Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Overlong, overstuffed, and unfocused, BATMAN V SUPERMAN: THE DAWN OF JUSTICE is, in the end, a frustrating film. Frustrating because it has moments--few of them though they may be--where it comes achingly close to accurately portraying the DC Universe I know and love.
What really hurts BVS is that it is a sequel to MAN OF STEEL, a movie that has plenty of problems of its own. I didn't like the way that Henry Cavill's Superman was established in MAN OF STEEL, and he's not much better in BVS--he comes off as cold and confused. Ben Affleck's Batman gets the showier story arc--he's mean, surly, and determined, and he also appears to have forgotten how to shave (or maybe Alfred didn't pick up a new can of Barbasol?).
Seriously, Affleck as Batman wasn't the train wreck I thought it was going to be. I'll even go so far as to say he's more impressive in the role than Christian Bale ever was (which isn't all that much of a compliment if you know how I feel about the Batman theatrical films). The seething anger that Batman carries toward Superman throughout this story winds up being thrown away in one of the most disappointing endings to a fight scene that I've ever experienced in a movie theater--and since that fight scene is supposed to be the main purpose of this film, it can't help but leave you disappointed.
What's even more disappointing is the portrayal of main villain Lex Luthor. Whoever thought that rebooting Lex into a snarky, ADD afflicted millennial was a good idea....well, that person shouldn't be allowed to work on any more DC movie adaptations. Jesse Eisenberg gives one of the most annoying performances this side of Jonah Hill and Seth Rogen. As for the other villain, Doomsday.... he reminded me too much of a cave troll from THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
BVS suffers from way too many subplots and detours--you could have made about five different movies from all the material here. If the movie had been learner and tighter--and if it had been directed by someone other than Zach Snyder--it could have worked a lot more effectively. BVS also could have used a different cinematographer--this is one of the darkest & murkiest films I have seen in a while. There were more than a few shots where I could barely make out what was going on.
Now that I've done all my usual superhero movie whining & moaning, what were those moments I was referring to? Gal Gadot does very well despite very little screen time as Wonder Woman. (This makes me wonder though--is she impressive because we don't see all that much of her? In other words--when she's starring in her own film, and the character is on the screen constantly, how will audiences react?) The actual Batman/Superman battle is quite good, even though both heroes (and the moviegoers) get the rug pulled out from under of them. The money shot of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman all lined up and preparing to fight Doomsday even made me smile--you've got to admit that's a prime geek moment, seeing three of DC's greatest superheroes all together in a live-action theatrical feature.
But in the end it's still not my vision of the DC Universe. It's a first, tentative step....but BVS had the deck stacked against it from the beginning due to Warner's bass ackwards plan of making an AVENGERS-style entry first instead of taking the time to establish the important individual characters of the Justice League. BVS isn't as ungodly horrible as some have made it out to be--but it's still not the DC Comics movie that we deserve.
Saturday, March 26, 2016
I really don't write a lot of tribute posts when someone connected with the cinema dies, for the simple reason that it seems every single day a number of people prominent in filmed entertainment pass away. If I wrote tribute posts to all of them this blog would be nothing more than an obituary. I do feel that I must write something on the passing of actress Adrienne Corri, since I own on home video most of the movies she appeared in.
Born in Scotland to Italian parents in 1931, Corri was a exotic redhead with a fine figure (see how she filled out one of the bizarre costumes of MOON ZERO TWO in the picture below) who, despite her looks, wound up being destined to play several unconventional character roles in many horror/fantasy/science-fiction movies. Her many impressive genre credits include:
DEVIL GIRL FROM MARS (with Hazel Court)
CORRIDORS OF BLOOD (with Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee)
THE TELL-TALE HEART
THE HELLFIRE CLUB (with Peter Cushing)
A STUDY IN TERROR
THE VIKING QUEEN, MOON ZERO TWO, and VAMPIRE CIRCUS (all three for Hammer Films)
MADHOUSE (with Vincent Price and Peter Cushing)
Corri's most famous (and most infamous) genre role was in Stanley Kubrick's A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, where she played Mrs. Alexander, the woman unfortunately destined to be assaulted and murdered in one of the most unsettling sequences in cinema history. Other actresses had turned the role down when they found out what would have been required of them, but Corri, who was just as unconventional as some of her characters, had no problem accepting it (although later she wasn't too thrilled with some of Kubrick's working methods).
Corri also played Lara's mother in DOCTOR ZHIVAGO and she even starred in the classic DOCTOR WHO television series.
Corri had a long and distinguished career on the British stage, but, like several of her acting contemporaries, she will be remembered for her genre roles. Corri once did an interview for SCARLET STREET magazine in which she seemed to look back on her fantastic films credits with good humor. On the big screen Corri was more of a character actress than a leading lady, but she always gave her unusual parts a certain something which made them stick in the memory of the viewer. Adrienne Corri had a unique and distinct screen presence, and that is something certainly lacking in the movies today, especially those belonging to the field of the fantastic. She played a major part in the genre referred to now as "English Gothic".
Adrienne Corri in MOON ZERO TWO
Tuesday, March 22, 2016
I was very excited when I first heard that Kino was going to release THE VIKINGS (1958) on Blu-ray through their Studio Classics line. I hadn't seen THE VIKINGS in a while--for some reason this movie is rarely shown on television--and seeing it in HD widescreen was a treat.
THE VIKINGS is pure rip-roaring old-fashioned action adventure, featuring stunning actual locations, magnificent production design, and a legendary big-name cast. There's the overused phrase, "They don't make 'em like this anymore". In the case of THE VIKINGS, however, that phrase fits....because if someone did try to remake this movie, it would be a half-hour longer, it would have a desaturated color scheme, it would showcase lesser performers and greater violence, and it would be nowhere near as entertaining or memorable.
Star Kirk Douglas produced the film as well, and he went all out to make it a lasting cinematic spectacle. Much of the picture was filmed in Norway, and authentic replica Viking ships were built. According to an interview with director Richard Fleischer (which is included as an extra on this Blu-ray), the cast & crew went to great pains to make THE VIKINGS the most accurate movie ever made on the subject. I don't know how many Norsemen looked like Kirk Douglas or Tony Curtis, and I doubt that any women in the Middle Ages were as sublimely fetching as Janet Leigh, but this film gives you the impression of an ancient and faraway place and time. One of the major things I love about watching movies is that they have the ability to transport you to places you could never see or experience on your own. THE VIKINGS certainly does that.
The movie doesn't sugarcoat the Viking way of life--it begins with a raid that includes murder and rape--but it doesn't rub your face in it either. The characters in this story may be a bit over the top, but.....what do you expect from this type of tale? When you have Ernest Borgnine as a Viking chieftain, do you want subtle underplaying from him? (I sure don't.) We get to see not just Viking raids, but a Viking attack on an English castle, and a knock-down drag-out sword duel between Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis. (By the way, the relationship the characters of Douglas and Curtis have with each other in this film is kind of the flip side of the actors' roles in SPARTACUS.)
When it comes to intense acting, Leonardo DiCaprio has nothing on Kirk Douglas. Douglas shined brightly during the decade of the Fifties--it's amazing how many great movies he appeared in and how many great performances he gave in this time period. Since Douglas was the film's producer as well, he certainly had a major reason to give it his all--but even with that one has to acknowledge how powerfully impressive he is. For most of the movie Douglas' character is facially disfigured--how many other leading men would allow that to happen to them? Check out the scene where Douglas performs "The running of the oars"--he volunteered to do that, and if he had been injured, the production would have been in big trouble. But...he did it and he pulled it off, and it serves as proof that Kirk Douglas was a true major Hollywood Movie Star.
What stands out on this Blu-ray more than anything else is the sumptuous color cinematography by Jack Cardiff. Presented in 2.35:1 HD widescreen, Cardiff's work is at times jaw-dropping, with many "pause the disc and look at that" shot set-ups. Unlike the big-budget movies of today, the color is embraced, and used to enhance the look of the story.
Richard Fleischer doesn't get a lot of positive critical attention for his directorial career, but he should. Fleischer may not have had a certain "style", and he may not be known for a particular genre, but his credit list is filled with standout titles (go on IMDB and check for yourself). Fleischer wasn't a certain type of director....he was a great director, period, and THE VIKINGS is an example of that. The main extra on this Blu-ray, from 2002, has Fleischer discussing the making of the film, while various behind-the-scenes photos from the production are shown. It's a fascinating talk, and one wishes it had been longer.
I absolutely loved this Blu-ray of THE VIKINGS. This is the type of feature that could easily wind up being campy or corny--but when it is done right, with high-end talent on both sides of the camera, the result is a prime entertainment experience. Thanks to Kino for giving this film the proper presentation that it deserves.
Saturday, March 19, 2016
A few days ago I purchased the latest issue of the Official John Wayne Magazine. This issue is notable because it attempts to rank every single one of the Duke's films, in order of excellence. John Wayne has one of the largest film credits list of any major Hollywood star, so this ranking is a major task. No author (or authors) is credited with actually doing the ranking, but the magazine does say, and I quote, that "Rankings are based on a formula taking into account each film's critical reviews, box office performance, awards won, fan response and cultural import." Of course an endeavor such as this is going to serve as grist for my blogging mill.
First of all....what exactly is the definition of a John Wayne movie? There are several films that Wayne appeared in where he didn't have a major role. To me, a "John Wayne movie" is a movie where Wayne plays the leading role, or at least one of the major roles in the picture. This list ranks THE LONGEST DAY as the 8th greatest John Wayne movie. Now, I'm a big fan of THE LONGEST DAY--I happen to think it is one of the greatest WWII movies ever made. But I honestly don't consider it a "John Wayne movie". He's in it, obviously....but he's really more of a guest star. The real star of THE LONGEST DAY is the Normandy Invasion.
There's something else to consider here. Should a ranking like this be based on the greatness of the films that the Duke appeared in--or should it be based on the greatness of Wayne's performance in each of those films? I would suspect that a top ten list of great John Wayne films would be a bit different than a top ten list of great John Wayne performances.
The list goes from #169 to #1. The first twenty or so films at the bottom of the list deal with Wayne's appearances as an extra or bit player at the beginning of his career. The worst major John Wayne film, according to the list, is the infamous THE CONQUEROR, at #143. This is the movie where the Duke plays Genghis Khan. (I swear that one of these days I'm going to write a blog post on THE CONQUEROR--I have it on DVD, and I don't think it's as horrible as most believe.) Most of the entries from about 130 to about around 80 contain the many B Westerns Wayne made during the 1930s. (What I want to know is--did someone actually watch all of these and try to decide which ones were better than the others?)
As the list gets into the 60s and 50s, I start to have some issues with it. THE BIG TRAIL is listed at #60--I believe that due to the fact that it was Wayne's first major role, it should be higher. THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER is slotted at #58--that one should be way higher. EL DORADO is at #33, which might surprise Wayne fans. OPERATION PACIFIC is at #32--that one is rated way too high. TALL IN THE SADDLE is rated #23--does anyone else really agree that is one of the top 25 John Wayne movies?
Two other movies I think are ranked too highly are MCLINTOCK! at #16 and THE HORSE SOLDIERS at #12. This brings us to the top ten, which according to this list is:
1. RIO BRAVO
2. THE QUIET MAN
5. THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE
6. RED RIVER
7. THE SHOOTIST
8. THE LONGEST DAY
9. THE ALAMO
10. SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON
That's an acceptable top ten, even though I've already discussed why I wouldn't put THE LONGEST DAY on there. My biggest complaint is not having THE SEARCHERS at No. 1. I'm surprised that THE ALAMO is in the top ten. Do I have a personal top ten John Wayne movies list? Why, I'm glad you asked....
1. THE SEARCHERS
2. RIO BRAVO
3. SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON
4. THE QUIET MAN
6. RED RIVER
7. THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE
8. TRUE GRIT
9. THE COWBOYS
10. THE SHOOTIST
I have to point out that this magazine is written more for a general audience than for hardcore movie buffs. Most of the movies get just a paragraph-long description, if that. There's no in-depth analysis of each film....this is for John Wayne fans, not film geeks. The issue does feature a lot of fine stills, and it is a nice simple one-stop guide to the Duke's cinema career. Maybe in the future the magazine will focus on one individual film, such as an all-THE SEARCHERS issue. I think this magazine is worth picking up, and it will certainly start some discussions among any of your friends who happen to be John Wayne fans.
Friday, March 18, 2016
The first Hitless Wonder Movie Podcast was so popular that--no one on the internet made any comments about it. The second one featuring Paul Lyzun and your humble blog writer clocks in at a mind-numbing 90 minutes, and despite its length, we still never got to talk about most of the stuff we planned to talk about. Anyway, here's the link--and don't say I didn't warn you.
Thursday, March 10, 2016
When it comes to Kaiju (giant monster) cinema, I own most of the Godzilla and Gamera movies on home video. I also have British Kaiju movies, American Kaiju movies....I even have a Danish Kaiju movie (the notorious REPTILICUS). Kino Studio Classics has now released on Blu-ray a South Korean Kaiju movie--YONGARY, MONSTER FROM THE DEEP.
YONGARY (pronounced "Yawn-Gahr-EE") was made in 1967, and picked up by American-International Pictures for TV distribution in the United States. According to the audio commentary on this Blu-ray, the AIP TV cut is the only complete version of YONGARY that now exists. This movie has had a long history on public domain home video, so it's safe to say that this widescreen Region A Blu-ray is going to be the best version of it available. Unfortunately, there's not much anyone can do for the production quality of the actual film itself.
YONGARY is obviously an attempt to cash in on the Asian Kaiju craze of the mid-1960s. All the typical elements one expects from a Kaiju film are here--we see high-ranking military & political figures sitting around a table, worriedly discussing how to destroy the monster; one of the main male leads has a perky, cute girlfriend; and the real human star of the movie is an annoying kid who seems to be able to get within talking distance of the monster when an entire army is powerless against it.
As for Yongary himself, he's a bit goofy looking--he resembles a poor cousin of Godzilla who happens to have a tusk sticking out of the top of his mouth. Yongary also has the ability to breathe fire--but when he does, the nozzle inside his mouth that provides the flame is rather noticeable.
Yongary does the usual stomping around, knocking over buildings and such....but the performer inside the suit merely stumbles about as if he were a drunken fan at the end of a baseball game. (Speaking of baseball, it's a safe bet the person inside the mascot of your local minor league team could have done a better job inside the Yongary suit.) This movie is only 80 minutes long, but it feels longer because everything is presented with a languid, by the numbers style. There's very little here to make the film memorable, except for maybe the monster busting into a giant oil tank and drinking from it. (There's also a scene where Yongary appears to be dancing...and the little kid is so tickled by this he immediately starts to dance along with him.)
I guess at this point in the history of South Korean film production, YONGARY was considered a major effort....so maybe I shouldn't be too hard on it. But those out there who are not film geeks will look at this as just another dumb monster movie....and I bet more than a few real movie geeks will come to the same conclusion. If you are familiar with the Kaiju genre, you've seen everything in this movie before in one form or another, and you've seen it presented better.
The audio commentary on this Blu-ray features Kaiju expert Steve Ryfle and Korean film historian Kim Sung-ho. The commentary is in some ways more interesting than the movie, as the pair discuss the production history of the film, and the state of the Korean film industry at the time. The duo point out the irony of the fact that a number of Japanese FX technicians were imported to work on YONGARY--at the time, the South Korean government was trying to prevent citizens from having any access to Japanese entertainment.
For those who might have watched YONGARY as kids, this Blu-ray might be fun nostalgia....but this is a very mediocre Kaiju effort. Even the worst Gamera movies have more entertainment value than this due to their weirdness alone. About the only people who should buy this are those who enjoy wasting their money collecting old monster movies on home video (in other words, people like me).
Monday, March 7, 2016
On Friday, March 4, I had the pleasure of attending a screening of the 1928 silent comedy SPEEDY, featuring Harold Lloyd. SPEEDY was Lloyd's last silent film, and while it is not as well known as other Lloyd classics such as SAFETY LAST or THE FRESHMAN, it remains one of the best comedies from that period.
The screening was held at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra provided the music. I've seen silent films with organ accompaniment, and I've seen silent films with piano accompaniment, but I've never seen a silent with live music from a 34-piece orchestra. The effect was tremendous, especially since the ICO was playing the Carl Davis score specifically written for SPEEDY. The orchestra also provided various sound effects during the running of the film.
Playing a live musical score for a silent picture has to be a major challenge--the score must be perfectly timed to what is happening on the screen. Any lull or change in tempo will be picked up immediately by the audience. The ICO did a fantastic job--the combination of music and picture was seamless.
What also made the evening even more special was the fact that the large number of attendees enjoyed the film immensely, and laughed loudly at its many gags. SPEEDY provides a lot of entertainment, with such sequences as Harold (attempting to be a taxi driver) frantically driving Babe Ruth to Yankee Stadium, and Harold taking his girlfriend out to the actual Coney Island. The final sequence, which involves Harold trying to save the last horse-drawn trolley in New York City, is as thrilling and as tightly edited as any recent movie being shown on screens today.
Seeing any silent movie on a big screen, with a large audience, is a treat in itself....but seeing a great film like SPEEDY, starring one of the true legends of film comedy, with a live orchestra, is something that every true film buff should experience if they get the chance.