Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Buckle that swash, part II: More like F'artagnan


THE THREE MUSKETEERS

A descent into action-adventure sub-mediocrity, Douglas Fairbanks' second swashbuckler needed more than just indifferently-filmed swordfighting.

1921
Directed by Fred Niblo
Written by Edward Knoblock, Lotta Woods, and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.
With Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (D'artagnan), Marguerite de la Motte (Constance), Leon Bary (Athos), George Siegman (Porthos), Eugene Pallette (Aramis), Adolphe Menjou (King Louis XIII), Mary MacLaren (Queen Anne), Barbara La Marr (Milady de Winter), Lon Poff (Father Joseph), and Nigel de Brulier (Cardinal de Richelieu)

Spoiler alert: high

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cardboard Science: When everybody does the dinosaur, everybody should get the dinosaur's affirmative consent first


THE LAND UNKNOWN

Bad in ways it has no right to be, bad in ways that probably ought to have been predicted yet nonetheless come with all the cold, unexpected fury of a slap from a once-trusted parent, The Unknown World is hopefully the most unpleasant movie William Alland ever produced, whether inside the genre or out.  Yet maybe the worst thing about it is that it begins so well, then becomes so terrible, so quickly.

1957
Directed by Virgil Vogel
Written by Laszlo Gorog, William Robson, and Charles Palmer
With Jock Mahoney (Cmdr. Hal Roberts), Shirley Patterson (Maggie Smith), William Reynolds (Lt. Jack Carmen), Phil Harvey (Machinist's Mate Steve Miller), and Henry Brandon (Dr. Carl Hunter)

Spoiler alert: high

Monday, September 28, 2015

Buckle that swash, part I: He's crazy... like a fox!


THE MARK OF ZORRO

The action-adventure genre soars into life, midwifed by a really cut man in a silly mask, jumping and climbing all over every last damned thing he surveys.

1920
Directed by Fred Niblo
Written by Eugene Miller and Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (based on "The Curse of Capistrano" by Johnston McCulley)
With Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. (Don Diego Vega/Zorro), Margueritte De La Motte (Lolita Pulido), Tote Du Crow (Bernardo), Sydney De Grey (Don Alejandro Vega), Noah Beerey (Sgt. Pedro Gonzales), and Robert McKim (Capitan Juan Ramon)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yippee-ki-yay


SLOW WEST

It's awfully pretentious, like every modern Western must be, but at least Slow West isn't that slow, and it's fitfully beautiful, too, despite the many importune choices first-time feature director John Maclean makes while bringing his vision of the American West to a certain kind of life.

2015
Written and directed by John Maclean
With Michael Fassbender (Silas Selleck), Kodi Smit-McPhee (Jay Cavendish), and Caren Pistorius (Rose Ross)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

To protect the property and citizenry of the City of Chicago


THE UNTOUCHABLES

One of the quintessential examples of how the best thing a film can be about is itself, we have one of the 1980s' supreme action-thrillers, brought to your screen by the Master of the Macabre at his most eager-to-please.  Fully in line with the decade's troublesome politics as well as its embrace of the extremes of violence, The Untouchables is (honestly) all the better for it.

1987
Directed by Brian De Palma
Written by David Mamet (suggested by the book by Eliot Ness and Oscar Fraley)
With Kevin Costner (Eliot Ness), Sean Connery (Jim Malone), Charles Martin Smith (Oscar Wallace), Andy Garcia (George Stone), Billy Drago (Frank Nitti), and Robert De Niro (Al Capone)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Maybe it was always Doomed


FANTASTIC FOUR

Bad in a host of different, seemingly-incompatible ways, Fantastic Four was the fiasco of the summer of 2015, and for once everyone was right: this film is garbage.

2015
Directed by Josh Trank
Written by Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, and Josh Trank
With Miles Teller (Reed Richards), Kate Mara (Susan Storm), Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm), Jamie Bell (Benjamin Grimm), Reg E. Kathey (Dr. Franklin Storm), and Toby Kebbell (Dr. Victor Von Doom)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Monday, September 14, 2015

A graveyard smash


THE MONSTER SQUAD

Amongst the finest kid's adventures of my childhood.  (That, sadly, I didn't get to see when I actually was a child, probably because it was too scary for my parents to reckon with, which is to say, "there's between one and two parts that are mildly startling"—yet they let me watch Temple?  Whatever, dude.)

1987
Directed by Fred Dekker
Written by Shane Black and Fred Dekker
With Andre Gower (Sean), Brent Chalem (Horace), Ryan Lambert (Rudy), Robby Kriger (Patrick), Michael Faustino (Eugene), Ashley Bank (Phoebe), Duncan Regehr (Count Dracula), Tom Noonan (Frankenstein's Monster), Jon Gries/Carl Thibault (The Desperate Man/The Wolfman), Michael MacKay (The Mummy), Tom Woodruff Jr. (The Gill-Man), Stephen Macht (Del), Stan Shaw (Det. Sapir), and Leonard Cimino (Scary German Guy)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Friday, September 11, 2015

The matador


FAIL-SAFE

The best Cold War movie of 1964—and that's saying one whole hell of an awful lot.

1964
Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Walter Bernstein and Peter George (based on the novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler)
With Henry Fonda (the President), Larry Hagman (Buck), Walter Matthau (Prof. Groeteschele), William Hansen (Sec. of Def. Swenson), Frank Overton (Gen. Bogan), Fritz Weaver (Col. Cascio), and Dan O'Herlihy (Gen. Warren "Blacky" Black)

Spoiler alert: moderate, although presumably someone made you watch this in high school

Monday, September 7, 2015

Frankenheimer pops the clutch, and tells the world to eat his dust


GRAND PRIX

The last great stand of our beloved Old Hollywood, Grand Prix is offered up with tantalizing premonitions of the NewIt is everything you could ask it to be: a romantic, stylishly entertaining picaresque that darts across Europe, delivering literal high-octane thrills, such as only real Formula One footage shot from the cars themselves could provide.  And it is far more than you'd have any right to expect it to be: an investigation into the spirit of the sportsman, epic and elegiac all at once, forever searching for a meaning within itself—meaning that was never there to be found, beyond the roar of engines, the crash of metal, and the excitement of pure velocity.

1966
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Written by Robert Alan Arthur, William Hanley, and John Frankenheimer
With Yves Montand (Jean-Pierre Sarti), James Garner (Pete Aron), Brian Bedford (Scott Stoddard), Antonio Sabato (Nino Barlini), Eva Marie Saint (Louise Frederickson), Jessica Walter (Pat Stoddard), Francoise Hardy (Lisa), Adolfo Celi (Agostini Manetta), Jack Watson (Jeff Jordan), and Toshiro Mifune (Izo Yamura)

Spoiler alert: moderate

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Reviews from gulag: First, the news in brief

While I was away, I had the opportunity to watch what I suppose one might as well call a "few" movies.  Here's some of them, in bite-sized form.  Or maybe two or three bites, because if there's one thing even moving to Pittsburgh can't beat out of me, it's my awful long-windedness.  Today's subjects: Citizen Kane, His Girl Friday, Network, and Good Night, and Good Luck.

CITIZEN KANE (1941)
Charles Foster Kane (Orson Welles) dies, and a newshound (William Alland) seeks the story of his final words.  He never solves the mystery of Kane for himself—although we are privy to more than hebut he learns through conversations with the great man's friends that he was human like the rest of us, even if he didn't know it.

Orson Welles' Citizen Kane is very likely the single most overrated film made in the sound era.  But that says more about the overreaching critical reevaluation of itthe reevaluation that eventually snowballed into its acclamation as the long-running Best Film Ever on just about any critics' poll you'd care to look atthan it could ever possibly say about the quality of the actual film itself... which is, of course, simply deliriously high.  Yes, fewer pictures have been more talked-about than this one, and Kane has been just about talked to death: its spectacularly well-appointed deep focus compositions; its beautiful lighting schemes; its monumental art direction; its bitterly humorous satire, so viciously on point it might have been slanderous were everything bad not based at least in part on something true; and, of course, its extraordinary lead performance by Welles, taking William Randolf Hearst only as the starting point for his creation of the saddest man in the world—the man who thought he could buy happiness.  So, no, maybe it wasn't particularly close to the best movie ever made, not even back in 1941.  But Goddamned if it isn't still absolutely Great—even after all those decades it spent, condemned to be The Greatest.  Maybe now that Vertigo is the Best Film Ever (an even worse choice, but never mind), we can enjoy Kane for what it is and always was: entertaining, moving, human, and expertly-crafted, too.

Score:  9/10

It's the Mesoamerican way


KINGS OF THE SUN (1963)

Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Written by Elliott Arnold and James R. Webb
With Yul Brynner (Chief Black Eagle), George Chakiris (King Balam), and Shirley Anne Field (Ixchel)

APOCALYPTO (2006)

Directed by Mel Gibson
Written by Farhad Sarfinia and Mel Gibson
With Rudy Youngblood (Jaguar Paw), Dalia Hernandez (Seven), Morris Birdyellowhead (Flint Sky), Jonathan Brewer (Blunted), Raoul Trujillo (Zero Wolf), Gerardo Taracena (Middle Eye), and Ricardo Diaz Mendoza (Cut Rock)

Spoiler alert: moderate for Apocalypto, high for Kings of the Sun