Friday 30 September 2011

Scribblings Of A Random Nature #22

Radio Days (1987 - Woody Allen) - I'm still filling in the gaps of the last 30 years of Woody's career (I'd seen everything up to and including Manhattan and have been picking away at the rest since), but the middle 80s may end up being one of my favourite periods by him. Along with "Broadway Danny Rose", "A Mid-Summer Night's Sex Comedy" and "Purple Rose Of Cairo", "Radio Days" is right up there with top shelf Woody. It's a primer in how to do nostalgia properly - sprinkle in your fondness for the period, show detail in the day-to-day goings on, create interesting and just a bit bigger than life characters and never get lost in the maudlin or go on about how much better things were back then. I very much want to find some time to show this to my Dad - he would love the bits about how the radio was a cornerstone for the family's entertainment, but also likely relish pointing out all the things he could remember from his own childhood days.

Only Angels Have Wings (1939 - Howard Hawks) - I’ve been attacking my list of “classics I need to see” of late and finally got around to this late ’30s Howard Hawks film. Around the 3/4 mark I was thinking “I knew people thought of it as a classic, but how come they didn’t tell me it was so good?” Without really realizing it, I was sucked into the movie and its events and was having a great time of it. That’s part of Hawks’ ability as a director – without really being obvious or flashy he moves the story ahead via dialogue and action. Having Cary Grant doesn’t hurt either, of course, but for me Jean Arthur was the secret ingredient. She’s a terrific comedienne in such fare as "The Talk Of The Town" and "Easy Living" and seems very at ease with the strength and confidence of her showgirl character (who is holed up at a small airport in South America waiting for a boat back to the States). Grant tries to fend off her advances as well as his own feelings for her while he runs a fleet of aircraft and pilots who fly dangerous missions through the tricky mountains to deliver cargo and mail. Complicating this is a new pilot that has history with the men and his new wife who just happens to be Grant’s old flame. It’s all good fun with some solid bits of tension (including some fantastic flying scenes – alongside other scenes of obvious toy airplanes), but it fumbles both the plot and its characters towards the end. There are several stunningly bad decisions made by people who are supposed to be incredibly great at their jobs and a gunshot that is simply a lazy solution to moving the plot in a specific direction. What really annoyed me, though, was two strong tough talking women characters who suddenly both falter and then realize that what they need to do is to be subservient to their men. A shame, because it’s otherwise a very entertaining yarn.

Hombre (1967 - Martin Ritt) - Paul Newman plays John Russell - a white man raised by Indians who prefers to continue to live with them as an adult. After inheriting a house and deciding to trade it in, he rides with several other passengers on a stagecoach and faces numerous challenges from racism to bandits. It's a great look at a stoic principled man and how different facets of society deal with him. The script is sharp as a tack and the story ticks along at a perfect pace. It's yet another Western that I had pushed off to the side for some reason (assumptions that it might be a bit slow and wandering I guess) and I'm very thankful I finally pulled it back in...

La Notte (1961 - Michelangelo Antonioni) - A study in isolation with really beautiful people.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End (2007 - Gore Verbinski) - Though I enjoyed the first Pirates movie, I never had the urge to see its two sequels - they sounded bloated (each over 2 and a half hours long), much less funny and somewhat tiring. But when you have an 11 year-old in the house, occasionally things get away from you and suddenly you find yourself watching - on consecutive nights - "Dead Man's Chest" and then "At World's End". Truth be told, neither was the crippling bore I expected and each looked quite handsome. In particular, the third installment looked quite remarkable (I was particularly curious about it since a friend has stated it is his all time favourite film). I don't think I'll be making any repeat visits any time soon, but both films certainly surpassed my rock bottom expectations.

Sequences Of A Titular Nature #8

The Creeping Flesh (1973 - Freddie Francis) - The titles of "The Creeping Flesh" are essentially just a spiffy gothic font plopped over zoomed in sections of a single painting - but you have to admit that's one hell of a painting (and not too shabby of a font). It's simple, but wholly effective in setting the tone of this great atmospheric story of evil incarnate returning to life (the flesh grows back on a skeleton found in an archaeological dig after it is placed in water).

Super (2010 - James Gunn) - Fun, bright and colorful, the titles to "Super" fit perfectly to the kind of movie you think you're in for and give a goofy comic book feel. The cartoon animation gives a nice hand drawn feel as you can see inconsistent proportions to the characters and even see the slash marks of a coloured pencil across a page as it was used to fill in the colour. The movie pulls the rug out from your expectations and it seems to lose quite a few viewers at that point - but I stuck with it and feel that the titles remain wholly appropriate for it. Especially for the Ellen Page and Nathan Fillion characters who are both ridiculously fun.

The Ward (2010 - John Carpenter) - We've seen broken shards of glass in horror film titles before, but this was still a pretty original usage of them for the credits of Carpenter's latest (billed as his return to form in the Horror genre). The different angles and views of shattering glass were effective in indicating the personalities of the residents of this particular ward. Unfortunately, originality ends as the titles fade out...The film isn't terrible, but really runs short of ideas in terms of how to scare people - loud jarring sounds and false jumps are considered the foundations for the film

The Science Of Sleep (2006 - Michel Gondry) - Gondry's follow-up to one of my all-time favourite modern films ("Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind") was a bit difficult for me to warm to initially. I couldn't quite understand the characters and its ending is, for me, quite sad. However, several re-watches have remedied the situation - of course, the dream sequences are quite brilliant in their staging and creativity, but I finally found my way into both Stephane and Stephanie and as a consequence the film sits much better with me these days. These splashes of paint throughout the titles fit very nicely with the somewhat random events that occur in Stephane's dreams - disparate hues/ideas scrambled together to produce lovely images.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Scribblings Of A Random Nature #21

Scarface (1983 - Brian De Palma) - I discussed this on my friend Mad Hatter's blog a few months ago, but felt I could drop some of the salient points into one of these posts (yes, I'm defaulting to a bit of cut and paste reuse of my previous words - tough luck). My preconception going into the film was that everything would be big, shouted, ridiculous and amped up without any restraint. That's mostly accurate as there is indeed plenty of yelling and over the top characters (e.g. Robert Loggia as the crime boss), but De Palma contains them early on. The pace of the film and the broadness of the characterizations seems to match the pace at which Tony's cocaine habit increases. Due to this, it came as a bit of a surprise to me that I was having a lot of fun with it. At almost 3 hours in length, I expected a bloated, overwrought and goofy affair - exactly what I got, but De Palma manages to just keep everything moving forward constantly (without too many unnecessary camera flourishes) and a heightened level of tension. It's not perfect, of course, since there isn't much to the characters and everything is on the surface. My biggest disappointment is likely the fact that the most interesting character, Michelle Pfeiffer's Elvira, simply wasn't used very much and becomes almost completely superfluous once she and Tony get together. Granted, that kind of makes sense given Tony's lust for power (so once he wins her, he cares less), but I wanted more interaction between them. The club scenes - oh my, those club scenes - were incredibly cheesy and chock full of 80s synth music that was bad even during the 80s as well as "dancing" and clothing that defy any logic whatsoever. I read somewhere recently - apologies for forgetting who said this - that it's been said De Palma is a terrible director of extras. The club scenes bear this out...The original 1932 film was violent - apparently taking about a year to get approved and released - but obviously pales in comparison on that front to what followed 50 years later. Still, De Palma doesn't overdo it (except maybe for the chainsaw) until the very end when he opens the floodgates. Howard Hawks preferred lots of shadows in his earlier version to avoid showing gore, but it was still effective and certainly got across the carnage left in the wake of the Capone clan. De Palma keeps many of the basic plot elements - certainly more than I expected - but changes many around due to the modern setting. Even though I shouldn't be comparing the films, overall I still prefer the original - but I'm pretty glad I finally caught up with this.

A Woman A Gun And A Noodle Shop (2009 - Zhang Yimou) - Speaking of films that probably shouldn't be compared, Yimou's reframing of the Coen Brothers "Blood Simple" in a 19th century Chinese context seemed like either a brilliant stroke of creativity or a ridiculously bad choice. It took me awhile to get around to seeing the film (even though Yimou is one of my favorite filmmakers) because I was very much assuming the latter. Word was that it contained far too much slapstick comedy and lost the plot. Though some of the comedy is broad and the story certainly gets tweaked, it surprised me by being quite entertaining and always managed to keep the sense that twists and turns could pop up at anytime. What didn't surprise me was the fact that it was also gorgeous. A tad over-processed in post perhaps, but there's a wonderful consistency to those outdoor shots with their deep colours that greatly appeals to me.

Hang 'Em High (1968 - Ted Post) - As I've worked my way through Clint Eastwood's Westerns (both those he directed and those he starred in), I'd always considered this one to likely be lesser fare. Not sure why, but I was dead wrong. After being mistaken for a cattle rustler, Eastwood's rancher is hanged and left for dead by a gang of vigilantes. He's saved at the last minute and resumes his former career as a lawman to hunt down each of the men who lynched him and bring them to justice. The love story was somewhat of an afterthought and slows things a bit, but overall this was a fantastic tale, which was smartly directed (some nice angles and framing without overdoing it), moved along briskly and simply ended up being one of my favourites of the genre.

His Kind Of Woman (1951 - John Farrow) - Liberal doses of Robert Mitchum help to make the first 90 minutes a cracker jack noir entry complete with a solid mystery, a femme that could indeed be fatale, wonderful cinematography and great lines of dialogue like "You know, you could be a handy thing to have around the house if a man went broke". And you also get a wild-eyed Raymond Burr. The plot is the sort that you immediately decide to avoid turning a critical eye towards because everything else is hitting on all cylinders - why spoil the fun by nitpicking? But the last 30 minutes or so becomes an odd adventure story with some broad comic relief and a goofy turn by Vincent Price as a self-centered actor who suddenly sees a chance to seize a real life hero role. It's an odd choice for the film and though it doesn't ruin the movie, it manages to take the tension out of the equation - at least until the final showdown which brings things back to where they should have been all along.