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Genghis Khan (1965)
Genghis Khan massacres a dozen actors at one go
You can't make another 'Spartacus' or 'Ben Hur' by simply hiring a baker's dozen of actors, giving them a dreadful script, and flying them off to Yugoslavia. The only actor who looks remotely like a Mongol is Omar Sharif. Michael Hordern, Robert Morley, and Kenneth Cope will forever be English. Funniest of all the Brits is James Mason who sounds exactly like Kenneth Williams as Chou En Ginsburg, MA (failed), in 'Round the Horne.' And at least KW never had to wear stage dentures in order to produce a silly Chinese accent or to get a laugh. Eli Wallach as the Shah of Samarkand looks like a bit-player in a Bronx production of 'Aladdin.' And the less said about Telly Savalas the better. 'Genghis Khan' is far worse than 'Taras Bulba' and funnier than most 'historical' Carry On films. In the first half, the film is shot with such a shortage of light that one is mercifully unable to see what is happening. The sound is bad, too, which is another plus.
Red State (2011)
Clumsy and unfunny
Nothing goes right with this. The feeble attempt to pretend that the 'homophobic fundamentalists' are not really a crude portrayal of Fred Phelps & Co. All the actors are not playing 'characters' at all, but the most moronic comic book figures imaginable. The 'victims' are the most foul-mouthed, drunken, and unpleasant teenagers ever portrayed on film. The secret homosexuality of the sheriff. Michael Parks is absurd as the 'I'm not really Fred Phelps' pastor. The crude attempts to draw parallels between the garbage of this film and the events of Waco & Ruby Ridge. No attempt to make any serious point. Anna Gunn & Kevin Pollak ought to be ashamed of themselves. Perhaps they thought they were taking part in a film attacking 'homophobia.' I'll be generous, and suggest that when they realised what they were actually involved in, they said their lines, took their pay cheques, and ran for the hills. The same goes for Matt Jones. It's not a horror film, it's not 'torture porn.' It's not 'satirical' - it's not remotely funny. I suggest you watch Louis Theroux's films with the Phelpses.
One of Hitchcock's worst turkeys
I don't care who made it, TOPAZ is a dreadful film. The acting is terrible - John Forsythe and Frederick Stafford make Greg Morris and Peter Lupus in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE look like Olivier and Gielgud. John Vernon looks exactly like one of those stock Latin American revolutionaries that the IMF force overthrew every week. As a thriller, it simply does not thrill. The dialogue is execrable - the dubbing worse. The only interesting bits are when - mercifully - hardly anybody speaks. The blurb on the 2005 DVD describes TOPAZ as a 'riveting' and 'spellbinding espionage thriller.' By the end, 'the danger and the suspense builds to a heart-pounding conclusion in this lavish, globe-trotting thriller.' Ask for your money back - but you won't get it. I think Hitchcock is greatly over-rated: he made some great films, yes, but some terrible turkeys as well. If you want a great espionage film, try THE IPCRESS FILE, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, THE GOOD SHEPHERD, or the TV series of TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY and SMILEY'S PEOPLE...
Moronic sequel to ALIEN
Ridley Scott once made a brilliant SF film called ALIEN - many years later he made an equally brilliant prequel called PROMETHEUS. In the years between, people tried to make their own sequels. One of these people was a man called James Cameron. First, he decided to make his version 'sentimental' by introducing an irritating child that kept screaming so Ripley could say dumb things to reassure it. (Fortunately, David Fincher had the brat killed off in time for HIS version.) Cameron also decided he would have the film dominated by a group of US Marines. These Marines were to have a combined IQ of about minus 5. All the Marines said things like 'Let's go!' and 'Oh my God, what is THAT?' Most irritating of all was Bill Paxton (shame on you!) - he ended every sentence with the word 'man.' Fortunately for the viewer, the aliens soon disembowelled him. The heroine of the film was to be given lines just as bad as the Marines'. The aliens were not scary, no matter how many there were. The spaceships looked second hand. After an hour of this farrago one's eyelids began to close. The Marines shot at the aliens with their huge weaponry. Lance Henriksen got his head blown off, but carried on talking. Happily, when the Marines were killed, death applied to their tonsils too. After this success, Mr. Cameron got to make a three-hour long film about a ship that was perfectly designed. It sank.
Dull pseudo-documentary about nothing much
Two very irritating Jewish brothers make a film about the relationship between one of the brothers and a young girl who is supposed to be an artist. If you like to watch people playing about with all the boring paraphernalia of the Internet, and having arguments while crouching over laptops and Blackberries, this is for you. If you want to watch people discussing whether the picture of so-and-so on Facebook is really them or not... you'll be enthralled.
This is a 'celebration' of the makers' own solipsism and vanity, and it exposes the cultural banality of the 'new technology.' It's a film about making a film. It's about chasing phantoms on the Internet - made by people who like (and live through) that sort of thing.
Do you care whether this is a hoax documentary or not? Do you care whether Schulman gets to meet Megan? The 'authenticity' of the film is no more interesting than the film itself.
Visually, it is dull. Mostly, you see 1) Schulman's very hairy chest, 2) Schulman's teeth, and 3) various computer screens. The supposedly brilliant paintings (who cares who did them?) are competent - but dull.
As in the minds of people who perceive the Internet as a thing of interest IN ITSELF, dullness pervades.
Gloomy and messy melodrama
I have not read the novel, but a quick glance at a synopsis of the plot suggests what a mess they've made of it on film. The novel sounds like a serious, intellectual drama. The film is an attempt to simplify the concepts involved, and turn them into a rather straightforward drama. In itself, and no further, this might have succeeded. The failure is caused by other things.
The transferral of the Cricks from Greenwich to Pittsburgh is a disastrous mistake - the only reason for doing it was clearly the American box office. Again, the distributors tend to assume that Americans are too stupid to take in a drama set in England. They are wrong.
The conversations between Irons (Crick) and John Heard, as American school-teachers discussing education in 1974, are embarrassingly wrong somehow, and bang an entirely wrong beat. The time you first realise Irons is addressing his class of teenagers (Ethan Hawke is 22, actually) as 'children' is even more excruciating. The fact that he apologises for this expression in his farewell speech made me think that one of the script editors had only just noticed how dumb it sounded, and shoved it in as an 'apology' (to the film-goer rather than to the student) at the end.
Things get worse. When Irons shows his 'children' a print of the Guillotine and describes, very mildly, some of the mutilated corpses, they all exclaim 'Oh God, no...' and 'Aaargh, how sickening...' They sound more like children from 'Pollyanna', than actual teenagers from Pittsburgh, who'd have grown up under Vietnam, and were just about to see 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.' Nearly every 'American' scene is mind-numbingly awful. Irons's farewell speech is hardly Michael Redgrave (or even Albert Finney) in 'The Browning Version.'
Someone had another pointless idea. "When Irons starts talking about his past life, let's have the American teenagers actually transported there on the screen." This makes no sense, and after a while the whole idea seems to have been mercifully abandoned. The scene of them trundling across Norfolk in a truck was risible, and I half-expected Captain Mainwaring and Jones's van to appear at any minute. The assumption behind this 'idea' seems that the film-goer is in reality just as thick as John Heard assumes students are - i.e. no one's interested in history and the past - so our best bet is to actually SHOW Ethan Hawke tramping about in the Fens of WW2.
John Heard and Peter Postlethwaite are completely wasted, and David Morrissey does the valiant best he can as Irons's mentally handicapped elder brother. I have always found Jeremy Irons greatly over-rated, and 'Waterland' shows just how insipid his acting can be at times. I was - even within the constrictions of the wreckage made of the Graham Swift novel by the scriptwriters - longing for a Dirk Bogarde or a Christopher Ecclestone. Irons simply doesn't carry it. In fact, the bar room scene with Irons and Ethan Hawke showed how much better Hawke is. I was reminded of Hawke with Robin Williams in 'Dead Poets Society' three years earlier. Even that has tinges of embarrassment (most filmmakers have no real idea what schools or universities are like - watch Lewis Gilbert's hysterical portrayal of a 1980's British university in 'Educating Rita') but 'Dead Poets Society' is great stuff compared to the wet mess of 'Waterland'. (Like most films of this sort, it has lashings of dull 'mood music' - always appearing at the completely wrong moment in the film.)
PS Ethan Hawke looks 'pretty.'
Mesa of Lost Women (1953)
forgotten 'mad scientist' masterpiece from Jackie Coogan
A lot of people knock this film, but I think it has hidden depths.
The portrayal of mental health issues is very progressive for the early Fifties, and the romantic subplot between the pilot and the girl about to get married to a wealthy businessman is as good as 'Brief Encounter.' Jackie Coogan was clearly at an artistic fork in his career here, but he portrays a real empathy with his experiments. His scientific and all too plausible explanation of how he managed to turn spiders into busty Jane Russell-type beauties is all too real, and points the way forward to current work in cloning and so forth. The giant spiders themselves are finely nuanced special effects that had me hiding behind the sofa with sheer terror.
The portrayal of Mexican society may seem rather patronising by today's po-faced PC standards, but the film examines the essential happiness that the so-called 'poor' had in those days. Hence the superb music and the gay jollity that we see in the café scenes. Although the American blonde sniffs, 'What a dive!', even when shown to the very best table, her subtle portrayal of her role tells us that she is really crying out: 'I wish I was a waitress or a dancer in this Mexican cantina.' The insistent guitar music is a gem, and one wonders if it might be re-released on a CD. This chilling gem of Latin American horror is dying to be re-mastered for a special DVD. They certainly knew how to make them in those days.
P.S. Keep an eye open for the Chinese 'eminence grise' with his superb philosophic quips, such as, 'The man who climbs a mountain toward death is floating backwards with his feet up.' As for the narrator of this movie, some film historians have suggested that it was in fact none other than Orson Welles, secretly raising funds for yet another of his awful pseudo-Shakespearian pastiches.
The Ape Man (1943)
hysterically terrible Lugosi 'shocker'
This is a 1 point or a 10 point movie. 1 if you want to be sensible, but 10 if you love the Ed Wood or pre-Poe Roger Corman school of film. Terrible script, dreadful acting, poor lighting, and worse sound than a Caruso or Nellie Melba recording 40 years earlier.
Bela Lugosi does a poor ape imitation, and wears a very rough prototype of the mask Roddy McDowall wore in 'Planet of the Apes.' He monkeys about (sorry!) with one Emil Van Horn wearing a full gorilla suit - he looks exactly like the one (called Ethel) that Oliver Hardy ended up with when the circus went broke. (Stanley got the flea circus.) Lugosi & another scientist have been fiddling about with 'glands,' so when Lugosi decides to test it on himself... The only way to keep himself away from the furry side of life is to keep filling himself with human 'glands' from the recently deceased. He steps out into the night and orders 'Ethel' to murder people - it's 'The Murders In The Rue Morgue' all over again.
Hard to tell whether this was supposed to be funny or not - wisecracking journalists who annoy the editor by calling him 'chiefy,' brain-dead Irish policemen, bubbling retorts in the cellars of an old dark house etc. Clearly this was made when Lugosi's life was turning into a tragic horror story all of his own, and accepted any old rubbish to pay for the drugs and the booze.
One kind of wishes for Abbott & Costello or The Three Stooges to turn up, but no such luck. The star turn is the wonderfully named Miranda Urecal (almost born to appear in cheap horror films) who plays Lugosi's sister, screaming energetically or fainting at the drop of a coffin lid.
This isn't quite as funny as Ed Wood's stuff, but better than nothing now the hockey season's finished. The ending's quite amusing, and make sure you spot Charlie Hall (like Ethel, a left-over from the glory days of Laurel & Hardy) at the very start.
The Great Sioux Massacre (1965)
Chronic attempt to retell Custer's Last Stand
A massacre indeed. A lot of it seems to have been cannibalised from much better (and certainly bigger budget) efforts; an expert on Westerns could soon tell you exactly which ones. Joseph Cotten is supposed to be playing a drunk, but one begins to wonder where acting ended and reality started. Darren McGavin and Philip Carey (as Custer) are just awful. The Indians are strictly of the 'Carry On Cowboy' variety, and one almost wished Sid James & Charles Hawtrey to appear in order to relieve the tedium of the proceedings. Any intention of presenting the Sixties 'Red Indians' as 21st Century 'Native Americans,' and any attempt to portray Custer's complicated character, are defeated by the awful script and poor technical standards. This is not Custer's Last Stand at all, but a very lumpy custard that is impossible to swallow.
grim Depression drama that says a lot about our view of 'entertainment'
1932 - hard-up couples in Hoover's America enter a dance 'marathon' - if they are the last couple still on their feet, they will win $1500. Original and rarely seen on TV. Rather like NETWORK or THE DAY OF THE LOCUST, it interrogates 'we the audience' in our ceaseless search for 'entertainment.' As the film rolled on, I was continually drawing comparisons with the sickening drivel of BIG BROTHER and all its tatty copies, with every tawdry 'talent show,' and with the excruciatingly embarrassing annual pantomime of 'Red Nose Day.' The very fact that it's done for good causes doesn't excuse it - it makes it all the worse.
When Gig Young (the sleazy compère of the show, looking like a ghastly mixture of Hughie Green, Bob Monkhouse, and Garner Ted Armstrong) helps to pull together one of the over-wrought contestants who is having hallucinations, Jane Fonda remarks caustically, 'I thought you'd have done that in the show - increase the admittance charge.' But Young replies, 'No, it's too real for them.' (Like the difference between EASTENDERS and NIL BY MOUTH, between EMMERDALE and THE WAR ZONE.) And when one of the contestants loses her dress and make-up, Young admits that he did it himself in order to improve the show. Michael Sarrazin naively retorts, 'But this is supposed to be a contest, not a show.' Young corrects him: 'They come to see this in their own misery. Seeing YOUR misery makes them feel happier...' One of the contestants collapses and has to be evicted from the dance floor. Young's announcement could be Davina McCall outside the Big Brother house: 'After we've been together all these hours and days, it's sorry to have to say goodbye to Shirley...'
Gig Young is just superb - he's not simply a corrupt, insincere fairground huckster, but a fully formed character. Young uses his ageing face to portray a man who's seen it all... and yet found nothing to believe in. He mentions that his father was a phony 'faith healer'; when Young was a boy he had to pretend to be miraculously healed when the 'show' was flagging. To prove that nothing has changed, watch Rory & Alec's so-called GOD TV when they have one of those 3- or 4-hour long 'conferences' of boring 'Christian' music, healing, and 'anointing in the Spirit.'
Al Lewis (yes, Grandpa from THE MUNSTERS) is Young's right hand man. He only says a few words, but his looks and mannerisms add to the hard-wired atmosphere of cheapness and dishonesty. Michael Sarrazin (recently deceased), Susannah York (ditto), Jane Fonda (a great actress in her youth - shame about the identikit 'liberal' politics), Bruce Dern, Red Buttons - you couldn't ask for a better cast, but I still think it's Gig Young who steals the show (literally, as it turns out).
Sydney Pollack uses great looming close-ups and strange camera angles; even the colour of it all looks rather weird and somehow tacky. Slow-motion sections often irritate me (think of the terrible 'run toward the funeral' at the end of CAPRICORN ONE - so embarrassing that it almost completely ruins the whole picture) - but the use of it in the second 'Dance Derby' to which the contestants are subjected works very well.