Why do women insist on loving men for what they want them to be instead of what they are?
The Sea of Grass is directed by Elia Kazan and written by Conrad Richter, Marguerite Roberts and Vincent Lawrence. It stars Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Robert Walker, Melvyn Douglas, Phyllis Thaxter, Edgar Buchanan and Harry Carey. Music is by Herbert Stothart and cinematography by Harry Stradling.
We are on the America's frontier and St. Louis woman Lutie Cameron (Hepburn) marries New Mexico cattleman Col. James B. 'Jim' Brewton (Tracy). Brewton is seen as a tyrant by the locals and Lutie quickly comes to realise that nothing will stop her husband from driving his plans forward.
For serious Western fans it straight off looks odd seeing the pairing of Tracy and Hepburn in this setting of farmer/rancher feuding, and the pic never quite breaks away from the initial reaction of things being off kilter. In spite of the undoubted quality of the lead actors, this just becomes a raging soap opera. It's never once convincing, the studio bound theatrics becoming an eyesore, and as the run time inexplicably crawls drearily to two hours in length, there's not even any action to perk up proceedings.
This was a rare blip in the filmic career of Kazan, who gives us all a warning when we find that he disowned the film, even saying he was ashamed of it. That's pretty damning evidence that serves notice on why this should be avoided by anyone other than Kazan, Hepburn and Tracy completists. One tends to think that the plot trajectory of Lutie embarrassed him, for without doubt it's offensive to womanhood, the finale only confirming this in a whirl of smugness not becoming the stars and director. It's a nicely enough produced production, with Stradling's smooth photography sparkling due to HD screenings via TCM, but as the script struggles to enact vibrancy, so shall you struggle to stay awake. 4/10
Jerry's the salt of the earth, but he's not the right seasoning for you.
Clash by Night is directed by Fritz Lang and adapted to screenplay by Alfred Hayes from the play written by Clifford Odets. It stars Barbara Stanwyck, Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan and Marilyn Monroe. Music is by Roy Webb and cinematography by Nicholas Musuraca.
Tis a tale of stilted raw passions, frustrations and wrong decisions that unfurl in a California seacoast fishing town. Essentialy it finds Stanwyck as Mae Doyle who returns to her home town fishing village of Menterey, Calif. She's bitter and unfullfilled and marries the amiable but not very bright Jerry D'Amato (Douglas) in spite of both their better judgements. With her being inexplicably drawn to Jery's woman hating friend, Earl (Ryan), and her brother Joe (Andes) fretting that his sister Peggy (Monroe) will be corrupted by Mae's bitterness, it's a hotbed of character fallibilities.
To my mind It's all very stagy and a little too overwrought, and frustrating given that the themes within the play looked to be perfect for the great Fritz Lang. Not that it's either a stinker or a critical bomb (like the play itself), it isn't, it's just too soap opera to fully ignite the thematics at the core of the story. On the flip side, aside from Douglas' awful histrionic laden peformance, the acting is top notch. You may not care about these characters but you can't be anything but very involved and hang on to see what will happen to them all. Dialogue is a plus point, resplendent with barbs and choiceisms, while although the also great Musuraca is not in is chirascuro element, there's enough atmospheric photography - particularly when story plays out at the docks setting - to catch the eyes with mood compliance. Unfortunately the unconvicing sets are matched by the wholly unconvincing and disappointing finale.
Just above average and lower tier fare on the CV's of Lang, Ryan and Stanwyck, it does however serve notice of what promise Monroe had. If only she could have been led the right way by genuine people. See this if only for Monroe's sprightly turn. 6/10
No, you're dead wrong. He was the terror, the mystery of their lives, and the magic.
1976. I had already been spellbound and terrified by Jaws the year previously, I mean I was only 10 years old. Having been introduced by my film loving parents to the original King Kong from 1933, as soon as this update - in colour - was released, I stood in that queue for two hours to see it. I was spellbound once again, absolutely loved it, telling everyone in school or on the playing fields how great the experience was. Those things never leave you, it's love of cinema with youthful eyes, and none of us should ever decry those moments as being ignorance.
Much later in life, watching this reworking of the Kong story becomes a battle to not extinguish those youthful fires. For now you can see just how poor the effects are, in fact just how much of a cheat (through research) that uber producer Dino De Laurentiis was as he put this onto the screen. Conversely, though, you can now see just how adult much of it was. The pic is full of sexual connotations and imagery. I mean look at Jessica Lange's first scene, she is introduced in a wet dress with erectus nippleus in full effect. I didn't remember that as a 10 year old boy...
There's some smart era concerns in the narrative, fuels, discrimination etc, and for sure the array of characters on show are 1970s intelligent. Hell! even the change to helicopter attacks instead of aeroplanes for the finale deserves respect - with the added sombre setting of the WTC twin towers now more attention grabbing - yet it's hard to get away from just how poor the production is. So as we may still shed a tear as the giant beast is felled by his love for a beauty, and we curse mankind for just not leaving him on his island, this is still poor film making that comes close to shattering fond memories of the young movie lovers back in 1976. 5/10
Border River is directed by George Sherman and written by William Sackheim and Louis Stevens. It stars Joel McCrea, Yvonne De Carlo, Pedro Armendariz, Alfonso Bedoya and Howard Petrie. Music is by Joseph Gershenson and cinematography by Irving Glassberg.
During the war between Maximillian and Juarez in 1865, there was a small territory on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande River known as Zona Libre - - - "Free Zone". It was dominated by a man who called himself General Eduardo Calleja and he made it a haven for any man outside of the law. This is the story of Zona Libre.
The above statement that opens the pic is actually a bit of a lie since the film is a story that operates out of Zona Libre. It essentially finds McCrea as a Confederate soldier who has hidden stolen gold bullion in the territory. He then sets about keeping it safe in readiness for the buying of Henry Repeater rifles to aid the Confederacy in keeping the Civil War on going. Naturally there are plenty of folk in Zona Libre interested in finding out where the gold is stashed...
"Never saw a Southern boy yet didn't have a lily sprouting out of his liver"
Utterly frustrating piece of Western genre film making. We have a top draw premise on the page - where a hot bed of a neutral area inhabited by crooks and various Civil War(s) operatives operate - is not brought about for fire cracker ignition. Screenplay is more concerned with putting McCrea's Clete Mattson through the standard formula tropes of protecting gold from others, whilst courting the attention of the local beauty. Even more galling from a wasted opportunity point of view is that this is one of those rare occasions where the film is siding with the Southern protagonist. Any genre fan will tell you that it's nice to have some Civil War balance once in a while...
Annoyance is further enhanced by just how spiffing the tech credits are for this production. Irving Glassberg often came up with quality when asked to be the cinematographer of choice in various Western entries, and so is the case here where he tantalises the eyes as the Utah locales boom in Technicolour. So to with the costuming (Joan Joseff) of De Carlo, who has not only never looked so ravishing in attractiveness prior to 1954, but also with Glassberg's colour lenses her dressage becomes scintillating.
Action only fluctuates, again annoying since Sherman knows how to stage a good action set piece, and when McCrea is your leading man in a Western then you should be making hay while the sun shines. Sadly, great set pieces are in short supply, though McCrea once again proves what a great punch thrower he was. Highlight has to be a sequence where McCrea and his stunt horse land in quicksand (a critical narrative device in fact), the subsequent fight from man and beast to escape is quality - as is McCrea's (a bona fide horseman in real life) response to the equine post the sequence.
In the mix there is Armendariz and Bedoya seemingly in a contest to see who can outdo each other in the over acting stakes, which is actually fun and one of the plus points in the production. Which leaves us with what?. Well as a Western lover I just love many facets of the production on show, so much so I couldn't rate it below average. On the flip side, however, I couldn't remotely recommend it to genre fans in confidence, the proviso being that the writers should have been rounded up and fired upon by the Henry Repeaters in the play. 6/10
It may be a phoney war to you, but it's not to all the blokes at sea. Never has been.
Dunkirk is directed by Leslie Norman and adapted to screenplay by David Divine and W.P. Lipscomb. It stars John Mills, Richard Attenborough, Bernard Lee, Robert Urquhart, Ray Jackson and Robert Hines. Music is by Malcolm Arnold and cinematography by Paul Beeson.
"Dunkirk was a great defeat, and a great miracle. It proved, if it proved anything, that we were alone but undivided. No longer were there fighting men and civilians. There were only people. A nation had been made whole"
I think it's safe to say that to fully "get" this version of Dunkirk it helps to have some knowledge of the actual events. This is no standard war film, more so given it's about a defeat and the subsequent extraction of the armed forces from the beaches of that part of France.
Narrative is two fold, one strand follows soldiers as they strive to make it through perilous lands to get to the beaches, the other comes from the civilian angle and those back in Britain, where there's an ignorance about how seismic this war is going to be. While the film is hardly a rousing battle laden spectacle - it's more an appreciation of a critical moment in history - it's very authentic in its teaching, the various human interest stories and their respective emotions are absorbing and always attention holding.
Absolutely a must see piece of cinema for anyone who needs to understand just why the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk was so important. Superbly played by the cast, directed with safe hands and produced with class by the brilliant Michael Balcon, Dunkirk 58 a smart bit of classic war cinema. 8/10
The Black Widow, deadliest of all spiders, earned its dark title through its deplorable practice of devouring its mate.
Black Widow is written and directed by Nunally Johnson. It stars Ginger Rogers, Van Heflin, Gene Tierney, George Raft, Peggy Ann Garner and Reginald Gardiner. Music is by Leigh Harline and cinematograpgy by Charles G. Clarke.
A young writer insinuates herself into the life of a Broadway producer - with dire consequences...
A CinemaScope/De Luxe colour production out of 20th Century Fox, Black Widow flirts with the boundaries of colour film noir. Heflin is the Broadway producer who has his world turned upside by what at first we think is a femme fatale, only the pic isn't as straight forward as that. In fact, the title is a bit of a bum steer for this is not about some male murdering femme fatale, quite the opposite in fact, so expectation of that will only cause disappointment.
Essentially this ends up as a who and why done it? And for the most part the pic holds the attention as the narrative pitches Peter Denver (Heflin) as the Broadway producer frantically trying to prove himself innocent of a murder. Cards are kept close to the chest as Johnson's screenplay drips suspicion into the play at various points. We the audience are forced into questioning the manoeuvres of the lead protagonists, which gains momentum once Raft's Detective Bruce starts investigating the case. However, some have cried out that the revelation was too easy to spot, maybe so if one is so desperate to do so, but of course we do hear this a lot from folk not happy with the film they have watched. Personally, I didn't see it coming, but conversely, I was personally disappointed with the reveal. So, there you go, roll the dice and take a chance with it really.
Tech aspects are hit and miss. The CinemaScope format doesn't quite work here, given that most of the play is performed in apartments. When it comes to the cityscapes of New York - and the framing of characters within them - it's a treat, especially as Clarke's colour lenses are splendid, but Johnson the director doesn't appear to get a handle on the format. Acting is also an interesting parade. Heflin is great, draws you into his "on the run to clear my name" malarkey with conviction, while Rogers is having a blast as the waspish lead lady with delusions of grandeur. Raft is a one note let down in a "for the money" role, and Tierney (sadly getting closer to succumbing to her mental health problems) is poorly written and Gardiner likewise. Garner (stepping in when Maggie McNamara fell ill) is fine, slinky and suspiciously delicate, but the course of the story leaves us short of more from her.
As a whole? it's a mixed bag, but definitely it's on the good side of good, particularly for Heflin and Rogers fans and for those of a noir persuasion. 7/10
I knew from the first moment I saw you that you were dangerous to her.
Gaslight is directed by George Cukor and is adapted to screenplay from Patrick Hamilton's play by John Van Druten, Walter Reisch and John L. Balderston. It stars Ingrid Bergman, Charles Boyer, Joseph Cotton, May Whitty, Barbara Everest and Angela Lansbury. Music is by Bronislaw Kaper and cinematography by Joseph Ruttenberg.
Years after her aunt was murdered in her London home, Paula Alquist Anton (Bergman) moves back there with her new husband, Gregory Anton (Boyer). However, what at first seems to be an idyllic marriage begins to crumble as Paula appears to be losing her mind...
You really have to put into context just how great Gaslight is as per the time it was released. For it holds up now as something of a torch igniter for what has followed over the decades. The psychological thriller - specifically that of a spouse being tormented by their partner - has been mined for all its worth - and will continue to do so. Even the terminology of very real life instances such as Gaslighted/Gaslighting have been born out from the pic, so if it is thought of being dated or old hat, its influence is still quite considerable.
It's still a terrific atmospheric thriller anyway, played out to a magnificent backdrop of Victorian London, of fogs and cobbled streets, and of course gas lights and eerie shadows. Pic is split into two halves, first half is the set-up of a whirlwind romance that leads to marriage, then the move to the marital home and support characters - nosy neighbour (Whitty), housekeeper (Everest), tart housemaid (Lansbury on debut) - are introduced to proceedings. Deft psychological touches are being played out, though wonderfully we never actually see the misdirection machinations actually being done.
Then as the second half happens upon us it really hits the diabolical straps, the methodical manoeuvres of Gregory Anton really start to gnaw away at our senses. We witness Paula come apart, her mind fractured, so vulnerable and confused, you would have to have a heart of stone not to have your very core ache. It's here where Bergman, in the first of her three Best Actress Oscar wins, excels without duff histrionics. Boyer also is superb, where guided by the astute Cukor he makes Gregory a dashing dastard, only given to subtle clues about his devious and wicked doings.
Cotton doesn't try to do a British accent, which is fine as he holds his end up well as Brian Cameron, the man getting to grips with what's actually going on in the Alton home. Brian is our hero in waiting, giving us something to hang onto as the pic reaches revelations point. With Ruttenberg (Oscar Nominated) drifting what would be known as noirish contrasts over the piece, and Kaper's music unobtrusively subtle, Gaslight hits high marks for tech credit substance. All told it's a truly great film, and one that's well worth going back to if you become jaded with the more slick and polished production line genre pieces that follow in its wake. 9/10
The hopes were high for this latest Predator rebirth, not because Shane Black starred in the great first Predator film, so therefore he surely must care about the project? But because he's an excellent writer and director. Shane Black can count Lethal Weapon(S), The Last Boy Scout and The Long Kiss Goodnight on his CV, he was the man who put Iron Man back on track after the sag of part 2. Plus he is the creator of two of the best buddy buddy neo-noirs this millennium (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang/The Nice Guys), So how come The Predator stinks of lazy cash cow manure?
Plot in a nutshell sees the universe's most lethal hunters unleashed on Earth due to the meddling of a soldiers kid and some nosey scientist types. The fate of mankind rests with a group of damaged ex-soldiers and a rather cheesed off female scientist.
We have a rehash mishmash of what we have seen before in Predator 87 and Predators 2010. A group dynamic fighting a seemingly invincible foe. The subsequent science aspects such as human DNA inference/reasoning etc never really add up to much, serving only for a bunch of standard actors shouting, swearing and spouting hopelessly weak jokes and series re-treads. When you think the pic is about to up a gear, get rivetingly dramatic, a poor slice of humour comes our way either by vocal spillage or visual drivel (puppy pet Predator dog, really?). There's a bunch of plot threads that just dangle never to be pulled (PTSD/our hero's family strife et al), and the Predators loose on Earth - with different agendas - are confusingly shifted about by a screenplay not sure where it wants to land.
Plus points? Well the cinematography is superb (Larry Fong), and you can't fault this for action quotas, there's plenty of it and it's bloody (both red and green type). The score is the traditional one we had from Alan Silvestri back in the 87 film, in fact it hardly deviates from it and yet Henry Jackman gets the credit. Of course some of the jokes will work for some folk (I would be lying if I said a Whoopi Goldberg gag didn't make me laugh), but the terror has gone, these Predators are no longer scary creatures. This reeks of a troubled production going hand in hand with a cash cow that not only narratively adds up to nothing really, but of a franchise death knell. Shame. 3.5/10
After an extended break, Godzilla as a movie force made its comeback with this the 16th Godzilla film and the first of what would be the Heisei series. It's a reboot that basically follows on from the original Gojira film of 1954. Plot has Godzilla back as a destroyer of mankind, setting its eyes on stomping Tokyo into oblivion. As Zilla goes about its destructive way, and Tokyo attempts to repel the onslaught, there's a backdrop of a diplomatic crisis reaching boiling point as the Soviets and the Americans get ready for nuclear war. Thankfully the Japanese are able to convince the sane politicians that it is in fact Godzilla at the crux of things. Can the world powers join together to defeat the mightiest of lizards?
If a Godzilla fan you could be forgiven for going into this one fearing the worst, and yet it ticks many of the boxes for those who prefer Zilla as the destroyer of mankind as opposed to the saviour of mankind that the Showa period ended up as. There's the standard amount of miniatures and sets destruction, splendidly constructed as usual, nifty effects work and a whole bunch of iconic images to take from the experience (Zilla atomic breath destruction, stomping through the city, nuclear reinvigoration, back from the dead with awesome carnage following). There's good sci-fi within as well, such as the Japanese scientists having created a super fortress known as Super X, while sometimes all you need is to hear that brilliant roar followed by lizard devastation.
This was a return to the dark roots of Godzilla, complete with anti-nuclear sentiments. It didn't reinvent the wheel, but it did restart it successfully. 7/10
The Enforcer is directed by James Fargo and collectively written by Harry Julian Fink, Rita M. Fink, Stirling Silliphant, Dean Riesner, Gail Morgan Hickman and S.W. Schurr. It stars Clint Eastwood, Tyne Daly, Harry Guardino, Bradford Dillman, DeVeren Bookwalter and John Mitchum. Music is by Jerry Fielding and cinematography by Charles W. Short.
Dirty Harry Callahan is tasked with foiling a terrorist organization made up of supposed revolutionaries. However, when he's partnered by a rookie female cop he's far from best pleased and feels sure she's out of her depth.
This is the third entry of what would eventually become five Clint Eastwood starring Dirty Harry films. Sensing the need to inject a bit of freshness to what was obviously going to be a safe "no nonsense cop" formula, the makers introduce a nifty complexity to Callahan's world by pairing him up with a female cop - one that's fresh out of school. So with Callahan's propensity for being irked about partners in general, and his suspected misogyny dangled by his superiors, this is a forward thinking turn of events by the writers.
From a narrative stand point director Fargo (for his feature film debut) doesn't deviate from what made the previous two films a success. Pacing is steady so that this allows dramatic character interplays to breathe, and forceful action sequences bounce into the fray at various junctures. This is not however detrimental to the story, which zips along and is punctured by customary Dirty Harry humour. The relationship between Harry and Kate (passable but not quite a great casting choice) builds through various stages, from begrudging mentor and pupil beginnings, to something that actually ends up rather touching.
Sadly this "Dirty Harry" film lacks great villainy, the People's Revolutionary Strike Force come off as a mixed bunch of psychos and confused hippies, with not enough screen time for their leader (Bookwalter) to impact greatly on proceedings. Be that as it may, there's enough for Callahan to chew on, with the gruff straight talking cop surrounded by the usual moronic bureaucrats and handy allies (the always great Albert Popwell in a customary appearance). Where it stands with fans of the Dirty Harry series as a whole is unclear? for The Enforcer appears to now be fondly remembered more the decades have passed. But it certainly is no dead loss and a strong 7/10 rating I feel is fully justified.
Quai des Orfèvres is directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot and Clouzot co-writes the screenplay with Jean Ferry. It is based on the novel Legitime defense written by Stanislas-André Steeman . it stars Louis Jouvet, Suzy Delair, Bernard Blier and Simone Renant. Music is by Francis Lopez and cinematography by Armand Thirard.
When high profile business man Georges Brignon is found murdered all evidence points to jealous husband Maurice Martineau - Inspector Antoine takes up the case.
Following the backlash and fallout from Le Corbeau in 1943, Henri-Georges Clouzot wasn't allowed to make a film for four years, his return brought about Quai des Orfevres. Although a highly respected master of his craft, Clouzot was frowned upon for the dark approach to human nature in some of his films, whilst his treatment of the actors under his direction is legendary in a bad way. So how interesting to find that his comeback picture is actually one of his most accessible, very much thriving on human interest factors for literally everyone in the picture!
This a traditional police who done it procedural in core essence, one that does come with coincidences and contrivances, and yet the characters are so richly drawn, their lives so compelling, that the simplicity of plot is actually irrelevant. We are in post war Paris and the back drop is the world of theatre and nightclubs. Clouzot offers up in the fist instance some film noir staples, a possible femme fatale, gay love from afar, cuckold husband and a grotesque murder victim. Even the acts on the stage have a weirdness to them, Wheeling Winos - one with a paper mache head! Dogs that walk on their hind legs! How wonderful. The clubs are smoky, the streets dimly lighted for menacing atmosphere, Clouzot and Thirard have created a splendid moody world from which to spin the tale.
I'll take him for a ride, and what a ride!
Pitched at the front is Jenny Lamour (Delair), who is not beyond using her sexuality to further her stage career, which of course doesn't sit well with her highly jealous husband Maurice (Blier), a man clearly punching above his weight with Jenny. Ah but Clouzot is a crafty devil, he has let us into a secret that undermines us the viewer's expectations and that of Maurice. This keeps the question of who is the murderer - and the motive - as a constant intrigue. There's little slices of sexy sauce to tantalise, and the whole play developes into a sort of tragic comedy, but always the characterisations of the key players are earthy and dealing in foibles. Then Inspector Antoine (Jouvet excellent) holds court, a grumpy but stoically deceptive man of his work, film noir has itself another policeman of note.
Visually there's some treats, such as the dark shadowy walk that Maurice takes to Villa St Marceaux, arriving at the house which instantly looks like a noir nightmare. Better still is a sequence as we get towards the denouement, Maurice in a holding pen, a sexy lady in the pen next door, as bells ring out she is framed in shadowed bars whilst Maurice's mind begins to fracture. The craft on show is sublime at times, visually and on the page. I'm not over enamoured with Delair as an actress, but conversely Renant is quality and gorgeous into the bargain, while I think the ending should have really gone into black hearted territory. All told though, and this is Clouzot's least suspenseful film that I have seen, this is well worthy of time investment for lovers of classic French cinema. 7.5/10
The last American hero to whom speed means freedom of the soul.
Vanishing Point is directed by Richard Sarafian and written by Guillermo Cain. It stars Barry Newman, Cleavon Little and Dean. Jagger.
Car delivery driver Kowalski (Newman) tasks himself to get a Dodge Challenger from Denver to San Francisco in a seemingly impossible time. His journey will see him constantly pursued by the police and come into contact with a number of interesting characters.
By definition a cult film, Vanishing Point baffled many a critic upon its release but continues to gain fans as each decade passes. It operates out of the counterculture sphere of film making that surfaced in the late 60s and early 70s. On the surface it's a very simple picture, the speedster aspect of the car chases appear to render it as purely a car junkie thrill piece. Yet much conjecture and analysis has occurred over the years to give it mythical status, with some maintaining it's a masterpiece of a message movie. It certainly has an ethereal quality about it, to the point where those invested in more than just the brilliant car stunts et al will find themselves beguiled by Sarafian's tantalising piece.
Kowalski doesn't say much, even as he meets odd people and ends up in odd situations, this positions him as a true cinematic anti hero. His backstory is revealed to us in flashbacks, so we do get to know about him, understand where his skills came from and why his psychological make up is the way it is. His contact with the real world as it were, is via a blind radio DJ known as Super Soul (Cleavon Little excellent), who Sarafian has smartly put up as an almost physic companion during Kowalski's journey, with him crucially warning of policeman perils. It's one of a number of intriguing shards in a fascinating movie. The makers have remained vague as to exactly what everything in the film means, which is fine, for this is a picture that each individual viewer should decipher as they see fit.
More than just a thrilling car chase movie? You bet. 8/10
They just couldn't leave him on his island could they...
King Kong is directed by Peter Jackson and Jackson co-writes the screenplay with Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens. It's based on a story by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace. It stars Naomi Watts, Jack Black, Adrien Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Colin Hanks, Andy Serkis, Evan Parke, Jamie Bell and Kyle Chandler. Music is by James Newton Howard and cinematography by Andrew Lesnie.
After completing the hugely successful Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson turned his attentions to a reimaging of that daddy of classic creature features, King Kong. With all the new tools of the trade to hand, Jackson set about making a Kong film full of love and respect for the original from 1933, whilst obviously making his own beast as it were. Story remains the same, mankind sets off to a fabled place known as Skull Island, there they find beasties not of this world, not least a gigantic mountain of a gorilla. They stupidly bring him back to America for money making exercises and things go really bad. The End.
I have personally found it most interesting re-watching the film nearly 15 years since its release, especially given we have not long had a different Kong reboot with "Kong: Skull Island" in 2017. For the differences, for better or worse depending on your proclivities in Kongdom, are enormous. Kong: Skull Island is a no brain adventure yarn, high on action but low on intelligence, but it does know it. Jackson's Kong aspired to be much more cerebral, and for the most part it achieves it. Sadly it takes a whopping 3 hours to reveal its intentions, which was a problem to many back in 2005, and is still a hindrance sitting down to watch it these days - this even knowing and preparing once again for how long it is. Frustratingly there's a great film in the mix just crying out for an hour of extraneous filler and clunky dialogue to be jettisoned.
Once set up has been achieved in the first hour, we finally get to Skull Island and it's an absolute technical treat. The look is fantastic, the turn of events as Kong and his acolytes have been introduced is terrific. From here it's creature feature mayhem, the beauty and the beast aspect kicks into gear, and it's all very comforting, thrilling even - with one exception. A dinosaur stampede looks ridiculous, the blend of human actors and CGI is so poor it belies the money spent on the effects for this production. That aside, though, the action sequences are electric, particularly the monster mash ups. Yet the quite reflective periods on Skull Island really strike a chord as well, just sections where Kong and Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) are chilling out together, taking in the landscape that money mad men want to take Kong away from...
Then it's back to The States and carnage ensues, culminating in a brilliantly staged last quarter of film, where all that superb period detail gets obliterated during the battle between man and beast, and where even now I'm rooting for Kong to win! As the tenderness of the Beauty and the Beast arc subsides - and it is beautiful - it's then that you once again know that Jackson was too indulgent. His cast were on form, Serkis as Kong a revelation, this is a great picture at times, a real treat in High Definition, if only someone had fronted him up to not over indulge. For then we might have a 9/10 movie as opposed to a bloated 7/10 one.
The Hired Hand is directed by Peter Fonda and written by Alan Sharp. It stars Fonda, Warren Oates and Verna Bloom. Music is by Bruce Langhorne and cinematography by Vilmos Zsigmond.
Harry Collings (Fonda) and his partner Arch Harris (Oates) have been out in the western wilderness for too long. Harry finally calls it a day and sets about returning to his estranged wife and child of seven years...
Beguiling, utterly beguiling, now here is a Western movie of such simple formula, yet still it's able to be a mighty treasure. This was Fonda's debut directorial effort, and since he would only go on to direct two more feature films, it's clear it wasn't the medium for him personally. But his love for his debut work speaks volumes, for he knows he got it right, and maybe he ultimately realised he was not going to top The Hired Hand for personal satisfaction reasons?
Pic is like some elegiac fairytale, nuanced to the hilt and dictating the pace on its own terms. Narratively the simplicity comes down to if one man can reconnect with his long estranged family? Then the spanner in the works comes by way of a test of loyalty, front and center that's basically it. There's a superb strand that shows and tells us that a woman needs loving, both physically and mentally, this as the man's world rages around her, but the thrust is three lost and lonely people at the crossroads in this dusty part of the West.
Pic is a technical delight. Zsigmond's (McCabe & Mrs. Miller/Deliverance) photography is sumptuous, rich in naturalistic tones, the moments of beauty captured actually belie the barren landscape these characters inhabit. Langhorne's musical score is tight to everything that's smart about the production, very contemplative and even haunting at times. The editing by Frank Mazzola is impressively impressionistic, and the writing from Sharp (Ulzana's Raid/Night Moves) is astute and uninsulting for period realism.
Fonda turns in a wonderfully subtle performance, instilling Collings with a weary resignation of a life he let slip away. As for Fonda the director, he lets his co stars have a fine day in the sun. Oates - as his fans already know - was a magnificent character actor who deserved better status back in the day. Thankfully his legacy lives on and his work is now viewed with keen appreciative interest, The Hired Hand gives a glimpse of just how reflective he could be. Bloom, smartly devoid of make-up and hairdo oddness to keep it real in the West, has Hannah Collings as heartfelt and stoic in equal measure - she is terrific.
There are small bursts of violence, there has to be for the story to come full circle and reveal its hand at the closure, but this is in no way an action piece. You can understand to an extent why the film was met with disdain upon release, cut and ultimately buried by Universal. This was the first film Fonda made after Easy Rider had made waves in the industry, so expectation for what was expected of The Hired Hand were obviously muddled. Early critical notices were harsh, where's the shoot-outs and high energy horse pursuits they cried, and so this beautiful film got lost for years. Thank the movie lords for home format releases then, for now it can be seen in all its delicate glory. 9/10
He could've had the whole world. So he leaned over sideways and grabbed you.
Body and Soul is directed by Robert Rossen and written by Abraham Polonsky. It stars John Garfield, Lilli Palmer, Hazel Brooks, Anne Revere and William Conrad. Music is by Hugo Friedhofer and cinematography by James Wong Howe.
A talented boxer's career begins to spiral out of control when financial hunger, matters of the heart and a shady promoter begin to take a hold.
Viewing it now, Body and Soul looks to be chock full of boxing movie clichés, which of course wasn't the case back in the 40s. Such as it is with the year of release, it has been honourably inserted into the film noir pantheon. If that's worthy - and many of the noir bible writers seem to think so - is up to the individual viewer to decide, what is apparent though is this is a fine piece of film making regardless of genre or style assignment.
Charlie Davis' (Garfield in a worthy Oscar Nominated performance) descent down a crooked path is certainly noir in plot terms, and it makes for riveting viewing. The screenplay for the time is very choice and worthy, focusing as it does on corruption and violence within the sporting world. The look of the pic is that of realism, Rossen and Howe mixing elegiac beauty with fluent fight sequences (of which there aren't actually many), the monochrome sharp as a left hook.
There's no sentimentality on show, this is stripped bare to show the dark that lurks beneath the cheering crowds and sensational advertisement posters. Pic pulses with the beat of the street, the sweat is from those trying to make a living, all while anti capitalism seeps from every frame. The finale drives home a point - consistent with Rossen in general - and even though pic has a very stage bound core, the craft from all involved ensures it never hurts the dramatic worth. 7.5/10
Most of these men don't believe the same way you do, but they believe so much in how much you believe.
Hacksaw Ridge is directed by Mel Gibson and written by Robert Schenkkan and Andrew Knight. It is based on the 2004 documentary The Conscientious Objector. It stars Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Vince Vaughn, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Ryan Corr, Hugo Weaving and Rachel Griffiths. Music is by Rupert Gregson-Williams and cinematography by Simon Duggan.
Film is a depiction of the real life heroics of Desmond Doss, an American pacifist combat medic in WWII during The Battle of Okinawa.
How great to have Gibson back directing, more so when he's tackling the brutalities of war and the critical human interest stories within. The story of Desmond Doss is inspirational stuff and Gibson and his team have done his story proud.
First half of the picture details Doss' upbringing, getting to know his family background, his beliefs and the forming of his loving relationship with Dorothy Schutte. Then after Pearl Harbour he enlists in service and we are then witness to boot camp, which comes with the horrors of bullying and ostracization due to Doss refusing to even touch a rifle - let alone use one! After the military based political thunder has exhausted its armoury, Doss and the rest of the 77th Infantry Division are sent to Okinawa to try and capture the Maeda Escarpment (Hacksaw Ridge). From where a true legend is born.
As is a Gibson trademark, the battle scenes are terrifyingly real and bloody as can be, the horrors of war laid bare for dramatic impact. Amongst the carnage, which is magnificently framed in smoky hazes and a landscape obliterated by weaponry, Doss (brilliantly brought to life by Garfield) comes to the fore. From within the madness comes humanity in its purest and most genuine form, and it makes for edge of the seat viewing whilst stirring the blood of those invested fully in this remarkable story. 9/10
Innerspace is directed by Joe Dante and written by Jeffrey Boam and Chip Proser. It stars Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, Meg Ryan and Kevin McCarthy. Music is by Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography by Andrew Laszlo.
A hapless hypochondriac store clerk battles to save the life of the man who, miniaturized in a secret experiment, was accidentally injected into him.
The premise is of course absurd, but everyone involved knows this and proceed to entertain with a mixture of thrills, spills and a good old fashioned good versus bad value. Narrative is based around the race against time thematic as miniaturised Tuck Pendleton (Quaid) fights from within the body of Jack Putter (Short). He has to keep Jack out the hands of crooks who are after the secrets of the miniaturisation process, whilst simultaneously being on a clock before he runs out of air - or fall prey to Jack's anti-bodies system etc.
Dante strings together some terrific set pieces, while the realisation of the inside of the human body is smartly staged. Cast are on hugely engaging form, with the central relationship between Quaid and Short a pure joy and mined for constant laugh and peril tactics. The dual aspect is niftily handled by Dante and his crew, with the battle within Jack's body running concurrently with Jack's battles out in the real world.
What wonderful sci-fi froth this is, as Dante has a blast of a time with the effects tools to hand to take the concept of Fantastic Voyage and make a top line action comedy adventure. Great soundtrack too! 8/10
You have to take in to context the post release statements by director Jon Turteltaub and lead actor Jason Statham. The Meg is not the film they either read on the page or filmed as a course of grisly schlock entertainment. This was meant to be a proper schlocker, a bloodletting monster of the deep on the loose picture, sadly the suits at the helm didn't see that as a viable money making exercise and had this cut to be a "12" friendly bums on theatre seats cash grabber. Shame on them.
What we get is a run of the mill creature feature that although once viewed does not leave a lasting impression (was anyone really hoping for that anyway?), but is kind of fun in that time filling sort of way. It runs through the modern day creature feature playbook 101. So off we go with the hero having a troubled backstory, a money made funder out of his depth, ladies with life quandaries, a man who can't swim working in the middle of the ocean! and on we go. Throw in some quite awfully scripted dialogue and it's cheese sarnie time.
Statham is nearly always a good watch - in the muscle bound action hero kind of way - though you see the cracks between what the film was meant to be and what it ended up as. For you see that The Stath comes off as taking it all too seriously, which in this released cut is ridiculous. He's surrounded by no mark actors, though no short supply of beauty (Bingbing Li socko gorgeous/Ruby Rose hard sexy) and the narrative feeds us all the pointers of exactly where this will end up. There's a couple of nifty fun homages to Jaws, some decent suspense scenes, and the cinematography (Tom Stern) is pin sharp and pleasurable.
Best bet to enjoy this is to know it's a "12" rated friendly piece, to understand it has ultimately ended up as a same old same old monster movie. It's a million miles away from the class of Jaws, and lacks the tongue in cheek knowing of Deep Blue Sea, but it fills a gap in that undemanding time wasting way. 5/10
Look, you're dealing with your wife. You can forget the Constitution.
Send Me No Flowers is directed by Norman Jewison and collectively written by Julius J. Epstein, Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore. It stars Doris Day, Rock Hudson, Tony Randall, Clint Walker, Edward Andrews, Paul Lynde and Patricia Barry. Music is by Frank De Vol and cinematography by Danial Fapp.
A hypochondriac believes he is dying and makes plans for his wife, which creates many misunderstandings for themselves and everyone around them...
The pairing of Hudson and Day was an utter joy, producing romantic comedy escapism from the upper echelons of such genre stations. Send Me No Flowers is the last of their collaborations, so how wonderful to find it to be a grand way to bow out.
In parts it's thunderously mirthful, even joyously tasteless in the process, in others it's mature and smart about the subjects to hand. Cast are on fire across the board, but this is undoubtedly Hudson's show all the way. He puts a gracefulness into what is a tricky role, while his sly comedic timing - both visually and vocally - is top dollar.
This is a guaranteed bad mood lifter, a pic to blow away the black clouds for a while. The actors are great company to be in, the writing cunning with humorous intent. From some nifty animation at pic's start to introduce Hudson's character's hypochondria, to the sight of the hulking Clint Walker getting out of the world's smallest car! this never lets up on the passion to entertain us. 8/10
Ain't no valley low enough - Ain't no river wide enough.
Deep Valley is directed by Jean Negulesco and adapted to screenplay by Stephen Morehouse Avery and Salka Viertel from the novel written by Dan Totheroh. It stars Ida Lupino, Dane Clark and Wayne Morris. Music is by Max Steiner and cinematography by Ted McCord.
Libby Saul (Lupino) lives in a run down farm house with her unfeeling and estranged parents. Having developed a stammer due to her stmyied life, her only solace comes from walking in the woods with her dog. Then one day she happens upon a convict work party and takes interest in one of them, Barry Burnette (Clark).
He's free too...
Off the bat you have to be warned that this is very slow going for the first two thirds - almost painfully so. So with the story hardly being compelling in the first instance, or credible of course, it's on shaky ground and becomes tough to recommend with confidence. However, there's plenty to enjoy as it plods along and the final third is well worth waiting for.
The whole look of the piece is an atmospheric delight, McCord bringing some monochrome magic. The inside of the cottage is oppressive, director and cinematographer neatly marrying the visuals up to how Libby feels. Other scenes are pure visual treats, such as out in the barn as the sunlight shines through gaps in the wood to reveal a ghostly mist, or subtle shots like river ripples reflected onto Libby's face, there's enough tech skills on show to keep you interested. Add in yet another superb performance from Lupino and you should want to stay all the way here.
Narratively it comes down to finding love under trying circumstance, and that of the big decisions we face in life. Libby is faced with a choice, the bad boy or safe boy conundrum rearing its potent head. It all builds to a finale of substance that tantalises the heart and head in equal measure. No great film by any stretch of the imagination, the tech credits better than the actual play itself, but it warrants respect and worth a viewing for sure. 6/10
Pitfall is directed by Andre De Toth and adapted to screenplay by Karl Kamb and William Bowers from the novel written by Jay Dratler. It stars Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott, Jane Wyatt and Raymond Burr. Music is by Louis Forbes and cinematography by Harry Wild.
Married insurance adjuster John Forbes (Powell) falls for femme fatale model Mona Stevens (Scott) while her boyfriend (Byron Barr) is in jail. And with Private Investigator J.B. MacDonald (Burr) fiercely attracted to Mona the consequences for everyone could well be critical.
The reluctant fatales!
Not for the fist time I wandered into a film directed by Andre De Toth and came out feeling invigorated by the under valued director. Pitfall falls under the film noir banner but actually subverts what we know as film noir conventions. Mona Stevens is a femme fatale of sorts, but not maliciously so, the key fatale role falls to John Forbes, who is bored with his comfortable life and becomes our homme fatale. But again, this is not malicious or scheming, though since this is noirville it has knock on effects of dire consequence.
What makes a dream? - The mind is a camera.
As our two central adulterers go about their confused passion filled way, the characters it affects become prominent in the story's ultimate resolutions. MacDonald is a brute (Burr in his element), and an unrealistically stupid lech into the bargain but his constant menace throws us a classic noir characterisation. Out there in prison is Mona's boyfriend, who is being made aware of his loved one's indiscretion and counting down the hours till his release. While back at the Forbes home is John's adoring wife (Wyatt enjoying a feisty role) and son (Jimmy Hunt), the innocents who we wonder will suffer from the actions of others?
Dialogue is often sharp, witty and rapid-fire, you instantly know that Bowers (Criss Cross/Split Second) had pen in hand and it was red hot. There's some nice photography on show, with Wild (Cornered/They Won't Believe Me) treating us to shadows and light tactics. However, I lament that there wasn't someone like Krasker or Musuraca on photographic duties, for this cries out for some chiaroscuro wonders. Elsewhere It's sad to report that Byron Barr as the outraged convict is simply not menacing enough, one has to hanker for a McGraw, Brand or Brodie in the role.
As for the finale? Well the makers have their cake and eat it. Having baited the Hays Code with crafty glee, pic leaves things open ended - baiting us the viewers in the process, and it works. Smartly performed by the principal players, waspishly written by Bowers and astutely steered by De Toth, this may not be in hidden gem territory, but it definitely has to be recommended to lovers of the noir form. 7.5/10
There is a clause in the contract which specifically states any systematized transmission indicating a possible intelligent origin must be investigated...
Alien is directed by Ridley Scott and written by Ronald Shusett and Dan O'Bannon. It stars Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, Veronica Cartwright, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, Ian Holm and Harry Dean Stanton. Music is by Jerry Goldsmith and cinematography by Derek Vanlint.
The space merchant vessel Nostromo receives an unknown transmission as a distress call and land on the moon where the call had come from. Bad idea...
Back on release it was one of the most talked about movies of 1979, backed by a terrifically tantalising trailer - which itself was backed by one of the greatest tag-lines of them all, the weight of expectation of a genre blending classic was colossal. This was only after all director Ridley Scott's second feature length film, could a sophomore pic really be all that? History as we now know has proven that to be the case.
On plot synopsis it's standard format, where the haunted house and a killer on the loose has been replaced by a space ship in space. Yet once the pic plays its alien hand, and it becomes a battle of survival in one location, it dawns on you there is really no escape. No running into the garden and down the street, no hiding in the attic hoping the killer saunters off home, this is find and destroy or be destroyed yourself - with the future of mankind depending on the humans to succeed.
Some still go into a viewing of Alien nowadays and decry it for being too much of a slow burn, yet this is one of the pic's biggest assets. Time in space is slow anyway, and lonely one would guess, so Scott wisely lets the characters be introduced, lets us understand just enough about their psychological make up before things go belly up (literally as it happens). When the pot finally boils over it's terrifying, the bar well and truly raised for horror/sci-fi hybrid conventions.
With art design by H.R. Giger and Goldsmith producing eerie musical rumbles, the whole piece has a disquiet about it, notably with distressing sexual connotations and symbolism that haunts the mind as the body horror unfolds. The quiet passages are nerve shredders, Alien across the board is a visceral experience, especially for those who have ever watched it on a big screen in a darkened theatre.
It made a star of Weaver, who unbeknown to those on first viewing is the main character, another masterstroke by Scott, with Ripley the character in Weaver's hands shunting women's character's in big budget films forward by some considerable margin. All the cast are on great form, there's no showy stars in here, a collection of hard working British and American actors feeding off their director for super returns.
Now 40 years old, Alien shows no sign of losing its classic status, and rightly so. A seminal class act that still holds all the qualities it had back in 1979. In space no one can hear you scream - indeed! 10/10
From now on, I'm going to make a life of my own. And, being a woman, I won't have to use guns.
Ramrod is directed by Andre DeToth and collectively written by Luke Short, Jack Moffitt, C. Graham Baker and Cecile Kramer. It stars Joel McCrea, Veronica Lake, Don DeFore, Donald Crisp, Preston Foster, Arlene Whelan and Charles Ruggles. Music is by Adloph Deutsch and cinematography by Russell Harlan.
Sick of self proclaimed bully boss of the valley Frank Ivey (Foster) getting his way, hard driven Connie Dickason (Lake) sets up the Circle 66 Ranch. Hiring Dave Nash (McRea) as her ranch foreman (ramrod), Connie uses tricks and feminine wiles to win the personal battles to hand - which may well spell bad news for everyone...
Ramrod was the first Western directed by De Toth, and it's quite an impressive genre start. Splendidly capturing the film noir zeitgeist that was occurring at this time, pic looks terrific, De Toth and Harlan bring perfect monochrome moodiness for narrative compliance. The story pulses with psychological beats, the characters ranging from damaged addicts, the lovelorn and the lost, the power crazy and the cowardly, and right there at the core of it all is a femme fatale who is very much all woman but manipulative, bitter and destructive to the bone!
Story has a number of splinters lifting it out of the ordinary, the twists and turns not ridiculous, the sly machinations of principals are devilishly enjoyable for the like minded noir of heart. The plotting is clinically smart by not being ordinary, De Toth toying with the traditional tropes of the good versus bad Western staples. It's fair to say that Ramrod will reward more on further viewings, where it has the power to have the viewer dissecting the Freudian angles on show.
Cast are well suited to their respective roles. Lake rightly deglamourizes for Connie, and yet she carries a steely sexiness that has you understanding how men fall under her spell. McRea underplays it perfectly, he got the dupe role down pat, whilst DeFore steals the men acting honours as Bill Schell, who is Dave's mate, a jumping bean loose cannon dealing death with a nod and a wink. Support cast all come out in credit to seal the deal, for Ramrod is a must see for those who like Western and film noir hybrids. 8/10
Unconquered is directed by Cecil B. DeMille and collectively written by Charles Bennett, Frederic M. Frank and Jesse Lasky, Jr. It is based on the novel written by Neil H. Swanson. It stars Gary Cooper, Paulette Goddard, Howard Da Silva, Boris Karloff, Cecil Kelleway, Ward Bond and Katherine DeMille. Music is by Victor Young and cinematography by Ray Rennahan.
Frontiersman Chris Holden (Cooper) becomes embroiled in the machinations of Martin Garth (Ds Silva), who for his own ends is helping the Native American Pontiac uprising. All this while trying to keep slave girl Abby Hale (Goddard) out of harms way...
And 6 pence!
So it comes to pass that this really is no historical document - shock! Based around Pontiac's Rebellion, circa 1763 after the French and Indian War, it's a fanciful narrative that's a right old mixed bag. On one hand it's the story of an all American hero and a fish out of water British woman traversing through perilous situations whilst simultaneously ignoring the attraction that exists between them. On the other hand it's proud in propaganda flag waving, with heroic verve in full effect, but is gleefully executed with customary panache by DeMille.
The Gilded Beaver!
It's a little too long at nearly two and a half hours, for there are exposition passages that don't really serve the adventurous heart at core of story, yet the collective gathering of numerous characters does excite, DeMille excelling in that department. Action sequences are splendid, the fights with the Native Americans, repelling a siege of the fort as fiery death falls from the sky and bullets and blades do what they were designed for - sort of. Chase sequences, the best of which on the river rapids with incredulous tumble and all, and of course much shifty shenanigans and stoic glint in the eye machismo.
The Compass Bluff!
There's the blend of fun scenes with the sadly elegiac, where a compass comes to the rescue of Holden and Hale for fun value, and the realisation of death being just yards away from homely comforts is sombrely played. There's even some sexy spice in the mix, especially when the ravishing Goddard takes a barrel bath! Who cares about her non existing British accent?!
Some of the attitudes within the narrative are suspect, towards race, nationality and womanhood, and the over talky sections tip it off the tracks at times, but it's still ripper entertainment. It be colourful and vibrant, sexy and sharp, and boisterously proud into the bargain - enough good here in fact to forgive it the misdemeanors of the era. 7/10
The Unfaithful is directed by Vincent Sherman and written by Dave Goodis and James Gunn. It's based around the 1929 play, The Letter, by W. Somerset Maugham. It stars Ann Sheridan, Lew Ayres, Zachary Scott, Eve Arden, Jerome Cowan, Steven Geray and John Hoyt. Music is by Max Steiner and cinematography by Ernest Haller.
When a Los Angeles socialite kills a man while home alone one night it appears to be a simple case of self defence....
Maugham's play written source of 1929 had already been adapted in 1931 and 1940, the latter the most grandiose version with Bette Davis starring and William Wyler directing. So wisely, Vincent Sherman and his team rework the principle to a modern day city, with modern day social awareness and a whole different macguffin. It's a tricky blend of murder mystery and domestic melodrama dressed up in occasional film noir garb, and yet for although it's hardly riveting viewing - with a hopelessly safe finale, there's rich characterisations and enough honest intention on the page to keep you on side.
In the first instance pic is concerned with the mystery element, the big question of if Chris Hunter (Sheridan) did in fact kill in self defence. The crime itself is superbly staged by Sherman (All Through the Night) and Haller (Mildred Pierce). A house at night lit by lamplight, a woman entering her front door is submerged by an approaching shadow, a scuffle moves into the house and we the viewers witness the rest via jostling silhouettes. It's a nifty show of a visual flourish that sadly has you wishing there was a more consistent commitment to the mise en scène throughout rest of the piece.
Then the story throws a spanner in the works, excitingly so, for all is not as it seems. Adultery, blackmail, deceit, murder? Can it be true? But again, one has to be disappointed that these themes - ripe for noir dalliances - are not covered with dark tints. Because instead the pic chooses to go for domestic disharmony, even becoming a message movie - where as honourable as that is in the context of the era it was made, it loses all of its dramatic worth. This is the nearly very good under seen crime/noir picture...
For all that, there's good craft here, with performances to match, notably a wonderfully waspish Arden. And in going the way they did for the finale, it would be churlish to decry it its hopeful hopefulness. So as Steiner weaves his musical swirls, and Haller brightens the gloom, hope does indeed spring eternal. 6.5/10