Saturday, March 30, 2013
After battling Republic pictures penny pinching cheapskate Herbert Yates during the making of The Quiet Man and The Sun Shines Bright, John Ford signed up with MGM for an elaborate big budget remake of Clark Gable's early "sex in the jungle" film Red Dust.
MGM and Ford hired Gable again for this remake of Red Dust now titled Mogambo. Ava Gardner got the role of the sexy, naughty bad girl with a heart of gold and Grace Kelly got the part of the uptight and prim English wife who was basically a dirty tramp underneath all her refinement.
The plan was to shoot on location in Africa to capture some spectacular scenery. John Ford who was a master of scenic compositions would seem to have been the perfect person to hire for this film. Ford could do for Africa what he did for Monument Valley, the problem was that Ford hated filming in Africa.
Once Ford arrived in Africa he found out he hated everything about it, the weather, the living conditions, the animals and the dust. Ford shot quickly and dumped large chunks of the script in order to get out of there as fast as possible. The production ended up filming on studio sets in London. The climatic action scenes involving gorillas were shot with a phoney looking rear projection.
The end result, Mogambo is essentially a boring soap opera which shows a director completely detached and uninterested in the story.
Current movie star flavor of the month Jennifer Lawrence is involved in a contest set in the future which as every other critic or nerd blogger has pointed out is essentially the same contest as the one in the Japanese film Battle Royale. It seems for entertainment value a group of teenagers are given weapons and told to kill each other for the enjoyment of the futuristic television audience.
The humorless and sullen Jennifer Lawrence plays the extremely unlikeable main character Kittycat Evergreen or something. She is surrounded by a bunch of character actors like Woody Harrelson, Donald Sutherland and Toby Jones. They all represent the corrupt and corpulent elite class that rules the nation of Panem. But Jennifer Lawerence is going to show them what a spunky young adult woman pretending to be a teenager can do to their corrupt civilization.
I have no idea why this film was so successful but I will take a guess. Since most of the teenage contestants of The Hunger Games are really mean, nice but moody Jennifer Lawrence can kill them with her trusty bow and arrow. This fulfills a fantasy of every teenager who was ever picked on or snubbed in school, or maybe not.
This film was aimed at the teenager girl crowd, the violence is all very PG-13. The Hunger Games also runs over 2 fricking hours for a story that could have been knocked out in about 90 minutes.
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
My DVD is the restored version of the silent film complete with color sequences and scenes tinted to achieve a special visual mood.
Anyway you look at it, this is quite an incredible film. The two large scale action sequences, the battle at sea with the pirates and the famous chariot race are very exciting and impressive sequences.
The story does change things a bit from the 1959 remake with Ben Hur raising an army to place under the command of Jesus in order to expel the Romans from Judea. The 1959 version dropped this subplot probably for the better but it does give this version a fascinating twist.
The 1925 version of Ben Hur took 2 years to film with lots of production problems which included, a change of directors and leading men. The production started filming in Italy and was closed down and relocated to Hollywood.
This is still a pretty incredible film even compared to the remake which is a very good film as well.
Sunday, March 24, 2013
Barbara Steele with the big anime eyes, is the star of this horror film that has something to do with witches and vampires being resurrected 200 years after they were entombed. Steele got a reputation as a woman that Italian directors liked to tie up at the stake and then film some sort of soft core S&M whipping scene for their horror movies.
Black Sunday does have good Gothic photography. The director Mario Bava, frequently photographed his own films and was an expert at creating a creepy feeling in his films. Bava also has a credit in the screenplay that is supposed based on a short story by Nikolai Gogol although there is probably not too much left of the story in this adaptation. The story is a confusing mess.
As a director you get what you get with Bava, as much gruesome stuff as he could get away with even for 1960. The photography and the creepy studio atmosphere are good even if the cast and the story are just there for Bava to indulge himself with his usual excesses.
For a film knocked out in 5 days, The Man from Planet X looks and plays pretty good. Probably making the most of what he had the director Edgar G. Ulmer managed to create an eerie atmosphere and get some decent performances out of the cast.
Ulmer had a long career making something out of next to nothing when it came to shooting film. If the space man from Planet X looks phoney at least he's lighted cleverly. The script isn't exactly Hamlet, but it is interesting. The photography is by John Russell who shot Psycho for Hitchcock.
The Man from Planet X is also nice and short coming in at just over an hour. Watching these kinds of films is almost a picnic at that length.
Supposedly a famous tragic play in free form verse by Maxwell Anderson. By the time Winterset was turned into a film with the original Broadway cast, RKO had dumped most of his dialog and rewrote the tragic ending to turn into a happy ending. Really no surprise there.
Burgess Meredith looking pretty sharp in a fedora is Mio, the son of a 1930's radical unjustly convicted and executed for a crime he did not commit. On a rainy film noirish kind of night, Mio will meet up with the judge who sentenced his father to die and the gang leader who actually committed the crime. No outrageous plot coincidences in this film.
Winterset is incredibly stagy with it's rainy studio sets and pseudo high toned dialog mixing very uncomfortably with the more "normal" dialog that people actually speak in real life. Burgess Meredith is is very good as Mio straddling the line between spewing pseudo Shakespearean blather and playing an early version of Charles Bronson in Death Wish. However the rest of the cast could have used a little more underplaying particularly those "colorful" ethnic characters.
Winterset is a somewhat dated film.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Another shot at the Judge Dredd cult comic book character. The first film Judge Dredd, had Sylvester Stallone as Dredd walking around without his helmet on for most of the which was ridiculous, (even I know that Judge Dredd never took off his helmet in the comic books).
That film was also a ridiculous mess with Rob Schneider as the comic relief.
This version was made by people who obviously knew and liked the comic, no stupid robots or hammy overacting by past their prime action stars.
The action scenes are entertaining and exciting but you better have a very high tolerance for watching blood and brains getting sprayed everywhere because this is a very violent movie.
A highly entertaining science fiction film that did not do that well with the general public. I believe the intense violence probably killed it with the word of mouth crowd.
Probably as close to perfection for a crime thriller and one of Fritz Lang's best films. The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is a sequel to Lang's massive silent film about the master criminal. Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou pick up the Mabuse story ten years later with Dr. Mabuse now locked away in an insane asylum. A new crime wave has started up supposedly headed by a "Dr. Mabuse." It's up to Inspector Lohmann the same character in Lang's film M to figure out what is going on.
Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse was clearly a major influence on the James Bond films with a criminal mastermind attempting to wreak havoc on society. Inspector Lohmann is also a larger than life hero trying to outwit Mabuse. The movies have been stealing from this film for years
The action and the large scale factory fire set piece are filmed in that exciting technique Lang had mastered during his silent films. The photography and staging are impressive for an early sound film. Lang was a director who understood almost immediately how to adapt his technique to avoid static and stagy dialog scenes in his early sound films.
In interviews, Lang also stated that The Testament of Dr. Mabuse was a veiled reference to the rise of Nazism in Germany, a somewhat dubious claim. However the film was banned by Joseph Goebbels so there may be some truth to this.
Monday, March 11, 2013
You Only Live Twice is essentially a mash up of scenes from the fout previous James Bond films. Almost every action piece had already been done in Dr No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger and Thunderball. You Only Live Twice just made them more bombastic. Roald Dahl a writer of semi-twisted and oddball short stories was hired to put together an original screenplay, but it appears that the the producers Saltzman and Broccoli were the primary influence on this film.
Bigger is better in You Only Live Twice, the sets, the locations, the gadgets and the spectacular climax. The director Lewis Gilbert probably had his hands full just setting up his shots. The editor Peter Hunt shot the 2nd unit footage and did a major recut of the film after the first screening came in at three hours.
Sean Connery is still fun to watch as James Bond. He certainly had the drill down by film # 5. However the real star of the film is the famous Ken Adam volcano set which was built full scale at Pinewood studios. Even 46 years later it still looks very impressive.
You Only Live Twice on Blu Ray and a decent sized television screen looks pretty spectacular. The photography by F. A. Young has the glossy look that a major production could pull together with the best technicians. Overall the film is still very entertaining if derivative in the Sean Connery/James Bond series.
Roger Corman's film was shot on leftover sets from The Raven as they were being torn down. Corman had Boris Karloff signed for three days of work and shot all of his scenes first. This film seems more like a challenge for Corman to see what he could get away with than an actual horror movie.
The Terror is loaded with lots of stock footage from other AIP films and many of the shots are just the actors walking across sets in wide angle.
The behind the scenes antics are probably more interesting than the actual film. Corman shot for a few days, Francis Ford Coppola filmed the on location beach scenes at the Big Sur, Jack Nicholson directed, Monty Hellman directed and possibly the writers Leo Gordon and Jack Hill might have filmed some scenes.
The film is a mess but short.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
One of the strong points of Les Miserables is that it was written by a master story teller, Victor Hugo. Hugo is remembered as the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Man Who Laughs and The Toilers of the Sea amongst others. So now that we got that out of the way, this film is really bad.
Whoever had the lame brain idea of recording this cast of off key actors live clearly hadn't seen At Long Last Love. Apparently no one remembers how well that film turned out. After an hour and a half of listening to these out of tune actors trying to sing, I made my way out to the lobby of the theater to watch the theater staff munch on their Chipolte snacks which was a lot more interesting.
|The non singing female cast of Les Miserables.|
No one expected that Russel Crowe was the modern day Howard Keel so you get what you get with his singing. The freakish ostrich necked actress Anne Hathaway who relentlessly campaigned for an Academy Award almost as soon as the film was released is barely in the film. Amanda Seyfried who plays the virginal innocent Cossette can't even come close to carrying a tune and should probably stick to playing prostitutes. Even the star Hugh Jackman who actually has some experience performing in musicals can't seem to cope with this low rent operatic music.
Poorly directed, drowning in computer graphic effects and unending soliloquies particularly in the last hour of the film. This is probably the not unexpected result from Tom Hooper the director of the extremely overrated The King's Speech. But in the end what's the point, both the play and the film are extremely popular with audiences.
The story of a married woman who has an affair with a truck driver, Therese Raquin is based on a novel by Emile Zola so you be be sure this won't have a happy ending.
This is film noir starring smoldering European actor types. Simone Signoret was one of those French actors who in their prime was sort of an earthy sex symbol. Raf Vallone played her lover pouring on the male sex appeal as only an Italian can. The film was directed by Marcel Carne who had made a reputation for himself with Children of Paradise during World War II.
The acting and direction are at a very high standard and even though you know none of this isn't going to turn out well for anyone you stick with it to see how it's going to get to the end. There is nothing like a film with a strong sense of European fatalism.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
71 year old Allan Dwan, was one of a select group that pretty much invented movie making during the silent film period film. Dwan was still working into the 1950's. Cattle Queen of Montana is sort of a B-western with a lot to recommend it.
The film stars Barbara Stanwyck in a very strong roll as a woman attempting to set up a ranch in Montana. She is plagued by evil rancher Gene Evans and some rogue Indians. Stanwyck is assisted by Ronald Reagan (who's not bad) playing some sort of undercover Army officer. But the bottom line is that Stanwyck doesn't take any crap from any guy in this film she shoots them if they get out of line.
The action is pretty good with a nasty knife fight, a cattle stampede and an exciting shoot out with the bad guys at the end. The director Allan Dwan gets to the point and the film zips along in about an hour and a half. This is essentially a feminist western which also has a very sympathetic point of view regarding native Americans even if they are all played by white actors. The extensive on location filming is also a big plus in this film.
A favorite with film scholars and directors with Martin Scorsese, this is still a rather modest western particularly well made.
This film reminds me of The Evil Dead II, which had the same mix of horror and comedy. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil probably has a little more going for it than The Evil Dead II, since there is an attempt at creating more likable characters than that film had.
Inverting the evil hillbillies vs college kids trope is a clever idea and this film has enough ideas and situations to pull it off for about 90 minutes.
I particularly enjoyed watching Dale munching on a jar full of pickled hard boiled eggs and the scene with the chain saw was funny. Naturally the actors playing the "college kids" don't look like college kids but that's part of the fun.
Tucker and Dale vs Evil does a pretty good job of playing out it's premise.
Liberal director Stanley Kramer and his associate the equally bleeding heart liberal writer Abby Mann adapt a "distinguished" novel for the clear purpose of making some grand statement about the human experience. The end result is just another bash the Nazi era Germans film. This is a film takes a courageous stand against these evil Nazi loving Germans 20 years after World War II ended.
Ship of Fools is essentially Grand Hotel or Airport or maybe even Airplane. Stick a bunch of actors together and watch them interact with each other in various subplots and story lines. This film is just a lot more dour than usual for this genre.
Stanley Kramer was the director known in Hollywood for making personal films that dealt with social problems such as racism, prejudice, nuclear war and fascism. He was also the director known for beating the audience over the head in the most unsubtle way possible with his "message movies.
Kramer's films have not aged well, I recently caught a piece of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner and it's theme of racial harmony looked mighty silly. Ship of Fools has a good cast but the relentless hammering of the evil German nation finally does the film in. Casting actors who appeared in Hogan's Heroes probably doesn't help much either. The film also clocks in at a butt busting 2 1/2 hours.
Friday, March 8, 2013
Returning from some war, Francesco has a spiritual crisis and decides to rebuild a monastery and minister to the poor. This is the story of St. Francis of Assisi portrayed as if he was some sort of conscious objector during the Vietnam War.
Directed by Franco Zeffirelli who had been an assistant to Visconti, Rossellini and De Sica, he should have known better. The film lacks the virtues of a saint who took vows of poverty and simplicity amongst other things. An overblown bunch of overproduced slop with lots of scenes of people frolicking in fields of flowers and artistic shots of lepers arranged in front of a water fall for pictorial effect. The cast is made of up young pretty actors who look like they came out of a fashion show rather than a religious order.
There is a very deliberate attempt to portray Francis and his followers as a bunch of hippie freaks, instead they come off as clueless idiots with some sort of strange mental problems. Frequently songs by folk singer Donovan are heard on the soundtrack set to the words of St. Francis. The whole thing seemed to be pitched at an audience of potheads and granola munchers.
Towards the end of the film Alec Guinness shows up in an extended cameo as Pope Obi Wan Kenobi or something to validate the philosophy of St Francis. May the "Force" be with St Francis.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
A Haitian planter falls in love with a woman about to marry another man. The planter hires voodoo master Bela Lugosi to turn her into a zombie so he control her and that's about it for the plot of this film.
Poor acting, poor dialog, an overall sense of a cheap production. Lugosi had a screen presence in film but was never much of an actor. Even with this eye rolling performance he has trouble staying focused since all he has to do is stare at zombies for most of the film.
On the positive side, there is an attempt to create a spooky atmosphere and the director Victor Haperin does try for some interesting photographic effects.
This film is frequently cited as one of the first full length zombie films and is apparently out in a new release that cleans up the picture quality about as well as possible. Still, probably not worth actually purchasing. However nice and short.
Friday, March 1, 2013
A comet touches the earth and scoops up a French outpost and an Arab army along with some dinosaurs, pirates and a pretty girl. This is another charming fantasy adventure from Karel Zeman who combines his animated and live action technique for a unique visual look.
Zeman adapts another Jules Verne story and mixes in some amusing satire of the traditional military mindset with a sweet love story. It doesn't add up to a whole lot but it is fun to watch.
Zeman can't compete technically with the slick Hollywood special effect loaded film, but he doesn't have to. He has more than enough talent and imagination to pull off a film like this.