Thursday, February 28, 2013

280. Silver Lode (1954)


Running Time: 80 minutes
Directed By: Allan Dwan
Written By: Karen DeWolf
Main Cast: John Payne, Lizabeth Scott, Dan Duryea, Dolores Moran, Emile Meyer
Click here to view the trailer

BETTER THAN 'HIGH NOON'

Yes, I said it. "Silver Lode" is a better film than "High Noon", a comparison I make because the films are similarly structured. Anyway, I'll get to the reasoning in a bit. I needed a short movie last night to pass the time while the wife watched "Survivor", so I grabbed "Silver Lode", which has been sitting here via Netflix, waiting to be watched.


Most plot synopsis' of this film will be quick to point out that this western is a thinly veiled hint at McCarthyism, which it is. However, forget about all that, because it's also a hell of a western, loaded with action (well as much as can be loaded into eighty minutes) and there's no need to muck things up, dragging politics and political themes into the mix. John Payne is Dan Ballard, a highly respected citizen of Silver Lode (but a citizen who has only lived there for about two years) who, when the film begins, is about to get married. As the wedding bells ring and the guests gather, however, U.S. Marshall Fred McCarty and his deputies ride into town, showing a warrant for Dan Ballard's arrest and demanding to know where he is. Eventually they find him and since their paperwork is fully in order, the townspeople - most notably Sheriff Wooley and Judge Cranston - have no choice but to turn him over to the Marshall. The charges that McCarty brings to Ballard are of murder and for stealing $20,000. As the talking continues we learn that the murder Ballard is being accused of, is that of McCarty's brother and the $20,000 was also his, according to McCarty. Ballard admits to killing McCarty's brother, but only in self defense and being the highly respectable citizen he is, nearly the whole town is on his side. Ballard requests two hours to get things in order before McCarty takes him to the nearby town of Discovery to be jailed. During this two hours, Dan hopes to prove that not only are McCarty's papers forged, but that McCarty himself isn't even a real U.S. Marshall. As the two hours ticks by, the townspeople slowly start to turn on Dan.

SPOILER ALERT!


Before I get into defending my "better than High Noon" remark, let me first tell you why this film won't be getting a '10'...or even a '9' or an '8' for that matter. The sole reason this film won't get a rating higher than the one I intend to give it is because of the ending. I absolutely HATED the ending. Because this film wasn't a high profile choice, meaning it wasn't a movie that I'd ever heard of before, Dwan wasn't a director that I'd heard of before and Payne wasn't even an actor that I'd heard of before, I thought the possibility existed for their to be an unhappy ending. Sure it was an RKO release, which means it was still a product of the Hollywood machine, but I thought maybe...just maybe I could get an unhappy ending, which I would have loved. I would've liked the ending to go one of two ways:

1) The townspeople continue to turn on Dan Ballard through till the end of the picture, where they finally gun him down and kill him, just moments before the telegram arrives that would've proved Dan's innocence and proved McCarty to be a liar, saying he WAS NOT a U.S. Marshall. This is the ending I wanted.

However, I would've also settled for....

2) The ending goes exactly as it did, with Dolly and Rose running back to the church with the fake telegram and telling everyone that McCarty wasn't a real U.S. Marshall and Ballard killing McCarty. We think everything is well, the townspeople re-embrace Dan and we cut to the telegraph office where the real telegram comes in, reading that indeed McCarty is a real U.S. Marshall and to bring in Dan Ballard dead or alive! Sure, it wouldn't have jived with Johnson's earlier claim that McCarty was a poser, but you could've easily plucked the scene where Johnson rats on McCarty and left the whole thing up in the air right down to the very end.


Keep in mind folks that the only reason I try to play screenwriter and rewrite certain endings, is usually because I like the film so much and just really want to see it go a certain way. Anyway, yeah this was a pretty top notch western and I'd even go so far as to say (unless I'm forgetting something) that this is the best western I've watched for THE BOOK thus far, aside from the Sergio Leone offerings. I thought the whole cast was great and how in the world had I never heard of John Payne before "Silver Lode"? Was he just not that popular? I thought he was great! He had a soft spoken quality about him, where he kept his voice calm and low, but you still knew he meant business and was ready to draw guns if things got serious. He was like a much calmer John Wayne, with a dash of Jimmy Stewart mixed in. I thought he was top notch. Dan Duryea was also really good as the bad guy and Dolores Moran wasn't hard to look at. I liked how the film kind of built like "12 Angry Men", in that the townspeople's minds slowly began to change, one by one, over the course of the whole movie, until one man stood alone against the whole town at the end. Oh and speaking of the end, the film gets extra points for falling under my "any ending that takes place in the top of a  belltower, clocktower or lighthouse is automatically awesome" rule.

Yes, this film is much better than "High Noon". Four strangers swagger into town (well, their horses do the swaggering I guess), with the sole purpose of killing one man and in the battle of Silver Lode vs. High Noon, Silver Lode gets my vote by a mile. This is a top notch western and if you're looking for a good film that represents the genre suitably, then this is as good a choice as any. It's short and to the point and for eighty minutes long, it sure does pack a hell of a punch.

RATING: 7.5/10  Had they gone with my ending #1, we'd be seriously talking about a '10/10', but it is what it is. If ever there were a season to be called the "Western Season" this is it. Coming up later in the season: "Shane", "The Searchers", "Ride Lonesome" and all of the Anthony Mann westerns. Stay tuned.

MOVIES WATCHED: 622
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 379

February 28, 2012  4:28pm

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

281. Carmen Jones (1954)


Running Time: 105 minutes
Directed By: Otto Preminger
Written By: Harry Kleiner, from the novel Carmen by Prosper Merimee
Main Cast: Dorothy Dandridge, Harry Belafonte, Pearl Bailey, Olga James, Joe Adams
Click here to view the trailer

DANDRIDGE IS DYNAMITE!

I had to halt the "Ozu Hat Trick" festivities, in order to check out "Carmen Jones", a movie that is currently streaming via Netflix, but that is scheduled to stop streaming as of March 1. Not wanting to have to add it to my "At Home" queue, I decided to just go ahead and knock it out.


For the unaware, "Carmen Jones" is a musical and opens with Cindy Lou (James) arriving at an Army base in North Carolina to visit her man Joe (Belafonte).  On the army base, is also a parachute factory, where the free-spirited Carmen Jones works. Carmen is an independent woman and if she lived in this day and age, she'd probably be called a "diva". Carmen could have any man she wants and when she spots Joe, eating lunch with Cindy Lou, she decides she wants him. Joe wants no part of Carmen Jones, however, as he's committed to Cindy Lou. When Carmen, oozing with sass, picks a fight with one of her co-workers, Joe is selected to drive her to a nearby town, where she'll be brought up on charges and jailed. When she tries to get away from him, Joe chases her down, even jumping a moving train and finally tackling her & tying her up and when his Army Jeep breaks down, Carmen invites him to her neighborhood, which they happen to be near. At Carmen's house, Joe finally gives into temptation and allows himself to be seduced by the beautiful Carmen. The next morning, however, she's gone, citing that she just can't allow herself to be cooped up. Joe is put in the stockade for allowing his prisoner to escape and when he's released he finds Carmen working at Billy Pastor's, a Louisiana nightclub. After Joe knocks out a superior officer in Louisiana, the two hop a train to Chicago, courtesy of Husky Miller, heavyweight boxer and another would-be suitor for the vivacious Carmen, where they plan to hide out while Joe's trouble blows over. Can Carmen bring herself to be "cooped up" with Joe and can she resist the lavish lifestyle that a life on the arm of Husky Miller would allow her?


Fun Fact: I had no idea this was a musical until the opening credits started to roll and I spotted the name Hammerstein, put two and two together and came to a realization. It's hard to believe that the same man who directed Jimmy Stewart in "Anatomy of a Murder" and Robert Mitchum in "Angel Face", was also the same man who directed Dorothy Dandridge in "Carmen Jones". Honestly, I wasn't gaga about this film or anything, but a lot of little things added to the amazing abilities of Dorothy Dandridge gets it at least a mild recommendation. Let me just say that Dandridge OWNED the screen! Without her, this movie would have totally failed with me and let me just say that I thought she was brilliant. She was nominated for an Academy Award at the 1955 ceremony and while I haven't seen any of the other nominees from that year, I have a hard time believing that anyone had as much of a powerful screen presence as Ms. Dandridge. And hey, don't let me gloss over the talents of Mr. Belafonte either - he was a fine casting choice and held his own very well standing beside the great actress. THE BOOK poses the question as to why Dandridge and Belafonte's voices were dubbed and I second it. I really didn't know whether or not Dorothy Dandrige was a singer (apparently she was), but as I watched, I knew that Harry Belafonte WAS and wondered why he was being so obviously dubbed.


Now, again, despite the performance of Dandridge, I'd only really be able to give this one a mild recommendation. The story is good, but my main problem is with the music, which, more often that not, hinders the progression of the film, instead of helping it along, as it should be doing. Aside from Pearl Bailey's rendition of "Gypsy Song" and Dandridge's initial rendition of "Habanera", the rest of the songs I REALLY could've done without. Also, like I mentioned above, the voices are so obviously dubbed that it's more distracting than enjoyable. Give this one a shot, but being a fan of musicals is going to help you (not entirely though, as I'm a mild fan of musicals and the musical aspect here was lost on me) and don't go in expecting a run of the mill Preminger vehicle. Instead, go in expecting a dynamite performance from Dorothy Dandridge and a decent story with a good ending.

RATING: 6.5/10  Good, but just misses out on the '7', a number that would mean that it crosses the threshold from good to great.

MOVIES WATCHED: 621
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 380

February 27, 2013  1:47am

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

354. Ukigusa/Floating Weeds (1959)

Running Time: 119 minutes
Directed By: Yasujiro Ozu
Written By: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu
Main Cast: Ganjiro Nakamura, Machiko Kyo, Hiroshi Kawaguchi, Haruko Sugimura, Ayako Wakao
Click here to view the trailer

OZU HAT TRICK: PART TWO OF THREE

Moving right along with the three film salute to Yasujiro Ozu, we come to the remake of his own 1934 film, "The Story of Floating Weeds" - this one simply called "Floating Weeds". I had a more difficult time getting through this one, than I did with "Tokyo Story". Why, you ask? Read on...


The main story of "Floating Weeds" deals with a troupe of Kabuki actors, who arrive in a seaside town, during a very hot summer. Upon their arrival, many of the troupe's actors make their way around town, flyers in hand and promote the upcoming series of shows that they plan to put on. Komajuro (Nakamura), the troupe's master, takes time to visit an old flame and the two reminisce. It seems that the old flame, named Oyoshi (Sugimura), has a child by Komajuro. The child, Kiyoshi (Kawaguchi), now nearly college age, doesn't know that Komajuro is his father and thinks that he is actually his uncle. While in town, Komajuro plans to spend as much time as he can with Kiyoshi and during an all day fishing outing with him, his current flame, Sumiko (Kyo) begins to wonder where he's been getting off to. When he returns, she confronts him about it, but not wanting anyone to know about his illegitimate son, he hides the details from her and simply tells her to stop being jealous. This only makes Sumiko more curious and when she asks around, she finds out that Komajuro has been seen at Oyoshi's place many times. Sumiko begins to suspect that Komajuro is cheating on her and goes to Oyoshi's to confront all three of them: Komajuro, Oyoshi and Kiyoshi. When there, she sees Kiyoshi and makes the assumption that he is the child of Komajuro. Later, Sumiko pays another female member of the troupe, the beautiful Kayo (Wakao), to seduce Kiyoshi.


Whew, that got a little confusing at the end there, didn't it? I'm not going to say that "Floating Weeds" was horrible, because with it's superb cinematography and top notch acting, it definitely had it's merits as to why it was included in THE BOOK. I'll simply say that the film wasn't for me, was very traditional in it's themes (once again Ozu finds fascination with the interaction between different generations, something that I found interesting in "Tokyo Story", but not here) and due to it's traditional nature, that may have been detrimental in my dislike for it. It wasn't necessarily hard to get through, I WAS able to get somewhat lost in the story. It's just that I didn't care enough about the characters to wonder how they'd turn out. It seems to me, after only watching two Ozu pictures, that the filmmaker is very of his time and obviously some of the themes and ideas that fascinate him, aren't as interesting to me. I won't necessarily look forward to the next Ozu offering ("An Autumn Afternoon"), but after one like and one dislike, nor will I dread it.


RATING: 4/10  I really hate wrapping things up THAT fast, but I've said all I needed to say on this one. Next up for Ozu: "An Autumn Afternoon".

MOVIES WATCHED: 620
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 381

February 26, 2013  7:20pm

Saturday, February 23, 2013

257. TOKYO STORY (1953)


Running Time: 136 minutes
Directed By: Yasujiro Ozu
Written By: Kogo Noda, Yasujiro Ozu
Main Cast: Chishu Ryu, Chieko Higashiyama, Setsuko Hara, Haruko Sugimura, So Yamamura
Click here to view the trailer

Note: This is the first time I've noticed this, but I find it interesting that THE BOOK doesn't list the foreign title for "Tokyo Story" ("Tokyo Monogatari"). It USUALLY lists both and therefore I always list them both in the title, however, I'm also very strict with myself about only including what THE BOOK includes, so I left it out here. That's also why a lot of times the years are wrong for some of the movies. Yeah, in case you haven't noticed, A LOT of the cited years that are in THE BOOK are wrong. There usually only off by one year, but I've noticed a lot of deviation from what THE BOOK says to what, for example, IMDB says. Anyway...

OZU HAT TRICK: PART ONE OF THREE

So it's time, yet again, for a "hat trick" or three films by one director. I decided long ago that if a single director was able to get three of his offerings into the book of "must see" movies, then they at least deserve a little acknowledgement by yours truly. This time around it's Yasujiro Ozu, who not only has three films in THE BOOK, but two of them are from the 1950s, which fits in perfectly with the 50s theme of this season.


I had heard "Tokyo Story" was a (sort of) remake of "Make Way for Tomorrow", which is a film I watched a couple of years ago for THE BOOK. Therefore, I was pretty excited to watch it, but found out quick that it really wasn't that much like "Make Way for Tomorrow" at all. Shukishi (Ryu) and Tomi Hirayama (Higashiyama) are an elderly couple, who had five children. When the film opens they're packing for a trip to Tokyo where they intend to visit two of their children and their daughter-in-law, who was married to their now deceased son. They'll be leaving their youngest daughter, Kyoko, at home and along the way, meeting their youngest son, who'll pick them up at the train station. When they arrive in Tokyo, a city where they've never been and at the home of their eldest son, Dr. Koichi (Yamamura), they settle in and their initial conversation is probably a lot like the initial conversation you'd have with relatives you hadn't seen in a while - all very natural, not too exciting, a round of greetings and then a sit down to catch up. Their eldest daughter, Shige (Sugimura) also meets them at her brother's house, as well as Noriko (Hara), the daughter-in-law, who seems to be the happiest to see them. In fact, after a while, it becomes apparent that the Hirayama children have obviously grown up, they have their own lives now and their parents, although they'd never tell them this, have become more of a burden that a treat. The parents, meanwhile, are like two fish out of water in Tokyo, a city that seemingly has passed them by and has nothing to offer people of their age. After a lengthy visit, the parents decide to return to their home (many miles away) and consider it a swan song of sorts to their children, bracing themselves for the possibility of never seeing them again (because they live so far away). However, during the train ride home, mother is stricken ill and when they arrive home, her condition only worsens.


On paper, "Tokyo Story" looks as if it COULD be called "Tokyo Boring". I mean, a couple of elders go to Tokyo to visit their kids and then....they visit them...then come home!! Judging by some of the comments I came across on places like IMDB and ICheckMovies, apparently it's also a popular opinion to classify this movie as boring and write it off, as I saw many doing just that. "I feel asleep twice while trying to watch this movie" is a quote from an IMDB user that comes to mind. However, despite my long work days and being very tired at night, I managed to not fall asleep once while watching "Tokyo Story" and while it wasn't setting my world on fire or anything, it certainly kept me interested. Check out this quote from THE BOOK:

"...any human activity, however 'unimportant', is worthy of our attention..."\


I agree 100%. You can literally show me ANY human activity and as long as I'm convinced and understand why said person is doing what they're doing, then I'll be drawn to the screen. Show me a man peeling and then eating an orange and I'll watch it intently and write a review on it. "Tokyo Story" comes down to a lot of dialogue and basic human activity and interaction. The dialogue isn't particularly slick or good - it's very normal, everyday talk. However, observing the interactions between these different age groups, between these parents and their, now grown, children is sometimes fascinating. Watching two elders try and keep themselves occupied in a city that is quickly growing and passing them up - also fascinating, at times. "Tokyo Story" relies on the audiences ability to simply observe. There isn't any high drama, there aren't any great climaxes, twist endings or unexpected surprises. Ozu simply shows us a tale and asks us to observe his characters. I didn't LOVE it or anything, nor do I understand such praise that calls it "one of the greatest movies of all-time", however I didn't mind it and found it very easy to get through. The acting wasn't particularly brilliant, however it was very natural and maybe that's what makes brilliant actors - the ability to be as natural as possible. Go in expecting little and you may be pleasantly surprised.

RATING: 7/10  Honestly, that rating could go down with time, but I'm confident giving Ozu's first offering a '7' for now. Next up for Ozu: "Floating Weeds".

MOVIES WATCHED: 619
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 382

February 23, 2013  10:34pm

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

244. Angel Face (1952)


Running Time: 90 minutes
Directed By: Otto Preminger
Written By: Chester Erskine, Oscar Millard, Frank S. Nugent
Main Cast: Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Mona Freeman, Herbert Marshall, Leon Ames
Click here to view the trailer

MITCHUM DISAPPOINTS...SOMEHOW

Back to work, but feeling pretty spry for having just done absolutely nothing for the span of one week. Last night, as my vacation came to a close, I took the time to take in one last movie before heading back to work - "Angel Face".


This time around the shadowy, film-noir block, Mitchum stars as Frank Jessup, an ex-race car driver and current ambulance driver who, after taking a call at the wealthy Tremayne residence, strikes up an interest in Diane Tremayne (Simmons), daughter to Charles Tremayne and step-daughter to Catherine Tremayne, the latter of which controls the checkbook. Frank already has a girl on the string, Mary (Freeman), but she isn't exciting enough for him and instead he takes the time to pursue Diane and even lands himself a new job because of it, when Diane offers him a position as the Tremayne chauffeur. Maybe I should back track a little bit here and explain that the reason Frank was called to the Tremayne residence, on the night he initially met Diane, was because someone had triggered the gas in Catherine Tremayne's room. It was either a huge accident or someone was trying to kill her. As the film continues, Frank starts to piece things together and makes no qualms about telling Diane his suspicions of her and her role on the "accident" with the gas. Frank tries over and over again to reunite with Mary, who represents a normal, content life, but can't break free of the exciting like that Diane represents. At about the halfway mark of the film, Charles and Catherine Tremayne are killed when their automobile goes in reverse over the side of a cliff, the reaction of an apparent car tampering. From there, Frank and Diane are hauled into court, where they stand trial for the murder of Charles Tremayne and Catherine Tremayne.

SPOILER ALERT!


Well add "Angel Face" to the list of biggest BOOK disappointments, right up there with "The Hustler", because ever since seeing "Out of the Past", I'd been looking forward to another Robert Mitchum film and this one just didn't stack up in the slightest. My main problems with "Angel Face" were pretty much the same problems I had with "The Postman Always Rings Twice", where things just got waaaay too out of hand, which lead to too many contrivances. There was also the problem of Mitchum and Simmons' chemistry, of which, in my opinion, there was none. I just didn't buy these two as lovebirds and I was never fully sold on their relationship. They just didn't give off the sparks necessary to lead me to buy into the rest of the story. Once we got into the courtroom (and don't get me wrong, the courtroom scenes are some of the best in the film) the movie had blown into too big of a circus and I no longer cared about these characters.


It's a real shame too, because when the film opened up and I realized that Mitchum wasn't playing a private detective, an insurance investigator or an ex-cop, I was pretty excited. Here you had a noir that wasn't going to seem to fall into the standard stereotypes, introducing a regular Joe, an ambulance driver and it all seemed to set up so perfect. I've realized, after being burned by "Angel Face", that when it comes to film-noir and your truly, there's no middle ground - I either love 'em or I don't and I didn't love "Angel Face". Keep your eyes peeled for the courtroom scenes, where Leon Ames shines and the two car crashes, the first of which totally caught me off guard (I saw the ending coming out as it did and I really liked it), however, the rest of the film you can feed to the dogs.

RATING: 5.5/10  That was a pretty harsh write-up for a '5.5', but I was disappointed dammit!! I'll be checking out "The Night of the Hunter" later this season and hopefully Mitchum can win me back over.

MOVIES WATCHED: 618
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 383

COMING SOON
Salt of the Earth (1954 - Herbert J. Biberman)
Silver Lode (1954 - Allan Dwan)
A Streetcar Named Desire (1951 - Elia Kazan)
The Quiet Man (1952 - John Ford)

February 20, 2013  8:35pm

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

OZU Hat Trick - COMING SOON


243. Jeux interdits/Forbidden Games (1952)


Running Time: 85 minutes
Directed By: Rene Clement
Written By: Francois Boyer, Jean Aurenche, Pierre Bost, Rene Clement, from the novel Les Jeux inconnus by Francois Boyer
Main Cast: Georges Poujouly, Brigitte Fossey, Amedee, Laurence Badie, Suzanne Courtal

STEALING CROSSES

Continuing on with my ode to the 1950s, I turned to the streaming portion of Netflix last night and Rene Clement's 1952 film "Forbidden Games".


The film is set in France, during World War II and opens on a bridge that is being bombed, during a German air attack. On the bridge are five-year-old Paulette (Fossey), her parents and her beloved dog Jock. To make a long story short, Paulette's parents and puppy are killed and never make it off the bridge. Paulette scoops up her lifeless Jock and runs for cover, not realizing at first that he is dead. After she discovers that her dog IS, in fact, dead, she soon meets Michel Dolle (Poujouly), a ten-year-old boy who runs into Paulette and after noticing her tears, offers her a new puppy if he'll come with her. Arriving home, Michel's family is, at first, hesitant to welcome Paulette into their house, but soon warm up to her. Paulette stays with the Dolle family for a while and as the days turn into weeks, she and Michel begin to construct a pet cemetery, starting with Jock. The obsession over the cemetery becomes so great that Michel even resorts to killing cockroaches, just so he can add one more plot to his masterpiece. After the idea is born, the plot then turns to Michel's eagerness to steal crosses, any crosses that he can get his hands, even resorting to robbing the graves of already deceased people, including his very recently deceased older brother. Michel becomes fixated on pleasing Paulette, making sure that she stays happy and preoccupied.

SPOILER ALERT!


I don't really have a whole lot to say about "Forbidden Games", so I'll likely be keeping this one short and sweet. And, in fact, I will keep it sweet, because I don't have that many salty words for Clement's 1952 offering. In fact, as I watched it, the best blurb I could come up with was to call it a "very nice little picture". Now, I realize that sounds cheap and as if it took me ten seconds to come up with, but hey, I like nice, little pictures, so I'd call that a good blurb. Honestly, I usually hate movies with children as their stars and since starting THE BOOK, I've become very frustrated with the abundance of WWII pictures. However, I really didn't have any problems with "Forbidden Games". The WWII element is kept very low key and the kids, as far as I'm concerned, do a fine job and thumbs up to Clement for getting what he did out of them. I loved actor who played Michel's father and thought he did a great job. Also, I finally break the streak of unpleasing movie endings, as I thought the ending to "Forbidden Games" was just right. It was just the right amount of heartbreaking, as I watched Michel run away from his father, realizing that a promise was broken and that Paulette would be taken away. Ditching crosses into a nearby stream and shoving Paulette's necklace into his pocket, a memento for a little girl, he'll probably never see again. Great ending.


I wouldn't go so far as to call it a great movie. I won't be giving it a '10', or even an '8' or '9', but it's certainly worth a look and it's not hard to see why THE BOOK included it. Like I said, "a very nice little picture"...but sad.

RATING: 6.5/10  If I was feeling a little more generous today, that could've been a '7', but I'm not so it ain't. Hopefully I can crack the twenty movies watched for the season mark by the end of this coming weekend.

MOVIES WATCHED: 617
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 384

February 19, 2013  12:24pm

Sunday, February 17, 2013

273. Animal Farm (1954)


Running Time: 72 minutes
Directed By: Joy Batchelor, John Halas
Written By: Joy Batchelor, John Halas, Borden Mace, Philip Stapp, Lothar Wolff, from novel by George Orwell
Main Cast: (voices): Gordon Heath, Maurice Denham
Click here to view the trailer

FOUR LEGS GOOD, TWO LEGS BAD

It was animation domination last night, as, what has to be one of the last animated features in THE BOOK, got it's chance to WOW me. George Orwell's classic novel of the same name is brought to the big screen, via animation - Britain's first piece of animation actually - and I can't say I was THAT impressed with it.


When I was in eighth grade we were given the assignment to read "Animal Farm". I didn't do it, because I just couldn't wrap my head around the idea of animals representing humans and proceeded to fail every test we took on the novel. Therefore, I was hesitant to check out the film, but optimistic, because obviously I've matured a little since eighth grade. If you're not aware, the entire story is an allegory for the Russian Revolution, with certain characters depicting Stalin, Lenin, Marx, etc. When the story starts the farm in question is called Manor Farm and is owned by Mr. Jones. Jones is a drunk oppressor, who doesn't feed the animals properly and generally mistreats them. One night, the oldest and wisest farm animal, Old Major (a prize-winning boar) calls the animals together and unties them, rallying them to rise up against Jones. When Major dies at the end of his speech, the animals are inspired and do just what Major suggested, "dethroning" Jones from his farm owner post and taking over Manor Farm, which they rename Animal Farm. Snowball, a pig, takes control of the whole operation, organizing the animals, writing up a list of commandments for them to follow and educating them. When rival pig Napoleon gets fed up with Snowball's leadership, he runs him out of Animal Farm and takes over himself. Under Napoleon's rule, the conditions for the animals become much worse, working twice as hard for less food.


Okay, allow me to be brutally honest: As I watched, I knew the animals in the film represented SOMETHING, but did not know they were meant to represent figures in the Russian Revolution. Therefore, I didn't watch the film with those representations in mind and actually got something very different out of the whole experience. I took the film as a simple sociological experiment, where the animals represented different classes of people. I viewed it as a lesson in what might happen if a civilization were to rise up against their leader/dictator. It was fascinating to me to see that even without Jones, the animals just couldn't be content, that around every corner there was going to be troubles, there was going to be hard work and no food and SOMEONE was going to want to be the leader of the whole thing. I was fascinated by the list of "animal commandments" that were written and then even more fascinated when they were rewritten by Napoleon.

"No animal shall kill another animal...without cause"

"All animals are equal...but some animals are more equal than others"

These laws/commandments reminded me of the Ten Commandments (a movie that I'll be watching soon) and how we basically rewrite those too, to serve our purposes. Are there times in life when we're no less deceptive and underhanded than Napoleon the pig? Do we rewrite laws and rules to serve our own purposes? Maybe. Probably. Definitely.

Finding out that every animal/race of animal in the movie/novel actually represented something in Russian history was kind of cool. I'm no Russian history professor and therefore, I couldn't appreciate the allegory as much as others, but it's cool to know that there's a whole piece of fiction waiting to be dissected by me, if I ever felt the urge to brush up on my history.


My final opinions on the film were about average. I think that this story is better left to the written word and an animated film comes off as too cutesy for such a powerful novel. What someone needs to do is somehow produce a live action version of this. Don't ask me how they'd do it, but if someone could figure it out and make it powerful enough, I'm sure it would be a success. I think most people are going to view this film like I did; not as a Russian allegory, but in it's simplest form - a society that cannot seem to exist when it is forced to take care of itself.

RATING: 5.5/10  We'll go ahead and wrap it up there. Like I said, unless you can somehow figure out how to do a live action version and make it good, then leave "Animal Farm" to the written page.

MOVIES WATCHED: 616
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 385

February 17, 2013  12:11pm

Saturday, February 16, 2013

362. Hanyeo/The Housemaid (1960)


Running Time: 111 minutes
Directed By: Kim Ki-young
Written By: Kim Ki-young
Main Cast: Kim Jin-kyu, Lee Eun-shim, Ju Jeung-ryu, Um Aing-ran, Ahn Sung-ki
Click here to view the trailer

IT CAME FROM (SOMEWHERE ON THE INTERNET OTHER THAN) YOUTUBE

Another BIG, BIG thank you to "Ste" for providing me with links to six of the nearly impossible to find features from the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book. Figuring I better watch them before they disappear, today I started doing just that and checked out "The Housemaid".


When describing the events of "Hanyeo" or "The Housemaid", all I'd really need to tell you is that it's very similar to "Fatal Attraction", as far as the plot goes. However, as you know, I'd feel like I was cheating you if that's all I said, so buckle up for details. Mr. Kim is the main character - a husband, father of two and piano teacher, who takes a job at a factory giving music lessons to the female workers.  Mr. Kim is dedicated to his wife and family, recently purchasing a new, two-story home and eagerly anticipating the new arrival to their family (his wife is pregnant). When Mrs. Kim becomes overly exhausted from working two jobs, to the point of sickness, Mr. Kim urges her to rest and brings up the idea of hiring a maid to run the day-to-day household chores. The idea is accepted by Mrs. Kim and Mr. Kim asks one of the girls at the factory and a personal student of his to try and find him a good girl, who could work at his home. The student introduces him to a very unbalanced (although that isn't clear at first) girl, who agrees to do the job and for a little while, she works out. One evening, during a moment of temptation and weakness, Mr. Kim is seduced by the new housemaid and has an affair with her. Mr. Kim admits the affair to his wife and though she is angered by his actions, doesn't leave him. Things get more complicated when the housemaid announces she's pregnant.


SPOILER ALERT!

Man, this season has been loaded with some amazing films, but some of the endings have just been utterly head scratching, if you ask me. Take for instance the ending to "The Housemaid", another twist ending (see "Les Diaboliques"), where it is revealed that nothing in the movie ACTUALLY happened and that it was simply Mr. Kim imagining what COULD HAPPEN if he were to be tempted by the seductions of his own housemaid. I can't say I didn't like it, but I can't say I liked it either and I don't like that feeling of indifference. I've always been a big fan of the "the whole story was a dream/imagining" ending, so, in time, "The Housemaid" COULD grow on me. Otherwise, there certainly wasn't anything wrong with the film and it begs the question, even more so now that I've seen it, as to why this isn't readily available on DVD. I can only assume that there are a large number of die hard film fans that have yet to experience this one and I think there would probably be a large audience for it. The film was remade in 2010 and the 1960 version left enough of an impression on me for me to want to see the remake, although I probably won't for a while.


If you like thrillers, that border on horror stories, then I think you'd really dig this one, so definitely give it a look. Like I said, it's a lot like "Fatal Attraction", plot-wise, but "The Housemaid" is definitely a lot creepier, uses music more effectively and is just flat out more odd. I wasn't TOTALLY blown away with it or anything and don't know if I'd go so far as to call it a MUST SEE, but it was certainly a WORTH SEEING and provided me with a perfectly enjoyable two hours of movie viewing AND has the potential to grow on me with time.

RATING: 6.5/10  Good, but not great, but certainly worth a look. You can check it out for free (if you create an account) at veehd.com @ http://veehd.com/video/4561028_The-Housemaid-1960-aka-Hanyo-Full-Movie

MOVIES WATCHED: 615
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 386

February 16, 2013  10:14pm

Friday, February 15, 2013

272. Les Diaboliques (1954)


Running Time: 116 minutes
Directed By: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written By: Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jerome Geronimi, Frederic Grendel, Rene Masson, from the novel Celle qui n'etait plus by Pierre Boileau & Thomas Narcejac
Main Cast: Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel, Jean Brochard
Click here to view the trailer

A DOUBLE SHOT OF CLOUZOT: 2 of 2

As you can see I've already failed at my mission to include a quote underneath the subtitle of EVERY movie. That's okay though - we'll just go ahead and include one, when a particular quote pops out at me and with the Clouzot films, none have. However, the movies have been good and that's really all I can ask for.


"Les Diaboliques" is a particularly "Hitchcockian" film, set at a boarding school for boys, revolving around murder and filled with mystery. Michel Delassalle (Meurisse) is the director/principal of the boarding school, a particularly ruthless, cold man who especially focuses his icy demeanor at his wife, Christina (Clouzot) and mistress, Nicole (Signoret). When the ladies get together one day (as Christina knows about Nicole), they decide to plan and execute his murder, hatching the perfect scheme where no one will suspect them. They plan to drive to a nearby town, lace a bottle of liquor with a strong sedative and then lure Michel there, tempt him with a drink and when he takes it and falls asleep, they plan to drown him in the bathtub. From there, the ladies will transport the corpse, via a wicker chest, back to the boarding school, where they'll dump him in a swimming pool and play it like he fell in. The plan goes absolutely according to plan, despite the hesitancy of Christina, a former nun with a heart condition, who didn't believe in divorce, let alone murder. However, things start to go awry when the pool at the boarding school is drained and Michel is nowhere to be found. The ladies then find themselves walking on eggshells as they wonder who removed the body from the pool and get even more of a fright when an ex-police chief starts snooping around.

SPOILER ALERT!


This is one of those movies that I've been looking forward to seeing for a long time. When you read little facts, like the one printed in THE BOOK about Hitchcock's urgency to make "Psycho" so that he could regain his "Master of Suspense" moniker from Clouzot, then you start to really salivate at the thought of a Hitchcock-like movie, directed by someone other than Hitch. I had read that the movie was a murder mystery about a wife and mistress plotting and executing a murder on their husband/lover and that was certainly an intriguing premise. However, I have to admit, that ultimately I was a little disappointed with the whole affair. Don't get me wrong, the film was a fine one, but honestly this is one of those movies that I had pegged to get a '10' and it just never reached that point. Believe it or not, I wasn't fifteen minutes into the film, before I figured out the big twist ending and just KNEW that Nicole and Michel were setting up Christina. Sure, in the 50s, when twist endings weren't as frequent as an underwear changing, the ending probably left audiences stunned. But I grew up in the 80s and 90s, at a time when movies like "The Sixth Sense" and "The Usual Suspects" were unleashed on theaters. Also, it just seemed way too odd that a wife and mistress would be plotting together and be okay that one another existed. In fact, it's only mentioned once and in passing, in the film, of the oddity that is the friendship between Nicole and Christina. I still loved the ending - well the twist ending. What I didn't like was the very end, which saw the police chief bust Michel and Nicole and promise them a minimum of 15 - 20 years in prison for their little stunt. What is up with Clouzot? This is the film that should've had the unhappy ending, with the "devils" getting away with their evil. I mean, what exactly is their crime anyway? Christina had a heart condition and died when she saw Michel, someone whom she had plotted to murder. I think I'd like to see "Les Diaboliques 2", the one where Michel and Nicole go to trial and are gotten off by a young Atticus Finch or someone like that.


In the end, I still liked the movie, it has a good chance at reaching TOP 20 status (or at least "Ten Worth Mentioning" status) and I'll remember it fondly. However, this is yet another one of those circumstances of THE BOOK messing with your tastes and completely forcing them to do a 180. Pre-BOOK, I would've loved this movie and probably a lot more than "Wages of Fear". As it stands now, "Wages of Fear" is clearly better than "Les Diaboliques", in my opinion and has a much higher chance at achieving TOP 20 status.

RATING: 7/10  Can't go higher than "Wages of Fear" for reasons just mentioned, but still good and we continue to roll through a season filled with greatness. Here's hoping it keeps up!

MOVIES WATCHED: 614
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 387

February 15, 2013  10:22pm

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

259. La Salaire de la peur/Wages of Fear (1953)


Running Time: 141 minutes
Directed By: Henri-Georges Clouzot
Written By: Henri-Georges Clouzot, Jerome Geronimi, from novel by Georges Arnaud
Main Cast: Yves Montand, Charles Vanel, Peter van Eyck, Folco Lulli, Vera Clouzot
Click here to view the trailer

A DOUBLE SHOT OF CLOUZOT: 1 of 2

Well it was a rough couple of work days, but I finally made it to vacation and for the next week I hope to bang out a handful of reviews. I kick off my week off with a "Double Shot of Clouzot", taking a look at the two Henri-Georges Clouzot films from the book. First, we head back to 1953 and "The Wages of Fear".


The film starts out slow, to be honest, zooming in on a small South American town, where nearly all of the residents are poor - too poor in fact to get out of the town, which is what nearly all of them want to do. The only employment opportunity in town is the Standard Oil Company, an American corporation, which falls under heavy scrutiny from the townspeople for it's unethical labor practices. Standard Oil Company (or SOC) owns and operates several nearby oil fields and when one of them goes up in flames, they figure the only way to extinguish the fire is to use a nitroglycerine explosion to cap the well. The problem is is that the explosion is 300 miles away and in order to get the nitroglycerine to the explosion site, they'll have to cross 300 miles of rough, rocky mountain terrain. For the unaware, any sudden bump or jolt and the nitro could blow the trucks transporting it sky high. Bill O'Brien, company foreman, considers the job of driving the trucks too risky for his own workers and turns to the townspeople, who he knows will jump at the chance for employment. He vows to pay them well, because any driver skilled enough to make it the 300 miles will deserve a healthy reward. He offers $2000 per man, riding together in two man teams and offers four positions (two trucks, two men on each truck). After a little, self administered driving test, O'Brien hires his men: Mario (Montand), Bimba (van Eyck), Luigi (Lulli) and Jo (Vanel), the latter of which replaces a previous, more experienced applicant who doesn't show up.

SPOILER ALERT!


It was slow to start, but I'll be damned if this picture didn't get damn good after the trucks pulled away. In fact, when the picture kicked off, I had it pegged for a low rating. It's nearly an hour into the picture before the trucks begin their 300 mile journey and I wish they'd chopped that beginning down by about twenty-thirty minutes and this movie could've been looking a a '10' rating. However, you nearly forget that incredibly slow ending - the only good part of which is the beautiful Vera Clouzot (wife of Henri-Georges), wearing loose hanging dresses, barefoot and scrubbing floors in the local pub - when those trucks pull away and the suspense & tension meter is cranked to eleven...yes, it goes ALL THE WAY TO ELEVEN! The journey itself reminded me a little bit of "Le Trou", in that it showed EVERY aspect of what it took for two trucks to transport dangerous nitroglycerin across 300 miles of rocky terrain. Clouzot threw in obstacle after obstacle and made sure to keep his viewers on the edge of their seats. There were moments where I literally spoke to the television screen (something I never do), trying to will characters that existed sixty years ago. I kept saying to myself, "When one of these trucks blow up" because I knew one of them would "it needs to be sudden and it needs to be at a moment when we really think they both have a chance at survival". And, by God, it was the most sudden moment in the whole film, when Jo is rolling a cigarette only to have the blast blow the loose tobacco off his paper and a few flashes light up his face. I had to rewind and watch it again, it was that out of nowhere.


So, I spoke about the below average beginning, but what about that ending? Hey, there's no bigger advocate in the world for a sad ending than me, but I have to admit that I HATED the ending to "The Wages of Fear". The whole movie was such a downer anyway, the least they could've done is let the thing end on a high note. After over two hours of biting your nails, we the audience needed to breathe that sigh of relief and damn it, we deserved a happy ending where Linda and Mario embraced and he vowed to use his $4000 reward to get him and her out of town. But no, we get some silly, almost tacked on, ending where Mario, for some ungodly reason, drives his truck erratically down the hill, because apparently when Mario gets really happy he drives his truck in figure-eights and he ends up wrecking it over a hill and dying. WHAT THE FUCK!? Really? I mean, I almost hate to condemn such an unhappy ending, because I like them that much, but I just felt this ending was so unnecessary and I had all the heartbreak I needed for one picture. The lovable Luigi had already died, you had Jo get his legs crushed and then die in the truck, while he and Mario breathed in the rotting flesh of his mangled limb. Prior to that you even tease us with the death of Luigi and following everything you even tease us with the death of Mario, when he falls down, after finally arriving at the site. If I'd had a pacemaker, it would've been shocking me senseless!

RATING: 7.5/10  Forget the beginning and the pointless ending, the rest of the film, however, deserves at least a '7.5' and the title of "must see". Cannot wait for "Les Diaboliques".

MOVIES WATCHED: 613
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 388

February 13, 2012  11:57pm