Monday, May 30, 2011
Basil Dearden the director or someone got the clever idea to reset Othello in swinging jazzy London. Unfortunately with the exception of one good performance the film is pretty much a bust.
Only Patrick McGoohan as the scheming Iago like drummer Johnnie Cousin, really gets into the spirit of the thing, the rest of the cast which includes actual musicians playing themselves are pretty flat as they say.
Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Keith Christie and John Dankworth ("where's Cleo" someone says) don't make any kind of an impression. The jazz they play is that kind of semi straight stuff that mainstream films were the most comfortable with, no Miles or Coltrane allowed in this film.
An example of a minor talent overreaching himself with an idea he really didn't have the skill to pull off. A real letdown.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Italian Blob like film with the usual outrageous pilfering from films like The Blob and The Quatermass Experiment and god knows what else they could steal from. The director is someone named Riccardo Freda who apparently cared so little for the film he let his cinematographer Mario Bava shoot most of it.
Caltiki is a bunch of goo that absorbs people and turns into a bigger bunch of goo. Even for a 1950's horror film those darn Italians show the bodies getting eating away by the Caltiki goo which is still pretty disgusting even by today's standards. One guy gets some of the goo on himself and slowly starts to decompose and go mad at the same time.
It all kind of comes to a screaming halt when the Mexican military shows up and burns the Caltiki goo up with a bunch of flame throwers which is actually a pretty cool scene in the film.
As with a lot of these Italian films Caliki The Immortal Monster has good stuff and bad stuff in it. The good stuff is the photography which is very good and atmospheric and some of the scenes setting up the monster which are fairly well done. The bad stuff includes a ridiculous monster that looks like a lumpy blanket that someone dumped sparkly stuff on and some pretty bad (but entertaining) models and miniatures.
The film clearly had a small budget so what they accomplished with it is fairly impressive. For the most part, 1950's science fiction films were never regarded very highly. Caltiki The Immortal Monster is also short which helps a lot while watching it.
Monday, May 23, 2011
The director Johnnie To filmed Exiled a film that was considered his comeback. Since I have never seen any Johnnie To films I'm not sure what he was coming back from or where he went.
In any case, Exiled is the usual Hong Kong action stuff, an incomprehensible story, some very suspect plot coincidences, men being men especially with guns, lots and lots of stylized and pretty cool gunfights. Which all adds up to yet another over the top action flick.
The story involves childhood friends who are now killers, the beginning of the film features them shooting at each other in an empty apartment. Suddenly they all stop and decide to furnish the apartment which is now full of holes instead. Apparently this scene was to show the four friends as members of rival triad gangs being ordered to kill each other but deciding to resume their friendship instead of killing each other.
I know all of this only because I read the Wikipedia entry for Exiled to find out what the hell was going on after I watched it.
The film features Anthony Wong the Al Lettiere of the Hong Kong film world. Al Lettiere was a go to actor who specialized in bad guy roles and was usually shot by Charles Bronson, Clint Eastwood or John Wayne by the end of any film he appeared in.
Johnnie To has been acclaimed as a director who has uses stylized visuals to tell a story rather than conventional film techniques. This just means that in the case of Exiled, all of the violence is used to keep the view distracted from the lack of story.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
When Robert Altman died everyone trotted out the usual films in tribute, MASH, Nashville, McCabe and Mrs Miller, A Prairie Home Companion. However there wasn't a whole lot mentioned about his late 1970's losers like, A Wedding, Images, Buffalo Bill and the Indians or Sitting Bull's History Lesson, Quintet, A Perfect Couple and HealtH.
HealtH, deals with a health food convention at a Florida hotel where two batty women are running for the presidency of the organization. The film features plenty of goofy characters running around in fresh fruit and vegetable costumes and is filmed in the improvisational style that Altman had the corner on for many years but was really death to his films. The parallels to a political convention are immediately obvious with the the film clearly commenting on this country's election process.
Altman had a good group of actors for this film, James Garner and Carol Burnett, who you wouldn't think would be entirely comfortable with this kind of comedy style are very funny. Garner is a cigarette smoking campaign manager for Lauren Bacall a health food nutcase. Carol Burnett a comedian probably best watched in small doses is an advisor to the President of the United States who specializes in protein. Burnett gets horny whenever she gets nervous and in spite of that silliness she's pretty funny.
|Altman with his cast|
For yet another plot less Robert Altman film HealtH is funny, the satire is fairly obvious, but if you can get into the Altman sense of humor this is a pretty good time. I would certainly rate it over Nashville which always seemed extremely overrated and way too long.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Frederick Wiseman, one of the pioneers of the cinema verite documentary movement which is basically turn the camera on and don't say anything style, filmed in black and white and 16mm in a Philadelphia High School in the late 1960's.
Watching High School, one should keep in mind the necessity of the school administration and facility for keeping some kind of order in what could be a lot chaos in a building full of teenagers.
That said, Northeast High School a predominantly white school in Philadelphia seems to be more interested in spitting out little models of conformity into society then actually educating kids. A lot of scenes show the facility verbally and nastily disciplining students or browbeating girls about the length of their skirts. It seems like the overall concern of the facility is humiliating the students.
The teachers are mostly a middle aged bunch of white people who seem to be going through the motions. The teaching scenes show them droning on and on while bored students stare into space or sleep at their desks
High School ends with a facility meeting where the principal reads a letter from a former student now a soldier in Vietnam, (this was during the height of the Vietnam war). The principal drones on in a monotone voice while she reads the letter. The implication to the viewer is that turning out soldiers who can serve in Vietnam without question has made their jobs as educators all worthwhile.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
A giant alligator named Ramon is on the loose in the Chicago (although it clearly was filmed in Los Angeles).
Ramon has grown to giant size thanks to a chemical an evil industrialist has been illegally dumping into the city sewer.
John Sayles wrote this definitive giant monster on the loose in the sewers film and he loaded it with plenty of humor and even a little social commentary and lots and lots of people getting chewed up by Ramon.
The film has a great cast with Robert Forster as the cop kicked off the force for pushing to hard, Henry Silva as the great white hunter hired to track down Ramon, Robin Ryker as the sexy alligator expert still living with her mother and legendary Hollywood character actor Dean Jagger as the evil industrialist.
A worthy addition to the giant monster on the loose in the city genre.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Unfortunately the writer/director Richard Brooks really dropped the ball when it came to filming Wrong Is Right. He certainly was almost 30 years ahead in his vision of a media obsessed world. Brooks foresaw reality TV, suicide bombers, middle east oil sheiks, media pop stars, crazy conservative and left wing politicians, and an attack on the World Trade Center by Arabs. It was almost as if all of these things were too much for one film, the whole thing turned out to be a disaster.
The idea in Wrong Is Right was to combine a political thriller with a satire on the news media using the same model as Network. Throughout the film the audience gets long winded rants about what is wrong with the media and the United States in general. But the skill to weave it all together isn't there. The film is an incoherent mess of ideas and action scenes which finally add up to nothing.
The cast was certainly game starting with Sean Connery as a globe trotting superstar reporter more important than the actual story he is working on. The rest of the cast is a once in a film bunch of actors featuring, John Saxon, Leslie Nielson, Dean Stockwell, Henry Silva, Hardy Kruger, Katherine Ross and Robert Conrad. All of them completely wasted.
Richard Brooks was a writer before he was a director and it's hard to believe he would let something so full of plot contrivances, dead end story points and incoherence scenes get past the script stage, then again he never wrote any comedies much less a film with satire in it.
A big sloppy mess of a movie.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
A smart hoodlum manipulates a couple of Yakuza mobs in this remake of Yojimbo this time set in a more contemporary Japan but with lots of gaudy color, violence and sadism thrown in. Lots of good times for an audience.
The director, Seijun Suzuki really cranks up the story with enough sick stuff going on to make the film almost compulsively watchable. Tough guy Joe Shishido doesn't care who he shoots or hits or beats the crap out of as long as he manipulates his way into playing off both gangs against each other. His one moment of compassion ends up with him getting caught and tortured. There's a message in all of this somewhere, but I'm not sure what it is.
The people at Criterion must have a real thing for Suzuki, they have 2 or 3 of his films in their collection all lovingly remasterd. Suzuki hardly seems like he belongs in the same company as Bergman, Renoir and Dreyer. However he does have a cool B movie sensibility and a" hit you over the head" style of film making.
Stylish entertaining trash .
House by the River was made during Fritz Lang's wanderings from studio to studio. The walking stereotype of the screaming German director, Lang had a lot of trouble getting along with the various Hollywood studios he worked for. As a result, he wandered into lower budget projects and productions.
Working at cheapskate studio Republic, Lang filmed this melodrama and brought a lot of style to a low budget production where at times there are some pretty bad looking painted backdrops. The cast was pretty second string as well with only Louis Hayward as a guy who accidentally kills a woman and gradually comes around to the idea of letting his brother take the rap for it.
What the film has going for it his Fritz Lang's way with creating an atmosphere and mood of menace. This was a film maker who really knew what to do with light and shadow especially when filmed in black and white.
|Herr director Lang getting ready to terrorize the cast after his coffee break.|
In spite of the low budget and somewhat shaky story line, Fritz Lang keeps this film very interesting, he has an actor in Louis Hayward who if he isn't a Mabuse like villain is still a pretty nasty character.
A low budget film noir worthy of some respect, House By The River has a memorable ending.
Alfred Hitchcock in his last silent film brings his visual composition skills to The Manxman, an interesting if familiar melodramatic love triangle.
Hitchcock's silent films are rarely discussed with the exception of The Lodger which is considered the first real Hitchcock thriller. But The Manxman is a more interesting film and certainly shows that Hitchcock was a very talented film maker even three years into his career, not even John Ford had such a sophisticated visual style when he began directing.
Of course it would hardly be a Hitchcock film without closeups of a blond, in this case the actor Anny Ondra. If you know anything about Hitchcock you know that this obsession with blond women would show up in his films throughout his career.
Ondra is featured in an early sound test with Hitchcock who is being very politically incorrect with her.
The Manxman is not some undiscovered classic but it's worth a look for Alfred Hitchcock's film making ability.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Jeanne Moreau's the show in this French drama from romantic fatalist filmmaker Jacques Demy.
Moreau plays Jackie, a very compulsive gambler throwing her life and her money away. Moreau's hair is about the blondest I've ever seen and she's really got the "rode hard and put up wet," thing going. This is the kind of film that in America would have starred Bette Davis or Joan Crawford in the 1940's but Moreau is a little more subtle when it comes to taking on this kind of character.
Moreau was always kind of the favorite of the French new wave directors and worked with Truffaut, Malle, Bunuel and Welles to name a few. She also had romantic relationships with a lot of directors and actors one of who was apparently Lee Marvin of all people, go figure.
Bay of Angels has great on location photography on the French Riviera and a very lush and maybe a little over the top piano score from Michel Legrand. Still, Jeanne Moreau's really the reason to watch this.
Friday, May 13, 2011
For a drama about torture in an unnamed South American country and filmed in essentially one or two rooms you have to give the director Roman Polanski credit he manages to get in a couple of gratuitous shots of Sigourney Weaver topless.
This was apparently a highly regarded play about the aftermath of a repressive dictatorship that had tortured it's citizens. The film revolves around the very improbable coincidence that one of the former victims of this torture just happens to meet up with the man who had tortured and raped her. He has very conveniently given her husband a ride home after his car gets a flat tire, this is a mighty big implausibility to hang a film on.
The film's a three character drama with British and American actors playing Latino types and naturally they don't speak or look very South American. But the bigger offender is the dialog which sounds like it's from a stage play and there is way too much of it for the visual medium of a film.
No one could ever say that Roman Polanski was not a talented director, but the reality has always been that with the exception of two or three films he has had a pretty spotty career, Death and the Maiden is a mediocre film in his odd career.
Just another filmed stage play with actors shouting stagy dialog at each other, Death and the Maiden should have been shut down at script stage it was never going to appeal a general audience.
A film close to 60 years old, Stalag 17 has it's dated aspects in particular the lowbrow comedy of Harvey Lembeck and Robert Strauss. However this is a very well written and directed film from Billy Wilder.
Apparently the original Broadway play on which the film was based was pretty mediocre. The film was extensively rewritten by Wilder. Wilder had William Holden play one of the hardest characters that 50's audiences had ever seen and the whole thing had plenty of cynical humor.
Stalag 17 is still enjoyable because of Wilder's strong storytelling skills. The film is a drama, a comedy and a mystery story all set in essentially one set, a prison barracks. As much as the ridiculous low brow antics of Strauss and Lembeck now seem a little stupid, Wilder was smart enough to use them as comic interludes within the drama which works extremely well.
Wilder cast tyrannical director from hell Otto Preminger as the German camp commandant. Preminger hams it up a little bit but is a lot of fun. But Bily Wilder was such a skilled filmmaker he made sure that all of the characters in the film even the minor ones stand out.
A very impressive piece of mainstream film making.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Neil Simon's supposed drama of his life with Marsha Mason was called Chapter 2 since it was about two people from previous relationships getting married again. In reality Neil Simon was married 5 times but I doubt anyone would want to see a film about a 5 time loser. On the other hand that might have been a more interesting film than this blandness.
As usual with Neil Simon, everyone talks the way people don't talk in real life. The director Robert Moore and the actors James Caan and Marsha Mason work very hard to make the characters sound like normal people but it's an uphill battle for the entire film.
Throughout the film the viewer is constantly told by everyone how attractive Marsha Mason is. With all due respect to Marsha Mason that seems a little bit of a stretch.
The film is impeccably produced. At one point Caan and Mason honeymoon at a luxurious resort in Mexico or the Caribbean or somewhere and it's clear the actors and the crew must have had a real nice vacation during the shooting.
This mystery of Neil Simon continues, what made this guy so popular for about 30 years? Chapter 2 is the laziest of lazy writing full of plot contrivances and a last minute emotional resolution that wouldn't make the grade on a TV soap opera.
I suppose a viewer can accept the fact that Caan marries Mason too soon as a way of dealing with his first wife's death. But the the dramatic climax of all the uninteresting emotional turmoil that Caan causes Mason is resolved by Caan going for a walk!
|The happy real life couple of Simon and Mason.|
Even the big "meet cute" scene of the 5 minute date is really contrived. It's supposed to be funny and maybe if Caan and Mason were a couple of teenagers it would be funny but these are two adult people.
The whole thing just reeks. Chapter 2 ran on Broadway for over 800 performances, this was one of Simon's biggest hits. The film however does not seem to be well remembered.
Monday, May 9, 2011
A short film for children from Albert Lamorisse, it is very well made and photographed.
The film kind of covers familiar ground with the old story of a boy who tames a wild horse.
The twist in this film is that it has an unhappy ending with the kid and the horse drowning in the ocean.
Easy to watch, it's short length helps a lot. Overall kind of a downer of a film.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
Tough guy cop Charles McGraw is on the trail of a gang of robbers who committed an Armored Car Robbery that was responsible for the death of his partner.
McGraw is really a piece of work, slamming down cigarettes and being a total bad ass in his trench coat. No time to romance the broads in this tight little film.
Armored Car Robbery has good direction from Richard Fleischer and packs a lot of tough guy action into it's short running time.
McGraw's the man.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
This is a highly polished film. It was assembled by professionals behind and in front of the camera. The director was Michael Curtiz shooting his final film with uncredited assistance from the Duke himself.
The cast is a who's who of old Hollywood pros starting with John Wayne, Stuart Whitman, Lee Marvin, Bruce Cabot, Edgar Buchannan and Nehemiah Perhoff. Behind the camera is the 2nd unit director Cliff Lyons who had worked on Spartacus, Ben Hur and and How The West Was Won amongst others. Elmer Bernstein composed the score and the rest of the technical credits are very high.
Nobody is ever going to confuse this film with Solaris, but this is an extremely entertaining western with The Duke in the film the way audiences liked him easy going and not taking himself too seriously. The Commancheros has none of his right wing political bull crap.
This is the kind of film that people think of when they say "they don't make them like this anymore" although the reality was Hollywood could barely make them like this at all.