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The Wicker Man (2006)
A Drone of A Remake
drone: 1. A male bee, especially a honeybee, that is characteristically stingless, performs no work, and produces no honey. Its only function is to mate with the queen bee 2.To make a continuous low dull humming sound 3.To pass or act in a monotonous way Any or all of the above definitions are apt for this utter farce of a remake of the 1973 cult classic. As a comedy it does the job very well especially in the penultimate scenes where Nicolas Cage kicks a couple of women who get in his way and dons a bear suit to join a parade of paganistic and predominantly female islanders in an attempt to rescue his daughter from being a human sacrifice to the nature gods. Unfortunately for him, things are not what they seem and he realizes too late that he was the intended victim all along.
The misogynistic outlook of director LaButte is clearly evident in portraying the women of Summersisle island as a domineering self-contained self-righteous heartless lot who have absolute control over the few men that do inhabit the island, enslaving them and rendering them speechless by removing their tongues. Far cry from the 1973 original where both genders are treated as equals and respected in whatever occupations they practice.
The spiritual overtones of the original film are non-existent in this remake. Sergeant Howie in the 1973 version could come across as having died a martyr to his (Christian) faith and even Lord Summerisle commends him for this before having the former consigned to be a living sacrifice to propitiate the nature gods. But in the remake, Cage as Edward Malus is simply another sacrificial lamb along with the other creatures confined within the wicker man. There's no chanting of ancient hymns, dancing around maypoles nor feasible explanations for performing certain rituals as in the previous version. Which might pose a problem for those who haven't watched nor are aware of the 1973 original.
And there's the opening scene with Edward Malus witnessing the car accident involving a mother-daughter pair and subsequent flashbacks that he experiences afterwards which affect him so much he's had to take medication. The significance of this to the main storyline is poorly if ever explained and eventually forgotten as the plot thickens.Why the police force would allow one of its members who is clearly psychologically and emotionally disturbed to go on a missing person case is beyond me.
And the statement he utters when he's in the wicker man and his daughter rushes up with a burning torch "Put it down HONEY" is just so appropriate. Or poor choice of words depending on one's viewpoint.
The Lone Ranger (2013)
The Groan Ranger or the Lone Deranger
Either of the aforementioned titles would have been more appropriate than just The Lone Ranger. Armie Hammer as the titular character does little more than whinge and complain and question about every sticky situation he gets himself into, in conjunction with Tonto (the "Deranger"), who true to his name, is more loco than an ancient Nordic berserker in his quest to avenge the massacre of his tribe by hunting down the men responsible. In truth, Tonto is the real protagonist, as he does most of the fighting and killing and talking, leaving the real LR little more than a bumbling sidekick. And what's with the dead crow on his head - shouldn't he be affiliated with the Crow tribe in that case instead of Comanche? - at any rate, as far as I can recall from reading countless Western novels, the native tribes usually adorned themselves with the feathers and not the entire bird. I'd like to know what today's Comanche think of about Johnny Depp's portrayal. Wouldn't be surprised if they decided to unite and go on the warpath.
Clearly the target audience are the gen-Yers and Z-ers, many of whom will have never heard of nor seen the original TV serial starring Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. But even the, why distort the original storyline and throw in incongruous special effects that will be disproven by Mythbusters - like a horse leaping from a rooftop to a train over a ten foot distance, and then dropping perfectly straight into a train carriage just before it goes through a tunnel. Not to mention numerous anachronisms in time and history - Sears Roebuck wasn't formed till the early 20th century? And what's with the scorpion-munching rabid rabbits? That said I did have a good laugh throughout the film only because I found 250 million ways to turn a classic Western icon into a comedic travesty.
Who was that masked man? Who cares?!
Lo chiamavano Trinità... (1970)
Spaghetti Western With Beans and Bread, Please
There will always be detractors for the spaghetti Western genre, and those who deem this film as worthless and wishy-washy bargain bin value viewing, but the fact that it has spawned innumerable spoofs, sequels and imitations, and even a brief acknowledgement by Quentin Tarantino in his 2012 smash movie Django Unchained, goes to show that My Name Is Trinity is a classic in itself, and therefore has something going for it. Starring no less than the incomparable duo of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, who are the Western version of Abbott and Costello, albeit more adept and efficient. The plot is simplistic - typical good guys versus bad guys with the usual gunplay and barroom fistfights that are expected elements in a Western, yet atypical in that the protagonists are not the clean-cut nor grim sitting high-in-the-saddle sort of riders or gunfighters. Terence Hill is the titular character, a dusty raggedy saddle tramp, who lazes on a travois dragged by his faithful steed, drifting about with no set goal or purpose, belying the fact that he's the fastest gun in the West. Bud Spencer is his brooding bulk of a brother, the incongrously appellated Bambino (little boy), a trying-hard horse rustler, masquerading as the sheriff of a small town. Though they can't stand the sight of each other, force of circumstances compel them to unite to defend a community of settlers from a local baron who covets the valley the settlers have moved to for its rich grasslands, as well as from bullying Mexican bandidos, climaxing into an epic elaborately staged brawl beloved of Hill-Spencer diehards. The chemistry between Hill and Spencer is just contagious, even if they play characters with opposing personalities and conflicting interests, their movements fluid and coordinated even if their fighting methods differ. Small wonder that they went on to generate more movies, not just Westerns, and garnering a huge following especially in Europe, as well as spawning a sequel Trinity Is Still My Name, another one not to miss.
Django Unchained (2012)
Blood,Guts & Glory - Just The Way Tarantino Does It
Ostensibly a tribute to spaghetti Western genre of films, DU delivers the goods as far as gunplay and bloodbaths go - in the first ten minutes a man and a horse get their heads blown off. Then the body count gradually increases every 20 minutes till this almost 3 hour serious version of Blazing Saddles comes to an end. Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy watching it - viewed it a second time as a matter of fact - but felt that Tarantino could have done better with a more viable screenplay and organised direction. There seems to be a lot of disjointed moments that need further elucidation - more than coincidental that the very first plantation visited happened to harbour the fugitives from justice that the main characters were seeking for. Christoph Waltz turns in a memorable performance as Dr King Schultz, German expatriate ex-dentist who speaks impeccable Oxford Dictionary style English, who has turned to bounty hunting as a calling, evidently seeing more profit in removing whole (bad) bodies than just bad teeth. He is supposed to be the good guy, but at times comes through as a self-righteous stuck-up pompous a-- who justifies his actions with pieces of legal documents (warrants) authorizing him to take down outlaws, dead or alive (preferably the former). Jamie Foxx as the eponymous character seems rather stiff and hesitant in the beginning, as if thinking what to do or say next, and only gradually comes out of his shell, as it were, much later in the film, when he's dressed ostentatiously in blue boy costume and astride a noble steed and gets to do a lot of shooting and talking. Leonardo DiCaprio is the delightfully despicable plantation owner Calvin Candie, who enjoys slave fights and black wenches, with a dialogue of high vocabulary to match Schultz's. Other characters do little more than just stand aside as living set decorations. Samuel L Jackson as Stephen is in my opinion the most unforgettable and noteworthy character in the film; he seems to revel in his role as the subservient yet outspoken black mayordomo to Mr Candie ("who dat niggah on dat nag?!"), although coming across as comical and stereotypical Uncle Tom or Stepin Fetchit, he proves to be very perceptive and astute than given credit for - as in the scenes where he correctly deduces that Broomhilda and Django already know each other previously. A lot of the movie is taken up by needless and irrelevant scenes, like the Regulators aka Bag Men (precursors to the KKK), and Django's trip to the Dickey Quint mines in the hands of 3 inept and inefficient mine minions, in which Tarantino has a bit role speaking in a rather atrocious and laughable attempt at Aussie Strine. And to the more historically savvy, there's the numerous anachronisms and factual errors to nitpick at - dynamite, drinking straws, sunglasses and the Henry Repeater rifle, to name a few. But don't let this review put you off from seeing DU. It does have its glorious moments, blood and gore and all. But as with Tarantino films, don't expect a history lesson to base your book report on.
Les Misérables (2012)
Miserable Movie Musical
Having watched the Broadway version of Les Miserables, I had high hopes that this would be at least an adaptation of the Victor Hugo classic transposed from stage to film, done for the benefit of the hoi polloi who, for various reasons, are unable to witness the stage musical in all its glory. What we get instead is a truncated plot with more holes in it than Swiss cheese and a mishmash of actors and actresses, all professionals and veterans, singing in disharmony and disunity. Oh, well, perhaps I may have overstated. Hugh Jackman does have a pleasant singing voice, and his performance is at best, passable, as there are moments when one can feel the embodiment of Valjean in him, but at other times he is just, well, Jackman. Russell Crowe, while turning out an physically apt menacing presence as Javert, struggles to maintain the high C's (or should that be D's?), and it shows in his facial expressions. Anne Hathaway has a brief but memorable performance as Fantine, her rendition of "I Dreamed A Dream", while not particularly outstanding imho, does tend to rend at one's heart-strings, especially coupled with her gaunt and pathetic countenance of the factory worker turned prostitute.
Most disappointing of all, are the portrayals and performances of the characters the Thenardiers, who are supposed to provide the comic relief to an otherwise dark period of French revolutionary history. They are simply not in any way detestable nor funny, and I question their physical appearances particularly Mme Thenardier (in the novel and stage) is supposed to be a large, dumpy, homely harridan, here in the movie version, she's a buxom (if still dumpy) hussy shamelessly flaunting her wares at the inn's male customers. Mr Thenardier is simply too well-groomed and natty to the point of almost effeminate, and his half-hearted monotonal singing doesn't help either. "Master of the House" performance, supposedly the highlight of this particular scene, seems a bit rushed and makes little or no impact at all to the point of being forgettable, and neither Sascha Baron-Cohen nor Helena Bonham- Carter seem neither comfortable singing nor enjoying their roles.
There are a lot more I could say about this film rendition of a Broadway classic - but that has already been mentioned in other (negative) reviews in IMDb, so I'll not waste words nor space reiterating. the critic review at everythingmusicals.com pretty much sums up my feelings about this film - DON'T BOTHER watching at cinema.
"Taken" For A Ride
I give this flick a thumbs up for the non-stop action and thrills it provides, on the other hand thumbs down for an implausible plot with gunshot plot holes. Liam Neeson plays an ex-CIA agent who calls upon his skills and experiences in the good guys vs bad guys field when his beloved teenage daughter is kidnapped in Paris while on holiday by an Albanian mafia to be sold into prostitution. While his resolute courage and resourcefulness and abilities are not what is called into question, the situations he gets himself into are. Are we to believe that he could easily track down the head of the kidnapping ring based on a brief phone conversation and very vague tips from fellow ex-CIA members? And then there's the fact that he on his lonesome manages to score a round into 35 antagonists, yet he himself escapes with barely a scratch. Albanians, Frenchmen and Arabs must be such lousy shots. The there's the scene when he does get caught by the mob and hung by the wrists from the ceiling, and at the opportune moment, the bolts connecting the pipes he's shackled to give way and he instantly is free of his bonds to tackle the baddies. Perhaps Lady Luck was with him all the way through. Not to mention the incongruous ending where he brings his daughter to singing idol Sheera for voice lessons. After all that she went through, surely she would've suffered a great deal of post-traumatic stress, yet she acts as if the whole thing never happened - or maybe she went to an exceptional skillful head-shrinker. For all that, ignoring what I've just mentioned, just sit back and enjoy the action.
The Apartment (1960)
Definitely Not A "Lemon" Lemmon Movie
A timeless classic in director Billy Wilder's typical anti-establishment satirical style, this is one of Jack Lemmon's best imho. He plays the protagonist CC Baxter, working in a large insurance firm in New York City, just one of many faces in a sea of desks and office machines on a floor of the building. Though he is surrounded by a multitude of people in and out of the office, he is alone socially, having no visible family nor close friends. The main diversion (if it can be called that) he has is lending out his bachelor style apartment to the middle-ranking executives of the insurance firm for their extra-marital trysts, in return they promise him that they will put in a good word with the higher management for him to get promoted to a better position. This he complies with, even if it puts him at such as a disadvantage as having to stand outdoors in freezing weather while waiting for the current occupant to vacate the apartment. In reply to one reviewer who questioned why the philandering men don't just take their lovers to a hotel, there are two possibilities: First, they were too tight-fisted to pay the expense of a room in a hotel - why spend money when they could just use a low-ranking junior employee's joint for free, and the second and more likely reason, is that there's the risk that they would be seen by known associates and acquaintances if they were to conduct trysts in such a public place such as a hotel, and their personal affairs revealed to their detriment. But then I digress. A lot of viewers find no humour nor romance in this movie, even if it is classified as a romantic comedy, and to an extent they are right. The supposedly funny scenes are not the sort that you would want to guffaw at, maybe just a snicker or two, but on the whole it does have its light moments, mostly based on misunderstanding and misinterpretation of situations, like Baxter's doctor neighbor assuming that he (Baxter) is a womanizing playboy causing a lot of ruckus most nights in his apartment when actually it's the doing of others. The fact that he leaves a wastebasket full of empty alcohol bottles (courtesy of the executive's liaisons) outside his door doesn't help improve his standing in the doc's eyes either. If by definition of romance, one would expect hot steamy kissing and bed scenes, then prepare for disappointment, as this movie contains none of that. Baxter does eventually fall for pretty elevator operator Fran Kubelik (played so expertly by Shirley McLaine), but does so in a modulated, hesitant way, and only because circumstances begin to arise such that she ends up in his apartment (after being left behind by her lover Sheldrake), and he's left to pick up the pieces of her failed romance literally, just like he's left to collect the litter left behind in his apartment by his higher up bosses after their dalliances. Fred McMurray is memorable as the sleazy despicable Personnel Director Jeff Sheldrake, a role as far from what we expect from McMurray, who usually plays nice guy in previous movies. He is deliciously detestable in playing on the emotions of Kubelik, making her think that he truly loves her and will divorce his present wife to marry her. The other characters - the middle ranking managers, the office workers, etc serve merely as cogs to fill in the completeness of the wheel to get the story going. All in all this is a very watchable film, and one deserving to rank as one of the classics in film history.
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)
Based on the excellent novel by renowned science fiction author H.G. Wells, this watchable and updated remake of the 1933 film starring Charles Laughton plays on the Frankenstein theme where man attempts to play God and improve upon Mother Nature. Andrew Braddock (Michael York) is a castaway of a shipwreck who serendipitously lands on an isolated island in the Pacific, and becomes the guest of the main inhabitant, Dr Moreau who appears seemingly hospitable enough at first. His other companions are ex-mercenary Montgomery (Nigel Davenport), and a beautiful yet emotionally distant woman Maria (Barbara Carrera),whom the doctor claims to have rescued from poverty from another country and brought up as his ward. Braddock's stay is normal albeit boring at first (not really much to do on an isolated island, is there?), then he begins to notice that things are not what they seem - the strange animal sounds that emanate from the forest at night, and the weird facial features of the servants who wait upon the doctor. His worst fears are confirmed when he encounters the results of the doctor's experiments - upright hairy creatures (who look like variations of the Wolfman of the old horror movies) that appear human and yet are not exactly men, though they wear clothing and can speak. He realizes that Dr Moreau is a madman doing modern Frankenstein-type experiments by messing up with the DNA of humans and animals, with Montgomery as a contemporary Igor - how the doctor obtains and maintains sterility of his concoctions and instruments without the benefit of refrigeration or sterilization in such primitive conditions is a moot point.
When Braddock protests at the cruel treatment of the creatures, Dr Moreau attempts to justify his experiments by explaining that by doing so, humanity would be benefited by elimination of birth defects and such, but Braddock is unconvinced.
Though they are repulsive-looking in appearance, the viewer can't help but sympathize with the plight of the "manimals", who live together in squalor in a dark cave, kept in line by The Laws established by Moreau - do not kill, do not shed blood, do not walk on all fours, etc. - repeated on an almost daily basis by their apparent leader the Sayer of the Law (Richard Baseheart), who looks the most "human" and "civilized" of the lot. Infractions of the Law results in being brought to the so-called House of Pain, where Moreau attempts to "correct" the miscreant and remind him that he is human and not animal.
The turning point in the film is when the Bullman (obviously originally a bison by the presence of a hairy hump on his back), having broken the law of shedding blood, attempts to flee rather than face punishment and is gunned down by Braddock. Yet despite having broken the law against killing, Braddock goes apparently unpunished, establishing in the minds of the other man-beasts of the unfairness of the Law - they seem to ask silently, why can this man kill and go scot-free and we can't?, and the eventual murder of Montgomery at the hands of Dr Moreau himself reinforces the double-standards of The Law in their eyes, and they eventually rise and revolt against the doctor, killing him, destroying the compound in which he lives in and setting it on fire. Ironically, it is this very act of staging a collective uprising which brings out the "humanity" of the creatures, as it shows that they can after all, think and plan and not merely act on their basic instincts, as the scenes where they suspend the doctor on a rope and systematically destroy the House of Pain and release the captive animals show. So in a way, Dr Moreau's experiments were not a total failure as he thought, they just didn't turn out the way he anticipated.
Fat Jokes Starting To Wear Thin
Starts out hilarious at first with the wedding sequence at the beginning which turns out to be a dream sequence in Sherman's mind, but one can only take so much of the toilet humor and ribbing about fatness and obesity after a while. Apart from the main characters Sherman and Buddy, Eddie Murphy reprises his multiple roles as each of the family members of the Klump family with the exception of the youngest son, and proves his versatility in playing different characters. A pity that there's more emphasis on the fart gags and sexual innuendo than in the actual plot of retrieving the scientific formula and banishing the obnoxious Buddy Love from Sherman's genetic existence. Eddie Murphy is a talented comedic actor, but I hope there is not going to be another sequel to this movie. Time to move on, Eddie.
One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
Method Acting and Directing by Marlon Brando
Marlon Brando's first - and only - directorial debut, which was originally slated to be over 5 hours long! I'm glad it was cut down to just a little over 2 hours, and even then that was overly long for a Western movie in my opinion. Kudos to Brando for efforts to create a different backdrop of scenery like ocean waves crashing against the coastline with a beach house in the background instead of the usual dusty and grassy plains or desert that one usually associates in the Western genre. The score by Hugo Friedhofer is fitting, though not of the unforgettable category like, say John Williams' in Jaws or Indiana Jones or Ennio Morricone's soundtracks in The Good The Bad and The Ugly. On the other hand, the plot appears to be somewhat disjointed - it appears that in whittling down the original 5-hour to the present, some vital elements were inadvertedly removed, such as the main character Kid Rio escaping the Sonora prison chained to his Mexican cellmate, fleeing on foot through arid country with the nearest town hundreds of miles away - and the next scene shows they are resting in the shade of rocks liberated from each other. How did they manage to break the leg chain without any visible tools or aid from other people? Brando's method acting is plainly seen, his mumbling sweet-nothings in the ears of pretty women and his animal magnetism that is almost primitive permeates throughout the film, faintly reminiscent of the character Kowalski that he played in A Streetcar named Desire, one can't help feeling some disgust at the way he lies and wheedles his way into women's hearts yet be mesmerized. His amateurish attempts to direct, however, can be clearly seen as in too much time,was wasted on the coastal beach scenes where Rio and his gang relax and recuperate at the Chinaman's beach hut. Also, it is not explained why a sheriff would choose to live in an isolated, albeit beautiful home near the coast away from the main town that he is policing, wouldn't it make /more sense for him to live closer to town for easy availability should emergencies arise? Also how Rio manages to trick the odious yet dimwitted deputy Lon into releasing him from his cell with an empty gun makes for a questionable if comical highlight of the film.
The Undefeated (1969)
The War Was Already Over But the Fighting Still Goes On
Not the best nor most memorable of the Duke's films but watchable enough if only for the magnificent score and scenes of 3000 horses galloping across the plains (even though it didn't seem like there were that many). John Wayne plays a decent role of ex-Union officer John Henry Thomas, leading a large herd of newly caught horses to Mexico where he hopes to gain a profit from selling them to Emperor Maximilian, he exudes the same confidence and at times cocky manner that he played in other Westerns (like his Rooster Cogburn character in True Drit and GW McLintock in McLintock) . Rock Hudson is somehow miscast as Colonel Langdon of the Confederate Army who won't give up his command nor his uniform as he leads a passel of displaced southerners to Mexico at the invitation of aforementioned emperor where they hope to make a new life. For a man who has lost virtually everything he owns in the aftermath of the civil war, he seems to taking things casually and calmly, and doesn't even bat an eyelash of objection when his daughter falls in love with Blue Boy, the Cherokee Indian foster son of Thomas - weren't southerners biased towards Native Americans or non-whites in general? Roman Gabriel who plays Blue Boy is obviously uncomfortable in the role and doesn't seem to exert much more effort than following the director's orders. The climax and ending were a bit of a letdown, as I was expecting something more dramatic (and deadly), like stampeding the horses throughout the plaza and trampling the Mexicans. There are some funny and unforgettable moments though, like the repartee between Thomas and Langdon especially when they have a difference of political opinion, they just take turns swigging whiskey to settle arguments and of course the 4th of July party fisticuffs between the cowboys and the southerners (again, vaguely reminiscent of the mudfight scene in McLintock). And that's not even mentioning Thomas' witticisms in reply to uncertain situations like when asked why he shot the bandit leader "Conversation kinda dried up, ma'am."
Texas, addio (1966)
Spaghetti Western Infused With Chili
Quite pleasantly surprised by the quality of this movie. Sure, it's not perfectly made, the dubbing leaves much to be desired, as with most spag westerns that I've seen so far, but the cinematography is good - at least it goes to show the Spaniards are indeed capable of selecting appropriate locations to do their films, the fact that it's about two white gringos who travel to Mexico where most of the story occurs makes it more interesting. Franco Nero plays Burt Sullivan, a tough tin-star lawman with the reputation of being a quick draw on the pistol and capturing bad guys like rabbits. Weary of the adulation heaped on him, he leaves Texas on a personal quest to find and bring back to justice the man who murdered his father when he was a little boy. Accompaying him is his wet-behind-the-ears brother Jim, who has an eye for the ladies and draws banjo strings better than a gun, but whom Burt loves and protects nevertheless. They cross the Rio Grande to Mexico, asking for information about the man they seek. Turns out that he's the wealthiest and most feared despot for miles around. The revelation of a long-kept family secret complicates Burt's mission to capture the man. There's lots of action chili-peppered throughout the movie, the usual gunplay and brawls in the bar, and some torture scenes best left to the imagination. All in all quite watchable with a glass of Coke and nachos on the side.
Diamante Lobo (1976)
Pardon Me Mr Producer, But Your Budget Is Showing...
Spaghetti Western movie filmed in Israel, so should be properly termed matzoh westen. The plot wasn't so bad in places but is improbable at times - would they have viewers believe that a mute young boy could locate a certain person in a country as large as Mexico without the benefit of directions in only two days? Production values were clearly done on the cheap, awful dubbing (clearly Van Cleef's voice was taken over by a foreigner), poor cinematography and grainy shots of close-up scenes. It only goes to show that actors alone do not a movie make, everyone else involved in the making from producers to gaffers clearly have their part
Kid Vengeance (1977)
Oh No, Not In the Negev Again!
Another matzoh ball-topped spag western featuring Lee Van Cleef and a very young Leif Garrett (before he became a teenage heart throb), who also "teamed" up in God's Gun which I have given a low rating, but this one rates even lower for worse acting, action and production. Tom Thurston (Leif Garrett) witnesses the brutal murder of his parents and the abduction of his elder sister by a mostly Mexican band of outlaws led by white man McClain (Van Cleef) who is the most un-western looking villain in a Western movie; with his greasy long hair, ornate headband and single earring, he looks like he wandered out of Woodstock Festival into a movie set by mistake and decided to stay there. On the spur of the moment, Tom is hellbent on revenge, pursuing the gang surreptitiously and surprisingly manages to whittle down their numbers in various ways, without being caught. And that's just the beginning of a long list of errors I can spot, in continuity and logic and others. And that's not even mentioning the passel of no-account lowlifes that try to rob the gold prospector Isaac (Jim Brown) of his hard-gained treasure, who are in my opinion the most moronic and incompetent bad guys I've ever come across in film. The climax and ending are simply unbelievable they're almost surreal. Watch the film and you'll know what I'm talking about.
Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967)
He's Everything A Girl Could Wish For In A Man, He's Just Black
Notably the last film Spencer Tracy made before his demise a few weeks later. Though visibly old and in ill health at the time, he manages to give a memorable performance as upper-class white Matt Drayton who with his wife Christina (in an Academy-winning performance by reel and real-life lover Katherine Hepburn)must come to terms with their principles and the conventions of the time when their daughter brings home her fiancée to meet them. Nothing wrong with that - he's every parent's dream for their daughter, being educated, of respectable background, intelligent, articulate and handsome - but he's black. What he and the daughter Joey (played by Hepburn's niece Katharine Houghton) could possibly have in common is something that would leave viewers guessing before coming to the dinner, as she doesn't appear to have any qualifications in education nor achieved anything significant other than being born into an affluent background, but then the character was highly underdeveloped, giving more emphasis to Poitier's role. Still a worthwhile movie to watch for tackling the interesting if controversial ans still relevant subject of interracial relations and the outstanding performances by Tracy, Hepburn and Poitier.
Circus of Horrors (1960)
Don't Run Away To Join THIS Circus!
A 60's horror movie which differs from the rest in that there's no vampires, zombies, and monsters abounding, only human monsters like Dr Rossiter, the womanizing plastic surgeon who flees to greener pastures anew after botching an operation on a high-profile patient. He then befriends the owner of a run-down circus which he eventually takes over and transforms into a successful showcase of beautiful women who are former prostitutes, thieves, and low-lifes whose disfigured visages he restores in exchange for loyalty and carnal favors. The catch? No one is allowed to leave the circus, not on their lives - literally. German born actor Anton Diffring plays the deliciously evil yet charming Dr Schuler nee Rossiter who is ready to opportunize every situation if it is of benefit to him and will stand at nothing to get his way in anything, even if it means committing murder. He comes across as a domineering control freak, yet there are a couple of moments when he does show that he does have his soft side - as seen in his display of concern and affection for Nicole who refers to him as Uncle even though they are not in the least way related and the grief he displays when protégé Melina is mauled to death by lions. The plot is not without its flaws - questions arise like why those who wished to leave the circus didn't just run away in the dead of night secretly without attracting attention, and why Schuler would revel in the notoriety of his circus being publicized as a jinx when he would surely be aware that this would merit unwelcome attention from the authorities (from whom he was hiding) and result in questions about his past? But then we wouldn't have a story. For all its imperfections. Circus of Horrors does have its moments of genuine tension and suspense, especially during Elisa Caro's spinning performance on the rope (is she gonna get strangled in that noose?) and Magda's knife-throwing act that ends predictably in tragedy. It's somewhat different to conventional horror tales in that the villain is by far the most enjoyable character who does evoke sympathy at certain moments, while the inspector cum reporter . who is the closest the film has to a hero doesn't appear till halfway, and even then proves rather ineffectual and unconvincing. It's old school British horror at its most unpretentiously enjoyable, and it's smart and breezy enough to have stood the test of time rather well.
The Savage Innocents (1960)
This movie serves primarily to showcase the versatility of veteran actor Anthony Quinn, who has portrayed characters of almost every ethnicity (Italian, Greek, Mexican, Native American, Arab,Filipino, just to name a few). Here he plays the role of Inuk, a typical Eskimo (Inuit) who lives and thrives in one of the harshest of climates, the Arctic, a perennial wasteland of ice and snow, where they have to subsist on the raw flesh of the native fauna such as seals, walruses and fish, as well as endure subzero temperatures and utilize the scant resources at hand. Yet for all the unforgiving nature of the environment, the Inuits are depicted as a warm-hearted, cheery lot who are content as long as they have sufficient food to go around and have the company of friends and relatives, and - in the case of the men - a woman to snuggle up to under the blanket and "laugh" with (a euphemism for carnal relations). Yet this wonderful cinematographic masterpiece is not without its flaws. Though the Eskimo culture is quite alien to most 'city slickers', one can obviously observe the inaccuracies and misconceptions of their way of life generated by this film. For instance, it is hard to believe that Inuk and his wife could be so naive as not to know that a baby is naturally toothless at birth which is not the result of some broken taboo, nor can viewers find it conceivable that their customs dictate that the old and infirm are mercilessly abandoned to exposure to the elements (or to be devoured by polar bears in this instance)when they begin to pose a burden to the family. That said, one can't help but empathize with the character of Inuk (whose name actually refers to all Inuits in general), admire his hunting prowess and survival skills, laugh at his foibles and follies and understand his adherence to traditional customs as that is all he knows and believes is right. It is also an insightful study of how the influence of white Western ways have a paradoxically beneficial and detrimental effect on indigenous cultures,as seen in the part where Inuk and his family visit the trading post.For those who prefer to concentrate only on the negative aspects (thereare indeed some stomach churning scenes such as the missionary beingserved food infested with maggots, which the Inuits consider gourmet,and the unseen but implied slaying of a dog to save a man's life), a second and perhaps third viewing is highly recommended.
The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
The Weird Weird West....
Awaited this with anticipation after learning from the weekly TV guide that it was going to be on weekend showtime, and certainly wasn't disappointed, in fact I liked it quite a lot. Sure, the plot isn't really original, being a reptilian version of King Kong, but hey, if you're a Harryhausen enthusiast, you know what to expect in the way of his work. Imho, the Allosaur (or was it Tyranossaur?) was at par with any CGI dinos in today's movies, the Styracosaur was OK, Pterosaur was looking more like an over-sized crested bat, and Eohippus was oh so cute...While not the most spectacular dinosaur movie I've ever seen (nothing and NOTHING will ever come close to Jurassic Park), the combination of two favorite genres, Western and fantasy, make this for a unique and certainly different viewing experience.
Land of the Lost (2009)
Everyone Involved In This Film Should Have Been Sent To the Land of the Lost
I watched a bit of the old TV series Land of the Lost when I was younger, and out of curiosity decided to check out this movie version on weekend TV. Should've changed channels within the first 15 minutes of viewing. The plot was nothing like the original TV show, there was virtually no plausible storyline to speak of, and the characters were generally unlikeable and unlovable - with the exception of Holly, perhaps and the T-Rex, who showed more intelligence than the rest of the cast despite his "walnut" sized brain.
The gags, if they could be called such, were not remotely funny and downright ridiculous - e.g., Chaka the ape hominid who until then could only communicate in his own gibberish language (understood by Holly alone), suddenly speaking straight English after the discovery of the missing tachyon amplifier? Small wonder that this was a box office failure. Don't bother even renting the DVD. Remakes like this are such a waste of time and talent.
Francis of Assisi (1961)
He Gave Up the Sword For Sandals
If one is only expecting to know the more important aspects of the life of this great saint who wanted to emulate the life of Jesus Christ and established the 3 vows of monastic life - obedience, poverty and chastity, then this the film for you. Otherwise, I found it, like various other reviewers, too obviously Hollywoodish especially in production. Everyone, even the poor hoi polloi, go around clad in gaudy apparel that would make Edith Head's award-winning costumes look like rags in comparison. Also missing are the crucial aspects of the life of this beloved saint, for instance, where he publicly renounces his inheritance and worldly goods in general, and exchanges his fine clothes for a simple cassock. The abrupt change of scene where he tells his father that he has no desire to follow him in the mercantile business, and then we see him next hauling a cart through the streets asking for stones (to rebuild the church) would seem nonsensical and confusing to those unfamiliar with his life story.
Also the timeline appears to be too short for comfort - Francis doesn't appear to have aged that much in between the time he founded the Franciscan order till his death, granting that he was only in his 40s when he passed away.
It would also have been helpful, if purely optional, had some of the more familiar stories surrounding the life of Francis were included, as these are well-known in the religious world, such as his close association with animals (the preaching to the birds scene would have been good) and the fact that he first established the Nativity scene so associated with Christmas celebrations.
All in all, this film could be considered as a "Not bad, but could have been made better..." sort of production.
Le sang des bêtes (1949)
Enough to Give PETA the Fits And Tremors
This documentary was released as an additional feature on DVD of the horror-film classic "Eyes Without A Face", and in itself could be sub-classified in that genre, if only because of the blood and gore and scenes enough to give animal liberationists and the like months of sleepless nightmares. It depicts a day in the life in a Paris abattoir. Mind you, I was horrified yet transfixed at the process by which cattle and sheep are slaughtered and transformed into carcasses which form the basis of our favorite steaks, chops and casseroles, depicted in an objective manner that neither condones nor condemns the methods used in the slaughter or the workers who practice them - they go about their activities casually in a sort of "it's a dirty job but someone has to do it" manner. Franju manages to combine the essential elements of post-war Expressionism with French-style Surrealism, creating a film in which real-life scenes somehow flit through the screen in a dream-like sequence. Picturesque images like the cattle and sheep being driven along and then the next moment being shown dismembered sans heads and hooves are deliberately juxtaposed to create maximum and ultimate impact on the viewer. And to highlight the surrealistic effect even further, an abattoir worker can be heard warbling "La Mer" while streams of blood from the slaughtered beasts flow through the gutters, perhaps a symbolic reference to the waters flowing through the ocean. The documentary ends with a short narration which pretty much summarizes the gist of the film but in a pseudo-lyrical way, it represents an outsider's conception of the slaughterhouse activities, not someone who has actually witnessed the the reality of what actually goes on inside. Watch, if you can, but not on a full stomach.
Water for Elephants (2011)
Titanic In A Circus Tent
Couldn't help but compare this with Titanic movie, as the plots are almost similar, involving a love "wreck"tangle between two people and a third party. Depending on your p.o.v., Robert Pattinson as would-be vet Jacob Jankowski is that third party, having the misfortune of learning he has lost both his parents and his home at one fell swoop, suffers a nervous breakdown just before his final exams, and runs away, only to fortuitously end up in a travelling circus where he is employed to look after the menagerie after August, the circus proprietor, learns that he studied veterinary medicine. Here he encounters the beautiful Marlena, the leading performer who is married to August, who can be alternatingly charming and brutal depending on the his moods. Jacob falls in love with Marlena, and she reciprocates, and that's the basic premise of this historical movie, set in the early years of the Great Depression. Of course, what would a circus be without animals? Rosie the elephant literally steals the show and the viewers' hearts at the same time. The scenes of animal cruelty are predictably disturbing and distressing to watch, but for those who protest and advocate boycotting the movie for this reason,please remember that this is a period film which protrays the reality of life at the time, and that it DOES NOT in any way promote nor condone animal abuse, it was simply the status quo then. That would be like saying "Gone With the Wind" endorses slavery just because it portrays such a situation. I have had the good fortune of reading the Sara Gruen novel ages before the film adaptation was even conceived, and while there are a few omissions and detractions from the original (No Uncle Al or nurse Rosemary, and Marlena is depicted as being an orphan raised in foster homes instead of coming from a prominent family), I do not find these deviations very distracting. This movie is one of the very few that have managed to capture the essence of the original book. Truly worth watching if you like romance and animals.
The Gunfighter (1950)
A Good "Bad" Guy
I chanced upon the DVD of this movie at the local library and decided to check it out, as having already previously watched Peck in other Westerns like "The Bravados", "The Big Country" & "Mackenna's Gold". In all these films, he appears to me to be playing the same kind of role - a reserved character whose behavior is atypical to those around him which manages to garner him unwelcome attention. Here in "The Gunfighter", he plays Jimmie Ringo - a tribute to the Johnny Ringo character, perhaps? - a dead-hand gunslinger with 15 kills to his credit (or discredit, whichever way you look at it), who wishes to put the past behind him and to be left alone and start a life anew in peaceful obscurity, but is hounded everywhere by would-be wannabe Billy the Kids who are vying for the "honor" and "distinction" of having shot him. Reminds me of the movie "The Shootist" starring John Wayne, which has basically an identical plot. Technically speaking, Ringo is an outlaw to be feared by the general public, yet one can't help but take sides with him and empathize with his situation. Serendipity takes him to a town where the Marshal turns out to be his ex-compatriot in crime and the bartender knows him from elsewhere but feels nothing but admiration for his past exploits and both do everything they can to help him, much to the dismay and annoyance of the townspeople especially the Ladies Committee made up of self-righteous biddies.
I understand that this movie did not do too well at the box office but great films are not necessarily big money-earners, and vice-versa. This is one Western which is, like the roles Gregory Peck plays in films of such genre, is atypical in that the emphasis is more on the study of central character and his inner self rather than his deeds. The only flaw I found was the lack of a proper movie score especially for some of the more tense scenes like the confrontation with the 3 cowboys, which would have highlighted the moments. Otherwise, a great film in my opinion.
Die weisse Massai (2005)
Love Conquers All...Well, Almost
Having just finished reading The White Masai in paperback, I waited in anticipation of getting the DVD from the local library, albeit with some trepidations, knowing that film adaptations of books don't always follow true to the written work. That is certainly the case with this one. Firstly, why the change of names of the characters in the book - from Corinne to Carola, Lketinga to Lemalian, Napirai to Sarai, etc? Everyone who has read the book will know the characters anyway no matter what their names are. Also, there seem to be some vital points in the book that were not depicted in the movie. The novel extensively describes how Corinne's physical health was greatly affected from having to live in near-primitive conditions with nil in basic amenities like proper drinking water and sanitation, tropical diseases and inadequate diet. Doesn't it seem incongruous that in the movie this doesn't seem to be the case with Carola - she emerges from the hut cum loveshack each day fresh as a newly-budded rose, skin aglowing & hair shining like gold in the morning sun? She merely appears to be in a reality TV tour group rather than having assimilated herself into the tribe. It would certainly have helped to have a Westernized educated Samburu character to help bridge the (communication) gap between Carola and Lemalian, which in the book would have been James (Lketinga's brother). That said, the bottom line that both book and film raise is: can two people of contrastingly different cultures live together in harmony and genuine affection? How much is one prepared to sacrifice in the name of love? The film is aware of all these questions but does not give a definite answer - it all remains up to the viewer to put himself/herself in the heroine's shoes and ask "would I have done the same as Carola? Would I give up all the creature comforts of life that I've known and been accustomed to and live in woop-woop with a man I hardly know from a totally alien background?"
While the movie does portray non-whites in a more positive light than other movies with a similar theme, it continues the long history of inequivocal relations between whites and blacks in general and it concludes that the Africans have been and always will be culturally inferior to whites. Even though the film is sympathetic to the Samburu people and evidently shows how naive and clueless as far as cultural sensitivities go with Carola, it's telling her side of the story. It would be very interesting indeed if the movie would be (re)made from Lemalian's point of view, but alas that is just a pipe dream.
Lilies of the Field (1963)
A movie for all religions, not just Catholic
They simply don't make movies like this anymore these days. Simple plot line yet profound in meaning and thought. No violence, sex or profanity either. There are instances when these three aspects are called for, but certainly not in this heartwarming and uplifting tale of faith in the One Above to provide for one's physical and spiritual needs. Sidney Poitier is just superb in his portrayal of the itinerant yet independent-minded ex-soldier and handyman Homer Smith, and Lila Skala comes across magnificently as the stern yet protective (of the other nuns)Mother Maria, whose strong will and determination matches Smith's, often clashing with each other, but eventually coming together with one masterful goal - to have a chapel constructed in the middle of a desert where the local faithfuls can worship the Lord in a proper way. A chapel that (imho at least) represents the bringing together not only the Catholics but all faiths united for a common purpose. An especially engaging character is the cantina owner Juan, a practical-minded businessman who, when asked by Mr Ashton why he was at the building site helping out, replies that it is for insurance for the hereafter. A truly must-see film for the spiritual and sceptics alike.