Sunday, August 26, 2012
Thematically linked to Blow Up, The Conversation is impressive personal film making with an outstanding central performance from Gene Hackman as Harry Caul the for hire surveillance expert.
Hackman really gets inside this worthless little weasel of a man who has chosen as his life's profession wiretapping people . This is an outstanding performance in a difficult non expressive role.
Filmed on interesting San Francisco locations with a really small budget, Coppola used a lot of impressive acting talent such as John Cazale, Robert Duvall, Cindy Williams (before she sold her soul to Laverne and Shirley), Harrison Ford and Andrew Garfield.
Coppola has certainly had his share of career highs and lows, but this is a film that completely succeeds as a character study.
Sound design (which is a really big deal in this film) and editing were by Walter Murch who was probably as responsible for the finished film as Coppola was.
This wanna be satire of the legal system is also a wanna be Network. However the film is so hit you over the head over the top with it's outrage it fails.
... And Justice For All is probably notable for the beginning of Al Pacino's ranting and raving excessive acting style which had been starting to rear it's ugly head in films like Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. But here Pacino really goes for it especially towards the end with his full on eye rolling and hysterical carrying on, the most entertaining thing in the whole film.
It's surprising that a veteran director like Norman Jewison couldn't see that the screenplay for this film was pretty bad. On the other hand Jewison may have realized the poor quality of the writing and decided to just let Pacino go for it. On the other other hand, Jewison may have been unable to control Pacino.
Whatever the answer, this is still a bad film.
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Billy Wilder and his partner Charles Brackett on their second feature zipped out this very entertaining spy film. Brackett and Wilder loaded the story up with lots of clever scenes and plot situations. The film also has that sly sense of humor that this team was known for particularly when it comes to sex.
Five Graves to Cairo has a very good cast with a standout performance from former director Erich von Stroheim as Field Marshall Rommel. Wilder was an admirer of von Strohem and you can sure tell, von Stroheim gets all the best lines. Rommel spends his time in the film ordering up excerpts from the opera Aida or laying in bed swatting flies with a flyswatter all very amusing stuff.
Five Graves to Cairo also has excellent black and white photography from John F. Seitz one of the masters of the profession.
The director Michelangelo Antonioni shoots his second color film in English on London locations. The film's plot of a photographer attempting to solve a murder through a series of pictures he has taken and blown up has been ripped off by many movies. However this film still retains it's freshness through Antonioni's impressive technique.
Antonioni was a director who specialized in studies of urban alienation. He was always a director who could easily slide into overblown pretentious art film stuff and Blow Up certainly has it's moments of that stuff. Frankly I could have done without the the scenes with the mimes but overall this is a very engrossing film.
A lot of critics spent a lot of time trying to figure out if the murder mystery actually occurred or was a product of the photographer's imagination, but it seems fairly obvious that the murder did happen after all he does find a body. Certainly the scenes of the photographer putting the pieces together are extremely well done.
An impressive film.
The further adventures of "The Man of Steel" who in this film seems more like "The Man of Aluminum." This time Superman must face down three villains from Krypton the old home planet in a big free for all fight in Metropolis.
Time has really dated the special effects in this film. The flying sequences look very cheesy and the big destruction sequences are mostly models and miniatures not matching up very well with the actual sequences.
Let's face it the character of Superman had always been kind of boring, so to keep the film interesting the villains get most of the good scenes. After a while even they start to look a little boring as well, there are only so many push the "puny humans" scenes around that can be made interesting.
The director was Richard Lester who replaced the original director Richard Donner, Lester had started off his career with frantic slapstick films, but his inventiveness had started to peter out in the late 70's. Lester's slap stick scenes would seem to be perfect for a comic book film, but everything seems kind of flat and out of it as he goes through the motions.
Probably Gene Hackman still comes off best as Lex Luthor, hamming it up with the right mix of comic book movie bad guyness.
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
A cast of Hollywood veterans during the 1960's and the excellent photography from cinematographer Conrad Hall are two reasons to watch this "lets get together a team and rescue the woman" story.
The writer/director Richard Brooks has loaded up the story with double crosses, triple crosses and quadruple crosses which make things needlessly complicated. Also for an action film there is an awful lot of talk. Fortunately, the film has all these old Hollywood pros to keep your attention even if they aren't exactly stretching themselves.
Burt Lancaster recycles his Crimson Pirate character again. Lee Marvin steals scenes with the super cool tough guy character,that he would repeat in Point Blank. Woody Strode was in a few John Ford films and was always a commanding presence. Strode was never much of an actor but as a former football player he certainly fit in with this testosterone filled crowd. Robert Ryan was always an underrated actor and gives the best performance. Finally, there is Italian actress Claudia Cardinale who is cast as a hot Mexican babe which is usually par for the course when it comes to Hollywood.
The film is kind of a slog at close to two hours. However between the tough desert locations which were probably no fun to film at and this cast of macho Hollywood male prima donas, Richard Brooks probably had his hands full just getting The Professionals made.
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Supposedly an important and trendsetting film in the history of cinema. Dante's Inferno based on Dante's The Divine Comedy is a chore to sit through even with a Tangerine Dream score ladled over the film to try to make it accessible to contemporary audiences.
The film seems to be about 2 guys wandering around hell or somewhere while title cards and I mean lots and lots of title cards blab on about about religion and what not.
The supposedly "cool" special effects are primitive optical effects which look interesting in stills but are not really that impressive to watch in the actual film. Even for a film made in 1911, the special effects can't really make up for what is a very static looking film.
Dante's Inferno is pretty much an endurance contest to sit through. No undiscovered silent classic here.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
Haven't seen this film in years and rewatching it was a real surprise. The now familiar and still clever idea of having the ghost of Humphrey Bogart return to help the impaired love life of Allen's nebish character still works very well. There is a lot of funny stuff in this film.
Allen "opened up" his stage play and most of those scenes work pretty well. But the big improvement here was setting the film in San Francisco instead of New York, and having Herbert Ross, a fairly decent director of musicals and comedies shoot the film. Ross brings a real professional approach to the film with none of the primitive technique that Allen had as he coped with learning how to make films in his early features.
The cast which includes Allen's old crony Tony Roberts and his one time girlfriend Diane Keaton works very well with Woody they were in the original Broadway production, so they certainly knew their characters. Also, this Woody Allen early in his career and his "nervous Nellie" neurotic Jew shtick was still pretty fresh and even watching it today very funny.
A perfect silent comedy from Harold Lloyd. Harold plays a coward who can't get the girl and is pushed around by his rival for her affections. His Grandmother gives him a lucky idol to give him courage.
Harold Lloyd was one of the true masters of comedy and Grandma's Boy is about as good as it gets for a silent comedy. Lloyd and his team carefully create their characters and make sure to integrate them into the comedic situations.
There isn't an ounce of padding in this film. It moves along briskly and ends an hour later, something comedies today have not even begun to figure out.
This is an extremely well made and impressive film.