Thursday, 28 February 2013

FEBRUARY 28, 2013

045 FLIGHT TO MARS (1951) Directed by Lesley Selander **

Made back in the innocent days when crew members could be in their Sixties and female scientist knew without question that one of their important jobs was to get dinner ready for the men and if you didn't meet monsters on Mars you were sure to meet long legged babes who knew all about silettos and short skirts. It seemed a bit illogical that the Martians had to wear space suits on the planet where they had evolved - but maybe I missed something. Cameron Mitchell plays a reporter who goes on the first Mars mission and falls for the lady scientist when her boyfriend gets the hots for a Martian chick.  I love these 1950's space films for the scientific gobbledgook they talk. If only the real thing had turned out to be a bit like this.

Flight to Mars

FEBRUARY 27, 2013

043 TALES OF HOFFMANN (1951) Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger *****

I have to disagree with Martin Scorsese on this one. While admiring the film he thinks it is flawed, I think it is a masterpiece. Of course it is stylised, it is opera and ballet and it may not be to some people's taste but I thought the whole thing was stunning. Hoffmann's stories are, of course, macabre and I'm sure this must have appealed to Powell's imagination as much as it lent itself to his visual style. The first tale of Coppelius and the automaton Olympia (the beautiful Moira Shearer whose point work - although I am no expert - seems phenomenal to me) is deceptively light until the shocking moment when Olympia has her head ripped off and is torn limb from limb. Yes, in the story, we know it is a doll but it still worked for me as a moment of horror.
The other two tales have Robert Helpmann (who appears in all the stories) as a more satanic figure. My favourite being the second which stars the wondereful Ludmilla Tcherina  as the courtesan Antonia who steals the mirror reflection of Hoffmann for her satanic patron. Ludmilla (below with Helpmann) was one of the great beauties of the ballet world and here she positively oozes a dark sexuality that almost made me think I was watching a  vampire film.  Other Powell regulars such as Frederick Ashton and Pamela Brown (who can convey so much with the roll of her eyes) are on hand. Al so with Leonide Massine, Robert Rounseville and Ann Ayars. Appearing in the last story is the Hungarian actor Meinhart Maur who had made is debut in Fritz Lang's HARAKIRI (1919. Wonderful.

Tales of Hoffmann

Also Viewed :

044  THE FIFTH ELEMENT (1997) Directed by Luc Besson *

Friday, 22 February 2013

FEBRUARY 22, 2013

042 THE TEMPEST (2013) Directed by Julie Taymor ****

I was lucky in that I was not force fed Shakespeare at school and rather came to the bard via the cinema (specifically via Olivier's RICHARD III) and perhaps because of this, understanding to some extent the problems of adapting 16th Century drama for the movies, I have never been a purist -  film and the stage being very different mediums. My favourite Shakespearian films come on all shapes - great versions of Macbeth and King Lear from Akira Kurosawa with a word of the original text (THRONE OF BLOOD and RAN), Ian McKellan's RICHARD III, the Russian film of HAMLET, Olivier's HENRY V (along with his aforementioned RICHARD III), Al Pacino's two efforts and, of course Orson Welles CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT.   Kenneth Branagh did a good job on HENRY V but left me cold with his full text HAMLET.

So where does Julie Taymor's THE TEMPEST stand with me? Well, for my money, it ranks very highly. The idea of having the magician Prospero played by a woman might seem a gimmick but it really works and although Prospera (as the character is now named) requires a new back story it gives the story new and subtle dimensions. Of the cast I cannot write highly enough and although I am often lax in mentioning casts on this blog I feel compelled to list all those living or wrecked on the magic island.  Helen Mirren (Prospera), Felicity Jones (Miranda), Ben Whishaw, Djimon Hounsou (superb as Caliban), Tom Conti, Alan Cumming, Reeve Carney, David Stathaim and Chris Cooper. I will make special mention of Alfred Molina who proved by initial feeling that he was miscast totally wrong and also Russell Brand whose presence has stopped me watching the film till now - Sorry Russ, you were brilliant and very funny.

Filmed on a private island in Hawaii the film looks as good as it sounds and it encourages me to seek out Julie Taymor's TITUS. If you see the film on DVD make sure you watch the hour long "Making of" documentary RAISING THE TEMPEST - it is a masterclass in how to make one of these usually uninspired "bonus features" really enhance the main feature and be almost as interesting.

The Tempest

Thursday, 21 February 2013

FEBRUARY 21, 2013

Viewed :

039 THE SWEENEY (2012) Directed by Nick Love *
040 HULK (2005)  Directed by Ang Lee  **
041  HISTORY OF VIOLENCE (2008) Directed by David Cronenberg  ***

A History  of Violence
* Sorry for lack of postings but I've not been well and have been in and out of hospital. Back to normal soon.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

FEBRUARY 12, 2013

036  BLOOD SIMPLE (1984) Directed by Joel Coen  *****

This debut by the Cohen brothers is a stunner. I thought so back in 1984 and seeing it again now I still think so. A dark noirish thriller of particularly unpleasant goings on deep in the heart of Texas the film grips from beginning to end. It's a masterclass in direction and for me the Coen's, great as their career has been, have never equaled this slow burning thriller. Excellent as Zhang Yimou's remake, A GIRL, A GUN AND A NOODLE SHOP (2009) is it is no match for the original. About as good as it gets.

Blood Simple

Also viewed :

037  FLIGHTPLAN (2005) Directed by Robert Schwentke **

038  DRACULA (1931) Directed by Tod Browning  ****

Saturday, 9 February 2013

FEBRUARY 9, 2013

035 REFLECTION OF MURDER (1974) Directed by John Badham. ****

Some years ago there was a Hollywood remake of Clouzot's LES DIABOLIQUES which, as so often happens, fell flat on its face. The story has been filmed at least three times since the 1955 French classic and there have been several uncredited ripoffs. Hitchcock himself had tried to buy the rights after the success of VERTIGO by the same authors. When it turned up as an ABC movie-of-the-week directed by John Badham (before he hit the big time with SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER) the portents were not particularly good.  However, Badham does a  fine job and is content to let the story speak for itself without trying to add to it - which was fatal to the later big screen remake. Where the film scores heavily is that it has the services of two terrific actresses - Joan Hackett and Tuesday Weld. Sam Waterston is effectively unpleasant. Television it may be but it is excellent.

Reflection of Murder

Friday, 8 February 2013

FEBRUARY 8, 2013

 035 SANSHIRO SUGATA/Judo Saga (1943/1947) Directed by Akira Kurosawa ****

The great Kurosawa's first film tells the story of a young judo student and his rise to fame in the world of Japanese martial arts. He falls in love and is unfortunately ( unintentionally) responsible for the death of the father (played by the great Takashi Shimura) of the woman he loves. In part two he is established as a master of Judo  disturbed by the western influences he feel are bringing bad influences to his discipline. He looks deep into his own spirituality but is forced to face an old rival from the past and a new threat from a couple of crazy karate fighting brothers. The film has deteriorated badly and the picture quality is sometimes poor but there is lots to be enjoyed and admired here. Although Kurosawa's direction often seems unsure the film is a clear indication of the greatness to come in later years and it is an ambitious debut. Although the film has a leaning towards the philosophical it quite often resembles in its storyline many of the late Hong Kong martial arts films that feature the rivalry between opposing schools and fighting style. It is an obvious must see for anybody interested in Kurosawa.

Sanshiro Sugata

036  KING KONG LIVES ! (1986) Directed by John Guillermin  **

When you are in a hole you should stop digging. After the derision rightly poured on the earlier film you wonder why they went for this silly sequel. But, I suppose, the earlier film must have made a profit. This film is at least bad funny rather than just bad and Linda Hamilton bares her boobs for about two frames (so does Queen Kong) - I must admit to being partial to Miss H (nice hair) so despite the acting and the script and the really silly one dimensional characterisations (particularly of the military) I didn't feel that buying the DVD in the HMV desperation sale was unjustified. Actually I also bought the earlier film to complete my KING KONG collection...I have no shame.

King Kong Lives!

FEBRUARY 7, 2013

033 THE BIG LEAGUER  (1953) Directed by Robert Aldrich. **
034 WORLD FOR RANSOM (1954) Directed by Robert Aldrich *

It is fascinating to see the first efforts of favourite directors and it has taken me a long time to catch up with these - the first two movies directed by the admirable Robert Aldrich. Both are fascinating for very different reasons. THE BIG LEAGUER, his first film as a director after a distinguished career as an assistant to many famous directors, is a real oddity. It looks like a promotional film for the New York Giants baseball team and is set in their boot camp where the potential of young college players are tried out. Edward G. Robinson is the tough old coach who has to lick the 18 year olds into shape and give them a team spirit. The kids are a mixed bunch of comedians, rebels and loners. What is fascinating about the film is that is is almost a precursor to Aldrich's latter mammoth hit THE DIRTY DOZEN (sans the violence of course) with Robinson in the role taken in the later film by Lee Marvin. The "kids" include Richard Jaeckel (who was later in THE DIRTY DOZEN) and William Campbell (who was in Corman's DOZEN inspired SECRET INVASION).
The film is nicely done and very watchable in a cliched, easy going way, even if you know nothing about baseball.

Less entertaining but more of a curiousity is WORLD FOR RANSOM. Dan Duryea plays an ex-pat American living in post-war Singapore who gets mixed up in the kidnapping of a nuclear scientist. As well as Duryea the cast includes such former luminaries as Patrick Knowles, Douglas Dumbrille, Reginald Denny and Nigel Bruce and if you look closely you might spot English actor Patrick Allen in a small role as an army wireless operator. I can't think of any film where I've seen a cast looking so totally bored with the roles they are playing with Duryea, Dumbrille and Denny looking like they'd rather be somewhere else. The script and dialogue are dire and the photography is poor. Aldrich's direction strives for a film noirish atmosphere and their are some nice compositions although the film has too much stacked against it to make it memorable.

World for Ransom

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

FEBRUARY 5, 2013

031 THE TERROR (1938) Directed by Richard Bird *

A truly creaky old adaption of Edgar Wallace's old dark house mystery with phantom organ playing, spectral monks, master criminals and, if you like English character actors, a cast to relish. To be brutal it is only the cast that makes this terribly dated film of interest - there's Bernard Lee, Alastair Sim, Henry Oscar, Wilfred Lawson, Richard Murdoch, Irene Handl and Kathleen Harrison amongst others.

032 LA MASCHERA DEL DEMONIO/Mask of the Demon/Black Sunday/Revenge of the Vampire (1960) Directed by Mario Bava. ****

A welcome release on Blu-ray of Bava's classic directorial debut. A three disk set that includes both the original European version with a choice of English or Italian dialogue (with subtitles) with the original score and the American dubbed BLACK SUNDAY with the Les Baxter score. Disc 2 is the same but on DVD. Disc 3 contains Riccardo Freda's I VAMPIRI on DVD. Some really nice extras include an interview with Barbara Steele and a 50 minute Mario Bava trailer reel. The set comes with a nice booklet that includes material by Bava biographer Tim Lucas and Stephen Jones amongst others, another interview with Barbara Steele in which she talks about Bava, Freda and Margheriti etc and Riccardo Freda's memoirs of working with his friend Bava.  While unsure whether whether the transfer is better that a DVD release this  set is a nice replacement for my from tv recordings of both the Bava and the Freda films.

La Maschera del Demonio

Also Viewed :

032 A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964) Sergio Leone ****

A Fistful of Dollars

Saturday, 2 February 2013

FEBRUARY 1, 2013

026 THE MAN WHO CHANGED HIS MIND (1936) Directed by Robert Stevenson ***

Also known as THE MAN WHO LIVED TWICE and directed by Robert Stevenson (who later became an in-house director for the Walt Disney studios) this mad doctor movie occupies the middle position in terms of quality between THE GHOUL and JUGGERNAUT among Boris Karloff's 1930's English films. It holds up very well today thanks to Karloff's excellent performance and likeable support from Anna Lee and John Loder. Donald Calthorpe contributes another of his very believable portraits of a truly unpleasant man and Karloff seems to work well with a chimpanzee. Stevenson's direction is above average for this kind of fare.

The Man Who Changed His Mind

027 ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (1957) Directed by Roger Corman *

This Corman film is one of the few that has eluded me over the years so it is nice to finally catch up with it.
While it is certainly no masterpiece it remains watchable - if, of course, you are tuned into this kind of no budget extravaganza. The plot is quite delirious with a group of scientists investigating the disappearance of some colleagues on a deserted island encounter giant crabs (radiation, of course) who not only "absorb"
luckless humans and in one bizarre case actually talks with its victim's French accent. Russell Johnson is the hero who saves us all from the threat.

028 SECRET INVASION (1964) Directed by Roger Corman **

One of the films made during the Roger Corman European jaunt which resulted in such films as ATLAS and Coppola's DEMENTIA 13, this is a cut-price DIRTY DOZEN with Stewart Granger leading his dirty five on a secret mission in the Balkans prior to the Allied invasion of Italy. The cast is surprisingly good with Ed Byrnes, Raf Vallone, William Campbell and Henry Silva doing good work. The only letdown is Mickey Rooney who overacts madly as a continually wisecracking IRA man. The film received some good reviews when first released despite a complete disregard of period detail (suits and haircuts are pure 1960's) and, indeed, there are some striking ideas and effective sequences

Secret Invasion

Also Viewed :

029 HANNIBAL RISING (2007)  Directed by Peter Webber  ***

030 THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991)  Directed by Jonathan Demme ****