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Le meraviglie di Aladino (1961)
It's forgotten for a reason : contrived, unfunny and laborious
THE WONDERS OF ALADDIN is an Arabian PEPLUM adventure which makes little sense. The screenplay, by Bava and others, is point blank terrible. I'd like to write a comprehensive review of it but the story is near incomprehensible that I can't review it because I still don't know what the story is about. It meanders here and there with no semblance of a cohesive storyline or logic.
The first thing which stands out is that Aladdin is played by a 35 year old Donald O'Connor. I don't need to say anything more about this.
Aladdin still lives with his mother who one day buys a cheap lamp which 'makes noise'. Now who would buy a lamp or even sell a lamp that makes noise? This 'noisy' lamp is meant to be funny but it's just the beginning of a series of comedic touches or jokes which aren't comical or funny in any way, shape or form.
Now Aladdin accidentally rubs the lamp while scratching himself because he has fleas (!!!). Like the 'noisy' lamp, the scenes featuring fleas go one endlessly and never illicit any laughs. I've never thought of seeing a movie waste 10 minutes of film on stupid fleas. It's overkill.
The film continues on here and there with nary a story. Now the lack of story could be fine if the direction and pacing and dialogue where amusing but it's not. There are aspects of this story which beggars belief: such as Aladdin NEVER knowing how to summon the Genie (played with complete indifference by Vittorio De Sica). Once Aladdin figures he can summon a Genie he never asks for money, love, etc. It never dawns on Aladdin to ask the Genie to grant him all of his wishes. The Genie is simply there like a prop whenever Aladdin is in a predicament. At one point, Aladdin tries to summon the Genie but since he doesn't remember how he did it the first time (see above i.e. fleas) in one scene we have to endure O'Connor goofing around, rubbing his stomach and such. A-ha! Again not funny. Just stupid and forced. This moment happens 30 minutes into the film and we still can't see any semblance of a storyline. Aladdin and his slave (Milton Reid) are stranded in the desert after a battle. The two end up being captured by desert Amazons who want to mate with them and kill them afterwards but Aladdin figures out how to get the Genie to get them out of there and bam they're back in the desert, walking in a chain-gang. The entire scene with the Amazons, who look like Las Vegas showgirls, was pointless. They could cut it out and go from the scene before and then to the chain-gang moment and it wouldn't make any difference. It's inconsistent and padded and nonsensical as that.
O'Connor was a talented and his artistry does shine through from time to time but for the love of God he was totally miscast. Terence Hill is in this and he's wasted in a pointless role. The whole project feels aborted and misconceived. Steve Reeves was supposed to star in this and the European film company LUX changed their minds as Steve was going to star in a couple of other productions, including the much better and more successful THIEF OF BAGHDAD. So they cast O'Connor instead of Reeves. How does one go from Steve Reeves to Donald O'Connor is a total mystery.
So to recap:
The bad: unfunny jokes, lame action scenes, terrible meandering script, padded. The complete total lack of any sense of wonder.
The good: locations, great score by Angelo F Lavagnino and a scene or two showcasing O'Connor's talents.
V/H/S/2 is one of the worst films I've seen in some time. Amateurish. Not one story was worth watching. There are so many flaws, plot-holes, crappy acting, repetitious and contrived set ups that the cumulative effect, by the end of the film, is like a cannibal who cannibalized himself over and over again until nothing was left.
There's no point of writing a comprehensive review. It's just not worth it for a film like this. All segments are poorly directed, written, photographed and acted.
The main problem with this film (as in the first one) is the contrived POV set-up which are never credible and the segments' directors themselves cheat this POV set-up repeatedly by showing scenes or shots NOT from any camera source. If the filmmakers can't even sustain the 'gimmick' they're trying to sell these gimmicky films as then it's an epic fail.
The only segment I'll review is the last one SLUMBER PARTY ALIEN ABDUCTION. It is so terrible that it takes the cake. It is so bad I just can't believe anyone thought this was ready for prime time. The whole thing is point blank stupid. For instance, the moronic action during the segment is almost entirely seen from the POV of a dog! Yes, a dog. During bits of conversations the dog actually moves its head back and forth conveniently following the obnoxious characters' painful chit chat...in order for us to see who's talking. I can't believe how stupid that was. As stupid as the infamous 'german shepherd having a flashback' in HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 (1984). The director of this segment repeatedly distorts the image with video noise and VHS artifacts as a way to edit the "footage" in improbable ways.
The horror genre is really in a bad state when this atrocity generates any interest. Avoid at all cost!
A 90 minute perfume commercial
AMER is all style with absolutely no substance.
It's a collection of over-directed scenes stitched together with overdone editing all about nothing.
Aside from the overdone beginning, which has very little to do with the rest of the film, in tone or anything else, the rest is just 60 minutes of shots pouty lips, of long hair ending up everywhere or of the wind blowing through a young girls legs or a middle aged woman's legs, sending her in constant state of near orgasmic frenzy. In this film the wind is truly powerful!
Every little mundane detail is a sexual catalyst and this is amped to the nth degree, in case we couldn't figure it out after the endless number of close-ups of lips and flesh and sounds of heavy breathing.
For instance, when the middle-aged woman walks through the garden surrounding the mansion, the trees, plants and shrubberies she comes across seem to want to ravish her. This is me rolling on the floor with laughter.
This film has two directors, one of them being a woman but even so the so-called 'male gaze' has never been more omnipresent. I've never seen so many panties/crotch shots outside of a Spice Girls music video.
Its attempt to ape the Giallo style of filmmaking (which includes a cheesy retro poster) falls resolutely flat. Giallo films are first and foremost passionate and this film is as passionate as a dead fish washed up on a beach.
A very shallow cinematic experience.
Belles, blondes et bronzées (1981)
This French "Bronzées" T&A film, a popular genre at the time, is one of the most memorable. Is it great art? No it's not but the goofy (and sexy) story sorta works regardless. It's one of those guilty pleasures you watch any time it's on TV. The story is secondary (something about two buddies who are mistakenly given loads of stolen money and the thieves trying to regain their loot). These kind of films were excuses to show gratuitous nudity: boatloads of shapely girls in bikinis, usually topless, as only the French can get away with and the men, equally wearing skimpy swimsuits or disrobing on a whim, chasing after the girls.
Funny scenes: when the duo are talking on he phone with their boss and following instructions; the newspaper bit at the pool side and the subsequent burning of newspaper in the desert and the two pretending it's cold to the suspicious police. The cast includes Daniel Derval as the flamboyant "folle". Derval made a career playing the same role in several films.
The Opposite Sex (1956)
Pretty much worthless
This glossy musical remake of THE WOMEN, the famous movie which featured a women-only cast, is nothing short of a complete disaster. This film is pretty much toothless and almost completely miscast. June Allyson? Yikes. She looks like a drip throughout the film. Hair, posture, etc, as appealing as a bowl of oatmeal. Granted, Norma Shearer wasn't the scorching beauty in THE WOMEN but she looked, eh, healthy. June looks a bit sick here. In the original, Sylvia was played by Rosalind Russell who almost stole every scene she was in. In this remake, Dolores Gray is Sylvia and looks like an embalmed drag queen-looking mummy. The only good bit of casting was having Joan Collins in the role made famous by Joan Crawford. Whenever Collins is not in the film, the film flat-lines, literally. She's the only spark in this wet firecracker, as clichéd as it is for her to play the conniving man-hungry uber bitch. Remarkably, having men in the film almost added nothing except for handsome Jeff Richards who doesn't have much to do but look good. Leslie Nielsen is wasted and not very convincing. June Allyson and Nielsen as a married couple? Bleech.
Some scenes are lifted directly from THE WOMEN, like the bathtub scene. Some things that sorta worked back in the 1930s simply do not work in 1956. The entire Reno bit is truly tired and should have been re-written for the 1950s.
Oddly enough, this is a musical remake, probably just to accommodate June, and the musical scenes are mostly horrendous. The bit with Dick Shawn is painful to watch. The whole "Now, Baby, Now" with June singing with a bunch of gyrating male dancers is inexplicable. It's so odd it becomes brilliant if viewed as a total curio. You really wonder what they were thinking.
Watching the film, with the characters trying to be classy and the rich types, moving within the tacky studio sets, the overdone gowns and all that stuff and I sorta realized how Hollywood had a truly warped Waspy vision of the world. The end result makes Hollywood look like a playground for philandering film producers who wanted to be surrounded by what they thought were the beautiful people but in reality it was more on the corny & garishly gay side. Dreadful.
Pretty good once the story settles down but a mess of sorts!
I'm a fan of silent films and try to watch as many as possible when the opportunity arises. I'm also a fan of Sword & Sandal films and I had the chance to see the 1914 version of SALAMBO. Compared to the masterpiece CABIRIA, also made in 1914, this film is a mess of sorts.
The film lasts 75 minutes and for the first 25 minutes or so we *only* see a series of establishing shots with intertitles telling us what's going on. That's it. No close ups. No panning or anything interesting. Only wide static shots of large crowds scenes with the main characters somewhere in there. This wouldn't be so bad if the scenes weren't filmed in such an uninteresting way (angle, composition, etc). Once Matho climbs up the aqueduct of Carthage the action finally starts(this scene is very much like when Maciste and company climb the fortress in CABIRIA). And by action I mean the camera follows the characters and the characters exchange dialogue, not necessarily action as in action-packed stuff. Movies were still in its infancy which might explain the odd and confusing narrative structure of SALAMBO. 25 minutes of mostly static shots to set-up a story is way too long, even for that time.
Once it settles down to a visible storyline, it's pretty good and the magic of silent cinema finally takes hold but it's still a mess of sorts. Unlike CABIRIA, you can't really identify or empathize with any of the characters here. They're more like figures or shadows moving across the screen than characters. There are things that happen to the characters and I'm not quite sure why. No intertitle or dialogue telling us what just happened. There are some close-ups but they are rare. I think the first close-up within the story itself occurs 40 minutes mark. There are some close-ups of the actors at the beginning but those are there just to introduce the name of characters.
The sets are pretty good, the crowd scenes are grand. But these things can't overcome the sloppy editing and the wobbly, unfocused narrative. The one interesting aspect of this film is one of the main characters is black, Spendius, and he's not played as a caricature or as unimportant. He's vital to the story and it's cool to see that in a film made in 1914. When Spendius enters the statue of Tanit, and what happens afterward, it's probably the best moment of the film.
When the film on the DVD starts the words THE PRIESTESS OF TANIT appear, not SALAMBO. But the intertitles have the name SALAMBO on it. It seems the title is missing from this reel which goes straight to the introduction of the characters. The distributor of the DVD used the artwork of the 1925 made-in-France version of SALAMBO, which confused me. By the artwork, I thought I was buying that version but I really got the 1914 made-in-Italy one. The distributor should use different artwork or a photo from this film to sell this version. Oh well.
The music, credited to Lou McMahon, often didn't go with what was happening on screen but this is not uncommon with silent films in general as the original score is lost. A new score or finding the original score would be an improvement over this one. I had to turn off the sound to enjoy it more.
The story was adapted into another version, in 1960 titled SALAMMBO, starring Jacques Sernas and Jeanne Valérie. You can see some similarities between the two but the 1960 version, even with its faults, is more successful than this one.
I giganti della Tessaglia (1960)
Excellent PEPLUM; contains one of the best S&S sequences ever made
THE GIANTS OF THESSALY is one of the better PEPLUM films made during the PEPLUM/Musclemen/Sword & Sandal explosion of the the late 50s/early 60s. The assured hand of Riccardo Freda keeps it going even if there are some weak spots in it, the weak aspects being the acting (there's a scene with an actress tied to a rock and her acting is pitiful) and some cheesy sets and effects. But the bad aspect of this film do not diminish the entire overall effect and it's pretty cool. British actor Roland Carey makes a nice change over the usual Steve Reeves or Mark Forest or Gordon Scott. Physically, Roland is imposing. He looks tall and built but not too built like a body builder. His physique is believable. Roland plays Jason and the story is basically the quest for the Golden Fleece (part of this story was already incorporated in HERCULES(1958) ).
He leads a boat filled a beefy crew and they got through a bunch of great and not so great adventures, culminating with the finding of the Golden Fleece. The scene when Roland Carey gets the fleece is one of the greatest moments ever made in a PEPLUM. From the boat, to climbing up a cliff that leads to the statue where Jason as to climb all the way to the top of the statue to retrieve the fleece is simply amazing. Combined with the rousing score (one of the best and most familiar scores in any Sword & Sandal) and you have a brilliant scene. It makes the movie and Riccardo Freda's direction really shines here.
The DVD available in the US is of terrible quality. I've seen a clear fully widescreen HD version and it's amazing. The US DVD doesn't do it justice.
And to those who think this is nothing more than a weak rip-off of the Ray Harryhausen version of Jason & the Argonauts, well THE GIANTS OF THESSALY was made 3 years before the Harryhausen flick.
CHLOE is the most risible film I've seen since, well, WHERE THE TRUTH LIES. The story is totally whacked and one wonders who in their right mind thought this story made any sense: a spoiled rich gynecologist believes her husband is cheating on her. She suddenly feels invisible: her husband is having sex with one of his young students. Friends are dating young chicks. Her son his sleeping with a hot chick in his bedroom. People all around are boinking chicks. The wife suddenly realizes "Heck, I'm missing on all of the hot action" so she decides to hire a hooker, with the idea of seducing her husband to see if he'll sleep with her, but it's all a ruse really because she's the one who ends up having sex with Chloe the Hooker. Chloe invents all these "hot" stories of her sleeping with the husband, to dupe the silly wife; these stories are so hot the wife decides to have sex with the hooker, because the wife feels she's invisible and by having sex with Chloe it's like some transference thingy going on and part of the passion the husband is sharing with the hooker the wife thinks she'll feel it too.
The logic in the story is so whacked, it had me rolling on the floor.
First of all, I can't sympathize/empathize with the wife's pain/grief. She's a wealthy spoiled woman who hires a young woman to trap her husband. Nice character.
Second, the couple is a corny couple. Who cares if they don't make it or anything about their happiness.
Third, the two women, the silly wife and the hooker, are shown as being total nut jobs: the wife is gullible and accepts every little detail the hooker tells her without any proof of what she's claiming is real and the hooker is shown as being mentally unstable in the SINGLE WHITE FEMALE kind of way.
So basically the degrading screenplay portrays these two neurotic women as crazy, conniving, manipulating, narcissistic and out of control with their emotions. They both end-up coning each other while object of the initial target, the boring husband, doesn't even figure in the story. The two scheming women end up looking like two monkeys fellating each other at the zoo. I wanted to throw peanuts at them to make them stop. The ending elevates the level of degradation when Chloe the Hooker sleeps with the son in the parents' bedroom and when they're found out Chloe the Hooker then tries to seduce the wife again, which is seen by her son. The wife, embarrassed, literally pushes Chloe away to her death. Nice.
Though the story hints at Pasolini's brilliant TEOREMA, the storyline is straight out of the 1970s Black Emanuelle trash epics. Well, I would rather watch any Laura Gemser flick than this risible piece of "serious" filmmaking. The sex scenes in CHLOE were not hot for one second. Just unconvincing.
When the wife suddenly realizes the truth with those fake encounters Chloe has been telling her, she tells the clueless husband what she did: that she hired a hooker to entrap him and that she also ended up having sex with her (and in turn became the cheater here), the husband shrugs it off as if it was normal and OK. Again, this is me on the floor laughing my butt off. If I was the husband, I'd ask the wife to seek professional psychiatric help. I mean, the money she spent on the hooker could have been spent on something more important, ya know, like a brand new flat screen TV for that ridiculously overly designed house of theirs.
Even though it's a remake of a French film CHLOE reminded me more of the trashy Italian film called DELERIUM starring Mickey Hargitay. Same insane logic in the storyline with the women being completely crazy and degraded. The excellent Julianne Moore needs to get better projects than this laughable & embarrassing stuff.
Clash of the Titans (2010)
The uneven original is remade into an abysmal, joyless adventure
Remakes these days are almost always terrible and having seen production photos of COTT before its release, photos that didn't inspire much confidence, I decided not to see the remake on the big screen, opting to wait for it on DVD or download. I always had a love/hate approach to the original which I saw at the cinemas when I was a young teen. So take this as someone who's not a fanatic of the original and was going to hate any remake from the get go. With that said the new film is thoroughly awful in almost every way possible. Except for the beginning (which is OK, not great), the action packed but not suspenseful Medusa scene and the clearly OTT ending, there's nothing much else to see. The entire cast of characters is uniformly unpleasant. Not one likable character in the whole thing, including a growling Perseus (played by one-note Aussie actor Sam Worthington). This is difference with the original. I basically liked almost every characters, no matter how cardboard they were.
Here's a breakdown of the film:
- the changes to the story (humans vs gods) doesn't make any sense.
- Adding the religious/cult storyline with the crazy leader was awful. It added nothing and the character was annoying as hell.
- It doesn't really look Greek at all but more Pompeiish than anything else. The design of Argos, though spectacular during the climax, has absolutely nothing to do with Greek design/architecture.
- the look and design of Mount Olympus is tacky. Looks like a cheesy sci-fi movie.
- Like the original, the other Gods do not have much to do.
- In the original, Perseus had to tame Pegasus which made sense, for a Heroic journey. In the remake, Pegasus, who's black, appears to him and, well, that's it. Totally dull. The original was much better in this regard. And the reason they made Pegasus black because the CGI is more forgiving than if it was white.
- the scene with the scorpions doesn't make any sense whatsoever. In the original, the Medusa's blood mutates the scorpions into big monsters but in the remake, Calibos' blood (after his hand was cut off) drips on some sand and the scorpions appear from the ground, killing most of the men from Argos but then Perseus and his men team up with the mysterious beings that use the big scorpions as transportation like nothing had happened! Huh?
- the set for the Medusa scene is pretty good and the Medusa is OK as a superfast slithery creature but the scene is more action than suspense. And Sam wears flesh-colored tights during many shots, which makes it look very silly.
The ending is so over-the-top that it's almost a thing of beauty. Here's a breakdown:
- It takes the Kraken 15 minutes to surface. There's slow and slow, but man, that beast is constipated.
- The Kraken looks like a turtle/octopus/that monster from Return of the Jedi thingy
- The climax occurs during an eclipse. Why?
- The ending or confrontation between the Kraken and Perseus is ridiculously drawn out, extended by having those winged demons snatch the bag with the head of the Medusa (how did they know what was in the bag?)
- the action is often so confusing that the characters have to tell us what's going on such as when the winged demons snatch the bag, Perseus yells that they stole it because we clearly couldn't see what was going on.
- Andromeda, which is not the love interest in this version, hangs from the sacrificial altar hundreds of feet above the sea, strung up by her arms, which she never seems to find painful. Unlike other Sword & Sandal films where people were in extreme pain when hanging from their arms, Andromeda is remarkably calm and nonchalant about it all.
- When the Kraken becomes a statue, the whole thing is beyond silly. It looks like the monster has a sudden rash. It crumbles from its own weight and Andromeda falls in the ocean and yet Perseus is able to find her underwater amidst the whole chaos. He must have a heat seeking device on him.
- Sam Worthington's Aussie accent can be heard throughout the movie. Plus the fact that his hair is not in style with the times, the less time Sam is on screen, the better it is.
The score is totally forgettable, unlike the Laurence Rosenthal score for the original, which is beautiful and soaring.
All in all, this remake is at times so bad that in its own way becomes a thing of beauty. I mean, how can a film get it so wrong on so many levels? Even the brief cameo of Bubo, which was a sight for soar eyes, was mishandled. The film was a huge success and even though the Kraken is dead and the Medusa is headless, Warner has already greenlighted a sequel!
Because of this remake, I have to re-evaluate the original, which, after watching this suddenly comes out as brilliant on almost every level, including the fact that its more in tune with Greek mythology than this unpleasant version. Well, I still find the original uneven at best but it's also more enjoyable, memorable and far sexier too.
Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
red herrings everywhere but still fun
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME will never be mistaken as great filmmaking but for what it's supposed to accomplish and certainly considering the time it was made, during the slasher explosion of the late 70s/early 1980s, this one clearly stands out from the crowded pack of gory thrillers. Though a bit too relaxed at times, with a plethora of crazy red herrings throughout and the level of acting sporadic and/or all over the place, the great things about this thriller are the quasi-Gothic atmosphere, certainly during the climax, the not-so-average murders, the beautiful location filming (in and around Montreal) and a strong score. If a horror/thriller/slasher have all these qualities than it's thumbs up for me.
The red herrings in this film are mind-boggling. Practically every scene is a set-up for a red herring. This creates a padded feeling that extends the film's running time for no purpose at all, with many scenes stretched to the point of tedium. Thankfully the good stuff keeps those scenes from destroying the film's structure.
The killings are often creative with the dumbbell death being the film's most memorable death. Ouch. The killing at the beginning was at times unintentionally hilarious. The girl was really dumb but the spirit of the scene reminded me of Italian thrillers called Giallo so I give it a pass.
The denouement is over the top and many dislike it because it's not credible enough but I love OTT endings and this one is certainly a head scratcher. IMO, the ending actually makes the movie. It's a perfect ending to the sad/Gothic/gory story of our confused heroine who believes she's losing her mind after undergoing some (graphic but not too realistic) brain surgery which left her vulnerable to terrifying memory lapses.
One bit during the climax, the flashback scenes showing a hand chloroforming someone, had me rolling on the floor. Once was enough but three times was silly.
The cast is above average for a slasher. Sure, there are the prerequisite types in these kind of films: the babe, good looking jock, the shifty nerd, all played by unknowns but Melissa Sue Anderson is surprisingly effective here and anchors the film's spotty level of acting. Glenn Ford is OK but is role is almost negligible. I'm surprised Melissa Sue Anderson's career didn't go anywhere after this. Her role was demanding and she didn't embarrass herself.
If you're a fan of slashers make sure to check this one out.