Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

The Wizard of Oz

Movie Review #727

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Directed by Victor Fleming. Uncredited directors: George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor (director: Kansas scenes). Screenplay by Noel Langley & Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf. (Adaptation: Noel Langley. From the book by L. Frank Baum.) Uncredited writers: Arthur Freed, William H. Cannon, E.Y. Harburg. Uncredited contributing writers: Irving Brecher, Herbert Fields, Samuel Hoffenstein, John Lee Mahin, Herman J. Mankiewicz, Jack Mintz, Ogden Nash, Robert Pirosh, George Seaton, Sid Silvers. Uncredited additional dialogue: Jack Haley, Bert Lahr. Produced by Mervyn LeRoy, presented by MGM, produced by Loew’s Incorporated. Starring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Ray Bolger, Bert Lahr, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, Margaret Hamilton, Charley Grapewin, Pat Walshe, Clara Blandick, Toto, and the Singer Midgets (also credited as The Munchkins). Premiered in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin on August 12, 1939. Distributed by Metro Goldwyn Mayer in wide release on August 25, 1939. Re-releases: April, 1949 (limited); June, 1949; June 17, 1955; November 6, 1998 (re-mastered version); September 20, 2013 (limited, 3-D version). Rated PG: some scary moments. Runs 102 minutes.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

I’ve been reading a lot on the history of film, and as you might guess, “The Wizard of Oz” is a staple to this subject. This wasn’t the first movie musical (in fact, movie musicals were a huge trend all throughout the 1930′s), but it was the first movie that dared to go into a completely new realm of special effects, and it came around when children’s movies were only in bloom. So it’s not surprising that the production was difficult. What’s surprising is how difficult everything turned out to be. Looking at a small portion of it, there were five directors. One is credited, and that’s Victor Fleming, but George Cukor, Mervyn LeRoy, Norman Taurog, and King Vidor also helmed the project. Remarkably, the film coheses of L. Frank Baum’s timeless story. In fact, an extra flow of beauty swarms in when transitioning from Vidor’s Kansas scenes, into the fantastical Munchkinland.

Although the movie was universally spat upon in its initial release, “Oz” has become one of the most belovèd films by all ages. If you haven’t seen it by now, my review will not be the one to convince you. Can you claim to have a childhood? An adulthood? I’m not saying the movie’s the greatest movie ever made, but it’s certainly a must. It’s a matter of momentary mistakes that keeps me from hailing the movie as perfect. What makes it a classic is the fact that, 75 years after its release, it’s still one of the twenty, if not the ten most cinematically, historically, and culturally important movies there ever was.

And importance doesn’t always imply entertainment for a film as old as seventy-five years, but that is undisputedly the case here. The screenplay, written by almost twenty individuals, can be most accurately assessed as wonderful. Among its most enthusiastic deliverers stand Judy Garland as Dorothy, Terry as Toto, Frank Morgan as the titular fellow, and most especially Margaret Hamilton as Miss Gulch and the Wicked Witch of the West. As for the friends Garland meets on her way to see the Wizard of Oz, they’re debatably the three most crucial features to her journey, the story a westernized individual knows as well as his or her own date of birth. They’re the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion, portrayed respectively by Ray Bolger, Jack Haley, and Bert Lahr. I’ll note the first two for their enthusiasm, but as far as Lahr, the enthusiasm goes disturbingly over the top. Over time, though, some things just manage to lose what initially made them great, and that might explain why Lahr’s performance seems so awful nowadays. It’s a wonder the entire rest of “Oz” stayed intact over seven and a half decades.

Tomorrow’s Review

All Quiet on the Western Front

THE WIZARD OF OZ IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY, DVD, VHS, AND LASERDISC.

Hello all! Today, I introduce a new feature entitled Short Film Smorgasbord. Each time one of these posts goes up, it’s three short film reviews for three short films.

The entire smorgasbord will count as one (1) review, and this time, they also happen to be (especially important) silents.

Oh and I’ll have a witty title for each smorgasbord (thanks a bunch to Committed to Celluloid for that inspiration).

Enjoy!

Sherlock Holmes, Baffled that the Kelly Gang Made It into the Sealed Room

Movie Review #712

“Sherlock Holmes, Baffled”

American Mutoscope & Biograph. Distributor: American Mutoscope & Biograph. Country: USA. Directed by Arthur Marvin. Character by Arthur Conan Doyle. Runs 1 minute. Wide release in the USA in May 1900. Starring Anonymous as Sherlock Holmes.

“Sherlock Holmes Baffled” is a simple but clever little short. The premise: Sherlock walks into a room to find a burglar. There seems to be a fantasy element to this movie—a humorous surprise that I dare not spoil—and as far as special effects, this 1900 motion picture is waaay ahead of its time. An effort that cracked a smile on my face, a reaction many modern comedies can only wish for. For the first movie to actually feature Holmes, this is quite a nice effort.

“The Sealed Room”

Biograph Company. Distributor: Biograph Company – Reel Media International – American Mutoscope & Biograph. Country: USA. Languages: English intertitles. Directed by D.W. Griffith. Writer: Frank E. Woods. Based on the novel “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allan Poe and the story “La Grande Breteche” by Honoré de Balzac. Runs 11 minutes. Wide release in the USA on September 2, 1909. Starring Arthur V. Johnson as the Count, Marion Leonard as the Countess, and Henry B. Walthall as the Minstrel. Also starring Linda Arvidson, William J. Butler, Verner Clarges, Owen Moore, George Nichols, Anthony O’Sullivan, Mary Pickford, Gertrude, Mack Sennett, and George Siegmann.

It’s interesting to think that while epics of the last half-century emphasize hope in their respective stories, the epic film actually began with overwhelming tragedy. At eleven minutes, “The Sealed Room” isn’t long enough to stand as a part of this genre, but elongate it and it most certainly is. This isn’t as good as D.W. Griffith can get, but it feels like a considerable (and adequately gripping) precursor to his two best-known epics: “The Birth of a Nation” (1915) and “Intolerance” (1916).

“The Story of the Kelly Gang”

J. & N. Tait. Johnson and Gibson. Country: Australia. Directed by Charles Tait. Produced by W.A. Gibson, Millard Johnson, John Tait, and Nevin Tait. Writer: Charles Tait. Runs 70 minutes (remaining footage runs 21 minutes). Wide release in Australia on December 26, 1906. Starring Elizabeth Tait and John Tait. Also starring Frank Mills, Norman Campbell, Will Coyne, Sam Crewes, Jack Ennis, John Forde, Mr. Marshall, Mr. McKenzie, Bella Cola, Vera Linden, and Ollie Wilson. With uncredited cameo appearances from E.J. Tait and Frank Tait.

Fun fact: 70% of all silent footage that was ever produced, has been lost. Technically, “The Story of the Kelly Gang” was the first feature film. Reports vacillate between time lengths of 60 and 70 minutes; the established minimum for a feature film is 40 minutes. 21 minutes of the movie remain, and not a bit of story can be discerned from it. It’s just violence, violence, and more violence. None of it’s graphic, morbid, or off-putting in anyway other than that it’s pointless. If I had to guess, I’d say this is a “Bonnie and Clyde” precursor, but what good does guessing do? What good is it when the movie forces you to guess? Perhaps there was an actual plot when this film (which ironically has “Story” in its title) was issued at feature length. But if I were to watch any random 21 minutes of a decent movie, I’m sure I would be able to make out at least half the plot.

Tomorrow’s Review

The English Patient

ALL TITLES AVAILABLE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN.

Alice

Movie Review #708

Of interest – This is my longest review yet.  Word count: 1,168.

alice

A Jack Rollins and Charles H. Joffe Production…

…an Orion Pictures Release…

Orion Pictures Corporation

Distributor: Orion Pictures Corporation
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Woody Allen. Produced by Robert Greenhut. Written by Woody Allen.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – sexual material, infrequent profanity. Approved by the Production Code Administration (certificate #30686). Runs 1 hour, 42 minutes. Limited release in Chicago, Illinois, Los Angeles, California, and New York City, New York on December 25, 1990.

Starring Mia Farrow and Joe Mantegna. Also starring William Hurt, June Squibb, Marceline Hugot, Dylan O’Sullivan Farrow, Matt Williamson, Julie Kavner, Billy Taylor, Holland Taylor, Michael-Vaughn Sullivan, Robin Bartlett, Linda Wallem, Gina Gallagher, Patience Moore, Kim Chan, Diane Cheng, Keye Luke, Lynda Bridges, Anthony Cortino, Judy Davis, Cybill Shepherd, Alec Baldwin, Katja Schumann, Vanessa Thomas, Blythe Danner, Gwen Verdon, Patrick O’Neal, Kristy Graves, Laurie Nayber, Rachel Miner, Amy Louise Barret, Caroline Aaron, Alexi Henry, James Tobac, Bernadette Peters, Elle Macpherson, Ira Wheeler, Lisa Marie, Diane Salinger, Alfred Cherry, David Spielberg, and Bob Balaban. Featuring an uncredited cameo appearance by Mary Stein.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

Not counting any television movies or short films, Woody Allen has directed forty-four movies, of which I’ve seen twenty-two. This is what I’ve come to. Let me delineate the four basic “eras,” if you will, that Allen’s filmography can be broken down into. Everything from “What’s Up, Tiger Lily?” (1966) to “Sleeper” (1973) is an entry into the Slapstick Era. That period of time is followed closely by the First Soap Era, which runs from “Love and Death” (1975) all the way into “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (1989). That’s where the next age comes in: the New & Inventive Era, which tracks from “Alice” (1990) into “Hollywood Ending” (2002). Then the old traditions pick right back up again with the Second Soap Era, which spans from “Anything Else” (2003) up to “Blue Jasmine” (2013) and more than likely through Woody’s upcoming release, this year’s “Magic in the Moonlight”.

Just writing this on a legal pad, I can feel a mess of both nodding and blank stares. No, I haven’t lost my mind, and yes, for those who get sort of what I’m pinpointing here, I do know it doesn’t match up film for film. If it did, then “Zelig” (1983) and “Midnight in Paris” (2011) would have both been released during the New & Inventive Era, and “Husbands and Wives” (1992) and, perhaps, “Everyone Says I Love You” (1996) would belong in one of the two Soap Eras. Just bear with me, anyway; it’s a rough sketch.

Moving on now, I think the one I need to clear up a little bit is the New & Inventive. What exactly do I mean by “new and inventive”? Well, it’s simple, actually. From 1990 to 2002, Woody Allen was trying to restart his career with homemade jumper cables. That’s to say that he was putting every love story he’d made, every wild farce with his name on it, all that behind him and start from scratch. As far as what was released during these twelve years, you don’t need to look at anything more than the IMDb plot descriptions to figure out that the man was departing from “same old, same old” romances and trying to plunge himself into new stories.

Sometimes he was met with praise. Other times, his newness only made for a cheesy movie with regretful aftertaste.

Frankly, I can’t put my finger on why Allen continued after “Alice” (1990), his first movie during the New & Inventive Era. I can’t put my finger on why he even thought it was a good idea after that first attempt. I just can’t put my finger on it, and when I try and use the identical digit on my opposing hand, no dice. I’ll give Woody credit for being new. Hell, I’ll give him an upwards thumbnail for being inventive. I’ll keep that thumb up for the outfit worn by the title character, the music, and the homage to Federico Fellini’s “Juliet of the Spirits” that apparently permeates every crack and crevasse of this flick. But the fantasy twist evokes such eye rolling! Even if I loved anything and everything Woody Allen did make “Alice” an unexpectedly kooky film, there’s still room for shame. Yes, the visual movie magic contributes, but is there any getting by the fact that this is a most banal excuse to showcase those special effects?

As much as I love Mia Farrow, there’s nothing better than Mia Farrow in a Woody Allen movie. There’s one exception, of course, and that’s right here, folks. She just overacts and pops so much cornball into her performance that she could easily outpop the average popcorn machine. This has worked for her multiple times in Woody’s movies, though. If only the script were more clever, her caricature might’ve been a home run.

It’s a dangerous question, to ask how Alice changes the script itself by being its leading heroine. This women does two things–just two–and you can tell me whether that’s a work of sexism or poor character development.

One. She talks. And talks, and talks, talks, chats, flaps her gums, her lips, whatever. Talks, speaks, lets words, sentences, phrases fly out sa bouche. And then, after she’s had a moment’s break, she gets goin’ again. Talk, talk, talk some more. I think Meredith Willson wrote a song specifically about this woman in The Music Man. The lyrics, of course, denote the act of talking in a rather thorough fashion.

Two. Alice complains. She’s neurotic, but so are at least half of Woody Allen’s protagonists. He loves his neurotics, but Alice’s complaints are just too dry and unfunny for us to love. I was ripping hairs from my head when she was just complaining and complaining about that damn backache of hers. She repeats herself when she complains. Oh and guess what, Alice, I have two stainless steel rods holding my back together and straightening it to prevent scoliosis from turning me into Quasimodo. How do ya like them apples? You think that’s any fun? Do you hear me complaining about some silly backache?

Oh and by the way, she repeats herself when she complains. I feel like I’ve said that already, but I kid you not. She really does repeat herself when she complains. (Should I say it again?)

I digress.

I often would characterize Woody Allen as a screenwriter of situation, in which case the events and happenstances are fleshed out for the screen more than anything else. Some of his best, however comes when he writes character to a higher degree than situation. “Annie Hall”, “Zelig”, “Match Point”, and “Blue Jasmine” all succeed thanks to the personalities that feature. Whereas “Alice” is in desperate need of character development. Once we have a reason to be interested in the main character, which we certainly do, we need a reason not to lose interest. (Oops!)

The lead role is not a followup to the same-titled TV series, or the originating movie in which Ellen Burstyn played a woman named Alice, for those who have gotten this far into my review and are still wondering. Instead, the protagonist is more of a free-spirited naïf living out Alice in Wonderland. Make no mistake, Alice’s sister’s name is Dorothy, and she probably lives inside her daydreams of the Merry Old Land of Oz. It’s basically “Amélie”, except “Amélie” is a newer movie, its fantasy elements are far less exaggerated, and it’s a much better slice of entertainment. “Alice” is funny, hither and thither. At the very least, it does try. When it’s too lazy to do just that, it recycles old jokes. My all-time favorite one-liner from any Woody Allen comedy has always been from “Manhattan”: “I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics.” Yep, that one’s butchered in this movie. “Alice” is a semi-complete disappointment. Clearly, there was potential for a good movie here. It just didn’t happen. Woody Allen has spent every cinematic effort since 1966 playing different variations around the same minor key. “Alice” has a flavorful array of notes, but it lacks the chords that would have made that melody appealing.

Tomorrow’s Review

À bout de souffle

ALICE IS AVAILABLE ON DVD AND VHS.

Sucker Punch

Movie Review #695

This review is dedicated to Casey, who pointed out to me that when German was spoken in Sucker Punch, only the infinitive verbs were used.

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Warner Bros. presents…

…in association with Legendary Pictures…

Cruel and Unusual
Lennox House Films

Distributor: Warner Bros.
Country: USA – Canada
Spoken Languages: English – German

Directed by Zack Snyder. Produced by Deborah Snyder and Zack Snyder. Screenplay by Zack Snyder & Steve Shibuya. Story by Zack Snyder.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA — mature themes, sexual content, violence, profanity (extended cut rated R). Runs 1 hour, 50 minutes (extended cut runs 17 minutes longer). Wide release in the USA and Canada on March 25, 2011.

Starring Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone Vanessa Hudgens, and Jamie Chung. Also starring Carla Gugino, Oscar Isaac, Jon Hamm, Scott Glenn, Richard Cetrone, and Gerard Plunkett. Featuring a credited cameo appearance by Eli Snyder; and uncredited cameo appearances by Cara Hrdlitschka and Teya Wild as brothel girls.

Cinemaniac Reviews three stars

“Sucker Punch” is neither a rock-solid movie nor a classifiably bad movie. It’s less than enough to say that at the core, this is an über-fun movie. Zack Snyder is here to make nothing more than a guilty pleasure. (You might say that he always is, but that’s a dispute we’ll save for later.) His movie should be an artifact of plagiarism, with its obvious cross between Tarantino’s revengelore (“Kill Bill”, “Inglourious Basterds”) and every commercial video game from Call of Duty to Mortal Kombat. But it’s not an artifact of plagiarism at all, because Snyder has something to add.

Following his successful compilation that was “Watchmen”, Zack Snyder has brought back great music, recreated specifically for the form of his picture. Actress Emily Browning’s cover of the Eurythmics’s “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” opens the movie like a five-minute prologue, or an establishing music video. A cover of the Pixies’s “Where Is My Mind?” (widely associated with “Fight Club”) marks the excitement, leading up to a cover of the Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Dies” in the climax. I’m positive there would be no movie if no soundtrack. Every song fits, is perfectly timed, and makes the movie that much more fun.

But with all the precise music cues and CGI in this film, and with all the extensive action sequences, you’d never guess there’s a story. It’s a pretty interesting story if I’m to be honest. Seconds before being lobotomized, a young woman relives her recent memory one last time: a impossible nightmare in which she fights a few powerful, sexist pigs in an effort to free both her and a handful of other female mental patients. What makes the approach work is it has our attention the whole time. I was so engrossed, I didn’t notice some of the most ridiculous “what” factors of the film. Thanks to an anonymous friend, having revisited “Sucker Punch” for his fourth time, who pointed out to me that these characters were temporarily in a medieval setting with machine guns.

Outside of action sequences, or that terrific opening, the movie’s power tends to lack. I’m fine with the logiclessness of the movie. I love the logiclessness of the movie. But things are only good to a point. Here and there, things went unexplained and I was left confused. Why are these girls in a mental asylum when they seem perfectly sane? Is this to say that the men who sent them there were just sexists, and that it wasn’t just the boss they worked for, a more brooding reimagination of Dr. Frank-N-Furter? This whole movie was made on the grounds that these are beautiful women; you can’t have just anybody in these roles for a reason, and it certainly isn’t acting ability. But what sexist could resist them, particularly to the idea of a mental asylum? Did they get there the R. P. McMurphy way, and expect it to be all fun and games?

I’ve gotta say, for a movie with zero character development, “Sucker Punch” has a mighty nice fist to gaze at. Let me slightly overanalyze the title. It doesn’t suck, but it does deliver an exuberant, well-rounded punch.

Tomorrow’s Review

Doctor Zhivago

SUCKER PUNCH IS AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD.

Hit the jump for an announcement regarding the 2nd Annual Cinemaniac Awards:

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Cat People

Movie Review #672

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Studio: RKO Pictures – Universal Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Paul Schrader. Produced by Charles Fries. Story by DeWitt Bodeen. Screenplay by Alan Ormsby. Uncredited writer: Paul Schrader.

Rated R by the MPAA – violence, graphic nudity. Runs 1 hour, 58 minutes. Wide release in the USA on April 2, 1982.

Starring Nastassia Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole, and Frankie Faison.

Cinemaniac Reviews two stars

Once upon a time there was a screenwriter named Alan Ormsby.  This screenwriter was originally planning a National Geographic segment on a woman who grew up with cats.

Ormsby kept Mowglietta and one of such Africa-laden scenes, then proceeded to throw out the rest of his jaguar movie.  He even scrapped Morgan Freeman’s narration in the ten-minute sequence that remained, replacing it with segments of the David Bowie song “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)”.  But he didn’t leave it for dead like that.  He used this sequence as the opening flashback in his remake-ish of the 1940s B-movie “Cat People”.  That flashback is experienced by a woman has in an airport.

Now this isn’t just any woman.  This is a woman who is as catlike as any antagonistic woman in the movie.  I might mention that the writer has tried to disguise the bad women, but when they have catlike facial features, it eventually becomes obvious that the only good woman in this movie will have a womanly face.

But back to the main character.  She’s catlike, and she’s a zoologist, specifically looking after cats who are so terrifying, they can and will rip the arm off a zoologist who’s dumb enough to think that he can taser it.  It’s worth mentioning that she’s hired for this job right after finding a cat roaming her house.  Strange, right?  You’d think the weird “a jaguar is under my kitchen table” experience would lead her to say no, but she accepts the offer and goes on her merry way.

This was the first thirty minutes, which were fine.  Suspenseful maybe.  Even David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire)” succeeds in its overuse.  The movie gets lazy hereafter.  Name anything in Giorgio Moroder’s score fails, other than his “Clockwork Orange” remix during the climax (“Cat People” stars Malcolm McDowell).  Talk about lovably misplaced.  Visual effects are perfect and the movie looks good, but even with the most noirish tones, the movie’s cruisin’ away downhill, transformin’ interest into boredom gradually.

Actually, this isn’t simple boredom.  That boredom is marked by the director’s take on the word “exciting.”  If you choose to watch “Cat People” with a friend, please for your own sake make sure he or she is not a sex addict.  And I’m half-joking here. The movie scraps a good two-thirds of its plot for the risqué.  For some, that’s not exactly a negative.  Hell, there’s so much nudity, it’s what makes it watchable.  This scene, show McDowell in bed with another woman.  The next scene, have the femme fatale run off into the field where she’ll strip and proceed to what’s beyond the field: an African wilderness.  Later on, let’s have a woman go skinny dipping on her own.  And make that scene like Jaws with cats.  Naturally, humans are suckers to nude scenes, which gives Cat People a huge audience.  The cast is probably doubling on its own in such scenes, or else there’s little to actually get paid for.  So if I ever consider rewatching this, it’s not because I enjoyed it as a movie. It’s because there were nude scenes in such great amount, they made it seem a better movie.

But in all of that I could make a whole different point.  The movie is with all skin, no substance.

At least the movie looks good.  (I’m talking more about cinematography here than nudity.)  And it has a good David Bowie song.  Come on, 2009′s “Inglourious Basterds” couldn’t have created such an intense climax without that battle hymn.  The movie knows the noir, violence, and risqué.  Three determining factors of erotic horror, and it has style on top of that.  It’s practically Twin Peaks with African cats, except I can’t believe I actually compared this to David Lynch’s chef d’oeuvre.  There’s a story here, but it’s nothing more than what’s in the log line.  Nothing changes.  Except facial expressions, of course, because Natasha Nastassia Kinski is damn good at that.  So I guess “Cat People” has the dramatic depth of a celebrity photo shoot.

P.S.: If you like David Bowie–and yes, you do–stay through the credits to hear the whole song.

Tomorrow’s Review

Insidious: Chapter 2

Iron Man Three

Movie Review #663

iron_man_three_ver11

Marvel Studios presents…

…in association with Paramount Pictures & DMG Entertainment…

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures
Country: USA – China
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Shane Black. Produced by Kevin Feige. Screenplay by Drew Pearce & Shane Black. Based on the Marvel comic book by Stan Lee and Don Heck and Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. Based on the “Extremis” mini-series written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Adi Granov.

Rated PG-13 by the MPAA – frequent violence, mild sexual content. Runs 2 hours, 10 minutes. Premiered in London on April 18, 2013. Wide release in China on May 1, 2013; and in the USA on May 3, 2013.

Starring Robert Downey, Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, and Ben Kingsley. Also starring Rebecca Hall, Stephanie Szostak, James Badge Dale, and Jon Favreau.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

Maybe I’m missing some insight from skipping over “Iron Man 2”. Maybe you shouldn’t listen to me, because I didn’t find “Iron Man” or “The Avengers” to be anything special. Or maybe I’m right in saying that there’s a reason “Iron Man Three” is such a fun time.

The movie reroutes from mot other superhero movies. It does have a handful of exciting action sequences, especially during the forty minutes leading up to a creative finale–but this isn’t strictly an action movie. “Iron Man Three” is a comedy with big-budget accoutrements. If nothing else, the film proves that superhero movies can focus on personality and peril as one concept, not just on the latter.

This is thanks to the screenplay, which, despite its loose pacing, is terrific. Shane Black wasn’t writing the script alone, but the film is obviously his own. He also provides as the director, and in either department, he seems to be the one cinematic figure who deserves to be working with Downey. Black accentuates exactly what we want in Downey’s character: a personality that’s half Brad Pitt, half Jack Nicholson. (And, of course, wears a bunch of scrap metal.)

It’s not just the Guy Who Plays Tony Stark, though. Don Cheadle works as well as he ever has. He performs in the buddy role, a telling necessity for every Black script since “Lethal Weapon”. His job is evidently to known when to take Downey seriously. It seems pretty difficult to me. I’ll also mention the performances of Guy Pearce, Ben Kingsley, and Gwyneth Paltrow. Particularly Kingsley’s, for his transformation into the role of a figure known only as “the Mandarin.”

By now, we’re used to accepting superhero movies at face value, or close to it. But “Iron Man Three” isn’t so shallow. It’s dug beneath the face and entered mind value. A trend that began with “The Dark Knight” for blockbuster characters to have their flaws exposed–now that’s a step in the right direction. Let’s be honest, if Tony Stark is nothing more than “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist,” then we’ll all want our money back eventually.

Tomorrow’s Review

Radio Days

Superman

Movie Review #660

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Studio: Dovemead Limited – Film Export A.G. – International Film Production
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Country: UK
Spoken Languages: English

Directed by Richard Donner. Produced by Pierre Spengler. Created by Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster. Story by Mario Puzo. Screenplay by Mario Puzo and David Newman and Leslie Newman & Robert Benton. Additional uncredited writer: Tom Mankiewicz.

Rated PG by the MPAA – mild violence, infrequent and mild sexual content, profanity. Runs 2 hours, 23 minutes (2000 restoration runs 2 hours, 31 minutes). Premiered in Washington, D.C. on December 10, 1978. Royal European Charity premiere in the UK on December 13, 1978. Limited release in New York City, New York on December 11, 1978; in Boston, Massachusetts on December 13, 1978; and in Los Angeles, California on December 14, 1978. Wide release in the UK on December 14, 1978; and in the USA on December 15, 1978.

With Christopher Reeve as Superman / Clark Kent. Starring Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Jackie Cooper, Glenn Ford, Margot Kidder, Jack O’Halloran, Valerie Perrine, Maria Schell, Terence Stamp, Phyllis Thaxter, Susannah York, and Jeff East.

Cinemaniac Reviews three and a half stars

I would forgive the set design, the obvious blue screens, and the home video look in “Superman”, even if the technical department reunited everybody who worked on the looks of “Plan 9 from Outer Space”. (And believe me, the looks aren’t that miserable at all.) “Superman” goes the distance with its campy look. It also embraces it. You don’t have to fanboy the hell out of yourself to love the opening titles, not to mention the story that follows. You could be the average six-year-old. Or you could be the average thirty-six-year-old.

“Superman” isn’t an action movie, either. The melodrama is what heightens our faith in the movie, especially when the implausible adventure arrives. Mario Puzo wrote the story and co-wrote the screenplay. Evidently, his heavy work on “The Godfather” strengthens this movie: it’s an epic in the making, not a thin, fleeting comic book. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s tale comes as the rise of a hero–or, in this case, a superhero–starting from the very beginning. The movie flies by faster than a speeding bullet, and honestly, I can’t imagine the pacing being any stronger. It’s 50 minute before the “Superman” costume is used to transition from Clark Kent’s boyhood into his adulthood. 51 minutes before we see Lois Lane working at the Daily Planet. 71 minutes before we see Clark in costume, ready to save the world. A time after that, the name “Superman” is first uttered. We’re told unmistakably that Superman will return; I doubt not that when he does, we’ll begin to see the fall of this hero.

The “Superman” story is one of the most transcendent pieces ever written. This reimagination, from director Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon”, “The Omen”), was a prototypical effort in the superhero genre. Three and a half decades later, it definitely has competitors. Christopher Nolan’s “Batman” trilogy being the universally decided cream of the crop. Though even its imperfections, “Superman” has yet to be topped, in its representation of the genre. Knowing that the movie remains fresh, comic booky, and fun (even in the über, über impossible ending), I doubt it’ll lose that power.

Tomorrow’s Review

Kick-Ass

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Movie Review #651

dracula_ver2

Studio: American Zoetrope – Columbia Pictures Corporation – Osiris Films
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
Country: USA
Spoken Languages: English – Romanian – Greek – Bulgarian – Latin

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Fuchs, and Charles Mulvehill. Screenplay by James V. Hart. Based on the novel “Dracula” by Bram Stoker.

Rated R by the MPAA, for sexuality and horror violence. Runs 2 hours, 8 minutes. Wide release in the USA on November 13, 1992.

Starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves. Also starring Richard E. Grant, Cary Elwes, Bill Campbell, Sadie Frost, and Tom Waits.

Cinemaniac Reviews one and a half stars

There’s no way this is the same Francis Ford Coppola who spent twenty years on the “Godfather” trilogy, and twenty-seven years on perfecting “Apocalypse Now”. “Dracula” is another attempt at large-scale filmmaking, and it’s enough to prove that despite those other masterpieces, Coppola just ain’t the master of the non-DeMillean epic. That significant change he made is pretty much a prologue. A really bamboozling prologue. We’re told that Transylvania is founded in 1462, at the fall of Constantine. Narration, war scenes, the whole nine yards are involved in this prologue. The scene looks like something out of “300”, but at least it tells us why Dracula loves to drink blood. (Done with that culinary subject; now let’s conduct an utterly pointless investigation on why Mr. Hershey loves chocolate.)

Skip ahead to 1897. I’m really not sure what Transylvania is in relation to Great Britain. It’s probably a colony or a territory, since everybody’s acting like they’re straight outta Victorian England, but it’s also possible that Transylvania is a fictitious part of Disneyland. The set design and props certainly say so, with their faux attire.

I won’t bother too much with the film’s location. Whatever mystical land belongeth these homo sapiens, “Dracula” is much less a movie than a filmed stage play. That such semantics actually matters is not a good thing. The movie boasts a great cast, but when Keanu Reeves can’t take himself out of a Hamlet mindset, and Winona Ryder overacts like a hopeless romantic, we’re all the more thankful for a decent Dractor (Gary Oldman). Once Anthony Hopkins appears, an hour has passed. Time for Van Helsing to make this movie watchable!

I have to bitch about Gary Oldman, though. “Just say “no” to your makeup artist!” I could hear a banshee offscreen screaming it. And yes, please. For the love of God. The makeup artist can’t tell the difference between Dracula and the elephant man. The way his hair and face were so distinctly pieced together, I almost shouted, “I…am a human being!”

There’s a lot of romance in this edition of “Dracula”. It begins with two Victorian Valley Girls goss’pin’ away, and it gets, ya know, totally bizarre. Totally bizarre. Like, I’ve read Dracula, and I’d of’en times thank, “Damn, y’know, what on earth is goin’ on!” Mah Jesus.

Anyway.

“Dracula” establishes itself as a strange movie early on. Remember how Janet was so easily aroused by the titular character in “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”? That’s every woman here. Neurotic, bipolar sex addicts who wear way too much makeup. If there’s anything scary about “Dracula”, it’s that everybody’s so willing to stereotype the female race so quickly and…weirdly.

I can’t complain about everything here. The leading music is perfect. The cinematography thankfully echoes Coppola’s intended style. The editing is marvellous. But screw it all. I was bored.

Holy Motors [English-language companion]

Review No. 608

“Holy Motors”, great balls of fire!

NOTE: If you don’t speak French, I’m sorry here you are.

holy_motors_ver2

A

CREW:
Director — Leos Carax
Producer — Martine Marignac, Albert Prévost, Maurice Tinchant
Screenplay — Mr. Carax

CAST:
Denis Lavant — Mr. Oscar
Édith Scob — Céline
Eva Mendes — Kay M.
Kyle Minogue — Eva
Ms. Minogue — Jean
Jeanne Disson — Angèle
Élise Lhomeau — Léa
Ms. Lhomeau — Élise
Michel Piccoli — man with birthmark
Leos Carax — The Sleeper

OTHER:
Distributor — Les Films du Losange (“Diamond Films”)
Release Date — May 23, 2012 (Cannes); July 4, 2012 (France); October 11, 2012 (NYFF); October 17, 2012 (New York premiere)
Language — French, English, Chinese
Country — France, Germany
Running Time — 116 minutes
MPAA —
NOT RATED — MATURE CONTENT.

HOLY MOTORS WAS WATCHED ON SEPTEMBER 6, 2013.

Holy Motors is strange and utterly enchanting.  The film is the fifth work directed by Leos Carax, who’s also worked as a film critic.  Yes, he’s French, but he truly knows American movies just as well; his Holy Motors echoes these classiques.  It’s Blade Runner and it’s also Eraserhead.  (I believe there’s touches of 2001: A Space Odyssey, as well.)

But these two or three examples are nothing more than a starting point.  The movie is, at the same time, everything we’ve already seen, and something for the ages because it’s completely new.  It frees the imagination entirely.  The lack of fear when Mr. Carax explores the fantasy genre is why we’re curious, just as much as the director himself.  Of course, Holy Motors raises questions.  What’s going on here? and How are these stories going to connect? stand out more than the thousand others.  Watching the answers take charge–or, when the director cleverly avoids them–is mesmerizing.

There is a lack of dialogue in this neat little fantasy, but that isn’t much a problem.  (Is there perhaps symbolism in the homages to silent films, during the first and last scenes of the movie?)  In fact, the dialogue isn’t really necessary: the cinematography speaks it all.  It’s absolutely beautiful.  The “mirror shot” is important in one scene–but it’s not used to depict an epiphany…I won’t give any spoilers.  The cinematography is exquisite and beyond careful; your attention is in the hands of the director with just these little details.

The casting is excellent, with actors who’re more talented than one would expect.  (Were they defying gravity at one point?  Is it just me?)  But simply their performances are good enough; in fact, they’re perfect.  Eva Mendes does very well (to say the very least).  But this actress is nothing with Denis Lavant around.  Mr. Lavant takes on not one, not two, but ten personas!  Not just that: he’s a true demonstration of them all.

Holy Motors is great mainly due to the fact that it doesn’t fear its inner child.  (No, this isn’t a film for that inner child; there’s violence and more nudity than in most American films.)  It’s surreal, but it’s just as dramatic.  I’ll note the lack of cohesion here, but it’s possibly the only imperfection to be found.  Decades after these auteurs, Mr. Carax has made a near-perfect amalgamation of Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini.  Yes, it’s truly an oddball, but in modern cinema, isn’t that exactly what we want?

Tomorrow is my birthday.

Takin’ off…

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Holy Motors

Review No. 608

«Holy Motors», grandes boules de feu!

NOTE: This is that French review I mentioned in my short-lived Monday podcast.  If you don’t speak French, learn it, damn it fret not: the English-language transliteration is coming this afternoon.

holy_motors

A

LES MÉTIERS DU CINÉMA:
Réalisateur — Leos Carax
Producteur de cinéma — Martine Marignac; Albert Prévost; Maurice Tinchant
Scénario — M. Carax

LE DISTRIBUTION:
Denis Lavant — «Monsieur Oscar»
Édith Scob — «Céline»
Eva Mendes — «Kay M.»
Kylie Minogue — «Eva»
Mme. Minogue — «Jean»
Jeanne Disson — «Angèle»
Élise Lhomeau — «Léa»
Mme. Lhomeau — «Élise»
Michel Piccoli — «l’homme à la tâche de vin»
Leos Carax — «le dormeur»
Avec neuf petits rôles des autres de M. Lavant.

L’INFORMATION DES AUTRES:
Les sociétés de production — Les Films du Losange
La date de la sortie — le 23 mai 2012 (Festival de Cannes); le 4 juillet 2012 (France); le 11 octobre 2012 (N.Y.F.F.); le 17 octobre 2012 (États-Unis — avant-première en New York)
Les langues — français; anglais; chinois
Les pays des origines — France; Allemagne
La durée — 116 minutes

« HOLY MOTORS » A ÉTÉ REGARDÉ LE 6 SEPTEMBRE 2013.

« Holy Motors », c’est bizarre et complètement ensorcelant. Le film est la cinquième pièce qui a été réalisé par Leos Carax, qui a aussi travaillé en critique.   Oui, il est français, mais il vraiment sait le cinéma américain aussi bien ; son film « Holy Motors » fait le perroquet à des classiques. C’est « Blade Runner » et c’est aussi « Eraserhead ». (Je crois qu’ils y ont des touches de « 2001 : A Space Odyssey » aussi.)

Mais les deux ou trois exemples sont pas plus qu’une pointe pour commencer. Le film est, à la même heure, tous les choses on a déjà vu, et quelque chose pour les âges, parce que le film, c’est complètement nouveau. Il libéré l’imagination complètement. Pas de peur quand M. Carax explore la fantastique, c’est pourquoi on est curieux, autant que le réalisateur lui. Bien sûr, « Holy Motors » relever des questions.   « Qu’est-ce c’est ? » et « Comment ces histoires vais relier ? » ressorti plus que les mils autres. Quand on regarde les réponses–ou, quand le réalisateur les évite astucieusement–c’est étonnant.

Il y a une manque du dialogue dans ce petit film fantastique génial, mais il n’y a pas de problème. (C’est symbolique : les hommages aux films muets dans la première scène et la scène finale du film ?) En fait, le dialogue est pas vraiment nécessaire : la cinématographie dit tous les choses. C’est absolument exquis. Le « frame du mireur », c’est importante en scène singulière–mais ce n’est pas pour illustre une révélation soudaine…je ne vais pas donner des spoiler. La cinématographie est très belle et plus que prudent ; et votre attention est dans les mains du réalisateur avec juste ces petites finesses.

Le casting est excellent, avec acteurs qui sont plus doué qu’on attend. (Ils ont résisté à la gravité en scène singulière ?   Juste moi ?) Mais juste ses performances sont assez bien ; en fait, elles sont parfait. Eva Mendes est très bien. Mais cette actrice, elle est pas de beaucoup avec le casting de Denis Lavant. M. Lavant est pas un, pas deux, mais dix personnages ! Pas juste cela : il est une vraie représentation des tous.

« Holy Motors », c’est très grand parce que ce n’est pas de peur quand il présente son enfant interne. (Non, c’est pas de film pour les enfants ; il y a de la violence et plus du nudité que la majorité des films américains.) C’est onirique, mais c’est aussi que dramatique. Je vais noter la manque de cohésion ici, mais c’est possiblement l’imperfection singulière pour être trouvé. Beaucoup des ans après ces auteurs, M. Carax a fait un amalgame de Luis Buñuel et Federico Fellini, et ce n’est pas loin de parfait. Oui, c’est vraiment une excentrique, mais en cinéma moderne, n’est-ce que pas tous des choses qu’on veut ?

Stay tuned for the English translation!

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