Wednesday, November 30, 2011
John Ford's tribute to the United States Marine's most decorated soldier is virtually unknown. The production was a cheap one and the majority of the film is made up of combat footage from World War II and the Korean War.
Ford appears in the film interviewing General Puller, both of these old guys are as stiff as a couple of boards. Narrated by John Wayne in his cowboy costume, the whole thing seems outdated and a little out of it.
When this documentary/tribute was filmed, the country was in the coma of the Vietnam War. The general public probably wasn't in any mood for a tribute to tough marines.
Chesty: A Tribute to a Legend, is interesting for the war footage that Ford incorporated. The scenes of the Korean War, are more fascinating than the stuff Ford filmed for his terrible documentary This is Korea.
This film isn't particularly well made and with the exception of the marching bands and the usual military ritual stuff it would be impossible to tell that it was directed by Ford.
Serving in the navy during World War II had been the pivotal point in Ford's life, so it's not unexpected that Chesty: A Tribute to a Legend, is more about Ford's fascination with military life and ritual.
Edited into two different lengths, the short version doesn't seem much different than the long version.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
More on location winter hell madness from Dr. Arnold Fanck as he sticks the cast and crew on an iceberg that is slowly falling apart.
The story has something to do with a polar expedition looking for another polar expedition. Expedition number two ends up stuck on an iceberg that is drifting out to sea.
The leader of the expedition is the fiancee of Leni Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl takes off in an airplane looking for him and crashes her plane onto the same damn iceberg in a extreme example of plot coincidence.
As usual in a Fanck film it's all about spectacular sequences. SOS Iceberg certainly has them. Avalanches, glaciers falling apart, polar bears attacking people and lots of icebergs tipping over in the Arctic water. Towards the end there is a large scale rescue scene with hundreds of Eskimos in kayaks rushing to save the cast before the iceberg falls apart, very impressive stuff.
This was an English/German co production which means that the film was shot simultaneously in both languages for world wide release. Tay Garnett supervised the English language scenes but the good stuff is all Fanck.
|Riefenstahl paying her dues as usual in a Fanck film|
Fanck was known for putting his actors in extreme danger while filming on location in his mountain films in the 1920's. He apparently hadn't changed his ways for SOS Iceberg. At the end of the film the leader of the expedition intones, "let us remember our colleagues didn't die in vain." The last line should probably have been "let us remember no actor died making this film."
Friday, November 25, 2011
The eccentric Aunt of a middle aged bank manager persuades him to accompany her on a series of adventures across Europe. This was intended as a film for Katherine Hepburn who apparently wrote the screenplay. Hepburn was replaced by Maggie Smith who gives a very eccentric performance wearing some very eccentric costumes.
The film was directed by George Cukor. Cukor was one of the few directors who knew how to film and compose in wide screen, this is a great looking film. The production was designed by John Box who had worked with David Lean on his super epics. Douglas Slocombe who photographed the first three Indiana Jones films and major pieces of Close Encounters of the Third Kind was the cinematographer. The technical credits for this film are very high.
Cukor hadn't lost his touch with the cast, future star of the horrible Laverne and Shirley TV series Cindy Williams gives a very good performance. Alec McCowen who I had only seen in Hitchcock's Frenzy as the nephew has a light comedy touch and Louis Gossett Jr. channeling some kind of odd ball character is interesting as a man probably a little to devoted to Aunt Augusta for his own good.
|George Cukor directs Maggie Smith|
This was never a film that was probably going to have a wide appeal to a 1970's audience. The era of sophisticated comedies was a thing of the past. The screenplay leaves a little to be desired as it takes a while to warm up to the Maggie Smith character. However once the film gets going, this is a real pleasure in watching the skill that this team brought to the film.
Thursday, November 24, 2011
Well they gave it the old college try on this one but it was probably doomed to fail. Shaw's comedy/drama about the Revolutionary War plays with the idea of heroism, idealism and religion not stuff to attract the film going public.
The presence of two screenwriters means that a lot of Shaw's dialog was dropped for the film version. This was probably for the better, Shaw's plays are always very dialog heavy and would be a chore to watch in a film. The film version of The Devil's Disciple also opens the play up and adds a fight scene between Burt Lancaster and a bunch of British soldiers.
The film was apparently what they call a "troubled production." The original director Alexander Mackendrick was replaced by Guy Hamilton who had to step in and finish the film at the insistence of the producer Burt Lancaster.
|The cast is all smiles|
The Devil's Disciple isn't a total failure. Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas are very good. Laurence Olivier as the British General John Burgoyne is excellent. Some of the remaining Shaw dialog is quite witty and there is at least an attempt to make a film with a little more meat in it than usual.
After wasting 3 plus hours watching this documentary I have learned nothing about Woody Allen.
Woody Allen is a man who has carefully protected his public persona for years. He probably wasn't going to be very candid with the filmmaker Robert Wade. Still after hours of listening to the fawning interviews from his co-workers, friends and actors you would think there were be a little insight into this guy.
The film contradicts itself. There is a lot of carrying on about how he doesn't direct actors but the one lengthy clip of him on the set of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger shows him very carefully directing the actors. The actors also blather on about how Woody allows them to change the dialog of his films, another suspect point. You only have to watch three or four Allen films to recognize the cadence of his dialog clearly nobody changes anything.
The film doesn't even get into his very messy personal life. This is a guy who has a thing for young girls. Allen had a long running relationship with a teenager named Stacey Neilken when he was in his 40's but apparently nobody wanted to interview her. The film very gingerly treads on his relationship with Mia Farrow and fails to mention the court ruling which called his behavior with Soon Yi Previn "grossly inappropriate."
We will probably have to wait until the guy croaks to get an honest biography about Woody Allen. However that could be a while sense his parents lived into their late 90's.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Dr. Hank Scott along with his associate Dr. Arturo Ramos help the Mexican government fight off an attack of giant scorpions that have escaped from a volcanic cavern. Dr. Scott also finds time to romance hot Mexican senorita Mara Corday in between giant scorpion attacks. Well done Dr. Scott.
Special effects were supervised by Willis O'Brien who had been responsible for animating King Kong. The Black Scorpion's budget for stop motion animation looks to have been a lot smaller than that film. Still O'Brien managed to squeeze a buck pretty well out of his limited budget. Some of the scenes, particularly the monsters in the cave look very icky.
The director Edward Ludwig had been associated with John Wayne and had directed Wayne in that great anti-commie classic Big Jim McClain. Richard Denning was a reliable work horse of an actor who played Lucillie Ball's husband in a radio show called My Favorite Husband. Denning was replaced by Dezi Arnez when the show moved to TV and became I Love Lucy. Mara Corday was a top model and Playboy Playmate who went on to star in that other science fiction classic. The Giant Claw.
The producers of The Black Scorpion had O'Brien add insert shots of the scorpion's face that was always drooling for some reason. These shots don't really match the stop motion animation but they have their own silly charm. The final battle with the monster and the little tank and helicopter models is a lot of fun to watch and must have involved a ton of work animating all those toys.
The Black Scorpion is not Ray Harryhausen but it's not bad.
Monday, November 21, 2011
You can get the entire oeuvre of Peter Gunn from your public library in the DVD section. The TV series ran 3 seasons and was known for the Henry Mancini theme that played in the credits. This was about the only thing worthwhile in the series. Peter Gunn was a private eye smacking the bad guys and loving up the babes, low rent stuff even for 1959.
Blake Edwards attempted to revive the character in 1967 with this big screen adaptation, it's OK but not much past that. The film is really out of it with the Henry Mancini mainstream jazz score and guys running around in dark suits and thin neckties. Occasionally a reference is made to hippies and the counter culture of the time but this seems strangely out of place for a 1960's film. Edwards never had a clue how to connect the late 50's atmosphere of the TV series with the "mod" 60's.
Gunn does contain Edward's ongoing fascination with transvestism and cross dressing something that seemed to carry over from one film to another in movies like Switch, Victor Victoria, and Sunset.
Edwards also sticks in that slapstick physical comedy he used in the Pink Panther films, material he had been plagiarizing from silent comedians for years. The whole thing adds up to one weird mess of a film.
Saturday, November 19, 2011
Would be Michael Moore filmmakers have stumbled on to a cover-up. The Norwegian government has been eliminating trolls and keeping it a secret from the public.
Troll Hunter is in the "found footage" genre of films. Hand held camera work made to look like a PBS Frontline special. This is a horror film with a very underground sense of humor. It's played with a straight face and filmed in some very good looking Norwegian locations.
Normally I don't care for this kind of film, I prefer my camera mounted on a tripod, however in this film the annoying shaky camera movement and the night photography kind of works for this nonsense.
I still feel that these phony documentary films are of a "Johnny One Note" kind of film making. What kind of film do you make after this? A film with a camera mounted on a steadicam?
Thought The Troll Hunter U/V gun was very cool.
Yul Brynner is Cossack tough guy Taras Bulba who along with his son Tony Curtis plan to kick the Poles out of the Ukrainian steppes. Instead Curtis falls in love with vapid German actor Christine Kaufmann playing a polish princess. Curtis turns against Yul and decides to fight for the Poles which pisses Yul off.
This is a large scale action adventure epic filmed in Argentina of course. The film may be the final word in macho posturing performed on a large scale budget. We have guys lifting horses, riding off of cliffs, getting whipped and lots of guys on horses waving swords in the air. About the only thing they don't do is eat nails for breakfast.
Films like this aren't really directed by anyone, the technicians pretty much run the show. The 2nd unit directors stage the action and the stuntmen and special effects guys do their thing. The fact that Yul Brynner can even make an impression is sort of impressive. Pretty boy Tony Curtis and Christine Kaufmann are completely hopeless as the young lovers.
Tarus Bulba is fun to watch just to see the sheer number of people used in the large scale fight and riding scenes. Towards the end the film ventures into Monty Python silliness with the immortal "bring out your dead" and burning witches as the stake scenes.
The macho nonsense gets a little tiring after a while.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Universe is a short documentary film from The National Film Board of Canada. This is the kind of film that the teacher would run in science class to kill 30 minutes of lecture time. In other words this is an educational short film.
Universe is known as the film that supposedly influenced Stanley Kubrick during the making 2001: A Space Odyssey. Kubrick hired one of the co-directors of this film Colin Low to work on the special effects for 2001. Douglas Rain, the narrator of Universe was also the voice of the HAL 9000 computer.
The now low tech observatory and telescope provide most of the entertainment value with the nerdy crew cut scientist consulting star charts and hand positioning the telescope to shoot some pictures of star formations. Even for 1960 this seems a little antiquated.
The Citadel was an extremely influential book written by Dr. A. J. Cronin. A criticism and attack of the greed and incompetence in the British medical and health care institutions, Cronin's book helped establish the National Health Service.
The film is the story of a idealistic young doctor who has to choose between making money or dedicating his life to caring for the less fortunate. As is the case with MGM, the studio that hated Franklin Roosevelt and his new deal programs, by the time this book went through the production meat grinder the film was a very mild attack on corrupt doctors and poor medical care.
The Citadel has one of those corny "aw ha" moments with Robert Donat's character Dr. Andrew Manson, walking the streets of London at night deciding what has future should be. Manson conveniently ends up at the London Bridge as a magnificent sunrise comes blazing up behind him. Thanks to the light, the good doctor has seen finally seen the light.
This is almost an all British production with the exception of the director King Vidor now deep in the glossy studio phase of his career and Rosalind Russel playing a school teacher who marries Donat.
Besides Robert Donat, the cast is probably the most interesting thing about the film since it's a group of some of England's best actors. Rex Harrison, Ralph Richardson, Emlyn Williams, Francis L. Sullivan, Felix Alymer and Cecil Parker.
|Vidor directs Russell|
The Citadel was the kind of film MGM just couldn't do well. Hard hitting attacks on corrupt institutions were not their bag. MGM was always more at ease with their Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland musical film clones.
Monday, November 14, 2011
Errol Morris who had been making very serious documentaries for his last few films takes a hard right turn into comedy with this film.
To give even a minor rehash of this story would be to spoil a lot of the fun of the film. Let's just say just when you think it can't get any weirder it gets weirder
Filming nutcases is not exactly unfamiliar ground for Morris, at one time he had considered a film on the legendary Ed Gein the model for about every psycho killer in films since Psycho.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
This is one of those end of the world as viewed from the personal relationships of a family with lots of screwed up emotional issues films.
Part one features the wedding reception of Kirsten Dunst which establishes her relationships with her family and friends. As the unsteady cam roams around the party, we come to realize that this is one messed up bride with an equally messed up family. It all ends with Dunst's marriage collapsing before the reception ends
Part two picks up the story and focuses on American actor Dunst's sister played by the British actor Charlotte Gainsborough. Gainsborough is understandably freaked out about the approaching planet Melancholia which will crash into the Earth destroying everything. Dunst doesn't really seem to care about all of this because she is depressed about her personal situation.
I'm not exactly sure what the point of this film is however it kept me watching just to see everything get pulverized..
Saturday, November 12, 2011
It's monsters from Outer Space vs a nasty gang of teenage punks in this horror/comedy which isn't afraid to off a few kids now and then.
Probably one of the more enjoyable films I've seen. Attack the Block is pure entertainment not cluttered by some comic book character or plot nobody particulary cares about. Most of the effects appear to be practical for a change with the monsters showing a nasty set of glow in the dark teeth for biting heads off.
There's character development which is rare in these types of science fiction thrillers. The writer/director Joe Cornish was also smart enough to stick plenty of humor in the film. Mixing horror and comedy is a very tricky business in this type of film and their are plenty of large scale films that attempt and fail at this. Just look at about every summer popcorn film.
It's actually fun to see a popular film entertainment that gets it.
Dionysus in 69 is a film by Brian De Palma that captures a performance of Euripides' The Bacchae by a theatrical troupe called "The Performance Group."
This play is an interactive audience experience performed apparently in a garage or a warehouse. The performers at times enter a frenzied state with and without their clothes. There is a significant amount of nudity or near nudity at times. You can see the discomfort in the faces of the audience.
This is also a very imaginatively filmed performance of a theatrical production, De Palma uses his split screen technique to capture the play from different viewpoints. At times he focuses on a single performance from two different angles perfectly blending it into the split screen.
This film is an excellent record of the type of experimental theater that was going on in the late 1960's that was challenging the conventional staging, performance and even structure of a theatrical play. An exciting, uncomfortable and at times very difficult film to watch but extremely worthwhile.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
A Vampire Circus comes to a small European town to revenge the destruction of their vampire master. This is a Hammer film production.
Hammer Films was winding down in the 1970's as their Gothic style started to look outdated. Attempting to juice it up with more explicit blood and nudity films like Vampire Circus were the result.
This is a fairly stylish exercise in vampire fangs and mayhem with copious amounts of red paint splashing everywhere and lots of heaving bosoms. The concept of the circus is at least something unusual for this genre and the whole film is an attempt to try something different for a change.
The circus acts are rather interesting, particularly some leopard girl thing with a woman wearing nothing but a very form fitting suit of painted stripes pantomiming some sort of hunting ritual. The circus strong man is played by David Prowse who was the man wearing the Darth Vader costume in the first set of Star Wars films.
Worth checking out, Vampire Circus still suffers from Hammer's cheapskate production values. However nobody knew how to deliver nasty vampires better than Hammer Films.
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
The young wife of Lord Windermere a woman who considers herself to be morally above reproach is about to learn some hard lessons about what makes up good and bad behavior in society.
This is Oscar Wilde's first success as a playwright and apparently involved a lot of hard work to achieve this witty drama that is loaded with his famous epigrams.
This DVD is from the BBC collection of Oscar Wilde plays filmed on videotape. For a production that is "uncinematic" it plays very well. A good example of Orson Welles' theory that a great story and dialog is always preferable to flashy storytelling. But let's go to the videotape with some quotes from the play.
Nowadays we are all of us so hard up that the only pleasant things to pay are compliments. They're the only things we can pay.
It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.
Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes.
I prefer women with a past. They're always so damned amusing to talk to.
What a pity that in life we only get our lessons when they are of no use to us
History is merely gossip. But scandal is gossip made tedious by morality.
My own business always bores me to death. I prefer other people's.