Tuesday, June 26, 2012
With all the carrying on about the new Aaron Sorkin series The Newsroom, nobody bothers to mention that this is just a remake of Sorkin's earlier better and 30 minute series Sports Night.
Tiresome TV news anchor Will McAvoy has a meltdown in front of a college audience Q and A. This brings a lot of soul searching and a realization that it's time for him to be a real newsman instead of a talking head. McAvoy's boss improbably hires McAvoy's former lover MacKenzie McHale to be his new executive producer. Their first big store is the Gulf Oil spill, where they scoop the competition and reveal the truth of the extent of the catastrophe.
The best I can say for this talky motormouth show is that it finally got better after about 1/2 hour of endless unceasing chatter. People just don't talk like this. But in the world of Aaron Sorkin nobody has an opinion without launching into a windy tirade about the indifference and evil of you name it.
HBO likes to make quality original programming. They try to attract people like Martin Scorcese, Michael Mann and in this case Aaron Sorkin. In Sorkin's case, he is the creator, executive producer and writer of this show. Sorkin is a half decent writer but nobody apparently was able to tell him that what he was producing was a lot of long winded rubbish.
Shows like The Newsroom are the result of letting a semi talented person run amock creatively with no one around to tell him no.
Sunday, June 24, 2012
Nate and Hayes is an adventure film in the style of Spielberg's Indiana Jones series. The film was not a success for some reason.
The film looks good, has some magnificent New Zealand scenery and some great action set pieces. Tommy Lee Jones is a semi charismatic lead and an actor names Jenny Seagrove as the "damsel in distress," is pretty good given the limitations of that part. The 2nd lead Michael O'Keefe is a complete stiff who can't seem to work up any chemistry with either Jones or Seagrove. He brings the film down big time.
Among the writing credits are John Hughes the author of Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club and other teenage ilk films that were popular for a while in the 80's and 90's. I'm not exactly sure what he brought to the table.
This film is no better or worse than any of the Indiana Jones films, and is short enough not to wear our it's welcome, essentially it's a time killer.
Saturday, June 23, 2012
The actual sequel to Corbucci's Django is a mighty big letdown. Django's been in a monastery trying to make up for his gunfighter ways. But a film about a guy in a monastery would be very boring to watch so after some contrived story line business about his daughter being abducted by bad guys we are off and running with another blood bath.
Franco Nero is back and so is the machine gun. Nero shoots about as many people as he did in the first Django but this film completely lacks any of the style of the first film, it's just a mediocre Italian western.
About the only thing of interest is the actor Donald Pleasence showing up in yet another Italian film. He may be cashing a paycheck but he's always fun to watching playing another quirky character, his specialty.
Sam Peckinpah wrote and directed this adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter's short novel. This is a Peckinpah film at it's most lowkey with the exception of Jason Robards giving his usual over the top performance. The guy had a hard time with that subtle acting thing.
Katherine Anne Porter's story is essentially a character study of a farmer called Royal Thompson a big mouth small town braggart personality constantly running his mouth. The actual story provides most of the interest in this adaptation it certainly isn't anything special in terns of film technique. The film looks to be shot on video tape and is in black and white which gives it a very dated look.
Olivia de Havilland plays Robard's wife and she gives a good restrained and thoughtful performance. Then again anyone would look restrained next to Robards.
A brother and sister try to get to the bottom of a ghost haunting their home in Cornwall, England.
The Uninvited is a ghost story where the ghost is real for a change. However the actual story is basically a mystery which borrows a lot from Rebecca. Ray Milland is the star. Milland was always a reliable if kind of boring leading man in 1940's films. He happened to luck into getting the main lead in Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett's The Lost Weekend, which won him an Academy Award and lots of cred for him in the industry. It's not surprising that the producer of The Uninvited Charles Brackett cast Milland in this film.
This is an interesting film, well made and written if a little stiff in the storytelling. I would say this is a typical 1940's Hollywood film, trying to be a little different but not too different.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Woody Allen and some of his cronies take a Japanese spy film called International Secret Police: Key of Keys and dub in a new soundtrack with a silly story and a bunch of half clever jokes. The result is sort of funny and mighty stupid.
The producer took the finished film which ran about an hour and stuck in some songs by The Lovin' Spoonful and padded it out with some additional footage. Allen ended up suing the producer for compromising his artistic vision? When this doopey film made money, Allen dropped his lawsuit.
The whole thing hardly seems worth the trouble.
Probably one of the stranger things about the film is the involvement of the future stars of You Only Live Twice, Akiko Wakabayashi and Mie Hama. Between the two of them these two actors were chased around by King Kong, Godzilla, Ghidorah and James Bond.
What's Up Tiger Lily is about half hilarous with most of the real funny stuff coming in the first half of the film, after that the picture seems to run out of ideas and just drags itself across the finish line.
This one's been kicking around the Internet for a while. Red Nightmare was a defense department propaganda piece about the dangers of communism. The film is narrated by Jack Webb in his "Joe Friday" voice.
Apparently in the middle of the Soviet Union circa 1960, a replica of a typical Midwestern town is being used by the Russkies to educate would be spies and saboteurs about the American way of life for their own sinister purposes. But enough of that fear mongering , lets get to the actual story.
Good old American citizen Jerry Donovan takes his family and his freedom for granted in some nondescript middle American town. But he is about to learn a lesson. One night AKA It's a Wonderful Life. He finds himself living in a country controlled by commies. Jerry races around small town USA and finds that the ordinary citizens which include his family are acting like a bunch of mind controlled robots. Arrested by the secret police and put on trial, Jerry makes an impassioned speech about the loss of his rights. As he is being executed by authorities, he wakes up to find it was all a dream. Jerry has learned his lesson about liberty.
Red Nightmare may have been produced by the Defense Department, but it is a Warner Brothers film all the way. The writer, director and actors were all from the studio and apparently the whole thing was actually supervised by Jack Warner himself.
Red Nightmare would be a great double feature with Warner's left wing piece of propaganda film Mission to Moscow. It would be a something for everyone kind of movie night for leftie nuts and right wing extremists.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
The second film in the Boetticher/Scott western series. Randolph Scott is a cowboy on a mission of vengeance to kill the man who drove his wife to suicide etc.
The best of the Budd Boetticher westerns were shot on location, Decision at Sundown is strictly a filmed on the back lot thing with Scott trapped in a livery stable for a good piece of film. For a western this looks pretty claustrophobic.
The cast is mostly a collection of "B" movie or character actors. They look about as creaky as the plot. The dialog is from the school of western cliches.
Monday, June 11, 2012
A sneaky gold digger breaks up the family of Jean Hersholt (the Academy Awards humanitarian award is named after him).
As the gold digger, the actor Phyllis Haver is the whole show. The first scene she appears in has her in a barber shop getting her hair bobbed while she is laughing at a copy of Little Women. Setting her sights on Hersholt a family man she expertly seduces him while modeling a bathing suit and asking him to tell her if she is bow legged.
This film was directed by the father of modern film technique D.W. Griffith. The film is well photographed with one amazing shot of the camera showing the point of view of a suicide falling down a building.
Griffith has a lot of scenes in The Battle of the Sexes of Hersholt's family life. The wife and children seem like a pretty drab bunch. It's not much of a surprise that Hersholt would rather spend time with Haver than his dreary family.
Friday, June 8, 2012
This reworking of Godzilla is kind of an odd bird of a film. The film is set in the British Isles instead of Tokyo for a change. It's fairly well made even if the giant London stomping monster Gorgo looks might phony. The special effects which are mainly a guy in a rubber monster suit stomping through detailed models of London are well done for the early 1960's.
The director was Eugene Lourie who had worked as an art director for Jean Renoir, Charlie Chaplin and Sam Fuller of all people. Lourie wanted to direct and ended up filming The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Ray Harryhausen's first important special effects film. Lourie got stuck making "monster on the loose in the big city" films before moving back into art direction.
F.A. Young photographed Gorgo and the film looks pretty good as is to be expected from the cinematographer who filmed David Lean's super epics. Among the cast was actor William Sylvester who played Dr. Heywood Floyd in Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. One can only speculate whether Kubrick decided to cast Sylvester after watching Gorgo, but will the truth ever be known?
For a giant monster on the loose film, Gorgo did aim to be different. The end of the film has Gorgo's mom stomping into London to rescue Gorgo from the circus that has been putting him on display.
As the old saying goes, "Mother, there is no other."
Sunday, June 3, 2012
Clint's way in over his head in playing the director John Huston during the filming of The African Queen.
Obviously attracted to the flamboyant character that John Huston supposedly was, Eastwood gives it a shot imitating Huston's famous drawl and dressing in riding outfits. John Huston had an estate in Ireland for many years and loved to fox hunt.
Frankly a film about a Hollywood director who would rather hunt elephants than film The African Queen was going to have an extremely limited appeal to the general public. White Hunter Black Heart was a big flop.
To film a character study like this you have to be a good actor. Clint Eastwood is a performer who like John Wayne was good at playing one type of character, himself. John Huston was probably a more complicated personality than the character Eastwood was trying to interpret in this film.
Probably a film of extremely limited interest to film buffs only.
Flamboyant filmmaker Ken Russell takes a shot at ultra lush romantic composer Gustav Mahler with typical yet not typical results.
On a long train ride Mahler looks back at incidents in his life. This gives Russell a chance to indulges his strong visual sense and disregard a more conventional narrative structure. The result is really very entertaining.
Russell's musical sequences are as absurdly over the top as usual particularly an extended montage where Mahler converts from Judaism to Catholicism. Here Mahler confronts Cosima Wagner who in Ken Russell land is a goose stepping Christian in fishnet stockings. It's all pretty incredible stuff.
Ken Russell had been filming this kind of free form film about artists for years so any viewer expecting something conventional from this director had been watching films under a rock.
This is an entertaining film from a great if rather crazy director that is impressive to look at and listen to as well.