Says the director: " Making this film was a challenging exercise in objectivity. Being in Donetsk felt as if I had stepped through the looking glass. On that side of the mirror the beliefs were very different from the beliefs in the U.S. It was important to stay unbiased and politically neutral and tell the story subjectively through Deki's point of view. With the help of the editor, Dmitry Khavin, I think we were able to achieve that..."
The response to this film is so vitriolic that it has made me want to watch it and make my own mind up! I suggest any sensible person will want to do the same.
Just one of a wave of pro-Christian films and proselytizing flics which have hit American cinema in the last few years, which commonly adhere to a traditionalist view of religion, regularly preaching to the converted The Shack has been received better than some, perhaps because it is based on a bestseller. Called "beautiful, profound, moving" by some and "ham-fisted and painful" by others, The Shack is the film in which a man receives a note from 'Papa' i.e. God and, as if this is not enough, apparently then encounters Himself as the Trinity, holed up in a log cabin out in the woods somewhere. Conversations with the three ensue and enlightenment naturally entails. This is all tied up with the forgiveness of a serial child killer, as well as beginning a new process of self-healing and forgiveness for the grieving principal. It all stars Sam Worthington.
Response from critics has apparently been relatively unfavourable, while orthodox theologian have also criticised the film for being, among things, 'heretical' or 'unbiblical' - but then again they always take things too seriously. As mentioned, audiences have been more enthusiastic (the film is currently a reasonable 6.4 on IMDb, for instance while audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale) and so the film has obviously resonated with some.
As a guide to those who wish to take away the most useful messages from the film, I list them here in lieu of a review:
1. 132 minutes can be an awfully long time. I mention this upfront since if you are going to be watching this on a pew in a church hall say, bring a cushion or park up on a prayer mat. You'll need it. 2. God is, in fact, a jovial black woman who does not care for religion. 3. It is impossible to sing in church without a faraway look on your face. 4. The Holy Spirit, rather than being incorporeal, is in fact quite a dish. But with no sense of humour. 5. A child can easily be buried in a plant bed. 6. In addition to being part of and all of the Trinity, God also has a figure called Wisdom who helps to explain things. 7. Sam Worthington was better in Wrath of the Titans and even Macbeth, where there is far more drama and more believable characterisation 8. God is a pretty good cook and even likes a drink. 9. Direct, awkward doctrinal questions are best answered by platitudes, evaded or just plain ignored. 10. It is fun to run on water. In fact Jesus prefers to run on water. We'd all like that.
I will readily admit that I am not the most likely audience to the film. In fact there are no atheists to be caricatured at all as in, say, God's Not Dead ,1 & 2. But they could have at least tried to cater for all. Instead The Shack comes across as well-produced, albeit saccharine, confection of traditional doctrine and faith - the literal and literal explication of which ironically only serves to reinforce many of the impressions of sceptics as far as popular religion is concerned. And,
...they don't even catch the darn killer; I remember reading that, in the book, they do?
So I watched this colourful, surreal, and jaw-dropping extravaganza marrying insects and cinematic insanity ... and was thoroughly entertained. In short, don't expect more for your money than you get from all of the above which, as you now know, is plenty: just rush to see it like I did, and be pleased. At least there is no boring John Carter and they are not talking about botany again.
Straight from the pre-titles opening scene, Western fans can relax back in their saddles and say to themselves 'this is how it is done!' as Ti West finds just the right balance between homage, tension, and saying something fresh. Hawke's anti-hero is a complex creation while Travolta's idiosyncratic character works well in a film which, never the less, does occasionally veer too abruptly in tone between the light-hearted and the violent. As a western maker, a director like Tarantino could take a lesson in something which he seems to have forgotten of the merits of stripped-down B movie making, buoyed up by some interesting dialogue, from this. Critics have rightly pointed out that there are one or two weaker performers further down the cast list, but this is not a major distraction and ultimately the result gets a strong recommendation from me. Great score, too.
Blamire writes, directs and frequently acts in his own films, his careful scripts reveling in non-sequiturs and deliberate longueurs whilst eschewing coarse dialogue. The surreal Trail Of The Screaming Forehead stands the most apart from its fellows I have seen, being made in colour, perhaps more expressly silly, with increased special effects work and the inclusion of special guest players (Dick Miller and Kevin McCarthy). Perhaps because of that, whilst still very amusing, it seems a little less characteristic and considered. However, this said, I have to report that after seeing it again lately I chuckled just as much as the first time - something which is entirely in line with those who revisit Blamire's films, which have a quiet quality all of their own and which never grow stale - which is ironic, as they constantly reference dated genres.
I think Blamire is an auteur to treasure, one who gives the art of parody back its name and quality - especially after the dismal, bigger-budgeted attempts of the likes of Jason Friedberg and the Wayans, directors who seem to have no affection for the films they imitate and always aim for the obvious. Their films are, arguably, hardly films at all - merely narrative clothes pegs on which to hang cheap laughs, slapdash and vulgar in equal measure, where Blamire is neither.
Speaking for myself, a sure-fire indication of a good parody is my willingness to revisit the work when the original joke has been seen and gone; this is true of most of Blamire's films, which grow more amusing and endearing upon re-acquaintance. And while the film types Blamire affectionately references have typically long since left our screen, I think his own work set around them remains fresh and original.
Lost Skeleton was the first I discovered and still has a special place in my affections; but there's not much between it and Dark And Stormy Night - the finest ensemble piece in Blamire's work. Only The Lost Skeleton Returns Again I think a slight disappointment - even though it too has its moments, if only because inevitably there's a sense of deja vu in any sequel of this sort while the narrative flow seems a little forced. (I hope to rent a copy of Johnny Slade's Greatest Hits (UK: Meet The Mobsters) soon, as that undoubtedly adds another dimension to Blamire's output albeit one far more commercial.) Although the liking, or not, of any film is always a matter of taste, I would recommend a discovery of Blamire's small but extremely likable oeuvre, filled with charming nonsense, endearing featured players, and quotable moments of dialogue, to anyone. In a world of CGI, bloated superstar egos and coarse humour passing as wit this all comes a pleasant discovery.
Despite some interesting stylisation of the opening credits, the opening minutes of CLONES are a little confusing and it is only when hero Dr Appleby leaves the laboratory, in chase of himself, do things look up a little. Due credit must be given to Michael Green for making of Appleby at least halfway sympathetic during the extended action-suspense sequences which makes up the central part of the film which, on reflection, even more impressive given the low budget of the makers.
Even with the caveats the score here is likely too low (I give proceedings at least a 5 or so) The final shoot out is well done and another reviewer is right: the last twist in the tale is unexpected.
Although from this summary it seems a film with two infatuations at its core, The Todd Killings is not a romantic piece. On the one hand we have Skipper, scheming and callous towards Roberta, while on the other there is Billy Roy, naive, confused and, ultimately, just as cruel towards his own girl. Neither relationships will end well. In this they are typical of the party and drug set around them, where the only real relationship is with hedonism. Others have noted the fractured and documentary style employed by the narrative, reflecting the lack of real focus in the young lives of Darlington. Only Roberta gets some real sympathy, but ironically its her will-she won't-she attitude towards Skipper and his actions which make up some of the film's less successful elements. When we first see her she seems a cut above the rest of her sex; her continued affection towards Skipper, even after the the most serious suspicions emerge and rape, considerably reduces her standing. Ultimately, even with her self-awareness and conscience, she is barely different from the others.
In the first half of the film Shear breaks up the presentation of Skipper's sometimes frantic, always shallow existence with more formal, considered shorter scenes, as the young man is interviewed in turn by police and military (he dodges the draft by pretending to be gay). At other times too, when faced by the establishment, Skipper acts the considerate, polite young man, and initially impresses Billy Roy's parents by his manner. At first he also seems to fool his former teacher, who's out trying to save local bored housewives from their own intellectual "death sentence" with reading groups of 'Moby-Dick'. At one point he recalls Skipper as one of his brightest former students, but now the young man is as dismissive of literature as of anything else. But we know that the slimy charmer is already a murderer, his secret buried out in the desert - just as his real character lays buried beneath a facade for his elders' benefit. Indeed, with one notable exception, Skipper's violence is hidden from the audience as well. It is Shear's achievement that he makes something shocking and memorable out of the coldness which remains, in an exploitation piece par excellence.
It's hard to think of another film with a heart quite as nihilist as The Todd Killings, a movie in which murders are committed just to see what it feels like, or because there's "nothing else to do", and in which a shiftless society of teenagers seem alienated from the magnitude of their actions. Other films have shown rebellious, shallow and disenchanted youth, but few are so thoroughgoing and so completely dark. For Skipper one of the most despicable emotions is pity, and his lack of empathy with others and is echoed back by his loose circle of friends whose only concern, even when the full horror of his crimes is revealed, is what to do when he's no longer around. (In fact the original shooting script was apparently called 'What Are We Going to Do Without Skipper?'). Some have compared Shear's film to (I think less bleak) River's Edge (1986), while passing similarities can also be seen in another favourite, Mean Creek (2004). A further film based on Schmidt's real life crimes, Dead Beat (1984) is not in the same league.
By turn charming, dangerous and self-centered, Jones' charismatic portrayal as the murdering misogynist is unforgettable, while The Todd Killings further benefits from an excellent supporting cast which, besides Bel Geddes, also includes Gloria Graham and Edward Asner. With hindsight, Richard Thomas' casting shortly after this as TV's John-Boy Walton, where he was to co-star in a completely different moral universe, gives his appearance here particular resonance. A pathetic figure, he is easily led in a world where nothing matters and "there's the crap, and living like you want to live." All of this is aided by some excellent cinematography as well as an outstanding, sometimes frenetic musical score by Leonard Rosenmann. Earlier in his career the composer had worked on Rebel Without a Cause. One wonders what he felt creating music for another, if later generation, equally estranged,but with a much more dangerous alienation, in which personal angst is almost entirely absent.
If you haven't seen The Todd Killings, then it may be one of the best films you've hardly heard of. If you have, then you'll surely welcome any chance to see it again.
Stewart plays a disgraced railroad man, reduced to playing music for nickels and dimes to help ends meet, until he is called back into action by his old boss to help solve some robberies. Chief among the suspects are his younger brother, The Utica Kid (Audie Murphy) now embroiled with an outlaw gang led by the unbalanced Whitey (Dan Duryea). Despite the variable reputation of this film I thoroughly enjoyed it, not least because of the plotting by Borden Chase and the excellent and large supporting case which also included Jack Elam, Paul Fix, Dianne Foster and Jay C Flippen. There's a part too for a now slightly older Brandon de Wilde, most famous for his role as the hero-worshiping youngster in Shane. After watching Audie Murphy just previously in the disappointing, much lower budgeted late vehicle Apache Rifles (1964), suddenly with this film the range seemed aright again. Murphy does an excellent turn as the conflicted younger brother, holding his screen presence well against the as always excellent Stewart, who, by this time, works his central role effortlessly. In fact Murphy's characteristic, taciturn, screen persona actually does the other main co-star Duryea a disservice, by emphasising some scenery-chewing elsewhere by the actor no doubt intent on showing Whitey's instability.
Stewart gets to play his beloved accordion three or four times - although it must be admitted that, by the time it gets burnt in the climactic confrontation, one grows little tired of hearing his repertoire of, mostly, 'You Won't Get Far Without the Railroad'. Most obviously, the longish opening Mclintock-esque scene, one suspects, was inserted principally to showcase Stewart's playing, although his charm always carries such musical longeurs along. Away from the star's turn, the otherwise excellent composer Dimitri Tiomkin is hard put to incorporate the music meaningfully into the rest of the score. With the cheerful and interruptive accordion one looks in vain too for the wheezing ominousness which marks out, say, Harmonica's instrumental playing in Once Upon a Time in the West (1969). Stewart's accordion does, however, play a final a part later in filling out an element of Murphy's moral character in what, one must admit, is a very effective, subtle scene. But overall it's a minor, idiosyncratic, element in a film which is still excellent viewing, a production taking full advantage of a big budget and good sized cast, and one thoroughly recommended. An obvious question remains: why is it called 'Night Passage' when there is hardly any day-for-night work, and no significant travel made in the dark?
Nevada Smith benefits greatly from Hathaway's leisurely outdoor directorial style, familiar from such personal favourites as The Sons of Katie Elder and North to Alaska as well as some excellent mise en scene cinematography by the great Lucien Ballard. Some critics such as Phil Hardy have sniffed a little at the film, and it's contemporary popularity, but I found it engrossing throughout, although admittedly it might have benefited from a little trimming. The mid-section, in which McQueen finds himself doing hard labour, then escaping, from a swamp-surrounded, brutalising prison camp reminded me of the (I think) weaker Papillion.
The real weakness to the film appears in the last section, when Sand/Smith is rescued from Malden's gang by a priest to be then reminded, by way of belated balance to Keith's earlier lessons, of the virtues of forgiveness and Christian forbearance. To a modern viewer this moral lesson seems a little laboured, and does little to make the final scene of the film psychologically convincing, ultimately leaving the principal character redeemed without purpose. Such considerations are striking given moments elsewhere, when the viewer can see the influence of the cynicism and violence of the genre which flowered elsewhere during the mid-sixties.
However if you haven't caught this yet I do recommend it, especially in the fine widescreen DVD edition now available. It's short on extras but the image and condition of the print is fine.
None of this is of very much import: what matters here is the physical comedy and treasured screen presence of Hearne whose structured physical comedy (as opposed to the musical-hall slapstick variety more common elsewhere in British cinema) is a delight. Hearne's droopy, pale 'tache is arguably as much a signature of his persona as Harold Lloyd's glasses or Chaplin's cane, and at the moment when it appears in the film (to usher in Ningle's alter-ego 'Artie') this watcher, at least, enjoyed a small frisson which must have also been enjoyed more strongly by contemporary audiences.
A good deal of the running time of Something in The City is Taken up with physical comedy, as Ningle or 'Artie' escape from various pursuers, and for the most part this is successful. Indeed Hearne's natural grace and movement, his use of props and situations, avoidance of cheap laughs and his lack of bumbling through the various narrative mishaps occasionally reminded this viewer of Buster Keaton. There's plenty of comic support too, notably a very young Dora Bryan as an increasingly exasperated cafe waitress. The comedy is lightly done and ultimately the whole thing is something of a delightful fantasy.
Hearne disappeared from our screen too soon and his memory is faint now (The comic mantle he left was perhaps passed on to figures such as Harry Worth then Michael Crawford for new generations). We are lucky to have this film to see now as a reminder of once what was, and how good it was. The picture and sound is perfectly acceptable. Look out for a brief appearance by Stanley Baker as a young police constable at the end.
The interesting thing about Bad Johnson is that Johnson's johnson is made human and not just a comic talking appendage. (It could for instance have been portrayed like 'Tonguey' in Kung Pow). Instead what we have is like that old Star Trek episode when the 'good' and the 'bad' Kirk co-exist after a transporter malfunction. The effect of this is to make the change less of a joke which runs out of steam after a few crude scenes, and the situation more susceptible to social comment, as the film ambles from its un-PC beginnings onto something more regular. Ultimately johnson shows himself in his newly independent form as a element of Johnson's ego (significantly this separate existence does not effect Johnson's libido)which is revealed as sometime-objectionable part of the male character. As Johnson gets along without his friend, so does his relationship with women improve and, surprise surprise, he becomes a much more likable fellow. Even if the words he later utters about the need to "say 'no'" seemed to this viewer to take the case against active sexuality a little too far, it is clear that the film does manage to pose some interesting questions about how much of stereotyped maleness is down to selfishness and a lack of self control and yet how both the good and bad parts of Johnson are together necessary for things ultimately to work.
The cinematography and direction are perfectly fine, and the cast acquit themselves well. I had a smile on my face throughout and, for a film like this, its all better than you'd expect.
No one I think has mentioned the music for this movie which is generally excellent, and which lifts, slightly rearranged, a couple of Mancini cues from Touch of Evil! They fit in quite effectively. Director Heyes, who largely worked within television does an excellent job with some interesting set ups (including the notable motel fight) while the cinematography, full of light and shade composition by the experienced Joseph Biroc, would have graced an A-production.
Ultimately this is an excellent exploitation movie with no slack scenes and a compelling narrative, albeit with some dated 'hip' dialogue, principally from the later, intruding, trio. I'd recommend it to anyone who is looking for the real thing. My DVD file is excellent, crisp and clear.
What distinguished 'Whispering Smith' above all is the vital quality of the action sequences, particularly the opening railway robbery, which have a violent, modern air about them. Ladd is excellent as the introspective Legend of the Line, ably supported by a cast with no weaknesses. Only the requisite no-surprise hidden love subplot seems more of its time, although even this remains free of an obligatory happy ending and the expected clinch never materialises. Standout too are the accompanying cast: an excellent psychopathic sidekick 'Whitey' - Frank Faylan, an actor I was unfamiliar with - as well as the redoubtable William Demarest. Did he ever put in a bad supporting act? Interestingly the plot of 'Whispering Smith' features a number of train rides, virtually all of which are interrupted: sabotaged or hi-jacked. One can argue that this echoes the life of Smith himself, which has become a interrupted journey itself - a way of distraction, it is implied, from his romantic disappointments, as he's wedded to his dangerous job - a passage in life which never reaches any final, emotionally fulfilling destination. Director Fenton made 'The Streets of Laredo' with Holden immediately after this which, on this experience, I shall now seek out.
The colour film appears these days on disc in an excellent print - it certainly looked good on a blu-ray player though a HD projector at 80", a highlight of a 3 disc DVD westerns box set I found cheap on Amazon. Recommended.
The 90 degrees of the title of course refers to more than just the sweltering heat of the year, it also invokes the sexual tensions which run throughout the film (most notably in the 'coffee wiping' stock room scene near the beginning). Vorell and Alena, as well as Kurka and his wife, are essentially two aspects of the same game; ultimately Vorell's replacement of tea-filled liquor bottles in the stockroom is a much a betrayal of empathy as is Kurka's replacement of marital warmth back at home with the coldness of duty. Down the cast list is Donald Wolfitt, no barnstorming from him here though, and one eventually wonders why he accepted such a supporting role. In some ways this is The Shop Around the Corner but a year after and with adult themes. Those familiar with Prague will also relish the backgrounds. Altogether this can be highly recommended as a forgotten bywater of British cinema. There is some fleeting nudity.
The Hangman Waits is an account of a manhunt, but told in very striking fashion. It is, I'd suggest - and one hesitates to use the term so readily in such an obscure context - the work of a poverty row auteur: the director, producer and writer being the same person, one A Bar-Smith, apparently his only full length directing job. A lonely review on IMDb points out that this film "looks and feels as though it was made at the dawn of talking pictures with some stilted performances, erratic editing and simplistic storyline...". That's one view.
It certainly seems a throwback to earlier times with dialogue playing a constant second to visuals and sound - and in fact it is 6 minutes in before any dialogue is spoken. Even the police are presented at one point Keystone-cops style, manning the running boards of cars to the final showdown, in a couple of remarkable 'frozen' shots, the careful framing of which, I'd suggest, indicates surely a deliberate stylistic strategy on the part of the director rather than clumsiness. I'd argue that like another favourite of mine, White Zombie, the anachronistic styling gives the film a unique feel, and by using a distinctive mode of storytelling, it turns its austere production values to advantage. The editing is not erratic either: in fact it is at some points quite deliberately structured, such as during the suspenseful, Hitchcockian opening scenes. In fact, dialogue issues apart, The Hangman Waits is striking on several counts throughout, including no less than 3 montage sequences, and a unique score featuring piano and organ instrumentation (at times reminding me of that for Peeping Tom). The killer's face is not revealed until the last few sequences; instead the film contains several interesting minor characters and incidents, which go by way of compensating for the enigmatic man on the run at the centre of the plot. The involvement of the News of the World is obvious with some effective location shooting in Fleet Street, but the view of journalists and reporters is not rose-tinted. The final montage sequence is the most interesting, creating an almost stream-of-consciousness effect as the killer recalls moments of his romantic past as the organ plays a canzona.
Some will find little in the film; others I hope will pause and discover it's avant-garde qualities, seen for the first time in a generation or so, in this release with all of the surprise and delight I did. I certainly watched Bar-Smith's work open mouthed.
It has just appeared for the first time on a double feature UK DVD, albeit in a less than perfect transfer.
Director Robert Wise had previously made Curse Of The Cat People (1944) for Val Lewton, and would also helm Lady Of Deceit (1947), and The Set-Up (1949), respectively just before and after Blood On The Moon, so was already at home with the way of noir. He'd also been associated with Orson Welles - having been brought in to infamously 'finish off' The Magnificent Ambersons - and this influence can be seen in Blood On The Moon, especially in the saloon interiors, with their low angles and prominent low ceilings.
Wise's 1948 western stars noir icon Robert Mitchum as Jim Garry, a man with a suitably dubious past, sent for by former friend Tate Riling (Preston Foster) to take partnership in a grazing rights scam and to provide a strong arm for $10,000. Riling hopes to secure payment for a lucrative army cattle contract while convincing local farmers that his intentions are strictly honourable, and running off the current suppliers. At first Garry grudgingly goes along with the plan but then realises that he is not comfortable with matters, all the while growing a romantic interest in Amy Lufton (Barbara Bel Geddes) the daughter of one of the cattle farmers.
For my money, Blood On The Moon, while an excellent film, is not quite on the same level as the two other noir westerns mentioned above, having none of the haunting psychologies of Pursued (also starring Mitchum), nor the fatalism of Colorado Territory. But there are still many pleasures to be had here, not least a strong supporting cast that includes Walter Brennan and Charles McGraw as well as a splendidly duplicitous Foster who, in dark parallel of Garry's slow romance of Amy, feigns a love interest in her sister to oil along his malign plans.
Ultimately, it is Garry's realisation of his erstwhile partner's slipperiness which turns him against him, as he discovers "I've seen dogs who wouldn't take you for a son." But it is Mitchum's marvellous playing of a man with the troublesome "conscience blowing down his neck," that's at the centre of the film, as he turns from hesitant moral acquiescence to doubt, onto guilt, into action. As others have remarked, Mitchum's characteristic 'stillness' as a noir actor, whereby he characteristically says or expresses little, but nevertheless suggests inner turmoil, is shown at its best here. Such depth and moral equivocation would (his complex performance in Red River the year before, notwithstanding) probably have been beyond the range of a John Wayne.
I mention Wayne, particularly, since there is an interesting similarity between Blood On The Moon and Hawks' Eldorado, made a decade and half later. In both movies a gunfighter arrives by way of summons into a middle of dispute, and is bushwhacked by a woman for his pains. In the later movie Wayne's character makes a clear decision right away not to join one side before siding with the other. In Wise's work, Garry's process of realignment is much more slow and painful, but because of it, more human. And whereas Wayne enters the drama bolt upright on his horse, proud in his own self-esteem, we first see Garry caught in the rain, at night, bedding down within cluttered trees, streams and undergrowth - the uncomfortableness of which reflects the confusions in which he finds himself.