Friday, July 21, 2017

Movie review - "Criss Cross" (1949) ****1/2 (re-viewing)

In an earlier review of this film on this blog, I regarded it as a story-lite remake of The Killers. Seeing it on the big screen I was knocked out what a good movie it is, brilliantly shot and directed (by Robert Siodmak).

The story held up better than I originally thought, and there were heaps of things I didn't notice - notably the richness of the support cast: the slimy waiter, amiable bartender, drunken girl at the bar, the fiancee of Lancaster's brother, his brother, the collection of gangsters (the quiet spoken white haired guy, the drunken mastermind of the operation, the tubby gangster, the lean one).

The story was full of richness I hadn't noticed - the interplay between the gangsters, the level of Lancaster's addiction for Yvonne de Carlo, Lancaster's family life (his brother Richard Long gets his girl to kiss him by "mock" threatening to hit her).

De Carlo isn't fantastic (this film shows that she was never an A-tier star... she simply doesn't have the charisma) but she's pretty good and has that fantastic dance moment where Lancaster sees her dancing (with Tony Curtis) after a long absence. Lancaster is superb - with his physique and puppy dog eyes, hopelessly hooked on de Carlo (for a macho star Lancaster was excellent at playing sensitive). Dan Duyrea is good as always as the gangster.

A really superb film noir.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Movie review - "Sky Pirates" (1986) **

No one seems to have a kind word to say about this Oz 10BA Indiana Jones knock off but it's sheer existence is extremely winning. It was made by the producer-director combo of John D Lamond and Colin Eggleston, best known for soft core sex and horror movies, but they managed to raise a relatively healthy budget for this.

That's healthy in terms of Australian films - it suffers badly in comparison with Hollywood blockbusters... though not say Hollywood B films. Judged by the standards of Raiders knock offs it's fine, helped with cheerful performances from John Hargreaves and Max Phipps.

It starts quite well with Hargreaves and Phipps and Simon Chilvers going off on a mission to a Pacific Island.  This is great... but then all this stuff happens off screen, people go missing, and Hargreaves winds up back in Australia being court martialled, then escapes and heads off with Chilvers' daughter, Meredith Phipps to figure out what's going on.

The main problem with this film structure wise is the action keeps stopping and starting again - would've been a much more fun had the mission started and everything built from there. Them being on the run from the authorities has no real pay off or threat once they're going because the bulk of the action happens out in the isolated Pacific.

It's full of irritating holes - why is Phipps evil? Why have a silly Russian roulette scene? What is the Mysterious Power and why does it do what it does.

There's some good stunts and sets. Loved the photography and location work on Easter Island. It's full of tropes I love, like pilots and dingy bars in the third world. It's silly and over the top just a bit sloppy. People were too mean about this.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Stanley Baker Top Ten

1) Zulu (1963) - of course, though Baker is out-acted off the screen by Michael Caine and Nigel Greene
2) Robbery (1967) - great British heist movie
3) Hell Drivers (1957) - a Brit film industry take on the sort of tough B movies Warners used to make
4) The Criminal (1960) - an excellent Losey-Baker collaboration
5) The Guns of Navarone (1961) - Baker is one of many names in this guys on a mission film but it is a very showy part
6) The Cruel Sea (1953) - Baker is only in a small part but makes a great impression in a fantastic movie
7) Accident (1967) - perhaps Baker's best "I'm playing against type" role in a film which I half like and others love but does have good things going for it
8) Hell is a City (1960) - good tough Val Guest crime stuff
9) Yesterday's Enemy (1959) - another Baker-Guest collaboration, hard core look at British troops in Burma in the war
10) Hell Below Zero (1953) - one of Baker's best villainous performances (with a nod to Knights of the Round Table but this is a much better movie)

Movie review - "Throne of Blood" (1957) ****

Snazzy adaptations of Shakespeare have become a cliche because they are so handy as a way for directors to get a reputation ("it's Romeo and Juliet between penguins and polar bears!" "King Lear set in the Congo!). This is one that gives it a good name, a brooding, gripping Kurosawa adaptation of Macbeth.

It's set in a world of fog and rain and wind and harsh dirt ground and volcanic ash and creepy witches with face covered in all-white make up living in the forest. It's visually stunning with these samurais galloping around and pulling up in courtyards and massive gates, not to mention screen wipes and long shots of warriors with their spears at hats.

Toshiro's Mifune is perfect to play the intense Macbeth (the character has a different name - let's just call him Macbeth - uptight, lusting after power but scared of that lust. He's pretty nutty from the get-go but because it's Mifune he's got extra gas in the tank to go the Full Nut.

Isuzu Yamada is fully creepy as the seemingly ruthless, very closed and face-painted Lady Macbeth. It's a real jolt at the end when she loses her stuff.

Some incredible action, whether the final assault on the castle (the trees moving), Mifune's death via a thousand arrows, the murder sequences. Takashi Shimura is in it as the Macduff character but for some reason his presence didn't really register with me. (While Macduff should be a great role I struggle to remember any great Macduffs).

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Book review - "Constantinus II:Usurpers, Eunuchs and the Antichrist" by Peter Crawford

Constantine II is one of those Roman Emperors who no one gets excited about, despite having a relatively long reign and even possibly dying of natural causes. He's probably best known for being the baddy in the life story of Julian - a paranoid, crafty emperor who had a lot of his family wiped out and eventually tried to kill Julian, and who lost a heap of battles.

Crawford sets out to rehabilitate the man's reputation, while not being blind to his faults... It's exhaustively researched - as in a really detailed book. A lot is known about Constantinus, due in part to all the military campaigns he was involved in (many of them civil wars).

Occasionally the book seems to lose focus as Crawford goes off on other tangents - Julian Shapur, etc - but I understand why he did it. It's hard to imagine a more definitive account.

Crawford thinks Constatinus has gotten a bad wrap but isn't a massive fan of the man - he slaughtered too many family members, let too many incompetent killers loose in the kingdom (eg Paul). But he did do less long term military damage to the Empire than say Julian. He's a "solid" Emperor - competent, tired, no visionary but no disaster. A very strong book from the gang at Pen and Sword.

Movie review - "Sixteen Fathoms Deep" (1934) **

A cheap, endearing, creaky actioner from Monogram which gave a leading role to Lon Chaney Jr early in his career - so early she was billed as Creighton Chaney. He gives this movie a point of difference - not a conventional leading man, even in his early days, with his lump features. But he has kind eyes and presence and works quite well with Sally O'Neill, the female lead.

The plot is simple and the action clocks in at under an hour. Chaney's a sponge diver who wants to make money to marry his girl; a dodgy ethnic is trying to stop him.

This reminded me a lot of Lovers and Luggers, the Australian film - scenes of divers going to the bottom of the ocean and getting bends, romance with a feisty girl, ethnic villain. That was based on a novel which was published in 1928; it's entirely possible the writers of this came up with the same tropes independently.

It's no classic, but there's lots of location work and it zips along. It was liked enough to be remade in 1948.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Movie review - "Andy Warhol's Bad" (1977) **

I've never seen an Andy Warhol film. I'm not sure this was the best introduction - it's like a John Waters film played straight, a delirious melodrama in the suburbs with Carroll Baker as a hair removalist who runs a murder business on the side. Perry King comes to stay with her and mayhem ensues.

I think this was meant to be a comedy but it doesn't feel like one. The handling is flat. Some actors play it broad, others underplay. It was nice to see Carroll Baker in a good role in an American film made by a leading artist (even though Warhol didn't write or direct it); she's competent in a role that might have required more flair. Perry King is fine in the "beautiful young man" part he often had to play in the 70s - but this role does have some meat on it.

The supporting cast have energy. There's scenes with a toilet overflowing with shit, amputations, a woman with gas... There's also, shockingly, a scene with a baby thrown out the window - it hits the ground and goes splat.

It was kind of dull. I kept expecting it to be more fun than it was.