Monthly Archives: January 2010

Best & Worst Of January

The first 31 days of this 365 odyssey has just finished and I didn’t think that it would be so difficult. The movies that I have watched have mostly been very good, I rarely watch crap, but it has been very hard trying to organise this hobby around my work and home commitments. If you think about it, it is a very time-consuming task to spend at least an hour and a half to two hours watching a film and then spending another thirty minutes to an hour writing about the experience. Sometimes it feels a wee bit tedious and I have wanted to throw in the towel and give up on the whole project. If I feel this way after just one month I shudder to think of how I will be feeling come December 31st. (Probably relieved!)

Out of all the movies that I have watched during January the one that I disliked the most would have to be Sherlock Homes. Despite all the action on the screen by the second half of the film I was thoroughly bored and just waiting for the film to finish so I could leave the cinema. While some of the things I wrote at the time about the film were probably a little bit too harsh but I really hated this film. Robert Downey Jr. is a very good actor and I have liked lots of his films, yet his characterisation of Holmes was way off the mark. Downey Jr. portrayed Holmes as a half-witted genius who spent much of the movie fretting over the impending departure of Dr. Watson. This is just another big dumb movie with lots of generic action and stunts that will be forgotten in a few months.

The most disappointing film that I watched during the month of January was Winning. I was really looking forward to watch this film because I had heard lots of good reviews about it, but in the end it was all very boring. As I said at the time I write about this film is that the star Paul Newman had two great loves in his life, his wife Joanna Woodward and motor racing, that you’d expect a film combing Newman with the two would be enjoyable. This was not the case. The racing scenes that were taken from the 1968 Indy 500 are OK, but unfortunately they are spliced between pointless shots of Joanna and ‘John Boy’ from the TV show The Waltons. Most of the film is about the whirlwind romance between Paul and Joanna’s characters in which there seems to be no chemistry between the two stars whatsoever.

I think that it is much harder to pick the best film that I saw during the month. Perhaps that is because crappy films tend to stick in my mind much more because it is easier to remember my frustration and anger. There were many films that I really enjoyed.

The film that I thought was the most fun to watch would be The Adventures of Robin Hood. The actors in the film all looked as though they were enjoying themselves on the careen and that sense of fun was transferred to the viewer. This version of the Robin Hood legend is an all time classic, despite what Sir Ridley Scott thinks, and is hard to top. Russel Crowe will have to work hard to fill Errol Flynn’s boots later this year.

There were other fun films that I watched too. Ray Harryhausen’s brilliant stop-motion special effects made both The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad and 20 Million Miles To Earth so enjoyable to watch. Disney’s two live action films 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and Treasure Island were both enjoyable too, due to the stars that were featured in those films. 20,000 Leagues featured Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre but it was their co-star James Mason who stole the picture with his iconic turn as Captain Nemo, while Robert Newton was brilliant as Long John Silver in Treasure Island. Another film from the 1950s, the sci-fi movie The Day The Earth Stood Still was another film that I enjoyed immensely.

I watched quite a few comedies this month but not all of them made me laugh. W. C. Fields’ International House was just a long forgotten curiosity and not something that I’d watch again even though I did enjoy Gracie Allen’s performance, while I found Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr. to be highly overrated, but this could be due to my over familiarity with many of the gags in the film, which have been since used by various other comedians. Then again this is also true of the gags in Chaplin’s The Gold Rush which I enjoyed despite my familiarity with the gags. I viewed two other Charlie Chaplin films, both of which I enjoyed, 1931’s City Lights and 1928’s The Circus.

Alfred Hitchcock featured prominently in the films I watched this last month. He directed Lifeboat, The Trouble With Harry and Sabotage whilst his influence can also be felt throughout Steven Spielberg’s directorial debut Duel.

Animation is one genre of film making that I really enjoy but I only watched three films that could be considered animation. The Princess & The Frog marked a welcome return to form for Disney while Pixar’s Up was brilliant and one of the best new films that I have watched for some time. The Puppetoon Movie was a great watch also but it really just whetted my appetite for some more of George Pal’s wonderful classic Puppetoon cartoons which have not been released onto DVD.

Here is a complete list of all the films that I watched this last month.

  1. The Seventh Voyage Of Sinbad – Recommended
  2. The Day The Earth Stood Still – Recommended
  3. The Puppetoon Movie – Recommended
  4. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea – Recommended
  5. The Living Desert – Recommended
  6. Steamboat Bill Jr. – Not Recommended
  7. It’s A Gift – Recommended
  8. The Vanishing Prairie – Recommended
  9. Ed Wood – Recommended
  10. The Princess & The Frog – Recommended
  11. Greyfriars Bobby – Recommended
  12. Winning – Not Recommended
  13. Sherlock Holmes – Not Recommended
  14. International House – Not Recommended
  15. Sabrina – Recommended
  16. Up – Highly Recommended
  17. The Adventures Of Robin Hood – Highly Recommended
  18. Lifeboat – Recommended
  19. Treasure Island – Recommended
  20. The Circus – Highly Recommended
  21. 20 Million Miles To Earth – Recommended
  22. The Wolfman – Recommended
  23. Way Out West – Recommended
  24. Sabotage – Recommended
  25. City Lights – Highly Recommended
  26. The Quiet Man – Recommended
  27. Back To the Future – Highly Recommended
  28. Duel – Highly Recommended
  29. The Gold Rush – Highly Recommended
  30. Les Vacances de M. Hulot – Sort Of Recommended
  31. The Trouble With Harry – Highly Recommended

The Trouble With Harry

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Uncredited: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by Novel: Jack Trevor Story
Screenplay: John Michael Hayes
Starring: Edmund Gwenn
John Forsythe
Shirley MacLaine
Mildred Natwick
Mildred Dunnock
Jerry Mathers
Royal Dano
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography: Robert Burks
Editing by Alma Macrorie
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date October 3, 1955
Running time 99 min
Country United States
Language English

Alfred Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry is a departure from Hitch’s usual suspense genre. Instead it is a very funny black comedy involving a dead body that just can’t stay buried. I know that this makes it sound a little bit like Weekend At Bernie’s but trust me, The Trouble With Harry is a much more clever film.

There are lots of clever and funny dialogue spread throughout the film, much of it very risqué for 1955 when the film was released. The cast is very likeable, especially like Edmund Gwenn’s as Captain Wiles and Shirley MacLaine (in her movie debut) as Jennifer.

The plot revolves around Harry, whose dead body is found by Captain Wiles who assumes that he had accidentally shot the poor unfortunate fellow. In fact three of the main characters in the films also believe that they are responsible for Harry’s untimely demise until… well if I told you about how Harry really died it would wreck the film for you!

The musical score by Bernard Herrmann is also very good and John Forsythe sings a song written by Raymond Scott, who was best known for composing Powerhouse, which was featured in many Warner Bros. cartoons.

The film was not a big financial success for Hitchcock when released in America but was extremely popular in Britain, Italy and France. After its initial release it remained locked away for thirty years, until it was released onto video in the 1980s. It is perhaps for this reason it is not as widely known as Hitch’s other films of this period such as Vertigo, Rear Window and North By Northwest.

Les Vacances de M. Hulot

Directed by Jacques Tati
Produced by Fred Orain
Written by Jacques Tati & Henri Marquet
Starring Jacques Tati
Nathalie Pascaud
Micheline Rolla
Release date(s) France February 25, 1953
USA June 16, 1954
Running time 114 min.
Language French

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday is a 1953 French comedy starring and directed by Jacques Tati. It also introduced the world to Tati’s comic character Monsieur Hulot.
Tati is hailed as a comic genius but I didn’t find this film to be laugh out loud funny. It was quite cute and there was one scene that I did laugh really hard at, but overall it was more amusing that hilarious. That is not to say that I don’t recommend the film, as Tati’s pantomime is very graceful and is quite funny and everything is very well timed but I guess that this is a film that hasn’t aged as well as some, and I would have found it funnier on first release in the 1950s.

Part of the problem I guess is that there is very little plot involved in the film. It seems that random things just happen for whatever reason. Also, as the film is a satire of post-war French society, it is something that is less relatable to a 2010s audience.

Still I do recommend this film if only for Tati’s performance as Hulot. To my eye, and I could be wrong, Tati looks as though he served as the inspiration in part to Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau and Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean.

The Gold Rush

gold3Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Produced by Charlie Chaplin
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Charlie Chaplin
Georgia Hale
Mack Swain
Tom Murray
Henry Bergman
Malcolm Waite
Music by Charlie Chaplin,
Carli Elinor, Max Terr &
James L. Fields
Cinematography Roland Totheroh
Editing by Charlie Chaplin
Distributed by United Artists
Release date June 26, 1925
Running time Taken at 24 frame/s: Original cut 96 min.
Cut version 82 min.1942 reissue 82 min.
Country United States
Language English

Today I decided to watch Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush, which is perhaps his most referenced film that features some of his (and cinemas) most well-known scenes. Whilst the film has undoubtedly dated quite a bit since it was first released in 1925, it still contains many giggles for the viewer. This is of course the film that features the famed scenes of Chaplin eating the old boot, the dancing bread rolls (which was parodied by Grandpa Simpson) and the cabin balancing perilously on the edge of a cliff while the tramp and Big Jim try to scramble out before it topples over.

I found this film to be quite amusing and interesting, but there weren’t as many ‘laugh out loud’ moments as I had when I watched The Circus, which was released three years after The Gold Rush. Perhaps the reason for that was because even though I had never seen the Gold Rush, I had seen all the above mentioned famous scenes and had some familiarity with the film. (Much like Keaton’s Steamboat Bill Jr.) I felt I knew the film before I had even seen it. The film did not have the sentimentality or warmth of 1931s City Lights either.

All this is not to say that The Gold Rush The Gold Rushis a bad film, it is actually very good, as it keeps the viewer’s interest right through to the end. The version I saw was the 1942 re-release with Chaplin’s added music and narration, which made me wonder how the film could have functioned at all as a silent movie. I found that the narration enhanced my enjoyment of the film greatly, as Chaplin seemed to have a poetic way with words, however I would not like to see this sort of thing added to all silent films.


Approx. run time 74 min. TV Version
89 min. Theatrical Version
Written by Richard Matheson
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Produced by George Eckstein
Starring Dennis Weaver
Carey Loftin
Music by Billy Goldenberg
Country United States
Language English
Original channel ABC
Release date November 13, 1971

Duel was a 1971 television movie that provided Steven Spielberg with his big break in the movie business. It was released theatrically outside of the US in 1972. Until this time Spielberg was an unknown TV director whose most important work up until that time was the as yet unscreened debut of Colombo.

Duel was perhaps a sign of what was to come with Spielberg’s body of work, as its influence can be seen in other film such as Jaws and Jurassic Park. The film feels very much like a Hitchcock style thriller, with the film’s hero, David Mann being pursued by a huge 1855 Peterbilt tanker. The unseen driver plays a cat and mouse game with Mann, trying to push the car off the road with the massive truck.

It is very difficult to believe that this is a made for TV movie and was not planned to have a theatrical release. It is even more astonishing to think that a film of this quality was shot in just 13 days with only a further 10 days needed to edit it, so that it could make it’s November 13 air date. It feels like a big screen movie and you can see that Spielberg has put a lot of thought and effort into the film. Weaver is great as the nervous David Mann, and we can clearly see his anxiety and paranoia as the giant truck bears down on him. However it is that 1955 Peterbilt that is the film’s star. The ugly old truck is menacing every time that it is on screen, while the fact that we never get to see its driver just adds to the fear factor.

This is a wonderful film by Spielberg that I really recommend.

Back to the Future

Back to the FutureDirected by Robert Zemeckis
Produced by Neil Canton & Bob Gale
Executive producers: Steven Spielberg, Kathleen Kennedy & Frank Marshall
Written by Bob Gale & Robert Zemeckis
Starring Michael J. Fox
Christopher Lloyd
Lea Thompson
Crispin Glover
Thomas F. Wilson
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography Dean Cundey
Editing by Harry Keramidas & Arthur Schmidt
Studio Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment/U-Drive Productions
Distributed by United States: Universal Pictures
Foreign: United International Pictures
Release date July 3, 1985
Running time 116 minutes
Country United States
Language English

I remember when Robert Zemeckis used to make good movies featuring real people, not the CGI, motion capture rubbish he now does with films like Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. (What’s the use of having an animated character voiced by Tom Hanks/Jim Carrey/Bob Hoskins that looks exactly like Tom Hanks/Jim Carrey/Bob Hoskins? Why not just make a live action film?)  Before he ever dreamed of taking a trip into that uncanny valley he made Back To the Future, a film that I remember watching in the cinema with my friends back in the mid-80s. Perhaps Zemeckis should have another look at this film before he directs his next movie just so he can see that a film needs more than technology and special effects to be entertaining. An engaging star and funny storyline that keeps a viewers interest are much more important than any amount of computer trickery. While Back To The Future does have some great effects for 1985 the reason why the film was so successful was due more to the likeable Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, and Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown.

This film did bring back some happy childhood memories of hanging out with the gang at Chadstone, eating popcorn and drinking Coke and just having fun. Huey Lewis’ great soundtrack just helped make those memories even brighter. This is a great film to watch and remember all that stuff. I enjoyed Back To The Future a lot when I revisted it, so it is such a shame that Zemeckis has deteriorated so much with his artistic vision.

* I don’t want to make this post a tirade against Robert Zemeckis but he is really annoying me at the moment. Watching something like Back To The Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Cast Away and even Forrest Gump make me remember that he was once a very good director, but you would not know that if you watched his latest projects. I make no bones about my dislike of motion capture technology. Zemeckis’ last three films have all been made utilising this technology and in my opinion they have all stunk. Worse still is that he is currently remaking Yellow Submarine using motion capture which I think will be as horrible as it sounds. The problem I find with this technology is that the director wants to create a faux world containing animated characters that look almost as real as possible, but if you look deeply enough at these characters you can see that they have no soul. It is also for this uncanny reason why I have not descended into the valley to watched James Cameron’s Avatar. Then again when Zemeckis has overused special effects and technology in films the results has mostly been horrible. Death Becomes Her was a terrible film and while I enjoyed Forrest Gump it by no means really deserved the accolades or awards that it received.

The Quiet Man

Directed by John Ford
Produced by Merian C. Cooper
Written by Maurice Walsh, Frank S. Nugent & Richard Llewellyn
Starring John Wayne
Maureen O’Hara
Barry Fitzgerald
Ward Bond
Victor McLaglen
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography Winton C. Hoch & Archie Stout
Editing by Jack Murray
Distributed by Republic Pictures
Release date 21 July 1952 (UK)
August (Venice Film Fest.)
14 August (US)
Running time 129 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Quiet Man is an interesting film that I watched this afternoon. I know that you probably think that it is inappropriate to watch a film about Ireland on Australia Day, yet there is some reference to Australia, which I will get to later. As an aside if you ever wondered where The Simpsons and Family Guy ever got those stereotypes about the Irish being violent drunks, it is this film!!! Then again I wish that modern romantic movies featured John Wayne, a country full of drunks and a huge brawl to top it all off. This film, expertly directed by John Ford, paints the Irish as a race of foul tempered drunks who have some weird moral code that involves beating the crap out of someone and then befriending them.

John Wayne stars in this film as the Irish American Sean Thornton, who has returned to the motherland to return to his ancestral home. Wayne of course only ever played the same character throughout his career, so if you have seen John Wayne once you know what to expect. Here he falls in love with Maureen O’ Hara, who plays the flame haired and foul tempered Mary Kate Daniher. Theirs is a pretty conventional romance; they meet, fall in love, she tries to punch his lights out, they marry, he tries to leave him, he abducts her, she tries to punch his lights out again, she dumps him because she won’t punch her brother’s lights out, he abducts her again, then he beats the crap out of her brother. In the end everyone gets drunk and are happy.
The film is literally filled with lots of drinking and fighting. There are a couple of references to Australia in the film. Thornton’s grandfather was supposedly transported to Australia as a convict where he died, while the traditional Australian bush ballad Wild Colonial Boy is sung a number of time, albeit with the name of the protagonist changed from Jack Doolan to Jack Dugan.
This is a very long film and while I did enjoy it I must say that a couple of times throughout I lost my concentration because Priscilla insisted on interrupting me. Grrrr! The colour of the film looks lovely as is the green lush landscape of Ireland, which we see throughout the film.

The film was nominated for a number of Academy Awards in 1953 including best picture. John Ford also won an Oscar for best director, while Victor McLaglen won one for best supporting actor as Mary Kate’s bully brother Will.

City Lights

Directed by Charlie Chaplin
Produced by Charlie Chaplin (uncredited)
Written by Charlie Chaplin
Starring Charlie Chaplin
Virginia Cherrill
Florence Lee
Harry Myers
Music by Charles Chaplin
Cinematography Rollie Totheroh, Gordon Pollock & Mark Marklatt (uncredited)
Editing by Charlie Chaplin (uncredited)
Distributed by United Artists
Release date January 30, 1931 (US)
Running time 87 minutes
Country United States
Language English (original title cards)

By 1931 everyone in the movie industry had given up on making silent films and were now making talkies. Everyone that is except for Charlie Chaplin. Sound came to film in 1927 with Al Jolson‘s The Jazz Singer, but Chaplin continued to shun talkies until 1940 when he made The Great Dictator. In that intervening 13 years he made three of the greatest comedies of all time. I have already watched The Circus, which I thought was very funny. Both of his 1930s films, City Lights and Modern Times are masterpieces.

City Lights is a romantic comedy from 1931. At times it seems to be more like a melodrama than a comedy, as it does feature a huge helping of Chaplin’s famed sentimentality, but at other times there is some great and very funny slapstick moments that can still make the viewer laugh out loud. The scenes with the Tramp‘s ‘friend’, the drunken millionaire whom Charlie saves from committing suicide are particularly funny as is the boxing match. W.C. Fields once said that he thought Chaplin was more a ballet dancer than a comedian, albeit the best ballet dancer he ever saw. This comedic ballet is on view here in the boxing match scene which seems very cartoonish. In fact it seems that both Walt Disney (Mickey’s Mechanical Man) and Chuck Jones (Rabbit Punch) both were influenced by this scene when they made their boxing cartoons as the influence are plain to see in these cartoons.

The main plot of the film revolves around the Tramp’s relationship with a blind girl who he is smitten with, and how he goes about raising money for her to have an operation which will restore her sight. This of course puts Charlie in a bind, the girl thinks that he is a well-to-do gentleman and if she regains her sight she will see him for who he really is. This leads to the finale of the film which features perhaps the greatest and most recognisable closing shot in all film history. It is here that we realise that love is blind to prejudice and poverty and that kindness and charity will win out in the end.

City Lights is a great film that I really recommend everyone to see at least once in their lifetime. It is beautiful and shows that sometimes talking is unneccessary when it comes to telling a great, funny story.


Directed by Alfred Hitchcock
Produced by Michael Balcon
Written by Joseph Conrad (novel The Secret Agent)
Charles Bennett (screenplay)
Starring Sylvia Sidney
Oskar Homolka
John Loder
Cinematography Bernard Knowles
Distributed by General Film Distributors (GFD) Ltd.
Release date December, 1936
Running time 76 min.
Country United Kingdom
Language English

Sabotage is a 1936 film by master director Alfred Hitchcock. This movie, made in Britain four years before Hitch went to Hollywood, is quite eerie when watched from a modern perspective, thanks to its ending which sort of prophesied real life events some seventy years later. This film is a part of Force Entertainment’s Hitchcock Collection Volume 2, which can be picked up for around $20 from JB Hifi and KMart, although occasionally they have it discounted to just $10 in some stores.

The films starts quite slowly and mysteriously, as Hitchcock lets us in on the suspicious activities of cinema owner Mr Verloc, his wife and her brother. It seems that Mr Verloc may be a saboteur who was somehow involved in London’s recent blackout, but nobody knows for sure. Mrs Verloc is not wise to her husbands’ activities, although Scotland Yard detective Ted Spencer has the Verlocs and their cinema under observation and suspects that the Verloc’s could be terrorists working for a foreign power (the Nazis).
About half way through the film takes a twist, when Verloc’s co-conspirator tells him that he is unhappy with the only act of sabotage being the blackout and wants things to be more destructive. He instructs Verloc to go to collect a bomb to plant into the busy Piccadilly Circus tube station. Verloc protests that he doesn’t want to endanger any human lives, although it seems that he really doesn’t have a choice in the matter. He either does it or he will be killed. His hope to not hurt human lives seems almost noble here, even though Hitchcock does continue to portray him as the evil foreigner who cannot be trusted throughout the film, however it later seems that this humanity that Verloc has is simply a façade as he commits one very evil act that many will judge the entire film by.

The final part of the film is the most disconcerting and is what caused Leonard Maltin to dub this as the film in which Hitchcock took things much too far. Years later even Hitchcock said he was disappointed with the way things ended, as he realised that he built up the suspense for the viewer but did not give them time to catch their breath. Verloc instruct his wife’s teenage brother Stevie to deliver the bomb to its final destination, due to his discovery that Spencer has him under observation. Verloc does not tell Stevie what he is delivering, and Stevie just assumes that it is a film, which back in the 30s was very unstable anyway. All Stevie knows is that the package must be left in the cloak room at Piccadilly by 1.30pm. Unfortunately for Stevie he is delayed along the way and the bomb explodes while he is on a bus on route to the destination. What happens seems eerily similar to what occurred in London in 2005. Mrs Verloc finds out and ends up killing her husband whilst Disney’s Who Killed Cock Robin is playing in the cinema. Spencer discovers this but declares his love for Mrs Spencer and determines that they should run away, although Mrs Verloc wants to confess.

The bomb maker’s wife finds out that her husband’s bomb blew up the bus and that it may be traced back to him. He is instructed to go to Verloc’s to retrieve the evidence. When he gets there he finds that the police want to arrest him. He also discovers Verloc’s dead body and decides to blow himself up, making it impossible to know that Verloc was dead before the bomb went off. Hopefully Mrs Verloc and Ted lived together happily ever after.

The film is quite slow in parts and the ending is a little off putting, but I do think that this film is quite enjoyable.

Way Out West

Directed by James W. Horne
Produced by Stan Laurel & Hal Roach
Written by Jack Jevne, Charley Rogers, Felix Adler & James Parrott
Starring Stan Laurel
Oliver Hardy
James Finlayson
Rosina Lawrence
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date April 16, 1937 (U.S.)
Running time 65 minutes
Language English

Way Out West is an old-fashioned film, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Like many comedies made in the 1930s it has dated a lot, yet even compared to its contemporaries it feels old-fashioned.  Even though it was made in 1937 and is a talkie (only Chaplin was still making silent movies at this time) it feels almost like a silent film, probably because there are so many cut shots to either James Finlayson or Oliver Hardy doing a take and mugging for the camera. This of course was something that was common in the silent era but it is something that becameoutdated as the 30s wore on. You’d rarely see Groucho Marx mugging silently at the camera after some minor tragedy had been bestowed upon him. (If the camera ever cut to Groucho he’d make sure he had a quip.) I don’t mean this as a criticism, just as an observation.

Having said that Way Out West is enjoyable if only because the two main stars of the film. Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy are so likable and work so well together that you have to laugh at their antics. They were both veterans of the cinema at this time and had worked together for over a decade. Here their great chemistry is on show in the skits, while their song Ballad Of A Lonesome Pine is a treat. You still have this feeling that this is all very old-fashioned, but in a good way. There is also a great chemistry that the boys have with their co-star James Finlayson, although I did think he spent too much time mugging for the camera. The movie is kind of short, at only 65 minutes long, so it never overstays its welcome either and is a good introduction for anyone who wants to watch the films of Laurel & Hardy.