate who had a career as a distinguished cinematographer working with Hitchcock, Lang, Wyler and Dreyer. He had a less than distinguished career as a director working with people like, Tony Curtis, Cornel Wilde and Mario Lanza.
The ending of The 300 Spartans was kind of cool, maybe it's available as a clip on You tube.
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Elia Kazan's epic film about his family and specifically his Uncle, is a long, interesting film with large scale scenes and at times some very over the top performances from his big cast.
America America is a very personal project for Kazan, he is the narrator of the film and literally recites the production credits at the end of the film. In interviews, Kazan made it clear that in spite of the many problems in the United States, he was not about to make a film about bashing America. Kazan sees the immigrant experience as extremely positive regardless of how they got here and he considers the United States the land of opportunity. This film is almost patriotism with taste.
The protagonist of the film Kazan's Uncle Stavros Topouzoglou, is not your typical immigrant hero, At times his behavior and actions are less than idealistic. However Kazan recognizes that this is the man who on his own initiative and over many years, brought his entire family over to this country. A pretty remarkable accomplishment.
|Elia Kazan directs.|
Elia Kazan is a complicated figure in the film world, but he usually brought an intelligent outlook to almost every project he ever worked on.
America America is a long film but very worthwhile.
Apparently Alfred Hitchcock was extremely dissatisfied with Number 17, but he was also a realist and made the best of the situation. The film is about a gang of thieves searching an abandoned house for a priceless necklace.
British films in the early 1930's were notorious for having next to no production budget, and Number 17 looks really cheap with it's abandoned house set which is a series of empty rooms. However Hitchcock's inventive direction makes the film very entertaining.
There are a series of clever scenes, a couple hanging from a banister over a staircase, a fight scene that's very well edited and much noirish camera work. Hitchcock throws in lots of comedy relief with some sort of cockney character who is a really over the top after a while.
Towards the end of the film there is an exciting chase between a bus and a train. The model work leaves a lot to be desired (always kind of a problem in a Hitchcock picture), but if you can overlook that aspect of the film, it's extremely well done and very exciting, in some ways it reminds me of the finale to Strangers On A Train.
Number 17 was made three years before Hitchcock's breakout film The 39 Steps, but it has a lot of his famous weird camera angles, his montage editing effects and his mixture of suspense and humor all things he was to use repeatedly in his career. Hitchcock was a very skilled filmmaker in his prime.
It's somewhat surprising this film isn't better known it certainly has a lot to recommend it.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Probably my umpteenth viewing of this film and it probably should be my last. I viewed the "making of" feature this time and learned a few things.
Apparently the original story was to going to have the balloonists crash on a "Skull Island" type of place where the characters would fight off prehistoric creatures in order to survive. Had they went down that path, The Mysterious Island would probably have ended up more like King Kong.
Harryhausen and his producer Charles H Schneer, hired a talented blacklisted director, Cy Enfield who had lots of input into the story and characters. Enfield was able to realign the story and get it back to its basic Jules Verne adventure roots.
The composer Bernard Herrmann obviously was tuned into this material. Herrmann was working with Hitchcock at the time and he would write scores like Psycho and then switch over to the Harryhausen fantasy films.
The Mysterious Island is one of the better cast and acted Harryhausen films. The characters actually seem like real people for a change instead of the usual human props for the monsters to attack.
When it came to the special effects, Ray Harryhausen was the whole show. Besides animating the monsters, he did the conceptual designs, worked on the miniatures and models and contributed to the optical and matte shots in the film.
For a traditional big early 1960's epic, King of Kings is pretty good. I would certainly take it over the corny old The Ten Commandments any day.
The film was directed by Nicholas Ray and produced by the master producer of the epic film Samuel Bronston. Miklos Rosza did the "holy holy: music score for the film and Ray Bradbury of all people apparently wrote the narration which was read by Orson Welles.
The casting is pretty good avoiding the who's who's of Hollywood stars that really killed The Greatest Story Ever Told. Jeffrey Hunter (the first captain of the Enterprise) was cast as Jesus. Robert Ryan is an excellent John the Baptist.
The film has some impressive imagery, the 70 mm camera is used boldly for some powerful closeups. The Sermon on the Mount, is clearly a high point in the film with thousands of extras deployed. Jesus preaches his philosophy to the crowd and one can't help wondering how his message of "blessed are the peacemakers" got so twisted the last 2000 years.
Far from a perfect film, there is something about the story of Jesus that seems to descend into a series of platitudes after a while, years of Sunday school teaching have definitely taken their toll on his theology.
Two battle scenes between the Roman army and the Jews seem inserted into the film just because you have to have battle scenes in these religious epics I guess.
Overall a good film, epic in scope and good to look.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Talk about over reaching. Lord of the Rings ringmaster Peter Jackson somehow got it into his head that he was the perfect person to take on this best selling chick book about a girl murdered by a pedophile. Filming this book would require a filmmaker who could bring a special sensitivity to a story about the ghost or whatever of the girl looking down from heaven or somewhere viewing the lives of her family and her murderer. What The Lovely Bones got was a director whose speciality was killing "Orcs" on screen.
The Lovely Bones is amazing in it's awfulness. It's pretty clear now that Peter Jackson made a deal with the devil not unlike that of Faust to make The Lord of the Rings films, because The Lovely Bones could in no way have been made by the same guy, it is inept on almost every level.
So much about the film is just offensive. The whole murdered girl stuck in some sort of strange heavenly Disneyland prancing around having fun while her family suffers from her death is just incredibly misjudged and tasteless. Heaven is the usual Christian fantasy that looks like some sort of city rose garden or bird sanctuary probably the last place anyone would want to end up. The spirit of the dead girl blathering on about the meaning of life and death makes her death seem seem more trite than tragic.
I'm not even going to get into the comedy relief provided by Susan Sarandon as the eccentric grandmother.
As usual this flop of film once again only goes to prove the brilliance of Rod Serling's Twlight Zone series. This "life after death" stuff was the kind of thing that series could do in a half an hour (including commercials) and with a lot more film making skill than Peter Jackson could do on a budget of $65 million dollars.
And what's with Mark Wahlberg's haircut.
Thursday, April 21, 2011
Mare Nostrum is a drama about the sea, a love story and an extremely well made silent film.
The film was directed by Rex Ingram one of the most important director's in the history of Hollywood. Ingram is one of the people who virtually invented film technique. Michael Powell and David Lean have stated that he was one of the most important influences in their careers. All of this is interesting but really has nothing to do with the film.
Meticulously directed and carefully staged, the film has very good acting from a cast that included Ingram's wife, Alice Terry. Mare Nostrum is also a very good looking film which benefits from being an MGM production, a studio that specialized in releasing class product. The special effects are very well done for a film this old.
An excellent silent film
I'm not so sure Carl Reiner (who is a funny guy) was the right person to direct this spoof of sex/crime thrillers, a genre that was probably in need of being parodied. Reiner was kind of an old school comedian coming out of the 1950's and 60's school of humor (Dick Van Dyke Show, Mel Brooks, Sid Caesar, etc).
Still, with all of the bad jokes there is some funny stuff in this film and a lot of clever ideas that really aren't developed because of the tendency to go for the cheap Airplane type of laughs. The whole idea of a bunch of oversexed women running around committing murder probably reached it's pinnacle with Basic Instinct and the sexed crazed killers in that film. Thinking about it, Basic Instinct seems mighty silly today.
The film features some pretty good looking women, who all appear to be pretty good sports about the whole thing. However the real reason to watch Fatal Instinct, is the actor Armond Assante who usually plays a lot of these kinds of hard boiled characters. In this film Assante really seems to be having a good time making fun of his screen image. His goofiness reaches some sort of silly high when he prances around in bright red high heels.
Carl Reiner is a funny guy and he is well aware how silly films like, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct and Body Heat to name a few are. But playing the Zucker Brothers game was a mistake. Packing in as many gags and jokes as possible finally wears down the viewer and makes the film seem pretty stupid. Reiner would have been better taking a somewhat more restrained approach. However you can smell the influence of MGM studios who were looking for a hit and probably forced a lot of this stupid humor into the film.
A blog that only does short reviews of films, is probably no place to review this long, difficult and very interesting science fiction film from Andrei Tarkovsky a man who saw films as art with a capital "A."
This film was supposedly Tarkovsky's answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey, although I am not sure what he disliked about that film. Tarkovsky practically throws out everything that is in a science fiction film. There are no shots of spaceships flying through space and he seems completely uninterested in the trappings of technology things that are usually a staple of this genre.
Instead what a viewer gets is a long meditation about the nature of memory and love. All presented very deliberately with the camera moving slowly around the space station and the protagonists as Tarkovsky works to set a very careful and delicate mood. It is all extremely well done.
To be very honest, this is a film that has taken me several viewings to finally get through. This is not a throw it on the DVD player and casually watch it kind of film. Even writing a capsule review of Solaris kind of cheapens it.
A very interesting film but difficult to view without putting some effort into it.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Von Sternberg's final film with his "Barbie Doll" Marlene Dietrich is incredibly beautiful to look at from a visual approach. However the very thin story is another matter Even at 75 minutes there seems like an awful lot of padding in the running time of the film.
The story is told in a rather sophisticated flashback style. Lionel Atwill who looks like Von Sternberg, is a Spanish army officer who is infatuated with Dietrich a man eater if there ever was one. Into this mix is Cesar Romero playing a Spanish revolutionary also nuts over Dietrich. The film generally seems to be about Dietrich screwing with both of these guys for most of the running time.
John Dos Passos a writer known for his social criticism of American life in his books and novels somehow got mixed up in this thing but I have to believe that the overriding influence in the story and screenplay was that of Von Sternberg.
Von Sternberg not only took directorial credit but also cinematography credit as well for The Devil Is a Woman. It's certainly one of the most beautiful black and white films I have ever seen. As usual Von Sternberg really pours it on with his photography of Dietrich, she is almost a creature from another planet.
The film was unsurprisingly a financial failure. Audiences probably didn't know what to make of a Dietrich/Von Sternberg collaboration which was another film in his strange Marlene Dietrich fetish film series. Lionel Atwill's complete obsession with Dietrich is clearly a representation of that relationship.
The complete weirdness of The Devil Is a Woman is probably a film of interest more for film buffs and scholars than the "average" film goer. It understandably ended Von Sternberg's working relationship with Dietrich.
Monday, April 18, 2011
2007 - THE KEY TO RESERVA, 2010 - A LETTER TO ELIA, two short films about filmmakers from Martin Scorsese.
A couple of short films from Martin Scorsese about filmmakers and filmmaking. These two minor films say a lot about his attitudes towards a couple of major filmmakers, Alfred Hitchcock and Elia Kazan.
The Key to Reserva is an extended sparkling wine commercial about Scorsese discovering some lost script pages from an unfilmed Hitchcock script. Scorsese's really the whole show at his motormouth best. He blathers on at 100 miles an hour talking about preserving a film that was never made in the first place and carries on about recreating the lost scenes to Greed. His short film The Key to Reserva does a pretty good job of mimicking Hitchock's style and contains enough in jokes to amuse just about any film nut.
A Letter to Elia is something very different from The Key to Reserva. Scorsese is again the star in this film. This time he's much more serious as he discusses the career of director Elia Kazan a filmmaker he clearly feels a lot of kinship for. Scorsese does a brief overview of Kazan's life and career focusing on some of the highs and lows of his personal life. Towards the end of the film Scorsese speaks movingly about his friendship with Kazan, his appearance at the Academy Awards to give Kazan his honorary Oscar and in particular, Kazan's late 50's and early 60's films which had a personal resonance for him.
Scorsese clearly enjoys Hitchcock's films but seems to have a more emotional connection to individuals like Kazan or Cassevetes.
These films are an interesting insight into what makes Scorsese tick film wise. The Key to Reserva is floating around the Internet, but don't bother with You tube which for some reason has suppressed the audio track on this film.
Saturday, April 16, 2011
Older, experienced directors like Robert Wise seemed to have trouble finding suitable material for films in the 1970's. Audrey Rose was obviously Robert Wise's attempt to do a high class version of The Exorcist without the vomit scenes. The film fails completely mostly because of the poor casting choices that Wise made.
The key role of Ivy Templeton, the reincarnation of a dead child named Audrey Rose is played by Susan Swift one of the most appalling child actors I can ever recall seeing. Her personality is so grating that half the time you want to put a fist in her face whenever she breaks into her big phony Hollywood movie smile. Marsha Mason plays her mother and she was never anyone's idea of a star. But thanks to her husband at the time Neil Simon, she managed to finagle her way in to leading roles. The actor John Beck is the father in the film and he's probably the only one who gives a decent performance. This is one of the big problems with this film, these three never seem like a real family, they are just bunch of actors pretending to be a family.
Then there is the problem of Anthony Hopkins. He is supposed to be playing the concerned father of Audrey Rose whose spirit has been reincarnated into the body of the little girl. He comes off more as the spiritual father of Norman Bates with his ticks and mannerisms. Hopkins acts more like a child molester than and anguished father. The audience should feel sympathy for him, instead no one in their right mind would let their kid anywhere near this creep.
I'm not sure what Robert Wise was thinking when he put this cast together, but his casting sense really deserted him. He had the same problem when he filmed Star with Julie Andrews and somehow got it into his head that Andrews was one of the sexiest women in Hollywood, you saw how well that worked out.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
The writer/producer Budd Schulberg is responsible for this story about the Audubon Society's battle with exotic bird poachers in the Florida Everglades. Nicholas Ray directed most of it, but was canned by Schulberg towards the end of the shoot and barred from the editing room.
Christopher Plummer is the marshal for the Audubon Society and Burt Ives is the leader of the poachers. These are a couple of very strong actors playing against each other. They have some good scenes together including a memorable drinking contest during a hurricane which is probably a little over the top.
The film has a good sense of location, with some excellent photography of the Everglades and the wildlife. The film also has an unusual supporting cast along with Ives and Plummer. Peter Falk is one of the poachers, Gypsy Rose Lee the madam of the local whore house. Emmet Kelly the famous clown is also in it along with the author MacKinley Kantor.
An honest attempt to discuss ecological issues vs rights of the individual, the film kind of loses it way towards the end, but still stays very interesting overall.