Friday, December 28, 2012
This will be a short post for a very long film. This large scale western comedy is another It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World wanna be. The problem is that this film isn't very funny.
The director John Sturges, stuck his name above the title of The Hallelujah Trail, so that would probably mean that he would have to take most of the blame. The plot is something to do with a wagon train full of whiskey headed for dry Denver. The Indians in some of the most obvious stereotypes and a temperance group of women try to stop it. The United States Army under the command of Burt Lancaster is supposed to get the wagon train through. Hilarious situations are also supposed to develop from this story.
For one of the preeminent action directors of the early 1960's, John Sturges seems completely out of water on this one. Where did he ever get the idea he could handle comedy? With the exception of this film he had never made one.
There are a few compensations. The film was shot in 70mm wide screen. Sturges was one of the masters of wide screen compensation, the film looks great especially on a larger television screen. The score by Elmer Bernstein isn't bad. The film is well cast and everyone is giving it the best that they have. The problem as usual is the script which is just not funny.
Absurd melodramatics and ridiculous plotting finally lead up to the big part of Jigoku that the viewer has been waiting for the literal descent into hell.
The so called hero, Shirō Shimizu has so messed up his life to the extent of being involved in the deaths of at least 3 or 4 people. His family isn't much better. Dad is cheating on Shimizu's dying mother, dad's mistress is hitting on Shimizu, the girl next door has an uncanny resemblance to Shimizu's dead girlfriend who was pregnant with his child. Well you get the picture about the outrageous plotting.
It all ends up at a party where everyone is poisoning or committing suicide or shooting someone else and then the fun starts everyone goes to Hell.
From here we have bizarre graphic depictions of suffering in Hell with rivers of feces, people being flayed alive, or walking through a room of needles you have to see it all to believe it.
An amazing over the top film.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
This year's list of films I watched which for better or worse were the most interesting to me:
Blow-Up was one of the essential art films of the 1960's. I was expecting the worst from the director Michelangelo Antonioni and much to my surprise this was a very impressive film, in fact a masterpiece.
Wild River, the director was Elia Kazan so the film is extremely well made and still very relevent.
2001: A Space Odyssey probably the best science fiction film ever made.
What's the big deal with Greed,? This seems extremely overrated in what will be my first and only viewing. Who could blame MGM for cutting this down? Von Stroheim has made better films.
Maitresse is about the romance between a dominatrix and a thief. A fascinating love story which you probably shouldn't watch with your girlfriend.
Probably Steve McQueen's oddest personal project, still An Enemy Of The People is from the Ibsen play and has some very pointed things to say about about the small mindedness of majority rule.
Solid decent thriller, Argo is a well made entertainment in the traditional Hollywood style of storytelling.
Didn't anyone read the book? John Carter was a bad idea from inception through marketing. The only thing this film had going for it was the easy on the eyes actor Lynn Collins.
Alfred Hitchcock's worst film, this is really the bottom of the barrel for great director.
Coppola was clearly influenced by Blow Up, but The Conversation stands out on it's own.
As usual some good films but a lot of bad ones with this year's viewing.
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Toho Studios produced this science fiction epic about what else the sinking of Japan. It's almost like they decided to make one of their kaiju films and got rid of all the monsters.
This is an extremely serious film. How do you evacuate an entire nation? Where do you put them? What about your culture? There are meetings with high level politicians, scientists and disaster relief workers. It's all treated very solemnly. But it's also time for a lot of special effects, cities get pulverised, earthquakes shake things up and all with out the assistance of Godzilla this time.
Films like this are unsurprisingly lacking in characterization and The Sinking of Japan is no exception however no other studio can destroy the world like the pros at Toho.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
Paul Newman is private eye Lew Harper, in this sequel to Harper. This time Harper is in New Orleans investigating a blackmail scheme for an old fling played by Newman's wife Joanne Woodward.
This is the usual private eye stuff. Girls, guns and wisecracks. The plot is one of those too complicated to understand exactly what is going on stories. The finale involves a hydrotherapy chamber which Newman and the chief bad guy's wife flood in order to break out of. That seems a little improbable but it is kind of a cool scene.
This film has a pretty good cast, of 1970's actors. Murray Hamilton, Richard Jaeckel, Gail Strickland, Tony Franciosa and a very young Melanie Griffith as a piece of jailbait. However, this is a Paul Newman film, and he is in about every scene and has to carry this lightweight film to the end.
Behind the camera is some fairly decent talent. Gordon Willis was the director of photography. Willis was known for filming scenes in very low light levels. He photographed Woody Allen's best film along with The Godfather films. But one of the problems with The Drowning Pool is that every scene is the film is mighty dark. Its hard to see exactly what is going on.
The director was Stuart Rosenberg who had a couple of good films and was probably hired because he could handle Newman who he had worked with before. Lorenzo Semple Jr, Walter Hill and Tracy Keenan Wynn all have screen credit as the writers. This is never a good sign in a film.
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Ralph Nelson was the director but Blake Edwards was the writer/producer of Soldier in the Rain and it's loaded with his sensibility. The film is a mixture of comedy and drama about the friendship between two soldiers on an army base.
This film is extremely well acted. Jackie Gleason is the overweight Army staff sergeant who is friends with the goofy Steve McQueen a supply sergeant who seems to not have all of his oars in the water. Tuesday Weld is a little piece of jail bait they get involved with who is more than just an empty headed blonde. All three of these actors really brought their "A" game to this film.
Gleason is remembered as a comedian but he was capable of giving very sensitive performances when he needed to. Steve McQueen's career evolved into an anti-hero action star but he was a trained New York actor. Tuesday Weld had talent but never really got past her sexpot image.
It's difficult to know what to make of this film, it jumps from comedy to drama to tragedy and it's all well done it just doesn't seem to have a point to it other than as a character study about two different kinds of men who just happen to be friends.
Roger Corman's end of the world science fiction epic is an early Corman film all the way. In essence, the cast has 3 people in it.
Shot on location in Puerto Rico along with 2 other films back to back and apparently in about 3 days this film looks pretty cheap. However it is shot almost entirely on location and you have to give Corman his due not a lot of directors could film this fast and have a fairly decent end product.
Corman's film also wants to tantalize the viewer from the opening credits with the slow pan of a nude female to the promise of some type of menage a trois developing between the woman and the 2 men. Unfortunately this is the early 1960's and even for a cheap exploitation film it's more tease than action.
The film is very short it doesn't require a lot of investment in your time or emotional energy.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
There just isn't much to say about this one. The Howling is a typical Joe Dante film. Some of the characters are named after old Universal studios horror directors. The film has scenes from The Wolf Man scattered throughout the story and there are lots of references to wolves with jokes about dog food and eating rare hamburgers
Being that this is a 1980's film, no studio was going to finance a werewolf film unless it had lots of blood and sex which The Howling does. Dante knows that if he wants to make his genre influenced films he has to play the Hollywood game.
The big thing in The Howling at the time was the actual on screen transformation of a man into a werewolf. This prosthetic effect probably looked reasonably cool back in the 80's but now it's just a bunch of inflatable balloons attached to an actor's face. This kind of thing is now done with computer effects these days.
This is an OK time killer and nothing more. The Howling is a lot like The Wolfman it sounds better than it actually plays.
Sunday, December 9, 2012
Ford directs the "Garrison Keller" of his day Will Rogers in this comedy about life in the rural south. Rogers was not a trained actor but had been a performer on Broadway for years with the Ziegfeld Follies where he developed his cracker barrel philosopher shtick.
Rogers eventually ended up in Hollywood working with John Ford who apparently got along well with Rogers allowing him to actually improvise a lot of his dialog.
Steamboat Round the Bend is not The Searchers this is strictly a commercial entertainment but a very good one. There is still the expected sloppy sentimentality and corn ball humor Ford liked to stick into his films but it plays pretty well in this film. Rogers plays a con man selling a line of snake oil up and down the river on an old steamboat.
The film reaches it's climax with a steamboat race which is still pretty exciting and fun to watch.
Saturday, December 8, 2012
I didn't particularly care for The French Connection when it came out in 1971. But I will have to admit watching this film on Blu-Ray impressed my quite a bit.
The documentary like photography of early 1970's New York and the standout performance of Gene Hackman are probably the best things in the film.
The French Connection was the breakout film that William Friedkin had been looking for. His decision to shoot it like a documentary really paid off. The other important decision in the film was the insistence of the producer Philp D'Antoni that Friedkin add a car chase to the film.
Friedkin has always had the reputation of a "bad boy" film director. Apparently Hackman had more then a few run in's with the director. The antagonism between Hackman and Friedkin probably helped Hackman stay in character, as asshole detective "Popeye" Doyle.
You get what you get from a film directed by bad boy William Friedkin. Bug has something to do with everyone's favorite character the "deranged war veteran" hooking up with a white trash waitress working at a southwestern lesbian bar. The film evolves into a horror/black comedy as the crazed veteran projects his nutty vision that aphids planted by the United States government are crawling around inside him. Eventually the waitress ends up acting as crazy as he is.
Friedkin has seemed to find his soul mate in the playwright and screenwriter Tracy Letts who takes an already crazed situation and ramps it up with lots of loony theories about the government, lesbian girlfriends, cocaine and a crappy southwest motel setting that wouldn't have been out of place in Hitchcock's Psycho.
The picture above gives you an idea of what you're getting in for when you watch this film. I suppose if you are in the mood for one of these extreme films where the director lards on the violence, crazy dialog and over the top performances you can get a kick out of this film. I wasn't in the mood this time.
Since the commercial success of the Exorcist, Friedkin has seemed to think that these over the top stories have a potential for commercial success. On the other hand maybe Friedkin is just attracted to this type of material. Who knows, who cares.
Sunday, December 2, 2012
This is a nothing of a romantic comedy. Jane Wyman is the aspiring stewardess working for American Airlines. She is very perky and a regular little chatterbox. Jane is always in trouble with management because of her mild but wacky airplane shenanigans. She meets up with three nice guys who want to marry her. They are all named Mike, hence the title.
Charles Walters was the director and it looks like he phoned this one in. Walters may not have been the greatest stylist in the world but he did direct some successful films for MGM like, Good News, Lili, Easter Parade and High Society. However you would be hard pressed to find anything that resembles a cinematic flourish in Three Guys Named Mike. This is strictly a point the camera in the direction of the actors and shoot movie.
The real auteur of this film is the writer Sidney Sheldon. Sheldon had a long career as a provider of light weight comedies. Sheldon is probably best know as the writer and creator of the I Dream of Jeannie television series. Towards the end of his career he pumped out semi racy novels like The Other Side of Midnight and Bloodline.
Three Guys Named Mike is a Sidney Sheldon story all they way. You know where it's going from the moment it starts till it's final scene but you still sit there watching to see how the damn thing is going to get to where it's going because it's so comforting in it's predictability kind of like every episode of I Dream of Jeannie.
Saturday, December 1, 2012
Howard Hawks set out to make the propaganda film to end all propaganda films during World War II. He hired Dudley Nichols who was frequently associated with John Ford's films and had William Faulkner to do some uncredited rewrites. The result is a very good propaganda film that in a lot of ways still holds up considering the source and period.
Hawks primarily used Warner's character actors with only John Garfield as the most notable star and even he is billed 9th in the cast. The plot concerns the crew of the bomber Mary-Ann on flying to Pearl Harbor just as the Japanese attack. This is an actual incident that occurred during the start of the war. From there the film focuses on how the crew works together to take the fight to the Japanese.
For what this film is, it's a very good Hawks film. Air Force has all of his trademarks, overlapping dialog, good performances especially from John Garfield and John Ridgely and Harry Carey. Actors like George Tobias and Edward Brophy were always "Johnnie One Notes" in any film they were in and there was probably nothing Hawks could do about them, but overall the rest do the cast is first rate.
The film also has some pretty good action scenes. However, the final attack on the Japanese fleet about to invade Australia is ludicrous since it features the Mary-Ann almost single handily blowing up the entire fleet.
Since this is basically a World War II propaganda film, you have to endure the usual cringing anti Japanese stuff these films are loaded up with. Still this is a very good Howard Hawks film.