Saturday, September 16, 2017

Script review - "Francis and the Godfather" (warning: spoilers)

Fun script, a little roughly written in places and at times felt like a collection of anecdotes rather than a cohesive story, but I guess how else would you do it? It's also entertaining.

The character of Coppola is a little sketchy and passive but there are entertaining turns from Evans, Brando, Pacino, James Caan. The script is a little mean on Ryan O'Neal and Stanley Jaffe. I love the way they co op the film's climax.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Movie review - "Black Magic" (1949) **1/2

Orson Welles loved to do magic tricks and was a great showman so is perfect casting to play the enigmatic Cagliostro. He didn't often play leading man roles in films he didn't direct, so it's a lot of fun to see him in this - even if the film isn't that great.

It's got good things going for it - the production values are high (it was shot in Italy), the cinematography is crisp. Some of the acting isn't bad.

It's very hammy and erratic though. I had trouble following the story. I think it's about the hypnotist Caglistro who gets involved in a plot to have a young woman impersonate Marie Antoinette - only he falls in love with the woman. That should be simple but everything feels complicated - Cagliostro is always hypnotising people, people are escaping, his plan is forever being revealed but he gets away with it etc.

Nancy Guild is a debit in the dual role as the girl and the queen - the girl part isn't that great as she's hypnotised most of the time, but she should be able to make Marie Antoinette interesting.  Frank Latimore is dull as the hero. I wish Akim Tamiroff had been given something to do

Charles Goldner's character, a doctor, is at the beginning and pops up crucially at the end to bust Cagliostro - I got confused by who he was. I got him confused too with Stephen Bekassy, the main villain - he was killed off too early.

Welles darkens his skin, curls his hair and uses a broad accent. He's quite slim and dashing and hammy.

There's a weird, hammily acted opening sequence where Alexander Dumas Snr talks with Alexander Dumas Jnr (Raymond Burr) about the story.

I didn't mind this but have to admit I was surprised how dull it was. Needlessly so. I was really hoping it would be a little gem but it isn't.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Script review - "Frost/Nixon" by Peter Morgan

Peter Morgan's one of my favourite writers in part because of this script which is extremely entertaining. It takes an event I'd vaguely heard of and makes it really interesting. It follows in many ways the stock template: an unlikely hero (glambot David Frost) has a dream (to interview Nixon), overcomes obstacles (lack of money, disdain) to triumph (getting Nixon to kind of apologise).

I'm sure there are historical errors but I went with it. The characters of Frost and Nixon are very defined - some solid support from Nixon's loyal deputy; Frost's idealistic helpers aren't as interesting and the female characters practically non existent. Still, gripping stuff.

Movie review- "Snowbound" (1948) **

At one stage David MacDonald had a bit of a reputation as a director, owing to his war documentaries and the B film hit This Man is News but his post war films were very underwhelming. This is a case in point - which really disappointed me because I enjoy a good alpine-set thriller.

This has all the ingredients of a film that should work: a bunch of mysterious types gathered in a chalet, cut off via snow, the reveal that there's some Nazi gold buried there.

It suffers from uninteresting characters - I thought it was going to be unusual with Dennis Price having to pretend to be a screenwriter for director Robert Newton but nothing is really done with that. Why have Price and Newton as heroes? Why use Newton so little? Why cast someone as obvious as Herbert Lom as the villain? Why have a story with so much talk about what happened in the past.

There's an exotic pretty girl, a dodgy Brit. Hitchcock or Laudner/Gilliat or even Ralph Thomas would have made these situations perky and fun. Not MacDonald. It's never that suspenseful or scary. It's not awful - just dull.

Price seems ill at ease as a hero with silly hair and sweaters. Newton and Lom are always fun.Mila Parcey is forgettable

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Script review - "Chappaquidick" by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan

A really excellent account of the famous accident. Act one details what happened - I assume this has been researched; it felt real. It's a hit to the solar plexus to see Ted Kennedy drunkenly flopping around and Mary Jo being trapped for hours. This is emotionally devastating. The second and third acts aren't as good inevitably but are still pretty gripping - Kennedy tries to weasel out of things, fails, then tries to restore his reputation.

The character of Kennedy, as depicted here, is fascinating - unsure of his place in the world, keen to blame dad for everything, struggling to go his own way, constantly making mistakes when he does go his own way. It is not very nice to him - but it's a fantastic part. A great look at politics, humanity, American royalty, and scandal.

Movie review - "When the Bough Breaks" (1947) ** (warning: spoilers)

Gainborough melodrama given a modern day kitchen sink realism - Pat Roc expands her range as a working class girl who gives birth and finds out her husband's a bigamist. She kicks hubby to the curb and tries to make a go of it but struggles - an all too believable scenario, very empathetic. Eventually she gives up and passes the kid over to rich Rosamund Johns, who lost a kid and is fairly salivating to get her hands on Roc's. Her husband seems indifferent either way. Years later Roc gets her act together, marries kindly Bill Owen and tries to get her kid back.

There's no costumes, period setting or outrageous plot developments. There's not even handsome men - Owen is very bloke next door. Mind you that's the take the film was going for - and actually it could have worked. (And it did for audiences who turned this into a minor hit).

But the film fumbles the drama - it's way too polite and hesitant. We don't meet the father, who would seem to me.

It was a bit rough of Roc to just rock up to Johns and go "I want my kid back". But I didn't like Johns' character with all her cash, being desperate to get her hands on the kid, not telling the kid he's adopted and refusing to give the kid back. It has the potential for good drama. Potential which is missed.

The film misses dramatic moments wholesale - Johns and Roc never fight dirty, Owen mostly hangs around going "you're mothering him wrong" to Roc, Johns' husband just sort of goes "you've got to give the kid back" to Johns (he seems indifferent to the kid - he was the father for eight years - you'd think would have more of an attitude.)

We don't see the scene where the kid is told he is adopted and his real mother is someone else. The kid rocks up and asks who the maid is and where the garden is and is going to be a bit of a snob, and you think the film's going to use it in an interesting way... but they don't. The kid just an annoying little snob who runs away to his old home - but not a dramatically interesting snob. He's so unsympathetic you don't care what happens to him.

The film raises all sorts of class issues that probably could have been mined more. Johns and her husband have money, Roc and Owen don't.  The kid's a rich kid who is bullied (off screen) by the poor kids. Both Owen and Johns' husband seem really keen to get rid of the kid.

And the ending is a damp squib - Roc drops the kid off with Johns. We don't see a final scene between Roc and Johns. The kid promises to write. Cut to the kid having a birthday with his rich parents and rich friends, then cut to Roc and Owen having a birthday with their new kid, a little baby. No sadness, no poignancy, no drama. Warring mothers of children offers great potential - look at Stella Dallas, The Old Maid etc. This drops the ball.

Roc struggles at times with her working class accent and is very non glamorous but is pretty and likeable. Johns is okay in an unsympathetic part. Owen is engaging.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Random thoughts on "Starship Troopers"

Random thoughts on Starship Troopers, 20 years on (warning: spoilers... but come on it's been 20 years)

1) I can't think of any other film that matches it's tone - mixture of high school antics, awkward acting, war cliches, Nazi imagery, bug killing, camp, seriousness.... even the sequels don't match it - maybe Robocop comes close but this feels different to even that.

2) The acting ranges from the genuinely good (Dina Meyer, Clancy Brown) to the iconic (Michael Ironside) to 50s B war movie (Casper Van Diem) to 40s film noir (Denise Richards) to dreadful (the guy who plays Casper's dad) but somehow everyone is perfectly suited... whether its minxy Denise, square jawed Casper or Doogie Howser in a Nazi outfit.

3) Main problem with this film for me... the last act (it's roughly five acts: school, training, Klendathuu, Planet P and return to Planet P)... the action builds then there's this final battle which we never see, Rico and his friends go off from a genuinely important battle to go rescue Carmen who no one really cares about even if she is hot... and at the end Doogie goes "the human race was saved by one guy who captured the bug"... and it's Clancy Brown! Who we never saw. So we missed a massive battle. I admit that this nutty story decision is part of the film's charm.

4) Has Michael Ironside ever given a bad performance? (To be fair you could also ask if he's ever given a different one... but he's always awesome!)

5) Hokey as it is, the love triangle plot completely works for me in this film and Dina Meyers is (don't laugh) the emotional core. It's pure Archie-Veronica-Betty-Reggie (with Zander as Reggie).

6) I love the character touch of making Ace (Jake Busey) a good violin player - and how Michael Ironside provided violins for his troops along with beer and footballs. Are violins more popular in the future? Did he just know a lot about his soldiers? Was it good luck? So much mythology that remains unexplored.

7) I never noticed how perky the ship captain played by Brenda Strong is... (Denise Richards' boss) - she's always got a smile on her face, even when picking up Rico from Planet P after most of his platoon has been wiped out.

8) I like how in the future people will still listen to Mazzy Star.

9)It's great how even the more selfish characters, Carmen and Zander, are completely bad ass - Zander has a great defiant final line.

10) I love how the military strategy of the humans is so incredibly abysmal that, like "Aliens", you can enjoy the militarism and the critique of it at the same time.