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The Extraordinary Seaman (1969)
Seaman A Waste Of Talent
The Extraordinary Seaman directed by John Frankenheimer is puzzling in the sense that how could a film directed by Frankenheimer, which includes performances by David Niven, Faye Dunaway, Alan Alda, Mickey Rooney, and Jack Carter, and music by Maurice Jarre not be entertaining? After a string of successes from the beginning of his career in the 1950's with television drama through the 1960's with several film classics, Frankenheimer failed miserably with this film. Due to the short running time of 80 minutes compared to the usual much longer running times for his previous films, one wonders whether the film was taken out of Frankenheimer's hands at one point.
Niven is an old sea captain who has a secret, later discovered by the over-acting Alda, who nearly sleepwalks through his role. Dunaway starts out promising as a woman who can help a crew or hinder it, but shortly after boarding ship, Dunaway's role becomes forgettable. Alda overacts his way through the film progressively more as the film unfolds, and his forced romance with Dunaway makes her seem uncomfortable in the film. Rooney and Carter, who can both be very funny when given something to work with, are completely wasted with little or nothing to do.
The film purports to be an adventure/comedy but it's neither interesting nor funny, and the non-existent story just falls flat long before the revelation, which occurs an hour into the film. The denouement is a preposterous letdown. The most interesting parts of the film are the archival footage edited in to the film for what was probably intended to be comedic/ironic effect. However, the old clips took up almost a quarter of the film, which means there wasn't much to watch to begin with. A huge waste of talent considering those involved. 0 of ****.
À la conquête du pôle (1912)
One Of Melies' Last Good Films
Georges Melies' film The Conquest Of The Pole is similar to several of his earlier adventure films except this film is much longer than most. As a result, many viewers claim this film is not quite as good as the others due to the padding of some scenes, especially the flying to the North Pole sequence when the aircraft passes constellation after constellation. The aircraft, though crude and ridiculously unrealistic, is synonymous with the backdrop/sets and other effects in the film. Remember, The Wright Brothers had only paved the way for air travel a few years before. Once at the pole, terrific action sequences occur with an ice monster of some sort followed by a rescue. By now Melies had fallen behind the times with developing film techniques, such as crosscutting, meaning Melies' development as a filmmaker was related more to his being a magician and an effects wizard and not necessarily his being a storyteller. The only issue in the film is there are only five explorers visible at the pole when several more were selected to go to begin with. *** of 4 stars.
Melies' Inventiveness Meets Salaciousness In Eclipse
By the time this film was released in 1907, Melies best days were behind him according to most film historians. However, this may be the only Georges Melies film requiring a PG-13 rating at least. The film is bookended with some comical sidelights about a stuffed shirt lecturer played by Melies who interacts (not always with aplomb) with a bunch of rowdy students who eventually do seem genuinely interested in viewing the subject matter at hand: an eclipse. Once again, the special effects of Melies are wonderful, first an eclipse in the form of human faces superimposed on images of the sun and moon, then some of the other heavenly bodies appear (literally!) like Venus, etc., followed by what appears to be a meteor shower. As some reviewers have noted, the eclipse scene is jaw-dropping for its time with its obvious eroticism, and unlike most of the rest of Georges Melies' films, you may want to remove children from the room when viewing this film. *** of 4 stars.
Le voyage dans la lune (1902)
One Of The Earliest Science Fiction Films
A trip To The Moon is one of the earliest examples of science fiction put on the screen. The film is based upon the Jules Verne novel From The Earth To The Moon. It also is one of the earliest films to capture a conflict between two different cultures of people in that the six astronomers sent to the moon end up battling the inhabitants of the moon for apparently no good reason aside from propelling the action of the film, and nothing propels the action better than conflict. The narrative is clear, and the backdrops/sets, cinematography, editing, and special effects are all top notch for their time. Georges Melies set the stage for many subsequent space travel films to come decades later. This one of Georges Melies' best known films. A must watch. *** of 4 stars.
Le compositeur toqué (1906)
A Composer's Dream
Georges Melies revisits one of his frequent motifs that of a character with an occupation who is frustrated possibly and then goes off into dreamland where things seem to be more exciting or to work themselves out. Here a composer finds himself possibly frustrated with a piece of music, conjures up the muses while asleep, and then is surrounded by various dance hall girls who at first are elegant and then grow more robust in the form of what appears to be can-can dancers near the end. The best trick shot does not appear until the very end. The film really offers nothing new for Georges Melies fans, but as with each Melies film, it's still very much viewable entertainment. ** of 4 stars.
Sorcellerie culinaire (1904)
Early Example Of Silent Slapstick
Georges Melies did a lot of "nonsense" films like this one entitled The Cook In Trouble. The scenario is similar to many of Melies' other films like this in that a central character or characters are pestered or obstructed by a less likable or unlikable character or characters, in this case a cook is trying to be particular about preparing a big meal when he is accosted by a wizard who conjures a few imps in order to pester the cook. The entire film plays out in subsequent silent slapstick fashion with the imps disappearing and then reappearing to continue to interfere with the cook's preparations. Once the imps are spied by the cook, they move, leap, and tumble about through the labyrinthine backdrop Melies has created to propel the action in a circular manner on the stage; where as, larger outdoor sets and/or rear screen projection would take over for such scenes in the future. **1/2 of 4 stars.
Le diable noir (1905)
Simple Melies Film, Yet Whimsical
Georges Melies filmed brief sketches many times like he did here with The Black Imp; it's simply an excuse for Melies to display his jump-cutting tricks, which are executed almost to perfection. For the time though, it must have been hilarious. Here a man tries to get some rest at an inn only to slowly discover his room is haunted by a mischievous imp. The imp wreaks havoc with the furniture, multiplying it at will so it appears the chairs are following the man like an invisible man, very clever indeed. The film makes it clear near the end the man has dreamed this whole thing up while receiving assistance from several individuals; meanwhile, the imp returns to take some rest in the man's bed. The whole thing is similar to many other Melies' films in that it's a metaphor for the creator (Melies) interacting with the audience, but it's still a delight. *** of 4 stars.
Le tonnerre de Jupiter (1903)
In this brief film, Georges Melies depicts the Greek version of Jupiter: Zeus. There is no explanation for this shift in mythological focus, but the film is nothing more than an excuse for the Zeus character to fret and dance about while trying to figure out why his thunder balls do not work properly. In so doing, Zeus draws upon the muses to help him out it seems, but they do little aside from dancing about with him. The actual trick of the film is not featured until near the end, and it really is not much after all. This film is a one-note, one set film much like The Cake-Walk Infernal with the heavy use of smoke as a special effect. **1/2 of 4 stars.
Le cake-walk infernal (1903)
Lesser Melies Still Worth Viewing
This film, The Cake-Walk Infernal, is one of silent pioneer Georges Melies' most well known films. There isn't much of a story as much as a succession of images, which Melies energetically parades across the screen with his usual doses of interesting backdrops and costumed characters. At times, some of Melies' films can be overly stagy, and this is one such film. Some common motifs in Melies' films appear here as in characters or objects appearing, disappearing, and reappearing again, the use of smoke effects for transitions, the use of stop action motion, and Melies' appearance as a character with a devilish costume. **1/2 of 4 stars.
Le royaume des fées (1903)
Extraordinary Narrative For Its Time
Georges Melies puts together an amazing (for its time) narrative about a prince and princess kept apart by a scheming witch, and the prince is thrust into a journey to rescue the princess by traveling through and receiving assistance from Neptune, the god of the sea, and his cohorts. The entire film, at least the print I saw, is hand-painted, color-tinted, and it's simply amazing. The costumes, sets, backdrops, props, model work, and special effects are all superb not only for its time but for the entire silent era. The framing and composition of scenes is superior and the acting is more than acceptable, considering the exaggerated mannerisms which were already creeping into films at the time followed by more of an on-rush of them in the two decades to come. The color is reminiscent of illustrations in books, which appeared in the early decades of the twentieth century, and it adds greatly to the fantasy/mythological elements portrayed in the film. Melies expertly weaves his narrative utilizing all of the aforementioned elements in expert fashion. *** of 4 stars.