Wednesday, September 28, 2011
1964 - MOTHRA VS GODZILLA, aka GODZILLA VS MOTHRA aka GODZILLA VS THE THING aka GODZILLA AGAINST MOTHRA
Number four in Toho's Godzilla series, he fights a big moth or butterfly or something.
By this time the series was getting more childish and silly, with two miniature women called the Shobjin running around spouting nonsense about getting a giant egg back. If the egg is hatched it will result in the destruction of Japan by a giant caterpillar or something. Meanwhile a greedy businessman wants to exploit the egg by turning it into a tourist trap.
This film has the usual nonexistent direction from Ishiro Honda, the bright color photography makes the rubber suit Godzilla outfit look very cartoonish, and being chased around by miniature tanks and rocket launchers doesn't help the film. The attempt by Honda to introduce an anti capitalist theme into the film is ludicrous.
The series now seems to exist in the alternative universe of Sid and Marty Kroft's Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
A group of strangers is randomly chosen to spend a night in a haunted house by a millionaire in yet another William Castle horror opus.
Vincent Price is about the only really recognizable star. At this point in his career he starts transitioning into this cheap horror schlock. These would be the kind of films he appeared in for the rest of his life.
William Castle is an interesting character in the film world, a producer/director of gimmicky horror and suspense films. Castle was known for having ridiculous gimmicks that went with his films. Things like joy buzzers hooked up to theater seats and a "coward's corner," a place for movie patrons who were too scared to watch his horror films. For The House on Haunted Hill, he apparently had an inflatable skeleton that flew around the ceiling of the theater during the film. Obviously watching his films today you don't get the shared experience of this craziness.
As for the film itself, Castle seems to be almost beside himself with the number of haunted house cliches that he can shove into this film. He has blood dripping from ceilings, severed heads, creepy hands touching people on the shoulder, walking skeletons and a vat of acid located in the basement of the haunted house for dissolving troublesome guests. Castle seems to revel in all of this stuff.
|The great director.|
The House on Haunted Hill is not art but it sure is entertaining. William Castle a true auteur in the best sense of the cinema.
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood try to kick start the western genre back to life but unfortunately started the spaghetti western craze instead.
For a fairly low budget production, A Fistful of Dollars looks pretty good. The film was shot in Spain which is where most of these Italian westerns seemed to end up being filmed. The Spanish locations always seemed to give these films a sense of dislocation, they never looked exactly like the American West.
Anyone doing a film blog will tell you that A Fistful of Dollars is based on Kurosawa's Yojimbo and there are a lot of almost identical scenes in the Leone film. However the presence of Clint Eastwood and the western setting probably made the wandering samurai/gunfighter story more accessible to American audiences than Kurosawa's film could ever hope to achieve.
This was the first of the misleading "man with no name " trilogy. The films actually aren't really interconnected and the Eastwood character does have a name in each of the films.
In 1964, mainstream film critics and conventional western movie lovers had no idea of what to make of this mutated version of an American western with a TV actor in the lead. The film had a nasty and violent streak in it that audiences weren't used to. Of course today, Eastwood's anti hero and the brutal violence seem almost quaint.
To wrap it up with a piece of useless trivia, Eastwood's character is called "Joe" throughout the film.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
I didn't expect that Gymkata was going to be the greatest martial arts movie ever, in fact I was pretty sure this would probably not be the greatest anything. However the film had Kurt Thomas one of the greatest gymnasts of the late 1970's.
The film actually starts off well enough in true B movie fashion. Thomas is one of America's top athletes recruited for a secret mission by the U.S. government to compete in an athletic competition in some silly country called Parmistan for various reasons to stupid to mention. First, he has to be trained in the ways of karate so he can combine his gymnastic skill with some martial arts moves. This is probably the best part of the film, the training stuff.
Kurt Thomas has an incredible control over his body, he walks up some stairs standing on his hands and does some amazing back flip and spin stuff from a standing position. Thomas may not be able to act, but he is in phenomenal control of his body.
Sadly, it's time for the plot to kick in. Thomas gets mixed up with Princess Rubali who is played by a former Playboy model who has even less acting chops than he, does and not take off her clothes for this film. Their love scenes together are shall we say a little stiff.
Once Thomas arrives in Parmistan, he gets involved with the "Game" which is basically yet another variation of everyone's favorite plot, The Most Dangerous Game. Gymkata was directed by Robert Clouse who had filmed Enter the Dragon, This film is for the most part a rehash of that better film.
Anyway, Thomas jumps and flips and kicks and hits a bunch of middle European Ninja guys as the whole thing gets increasingly stupid. It all climaxes in a battle in a city composed entirely of insane people.
I guess Gymkata is in the tradition of "so bad it's good." It's a pretty crappy looking film, but you do get to see a champion athlete make a fool of himself. Kurt Thomas wasn't the first athlete to star in a stupid action film and he won't be the last.
Friday, September 23, 2011
Woody Allen's crammed about a million jokes into this comedy about a notoriously inept bank robber.
This is what is considered the early Woody Allen film period which was though to be more accessible for a general audience. In 8 years he moved to a more sophisticated visual style with Annie Hall. However, Take the Money and Run doesn't look that primitive. Seen on a good DVD the film is pretty polished.
Allen wrote Take the Money and Run with Mickey Rose a comedy sketch writer who had worked for Sid Caesar, Rodney Dangerfield and Johnny Carson. Rose was probably responsible for a lot of the goofy sight gags that run throughout the film.
Take the Money and Run is still fairly funny. Allen had perfected his nebbish character by this time and the film does zip along from one situation to another. If the film isn't laugh out loud funny all of the time it is pretty amusing.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
James Cagney is the head of a World War II espionage group tracking down the location of V2 rocket launchers while simultaneously dealing with a clever Nazi double agent.
Henry Hathaway one of Fox's best in house directors filmed in the same semi documentary style that he used for The House on 92nd Street which means lots of on location filming. Hathaway had the benefit of having Cagney a powerful actor to really whip the story into shape.
This is old style Hollywood storytelling of the highest order, with clever plotting and exciting action sequences. Although the on location filming isn't probably as fresh as it was back in the 1940's, it does give the film a lot of verisimilitude.
13 Rue Madeline is a film that isn't afraid to embrace it's realistic and downbeat ending something you don't see in a lot of films today.
This film is about the birth of the universe and one person's place in it, maybe.
Terrance Malick's The Tree of Life wants to cover it all and I mean all. The film has an extended sequence about the creation of the universe, the earth and life itself. You could probably cut out most of this film and have a pretty good little short about evolution although no one in Texas where Malick grew up would ever screen it.
Where the film starts to get dicey is when Malick moves to the story of a boy growing up in Waco, Texas. A viewer is going to have to really work to see the connection between the evolution sequence and the life of the boy with the stern father and a loving mother, if there is a connection. The film has one of those obscure endings that you could always count on in just about any art house film during the 1960's or 70's particularly the ones from Europe.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Bronson's a loner raising horses when a kid rides up looking for work. Bronson takes him in and they sort of have a father son relationship. Bronson's wife Jill Ireland shows up as usual and they fall in love, but Ireland's mean brother doesn't want her to marry a low life like Bronson, end of plot.
John Sturges produced and and directed but according to the IMDB it was co-directed by some Italian which would indicate some sort of problem during production. In any case Chino ain't much of a film. It takes over an hour before Bronson starts shooting guys as it marches to it's pointless conclusion.
This is the period in Bronson's career where he was able to parlay the success of Death Wish into large paychecks for himself. The problem for Bronson was that he associated himself with films that were basically crap. Bronson's wife Jill Ireland frequently starred in these films in one of the classic examples of nepotism. Reviewers would criticize her acting, but frankly I've seen a hell of a lot worse.
Chino was shot in Spain with an Italian crew which makes it an official spaghetti western.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Thor was always at the bottom of the stack of comic books at the barber shop when I was a kid. It had something to do with a guy who threw a hammer at people. Thor the film is pretty much the same thing at the bottom of the stack.
The film features a couple of Academy Award winning "where's my paycheck" actors, Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. Thor is probably the first and hopefully last film with the credits, Marvel Comics and Kenneth Branagh linked together. Branagh is a smart guy and probably knew that signing on for this would make him a lot of money and give him some box office clout.
Thor is probably no worse or better than any of these other unending super hero films. It has lots of CGI, over the top action scenes, a little humor with a couple of winks at the audience to let them know this is all kind of a joke and a running time that could have been shortened by at least 20 to 30 minutes.
One hates to use the cliche that the film was written by a committee, but this really seems to be the case. The film has at least 2 climax's and the usual odd ball casting choices with the legendary white bread Scandinavian home Asgard populated by black guys, oriental guys and british guys it's all very culturally diverse.
Thor is extremely undemanding stuff and nothing to get very excited about.
Another Toho monster or as the call them Kaiju film, apparently the first one in color. Rodan is some sort of supersonic flying monster who can flap his wings and make cities tumble down.
This is a typical Toho monster movie, Ishiro Honda's direction is just about nonexistent, the special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya are his usual highly detailed models and miniatures. If I didn't know better I would think that the Japanese Defense Force was made up entirely of miniature tanks and rocket launchers.
Rodan is really not one of the better Kaiju films, it's not silly enough to be funny and even the dubbed Japanese dialog is not up to the usual ridiculous standards of these films.
I suppose Rodan was kind of fun to go to or watch on TV for the Saturday matinee crowd during the 50's or early 60's. It is under 90 minutes.
Mia Farrow does her usual naive waif thing but she does it very well. The cast has to cope with trying to make the Woody Allen dialog not sound like Woody Allen dialog. Probably Alec Baldwin does the best with this impossible task.
Woody Allen probably should have worked a little harder on the script, he tends to crowd most of the obvious comedy bits towards the end of the film. The film also could have done without yet another tour of New York City, which seems to turn up in about every other film he shot during this period.
This is the last film for Keye Luke, an old Chinese-American character actor from the 1940's, Luke was a veritable living history of Hollywood, appearing in Charlie Chan films as the number one son, voicing Hanna Barbara cartoon villains, and appearing in the TV series Kung Fu. Luke's a lot of fun in the film as the mysterious Dr. Yang who guides Alice on her journey of self discovery.
A high quality film worth a look even though it's not really successful.
Posted by Dugan at 6:44 AM
The lives of 3 families through World War II and into the present directed by Claude LeLouch focusing on the art and world of music, the bond that ties them all together.
Bolero is an epic of middle brow mediocrity made by a director who always tended to be way to sentimental and romantic for his own good. The music is by those light weights of contemporary pop, Michel Legrand, Yanni, Marilyn and Alan Bergman and Francis Lai.
The film is frankly exhausting to watch after a while. The early scenes set during World War II are somewhat interesting but as the film moves into the 60's and 70's and the bad pop songs kick in it's finally an endurance contest to get through.
The final scene is set at a concert for staving children in front of the Eiffel Tower no less. It's an interpretative dance of that masterpiece of kistch Ravel's Bolero. This version has the addition of a vocal background, pretty awful but hilarious stuff.
Claude Lelouch is a director who never met a handheld camera or crane shot that he didn't like. The camera is constantly swinging around, circling the performers or racing backwards down some set.
An endurance contest of the highest order.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
The Walt Disney company had a thing about movies with monkeys in them, through the years they made a number of them. The Monkey's Uncle, Toby Tyler, Monkey's Go Home and finally The Barefoot Executive.
The Barefoot Executive is pretty lazy and routine stuff, a typical Disney live action film from the 1970's. The film is about a monkey who can pick hit television shows for a third place network. This is essentially a satire on the world of television five years before the Paddy Chayefsky film Network came out. Since it's a Disney film the satire is mighty mild.
Probably the most interesting thing about the film is the cast. Kurt Russell who took over for Tommy Kirk in the young adult roles after Kirk got to old for the roles and was arrested for "indecent behavior" is the star. Along with Russell were Joe "Captain Binghamton" Flynn, Harry "Colonel Potter & Officer Frank Gannon" Morgan, Wally "Mr Peepers" Cox, Hayden "Dr Bellows" Roarke, John "Jack Tripper" Ritter and an actor called Heather North who was the voice of "Daphne" in those Scooby Doo cartoons. The cast is a venerable who's who of hammy character actors from the 60's and 70's.
A fascinating film only for preferrial reasons.
Monday, September 12, 2011
Dragging myself across the finish line for the Dietrich/Von Sternberg series. Morocco finds Dietrich playing torch singer Amy Jolly, a woman with a past. She meets and falls in love with French foreign legion guy Gary Cooper. Apparently they have an affair although it's kind of tough to tell.
Also mixed up in this romp is Adolph Menjou as the wealthy artist Monsieur La Bessiere. Dietrich starts sleeping with him after Gary Cooper gets called up for duty to go fight Arabs in the desert somewhere.
Dietrich was a very closeted bisexual in her personal life, this is the film where she performs in a man's tuxedo and kisses a woman on the lips after the performance, pretty hot stuff for 1930.
Since this is a Josef von Sternberg fiilm, the photography looks really great and not just of Dietrich. Von Sternberg knew how to play with light and shadows for some very interesting effects. Actually Dietrich in this one isn't really the heavily made up blond that she ended up looking like for von Sternberg, in some ways she almost looks a little more human in Morocco.
Josef von Sternberg did 8 films with Dietrich and apparently most of the films were unsurprisingly not that financially successful. The films are heavy on pictorial effects, especially when it came to Marlene Dietrich but mighty light on plot and entertainment value at times.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Badlands is the film you would get if it have been directed by John Ford and was about a sociopathic mass murderer who killed people against magnificent prairie settings.
The film has pretty spectacular photography juxtaposed with the story of a serial killer and his clueless teenage girlfriend racing around the central plains, in this case Colorado. A young Martin Sheen creepily channeling the persona of his notorious son Charlie, is the psycho killer, who thinks he's a real wheeler dealer. Sissy Spacek has a difficult role as his clueless teenage girlfriend who is way in over her head but doesn't really realize it. They are both very good.
Badlands mad killer runs around the central plains and he looks and acts just like one of the local yokels. A loser, he clearly enjoys his serial murder fame which is the high point in his life,
A stunning film.
Friday, September 9, 2011
I saw Robert Altman's Nashville when it first came out in 1975 and at the time I felt it was not a middle America I even recognized, I did not care for the film. Watching this film again over 30 years later, I now realize that Altman has captured a portrait of middle America that is spot on.
From the campaign of "The Replacement Party" candidate for president Hall Phillip Walker spouting inflammatory political rhetoric to it's portrait of clueless empty headed fame seeking individuals crooning their mediocre country songs, Nashville presents a portrait of middle class white people that is uncomfortable to watch.
Altman managed a cast of 24 actors and there isn't a misstep in characterization or performance from any of them. They are perfectly integrated into the story. My only complaint is that perhaps there are maybe a couple of extra performances of country songs than are really necessary to the story.
This is probably the best of Altman's ensemble pieces and it seems more than just a satire of the United States, but an actual documentary record of it. A film classic
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Marlene is a mom in this one. She's married to a chemist who has radium poisoning of all things. He needs $1500.00 to pay for a cure so Marlene decides to go back to work performing on the stage in order to raise the money.
Marlene meets a rich guy while her husband is away getting cured and apparently has an affair with him. It's hard to tell exactly what's happening with that since the production code was starting to rear it's ugly head around this time and no mention of this kind of hanky panky would be allowed in the movies.
As usual Von Sternberg carefully photographs Dietrich making sure the light hits her just right, this woman positively glows. Marlene sings a couple of kind of racy songs and these musical interludes seem like they belong in an entirely different film.
When all is said and done the whole idea of actually putting Dietrich in some kind of domestic drama is almost to ludicrous to comprehend. The ideal Dietrich film would be 90 minutes of closeups of her with the key light beating down on her forehead.