Friday, May 26, 2017

Movie review - "Nightfall" (1988) **

The overall quality of Roger Corman's (and his wife Julie's) output dropped off sharply in the early 80s when he sold New World and started making movies more for video than cinema screens. However they did occasionally try to do something different.

This was Julie Corman's attempt at making something special - an adaptation of Isaac Asimov's 1941 short story (highly regarded, though I had to admit I'd never heard of it - but then I'm not a big sci-fi reader). The writer and director was Paul Mayersberg, who wrote The Man Who Fell to Earth - you can entirely sympathise with why Corman made the choice she did. But I feel Mayersberg stuffs it.

Absolutely yes the budget was low. Possibly too low for this ever to have worked, considering the filmmakers had to create an entire civilisation. It would say though that the production values of this aren't bad - there's some impressive desert landscapes, and nice photography.

I think it's main problems are (a) it looks silly and (b) it's not dramatised.

To tackle point (a), a low budget is no excuse for David Birney's absurd Issac Newton wig, or some of the sillier costumers, or archaic dialogue. I was constantly wanting to invest in the film - which is full of smart ideas and interesting - but kept getting distracted.

For (b) there is some terrific potential conflict - science vs religion, man vs his ex, father vs daughter... but Mayersberg drops the ball. Scenes just sort of start and stop without building - as a viewer I was constantly outside the drama as opposed to being inside it.

There are bold ideas and I enjoyed its ambition. It's a mess but it tries.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Roger Moore Top Ten

1) The Spy Who Loved Me (1976) - a bit lazy for me to start off with a Bond, but it's such a brilliant film, one of the best in the series
2) The Wild Geese (1978) - Moore gets overshadowed by Richards Burton and Harris and Hardy Kruger, but is good value in this great guys on a mission film
3) Octopussy (1983) - enormously enjoyable Bond, one of the most fun - I'm going to limit myself to two Bonds, these are easily the best IMHO (with a nod to Live and Let Die for handling the tricky act of transferring the public to a non-Connery Bond, and to For Your Eyes Only for a very good performance, and Moonraker for playing it in the right style and... okay I'm cheating now)
4) North Sea Hijack (1980) - not as awesome as I remembered it being while a kid but one of Moore's best performances as a very un-Bond hero
5) Shout at the Devil (1976) - another flawed film but Moore is genuinely good in the role (it should be added that this movie, like many Moore films of the 70s and 80s, is a tad racist)
6) Spice World (1997) - not being a smart arse... he's genuinely funny in that film
7) The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) - good thriller I haven't seen for ages... I hope it still holds up...
8) The Cannonball Run (1980) - high spirited silliness but Moore as a Bond type trying to shoot his mother always makes me laugh
9) Interrupted Melody (1955) - Moore isn't very good in his early movies - try getting through something like The Miracle (1959) - and to be honest he's not that great here, but it makes the list because he plays an Aussie (Marjorie Lawrence's brother)
10) The Persuaders (1971) - put in this list to avoid putting in The Saint

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RIP Roger Moore - his memoirs are a grand read and it was lovely how he did all that work for UNESCO...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Movie review - "Cheyenne Autumn" (1964) **

A terrible movie - long, dull, lacking insight or interesting/empathetic characters, full of actors doing "bits". I think even the hardest core John Ford fans struggle to enjoy this.

There are one or two good things. An impressive cast. The colour, A few stylistic compositions of Indians and cavalry standing in line. There's a bad ass moment where James Stewart shoots a cowboy in the foot through his pocket with a hidden gun. And it's John Ford, and you always get something out of a John Ford movie.

But by god was it heavy going. 154 minutes long! You feel every day of that Indian trek.

You get the feeling at the beginning it's going to be a hard slog, with Richard Widmark's narration not really explaining anything we can't figure out, and endless shots of Indians standing around in the hot sun, and badly written and staged love scenes between Widmark and Carroll Baker (I did like him writing his proposal on the blackboard, but there's no heat, no affection, no chemistry between them).

Eventually the Indians make a bolt for it but it's a dull slog. Widmark doesn't have a character so much as a bunch of lines about how much the Indians have suffered and what good fighters they are. Baker just gets lines about how much they have suffered; she accompanies them, basically a saint in training. Gilbert Roland and Ricardo Montalban give interchangeable performances as stoic, noble Indians. Montalban is more of a fighter than Roland I think and there's a plot about Montalban's second wife having the hots for Sal Mineo, which threatens to be vaguely interesting... but Ford trims that to the bone and instead gives us endless - and I mean endless - scenes of men on horses travelling through Monument Valley, or standing on crests of hills.

We also get characters doing "turns". Widmark has a bit of a go at the beginning, then along comes Mike Mazurski (playing the Victor McLaglen role) and he's given a drunken Polish sergeant bit, and some other random actor is given a drunken Irish surgeon bit, then Jimmy Stewart and Arthur Kennedy get an extended bit as Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. Edward G Robinson comes along and does a bit. Ford completists will enjoy seeing people like John Carradine, Ben Johnson and George O'Brien.

There's some action, none of it too memorable - the Indians are said to be good fighters but are never given the opportunity to kick some arse. Their only real victory comes because gung go Patrick Wayne (in a wooden performance) stuffs up(he doesn't even die). They march and starve, and are saved at the end by white men.

I thought at the least they'd get the chance to get some revenge at the viciously racist Texan cowboys who shoot two starving Cheyenne just for fun (an affecting scene even if the cowboys over act). But it never happens. One of them later gets shot by Earp but not because of what they did to the Indians - only because they pick a fight with Earp.

It's an inherently depressing story - the Indians are treated badly, escape north, starve, most of them are massacred at Fort Robinson, and give up. But surely it could have been more interesting/entertaining? It feels like Ford was bending over backwards to show how liberal he had become about the Indians - the main issue is he'd become more dull about them.

Movie review - "Hard to Die" (1990) **

A film so endearingly dopey I wish it was better. There's a really fun back story to it's filming - Jim Wynorski made it in mega quick time to take advantage of some sets which were about to be torn down, and basically remade Sorority House Massacre II... only set in an office complex, and had it be a lingere factory to justify the cast running around in underwear.

Many of the same cast returned, including that girl with the British accent. The story is the same, which isn't necessarily a plus since the original story wasn't that strong. It has to be said, though, that the plot does provide excuses for the female leads to take showers, run around in lingere, get killed. I wish they'd used the subplot about the investigating cop more, or fleshed out (if you'll excuse the pun) the characters more.

Also the film goes on these little detours which sound more interesting than what we're watching - for instance, the bit where they're making a sex film, and Wynorski has a cameo as a director... I would've loved for these people to be characters/victims - to have seen more of these instead of the dull old cop.

But it's hard to dislike the movie - it's done with such high spirits, and a killer who actually tries to help and keeps being killed.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Script review - "Ninotchka" by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch

I always felt this movie was over-praised - I think critics were overwhelmed by the quality of the credits, and the concept of Garbo in a comedy, and the rareness of a successful satire on the Soviets. It's a good script, mind - just overlong, with a vaguely unsatisfying ending.

There is something a little yuck about the tough, no-nonsense woman turning to jelly at the sight of love. But the Soviet regime was pretty horrible, the love scenes are very charming, and I did like how Ninotchka sticks to her mission to retrieve the jewels because her people need it - she never stops being professional.

I adored the flirt stuff between her and Leon - he's a gigolo, basically, she's a hard arse, but she admits she finds him hot from the get-go - women characters in Billy Wilder films often had a strong sex drive. The Soviet stuff provides some wonderful one liners.

On the length stuff - maybe too much time is spent on the three support Bolsheviks, who all tend to blend into one comic character. Maybe we didn't need the late-in-the-day introduction of Ninotchka's flatmate in Moscow, Anna. I understood why it was all there, mind.

Razinin (the part played by Bela Lugosi) is an effective character.  There's a reactionary butler - a very common device from films of this period (maybe to make filmmakers feel better about having them?)

I'm also so relieved all our heroes wind up in Instanbul at the end and not Paris .- if they'd stayed in Paris they would've been shot! And unlike many romantic comedy pairings I could see Ninotchka and Leon making a go of it because she's so sensible she'd ensure any business they did was a success.

Many fine examples of screenwriting in this script - notably a use of Ninotchka's attitude to a hat, to demonstrate falling in love (disdain, disdain, putting the hat on....)

Friday, May 19, 2017

Movie review - "Sorority House Massacre II" (1990) **

I love the story behind this movie - Jim Wynorski knew some sets for some Roger Corman movies were being torn down, so he proposed a movie that could be shot in a week to Julie Corman, and she did it behind Roger's back.

Like the other Wynorski films from this period, it has a nice light touch - they all clearly had fun making it. I'm not really a fan of movies were scantily clad women get sliced up.

There is some fun to be had watching Wynorski come up with excuses for the girls to have showers, and take their clothes of, and stay in the house when there's a maniac running around, and throw in footage from other Corman films to pad out the running time (there's a flashback to another massacre in the house from Slumber Party Massacre and some cops visit a strip club with vision from Stripped to Kill).

But at the end of the day it's a film about women being cut up and I'm just not into them. Also the plot was confusing - I struggled with the logic for a lot of it, and had trouble telling the women apart. The lead has a weird half English accent - I googled her and discovered she was English. She's not a bad actor - ditto Melissa Moore who plays the other main girl. Peter Spellos (who is "Orville Ketchum as himself") looks great but flounders a bit when he's got too much dialogue.

There's some funny jokes and quite spooky scenes, well handled by Wynorski.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Script review - "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" by Billy Wilder and IAL Diamond (warning: spoilers)

I mean, yeah, sure, I guess. It's okay. I still wonder why Wilder bothered. The first act involves a woman wanting Holmes to father her child - which is actually a great idea for a film. But he says no and gets out of it by pretending to be in love with Watson, and refuses to deny he's gay to Watson. Instead of kicking on to a story about that, a whole new story starts up...

The bulk of the story is about an amnesiac woman turning up at Baker Street and Holmes kind of falling for her. There's some good ideas (using Loch Ness, trappist monks), but it all feels hollow because Mycroft Holmes knows all the answers from the get-go, he just doesn't say anything until the end; and Holmes is outsmarted by the woman and Mycroft; and it's about a British sub that is destroyed.

I get that they were trying to subvert Holmes - more drugs, possible gayness, less cleverness. But they don't really go for it, when it comes to subversion - it's all very mild. What if Holmes was gay for Watson? What if he was a moron? What if he was a full on drug addict? They don't do that here. They make him less, smart more gullible - that's all well and good, but it makes him less fun.

This script I read I think was a transcript. I would love to read the original draft, because I understand the final film was much cut about. I had a glimpse of the synopsis for these on wikipedia - it didn't sound that awesome even uncut. I am still unsure why Wilder bothered. A bit of a dud. Needlessly long too.