Monthly Archives: May 2010

Around the World in 80 Days

Directed by Michael Anderson
Produced by Kevin McClory, William Cameron Menzies & Michael Todd
Written by: Novel: Jules Verne
Screenplay: James Poe, John Farrow & S.J. Perelman
Starring
David Niven
Mario Moreno “Cantinflas”
Robert Newton
Shirley MacLaine
Music by Victor Young
Cinematography Lionel Lindon
Editing by Howard Epstein, Gene Ruggiero & Paul Weatherwax
Distributed by 1956 – 1976: United Artists
1983 – present: Warner Brothers
Release date October 17, 1956
Running time 183 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Around The World In 80 Days is a film that I loved to watch as a kid, despite its very lengthy running time. Watching the film today it doesn’t really hold up as being so special, but it is a fine film nonetheless.

The film follows Jules Verne’s novel with the exception of the scenes in the balloon and the bullfight in Spain, which I gather were done just to give the  fans of the Mexican Cantinflas, who plays Passepartout, something to cheer about. I am not so sure about the choice of Cantinflas to play the ‘worthy fellow’. Verne’s Passepartout is a Parisian, not latino, and unlike the way he is portrayed in the film he is not a skirt chasing comic relief.

I wonder if this could be the reason why I did not enjoy the film this time around. I have recently read and enjoyed the novel and found the film adaptation to be lacking in detail and quite watered down. The film seems to go from one scene to the next without any growth for the characters (Shirley MacLaine’s Aouda is just there and unlike her namesake in the novel adds very little to the plot).  There is really colourful and spectacular scenery and lots of cameos but ultimately while the film is fun, it feels a little empty. It feels very rushed compared to the novel and some vital plotpoints are left out or tweaked. Despite the film being 3 hours long it feels much shorter although some scenes are a little pointless and seemed just designed to show off the special guest star who is playing a cameo rather than furthering the plot. Perhaps if the film spent more time on the plot and of developing the major characters and less on trying to tell the world that a certain guest star is appearing in a particular scene I would have enjoyed the film a little more.


Murder by Death

Directed by Robert Moore
Produced by Ray Stark
Written by Neil Simon
Starring Eileen Brennan
Truman Capote
James Coco
Peter Falk
Alec Guinness
Elsa Lanchester
David Niven
Peter Sellers
Maggie Smith
Nancy Walker
Estelle Winwood
James Cromwell
Richard Narita
Music by Dave Grusin
Cinematography David M. Walsh
Editing by Margaret Booth & John F. Burnett
Distributed by Columbia
Release date 23 June 1976
Running time 94 minutes
Country United States

Neil Simon’s Murder By Death is a spoof of all those mystery films (and novels) of the 1930s, 40s and 50s. At the time of its release Agatha Christie’s stories were undergoing a revival on the big screen as Murder On The Orient Express (1974) was released at around this time.

Murder By Death has a star-studded cast, with Truman Capote (the writer of Breakfast At Tiffany’s) hosts a murder in which he has invited the world’s greatest detectives, among them Inspector Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) who is based on Charlie Chan. Whilst many may consider it to be politicall incorrect for Sellers to be playing a Chinese detective I find it to be OK, as he is parodying the Charlie Chan films from the 30s & 40s in which Warner Oland and Sidney Toler went yellow face to play the Oriental detective.

Also in the cast is David Niven and Maggie Smith whose characters are based on the society detectives from the Thin Man series of movies. James Coco’s Perrier is a spoof of Poirot, Elsa Lanchester’s Miss Marbles is of course based on Miss Marple, while Peter Falk’s Sam Diamond is based on Sam Spade from The Maltese Falcon, as portrayed by Humphrey Bogart.

There are a lot of quick fire jokes and if you are a fan of detective films you will love this. Not all the jokes hit the mark but most of them are quite funny.


The Time Machine

Directed by George Pál
Produced by George Pál
Written by David Duncan
H. G. Wells (novel)
Starring
Rod Taylor
Alan Young
Yvette Mimieux
Sebastian Cabot
Whit Bissell
Music by Russell Garcia
Editing by George Tomasini
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date 17 August 1960
Running time 103 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

The Time Machine is a sci-fi film made in 1960 by George Pal and stars Robert Taylor. It roughly follows the plot of H.G. Wells’ novel from the late 19th century in which an inventor creates a time machine and goes into the future to discover that mankind has torn itself apart through war. It does of course deviate away from the novel as it features scenes of World War I, World War II and the possibility of nuclear annihilation, things that Wells could not have possibly predicted.

When Taylor’s character H. George Wells goes into the future (1966 to be exact) and discovers that the world has been destroyed in a nuclear holocaust, he then decides to go thousands of years into the future to see i anything could have survived this destruction. He discovers that the human race has split into two species, the surface dwelling Eloi who are beautiful and seemingly carefree and ignorant, and the underground Morlocks, who are ugly and beastly and cruel. The Eloi have everything that they need provided to them by the Morlocks, who breed them like cattle only to cannibalise on them once they reach an age of maturity.

George ends up saving the Eloi and destroying the Morlocks and in doing so falls in love with the beautiful Eloi girl Weena. He then goes back to his own time where he relates his tale but is not believed by his friends. Because of this he returns to the future at the conclusion of the film.

The film is a typical 1960s type sci-fi film, of which their were hundreds. It is a very good fantsy film but the special effects are not all that special by 21st century standards. The use of stop motion animation and time-lapse photography is very quant when compared to today’s CGI but it was state of the art for its time. All in all the film is quite enjoyable as there has been a lot of thought put into the plot and the feelings of Taylor’s character. While the acting is a bit over the top, which was standard for 1950s and 60s sci-fi I still liked the movie.

By the way you may recognise Alan Young who plays Wells’ friend Filby. You may even recognise the Scottish accent he uses throughout the film. At around the same time that the Time Machine was released he was appearing in the first season of TV’s Mr. Ed as Wilbur Post. Since the 1980s he has lent his voice and Scottish accent to Uncle Scrooge McDuck for Disney.


Pollyanna

Directed by David Swift
Produced by Walt Disney (uncredited)
Associate Producer: George Golitzen
Written by Novel: Eleanor Porter
Screenplay: David Swift
Starring Hayley Mills
Jane Wyman
Karl Malden
Richard Egan
Adolphe Menjou
Agnes Moorehead
Music by Paul Smith
Cinematography Russell Harlan
Editing by Frank Gross
Distributed by Buena Vista
Distribution Release date May 19, 1960
Running time 134 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Pollyanna was released into cinemas 50 years ago last Monday. You would think that Disney would be making a big song and dance about this popular and well remembered film reaching the half century mark but it seems that the Walt Disney Company does not really value its past live action films. Heck, Disney doesn’t really value its animated classics either, and simply views them as a cash cow to be released on video or DVD every seven years. In fact it is pretty obvious that all Disney cares about these days is making horrendous live action teen comedies that can sell heaps of merchandise. I doubt that a film like Pollyanna would be made today as it would be difficult to fit in any fart jokes or sell merchandise with the sweet story.

One thing that I think needs to be said is that despite Disney’s reputation today as being just kids stuff, he could still get the biggest stars to appear in his films. Fine actors such as Jane Wyman and Karl Malden appear as do Agnes Moorehead and Ed Platt, who went on to play the Chief of Control in Get Smart but played supporting roles in a number of major films (including a brief part as Cary Grant‘s lawyer in Hitchcock’s North By Northwest). However the real star of the film is Hayley Mills, who played the little girl whose positive attitude brought a whole town together. She is really good in this film and went on to become a huge child star in the 1960s, mainly in other Disney films.

This is a very entertaining film, in the Disney tradition, it’s just a shame that Disney today doesn’t really care at all about it.


The Red Shoes

Directed by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Produced by Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
Written by Hans Christian Andersen
(original fairy tale)
Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger & Keith Winter
(add’l dialogue)
Starring Moira Shearer
Anton Walbrook
Marius Goring
Music by Brian Easdale
Cinematography Jack Cardiff
Editing by Reginald Mills
Distributed by Eagle-Lion Films
Release date September 6, 1948 (UK)
Running time 133 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English

In recent weeks Magna Pacific has released a series of DVDs containing the best of British films from the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Despite being wary of anything that contains the Magna Pacific label, due to past bad experiences with their dodgy products, I have decided to give this series of films a go because it seems that Magna Pacific has licenesed them from UK distributor Granada, who holds the rights for these films.

Watching The Red Shoes I can say that this film alone was more than worth the $10 I spent on the three DVD pack of Powell and Pressburger films (also included is The Importance of Being Ernest and Black Narcissus). The print used is quite nice and there are none of the other blemishes that I have found when I have had the misfortune to watch a Magna Pacific DVD, such as poor syncing of sound or faded picture. Sure the Criterion Collection version of the film would probably be slightly better print, but that costs three to four times as much as the Magna Pacific version, so it really isn’t worth it.

The film itself is mostly very good. It is a drama about the world of ballet and whilst the ballet does play an integral part of the film’s plot, the main theme of the film is about ambition and of course the messy love triangle that contributes to the messy conclusion to the picture.

The ballet dancing sequences are quite stunning, with lots of vibrant colours used to highlight the choreography that was put together by Australia’s own Robert Helpmann, who was a major ballet star in the 1940s. As I said the use of colours is stunning and it has been claimed that this is perhaps the film that uses the Technicolor process to its fullest extent.

The one sour note that the film left me with was the ending, where the ballet dancer, Vicky Page, has to choose between the love of her life, composer Julian Craster, and performing in the Red Shoes ballet. Even for a film made in 1948 it does seem odd that a woman would have to give up her career so that her husband can pursue his and that his ambition and ego are allowed to take precedence over hers. Even Julian’s rival for Vicky’s affection, Boris Lermotov, the producer of the ballet company calls Julian out on this point.

Still the film is quite good and the music is terrific. The dance sequence in the middle of the film is perhaps the best that has ever been put to film.


Iron Man

Directed by Jon Favreau
Produced by Avi Arad & Kevin Feige

Written by Mark Fergus, Hawk Ostby, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway & John August

Starring Robert Downey Jr.
Terrence Howard
Jeff Bridges
Gwyneth Paltrow

Music by Ramin Djawadi
Cinematography Matthew Libatique
Editing by Dan Lebental
Studio Marvel Studios
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date May 2, 2008
Running time 125 minutes
Country United States
Language English

I didn’t get around to seeing Iron Man when it came out in 2008. This wasn’t my fault though, as I remember that I really wanted to see. The only reason I didn’t go was because Priscilla didn’t want to go and see ‘another stupid superhero movie’. I could have gone to see it on my own, but where is the fun in that?!

Iron Man is more of an anti-hero than a true hero. In the comic books he is a heavy drinker whose indirect actions caused the death of Captain America. I don’t really think that he has a very memorable rogue’s gallery like Spider-man or the Fantastic Four but he has been the head of the heroic Avengers team during his career.

One thing that surprised me about the Iron Man film was just how little screen time Iron Man was given. Instead the film focussed on his alter-ego Tony Stark, who was only in his suit of armour for about ten to fifteen minutes. Still that is not to say that this is a bad move, as the origin story is perhaps more fascinating than just seeing two costumed characters beat the snot out of each other.

Robert Downey Jr. plays Tony Stark but he really doesn’t stretch his acting ability here. He basically is playing himself but that works in this case (whereas it didn’t in the awful Sherlock Holmes!). Gwyneth Paltrow plays Stark’s harried assistant Pepper Potts while Jeff Bridges plays the villain Stane.

Overall the film is pretty good. It is not as entertaining as the current DC Comics Batman franchise but it is the best of the Marvel Comics films to have been released so far, with the exception of the first Spider-man film.


Superman and the Mole Men

Directed by Lee Sholem
Produced by Barney A. Sarecky
Written by Richard Fielding
Starring George Reeves & Phyllis Coates
Music by Darrell Calker & Walter Greene
Cinematography Clark Ramsey
Editing by Albrecht Joseph
Distributed by Lippert Pictures Inc.
Release date(s) November 23, 1951
Running time 58 min.
Country United States
Language English

I love the old Superman TV show of the 1950s. I remember getting up early to watch this show, as well as the Three Stooges, The Thunderbirds and Rocky & Bullwinkle as a kid. The show still holds up pretty well today despite the dodgy special effects.

Superman Meets The Mole People was a theatrically released B movie and introduced George Reeves as Superman and Phyllis Coates as Lois Lane. It was later edited into two half hour episodes for the first season of the TV show.

The film is perhaps not as good as the TV show that followed it. Perhaps this is because it does not feature the familiar “Is it a bird…” introduction that the TV show has, or because we do not see Jimmy Olsen (Jack Larsen) and Perry White (John Hamilton). Maybe it’s because we don’t really see all that much of the ‘man of steel’, as like in the TV show Clark Kent has a bigger role than Superman. This is much more noticeable in a sixty minute feature film than it is in a half hour TV show episode.

This film itself deals with similar themes as the film The Day The Earth Stood Still, in that the small town of Silsby is whipped up into hysteria when some small mole human hybrid creatures are spotted. The townspeople (and Lois’) first reaction is that the mole people are horribly ugly and thus must be destroyed but as ever Superman provides a voice of reason. The mob leader Corrigan also does not seem all that bright, as he tries to shoot Superman on three separate occasions. You’d think that after seeing bullets ricochet off him the first time he would have given up trying.

The mole people themselves look really creepy. They look like bald-headed little people with John Howard-esque eyebrows. After one of them is shot by the townspeople they try to gain revenge by using their Electrolux vacuum cleaner/laser gun. This shows just how dodgy the special effects were, just like in the scene where Superman flies up to save one of the mole people who has been shot and is falling from the top of a dam that he is on for some inexplicable reason. The flying is ‘animated’ and looks really dodgy. Still I could point out all of the flaws of this low-budget B-grade film but that does not mean that it is not entertaining. The film is enjoyable if only for the previously mentioned dodginess and the warm performance of George Reeves as Clark Kent/Superman.


This Is Spinal Tap

Directed by Rob Reiner
Produced by Karen Murphy

Written by Christopher Guest
Michael McKean
Harry Shearer
Rob Reiner

Starring Rob Reiner
Michael McKean
Christopher Guest
Harry Shearer
Fran Drescher
Bruno Kirby

Music by Christopher Guest
Michael McKean
Harry Shearer
Rob Reiner

Cinematography Peter Smokler
Editing by Kent Beyda & Kim Secrist
Distributed by Embassy Pictures
Release date March 2, 1984
Running time 82 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Many people claim that This Is Spinal Tap is one of the funniest movies of all time and that it was the first ever mockumentary, yet in my mind it is one of the most overrated films ever made.

Even though Spinal Tap is at times a very funny movie it cannot live up to the hype that its’ fans give it. Perhaps it is a case of familiarity breeding contempt as over the years we have seen many of the best jokes over and over again and the more I hear them the less funny they are.

The thing that irks me about This Is Spinal Tap is how it is hailed as the first ‘mockumentary’ yet it was preceded by Neil Innes and Eric Idle’s The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash by five years. This would have been known to at least one of Spinal Tap’s creators, Harry Shearer, who was a cast mate on Saturday Night Live in 1979. The Rutles movie was partly financed by SNL’s producer Lorne Michaels and features cameos from SNL’s (then) cast members John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Gilda Radner, Al Franken and Bill Murray.

Still, This Is Spinal Tap does feature Squiggy as one of the band members, whilst Nanny Fran acts as the bands publicist. This is one of those movies which I guess everyone has to watch once, but if you watch it anymore than that it quickly wears out its welcome.


Rock ‘N’ Roll Movies You’ve Probably Never Seen

I am currently trying to write up a post on This Is Spinal Tap, which I watched the other day. This got me to thinking about the genre of Rock ‘N’ Roll movies and in particular those that for some reason or another you rarely get to see.

One movie that I have always been curious to see is The Beatles’ Let It Be, as this is a film that shows the greatest of all rock groups disintegrating on film. I’ve heard that the film isn’t that great but I have always been curious to see it. Unlike The Beatles’ other feature films, A Hard Days Night, Help! and Yellow Submarine and the TV special The Magical Mystery Tour, Let It Be has never been officially released on home video or DVD or screened on television. A DVD release was imminent a couple of years ago but this was vetoed by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr because it was thought that its release could tarnish The Beatles global image as well as reopening some old wounds. Apparently some bootlegs of the film are available but these are not official releases.

The Rolling StonesCocksucker Blues is a film that was made of their 1972 North American tour. It was going to be released to cinemas BUT as the finished film features lots of images of sex and drugs without the Rock ‘N’ Roll. There was no way that this film could ever be released and it can only be screened with director Robert Frank present. Naturally enough the censored version is available to view on Youtube.

Another Rolling Stones film that rarely is seen is the documentary Gimme Shelter, which focuses on their 1969 tour and the disastrous free concert at Altamont. This film captures the murder of Meredith Hunter by a member of the Hells’ Angels, who the Stones chose to be security, on film. Jagger has since said that he feared for his own life whilst performing that night as well.


The Nutty Professor

Directed by Jerry Lewis
Produced by Ernest D. Glucksman,  Arthur P. Schmidt & Jerry Lewis
Written by Robert Louis Stevenson (story)
Jerry Lewis & Bill Richmond (screenplay)
Starring Jerry Lewis
Stella Stevens
Del Moore
Kathleen Freeman
Music by Walter Scharf, Les Brown and His Band of Renown
Cinematography W. Wallace Kelley
Editing by John Woodcock
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date June 4, 1963
Running time 107 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Nutty Professor is Jerry Lewis’ masterpiece and undoubtedly his best known work. Many people think that the film and specifically the character of Buddy Love, is a stab at Dean Martin but Jerry has denied this vehemently. Instead he says that Buddy is a conglomeration of every nasty son of a bitch he’d ever met and that he loved Dino like a brother and would never do anything negative against him. Besides, Dean was a genuinely nice guy according to Jerry.

It is easy to forget just how brilliant that Jerry Lewis is. We take for granted the goofy, funny characters that he created as he made it all look so easy. He perhaps does not receive the acclaim that other screen comedians have received but he has always taken his comedy seriously. In fact this ambition to be a better comedian is the reason, partly, why he and Dean Martin broke up their successful partnership. Dino was happy just to turn up and for the two of them to do their thing whilst Jerry always wanted to do things better. Dean in fact apparently asked Jerry why he wanted to concentrate on that “Chaplin shit”, in that he thought that Jerry took his comedy a bit too seriously. That is not to say that Dean was not a professional, rather that he just wanted to turn up, do what was asked of him and then go home or to a party while Jerry wanted to be creative. This is the difference I suppose between an actor and a comedian.

One interesting scene is the transformation scene which takes its cues from the Frederic March version of Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde, although Jerry said that he was inspired by the Spencer Tracy version.

One of the things that I found striking about watching The Nutty Professor is the bright, vibrant colours that were used. There is quite a liberal use of purples, greens, reds and other colours that you don’t usually see in films. It showcases the Technicolor film process effectively and is one reason why I prefer films that have been made in Technicolor as opposed to the now standard Eastmancolor.

The Professor Kelp character that Lewis created for his film is iconic and has been imitated by The SimpsonsProfessor Frink. Unlike Eddie Murphy in the 1996 remake Jerry didn’t just put on a fat suit to play Kelp. Apparently Kelp is based on a real person that Jerry met one day. That this one character has become so memorable, like Sellers’ Clouseau or Chaplin’s Tramp, despite featuring in just one film, is a testament to Lewis’ work here. It may be a little dated now, but it is a fine piece of 60s film making.