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|24 reviews in total|
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Just finished Episode 10 of "Vegeance" with a degree of sadness. So much guilty pleasure now gone. Nothing like homo-erotic tits'n'ass softporn mixed with vats of fake blood, hacked limbs, ingenious death strokes (the guy who got his face chopped off: outfrickingstanding!) and more conspiracy than November 22, 1963. But, as I feared, all of my favorite characters died. (SPOILER) That's because I find the evil Romans far more interesting than the virtuous slaves. "Vengeance," like "Arena" before it, was jammed with villains I loved to hate and nominal heroes I hated to love; the ignoble Romans had a variety of character flaws with saving attributes-- their motives were base but believable, their actions debauched but presented without hypocrisy, their manipulations far more creative, their energy levels far more sustained than the competition on the other side of the line. Spartacus, now played by Liam McIntyre, has become a pompous bore, speechifying at a moment's notice about all the words that came through the rain in shouts to Lt. Henry in "Farewell to Arms," while Crixus is a baby, Doctore doesn't have much to do and Gannicus is far too pretty and shallow. And, yes, the slow-mo eruptions of corn-syrup plasma do become tiring. More importantly, how will the series survive without (SPOILERS) Glabus and Ashur the Syrian, much less Lucretia (it does look like Ilytheia has survived, and perhaps she'll arrive in "War of the Damned" as Crassus's new mistress; and speaking of Crassus, whoever plays him in "Damned" better have some chops. I could see John Hannah, in modest disguise, for he had the snivelly cunning necessary, and it would be a help, as this year certainly missed his diabolical energy.) Still, with great episodes in three and four and the sudden, bloody demise of simpering Seppia lighting up nine, it offered enough pleasure to get a little more than by. I thought the vine gag to get the boys off Vesuvias was thin, and Glabus vs. Spartacus not much in sword choreography and the flying fireball machines a little too convenient as force multipliers The whole ending was thin, except for Lucretia's death dive, an unexpected moment exactly appropriate revelatory magnificence. I will indeed pony up for "Damned," in hopes that DeKnight can regain the tragic yet epic grace of the original. But Doctore DeKnight, get us a Crassus equal to Olivier's; what about . . . Christian Bale?
I can't add much to what's been said, only that it seems to me it's Astaire's best comic acting role and that Rita is adorable, magnificent, talented, and beyond compare. When they dance, it's magic. What did strike me as curious was the fact that the film was set in Argentina for no apparent reason, and its version of "Argentina" seems to be any wealthy American suburb in America, New Canaan possibly, or maybe Kenilworth or Chevy Chase? It's as "Argentinian" as your aunt's patootie, whatever that means. Was it a response to FDR's "Good Neighbor" policy back in '42 perhaps? Or perhaps the South American stylings, as mild as they were, were to justify Xavier Cougat's presence in the pic, although he's characterized as "coming down from New York". His Latin-themed orchestrations are the only verifiably "hispanic" touch. Very strange. The Acunas are a wealthy family who speak perfect upper-class yankee patois and only show the remotest familiarity with hispanic culture. Mr. Acuna's secretary is one of those flitty, maybe gay fussbudgets always breaking down into hysterics or bumping into the furniture. Nobody speaks Spanish, nobody tries an accent, and nothing in the design or culture of the picture suggest Buenos Aires. Seen today, it seems quite odd, maybe even crazily charming in an anthropological sort of way.
Thin, ultimately silly film is given unearned heft by virtue of Jack Draper's cinematography which turns ancient Mexican ruins into the nightmare city of classic noir, the wet streets and shadowy alleys that are the essence of the genre. Glenn Ford is sour and surly as an American insurance man who travels the tropics with a full wardrobe of tweed suits (maybe that's why he's so grim). Down on his luck in a vividly evoked pre-Castro Cuba, he signs on to smuggle a certain antiquity BACK into the Mexico from whence it came for reaasons that never make much sense. Soon there are three or four factions vying for whatever he has taped under his left nipple: a sleazy archaeologist (Sean McClory), an American hot thang with plasticene-brassiere breasts that jut like nose cones (Dianna Lynne), a sultry hispanic gal (Patricia Medina), and finally some kind of Mexican expert and his thug son. There's too much fist fighting over a gun--Glenn and Sean duke it out about four times over Sean's Colt Detective Special--and the whole thing never makes much sense. But damn, it looks GREAT! Don't know who this Draper guy is--he seems mostly to have worked in Mexico--but his deep focus photography really brings the location to menacing, palpable life. The best passage follows as Ford evokes the ruins and what they mean to dim, pointy-titted Lynne, and it's pre-PC so he's able to make vivid the human sacrifice that blasphemed the place and thus give it a vibration of tragedy and death otherwise unearned in the movie. The other delight is McClory's debauched archaeologist, under a blonde crewcut and some heavy tortoise-shell specs. He's very vivid and far more charismatic than the dreary, mumbly Ford The movie really looses it in its climax, and ends in a silly shootout and fistfight in a backlot Hollywood set that wastes all the good will it had built up with the location work; suddenly, it looks like early TV and in a sense it has become early TV.
The flimsy book doesn't help a bit, and Mr. Abbott's inability to translate the stylizations of Broadway to the more naturalistic world of the film pretty much doom this one to pure anthropological significance. Yes, it's the first Lucy-Desi project, even if they have no scenes together and were reportedly unimpressed with each other during the making. So do not look for that Desilu magic, as it was still 10 years in the future. The movie crams together too many genre conventions for its own good: college football pic, zany mix-up, stiff leading man (Richard Carlson!), lost gal drama, fish outta water, south of zee border and worse, it features the dull Francis Langford as chief songbird of lyrics at the edges of the putrid. The dance numbers look like rehearsals for the invasion of Normandy--masses if unskilled, badly co-ordinated extras in clumsy formation-- and for some reason unbilled chorus boy Van Johnson, who can't dance a lick, is in the front row of every single crowd shot. But there are two saving graces. The first is the very young Ann Miller, also 10 years before her glory days at MGM, as Pepe, a racist caricature to be sure but one that can dance. In dark make-up as per cliché, Miller fricassees up a storm, giving a preview of the gifts she was to bring to the Freed unit.. And she's only the second best dancer in the picture! The best is Hal La Roy, and this is his only starring role in a major picture (he is featured in some Vitaphone WB musical shorts, such as "Jitterbut No. 1" but no other movies.) Lord what a talent, and what a crime he never got to do more. Like Gene Nelson of a subsequent generation, he just never got the break his talent warranted. So watch, enjoy and conjure what might have been when he does his loose-legged, spurred solo atop someone's idea of Mexican fountain which is the central architectural feature of Pottowattamie College" in Last Stand, N.M.: What a number, and how did he get those legs not only to bend like that but to bend like that at warp speed? You'll think Industrial Light and Magic computer-generated the number, that's how fast and astonishing it is. Boy, would I have liked to see him in a major film with someone like Hermes Pan or Stanley Donen calling the shots. Too bad and so sad it never happened.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Miike remade "13 Assassins" to take full advantage of technical advances since the original arrived in the early '60s. Thus it was more spectacular, a great battle movie that put us in the heart of slash-pierce-hack-crunch-and-filet combat.. Of its kind, it was great and the update made sense. The same cannot be said for his remake of the Kobayashi masterpiece, which was intimate, a rumination on the cruelty and hypocrisy of bushido. A nutshell: an impoverished older samurai comes to a great house seeking a place to commit hara-kiri: he's told a young man tried the same trick earlier, a "bluff" suicide, hoping to get money or a job. But the House forced him to live up to his word, even though he'd sold his swords: thus he committed seppuku with wooden blades. It turns out that the older man is the younger's father in law: he's come for vengeance on the house, and (spoiler) after revealing he's defeated the young man's three primary adversaries in single combat, he draws blade on the house and goes down in a bloody frenzy of vengeance. Great revenge movie, but Miike rewires it. You'd expect him to lay on the gore (as he did in "13" and many of his quickie yakuza films) but instead he dials it way down, keeps it somehow intellectual rather than visceral. Sorry, but I'm shallow enough to be disappointed: I wanted to see heads roll and arms chopped off. (It's a SAMURAI movie, right?) He retains Kobayashi's deliberate, almost ritual like pace and symmetrical compositions, but the understated intensity (SPOILER!: the old man fights his last fight with the wooden sword, so he is incapable of killing the Household guard) of the climax lets the movie end without the emotional catharsis it demanded. A disappointing exercise.
It's an early Freed Unit picture, and among other Freed staples it has the work of Roger Edens, snatches of "Singing in the Rain" and "Good Morning," plus a whisper of "Broadway Rhythm." But it's kind of cuckoo. The director is Busby Berkeley, who wanted everything BIG even when the movie was supposed to be SMALL. Thus BB encourages the Mickster to go into his full Eugene O'Neill mode and he out-shouts everyone in the movie, including the hurricane! That is, when he's not on the verge of tears. If a woman had so over-heated, you'd say it's her time of the month; I can only guess Mick's ego went nuclear and BB wasn't interested enough to rein him in. He may not have even noticed. The most absurd stroke is that Rooney clearly believed he was a great impressionist too, and BB let him do crude impersonations of Gable and Barrymore, among others, that seem pointless and self- congratulatory. Judy is early Judy: shy, more Dorothy Gale than the windstorm of talent she'd become in later Freed masterpieces like "Meet Me in St. Louis" and so forth. Some other oddities, or at least they seem odd now: a big number in which Mick and the "kids" march through the streets of a Long Island coastal town, carrying torches and proclaiming that they are the future has an odd Nazi vibe to it. Creepy. Then there's baritone Doug McPhail who was five years from suicide; he's the next Nelson Eddy except there was no next Nelson Eddy which may be why he poisoned himself. Johhny Sheffield, later to be "Boy" to Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan, is briefly glimpsed and such MGM regs as Guy Kibbee and Margaret Hamilston are around to ground the movie in solid professionalism. It's sure watchable, even today, but now you think: these people thought they were riding the wave and the wave was coming in to crush THEM.
Generally considered the worst of the films created by MGM's legendary "Freed Unit," and probably not helped by the ineptitude of its inexperienced and temperamentally unsuited director, Robert Alton, it still boasts the incredible radiance of Esther Williams, and baby, can that gal radiate. Beautiful wet or dry, she's perfect for fluff of this pitch and though disparaged by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly for her lack of talent (which they encountered in "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," she's still consummately professional. Would you want to see a film this dopey starring a Meryl Streep? I don't think so. Williams projects vitality, sexuality, life-force and intelligence as the Tahitian-American aristocrat mistaken for a local peasant by island newcomer Howard Keel. A better script might have toyed with this classic musical mix-up for its entire length, but this one disposes of it by Minute 25, leaving it nowhere else to go. What follows is beautiful scenery (Maui standing in for Tahiti), some unmemorable songs (mostly by the great Arthur Freed himself), a lot of racial condescension which will set your teeth to grinding, an underused 17-year-old Rita Moreno, plus somebody's idea of "native dancing" with color co-ordinated hula skirts. Keel is sunny. broad-shouldered and shallow, but Esther's buoyancy keeps the thing afloat and watchable. I have to say at one time Keel fantasizes about her, and imagines her in a water ballet. Hmmm, I know if I fantasized about her, it wouldn't be in no stinkin' water ballet!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I can just see the story conference where Gene and Stan say to Mr. Mayer, "Gee, L.B., you'll love it. An hour and a half on lacerating male self-hatred, in which three ex GIs, ten years into the rest of their lives, decide they really suck big time and finally come to accept their utter mediocrity!" But that's exactly what this very odd duck of a picture is up to, and it's not helped by gratuitous forays--certainly inconsistent with the overall theme of the work--into parody with TV, advertising, Dinah Shore and Dr. Joyce Brothers among its disparate and incoherent targets. So it doesn't amount to much beyond an interesting failure but it has a few good numbers, notably the famous "trash can dance" by Kelly, Daily and Kidd and a number in a boxing gym where Cyd Charisse throws her 38-22-38 bones around in a tight sweater--and I mean TIGHT!--among a bunch of sweaty pugs. But there are plenty of disappointments. Why on earth is there no climactic Kelly-Charisse number? Who do we get so little of Michael Kidd. In fact, while these guys are quickly sketching in how bad their lives after the war suck- -one's a sellout, one's a small fry, one's a fraud--there's not enough dancing and there's way too much self pity. The ending is an overlong, overchoreographed and underwhelming fist fight sequence which reunites the spirit of the three ex soldiers who thought they'd do so much better and and settled for so much less. After the ebullience of "On the Town," this one is a real bitter pill to swallow.
"Rock of Ages" will become one of those lonely-guy deals for late nights with vodka and memories. Meant to be an anthem to the bad old days, its thinness of conceit and its shallowness of performance keep it weightless and it really needed to go into R territory to make its points. The two kids up front are lightweights--Diego and what's her name, oh yeah, Juliane Hough--about whom you don't care because they are so shallow and pretty in a TV commercial way. They look like the third and fourth places winners of the 2006 "American Idol" cycle. Their little shenanigan of a plot--he thinks, but no, she didn't, thus they separate and go sleazy but when they discover each other again and are redeemed by love for each other and for true rock--is completely mechanical and really gets in the way. Their instantly forgettable faces and unimpressive talent range really underwhelm the movie. Only guilty pleasures remain: Cruise is surprisingly good as the debauched 80s rocker Tracee Jax who's had all the sex the rest of us never got, and looks good belting out the songs. Mary J. Blige knocks the movie apart in her brief role as a strip club proprietoress with a heart of gold and Catherine Zeta-Jones does a hot MILF routine as a reformer with a heart of molten lust (she has the best legs in the pix, as well!) Then there's someone named Malik Akermann, "Swedish-Canadian" (!) who plays a reporter who jaxx, whax and roxx Stacee's soxx off. Don't know her, but in boyttalk, she's extremely sensual in a sensually extreme way. I see this one as a fast-forward tour de force, where you jetspeed through the crap to get to the five or six good numbers well performed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It doesn't seem that anybody's got it yet, so let me explain why all the disappointment with "Prometheus." It's that the climactic sequence is arbitrary; i.e., it is not expressive of the ideas of the movie. For an hour and 50 minutes, the film has teased us with provocative whispers along ancient alien lines (Erik Von Dannekin, call your lawyer!), suggesting that life on earth was a kind of experiment by a superior human type with really good abs, who donated a key bit of DNA to the compote that would become life on earth. Not new, but always fun. But at a certain late point, Sir Ridley can get no more thrills out of it, so the movie turns, arbitrarily, into a low vaudeville form that might be called "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!" and watches while two Chicken Littles try and avoid being squashed by a rolling piece of space junk. It's exciting as spectacle but meaningless as drama; it has nothing to do with the issues evoked and everything to do with sociopathic gravity. It the space junk had kerplunked to earth a hundred yards this way or that, (spoiler) the ordeal by rolling steel donut would have been avoided and if one of the little chicks had run 50 feet to the left instead of continuing 200 yards on the straight ahead, she wouldn't have ended up as part of the asphalt. The movie can be likened to a '78 red Saville ragtop with the engine of a Corvair. All dressed up and it goes 22 miles an hour!
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