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.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

From Here to Eternity (1953) Review

Title: From Here to Eternity
Year: 1953
Director: Fred Zinnemann
Country: US
Language: English

From Here to Eternity (1953) is perhaps the greatest film that was almost never made. This was due to both the explosive subject matter of the original novel and the time period wherein the studios bought the rights. The picture challenged army logic and at the time McCarthyism was still at its peak in America. The House of Un-American Activities Committee could have investigated Harry Cohn, president of Columbia Pictures, and blacklisted him from Hollywood. These were troubling times indeed. 

In Hawaii in 1941, a private is cruelly punished for not boxing on his unit's team, while his captain's wife and second-in-command are falling in love.

Despite rumors that Sinatra's involvement inspired the horse head scene from The Godfather (1972), in that if he didn't get the part he would have made the director "an offer he couldn't refuse", From Here to Eternity was a smashing commercial and critical success. It was nominated for 13 Oscars that year, winning Best Picture and Best Director. It was one of the highest grossing films of the fifties. 

The human drama in the midst of wartime procedures is remarkable, truly unique for the time. Very few World War II films refuse to focus on the actual battles and instead give us a glimpse on behind-the-scenes soldier life – training, routines, camaraderie, rivalries, off-duty misadventures and romances. Despite heavy sanitization by the Studios, this picture still proves to be thought-provoking, shocking and incredibly entertaining. 

The entire cast gives a great performance, but perhaps the most memorable is Montgomery Clift. He truly is absorbed into his character, which is helped by a terrific script and a director that truly knows how to keep the picture at a good pace. This is one of the best "Best Pictures" you'll ever come across and you owe it to yourself to watch From Here to Eternity immediately. 

Monday, December 11, 2017

My Fair Lady (1964) Review

Title: My Fair Lady
Year: 1964
Director: George Cuckor
Country: UK
Language: English

My Fair Lady
was adapted for the Silver Screen from the Lerner and Loewe stage musical, which was itself based upon the 1913 stage play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. It was director by George Cuckor, the screenplay was written by Alan Jay Lerner and the film starred Audrey Hepburn at the height of her career. It won eight Academy awards, most notably for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor. 

A misogynistic and snobbish phonetics professor (Rex Harrison)  agrees to a wager that he can take a flower girl (Audrey Hepburn) and make her presentable in high society.

Many people on the set of My Fair Lady presumed that Julie Andrews would be given the leading role, Disney even offered to halt the production of Mary Poppins to make a new schedule for Andrews, but producer Jack L. Warner had not even considered her. Even though Audrey Hepburn was his first interest she was told that her voice was not strong enough to carry the picture, so the majority of her singing (with the exception of a couple songs) was dubbed by Marni Nixon. This is unfortunate, as I feel musicals should only be cast with actors who can do their own singing and/or dancing. It may have also kept Hepburn from receiving her own Best Actress Oscar that year. 

My Fair Lady does an incredible job at integrating narration and music, as it moves the story quite smoothly. Even though the picture is 3 hours long, the songs, which include "I've Accustomed to Her Face" and "I Could Have Danced" manages to keep the audience entertained. They are incredibly helpful in establishing characters, contributing to the mood, adding exposition, and creating a powerful atmosphere of fantasy. Few movie musicals use the power of music this well. 

As it's based on a stage play, some camera blocking and shot compositions are fairly troublesome. The stark class division and treatment of the poor is treated a bit too lightly for my taste, but other than that those qualms there is very little negative to say about the picture. My Fair Lady is a bonifide classic that deserves to be regarded as one of the best musicals ever made. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Land That Time Forgot (1975) Review

Title: The Land That Time Forgot
Year: 1975
Director: Kevin Connor
Country: UK
Language: English
Based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, The Land That Time Forgot is foremost a prehistoric adventure, transplanting contemporary people into a primitive and dangerous domain. It's that generation's Jurassic Park, albeit this picture seems like it would have dated itself far quicker than Spielberg's 1993 venture. Certainly could have used the help of one Ray Harryhausen, who had made all his best features by 1975. 

During World War I, a German U-boat sinks a British ship and takes the survivors on board. After it takes a wrong turn, the submarine takes them to the unknown land of Caprona, where they find dinosaurs and neanderthals.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 returned to television, well, Netflix, in 2017 and the seventh episode of the first season just so happened to be The Land That Time Forgot. I had watched it previously at a family friend's house, they told me the movie would be "amazing", and I was not only disappointed but I was bored out of my mind. The main gimmick is the special effects; mainly the dinosaur segments, but even those are poorly constructed.

Kevin Connor uses rubber doll puppets enlarged by camera tricks to make the dinosaurs appear "larger than life" in order to entice his audience, but the effect doesn't work. The camera's many close-ups reveal the obvious fakery and we never feel like we are watching more than just toys. Douglas Gammey's score is jarring, but never suspenseful. The acting makes you really pity the actors involved. 

The film seems to have high reviews on IMDB, but I'll chalk that up to nostalgia. The film is so dated that even movies made 20 years before it have more sophisticated effects. Heck King Kong from 1933 looks better than this steaming pile of crap. Watch it only to see MST3K's commentary.

0 Stars

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) Review

Title: The 7th Voyage of Sinbad
Year: 1958
Director: Nathan Juran
Country: UK
Language: English

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is best known due to the extraordinary (at the time) animation by the legendary Ray Harryhausen. The process of animation, specifically made for the film, was coined "Dynamation" (dynamic animation). Producer Charles H. Schneer decided that he and Ray needed a gimmick to sell this technique, and distinguish the model animation technique from cartoon animation, which was not taken seriously at the time. The brand was a success due to its heavy promotional campaign. 

When a princess (Kathryn Grant) is shrunken by an evil wizard (Torin Thatcher), Sinbad (Kerwin Mathews) must undertake a quest to an island of monsters to cure her and prevent a war.

Ray Harryhausen is best known for his innovative stop-motion animation techniques, and this film is perhaps the best showcase of his talent. We witness a cobra-woman, a fire breathing dragon, a possessed skeleton warrior and- perhaps the most epic of monsters- a raging cyclops. With this picture Harryhausen reinvents the Monster movie and makes it accessible for entirely new generations. 

Much of the acting is subpar, but the little that is great is great where it counts. Kerwin Mathews proves an adequate hero with enough wit, charm and testosterone to grab our attention and keep it throughout the run-time. A rousing score by Bernard Hermann, complete with eye pleasing swashbuckling action scenes, proves to be a rather entertaining and memorable time. 

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad is an iconic drive-in film that is an easy recommendation due to its technical innovation, enduring charm, and top-notch entertainment value. I watched this film as a child & if I ever have a kid of my own I will certainly show this brilliant feature to them.

Kuroneko (1968) Review

Title: Kuroneko
Year: 1968
Director: Kaneto Shindo
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Kaneto Shindo is a Japanese Director best known in the West for his works The Naked Island (1960) and Onibaba (1964), both of which have been released on DVD by the Criterion Collection. He started his career as an art director in the 1930's, but would go on to make his own pictures in the 1950's. He is best known for socialist & erotic themes, but in Kuroneko's case he proves himself a master of horror. 

Two women (Kichiemon Nakamura & Nobuku Otowa) are raped and killed by samurai soldiers. Soon they reappear as vengeful ghosts who seduce and brutally murder the passing samurai.

Kaneto Shindo’s elegant nightmare of earthbound violence and otherworldly revenge wasn’t the first film to be rooted in Japanese folk stories about onryo, the vengeful spirits of those who were abused in life, but it is one of the most remarkable. Kuroneko is wonderfully poetic; haunting in its atmosphere and full of tense moments. As time passes, the ending of the picture becomes more difficult to predict and thus it's a film that will keep you on the edge of your seat. 

Kiyomi Kuroda’s silky cinematography and Hikaru Hayashi’s percussive score add to the eerie atmosphere. Impressive lighting, daring cinematography and unusual acting all add to heightening the sense of dread throughout the picture. The script adds necessary drama to keep this from just being a seductive snuff film. Overall this is quite an impressive feat.

Sliding from the cinematic to the realistic with ease, Kuroneko is a fun picture to watch that is fairy easy to follow for Non-Japanese audiences. I'd go so far as to say you could watch the film with the subtitles off and still have a thrilling time. I look forward to watching more of this director's cinematography. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Cavalcade (1933) Review

Title: Cavalcade
Year: 1933
Director: Frank Lloyd
Country: US
Language: English

Frank Lloyd's 1933 Noel Coward adaptation Cavalcade has been virtually forgotten about by cinephiles and film critics alike. It is a pre-code drama that won three academy awards- most notably for Best Picture and Best Director- and was a financial success, being the second highest earning film of that year, but seems lost in time due to how dated it feels. It would likely bore the pants off of today's audience. 

We witness cavalcade of English life from New Year's Eve 1899 until 1933 seen through the eyes of well-to-do Londoners Jane (Diana Wynyard) and Robert Marryot (Clive Brook). Amongst events touching their family are the Boer War, the death of Queen Victoria, the sinking of the Titanic and the Great War.

Cavalcade's running time is about two hours long, but it's slow leisurely pace will have you checking to see if your watch is broken. Slow musical numbers drift along, none of which are even remotely memorable. They feel greatly out of place as people start singing at the strangest of times. There is no choreography either, so the picture is literally halted without any sense of pace. 

Granted the picture is gorgeous to look at. The great expanse of settings (from African battlefields to the Titanic) leave is with a visual variety on a grand sweeping scale. The costumes are a pleasure to the eye, and the swooping camera shots give us a sense of wonder. If only the story was enticing and the picture had more cohesion. At times Cavalcade wants to be a tear-jerking drama, while at other times we get very awkward comedy. 

I would not say this is the "Best Picture" of the 1930's, heck it's not even the greatest picture of 1933. Cavalcade is loaded with production problems that make the picture forgettable; it's not even bad in an entertaining way. Avoid this if you can. 

Five Came Back (2017) Review

Title: Five Came Back
Year: 2017
Director: Laurent Bouzereau
Country: US
Language: English

With Pictures at a Revolution, author Mark Harris turned the story of the five best pictures nominated in 1967 into a masterpiece of cultural history; the transformation of an art form into works of more larger social significance. In his next book, Five Came Back, he showed us how Hollywood changed World War Two and vice versa. Netflix bought the rights to the book and made a 3-part mini-series that enhance the original text. 

Five present-day directors discuss five wartime directors who voluntarily joined WW2 in order to film it: William Wyler (presented by Steven Spielberg), Frank Capra (Guillermo del Toro), George Stevens (Laurence Kasdan), John Ford (Paul Greengrass) and John Huston (Francis Ford Coppola).

Five Came Back is a celebration of cinema; from its ability to entertain (enter private S.N.A.F.U shorts) to its ability to be pure propaganda (Leni Reifenstahl's Triumph of the Will) It is an exploration of World War Two, describing a time when the American Government was torn between brutal truth (Battle of San Pietro) and escapist storytelling (Wizard of Oz

The picture is not only about Hollywood's own evolution of turning towards darker and more ambiguous topics, but also of the evolution of each individual film-maker whose lives were forever changed by participating in the event. Poor George Stevens (Woman of the Year) had to witness the horror of Dachau, which changed his view of life forever. William Wyler's experiences (which made him permanently deaf) allowed him to make the greatest film of his career The Best Years of Our Lives. 

The narration by current day directors is rather informative and does a good job at engaging the viewer. Spielberg seems very pleased to share his love for these past masters with a new generation of filmgoers.  I am impressed by the frank discussions about the negative power of American propaganda. It's rather interesting that many in high command were perplexed by the overtly racist Japanese cartoons and, in some instances, were concerned that Americans would view fellow Asian citizens as monsters if the racism was too out of hand. It's self reflection is a step-above most  documentaries about World War II.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Good Time (2017) Review

Title: Good Time
Year: 2017
Director(s): Safdie Brothers
Country: US
Language: English

New Yorkers Josh and Benny Safdie bring their affection for documentary-style realism and amoral characters to Good Time, a neon-glowing, electronic-scored crime story. It's fairly clear that these brothers are fans of 70's and 80's pictures, specifically Martin Scorsese's After Hours (1985) and Mean Streets (1973), as much of their film pays homage to past Cinema. Never easing up on tension, Good Time, while an ironic title for its characters, is exactly the way we feel when the film is over. 

After a heist goes awry, a bank robber (Robert Pattison) spends a night trying to free his mentally ill brother (Benny Safdie) from being sent to Riker's Island prison.

If you hated Robert Pattison for starring in the awful Twilight flicks, prepare to forgive him as he plays his finest performance as Connie, a criminal who is overly protective of his mentally challenged brother. His brotherly love drives this zany plot which is both heartbreaking and hilarious. Constantly keeping you on your feet, much of the velocity this picture has is the fact that Connie is a quick-but not always-smart thinker. The plot twists will either have you laughing in stitches or leave you with your jaw dropped. 

The film excels in its script; as an audience member you're never sure where the film is going to go & you're always excited when you get there. The film excels in its visuals. The Safdies adore neon light, which leads to many memorable neon-drenched sequences, such as an extended sequence in a haunted-house theme park. The score, as well as the cinematography, create a noir atmosphere that is full of dread and doubt. As the police slowly catch up to Pattison we feel an incredible amount of claustrophobia. 

Good Time, for now, is my favourite film of 2017. I do like that, despite Connie's good intentions, he is still an unredeemable bad guy at the end. I find the theme of how all institutions disappoint to be remarkable and full of truth. There is much to dissect with this heavyweight of a film. 

Personal Shopper (2016) Review

Title: Personal Shopper
Year: 2016
Director: Olivier Assayas
Country: France
Language: English

Olivier Assayas has been a film director since the late 1980's. A former critic for the legendary Cahiers Du Cinema Assayas was incredibly knowledgeable about his art and thus makes pictures that often defy our expectations of genre, blending them in unexpected and fascinating ways. Personal Shopper, his second collaboration with Kristen Stewart, may be one of his most perplexing features.

A personal shopper (Kristen Stewart) in Paris refuses to leave the city until she makes contact with her twin brother who previously died there. Her life becomes more complicated when a mysterious person contacts her via text message.

Personal Shopper both is and isn't a ghost story. We see old spooky houses, creaky wooden floors, ethereal figures floating and spewing ectoplasm, a gruesome murder, an ominous secret, creepy texts. We go back and forth from horror to thriller, from the living to the dead. It's effective in pulling at our emotions and making us desire to see the outcome of it all. We aren't sure if our protagonist will make it out alive by the end.

The picture is a rather interesting dissection about the nature of grief. When a loved one dies we too want to hear signs, any kind of sign, that they are doing well in the after-life. We make big deals out of small meaningless events, as does our main character. Unfortunately much of the picture is slow & tedious, it feels like days until we get to a juicy part of the story. The drama takes a while to set-in, and it's perfectly understandable if most viewers can't wait that long. 

Personal Shopper's ambiguous ending left audiences at Cannes Film Festival angry; they boo-ed as its imprecision can feel immediately disappointing. Upon my first viewing I had no idea if I enjoyed what I had just seen. I still have no idea, but I suppose if a picture gets me thinking it can't be terrible right? 

Monday, November 27, 2017

When You're Strange (2010) Review

Title: When You're Strange 
Year: 2010
Director: Tom Dicilo
Country: US
Language: English

Ray Manzarek, keyboardist of The Doors, was excited when he heard that Tom Dicilo (Delirious) would be directing a documentary film about his former band. He stated "This will be the true story of the Doors," and that the film will be "the anti-Oliver Stone," referring to Stone's 1991 film that left a sour taste in surviving members' mouths. Door guitarist Robby Krieger watched the film and decided that it was the definitive version of The Doors' story. 

This is a look at the late '60s and early '70s rock band The Doors, specifically Jim Morrison, and includes rare exclusive footage.

When You're Strange is a mixed bag for me; on one hand it must be praised for using footage of The Doors that most fans have never seen & it also must be commended for sticking to a more historically accurate account of the time period. On another hand the narration by Johnny Depp is atrocious; his flat monotone voice, which I guess is supposed to add a layer of "weird" to the story, nearly put me to sleep. The script he was given is equally bad; much of the time he makes pointless obvious observations that add no real value to the images playing onscreen. 

The film rejects any modern day interviews of living band members which would have given more context to the events that unfolded. Granted, When You're Strange, isn't about anybody else in the band, just Jim Morrison. It's entire goal is to romanticize the alcoholic who died too young from drinking too much alcohol.

I find it strange how we make icons out of boozing bozos (even though I do like his music), "for some he was a poet" and therefore I like Oliver Stone's The Doors the best as it presents Jim Morrison as a raging unstable asshole. When You're Strange is somewhat worthwhile for unique "behind the scenes" footage, but I can't give a high recommendation because the narration is more boring than watching paint dry.