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Liberty Stands Still (2002)
After an hour, I was ready to shoot myself!
OK, guns are too readily available in the United States. OK, guns don't kill people...people kill people. I also understand that so-called "Law-abiding citizens" commit a large percentage of the murders in the United States. There is no doubt that the murder rate would decrease if weapons ownership were restricted to cops and crooks. So what? The makers of this tedious movie were more interested in scoring debating points and "making people think" about firearms issues than they were in making an entertaining film. "Joe" makes his point by killing a few people with his sniper rifle...but, hey, it's OK, because they're BAD people. Gimme a break! Perhaps the film's makers end up making their point by virtue of the fact that some wacko like "Joe" has access to a sniper rifle. The novelty wore off quite quickly. This is a b-o-r-i-n-g film.
The titles call this film "Old Heidelberg." Perhaps the longer title was added later to cash in on the popularity of Romberg's operetta, "The Student Prince," or to differenciate this 1927 silent film from an earlier version. Although director Ernst Lubitsch is a bit ham-handed about hammering home the fact that the obligations of royalty can lead to unhappiness (characters musing about how wonderful it must be to be a prince/king...the irony is too heavy-handed, which isn't like him), the point, at least, does get made. The movie abounds in gorgeous, evocative images that enhance the dramatic situations. There are many very telling moments that reveal the Master's touch...the prince steps out of the train, his momentary jealousy when he sees Kathi's popularity with the students, his stiff reunion with his former friends, who can no longer be his friends, and his realization of it. Ramon Novarro is an eager puppy-dog of a prince, charmingly, almost unbelievably, naive and enthusiastic, which makes his dilemma all the more touching as he begins to realize that there are some things a king can't have; if Norma Shearer, by comparison, seems more calculating and "actressy," she's still quite effective (when she and Karl Friedrich embrace before he heads back home because of his uncle's illness, her eyes tell you that she suspects she may never see him again), and the lesser roles are cast to near-perfection. After performing as a successful screen villain, Jean Hersholt was so good as the Prince's loyal tutor and companion that he established a nearly-unshakable image of weary kindliness. Production values are high--Lubitsch spent a lot of money but, in this case, it wasn't wasted. As one who generally finds silent films hammily-acted and dated in sensibility, I was pleasantly surprised to find this movie so absorbing. The Carl Davis score with which it is now shown, was added much later and does its own part to enhance the movie. Highly recommended.
South Pacific (1958)
Giorgo Tozzi; Doug McClure; Joan Fontaine; Beverly Aadland!!!
I just watched it last night. The mixture of Michener stories is skillfully managed in the musical book but the movie moves at a glacial pace and switches uneasily back-and-forth between a stylized, staginess and gritty realism. Giorgio Tozzi, who was Brazzi's singing voice, ended up playing the part of de Becque onstage (to very good effect...they could have used him in the movie!) after his Met career was over. Did anyone notice these three names in the final credits: Joan Fontaine (as a lark) was one of the Polynesian women; Beverly Aadland (Errol Flynn's last girlfriend when she was a teenager) played a nurse, and Doug McClure appeared briefly as a wounded pilot. Joshua Logan's use of color filters in the musical scenes was inspired by the lighting in the original Broadway musical. He was told that, if he changed his mind about it, the filtering could be undone. He did change his mind after the film was assembled but was then told that it would be too expensive to undo so he was stuck with it and the result is frequently bizarre and pretentious. Pedantic point: if France Nuyen's Liat can't speak English, how can she mime Juanita Hall's words in "Happy Talk"? I've never been completely satisfied with this 1958 movie or with the 2001 TV remake, which does have a swifter, more realistic (despite the integrated military) quality to it. I admire Glenn Close's performance in the 2001 version as Nellie even though she really was too old and seemed too sophisticated to play a self-described "hick." I could do with a lot less Luther Billis, whose stupid clowning is reduced in the 2001 version...a point in its favor. His antics never amused me and he holds up the action. In the 1958 version, Brazzi, Mitzi Gaynor, John Kerr (Unlike some commentators, I think he's absolutely right for Lt. Cable), Juanita Hall, Ray Walston, Russ Brown, and the rest of the cast are excellent. In the final analysis, I think the 2001 version does more justice to Michener and the 1958 version does a little more justice to Rodgers and Hammerstein. They are both enjoyably frustrating, if that's not an oxymoron!
If it only had Connery.....
Amazingly, this film sticks fairly closely to the book...to its great advantage. It didn't do all that badly at the box office either and the producers would have continued with George Lazenby if he hadn't been such a nuisance.. According to my reading, Lazenby was such an "artiste" and caused the producers and director so much aggravation that they pleaded with Connery to do the next one, which he did. Unfortunately, the series became even more infantile and gimmicky as it went on. The best ones are Dr. No and From Russia With Love, the first two, but even with Lazenby, this one isn't bad. Connery was the right man for the role because he had a cold edge to go along with the superficial charm. One could easily imagine him killing in cold blood ("That's a Smith and Wesson...you've had your six.") or wisecracking after killing an enemy agent ("You won't be needing this...old man!"). Lazenby really doesn't project much of anything...he has no personality. Roger Moore was too lazy and good-natured for one to imagine him as a cold-blooded killer (which Bond was). Timothy Dalton was too intense. Pierce Brosnan (who couldn't take the role when it was originally offered to him, hence, the choice of Dalton) isn't bad at all but he's no Connery and the Bond movies are now aimed at IQs under 100 (maybe they always were but they used to do it with more class).
Kiss of the Dragon (2001)
Almost relentless action but we've seen it all before...
If brainless action is what you go for, "Kiss of the Dragon" provides plenty of it. This is a typical effort in which the Kung-Fu hero, in this case Jet Li (instead of Jackie Chan, Don the Dragon Wilson, Billy Blanks, or Steven Seagal) whips about 200 guys during the course of the film, in one case, about 20 French Kung-Fuers at once. The plot, such as it is, involves the assassination of some Chinese drug-Lord by the Paris Chief of Police, either to silence him or to take over his half of the drug business they share, or both...it's never made clear. Jet Li, a super-cop on loan from Peking, is set up to take the fall for the murder. The first 20 minutes, involving the assassination, are the best part of the film, which quickly degenerates into a garden-variety Kung-Fu film. The action scenes, though cleverly staged and varied, eventually becoming numbingly predictable...you've seen it all in dozens of other Kung-Fu movies. If you don't get bored easily or don't care about the senseless, stupid plot, you might enjoy it. My mind began to wander after about 45 minutes....
The Deadly Affair (1966)
Half of a good spy thriller and too slow-moving.
A veteran spy (James Mason), puzzled by the apparent suicide of a colleague, joins forces with a retired police inspector (Harry Andrews) to investigate it. That's the interesting half of the film. Unfortunately, too much of the movie is devoted to Mason's dysfunctional marriage to a nymphomaniacal twit (Harriet Andersson). Complicating matters is her affair with one of Mason's ex-agents, now a Swiss businessman (Maximilian Schell). Simone Signoret, speaking occasionally unintelligible English, plays the dead agent's wife, who soon becomes an object of Mason's suspicions. Many scenes go on too long and accomplish little for it; this movie needed a good editor. Mason's resonant voice and dignified presence and the Harry Andrews charm are its biggest assets.
A waste of good singing but worth seeing once.
Kismet isn't a complete waste of time but director Minelli was itching to do Lust for Life and had little enthusiasm for this assignment, which engaged his abilities, but not his sympathies. Unfortunately, it shows. Like Brigadoon and a few other musicals, this was one case where the Freed factory failed despite some gorgeous singing by the principals (Vic Damone is no actor but he ravishes "Stranger in Paradise"). Some numbers are shorn from the score, which doesn't hurt much but some are added, which does. There's a stale, formulaic quality to this movie and Kismet is a hothouse flower that doesn't thrive under M-G-M's "crunch-it-out" treatment. More imagination and taste were needed. There are several good recordings of the score and I'd suggest that, if you like the music (what's not to like?), you experience Kismet aurally.
Beyond Justice (1992)
Beyond redemption. Even Rutger Hauer fans may be frustrated.
A rich, bossy executive's son is kidnapped by her ex-husband, an arab who has been warned to return to his people or face the consequences, which could include her death. When he and the boy arrive at the settlement of his father, the Emir (Omar Sharif), he is informed that, because he has been a bad boy who transgressed against his society's precepts, he will be bypassed and his son, now thirteen, will eventually rule the Emir's people. Meanwhile, the frantic mother (Carol Alt, looking quite elegant) has been put in touch with a specialist in "dirty" operations (Rutger Hauer), who agrees, for a price, to rescue the boy from the Emir's clutches. At this point, the movie begins to slow down as Hauer and his associates penetrate the Emir's lair. There's a lack of imagination and flair to the filming. They just crunch it out. One gets tired of seeing people diving off camels or rolling down sand dunes after they get shot. The film score sounds as if it were written for some other, equally pedestrian movie. And just when you think everything is about to be tied up in a neat package, there's a twenty-minute coda of more gunplay. When you run out of dialogue or plot twists, get out those AK-47s. Does the father pay for his "crime"? Does the kid get saved? Does the Emir say "It is written....?" Does Hauer end up with Alt? Have you ever seen a movie?
Blackbeard, the Pirate (1952)
For connoisseurs of ham, here's one of the all-time greats!
I am gratified that so many others have commented on Robert Newton's completely over-the-top performance in the title role. Unfortunately, it completely transcends the otherwise conventional Hollywood pirate movie that surrounds it. When he's on the screen, nothing else exists. Yes, it's ham-acting at its hammiest but it's virtuoso ham acting that hardly anyone could hope to match. He rolls his eyes, growls, orates...he simply takes over the movie and almost gives ham-acting a good name. The only performances of this kind that I can think of which come close to matching him are Orson Welles (in many things but especially in "Black Magic") and Ralph Richardson in "Things to Come."
Battlefield Earth (2000)
The Psychlos don't turn out to be so smart, after all....
It's the year 3,000 and, for a millenium, earth has been ruled by a race called the Psychlos who, by their own testimony, wiped out all resistance "in nine minutes." They are ten feet tall, scientifically advanced, and given to ham-acting. In what was once the United States, what's left of humanity struggles along in primitive, remote, hidden communities in the Rockies. The Psychlos are intent on stripping the planet of its minerals. The plot concerns the eventual resistance of subjugated humanity. I won't give anything else away. Amazingly, there's little blood or real violence. Those who judge movies by their body count will be disappointed until the end. If there was any propaganda from the so-called Church of $cientology, it sailed right past me. The movie also goes on a bit too long but, though no masterpiece, it is undeserving of the brutal reviews it has received. It's just a typically silly Hollywood sci-fi film, more intelligent and interesting than witless junk like, say, Starship Troopers, but Star Wars, it's not.