Saturday, December 31, 2011
10 films I watched that stood out for various reasons.
Chimes at Midnight - Welles last completed feature film was one of his best.
Tabloid, Erroll Morris films a comedy.
Sucker Punch, was this year's example of a major studio film that nobody needed or wanted to see. This was the Tron Legacy of 2011 with the sleazy exploitation angle thrown in.
The Tree of Life, pretentious artistic crap that goes on and on with no particular point to it, lots of pretty pictures however.
People on Sunday talented would be filmmakers Wilder, Zinneman, Siomark and Ulmer, tell a story about ordinary Germans on a Sunday afternoon in Berlin before the rise of Hitler.
Judex, Franju reinvents old movie serials.
Deep End, swinging London wasn't so swinging after all in this very good drama.
The T.A.M.I. Show, a bunch of great musical acts hosted by Jan and Dean who arrive on skateboards, one of the best concert films.
The Wild Child one of Truffaut's best films.
Citizen Kane, Welles first film is still impressive by any standard.
Thursday, December 29, 2011
It's not horrible, it's not terrible, it's not bad, it's just stupid. A young woman on an Italian vacation helps an old woman find her long lost love blah blah blah.
A starring vehicle for an actor named Amanda Seyfried, she has to be charming enough to carry the entire film. Seyfried is no Audrey Hepburn, she's just another bland blond who can't work up any charm or chemistry with her costar an equally bland blond named Chris Egan.
This leaves Vanessa Redgrave and her real life significant other Franco Nero to carry the emotional heart of the film, but they have hardly any scenes together. So that leaves only the Italian scenery worth watching and frankly that's not much of a reason to sit through Letters to Juliet.
A film that was made for the express purpose of letting the cast and crew have a free vacation in Italy on the studio's dollar, I'm sure everybody had a nice time.
The star of the film, Amanda Seyfried's lack of charisma sent her back to the kind roles she is best at, hookers and porn stars in films like Chloe and the forthcoming Linda Lovelace biography.
Monday, December 26, 2011
Four Russian scientists dropped into Siberia search for industrial diamonds for mother Russia, but run afoul of mother nature instead which tries to kill them off.
This is a standard Soviet propaganda piece with the scientists setting aside their differences for the good of the USSR. What else can you expect for a late 50's film coming out of a state controlled government film industry. What sets this film above the usual commie PR propaganda job is the incredible photography that runs throughout the film.
Whatever the short comings of the film in characterization and story, this is an amazing film with impressive sequences filmed outdoors in what must have been challenging outdoor locations.
A dazzling film.
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Amazingly convulted 60's spy film. This is the top of the mountain for a plot so confusing it literally took me many viewings over many years to finally understand what the hell was going on.
Secret agent Harry Palmer is supposed to help a high ranking Russian colonel defect to the west in divided Berlin. Throw into the mix, Israeli agents hunting for former Nazi's, a secret network dedicated to smuggling people out of East Berlin, and enough double crosses to make the dream within a dream within a dream sequences in Inception seem perfectly understandable and everyone's awake in this film.
The film's got good photography of Berlin, and is almost worth having around as a historic record of the Cold War especially in the scenes shot near the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the East vs West face off, but that's about it for this film.
The Harry Palmer spy series was produced by Harry Saltzman one of the James Bond producers and was clearly supposed to be an alternative to the larger than life Bond series. However this series never really caught on with the public and deliberately bewildering films like Funeral in Berlin helped to kill it off.
Directed by Guy Hamilton who made a lot of James Bond films, but this ain't no Bond film.
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Another disappointment from Steven Spielberg who seems to be further spiraling down the hole of artistic nothingness from film to film.
The Adventures of Tintin has nothing to do with Herge or Tintin. Gone are the clever plots and comic book humor of the colorful books. Instead what we have here is just another Indiana Jones film (and a crummy one at that) with characters that just happened to be named Tintin and Captain Haddock.
If you look at Spielberg's list of films, since the failure of 1941, he has been playing it safe with completely middle brow entertainments. With the exception of Schindler's List would anyone really consider The Terminal or Catch Me If You Can as films that contribute to the greater artistic culture?
Even when Spielberg reaches a little higher in films like Saving Private Ryan, A.I. and Minority Report, his middle brow taste and sensibilities defeat his ambitions.
Spielberg knows how to make a movie. He knows where to place the camera and make the edit but if you look at his technique he's still shooting films the same way he made Amblin', slick but empty entertainments.
|Spielberg with another overrated hack Peter Jackson|
The Adventures of Tintin is particularly annoying because Spielberg has smothered it in weird camera angles, ADD action scenes and wrapped it all in overblown computer enhanced backgrounds.
It's as if he is afraid to tell a story for fear of seeming like an old fogy who can't compete with the hyperactive Michael Bay and Zack Snyder director types.
Ingmar Bergman films The Magic Flute on a sound stage in a TV studio.
Expecting the worst, an opera filmed in a claustrophobic studio emphasizing the theatricality of the production and translated into Swedish from the original German. Ingmar Bergman, the master of existential despair should have had a major musical disaster on his hands.
However, Bergman was also a very smart director who took this property and with a high level of skill filmed a very lively version of Mozart's opera. There are so many clever and witty touches through out the film that one tends to forget that Bergman was also a director of very sophisticated comedies during his career. He was also a noted director of actors and in this version of The Magic Flute, he gets very naturalistic performances out of larger than life opera performers.
In the end the real auteur of The Magic Flute is W.A Mozart. Even if this film had been an absolute disaster, it would have been impossible to screw up the wonderful music in this opera.
This is one of Bergman's finest films.
Friday, December 23, 2011
The National Film Board of Canada's films about Buster Keaton's railroad ride from the eastern part of Canada to the western border. Two films were made, The Railrodder, a short film which attempted to recreate the feel of a silent film and a documentary about the making of The Railrodder, Buster Keaton Rides Again.
The Railrodder has Keaton racing along a railroad track in a maintenance vehicle called a "speeder." The film has some nice scenery and Keaton the great stone face. For a 70 year old man, Keaton is remarkably nimble and does an amazing number of his own gags. The film is moderately entertaining.
Probably more interesting is the documentary Buster Keaton Rides Again. Here you get a glimpse of Keaton the filmmaker as he takes on the actual director of The Railrodder, Gerald Potterton. You actually have to feel a little sorry for Potterton as he tries to get Keaton to perform the gags he has devised and generally failing in his attempts to motivate Keaton. However the reality is that the stunts and gags Keaton thinks up are probably the funniest in the film.
Keaton is considered one of the three great comedy geniuses of silent film along with Chaplin and Harold Lloyd. But of the three Keaton was probably the one who understood how to use the camera with a sophisticated visual style that completely eluded Chaplin his entire career.
24 minutes The Railrodder.
55 minutes Buster Keaton Rides Again.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Psycho killer time once again from Mario Bava. This version is told from the point of view of the killer as he tries to figure out why he wants to kill. But in the meantime while he works out his personal issues he slaughters brides to be and burns their bodies.
This is up to the usual high Bava standards, creepy killings and gorgeous gothic photography which Bava did himself
Bava has gone down this road before and Hatchet for the Honeymoon is very reminiscent of his horror classic Blood and Black Lace, particularly with the emphasis on killing beautiful models.
If this kind of film has to be made then I guess it's very well made but there is a "seen it all before" aspect to this film which it can't shake off.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
An orphan in a train station in Paris has a lot of adventure and learns about the history of early silent film.
When it was announced that Marty the Great would make a children's film and in 3D expectations were high. The resulting film Hugo is not going to appeal to the Madagascar audience. This is a very specialized film, made more for film buffs than the general public.
Scorsese shot the film in 3D and does employ some clever imagery with this gimmick but overall it's difficult to see what 3D actually adds to the story besides giving me a headache and forcing me to pay more than usual for a movie ticket.
It's hard to find fault with the cast. Ben Kingsley probably has the best part that he's had in years. The kid Asa Butterfield is in just about every scene and is very good. Christopher Lee show up in a small part and overall the whole cast is up to the usual high Scorsese standard.
The film also looks great too. Scorsese has a group of collaborators that work with him on just about every film he does so the viewer can expect a high degree of technical skill.
Hugo is a personal film for Scorsese. The problem is that it will mostly appeal to film historians and buffs hardly the crowd that is going to make this a commercially successful film.
Sea captain John Wayne helps a small community of Chinese villagers escape from the red menace on a rickty steam boat. Tagging along is improbable love interest Lauren Bacall playing the daughter of an American doctor working in China
Wayne produced Blood Alley but had no intention of appearing in it. The original lead Robert Mitchum was somewhat of a hell raiser in real life and managed to get himself fired after pissing off William Wellman. Duke reluctantly stepped in for Mitchum and finished the film.
Wayne and Bacall aren't much of a screen team. Bacall looks like she belongs back in Los Angeles on the Hollywood cocktail circuit. Wayne doesn't generate much heat with her, he probably had his hands full producing and acting.
Expecting the worst from yet another John Wayne anti commie rant film, Blood Alley wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. It has the usual oddball 1950's stuff in it. Western actors playing Chinese peasants, some bad model work of the steamship trapped in a storm and a couple of jingoistic rants from Wayne. But once you get past all of that this it's a decent adventure film with good wide screen photography.
William Wellman was winding down a directing career that went back to silent pictures. Probably his most interesting period was during the 1930's and 40's directing films like, The Ox Bow Incident and The Public Enemy. Wellman also directed the very weird religious drama The Next Voice You Hear, about God speaking to the world over the radio.
An interesting guy with an interesting career.
Friday, December 16, 2011
Going down the road once again with Arthur Conan Doyle's story of the devil dog from hell. This is the version that introduced Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson.
Rathbone's got the drill down as mister know it all Sherlock Holmes. Nigel Bruce hadn't descended into parody playing Dr Watson as the befuddled sidekick to Holmes. These guys are British and cool.
A real 1930's film, shot on a sound stage with the fog machines running overtime. This version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is more like a conventional 1930's murder mystery with everyone sitting around in a room while Holmes explains who did what to whom.
A nice short version of the classic story, Rathbone and Bruce are the whole show. You gotta love how they snuck that final line past the censors.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Steven Spielberg's early short film about a couple of hitchhikers in the desert. The story what there is of it is entirely silent.
Spielberg says he has great affection for Amblin' and why wouldn't he. The film was seen by executives at Universal Studios and on the basis of it he was offered a job directing television shows for the studio. The rest as they say is etc.
This isn't just any early short film by a future big name director. It was shot in 35 millimeter and had Allen Daviau the cinematographer who would go on to film E.T. and The Color Purple for Spielberg. It's a highly polished piece of movie making. This is also a very slick piece of product, without an honest moment in the entire film.
Amblin' is the beginning of Spielberg the director as provider of commercial junk like, Hook, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, Always, The Terminal and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
For every Schindler's List, the public is expected to sit through something like The Terminal or Amblin'.
A young woman searching for her father, ends up in a small northern California town full of ghouls.
Messiah of Evil is a low budget horror film with some very effective scenes shot in a small seaside California town. The film has a very eerie atmosphere and some decent performances. At times Messiah of Evil has a poetic quality to it much like a Dreyer or Bergman film.
So what happened to the careers of Huyck and Katz?
Saturday, December 10, 2011
A young man avenges the death of his parents in this western film from Henry Hathaway.
Hathaway and his cinematographer Lucien Ballard put together a very good looking film on magnificent locations in the Inyo National Forest. The supporting cast is a great bunch of old school Hollywood actors featuring Karl Malden, Martin Landau, Brian Keith, Suzanne Pleshette, Raf Vallone, Howard De Silva, Iron Eyes Cody, Arthur Kennedy and Paul Fix.
Probably the only negative things about it are the episodic screenplay from John Michael Hayes, and the "johnny one note" performance of Steve McQueen
Nevada Smith is a starring vehicle for Steve McQueen but he doesn't seem very interesting in starring in it. He hardly registers any emotion and for a revenge story he doesn't seem very vengeful. In fact he barely seems to have an interest in anything in the film McQueen's just going through the motions He always was kind of an oddball personality in the movies.
Still, this film is entertaining. Henry Hathaway was a very good director. Nevada Smith has some good action scenes and an excellent supporting cast backing up McQueen. To repeat the point, this is a very good looking film shot in widescreen.
You can't be in the movie blog biz without knowing that Zero Hour is the film that Airplane used to send up the airplane in danger genre.
All the lines and situations from Airplane are in this film. The thing that jumps out watching Zero Hour is how serious everyone takes this film which includes the actors, the writer Arthur Hailey and the director Hal Bartlett. Even the comedy relief is serious.
The director Hal Bartlett was never much of a filmmaker. Besides Zero Hour, he is responsible for the film version of that atrocity of pop metaphysical spirituality Johnathan Livingston Seagull
The actors are kind of depressing to watch, Linda Darnell and Dana Andrews were on the downside of their careers but they go through the motions like true professionals.
Most entertainingly is Sterling Hayden a guy who never really found his place in Hollywood. Talk about Mr. Intense, he shouts and yells his way through his entire performance. Hayden is really the whole show.
Zero Hour was made on what is called a modest budget, the airplane set looks really phony, the cockpit in particular looks like it could fit about 50 people. The film has a lot of model airplane scenes of planes crashing into each other which are fun to watch.