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The Grapes of Wrath (1940)
Dust Bowl Okies Struggle in California
Grapes of Wrath
Novel published April 1939, shooting for the film began October 4, and the film was released_____. Darryl F. Zanuck Grapes of Wrath came from the heart, Steinbeck felt it and wrote it quickly. Greg Toland shot it before he went on to work on Citizen Kane. Creates the mood of Dorothea Lang and WPA.
John Carradine G of W nominated for 7 Oscars, won Ford best director and Jane Darwell for supporting actress. Lost to Rebecca A touching attempt by film industry to honor years of hardship and sacrifice. Tom Joad is timeless and true and the film is a key warning of how society may make outlaws out of its best material.
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Beatty and Dunaway sizzle
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
The highly stylized violence glamorized in Bonnie and Clyde is closely interwoven with sex to grandly glorify both. Director Arthur Penn was greatly influenced by the French New Wave filmmakers and his romanticized violence along with the trajectory and impending downfall of the protagonist due to criminal involvement is now a Hollywood template for criminal dramas. Gangster movies from the Thirties glorified criminality and living the good life, Penn helped usher in the sexual element to create an unbeatable combination.
In the early Thirties, several real life criminals became American celebrates. The American Publics infatuation with gangster films was bolstered by constant newsreel and newspaper articles detailing the latest exploits of real life criminals like Al Capone and John Dillinger. Films such as Little Caesar (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), and Scarface (1932) were wildly successful, as well as classic examples of the philosophical debate of life imitating art-art imitating life. Scarface was especially titillating in that it incorporated details of Capone's life that were well known to the public. These films were released in what was known as cinemas Pre-Code era that saw little restrictions standing in the way of portraying sex and violence in motion picture. As the depression era crime wave escalated, the government intervened with the Hays Code and later the Breen Office as watch dogs of acceptability. Hays went so far as to mandate that Dillinger not be portrayed in any motion picture, while Capone was reportedly offered seven figures to appear in a film. As the restrictions on violence eventually stripped away much of the allure, the gangster movie lost much of its luster, until Penn's Bonnie and Clyde.
Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were depression era bank robbers brought to the attention of America during the "Public Enemy" era between 1931 and 1934. The Bonnie Parker image of cigar smoking gun moll was generated by a series of gun wielding poses the gang left behind in Joplin Mo after narrowly escaping authorities. The photographs were quickly spread across the wire service and instantly brought them to the public's attention. It is the illicit suggestion that these two were engaged in a relationship containing more than bank robberies and shootouts that galvanized the two into pop culture folklore. There were several two bit punks during the era, but with Bonnie along for the fun the two were destined to be immortalized.
The Dunaway Beatty version mirrors the original outlaws, with both couples catapulted into being criminal superstars with the same powerful mix of violence and sex. Warren Beatty and Fay Dunaway capitalize on the sexuality of Bonnie and Clyde, while pushing the limits to exploit their own allure and charisma. The sex appeal of Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty is immediate. It sizzles. The pair would be hard pressed to be surpassed as one of the screens hottest pairings.
Warren Beatty had long been considered one of Hollywood's most eligible bachelors, and has been quite the lady's man throughout his movie career having been linked with a string of bombshells. Beatty is famously considered as one of Hollywood's all time womanizers. His real life reputation couldn't be further from the struggles Clyde barrow faced in the bedroom, but it is ironic that maybe Clyde carries such a big powerful gun because of implied impotence. Beatty's ego is intact and self-confidence is secure in order for him taking on a character with sexual dysfunction. Dunaway's fellatio seems to eventually solve his problems, although it's a shame that Clyde couldn't have lasted a little longer, before coming to a bad end.
Dunaway has an allure that mesmerizes, especially during the early scenes as her close ups are a Botticelli ode to screen goddesses. Fay Dunaway is shimmering white hot here. Her first contact with Clyde is unclothed, hidden behind a semi opaque window peering down at Clyde. It might be impossible for any red blooded American boy to look away from Dunaway's Bonnie Parker, even when there is a car that begs to be stolen. Dunaway's portrayal is a delicious Hollywood bombshell in it penultimate personage, as she provides one of the sexiest roles in film history.
The supporting actors seem to have intentionally been cast by less attractive actors than their real life counterparts in order to further push the sexuality of Beatty and Dunaway, although it would have hardly mattered as any actors would pale in comparison. The supporting cast is exemplary. Estelle Parsons shines in a role that rightfully garnered the Academy Award for best supporting actress for the high pitched scream queen who just cannot handle the criminal lifestyle or constant gun play. She is great here, but does get annoying as her portrayal makes Bonnie seem hyper cool in comparison. Michael Pollard embodies several real life associates of the gang, and provides a star struck 'aw- shucks' wholesomeness who seems somewhat honored to be able to participate with the infamous duo. It's a joy to see his awkward reactions, seemingly in constant blush as it's his privilege to be so close to proceedings. It's also interesting that the writers and preproduction plans were to involve Pollards character sharing in Bonnie and Clyde's bed. Gene Hackman shines as Buck Barrow, Clyde's brother, providing a good natured earnestness straight from the rural heartland of America. The Texas Ranger Frank Hamer (Denver Pyle) is a flat neutral character, and it seems odd that Arthur Penn didn't do more with the character considering Hamer killed 53 people while working for the state of Texas.
Bottom Line: I would give this a 94. It is one of the great achievements in film. The film tries to adhere to a realistic portrayal of the real exploits of the gang, but it is a somewhat romanticized version. Relative to other Hollywood treatments of historical events, it is relatively close depiction, but does serve to further mythologize the couple. (May 2011)
Bogart and Huston don't need no stinkin badges
Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948)
Two Americans, played by Humphrey Bogart and Tim Holt, are reduced to panhandling in 1920's Mexico, meet up with an old prospector and decide to join together and search for gold. They eventually find gold, but must battle bandits, Mother Nature, and themselves in order to keep it. Bogart's character begins to lose both his trust and his sanity, lusting to possess the entire treasure. Holt's charter Dobbs is also unreasonably afraid that he will be killed by his partners. Huston wins the Academy Award for his portrayal of the steadying force that knows a lot about gold mining and even more about human nature.
This is a landmark motion picture. Warner Brothers studio head Jack L. Warner stated that it was "definitely the greatest motion picture we have ever made." The American Film Institute ranked this as the #38 Greatest Movie of All Time in their 1997 poll. In 1948 it was nominated for the Academy Award for best picture, but was beat by Laurence Olivier's Hamlet. While Olivier is considered one of history's greatest actors, and Hamlet is among Shakespeare's finest, Treasure of the Sierra Madre has gone on to surpass Olivier's Hamlet to now be considered to be one of the greatest of all movies. Treasure of the Sierra Madre would win the Oscar for John Huston for Direction and Screen writing, and for his father Walter for best supporting role.
While I can see how Laurence Olivier won the Oscar for Hamlet in 1948, I have a hard time understanding how Bogart didn't even warrant a nomination. Bogart's performance still stands as one of the signposts that would point the direction that modern acting would follow. Bogart is sublimely adept at moving between being an affable down on his luck drifting panhandler to a dangerously vicious man consumed by greed. Bogart's plays the early scenes as Fred C. Dobbs by showing benevolence, and he is supportive and encouraging by helping stake the others by putting up a larger amount of money, and speaks in a level headed manner at their plight in the world. Dobbs is consumed by avaricious thoughts, and a big red flag appears when he demands that they divide their gains three ways, every night. Soon they are each hiding their loot, with Bogart becoming increasingly paranoid that the others are going to take his gold, as he progressively loses his sanity. Bogart is more than willing to play the despicable mean spirited role of Fred C. Dobbs. Bogart didn't become a star being a pretty face, and his role here is more ammunition that he is still considered as one of film history's greatest actors. Bogart is fearless in portraying Fred C. Dobb as a selfish, pathetic sick man, equal parts freighted and frightening. His leering paranoia is a wonder, and as he grows increasingly surly, watching Bogart is a treat, probably a little too malevolent for some members of his 1948 audience.
The performance by Walter Huston is a masterpiece. It is joyful to watch, and a true film buff will be easily beaming with satisfaction that they are witness to greatness, as Huston breathes life into the old prospector. He bestows the old prospector with unbridled excitement by dancing in a way that would be copied countless times by other similar characters, especially old grizzled character actors in Westerns. Walter Huston's old timer Howard has a knowing twinkle in his eye; he knows the ins and outs of prospecting for gold, from the equipment to the best site that would yield a rich bounty. The Howard character knows human nature, and still goes along for the ride even though he is already well aware of what is about to unfold in the hearts of his companions. Walter Huston is flawless in this role. His maniacal laugh when the turn of events is brought to his attention is bombastic, but in keeping with his understanding of his partners psyche, not much seems to surprise the wise old man, he knew this would happen.
John Huston stated that working on this film with his father, and his dad's subsequent Oscar win were among the favorite moments of his life. Upon winning the award Walter responded: "Many years ago.... Many, MANY years ago, I brought up a boy, and I said to him, 'Son, if you ever become a writer, try to write a good part for your old man sometime.' Well, by cracky, that's what he did!" It is s crying shame that Walter would die two years later. On seeing the quality of Walter Huston's performance, Bogart famously stated that "One Huston is bad enough, but two are murder." A finer homage couldn't have been bestowed one of the greatest family contributions to a film. It should also be noted that the other actors did a fine job. Tim Holt is more than serviceable having the unenviable task of trying to keep up with Huston and Bogart. Holt is believable as the third of the prospecting amigos, and needs to do little else than provide support here. The Mexican Bandits are a special treat, and leave the audience wanting more. The bandit in the gold hat seems to be an offish simpleton, until he snarls one of Hollywood's most famous quotes: "Badges? We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges." The quote is iconic, being film histories #36 ranked quote according to the American Film Institute. The lasting appeal of these bandits and their infamous quote has passed into the lexicon of movie buffs, as well as into pop culture consciousness.
Bottom Line: I would give this film a 95. It is a solid A, and a 95 is indeed indicative of its worthiness as one of films great achievements. It's a fantastic joy to watch the acting, as both Bogart and Walter Huston provide legendary performances.
Different Drummer: Dancing Outlaw (1991)
If You Wanna Get to Heaven, You Gotta Raise a Little Hell
Dancing Outlaw (1991) This is about as much guilty pleasure as I can stand, as this is an enormously entertaining documentary. I absolutely love watching this, and have almost wore out the DVD. I have a copy that has been viewed several times, but I'm not too worried, as I could pay a fairly high price to purchase this online. I have taken a great deal of pleasure showing this to friends and family members, and feel like I am letting them in on a underground phenomenon that only a select few people know about. I suppose it's true, as this jewel has few online ratings or reviews on IMDb, and is a little known cult classic.
I feel almost certain that this is real and is not a scripted fake. This is fueled by the central character Jesco White, who is certainly one of the most interesting characters to emerge from West Virginia. His love of Elvis, mountain dancing (a mash up of clogging and tap), and his multiple personalities are ingredients that fuel an intoxicating blend of exploitive fun. Jesco seems to move between a few general personalities, as purported by his wife Norma Jeans quote from early in the proceedings "Jesse can be three people: He is Jesse, he is Jesco, and he is Elvis. Jesse is the most beautiful man that I could've ever loved. But Jesco, he, - he's somebody else. He's the devil in hisself. Uh, nothing satisfies him - he can't be happy. Nothing you do for him makes him happy." It is also obvious that Jesco and White have a less than ideal marriage, and their bickering and domestic strife is on full display. This documentary comes across as something of a testimonial insight into Jesco White and his history. He talks directly into the camera, and walks the viewer through is early life as a juvenile delinquent, his love of dancing, meeting his wife, and the daily strife he has endured.
The documentary does a good job of interspersing comments from his wife Norma Jean, Jesco's mother and their family. This is spiced with odd and unusually musings by the group, and serves as an unusual quote fest. An especially provocative look into the manic temper of White is found in his quote "And I took the butcher knife and put it up to her neck. I said if you want to live to see tomorrow, you better start fryin' them eggs a little bit better then what you a fryin' em - I'm tired of eatin' sloppy, slimy eggs!" This is filled with unusual musings and interesting quotes from start to finish. I still have a hard time getting the Ozark Mountain Daredevil song "If you Wanna Get to Heaven" song out of my head, as Jesco mountain dances with this booming from a beat box as he crosses an old fashion swinging bridge. Surely Jesco has raised more than a little hell. An especially entertaining segment details the fight and subsequent shooting of his father D.Ray, as Jesco revisits the emotional turmoil that is a result. His bothers and especially his sister Mamie are also shown, as they mud bog and party to Lynyrd Skynrd blaring in the background. By the way, Mamie is the biggest and badest of all the Whites, and would surely be an interesting subject of a different exploitive documentary. This is great theatre as the viewer has full access. This is more for those looking to enjoy the extremes of White and his family.
Jesco White is something of a cult classic hero. His antics are both disturbing and entertaining. While watching this documentary, I am struck by concern that this is exploitive, and that Mr. White is plagued by problems that he has little chance of controlling. The tug and pull between enjoying this immensely, and being concerned that Jesco is being laughed at is a consideration.
This is not an objective documentary where a slice of life is shown of someone from outside the mainstream of American society. This is directly exploitive of Jesco White, his family, and their community. I'm fairly certain that most who watch this immediately label all who hail from rural Appalachia in a similar fashion as they do Jesco and his family. There is an implicit stereotyping at play that immediately kicks in when those from a more sophisticated or progressive communities are exposed to citizens from impoverished areas of the mountains. Almost every reference to this documentary is accompanied by "Redneck" or "Hillbilly" and a certain like minded stereotyping is surely applied. Many of the same groups who are quickest to apply such labels are the first to be outraged and rail at the stereotyping of other ethnic, religious, or racial groups. I have always found it strange that such a dichotomy is at play when attitudes and prejudices are considered, and that it seems to be politically correct to apply "hillbilly" or "Redneck" as an insult, while abstaining from other group labels. Rural Americans who live in the Appalachian Mountains are regrettably the last group that it is still politically correct to be made fun of.
Bottom Line: I would give this a 92. This is not for those who are easily offended, or deeply rooted conservatives, or made to feel uneasy by mature issues such as drug use or extreme Hell raisin'. Dancing Outlaw is exploitive, and deals with an extreme person that is probably suffering from some type of mental disability. If the viewer can suspend the reality of this characters plight and struggles, then this is great entertainment. If you cannot get past the problems that Jesco White has, then stay away. It may be an issue for some to suspend their concern for Jesco White, and just sit back and enjoy the ride. For those who don't see that as a problem, they will have a highly entertaining good time.
Son of Dracula (1943)
Dracula shoulda had a vasectomy
Son of Dracula (1943) Lon Chaney Jr. plays Count Alucard, who travels to a Louisiana plantation to unite with a love interest. Katherine is his latest and Alucard takes her as his bride, while having to contend with her former love interest who is intent on defeating the count while saving his childhood sweetheart.
This has got to be one of the worst casting decisions ever, especially in the part of a horror icon like Dracula. Lon Chaney Jr. is a fine actor, and is superb as the dim witted Lennie in the 1939 film version of John Steinbach's masterpiece novel Of Mice and Men. Chaney is fabulous as a hulking mentally retarded man who has a heart of gold, only to be continually harassed by the bully who compensates for his short man syndrome. In 1941 Universal studio wanted to rework and release a different take after the film Werewolf of London (1935) was a financial flop, deemed as too similar to the 1931 version of MGM's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Universal cast Lon Chaney Jr. as the The Wolf Man (1941), with refurbished makeup effects, and a fine script by Curtis Siodmak. Wolf Man is the second Universal installment of the werewolf series, and catapulted Chaney into stardom. Chaney was very effective in the role, and was also well suited as Boris Karloff's replacement in the Frankenstein series in Universals fourth installment The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942). I assume Universal felt Chaney could effectively portray the legendary Count Dracula here, or at the very least could capitalize on his success as the Wolf Man; capitalize on his part as Frankenstein, or continue to reap rewards by trading on the name of his more talented father, horror Icon Lon Chaney. Either way, they were wrong.
Chaney has no sex appeal. He is dull and doesn't attempt a Lugosi-esq accent for this role. In The Wolf Man he is able to imbue a man conflicted with his state, but in this film a man dealing with inner turmoil is unnecessary. The conflicted vampire is taken up in latter films, but in 1943 this turmoil is not the path taken by the director Robert Siodmak, the writers brother. I always thought Dracula to be more suited as a leering manipulator who is desired by the fairer sex. Chaney does not look the part. His face is fleshy and he lacks the charisma that is needed here. A starker facial structure or someone possessing more traditional matinée idol good looks would have been a better fit. Chaney looks more likely as a truck driver, or an eventual Elvis aficionado. His pencil thin moustache does not work, nor does his less than slicked salt and pepper hair. He doesn't have a menace, and his expressions are bland.
I guess I could see Universal taking the Count to New Orleans, and capitalizing the Gothic setting. It worked for Ann Rice in her novels written several decades later, but it doesn't look like he would have enough prey in the backwoods and swamps portrayed here. The swamps look good, and the cinematography is well done, but this local seems to be an odd choice. His wife also looks good; Katherine is hot and does have some sex appeal. Where is her Southern accent? No one in Louisiana has an accent? No one here does, they all seem t come from a soundstage, which I suppose is better than the British accent that normally populates a horror film. The dialogue gets campy near the end when one of the policemen states: "You mean to tell me that skeleton is all that's left of Count Alucard?" "It's got his ring with his family crest on it, the same crest that's on his luggage." I don't know whether that is efficient police work, or an oversight in their hurried quest to pronounce Count Alucard dead. Even harder to stomach is the reworking of Count Dracula name, which is nothing more than spelling his name backwards. Twice Dracula is seen reflected in a mirror. I'm pretty sure this is more of an oversight that a reworking of the details of Dracula legend. The movie used a lot of the flying bat effects. It was a large bat, and seemed to be well done, especially for 1943. I thought the movie did a pretty good job with making the bat transform into the Count. The Count and his bride transforming into wisps of smoke is a little much. I think this is the first film to display Dracula with more strength than a human.
Bottom line: I'll give Son of Dracula a 57. Poor casting of the Dracula is unforgivable. This could have been a much better film. It was well shot, and looked good but Lon Chaney Jr. as the Count is a miss.
Dracula's Daughter (1936)
Dracula's Daughter ain't a Bitch
Draculas Daughter (1936). In this follow up, Countess Zaleska comes to England to recover the body of her father Count Dracula. She hopes to rid herself of her vampire curse by destroying his body. She cannot stop herself from being a vampire, and consults a psychologist, who is not able to remedy her thirst for blood.
How could Universal follow Dracula (1931) with this as the sequel? This would have to be a major disappointment, as the studio seems to have badly mishandled capitalizing on the major success of Dracula. This film followed a five year gap after the original film, and it would be difficult to follow up the original in what would be a monumental task. Universal had another hit monster movie in 1931 with James Whales legendary movie Frankenstein. Universal again utilized Whale to direct its follow up with Bride of Frankenstein (1935), a film most feel was an even more monumental movie than its predecessor. Bride of Frankenstein is one of the few films critics praise as even better than it's original. By utilizing James Whale as the director of the Bride of Frankenstein, Universal was better able to take advantage of what amounted to be a successful franchise for the studio. The Frankenstein films cast a large shadow over Dracula's Daughter, and create the opinion that this film is something of a disappointment.
Were Dracula released today, a sequel would have been in the works after the opening weekend's success. I suppose it would have been hard to utilize the original Bela Lugois as the Count, as he was killed with a steak to the heart. How about a prequel? How about some creative license with revitalizing him somehow? Hammer studio in the early Sixties went to extravagant devices to revitalize their rendition of the Count in several films. I'm sure that it would be interesting reading to unearth why Universal took so long to capitalize on Dracula's success, and to discover why it took form as Dracula's Daughter.
A logical follow up would have included director Tod Browning. Browning followed his successful Dracula with the controversial masterpiece Freaks (1932). Freaks utilized real side show performers in a tale of revenge after a wealthy midget is swindled by a beautiful acrobat. The controversy and commercial flop of what is now a cult classic all but derailed Browning's career. Even after heavy editing removed many of the more disturbing scenes, the film was a major financial failure. Browning's career was derailed. Browning remade his London After Midnight (1927), pairing Browning with Horror icon Lon Chaney in the silent film, as Mark of the Vampire (1935). Mark of the Vampire was made for MGM studio with Dracula leading man Bela Lugosi as a suspected vampire. By again utilizing the pair, Universal might have been able to better follow their Dracula hit with a string of successful films that would have been more in line with the success of the icon Dracula.
Universal went with Lambert Hillyer instead of Tod Browning to direct the next vampire installment. Hillyer made more than 60 'B' Westerns and more than a 150 films from the silent era through the end of the Forties. I suspect Hillyer was selected for his film Before Midnight which was a murder mystery with supernatural overtones. Hillyer was the first director to bring Batman to the screen in 1943, and ended his career working with television productions in the Fifties. He does a fine job here, but when compared to the successful follow up to Frankenstein, this film is a relative disappointment.
The rest of the cast does well. Her assistant Sandor is sufficiently creepy, and well played by Irving Pichel. Otto Kruger is serviceable as the male protagonist psychologist. I did like the line "There's a few birds in London I'd like to shoot... and they haven't feathers either!" He doesn't really do much to endear himself, coming across as smug and aloof. I found myself hoping the Countess would harm him in some way. This movie was well filmed and the transfer to DVD seems in much better shape than does Dracula. The Dracula condition seems much more than 5 years older. The sound on Daughter is also much better, while Dracula seems to have a constant ambient noise present in many scenes.
Bottom Line: I would give this film a 63. It is not terrible, but suffers due to it being Universals tepid follow up to their landmark Dracula. A much more memorable effort should have been produced. While I'm not sure what suggestions should have been given to Hillyer, I think Countess Zaleska would have been more noteworthy if she were more menacing, or deadly. It would have been great to see her strong as a personage of evil, a bold bitch would have been stirring, but alas she is muddled and less than 1936 was prepared to handle, which would have been perfect.
The Body Snatcher (1945)
Body Snatcher still has a warm body
This is a surprisingly good movie. Having recently watched the Mummy (1932), I stumbled upon this forgotten gem as part of a DVD double feature to see Boris Karloff in a lesser known role. I had assumed I would be bored with a period piece film that I had never heard, and that this would be a plodding vehicle banking on Karloff's name recognition.. I could not have been more pleasantly surprised. Body Snatchers is very entertaining. I had second thoughts initially, but the pace picked up and moved briskly to a very rewarding climax. The cinematography was well done, especially in lighting Karloff's face. The use of lightning is especially effective for the payoff shots. A dark period piece set in early 1831 Scotland, Karloff plays a cab driver who supplies a medical school with cadavers. The doctor of the school is involved in the uneasy relationship with Karloff, and is blackmailed as Karloff's John Gray eschews digging for fresh corpses.
Boris Karloff is the reason I took a chance with this film, and he turns in a great performance. Karloff is surprisingly adept at being able to convey some depth here. He is very kind to a young crippled girl, and seems to be able to genuinely care as he helps her interact with his horse. Karloff was able to imbue his Frankenstein with a similar humanity that was much missed when other actors took the role. Karloff was more humanized with Frankenstein, particularly in such scenes as with he blind girl and the flowers. His characterization doesn't go for that depth here, but his cab man John Gray is much more than a single dimensional embodiment of evil. I am particularly impressed by Karloff here, as Karloff's John Gray exudes a certain uneasy charisma. His manipulative leer is the embodiment of evil that lurks in mans heart. Smiling and leering through many of his lines is enjoyable to see unfold. Gray is a snake, showing both great charm and a genteel veneer, coupled with the ability to menace and bully his Dr. McFarlane. He toys with McFarlane, and is able to coerce the doctor throughout. It's especially enjoyable as he harasses McFarlane with the too familiar 'Toddy'. The doctor is being black mailed, and Karloff knows a dark secret he holds over his head, and being on a first name basis is a little much for the doctor. Karloff is known to go a bit far and often careens into a hammy self parody, but here his voice and leering evil eyes are a guilty pleasure.
Body Snatcher was produced by Val Lewton who was brought to work for RKO studio in the Forties to make horror movies that would compete with Universal. He never was able to produce an iconic franchise monster, but nonetheless he was able to produce what were generally artful productions, and is hailed as one of the leading names in horror movies. With Cat People (1942), audiences were deliberately left with the uncertainty of what was happening in the minds of the characters, or was part of the reality of the film. This ambiguity was used to great effect by Darren Aronofsky in Black Swan (2010). Lewton utilized a variation of this approach in other notables efforts such as I Walked with a Zombie (1943), The Leopard Man (1943), Isle of the Dead, (1945), and Bedlam (1946). Bedlam would be Lewton's last horror film for RKO. Body Snatcher and Bedlam would be less concerned with the supernatural and more oriented in dark period piece settings. Lawton's films tend to be able to suggest terror and rely on the implied rather than the implicit. Lewton was able to progress the genre, and his style fit perfectly with RKO's financial woes and subsequent budget limitations. Here he brought Robert Lewis Stevenson's short story to the screen by providing the screenplay and employing Robert Wise.
Body Snatcher is the first movie directed by Wise. Wise worked with Orson Welles as an editor on Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons before co directing Lewton's The Curse of the Cat People (1944). Wise can be called one of cinemas great directors without such a loft remark being construed as hubris. Wise directed landmark films West Side Story, and The Sound of Music. He went on to direct The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Star Trek The Motion Picture. Each of these films are considered to be landmarks, and are indicative of a master at the height of his craft. It is mind boggling to consider the unrelated styles and genres from these successes, with only a high level of acumen from Wise as the common denominator. It would be hard to imagine that another director worked so successfully in such a varied number of genres.
This was a very enjoyable film. It is well acted, well directed and well produced. What more can you ask for? I fully expected this to a be a slow paced dated affair. It wasn't. Much impressed with this movie, I am looking forward to watching Val Lewton's other film here: I walked with a Zombie (1943). While there are several compilations available highlighting his films, after watching Body Snatcher I will be purchasing the other bargain bin double feature which includes Isle of the Dead (1945) and Bedlam (1946), both of which pair him with Boris Karloff.
Bottom Line: I would give this a 78. This film is more appropriate for those with a little more attention span, although the pacing is brisk. It starts a little slow, but builds itself well, and has a very good climax. For those relying on special effects, and explicit graphics should have already be warned off by the release date, and the black and white film. Karloff is in fine form, and it is a special treat for those looking for more than his high profile roles from this icon of the Horror genre.
Battle Los Angeles (2011)
Marines Corp vs Alien Invaders - Ooh-rah!
This is not a terrible movie. Almost, but not quite. There is a lot to enjoy here, while also throwing out a lot of irritants that block this from being a much better movie. It's pretty solid, and does a good job depicting the battle between our beloved Marine Corp and an insidious invading alien species. Let's start with the good aspects. Aaron Eckert does a pretty good job, and seems to be the strong jawed, cleft chinned natural that should be in action movies. I really liked him in Dark Knight, and I'm sure there are other good things to come from Eckertt. I like a lot of, if not most of the action sequences. I thought the fighting and mayhem seemed to convey a strong sense of what one of the troops may experience in such a situation. The sound was amped up, and the constant assaults and gunfire seemed fairly realistic. The strength of the Alien force was evident, as they routed the overwhelmed troops from the streets. The art direction concerning the buildings and battle strewn city, and depiction of the carnage is well done, especially the city as it is burning.
The look of the aliens was not bad. They seemed to be a combination of the robots that Jar Jar Binks clan battled in Star Wars crossed with the aliens in District 9, especially so in the attachment to their guns. They weren't as well rendered or as interesting. I thought the dissection of the captured alien was a definite low point. I assume this scene had more to do with wanting to make viewers squirm, which it didn't, then in showing off the acumen of the creative forces who created the creatures for this film. The goo and ooze and attempting to find the weakness inherent in this species was ridiculous, and straight from a low budget drive in movie from the 60s. I thought a good job was turned in by the art department, especially so in smaller vehicles that were used for fighting just above street level, and looked imposing otherworldly. I don't think the aliens were too concerned with conserving fuel, as most of their equipment seemed to be spewing flames, convincing me that none of their war craft got very high MPG.
I thought it entirely unnecessary to include Eckert's character going through the process of retiring. It's corny, and seems to be included to try and squeeze some humanism from an otherwise emotionless film. The whole talk about Eckert's Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz character losing some of his men in a previous mission, being doubted and even hated by a few of his troops, and his drive to make good is eye rolling camp of the most pedestrian level, which is again more formula to hopefully add a human element to the proceedings. Has this movie received proceeds from the Marine Corp? It plays like an action packed commercial filled with way too much grunt lingo and jargon, and what it means to be a part of The Corp. The constant inclusion of Marine Corp sayings and the references to all things dealing with The Corp is silly, sophomoric, and the kind of Rah-Rah-Go-Team stuff that should be reserved for a movie about high school football, or the Special Olympics. Give me a break. The entire Marine Corp angle was constant, aggravating, and way too over the top. I am not against supporting your branch of the service, but do feel strongly that this type of sloganeering is directly aimed at a target audience of teenage boys prone to buy into the machismo while contemplating a rush out of the theatre to the local recruiters' office to join up. It has nothing to do with actually telling a story of heroes that happen to be in a particular branch of the U.S. armed forces.
The hand held camera work seems to be utilized to mask the quality provided by the special effects department. I don't have a problem with the special effects depictions here. Anytime there is wide spread use of the hand held camera, I invariably decide it has more to do with masking the quality of the images, or at least reducing the exorbitant budget allocated to them than it does adding a cinema verite style realism. It usually gives me motion sickness and a headache and does not translate into a real world glimpse from the lens of a grunt soldier. It does not work here. I wish that this was a camera technique that would run its course and go away. The jumpy hand held camera work is reason number one to stay away from most any movie that employees this technique, which I have. This has to rate as a biggest reason to hate films that utilize the technique. It is a shame the movie Cloverfield was able to parlay its 'realistic' camera work into a hit a few years ago. I gave this movie a five out of ten initially, and after going through this review, I feel I should adjust it down to a four. I didn't hate the movie, and did enjoy a lot of its pieces, but on the whole there were several elements that were aggravating. I am not sorry I actually bought a ticket to see this, but near the end I did go through the other options I had considered before making this decision. I don't think I would want to see this again, and I would definitely stay away if this is seen on a smaller screen in your home. If it's watched on a really nice HD screen, and a nice sound system can recreate the theatres sound, then I really shouldn't tell you to stay away from this as a rental. If you're associated with the Marine Corp, save your coins till the DVD release and watch it annually. "Ooh-rah!"
The Mummy (1932)
Revisiting the old classic The Mummy
I was pleasantly surprised by this old classic. I watched this again for the first time since I was a small boy. Back in the days before cable, one of the three networks would air old monster movies on the weekend near midnight. I still remember The Mummy, and curiosity caused me to revisit this title from 1932. I very much enjoyed Boris Karloff's performance on the Mummy. The majority of his performance was as the embodiment of the Mummy's spirit Im-Ho-Tep in contemporary 1932 Egypt. Ho-Tep had been buried alive for 3700 years before being reanimated by a bumbling archaeologist. It was pretty cool to hear Karloff utilize his voice and a leering stare to intimidate those who stood in his way. I enjoyed the image of his staring directly into the cameras lens, and then a shift in lighting to highlight his hypnotic eyes. The special effect work was pretty clever and I thought an extremely well done job was executed in creating The Mummy's aged face. I enjoyed seeing Karloff's wrinkled visage as the Mummy, but was surprised that the Mummy was only on screen for a very short period. Loved it when he open his eye after the archaeologist read the ancient curse. I had assumed that to be the progenitor of such a classic movie villain, the Mummy would have more menace, more of a important part as a fully realized embodiment of evil and thought that the monster would have much more time on screen.
The disappointment that the monster wasn't more central to the story doesn't really detract from looking back at an early pioneer in scary movies. By my current disposition, this wasn't really scary or creepy, and didn't really create much of a mood or tension, but watching this old title wasn't a bad experience or wasteful of my time. The Mummy was very similar to the original Dracula's storyline. The DVD's extras revealed that they both shared the same screenwriters. The formula seemed to have more effect in the Gothic vampire tale. The extras also discussed the leading lady and her prominence on Broadway, and fights with the director.
I would not recommend that most people would enjoy this. For those with an affinity for early cinema, or those curious about the beginning of an icon like the Mummy, then this will hold an interest. Karloff is an iconic giant in this genre, and this is an interesting opportunity to see him at the height of his abilities as one of films great scary actors. This movie spawned several later versions of what developed into an iconic movie monster. This is what gave life to the monster the Mummy.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
Tarantino's Modern Classic
Pulp Fiction is one of the most influential movies of its decade. It spawned tons of imitators in both style, character development, and structure. Its nonlinear timeline may or may not be a Tarantino homage to Citizen Kane, and can be seen in such modern classics as Memento and The Usual Suspects to name an elite few. There are no bad scenes in this movie. It starts strong, gets better, and then ends on a high note. While it concerns the lives of two mob hit men, a boxer, a crime boss's wife, a pair of petty thieves in a nonlinear tale of the intersecting story lines, its style and the characters make it about much more. Amazing opening scene kicks off the fun when Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) and Pumpkin (Tim Roth) casually discuss their robbery strategies, profess their sugar sweet love for each other, and then sudden shift into full throated threats toward the patrons in the quiet dinner. The opening conversation between Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samual L. Jackson) is a classic in hyper stylized cool hipster conversation. There musings on a life in Amsterdam, a "Royal with Cheese" , and the appropriateness of as foot massage, and what may happen if someone gets too cozy with the big bosses woman is a definite high point in scatological dialogue from a crime movie. All of the acting here is top notch. Travolta makes an impressive return. He exudes charisma and is pitch perfect in every scene. Michael Madsen was originally offered the role, but due to scheduling difficulties was not able to participate. While Madsen was terrific in Tranatino's first directorial outing Reservoir Dogs, it's now hard to imagine anyone else in the role other than Travolta. The date at Jack Rabbit Slims is about as much fun as can be had in a restaurant. Travolta gets to reprise his dancing, which helped skyrocket him to fame in the 70's, while helping reestablish himself here after his career waned somewhat during the late 80s. Uma Thurman does well as the big crime bosses sexy wife Mia. The black bangs seem to be a nod to other bad girls, or maybe Bettie Page. The OD scene is harrowing. Samual L. Jackson also delights as a contemplative hit man Jules. Does a movie get any more intense then when Jules spouts his Ezekiel speech as he looks down his gun barrel at a man who tried to do Marcellus Wallace wrong?
It would be hard to imagine these two veteran actors having a cooler more impressive role then they found here with Tarantino's dialogue. Does it get any better than when Jules has his gun on Honey Bunny and he muses on the meaning of his Ezekiel passage? Bruce Willis does great job as the boxer who is coerced to throw a fight. He is great here as the old Palooka nearing the end and looking for one last big payday. Great interplay with his love interest helps provide some character balance countered by him almost going ballistic when she forgets his most prized possession when they start on the lam. I absolutely love Christopher Walken's cameo speech to a young boy, and all that had transpired in order for him to present him with the family heirloom wrist watch. I loved Bruce Willis and Ving Rhame's collision, fight and the scenes eventually payoff. "Bring in the Gimp" is a fantastic set piece. All of the characters here are vivid, stylized originals un-paralleled elsewhere. Dialogue is at the heart of Quenton Tarantino film. It could be compared to Raymond Chandler or Elmore Leonard. It is fascinating and stylish and speaks volumes of the hip styling's of the characters and movies which were written by Tarantino. A self-professed movie junky, Trantino is able to supple his characters with a way of speaking about the mundane that both informs the viewer, as well as the other characters, that the conversation here is not only fun, but it is speaking volumes. About the only thing that may be more revered than the dialogue here is the movies violence. There is a ton of it in this movie. The movie never seems to use violence as the attraction, but it does revel in the titillation associated with its allure. There are so many lines and scenes here that are now classics. The characters here aren't always talking about what has transpired, or what is going to happen, they leave normal plot devices to immerse themselves, and the view are, in to highly stylized lingo that becomes even more interesting than the violence in which they participate. The violence takes a back seat to the dialogue, but still there is no escape from what implications are doled out by violence here.
This is a modern day classic. . It is exhilarating from start to finish. It is one of the crime genres greatest movies, and deserves to be held in high esteem from the industries top critics. It ranks as IMDb's #5 ranked movie of all time. Roger Ebert gives it high praise, two thumbs way up, and 4 out of 4 stars, while including it as one of his re-reviewed entries in his book 'The Great Movies'. This is a pop culture at it apex. American Film Institute list saw Pulp Fiction ranked #95 in 1997, and was #94 ten years later in the revised 2007 list, while ranking as the #7 'Gangster' movie from an AFI list from 1998. Bottom Line: I would give this movie a 96. It would be more enjoyed by those who don't avoid violence in films, and should be avoided by those with conservative tastes.