The Good, The Bad and The Critic

Established on March 19th, 2012 and pioneered by film fanatic Michael J. Carlisle. The Good, The Bad and The Critic will analyze classic and contemporary films from all corners of the globe. This title references Sergei Leone's influential spaghetti western The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Review #968: Cape Fear (1962)

Title: Cape Fear
Year: 1962
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Country: US
Language English

Cape Feare (1993) was the second episode of the fifth season of The Simpsons. In this episode Sideshow Bob (Kelsey Grammar) stalks down his arch nemesis Bart Simpson, only to end in the maniacal Gilbert & Sullivan lover singing the entire score of H.M.S Pinafore. It was a brilliantly written episode that exposed me to a Robert Mitchum classic (albeit the jokes were more suited to the Scorsese remake).

 Small-town lawyer Sam Bowden's (Gregory Peck) life becomes torturous when Max Cady (Robert Mitchum) re-enters his life. Cady went to jail for 8 years after Bowden testified that Cady attacked a young woman. Now that Cady has been released, he begins to terrorize Bowden and his family.

The making of Cape Fear was put into motion by Gregory Peck, who also acted as producer through his motion picture company, Melville Productions. Based of author John D. MacDonald's short bit of pulp, Director J. Lee Thompson was excited about conveying the film’s sense of threat and carnal undertones. Director of Photography Samuel Leavitt elevated Cape Fear from thriller to noir with his careful attention to shadows and light.

A lightweight Director might have shot a mere horror film with this material, but the film goes beyond B-grade horror by doing an effective job of exploring the uneasy introspection of the its hero. Peck's character is a man who always does right by the law, but to defeat this evil in Cady he may have to compromise his morals. The law may not be able to help him this time. 

Cape Fear raises some rather interesting questions about the nature of the justice system and its ability to reform criminals, or even to keep criminals from committing further crime. My only complaint is that the picture feels about 30 minutes too long, but then again its length does help in creating the slimy character of Max Cady.

Review #967: Lola (1961)

Title: Lola
Year: 1961
Director: Jacques Demy
Country: France
Language: French

I bought The Essential Jacques Demy boxset from Criterion Collection a couple of years ago and since have been slowly going through each film with my wife. The other day we viewed Lola (1961) for the very first time and were impressed. It was Jacques Demy's first feature length film, appropriately dedicated to the great director Max Ophuls. It reminded me of the romance pictures of Old Hollywood. 

A bored young man (Marc Michel) meets with his former girlfriend Lola (Anouk Aimee), now a cabaret dancer and single mother, and soon finds himself falling back in love with her. 

Complete with graceful long takes and tracking shots (executed with ease by cinematographer Raoul Coutard) along with chance encounters and moments that seem to have the energy of a musical, Demy's picture clearly demonstrates his fascination with American cinema. Albeit through its complex themes and complicated reality, Lola proves to be much more than the typical Hollywood convention. 

The film is structured around a complex series of unrequited loves and longings. Roland wants his first love Lola, but she wants her first love Michel. The widow Mrs. Desnoyers (Elina Labourdette) wants Roland, while her young daughter finds fascination with a sailor. Demy's film emphasizes the importance of "first love",  highlighting both the wondrous nature of it and the tragedy that occurs when first loves are mismatched. 

Demy creates a rather interesting France that is filled to the brim with exciting yet troubled characters who have been through great loss and even greater love. Lola is whimsical and playful, yet also quite serious. Even the "good" ending shows some darker undertones.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review #966: GoldenEye (1995)

Title: Goldeneye
Year: 1995
Director: Martin Campbell
Country: UK
Language: English

GoldenEye (1995) is the seventeenth spy film in the James Bond series, and the first to star Pierce Brosnan. It is also the first in the series not to take elements from Ian Fleming's original source novels. Upon release it recieved fairly positive views and did very well at the box office, becoming the most financially successful of the series since Moonraker (1979).

James Bond (Pierce Brosnan) teams up with the lone survivor of a destroyed Russian research center to stop the hijacking of a nuclear space weapon by a fellow agent formerly believed to be dead. 

As a child I had played the Nintendo 64 version of Goldeneye obsessively. My brother and I would play multiplayer for hours on the weekend, obliterating each other with proximity mines and rocket launchers. Strangely, I hadn't seen the film until a few years ago. It's a film that feels very different from every other Bond picture even though it has many of the same trademarks (fast pace, loose women, intense action). The writing, and thus character development, is quite sophisticated for this series.

I quite liked the villain Trevelyan (Sean Bean), the bond girl Natalya (Izabella Scorupco) and the femme fatale Xenia Onatopp (Famke Janssen) I felt Pierce Brosnan was a great James Bond, perhaps better than Roger Moore. The cinematography, editing and score all fit the picture's consistent tone and pace. 

Though there are better Bond flicks, like From Russia with Love & Goldfinger, I would certainly say that this belongs up with the Bond elite. It's a fine picture that unfortunately may seem a bit dated because of how many current action films copied its plot points. Some of the action seems bewildering, but that is par for the course with Mr.Bond. 


Review #965: Octopussy (1983)

Title: Octopussy
Year: 1983
Director: John Glen
Country: UK
Language: English

The thirteenth entry in Ian Fleming's James Bond series, Octopussy was originally a short story in Fleming's 1966 short story collection Octopussy and the Living Daylights. Despite having the title retained, hardly any of the plot exists in this loose film adaptation. Upon release it received mix reviews from critics, but did pretty well at the box office. 

A fake FabergĂ© egg and a fellow agent's death leads James Bond (Roger Moore)  to uncover an international jewel-smuggling operation, headed by the mysterious Octopussy (Maude Adams), being used to disguise a nuclear attack on N.A.T.O. forces. 

I must admit that I viewed this picture based on the strange name alone. Octopussy has an odd tone to it; trying to be both tongue-in-cheek camp like Moonraker and a serious drama like From Russia with Love. It does both adequately, but sometimes the shift is so stark in contrast that it takes you out of the beautiful Indian setting, gorgeously shot by cinematographer Alan Hume. 

I am most impressed by the villain Octopussy (Maude Adams). Though she is less impressive than other Bond villains, it is refreshing to see such a powerful female character onscreen. Too often have our Bond girls been blonde ditz whose only asset is their cleavage. Octopussy is intellectually at match with Bond AND she has the looks to back it up.

Overall this is a finely made film that has a passable script. It will certainly remind older folk of their childhood adventure serials from television's past. I would certainly put it in my top ten of the James Bond franchise. 


Review #964: Moonraker (1979)

Title: Moonraker
Year: 1979
Director: Lewis Gilbert
Country: UK

Language: English

Moonraker is the eleventh picture in Ian Fleming's James Bond series, which started in 1963 with the classy Dr.No. If it looks as though it cost an unconscionable amount of money to make, that's because it did. This film cost more than the first six Bond pictures combined. Thankfully it did well in the box office, becoming the highest grossing in this series up until Goldeneye (1995) 

James Bond (Roger Moore) investigates the mid-air theft of a space shuttle and discovers a plot to commit global genocide. 

Roger Moore is not my favourite Bond actor, this would be Sean Connery, but I must admit Moore plays a damn fine Bond in Moonraker, a film so over the top that it could be easily described as a sci-fi camp. In riding the coattails of George Lucas' Star Wars the picture managed to hit the sci-fi craze at the right time and successfully integrated our hero into space as a grandiose form of entertainment. 

Though much of the sequences feel dated compared to the standards of 2017, I must admit that the smooth editing and gorgeous cinematography help Bond glide smoothly from one action sequence to the next. Though the script has a lot to be desired, Moonraker has a lot of what makes the Bond movies great; the villain is memorable, the blonde is beautiful, the comedic moments are funny, and the tense moments are plentiful.

As pure entertainment, Bond rarely gets more fun. If I were to introduce Bond to a friend then I would certainly start with Moonraker. A strange mix of multiple genres, I'd have to say that this is a "must see" despite its flaws and poor reputation among critics. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Review #963: Dr. No (1962)

Title: Dr. No
Year: 1962
Director: Terence Young

Country: UK
Language: English

Ian Fleming created the character James Bond in 1952, featuring him in twelve novels. The character was later adapted for radio, comic strips, video games and, most notably, film. The series is the longest running of all time, grossing over 7 billion since the first film Dr.No hit theatres in 1962. As of 2017 there have been twenty-four Bond pictures, the latest being Spectre in 2015. 

In this film Bond (Sean Connery) seeks answers in a case involving the disappearance of a colleague and the disruption of the American space program. 

The plot of Dr.No is very familiar, as it becomes the formula for a Bond film. 007 uncovers a scheme, meets a femme fatale, nearly gets killed by the baddie, meets another hot blonde etc. It's not essential to start with the "first" of the Bond series as they rarely follow continuity. Dr.No isn't even the first  of Ian Fleming's bond novels, as that would be Casino Royale.  

Filmed on a low budget, I'm quite surprised at what Director Terence Young was able to accomplish. The cinematography is quite breathtaking, as the picture was filmed on location in Jamaica. The editing is lean and quick, like Bond himself. The main actor, Sean Connery, embodies the suave and seductive 007. Ursula Andress is glorious in her bikini. The villain himself, played by Joseph Wiseman, is unfortunately unmemorable. 

Dr.No is a decent start to this long franchise, but it does fail in comparison to the true masterpieces that would later be produced. Even the campy 90's Pierce Brosnan films (Goldeneye) are more entertaining. I'd only recommend if you're a Bond completionist. 

Review #962: The Killing Fields (1984)

Title: The Killing Fields
Year: 1984
Director: Roland Joffe
Country: UK
Language: English

Imagine your country is going through a civil war; a genocidal cleansing of "undesirable" individuals & intellectuals who know far too much about the past. Imagine your nation's children being raised to unquestioningly serve a totalitarian dictator who demands we believe that you exist in the year 0. Imagine having to do mindless physical labour for no pay and very little food. This is what life was like for Dith Pran, a former doctor turned journalist, in Cambodia. 

The Killing Fields is primarily about a journalist (Haing S. Ngor) who is trapped in Cambodia during tyrant Pol Pot's bloody "Year Zero" cleansing campaign, which claimed the lives of two million "undesirable" civilians. 

The film is based upon a remarkable memoir, The Death and Life of Dith Pran, by Times Metroplitan editor and Times Cambodia correspondent Sydney Schanberg, who would win the Pulitzer Prize in 1976. Part of the film is about Schanberg's (Sam Waterson) struggle to keep his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran from the horrors of the Khmer Rouge while the other part is about Schanberg's failure and Pran's struggle in Year Zero. Pran's experience is the much more enticing part of the film, as it shows exactly what horrific things had happened to the individual under Pol Pot's regime.

The actor who plays Pran, Haing S. Ngor, is a remarkable actor considering this is his first film. One startling reason for his great acting may be that the man had actually experienced the same genocide that the film is about! Many times the actor had to leave the set due to his ptsd kicking in. The cinematography can be breathtaking and haunting depending on the scene. Some scenes are quite graphic, but that is par for the course in a film about genocide. 

Ultimately this is a tale about survival, friendship and guilt. A faithful honest adaptation of Schanberg's work, The Killing Fields is a picture that will leave viewers in deep thought long after the run-time is over. I found myself deeply impressed. 

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Review #961: Silence (2016)

Title: Silence
Year: 2016
Director: Martin Scorsese
Country: US/Taiwan
Language: English/Japanese

Silence marks the third entry into Martin Scorsese's spiritual trilogy, the others being the masterpiece Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and the somewhat forgotten Kundun (1997). It was a passion project that Scorsese had in development for decades, but had to put it off for more commercial projects as nobody wanted to fund his intense vision. Made without artistic compromise or commercial intent (this film did fairly poorly at the box office as a result) the film proves to be utterly remarkable. 

Silence is the story of two Catholic missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) - at a time when Catholicism was outlawed and their presence forbidden.

An adaptation of Japanese author Shusaku Endo’s 1966 novel of the same name, Silence evokes themes of Swedish Director Ingmar Bergman as the characters struggle with the fact that God remains mute during their plight and suffering. The picture is deliberately paced, mediating on Catholic themes and religious questioning. It is in stark contrast to Scorsese's last picture Wolf of Wall Street. 

Much of the setting evokes Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Clouds of mist and fog often shroud the landscape. Cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto in a rare rural Taiwan shoot, sprawls across the landscape in long, pensive takes. Each shot is elegant, even when many scenes are absolutely brutal. The editor refrains, making as few cuts as he possibly can, likely to help the audience immerse themselves in this seventeenth century Japan.

Few modern films are as poetic and meaningful as Silence. Few evoke themes of past masters, such as Akira Kurosawa and Robert Bresson. Scorsese's religious film is a treat that will captivate all who seek it, even those with no religion. It's a damn fine picture that ought to be considered a classic in a few decades. 

Review #960: Frankenstein (1910)

Title: Frankenstein
Year: 1910
Director: J. Searle Dawley
Country: US
Language: N/A

A sad note about these early silent adaptations of masterful novels is that they are almost always overshadowed by a far greater picture several decades later. Wizard of Oz was adapted twice before Judy Garland's memorable masterpiece, The Ten Commandments would become a Charles Heston epic in the 50's and Nosferatu would be reworked as Dracula for Universal in 1931. This Frankenstein was also a victim of superior adaptation. 

Frankenstein, a young student, is seen bidding his sweetheart and father goodbye, as he is leaving home to enter a college in order to study the sciences. Shortly after his arrival at college he becomes absorbed in the mysteries of life and death to the extent of forgetting practically everything else. His great ambition is to create a human being, and finally one night his dream is realized. 

Directed by J. Searle Dawley, this was the first adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic. Dawley shot the film in just three days at the Edison studios. The original Frankenstein film has no castle, lightning storm or shrieks of ‘It’s alive!”. No stitches, green skin, or bolts in the neck. Its Monster is a lumpen hulk, wild haired and sneering; conjured in a cauldron of boiling chemicals. It's a short film that bears all the limitations of that era, yet appears to be more than mere novelty. 

The monster might not literally exist, as the movie tells us Instead of a perfect human being, the evil in Frankenstein’s mind creates a monster. It speaks plainly of the catastrophes that result from bad intentions, as the scientist is a rich and arrogant prick. Both the book and the 1931 version speak plainly that the character is separate from the scientist, but this picture has a remarkable dose of subtlety.

For many years it was believed to be a lost film. In the 1960's it was discovered and made available for home video release. This version of Frankenstein emphasizes less on "horror" and more on the psyche, and should be commended for having such forethought.  


Review #959: The Epic of Everest (1924)

Title: The Epic of Everest
Year: 1924
Director: J.B.L Noel
Country: UK
Language: N/A

Mount Everest is the world's tallest mountain reaching a peak of 29,000 ft above sea level. It is in the Mahalangur Range, running across the border between China and Nepal. Due to its sheer enormity in size, every year climbers attempt to reach the top of the mountain.  As a result there are over 200 corpses scattered about, some of which serve as landmarks. What kind of person would dare climb it? Well, what kind of man would dare FILM the journey (in 1924 no less)  as well?

This is the official record of Mallory and Irvine's 1924 expedition. When George Mallory and Sandy Irvine attempted to reach the summit of Everest in 1924 they came closer than any previous attempt.

Attempting to detail a mountain ascent is no easy feat even in 2016, doing it with the primitive cameras and equipment of the late silent era must have been a near impossible accomplishment. through a tremendous mixture of planning and will, endurance and scientific experimentation, they produced the footage that would become this film. Director J.B.L. Noel  was told many times that he was an absolute fool to try, but he went forward anyways. 

Bulky cameras were hauled up sheets of ice, in thinning air, used to photograph one vista after the next. It is largely a collection of long- and medium-shots of the mountain itself as the men actually hiking the difficult terrain are often seen as small black dots. Shots seem to last forever, as we observe the ant-like procession of climbers, who's progress is perfectly captured to the point of tedium. Much more editing would have been greatly appreciated, but I suppose the point of the film was to capture the climb in its entirety. 

 It's a bit difficult to fairly review this picture. The very fact that the film was made at all shows how brave the Director and his crew were, they should be commended for even getting 10 minutes of footage let alone a run-time of 1hr 27 min! It is a beautiful, mesmerizing doc that deserves to be preserved throughout the rest of time.