Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Time Machine (1960)

Victorian inventor George (Rod Taylor) discovers a way to move forward and back in the fourth dimension - time. His friends scoff at the notion, and weary of man using his ingenuity to kill more people, he chooses to move forward into a more enlightened time. He learns from a mannequin across the street the horrors of The Great War, then of WWII, then WWIII in 1966.

Because nuclear war has caused vulcanism, the time machine is trapped underground and our hero must wait until the new mountain is worn away before he can stop. When he does, it's the year 800 thousand something and he finds an idyllic setting where everyone is blond and nobody has a care in the world. In fact, when one is drowning in the river, nobody in the world cares. Except George.

After rescuing her, because she's hot, he soon learns that the pretty, empty headed surface dwellers live in fear of the ugly troll-like people who live deep in underground datacenters. Or whatever. Time for a revolution!

Can't go wrong with George Pal. Visually appealing, family friendly, but with a touch of social commentary. The practical effects may appear slightly cheesy today, but they were state of the art, and quite visionary. It won the Oscar for effects and was nominated for a Hugo. The Twilight Zone won.

There is a panel on the time sled that reads invented by H. George Wells, meaning that the protagonist IS the author of the source material. That's a cool detail. Young hot Yvette Mimieux was underage when filming began and turned 18 during the shoot.

One can quibble about time travel paradoxes and issues with the story, but this is a story about man using his ingenuity for destruction and it's ultimate fate when he turns it's back on learning, so keep your nits! The movie is fairly thin and moralistic, but it is wonderfully crafted, visually interesting, and edited to perfection. Rod Taylor's performance was perfect for the story. AMRU 3.5.
"Which three books would you have taken?"

Monday, June 22, 2015

F for Fake (1973)

F for Fake is Orson Welles' video essay about Elmyr de Hory, a notorious art forger, who successfully passed off his copies as authentic. Along the way, it is discovered that de Hory's chief accuser, writer Clifford Irving, is himself a fraud, having faked documents to pass off a fraudulent biography of recluse Howard Hughes. This fake within a fake spins off more tales, like Welles' own War of the Worlds trick.

Welles' so-called free-form documentary is irritatingly herky-jerky. The fat man looks foolish in the black cape and hat, and appears too much to enjoy filming his girlfriend 26 years his junior and acting all mysterious. The overall theme appears to be that people are not what they seem, art is not what it seems, and Orson Welles is not what he seems.

Even still, there is something compelling about the Wellesian style. Here is the Orson I remember from my youth. Self-important, fat, drunk, and rambling, but somehow charming. It's hard to describe. He tells his story, many stories in fact, in a very non-linear fashion. In the end you learn something about the art world and the people that make it up, and your are entertained. While I have misgivings about the overall viewing experience, it is quite different, and maybe that's what trips me up somewhat.

Now I will point you to an episode of one of my favorite YouTube channels, certainly my favorite on the topic of cinema:

Tony Zhou of Every Frame a Painting absolutely loves F for Fake, and I love Every Frame a Painting. He reminds me how little I know, and how few good films I have seen. It's both wonderful and disheartening. So if he loves F for Fake, I suppose I shouldn't be quite so hasty. AMRU 3.5.

Friday, June 12, 2015

MASH (1970)

New surgeons at a Korean war MASH unit three miles from the front subvert authority, cause chaos, and manipulate the commanding officer, while performing in extremely hostile conditions. Then they play football.

MASH is a gritty, morally ambiguous, and episodic film that captured the attention of the anti-war counterculture of 1970. Faithful to the source material, it depicted war entirely different from the heroic fantasy. When the studio complained that the soldiers were dirty, director Robert Altman, a veteran of WWII, said soldiers in war were dirty. Execs then told the filmmakers of Patton, also in production at that time, to dirty up their soldiers.

As a kid we watched M*A*S*H regularly. One new year's eve my sister and I stayed up late while my parents were out (people did that back then!) and we watched the movie on network TV (they bleeped out "god" in "god damn"). I could not reconcile this film with the show, and it takes a careful adult eye to see the transition. Each character was groomed for 70's TV audiences, and the protagonists became for family friendly (Hawkeye became unmarried). Tom Skerritt as the slightly racist southerner was cut altogether. Kept was the idea that enemy wounded also deserved care, as well as a general mistreatment of women.

There is definitely an Altman style and few films represent it better than this. The dialog is layered as in real life, and the story is non-linear (both "fixed" for TV). I can't say that I am in love with his style, but I do have respect. And it was fun to see this old friend again with my son. He has been humming the theme ever since. AMRU 4.
"I'd dearly love to see that angry!"

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Night Nurse (1931)

Young Lorna Hart (Barbara Stanwyck) wants ever so much to be a nurse, but without the proper degree (high school) she isn't qualified. But bumping into a chief surgeon on the way out appears to have solved all that. She is paired by sassy blond Maloney (sassy blond Joan Blondell) who shows her the ropes. At the midpoint of the film, Lorna gets a private gig and the drama begins. She is taking care of two young girls who are ever so sorry they have been such a bother and promise to be good, really they do! They are slowly dying of starvation and the twitchy attending physician and the cruel chauffeur Nick (Clark Gable) seem to like it that way.

Classified pre-code mostly because Stanwyck and Blondell have occasion to undress to reveal their overly complicated undergarments. In one scene they share a bunk for no clear reason, then suddenly shiver inexplicably as if cold. While a bootlegger is a protagonist, this is during the great social experiment, and drunkenness must shown in a definitely negative light. One character exclaims that she's a dipsomaniac and she likes it. Dipsomaniac is an old fashioned word for alcoholic but I suspect filmmakers wanted us to think she was saying nymphomaniac, which also fits.

James Cagney was suddenly a big star so he turned down the role of Nick, allowing nobody Gable to take it. I like the jargon thrown in there in an attempt to make it sound credible, like "Have you tried the Murphy drip?" There are nice elements like the point of view shot from an ambulance at the beginning, and it holds your interest, but otherwise Night Nurse is standard fare for it's time. AMRU 3.
"Says me in a big way, sister"

Saturday, May 30, 2015

North by Northwest (1959)

Aging playboy (Cary Grant) marketing executive is kidnapped when he is mistaken for a spy. When he refuses to cooperate, they waterboard him with scotch and try to orchestrate a car accident. He gets away and is arrested for drunk driving, but nobody believes his story (not even his mom, the bitch!) On the run from police and criminals alike, he meets up with a young hottie (Eva Marie Saint) who helps him even though logic would demand otherwise. With her help he heads in some ordinal direction that escapes me at the moment to look for his doppelganger spy.

This Hitchcock thriller was very thrilling in a very Hitchcockian sort of way. Cary Grant was at his Cary Grantiest. Old friends Leo G. Carroll (at no point over a barrel) and James Mason had important rolls. Is Mason an old friend? Perhaps not. This is the first thing I have seen him in. Who knew?

North by Northwest is a great piece of entertainment that was expertly crafted. The photography was wonderful. Thrilling to the end. Think it will stand up well to a second viewing. If not for the story, then for the cinematography. AMRU 4.
Eve Kendall: Patience is a virtue.
Roger Thornhill: So is breathing.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Network (1976)

Howard Beal (Peter Finch) was once a respected name in TV news. But a string of personal set backs and slipping ratings placed him at a crossroads. After being told he was being fired, he announced on the air that in one week he would kill himself. When he spoke honestly and profanely in his later apology, and the rating were through the roof, a power struggle started to keep his "mad profit of the airways" act running for as long as possible.

Network is an amazingly prescient movie. A cautionary tale that caused the news media to look up and say "what a great idea!" If writer Paddy Chayefsky thought the industry was becoming sensationalized, well, he hadn't seen anything yet. And he almost hadn't. He would die of cancer five years later.

Jimmy Stewart was considered for a role? I presume the William Holden part, but really? I can't imagine him trying to charmingly bumble through Holden's cutting and profane dialog. That would have been a movie-killer. Finch's performance earned him an oscar but he would die before the ceremony. The first posthumous award.

Iconic, witty, wonderfully acted (four acting oscar nominations, and three wins), and overall excellent filmmaking. Faye Dunaway was fantastic. This movie will stay with me for a long while. AMRU 4.
"Why is it that a woman always thinks that the most savage thing she can say to a man is to impugn his cocksmanship."

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The Son of Kong (1933)

Promoter Carl Denham (Robert Armstrong) discovers that being responsible for a giant ape going on a rampage in New York City raises some legal issues. Jeeze, it's been a month! Aren't they over that by now? He and his former captain decide to high-tail it out of Dodge to make their living on the high seas. At their first port of call they meet young hottie Hilda whose father was just murdered and wants to get away, as well as neer-do-well former captain Helstrom who also wants to get away because he just murdered someone. He convinces Denham to return to Kong Island with the old "But what about the treasure?" ruse. It totally works.

Fearing a repeat of their last visit, the crew abandons the above four people along with the Asian cook stereotype on the island. There they meet hostile natives (also not keen to repeat what happened last time) and prehistoric creatures (who have no opinion on the party, but were just hungry). Soon they discover that Kong had a son who was good-natured, twelve feet tall, and white. Read into that what you will. They rescue Sonny Kong from quicksand and in return he fights each stop-motion monster that comes their way. Denham and hottie continue looking for the treasure because they aren't too quick on the uptake.

Upon success of King Kong, the studio rushed the sequel into production. It was given half the budget (all of which went into the stop-motion effect) and hit the theaters by Christmas that
same year. While the special effects weren't a step back from the original, it most certainly was played for laughs. You totally get an Island of Misfit Toys vibe here.

Young Hottie Helen Mack continued to play the young hottie for as long as she was either one or the other. Asian cook stereotype Victor Wong made a career playing Asian stereotypes. Armstrong and Reicher both had long, productive careers but would only be remembered for their previous film.

Short, concise, and amusing. In many way not a worthy follow-up to the legendary original, and by no means a must-see, but you have to respect it for it's brevity (65-70 minutes). Tight in scope, it's the after dinner mint to the Kong banquet. Expect nothing more. AMRU 3.