Wednesday, 10 July 2013

JULY 10, 2013

117 ICHIBAN UTSUKUSHIKU / The Most Beautiful (1944) Directed by Akira Kurosawa **
118 TORA NO O WO FUMU OTOKOTACHI  / Men Who Step on the Tiger's Tail (1945) Directed by Akira Kurosawa.

The Most Beautiful
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL is minor Kurosawa. Made in 1944 at the behest of the Japanese wartime government, it is a propaganda piece urging female workers to fulfill their work quotas as part of their patriotic duty. The film is set in a factory that makes lenses for military equipment and shows the girls happily trying to meet requirements despite personal problems and accidents. Interest today is, for me, limited to the fact that it is an early example of Kurosawa's work and for me he is one of the five greatest film directors of all time. The flag-waving is kept to a minimum and Kurosawa tries hard to make the girls come to life as individuals. The director has expressed a personal fondness for the movie, understandably as he met his future wife (who plays the matron of the girl's dormitory) on the production.

Men Who Step on the Tiger's Tail
THE MEN WHO STEP ON THE TIGER'S TAIL, made the following year, is  more what we expect from the Kurosawa of the later samurai films. Despite a running time of less than an hour and the fact that the whole story is filmed on a Toho Studio sound stage (complete with painted mountains and sky backdrps) and resembles a televison play rather than a cinema film, the film is compulsive viewing. Set during the Shogunate, a written prologue tells us that the Shogun's brother and six of this retainers are trying to escape to northern Japan to escape assassination. To pass a military blockade they disguise themselves as wandering priests and porters. Although we see neither the beginning of the story or the end the film is suspenseful and gripping. The final scene is, and has been, open to all kinds of interpretation, although I feel that the simplest and least complicated one is probably the right one - sometimes the obvious is the right answer.  As with THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, Kurosawa stalwart Takashi Shimura has a supporting role.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

JUNE 22, 2013

116 THE HALFWAY HOUSE (1944) Directed by Basil Dearden **

I find Basil Dearden's career quite fascinating. He was born not far from where I sit writing this and over the years he has consistently made interesting and thoughtful British films. Never showy and, maybe for some (not for me) a bit on the dull side but he was a good story-teller. There were, a few clinkers along the way but more credits than debits overall.  THE HALFWAY HOUSE is not one of this best but despite that it is consistently entertaining and must be seen in its historical perspective. A group of people converge on a Welsh inn - all have problems or important decisions to make in their lives. It soon becomes apparent that their is something mysterious about the innkeeper and his pretty daughter and that time has gone back a year. Being from Ealing Studios it is tempting to see the film as a companion to the same studios DEAD OF NIGHT (to which Dearden also contributed) without that film's more sinister aspects.  The original play on which it is based (unlike the film) reportedly makes no mention of the war and therein is the problem. The films, seen today, is very much a propaganda piece with mentions of supposed cowardice, war profiteering and, rather specifically, Irish neutrality and as a result comes across as rather preachy. Having said that it is very watchable and, interestingly, it seems to have been inspired by a real incident that has never been fully explained (see IMDb). It is good to see Mervyn Johns and real life daughter paired together and  to see the cute Sally Ann Howes long before her signature role in CHITTY CHITTY BANG BANG. Worth a look.

The Halfway House

Friday, 21 June 2013

JUNE 21, 2013

Sorry for inactivity but I'm working my way through five seasons of THE WIRE...and yes, it really is one of the best TV shows of all time. Great characters, awesome cast, outstanding scripts. *****

Friday, 7 June 2013

JUNE 7, 2013

113 REPTILICUS (1961) Directed by Sidney Pink *

A Danish monster movie that has little to recommend it beyond curiousity value, a certain grainy charm in the monster scenes and a nice poster. For the rest the direction is non-existent, the script risible, the acting laughable and the special effects pathetic...and you get a travelogue of Copenhagen.
A fan on IMDb mounts a spirited defense of the film and its writer Ib Melchoir.

Also Viewed :

114 THE RAINMAKER (1997) Directed by Francis Coppola ***
115 FRANKENWEENIE (2013) Directed by Tim Burton ***

Thursday, 6 June 2013

JUNE 5, 2013

109 INVADERS FROM MARS (1986) Directed by Tobe Hooper *

I alway thought Tobe Hooper was a pretty crap director and this remake of William Cameron Menzies' 1953 film certainly didn't change my opinion. In fact just about everything about this film is bad from the acting, the script, the dialogue, the not-so-special special effects. But, to be fair,  the question as to whether the badness is intentional must be asked. I admit I don't know the answer. What finally dooms the film is that it really can't decide what it wants to be. It seems to start as a straight remake of the 1953 films but subsequently shows signs of being a serious sci-fi film, then a parody/comedy. It retains the "It's all a dream but its beginning again" ending of the first film but plays it more like the over familiar twist in the tail ending of so many 70's and 80's horror movies.The original film of 1953 retains a naive charm and a certain menace even today thanks to Menzies' off-kilter child's eye view perspectives and being content to keep to it rather than flounder all over the place.

Invaders from Mars
 Also Viewed :

110  BENEATH HILL 60 (2007) Directed by John Sims  ***
111  THEY FOUGHT FOR THE MOTHERLAND (1967) Directed by Sergei Bondarchuk ***
112  TOY STORY 3 (2009) Directed by Lee Unkrich ****

Friday, 31 May 2013

JUNE 1, 2013

008 RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK (1966) Directed by Don Sharp **

Hammer films, rather like the old Universal Horrors are rather like film comfort food but I have to say that revisiting this film rather gave me indigestion. I was torn between relishing the familiar sets and character actors but just irritated by the script. I am aware that I'm being unfair inasmuch that Hammer on its limited budgets was never in my wildest dreams ever going do Grigori Rasputin anything approaching justice and they certainly never intended to - the were making a B-horror movie plain and simple. Made as a quad of films in 1966 which recycled sets and actors, RASPUTIN THE MAD MONK was filmed back to back with the superior DRACULA-PRINCE OF DARKNESS while THE REPTILE was the flipside of PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES. The story of the Russian monk who exercised so much influence over the last of the Romanoff Czars has been filmed many times - I first encountered it in an Italian film called NIGHTS OF RASPUTIN and later in NICHOLAS AND ALEXANDRA (with Tom Baker) and RASPUTIN (with Alan Rickman) although I've never managed to catch up with the 1930's Hollywood version with the three Barrymore siblings (Ethel Barrymore reputedly quipped "I thought I was rather good but I don't know what those boys were up to!"). But back to the Hammer effort. There is no serious attempt a historical accuracy in the script or the setting and Czar Nicholas is noticeably absent and, surprisingly, the murder scene is rather less dramatic and horrific than its historical counterpart. Don Sharp's direction is adequate given what he has to work with with only the scene where a would be assassin stalks the monk in the dark really being memorable. Acting is so-so with a competent cast which includes Francis Mathews, Barbara Shelley, Susan Farmer, Dinsdale Landen  and Richard Pascoe. Lee is good (most of the time) but really doesn't look much like Rasputin. Sadly, finally, it doesn't work as history or horror.

Rasputin the Mad Monk

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

MAY 28, 2013

107 TONI (1934) Directed by Jean Renoir ****

I honestly thought I'd seen this back in the 60's but could remember little about it. Turns out I had not seen it which was a nice surprise as a Renoir film that is new to me is always welcome as he is one of the greatest of all directors in my estimation.  TONI is generally regarded as his first great film and a precursor of the Italian neo-realist movement. Toni is an Italian immigrant worker who comes to work in the south of France and begins an affair with his landlady. He becomes obsessed with a Spanish neighbour and this eventually leads to tragedy for everybody. The film is unflinching in its depiction of the day to day lives of the immigrants although this is never over emphasised and is in the detail - the food, poor quality clothes and even the camaraderie of strangers in a strange land. The film, technically, has rough edges (Renoir himself considered it a primitive work) and despite the restoration still has rough edges. It's power is undeniable.