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Belyy tigr (2012)
a contemporary war movie not at all as you'd expect
While there's a lot absent in this movie that I usually take for granted in war movies (namely any infantry combat scenes), I really must applaud this effort on a few fronts.
For one, there is absolutely zero obvious CGI or visual effects in the film. We get to see lots of real vintage tanks including T34/85s, T34/86's, a Panzer IV, and mobile artillery doing what they do best. The loving attention to authentic tank combat reminds me a lot of the other quite recent Finnish film TALI IHANTALA 1944 which similarly failed otherwise to really make a splash.
There's a lot of good scope to the film, especially in terms of costume and sound design. Nothing looks cheap and the anachronisms are kept to an absolute minimum. It's a classically impressive Russian World War 2 adventure in many respects and looks almost like something Sergei Bondarchuk would do were he still been alive. Nicely, the structure is unconventional and it tackles a lot of philosophical areas of interest including mankind's fascination and relationship with warfare and destruction.
Storywise, it's really nothing new for people who haven't seen THE WHITE BUFFALO or THE CAR. I never would have ever imagined I'd ever see a combination of those two films in a war setting, but lo and behold this curiosity. At its core is a loose retelling of "Moby Dick" involving an obsessive quest by a mentally handicapped individual to destroy a mysterious antagonist, here a Tiger Tank that seemingly appears and disappears at will to wreak all kinds of havoc on the Soviet lines.
The biggest complaint here though beyond lack of action or originality is the poor attempt at mocking up a Tiger Tank. However at times from certain angles it works well enough if you squint, but almost unforgivable that the centerpiece of the film is so underwhelmingly realized.
All in all, I'd recommend viewing for the realistic tank combat scenes and lack of CGI. Had it not been for this film, I would be tempted to say that they don't make them like this anymore.
Bizarrely toned remake of "Raiders of Atlantis" for kids... but not!
As former film student, I really hate trashing student / hobbyist filmmaker adventure films as it's all to memorable the sheer effort of logistics that it takes to put something like this together, especially when it involves shooting overseas. However this one just got under my skin.
Easily the best / most interesting thing about this very low budgeted film is the location work in the Philippines. Throughout the film we catch glimpses of both rural and city life as well as some refreshing revisiting of that same jungle seen in so many action and war movies of the 70's and 80's. Now with the heyday of International/Filipino co- productions and cheap exploitation movies far behind us, the next generation of filmmakers is stepping in. Of course the sensibilities of these filmmakers, using their youthful enthusiasm to create "artistic" pieces, are quite different from the old ones who did copycat remake action classics such as FIREBACK, COP GAME, and COMMANDER. Unfortunately though, this film makes it quite evident that attempted artistry and originality doesn't positively impact watchability, especially if done on the cheap.
At first glimpse one would think this was a kids movie, not one necessarily made FOR children, but BY children as it's just so sloppy and loopy. The main group of characters consist of teenagers and a gung-ho couple 20-somethings on some vague quest to find some... thing (?)... in the Filipino jungles while avoiding a kidnapper/biker gang who just happen to assume that they're after some money. That's about all I could piece together. It sounds and feels innocent and lighthearted enough to earn a PG-rating until it suddenly delves into drug/alcohol abuse, a nasty attempted rape/murder scene, and then later a certain character shot bloodily & blindingly albeit non-fatally in the head and then having to continue about her business.
The story (which veers into scifi late in the film) and tone manage to somehow stay beyond incomprehensible, yet childishly inconsistent and inane at the same time. None of the main characters are likable or fleshed out in the slightest and the shoehorned-in romance between two of the tag-along local teens is just embarrassingly awkward. Some performances (especially those done by the locals in their native language) are quite believable but a lot from the inexperienced leads we spend the most time with are either flat or overly theatrical. The action scenes are killed by the hesitance of the filmmakers to actually show us any "money" shots. While at least they attempt ambitious stunts including a car chase / fight with bikers climbing onto a bus, it's maddening that so much of the fighting, injuries (several people are supposedly crushed by a roof caving in an obviously empty house) and bike crashes are merely implied off-screen for obviously budgetary reasons.
What's most curious to me about film is how much the barely-there plot parallels Ruggero Deodato's much more entertaining RAIDERS OF ATLANTIS only with most everything of interest stripped away. The film follows a group of disparate individuals on a quest to a lost island, avoiding violent bikers, and even culminates similarly with a hypnotic encounter with some lost / alien civilization. Personally I wish they'd just gone to the effort and found a print of RAIDERS and given it an official DVD release instead of producing this film. It would have saved us the addition of one more underfunded half-baked indie trashterpiece on the evergrowing pile. The makers could certainly make a much better living as location scouts for future Filipino action classics, should the genre ever happen to miraculously resuscitate itself.
Lo sbarco di Anzio (1968)
Missed opportunities abound though there's a few good war scenes sprinkled in
Much noise has been made of the film's weaknesses including the decision to base it around Robert Mitchum as a tired and drunk war correspondent and Peter Falk as his barely coherent partying murderer friend. The historical details begin with some promise but as the film goes on they get glossed over in favor of various Hollywood World War II movie clichés. In my opinion this film stumbles out of the gate on the wrong foot with a tonally off opening credits sequence feature bizarre animated titles and an upbeat love song (when there's no love and barely any females to speak of in the movie!), and it never really recovers.
The film just barely delivers on its title and shows us none of the actual battle of Anzio but some of the landings and an inaccurate version of the Battle of Cisterna in which 767 Rangers were surrounded and wiped out. Otherwise, the film is just another dull "trapped behind enemy lines" type movie with a lot of antiwar gum-flapping dialog about the uselessness of war.
There is, however, some attractive scenery of the Italian countryside on display and a few quality war scenes at play. Wolfgang Preiss really shines in his brief scenes as Kesselring and one wishes we could have had more of him. Action-wise we're treated to two one-sided massacres; one of American rangers at Cisterna (led by a dubbed Venantino Venantini) followed by the main heroic squad mowing down several clueless Germans in a farmhouse. The only surprises really come during a tense sniper battle which for me was the highlight of the film. This wasn't quite the Dmytryk of the classic era, but he still had some good work left in him.
It feels like a major missed opportunity that the film never gives us any major combat with both sides putting up a spirited fight. It may be for that very reason why the nearly-unanimous response among war movie fans to this film over the years has been that of utter disappointment.
Creative & Awe-Inspiring Half-Baked Space Disaster
I find it very fitting that Sean Young was in both this film and BLADE RUNNER as the love interest of the protagonist. This film has a lot in common with the other grim futuristic science fiction film especially in terms of deadeningly slow pace given life by a choice cast and some of the most visionary and creative production design seen up to the time.
Films are only as interesting as their antagonists, and Lynch's DUNE does an excellent job setting those up. The Harkonnens are wonderfully nasty and amoral beings living in a cold and sterile industrial hell- planet with smoke stacks, cables, and cubicles as far as the eye can see. The Imperial planet is austere in a Victorian sense and the Spacing Guild presented in such a ghastly and grotesquely inhuman fashion that they're as interesting as they are stomach-churning. All three of these villainous factions give the film the life that it has.
Unfortunately, the good guys are quite one-dimensional and dull in comparison. Kyle McLachlan doesn't really get to do much with his part, other than slowly become more obsessive, powerful, and unlikable as the film progresses. Ms. Young gets to do even less and maybe has 3 or 4 lines. You know you're in trouble when a narrator has to tell us, "Paul and Chani's love grew" because the film gives us no other indication of this. I believe that's where the film fails, is in giving any depth to its main characters or any believability or humanity to their character arcs. This may have been the result of numerous cuts made to the film based on an already quite abridged script. A lot of the narrative failings fall on the shoulders of director Lynch however, as he is so unable to "show" what is going on that he relies on characters' inner monologues to "tell" us what is going on, and much of the time quite unnecessarily.
Despite its great failings and bizarre combination of confusion and slowness, DUNE has well-realized otherworldly atmosphere aided immeasurably by the costuming department who went all-out in creating a visual style for the film that has never been equaled since. It's a truly unique mixture of styles and various steam-punk / H.R. Geiger influence on display. Historically, this film represents a major crossroads of some of the best special effects people working at the time, with makeup artist Giannetto De Rossi, mechanical effectsman Carlo Rambaldi, explosive engineer Kit West, and miniature set guru Emilio Ruiz all combining forces for the only time in all of cinema. The results are a mixed bag for sure, but on the occasions in which this film works, it's utterly amazing.
Way Down in Chinatown (2013)
"Sorry but rehearsals were canceled... because of the apocalypse."
This low budget art film has a few very hilarious moments, some surprisingly great acting, and is just weird enough to maintain viewer interest in where things are going. However, the film suffers from leaden pacing, obtuse plot, and grating sound design.
A 30-something playwright and his wife attempt to cast and put together a musical focused on the end of the world, but matters become complicated once they bring in some demonic producers (played by the actual director and producer of the film), start cheating on each other, and lose their sense of reality. Perhaps the real apocalypse starts too loom as well? It's difficult to tell - this isn't the kind of film that delineates between the story's reality and the characters' hallucinations.
In many respects it owes a lot to David Lynch and David Cronenberg, recycling a lot of "plot" (if you can call it that) elements from MULHOLLAND DRIVE including a focus on a small box, a subplot involving entertainers putting together a production, and a befuddled protagonist succumbing to a lesbian seduction. Also things seem vaguely centered around the concept of parasitic worms which spread corruption through oral contact, echoing SHIVERS, though nothing is really spelled out. What keeps things somewhat original though is a focus around the oncoming end times, but this element is largely undone by how it's portrayed, reminding me of the old Star Trek episode "The Alternative Factor" in which the universe winks out periodically and everyone gets disoriented. In this film, the apocalypse is realized (annoyingly) by frequent clouding of the picture accompanied by a sound negatively comparable to nails on the chalkboard, causing characters to fall ill or simply drop dead. If being exposed to audio/visual nuisances and confusion is your sort of thing, look no further, because there is a lot of that this film.
Even if the film doesn't feel completely original, it's largely saved by terrific and convincing work from most of the cast who look like they're having a ball. Strangely enough, despite WAY DOWN IN CHINATOWN's shortcomings, it actually manages to be more accessible, interesting, and successfully surreal than most of its inspiration David Lynch's recent and more expensive work.
Easily the least of the loose Sinbad trilogy, (and possibly of all Harryhausen's color films) this fantasy film remains a lot more fun than most modern CGI-laden big-budget equivalents but still one can't help but feel disappointed that they couldn't do better with what they had.
Something feels very off and uncertain about this film, as though it was thrown into production too quickly without really thinking things through. The casting feels largely quite awkward with Patrick Wayne as a bland lead (I even thought so as a child) and Jane Seymour as a nearly as bland love interest only redeemed somewhat by her beauty and unrelentingly revealing clothing. Margaret Whiting makes for a colorful yet very campy villain and the always reliable Patrick Troughton is undermined largely by having to play a very inconsistent character. Everyone else in the cast is instantly forgettable.
One of the single weakest and most awkward key scenes in the film is where Sinbad and his crew try to convince Troughton (as a Greek Philosopher "Melanthius") to come with them. Instead of any of them really saying or doing anything to change his mind, he seems to convince himself by tinkering with an old invention that never plays into anything later in the film at all. This really isn't a Sinbad movie; it's a Melanthius movie. Sinbad just plays his chauffeur and bodyguard. Another major script failing is the inconsistent level of knowledge given to Melanthius - he seems at first to guide the group based only on vague legends and intuition, but the further along they go, the more he seems to just know everything about everything.
But who comes to Harryhausen movies expecting the best in storytelling and great performances? They come for the stop-motion creatures and fights, which here is done quite well and plentifully. One of the more impressive (though narratively pointless) sequences is a battle with a giant walrus containing some excellent blending of practical and visual effects (how did they get those real snowballs to connect with the stop- motion creature?). A fascinating vaguely antagonistic robotic minotaur rows its way through the movie, but is criminally underused before he gets to do anything cool. The other creatures such as a giant bee, a baboon, and a troglodyte, though well done and realistic, are just not nearly as interesting and feel like a waste of time that could have gone into animating cooler things. Oh yeah, there's also a very satisfying (though poorly set up) battle with a saber-tooth cat near the end.
Unfortunately the visual effects department got so carried away and relied so much on budget-friendly models and compositing in lieu of actual sets and locations that it's difficult to really buy into anything. Much of the blue-screening is quite distracting and terrible even by the standards of the time it was made. Just look at the whole scene at Petra and it's quite obvious that most of the actual cast didn't make it there opting instead to just shoot their close-ups in a studio. It fuels the film's quite bizarre tone which helps in some scenes and hurts others.
The inconsistency and weirdness isn't helped by the TV-like direction of established actor Sam Wanamaker. His slow and campy style contrasts so sharply with the serious and exciting monster scenes that it starts to feel like there's two different movies here. However there's so much apparent apathy and laziness on display across all departments involved that I can't put all the blame on him. SINBAD EYE OF THE TIGER in many ways though holds up as a fun fantasy movie which children and nostalgic adults will love, but unlike most of its peers from the day just doesn't hold up.
The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958)
Three decades on and I'm still obsessed with The Cyclops
I could easily devote an entire review to Bernard Herrmann's musical score or Ray Harryhausen's stop motion, as without either, this film would not be even remotely as effective. Harryhausen's stop-motion is nothing short of miraculous, given the technology available at the time and the fact that he did everything entirely on his own. There's a lot of films that I've watched purely to marvel at the stop-motion effects such as ROBOT JOX, PUPPETMASTER, etc. which still barely deliver enough to satisfy. 7TH VOYAGE still left me hungry to see more giant monster action at the end, but overall is quite satisfying in delivering the goods.
What makes the goods so good in this case? Well it has to do with Harryhausen's attention to detail and his infusion of personality upon all his creations. While we have a living skeleton, a dragon, a snake- woman, and a few giant birds, the most interesting by far is the cyclops who is both a terrifying presence while strangely still human enough to convey a level of innocence and sympathy. It's a pathos on par with the original Willis O'Brien creation of KING KONG. His entrance in the film is built up so well that, as a very young and impressionable child, it had me terrified yet basically in love with all things Harryhausen from the first frame he appears in.
The highlight for me these days is the flawless sequence in which Sinbad manages to blind the cyclops with a torch and lure him toward a cliff ledge. I love how accurately the animation conveys his anger, sadness, frustration, and attempts to improvise via feeling his way around with his arms in the air out in front of him. Also notice how furious and confused the cyclops behaves when he gets attacked by a rabble of drunken sailors, especially when he inspects, connects the dots over, and throws down the spear that was stuck in his back. I could go on and on.
No, the film is not quite perfect of course. There's some roughness to the production values, some campy acting, mismatched locations, anachronisms, and a lot of stock-footage. Also as an adult I can't help but notice the massive plot hole where the magician kills a sailor in order to steal the magic lamp, but somehow in the tussle completely forgets to pocket what he's been obsessively chasing after for the entire movie! However, as far as a practically timeless film conveying a sense of pure fantasy and, spectacle, and wonder that children and adults alike will love and appreciate, you'll be hard pressed to find better.
Schneer and Harryhausen followed this up 15 years later with THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD with a whole new cast and darker tone. It's arguably a much better and complex film, but this is the Sinbad movie with the bigger and more memorable monsters.
RoboCop 2 (1990)
Underrated Sadistic Sequel
Obviously inferior to the first ROBOCOP in just about every way, this imaginatively titled sequel at least has the benefit of not having to waste a lot of time setting up the concept and gets right down to business right away. While Verhoeven's ironic and darkly comedic over- the-top touch is largely absent, the level of bleakness and icky unpleasantness manages to surpass the original.
There's a lot more action and unpredictability than in the original, which was tighter and moved faster but let's face it, felt more formulaic.
Dark seedy atmosphere brilliantly set up in the opening scene and it never lets up. This time there's drugs and corrupt cops in addition to the usual corporate extortion and anarchy as featured in the first movie.
This film features some of the best stop-motion animation I've ever seen and there's a lot of it, beating out even the works of Ray Harryhausen, David Allen, and Jim Danforth. I'm shocked that none were involved with this film. Much like in the original, it's difficult in many scenes to tell what's practical and what's matted in. It makes one wonder what stop-motion could look like now had the movie studios stuck with honing the craft rather than abandoning it in favor of much-cheaper CGI.
The fake commercials and newscasts are just as good as in the original, keeping things moving along briskly and with the right dose of dark comedy here and there. They even nicely tie in with the main plot more- so than in the original.
Most of the surviving original cast returns.
Oddly enough I liked Leonard Rosenmann's score almost as much as Basil Poledouris's music in the original. I'm not sure why they decided to go with a new direction with the music, and at times it sounds a little too much like STAR TREK IV, but overall I'd say it fits very well.
As intentionally grim as the film is, it's just not very "fun". There's a lot of nasty scenes such as when a policeman is tortured by a deranged surgeon and a brain transplantation scene which is needlessly protracted. I feel they misunderstood Verhoeven's intentions in the original to make things like a comic book and just figured lots of violence and unpleasantness was the same thing.
The writing and characterizations are much less compelling than in the original. Murphy and Louis are given very little interesting to do, leaving it to the villains to carry the show. This feels exacerbated by the overall much lower-quality performances. The goofball playing the mayor really just didn't fit with everything else in the movie.
The level of realism is quite lacking asking us to believe that a well- organized gang would defer to a 12-year-old kid. I'd almost call it fun social commentary, but in this regard the film takes itself oddly seriously. A lot feels missing here, with a lot of established villains just disappearing rather than being killed off.
Generally there's a just a lack of imagination all-round. We learn nothing new about Robocop (outside of that he's willing to turn away from his old family) and don't really get to see him enough. The film seems to react more to the original film rather than add to its canon.
All-in-all though I'd call this film fairly successful. It's hampered by a lack of creativity and intelligence but gives us more Robocop doing his thing. At least it's nowhere nearly as insulting as "3" or the remake.
Red Dawn (1984)
PG-13 Cold War Shoot-em-up
Commies invade Northern New Mexico subbing for Colorado, and a bunch of High School kids led by Patrick Swayze and Charlie Sheen must fend them off. Ridiculous right-wing paranoia makes for entertaining cinema in retrospect, making this a time capsule of the last serious years of The Cold War when America was starting to cathartically pump out action movies in which the anthropomorphized ideal of the stars and stripes decimates the Soviet army. Rambo II and III did the same.
-Lots of action, very high production values allowing for very authentic looking Soviet equipment, lovingly captured during a few tank battles. These were the days before surplus Soviet T-72s made their way to American screens, so they had to build these and they look terrific. Lots of squibs, explosions, and excellent sound design to bring them to life.
-The supporting cast is top notch featuring a great assortment of familiar faces and old pro's including Ben Johnson, Harry Dean Stanton, William Smith, etc.
-It's pretty well-written considering it's just an 80's action movie. They do some pretty creative things with the buildup to making hapless teens into a fighting resistance movement. The villains are mostly nicely fleshed-out too and humanized more than I would have expected.
-Great score by Basil Poledouris for the most part.
-The action is mostly pretty comic book and lacks realism. We're asked to believe that a ragtag band of teens could outwit and out-shoot trained Russian and Cuban soldiers consistently and take zero casualties, even when grossly outnumbered.
-A key scene in which one of the members of the group is exposed as a traitor and executed is handled extremely lazily, shot entirely from one angle, alternating between the master shot and a longer-lens camera for singles. The film never really recovers from there.
-A lot of the performances by the teen actors are uneven and exacerbated by putting them in unbelievable situations. Swayze's delivery often comes across as awkward and forced when he's trying to be brooding and serious.
-The best character in the film, Tanner, is unfortunately not around for very long at all.
Conclusion? Best for viewing for history / war / military equipment buffs. It's not perfect by a long stretch but certainly one of the most memorable movies of the 80's.
Red Dawn (2012)
What an amazing failure on every level
While the original was no great shakes due to over-length and extreme lapses in realism, it had its share of amazing 80's action and some good production values and ideas here and there. It was the first movie I'd seen to tackle the prospect of a ground war on American soil and an ensuing insurgency against foreign occupiers. The fact that it came at the height of the Cold War gave it a sort of historical relevance as well. It had a great supporting cast and an okay central one of up-and- comers who went on to a lot of bigger things. It also had the benefit of no-nonsense direction from John Milius and a fitting score by Basil Poledouris.
This remake has none of that. No excitement, poor casting, zero characterization, bland music, shaky camera work, and of course CGI overload. It's everything bad in modern action movies focused and amplified into one mindless excuse to show a bunch of pretty people stand around whining and brandishing weapons. None of the action scenes have any life, originality, and a lot of the last portion of the film is so vague, tiresome, and too dark to even make out what is going on and to whom and why it is even important.
Most unforgivably, the film was altered in post-production by cowardly MGM executives, changing the Chinese invaders into North Korean ones in order to not insult the Chinese market, though if the the Chinese censors were smart they'd still ban this disaster anyway for fear of damaging the minds of their population. This alteration takes an already implausible film into the realm of the preposterous and laughable. It may have been fascinating if there was any analysis on the North Korean military, culture, occupation etc. but the circumstances of this last minute change make that impossible. It's so underwritten that it misses major chances to add any interest into the concept, focusing instead on a bunch of macho posturing, teen angst, and infighting.
I had the feeling that the writers were even younger and less experienced than the teenagers the film was aimed at, especially considering the film features a working Subway restaurant functioning in North Korean-occupied America! Even behind the battle lines in an apocalyptic war-zone, the franchise food and soft drink distribution remains completely undisturbed? Or are the employees growing and harvesting the grain for the 7-grain wheat bread on the roof of the building?
Don't waste your time, even for a laugh. This film is so bad it will just make your head hurt. I'm consistently amazed by how much money can be spent on objects of so little value. Some heads at MGM surely rolled because of this, but of course nobody learned any lessons outside of outsourcing more work on the next terrible movie in order to cut costs.