Thursday, May 31, 2012

440. Campanadas a medianoche/Chimes at Midnight (1965)


Running Time: 111 minutes
Directed By: Orson Welles
Written By: Orson Welles from plays of William Shakespeare and book by Raphael Holinshed
Main Cast: Orson Welles, Keith Baxter, John Gielgud, Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford

WELLES WEEK: THE FINAL ACT

Well what do you know - I was actually able to keep "Welles Week" confined to just one week, instead of the normal run over that I usually get into, with other director themed weeks. However, little did I know that the final act of "Welles Week" would be spoken in gibberish.


I'm going to level with you guys, I'm going to have to plead ignorance on this one. I hadn't a clue what was going on in "Chimes at Midnight", listening to nearly indecipherable language and trying my best to make heads or tails out of what was going on. Even if there was a gun to my head right this minute, I'd still be hard pressed to relay to you the details of this picture. All I can really tell you is that it follows a recurring Shakespeare character named Sir John Falstaff and the film takes excerpts from several Shakespeare plays to put together the life of this oafish character, played by Orson Welles, still overweight and losing his acting skills in his later years. The film tells of his companionship with Prince Henry or Hal (Baxter), as he's sometimes referred to and is the son of King Henry IV (Gielgud). I mean, that's all I can really tell you. I could tell you that there is a battle sequence, but I couldn't tell you why the battle took place. I could tell you that there is a robbery that Falstaff commits, early on in the picture and it seems to have implications throughout the film, but I'm really not sure what the implications were. I just could barely understand what was being said, what was going on or why it was all happening.


I can talk about the films of Sergei Eisenstein or Sergei Parajanov being extremely difficult to get through, but I'd kill for one of their films over a film based on Shakespeare, filled with it's "thou's" and "thee's", among other words that I'm unfamiliar with from the Shakespearian language. The film was absolutely dreadful and I'd go so far as to call it possibly the worst film I've watched for THE BOOK thus far. I just could not wait for it to be over. I couldn't stop my mind form wandering, wanting this film to end so that I could move on to better movies. And I still cannot believe that the lead in this and the lead in "The Lady from Shanghai" are the same man. It's not just that Welles' appearance has drastically changed, but it's also the fact that he lost his harmonious voice, his powerful tone. Instead it's been replaced by a slurring, snarling, raspy voice that just doesn't hold the same mystique as it did in his younger days.

RATING: 1/10  If ever there was a time to call it a 0.5/10, this would have been the one. However, I draw the line at '1', so, without a doubt, '1' it shall be.

MOVIES WATCHED: 468
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 533


A WORD ABOUT WELLES

Despite only giving positive praise to three of his five directed films (if you count "Citizen Kane", which I gave a '7' to way back when) and never giving his films any rating higher than a '9', I still consider Welles to be a fine filmmaker. You really got the feeling when you watched his work that he was a man who was very passionate about his art. He knew the movie business, he knew what would work and what wouldn't, he knew how to orchestrate innovative shots and make them translate well to the screen. Hell, he knew it all when it came to making motion pictures. In fact, I would be surprised if old Orson hasn't done a few turns in his grave, as he looks on from beyond at modern Hollywood and the insufferable tripe that is being churned out on a week to week basis. I didn't like all of his films and in fact, I down right hated some of them, but the fact is, is that I really enjoyed watching him work. I didn't always agree with or like the final product, but it was a pleasure to see this master make his living.

RANKING WELLES (directed films only)
1. The Stranger
2. The Lady from Shanghai
3. Citizen Kane
4. The Magnificent Ambersons
5. probably everything else he ever did, including the failed attempt at a frozen peas radio commercial
6. Chimes at Midnight

COMING SOON: (probably in this exact order)
Gaslight (1944 - George Cukor)
Into the Wild (2007 - Sean Penn)
Rushmore (1998 - Wes Anderson)
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001 - Wes Anderson)

May 31, 2012  12:31am

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Double Anderson - COMING SOON


330. Touch of Evil (1958)


Running Time: 111 minutes
Directed By: Orson Welles
Written By: Orson Welles, from the novel Badge of Evil by Whit Masterson
Main Cast: Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh, Joseph Calleia, Akim Tamiroff
Click here to view the trailer

WELLES WEEK: ACT IV

Well, "Touch of Evil" finally arrived in the mail today, after the long three day weekend and thus, I was able to continue on with "Welles Week". Unfortunately, "Touch of Evil" didn't impress me as much as I hoped it would and is definitely the worst film starring Welles that I've seen from THE BOOK.

The film opens with a bomb timer being set and a man, whose face we can't see, planting it in a car. Soon after, a couple enters the automobile and begins to drive. What follows is a fantastic tracking shot and a superb way to start a film, as the car drives from Mexico into the United States, crossing border patrol. At the crossing, the lady in the car complains of hearing a ticking in her head, but she's brushed off and they're instructed to keep driving. Meanwhile, Mexican government official Mike Vargas (Heston) and his new wife Susie (Leigh) are crossing the border on foot, in search of an ice cream soda. Not long after the cross, they hear the car explode and the film is off and running. You see, the whole plot hinges on the complications that occur when a bomb, planted on Mexican soil, explodes in the U.S. Not long after the incident, Captain Hank Quinlan (Welles) is on the scene, representing the United States in the investigation and is almost immediately at odds with the Mexican Vargas. There's also a subplot involving a family named Grandi, who run a drug racket in Mexico and who are being hunted by Vargas. It seems that Vargas is set to testify against a member of the Grandi family and they spend a good part of the film trying to take him (or his wife) out of commission. The real suspense of the film takes place at a hotel, as Susie waits for word from Vargas and tries to get some rest, but is halted by the Grandi clan.



SPOILER ALERT!

Lets first discuss the cast and what I didn't like about them. First you have Charlton Heston playing a Mexican - need I say more? I'm not a big fan of Heston in the first place, but why he'd be cast as a Mexican is beyond me. My guess is that they wanted a big star for the role of Vargas and Heston was available. My other problem with the cast was...*sigh*...Orson Welles. What happened to him? I mean, I'm not one to talk about a man being overweight, as I'm no fitness guru myself, but apparently they added extra padding to make him look even heavier and there's absolutely no sign of the debonair, smooth talking man I know from the previous films I've watched. Instead, he's replaced with a snarling, overweight, slob of a man and he just doesn't deliver like he did previously. Everyone else was fine I guess, with Dennis Weaver really impressing me and cracking me up as the nervous night man at the hotel.


Then there's the characters and the situations that they get into, which don't really seem to make sense at times and I could care less about these characters. Everything is thrown together within that first (beautifully shot) three minute opening and it's not enough time to get me acquainted with these people, or why I should care about them. It's like I'm watching a group of strangers doing a bunch of exciting things for no reason. Why should I care about these people?


There were good things too though, so don't raise your arms up just yet. As I've said, I loved the opening. The scenes at the hotel with Janet Leigh were also really great, as they provided the most suspense and proved that Leigh characters really need to steer clear of hotels. The picture had a grittiness that I really enjoyed, a type of darkness and gloom that really made you wish there was a more interesting story set in this background.

RATING: 5/10  I'll stop there because I really need to learn when to just stop writing. I've made all my points and that's that. Next up: "Chimes at Midnight".


MOVIES WATCHED: 467
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
534

May 29, 2012  6:32pm

959. Moulin Rouge! (2001)


Running Time: 127 minutes
Directed By: Baz Luhrmann
Written By: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Main Cast: Ewan McGregor, Nicole Kidman, Jim Broadbent, Richard Roxburgh, John Leguizamo
Click here to view the trailer


ELTON JOHN, NIRVANA and RODGERS & HAMMERSTEIN MASHED TOGETHER IN PERFECT HARMONY

For the curious, "Welles Week" will commence tomorrow and conclude this week, but for now, since I'm still waiting on "Touch of Evil" to arrive from Netflix, we celebrate Memorial Day weekend by visiting Paris, France at the turn of the century and a cabaret known as the Moulin Rouge!


Christian (McGregor) has come to Paris, at the turn of the century, to pursue his writing career. As he sits in his room, waiting for his creative juices to flow, he is intruded on by a group of performers, led by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (Leguizamo). The performers had been rehearsing for a play when one of their lead members, a narcoleptic, fell asleep. Toulouse-Lautrec requests the help of Christian to help them fill the part, so they can resume rehearsals. Christian helps them out and in the process, proves he is a talented writer, when he helps them sort out some lyrics to one of their lead songs. The play their writing is called "Spectacular Spectacular" and they plan to shop the script to Harold Zidler (Broadbent), owner of the Moulin Rouge. At the Moulin Rouge, the swankiest cabaret in all of Paris, Zidler serves up a buffet of a bevy of women, most notably his "Sparkling Diamond" Satine (Kidman), the star of Zidler's cabaret and soon to be star of "Spectacular Spectacular". When Toulouse-Lautrec's play is given the green light, he insists that Christian stay on, due to his immeasurable talent. Now, all Zidler needs is financing from The Duke (Roxburgh), which he gets in exchange for Satine's hand. However, after an evening together, Satine and Christian fall head over heels in love and now they must keep their romance a secret to avoid The Duke pulling the plug on the entire production.


"Moulin Rouge!" is entertainment personified! It's a living, breathing script that sparkles on the screen, is full of life and doesn't let up until the big, red curtain falls.  I can see where this picture might not be something for everyone, but it worked for me and I was nothing but entertained by the entire production. It's a truly unique musical, one that uses previously popular songs like "Smells Like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana, "Your Song" by Elton John, "Like A Virgin" by Madonna and "Roxanne" by The Police and transforms them in an original way, to fit this script. Speaking of the script, that's another marvelous piece of the puzzle, as you basically have a movie going on within this movie, as the play that Christian writes mirrors what's actually going on in the film itself. The film uses the aforementioned music to fill in the story, allowing the music and the actions of the characters to work as dialogue and key plot points. For example, the "Elephant Love Medley" (which features songs from The Beatles, Phil Collins, Elton John, U2 and Whitney Houston) is used to have the characters of Satine and Christian fall in love, without the use of dialogue, actions or any other, non-musical communication. It's quite genius really!


The lead actors do a fine job, as Nicole Kidman has never looked more stunning, but it's really the secondary players that make your acting chops salivate, as Jim Broadbent and Richard Roxburgh steal the show as Zidler and The Duke respectively. There are times when everything DOES seem a bit over the top, but then you realize it's a musical and in the interest of entertaining it went big and succeeded. You may need to sit back from the screen during the finale, as there are so many sparkling and luminescent images covering the screen, that it may just throw you into a seizure. "Moulin Rouge!" is, perhaps, the last great musical ever produced and I'm sure Busby Berkeley and Bob Fosse would be proud of the grandeur that is on showcase in this one. I'm sure it's an easy film to hate, but I couldn't help but love it.

RATING: 8/10  Couldn't go all the way, but it's a fun movie and if you're a fan of classic musicals, this is almost like a throwback to them.


MOVIES WATCHED: 466
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
535

May 29, 2012  1:23am

Sunday, May 27, 2012

161. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)


Running Time: 69 minutes
Directed By: Jacques Tourneur
Written By: Inez Wallace, Curt Siodmak
Main Cast: Tom Conway, Frances Dee, James Ellison, Edith Barrett, Christine Gordon
Click here to view the trailer

I'D RATHER TAKE A WALK WITH A GOOD MOVIE!

I've been dreading the final two, Val Lewton produced movies, ever since I watched "Cat People" a couple of Halloween's ago and hated it. Last night I proved that my dread was, indeed warranted.


The film is only sixty-nine minutes, so at least it's a "right off like a band-aid" type of agony and not something more severe. Betsy Connell (Dee) is a nurse, hired to go to the West Indies and care for the wife of wealthy plantation owner, Paul Holland (Conway). Upon boarding the ship that is to take her to the West Indies, Betsy can't decide whether she likes Holland or whether she's leery of him. She claims he has a dreadful outlook on life, yet there's something clean and honest about him, at the same time. When she arrives at the estate, she meets Paul's brother, Wesley (Ellison), a seemingly kinder man than his brother. Later, Betsy meets Jessica (Gordon), Paul's wife and discovers that Jessica lives in a catatonic-like state, almost like a zombie. Betsy tries to do her best for Jessica, even going so far as to recommend shock therapy, but nothing will bring Jessica out of her haze. As a last resort, Betsy turns to the voodoo doctors of the island, in hopes that their alternative means of curing patients can help Jessica. There's also a whole big subplot about a feud between the brothers, but it's nothing that I need to go into detail about here.

SPOILER ALERT!

This film really wasn't sure what genre it fit into. You really can't classify it as horror, not only because it isn't the least bit spooky, but also because it subscribes to it's own theories. Never are the voodoo doctors or the "alternative medicine" made fun of or written off as superstition, but rather, they're always believed in. Shouldn't every horror film have that one character who says, "Oh Michael Myers? That's just an old wives tale!" or "Freddy Krueger? He's hasn't come back to life sporting an ugly sweater and claws! You're nuts!" or "Voodoo and witch doctors? Nah, that stuff doesn't really work!". Nevermind the genre though, the story here is just lame and dull. A nurse travels to the West Indies to help a patient, falls in love with her husband, takes her on a walk through a cornfield at night, so that a group of Voodoo doctors can accuse her of being a witch and in the end she dies anyway. The End! It sounds dull and boring and guess what folks? It is!


I guess there is an audience for these kinds of movies though. These "so bad they're good" horror movies that certain film fans like to indulge in. I've never understood the whole "so bad they're good" outlook, but that's just me.

RATING: 1/10  I, at least, gave "Cat People" a '2', so this one even surpasses that hot mess, on the garbage scale. I bet Orson Welles hated this movie too - just a hunch. Also, I'll be reviewing "The Seventh Victim" before this 100 is over, so pray for me.

MOVIES WATCHED: 465
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 536

May 27, 2012  5:53pm

Saturday, May 26, 2012

221. The Third Man (1949)


Running Time: 104 minutes
Directed By: Carol Reed
Written By: Graham Greene, Alexander Korda
Main Cast: Joseph Cotten, Alida Valli, Orson Welles, Trevor Howard, Bernard Lee
Click here to view the trailer

WELLES WEEK: BONUS ACT

"Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly." 

Of course, "The Third Man" wasn't directed by Orson Welles, but rather, it was directed by Carol Reed, which is why this is a bonus in the "Welles Week" festivities. I'd been waiting to see "The Third Man" for a very long time and once again I prove that waiting to see something you really want to see is never a good idea.


Holly Martins (Cotten) arrives in post-World War II Vienna, coming at the request of his friend of twenty years, Harry Lime, to start a new job that was offered to him by Lime. When Holly arrives, he finds out, almost immediately, that Harry is dead and makes it there in just enough time to catch his funeral. At the funeral, Holly meets police investigator Major Calloway (Howard), who, after a bit of conversation, informs Holly that Harry was involved in a racket and deserved what he got. Holly doesn't believe that a man like Harry would be involved in any sort of underhanded affairs, so he sets out to find out the truth about his deceased friend. The story goes that Harry was walking down the street, with a friend of his, when another friend called from the opposite side of the street. When Harry crossed to meet his other friend, he was ran over by a car. In fact, it was his own car, being driven by Harry's employed driver. After he was hit, Harry's two friends, as well as a third man, which no one seems to remember being there, carry Harry across the street and are with him when he dies on the sidewalk. In addition to Holly, Harry's girlfriend Anna (Valli) would also like to find out the truth about Harry and she accompanies Holly around Vienna, interviewing eyewitnesses and digging for clues.


SPOILER ALERT!

Some of you may remember the story I'm about to tell, but I'll retell it anyway for the unaware. About a year or so ago, I was walking past the big screens at work (I work at Wal-Mart) and noticed a commercial for TCM's 31 Days of Oscar. As I passed the televisions, my eyes passing from one to the other, trying to keep up with the commercial, I noticed various clips that I recognized. Actually, it was almost like a game - how many clips from the commercial could I identify. As I rattled off the names of the films in my head, I noticed one clip that I did not recognize, but one that really struck me. It was a clip of a man standing by the side of the road, while, what looked to be a woman, walked toward him, up the middle of the road. There were giant trees, spilling their leaves, on both sides of the road and the image was immaculate. I had to know what it was, so I made my way to the IMDB forums and started asking questions. Soon, I got my answer: The clip was from the climax of "The Third Man" and along with the answer, people didn't hesitate to tell me how fantastic the movie was. From there, my excitement to see "The Third Man" mounted and I couldn't wait until I finally got to see that clip in the midst of the film.


Well, with all that being said, I can't say I enjoyed "The Third Man" as much as I would have liked to. I really wanted it to become a personal favorite and unfortunately, it did not. Let me start off by saying that I didn't hate the film or anything, I simply didn't like it as much as I would've liked and ultimately, it was a disappointment. But what was it that turned me off? Why couldn't I get lost in this film? It had everything I could've asked for. It had Joseph Cotten, who I've been a fan of since I watched "Shadow of a Doubt" and in fact, I looked forward to "Welles Week" as much for Cotten as I did for Welles, as I knew he was in three of the six films I'd be watching. It had Orson Welles, albeit for about fifteen minutes, but what a fifteen minutes as he absolutely steals the entire show with his cameo part. It was a film noir, which after "Seven Shadows Week" have appealed to me more and more and in fact, it has been called one of the greatest film noir's ever produced. So I think I have to blame it all on the build-up that I gave this film in my own head. And I can't really say that I waited too long to see it, because as soon as I saw that clip at work, in my head, this was going to be a '10'. So whether I saw it that day or last night, I was going to be disappointed.


The story was okay, but I'd even have to lay some of the blame for my dislike there too. I mean, it was original enough, but was it all that exciting. Harry Lime is dead and his friend is going to play detective and try to figure out what happened. I've come to realize that I dislike films where everyday people become detectives for the duration of a film (see "The Killers"). I hate to say it, but Cotten wasn't even that good in this. His character didn't have the right attitude. He arrives in Vienna and upon hearing that his childhood friend is dead, decides HE'S going to figure it all out. And what about that score? It was okay, but way too chipper for a dark film like this. I don't know, maybe a re-watch, someday will help me to appreciate this movie more, but for now call it a big letdown. The film looked like a masterpiece, with amazing shots popping up constantly, but in the end it just didn't play out like a masterpiece.

RATING: 6.5/10  I was going to go '7', but that would be me pressuring myself into rating it higher, just to "fit in" and I don't want to do that. I'll be spending this three day weekend watching some non "Welles Week" movies, while I wait for "Touch of Evil" to arrive from Netflix on Tuesday.


MOVIES WATCHED: 464
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 537

May 26, 2012  1:49pm

Friday, May 25, 2012

209. The Lady from Shanghai (1948)


Running Time: 87 minutes
Directed By: Orson Welles
Written By: Orson Welles, from the novel If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King
Main Cast: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted de Corsia
Click here to view the trailer

WELLES WEEK: ACT III

"Once, off the hump of Brazil I saw the ocean so darkened with blood it was black and the sun fainting away over the lip of the sky.We'd put in at Fortaleza, and a few of us had lines out for a bit of idle fishing. It was me had the first strike. A shark it was. Then there was another, and another shark again, 'till all about, the sea was made of sharks and more sharks still, and no water at all. My shark had torn himself from the hook, and the scent, or maybe the stain it was, and him bleeding his life away drove the rest of them mad. Then the beasts to to eating each other.In their frenzy, they ate at themselves.You could feel the lust of murder like a wind stinging your eyes, and you could smell the death, reeking up out of the sea. I never saw anything worse... until this little picnic tonight.And you know, there wasn't one of them sharks in the whole crazy pack that survived."

We continue on, in my week long, six film salute to the great Orson Welles, as I knock off yet another one of his films, "The Lady from Shanghai" - his 1948 offering starring himself and his then wife, Rita Hayworth.


Our main character is Mike "Black Irish" O'Hara (Welles), who also narrates the film. At the beginning of the picture, Mike meets the blonde bombshell Elsa (Hayworth), as she rides a horse drawn cab through New York City. He offers her a cigarette and even though she doesn't smoke, she accepts it. The two hit it off, Mike more smitten with her, than she with him. As their conversation continues, Mike finds out that Elsa is married. In fact, she's married to the very wealthy, disabled, criminal defense attorney Arthur Bannister (Sloane). At the end of the evening Elsa offers mike a job on her and her husband's yacht, he declines. The next day Arthur Bannister comes calling on Mike and presses him further about accepting the job, citing that his wife seemed to take to him and that he must join them as they had back to San Francisco via the Panama Canal aboard Bannister's vessel. Mike reluctantly agrees and off they go, sailing the seas. Aboard the vessel, the three are joined by various other crew members and also by George Grisby (Anders), Bannister's law partner. Grisby is an odd duck, always laughing or, at least, smiling about something. As the journey commences, Mike and Elsa become closer, sexual tension fills the air, as Mrs. Bannister prances around deck wearing a skimpy, black bathing suit and Mike silently lusts after her. As their journey comes to an end, Grisby approaches Mike with a proposition. He offers Mike $5,000 to "kill" him, only Mike won't be killing him, Grisby simply plans to disappear to a deserted island and live out the remainder of his days. Grisby cites that as long as Mike admits to the murder of Grisby, then Grisby can legally be declared dead, however, Mike can't legally be arrested unless a body is found. But is it all a frame up job on Mike?

SPOILER ALERT!

Well, as much as I hate to admit it, I WILL admit that "The Lady from Shanghai" is a trifle confusing. It's not too bad, but you definitely need to pay strict attention or you're going to be lost, especially when Grisby starts detailing his master plan and later, when we head into the courtroom. The plot itself isn't stunning or anything and actually is a little too complex for it's own worth. It's not such a good film that it needs to be this detailed and when all's said and done, you get the feeling that it just wasn't worth your time to pay this much attention. There didn't need to be THAT many twists and turns to tell THIS story. Ultimately, it was good but not great.


Of course, Welles is on point with the utterly fantastic camera work, showing off signature masterpiece shots, such as a shot of Rita Hayworth through the eye of a pair of binoculars. Or how about the scene that follows Mike and Elsa into an aquarium, as they meet in secret and confess their love for one another. And, of course, anyone who sees this film, whether they love it or hate, has to be impressed with the finale, which takes place in a "crazy house" at an amusement park, with the main characters shooting it out inside a hall of mirrors. It looks like a masterpiece, that's for sure!


For "The Lady from Shanghai" Welles instructed Hayworth to chop off her signature, long, brown locks and instead, here she sports a short, blonde look. In my opinion, Welles knew what he was doing, as she looked stunning, sexy and villainous all at the same time. She also impressed me with her skills here too and totally redeemed herself from that mess that was "Gilda". Welles, on the other hand, wasn't as good here, mostly because he was sporting a mess of an Irish accent that actually tended to take away from his acting abilities. I just couldn't focus on the guys abilities, when I was too busy paying attention to the atrocity of an accent that was escaping his lips.

RATING: 6.5/10  It was good and honestly, I can see this one growing on me. However, I've seen some really blow away film noir's this 100 already, so this one had some tough acts to follow. Next up: "The Third Man".


MOVIES WATCHED: 463
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
538


May 25, 2012  12:50am

Thursday, May 24, 2012

187. The Stranger (1946)


Running Time: 95 minutes
Directed By: Orson Welles
Written By: Anthony Veiller, Victor Trivas, Decia Dunning
Main Cast: Orson Welles, Edward G. Robinson, Loretta Young, Philip Merivale, Richard Long
Click here to view the trailer

WELLES WEEK: ACT II

"Murder can be a chain, Mary, one link leading to another until it circles your neck."

Now we're cooking with gas oil! This is the type of expertise that I expect to see in a motion picture directed by and starring Orson Welles, as I turn my attention, yet again, to the streaming portion of Netflix and his 1946 film "The Stranger".


Mr. Wilson (Robinson) is a detective working for the United Nations War Crimes Commission, who's main objective is to hunt down and bring to justice Nazi's who escaped Germany following World War II.  More specifically, Mr. Wilson is hunting one in particular Nazi named Franz Kindler (Welles), an evil man who was said to have invented the concentration camp and one who erased all evidence of his identity before fleeing to America. Kindler has escaped to Connecticut where he goes by Charles Rankin, teaches at a prep school and is preparing to marry Mary (Young), the daughter of a Supreme Court Justice, when an old friend of his, from his Nazi days, comes to visit. The friend is Mr. Meinike and he has been released from custody, in hopes that he'll lead Mr. Wilson to Franz's  doorstep. Mr. Meinike attacks Mr. Wilson from behind, when he catches on that he's being followed and meets Franz, who, almost immediately upon their reunion, strangles him. When Mr. Wilson wakes up from his attack, he knows he's in the right town, a small American town where everyone knows everyone else's name, but doesn't quite know who he's looking for.


It sure doesn't sound like a picture that would appeal to me, but I'll be damned if it wasn't a fantastic one. If the rest of "Welles Week" is a complete failure upon my personal tastes, at least now I'll be able to proclaim that I DO have a favorite Orson Welles picture and it's not the popular one, which kind of makes it a little cooler, if you ask me. Where do I even begin when it comes to praising "The Stranger"? How about I start with Welles' direction and the way he moved his camera, captured his images and told his story. The picture is a great example of film noir and would've fit perfectly into "Seven Shadows Week". In fact, there are shadows galore, as Welles uses shadows to build tension and suspense and keep us gripped by this story about a Nazi criminal. Certain shots are unforgettable, like the one of Edward G. Robinson standing in front of a projector that is showing footage of concentration camps, his shadow cast on two different surfaces. Or the one of Mr. Meinike face, shown in close-up through the lens of a camera, while he holds a conversation with another man. And, of course, there's the ending..........

SPOILER ALERT!

.........where Franz is impaled by a statue of an angel wielding a sword and falls to his death from the top of a clock tower. Oh and can I just say, for the record, that any film that has it's climax take place at the top of a clock tower, bell tower or lighthouse is okay by me.

Someone's "time" is up!
I don't even have to tell you that Welles is also amazing in front of the camera. Despite never selecting a favorite picture of his (until now, of course) I had always considered Welles to be one of the very best actors I'd ever had the pleasure of watching. In fact, he may be THE BEST actor ever - not my personal favorite - but, perhaps, the best. When I try to imagine what Orson Welles - the man (not the actor) was like, I envision a man very passionate about his work. Whether it was radio or film, I envision a man who poured everything he had into his current project and I envision a man who took his work very seriously. I'd like to think that's true and all evidence says that it is and perhaps that's why Welles was so fantastic an actor. Don't discount Edward G. Robinson either, one who I couldn't believe was playing the good guy, after he did such a believable job playing Little Caesar Bandello in "Little Caesar". But, once again, I'll be damned if he didn't play a damn fine good guy too when he took on the role of Mr. Wilson. Loretta Young held her own too, acting alongside Welles and Robinson, providing a glitter of beauty in this very evil and ugly world.

RATING: 8.5/10  Perhaps another scene or two of high tension would have boosted this film to a '10', but I'm not griping. Next up: "The Lady from Shanghai".


MOVIES WATCHED: 462
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 539

May 24, 2012  12:52am

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

155. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)


Running Time: 88 minutes
Directed By: Orson Welles
Written By: Orson Welles, from novel by Booth Tarkington
Main Cast: Joseph Cotten, Tim Holt, Anne Baxter, Dolores Costello, Agnes Moorehead

WELLES WEEK: ACT I

I recorded "The Magnificent Ambersons" off television, about six months after I started my journey through the pages of the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" text. For over two years it has been waiting for my eyes and today it got them, as "Welles Week" kicks off.

The film is based on a novel by Booth Tarkington and tells the story of the Amberson family, in all their magnificence. It starts out with narration from Welles himself, as he talks about a different time; a time when people still had time for sleigh rides, balls, assemblies, cotillions, all-day picnics in the woods and a time when a young man would still stand outside a pretty girl's window and serenade her. In fact, our story begins with a serenade, or rather, a failed one. One evening when Eugene Morgan (Cotten) had a little too much too drink, he tripped over his base fiddle, in the middle of Isabel Amberson's front yard and made a fool of himself. After the incident, Isabel (Costello) wanted nothing to do with Eugene. Instead, she took on a new suitor, Wilbur Minafer, and together, the two had a son - George (Holt). George was a very spoiled child and of course he would be, being their only child and really the only child running wild inside the Amberson mansion. When he was old enough he was sent off to school and when he was grown, he returned. During a grand ball to celebrate the return home of George, Eugene Morgan reunites with Isabel and Eugene's daughter, Lucy (Baxter) meets George. George was a spoiled child and has grown up to be the sort of man you'd like to punch if you encountered in real life. He's selfish and proud and doesn't plan to work for a living. George courts Lucy, in hopes of one day marrying her. However, when Lucy goes away, without telling George, he sees fit to interrupt the life of his mother, who has plans to marry Eugene, after the sudden passing of Wilbur. George won't hear of his mother marrying this automobile inventor and does everything in his power to stop the engagement.


Before I really get going, let me just say one thing. Do you know how people talk about Morgan Freeman being a great narrator? Well, I love Morgan Freeman as much as the next guy, but he's got nothing on Orson Welles. Welles was eloquent with his words and had a soothing, yet powerful voice. You had a tendency to listen when he spoke and as good a narrator as he was here, I really wish he had actually been in the picture. Just have a look at the opening speech of "The Magnificent Ambersons" and tell me you can't easily envision Welles rattling off these great lines:

The magnificence of the Ambersons began in 1873. Their splendor lasted throughout all the years that saw their midland town spread and darken into a city. In that town, in those days, all the women who wore silk or velvet knew all the other women who wore silk or velvet, and everybody knew everybody else's family horse and carriage. The only public conveyance was the streetcar. A lady could whistle to it from an upstairs window, and the car would halt at once and wait for her, while she shut the window, put on her hat and coat, went downstairs, found an umbrella, told the girl what to have for dinner, and came forth from the house. Too slow for us nowadays, because the faster we're carried, the less time we have to spare. During the earlier years of this period, while bangs and bustles were having their way with women, there were seen men of all ages to whom a hat meant only that rigid, tall silk thing known to impudence as a stovepipe. But the long contagion of the derby had arrived. One season the crown of this hat would be a bucket; the next it would be a spoon. Every house still kept its bootjack, but high-top boots gave way to shoes and congress gaiters, and these were played through fashions that shaped them now with toes like box ends, and now with toes like the prows of racing shells. Trousers with a crease were considered plebian; the crease proved that the garment had lain upon a shelf and hence was ready-made. With evening dress, a gentleman wore a tan overcoat, so short that his black coattails hung visible five inches below the overcoat. But after a season or two, he lengthened his overcoat till it touched his heels. And he passed out of his tight trousers into trousers like great bags. In those days, they had time for everything. Time for sleigh rides, and balls, and assemblies, and cotillions, and open house on New Year's, and all-day picnics in the woods, and even that prettiest of all vanished customs: the serenade. Of a summer night, young men would bring an orchestra under a pretty girl's window, and flute, harp, fiddle, cello, cornet, bass viol, would presently release their melodies to the dulcet stars. Against so home-spun a background, the magnificence of the Ambersons was as conspicuous as a brass band at a funeral. 

 
Welles let the words come naturally, never rushing them, nor holding them back. He was a true professional in the film industry. It is because of this that I find it hard to express my dislike for this picture. I can't really put my finger on why, but ultimately "The Magnificent Ambersons" did not appeal to this viewer. The acting, of course, was top notch. How couldn't it be with Joseph Cotten as the star and with Welles in the director's chair. Actually it was, in my opinion, Agnes Moorehead who shined here, letting all the emotion of her character pour out of her like a lemonade pitcher at a barbecue.


I think my biggest problems with this film was the story, which really didn't seem to go anywhere and which wasn't all the enticing or exciting. In fact, I'd go so far as to call it a dull film, that is of it's time and set before it's time. The characters aren't all that interesting and the whole story hinges on a spoiled man who refuses to grow up and accept change, especially when it comes to his mother's marital status. Welles seems to have some sort of fascination with great people or great families falling from grace. In "Citizen Kane" we're told the story of Charles Foster Kane, a great newspaper man, who is reduced to nothing. At least "Kane" had the benefit of having Welles in the lead. I truly can't wait to continue Welles week because I can't wait to see Welles onscreen again. If you ever want to see the true definition of a great actor, just watch Welles onscreen. But I'm getting off topic, aren't I? Actually, I think I've made my points. "The Magnificent Ambersons" failed to do anything for me and if I compared movie enjoyability to wins and losses, then I'd have to chalk this one up as a big loss for me.

RATING: 4.5/10  I can't even go '5' because that would be saying that it was an average film and I don't think I'd even go that far. Next up: "The Stranger".

MOVIES WATCHED: 461
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 540

May 23, 2012  4:12pm

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

444. Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965)

Running Time: 83 minutes
Directed By: Russ Meyer
Written By: Russ Meyer, Jack Moran
Main Cast: Tura Satana, Haji, Lori Williams, Susan Bernard, Stuart Lancaster
Click here to view the trailer

VIOLENT, VOLUPTUOUS VIXENS

Today I bring you, yet another YouTube post, as another "unfound" film bites the dust and I drag myself one step closer to my short-term goal of the halfway mark and my next TOP 20. Because this movie is available on YouTube, it means you can all go and watch it on your own, for free, but I'd advise against that.


Our main characters are, in fact, very violent, VERY voluptuous and are indeed vixens. Varla (Satana) Rosie (Haji) and Billie (Williams) are three go-go dancers who venture out one day in search of thrills. They drive fast cars and know how to get their motors running. When they're racing around a deserted area of land, they encounter a young couple, of which the male also takes pride in his fast car. After doing some bragging about how fast he can go, the women challenge him to a race. The race ends in shenanigans and Varla ends up challenging the stud to a fight, in which she kills him with her bare hands. The guy's girlfriend, Linda (Bernard), looks on in horror and our three vixens know that they must capture her and keep her quiet. Later, the four girls make their way to the home of an old, rich man and his two sons, where they plan to rob them. They make up a story about Linda, to cover their tracks and go about the rest of the film, seducing the men, trying to learn the whereabouts of the old man's loot and trying to keep Linda's mouth shut.


This is yet another example of THE BOOK including a film simply because we must have one of it's kind. It's a Russ Meyer film and Meyer was, of course, famous for using big breasted women and became a cult icon in the world of filmmaking. But MUST we see one of his films because of this, even if said film is awful? I don't think so. Now before I go and rip this film to shreds, I will give some credit where it's due. I realize the entire appeal of this film, released in the mid-60s, was to show off a few hot dames and get grown men to shell out good money to watch Tura Satana execute the task of trying to keep her breasts in her top. So I'll give Meyer credit for, at least, attempting to provide serious movie goers with some semblance of a plot. It's not a particularly great one, but it's there and it, for the most part, makes sense. I also realize you can't really judge this film on the same scale as all other films, because it was never meant to be anything more than eye candy. It's one of those films that the people who like it, probably like it because it's so bad it's appealing. They're probably into mouthy, violent women who drive cars and get into scuffles with men. I'll admit that, at times, I could see the appeal, but in the end, it just wasn't my bag.


And was it just me or did Tarantino totally rip this movie off when he made "Death Proof"? Especially the second half of "Death Proof", which features three women who know how to handle their automobiles, hunting down and laying an ass whooping on an evil man. I never liked "Death Proof" either and in fact, it was the Tarantino movie that forced me to re-think me appreciation for Tarantino.

RATING: 4/10  That's all I really have to say, so I'll stop there. This had no right being in a book that excluded such great films as "Dial M for Murder" and "Life is Beautiful"...to name a few.

MOVIES WATCHED: 460
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH:
541

May 22, 2012  6:53pm

Monday, May 21, 2012

589. Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974)


Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: Sam Peckinpah
Written By: Gordon T. Dawson, Frank Kowalski, Sam Peckinpah
Main Cast: Warren Oates, Isela Vega, Robert Webber, Gig Young, Helmut Dantine
Click here to view the trailer

BLOODY SAM AND THE SEVERED HEAD

"Bloody" Sam Peckinpah finally makes his appearance on this blog, as I watch my first Peckinpah film for THE BOOK - "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia". This is the first of (if I'm not mistaken) four Peckinpah films and I can only hope they get better from here.

Warren Oates as Bennie
In Mexico, a powerful man named "El Jefe" summons his daughter to see him and asks her who the father of her unborn child is. After El Jefe's henchmen rip the clothes from her body and break her arm, she finally gives up the man's name - Alfredo Garcia - and El Jefe offers up $1 million to the man who produces his head. Two of El Jefe's henchmen, Sappensly (Webber) and Quill (Young) take a picture of Alfredo Garcia and spend the next two months asking anyone who'll listen, if they've seen Garcia. Finally, they hit some luck when a piano player at a bar, Bennie (Oates), gives them some hope. He doesn't admit that he's seen Garcia, but Sappensly and Quill are suspicious of Bennie and give him their card in case he remembers anything else. It turns out that Bennie does know Garcia and in fact, his girlfriend, a prostitute named Elita (Vega), previously cheated on Bennie with Garcia and informs Bennie that Garcia died recently. Bennie goes back to meet with the two henchmen, who are staying at a local hotel and informs them of the new developments. They offer Bennie $10,000 if he'll find the grave of Alfredo Garcia, dig up the body, sever the head and bring it back to them. He accepts.

A great scene featuring Isela Vega and Kris Kristofferson
Even though I didn't care too much for BMTHOAG, I can admit that the gritty style of Sam Peckinpah did appeal to me. The characters were slimy, the towns were desolate and the evil men didn't come any meaner than guys like El Jefe and his henchmen. Even the main character, Bennie, wasn't really your typical hero, as he more resembled a weasel. My problems with "Alfredo Garcia" were really with the script, as it veered too much from it's main objective, which was a man hunting down a grave, claiming the head and delivering it for a cash reward. There's a huge chunk in the middle of "Alfredo Garcia" where we simply follow Bennie and his girlfriend Elita, as they talk about the prospect of marriage, driving through Mexico and detouring for a picnic. In my opinion, the script needed a little more work and a little more focus to really hit the nail on the head. I also would have liked some heavier dialogue, as none of the characters are very outspoken and when they speak their lines, they really fail at hammering them home. It's as if none of the words that are being delivered are very important, as there's a lot of mumbling and there's no lines that really stick out or seem poignant or even important.

Trouble at the grave!
At times BMTHOAG reminded me of a failed Sergio Leone picture, as Bennie eventually transforms into a sort of outlaw, taking justice into his own hands and dishing out bullets as if they were dimes, treating his victims like parking meters. You can also see where modern directors like Quentin Tarantino or The Coen Brothers may have drawn some of their inspiration from Sam, with factors like violence and vigilante characters. In my defense, I'd have to say that I saw their films first and thus, sometimes I prefer them to the director's that they were inspired by. It's like eating a bacon cheeseburger and then going back and trying a regular hamburger, it just isn't going to taste as good. Ultimately BMTHOAG just didn't do it for me. There were certain scenes that grasped my interest and I was able to appreciate some aspects of Peckinpah's style, but there was more bad than good in this viewer's eyes.


RATING: 5/10  I'll still look forward to more of Sam's movies. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

MOVIES WATCHED: 459
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 542

May 21, 2012  5:46pm

SINS OF OMISSION - Entry #65: Les nuits de la pleine lune/Full Moon in Paris (1984)

Running Time: 100 minutes Directed By: Eric Rohmer Written By: Eric Rohmer Main Cast: Pascale Ogier, Tcheky Karyo, Fabrice Luchini,...