Sunday, October 30, 2011
Sleaze on a big budget but not fun level.
Admittedly I haven't seen a lot of 2011 films this year, but this could be the pits. Using the same Inception/Paprika situation, a blond bimbo running around in her underwear ends up in an insane asylum where she descends into two fantasy levels. On one level she is a sexy stripper or dancer and on the other level she is a sexy sword fighting kick ass babe battling steam punk soldiers and samurai warriors.
At first I thought this film was some teenage boy sex fantasy film, then I figured Sucker Punch was a video game with a heavy dose of computer imagery. Finally I decided that Sucker Punch was a misogynistic porn film by the writer/director Zack Snyder but I don't think Snyder is smart enough to known what the word "misogynistic" means.
I also thought that Warner Brothers hadn't read the script. I realized the studio must have read the script since they green lighted the project and gave Snyder the money to indulge in his little sex and violence fantasies. Apparently Snyder wanted to make an R rated film but the studio stepped in and demanded a PG-13 version. God knows what a more explicit Sucker Punch would have looked like.
What's depressing about this film is the young women who had to appear in it. You know they were pretty much stuck in it because failure to sign on to this pile of manure would brand them as actors who wouldn't play the studio game, a career limiting move. In any case I doubt the film world will be hearing much from the stars of Sucker Punch, Emily Browning and Abbie Cornish.
A very unpleasant experience.
Saturday, October 29, 2011
Alain Delon is Tom Ripley who murders his friend and then assumes his identity in order to get his money and his very hot girlfriend in this adaptation of a Patricia Highsmith novel.
Nobody does sleek and dangerous better than Alain Delon an actor not afraid to play a morally ambiguous character and probably a latent homosexual in this film. The film maintains a high level of interest as Delon get's himself out of one situation after another as he tries to get away with his murder.
This film is extremely well directed by Rene Clement and impeccably photographed by Henri Decaë one of greatest cinematographers of the New Wave. The on location photography in Italy and particularly around Naples is striking. This is a film noir set in bright sunlight.
Hitchcock's comeback film Strangers on a Train was based on another Highsmith novel but Purple Noon is better than a lot of the Hitchcock thrillers.
Mr. Unsubtle plays a billionaire who makes a bet that he can can survive in the slums of Los Angeles for a month without money. This is the plot of Sullivan's Travels with a lot of Charlie Chaplin like stuff mixed in.
Life Stinks is one of the better later period Brook's films and that's not saying much. Brooks as usual isn't capable of any kind of subtlety in his acting or his direction. Every scene is constantly hammered into the viewer with the great auteur the constant focus of attention. Preston Sturges could mix slapstick, sentimentality and drama into his films but even Sturges had a hell of a time walking that tightrope in some of his films. Brooks is no Sturges.
The rest of the cast does what they can to keep the film on track. Jeffrey Tambor doesn't get the good lines, but he knows how to deliver a funny and clever performance. One time Disney ingenue Lesly Ann Warren star of such classics as The One and Only Genuine Original Family Band and The Happiest Millionaire is the sexy bag lady he takes up with. One of Mel's old buddies Howard Morris who apparently trained at the same school of overbearing comedians that Brooks came out of is a street person who Brooks befriends.
It would be easy to write something like "Life Stinks and so does this film." But the film doesn't really stink, it's just another mediocre comedy in a long list of mediocre comedies
Thursday, October 27, 2011
Gary Cooper is a scientist working on the Manhattan project when he is sent on a secret mission by the OSS to rescue an Italian scientist. The story is very episodic with Cooper zipping along from one spy caper to another.
This is the kind of spy film that Fritz Lang could film on auto pilot and probably did. Lang was one of the inventors of the modern espionage film. Herr director Lang loads the film up with a lot of atmosphere and suspense. He's also good at all this sneaking around spy stuff since his first dip into the genre with Spione in 1928
Gary Cooper was a rather odd choice to play a scientist. The intention seems to have been to have an all American male mixed up with Nazi spies. Cloak and Dagger shows how a plain speaking guy can triumph over these devious Teutonic devils. Cooper does have a very cool fight scene with a Nazi agent which is pretty brutal for 1946.
Except for a boring love plot that brings everything to a halt for about 20 minutes, Cloak and Dagger zips along pretty well.
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
"Come on guys, we gotta sneak behind enemy lines and blow up Rommel's fuel dump at Tobruk, but watch out there is a traitor in our group."
The cast of Tobruk is the usual dependable bunch of mid 60's actors. Rock Hudson is the reluctant volunteer who leads the team of British soldiers on their secret mission. George Peppard is the German Jew who helps him. Nigel Green plays Nigel Green.
Tobruk was photographed in the Spanish desert by Russell Harlan, who usually worked with Howard Hawks. It's a good looking film. The director was Arthur Hiller who seems like an odd choice for a war film Hiller is known for films like Love Story or The In-Laws.
The film is probably remembered if it needs to be remembered at all, for it's large scale action scenes which are very impressive. Lots of stuff blows up.
Tobruk is the parent of that bastard child of a film Raid on Rommel, which starred Richard Burton. Raid on Rommel "borrowed" the action sequences from this film for that film.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
King Vidor shot one of the first sound films on location in the southern United States. His subject, religion and Black American life. Vidor incorporated a lot of musical sequences into this film which makes it a strange quasi musical drama.
Hallelujah was an honest attempt to portray black life in the late 1920's. Watching the film today is mighty tough going. The primitive early sound recording and the presentation of black life in a very patronizing manner no matter how well intentioned makes the film pretty hard to stomach.
The most interesting parts in Hallelujah are the scenes of the religious revival meetings and most impressively the large scale baptism in the river sequence. Here religious ecstasy is combined with a kind of sexual frenzy or hysteria, very interesting stuff.
King Vidor must have filmed a lot of these on location scenes without sound which was probably added later since the camera work is pretty fluid. Vidor was one of the masters of silent films.
|King Vidor directs the impressive river baptism sequence.|
Hallelujah is a film of historical importance for the fact that major mainstream films about black American life were just never filmed. The all black cast does what it can to keep the racial stereotypes from completely sinking the film. But, this "happy darkie" stuff is what finally keeps the film from becoming a classic.
Friday, October 21, 2011
Unbelievably unthrilling thriller. A British schoolboy is kidnapped and his secret agent dad searches for him.
The Black Windmill was directed by Don Siegel, who after Dirty Harry had built up a serious critical following as a film stylist. Critics looked back at his earlier films and found an interesting list that included, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Hell is for Heroes and Riot in Cell Block 11.
Of course for every Invasion of the Body Snatchers there was The Annapolis Story, Duel at Silver Creek and Count the Hours, films that will not get the Criterion treatment.
The film stars Michael Caine who somehow is now highly regarded as an actor. Caine won an Academy Award which gave him a lot of cred. A quick review of his career shows an actor who will stoop to any part for a paycheck witness, Gnomeo and Juliet, Austin Powers in Goldmember and The Muppet Christmas Carol. In The Black Windmill Caine must have really been in it for the money, he barely registers a performance and seems completely disengaged throughout the film.
Only Donald Pleasence seems to have any interest in the film playing Caine's boss the quirky head of a British intelligence unit.
This film is so lame that the windmill in The Black Windmill isn't even black.
Thursday, October 20, 2011
A documentary about the Spanish Civil War which was considered to be the first big stand against the rise of fascism in Europe during the 1930's.
The film was directed by Joris Ivens a left leaning documentary filmmaker. Ernest Hemingway who had logged a lot of time partying and watching bullfights wrote and spoke the narration. Another good liberal Marc Blietzstein composed the score. The end result is this boring film.
The Spanish Earth was probably shot as a silent film. The film crew was apparently not allowed where the actual fighting was going on. There are lots of shots of soldiers and recruits training. During the film, Hemingway even says that the cameras couldn't get very close. So Ivens shoots a lot of film of the Spanish people, farming which is not exactly exciting stuff.
The scenes of war that Ivens supposedly captured seem very suspect and the explosions filmed were clearly edited in, since the shots don't match.
|Joris Ivens directs safely from his hotel room.|
The whole things comes off as a patronizing tribute to "the little people," if there's one thing that rich famous white liberals know, it's what's best for the simple people.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
King Vidor and Jennifer Jones reteam for another nutty sex epic along the lines of Duel in the Sun.
Jennifer Jones is oversexed Ruby Gentry with an "itch down there." Jones spends the first part of the film stroking shot gun barrels and running around in tight jeans and push up bras. Jones has the hots for Charleton Heston who talks about "big pumps" and generally turns into a horn dog when ever he is around Ruby. Heston won't marry Ruby because she is from "the wrong side of the tracks."
Jones marries Karl Malden the richest man in town and takes her revenge on Heston for two timing her. It all ends in another shootout with some striking similarities to the climax of Duel in the Sun.
This piece of southern melodrama cheesecake is well directed by King Vidor who at this point in his career is a long way from The Crowd or Our Daily Bread.
Monday, October 17, 2011
Where to begin. This is not some cheap rip off of the original Psycho. The producer was an assistant to Hitchcock, the director of photography was Dean Cundey who had worked with Spielberg and Carpenter and Jerry Goldsmith scored the film. Most importantly the director was Richard Franklin, a friend of Hitchcock's and an expert on his films
If you set aside the thought that this was a completely unnecessary film sequel, even on it's own merits Psycho II does not work very well. The whole idea that Norman Bates has been declared sane and allowed to return to the Bates motel seems pretty ridiculous. Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates as such a complete weirdo at the beginning of the film that it's impossible to believe that anyone would think he is healthy enough to be allowed out in the general public.
Vera Miles returns as Marion Crane's sister and apparently she married Sam Loomis after the original events of Psycho. She's upset that Norman has been released and plans to drive him crazy in order to send him back to the insane asylum. Miles has a daughter played by Meg (whatever happened to my career) Tilly who befriends Norman.
Franklin tries to invoke the spirit of the first film. There are cinematic quotations from North by Northwest, and the shower and swamp scenes in the first film. The famous butcher knife makes it's appearance as the body count begins to mount up. Franklin may have been an admirer of Hitchcock but he lacks Hitchcock's touch in staging vivid murders.
The whole mess finally grinds to a halt with a ridiculous twist ending that unfortunately allowed Psycho III and Psycho IV to be made
Psycho II with it's plot holes and red herrings is a complete disappointment and doesn't even work as a slasher film.
I suppose there must be some satisfaction at Woody Allen's age (75 years) that Midnight in Paris has been his most successful film ever. Audiences have seemed to embrace this light weight romantic fantasy with nice scenic shots of Paris.
Frankly this Woody Allen film doesn't seem all that different than any of the other later Woody Allen films. This is the same type of film he has been cranking out for the past 10 years or so. Midnight in Paris is maybe lacking some of his sourpuss attitude that is usually to be found in his films, and I am guessing that is the reason audiences have responded to this film.
With any Woody Allen film, the actors have to be very good to not sound like Woody Allen. Owen Wilson was apparently up to the challenge, he takes some of the tired Woody Allen comedy bits and dialog and makes them seem sort of funny.
The women characters in the film get the short end of the deal. Rachel McAdams, who has been struggling to carry a film as a lead gets the supporting role as Wilson's finance, a shallow and materialistic woman. Marion Cotillard is the free spirit who Wilson meets when he travels back in time. She's pretty much there as a way for Allen to move his slight plot forward.
|Woody Allen on the set.|
As usual with any Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris is very well made.
Friday, October 14, 2011
Brian De Palma's film operates on a number of levels, a wanna be soft core teenage porn flick, a horror film, a commentary on the depressing nature of high school life, a critique of Christian fundamentalism and most importantly a meta high school nerd revenge fantasy.
The film was certainly well cast, Sissy Spacek was Carrie the nerd girl with the psychic powers, Nancy Allen the nasty high school tramp and Amy Irving the do gooder trying to do the right thing but inadvertently causing the whole mess. But none of them could equal the magnificence of Piper Laurie as Carrie's mother Margaret White, the crazy Christian fundamentalist and the real horror of the film. Laurie knew just how far to take this over the top character.
Brian De Palma was always a director who wore his technique on his sleeve. He had been experimenting with split screen and slow motion since he started making films. With Carrie he managed to restrain himself until the high school prom sequence and then he went all out with his bag of cinematic tricks as if burning down a high school with the senior class wasn't extreme enough.
De Palma worked on a small budget, apparently the studio had no faith in the film, but he had been making low budget films for years so he knew how to stretch a buck. The film made a lot of money.
A newly married couple moves into a house next door to another couple with kids, it turns out that the newlywed wife had been involved with their neighbor's husband in a passionate love affair a few years ago.
Only Francois Truffaut's filmmaking skill saves this film from descending into total melodrama, as it is The Woman Next Door is a very improbable tale of obsessive love.
The two lovers come off as a couple of psychos. They seem hell bent on destroying their families and themselves to a ridiculous degree. But, I suppose the theme is about the self destructive nature of obsessive love. Other viewers will have to decide if Truffaut went over the top with this story.
Truffaut had contemplated making films in America but after working on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, decided that American films weren't for him. Probably a good idea.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The best thing that has happened to the musical comedy since sliced bread and the invention of peanut butter.
Robert Preston is simply superb recreating his role as the rascally con man with a heart of gold Professor Henry Hill.
Shirley Jones again is pretty as a picture.
The songs are a tuneful delight, a toe tapping extravaganza of melodic merriment.
151 minutes of sheer joy.
Monday, October 10, 2011
Well I think I've seen this one before. Scientists has invented a machine that allows people to enter and alter the dreams of others. Two of these machines are missing which causes all sorts of havoc as the dream world starts to merge into the actual world
Although using the same basic idea of the dream machine as Inception, Paprika clearly beat it to the punch by about five years. The film was based on a novel by Yasutaka Tsutsui which was published in 1993, this dream machine idea has been around a while.
Paprika is quite interesting and since it's an anime it has a lot of unusual visual stuff going on in it. The story is a science fiction whodunnit with the villain able to do serious damage to a victim's mental health. The film tends to get confusing probably due to the short running time.
Paprika is like a lot of these science fiction anime films, they all end in a near apocalypse. Still in spite of that cliche that is one of the more interesting films in this genre.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Mostly non stop 70's action film with three iconic actors, Jim Brown as a record producer with a big gun, Fred Williamson as a bad "mo fo" toking on cigars and karate guy Jim Kelly.
The film was directed somewhat unevenly by Gordon Parks Jr. The plot is about a rich white racist played by Jay Robinson who was Caligula in The Robe and Dr. Shrinker in the Sid and Marty Kroft Saturday morning series Dr. Shrinker. Robinson has a large army of white guys in red berets at his disposal, but even with hundreds of guys he can't stop Brown, Williamson and Kelly.
The stunts were staged by Hal Needman who was a veteran stunt arranger and director. Needham is usually remembered for the redneck classic Smokey and the Bandit. He was an expert at crashing cars and setting people on fire both of which are featured in this film
The film has enough odd ball things to keep it a little more interesting than the usual blaxploitation stuff. There is a torture scene with three topless women, nonstop action and lots of guys with really wide lapels.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Steve McQueen is super cool criminal Doc McCoy who along with his wife played by super non actress Ali McGraw, rob a bank and are chased by the police and a bunch of crooks.
This is probably the most impersonal project Peckinpah ever worked on, a big empty commercial film with almost no interest. Peckinpah made some bad films like The Killer Elite, Convoy and The Osterman Weekend but at least they had something to them. The Getaway is just a very slick piece of junk that almost any journeyman could have made. The slo-mo action scenes are well done as usual but add nothing to the film other than they look neat.
Sam Peckinpah was not exactly known for his enlightened approach to women in his films, but The Getaway is a low point in it's portrayal of women as either useless appendages to men or worthless little tramps. The Sally Struthers character in particular is pretty awful to watch. Ali McGraw is a complete failure as an actor and struggles to register any kind of emotion.
Clearly a film made to make money and help keep the star and director bankable in Hollywood, The Getaway is a very depressing film to watch.
The distributor Joseph E. Levine who was also the producer of Tattoo, The Spy With a Cold Nose, and A Bridge Too Far, really cleaned up when he picked up and released this cheap Italian epic.
Hercules features muscle man Steve Reeves (a proponent of body building without the use of steroids) as Hercules. The story is actually the plot of Jason and the Argonauts with Hercules tagging along as Jason searches for the golden fleece which will make him the rightful ruler of Iolcus. Hercules is in love with Princess Iole, but since he is a sort of a half baked god, he can't really love her until he renounces his god powers what ever they are.
It all climaxes in a big fight in the kingdom of Iolcus with Hercules whipping every one with some big chains and generally kicking major ass. The fighting comes to an end when Hercules uses the chains to pull down the palace of King Pelias crushing all the bad guys in process in a kind of cool scene.
No question that Reeves is in really good shape. He's covered in oil to accent his pumped up body. But frankly, the film could have used a lot more action. A lot of time is spent wandering around a camp full of Amazons and the whole film kind of rushes to a conclusion about 15 minutes before it ends.
Mario Bava was the cinematographer and also handled the special effects which included a goofy Godzilla type of midge monster guarding the golden fleece. Bava was usually hired by Italian producers for his skill in making a film look good on a low budget.
Hercules is of historical interest only as an example of marketing and selling something to a gullible film going public.