Sunday, March 25, 2012
Tsui Hark's redo of The Seven Samurai with a lot more violence. This is one of those wuxia films where the characters slice and dice each other for a couple of hours.
Probably one of the more conventional films I've seen from Hark. Seven Swords is well made and has very good action, it's just been done before and done way too many times.
This film is a clear attempt by Hark for a hit film something he hadn't had for a while. Hark had announced during the making of Seven Swords that this was to be a six film series but there hasn't been a sequel since he released it. Even Tsui Hark couldn't stay interested in this story.
Three Women, is a pretentious male director with artistic ambitions attempting to make a film about women's psyches in the manner of Ingmar Bergman's Persona.
Robert Altman, supposedly based this film on a dream that he had which he then turned into a screenplay and it sure seems like it. Altman appears to be making it up as he goes along using Persona as his guide. Altman's best films are satires particularly on American life. This is probably the best part in the film, poking fun at Shelly Duvall's shallow character Millie Lammoreaux. A woman who's non stop prater about almost any subject makes her the shallowest of the shallow.
Where Altman belly flops is when he starts to get all surreal. Again, obviously influenced by Bergman, he has the women's personalities merge and exchange with each other. It sounds more interesting than it actually is. Bergman can pull off something like this because he clearly knows where he wants to go in Persona. He is examining aspects of a woman's personalty using a distancing technique in the filmmaking.
Altman for all his arty shots of water and weird murals seems to be fumbling his way through his inconclusive ending where it appears the Three Women have exchanged roles as parent, sibling and some kind of earth mother type.
The acting is variable, Shelly Duvall is very good in the film. Altman had recognized early in her career that she was an extremely talented performer and used her in many of his films. Sissy Spacek, does her child/woman acting thing that she had previously used in Badlands and Carrie and doesn't really bring anything interesting to her part. Janice Rule is third billed in the film, but she has a nothing part.
I saw Three Women the week after the first Star Wars had been released, there were about three other people in the theater. Star Wars pretty much doomed this type of art film from occasionally being made in American studios into extinction.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Busby Berkley directs an entire film for the first time instead of just the musical numbers.
The two spectacular production numbers have songs by Harry Warren and Al Dubin, "The Words Are in My Heart" and "The Lullaby of Broadway." This is obviously where Berkley poured all of creative energy into this film. The odd of idea of moving pianos with beautiful women playing them is too bizarre to comment on during "The Words Are in My Heart" number.
But even more impressive is the self contained story wrapped into "The Lullaby of Broadway." In this sequence there is an amazing tap off between dozens of men and women that ends with the death of one of the lead performers.
Busby Berkley was a unique talent working in a very specialized niche of filmmaking. He was fortunate enough to be working at Warner Brother's studio which allowed him to experiment with complex geometric patterns using actual people as his props.
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Dino's back for his final appearance as Matt Helm. Probably pushing 51 years old when he made this epic. The Wrecking Crew has some hot if some what past their prime film babes, Tina Louise, Elke Sommer and Nancy Kwan. The film also features a kind of funny Sharon Tate reprising the Stella Stevens role from The Silencers.
|IT'S DINO VS CHUCK NORRIS|
The fight scenes were stages by Bruce Lee and you get to see Dino beat up Chuck Norris towards the end of the film.
Dino has his usual easy going film persona thing going on in this film. The guy was a pretty good light comedian. It's amazing how much mileage he got out of his lecherous drunk act through the years.
The fact that something like The Wrecking Crew actually looks good to me now speaks volumes to the current state of the action film. This film with it's lame sex jokes and old fashioned action scenes at least never pretends to be something that it isn't an overblown ridiculous action film, (see Wanted.)
Couple of quick notes, character actor Nigel Green is the bad guy Count Contini. Hugo Montenegro wrote the silly score. Beverly Adams who had been playing Dino's secretary "Lovey Kravezit" did not appear in this film. The producer Irving Allen was actually the partner of Albert R. Broccoli who made all the Bond films. Allen and Broccoli split up because he wanted no part of a James Bond franchise.
The Wrecking Crew ended with the tag line, "Matt Helm will be back in THE RAVAGERS."
Saturday, March 17, 2012
Mickey Roarke and Faye Dunaway are a couple of drunks hanging out at a flea trap of a bar in Los Angeles. The director is Barbet Schroeder and the writer is former drunk Charles Bukowski.
Roarke is the whole show. He looks like a bum and speaks in some sort of weird dialect. An educated man, he listens to classical music and is a writer when he's sort of sober. His drunken rants about life are very amusing. I'll take this version of a Mickey Roarke loser over his overrated performance in The Wrestler.
Faye Dunaway is also pretty darn good as his sort of girlfriend, another big boozer. Dunaway was a good looking glamour girl in her day and she could act. Her performance is also far more interesting than her cold fish career woman in Network.
I like Powell and Pressburger as much as the next film nut, but this boring adventure film about a British bomber crew trapped in the occupied Netherlands is just a bunch of talk and inaction.
The film starts out good enough with the British Bomber "B" for Bertie flying into England and crashing into a tower. It turns out that the crew had bailed out over the Netherlands and now has to find a way back to England. That's about it for action after 10 minutes into this film.
The rest of the film has the bomber crew being hid by the brave Neherlandians (?) from the Germans. The crew rides around on bikes, they go to church, the have a couple of good meals, they wear clogs and they talk and talk and talk and talk.
I doubt Powell and Pressburger fan Marty Scorsese will be showing up on a Criterion commentary track for this film anytime soon but you never know.
Thursday, March 15, 2012
Fellini's film has been called a mock documentary, an impressionistic look at the city of Rome and an autobiographical version of his journey from the a rural town in Italy to Rome as documented in I Vitelloni. Fellini's Roma is also a very indulgent and shapeless film.
There is lots of interesting stuff in this film. The photography of Giuseppe Rotunno and the art direction of Danilo Donati who also did the costumes are really good. The music by Nino Rota is very simple and elegant compared to the excessive overkill of most of the film. It's also got those odd ball faces that show up in most Fellini films.
There are good parts in the film but almost all of them go on too long. Scenes in a brothel and a vaudeville show never end. Plus, you have to sit there and watch a bunch of high strung Italians shout at each other.
A couple of high points in the film are the ecclesiastical fashion show, Fellini's unsubtle criciticism of the Catholic Church and an excavation of a Roman home buried under the city. The excavation scene is very well done and the fashion show while entertaining runs about 10 minutes longer than absolutely needed. But that's the way it goes throughout this film.
|Il Maestro directs|
Fellini's color films seemed to bring out an extreme nature in him along with some fascinating surrealistic imagery. He lingers on things that are only of interest to him and he repeats the same jokes an character bits over and over. The trouble was that with the exception of Amarcord, his color films really weren't all that good
Monday, March 12, 2012
During World War II, the mysterious Mr. Christopher is the head of a Nazi spy ring located in the United States. Their job is to get the secret of "process 97," the atom bomb. Lucky for America the FBI is on the case.
Usually considered a "semi-documentary." This is a police procedural drama shot on actual locations. The producer Louis De Rochemont and the director Henry Hathaway copied many of the newsreel techniques De Rochemont had used in his "March of Time" documentaries that played before feature films in the 1940's.
The approach in this film was to show the FBI using meticulous scientific and investigative techniques to crack the spy ring. What comes off watching it now is how creepy the whole thing is with the FBI filming every little move the spies make. The ongoing gathering of every piece of information by the FBI gives the whole thing a "Big Brother" kind of feel throughout the film.
The FBI would not have cooperated with this film unless it showed them in the best possible light and their halos are polished mighty bright. Still the film does have a little bit of a backbone to it, the Nazi spies are not a bunch of stupid ideologues and there is a fairly clever plot twist at least clever for the 1940's anyway.
Like a lot of trend setting films, the years have worn away the special qualities of this story. On location filming is no longer a big deal and police procedural dramas have borrowed so much from films like The House on 92nd Street, it just doesn't look very special anymore.
The success of this film did help get studio filmmakers out of the back lot and onto real locations.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
A dominatrix falls in love with a burglar in a you have to see it to believe it story about the world of sado-masochistic torture and bondage.
The film stars Gerald Depardieu as the thief and the director Barbet Schroder's wife, Bulle Ogier in an incredible performance that matches the crazy bondage outfits she wears throughout the film.
This is not some cheap exploitation film. Maitresse is a carefully made examination of an extreme lifestyle and in particular a woman who seems perfectly normal and respectable, apart from her habit of feeding flies to her Venus Flytrap and abusing men and women in her chic torture chamber below her apartment.
Probably the high point of the film is an extended bondage session where Ariane does her stuff in a variety of ways to a group of people. The S&M sequences were graphic enough for me and I could have probably done without the male genital torture scene.
Did I mention this is also a black comedy along with being a love story?
Fascinating if disturbing stuff.
A put upon accountant finds out he is the son of the world's greatest assassin. He is trained by a mysterious organization of killers to become an assassin in this very crappy film.
Wanted is based on a comic book by extreme hack Mark Miller author of Kick-Ass, Superman: Red Son, Robo Hunter and Maniac 5 among lots of other stuff. Of course they couldn't use Miller's original plot since it involved a secret society of killers eliminating all the super heroes in the world and hypnotizing the entire population of the planet to forget there ever were super heroes, how stupid can you get.
The director was Timur Bekmambetov, thank god for cut and past on that name. The spastic action scenes are reminiscent of his Russian fantasy films Night Watch and Day Watch with over the top action effects scenes that are computer enhanced to a point that goes beyond extreme incoherence.
The acting is probably not worth commenting on. The ridiculously thin Angelina Jolie is supposed to be a big time assassin and it looks like she can barely hold her big gun in her hands. James McAvoy is the real star of the film and probably does as well as he can with the silly role of the assassin in training accountant.
No Sale on this one.
Thursday, March 8, 2012
Spy vs spy stuff from the 1960's when every studio had to make a spy film in their ongoing attempts to compete with the Bond franchisee. The Quiller Memorandum has every film's favorite villains the well cultured Nazis as the bad guys. In any case, seen it all before.
The film has a decent cast, with Alec Guinness and Max Von Sydow the standouts. George Segal tries to play it straight as the agent attempting to find Mr. Blond Nazi guy Von Sydow but he still goes down that wise ass quip thing that only James Bond could get away with.
The chief interest in the film was the participation of the playwright Harold Pinter a writer who was known for using dialog in a subtle and obtuse manner. Story was not Pinter's strong point and there are a lot of plot holes and situations that don't make any sense. Even the dialog in the film isn't particularly memorable. It doesn't seem like the producer got his money's worth hiring Pinter. Pinter was probably just cashing a paycheck on this film anyway.
The film was directed by Michael Anderson who probably did about as good a job as possible considering the source material. Anderson was an assistant director to Carol Reed and he must have learned a thing or two from Reed. The film has a fairly decent atmosphere and good filmed on location settings in Berlin.
Sunday, March 4, 2012
The author Liang Yusheng based this story on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. This is a sort of a version of that story with the slight difference that Romeo and Juliet have very sharp swords and like to whack off the body parts of people that get in the way of their love.
This is a Chinese fantasy film in all it's wild glory with people flying through the air, lots of over the top action and larger than life acting from a cast that includes the fascinating Brigitte Lin and Leslie Cheung two of the more interesting actors from this period in Hong Kong filmmaking.
This film is well directed by Ronnie Yu and is probably the high point in his career since he went on to direct junk like Bride of Chucky and Freddie vs Jason.
As is typical with these kinds of films, the action and violence are fast and bloody but the love scenes are very prudish. You have to be in the right mindset to appreciate much less enjoy this kind of film. However this is one of the better fantasy films that came out of Hong Kong at this time.
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Working my way through the Hitchcock DVD's. This one is a real letdown. An odd mystery set in England with lots of colorful British character actors, lots of talk and not much suspense.
Not sure what the attraction for Hitchcock was in this film, being back in London or working with Marlene Dietrich. Hitchcock apparently liked working with Dietrich, however Dietrich thought he was kind of an oddball.
Even in a nothing picture like this, Hitchcock is still the master. He knew how to move the camera and compose interesting shots. The last 10 minutes of the film are the best as the police trap the murderer in a theater. Hitchcock really knows what he's doing, setting up a suspenseful situation through camera work and editing. This kind of film making is virtually forgotten.
Still, Stage Freight is just not a very compelling film and you have to sit through 100 minutes of quirky but not very funny British humor and meandering and confusing story telling.
Be warned this drama is a love story between two poets.
Incredibly the story of the romance between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett in this film seems mostly true. Barrett was an invalid who began a correspondence with Robert Browning. When they finally meet it was apparently love at first sight. Barrett's father Edward Barrett Moulton Barrett forbid any of his 12 children to marry. Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning secretly married and lived in Italy.
The Barretts of Wimpole Street is a very stodgy film from MGM. It was based on a popular play so there is not a whole lot of camera movement in the film. Everything is shot in Elizabeth Barrett's sitting room with her laying on a sofa for most of the running time not exactly exciting stuff.
What the film has going for it a very high level of acting from Norma Shearer, Frederic March and particularly Charles Laughton.
Laughton is particular is fascinating to watch he makes it pretty clear that he has more than a fatherly interest in his daughter's love life, very creepy stuff.