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The Mummy (1999)
The video game as cinema equals a bad movie and boredom.
It's difficult to hate THE MUMMY, it's just impossible to respect it. You can't damn it out of hand, like Francis Coppola's vulgarization of DRACULA (formally titled BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA for some reason that escapes the understanding of people who have actually read the book). THE MUMMY does not come from a consistent literary source. So, you can't accuse it of purporting to be something that it's not. If you prefer the 1932 Karloff/Karl Freund Mummy or 1959 Hammer version with Cushing/Lee/Terence Fisher, then it's simply a matter of taste. You can't argue taste.
The problem is that this movie bearing the same title leaves a very bad taste. It insults its audience by playing to the lowest common denominator. The script seems to be the work of many hands. That might account for the many inconsistencies in story telling logic. The style (if that is the word) of the acting and directing is basically TV sit-com.
The special effects are much too obviously CGI. In their own way, they are just as artificial as the special effects of earlier generations that utilized optical printing with traveling mattes (with obvious matte lines) and/or rear projection. The problem is that our eyes become educated over time. The stage illusionist's trick that dazzled us as small children seems hopelessly coy to us a adults. The same thing is true of some of the techniques that ILM has developed over the past 20-odd years. Whatever film stock they choose, pixels look like pixels.
Ultimately, special effects are no substitute story telling with a consistent point of view and characters who involve us emotionally. THE MATRIX, another movie that is basically a video game, does have a point of view; characters with at least some emotional life; and a unified approach to expressing a reasonably consistent point of view. THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT makes up for what it lacks in production values with intensity; an interesting point of view; and even a certain degree of novelty. THE SIXTH SENSE gains its power by being first and foremost a story about human beings.
The makers of THE MUMMY have no real idea of what they want to accomplish, hence the kitchen sink approach to story telling. It's anything for a cheap thrill. The end result is just plain cheap, despite the budget. Turning this into third rate Indiana Jones was a no brainer for the film makers, not that they have exhibited much in the ways of brains. For instance, anyone who has actually read the Book of Exodus (all right, or seen DeMille's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS) knows that the plagues of Egypt were inflicted by the Hebrew God. Therefore, it follows logically that they cannot be unleashed by the gods of ancient Egypt. Not that logic, taste, or intelligence ever mattered to the people who unleashed this mess.
Without a script that has a shred of human feeling, there isn't much for the actors to do but react to "blue screen." The result is just plain embarrassing. To use that tired old film school expression, didn't the film makers ever seriously consider giving the characters an "arc."
A word to Brendan Fraser, if you happen to be reading: You have been blessed with a career that is granted to very few young actors in any era. You possess a very rare combination of gifts. You are the best farceur/leading man to emerge in films since Kevin Kline & Cary Grant. You are a solid dramatic actor, as proven in SCHOOL TIES and GODS & MONSTERS. You are potentially the best action movie hero of the New Millennium. You have the golden opportunity to work as long as you want to work. Just please, use your gifts and your apparent intelligence with keener judgment in future. It could be a very bright one.
By then, this dismal affair will just be a dim memory of youthful indiscretion.
To anyone who hasn't actually seen this mediocrity: If you are desperate to find some way to waste two hours of your life, believe me, there a much better ways to do it.
The Beast of the City (1932)
Little known and waiting to be rediscovered
This is one of the grittiest of the pre-Production Code features. It is important to realize that just two years later, with the implementation of the rewritten Production Code in 1934, this film could not have been made.
As with any piece of popular entertainment that is nearly 70 years old, there are going to be dated elements. What is more important is how relatively modern this film feels, especially compared to the films made under the Production Code after 1934. The story is a hard slice of life, and it will not suit all tastes. This is especially true for those who have been too conditioned by Production Code features and television.
The ending has been compared to Sam Peckinpah's THE WILD BUNCH and Don Siegel's DIRTY HARRY, and not without cause. However, try to imagine yourself as a member of the original theatrical release audience in 1932. There would have been very little to prepare you for it, apart from DOORWAY TO HELL, LITTLE CAESAR, PUBLIC ENEMY, and SCARFACE. The difference here is that the story is told from the point of view of the men in law enforcement. It focuses on something that was common knowledge at the time, that prohibition had corrupted law enforcement far beyond the scope of anything the public had ever known.
The remedy for corruption that this film prescribes is very strong medicine indeed. You may not like it, but I defy you not to think about it for a long time after you've seen it.
The Searchers (1956)
Not politically correct, thank God!
Read Alan LeMay's fine novel, THE SEARCHERS, and you will begin to understand that John Ford's treatment of this material is really restrained. Just as importantly, read the history of the Texas frontier and you will begin to understand that it was far more savage than anything this film depicts.
In this politically correct age, it has become unfashionable to tell the truth about history. The warfare on the Texas frontier between the Comanches and the Texans was just as horrible as any war of ethnic cleansing. Historically, it was an inevitable conflict that brought about the end of the Comanches' way of life as plains warriors. The fact is that they brought it on themselves. Comanches, and their Kiowa allies, were predatory raiders. They had good reason for hating Anglo-Saxons and Hispanics. However, their methods of making war were inhuman.
In John Ford's film (not in Alan LeMay's novel), Henry Brandon's Chef Scar has blue eyes. This was actually known to occur on the frontier. Obviously, it meant that the Native American in question had a white ancestor. The racism in the THE SEARCHERS is focused on the 19th century fear of miscegenation. John Wayne's character is obsessed with stopping his niece from being the sexual partner of a man of another race.
Yet, the film and the novel end with an ultimate act of forgiveness. They do this in different ways, the novel being far more eloquent. Through their suffering, the characters come to have a greater understanding of what it is to be a human being.
There is a lot wrong with the Ford film. Monument Valley, Utah looks nothing like the plains of Texas. The costumes, firearms, and livestock are anachronistic. However, there is lot more that is right about it. Essentially, it tells the truth about American history. It also has John Wayne's best performance. It would have been worthy of an Academy Award, if the Oscar was actually awarded on merit instead of industry politics.
THE SEARCHERS means much more than awards or box office grosses. It reminds us of our own humanity. To paraphrase a quote that J.D. Salinger once used: God teaches the heart not with ideas, but with pains and contradictions. THE SEARCHERS teaches the heart.
Historical fact, not politically correct nonsense, has much to teach us. Today, the Comanche people are respected American citizens. They have served with honor in the U.S. Armed Forces and in their communities. A number of them have white relatives. Many Comanches and Texans have embraced each other as family. Together, they have overcome a history of bloodshed and learned to forgive.
As you may have guessed by now, this writer has Native American blood.
A documentary history of Hammer Film Productions that is entertaining and informative.
Hammer Films was the most successful independent production company in the history of the British film industry. Starting in the 1950's, they produced a memorable series of low budget science fiction and gothic horror films. These films were marked by high production values, solid technical work, strong acting, and intelligent writing and directing.
Their breakthrough came in 1957 with the release of THE CURSE OF FRANKENSTEIN. This low budget film became one of the most profitable films in the history of British cinema, as well as the most influential genre film to be released since the end of the Second World War. Today, numerous film makers acknowledge Hammer Films as an influence on their work. They include, George Lucas, Stephen Spielberg, Martin Scorcese, Joe Dante, John Landis, and John Carpenter, to name only a few.
Ted Newsom, the writer and director of FLESH AND BLOOD, originally made it in 1994, when it was shown on British television. The Anchor Bay Video Edition is Copyright 1997. Ted Newsom has succeeded in capturing a moment in time when a number of the people who made these films were still with us. Now, a few short years later this is no longer the case.
This was the last project that Peter Cushing completed before his death in 1994. He is heard in the off camera narration and seen only in film clips. Cushing's old friend Christopher Lee joins him in the off camera narration and in an on camera interview, as well as in film clips. The other interviews are candid and informative. Most of these people remember working for Hammer with real affection.
The one drawback in this documentary is that the film clips are taken from trailers. This avoided paying fees to distributors, but limits the choice and quality of the footage. On the other hand, FLESH AND BLOOD is well organized and researched. It presents a view of a memorable era in British film production with clarity and insight. For anyone who is already a Hammer fan, this is a must. For anyone who is just getting acquainted with their films, this will serve as an excellent introduction.
The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)
Possibly Peter Cushing's finest performance on film
THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS followed in the wake of the success of Hammer Films' early successes. Although not actually a Hammer Film Production, it shares many stylistic points with Hammer. However, the script is a largely accurate version of the history of the body snatchers, Burke and Hare, and their main customer, Dr. Robert Knox.
Although there are memorable performances in this film, it is Peter Cushing's work as Dr. Knox that ultimately stands out. During the 1820's in Edinburgh, Scotland, Dr. Knox illegally bought cadavers from Burke and Hare. In spite of every reason to be suspicious of Burke and Hare, Dr. Know persisted in obtaining cadavers from them for medical lectures. To Dr. Knox, the training of competent doctors took precedent over ethical considerations.
In a remarkable scene in the denouement, a little girl in the street begs alms from Dr. Knox. Cushing tells her that he doesn't have any money with him, but if she will step over to his house he will give her some. The little girl politely declines the offer, saying, "Oh, no, you might be Dr. Knox." Cushing's unspoken response is truly unforgettable. It makes you realize that Peter Cushing was really a fine actor. What a pity his talent was too often wasted in pictures that were beneath him.
The Cotton Club (1984)
A bold attempt to capture a fascinating era
As a New Yorker who happens to be steeped in the lore of New York in the prohibition era, this film represents a bold attempt to capture the dynamics of the period. At times it succeeds. At other times it falls way short of the mark.
What I really admire is the fact that it deals with racial and ethnic friction honestly. The racial slurs in the dialog were part of the reality of that time. Relations between blacks and whites are not idealized. Richard Gere and Gregory Hines are neighbors and acquaintances, but are not portrayed as close friends. When Gregory Hines prevents Dutch Schultz (James Remar in a vivid characterization) from killing Richard Gere, he does it out of basic decency. Mercifully, there are none of the sentimental relationships between blacks and whites that seem so patently false in other films.
Gangland New York during the prohibition era has rarely been portrayed accurately. A worst case example was a 1991 disaster called Mobsters (a.k.a. "Young Tommy Guns"). The Cotton Club deals with real life chracters like Owney Madden (has he ever been portrayed in another film under his real name?), Big Frenchy DeMange, Arthur "Dutch Schultz" Flegenheimer, a Vincent Coll standin, Charlie ""Lucky" Luciano, "Trigger" Mike Coppola, and (at least in an early shooting script) Jack "Legs" Diamond. Richard Gere's character was loosely based on George Raft.
They were fascinating characters. At times, The Cotton Club tries to play fair with them. It almost succeeds.
On the whole, this should have been a better film. Personally, I would have preferred a film that focused on the real life gangsters with the music simply as background. The attempt to elevate the black characters to a position of equal importance in the narrative is the flaw that undoes the film. It's difficult to follow characters who have no power and little chance of gaining it. Obviously, that is not politically correct. However, I prefer for historical films to deal with life the way it really was, rather than the way some people think that it should have been.
All in all, an interesting and honorable failure.
A Civil Action (1998)
Excellent legal docu-drama
This is a thoughtfully executed film that deals with the malaise that affects our legal system. It does not offer easy answers. It does not romanticize its subject, like John Grisham's THE RAINMAKER. The work in every department is first rate and much of it is exceptional.
Special mention should be made of Robert Duvall's performance. As a screen actor, he is the equal of Spencer Tracy and Marlon Brando. He deserves a place on the short list of America's greatest actors, as well as the world's great screen actors.
A wonderful look into the reality of the acting profession
For those of us who actually had the privilege of studying acting with Sanford Meisner, this remarkable documentary is a wonderful reminder of that experience. For those who are curious about the reality of the life of an actor, this is an eye opener.
Sanford Meisner during his teaching career was arguably America's greatest acting teacher. His only serious rivals were Stella Adler, Lee Strasberg, and Uta Hagen. Together they elevated the standard of professional acting in America. Kent Paul's carefully created documentary can make you understand the reasons why this is true.
Before Sandy (as his students refer to him) died, he was asked, "How do you want to be remembered? As a grest teacher?"
He replied, "As an influence." That is already the case, and should be for years to come. Grab the chance to see this documentary the next time that it is shown on PBS or Bravo. It is nothing less than enlightening.
Licence to Kill (1989)
Bond the way Fleming meant him to be!!!
Every memorable character is a study in contradictions. James Bond is a gentleman and a killer; a sensualist and a patriot. In spite of some of the weaknesses in the script and direction, this is the closest to the genuine Ian Fleming character since the early Connery films and ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE.
It's unbelievable that MGM dumped this picture into the marketplace without any adequate promotional campaign. Yes, it was the summer of BATMAN, but that was no excuse.
Perhaps MGM was uncomfortable with the lean and mean Fleming conception. It's a real pity. After Dalton left the series, I vowed I would never pay to see that Roger Moore knock off, Brosnan. When I saw GOLDENEYE on cable, my worst fears were confrmed. Pierce Brosnan is a wildly miscast, light weight, only suited for light comedy. Brosnan is not even worthy to shine Dalton's shoes!
As far as miscasting goes, some people may have actually liked Tom Cruise in INTERVIEW WITH THE THE VAMPIRE. Maybe they like Brosnan as well. No one who has read and liked Ian Fleming's books can think much of him.
The Living Daylights (1987)
A James Bond that Ian Fleming would have recognized.
All right, I admit that I'm prejudiced. I saw all the Bond films theatrically beginning with DR. NO. Yes, I have read all of Ian Fleming's books. Consequently, I have a definite idea of what James Bond should be like.
Back in the 1970's, I grew to intensely dislike Roger Moore. I asked the question, who could play James Bond the way that Fleming wrote the character? One name came to mind - Timothy Dalton. He resembled Fleming's description of the character. Even more importantly, his dark, brooding quality made him tempermentally right for the role. Albert Broccoli and company saw the same thing. They offered him the role several times over the years. Unfortunately, it took roughly ten years for him to actually agree to play it.
When he did, I was not disappointed in his work. If only the scripts and the direction had done more to support his "back to Fleming" approach. For those who don't know Fleming's original character, Dalton's Bond may come as a bit of a shock. Believe me, it's the kind of shock that I experienced as a boy when I saw Sean Connery waste Anthony Dawson's Professor Dent in DR. NO. That was quintessential Bond. Dalton is the closest realization of the character as Ian Fleming wrote it, even more than Sean Connery in certain respects.
Connery improved on the character as written in certain respects. He made Bond very much his own. Imposters like George Lazenby, Roger Moore, and Pierce Brosnan can at best only be tolerated. Connery has only one serious rival as Bond and that is Timothy Dalton.
What a pity Dalton's two Bond films were not marketed better.