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Hammer Film definitely made better films about Baron Frankenstein (as played by Peter Cushing) than those dealing with the Count Dracula (with Christopher Lee). "Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed" is a superb entry, with a script written by the man Orson Welles once called one of the two best A.D. in the film business. The scientist is again ruthless and cruel, stopping at nothing to keep experimenting with life and human organ transplants. He blackmails a young couple that is planning to wed: the girl administers the guest-house Frankenstein takes hold of, while her groom is a surgeon. As the story unfolds, Frankenstein turns into a real wicked old man (excellent "el Cushing") As in "The Revenge of Frankenstein" there is no monster in the plot and the surgeries are successful, so the writers had to create potent dramas dealing with medicine, "progress", death, the infinite possibilities of scientific experimentation, the negative effect of the ignorant's slander, the selling of drugs as modus vivendi, and of course with erotic elements. Although the Baron is trapped in a fire before the closing credits, he surely found a way to reappear in the next entry of the series, the also good "Frankenstein Created Woman", in which he would transform a crippled girl into (Playmate of the Year) Susan Denberg.
I admire the cinema of Jeff Nichols since I saw «Take Shelter» and «Mud». Doing an inverse operation now I have seen his first film, «Shotgun Stories», and it is as good as the latter works. A story taking place in a town in Arkansas, in which Son, Boy and Kid, the three poor sons of a man (who abandoned his wife and kids, became a Christian, formed another family and became a landowner) struggle with the man's four sons from his second mating. After a brief intro in which the wife of Son, the older poor brother, abandons him for his addiction to gambling (and he reunites with this his younger brothers Boy and Kid), the real drama starts when the old man dies and Son takes his two brothers with him, they all go to his funeral and he says to the mourning "proper" family that the man inside the coffin was a bastard. And on top of that he spits on the casket. The chain of effects that follows next has to be seen. The rhythm is slow, as delicate embroidery, as if the lines of the story were taking their time to combine, while the dramatic tension is skillfully sustained throughout. Although I feel the ending is an open one, when the movie is finished Nichols has given us another beautiful portrait of rural United States, of sections that are rarely seen with respect and fine perception in the films of the mega-industry. The filmmaker creates an endearing testimony of his people, with memorable scenes, as the dialogue in the backyard when Kid tells Son about his plans to get married, and reflects on how hard is life made to men and women (when they all are entitled to happiness and a part of the riches of the planet addition is mine). «Shotgun Stories» benefits from very good performances by the whole cast: Michael Shannon as the protective and confused Son, Douglas Ligon as the quiet and wiser Boy and Barlow Jacobs as the violent and yet tender Kid, all three shine as the first set of brothers, having strong support from Michael Abbott Jr. and Lynnsee Provence as two of their half-brothers/nemeses, but so outstanding too are Glenda Pannell as Son's wife, G. Alan Wilkins as the outcast Shampoo Douglas, Coley Campany as Kid's bride, and Natalie Canerday in her brief scenes as the boy's mother. Nichols may have gone the "Hollywood route" now, who knows, but Altman, Kubrick, Allen and many others did so, and they did not lose their knack or soul. Nichols and they can look at their first works and say, "Oh, how easy were we".
I rate this product 6 for the invaluable footage it contains of Cuba before, during and after 1959. As a documentary it is not good: it is more a flat montage of images that Errol Flynn's Russian partner Victor Pahlen photographed and then edited with Flynn's introduction and closing lines, marches and chachachas. For someone who does not care about the history of Latin America, this work may have not value, but for those interested in history in general, it is an amazing journey to Cuba, watching images of dictator Fulgencio Batista, his chief of police, the army, the revolution leader Fidel Castro, his brother Raúl Castro, Ernesto "Che"Guevara, the rebels and the people, seeing footage of the massacres of soldiers and civilians, American tourists being hosted by Batista, cabarets, casinos, the rebellion, the entrance of the bearded victors to La Habana, the trials, an execution by firing squad, and many more images of what that island was then. Unfortunately it lacks direct sound so we are subjected to narration and (silly) sound effects. Still it is a moving portrait of the sincere ingenuity of all concerned: the people, the makers, the viewers. The conclusion is highly ironic when we watch the then "people" of Venezuela receiving Castro during a visit to their country... The copy available has its soundtrack damaged and some parts are almost inaudible. Of highly historical and archival value, but those who are not interested, avoid it.
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A most pleasant surprise, "The Revenge of Frankenstein" is surely one of Terence Fisher's best films. It is not as well known as "The Curse of Frankenstein" and the other films of Hammer-Fisher series based on Mary Shelley's characters, possibly because it lacks a "monster", and it hardly fits in the ghastly "horror movie" category, in spite of the promotional ads that show a green creature. Of course there is a creature made by Dr. Victor Frankenstein from several human body parts, but it is more sad and pitiful than green or hideous. This time there is an evident medical progress in Dr. Frankenstein's experiments, and by the end of the film they have been (apparently) completely successful. Hammer production values are high as usual, and the work of the customary technical and artistic personnel of the company is remarkable, in particular Jimmy Sangster's tight screenplay, Jack Asher's dark cinematography, and Bernard Robinson's inspired art direction, creating a rich textured drama with very little. Excellent Peter Cushing is as usual a very ruthless Dr. Frankenstein, and Francis Matthews, Michael Gwynn, Eunice Gayson (originally cast as "Miss Moneypenny" in the Bond film series), Richard Wordsworth and Oscar Quitak give effective support as the key characters that propel the drama. Highly recommended.
There are many ways to "read" this film: for some it is a poor man's "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre", for others a simple western, to a few an antecedent of "Brokeback Mountain" (and when considering it as such, these two cowboys surely had more sense of humor than the latter couple), the third installment of a Douglas-Walker western trilogy they all are valid, and it also fits in one kind of film that somehow stresses me: "the desert trap film". There are comedies of this type (as "The Gods Must Be Crazy), but I refer to those dramas in which characters are literally trapped in a desert or a snow-covered steppe, where they suffer the inclemency of the weather of these extreme locations during all the running time. In the sub-category "desert", you find, for example, "The King Is Alive", "The Flight of the Phoenix", the Mexican "Viento negro" and even indoors plots as "The Wind"; and in "snow", there are "Quintet", "The Thing" or "Never Cry Wolf". In "Gold of the Seven Saints", Clint Walker and Roger Moore never leave the dry lands in their intent to take a fortune in gold to the town Seven Saints, some kind of nowhere land in the 19th century. During the trip they have some well-written and finely-delivered manly conversations, but for 35 minutes everything is slow and low key until Chil Wills as a "medicine man" enters and delivers action, and later Robert Middleton and Leticia Román in costume add some Mexican chili to the events. There is nothing special about this film, but somehow it works. Walker projects a pleasant personality, while Moore is surprisingly funny as his Irish companion. Gordon Douglas is a director with no following, but I like a few of his works, as the hilarious "Zombies on Broadway", the science-fiction movie "Them!", the off- beat western "Rio Conchos", and now I add this one.
Badly edited from the original 180 minutes version called "L'amante di Paride", what seems to have survived is this 93-97 minute British version, in which the order of the stories was altered, and the original modern-day framing sequence that opened the film and the first segment ("L'amante di Paride", the Helen of Troy story) was dropped. According to Stephen Michael Shearer in his book on Hedy Lamarr, "Beautiful", Warner Brothers bought the rights for distribution in the United States to avoid its exhibition. The studio was producing Robert Wise's "Helen of Troy" and wanted no competition, so Lamarr's motion picture had no American release, in spite of what sources say (including IMDb). There seems to be a lot of confusion about this film (caused even by Lamarr's personal biography, where she mixes things and changes the names of the segments with other movies she made). From what I see (a few posters) it seemed as if in Italy they released two different movies: "L'amante di Paride" with the Greek gods' feast included, telling the Paris-Helen of Troy affair and the war; and as "I cavalieri dell'illusion" (The Knights of Illusion) the full Geneviève de Brabant tale, which even has a separate entry, here in IMDb. This is possible, considering that each segment ran about 60 minutes that could be rounded into a feature with the framing sequences (the modern-day wedding banquet, and the traveling theater company). Also different sources indicate that the music is by Nino Rota (and indeed, without knowing it was him, I recognized a few notes from his symphony used in "Il Gattopardo"), but that copy I saw credits Alessandro Cicognini as composer. Everybody is acting... not particularly well, to put it mildly, although Terence Morgan plays a villain in a convincing manner. It is recorded that Edgar G. Ulmer prepared the production and then directed the Geneviève de Brabant segment, and perhaps one of the framing sequences, and that (after Ulmer's departure) Marc Allégret did the Greek story, and probably the French chapter on Bonaparte and Josephine that ends the original version. It is also a co- production, not a sole project by Cino del Luca. American Victor Pahlen (who was Errol Flynn's partner in the film company they had in Cuba, and producer of Ulmer's "Pirates of Capri"), was in the production since the beginning, and Lamarr ended buying half of it. This is what I gathered from what I searched about the film, but some information many not be correct. It is true that it was a fiasco, but Hedy Lamarr got her money back, of course.
Nicolas Winding Refn rules! I admit that my admiration for Refn is unconditional: the «Pusher» trilogy, «Bronson», «Drive» and «Only God Forgives», which is the cause of my euphoria. Dedicated to Alejandro Jodorowsky, this is a hint that suggests that this is not a realistic action film, and more something in the lines of «El Topo». To the surprise of many, this is a classic tale of revenge with the high and strikingly emotional charge of a Greek tragedy, a Calderonian drama or an Elizabethan play. It is a reflection on parenthood (as well as motherhood of an incestuous nature), in which the defense of the characters' children is the central motivation for the deadly action. «Only God Forgives» is pure cinema refined in 89 minutes (not one of those 180-240 minute pieces of crap that tell us what we have heard a million times), in which only precise words are needed, in which images reign and the structure takes shape as blood hits the audience's brains in its run in and out of their hearts, allowing sentiments to add to the cathartic effect. Ryan Gosling (who has as many detractors as sycophants) is an example of restraint and control in almost all the motion pictures I have seen him in. It curiously works very well, for those traits seem intrinsic to the archetype he embodies, that of the modern Caucasian and English-speaking man, completely stunned by a bastard world dominated by those of his kind, the present-day savages of the North, until the times come for those living in the South, or we decide to live as human beings in peace all over the planet. Vithaya Pansringarm is the old Thai enforcer (Thailand and Apichatpong Weerasethakul are quite fashionable these days, what can you do, you have to forgive Refn for that), without Chow Yun Fat's syrupy charm; and Kristin Scott Thomas, looking badly aged, cheap and not glamorous, is the bitchiest mother of all bitchy mothers since the days of María Elena Marqués as the legendary «La llorona» (1960), Bette Davis in «The Anniversary» (1968) or Anjelica Huston in «The Grifters» (1990). I just hope Refn knows when it is enough and time to retire in good form, and not end his days doing what John Ford and others did in old age. Enjoy Mothers' Day watching superb «Only God Forgives» with mama.
Exciting court-intrigue, costume drama, propelled to almost greatness by Nino Rota's beautiful score. I was impressed with its tempo and enjoyed the action-filled scenes, and even when the scenes were loaded with dialogs, they were delivered with passion by the fine cast. It is one of those movies in which you do not know who directed what, and where you find Edgar G. Ulmer co-directing with another filmmaker, in this case Italian Giuseppe Maria Scotese (although each artist was given the sole director credit in the copies of their respective countries). It is interesting that both men had backgrounds in the art field, Ulmer being a production designer early in his career, and Scotese starting as a painter and exhibiting his works. The richly detailed sets and costumes, as well as the lush cinematography are more impressive being this a black and white production, and it helped very much filming in Italy, using real and imposing buildings of the past and a majestic ship. Although Louis Hayward was no longer the dashing young man of «Anthony Adverse» (1936) or «The Saint in New York» (1938), first screen outing of the Simon Templar, he was still the agile action man as Captain Sirocco, the swashbuckling alter ego of the effeminate and ironic Count Amalfi. To Hayward's fine characterizations, Massimo Serato effectively counterpoints as the villainous Baron Holstein, the chief of police who wants to seize power of the kingdom of Napoli, ruled by weak queen Marie Caroline, played by Binnie Barnes. Mariella Lotti is the love interest and Mikhail Rasumny provides the comic elements of the plot. Recommended.
Among the Cuban films that I have seen lately, «La emboscada» has highly interesting dramatic elements contained in the screenplay by Ernesto Daranas and Ania Molina, from an original idea by Alejandro Gil. From the cinematic point of view it is a correct work, even discreet, in tone with the plot about three soldier that survive an ambush and are hiding to stay alive; although a bit of a "poetic flight" could have been welcome in the flashbacks, giving them a different visual treatment. However, what stands out in this film with a small cast and a low budget is its portrait of a faceless and nameless war, its bet on an almost metaphoric tale without forcing situations or interpretations. As it proposes this equation, the battle becomes a "civil war" of sorts, the story of a confrontation of stances within the frame of the war film, with quite a fair balance in the description of the opposing forces. The dialogues are rarely excessive: they are precise (except during flashbacks, where exalted emotions and melodramatic lines sometimes ran out of control). In the battlefield, there is a generation struggle between the idealists who blindly embraced the military structures, its iron discipline code, its rules completely out of touch with the new voices, and a younger generation that resents and wants to confront expired values, but is lost of words: the young men only have on their sides their honesty, their transparency and the will to transgress that code in order to save their own lives, and in that brave move, to save others' too. In the center of the plot there are three young men, without monopolizing screen time: first, there is Javier (Caleb Casas), the young soldier who manages to make a change on himself and affect the others, with an act of self- determination, a proactive decision that leads to the resolution, an action seen --I guess-- from the military point of view, as betrayal, cowardice, desertion, insurrection or any of those terms the men in uniform use against everything that challenges their code. Then there is Ernesto (Leonardo Benítez), the "prodigal" son who migrated and comes back to tell his military father what he meant in his own formation, serving an "imperialist army" in Iraq. Third, there is Camilo (Alejandro Cuervo), the son of the strictest of the older soldiers, a young man who turns out to be a rebel, a radical and a homosexual. The three of them, in their own way, show to their superiors the kind of world they want to live in. Finally there is Tony (Armando Miguel Núñez), a naive young man who becomes a victim, with no time to even become conscious of the stupidity of the deeply rooted power force. If this is not a reflection of what is going on in Cuba, tell me what is. However, it is Cuba, but at the same time it is not. It is a universal tale about human condition and its evolution in the whole wide world, that shows how the military has evolved from the force that defended the food of the tribes, to criminals. Besides a little boasting here and there by the cinematographer, I only have one big objection: the music. And not because the music by Juan Antonio Leyva and Magda Rosa Albán is bad, but because it is more often out of place than in cue. Quite the contrary, all performers are very good, especially Caleb Casas, Tomás Cao and Patricio Wood, who are the players in the core of the action.
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A verbose supernatural melodrama with an agenda: to warn us spectators of the "dangers" of occultism and to avoid practicing spiritualism. It includes a long, wordy scene where a spiritualist leader explains the excellences and virtues of this practice, its connection to all religions, or the link between good spirits and classical music. But outside of those dark rooms and into the house of a middle-class Mexican family, the story that is told is far more interesting than all the proselytizing, or the sessions with Ouijas and fainting mediums: a young man asks his parents to mortgage their home to open a crop dusting business. He does so after the party of their silver wedding anniversary, when the father had finally given his wife the title deeds as a present. Against what she was warned during the first séance we see, the mother, who is a domineering, manipulative and ambitious woman, tells her husband to do what their only child says. Trouble follows, and pretty soon the mother is asking the Devil for money, bringing tragedy to her family. Using the W.W. Jacobs' tale "The Monkey's Paw" to round up the script, in its scariest moments the movie sometimes made me remember Maurice Tourneur's "La main du Diable" and Robert Florey's "The Beast with Five Fingers", but quite often it is the typical family melodrama with tearful histrionics the Mexicans cherish. Unfortunately the script takes so much time to give lectures about spiritualism, that there is not much left for the "real thing", and the final act is incredibly fast. The copy by VCI Entertainment in Spanish is very good, but Augusto Benedico (as the priest) has disappeared from the prologue. The movie begins when the husband goes to church to tell the priest what has happened. Benedico is only seen in a brief close-up that dissolves to the past, as the husband narrates what happened to his family. Director Benito Alazraki, who made an auspicious debut with the motion picture "Raíces" (Roots) in 1954, was no stranger to horror. He had made before (also for producer Guillermo Calderón) the cult classic "Muñecos infernales" (The Curse of the Doll People) that went for pure horror, but in "Espiritismo" he was subject to the Calderón's fore-mentioned agenda.
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