Long coats, loud ties and big fedoras: refreshing sights for retro movie lovers.
By Lee Pfeiffer
The bad buzz regarding Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island began even before the film was released. Paramount postponed the premiere from the height of Oscar season to the dog days of February, ostensibly for marketing purposes. In reality, most critics felt it signaled that the movie was not worthy of coughing up the cost of an Oscar campaign. Now the film has opened, and studio executives look vindicated: the movie is on track to being Scorsese's biggest hit. Reviewers weren't as kind. There were raves from the likes of Roger Ebert, but the New York Times called the movie "terrible". The consensus from most critics is that, while it isn't without value, in the end, it is a pretentious movie that falls short of its goals.I find the film to be atmospheric, rather than pretentious. At its heart, it's a movie about production design and Dante Ferretti, who is a long-time collaborator of Scorsese's, comes through with some triumphant set pieces. Some critics have attacked Scorsese for using a sledgehammer to remind audiences the film takes place in 1954, but I found the costumes and habits of the characters to be refreshing. It's hard to find movies where you can relish actors wearing long coats, fedoras, loud Hawaiian ties and proudly engaging in the politically incorrect habit of puffing away on cigarettes and cigars.
It's rare to see the word "terrible" linked to the work of Martin Scorsese, but New York Times film critic A.O. Scott does just that in his pan of the master director's new thriller Shutter Island. Scott claims the film is a jumbled mess of red herrings, pretentious special effects and plot distractions that wear viewers down and ultimately bores them. Click here to read
Given the long, troubled history of Universal's attempt to bring The Wolfman back to the screen as a big-budget remake, you may wonder how they were going to pull it off. According to Variety critic Todd McCarthy, the answer is simple: they didn't. McCarthy rips the production for lacking suspense and condemns director Joe Johnston for using quick cut-aways in the action sequences that not only become a boring technique, but gives the film a cheap look. To read the entire review click here (You may have to register with the Variety site)
Given the fact that the new medical drama Extraordinary Measures has received decidedly ordinary reviews, I wasn't particularly enthralled about seeing it. However, big screen appearances by Harrison Ford (who was executive producer on the film) are as rare as hen's teeth nowadays, so I thought I'd give it a try. The movie is the first to be released by CBS Films, the theatrical side of the TV network. The company intends to make modesty-budgeted films for wide audiences. The jury is still out as to whether the venture will succeed (Extraordinary Measures opened softly at the boxoffice). However, from an artistic standpoint, the company deserves praise for concentrating on stream-lined films that appeal to the intelligence of the audience, instead of bloated blockbusters. More importantly, the film - which has received modest praise for being workmanlike - is actually a completely engrossing and moving story that is wonderfully enacted under the direction of newcomer Tom Vaughan.
Those who frequently complain that today's movie stars don't compare with the legends from Hollywood's golden age, frequently make note of a few exceptions. George Clooney is generally put into the shallow pool of actors who have larger-than-life screen presence. The problem has been that his output of films has been wildly erratic in terms of quality. With writer/director Jason Reitman's Up in the Air, however, Clooney has finally found a film that suits him perfectly - and he may end up with a Best Actor Oscar in the bargain. Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, an ace representative of a company that specializes in firing hapless employees of large corporations when their bosses can't summon the courage to do so personally. It's a premise that fits perfectly into a modern society in which ogres and cowards generally deliver devastating news to folks via voice mails and text messages. Bingham never dwells much on the emotional devastation he causes. He's not without sympathy, but the dream job he has affords him to engage his primary goal in life: to acquire as many air miles and hotel points in the shortest period of time to set a world record. His life is a shallow one. Despite earning mega-bucks for doing the bidding of his soulless boss (Jason Bateman), Clooney lives in self-imposed exile. He dwells in a dingy, sparsely-furnished apartment, has only transient relationships with other chronic travelers and disdains any form of emotional or romantic commitment. Bingham's perfect, but shallow, universe is suddenly threatened by a new employee, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick), who impresses the boss with her cost-cutting methods of removing even the modicum of human dignity that the company's representatives afford employees who are being fired. Natalie devises a video conference system where the soon-to-be-unemployed are given the bad news without any in-person, human contact. The cost-saving measure delights the boss but devastates Bingham, who finds his very existence threatened by the end of his quest to gain airline miles.
The New York Times is generally not very effusive in its praise of movies it likes. A look at reviews of films now regarded as classics shows that the Old Gray Lady's film critics almost always are cautious and reserved in doling out the compliments. What makes critic Manohla Dargis' review of James Cameron's Avatar so unique is his unbridled enthusiasm. Dargis virtually swoons over the mega-budgeted sci-fi epic. Click here to read
Variety critic Todd McCarthy gives a positive review of director Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes with Robert Downey Jr. as a buff, hip master detective. The review says that the film is certainly geared toward pleasing young male viewers, but is clever and entertaining. The review also gives kudos to Hans Zimmer's atmospheric score. To read click here
I saw a UK preview of Clint Eastwood's new movie
Invictus last night, and I now have a new hero - Nelson Mandella. Of
course, this new found view point of the man totally relies on the the
suppostion that Mandella's actions during the eighteen-month period the
story is set in are factual, and not the creation of Hollywood scribes. However,
that aside, Eastwood has come up with another totally original film to add to
his resume that just seems to get better with every effort. Now I am not
particularly interested in politics, and know nothing about rugby, yet this 2-
hour movie had me on the edge of my seat come the final 18-20 minutes - as were
the rest of the audience. Who, but Eastwood, would approach a subject like this
- and deliver the goods? It proves once again he really is one
of the most intelligent directors in the world and at the top of
his game. Unlike Million Dollar Baby, Changeling and Gran
Torino, where the subject matter was dark, this is a "feel good" film that
broaches the appalling history of the country's race problems thoughtfully and,
at times, humourously. Although the cast are predominantly unknowns (and
excellent), the lead roles taken by Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are faultless
- and Freeman is given some wonderful lines. Don't let the title or the
subject matter put you off seeing this thoroughly entertaining and moving film.
You'll come out of the cinema feeling much better for it.
Variety critic Todd McCarthy gives thumbs up for the Clint Eastwood film Invictus starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon. The review says the movie succeeds on all major levels and that Eastwood continues to surprise audiences with off-beat topics. The film will have it's Hollywood premiere on December 3 at A.M.P.A.S. Eastwood, Freeman and Damon will attend. To read click here
On the anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Cinema Retro columnist Graham Hill addresses the debate over the most famous murder of the 20th century - and how the 1973 film Executive Action dared to suggest a conspiracy.
by Graham Hill
When the very subject of conspiracy is brought up in
polite conversation these days, it’s usually aimed at the policies and
administration of whoever happens to be in power.And since Vietnam, Watergate, 9-11 and the
whole Iraq War issue, conspiracy in itself is not as far-fetched and
dismissible as an Elvis or UFO sighting would be.Almost a half-century after the event, over 70% of Americans still believe there
was a conspiracy in the death of President John F. Kennedy. Those who dismiss the conspiracy theory, in essence, believe:
·the official Warren Commission report
conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in killing President John
·that the single “magic” bullet did all the
damage and was found pristine on the hospital stretcher
·that the bullet could have only come from
the Texas Schoolbook Depository to the rear, when so many witnesses and the
infamous Zapruder film show indicate Kennedy being fatally hit from the front
·that an ex-marine, who just so happens to
speak fluent Russian and who also monitored the U-2’s over Russia and knew all
classified codes and call signs for NORAD, could afford to fly to the Soviet
Union and receive a precious visa to enter the country, then renounce his U.S.
citizenship; then marry a KGB colonel’s daughter and be allowed to return to
·that the Dallas police department could issue
an APB under Oswald’s name, coupled with a full description, less than fifteen minutes after the
·that when Oswald was captured, the police
kept no transcript or record of his time
·that so many material witnesses could
coincidentally suffer fatal accidents
Whether you believe conspiracy one way or another, the
1973 movie Executive Action makes a
case for one, or at the very least the possibility for one –and it makes it
beyond a reasonable doubt and to a moral certainty.
In a movie industry obsessed with producing CGI-packed epics and animated family films, there doesn't seem to be much enthusiasm for quality films about real people. Last year saw an outstanding slew of intelligent films like Revolutionary Road, The Reader and The Wrestler, but their primary audiences never extended much beyond the urban art cinema crowd.There's no way around the simple fact that the public would rather see a brainless Transformers movie than any tale that might speak to the human heart or condition. Nonetheless, credit must be given to studios that still take the plunge and finance distribution of intelligent, well-made films.Case in point: Fox Searchlight's Amelia, which celebrates the life of Amelia Earhart. The film provides yet another solid role for Hillary Swank, who continues to impress as one of the most exciting actresses on screen today. The diversity of the roles she takes on is testimony to her talents and an indicant as to why she has already been awarded two Oscars.
Gelbart contests Dustin Hoffman's statements that he was the driving force behind the success of Tootsie.
Larry Gelbart, the late great comedy writer, gave what turned out to be his final interview to Vanity Fair. In it, there are some refreshingly candid admissions: he came to detest his TV series M*A*S*H because CBS insisted upon using a laugh track over his objections. Regarding the smash big screen comedy Tootsie, it's clear that Gelbart had no love for Dustin Hoffman, who he accused of trying to hog the credit for the film's success. Click here to read.
The Sexuality and Spirituality of a Porn Priestess
By Graham Hill
Having already paid tribute to Georgina Spelvin and
Juliet Anderson, I now complete my Cinema Retro porn legends trilogy by introducing you to another sexual superstar
from the “Golden Era” – Kay Taylor Parker. Naturally, as you might expect, all three
ladies have moved on from those bygone days of love and lust on the big screen.And just as Georgina and Juliet are so different
and fascinating, so is Kay.In fact, Kay is completely different in that her status as a porn star is just one
of many lives that the now sixty-five year old beauty has experienced.I will
not attempt to explain each and every
one of them, but I will acquaint you with her body and soul.
It may be a taboo subject for some, but Taboo (1980) is the movie that Kay Parker is best remembered for.You could say that she was one of the first
to launch the mature woman/ younger man trend that is so prevalent today.Once upon a time, before
X-rated movies became totally obsessed with Botoxed beauties sporting
store-bought breasts and pre-pubescent genitalia, the actresses in the industry
relied on their natural assets – including Kay, whose 38-DD bust line made her
an instant superstar in the X rated film business.Entering the adult scene at age 33, she
exuded not just maturity, but a sense of warmth and charm that elevated any scene
she was in. Kay was born in Birmingham,
England in 1944.The middle child of a typical
working class British family, with her father being a sailor in the Royal Navy,
she unfortunately didn’t have many fond childhood memories.She recalls her father being a harsh
disciplinarian who oftenaccused her of “acting
up.”To say that Kay is a believer in
re-incarnation and the metaphysical world is an understatement for someone who believes she has lived 182
lives.She is totally and completely
convinced of having been born in Atlantis 48,000 years ago.For a better understanding, I refer you to
her book Taboo –Sacred Don’t Touch or
to her website.Kay is not your
usual porn-star profile, she’s very much her own person and is extremely beautiful, highly intelligent
and ultra compassionate.
Movie lovers have always taken a shining to the deceased twins from Stanley Kubrick's only horror flick.
The fun folks at the addictive web site www.onlygoodmovies.com have an amusing homage to the creepiest kids to ever appear in movies. (No, it doesn't cover home movies, so don't look for your siblings here.) Click here to read
In a previous article, I introduced you to Georgina
Spelvin –the Devil in Miss Jones
star.From the feedback I received, I
gather there are quite a few Cinema Retro readers out there who not only long
for the days of mainstream classic cinema –but classic porn as well.As your wish is our command, you’re about to
meet another icon of porn’s “Golden Age” –Juliet Anderson.She may not sound as familiar to some of you
as Georgina or Marilyn Chambers, but to her many devoted fans throughout
the world she was incomparable.Whether
billed as Juliet Anderson or her often used screen persona “Aunt Peg”,here was a mature, sexy and sensual woman who
could take on the best studs and the best beauties in the business - and enjoy the sex just as much as any of us who were eagerly
watching her. With her short, swept back blonde hair and her trademark black
stockings, garter belt and neck scarf, Juliet was the most seductive, teasing
temptress to ever grace the adult screen.Her orgasms were real, evidenced by that wicked smile on her face, every
time she was about to devour that particularly lucky guy or gal.Her energy was electrifying and explosive.
Juliet knew what her fans wanted and delivered it every time.She never gave a bad performance and
consequently saved many a lackluster movie with her wild improvisational and
comedic style. Miss Anderson wasn’t just in control –she took control, as her
various directors discovered early on. She knew how to get the action going,
making up dialogue and bits of business on the spot.We’ve all heard a lot of dirty talking in
porn movies –but no one could do it sexier and sincerer than our Juliet.
She’s the kind of “Aunt” that many of us in our
misspent youth, always lusted for. Juliet was the oldest actress to enter the
business, which in those days was still a small cottage industry financed by
mobsters, dentists and others who would rather not reveal their real
names.In the early 1970’s, adult films
like Deep Throat, Devil in Miss Jones and Behind the Green Door had kicked the door in as far as acceptance and censorship were concerned.The adult bookstore, peepshow arcade and
movie theatre were now a part of the urban landscape throughout the
country.The term “porn chic” was on
everyone’s lips thanks to the so-called “In Crowd” and even the monologues on
Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show”.Hollywood stars were watching X-rated movies alongside the usual men
with raincoats on their laps. However by 1978, the “chic” part of porn was
wearing a bit tawdry with the “In Crowd”, but certainly not with the “raincoat
crowd”.Business was booming, adult
films were still being shot on film, even with Panavision cameras in some
cases.There was at least the pretense of
a story or plot to all the screwing going on up on the big screen.The mob family “wise guys” couldn’t believe
their luck.For mere peanuts, they could
find so many beautiful people willing to have sex on film, without incurring those bothersome health or pension benefits let alone
residuals. Whilst Hollywood was going through the usual rollercoaster ride of
box-office profits, the porn moguls couldn’t count all their money quick
The Times of London takes a look at the director Sam Peckinpah's off-beat action film Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia starring Warren Oates. The article examine's the film's merits and why it was dismissed by critics and the public when first released in the 1970s. To read click here
Variety has reviewed director Michael Mann's Public Enemies starring Johnny Depp as Depression era gangster legend John Dillinger. The verdict is mixed, as reviewer Todd McCarthy says the production values are fine, the script is intelligent but Depp's portrayal of Dillinger is too restrained and under-played. To read click here
As the new Star Trek film surpasses the box-office gross of all its predecessors, critic William Bradley - a dyed in the wool Trekker- reflects back on the history of the series and how its recent rebirth mirrors that of the James Bond franchise. He provides plenty of interesting film clips of how Trek continues to influence everything from pop culture to politics. (President Obama recently gave the Vulcan salute on two occasions at one event!) To read click here
Well, it's midnight and I've just returned from attending the world's first showing of the new Star Trek film in IMAX format in New York City at the Loews Lincoln Center. When Paramount sent me the invitation, I confess I thought twice about attending. The reason is that I'm probably the only baby boomer who grew up in the 1960s and managed to emerge knowing almost nothing about Star Trek. Although I have seen some of the first feature films based on the show, I have never seen a complete episode of the original series. Nor have I seen any of the sequels, prequels or spin-offs. Wait - it gets better. Some years ago, I was introduced to Leonard Nimoy and only chatted briefly about films he directed, with nary a mention of his pointy-eared alter-ego (I think he was grateful, actually). Finally, back in 1990s, I was in L.A. to appear on a TV program and found myself backstage in the green room with a wonderfully witty gentleman whose face looked familiar, but whose name I couldn't place. After talking for about an hour about WWII history and the injuries he sustained in the war, I asked him what he did for a living. "I'm an actor", he said. "My name is James Doohan and you probably know me from Star Trek". Doohan was kind enough to say that my ignorance was refreshing, as it afforded him a rare opportunity to discuss something unrelated to the series, but I justifiably felt like an idiot. I tell you all of this because it is important for you to know that when I attended the Star Trek premiere, I had little interest in the film, and was far more intrigued by the prospect of simply enjoying the IMAX experience. Two hours later, I emerged from the theater a full-fledged Trek enthusiast, now determined to catch up with what others had the foresight to appreciate nearly a half century ago. The new Star Trek is a modern sci-fi classic and a personal triumph for director J.J. Abrams, who has reinvigorated the series in the way that both James Bond and Batman have been revitalized. This is your father's Star Trek - and that's meant as a compliment.
This is a movie so filled with energy, creativity and surprises that I will refrain from spilling most of the specifics here. Suffice it to say, you don't have to be a Trekker to appreciate its merits. While I am generally pretty grumpy about the overuse of CGI in films, this is a case where it is obviously merited - and they are the best CGI effects I have ever seen onscreen. However, Abrams- working with a literate and witty script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman - has not lost sight of the fact that the series was about the human element (or Vulcan element, as the case may be.) The story tells how all the aspects of the original series came into being. I have no idea whether these plot developments have been explored previously in various Trek films and series, but they were new to me, including the surprising revelation that Kirk and Spock started their relationship as adversaries. The film traces how Kirk progressed from a brilliant but rebellious troublemaker into commander of the Enterprise - and how he assembled the now legendary crew. No one envies actors who take over legendary characters played by other beloved actors, but the most exciting revelation about the new movie is the brilliant casting. Virtually every role is a gem and is played by actors with extraordinary talent and charisma. Topping the list, of course, are Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto, playing Kirk and Spock respectively. Both were unknown to me, though I understand Quinto is one of the stars of Heroes. (Since I haven't watched episodic TV since Mr. Ed was ratings gold, I was unfamiliar with his work.) Both actors generate the kind of chemistry enjoyed by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy in the original series. Amusingly, now freed by the constraints of TV censorship of the 1960s, Kirk's horndog instincts are on full display in funny sequences in which he tries to seduce the fetching Uhura (Zoe Saldana).We also get fascinating insights into Spock's motivations and background, extending to his early years on the planet Vulcan. The script hits all the right notes and Pine and Quinto (along with the rest of the cast), pay homage to their predecessors by invoking just enough familiar mannerisms without delving into cheap imitation.
Once upon a time…When Hollywood movies were actually
made in Hollywood, finding a suitable filming location was never a
problem.The movie makers simply went
out to their own backyard and started shooting!
Welcome to the place that got “shot-up” the most, the
mother of all movie ranches – Iverson’s.Return with us now, to those thrilling matinee days of yesteryear.Where the “Duke” boarded a particular Stagecoach (1939) that would go on to
take him to stardom.Where The Lone Ranger (1949) could be found
riding up to that certain rock each week to rear his horse.On screen, Iverson’s could be both the Wild
West and India, too.From hard riding,
two-fisted westerns to death-defying cliff hanging serials, in over 3,000
movies and TV shows, the ranch became one of the industry’s most recognizable
This photo from Jerry England's web site www.cowboyup.com is one of many that provide fascinating "then-and-now" records of the Iverson Ranch. England's photo caption reads: (Above) In the center of this photo is the construction site for the Toll Brothers condominiums. The Middle Iverson Ranch was (#5) the apartments to the right. The Garden of the Gods (#3) were located on the Lower Iverson Ranch. The 118 Freeway (can't be seen in photo) separates the Middle and Lower Iverson Ranch areas. The Iverson western street was located where (#2) the Indian Hills Mobile Home Village sits today. The eastern edge of the Bell Moving Picture Ranch was (#4) and the Chatsworth Reservoir is (#1).
Now before we set foot on the ranch, it’s important
that you understand what the Hollywood Studio Zone is all about and how it
relates to Iverson’s.The Studio Zone is
an area that takes in everything within a 30-mile radius of the Hollywood
studios and basically includes all of
greater Los Angeles.The Zone’s
northwest corner is primarily where, once upon a time, some two dozen movie
ranches were located.It was and still
is the place where you found the wild open spaces, the dusty trails, the rocky
canyons - all within an easy drive of
studio soundstages.It’s one of the
reasons why the movie industry moved here in the first place.Still, the industry producers and the unions
needed to mark out a work zone.From a
location standpoint, everything outside of the zone was considered a “distant
location”, which translated to more expensive hotel stays, per-diem costs and
so on.Locations within the zone were
considered “local”, thus were favored by studios and producers. Location!Location! Location! is the byword
in real estate.However in Hollywood,
it’s more a case of “A tree is a tree. A
rock is a rock. Shoot it in Griffith Park”.At least three Hollywood producers are credited with saying that.A good many more , though, said simply “Let’s shoot it at Iverson’s.”
Located at the very northwestern tip of the zone, where
the famed San Fernando Valley meets the Simi Valley, is the Santa Susana Pass
and that’s where you would have found the Iverson Ranch.In the business it was known as Iverson’s
because there were two Iverson Ranches, the “upper” and the” lower”.The “upper” belonged to Aaron Iverson and the
“lower” to his brother Joe.There was no
dividing physical fence even though the brothers were not the best of friends,
as that would have hindered filming and affected their income.Back in the days of the “real” West, the
Santa Susana Pass was one of the main routes the stagecoach used to travel over
the mountains and into Los Angeles.In
1880, a stagecoach brought a Swedish immigrant named Augusta Wagman to the San
Fernando Valley and the small frontier-like community of Chatsworth.She purchased a 160-acre piece of rocky,
hilly land that was not at all suited to farming.Augusta’s homestead was remote and seemed to
be even hotter in the summer and colder in the winter, than any of her
neighbors.Needing help as well as
company, she went on to marry a Norwegian immigrant Karl Iverson and started a
family.This was many years before the
San Fernando Valley became the cement prairie of tract homes and shopping malls
it is today - long before it ever became known as “The Valley”. This 22
mile-long stretch of flatland, all 177 square-miles of it, was mostly worthless
and dried-up desert.But all that
changed in 1913, when city engineer William Mulholland built a 223 mile-long
aqueduct to bring water to an ever thirsty Los Angeles. Suddenly, when that
mighty faucet was turned-on, the land wasn’t so worthless anymore. Almost
overnight, things began to grow and the “valley” started to turn green.However, for the Iverson family -now with two
sons- things had already started turning green the year before.
In 1912, a movie location scout happened by and
introduced the Iverson’s to a new cash crop called movie ranching. This
peculiar new enterprise involved renting out land not for planting, but for
making movies.The Iverson’s decided to
give movie location-ranching a try and at first, Karl and Augusta supervised
the needs of the visiting movie companies themselves.By the mid-1920’s, their sons Aaron and Joe
also became involved.Upon the death of
Karl Iverson in 1947, his will dictated that the now 500-acre property be
divided between them.Aaron got the “upper” ranch and Joe the
“lower”.Like the brothers themselves,
each ranch had its own characteristics or features that movie companies
sought.The main attraction at Iverson’s
period and the sole location star was on the “lower” ranch –a place nicknamed “The
Garden of The Gods”.This “rock star”
(pardon the pun) has made so many appearances in movies and television shows,
it’s just about the most photographed piece of sandstone on the planet.It’s believed that these two strange and
imposing rocks were named by an early location scout who thought they rather
resembled a similar rock formation in Colorado.Oddly enough years later, they were prominently featured in the Glenn
Ford western The Man from Colorado (1948).In John Ford’s classic Stagecoach (1939), the “Gods” are seen
in the background as the stage pulls into the Apache Wells relay station.Earlier in an area adjacent to the “Gods”, is
where John Wayne first boards the stage - and close to that is the location of
the burned-out ferry scene. John Ford, who always knew the value of a good
location, had previously used the ranch to stand-in for India for the Shirley
Temple picture Wee Willie Winkie (1937).For that film, he had a British colonial fort
set constructed at great cost. Speaking
of colonial India, the Lower Iverson was a star in both Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) and The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936).Apart from having the most photogenic rocks
and the original Iverson homestead, the lower ranch was also famous for its
canyon trails.In the $2 million
production of They Died with Their Boots
On (1941), star Errol Flynn as General Custer escorts a wagon train through
the Black Hills… only to be ambushed by Indians near “The Garden of The
Gods”.In another Warner Brothers
western Carson City (1952) with
Randolph Scott, viewers will recognize a rock cliff formation with a solitary
tree growing out of the top known as “Nyoka Rock”.Yes –all the great rocks have names, but this
one is named for one of the many literally cliff-hanging Republic serials Perils of Nyoka (1942).However, in numerous westerns including Carson City (1952), the panoramic view
from “Nyoka Rock” is even more enhanced, when a period locomotive is seen on
the Southern Pacific train tracks of the Santa Susana Pass in the distance.Before serial actor Clayton Moore put on a
mask for good, he was wearing it for the usual bad reasons, as when he starred
in Republic’s Adventures of Frank &
Jesse James (1948).When, as kids,
we attended those Saturday matinees at our local theaters, we didn’t pay much
attention to the backgrounds in action-packed movies; if we had we would have
noticed the curious rock formation that Clayton Moore was standing on.On television each week, he would go on to rear
his white horse up by another rock
whilst letting out with the words “Hi –Yo- Silver -Away”.Through one of television’s earliest hits, The Lone Ranger (1949), the aptly named
“Indian Head Rock” would forever become immortalized.
Indian Head Rock became immortalized by The Lone Ranger TV show.
The rock today as photographed by Kevin Closson, whose blog provides a great history of the site along with many contemporary photos and film clips from movies shot at the location. Click here to visit.
The real beauty of independent movie ranches like
Iverson’s and those that the studios owned themselves, is that anything shot
there could be easily intercut with footage from distant locations like Lone
Pine and Monument Valley.A rider could
leave town, usually a set on a studio backlot, ride across the prairie of one
particular movie ranch, get ambushedby
the rocks at Iverson’s and get taken into another town, which is yet another
set on the backlot of yet another studio.It would all be edited seamlessly and you’d assume it was all a
continuous shot.Even “poverty row”
productions filmed this way.Basically,
all the scenery they could ever want was in the Studio Zone.If it wasn’t –well there was always stock footage
that could be cut in to make it all seem even grander than it actually
was.The movies by definition are an
illusion and nobody understood that better than cost conscious Hollywood.Again –“A tree is a tree. A rock is a rock.
Shoot it” in the Studio Zone.That was
the prevailing philosophy up until the late 1960’s.
In our continuing look at films nominated for major Oscar awards, Cinema Retro editor-in-chief Lee Pfeiffer weighs in on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Although it's not fashionable to say so, I really loved Forrest Gump. The movie worked for me on every level and, at the risk of sounding like I've been Oprahized, I found it to be very touching and immensely moving. That should really get me kicked out of the Sam Peckinpah Society, but so be it.Thus, I had been entranced with the teaser trailer for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the David Fincher film that boasts a screenplay by Eric Roth, who also wrote the script for Gump. The premise of a story in which the main character ages backwards seemed very intriguing and I tried to overcome my innate prejudice against Brad Pitt's performances in the hopes that this rich, character-driven role would inspire something akin to his early promise. The result is a mixed bag.The story traces the bizarre case of a baby who is born with the physical characteristics of an old man. His mother dies in childbirth and his father abandons the baby to the care of a kindly black woman who runs a nursing home. It is here that Benjamin grows up, trying to cope with the ravages of old age while still technically a toddler. His life takes an equally unexpected turn when it is discovered that he is growing younger. The revelation is welcomed on one level: his health and looks improve over the years, but leads to the inevitable quandry of the people he loves most dying off as he regresses in age.The scenario is a fascinating one and director Fincher unfolds the tale in a lyrical and sensitive way. The movie's extended running time (166 minutes) is also most welcome, as this is a story that introduces many main characters and shows how each impacts Benjamin's life.
Despite those qualities, I had mixed feelings after viewing the movie. It's hard to say where it goes wrong, because most of the main ingredients (the performances, production design, music, etc) are all impressive. Perhaps it's the oft-criticized aspects of the script, which sometimes feels as though this should be titled Forrest Gump Light. Roth's parallels to the earlier film are so prevalent that they become a distraction. The script throws in a abundance of wise-cracking southern belles, including Benjamin's adoptive mother, who, like Forrest's, has a witticism and home spun advice for every occasion. However, unlike the character of Forrest Gump, Benjamin Button never resonates with the audience on an emotional level. He seems to be the catalyst for far more interesting characters to interact around him - an opaque observer of his own life. Part of the problem is the casting of Brad Pitt. As I've often stated, Pitt is a highly competent actor who never gives a bad performance. However, he also rarely connects with viewers in an emotional way. Pitt gets the technical challenges of playing the character down pat (with the help of excellent makeup artists), but the younger he gets, the less interesting his performance becomes. In contrast Cate Blanchett as the woman who loves him despite knowing of the inevitable tragedies that lie ahead, dominates the film with a powerful and touching performance.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button has been nominated for an astounding 13 Oscars - but the critics have been split on the film since the day it opened. It's a noble attempt to tell an intelligent story and is well worth seeing - but I predict there won't be any Oscar wins except in technical categories.
They were legendary collaborators who teamed for some of the greatest films of all time. Alfred Hitchcock and his favorite composer Bernard Hermann joined forces to create the masterpieces Vertigo, North By Northwest, Psycho and others. However, their friendship became strained when Hitchcock approached Hermann to score his 1966 spy thriller Torn Curtain. Hitchcock, whose box-office standings had slumped in recent years, had been bullied by Universal mogul Lew Wasserman to produce a more contemporary style of music that would be in keeping with the spy movies of the era. Hermann largely ignored this demand and produced what he felt was a very suitable score. This resulted in his being fired from the film and replaced by composer John Addison. The strain between the two creative geniuses would never been resolved, though both men would have a creative renaissance: Hitchcock with his last great film, Frenzy, and Hermann through his collaborations with a new generation of filmmakers like Brian DePalma and Martin Scorsese. Writer Steve Vertlieb has an excellent essay that tells of the rise and fall of the Hitchcock/Hermann creative partnership. To read, visit the web site dedicated to Hermann by clicking here
In a dumbed-down world, it's truly gratifying that director Ron Howard managed to convince a major studio (Universal) to back his screen adapation of the stage play Frost/Nixon. The play centered on the bizarre pairing of chat show host David Frost with former President Richard M. Nixon, who had resigned in disgrace over the Watergate scandal in 1974. In the ensuing years, Nixon kept a low profile and took only limited responsibility for the cover-up of the bugging of Democratic campaign headquarters. Nixon presented his main flaw as being too loyal to errant staff members, but never really apologized for his actions or spoke candidly about the fact that he was front-and-center in masterminding the cover-up. Howard's film presents Frost's painstaking efforts to convince Nixon to sit down for a series of in-depth interviews. At the time, Frost was considered a lightweight, amiable talent with no credentials for such a task. His star had begun to erode and he was presently hosting an embarrassing "Believe It-Or-Not"-type program for Australian TV. Ever the optimist, however, Frost was convinced that landing Nixon would be the coup of a lifetime - and he was smart enough to hire aggressive politicos as producers, who kept reminding him of the gravity of his responsibility. If he were to ask lightweight questions or let Nixon control the interviews, his reputation would have been permanently damaged.
Frost managed to basically bribe Nixon into doing the interviews by offering the money-hungry President a (then) whopping $600,000 fee. However, Nixon was more motivated by his opportunity to manipulate Frost into allowing the sessions to present revisionist history that would take the tarnish off his reputation. After landing the deal, Frost found out to his amazement that none of the American TV networks were interested in broadcasting the pieces. Even then, the networks were more concerned about presenting money-making entertainment shows than informing the public. The film presents Frost's panic-stricken attempts to salvage the project by getting independent financing and selling the interviews as syndicated specials. In fact, he shot the interviews before even closing the deal on how to pay for them. In the first three of the four interviews, Frost allowed the media-savvy Nixon to take control. The result was a boring rendition of history from Nixon's viewpoint, as the former President practically did cartwheels to avoid hard questions. Ron Howard's film really comes alive when Frost realizes that he has one opportunity left to nail Nixon to the floor by soliciting an admission of guilt in the cover-up and an apology to the American people. It's amazing how much suspense Howard wrings out of a scenario in which most politically-informed people already know the conclusion. Howard also does yeoman work in transporting the audience back to the 1970s. Everything feels genuine: the wide ties, peasant dresses, floppy hats and ugly furniture and wallpaper.
The centerpiece of the film, of course, are the performances of the leads: Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. Both are simply brilliant. In viewing the trailer, one might think otherwise about Langella. At first glance, he doesn't look too much like Richard Nixon, however, within minutes you realize he wasn't setting out to do a cheap imitiation of the man like a drunk with a lampshade on his head. Langella captures every nuance of the Nixon's gestures, mannerisms and speech. It's an astounding achievement and should earn Langella the Oscar. As for Sheen, he is equally good, but once again, this superb actor is overshadowed by a more attention-getting co-star, as he was with Helen Mirren in The Queen. Yet, he's fascinating every step of the way, transforming Frost from a shallow skirt-chaser to a man who matures literally overnight in the wake of his greatest career crisis. The film also points out that both Nixon and Frost had much to gain or lose from this bold attempt to salvage their reputations. The screenplay does indulge in a bit of anti-Nixon wet dreaming with an epilogue that suggests he basically remained in shame and oblivion until his death in 1994. In fact, the Frost interviews were the first step in his long return to the public forum. Every president who followed him consulted him about foreign policy, even Bill Clinton who extolled Nixon's undeniable achievements in that area when he delivered his eulogy. Nevertheless, Nixon, who was perhaps the most complex political figure of the 20th century, never did escape his crimes and was haunted by his status as the only president to ever resign from office.
The movie's greatest pleasure is the build-up to the climactic interview, which centers on the Watergate crime. Both Nixon and Frost are prepped by their handlers as though this is a heavyweight boxing match. When the two men do finally confront each other over the most important topic, it's like watching Sherlock Holmes pitting himself against Prof. Moriarty. Both men consider the other their enemy, but there is a grudging mutual respect. The film, which is certainly anti-Nixon, never makes the mistake of making him into a cartoon villain. As with Oliver Stone's biopic about him, Nixon emerges as a somewhat sympathetic character - a man whose obsession with showing off the snobs that he could succeed, ultimately led him to prove their predictions of failure to come true.
Frost/Nixon is just one of a crop of refreshingly intelligent films released in 2008. Let's hope the trend continues.
(The film has been nominated for five Oscars: Best Director, Best Actor, Screenplay and Editing)
In a column for the New York Times, writer Brent Staples offers some insightful opinions about how the recent remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still falls flat when compared to Robert Wise's original film. Staples points out that the recent obsession with all things CGI has robbed the sci-fi film genre of the key ingredient of character development. To read click here
I caught up with Clint Eastwood's Gran Torino at Robert DeNiro's Tribeca Screening Room in New York the other night. I have to admit I was optimistic, given the fine reviews the movie has received. While in production, it didn't sound very promising. The title alone is rather vague with its bland reference to a 1972 car, which I learned to drive in (Not very well at the time, which may have explained my skepticism). However, Eastwood is a master at surprising the audience. Million Dollar Baby came out of nowhere with no fanfare and a title that made it sound like an old Busby Berkeley musical. Yet, it received universal critical acclaim and won the major Oscars that year. Gran Torino is a similar experience. Shot in a little over a month with very little publicity, this is the film that lured Eastwood back to acting after stating that Million Dollar Baby would be his last time before the cameras. Good thing he had a change of heart, as this is the performance of his career. Having grown up (literally) on Eastwood's films - and having been an childhood addict of the Leone Dollars films - I have always been an admirer of the iconic star. However, with few exceptions, I would not say any of his performances have been worthy of Oscar consideration. Certainly, he earned his nominations for his superb work in Unforgiven and Million Dollar Baby. However, I always felt that -like John Wayne and Cary Grant- he was such a towering screen presence that audiences would never be able to accept him playing an everyday character like the guy next door. In Gran Torino he proves otherwise and delivers a performance of great depth and skill. He should be the front runner for the Best Actor Oscar, but his failure to nab a Golden Globe nomination may not bode well for the honor.
The film finds Eastwood, who refreshingly always plays his true age, as Walt Kowalski, a grumpy recently-widowed man who lives in a suburban Michigan neighborhood that is gradually being overtaken by Hmong immigrants. Kowalski, who worked fifty years on a Ford assembly line, can barely hide his disgust at feeling like a stranger in his own land. He mutters racial insults every time his neighbors set foot on is property and seems content to seal off the world and live out the rest of his days sitting on his front porch drinking cheap Pabst Blue Ribbon beer and smoking cigarettes. When some Hmong gangbangers try to forcibly recruit his teenage neighbor Thao (charismatic Bee Vang), Walt reluctantly intervenes, thus making him a hero to his grateful neighbors. He wants no part of them and shuts out their attempts to show their gratitude. When Thao is forced into making an ill-fated attempt to steal Walt's prized Gran Torino, the family makes the young man redeem his honor by having him work at odd-jobs at Walt's house. A tense relationship ensues, but ultimately Walt sees that the sensitive young man is doomed if he falls under the spell of the gangbangers. He gradually becomes a mentor and father figure to the young man and his older sister (superbly played by Ahney Her) and before long, Walt is a welcome, if awkward presence in his neighbor's house. Eastwood milks the subtle humor of this situation for all it's worth as he tries to open his eyes and accept the value of another culture. He realizes the Hmong are good people with the same values he has, but they are being terrorized by wayward members of their own community. When the threat becomes so implicit that it will destroy the young man he has mentored, Walt decides to take drastic action to resolve the situation in a highly creative manner.
Eastwood the director is at the top of his game here and does not spare Eastwood the actor any semblance of vanity. Almost defiantly proud of his 78 years of age, Eastwood has the camera focus in intense close-ups on his face, making it appear like a weather-beaten sail. The excellent script by novice screenwriter Nick Schenk has many parallels to John Wayne's final film The Shootist - and I'm amazed that no other critic I'm aware of has yet to point them out. The homage is certainly intentional. Consider:
In both films, an aging tough guy forms an unlikely friendship with a young man (Ron Howard in The Shootist) who is being lured into a wayward life style.
There is the presence of a strong female family member who encourages him to act as a mentor. (In the Wayne film, Lauren Bacall played Howard's mother). In Gran Torino, the role is given to Thao's sister.
In both films, the aging hero just wants to be left alone to live out his remaining days in solitude, but he becomes reluctantly drawn into a world of violence in order to protect the people he cares about.
There are also key scenes set in barber shops. In The Shootist, there is a humorous sequence in which Wayne's character humiliates a vulture-like undertaker played by John Carradine. In Gran Torino, the barber (John Carroll Lynch) is a friend of Walt's who helps him "initiate" young Thao into the world of real men by hurling good-natured, filthy ethnic insults at one another.
Finally, in The Shootist, the distressed Wayne character gets some solace and advice from a sympathetic doctor (James Stewart). In Gran Torino, it's a young priest (an excellent Christopher Carley) who manages to finally break through to Walt Kowalski.
The most obvious parallel to The Shootist is that it afforded John Wayne perhaps his greatest performance in the last movie he ever made. Fortunately, Eastwood is in able enough shape to continue directing films, but there is a real chance this might be his last acting role. If not, it will be hard to top. He magnificently manages to convey the image of an every day working stiff - and I knew he had succeeded when it didn't look silly or pretentious to see Clint Eastwood mowing a lawn (with a push mower, yet!). The film succeeds beautifully on all levels and puts to shame the over-produced, over-budgeted hokum coming out of most studios. Working mean and lean with members of his fabled Malpaso Productions, Eastwood manages to get superb performances from his entire cast. The ending is emotionally riveting, even when it takes a surprising turn. To top it off, Eastwood also wrote the haunting title song and croaks out part of it as well. Back in the early 1980s I wrote a book called The Films of Clint Eastwood. I remember my editor being astounded at its success. He said to me, "But you treated him like he was some kind of world-class filmmaker". I'd like to find that editor today and take him to a screening of Gran Torino to see his response. I'm not one for saying "I told you so" but in this case, it would be merited.- Lee Pfeiffer
Michael Russnow of The Huffington Post doesn't consider himself a huge fan of Clint Eastwood's acting, saying most of his performances have been non-distinguished. However, Russnow is gushing over Eastwood's work in Gran Torino, calling it a superb achievement and comparing this late career role to that of Rooster Cogburn, the role that won John Wayne his only Oscar. For more click here
Writer David Cairns extolls the virtues of Billy Wilder's ill-fated, but remarkably entertaining The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes by focusing on a very brief, but memorable sequence that most viewers would overlook. The master detective would have been proud! To view click here
The outstanding British retro web site www.zani.co.uk has some excellent essays about films of the 1960s. Check out Spencer Hawken's review of the 1962 "kitchen sink" drama The L-Shaped Room starring Leslie Caron as a down-and-out-young woman trying to survive in London amidst a social circle of fellow misfits. The film caused a sensation in its day with its candid views of sexuality. To read click here
In 1971, 20th
Century-Fox scored a huge commercial and critical hit with The French Connection,
a hard-boiled thriller about the largest heroin bust in New York City’s history. Directed by William
Friedkin and starring Gene Hackman as Det. Eddie “Popeye” Doyle, the picture
presented a gritty, but idealized portrait of the police at work. In 1972,
wanting to capitalize on the picture’s success, Fox decided to produce a
sequel, a continuation of Doyle’s pursuit of Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey), the
French drug lord who eludes capture at the end of Friedkin’s film. The studio decided to have the picture
shot in Marseilles, a port city in the south of France where
heroin production thrived in the early Seventies. Friedkin, however, was
uninterested in working on a sequel and so the chiefs at Fox approached John
Frankenheimer, who had lived in France
and spoke the language fluently. Although Frankenheimer had enjoyed a great
deal of success in the Sixties with pictures like The Manchurian Candidate, Seven
Days in May and Grand Prix,
nearly a decade had passed since he’d scored a box office hit. The opportunity
to work on a high-budget picture of this sort aroused his interest and he
accepted the offer.
The original script for French Connection II was prepared by
Robert Dillon, whose previous credits included, most notably, Roger Corman’s X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes. Once production commenced in the summer of
1974, however, Frankenheimer decided that he needed to have his script
re-worked. For the job, he recruited the novelist Pete Hamill, who’d actually known
Eddie Egan, the New York City
police detective upon whom Hackman’s character Popeye Doyle was based. In 2006,
Hamill recalled his involvement in the project:
[When Frankenheimer] called me from Marseilles, asking me to help, I said I would
try to get there within two days. "Why not one?" he said, and laughed
nervously. I never asked why he called me. Someone hand-delivered a script to
my place in New York
and I read it on the plane.
John, at that
time, had a major problem. He had already shot nine days of the existing script.
He had developed a reputation for going over budget, so had no flexibility. He
couldn't re-shoot what was already in the can.
That gave me a
problem too, since I had to write around the existing pieces, which, as always,
had been shot out of order. It was like working on a jigsaw puzzle. The basic
problem was that Hackman, a great movie actor, had nothing to act. And the
reason for that was that Roy Scheider was not in the sequel, and Hackman had
nobody to bounce his lines off. He would never talk to a French cop the way he
talked to Scheider in the Billy Friedkin original.
first work was on the following day's pages, trying to make the character sound
like Popeye Doyle….Within a day-and-a-half (with naps in between) I had
written enough for them to keep shooting for six or seven days….Hackman was
ecstatic. He had something to act!
French Connection II begins shortly after the first film ends, with Doyle arriving in France on April
Fool’s Day. As the only person who can identify Charnier, Doyle has been sent
by his supervisors to assist the Marseilles
police as they search for the elusive kingpin. Vulgar and loud, Doyle alienates
himself quickly from his counterparts in Marseilles,
a group of “narcs” led by the level-headed Henri Barthelmy (Bernard Fresson).
Annoyed by Barthelmy’s cautious approach to law enforcement, Doyle soon sets
out on his own. In his porkpie hat and Hawaiian shirts, he cuts a clownish
figure on the foreign city’s streets and he is quickly spotted and subsequently
abducted by Charnier’s men. Imprisoning him in a slum hotel for three weeks,
Charnier injects Doyle with heroin, with the hope that this will loosen his
lips. The tactic breaks the detective, transforming him into a helpless addict.
But it doesn’t yield any helpful information and Charnier returns the captive
to the police. As he explains to Doyle, just before he frees him: “We
take you back, Doyle, to your friends. They are looking for you everywhere and
making it difficult for me to operate.”
Renewal invariably follows
demoralization in many of Frankenheimer’s pictures and the same happens here.
Forced by Barthelmy to quit his addiction “cold turkey,” Doyle suffers
horribly, bursting into tears at one point. But he makes it through and sets
out on his own to locate the hotel where he was kept prisoner. Once he finds
it, he sets the building on fire and snags one of Charnier’s men. The goon
provides information which eventually leads Doyle and his French counterparts
to the lab where Charnier’s people process heroin. Charnier rushes off, though,
as the police close in, just as he did in the first movie. But Doyle, weak and
limping, runs after him and a chase commences through the congested city,
ending when the detective spots his adversary sailing out of the harbor on a
yacht. Drawing his gun from the holster he wears on his ankle, Doyle fires two
shots into Charnier’s chest, presumably killing him. But Frankenheimer closes
the movie at this point, denying his viewers a denouement of any sort, leaving
open the possibility that the pursuit may continue in the future.
French Connection II is an
often harrowing examination of the dangers that result when people flout the
law for personal gain. Charnier, of course, may be the most offensive example
of this criminal self-centeredness. A bon vivant, he uses the money he earns
from his drugs business to make his life exceedingly comfortable, spending it
on fine clothes, hunting trips and beautiful women. His success, however, rests
upon a willingness to exploit human weakness, a great sin in itself. Yet, as
Frankenheimer shows us, it also has a terrible, imitative effect, breeding a
culture of addicts and thieves who, like Charnier, seize upon the weak. Such is
the case with an old woman in the hotel, who steals Doyle’s watch. The problem
not only transcends gender, age and nationality, but occupation, too. A sleazy
U.S. Army general (Ed Lauter) is one of Charnier’s collaborators.
Though Doyle has no apparent
interest in financial gain, he is similarly guilty of flouting the law for
private reasons, sidestepping civil liberties and human rights when they
interfere with his pursuit. To some degree, this brutal approach is effective,
leading him and Barthelmy to Charnier’s heroin. But it is also ugly. Early in
the film, for instance, Doyle amuses himself as he explains to a suspect:
I’m going to work on your arms. I’ll
set ’em over a curb. And I’m going to use them for a trampoline. I’m going to
jump up and down on them. Right? Then your kneecaps. One. Two. Kneecaps.
Oatmeal. I’m going to make oatmeal out of your…kneecaps. And when I get done
with you, you are going to put me right in Charnier’s lap.
Yet Doyle, despite
these repellant qualities, is difficult to reject completely. Far from his New York City stomping
grounds, the detective, like the fish on the tables that appear at the
beginning of the film, is out of his element, completely separated from people
who think, act and speak like him. Certainly, he behaves in a ludicrous manner
frequently, translating the word “mayonnaise” into French and ordering “el
scotcho” at a bar. But the character’s basic problem, the alienation felt by
the émigré, is hardly unique or strange; and because of this, in spite of his
many defects, he is recognizable, understandable and sympathetic.
Like the first French Connection,
Frankenheimer’s picture is a “police procedural,” a film that traces the
efforts of law enforcement officials as they conduct an investigation. In the
middle of this movie, however, the director breaks from the genre’s most
important convention by halting the detective hero’s pursuit, confining him
first to the cell-like room of the hotel and then the basement jail of the
Marseille police station. Some critics have maligned this turn in the
narrative. Roger Ebert, in his 1975 review, complained that it brings “the
movie to a standstill. The plot, the pursuit, the quarry, are all forgotten
during Hackman’s one-man show, and it’s a flaw the movie doesn’t overcome.”
These sequences do slow the story’s pace a bit, but they nevertheless
serve an important thematic function. In many of Frankenheimer’s films, extreme
suffering gives rise to important changes in his protagonists’ personalities.
For Doyle, the dialectal torture of addiction and withdrawal restores the drive
and commitment that characterized his pursuit of Charnier in the first film.
During the first third of French Connection II, that is, Doyle is
distracted and ineffectual, spending much of his time drinking, carousing and
picking fights with the people who can help him. But following the experience
with heroin, he returns to the dirty Marseilles
streets single-minded, not only avoiding drink and women, but working closely
with Barthelmy. He may or may not capture Charnier—we aren’t allowed to
know—but he certainly scores his revenge, besting him with the two bullets he
fires into his chest.
Though French Connection II is one of
the bleakest pictures Frankenheimer made, it is also one of the most thrilling,
thanks to spectacular sequences like the burning of the slum hotel and the
final chase, when Doyle runs after Charnier along the Marseilles harbor. The director realized that
the exaggerated quality of these scenes could arouse disbelief and thus he
tried to make them seem as authentic as possible. He explains on the commentary
he recorded for the film’s DVD release:
The key to doing a movie like this is to make every incident,
every moment of the movie as real and believable as you can. Once you, the
audience, feel betrayed by me, once you feel out of the movie, once you
feel,‘Oh these are only actors and this
is fake and this doesn’t look right,’ then the movie’s over for you, then
everything that happens after that doesn’t work. But if I can keep you involved
and keep you believing this looks rights this looks real, then I’m doing my
job. And that goes for the costumes, that goes for the sets, that goes for the
extra that’s way in the back of the room. One little thing that’s not right can
turn you off the whole movie.
To achieve the
verisimilitude he needed to make these scenes work, the director used several
tactics. He and his cameraman Claude Renoir employed shooting techniques
borrowed from cinéma-vérité, filming Marseilles’ buildings, its streets and its
citizens with handheld cameras and hidden cameras. He and production designer
Jacques Saulnier built sets which they modeled after real places, like the
city’s police station, a jail and the bottom-rung hotel. And Charnier’s lab,
incredibly, was built under the guidance of a group of Corsican heroin dealers
who had taken an interest in the film. The director also hired non-actors
whenever he could. The doctors who treat Popeye after his abduction, for
instance, were real doctors.
When French Connection II opened
in the spring of 1975, the reviews it received were generally favorable and its
performance at the box office was strong. The
New York Times’ Vincent Canby, for instance, wrote:
"The concerns of “French Connection II”
are not much different from those of
old Saturday-afternoon movie serials that used to place their supermen in jeopardy and then
figure ways of getting them out. The difference is in the quality of the supermen and in
is a colorful and interesting — though hardly noble — character, and when the Marseilles drug people
kidnap him, forcibly create a heroin habit in him, and then release him, you
have a very special kind of jeopardy that the film and Mr. Hackman exploit most
effectively. The perverse intensity and the anguish in these sequences recall some
of Mr. Frankenheimer's best work in “The Manchurian Candidate”.
Stephen B. Armstrong teaches writing at Dixie State College in St. George, Utah.
He is the author of Pictures About Extremes: The Films of John Frankenheimer
(McFarland, 2008).Click here to order from Amazon.
I’ve always found it odd that all the warm
words, all the retrospectives, the long in-depth articles about a star come out
after they’ve gone. Why aren’t our dwindling reserves of genuine icons
celebrated a whole lot more while they’re still with us?
With rumours about his ill-health abounding I
just hope it’s all hogwash and that Paul Newman outlives us all.
Newman is more than a star, more than good
actor, more than an accomplished director, more than a great looking embodiment
of all-American optimism. He is the quintessential Hollywood
artist. He personifies all that the American movie industry strives so hard to
achieve and rarely succeeds.
There is doubtfully a man or woman under 40 who
does not admire Newman in one way or another, either purely physically or for
his on-screen charisma, or his acting ability. Even his lauded salad dressing,
with all proceeds going to charity, has to be admired, although it has provided
some confusion with some younger people. Apparently, when one 20 year old who
was using one of his dressings was asked which Newman movie she liked best, she
replied “He’s making movies now?”
His 50+ year career has produced nary a whiff of
scandal, and his body of work is such that it just has to contain at least one
film from anyone’s top 20. You don’t think so? Let’s just dip into the obvious:
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Hud, Cool Hand Luke, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,
The Sting, The Hustler, The Towering Inferno. The not-so-obvious: Harper, Pocket
Money, Hombre, Sometimes a Great Notion, The Verdict, Road to Perdition,Nobody’s Fool, Fort Apache- the Bronx, The
Young Philadelphians, Slap Shot, The Drowning Pool. Even some of Newman’s
misfires are worth catching: Fat Man and Little Boy, The Prize, Winning, The
Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean.
Trying to put into words the universal appeal of
Newman is tough, if not impossible. It’s certainly more than the sum of the
parts as so many competent actors have come along with at least one of his
attributes, but have only been a fraction as successful. To boil it down into
its constituent elements is a study in futility; but I’ll try.
Editor-in-Chief Lee Pfeiffer gives his take on the new blockbuster.
Given all the hype leading up to the release of The Dark Knight, one could be forgiven for wondering if the final film could live up to expectations. To be brutally honest, I had also wondered whether the ecstatic praise afforded Heath Ledger's performance as The Joker had been inflated by the tragic circumstances of his death. Thus, I am delighted to report that the The Dark Knight is an instant action film classic. If there is a real life superhero who deserves most of the credit, it is director/writer Christopher Nolan, a true devotee of the Batman saga, as opposed to a hack simply trying to collect a paycheck. (How many potentially good films based on famous franchises have been demolished in just such a scenario?) Under Nolan's inspired direction, Ledger is not just an actor, he's a force of nature. I had been skeptical about his interpretation of The Joker, based on the footage in the trailer. Having been weaned on more traditional concepts of the character, I could not envision a scenario in which this evil mastermind would adopt such coarse methods as picking up machine guns and bazookas. It would be like Prof. Moriarty trying to get the edge on Sherlock Holmes by using hardware instead of intellect to do in his arch rival. Yet, this is The Joker as envisioned for a generation brought up on graphic novels. If you can suspend any memories of Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson, you're attention will be riveted every second Ledger is on screen. With his ghastly makeup only half-encrusting his face, he initially looks like one of the denizens who perpetually haunt the entrance to London's tony Groucho Club in the hopes of shaking down members for change. However, once the character is established, you see that Nolan has not compromised two aspects of The Joker's legacy: his sheer brilliance and perverse wit. (There's even a Brokeback Mountain reference). The film opens with a bank heist, a scenario that may seem too mundane for a criminal mastermind, but it is stunningly directed and sets the tone for the horror show The Joker is about to unleash on Gotham City (this time "played" by Chicago).
The script presents Batman's hometown as perpetually beset by crime waves that have led the populace to lose site of the fact that the Caped Crusader has been putting his own life at risk for the benefit of the citizenry. Because he's technically a criminal vigilante, he bears the brunt of criticism from a fickle public all too willing to blame him for their city's woes. This leaves Batman's alter ego billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) depressed and disillusioned. He is also nursing a broken heart from the loss of his girlfriend, Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who has taken up with hot shot crusading prosecutor Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) whose relentless operations against organized crime has made him flavor of the month at Batman's expense. Wayne is about to retire as a superhero when The Joker's terrorist attacks against the city mandate that he join forces with Eckhart and Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman), who is the only loyal friend his has on the police department. The intricacy of the plot makes The Dark Knight far more complex than most action films and although there is an abundance of spectacular special effects and explosions, they never come at the expense of the human element of the story. At it's heart, this is a movie about people and their complex relationships. In that regard, the film benefits from a terrific cast, each member of which brings pathos and humor to their roles. Christian Bale is far more impressive here than he was in Batman Begins, bringing credibility to the reluctant hero's personal torment. Maggie Gyllenhaal takes over the role played by Katie Holmes in the previous film and is a vast improvement. Gyllenhaal is a mature, sophisticated presence while the spindley Holmes looked like she was auditioning for the high school play. Aaron Eckhart, who resembles the young Robert Redford, takes what could have been a rather bland role and transforms it into something dynamic - along with a surprising development that ties in with another well known character in the Batman legend. There are also superlative supporting performances by old pros Michael Caine as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Bruce Wayne's version of James Bond's Q. In fact, Christopher Nolan's well-known high esteem for the 007 films is amply evident in this movie. There is a gadgets scene that is straight out of the Bond/Q catalog; The Joker utilizes a knife in his shoe a la Rosa Klebb and there is a skyhook plane rescue straight out of Thunderball that is even credited to Intelligence services in the 1960s. It is indeed not without irony that the two oldest film franchises have been so successfully and dynamically reinvented simultaneously for a new generation.
The Dark Knight is not without flaws. The action scenes tend to be a bit overwhelming on occasion and, as with the previous film, the fight scenes are edited in the now-standard herky-jerky MTV style that makes everything a virtually indistinguishable blur and diminishes the suspense. Nevertheless, the movie is so well crafted these flaws are relatively minor. Until now, the best superhero flicks I've seen are Superman, Superman II and Tim Burton's revisionist version of Batman that paved the way for this film. However, The Dark Knight is not only better than those outstanding achievements, it's the best superhero movie ever made. - Lee Pfeiffer
It's hard to believe it's been two full decades since the release of Die Hard, the film that put Bruce Willis among the few select actors who successfully made the transition from TV to being a genuine superstar in theatrical films. I've never been as captivated by the movie as most, largely because it falls apart during the absurd ending that initiated the trend of inserting more climaxes than a porn film into action movies. Still, most of it is good fun - and the film has resonated with fans like Michael Coate, who has amassed some interesting trivia and facts on his site. It's sort of "Everything You Wanted to Know About Die Hard But Were Afraid To Ask..." Check it out by clicking here- Lee Pfeiffer
Writer Steve Vertlieb takes a look at a true icon of the cinema- and discovers there was far more than met the eye.
KARLOFF...the very name strikes terror into the hearts of
most screen audiences, as did the persona of his most famous
theatrical creation, Frankenstein's "Monster." Yet this
gifted, versatile actor was a kind, intelligent, charitable performer respected by
his colleagues, and adored by millions of children around the world. Whether the
gentle giant of Universal's early Frankenstein films, the villainous Captain
Hook of Broadway's "Peter Pan," the distinguished host of NBC's acclaimed
"Thriller" television series,or the renowned motion picture and stage actor who,
through countless remarkable performances, brought dignity and compassion to
the uniquely maligned genre of so-called "Horror Films," Boris
Karloff was an intelligent, sensitive actor who captured the hearts and imaginations of
generations of screen, theatrical, television, and radio audiences.
Rare behind the scenes photo from the AIP film The Comedy of Terrors showing Basil Rathbone, Peter Lorre, Karloff and Vincent Price. (Photo: Steve Vertlieb)
Karloff had a late career highlight playing the villain(ess?) Mother Muffin on a Girl From U.N.C.L.E. episode opposite Stephanie Powers and Robert Vaughn.
My chronicle of the life of this legendary artist is now available at The Thunder
Child science fiction/Fantasyweb magazine, and can be accessed to clicking onto
the celluloid link below.
Encyclopedia Brittanica blogger Gregory McNamee pays tribute to the iconic Hollywood producer Merian C. Cooper with an interesting essay celebrating the 75th anniversary of his greatest film, King Kong. In addition to fascinating insights into Cooper's career, there is also the original trailer for King Kong. Click here to view
have with us for a long, long time. Judy Garland’s A Star is Born was a remake, as were Mogambo, Ben-Hur and The Magnificent Seven. But they were all
solid films in their own right; brought something new to the stories they were
retelling, and didn’t besmirch the reputation of the originals.
But Hollywood today is a big
fat lazy worm consuming itself on the altar of corporate profit margins.
Playing it safe has never been more of a truism than it is now. The glut of
remakes that clog the multiplexes is staggering, and we’re in for a hell of a
lot more. In the eternal quest for voraciously chasing the ludicrously
simplistic idea of the built in audience, we are soon to be greeted with
remakes, sorry, reinventions, of The Day
the Earth Stood Still (starring Keanu Reeves in the Michael Rennie role. Like,
Klaatu Barada Nikto, dude), The Incredible Shrinking Man (as a Brett
Ratner directed Eddie Murphy comedy), and soon, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three.
of all, the obvious question that springs to mind is, why remake good films?
Why not remake crap ones and make them better? Industry producers will say they
want to instil an echo of the good vibe that surrounded the original, but what
average 16-24 year old will have even heard of Pelham, less alone be drawn to a new version of it? Ah, hoisted by
my own petard you think; if they don’t know the movie then why not bring it to a whole new audience? To
which I reply, why not market your back catalogue properly and pay your scriptwriters to come up with some original stories!
no, still the remakes come, and so we’re in for Tony Scott’s new version,
starring Denzel Washington in the Walter Matthau role and John Travolta filling
Robert Shaw’s’ boots. Now I have nothing in particular against any of those
three individuals, but I do question all of them in pressing ahead with this,
as I assume they don’t need the money and assume that they all like the
original. It’s very simple – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I can guarantee
you this new film will be efficient, competently acted, moderately exciting,
slick...and instantly forgettable.
big action movies are generally hollow experiences devoid of much substance or believability.
The bangs will be big, the quips will be glib, and it will all be terribly
is all the things the original Pelham
was not. Not only is it one of the best urban thrillers of the 70’s (and a
crowded market that was too), but its
also one of the greatest New York
movies too. Right up there with Dog Day
Afternoon, The French Connection,
and Sweet Smell of Success.
palette of characters was so well delineated, scripted and portrayed; it’s
amazing to me the script wasn’t nominated for an Oscar. Aside from Shaw’s
genuinely menacing Mr. Blue, and Mattahu’s wisecracking, and world weary
transit cop Lt. Zachary Garber, the entire cast shone. Tom Pedi as the profane
and doomed Cal
(“who wants to know!”)Dolowitz; Dick O’Neill as the exasperated and politically
incorrect Frank Doyle (Garber: “Frank! Will ya keep it down I’m trying to save
passengers lives here!” Frank: “Fuck
the passengers, what do they expect for their lousy 35 cents – to live forever?”); Jerry Stiller as the bored,
seen-it-all Rico Patrone (Deadpan, to a group of visiting Japanese dignitaries
crowding round his desk) :“Yesterday we had a bomb scare...but it turned out to
be a cantaloupe”; the perfectly cast Kenneth McMillan as the quintessentially
unflappable New York-Irish Borough Commander (Cop: “The Mayors on his way”,
Commander (impassively): “Terrific, tell
him I’ll hold the crowd til he gets here”); and the late great Julius Harris as
Inspector Daniels. Tony Roberts also pitches in with a terrifically acerbic
turn as Warren, the Mayors advisor. The Mayor by the way seems to have
predicted the era of Ed Koch: Mayor:
“What if the hijackers start shooting at me?” Warren: “Will you stop. They have no reason to
shoot at you” Mayor: “Why? D’you think they’re from outta town?” Even the
Mayors wife gets some good lines. When the Mayor can’t decide if it’s a good
idea to pay the $1m ransom and save the lives of the hijacked train passengers,
she offers him some pithy advice: “Just think what you gonna get in return?”
Mayor: “What??” “Eighteen sure votes”.
rest of the hijackers are portrayed by Martin Balsam, surely the only
sympathetic terrorist in film history, Hector Elizondo, who manages to rub
everyone up the wrong way, and Earl Hindman who is possibly the only weak link
in the chain.
strong cast is one of the many reasons this film flies. To have such a good
array of actors in what is essentially a genre piece helps immeasurably.
you can see, the dialogue is sardonic and dryly witty. The early 70s New York milieu is so
brilliantly captured. Nothing is sleek or shiny; it’s grimy, dented, noisy,
drab...and utterly brilliant.
set up is audacious. Four guys, under the leadership of Robert Shaw hi-jack a New York subway train,
and hold the passengers to ransom for the (then) princely sum of a million
dollars. It’s not the “why” that pushes the narrative along, it’s the “how”, as
in how do they possibly think they can get away with this heist? The key thing
here is the characters. It’s a character driven piece all the way. The cadence
of the dialogue is so punchy and poetically profane it could have been written
by David Mamet. Peter Stone, who did
write this, was in my opinion, never better. And from the man who wrote the
screenplay to Charade, Mirage, and Arabesque, that’s saying something. Its one of those scripts that
you just sit back, cross your arms and smile beatifically too.
1974 setting of the movie is crucial to the characters motivations and
reactions too. New York
was on the verge of corporate bankruptcy, and needed a huge cash injection from
the federal government to avoid basically going out of business. In this
context, the tattered nerves of the politicians, the constant short
temperedness of the transit cops and stoic unflappabilty of the New York police is
terms of narrative drive, character interplay, the setup, score, cast, and pared-down
direction (no love interest here!), the film is an absolute textbook case in
how to make the perfect thriller.
Shire’s music deserves special mention, his jazzed up, muscular and highly
original take on the Schoenberg 12-tone method is a vital piece in the alchemy
that makes this movie such a knockout. Its bruising no-nonsense streetwise vibe
powers the film along. I dread to think what a wall-to-wall bombastic piece of
rent-a-score dross the remake will sport.
director Joseph Sargent was never better than here.A competent journeyman director, mainly in TV
series and TV movies, he really knocked one out the park with this one. Not to
take anything away from him, working with such first class ingredients as he
had here, he could barely have put a foot wrong. The odd thing is why he was
never offered anything as good again. However, one instinctively knows even the
maker of Jaws: The Revenge made a better
film here than Tony Scott is going to produce.
pains me to go on making these derisory comparisons, but the makers are
bringing it on themselves when they have the laziness of mind to go back to
classics of this nature and think they can “do it better”. They really are on a
hiding to nothing. In terms of box office, yes I’m sure it’ll make a tidy
return. In terms of cinema, and its legacy, this will be forgotten in a week.
for the original? The Taking of Pelham
One TwoThree is exciting, thrilling,
funny, wonderfully acted, brilliantly scripted, and simply one of the best
movies of the 70s. If you’ve seen it before it’s like revisiting a coarse old
friend. If you’ve never seen it – leave your prudishness by the door – you’re
in for a helluva ride.
The web site IGN has posted an in-depth review of the new comic book based on the Sergio Leone/Clint Eastwood Man With No Name trilogy. The bottom line: mixed results. Reviewer Dan Phillips says it's an admirable attempt to capture the essence of the series but has doubts it can be sustained over numerous issues. To read the review click here
CINEMA RETRO'S EDITOR-IN-CHIEF BRAVELY GOES AGAINST THE GRAIN AND TAKES ON THE NEW HIT MOVIE VERSION OF GET SMART
When I finally caught up with the new Get Smart feature film that is doing sensational business in its opening week, I couldn't help but think of Orson Welles and Citizen Kane. You read that right: Orson Welles and Citizen- FRICKIN'- Kane. I asked myself how Welles directed, wrote and starred in that masterpiece at age 23 while it took two screen writers and countless millions of dollars to turn out Get Smart - especially since the movie is so needlessly convoluted that within five minutes I couldn't even remember what the main aspect of the plot was about. First the good news: this isn't a disaster in the way that most other big screen adaptations of classic TV series generally turn out to be. That's about the only good news. Aside from some inspired casting choices, the film is a dud and will best be appreciated by young people with little knowledge or interest in the fact that it is based on a far superior TV series. The movie is clearly catering to the tween set, with plenty of gross-out jokes and sexual innuendos - but it only illustrates how low family film entertainment has gotten when such elements are the norm. Steve Carell plays the role of Agent 86, Maxwell Smart - a character immortalized by Don Adams. Carell is adequately cast. He looks square enough to have stepped out of a time warp but he plays the role in a deadpan, understated manner that contrasts with Adams' shrill, high profile style. The result is that Carell is overshadowed by virtually everyone else in the movie. Not helping matters is the fact that Smart is, well, too smart...There is precious little of the bumbling antics of the TV Maxwell Smart, who, in Clouseau-like manner, managed to crack every case by sheer happenstance. The TV Smart wasn't an idiot, just a klutz, but the Carell character is actually fairly competent, which deprives the film of many potential pratfalls and belly laughs. There are the cursory nods to the show's iconic images: the Cone of Silence (not nearly as funny as when utilized on the series), the telephone booth, the old shoe phone and the red Sunbeam convertible (creatively worked into the story as part of a museum exhibit). There are also several outright homages to James Bond films: a dress tearing tactic right out of Licence to Kill and an extended sky diving battle that emulates Moonraker to the point of including a villain with a remarkable resemblance to Richard Kiel's Jaws. The latter sequence is exravagant and ambitiious, but - God forgive me for actually saying these words - the scene in Moonraker was better! There is also a tasteless bathroom gag that is taken virtually verbatim from the first Austin Powers movie, but it barely works here because of the leaden direction of Peter Segal. His track record is pretty thin, but he direct the final Naked Gun film (though the weakest of the trio) and the very underrated comedy My Fellow Americans that paired Jack Lemmon and James Garner. However, he also directs Adam Sandler movies. 'Nuff said.
The one element of the film I feared most was the casting of Agent 99, but I was pleasantly surprised and impressed by Anne Hathaway's performance. She is not only sexy enough to make you (temporarily) forget the image of Barbara Feldon, but she also shows a deft ability to handle one-liners. Sadly, however, the script resorts to the oldest of cliches: it has Max and 99 meeting cute, her disdaining him then being reluctantly paired as his partner. You don't have to be Kreskin to predict what happens next: they learn to respect one another and fall in love. This concept more moss on it than a tree in a bayou swamp. 99 is presented as an Emma Peel- like heroine, adept at martial arts and a propensity for kicking guys in groin. I gave up counting after seeing this act take place five times. Memo to producers: it's time to retire the groin-kick scene. The old reliable only worked well the first time it was used - back in 1969 when Paul Newman's Butch Cassidy made history of Ted Cassidy's family jewels. Since then, it's been dragged out by every uncreative screenwriter who hopes to get a cheap reaction from guys in the audience who cringe at the sight. The cliche itself is more painful than any kick in the balls.
There are a few genuinely funny gags, thanks mostly to the
inspired casting of Alan Arkin as The Chief (though no one could replace the
inimitable Edward Platt, one of TV's most underrated comic actors.) Arkin is
quite funny with his slow-burn approach to every crisis, but the script can't
resist going over the top by having the Chief assault the vice-president.
Another welcome presence is James Caan, seen far too briefly as a Bush-like
American president. Having the character come across like a boob may be like
picking the low-hanging fruit, but Caan's few one-liners elicited some of the
biggest laughs from the audience at the screening I attended. Dwayne Johnson (aka The Rock) is cast as a CONTROL agent in conflict with Max and while Johnson proves to be an able comedic presence, his waxen appearance makes him look like an animated character from a Madame Tussaud's exhibit. There's also a potentially hilarious cameo by Bill Murray, but the scene falls entirely flat. Similarly, the producers must have felt that two CONTROL geeks, Bruce and Lloyd (played by Masi Oka and Nate Torrence) are so funny that they've received their own straight-to-video mini-movie. The actors themselves are good, but the characters are poorly developed and not very funny. It's wonderful to see old pro Terence Stamp cast as the villain Siegfried, but the role is so weakly written that he could have been playing any generic bad guy. Making matters worse, Bernie Koppel, who played the character in the original show, makes a cameo- and you feel like shouting at the screen, "Siegfried, come back!" a la Brandon de Wilde at the end of Shane.
One hates to be cranky about Get Smart - and it is better than the big screen versions of The Wild, Wild West and I Spy (faint praise, indeed). However, when it comes equally the original series, well, sorry about that, chief- they missed it by that much. - Lee Pfeiffer
The premiere at Cannes, where the film is being shown in competition.
(THIS ARTICLE HAS BEEN UPDATED)
CINEMA RETRO COLUMNIST GARETH OWEN WAS INVITED TO COVER THE SCREENING OF CLINT EASTWOOD'S NEW FILM. AMONG THE SURPRISES WAS AN APPARENT TITLE CHANGE. HERE IS HIS REPORT:
Owen, In Cannes
Eastwood's latest film Changeling, is apparently now to be known as The Exchange after
the director took a shine to the French translation to the original title. It
premiered in competition at Cannes,
and is one of the front runners for the coveted Palm d'Or award.
The Exchange restored my faith in Hollywood
film-making. Everything about it is exquisite from the script, to performances,
direction, settings and camerawork to the sound, music and editing. It is
film-making the old fashioned way without silly camera tricks, flash cutting or
shaking hand-held shots.
has crafted the story of a mother who's son is abducted with pace, suspense,
tension, horror, emotion and with it carries a startling insight in to the corrupt
1930s LA police force. Angelina
Jolie, in a career best performance, plays Christine Collins - a hard
working single mother in late 1920s California - who returns home
from work one day to find her son has disappeared. Only after 5
months is there a lead on the case, when her young son Walter is spotted in Illinois. He is reunited
to his mother by police captain J.J. Jones (Jeffrey Donovan) in front of a
collection of press photographers, but she immediately says that the boy
is not her son, despite him claiming to be. To save embarrassment, the police
ask her to take the boy home. Days pass, and Collins' claims of the boy not
being her son (confirmed by him being 3 inches shorter than Walter and
also being circumcised when Walter was not) fall on dear ears in the LAPD; they
are now keen to push ahead with a positive press and dismiss anyone questioning
their professionalism. Collins fears that time is being wasted in not
continuing the search for Walter, so she goes public. The police, keen to
silence her, incarcerate her in a mental institution.
community activist (John Malkovich) takes up her case do things start moving,
and Collins is released. Meanwhile in the desert, another police detective -
on a routine illegal child immigrant case - discovers an eerie truth that leads to a dramatic and highly engrossing conclusion.
cements his reputation as being a master of the game with this film. It has
'Oscars' written all over it.
(Cinema Retro has been told by Universal that the title for the U.S. market officially remains Changeling, however it is still undecided whether the new title will be used when the film is released later this year.- Ed.)
CLINT EASTWOOD'S THE CHANGELING HAS SCREENED AT CANNES. THE ANGELINA JOLIE STARRER, SET IN THE 1920S AND BASED ON A REAL LIFE MYSTERY, HAS RECEIVED AN OUTSTANDING REVIEW FROM VARIETY. THE PAPER SAYS, "A thematic companion piece to Mystic River but more complex and far-reaching, Changeling impressively continues Clint Eastwood's
great run of ambitious late-career pictures. Emotionally powerful and
stylistically sure-handed, this true story-inspired drama begins small
with the disappearance of a young boy, only to gradually fan out to
become a comprehensive critique of the entire power structure of Los
Angeles, circa 1928. Graced by a top-notch performance from Angelina Jolie, the Universal release looks poised to do some serious business upon tentatively scheduled opening late in the year." For complete review click here
NOTE: THIS ENTRY HAS BEEN UPDATED SINCE ORIGINALLY POSTED.
CINEMA RETRO EDITOR-IN-CHIEF LEE PFEIFFER WEIGHS IN WITH A REVIEW OF THE NEW INDIANA JONES FILM.
RETRO RATING: THREE STARS (OUT OF FOUR STARS)
Having just returned from a New York screening of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, I had been of the opinion that whoever was in charge of security for Paramount's publicity team should have been hired to write the script for the film. The studio kept the location of the theater secret until days before the screening, and an E mail invitation I received included this admonishment:"Please do NOT pass this info on to anyone else- invites are strictly non-transferable and people will not be admitted if they weren't directly invited." Having arrived at the designated venue, I expected a full body cavity search, but instead was greeted by some amiable Paramount staffers who kindly offered a thoughtful perk: a coupon for a free popcorn and soda. That may not sound like much, but given prices in New York theaters, it amounts to the equivalent of the average monthly mortgage payment. I should say that although Cinema Retro has objectively reported on the mixed buzz about the film, I entered the theater with great expectations and uncompromised optimism. At the film's conclusion , my own views were decidedly mixed. The movie is worse than hoped-for, but better than feared. What follows are random observations about various aspects of the film (I've tried to avoid providing any overt spoilers, but it's impossible to present a thorough review without divulging some key plot points.)
The main problem is David Koepp's weak script, though the fault may not be entirely his. Given the fact that Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas disagreed over various drafts from many writers over the years, Koepp may well have been made to include so many compromises to please all parties that the overall story was drastically impacted. The film starts out promisingly as an homage to 1950s sci-fi movies but at various points becomes a jungle adventure before transforming yet again into a fantasy with spiritual elements. This schizophrenic nature of the script deprives the movie of having an engrossing storyline. The Maguffin is that Indiana Jones has to travel to South America to locate an old colleague who has been kidnapped while searching for a fabled ancient city. However, there are so many plot elements tossed in ranging from F.B.I. investigations to space aliens that the story quickly becomes baffling and therefore unengrossing. At times, the script's "toss-in-the-kitchen sink" aspect is so confusing it makes the screenplay for The Big Sleep look as simplistic as an old Jerry Lewis movie. An hour into the film, I gave up searching for any semblance of what Indy was trying to achieve and just settled back to enjoy individual scenes such as those that call to mind the old Tarzan films and that great killer-ants-in-your pants Charlton Heston adventure The Naked Jungle.
The film has opening credits...remember those? In an era in which studios believe the audience lacks the attention span to sit through this one-time mainstay of movies, it's refreshing to see a major release revert back to tradition.
The much-anticipated first glimpse of Indy is a bit of a downer. Instead of a dramatic introduction, we first see him tossed out from the trunk of a car, a captive of Soviet agents. This matter-of-fact opener is obviously designed to imply that Indy hasn't really been out of our lives for very long, but there is no getting around his 19 year absence from the screen. Thus, hopes that he would be reintroduced in a dramatic or creative fashion are quickly doused.
The first half hour of the film is the best. We're introduced to some intriguing characters, primarily Cate Blanchett, barely recognizable as a Soviet KGB mastermind who kidnaps Indy and forces him to locate a specific crate on a secured U.S. Army base. The box holds a secret with world-changing implications, but this plot device is quickly watered down by the introduction of many other story elements. Blanchett does make a terrific physical impression, thanks to her makeup and costuming design. She looks like a cross between 1950's dominatrix Betty Page and Cloris Leachman's Nurse Diesel. Picture Rosa Klebb without the sense of humor. Sadly, however, Blanchett's role never goes beyond the superficial and she pops in and out of the picture spouting uninventive dialogue that only B movie villain George Zucco could have done justice to.
The movie boasts some impressive work by production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas, the best of which is seen early in the movie and doesn't involve elaborate set pieces. Rather, he manages to capture the flavor of the late 1950s with great detail, and combined with the addition of songs and styles from the era, successfully transfers the audience back in time. There are nice touches such as Elvis singing Hound Dog, drag racing teenagers, an homage to Marlon Brando as The Wild One and references to Eisenhower and McCarthyism. Sadly, most of this vanishes once Indy sets foot in the jungle and the wit that is displayed in the early scenes vaporizes as well.
The introduction of much-touted young actor Shia LaBeouf as Indy's wise-guy fellow adventurer lives up to the hype. He has charisma to spare and acquits himself well. He should have a promising future in the industry, even if his name sounds like a sandwich choice on the menu of the Carnegie Deli. However, the character he plays still seems superfluous to the plot, despite a plot twist that is designed to make him more than a mere sidekick. However, when this device is introduced, it is so bland and predictable that I was angered at myself for not seeing it coming a half hour earlier.
The movie has a fine supporting cast, all of whom labor in parts that are severely underwritten. It's wonderful to see Karen Allen back as Marion Ravenwood, though rumor has it that the concept of reintroducing the heroine of the first film in the series was actually the brainchild of Frank Darabont, whose script was rejected. In any event, she's as sexy and fiesty as ever and rumors that she would be relegated to a cameo are happily untrue. However, despite the fact that she and Indy still have the love/hate relationship that made their first pairing so enjoyable, this time around Marion is quickly relegated to driving speeding vehicles and screaming. You can just see the possiblities evaporate as character development and rich dialogue are shoved aside to make for the next action sequence. Similarly neglected are Ray Winstone, an old friend of Indy's, whose role is so badly written that at the end of the movie, I had no idea what side his allegiance rested with. The great John Hurt is also wasted in the role of an elderly explorer who does nothing but mumble incoherent gibberish about where the secret city is buried. The only supporting actor who registers in a major way is Jim Broadbent as Indy's dean at the university. Their all-too-brief sequences are touching and well-scripted, especially the sequence in which there is a moving tribute to characters from past films played by Denhold Elliott and Sean Connery.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the film is the complete refutation of promises made by Spielberg and Ford that this movie would use CGI effects sparingly and rely on the traditional method of shooting action sequences. (i.e using stuntmen and special effects technicians instead of computer graphics.) Ford must have confused this movie with Working Girl because the film is absolutely loaded with superflulous CGI work. Virtually every action scene is marred by an over-reliance on this technology, which tends to insure that there is no suspense whatsoever. The action sequences keep building in number and frequency to the point where they become wearying. The over-the-top aspect of these scenes reaches absurd levels and they begin to make Road Runner cartoons look like the works of Ingmar Bergman. We all want a bit of fantasy in an Indiana Jones movie, but these sequences defy any credulity. Specifically, there is a seemingly endless car chase through the dense Amazon rain forest in which the vehicles appear to be speeding down The New Jersey Turnpike. I kept waiting for a toll booth and an exit sign for Newark Airport to show up in front of them. While all of this is going on, Shia LaBoeuf and Cate Blanchett stand atop speeding jeeps and engage in a fencing match that is spectacularly phony and decidely un-thrilling.
The villains are all one-dimensional and keep appearing inexplicably out of nowhere to capture Indy and his team. I literally lost track of how many times Indy is taken prisoner by the same bad guys, only to make implausible escapes. At least in the early going, he uses his wits to get out of danger, as evidenced in one of the movie's best scenes in which he utilizes a refrigerator as a method of escaping a nuclear blast. (However, the script is so weak that it does not explain how he can watch the explosion from a short distance away without being terminally infected with radiation!)
With so many shortcomings, the film is carried primarily by Harrison Ford's charisma. Fears that he might be on automatic pilot on this outing are unfounded. Ironically, he gives perhaps his best performance of the franchise in this entry and seems to be having a terrific time. He seems refreshingly ageless and it's a total joy to see a 65 year-old actor paired with a 56 year-old leading lady.
John Williams is credited with the musical score, but he obviously did nothing but mail Spielberg a CD of the Raiders of the Lost Ark soundtrack. If there is new music here, it didn't resonate with me. However the thrill of hearing the familiar theme music adds immeasurably to the film's pleasures.
Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski replaces the late Douglas Slocombe, who shot the first three Indy films, and does an admirable job of keeping in synch with the style of his predecessor. Likewise, editor Michael Kahn refrains from recent trends of cutting action scenes to resemble music videos. The editing style is straight-forward and refreshingly traditional.
In the aggregate, there was probably no way this long-in-development sequel could have lived up to expectations. Still, the nay-sayers who predicted it would be an embarrassment have been proven wrong. The movie has enough fun moments to merit a recommendation but if the response of the audience I saw the film with is any indication (i.e virtually no laughter at the wisecracks and lukewarm applause at the end), this will probably be regarded with the same mixed evaluations as the recent Star Wars movies. If I were to compare it to the James Bond franchise, I would have to equate with Sean Connery's comeback vehicles Diamonds Are Forever and Never Say Never Again - films that fell far short of their potential, but were still entertaining. Reviewing Indiana Jones movies is like lecturing people about the health risks of Dunkin' Donuts: no matter what you say, the public is gonna buy 'em anyway. I enjoyed the film enough to assess it in a charitable manner. I won't call Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull the worst entry in the franchise. Instead, I'll say it's the fourth best. - Lee Pfeiffer
The Cannes premiere
THE FOLLOWING IS CINEMA RETRO CONTRIBUTING WRITER BILL DUELLY'S COMMENTS ON THE FILM:
RETRO RATING: THREE STARS (GOOD)
Well, it was always an on again off again project over the past 18 years.
Lucas, Spielberg and Ford would say it would be fun to do another Indiana
Jones film if the right property came along. Thankfully, that opportunity eventually came to pass and we now have a new film from the legendary franchise. Before I go any further, I need to state that the
anticipation for this film has fortunately not been quite as over-hyped as it had been for
Star Wars- Episode 1 (a weak film whose over-the-top publicity campaign only accentuated the public's disappointment with the end result.) The latest Indy feature is not a similarly weak venture; rather, it is a serious attempt to chronicle another chapter in the series of adventures that chronicle the legendary hero's life. In the pantheon of those adventures, this one falls squarely in the middle in terms of excitement and satisfaction as cinematic entertainment.
Like the recent Rocky Balboa, we look in on Indy close to two
decades since his last screen adventure. He has grayed and slowed down a bit,
but is still able to rise to the challenge when the the world needs his peculiar talents. Just as the five year gap between The Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade allowed for a deeper sense of maturity to develop in the character and storyline, this extended passage of time until Kingdom of the Crystal Skull also reaps similar benefits without sacrificing the thrill content.
The film marks the return of some welcome alumni from previous entries, including Karen Allen as Indy's old flame Marion Ravenwood, who provides a return to a strong female role model in an era dominated by anorexic airheads as leading ladies. Other returning veterans include composer John Williams, who turns in a great score peppered with themes from previous films, and editor Michael Kahn, who consistently keeps the action flowing at a rapid pace. Some scenes are hampered by obvious CGI effects, but they don't compromise the overall look of the film. (Remember, that the first three Indy films had their share of a few shoddy special effects.) Among the acting highlights are the performances of Shia LaBeouf, who starts out quite stiff but quickly settles into the spirit of things, and Cate Blanchett who has a wonderful time playing a KGB agent who seeks the skull for nefarious purposes. In the aggregate, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is to be recommended, but see in on a big, wide screen in a movie theater, projected on film, not digitally - and don't wait for the DVD to experience the most welcome return of this great movie hero.
INDY SURVIVES THE WRATH OF CANNES; FILM BOWS TO GOOD RESPONSE. CLICK HERE FOR STORY
Every time we get full of ourselves and think we're familiar with virtually every "B" movie of the 1960s, our friends at the superb retro site Cinebeats shame us. Now they've scooped us by providing a great essay on a "B" classic we never even heard of: director Ted V. Mikel's ode to the go-go scene of 1968, The Girl in the Gold Boots. The site provides some cool clips and frame-grabs from the movie as well as a link to the director's site where you can get an autographed DVD of the film for only $10.95. To read click here
Original Dell comic book tie in for Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo.
Writer Charles Taylor offers an insightful essay from Dissent magazine on the persona of John Wayne and how his work in Howard Hawks' Rio Bravo stands as arguably the best performance of his career. To read click here
Click here to read the review of the Rio Bravo special edition DVD.
Cinema Retro's David Savage reports from New York's Tribeca Film Festival on a new film from Italy.
Quiet Chaos (Italy)
Contrary to Quentin Tarantino's much publicized recent
pronouncement that 'Italian cinema is dead' -- a sentiment echoed even inside
the Italian film industry by critics who see its heyday in the once-promising
1950s and '60s -- I believe it's in a period of intense social dissection. Like
films of recent years, Caterina va in città (2003), Volevo solo
dormirle addosso (2004), Ricordati di me (2003), and others, Quiet
Caos, a new film starring Nanni Moretti and directed by Antonello Grimaldi,
reflects a crisis the country is facing on all levels: economic, political,
social and spiritual. (See last December's New York Times front-page
essay by Ian Fisher: In a Funk, Italy Sings anAria of
Disappointment at nytimes.com)
Based on the bestselling novel by Sandro Veronesi (Caos
Calmo), Quiet Chaos examines what happens to a successful executive
when he loses his wife to a tragic accident. One day, after saving the life of
two women from drowning in the ocean, he arrives home only to discover his wife
has suddenly died in a fall. Unable to feel the grief from his wife's death, he
takes a leave from his office life to sit outside his 10-year-old daughter's
school every day, from dropping her off in the morning to taking her home after
school. As he waits for the grief over his wife to kick in, he spends his days
sitting in his car, wandering the park and having coffee at a nearby café. His
boss, fellow colleagues and relatives all come to console him but end up
confiding their own pain and difficulties: office politics and backstabbing,
naked ambition, cheating hearts and other ailments. Throughout it all, Pietro
remains calm and becomes something of a guru to those who seek him out for his
strange calm. Gradually, Pietro finds meaning in being a father and realizes
something that seems to echo the national conscience: In this age of
accelerating greed, venality and careerism, spontaneous acts of kindness and
human decency are the most radical acts of all.-David Savage
A critic once wrote that the only value of Hell Drivers would be to those who wish to study the status of the British trucking industry in the 1950s. Yet, the intense, black-and-white low budget movie has come to define the epitome of what cult movies are. It's built quite a following around the world, primarily due to it's distinguished cast that boasted Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom and cinematic super spies-to-be Sean Connery, Patrick McGoohan and David McCallum. Writer David Cairns takes a sentimental road trip back in time to analyze the pluses and minuses of this testosterone-fueled macho drama - and to also extoll the often overlooked contributions of Stanley Baker to the British film industry. To read click here
Disney film expert Wade Sampson has written an exhaustive account of the clever methods used by Walt Disney to bring his 1959 fable Darby O'Gill and the Little People to the screen. The elaborate marketing campaign included a one hour TV special about the movie and a campaign by Walt himself to convince the children of the world that leprechauns really did exist - a deception that still grates on Sampson today! The article covers some well known trivia (his starring role in the film led to Sean Connery landing the part of James Bond) and some more obscure facts (Barry Fitzgerald was to star.) Click here to read this highly entertaining analysis of one of Walt Disney's most underrated films.
Click here to order Darby O'Gill DVD edition from the Cinema Retro Amazon Store
Writer Jamie Stuart of the Movie Navigator site takes an in-depth and very poignant look at Stanley Kubrick's controversial final film, Eyes Wide Shut- and like many viewers, finds it too complex to have formed any instant opinions. The film was released in 1999, seemingly an eternity ago when Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman were Hollywood's hottest couple. To read click here
Columnist Mike White of the Detour website takes a nostalgic look back at one of the most notoriously bad horror films of all time, Night of the Lepus. The 1972 thriller involved the emergence of giant killer rabbits. Although based on a clearly satirical political novel, the film version actually played the events straight and went immediately into the history books as the kind of horror movie only Ed Wood could love. For that reason, it didn't rate high on the resumes of stars Janet Leigh, Stuart Whitman and Rory Calhoun. The Detour article also gives you the opportunity to view the trailer, which has to feature the worst, over-the-top narration in the history of motion picture marketing. To view the "hare-brained" horror story, click here.