Monday, 2 February 2015

FEBRUARY 2, 2015

INVITATION TO A GUNFIGHTER (1964) Directed by Richard Wilson. *

Richard Wilson's career is overshadowed by that of his mentor, Orson Welles. Nevertheless, Wilson was responsible for two outstanding films, both in the gangster genre, namely AL CAPONE with Rod Steiger and PAY OR DIE with Ernest Borgnine, His first feature was an interesting Western called MAN WITH A GUN starring Robert Mitchum and it is the themes of that film that Wilson has re-worked for INVITATION TO A GUNFIGHTER. I remember seeing the film at the time of its first release and quite liking it. I recently ordered it on DVD but have to say I was sorely disappointed. Yul Brynner as the creole gunfighter Jules Gaspard D'Estaing is very good as he often was in films unworthy of his talent. The rest of the cast is just awful with the likes of George Segal and Pat Hingle overacting like mad and Janice Rule looking like she'd rather be somewhere else. The film also suffers from some weird lapses of continuity ( a stagecoach carrying Brynner passes Segal as he walks towards town but doesn't actually arrive until the next day) and some very obvious use of stunt doubles in the action scenes. It is all very dull, wordy and a bit pretentious.

Monday, 3 November 2014

NOVEMBER 3, 2014

ARGENTO'S DRACULA (2012) Directed by Dario Argento  **

To be honest, it's not very good, but I don't think it is the total wipeout that some genre fans have claimed.  Argento's reputation has been in free fall for a while with me but this certainly isn't his worst film - I think MOTHER OF TEARS deserves that dubious honour. But it is Argento for the man who made DEEP RED (still my favourite) and SUSPIRIA to have turned in such a routine piece of work is obviously disappointing. Having said that, there are things I liked such as Dracula wiping out the town council, appearing from a swarm of flies and becoming a Praying Mantis (a silly scene but a nice idea). Stylistically it lacks the punch of the early Argento although the setting is quite believable. Performances are a little restrained with Rutger Hauer looking uninterested in his turn as Van Helsing. Thomas Krechtmann's Count Dracula seemed a bit ordinary but I did warm to it as the film progressed. A failure but an interesting one.

Friday, 26 September 2014

SEPTEMBER 26, 2014

MACHINE GUN KELLY (1958) Directed by Roger Corman. ***

I've always had a strong affection for Roger Corman's early efforts and, for me, MACHINE GUN KELLY stands out as one of the best. I first saw it at the National Film Theatre many, many years ago and liked it then. It has a lot going for it. In the first place, unlike many of the other Corman's of the period, there is no element of humour in it - this one is serious business. It is very nicely shot and tightly edited - the opening wordless bank heist and getaway is a mini-masterclass in economy.  The cast is really excellent. Charles Bronson heads the list as the death-haunted Kelly and he is ably backed up by Susan Cabot as his Lady MacBeth moll. His gang consists of Morey Amsterdam, Jack Lambert, Richard Devon and Frank DeKova - all outstanding.  The film may not bear much resemblance to the career of the real George "Machine Gun" Kelly and it is hard to imagine why Corman let slip on Kelly's famous cry of "Don't shoot G-Men" but otherwise this is bargain basement film-making at its best.    

Thursday, 4 September 2014


I've been away on holiday and sadly have not seen much in the way of movies beyond the recent CAPTAIN PHILLIPS starring Tom Hanks which I recommend to anybody who hasn't seen it. I feel I must say something about Richard Attenborough who died while I was away. Since his tearful Oscar speech he has often been viewed as something of a figure of fun or the ultimate "luvvie" which somewhat overshadows his many achievements and his major contributions to British cinema both as an actor and director. For me, the acting was the most important and I have many favourite performances from his sinister Pinkie in BRIGHTON ROCK (above) through such films as SEANCE ON A WET AFTERNOON, LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, 10 RILLINGTON PLACE, THE GREAT ESCAPE and his wonderful performance as an old school Sergeant Major in THE GUNS OF BATASI. There were a few duds along the way such as the misconceived remake of  MIRACLE OF 34th STREET (a film he reportedly loathed) but, to be fair, they were few and far between and often it was Attenborough's performance that one remembered long after the rest of the movie had, thankfully, been erased from your mind...I still love his bit in DR>DOLITTLE.  His films as a director were usually big star-studded extravaganzas from OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR, GANDHI (which many think was his crowning achievement) to CHAPLIN and A BRIDGE TO FAR and for the most part they were passionately felt projects...certainly they are all very watchable. RIP

Friday, 15 August 2014

AUGUST 15, 2014

BOBBY (2006) Directed by Emilio Estevez. ****

BOBBY is Bobby Kennedy and Emilio Estevez's film chronicles the day of his assassination. However the film chooses not to follow Kennedy (who is not dramatically portrayed in the film) but instead to concentrate on the other people who were shot on that day in the hotel kitchen and their reasons for being there. It must be stated that although these people existed the characters who represent them in the film are fictional substitutes - with the possible exception of the young Mexican kitchen hand. Some have complained that it is difficult to be interested in the details of these people's lives while such dramatic historical events are unfolding, but I think they miss the point of the film that Estevez set out to make. Whatever one's feelings about the Kennedys both JFK and Bobby represented to many American's the hopes, dreams and aspirations they had for a better, fairer and more just country. If the JFK Camelot dream was wiped away in Dallas, Bobby offered a second chance - and that is what this film is about - about the people's dreams. I found the film supremely moving in much the same way that Emilio's earlier directorial effort, THE WAY was. Both films are quietly subversive inasmuch as they get under your skin and make you think of things that lay beneath the surface - just as THE WAY was "not about religion" (to quote one of that film's characters) so BOBBY is not about politics, it is about much, much more.  The cast is quite phenomenal : William H. Macy, Anthony Hopkins (who also produced), Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen, Sharon Stone, Harry Belafone, Elijah Wood, Laurence Fishburne, Helen Hunt, Lindsay Lohan, Shia LaBeouf and many others.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

AUGUST 2, 2014

WALK LIKE A DRAGON (1960) Directed by James Clavell. **

What a strange career James Clavell had. It is hard to believe that the director of this interesting little film was also responsible for TO SIR WITH LOVE - although both films show in interest in racial issues. WALK LIKE A DRAGON was the second film to feature the young James Shigeta (who died last week) following Sam Fuller's THE CRIMSON KIMONO which was made the previous year. Both films deal with inter-racial relationships. While KIMONO was probably the braver film for the time inasmuch as the Nissei detective (played by Shigeta) was allowed to get the caucasian girl over his white buddy, it is DRAGON that goes into the subject of prejudice in greater depth. Shigeta plays a young Chinese who goes to the American West in the 1870's and finds himself in a love triangle with a girl freed from slavery and her employer with whom she has fallen in love. Shigeta takes to the gun under the tutelage of a gunfighter (surprisingly played by singer Mel Torme) and the girl (the lovely Nobu McCarthy) has to choose between the two men to avoid bloodshed.  interesting to see Jack Lord, in his pre-HAWAII 5-0 days, as the third side of the triangle. The direction by Clavell is pretty pedestrian but the film deserves praise for its willingness to deal with a controversial subject in an intelligent way.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

JULY 31, 2007

My dear friend, Ian Dean, passed away in Southend Hospital last Friday at the far too young age of fifty-three. Ian was one of my film viewing companions. His passion was anything to do with musicals - a subject about which he knew almost everything there is to know whether it was film or stage. Ian was a larger than life character, an extrovert some days and introvert others - depending on which way the wind was blowing.
A cat lover, a devout Christian, flamboyant, camp, funny, a lover of Shakespeare and the classics. His favourite film of all-time was probably THE WIZARD OF OZ but some days he would swear it was Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS - the latter reflecting his love of silent films. We watched countless films together and although I introduced him to many of those films, Ian was his own man and he was never slow to speak up if he didn't like something - he hated anything set in Outer Space (although he liked earth bound sci-fi) and he absolutely refused to watch anything starring Kevin Costner. There were many films he still wanted to see, both old and new but more than anything he was looking forward to the forthcoming film adaption of Stephen Sondheim's INTO THE WOODS. I shall miss him more than I can say. R.I.P Ian.