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Close Harmony (1929)
Long Unseen 1929 Musical Comedy Has "It."
17 February 2008
Well, I finally got around to seeing this very early Paramount Musical from 1929 at the UCLA Archives tonight and I wasn't disappointed. Buddy Rogers plays struggling band leader Al West who gets tossed out of his boardinghouse for making too much racket while rehearsing. He is rescued from almost certain arrest by fetching, adorable Nancy Carroll who plays singer/dancer Marjorie Merwin, headlining star at the Babylon theater. There is instant chemistry between the two, and Marjorie convinces theater manager Max Mindel (Harry Green, Paramount's resident shtickmeister) to give West and his band a showcase. Trouble brews when Al is A Hit, demands some dough, and gets the bum's rush when a new "class" act comes to town...Barney and Bay (early Paramount stalwarts Jack Oakie and Skeets Gallagher). Trouble brews, cooked-up by Marjorie, to get rid of the duo so Al can continue to play on stage at the Babylon. With some funny bits verging on material evoking Laurel and Hardy, all hell breaks loose in a restaurant scene when jealousy erupts between all parties concerned. You can rest assured that everything gets happily resolved at the fadeout. By this time Carroll and Rogers had starred together in their previous hit "Abie's Irish Rose" and I must admit the sparks really fly between them on the screen in this musical comedy as the two young lovers. Nancy Carroll never looked better, and Buddy Rogers could have been a star in any era. He possessed a great speaking voice for early sound, and actually played all the instruments in his band, both on the screen and in real life. Plus, The term "matinee idol good looks" might have been invented for Buddy. Both would be reunited again in the great 2-Strip Technicolor Paramount musical,"Follow-Thru"(also restored by UCLA) in 1930. A letdown for me was the initial song and dance act of headliner Carroll as Marjorie. We expect her to be sensational, but young Nancy looks unsure and ill-at-ease before the cameras and microphone in this--her first Big Number in talking pictures. Nancy's singing of the 20s hit specially written for the picture, "I Want To Go Places And Do Things" seemed a bit shrill and quavering, and she appeared to be "out to sea" looking uncomfortable in her dance routine (I blame the directors, Eddie Sutherland and John Cromwell here, for Carroll seems under-rehearsed and searching to hit her mark-- with a sometimes perplexed look on her face!). But she quickly regains her footing as an actress in all of her subsequent scenes, radiating star power in every frame with her well modulated speaking voice and acting chops that made her one of the great superstars of early talkies. And did I say she was easy on the eyes? And how! You will become enchanted with her too. In addition, as a music collector of '20s and '30s era '78 hot dance records and coin piano rolls, I really appreciated the fine sound of the hot dance band music featured in this movie. With film and audio recently restored by Universal (who owns the rights to this picture), this music is something to be seen, heard AND savored. Let's hope that "Close Harmony," unseen for decades, is made available to be showcased on TCM. Or better yet, on TCM AND DVD. And soon! Thanx again, UCLA!
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Restored by UCLA to 98% of its "Glory."
31 October 2007
If you want to catch a viewing of this film in nearly all of its "Glory" -- 2-Strip Technicolor and all--simply get on a plane to Los Angeles and taxi over to the UCLA Film Archives in Westwood.'ll have to make an appointment well in advance...for "Scholarly and/or Academic Pursuits Only"...for a private screening, as this film resides in the vault. It is rarely screened, except for Film Preservation Retrospectives... or is occasionally loaned out to "your town"...if you happen to live in NY State, or Australia, or Europe. All versions on VHS or DVD are poorly duped dupe-of-a-dupe copies of badly battered eminent domain prints, but unfortunately, that's all there is "out there" until UCLA decides to release their terrific library of 2-Strip Technicolor films onto the world some day! For a couple of swell Technicolor scenes of the film's finale, I suggest that you visit the sensational, stupendous, colossal "Vitaphone Varieties" website run by Jeff Cohen at
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more. More. MORE!
16 September 2006
Warning: Spoilers
As a 4th Generation Angeleno, all I can say is the De Palma/Friedman interpretation of Ellroy's "Black Dahlia" is way too tame. We want our decadence, our hop heads, street brawls, crooked fights, dyke bars, corrupt cops, crime figures and dirty D.A.s portrayed over the top, and in this aspect De Palma succeeds. But anyone who's read the fictional account of Elizabeth short's gruesome death knows that Officer Blanchard's obsessive benzedrine-fueled quest for the facts spun ever crazier and out of control. (Possible Spoilers): His ramshackle apartment "House-Of-Horrors" profiler/shrine composed of official police photos and morgue shots of Short was only hinted at in the film. When the room was finally entered by Bleichert, the movie should have really begun to ramp-up by taking the audience into a dizzying, visually stunning and nightmarish camera pan around the room showing how truly Blanchard's mind had deteriorated in his manic pursuit of the truth. But De Palma never explored this important section of the novel, so we were never completely swept up in Lee Blanchard's own special brand of drug-induced insanity so vital to that whole unique brand of Dahlia murder madness. Here's where the movie could have turned frantic, as we all could collectively mainline on Blanchard's, and later Bleichert's monomania. Yes, I believe the film could have dispensed with a lot of the Kay Lake/ Bucky Bliechert love interludes at this point enabling the movie could have sped along to it's frightening conclusion, but in today's Hollywood, good editing is as rare as sincerity. That being said, those critics who carp about references to clown paintings fail to note that "The Man Who Laughs" is featured prominently throughout the film as one of the fiend's primary inspirations for the method of Short's torture resulting in her grinning death mask. Hugo's book was a key piece of the puzzle in the novel, along with the twisted paintings of the tragic Gwynplaine character himself. De Palma's film goes Ellroy's novel one better by showing actual clips of the 1928 Universal film of "The Man who Laughs" (which is extremely unnerving, and just maybe more horrific in its own right!) to set up the denouement. What Bleichert actually discovers in the Hollywoodland murder house itself (as told by Ellroy in the novel) would really send moviegoers home in a lather if allowed in the film. The actual slaying in the film--although crazed by today's standards--is not thoroughly horrific enough to convey the brutality inflicted upon the torso of the helpless Short. The Black Dahlia Murder, and Elizabeth Short herself, have a reckless, illogical way of grabbing hold of the psyche of anyone who has ever become familiar with the case. Even the passing of 60 years fails to diminish the hypnotic hold that the mugshots, the 25 cent photos, the tabloids, the headlines, the murder notes and the morgue shots this tragic brunette with the curious crooked smile still inflicts upon the smitten. I wanted De Palma to nail it. De Palma almost captures it... nearly succeeds...but comes up short. 9 out of 10 *s.
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Best footage of long lost Ocean Park "High Boy" coaster.
26 May 2006
Growing up in L.A. always meant a fun trip to Pacific Ocean Park near Venice and riding the "Sea Serpent" roller coaster--and taking a whirl on the "Laff In The Dark" dark ride (while getting creeped-out by the caged "Laffing Sal" in her polka dotted dress who cackled at you from behind bars). "Man In The Dark" takes us back to 1953, and a pre-POP era, when amusement parks were generally seedy and frightening, especially Ocean Park as it was known then (POP came about after Disneyland was built in 1955, and gussied-up by CBS who had purchased it and turned it into a family-oriented theme park-by-the-sea). The "Sea Serpent"--which was "modified for family riding" by CBS in 1957-58 for the new POP, was originally known as the "High Boy"... a John Miller out-and-back masterpiece built circa 1927. This ride was a true thriller...and can be seen to full advantage in this rarely screened noir drama. Laffing Sal was there too, perched above a fun house back then, and she steals the show in many scenes shot to take full advantage of the 3-D process. Since I had experienced both parks back in the '50's through its last season in 1968 before it was torn down, I really wanted to see this movie. I wasn't disappointed. Although not up to the standards of "D.O.A." by a longshot, the movie holds one's interest from the get-go, further capturing the sleeziness old L.A. of the '50's as a place you didn't want to go to if you were trying to stay out of trouble...or if you were on the lam. Edmond O'Brien holds is own, but the other characters do seem a trifle cartoonish to be truly believable. Audrey Totter comes off a little too harsh (even for her) to be considered an attractive prize. The interior shots come off as being filmed a little too flat, but once the film goes on location to the run-down areas around Ocean Park (a real slum at the time), and the park itself, the noir experience kicks-in...Big Time! You can't really call this film a "B-Noir Classic" because its almost impossible to find today...not in the league of "Gun Crazy" (shot at Ocean Park too!) or "D.O.A" or a host of others... but Google it...and you'll find it! Then judge it for yourself.
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Pretty Baby (1978)
This Movie Is Based On Truth!
25 December 2004
I'd like to point out that this movie is literally based on first hand recollections of a prostitute interviewed in Al Rose's definitive book on the subject: "Storyville", published many years ago. Anyone familiar with with the era knows that the photographer, E.J. Bellocq, was a real person who captured on glass plates forever the images of the young prostitutes of Storyville. These photographs are hauntingly beautiful in their own right, and the young Brooke Shields--as well as the beautiful Susan Sarandon--were a masterstroke of Malle to play the parts of mother and daughter prostitutes. The recollections in the book draw upon the actual fact that the mother who related the story actually took part in the deflowering of her daughter in the "House" as described, and that they went on to be a "team", a very common and desirable commodity in that day. Not mentioned-- but inferred to those who "read between the lines"-- was that the pony that young Violet casually rides in the backyard of the mansion in the beginning of the movie was actually an animal used to entertain the paying customers in "the circus" that certain women performed in ...for the"right price." Many of the photo sessions depicted in the film are loving recreations of surviving Bellocq prints. The women portraying the "girls" in the movie could have been working girls in "The District" had they lived back then. Some IMDb readers profess to be shocked by conditions in Storyville back then, but as the book recounts, it was all true, and many of the women actually did enjoy their livelyhood. It was the "bluenoses" to the rescue who saved them and the U.S. Navy from themselves, just as they would save the nation from "drink" a few years later. Although ragtime and jazz are touched on in the movie, Storyville was directly responsible for the likes of young Louis Armstrong--who ran coal from House to House--picking up the street melodies he heard and playing them on a cornet furnished to him--providentially--by the local orphanage, and for Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton, pianist...and pimp...who played in only the best houses and claimed he invented the term "jazz" as applied to music after witnessing first hand all that "jassing-around" he saw in the bordellos of Storyville! Remarkeably, overlooked altogether is any mention of the composer of the tune "Pretty Baby," Professor Tony Jackson, a key figure of the Storyville saga, who should have been the character portrayed in the film but wasn't, and who was not even mentioned in the credits.

As for Bellocq himself not much is known except that he was slightly deformed and not interested in the ladies at all sexually-- the marriage to Violet merely a modern plot device--but he professed his deep fascination and reverence for them, thankfully, in other ways: his portraits. Without them, a poignant record of their lives,and that of The District, would be lost forever. All in all, the film is a wonderful paean to Bellocq, and the women he loved in his own way. I would urge all critics of this movie to seek out a copy of "Storyville, New Orleans" by Al Rose, or MOMA's "E.J. Bellocq: Storyville Portraits." They will really open yours eyes to what Louis Malle has recreated.
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Scorsese does it again.
25 December 2002
Yeah, I loved this overlong love letter to America too. Scorsese never fails to pay homage to the great directors of the past, and in this one, I see a little bit of von Sternberg and William Cameron Menzies creeping in (well, not a little, a whole lot!) Halfway through this mesmerizing film I began wishing that Scorsese would remake "San Francisco" (the only director who, with his vision, could pull it off!). And by the middle of the film, I had sensed (and hoped) that he just might toss a valentine to the '36 classic at the conclusion of his masterful epic. By the end of the movie, I had realized--in a way-- he did.
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Part travelogue, part Hollywood Review of '29
6 October 2002
Saw the World "Re-Premier" of "This Is Cinerama" yesterday at the Cinerama Dome, Hollywood. For the record, I also experienced it as a kid in '53 at Warner's Cinerama Theater in Hollywood, and at it's reissue at the same Cinerama Dome in 1972 (in single frame format...not three camera). It was a slightly unsettling occasion, as the roadshow ticket price of $11.00 promised a fully restored print, restored three camera operation, and two additional channels of stereophonic sound. I realized that the materials extant were rescued from a state of severe decomposition, but I was happy to plunk down my dollars for the good of the cause of saving three-camera Cinerama for movie posterity. Even as late as 1972, before IMAX and during the demise of 70mm, "This Is Cinerama" was still an exciting revelation, in spite of the kitsch and hokum of the Cypress Gardens sequences and some awkward ballet and church choir shots. The roller coaster opening still packed a wallop as this was before the roller coaster building boom and the numerous thrill rides (and thrill ride movies) that exist today (I maintain the the re-issue of this film in 1972 sparked the roller coaster building revival). But sadly, when viewed today, the Cinerama experience is woefully dated (in spite of the beliefs of the legion of Cinerama diehards who filled the Dome's 1,000 or so seats to 2/3's capacity). Shot in static camera lockdown, it plays like the early talkie musicals shot from the middle of the auditorium. The color in many of the sequences is atrocious, as it was even in 1952, and is especially apparent where three scenes are three distinct shades. The three strips would hardly ever synch-up for the showing I attended and many times exhibited glaring gaps between scenes. The roller coaster opening does not thrill the way it once did, because audiences have become jaded by even better filmed sequences done for IMAX...shot on hairier modern coasters much more thrilling than the ancient and now defunct "Atom Smasher" at Rockaway's" PlayLand. And the once highly touted Cinerama screen itself seems not as mighty as it once was, thanks to IMAX. I think many of the attendees yesterday were thinking they were really going to see something, but what they got was cornball narration, cornball dialogue and high-camp imagery straight out of a hermetically sealed 1950's can. I must say, that even for a battle tested cineast as myself, this material is tough sledding. But, in spite of all its shortcomings, this extravaganza does offer some tasty morsels for the film buff: glimpses of the Queen's Guards at Edinburgh Castle, some nice gondolier action in Venice and some crackling good camp in the form of the procession from Aida filmed inside the vast Milan opera house. We then end on a sweeping in-flight tour of the United States to the strains of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and "The Battle Hymm of the Republic." We can see where Walt Disney would borrow a lot of his material for a little TV show he would produce in a few years-"Disneyland"-from narrator Lowell Thomas (who "out-Walts Uncle Walt") in the black and white opening sequence on the history of the movies. Yep, Cinerama is the Grandaddy of them all, but like a lot of grandaddies, sometimes they are better off hidden away from view somewhere lest they shock the rest of the family due to their advanced state of dotage. The Arclight Company and Cinerama Dome say that if this re-release of "This Is Cinerama" is a success (it's only playing for one week), the majority of the seven productions in the process may be restored and exhibited. I'd go and see them, sure. But if the murmuring and disappointed crowd I saw leaving the theater yesterday has their say, I say to the folks at Cinerama: "Good Luck!"
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Signs (2002)
Tired, recycled hokum
10 August 2002
Warning: Spoilers
As an art director maybe I'm qualified to point out some things other viewers may not grasp.

This was a purely pointless exercise in film making with so many holes in the plot that it defied credibility which led to me fidgeting and squirming in my seat for the full running time (spoilers ahead):

A. For a rural preacher-cum-farmer, Mel Gibson wears entirely too many brand new freshly bought clothes, has a nice supply of makeup personnel around to keep his hair obviously over-dyed at all times, and always seems to be distinctly UN-weatherbeaten for a man of the soil. Being freshly shaved throughout the movie seems to take away any realism from the goings-on which would lead most folks appear quite ragged after a few days of what his character was supposed to be experiencing. Perhaps his character was written to be the Martha Stewart of farming. Horribly miscast for box office value, GQ Farmer Mel sleepwalks through his role, making one wish for a rough hewn leading man-a guy with dirt under his fingernails (Harrison Ford, perhaps) that could at least make the character credible-in spite of the comic book dialogue.

B. Gibson is a fella who vows not to bring TV into his world while sitting on the biggest story in U.S. history. The entire world is focused on the aliens in the Mideast and India and wrings its CNN-hands while back in the states, 45 miles from Philly, the world knows nothing. Mel does. He's cut off a creature's fingers while the alien is trapped behind a farmhouse door. Does anyone in his household care while he casually relates this incident and forgets about it? Heck no. They just go on watching TV and cracking insipid jokes. I believe both his inquisitive children and brother would want to know more and sneak-off and pay a return visit to the creature to take a curious peek at it...and maybe take matters into their own hands.

C. Mel and his kin seem to live in a vacuum. The rural police just disappear after the first reel and never again go looking for Mel and family, even when the news goes worldwide and the end of the Earth seems very near. Unusual, 'cause in small towns like this the authorities are, well, neighborly and would be concerned at least, if not for Mel and his brother, for the children. Phones never ring. Surely the police know the end of Pennsylvania is at hand and something must be done to save the town's Favorite Son And Family.

D. Sophisticated aliens from another galaxy seem to travel through space sans clothing. Wonder if they walk around stark naked on their own planet where variations in temperature are not a problem. ? Or maybe this advanced race has "evolved" past the hangups found here on Earth.

Oh yes. They melt (in an obvious paean to the "Wicked Witch's" death in "the Wizard of Oz") when water is poured upon them. The aliens didn't seem to undertake a thorough scouting report on the planet they insisted upon occupying (lotsa water here on Earth...or maybe they (gasp!) didn't know about water!). Please. I spent six bucks for this?

E. The aliens are easily routed and defeated by forces here on Earth with a glossed-over explanation that a mysterious and unexplained experimental strategy was undertaken by a group of parched middle easterners-which drove the creatures from our planet! Were they sprayed with water-laden crop dusters?

F. M. Night Shyamalan's awkward and self-serving cameo goes on for far too long. Sure, his character COULD turn-up in rural Pennsylvania. So could lovable CrocMeister Steve Irwin, but both folks would be highly improbable occupying farmhouses in lovely Buck's County.

I just can't go on. 1 out of 10 for this overlong piece of Celluloid Sominex.

If you want to witness highly entertaining (and far more believable) shtick of this genre, pick up a DVD of George Pal's "War Of The Worlds". Or "The Day The Earth Stood Still." Or the original "Invasion Of The Body Snatchers."

No need to hurry, though.

Those films will be around a heck of a lot longer than "Signs".
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Panic Room (2002)
This Being The Further Perils Of Pauline, Er, Jodie Foster.
29 March 2002
Warning: Spoilers
Fincher in retrograde. Others have delved into the "story" but I won't bother as this sort of stuff was done better nearly 100 years ago in "Perils Of Pauline" (will the heroine get rescued by the villain from the locomotive/bandsaw/raft-over-the-waterfall?). All "Pauline" lacked was expletives and gore, which this flick has in abundance. It's just not done right, so the effect is unintentionally comical. The suspense comes in the form of just how many holes in the storyline can the viewer spot every minute or so. After the first ten minutes of gratuitous product shots of Coca Cola, Evian and Sony littered about The House I had already lost whatever sense of going to the movies is supposed to be about because they were not even GOOD placements (Quick ECU of hand opening bedside fridge (!) reaching for bottle of Evian) and they drain any opening scenes of momentum. This was followed by some of the most unconvincing thugs that ever wandered onto a set. Jared Leto played a loud, foul-mouthed intruder in the manner of a wanna-be actor on his first audition ...I kept expecting an off-camera voice to yell "Thanks. We'll call you." It's as if Rick Fox of the L.A. Lakers (whom Leto slightly resembles) was to suddenly land a supporting role and imagined himself An Actor (come to think of it, Rick Fox might have been a better choice). The bumbling trio is rounded-out by a psycho-killer (Raoul) portrayed by Dwight Yoakam and a con-with-a-conscience played by Forest Whitaker. Yoakam and Leto (in a real bad display of miscasting) are about as sinister as a pair of Don Martin cartoon crooks who couldn't crack an egg, let alone a safe inside of a "panic" room, while Whitaker does OK with his role by reading his lines without screwing them up. If he could have improvised the script, he would have (spoiler ahead) taken his partner Yoakam apart after the latter had a major malfunction to a certain part of his anatomy and was subsequently rendered harmless by an incident with a sliding steel door. These three very unwise men almost succeed in breaking into the panic room, but quit trying for some reason known only to them. An implausable episode with an air duct heightens the awareness in the viewer that this "panic room" is about as easy to break into as a can of sardines. There are security cams galore throughout the house, but does anybody think to do anything about them? The Whitaker character has a heart of gold and could have stopped the movie with a happy ending 2/3's of the way through, but then...oh why bother? Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart are the victims, along with you, the viewer. And The L.A. Times is already running "puff pieces" in its "Calendar" section about "Panic Rooms" and why they are "catching-on" with the rich and paranoid under the guise of "news" and how "David Fincher-this and Jodie Foster-that"... so go on and be a chump and plunk down your $8.50 and wish you didn't. Like Edward Van Sloan said in the intro to "Frankenstein": "Well, we warned you! "Or save yourself the trouble and go rent Kubrick's "The Killing" and see the ending that Fincher pays homage to in his own tepid little way. 4 out of 10 for some neat camera work that will soon be turning-up in every TV spot that can afford it while it's still "cutting-edge."
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How many others have seen the uncensored version?
28 September 2001
I've heard about the politically incorrect version...the original version...of this cartoon, but have never seen it until today. It's the theatrical release that featured the wolf dressed as a jewish peddler, complete with a BIG false nose, beard, long black hair and hints of Yiddishe music for a few bars in the background as he gets hit over the head by Practical Pig (A clever(?) disguise as why would a Jew be at the door going after some pork?) In the latter day, "cleansed" version (circa???), Disney artists edited this part out and REDREW the scene aping the old classic style, changing the Big Bad Wolf into a harmless Fuller Brush Man, sans Jewish features. This modern whitewashing happened due to protests from folks over offensive stereotypes, but anyone whose seen pre-code movies knows Jewish peddlers were omnipresent whenever street scenes were shown, as were all ethnic stereotypes On the "forbidden" video I viewed, the second cartoon featuring the wolf in "Little Red Riding Hood" ('34), he dons a fairy outfit and minces about in the forest in an openly gay manner (it's hysterical), enticing Bo Peep and two of the Little Pigs. I don't know if this scene has been subsequently cleaned-up as well for today's uneasy audiences, but I have never seen this cartoon before. In fact, it was a well-kept secret, never featured on any Disney TV show to the best of my knowledge. The video I previewed is fairly recent, released circa 1995 (I thought it was cleaned-up in the '50's or '60's...the old version being yanked from circulation around the same time). Other videos I have seen feature the "scrubbed" PC version from an even earlier date, so I don't really know what's going on over at Disney. All I can say is that I'm Jewish, and love watching stuff like this. I don't believe in censorship, revisionism, correctness, or cowardice for that matter. These films are a chronicle of their age, and should be left alone. I'd like a show of hands...have any of you seen one or both versions...and do you deplore the Disney clean-up...or condone it?
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See it for the Cyclone Racer
22 August 2001
The only thing this low-budget piece of garbage has going for it is capturing the true white trash feel of the legendary Nu-Pike amusement zone in Long Beach, California during its decline. There are spectacular shots of the late, lamented Cyclone Racer roller coaster (built in 1930...razed in 1968) that are just too good to pass-up. The opening sequences in the park are worth it...a time machine back into the pre-lawsuit days of the unsanitized thrill-ride experience. During these scenes, the shoddiness of the movie's production values ring true bringing a welcome realism to the film that, alas, dissipates once the "real" action begins. At this point, the movie makes no sense whatsoever. See it for the Cyclone Racer...the only real "star" in the picture (even though it's just a cameo role).
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28 July 2001
Some movies are bad because of low budget. Some movies are bad because of a bad plot. Some movies are bad by design, i.e. quickie, cheesy exploitation movies. And some movies are bad because a director goes hopelessly out of control... pounding home his vision with the force of a gorilla's fist in an iron glove. Joining the ranks of "Water World", "The Wild, Wild West" and "Battlefield Earth", "Planet Of The Apes" comes yelping and screaming to the screen as a comic book come to life. The trouble is, it doesn't know what it is. A science fiction thriller? A horror story? A comedy? High Camp? Unintentionally funny. Stilted. Stupefying. Kris Kristofferson is left hung out to dry as a sort of latter-day Tumak from "One Million Years B.C.;" loincloth-clad Estella Warren appears baffled throughout and although a love interest, has surprisingly little to do . Various human characters are introduced only to later stand around and gawk. Some great ape makeup is wasted on some of the sorriest, most hapless ape villains in movie history. Apes snarl. They grunt. They scream and jump on a planet that seems to have the gravitational pull of our blow will send an ape or human flying 20 feet into the air on obviously ill-concealed wire harnesses. We have comic(?) relief in the form of a Gilbert Gottfried patterned ape slave trader who is one moment sadistically brutal, the next moment a wise-cracking borscht-belt comedian who may be the most annoying movie character this side of Jar-Jar Binks. Hero Mark Wahlberg makes one yearn for a real hero in the mold of a Charlton Heston or a Harrison Ford...his heroics consist of simply unfastening a few poorly locked chains and walking free. Couple all this with a some outlandish spacecraft wreckage that functions perfectly after 3,000 years and an army of 10,000 apes that inflicts absolutely no damage to its enemies and you have a turkey that defies description. Tim Burton slips on a Kong-Sized banana peel. A stupendous, colossal, preposterous yawn.
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King Kong (1933)
Classic Extravaganza Still Greatest Movie Adventure of all time.
25 July 2001
As a guy whose pushing 52, I'm proud to say that this movie has been a profound influence on my life and is largely instrumental into launching me into a career as an art director. I've seen this movie perhaps over 1,000 times. Before the advent of VHS, I would catch it anywhere in L.A. where there was a revival house. Saw it countless times before the "lost" footage was restored (which puts a competely different spin on the complex character of Kong). I have a rare tape recording of the original Steiner "prologue Music" lasting over ten minutes (dubbed for me by a collector friend) which I don't think has made it onto the excellent Turner/Rhino CD soundtrack. And still I see something new upon each screening. I first saw Kong in 1956 on the local "Million Dollar Movie" show, a weekly feature of KHJ TV-9 - an RKO-General station. I remember the scenes of Kong throwing the "wrong" woman to her death as still well as a few feet of film where a New York fire engine flips-over after going around the corner (I've never seen that bit since). I was in a film class being taught by Rudy Behlmer at Art Center in 1971 when he matter-of-factly screened the "lost" footage in class (he had gotten access to it). I've seen nitrate prints screened at the L.A. County Museum of Art, UCLA and MOMA. I have seen this film with Fay Wray in attendance. I don't think I've ever missed a screening anywhere locally to the best of my knowledge. What bothers me is that today's audiences may not be able to project themselves back into time and try to relive the thrilling film-going experience circa 1933. They cannot grasp or accept the dialogue or style of acting at face-value; many consider it corny...or over-the-top. Yet a comparison between Kong and say Jurassic Park III finds the latter's dialogue so stiltedly puerile and instantly forgettable that it cannot stand the test of time even in the present, let alone seventy years. In Kong, Bruce Cabot portrays a "natural" mug who plays his part beautifully as an uncouth mate aboard ship suddenly sharing his space with one of the prettiest women of all time (Fay Wray's looks are timeless, and she is still a "hottie" even by today's standards) . Is there any wonder that similarities between Cabot and Harrison Ford as "Indiana Jones" are not coincidental? If Cabot were alive today, he'd be the one earning millions. Robert Armstrong is perfect playing an impresario so full of energy he bursts at the seams. This is the way show people talked during the third decade of the Twentieth Century...full of what they used to call ballyhoo (check out Jimmy Cagney in "Footlight Parade made in the same year for the same kind of high-voltage enthusiasm). Frank Reicher is totally believable as the captain, lending an even greater amount of quasi-realism to the fable. Never discussed is fact that this movie is shot almost has a mythical "preserved-in-amber" feel about it. It's as if what you are seeing is truly real...folklore-become-fact...and that the scenes unfolding actually happened once upon a time in 1933. Who cannot visit New York City today and NOT think of King Kong on the rampage close to 70 years ago? I urge anyone who has not seen "King Kong" on the big screen to do so. When you hear the any of the remarkable sound effects as you view the film, you will become a convert; for example, just listen to the all-too-real crunching of the Allosaurus' jawbone just before Kong ends its life (a death made all-the-more poignant by the way the carnivore is introduced to the audience-by innocently and realistically SCRATCHING ITS HEAD WITH ITS CLAW as it enters frame before the fight). Absolute Perfection in a movie made up of absolute perfections. I could yammer on and on. But I won't. All I can tell you is that for these and countless other reasons this film will always rate a 10-out-of-10. It is still the Greatest Adventure Movie Of All Time.
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We've slipped back.
1 January 2001
I was fortunate enough to see 2001 when I was 18, in 1968, many times at the Warner's Cinerama and the Hollywood Cinerama Dome. There is absolutely no comparison in watching this history making film on a television monitor, even on DVD, after seeing it the way it was meant to be seen. Kubrick and Clark were visionaries, yes, but even they couldn't foresee the demise of PanAm , the Bell System, and even Cinerama itself. It's a pity that if and when 2001 is revived, it won't be able to be shown the way it was truly meant to be experienced. Thus perhaps silencing its critics who find it tedious and boring, and not "action-packed" like the hokum that passes for science-fiction today. You cannot really attempt to capture the vastness and lonliness of space without a canvas like the Cinerama screen. Kubrick knew this. This film truly was ahead of its time. All other "Space Opera" epics are merely mannerist apings of this one true classic. Space boring? Yes. And Kubrick captured it the monotony of space travel perfectly. In its setting, space travel has been perfected; it is safe, predictable, and matter-of-fact. The edginess has been scrubbed away. That's why nothing much seems to happen much to the protagonists for much of the story. Many talk about the character of Dr. Floyd being perfunctory or unexciting. I find his character brilliiant. After working in the corporate ad agency world, and its world of corporate politics, for too many years, I find Dr. Floyd more remarkable upon each subsequent viewing; He has been chosen to visit the moon armed with top-secret information about what we've discovered there. He will not divulge this secret with pesky Russians who inquire as to the goings-on at the Clavius crater; he lives in the world of governmental and political duplicity...he is always "on the road" as any good company man would be, eschewing wife and family for "duty." His speeches are guarded, he says very little yet he is lauded as a great speaker by the people in the boardroom (who are encouraged to speak up by Dr. Floyd at the meeting but never do...sound familiar?...corporate insecurity is still a viable trait...even by 2001!). Dr. Floyd's matter-of-fact cat and mouse secrecy is one of the true delights of the film. Worth noting also is when the scientists "break training" and attempt to indulge in a bit of whimsy by having their picture taken tourist-style in front of their discovery. It is then when the Monolith emits its high-pitched tone thus ruining the perfect photo-op. But I digress. The Wonders of The Future have brought us the Multiplex Theater and the Small Screen. This movie was made to be seen in Cinerama. Beautiful, optically sharp. And Vast. And until its relentless critics can view it that way for themselves (which they just might find something akin to a religious experience), I'm afraid they just don't know what they're talking about.
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Freaks (1932)
ghastly, unnerving, nightmarish
5 February 2000
This is undoubtedly one of the best movies of the early sound era, yet paradoxically, one of the worst. Best because its haunting, unnerving, frightening images of society's unspeakable class of unfortunates still shocks; expectant parents need not view this motion picture; there are scenes of such power that it can literally still clear a room; yet worst because the over-rated Browning still directs, for the most part, the "normal" actors in his customary leaden style (if you don't believe me, just compare "his" Dracula" with its contemporary, the very fluid and horrific Spanish version). Browning coaxes the best out of his acting troup, but the freaks, although for the most part unintelligible, come off better, probably quite by accident. The movie borders on the Povery Row style for much of its running time, but has moments of great brilliance during the loving cup scenes, and the famous chase through the storm. Could a better director have made a better picture? Or would the MGM "gloss" have gotten in the way? Quite unsettling, although never mentioned, is the affliction that the so-called "normal" Phroso the Clown seems to suffer from...if you read between the lines, his love for Venus is all-to-freakish, as he seems to be "under-endowed" or un-endowed, thus making his love for her just as distorted as that of dwarf Hans for a zoftig like Baclonova (think of that union!). For the most part, the freaks' roles are tender and is their introduction to the plot, along with the matter-of-fact displays of their "talents" which live in my mind, not the much-discussed climax (does anyone else note the similarity between Cleopatra's demise and that of Professor Unrath's in "The Blue Angel?) Yet this movie endures as a classic, in spite its direction, due to its immediate documentary style. As if captured in amber, it depicts in time - capsule form a view of Americana that will never be seen again. And therein lies its power: The Nightmare exists because it is all too real, because its world existed. And exists today... behind closed doors in institutions. It's just not on film.
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