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Too Much Johnson (1938)
GOD AWFUL MUSIC but good material
This is a rough assembly of the footage--a cut down version could pretty easily be made and why no one bothered to do so or TCM didn't show a version like that if it exists is a shame. There is much more movie here than I expecting---having heard about this film for years, I thought it would be a few short sequences of only a few shots each, not such an elaborate chase sequence.
Most of the material is in very good shape--not scratched or marked up, there is one section that is badly damaged but most of it is clean and clear. Joseph Cotton does most of his own stunts and some of these rival those of Keaton, Chaplin, Lyold and this is no small feat.
But what you are watching is not a finished film so the fact that much of it is quite funny and impressive and done on a pretty large scale of probably "stolen' locations makes it captivating---if you turn off the god awful music--which you can easily do. What were they thinking putting this music on the film it's terrible vaguely European sounding Philip Glass rip off stuff. Really unbearable.
Also rather poor, but perhaps intentionally so, is the opening sequence shot on a set that is clearly being lit by the sun--as an early early silent film would be, and this may be done on purpose. This scene sets up the rest of the film and does feature funny performances and a bit with a blowing plant.
Despite this being a silent comedy it also features some very fast cutting at times and shows--as you can see in his later films--some lack of a sense of screen direction. Characters who are supposed to be talking to each other are looking the wrong direction--this may well be a factor of parts being shot separately and with different people behind the camera. There is real filmmaking here in what was supposed to just be filler for a stage production--I've seen stage shows do this type of thing with filmed sections and rarely are they this elaborate even today.
So let's get someone to cut this down, by about a third, put in a few titles to explain roughly what is missing in between sections and put on some good music and it would fill an interesting gap in Welles filmography as he never did a silent film elsewhere or an outright comedy.
Joseph Cotton fans should also take note of this film too, it's not just for Welles completest.
Night Will Fall (2014)
Making of a documentary deemed to horrifying to complete
A fascinating film. A horrifying film. To be clear this is not the documentary about SS concentration camps that was left unfinished, and suppressed after the war. That film can be seen elsewhere. To be clear, having seen that film, this documentary does leave out just a few key elements. The original film goes out of it's way to say these camps were not only for Jews and lists all the nationalities and religions that came to be killed here. So to say that film is about the Holocaust is not entirely true and is specifically not the point of the original film.
What this film does is set the discovery of the camps and the aftermath into context both large--the governments involved, and small--the military camera crews and even some camp survivors who are seen both now and in the vintage footage. A real feat to find these people so many years later.
Sure you may think you've seen this all before, both in fiction films and in various documentary ones. But this still packs a punch, perhaps even more so since you will think you already know all there is to know. I've spent a lot of my life studying WW2 and I was still blown away by this film. I'm also a Hitchcock fan, and his name is being used to "sell" this film and the restoration and completion of the original documentary.
A point made in this excellent film is that the intention was to make a documentary that was a warning that unless what happened in Germany is seen and understood that 'night will fall' again and these type of large scale inhumanity will re-occur. Of course you can argue that does in fact happen.
This film shows footage not used in the original documentary and is as much about those who made the film as it is about everything else. Interestingly it talks about Hitchcock's input to help make the film convincing. The horrors of reality being so unreal that they might seem created for effect. You can also see in some of the dead faces some dead faces that will appear in Hitchcock's own fiction films after this one.
This film also contrasts the film which was suppressed with the film that did get finished and released--that version being supervised by Billy Wilder. The makers of this film obviously preferring Hitchcock's version.
And fans of both great directors will see their hand in how they shaped material shot by others. The camp footage was shot by army camera men without a director being there.
The graphic concentration camp footage is very graphic but focuses on the horrible expressions on the faces of the dead that is what makes it overwhelming and gripping.
Very little music is used, the voice over work is first rate as is haunting sound effects work. Part of what Night Will Fall does, by being a behind the scenes making of film is help to show just how real and unstaged these horrors of war were. It is hard to watch this film and come away thinking somehow all this was made up just for the sake of the Jews. In fact its impossible to believe that after you see this film.
Once more let me say this is not the so called Hitchcock film, though portions of that are shown within this film. That you have to seek out elsewhere and see for what it is, it has different things to show and say. This is almost an extended preview and background that helps viewing that film.
Fingers at the Window (1942)
Sort of a Scooby Do feeling film
There are horror and noir elements but the intention is really like earlier, pre Universal Monster film, horror films of the 1930's. The dark elements--well staged and photographed--all these are almost instantly blunted by comedy. The premise of multiple murders with an ax is itself almost immediately made fun of by the police in the film so we are never meant to take it seriously.
And the comedy isn't badly done the two leads are very good, with the "gal" being almost too stupid for todays political correct society. Aryes especially helps hold the film together and keep it entertaining. Rathbone is fine as the super evil doctor but why I'm writing this review is just to say this is at its heart a comedy more in line with Abbott and Costello's monster comedy movies than in line with any true Horror film or noir films. I supposed CAT AND THE CANARY should be mentioned as being the type film this one aspires to be--though it is not in the same league as that film.
Well directed film does suffer from a case of split personality and the middle of the film probably does become a little to cutesy--though the stars keep it from ever being flat or dull--even when the script loses its sense of balance between elements.
Survival on the Mountain (1997)
From the man who made THE GODFATHER?!?
Yes this was produced by Coppola's company American Zoetrope. So why is it such a poor and so typical TV movie? Both the lead actors are acceptable and forgettable, the movie obviously never got anywhere outside of Canada, the music score is poor, the special effects are sparse and poor as well.
It's also hampered by a flashback structure with a poor teaser scene and then a "two weeks earlier" title that lets you know you've got a long time to wait to get back to the poor opening scene, that is then re-shown in it's entirety when you finally get there.
The script and direction are bland, but both writer and director went on to do much TV, I can only think they did better TV than this.
There are a few nice aerial shots that convey a bit of a sense of being lost in the wilderness but the rest is boring.
Why would Coppola produce this? For the money I guess, or to get his company into producing television but there is no excuse for a script this bad being made. I would have turned it off, only I kept thinking this must have some aspect of quality. I found none and found myself fast forwarding through the many unexciting walking through the snow and camping out at night scenes in the pine forests of Mt Everest. Pine forests!!!! A failure on all levels from people who must have known better given the rest of their careers.
Land of Doom (1986)
Nice scenery the kind of film THE TURKS did better themselves
Yes there are a lot of bad films like this. Yet this still stands tall as a bad film even in bad company.
This is a junior high school level Mad Max/Star Wars rip off. This kind of hybrid rip off/inspired pulp filmmaking was done my Turkish filmmakers for years with a crazy energy to equal some of the most mondo of Japanese and Italian movies. Sadly, though this features at least one Turkish star in a minor supporting role, this movie's "creative" force Maris doesn't have much of a clue about how to choose or direct actors or how to stage a fight scene or do action. The two leads both have U.S. TV credits and can't sustain any interest in a feature, the stunts could mostly be performed by your grandmother and done just as well. The pacing is lifeless the costumes and almost everything about it seems fake and thrown to together at the last minute. There are some large scale explosions--most of which seem to be big gas explosions and they hold off the shots long enough that you can see the explosion didn't really blow anything up.
There is at least one scene of a bad guy screaming the hero's name in rage, so they don't forget to include that. The main villain is pretty skinny for a guy who is supposed to be a muscle man. He had a sort of Phantom of the Opera mask on half of his face and in his longest dialogue scene speaks with a lisp. Sadly this type of funny bad moment doesn't happen enough to make the film a guilty pleasure.
The real life locations in Turkey's Capodocia are fascinating and only occasionally seen on film, but besides that this is a wasteland on all other levels. Best so-bad-it's-good element is the hilarious end title song and generally awful music score. How director Maris managed to keep making films after this I don't know, I'd hope he got better, but I haven't seen any of the rest to say for sure. But this is really badly done.
I suppose the only other way to describe this film is to say it's the type of film CANNON did too often, only much worse than even the worst of those.
It's a waste because if he had just gotten some better actors and then let some real Turkish directors make the film it could have been fun.
Turkish pulp cinema is a vanished thing and this does give just a very small taste of what the world is missing. If you can only imagine this film done with energy and lots of stolen music from other films and even occasionally stolen footage you'd have some hint. Seek out the few remaining real Turkish pulp cinema. Sadly most of the films were destroyed to reclaim the silver used in the prints, at a time when pop culture films stopped being popular in Turkey
The Frozen Ground (2013)
You've seen it all done better before.
Cage and Cusack are fine but given little to do. The director shows no real flair for suspense and a lack of imagination. It seems that every five minutes we have a gloomy flyover shot of snowy mountains. There is no depth to any of the based on real life characters, no sustained suspense of horror scenes. The primary set piece we see is split up over the course of the film as flashbacks to which we know the outcome. The surface approach the writer director takes could only work if the film was intense and exploitative and it is neither. There is a sad grimness to the portions devoted to hookers lives in Alaska but this is just off putting. Cage is far better than the material which includes the clichéd personal tragic incident in his past and his shrewish wife. Cusack, as the killer, we are given no insight into why he does what he does and the bits of his life we are shown seem pointless. There is no counterpoint between his public life and the horrid hidden life. The interrogation scenes with Cage and Cusack build some intensity, but by then the film is almost over. Various would-be film projects and scripts based on this this case have been around for years, this one is ultimately unmemorable. Poor music score drones on constantly adding to the monotony.
well produced not heavy or action of beefcake--as these things go
The setting and time is odd, It feels like Hercules is walking around nearly naked amid much later European armor wearing troops. Another thing that may or may not be true is that there are some beautiful shots of lots of extras storming the castle, but when we are usually with the principal actors we rarely see anything of this scope and or are on interior sets with poor fake skies. So I'm saying there may be stock footage being used here.
Regardless of this the sets are quite well made and the photography in 2:35 is also frequently impressive and the film has a good music score as well. The story is decent but it's not heavy on fighting or action for the most part. The 2 fight scenes with animals are pretty bad, with the pretty big snake, or really bad, with the floppy pillow they call an alligator. And yeah why is there an Alligator in Poland or did the Huns bring it from Mongolia with them? Wait there aren't any alligators there either.
But the basic story, more of a kind of romance amid the barbarians is good and the women sexy and Mark Forest gets to do some acting and doesn't do it too badly. Despite what may or may not be stock footage the outdoor photography is good as is the interior costuming and photography. The weak thing is those bad set build "exteriors."
Still this is a real movie and not a super cheap or shoddy entry in this genre, nor is it a kind of hidden treat for beefcake fans--be they men or women. Music score and production design is above average and there are a lot of well done sets.
Not typical in good ways but low on action overall and most of the action is in the final third of the film. Above average acting and casting in this one--the Mongols actually look like Mongols not Italians.
Can't say this is great. Can't say it's terrible either.
Sanatorium pod klepsydra (1973)
Striking but odd attempts at comedy and slack pace and length become tedious
The director, as he did with Sargosso Manuscript, seems more interested in trying for comic surreal than drama/horror or psychological depth.
This is not to say that Surrealism doesn't work when it has a comic edge, but that this director doesn't do surreal comedy that well, while when he gets serious, and visual he's so good you just wish he'd really stick with that.
As in the previous film the more serious aspects are the best elements, this film is more impressive visually but a good part of that is that it's in color. I admit the first time I saw this film I thought quite highly of it and in seeing it again I thought it would get even better as I'd understand more of how the pieces came together and what they meant. But after a long gap between viewings the film almost fell apart for me. Despite a powerful wrap up sequence.
After a strong start the script just doesn't come together or feel like it's rushing into nightmare or meaning, it plods along. Some of the episodes just seem pointless--especially the soldiers near the boat and the manikin sequence. These set pieces aren't really that funny and go on forever. And most of the manikins are obviously people trying to stand still so you end up watching to see them breath or move when you should be reading subtitles. Another thing about the attempts at antic bizarre comedy is that these are the talkiest sections of the film, really almost like a stage play in these spots.
These have nothing to do with the core story which is the man and his father sort of loose in time. At one point the son talking to his father says these various episodes are "hard to discern, the meaning." He's got that right!
The Jewish seuqences and elements are interesting--especially coming from a Communist country at the time it was made is praise worthy.
And yes indeed Blade Runner owes this film a debt.
But aside from the stunning sets and transitions you just don't know what is going on some of the time and with a film that is a bit over 2 hours in length you just stop caring. You can still sit there and marvel at the images, but this is not enough. It's almost like footage cut out of a great movie because it didn't advance the story.
The film also tends to get really talky in spots. The best moments and sequences are silent. The whole thing feels like a missed opportunity despite some great silent sequences and a great core idea, it doesn't hold you or hold together for the whole length. Opening and closing sequences are the best though there are scattered images and an excellent, if sparsely placed, music score. For the record there is also a fair amount of female nudity involving a brothel, though this too seems a bit forced after awhile and is played with a leering comic quality never with any erotic intent.
Though it has some great dream images it fails ultimately to convince us there is a dream logic at work here.
All in all an almost fascinating film that becomes frustrating instead. Have to fault the script as all the elements on a production level were there ready to make a great film, but as is so often the case you need a great script to make a great movie no matter what genre.
One final note I have read THE SARGOSSA MANUSCRIPT, I have not read the source material to this film, so I make an assumption about the director's interest in comedic twists rather than more serious horrific ones based on what he did with the first film and book.
Serpent of the Nile (1953)
Beyond the obvious problems, really not bad, well written
The thing is this movie overcomes it's problems and is a worthwhile version of this story. It gets off on a bad foot right away with a bad action scene, not just cheap, it's bad. All but one scene of historical battling are really poorly staged. If you can only afford to have ten guys fighting you'd hope that at least the fighting would be good but no. These scenes are at times inept and Castle, though cheap by choice and or by circumstance was rarely an inept director. But the script knows to keep these scenes to a minimum and Burr and Fleming are frankly pretty good, especially Burr who quickly makes you forget his Perry Mason persona. There is a fun and campy girl painted gold dance scene which also features gals dressed as Roman's with whips. This is probably the high low light of the film and you don't see it coming. After this scene the movie constantly becomes better. I stopped hoping for a campy disaster of a film and found an actual film here, hampered by the afore mentioned lapses.
This is a different take on this story. The movie begins with Caesar dead on the floor and the story then focuses on Celopatra's political reason for pretending to love men and Anthony's friend trying to stop him from throwing it all away. Anthony is called a man who knows only war and pleasure and he's just tired enough of war to let pleasure overcome him. And all this is handled well by the writing and the performances. Admitting that Lundigen is miscast and doesn't look Roman, you get over this as he and Burr's chemistry as friends and rivals works well.
Besides, there is a scene with guys wrestling a real Bear, not a guy in a suit!! And there is one mostly good action scene involving some daringly placed cameras under the hooves of charging horses and chariots. You get used to the cheap sets and bad matte paintings and get over the usually poor action scenes as the story and characters hold together and gain interest. And there are a lot of costumes for a cheap film.
The stock music score is well put together and it all ends with a rather nice slow dissolve. Castle proves that if he can't be embraced totally he cannot be shunned or dismissed either. Credit to a good script and lead performances and to Wild Bill Castle for keeping it moving and colorful--something he always did.
La danza de la realidad (2013)
diverting then tedious, then fantastic last few shots
The film sets up a style of the director himself literally embracing his younger self and talking to the camera and his younger self in the midst of things going on. Add to this his comical intense cruel-to-be- kind, father and his mother who sings all her dialog and you have a unique narrative that is funny strange and compelling for the first third of the film. But then the story shifts to only the dad's story taking care of a horse and this section bogs down, as other sections tend to whenever the older and younger self aren't part of the action at all. And mom's singing gets a little tiresome as well though her singing voice is very good. Music in the film is uniformly fine. Then you get into some graphic nudity, urination and torture scenes, all of which seem to go on forever, and I fell out of love with it.
But it's almost redeemed by a final section where finally the older and younger director/character return for a farewell scene involving a dock and a boat. If this does turn out to be his last film it's one of the great film exits in history.
So it's too bad the script loses focus right in the middle and that the whole thing feels way too long. Might be a film that plays better if you don't watch it all in one sitting.
Visuals are typically vivid but now have a video quality that the HD "photography" that is distracting at first when comparing the richer film colors of his earlier work.
A worthy film that unfortunately can't sustain a strong first third.