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Red State (2011)
Liked it.
8 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I liked this movie, even though its flaws were plain to see. First of all, it seems to suffer a kind of schizophrenia as it switches from teen comedy to teens-in-peril to horror to action-thriller, and finally (arguably) revealing itself as a satire in which those who survive are made to look foolish or misguided. While this might make the film a little messy (as many here seem to have described it) that doesn't prevent it from being compelling from start to finish. Michael Parks and John Goodman give unforgettable performances as the malevolent leader of a religious cult (who looks a bit like how you'd imagine Richard Branson's evil brother would look) and the ATF agent assigned to take him out respectively. Some of the dialogue borders on the sublime, while the situations - while admittedly outlandish - always manage to remain believable.
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MacArthur (1977)
Military Man
7 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
All nations have their heroes, but few of them are of interest to residents of other countries, and such is the case with General MacArthur. The name's familiar, but the details of his life are not, and to be honest I still don't know a lot more about the man MacArthur than I did before watching this over-long drama, which focuses on only a decade or so of his life. Peck plays the General in his usual wooden style, when you'd expect the man to be a little more larger than life. He's depicted as a supreme strategist who clashes with his President during the Korean war, and while the film appears to sympathise with him, it also portrays him as something of an egotist, obliquely comparing himself to the likes of Alexander, Napoleon and Caesar (at one point we actually see him wrapped in towels, toga-style). We learn virtually nothing of his personal life, nor of the earlier events in his life which surely must have shaped him into becoming the finished article we see on the screen.
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Life and Death in 5 Minutes...
1 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The life and death of Alexander Pushkin is summarised in a 5-minute sequence of half-a-dozen scenes that don't make much sense - especially when the film's subtitles are in Russian. We see Pushkin playing in the snow with his mates - presumably in some sort of military academy, although I may well be wrong as I know absolutely nothing about Pushkin. Then we see him perhaps receiving his commission, before we see him getting all moody at a ball. Presumably this is because some cad has been dallying with his girl, because we next see him mortally wounded in a duel and carried off to his death bed. The quality of the film I saw on the internet was pretty atrocious, which detracts even further from an already lifeless portrait.
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Good one from Linder
1 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Quite a cute comedy from Max Linder, who was by now firmly established as France's top film showman. He's in familiar guise here as a down-on-his luck playboy whose joyful plans to spend a night on the town with his mate are scuppered by the fact that neither has a penny (or franc) to their name. Max's goes to his father for a hand-out, but is angrily shown the door. Later, his father receives an invitation to a ball, but on the way there he and his wife are robbed at gunpoint. The thief manages to take only some of the coins from the stolen purse before a handy policeman gives chase and recovers the purse while allowing the robber to flee. There's a neat little twist at the end of the film, which is quite a pleasing little entry in Max Linder's canon.
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How Max got into the movies...
1 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
This Max Linder short comedy isn't one of his best, but it does bear the distinction of a rare example of pioneering French movie makers in its cast. The film appears to comically recreate Linder's entry into the world of movie-making. He appears at a studio where he is shown from one office to the next and undergoes an audition. A week later he receives a summons from the studio to appear in his first film, a comedy in which he is thrown from an apartment window by a couple of women who then proceed to throw various pieces of furniture - including a table and wardrobe - on top of him. Directors Georges Monca and Lucien Nonguet, as well as studio boss Charles Pathe, all make appearances as themselves, although exactly who is who is anybody's guess. Not particularly funny, the film nevertheless has some value as an insight into the early years of movie-making.
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Wild Child
27 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Funny how we think of the loutish behaviour of some of today's teens as a modern-day phenomenon. Here, in a short film more than one hundred years old, we see two tearaways terrorising a bed-ridden old lady, sabotaging a number of honest workmen as they go about their daily work, vandalising a bakery and taking a vehicle without consent - all in the space of six frenetic minutes. The difference is that these two are a couple of outwardly demure young maidens who immediately turn into anarchic terrors threatening the fabric of society the moment their father finishes warning them to be good. The girls in question are the quite delectable Alma Taylor (as the eponymous Tilly) and her partner in crime Sally, played by Chrissie White, both of whom would go on to become major stars of British silent cinema. The film is pretty good, and features some impressively mobile camera work. This was the first in a series featuring the terrible two that ran for five years. You can read more about them at www.moviemoviesite.com
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Kalem Goes to Ireland
27 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
The Lad from Old Ireland holds a place in history as being the first film shot overseas by an American cast and crew - but that's about the only thing which distinguishes it. Gene Gauntier wrote the script on the voyage across the Atlantic. Now, I don't know how long it took to cross the Atlantic in those days, but I'm sure she could have spent a lot longer developing her screenplay than she actually did. A period of seven years is spanned in no more than twelve minutes as Sidney Olcott (who also directed) leaves Old Ireland to make his fortune as a politician in America. While he's there, his sweetheart's family face eviction, and are only saved from being thrown out of their home when Sid arrives in the nick of time to reach deep into his wallet. Only 12 minutes, but the film drags interminably. You can read the story behind the making of this film at www.moviemoviesite.com
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Max Goes Skiing
26 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I don't think I could have seen the full version of this Max Linder comedy. The film I found on YouTube was only 4 minutes long - a short running time, even for 1910. I've seen some of this forgotten comic pioneer's other early movies, and have to say that the quality of the comedy is variable to say the least, ranging from truly hilarious to completely lacking in laughs. This one, in which - believe it or not - Max decides to go skiing, comes somewhere near the lower end of that spectrum. Apart from the first scene, in which we see Max, still in his hotel room, putting on his skis and then having difficulty getting through the door, the film is mostly a sequence of snowy pratfalls.
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The Sweet Counter Beckons...
26 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Lord only knows what this one was about. Georges Melies was clearly running out of ideas by the time he made this, so there's nothing particularly new here. There's certainly no story-line as far as I could make out, other than perhaps one chap being drugged by some devil type and then awakening to perform magic tricks on a lady in a window that he brings to life. People appear, disappear then re-appear before disappearing again with monotonous regularity, apparently until Melies' camera ran out of film.

I can't imagine even audiences from 1910 being impressed by this one, and on this evidence it's hardly surprising that Melies' film-making career would be over in a couple more years.
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Slippery Jim (1910)
Like a Live Action Looney Tunes...
8 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Apparently inspired by the antics of Harry Houdini, Slippery Jim opens in the office of a police commissioner to whom a rather cocky villain is presented. The commissioner orders the prisoner to be clapped in irons, but this proves to be easier said than done because our anti-hero - presumably the Slippery Jim of the title - proves to be an expert escapologist.

Once shown to his cell and shackled by his elbows and ankles, Jim proceeds to free himself from any restraints the hapless officers placed in charge of him choose to use.

Trick photography was a favourite device of early filmmakers, and here pioneer French director Ferdinand Zecca moves firmly into Melies territory. The story, such as it is, is simply a succession of different trick shots and, in many ways, resembles a Looney Tunes cartoon in as much as the wretched cops in pursuit of Jim meet various fates - flattened, split-in-two, etc - only to miraculously return to their natural forms seconds later.

It's an amusing enough little film, but even at 10 minutes it runs a little long.
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Cuentos de Borges: Death and the Compass (1992)
Season Unknown, Episode Unknown
Not for me.
4 January 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Oh dear. I watched this one a week ago, and although there's no way it can be described as bland or unmemorable – although probably for all the wrong reasons – there's little about this adaptation of Borges' novel by Alex Cox that impressed me enough to make a lasting impression. Cox's style has always been… quirky, shall we say – and sometimes he's very good, but this one is an almighty mess that is only partly salvaged by Cox's customarily strong visual style. The story sprawls like spilled liquid with no confines to contain it. The acting borders on amateur dramatic level at times – which is unremarkable in a lot of cases, but not from the likes of Boyle and Eccleston – and the script is like something out of a DC comic book. Definitely a Marmite movie by the looks of it.
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Bizarre
10 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I watched this movie under its UK re-issue title of The Acrobatic Fly which runs 3 minutes long. Quite frankly, it's difficult to know what to make of this bizarre little movie. It comprises entirely of a bluebottle lying on its back on top of a tiny wooden post and using its legs to spin various objects over and over. First there's what is either a wood shaving or a leaf, then there's a stick, then there's a tiny barbell. We also see our little acrobat spinning a dead compadre before he finally goes to work on some kind of ball of twine. Despite its novelty value, the film quickly becomes repetitive, but nevertheless stands as a unique oddity.
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Be Careful What You Wish For...
10 December 2011
In three short years as a director, D. W. Griffith had graduated from a novice to a professional ready to stretch his already impressive talents. Compare this tale of marital infidelity set against the backdrop of the French revolution to films made by most other filmmakers of the time and it is easy to see how far ahead of the field Griffith already was. This eleven minute short could easily have been made into a two-reeler, or even a feature. As it is, it's brisk running time means that the film's climax feels a little rushed - the revolution is ignited and completed within a matter of 60 seconds or so.
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I know how he feels...
10 December 2011
John R. Cumpson, who made tons of films up to 1912, stars as the eponymous Mr. Bumptious, who is so shocked by the charge a professional decorator wants to make for papering his parlour that he decides to do the job himself for a fraction of the price.

This is a fair early comedy, although Cumpson is no comic genius, and the likes of Chaplin or Arbuckle could no doubt have wrung much more from the material in just a few short years time. There are some nice touches: particularly the gum-chewing female shop assistant, who could quite easily have stepped out of any comedy movie made today.

It's all fairly predictable, but it only runs for four-and-a-half minutes, so it's worth a look.
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Max Takes a Bath
23 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Max Linder, muse of Chaplin whose film career was still a few years in the future, is here suffering from some kind of nervous tic that prompts his doctor to prescribe a daily cold bath. Max promptly purchases a bath tub, and after some trouble carrying it home, decides to immediately follow his doctor's instructions. The problem is he unaccountably doesn't have a tap in his flat and has to fetch water from the tap in the hallway. Deciding this is too lengthy a business, Max decides to take his new bath to the tap and bathe in the hallway.

This isn't one of Linder's best efforts, but neither is it his worst. It amuses, while failing to really create any laughs. It's odd how none of his neighbours seem bothered by his apparent nudity in the tub - in fact one guy doesn't even see him until he tries to climb in himself. The climax has Max scaling the side of a house with the bathtub on his back. The wall he and the pursuing police climb is obviously a painting on the floor across which the actors crawl as they pretend to climb.
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Another Great White Hope Bites the Dust...
23 October 2011
The film of this fight that I watched was only six minutes long - not the 100 minutes running time given by IMDb. I don't know whether the entire film still exists, but the six minutes I watched suggest that what we're watching is something of a one-sided fight. Back in 1910, white boxing fans were apparently so desperate for a white man to overcome the undefeated black fighter Johnson that former world champion Jim Jeffries was persuaded to come out of retirement to challenge him. the outcome was sadly inevitable.

The print I saw wasn't in particularly good condition - very grainy and blurred, but the size of the crowd watching is unmistakable. Once Johnson gets the better of Jeffries, the white fighter is given no time to recover from the blows that initially felled him by the referee - who was also the fight's promoter, stepping in after President William Taft and writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle both turned down the opportunity.
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Must Have Been an Ass-pidistra
23 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This is another of those Georges Melies films that amounts to little more than a presentation of a magic act enhanced with trick photography and hand-painted colour.

The film possesses Melies' characteristic energy and exuberance, but it's really no different from what he was producing five years earlier - simply a succession of stage tricks that no longer manage to astound its audience. It's for this reason that Melies' Star Films production company would go into bankruptcy in the next couple of years.

The highlights are the beating to death of Santa Claus and a bizarre moment in which Melies appears to produce a potted plant from his footman's derrière...
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I've never seen a dead man breath so heavily...
22 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Mary Pickford finds herself being seduced by weaselly Lothario Mack Sennett in this above-average (for the era) short from D. W Griffith. No sooner has Pickford found work as a skivvy for a farmer and his wife than travelling salesman Sennett is on her case, swapping a kiss for an engagement ring. When he gets into debt to a gang of heavies, Sennett persuades Pickford to steal the farmer's savings so that they can run away together. Of course, no sooner has he got his hands on her doubloons than he's away on the first train out of town.

Griffith reins in his sentimental tendencies for this one, although the melodramatics are still there, and he even finds time to inject some moments of humour when Pickford performs a spot-on imitation of Sennett's moustache-twirling bad guy. It's clear to see why Sennett became a producer if this is typical of his acting skills. Having died after being thrown from a train (quite a good shot), he can clearly be seen breathing as if he's just run a half-marathon.

As others have noted, the cinematography is incredibly good for the period in which it was made, and while Griffith doesn't yet appear to have twigged to the idea of panning, he at least shows spatial awareness within the frame as well as the existence of space beyond its confines.
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Typically melodramatic Griffith short
22 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
George Nichols plays a newly widowed father who devotes his life to providing for his small daughter by working in a pigeon farm. Years later, when she returns from school, Dad expects her to care for him in his limp-ridden twilight years and is aggrieved to discover that she has found herself a young man. When she chooses her new man over her old man, Dad falls into a state of depression that is only lifted when she introduces him to his new grandchild.

This is a typically melodramatic short from D. W. Griffith. By today's standards, the story is crude in both its concept and its execution, but even then Griffith was arguably one of America's foremost filmmakers. His style clearly wasn't fully developed yet, but the advances he'd made since his first directing effort in 1907 are impossible to miss.

Mary Pickford plays the grown daughter, and her star potential is obvious even at this early stage in her career.
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Rage at Dawn (1955)
Dawn who?
14 October 2011
Randy Scott goes undercover to bring the dastardly Reno brothers to justice, and manages to fall for their feisty sister as he does so. Based on real incidents, Tim Whelan's mid-1950s programmer probably bears little resemblance to the true facts. Scott's his usually chipper self, his character loaded with a self-confidence that never tips over into arrogance or conceit; he has no doubts, no fear and a single-mindedness of purpose that is downright robotic. The bad guys – a band of brothers terrorising the Indiana countryside – are more interesting; they're stereotypical baddies in one sense, but they share for the most part a sense of duty to one another. Their sister is a real Maureen O'Hara type – only she's not played by Maureen O'Hara, which is a shame because Maureen might at least have bought some fire to the role. Edgar Buchanan as a corrupt judge is also good fun, but overall this modest little western fails to impress.
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Driven (2001)
To Despair...
14 October 2011
The Wizard of Oz is more rooted in reality than this piece of garbage from the pen of Sly Stallone. At least aware that he's no longer young enough to play the male lead, he gives himself a supporting role which somehow manages to bag more screen time than the nominal leads – Til Schweiger and some other guy – who play a pair of racing drivers vying for the driving championship of one of those sports that looks suspiciously like Formula One but isn't. Stallone's character is called in as back up to the other guy's challenge. (I can't remember the guy's name, and the blandness of both his features and his performance mean I can't really be bothered to look him up). Anyway, this guy's a from-out-of-the-blue rookie who's suddenly suffering from the wobbles with the finishing line in sight. There's a few women involved, but they're just there to pad out the running time and deflect the possibility of anybody detecting a homoerotic undertone.

Renny Harlin's direction is in-your-face flashy, replete with wandering shaky-cam shots, astonishing high-speed prangs that send wheels and stuff hurtling skywards, and two dozen cuts during any thirty-second conversation. He does manage to conjure up a couple of moments of tension, but the impression is that he's adopting all these razzle-dazzle techniques in a futile attempt to divert your attention from the dull plot and asinine script.

Ah yes, the script…

If I wrote this review with the same care and skill as Stallone wrote the screenplay for Driven, it would read something like this: The script was bad. I did not like the script. I wish the script was better because I did not like the script. It made me sad. Why do they make scripts like this? It made me sleepy. Find yourself. A talented cast would have struggled to mine anything of worth from this rubbish but this lot are hardly A-list: A German star speaking his second language, a model turned actress, the aforementioned bland guy whose name I've chosen to forget. Burt Reynolds shows his commitment to bankruptcy by playing the hard-as-nails crippled manager of the racing team from behind the plastic mask that became his face sometime in the mid-1990s – but he at least gets to sit down throughout and has at least a functional acting technique.
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Innit?
14 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I thought I'd like this film, but apart from a few bright moments it was fairly ordinary – with a highly questionable hero in the form of Moses, a surly black teenager who we first meet as he mugs the terrified heroine of the tale with his gang of bike-riding cohorts. After they have made their getaway Moses bemoans their luck – she was a nurse and therefore had few coppers in her purse. The selection of such characters as nominal heroes might show off first-time director Joe Cornish's hip credentials but it also immediately alienates a significant proportion of his audience, because that early mugging lingers in the back of your mind for the rest of the film, tempering any sympathy for or identification with the young male leads.

Moses and his gang (crew? posse? homeys? blockies? I dunno – that's how un-hip I am) witness an alien crashing to earth and, after he's attacked by it, Moses gives chase and duly kills it. The trouble is that the particular alien he and his mates exterminated was an on-heat female and they're now covered in her spore which means the horny maliens keep tracking them down and, upon discovering they're not an accommodating femalien, get rather annoyed.

As the film progresses, Moses and his surviving mates develop a sense of community borne of a siege mentality which is presumably supposed to suggest that he has turned a corner and will no longer haunt deserted streets waiting for the weak and vulnerable to unwittingly step into his arena. It doesn't really wash, and neither do the reasons given for his being the way he is. At the end of the film Moses might be a local hero but there's little doubt that he'd be bagging himself a couple of free X-boxes in Tottenham a couple of months later.
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King Creole (1958)
One of Presley's better movies.
30 September 2011
Considering he spent the last thirty-odd years of his career in comedy roles, it's strange to see Walter Matthau as bad guy Maxie Fields, the New Orleans racketeer who feels compelled to own everyone around him. He's pretty good though, a mix of avuncular good humour and steel-willed calculation. Presley is a singer with home problems. He's torn between good girl Nellie (Dolores Hart) and damaged good-time girl Ronnie (Carolyn Jones), tormented by his father's lack of backbone and led astray by Vic Morrow and his pals. Presley was a singer who made films rather than an actor who sang, and the proof of that is right up there on the screen. Nevertheless, he possessed so much presence and charisma that he dominates nearly all of his scenes. It's Carolyn Jones who steals the show, though, with a nuanced performance as bad girl Ronnie.
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Prime Cut (1972)
Not a movie for vegetarians...
30 September 2011
What a bonkers movie this is: gangsters turned into sausages, naked teenage virgins sold at cattle markets, a hard man called Mary Ann, car-eating combine harvesters, sausage-wielding hit-men - this one's got them all. It's also got Lee Marvin acting very cool as a dapper fixer for the Irish mob in Chicago who's dispatched to the mid-west to secure payment from a defaulting Gene Hackman who literally turned their last enforcer into sausage-meat. This one has a real 70s feel to it even though it's not generally recognised as a classic - which, of course, it isn't: character development is zero and the bad guys are like something out of a 1940's comic strip. Despite that, it's great fun - and Sissy Spacek, who isn't generally regarded as a classic beauty, looks gorgeous.
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As dull as a 4-hour Monarch Airlines Flight
20 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Jimmy Stewart's a former WWII pilot now playing baseball, who is called up into the Strategic Air Command because his country's getting nervous about nameless enemies who might be lurking in the skies (you can tell this was written during the height of that curious 'reds under the beds' hysteria in the States). His wife (June Allyson) is at first supportive, but that support begins to diminish following the birth of their daughter and her husband's growing commitment to the cause.

Apart from some impressive aerial cinematography, this movie doesn't really have a lot going for it, and seems to be little more than a protracted advertisement for the work of the SAC. It's the kind of film Hollywood was churning out on a weekly basis – although usually with a smaller budget and less impressive cast. In fact it's difficult to see what an actor of Stewart's stature saw in such a formulaic script. It certainly can't have been the character of Dutch Holland, the pilot he plays, because he comes across as something of an inconsiderate egotist: not only does he endanger the life of his crew by ignoring a nagging injury in his shoulder that his CO has ordered him to have treated, but he also decides to indefinitely extend his length of service (which was initially only 21 months) into a lifelong commitment without bothering to consult the wife. It's no wonder she does one – and a small miracle that he doesn't emerge from telling her with at least some tender body parts.

Stewart doesn't really extend himself in the lead role – but then he was one of those stars who didn't have to. He could just play himself – long and gawky, with that distinctive voice – and his audience would be happy. June Allyson looks a little long in the tooth for the role of dutiful wife (and barely reaches Stewart's elbow), and so looks uncomfortable in a role that is so insipid it's fair to say nobody could have gotten much out of it.

Because there isn't a lot happening in the air – an early forced landing which forces Dutch and his radio man to camp out for the night, and then Dutch getting that achy shoulder – the film devotes much of its time to the Hollands' marital life – which is as about as dull to any onlooker as yours or mine.
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