Wednesday, June 29, 2011
The acting challenged cast of Fast Five consists of Vin Diesel the leader of a team of street racers hiding out in Rio. Along with Diesel is Paul Walker as his partner and Walker's skanky girlfriend played by Jordana Brewster who is also supposed to be Diesel's sister. In hot pursuit is Dwayne Johnson or "The Rock" or whatever he is calling himself these days as a very sweaty federal agent.
There's lots of car chasing action, much of it very good, but the film is way too long. They could have easily lost about 30 minutes of it's running time had the plot been tightened up. There is a lot of boring, planning the big heist stuff between the action scenes. Also the promised "Wall of Gunfire" never happens.
Probably the most hilarious aspects of the film are the character moments that are stuck throughout the film. One has to listen to Diesel mumble about his relationship with his father. A jive spouting black guy is supposed to be the comedy relief and the women are essentially Barbie dolls who know their place for the most part.
The men sit around partying, drinking beer and have a big barbecue before they pull off their caper. This is male fantasy time, fast cars and loose women.
The film has the now required and way overused coda scene that runs after the credits. At the end of Fast Five, federal agent Eva Mendes in very high heels and a low cut blouse, the required dress code, hands a file to sweaty Duane Johnson signaling that there will be another film in The Fast and Furious franchise.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
At everyone's favorite 1950's honeymoon spot Niagara Falls, Marilyn Monroe perfectly cast as a trampy ex-waitress, is married to crazy Korean war vet, Joseph Cotton. She's decided to kill him and run off with her lover. Another couple, Jean Peters, who in real life was once married to Howard Hughes, and her goofy husband Casey Adams are dragged into Monroe and Cotton's marital issues.
The director is Henry Hathaway and the producer is Charles Brackett. They may not exactly have the Hitchcock touch, but this is a very effective thriller. Hathaway was always the no nonsense studio craftsman so I doubt he put up with a lot of Marilyn Monroe's movie star behavior. She gives a very good performance as a very nasty person that doesn't completely involve her showing off her chest for a change.
Obviously the attraction in Niagara was Monroe running around in low cut and tight outfits, but the on location filming around Niagara falls is very impressive. The filmmakers have really captured the sense of place of the Falls in all it's tacky 1950's honeymooning glory.
Again, very well made.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Crazed World War II film from the Italians. The film is full of improbable plot situations, lots of action and American actor Van Johnson as a British Field Marshall.
A bunch of German agents have snuck into London right before the Battle of Britain, The plan is to sabotage England's radar network and catch the Limey's off guard. To the rescue come Van and Frederick Stafford the guy from Hitchcock's Topaz.
Eagles Over London is a typical Castellari film, good action and stunt work mixed with liberal amounts of cheesy Italian plotting. For an Italian rip off of a typical American World War II film it's very well done. The editing on some of the action scenes is fascinating with Castellari using an interesting split screen effect mixing actual war footage with stock footage and stuff he shot for the film.
The film is actually a lot of fun and the mix and match of all the different nationalities in the cast is a signal that none of this is to be taken very seriously. The actor Frederick Stafford is a good looking guy but as stiff as a board. Van Johnson doesn't even bother with a British accent, the rest of the cast is the usual bunch of intense and volatile Italian actors.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Bringing it in under 90 minutes, Roger Corman shows what a little imagination and cleverness can do on a low AIP budget.
Ray Milland past his leading man days is the scientist who develops a drug that gives him X-Ray vision. As silly as it sounds the premise plays out pretty well. The film has it's small purpose in examining the situation of a man who invents a drug to give him a wider spectrum of vision but finds that it doesn't necessarily contribute to the betterment of mankind.
Since this is a Corman/AIP film, we do get the expected scene of Milland at a swinging 1960's party using his X-ray vision to stare at naked women dancing at a party, well as naked as you can get for a 1963 film anyway.
The film has a kind of biblical conclusion to it with Milland stumbling into a revival meeting in Nevada confronting the members with his vision of the universe.
Overall, pretty well done.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
This is the film version of Gilbert and Sullivan's most famous opera. Arthur Sullivan's music and W.S. Gilbert's are very clever and impressive. The comedy is clever and very witty.
The film is photographed in beautiful technicolor and has lavish sets and colorful costumes.
The problem is that after about 30 minutes enough is enough. What played on the stage in the late 1800's is exhausting to watch, the relentless artificially of The Mikado finally wears the viewer down.
Tbe film was unsurprisingly not a success.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
File this one in the kind of stupid movie ideas folder. 1980's semi teen idols, Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins, sing and mug for the camera in this updating of The Pirates of Penzance, the light operetta from Gilbert and Sullivan.
I guess the idea was to appeal to the kids using these two American stars and have them race around and camp it up with lots of slapstick, silly references to the Star Wars and Indiana Jones films and frequent breaking of the fourth wall as the actors spoke directly to the audience.
Even for a pretty boy Atkins is really hopeless. It's hard to see what the big deal about Kristy McNichol once was. She was an Emmy winning actor in the late 1970's and did lots of those after school specials and guest spots on 1970's TV shows. She was always more of dramatic actor than a comedian. Her role as Mable in The Pirate Movie calls for her to be funny and sexy. She's not very funny and not particularly sexy even running around in skirts slit up the side of her leg.
The whole thing has the smell of desperation and probably needed a director like Richard Lester to pull it off. Ken Annakin really wasn't the guy for this type of film. Annakin had done some good work early in his career when he was involved with Walt Disney. But I doubt Disney would have ever gotten involved with this kind of silly musical fantasy.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Andrzej Wajda's film A Generation, about the resistance movement in Warsaw during World War II is a good film from a first time director. The film has been proclaimed a masterpiece but that might be pressing the point a bit.
Still, Wajda is telling a pretty good story here about a polish youth who joins the resistance and how it forces him to mature and start facing some of the hard decisions he will have to make in his life. The film has a realistic not pessimistic ending and is not afraid to make the case that people will be sacrificed fighting the Germans.
Overall a good film, worth watching maybe not exactly the film classic that everyone proclaims that it is.
Remaking Lost Horizon as a musical was a pretty gutsy move that was probably doomed to fail. As usual with this decade in film musicals those signing sensations Peter Finch and Liv Ullmann were hired to perform the songs from the original Bacharach/David score which was typical of the anyone can be in a musical attitude of Hollywood that included non singer musical stars such as Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin, Burt Reynolds and Cybil Sheppard.
When you think about it a little bit, the philosophy of better living in Shangri-La is naive and insulting. The whole idea that just being nice to each other will solve everyone's problems is a little ridiculous. Even when Capra's version came out, the world was a very complicated place, naive sentiments rarely help solve the world's problems. The valley ruled over by the grand lama of Shanrgi-La is really a dictatorship run by a religious elite, hardly the Disneyland the film is trying to sell to the audience.
But, getting back to the film. Lost Horizon probably had a fighting chance as a remake, but the songs really killed it. Burt Bacharach and Hal David really outdid themselves with one horrible song after the other. Apparently no one bothered to actually listen to the score before they filmed their songs.
Finch and Ullmann's singing voices were dubbed for their duets and soliloquy's. You think Liv Ullmann in particular would have been about the last person to show up in a musical especially after her performance in Face to Face, but there she is merrily skipping and singing with her little Asian school children to the song "The World Is A Circle," it's almost as disturbing as watching her performance as the creepy mute in Persona.
A sign that the film was probably destined for trouble was the producer Ross Hunter's brilliant idea to reuse the castle set from that other musical disaster Camelot as the monastery Shangri-La, that should have been a big omen.
Monday, June 13, 2011
When will people finally stop partying on sacred Indian burial grounds? This is the question posed by Sam Raimi's warm up for the Evil Dead series made on the whooping budget of $1600.00 bucks.
All the Raimi tricks are here at the beginning of his career, the camera running through the woods, the possession stuff and the slapstick blood splattered killing stuff. It's interesting to see him use the same tricks over and over in his subsequent films.
You get what you get watching a film made by a couple of guys starting out in their careers and filming in super 8.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
One can only wonder what the thinking was behind hiring a director like George Cukor, a man who had never directed a fantasy film in his life. Apparently there wasn't too much thinking involved because Cukor found himself directing one of the bigger disasters in his career since he was fired from Gone With The Wind.
To add to George Cukor's problems, the source material was Maurice Maeterlinck's play The Blue Bird one of the most coy pieces of allegorical crap every foisted on an audience. The film features actors dressed in dog and cat costumes pretending to be the human personifications of a brother and sister's pets.
To make matters even worse, this was a major co-production between the Soviet Union and an American film studio. To their surprise, the Americans were unprepared for the primitive and technical ineptness the Russians brought to the film. Cukor battled Soviet film technicians who had all the skill of an Ed Wood production crew. Apparently just getting something on film turned out to be a major ordeal.
Elizabeth Taylor was the star of the film and not to speak ill of the dead but the ratio of bad films starring Elizabeth Taylor to good films is I would say about 90:1, this woman did not make a lot of quality films in her career, The Blue Bird was another one of them. Somehow, Jane Fonda, Ava Gardner, Cicely Tyson and Robert Morley got mixed up in all of this and one hopes they were paid in dollars and not some kind of Russian monopoly money.
|George Cukor with Jane Fonda wondering how he got into this Sino-Soviet mess.|
The whole thing is a mediocre mess that has to be seen to be believed. Not only do we have adult actors running around pretending to be dogs and cats, we also have the sight of actors pretending to be the human personifications of milk, bread and I kid you not, sugar, this is one of the few films where it is genuinely embarrassing to watch what these actors go through.
Cukor ended his career directing a couple of decent made for TV films and an OK comedy/drama called Rich and Famous at least he didn't go down in flames with The Blue Bird.
Cell phones have really changed since Cellular came out 7 years ago. But one thing hasn't changed that's the writer Larry Cohen's ability to create an outrageous story line about anything whether it's killer babies or sequels to killer babies, flying serpents over New York or teenage werewolves. In this film it's all about an unlucky cell phone user who gets dragged into a kidnapping plot.
Cohen didn't direct or write the final screenplay but his imprint is all over this zany action thriller. The film has a fun cast with William Macy the most interesting character as a cop about to retire and open a day spa. Movie tough guy Jason Statham is also a lot of fun as the scary bad guy.
You have to give Cellular credit since it finds every possible way to milk it's cell phone gimmick throughout the running time of the film.
The whole film is stupid but fast moving fun.
Monday, June 6, 2011
The film somehow got deemed worthy of the deluxe Criterion touch. The people involved did a good job of stretching a buck on the special effects, but the actual film itself is nothing very special. There are plenty of first time filmmakers who have made much better films, but you can be sure they will never receive the Criterion treatment.
A lot of the plot seems mighty reminiscent of The Evil Dead, but regardless of what you think of Sam Raimi, this film has none of his style, the whole thing comes off as being made by a bunch of nerds who are aping better horror and fantasy films.
It was nice of Criterion to preserve someone's home movie for them but the viewer and buyer is advised to beware, the pictures make the film look cooler than it is.
After a while with all trend setting films, imitation and time start to take it's toll. The Thing From Another World is starting to look a little ragged 60 years later.
Howard Hawk's shot at updating the old Universal monster movie by assembling a good script and a top group of technical professionals still looks pretty good in a lot of ways. Unfortunately so many other films in the intervening years have ripped off so much from this film, it's diminished a lot of the special qualities of the original. The whole monster on the loose in an isolated setting has been copied by the Alien film series, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Quatermass Experiment, the Re-Animator, to name only a few that come to mind.
Still, the film is extremely well made. Hawks cleverly cast no stars in this ensemble film, he also used his famous overlapping dialog technique to make them sound like real people. The film is well photographed and edited. The action scenes, particularly the attack of the monster in the base with the air force personnel setting it on fire looks very intense. Someone playing the monster obviously stood there while people threw flaming kerosene on him.
Dimitri Tiomkin's electronic score isn't up to the same level as Bernard Herrmann's work on Day The Earth Stood Still, Tiomkin was too much of a mainstream film composer to get really radical but it's a decent effort. The film also has a lot of humor in it to relieve the tension before the next monster attack, a very clever touch.
A lot of thought and hard work went into making The Thing From Another World, it's a good example of a mainstream Hollywood film that is extremely well made in the somewhat dubious science fiction and horror genres.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
One of those "Tuesday Movie of the Week" B-movies that ABC used to grind out during the 1970's. Moon of the Wolf is fairly cheesy but worth a couple of chuckles.
The film has an outstanding cast of TV actors, Barbara Rush, Royal Dano, John Beradino, Geoffrey Lewis, Bradford Dillman and David "the Man " Janssen. Bradford Dillman was married to one of the top fashion models of the 1950's the gorgeous Suzy Parker.
What can be said about a TV legend like David Janssen, the man with the gravely voice. A guy with enough screen presence to keep this junk extremely watchable. The film is set in a Louisiana Bayou town and most of the cast actually attempts southern accents. Not Janssen, he's supposed to be a southern sheriff who grew up in the Bayou, but he spits his lines out in his Midwestern accent with an "I don't give a damn about this stupid movie" manner. Janssen is clearly in it for a quick paycheck.
Moon of the Wolf is a very dumb film. Some old coot realizes that a werewolf is running around killing people, he keeps saying "Loup-Garou". Nobody seems to know what that means, but anyone who has seen the classic Jonny Quest episode Werewolf of the Timberland, knows that this is a french word for werewolf.
The film is short and knows what it is, just another B movie made for television.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
Ingmar Bergman looks at the emotional breakdown of a psychiatrist played by one of his favorite actors, Liv Ullmann. This was originally a four part television series. Bergman cut it down for theatrical presentation but something important must have been left out, the film is pretty awful.
What you get for your viewing pleasure are a lot of closeups of Liv Ullmann screaming for almost two hours. After watching this film, there is no doubt in my mind that she can act because she acts up (overacts?) a storm in this film. She has an extended monologue where she basically plays a character who is possessed by her mean grandmother, (don't ask). It's impressive to watch but ultimately completely pointless.
Like a lot of directors in the 1970's, Bergman seemed to struggle finding material that he could completely connect with. It's hard to believe this piece of pseudo psychological clap trap got past his quality control, but since Bergman wrote his own screenplays as well as directing them he is ultimately the one to blame. Even the dream sequences are not up to par.
The film is shot mostly in close ups and medium shots, which is probably due to it's television origins, it's claustrophobic as hell to watch. The end of the film where Ullmann realizes that "love conquers all," is so ridiculous it's hard to believe that Ingmar Bergman is taking this film seriously.