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The Key to Reserva (2007)
Marty's great X-Mas present to film fans the world over!
I have been a longtime fan and imitator of Alfred Hitchcock from day one. I opened up the file for "Key To Reserva" and I had to watch many times. As explained in the prologue, Martin Scorsese found some notes depicting a three minute scene from an unrealized Hithcock film called "The Key To Reserva". Scorsese decided to film the three minutes in the style of Hitchcock, basically the style of late 1950's Hitch ("The Man Who Knew Too Much", "North By Northwest", even "Torn Curtain") Not Marty style, Hitchcock style. Well, it was like Hitchcock came back from the grave (actually his ashes) and lensed this great piece. We have a hero in a blue business suit, ala Roger Thornhill, seek out a hidden key in an elegant theater box. It's pure Hitchcock, even down to the crazy Hitchcock logic (The key is hidden in a place that would be scientifically impossible. But we're watching Alfred entertainment us, not teach us.) Our villain hardly looks like a villain. He looks like anybody can mop the street with him, but watch it, still waters run deadly and deep. Throw in references to "Rear Window" "Notorious" "Saboteur" a Bernard Herrmann score, and you got one tasty cinematic snack!
The War of the Worlds (1953)
When I first saw this 1953 treat....
I'm a big fan of George Pal's 1953 original film version of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, which is an exciting, suspenseful treat, drenched in rich Technicolor. I remember, as a pre-teenager, reading that it was going to be on TV one afternoon. At that point I hadn't seen the movie, I only knew about it from incredible photographs in monster magazines. I tuned in a little late, missing the opening credits. The TV station, at the last minute, replaced the film with a western musical. Here I am, ten years old, watching some cowboy get into a bar fight and I'm thinking "Okay, where are those flying saucers?" The cowboy then rescues a stray cat and takes it along on his travels. It's now almost twenty minutes into the film. The cowboy is canoeing down river with the cat, and he's singing about the countryside. I'm confused, thinking: "Wow, this is the most bulloxed up sci-fi movie of all time. Maybe the Martians are behind that mountain?"
Twenty years from now, the same thing will happen to some confused young film fanatic when the TV station replaces WAR OF THE WORLDS with BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN.
War of the Worlds (2005)
Best film of 2005
In one scene from WAR OF THE WORLDS, my favorite 2005 release, a frazzled military man shouts: "Our weapons have no effect on them! Just help the citizens escape!" That's the tone of Steven Spielberg's often disturbing and scary take on H.G Wells' story about a massive worldwide alien invasion. Like Wells' story, our emotions almost never focus on scientists and military men. The center of attention here is an ordinary family man (Tom Cruise) protecting his children from unbeatable, hate-filled aliens. We see very little of us fighting back. Spielberg aims his camera at helpless, very often doomed people trying to escape and shield their loved ones.
2005 saw the release of two excellent fantasy remakes, this one, and Peter Jackson's KING KONG. Spielberg and Jackson obviously both love the original versions of their big budgeted and effect-filled remakes. They never took the sneering tone of "Well, we have better special effects than what they had way back then, so nyah-nyah!"
WAR OF THE WORLDS never takes the ultra-cool, spoofy tone of alien invasion films like INDEPENDENCE DAY. This time it's very cold and dark! You truly get the idea that these are final days for the human race.
The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
Great DVD of a classic!
Perhaps one of the most famous drive-in shockers was Director Tobe Hooper's 1974 THE Texas CHAINSAW MASSACRE, now available on a Pioneer Special Edition DVD, complete with out-takes, pieces off the workprint, and an excellent audio commentary track by Hooper, his cinematographer, Daniel Pearl and star Gunnar Hansen. The gore is more implied than displayed, but it's CHAINSAW's unforgiving documentary style that grabs you and disturbs your dreams. Check out the neat Special Features on this incredible DVD. The out-takes have a raw look, the color is not yet timed, and all we get is the bare, hollow sound typical of un-mixed production sound. We see endless takes of human bone decoration that highlights the crazy cannibal house in CHAINSAW. There are many takes of the macabre cemetery bone statue, the image that opens CHAINSAW. The audio commentary tells us that Hooper and Pearl experimented by shooting the scene during different times during the day, to obtain different sunlit shooting schemes.
Sting of Death (1966)
Do the Jella! The Jilla-Jella!
STING OF DEATH involves a large jellyfish that attacks young scientists. Only here the jellyfish looks very much like a heavy-duty garbage bag. Grefe, along with Frank Henenloter, (cult filmmaker and Something Weird's resident film restorer) provide commentary tracks for both films. STING features young Neil Sedaka introducing a dance (that did not sweep the nation) and a song called "The Jellyfish." This disc even comes with a print-out of the lyrics ("Forget Your Cinderella, and do the Jella... The jilla-jalla jella...") DVD's really bring out the run and shoot aspects of low budget film-making. Hand held work is accented with DVD's clarity. This clarity also shows off shifts in film stocks, where grainy stock footage is cut with staged fine-grain action.
Death Curse of Tartu (1966)
Film-Making in the Sunshine State!
One of my favorite drive-in classics has to be a 1966 gem made in Florida, DEATH CURSE OF TARTU. Something Weird Video, the wonderful distribution company that revived such great LBJ-era thrills as SCREAM OF THE BUTTERFLY and THE CURIOUS DR. HUMPP for videocassette, has continued their grand tradition on DVD. They took the trouble to grab hold of an original 35mm negative and give it the best possible Digital transfer.
DEATH CURSE OF TARTU concerns a group of young, under-equipped archeologists venturing deep into the Florida everglades in search of Tartu's tomb. Tartu is a long dead Indian who protects his tomb by allowing his spirit to take the form of dangerous animals. It's sort of like a cross between THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and ANIMAL PLANET. Whenever Tartu's murderous spirit is nearby, the soundtrack is filled with chanting, yipping Indians. On the same disc is another Sunshine State shocker by the same director, William Grefe - STING OF DEATH
Der schweigende Stern (1960)
I like the workmen's outfits the best!
FIRST SPACESHIP| is a 78 American dubbed version of DER SCHWEIGENDE STERN, a 130-minute German sci-fi film made in 1959. Based on Stanislev Lem's novel "The Astronauts", this was the first German sci-fi film made after World War II A meteor fragment is found to have discarded radio signals from Venus, so an international team of scientists travels in a sleek George Jetson style rocket to our "sister planet". Presented here in letterbox format, in generally bold storybook like color, VENUS makes it DVD debut courtesy of Wade Williams. Mr. Williams is a valuable modern day video and film distributor who has kept a running supply of Edward Wood movies and other drive in treats on video shelves. The cinematography by Joachim Hasler displays Venus as a planet alive with primary colors. Some elements are sure to make DVD buyers giggle. The surviving inhabitants of Venus are tiny, spidery and bounce around, resembling cat's toys on strings. The workmen who help rocket blast off and return all have enormous letters on their chest, making them look like escapees from an Alpha-Bits commercial.
Mondo balordo (1964)
Karloff the tour-guide!
MONDO BALORDO, whose tagline promises "intimate shocking scenes of love - man's insatiable hunger.." was slightly reshaped for salivating American consumption. A lively Boris Karloff provides the often humorous narration.
We travel with Boris to all sorts of hidden corners of our weird, kooky world. First we see an Italian rock group in full swing. Their lead singer is Franz Drago, a frantic, almost acrobatic 27-inch tall volcano of energy. Then it's off to Las Vegas, to see Beauty Pageant footage lensed by a boob-obsessed cinematographer. Next stop, a photo session of Asian girls in bondage. "This is for magazines for readers of special tastes..." Karloff purrs. Some of the footage, featuring natives tearing apart hunted animals may turn off some viewers. (Hey, the Mondo films were meant to shock.) An actual African exorcism where a live chicken is consumed, instructions on how to behave at a drunken transvestite party, and a poverty stricken Italian town where citizens visit the cemetery to ask the dead to cast spells on enemies and choose winning lotto numbers, fill the bill. After watching this film, you will think the world is filled only with chicken-eating, gambling drag queens! One scene in BALORDO shows a European freak show where Mr. Karloff tells us "Sometimes the people buying the tickets are the freaks." Tell it like it is Boris!
L'amore primitivo (1964)
Franco and Ciccio, we hardly knew thee!
PRIMITIVE LOVE, a strange Italian sex comedy, concerns two bungling hotel bellhops played by Franco Franchi and Ciccio Ingrassia, a team of bargain basement Euro Jerry Lewis imitators. They will do anything, I mean anything, to sneak a peek at one their new guests, a buxom, bleach-blonde beauty (Jayne Mansfield). About halfway through the film, Jayne invites a guest to her swanky hotel room. She takes out an 8mm projector and shows him rather mild footage of African natives. (I think once or twice we see bare-breasted native ladies. Hence the title of this movie?) This National geographic-esquire footage takes up a chunk of PRIMITIVE LOVE's 77 minute running time. After the lengthy film showing, Jayne does a striptease for her guest. She happily continues the strip tease even after she uncovers the spastic Franco and Ciccio spying on her.
Night of the Vampire Hunter (2000)
Fun Vampire Film
A more serious, somber indie horror entry, NIGHT OF THE VAMPIRE HUNTER comes from Germany by way of debuting director/writer Ulli Bujard. It's a gritty vampire shocker that uses sly humor as well as a downbeat atmosphere to tell the story of pulp writer Jens Feldner (Stephen Keseberg) who finds inspiration for his vampire tales through his girlfriend, Selin (Nicole Bujard). The reason why Selin is good at this is because not only is she a vampire, but she's a vampire hunter, seeking the Master Vampire who bit her centuries ago. Indie vampire films are generally way too serious. Some of them make dramas about World War II seem light-hearted. Most of the time, if an indie vampire film injects humor, it's way too goofy. Movie fans will soak up Bujard's blood-sucking treat. It maintains a strong dramatic sense, and allows for on-target "giggling in the cemetery" macabre humor.
Wash Dry and Spin Out (2003)
WASH DRY and throw into Goodwill Box!
WASH, DRY drives you up the wall with aimless tough guy talk. Its video box heralds 85 minutes of watching three over-grown juvenile delinquents, called "The Three Ass-Keteers". The video box also promises that they become involved with "impotence, homosexuality, molestation" and much more. Basically, we watch these three hoodlums getting drunk and venomous at a nearby all-night Laundromat. They torment customers, drift off into "tearful" flashbacks and have sex with hookers in the rest room. When it seems director/writer Dan Patton runs out of material, he has policemen rush in and conveniently arrest the "Ass-Keteers". WASH, DRY seems like a homage to films about fashionable, but dangerous anti-social folk, like PULP FICTION or CLOCKWORK ORANGE.
God, Sex & Apple Pie (1998)
The Making of this Film Should Have Been Filmed!
This independent film focuses on a group of thirty-something friends trying to kick back and reunite in a secluded house. Conflicts, kinky madness, and high drama results. I've seen numerous BIG CHILL styled independent films like this before. Filming lots of dialog in one house is a very cheap and easy way to shoot. But, for the audience, you better have some snazzy dialog. I just wish the characters in this film grabbed me more. The making and marketing of GOD SEX AND... was far more fascinating and crazier than the antics shown on the screen. It took years for writer, co-star and co-producer Courshon to assemble a budget, a cast and a crew to shoot this very simple film. Name talent like Jon Cryer and Jennifer Tilly committed, than backed out. Courshon finally funded the production mostly with credit cards. While shooting, the Weather Gods provided snowstorms that delayed production. Courshon received a promise for extensive post-production funding, but that investor went bankrupt, and it was back to Uncle Master Card and Aunt Visa. Courshon learned his publicist fibbed about arranging for Roger Ebert to review the film. They tried sending the film to various distributors, but hardly anybody called back expressing interest. Finally, Courshon arranged a showing of the film in early autumn at a Manhattan theater. This is it! Now, distributors can very easily hop across town and watch audience reaction.
Courshon's print of GOD SEX AND APPLE PIE was finally set to arrive in Manhattan - on September 11, 2001. Despite the horrors unfolding several blocks south of the theater, the film played, and managed to bring in $ 5,300 at the one theatre. (The film so far cost $ 300,000 to make and market) Finally, Courshon secured a deal with Lightyear Entertainment and with Warner Brothers for a DVD release. All the work finally paid off for Courshon. You have to keep knocking on doors, making those phone calls and sending those e-mails. It's a decent film, but a great lesson in persistence
Fish'n Chicks (2002)
LIFEBOAT meets FRIENDS - In Canada!
Due to it's "home-grown" look, a digital feature or short needs to grab its audience in the first seconds. A strong visual is usually best. Canadian film-maker Joseph E. DeLeo wisely sticks to this rule with the opening scene of his digital video short FISH'N CHICKS. We see a beautiful young brunette begin to unhook her bra. Okay, this plays to the lowest common denominator, but he has our attention.
Two lifelong friends, George (Mike Dufays) and Arnold (Mark Tyler), both twenty-something and girl hungry, go on a fishing trip in a canoe on a secluded Canadian lake. As they wait for some big-mouthed bass to come for the bait, they compare stories of recent sexual conquests. Often we flashback to bars and bedrooms (two easy-to-obtain locations for the low budget film-maker) where these guys "reel in the line" catching the hot chick for the night.
The tensions on the little boat build. As these guys let these stories heat up anger, we wonder, are we going to see a re-enactment of A PLACE IN THE SUN? There's a twist. For its 30 minutes running time, FISH'N CHICKS kept me amused. Some of the dialog is crisp ("For 12 hours what these girls did to me, I wouldn't do to a farm animal.") I often wish low-budget film-makers (especially when working in Digital) would shy away from the notion that they have to use only one key setting, but DeLeo lets his almost single set (the rowboat) work.
What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? (2004)
Fun movie could have been amazingly dull docu.
Films promising cool special effects, lots of action and babes draw in enormous crowds. A film promising the meshing of quantum physics, scientists, and mystics may send the masses packing the other way. However, audiences should stop and take in this fast-paced, informative and highly visual debate as to what we are doing here on earth.
When WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW doesn't focus on interviews with scientists and mystics pondering explanations about what is out there in the universe, it follows an average week of Amanda, an on-the-go Oregon based news photographer. Amanda is played by Academy Award Winning Actress Marlee Matlin. Ms. Matlin was rendered deaf in infancy by a bout of Roseola Infantum. Since her Oscar win, she has worked as an actress and producer, and has tirelessly campaigned for deaf people.
Ms. Matlin doesn't aim for expected pathos in her role as Amanda. Without losing her cool, she argues with her editor when assigned to photograph a bland wedding. She allows a pre-teen basketball player to give his thoughts about the universe (His dialog and the terrific visuals that go along will grab you)
If you took any Theology or Physics college classes, think of those lectures spiced with sparkling visuals, humor and speed. That's WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW, a fun thoughtful movie that refuses to take itself too seriously.
Mighty Joe Young (1949)
Kong's good natured younger cousin!
Once again, Merian C. Cooper wanted to make a giant gorilla picture, and as he did with SON OF KONG, the showman wisely chose not to top his 1933 classic (although the stop motion destruction scenes are unparalleled), but to have fun with it. MIGHTY JOE YOUNG is a fast paced fantasy-comedy-thriller about a gentle simian giant raised on an African plantation by a young girl (Terry Moore). A Carl Denham-clone stage producer named Max (the always energetic Robert Armstrong, this time sporting an awful toupee) coaxes Jill to bring Joe to Los Angeles where he features the giant ape in a night club routine. The crazy skits Max dreams up for Jill and Mighty Joe resemble Barnum and Bailey on crack! (The tug of war between Joe and a line up of beefy muscle men is 100% entertainment overdrive!) Joe finally goes berserk, and tears the club apart. There's a court order to have him killed, but Max and Jill brainstorm an escape, and the mad chase is on.
John Ford is credited as a second unit director. (I'd love to know what scenes!) There are amusing cameo appearances by Hollywood supporting actors like Charles Lane, Edward Gargan, and Jack Pennick. MIGHTY JOE YOUNG's highlight is the stop motion work, most of it by young Ray Harryhausen. His work here is some of the best animation you'll ever see. The fist-fight between Joe and former heavyweight champion Primo Carnera, Joe's rampage through the club (complete with animated lions, drunks, and debris), and the climactic fire sequence, help make MIGHTY JOE YOUNG a high-caffeine treat.
I have to mention how "film-logic" fuels MIGHTY JOE YOUNG's third act. Joe is in a stolen van, being chased by angry policemen who are gaining on him. Suddenly they come across a burning orphanage, and Joe redeems himself by rescuing the trapped kids. (With my luck, if I was helping Joe escape, I'd come upon a burning maximum security prison with death row inmates waiting for a rescue!) While Joe lies there injured, after having rescued the last screaming tot, Jill is assured by her boyfriend (warmly played by Ben Johnson) that "Nobody's gonna shoot Joe now!" Uh, excuse me, Benny, there's a court order to shoot Joe! Are you a lawyer?!
Nina Mae McKinney steals the film, and that's a good thing!
In 1929, the art of sound film was taking it's first clumsy baby steps. While many early talkies were simply filmed recordings of stage plays, King Vidor's HALLELUJAH is a cinematic marvel shot on location with an energetic documentary style. It's a tale of temptation, and the restoration of faith amongst African-Americans in the rural south. In the film, we follow Zeke, a simple black cotton-picker living and working blissfully with his religious family. He ventures into the big city to sell the fruits of his and his communities labor- a truckload of cotton. It's there, with his newfound fistful of mullah, he meets up with Chick (Nina Mae McKinney), a fast-talking she demon of a city-slicker who uses her charms to scam him of his entire bankroll. A fight breaks out, and Zeke winds up accidentally killing his younger brother. Zeke discovers religion, and becomes a preacher.
With it's fast pace, brilliant use of locations (King Vidor shot the film in Arkansas and Tennessee), local unprofessional talent, and sometimes expressionistic sound, King Vidor works wonders with his first sound film. His silent films, such as THE BIG PARADE and the superb THE CROWD proved he was a master visual storyteller. (Vidor was also instrumental in solving a fellow film director's murder during the silent era!) HALLELUJAH ends with a beautifully shot, eerie, moonlit chase through the southern swamps.
As Chick, Nina Mae McKinney steals the film from Vidor and everybody involved! She was promoted at the time as "The Black Garbo". A lively singer and performer whose film career never fully took off, the pint sized Ms. McKinney is simply a pocket rocket. In HALLELUJAH, she has more spunk and sex appeal in her eyebrows than Angelina Jolie has in her entire body! Just watch some of her staccato dance movements here. It's Elvis Presley thirty years ahead of schedule!
The Green Pastures (1936)
Sweet movie that stands the test of time.
When you pop either THE GREEN PASTURES or HALLELUJAH in your DVD player, Warner Brothers' disclaimer comes up, stating these films "are a product of their time.... it does not express Warner Brothers' opinion....." Okay, they're setting the record straight. They want to present two excellent movies, without offending anyone. The "warning" is eclipsed by two factors. These two films, both with all black casts, showcase amazing talent often smothered by the then Hollywood studio system. They also both carry a message of faith told in a very entertaining manner.
THE GREEN PASTURES opens with a Sunday School sermon in the deep south. The classroom is made up of attentive black children asking some pretty intelligent questions about the Bible. We peek into one child's view of heaven. Since this child probably knows very little of the world outside her community, heaven is one big fish-fry with plenty to eat, where the adults get to hangout and smoke ten-cent "see-gars".
It's here where God (referred to in the film as "De Lawd") makes an appearance. This is an Oscar worthy performance by Rex Ingram, one of many black actors at the time who seldom received decent film work from Hollywood. Ingram plays "De Lawd" in a sweet, soft-spoken manner, never talking down to the humans he created. "Now you're just doing fine," he tells Adam. "But there's just one thing missing. You need a family." Ingram's quiet tone always tells us this guy has things in order. Film fans may remember Rex Ingram as Jim in HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1939) and as the laughing, constantly sarcastic genie in THE THIEF OF BAGDAD (1940). Not only was Ingram an accomplished stage actor, but he was a certified MD as well!
Ingram also plays Adam and Hezdrel. During the later performance, GREEN PASTURES most memorable time-tested message comes across very simply. We realize this is truly a cinematic classic. The Bible stories are depicted here in pseudo 20th century settings with old world behavior. (Much like the villages in the first three FRANKENSTEIN films) Moses is a modern-day "trickster" who gives Pharaoh's top magician a run for his money. In another scene, a pistol packing gangster in a double breasted suit mouths off to Noah.
A strong classic that never ages!
James Allen (Paul Muni) returns from military service after World War I to an America pocked with poor job prospects. Forced to travel state-to-state, seeking work in his trade, the engineering field, Allen winds up in a flop house. He quickly establishes a friendship with the equally desperate Pete (Preston Foster, bursting with a sleazy smile) Pete turns vicious and involves the innocent Allen in a hastily planned diner hold-up. The police kill Pete and capture Allen. The courts believe Allen to be a culprit, and not a victim. Allen is sentenced to ten years hard labor on a chain gang.
At the camp, Allen and the other prisoners are forced to endure 15 hour work-days pounding rocks in the hot sun. They are fed greasy, indigestible food, and are subjected to nightly beatings by sadistic wanna-be tough guy guards. In a scene staged and edited well ahead of it's time, Allen escapes.
Two very talented men help shape CHAIN GANG into a still riveting classic, actor Paul Muni, a veteran of Second Avenue's Yiddish Theatre, and Mervyn LeRoy, an under-appreciated studio director who knew how to tell a story in a fast, brisk cinematic manner.
While Muni in other films (SCARFACE, THE GOOD EARTH) would perform over the top, here he's restrained and calculating. Just watch the way his body jerks and his eyes shifts when he's on the run, fearing the police are right behind him, or in more simpler scenes, the way his body slumps when his minister brother chides him for reaching beyond his means. It was a shame Muni made so few films. This honest, believable actor is surely of the Russell Crowe/Tom Cruise caliber.
Welcome to America, Fritz!
During the first fifteen minutes of FURY, you'll swear you are watching an amazingly bland romantic drama involving some average Joe. But as soon as Joe (Spencer Tracy) approaches the sleepy town of Strand, while driving to his own wedding, FURY takes a scary turn. Remember, this is the first Hollywood film directed by that German prince of dark cinema, Fritz Lang.
From 1919 to 1933, Lang's German films, such as DR. MABUSE, METROPOLIS, SPIES and M focused on the dark side of humanity, often showing vicious gangs or mobs at their worst. In FURY, a small town sheriff believes passing traveller Joe Wilson to be a wanted kidnapper. Following law and rational, the sheriff holds Joe until the District Attorney can determine his guilt or innocence. (The sheriff is played by Edward Ellis, who was Paul Muni's best prison pal in I AM A FUGITIVE FROM A CHAIN GANG)
Outside the prison, rumors spin out of control. The ordinary citizens believe the real kidnapper is jailed. A justice-hungry mob, led by the local bad-ass (Bruce Cabot) storm the jail, beat up the sheriff and dynamite the jail. We are only half-way through FURY, the second half involves a few hair-raising twists, and a real examination of how black-hearted even decent people can become.
Lang often mixed realism with distorted expressionism (Just take a look at his best film, M) The storming of the jail is often filmed in a documentary style, as if the camera peers at the chaos from some safe haven. He would mix in harshly lit close-ups of the thrill-crazed mob watching Joe burn in prison. While Joe is trapped behind bars, waiting to roast alive, he holds his frightened dog. (The dog is played by the same canine who played Toto in WIZARD OF OZ. Of course, this being a Fritz Lang film, the local witches aren't just talk, they really get Tracy and his little dog, too!)
A feast and a fascinating historic foot-note!
If this clever, intelligent and visually stunning 1943 German version of the Baron Munchausen story was made elsewhere, and not under Nazi rule, it would surely rank as one of the great classic fantasy films. Films made in Germany during World War II received almost no worldwide distribution. Up until now, the only way to view MUNCHAUSEN was through faded video bootlegs. Kino Video, with the assistance of the F.W Murnau Foundation (who helped preserve Fritz Lang's METROPOLIS) has released a handsomely restored version of this colorful, dreamlike fantasy treat.
MUNCHAUSEN begins with a great visual gag regarding an elaborate 18th century costume ball attended by the charming but constantly fibbing Baron Munchausen (Hans Albers, whom film fans will recognize as the strong-man who steals Marlene Dietrich away in THE BLUE ANGEL) Munchausen tells of his wild adventures. One moment he rides a cannonball to a sultan's grand palace, at others he takes a trip to the moon, does battle with flying barking clothing, and encounters a man-hungry Catherine The Great.
MUNCHAUSEN was filmed in Agfacolor, a bright and stunning color process developed in Germany. You will see the storybook-like colors that make this film so enjoyable. MUNCHAUSEN also has some really wild moments for a film made in 1943. In one scene, topless slave girls are auctioned off. In other scenes, Russians are depicted as weasely gluttons slobbering over vats of caviar. As MUNCHAUSEN neared completion, the Germans suffered a crippling blow at Stalingrad. Any jab at the victorious Russians would have been welcomed by German audiences.
MUNCHAUSEN was the film that heralded the 25th anniversary of UFA, Germany's grandest film studio. During the bombing raids on Berlin, UFA studios and its vast achieve were severely damaged. It is true miracle that MUNCHAUSEN survived as well as it did
A wonderful return for a fi master
A samurai warlord stares at his exact double, a recently captured petty thief. Before long, the warlord is assassinated. In order to hide this new weak link, the warlord's advisors hire the thief as a substitute. What follows is in unforgettable study of power-thirst and the folly of war. This is KAGEMUSHA, the comeback film for master film-maker Akira Kurosawa.
In the late 1970's George Lucas, and Francis Coppola, fresh from conquering Hollywood with their films, watched in dismay as the Japanese film industry regarded Akira Kurosawa as an unmarketable relic. Kurosawa, who bought the Japanese film industry worldwide recognition with his 1950 film RASHOMON, was now being turned away by every Japanese studio for his latest film project. Both Lucas and Coppola borrowed furiously from Kurosawa films (STAR WARS is almost a remake of THE HIDDEN FORTRESS and SEVEN SAMURAI) Coppola's THE GODFATHER has numerous Kurosawa-styled moments. Lucas and Coppola came to the rescue with international distribution deals. This resulted in KAGEMUSHA, Kurosawa's long-planned samurai epic, becoming a reality. During KAGEMUSHA's "Development Hell" period, Kurosawa made over 200 color drawings of key scenes in the film. The resulting film is a marvel of color usage, shot composition, and character blocking. Tatsuya Nakadai, a veteran of Kurosawa's films (he's the gun-happy punk in YOJIMBO and the cool Tokyo detective in HIGH AND LOW) is both the ill-fated warlord and the mangy thief. With two character arcs to deal with, Nakadai helps to keep the film pulsating.
Cuban Rebel Girls (1959)
A fascinating home movie
During his quarter century career, Errol Flynn worked with great directors like Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh, and John Huston. Flynn would end his career with this film made by his no-talent agent, Barry Mahon (Mahon later created many nudie-cutie movies and possibly the scariest children's film of all time- SANTA AND THE ICE CREAM BUNNY.)
Adorned with under-lit, very bad photography, Flynn plays an aging war reporter following the exploits of teen-aged rebel girls fighting in the name of Fidel Castro. The main chick here is Beverly, a bored New Yorker who joins the rebel girls mainly to be near her boyfriend whose fighting for Castro. Beverly is played by Beverly Aadland, who was Flynn's girlfriend at the time. She comes across as an Eisenhower era Paris Hilton, an on screen zombie. The film is bit boring for any real camp value. It is fascinating how the love bug bit Errol Flynn, who wrote and stars in this weird film, bit him, and would not let go!
Best of the recent bunch!
The best of the recent three Star Wars films, STAR WARS: EPISODE THREE: REVENGE OF THE SITH delivers with zest, you can't keep your eyes or emotions off it. It's 140 minute running time flies by even for the non Star Wars fans.
Young Annakin Skywalker, along with his mentor, Obi-Won return from a stunning aerial and hand-to-hand inter-plantary battle. The high point of Annakin's return is his loving, pregnant wife. What follows is Annakin's descent from a warm-hearted returning warrior to becoming the heartless Darth Vader.
Director George Lucas (who also makes an un-billed cameo as alien royalty) keeps the film's pace at high energy. I haven't seen so much cross-cutting between chases and battles since INTOLORENCE or IT'S A MAD, MAD, MAD, MAD WORLD.
The preview screening I attended in New York had heavy security. No camera phones, or recording devices were allowed in a theatre. A theatre empl0yee assured the audience the FBI and NYPD were present during the screening. At least they got to sit through a very exciting movie.
Monkey Business (1931)
"aw you crazy, flies can't read papers...."
This was the first Marx Brother film written directly for the screen. We follow four un-named ocean liner stowaways who try to avoid capture by the ship's captain. They also become involved with warring gangsters who are traveling on the boat. I always liked what the studio was trying to do with Zeppo in this film. He gets to be very funny here. It's odd to see this normal looking man, dressed in an expensive suit, pal around with three guys who dress and act like they are totally out of their minds. You would almost think that Zeppo could have had a solo career outside his brothers. My favorite scene: All four of them trying to escape the boat disquised as Maurice Chevalier.
"There are all types of love."
In three weeks since it's Thanksgiving 2004 release, Alexander has only recouped less than one/forth of it's $150 million dollar budget. The film just trods along. It's impossible to buy Angelina Jolie as Alexander's mom. She doesn't bloody age. (Well, her idea of aging 25 years in this film is to hoist her hair up in a bun and don't run around screaming as much.) Colin Farell gives a good performance as Alexander, but he doesn't come across as the conquerer on much of the world. He comes across more like an above average Burger King manager. CGI work tends to mar the battle scenes. The super-clean sets are a joke. They look like something out of "Alexander- the Video Game" What has happened to Oliver Stone?