Now With More Than 3000 Reviews! Go Nuts - Read 'Em All!!

WELCOME! Use the search engines on this site (or your own off-site engine of choice) to gain easy access to the complete MAKSQUIBS Archive; over 2500 posts and counting. (New posts added every day or so.)

You can check on all our titles by typing the Title, Director, Actor or 'Keyword' of your choice in the Search Engine of your choice (include the phrase MAKSQUIBS) or just use the BLOGGER Search Box at the top left corner of the page.

Feel free to place comments directly on any of the film posts and to test your film knowledge with the CONTESTS scattered here & there. (Hey! No Googling allowed. They're pretty easy.)

Send E-mails to MAKSQUIBS@yahoo.com . (Let us know if the TRANSLATE WIDGET works!) Or use the Profile Page or Comments link for contact.

Thanks for stopping by.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

GEGEN DIE WAND / HEAD-ON (2003)

Powerhouse perfs drive Fatih Akin’s film about a pair of German/Turkish manic/depressives who meet-cute in a suicide recovery clinic. Him (Birol Ünel): clean-up guy at a punk/jazz club; survives on beer & cocaine; 40s, with a rock star’s bod & the ravaged looks of a gone-to-seed Jon Bon Jovi. Her (Siebel Kekilli): 20s & delicate; desperate to put some distance between her & a tradition-bound family; hairdresser; one-night stand enthusiast. (These two are no DAVID AND LISA/’62!) In no time, there’s a marriage of convenience, with wary parental approval, and a nearly functioning ‘open’ relationship when they’re not suicidally acting out. Violence, blood & sex tend toward the graphic, yet there’s a jovial spirit between these two; a happy mess, punctuated into chapters with music from a Turkish group serving up songs as commentary in Brechtian mode. A very entertaining package. But halfway in, first Him, then Her, unexpectedly fall in love with each other for real, and the film turns serious, darker & less effective as the weight of the story is no longer supported by Akin’s surface-oriented character construction. Especially true for the young wife whose craziness comes & goes too conveniently. But don’t let that hold you back, too many good things in here, especially from a commandingly demented Birol Ünel.

DOUBLE-BILL: All told, this is a more successful than Akin’s THE EDGE OF HEAVEN/’07, but you’ll still want to see it. More, please.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Akin’s the guy who might have made the English-language GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO remake work.

Monday, May 30, 2016

MAN WITH THE GUN (1955)

In this little Western, the bad guy doesn’t announce his presence by kicking a little boy’s dog . . . he shoots the critter! And in the opening scene! Chalk it up to inexperience from the debuting producer, director & writer, working the old standby plot of a powerful rancher running the bad side of town and now trying to run new settlers off the territory. Robert Mitchum, with NIGHT OF THE HUNTER out the same month, plays an itinerant ‘town tamer,’ a sort of temp sheriff, paid to clean up violent towns with deadly force. He’d really stopped off to ask his ex (Jan Sterling) about their 5-yr-old daughter. But if you’re the right man, at the right place, at the right time; might as well get the job done . . . right. Director/co-scripter Richard Wilson, long-time Orson Welles associate on his first solo flight, doesn’t give himself much to work with until the third act when the town saloon catches fire and he sets up a complicated fugal shoot-out. If only he had the technical chops to make it sizzle, or to get more from his supporting cast. (Though an unexpected treat’s on hand in young Angie Dickinson, fine, dandy & uncredited.) Worth a look for Lee Garmes’ gorgeous, textured cinematography, with frames within frames, shot thru various layers of screens, curtains & veils for a range of grain densities, often within a single composition. Less successful, Alex North’s ill-suited score. Something newbie producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. should have taken care of; along with the poor dog. (Note better title on our Brit Poster.)

DOUBLE-BILL: Mitchum’s has many strong Westerns from his early years. Nifty programmers like NEVADA/’44; psychologically tortured in PURSUED/’47; with a literary slant in THE RED PONY/’49; or as musical as RACHEL AND THE STRANGER’48. But try Robert Wise’s BLOOD ON THE MOON/’48 (not seen here) for another Cattlemen vs Homesteaders tale.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: This looks like one more film from early WideScreen days shot in Academy Ratio (1..37:1) but probably cropped a bit (to 1.66:1?) for a theatrical run. Kino Lorber’s DVD is anamorphic, unstretching to 1.85:1, and making the framing look noticeably tight.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

MINIONS (2015)

More ADHD fun from the DESPICABLE ME gang, a sort of backstory prequel on those yellow, pill-shaped assistant critters. It’s pretty relentless stuff, like an animated sugar-high for the pre-school crowd, but with surprisingly witty gags for the grown-ups tossed in the mix via ‘60s Pop (music clearance rights must have cost as much as animation), along with a few good jokes found among signage, decor & extras. (Not the crappy reference snark of a typical DreamWorks’ product.) It’s fun to see so much plot carried out in unintelligible Minion-Speak; and note that the animators don’t cheat by relying on their starry and talented voice cast for easy recognition points or for borrowing jokey personality traits. Still, pretty thin stuff most of the way.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: The DVD transfer is unusually bright, headachy bright. Perhaps this was originally done to alleviate the 3D projection darkening everyone complains about. Why it couldn’t be adjusted down a notch or two for non-3D DVD viewing is puzzling.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

The Monday post-mortem after this heavily-hyped fledgling franchise failed to fly must have been brutal for execs @ Warner Bros. Who to blame? Stars unable to open a film? Political intrigue, fashion & style from the ‘60s without a target audience? Not enough CGI action? Too much CGI action? Actually, the answer is staring right at you; or is about halfway in, when a chase sequence gives way to a neat set piece involving a trapped speedboat, a factory truck and a nighttime snack. Suddenly, Guy Ritchie’s over-busy megging settles in for a slightly absurd, yet just believable, action sequence that plays out in its own good time & terms. Then, for a couple of reels or so, events run the show and we’re allowed to watch them unfold. Briefly, the film blooms into just the sort of dapper spy action yarn it seems to be aiming at. The basic idea not so much to revive the old Spy vs Spy tv series, but to go back to the days when James Bond & his ilk were less dour & more fun. Think THUNDERBALL/’65.* But too soon, everyone again starts pushing movie-star entitlement coolness at us (note the poster; is there anything less cool, than announcing you’re cool?), plus the film & cast catch a terrible case of the cutes. You’re left yawning; noting how unexpectedly short Henry Cavill looks as American agent Napoleon Solo; how uncomfortably tall Russkie agent Armie Hammer is; and that Hugh Grant pops up in a role once played by 78 yr-old Leo G. Carroll . . . and you get horribly depressed.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Might as well revisit THUNDERBALL, to see the sort of snazzy glam they’re shooting for. Just be aware it’s also the movie where the James Bond Bloat began.

Friday, May 27, 2016

DELI MAN (2014)

Reasonably tasty little documentary from Erik Anjou about a handful of traditional Jewish Delicatessens keeping the old values & recipes alive for new generations. Unlike Kosher Franks, it’s not without filler, but a decent chew on the meat-to-bun ratio. The main focus is on Ziggy Gruber, the knish-shaped owner/cook of Kenny & Ziggy’s in Houston, TX (of all places), an amusing guy with an amusing life story. But the standout spot’s got to be Ben’s Best in Rego Park Queens, even if they don’t hand-slice. (But why include Artie’s? A decent enough Upper West Side Manhattan place, but only six & a half blocks from the fabulous original 1930s interiors of Barney Greengrass, Manhattan’s go-to smoked fish deli.) And a trade-off between customer kibbitzing and a proper survey of behind-the-counter offerings also couldn’t have hurt. (Not everyone knows that Barney Greengrass whitefish salad is what Jehovah eats in place of tuna salad; or that what looks like a deeply unappetizing hunk of cow flesh is smoked tongue; properly sliced, bologna for the Gods.)

DOUBLE-BILL: Woody Allen’s BROADWAY DANNY ROSE/’84, one of his mid-career delights, is told in flashback by a bunch of comedy kibbitzers hanging out in the Carnegie Deli.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Jerry Stiller brings up deli fanatic Zero Mostel, but neglects to mention Mostel’s classic line on pastrami & other Romania delicacies, ‘Killed more Jews than Hitler.’

Thursday, May 26, 2016

THE FRONT (1976)

Released in the patriotic bicentennial year of 1976, this straightforward/single-minded anti-cautionary tale about the ‘Hollywood’ Blacklist of the 1950s (East Coast division) boasts a handful of real-life victims in director (Martin Ritt), scripter (Walter Bernstein) and cast members (like Zero Mostel & Herschel Bernardi), but is mainly the story of a schlemiel who becomes a mensch (Woody Allen in a rare outside gig). Cashier & small-time bookie, he’s approached by old school pal Michael Murphy, a recently blacklisted tv writer, to act as his ‘front’ at the network. Allen gets a commission, a literary rep, a sophisticated girlfriend, and a bit of a swelled head out of the deal, then winds up ‘fronting’ for a trio of writers before finding he too has been caught up in the witch-hunting vortex. The scope of the film is probably too narrow to do justice to the personal compromises of the period (though it doesn’t cop out on the victims’ political sympathies), but it also neither oversells its small noble gestures nor condemns the weak. (A bit more rhythm in Ritt’s helming wouldn’t have hurt.) And Bernstein comes up with a sweet, ironic finale that’s graceful & succinct; lit from the outside by Michael Chapman’s fine, period lensing style, and from the inside by a great Frank Sinatra tune.

DOUBLE-BILL: The recent TRUMBO/’15 (not seen here) works the same subject out on the West Coast. For a real look at the issue, try YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG/’09, about the rise and fall of tv’s remarkable Gertrude Berg.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: Though not without moments of self-glorification, Lillian Hellman’s SCOUNDREL TIME covers this ground pretty well.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956)

A Sci-Fi version of Shakespeare’s THE TEMPEST is such a nifty idea, it almost makes up for the dull, dull CinemaScope megging of Fred M. Wilcox, a specialist in kiddie weepies with Lassie or Margaret O’Brien. Still, many of the effects still look pretty cool: like animated electro-surge blasts and some stupendous matte paintings to suggest miles of underground laboratories. In this telling, Walter Pidgeon’s Dr. Morbius, who rules over his ultra-advanced planet with only a daughter & a dutiful robot, is more megalomaniac Captain Nemo than a proper Prospero, but the rest of the characters line up pretty accurately with the play: Anne Francis - Miranda; Leslie Nielsen - Ferdinand; Earl Holliman - Stefano and Trinculo; Robbie the Robot - Ariel. And, in the most intriguing rethink, the wild Caliban (who Shakespeare probably thought of as Native American after reports coming from Virginia) is a sort of ectoplasmatic charge of dynamic energy, subconsciously generated out of Pidgeon’s ‘id.’ Lively thinking, but too often buried under hideous set & color-design, flat dialogue with acting to match (though hubba-hubba for the young Anne Francis), and Wilcox’s edit-shy mid-range shooting style. (The soporific electronic score doesn’t help, either.) But lots of fun for ‘50s Sci-Fi fanciers in a rare big budget for the genre at the time; and useful as a sort of CliffsNotes for any Star Trek oriented Shakespearean.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: The script really misses a trick when Holliman sneaks off to collect a batch of illicit whiskey, courtesy of Robbie the Robot. In the original, Stefano & Trinculo get plastered with Caliban. Zounds!, what a challenge for this adaptation since the monster is pure thought & energy, without tangible mass. Literally unable to hold his liquor.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: TV versions of THE TEMPEST have played things ‘straight,’ but film adaptations can’t leave well enough alone. Gender reversals, modernizations, one-man recitations, played as a Western . . . the works. Or rather, everything but the work. Frustrating.

DOUBLE-BILL: Hardcore RtR fans can see Robbie go out of control in THE INVISIBLE BOY/’57; OR: In a Jose Ferrer episode of COLUMBO - ‘Mind Over Mayhem,’ where he’s programmed by a little boy genius boy cheekily named ‘Steve Spelberg.’

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

TRADER HORN (1931)

Movie mavens will know the distinctive stance John Wayne holds for a melancholy moment at the end of John Ford’s THE SEARCHERS/’56; in a doorframe, left hand crossed over to hold the right arm (see below).  It was the signature pose of Harry Carey, regular star of Ford’s early silent Western serials and of this early Talkie, a rare big-budget pic for the fading star. Set in what used to be called Darkest Africa, Carey actually doesn’t strike his signature pose here. Instead, we get the basic plot of THE SEARCHERS! Carey’s in the John Wayne spot, heading into uncharted native territory as the Great White Ivory Trader; Duncan Renaldo is his handsome young partner (Mexican instead of Jeffrey Hunter’s half-Native American); and Edwina Booth is the abducted white child they’re searching for. Stolen by an African tribe, she’s been raised in their customs and now that she’s grown, worshiped as some sort of White Goddess. We even get a noble African gun-bearer (Mutia Omoolu, superb in his only film appearance) to match up with THE SEARCHERS' wise fool Mose Harper (Hank Worden). No wonder Ford cast Harry Carey’s wife & son in his Western 25 years on. So, is the old antique adventure any good? Not so easy to answer. With filming begun in Africa, then completed in the States & Mexico (where M-G-M could do as they pleased staging deadly wild animal hunts and such), it’s a mixed bag. Some laughable undercranking and stagy acting hurt the cause, and too much African location footage has doubles in for the leads. But there’s also some astounding animal footage from the ‘30s, along with shocking trophy hunting. One lion ‘gets it’ bullfight style with a wooden spear. Real horror; real thrills. But the editors & director W. S. ‘Woody’ Van Dyke do pull things together, especially for a third act escape where wildlife and cannibals have to be fought off without weapons. In moments like that, the film builds up a sort of daredevil-may-care flair, and an antique charm worth seeing . . . once.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957)

Billy Wilder’s tribute pic to his Hollywood mentor, Ernst Lubitsch*, wound up being less and more than he expected when ever youthful Cary Grant declined the lead and a rapidly aging Gary Cooper took the part. An already risky story (rich American roué falls into a lighthearted affair with Audrey Hepburn’s slip of a girl, unaware he’s a regular subject in the files of her father, private investigator Maurice Chevalier) never quite finds the mixed tone Wilder is trying for (smutty/comic/lyrical). Instead, something deeper comes up, with Cooper bringing out strains of mortality on every camera trick designed to camouflage the lovers unsettling age difference. Chevalier, closing in on 70, looks better than Coop @ 55. He also gives the film’s best perf, anchored by Wilder & co-scripter I.A.L. Diamond in a miraculous little speech to his daughter upon ‘gifting’ her with a dossier on her boyfriend. (Next year’s triumph in GIGI/’58 shows him playing the roué role himself.) For Wilder, the film feels atypically personal (he’d been a dance hall gigolo back in Weimar Berlin), only matched by his script for HOLD BACK THE DAWN/’41. Unsuccessful upon release, it still splits audiences. (Except for its oft-excerpted, emotionally overwhelming train station finale, backed by Franz Waxman’s stunning underscoring.) An uncomfortable near-masterpiece, and much loved by a few.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Lubitsch scripter Samson Raphaelson put his finger on a major difference between Ernst & Billy noting that a gag in this film where lovers in a clinch don’t notice the street watering truck spraying them misses the ‘Lubitsch Touch.’ He’d have shut off the water jets for just the moment of passing, as if l’amour had infected the truck.

DOUBLE-BILL: Next year brought another nakedly personal commercial disappointment in Alfred Hitchcock’s VERTIGO/’58. And again, a poor initial reception was blamed, at least by its director, on his prematurely aging star.

Friday, May 20, 2016

THE MARTIAN (2015)

It must have been ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS in development . . . development 1964 when that title was first used. Or maybe MACGYVER ON MARS, which is even closer to the mark. No? Well then, SAVING ASTRONAUT RYAN . . . ON MARS. And why not?, those three titles are exactly what this big, friendly hit turns out to be. What’s not mentioned is that for all of director Ridley Scott’s technical bling and production savvy, with a large & starry cast as NASA colleagues, everybody’s paycheck is all but entirely earned by Matt Damon as the left-for-dead spaceman. And it’s tough to imagine more pleasant company. It’s also hard to see much in this over-produced, over-extended film that Damon mightn’t have accomplished all by his lonesome on stage, with a spotlight, an open script to read from and a few slide projections of the red planet; everything else is mere window dressing. Director Scott, as ever, visually strong/all-thumbs on story, has little talent for handling the script’s try for swift & wild changes in tone. (Just getting Kristen Wiig & Jeff Daniels in the same shot befuddles him.) So, from the narrative kick-off sequence of a storm on Mars (a mess of information without horror or wonderment), to the pile-on climax (with multiple problems solved lickety-split on the fly), it’s too hard to swallow. More Marvel Comic than Mars Saga.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Why the buzz on Jessica Chastain? Once again, so earnestly sincere she’s a pain. (And did anyone else spend the whole film thinking Sean Bean was Eddie Izzard?)

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Considering how fit Damon had to get for this, is it any wonder he thought that now, after a decade off, was the right time pick up the BOURNE franchise mantle?

Thursday, May 19, 2016

SIU LAM JUK KAU / SHAOLIN SOCCER (2001)

Stephen Chow is typically winning as a down-and-out Kung-Fu master (Shaolin style . . . whatever that is) who hopes to apply his Martial Arts discipline to all sorts of everyday activities: street food preparation, pedestrian accidents, conflict resolution, even soccer! The ensuing mayhem is more hit-and-miss (not to say juvenile) than necessary, but often enough rises to satisfying levels of absurd slapstick hilarity; with goofy CGI effects adding to the fun. Special treats include a club act for Chow & one of his many soccer-playing siblings singing ‘Shaolin-tastic’ lyrics to the tune of ‘California Dreaming,’ and a series of tag endings showing how Shaolin Kung Fu could work on the streets of Hong Kong in the near future. Note how Chow pulls an unexpected Good Guy/Bad Guy switcheroo in the turnabout-is-fair-play prologue. As if he changed his mind once he started filming.

DOUBLE-BILL: Chow turned up the dial in just about every category for KUNG FU HUSTLE/’04, his next as star/writer/director/producer.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

THE REDHEAD FROM WYOMING (1953)

Frustrating B+ Western for Maureen O’Hara wastes a good story, decent production values and a good (tv-centric) cast with story construction that doesn’t add up & faceless, blandly efficient megging from prolific Lee Sholem. In a highly TechniColored Hollywood Wyoming*, established cattle barons are prepping for a range war against upstart settlers, novices grabbing unclaimed maverick cows off open territory. (It's a switch from the usual homestead farmers.) Playing both sides against the middle is William Bishop, a smooth operator who hopes the ensuing blood & chaos will leave him a path to the Governorship. For help, and camouflage, he’s brought in an old flame, flashy saloon proprietor O’Hara who he also uses as a front for an undercover cattle rustling scam. Too bad Maureen can’t see she’s got a natural ally in local Sheriff Alex Nicol; both too busy fighting off a case of mutual attraction. The little-remembered Nicol is very good here, with a laid-back style that balances O’Hara’s flame-throwing ways. Plus, he gets to play our favorite character, the underachiever who gets a second chance, unaware he’s been hired to fail, then comes up with the goods in the clutch. Plenty to work with in here, but the film chugs along on autopilot.

DOUBLE-BILL: O’Hara, co-starring with James Stewart & Brian Keith, wasted another good Western idea in THE RARE BREED/’66. It’s got an even better story (English widow brings a superior breed of cattle to America) and even worse direction.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *With Hollywood beginning its switch to various real & knock-off EastmanColor Tri-Pac systems, Winton Hoch (John Ford’s preferred color cinematographer) seems to be trying to use up all the leftover dye in the TechniColor labs on this one film.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

FUNERAL IN BERLIN (1966)

Trying to split the difference between the spy worlds of larkish James Bond and serious John le Carré espionage, this second Harry Palmer thriller (of three) comes up neither fish nor fowl. It’s handsome, believable and just a tad dull. The Len Deighton story about a putative big-shot Russkie defector, seen darkly thru Harry Palmer’s black-framed glasses, feels not so much complicated as needlessly obfuscated by Israeli agents intersecting on the case for reasons of their own. With sharp location work and a cast that avoids the usual suspects, it probably holds up better than THE IPCRESS FILE/’65, its more popular predecessor. No doubt also helped by James Bond director Guy Hamilton’s less overwrought angles & compositions compared to Sidney J. Furie’s work on the first film. The real change came on the third & last in the series, when Ken Russell came on board to direct BILLION DOLLAR BRAIN/’67 in his loopy manner. Too way out for its day, BRAIN, once it locates the pulse of its subversive tone, now looks best of the lot, though it remains the least popular.

DOUBLE-BILL: In addition to the two Harry Palmers mentioned above, watch Caine work both sides of the spy street (le Carré vs Bond) in back-to-back projects: THE WHISTLE BLOWER/’86 and THE FOURTH PROTOCOL/’87. Without appearing to do anything much different in the films, he somehow gets completely different effects.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

SPECTRE (2015)

Making this James Bond film must have been one long, exhausting slog. And the result looks it. The payoff to this joyless bit of grey matter? Just about the limpest climax in Bond history. (And it’s not even the real climax!) With a consistently drab tonal scale holding tight to a forlorn, if unearned seriousness, it’s not only the color that’s been drained out of this one.

CONTEST: Even as Bond pics go, there’s an unusually heavy load of self-referential stunts, gags, dialogue & weaponized ‘toys.’ (It's less screenplay than eulogy.) Same for Thomas Newman’s score; endless variations on classic Bond themes when he’s not mindlessly tom-tomming up tension. So why lift a major story point straight out of classic Alfred Hitchcock? Name the steal to win a MAKSQUIBS Write-Up of your choosing. HINT: Think ‘50s Paramount.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: You know a change in the Bondian guard is coming when 007 keeps his shirt on even in bed. Daniel Craig established his Bond bona fides a decade ago, striding out of the water in nothing but a groin hugging ‘Speedo.’ No more. Four films and out.

Friday, May 13, 2016

CHAHARSHANBE-SOORI / FIREWORKS WEDNESDAY (2006)

Here, as in ABOUT ELLY/’09, A SEPARATION/’11 and THE PAST/’13, writer/director Asghar Farhadi uses his favored narrative technique of incremental revelations to shift the narrative winds & keep us guessing. In this early feature, a constant eruption of Tehran New Year’s celebrations jar from every street corner as a young bride starts a new job cleaning the apartment of a squabbling, near irrational couple. The place, a mess from a recent, violent dispute, barely gets touched before the young woman finds herself caught up in a series of half-truths, running ‘special favors’ for one spouse or the other that could well implicate her in some fresh deceit. Like the couple’s young son, she winds up stuck in the middle. But as one side tugs against the other, Farhadi brings in his dramatic masterstroke and has the girl drop neutrality to take sides. Audience surrogate or scheming participant? Technically, the film is less polished then Farhadi’s later work, and shows the strain of keeping all the pieces of his puzzle moving each deception along. Like a not quite air-tight ‘well-made’ play, you hear the gears grind. But even when it’s too tricked up for its own good, the portrait of stressful modern city life among a certain level of middle/upper-middle class Iranian society is striking.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: Farhadi’s best balanced film remains A SEPARATION, but he’s got to break out of this structural vise of reverses & revelations before it becomes a crutch.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

F FOR FAKE (1973)

No one has quite figured out what this late Orson Welles project is . . . let alone if it’s any good. At heart, an inventive deconstruction of François Reichenbach’s documentary about famed art forger Elmyr de Hory, it doubles back on itself in two ways (triples back?). First, using interviews with Hory biographer Clifford Irving (himself only recently exposed as a literary forger with a phony ‘as-told-to’ Howard Hughes bio) and second, with bemused comments on magic & veracity from dear Orson, himself, that most misleading of obedient servants. All tricked up with a sophisticated/obfuscating editing technique that must have seemed discombobulated at the time, but is no longer particularly difficult to decipher. Welles, once again 40 years ahead of his time. (Unfortunately, Welles lets the fun run out, tacking on an extra 20 minutes with a needless digression into something or other about Picasso. (To get it up to feature-length for a sale?) So, to get back to our initial question, what exactly is this? Often called a documentary; it’s not. Or an essay film. Again, no. What it is, of all things, is a palimpsest. A what? A palimpsest. Sort of a reused, or repurposed, old manuscript that’s been turned into something else from what it was.* And whatever it is, it’s quite entertaining . . . two-thirds of the way. (Note the lie on our poster!)

DOUBLE-BILL/READ ALL ABOUT IT/SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: *Jean-Jacques Annaud’s so-so version of Umberto Eco’s THE NAME OF THE ROSE actually calls itself a palimpsest. (It’s not.) On the other hand, Gore Vidal gets away with calling his elegantly modest memoir PALIMPSEST. Which leads us to Vidal’s superb essay collection, UNITED STATES, and its sweetly touching, often hilarious remembrance of his long friendship with Welles.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

PRZYPADEK / BLIND CHANCE (1981)

Filmed in 1981, but held back until 1987, Polish writer-director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s once censored film has been largely restored on Criterion DVD, now making it a fitting partner to Kieslowski’s best, including A SHORT FILM ABOUT LOVE/’88 and BLUE/’93. It hardly starts (or ends) well, opening on a primal scream/closing with a bang when we need a whimper. But if the cliché bookends are mistakes (and they are, they are!), everything in-between rings true, charting a fascinating side-angle view of the premature/temporary breakdown in Poland’s Communist regime just as the Solidarity Movement was aborning. The film charts three possible storylines for charismatic med student Boguslaw Linda; three ‘what-if’ paths for a young man first seen barely catching the train to Warsaw where he’ll work on changing society from the inside, a loyal government over-achiever. It all comes to nought. Then, a replay where he just misses the train only to crash & burn as a radical working to change society by stealth from the secret underground. It all comes to nought. Finally, after again missing the train, bumping into the girl of his dreams and finding a happiness that makes him refuse to work either for or against change. Instead, tend to your garden and make it grow. And it still all comes to nought. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t; damned if you don’t care, says K. In theory, the film should have lost its punch once the debate & emotion of early Solidarity days passed. But unlike the work of fellow Pole Andrzej Wajda, Kieslowski was the real deal as filmmaker; and even with a few dates & details unclear to non-Poles, the film is as suggestive and moving as it ever was. And exceptionally well personified in the tellingly open gaze of Boguslaw Linda’s expressive eyes. If only we could lop off those two awful bookend shots!

DOUBLE-BILL: Other films stole K’s idea of a future determined by whether you made or missed a train. SLIDING DOORS/’98 (not seen here) is probably the best known.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

QUN LONG XI FENG / PEDICAB DRIVER (1989)

Cinematic agnostics to Asian Martial Arts pics, with their hyped-up chases, flying acrobatic fights & OTT sound design, may find a path to genre appreciation thru the form’s comic side. (When played straight, especially with today’s CGI nullifying physical limitations, emotional investment becomes Super Hero pic pointless.) Hence, in the tradition of agile funny fat men going back to Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle, here’s Sammo Kam-Bo Hung, a Hong Kong force-of-nature action star little known Stateside. PEDICAB, reportedly one of his best, is crude, rude & a bit lewd, but often very funny in its broader-than-broad manner. Or is until a third act brings in unexpectedly serious consequences. Hung, not the tidiest of storytellers, drops plotlines right & left, like the war between coolies & pedicabs that opens the film with some delightful mayhem. Instead, a loose cannon of a narrative line involving Hung & his pal Pretty Boy as they court a couple of put-upon working gals with bad bosses. (Leading to a tragic turn of events the film’s tone has trouble supporting.) But with so many wildly inventive, funny, dazzling stunt-filled capers, you’re happy just going along for the ride. Subtle it ain’t, but strikingly drawn characters and Hung’s brio as unlikely action hero/director carry us thru all sorts of comic business and turf-wars. Sloppy, but winning.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

EX MACHINA (2015)

Well-received Sci-Fi/A.I. thriller (a tricky New Technology mash-up of THE MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM/’33 and SLEUTH/’72*) has ‘gone off’ faster than unrefrigerated fish in August. A debut directing gig for the strained intellectual stylings of screenwriter (and Kubrick wannabee?) Alex Garland, its studied art layout look is too idiotic & slow moving to take seriously. (Imagine a student graduation film mentored by Steven Soderbergh & M. Night Shyamalan.) The much touted Domhnall Gleeson is fine (if bonelessly thin) as the geeky computer programming wiz who wins a week’s stay at the ultra-isolated retreat of creepy master-of-the-digital-universe type Oscar Isaac. (Note to Mr. Isaac: you don’t have the smooth cranium for that near shaved-head look.) These two dance around deep-think issues between interview sessions for Gleeson and sexy replicant Alicia Vikander. Just how real is this robot’s cognition? By the last act, the story has boiled down to our favorite storyline (guy gets job because he’s not quite up to it, then turns the tables on expectations by coming thru with the goods), and is still a load of manure. On the other hand, kind of fitting to have so much artificial intelligence (the other kind) on display.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: In addition to the worst use ever of Schubert's final tragic piano sonata (the one in B Flat Major), the film’s ‘original’ score nabs a near quote from the 'contact' motto in CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND/’77; listen to the bell chimes in the main theme.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: *Many WAX MUSEUM adaptations have been made over the years, but the original two-strip TechniColor beauty from 1933 retains its distinctively odd tone. (Skip SLEUTH).

Saturday, May 7, 2016

CITY GIRL (1930)

After earning critical acclaim, but only moderate coin on SUNRISE/’27, his Hollywood debut (and still on any 'Best Of . . . ' short list), German director F. W. Murnau quickly found his carte blanche contract status at crisis-ridden FOX studios less blanche than promised. His next, the circus drama 4 DEVILS/’28, now lies among the missing, but one last silent triumphantly survives. Converted, without Murnau’s participation, into a shortened sound version (now lost), the silent release, at about 90 minutes, looks nearly complete (the end perhaps slightly truncated) and flat out wonderful. It’s also in superb physical condition on a stand alone DVD via 20th/Fox-Archives with a fine new country-flavored score from Christopher Caliendo. Like SUNRISE, the story is a simple affair (country boy meets & marries city girl/city girl adjusts to country life) visually orchestrated by a total master of the medium. But where the earlier film still had one foot planted in Europe, GIRL is both all-wonderful and excitingly All-American. The only debate possible is whether the opening city-based act or the last two rural-set acts are more revelatory. The stunningly well-executed diner where the two meet; the lonely, infinitely expressive apartment where the girl lives with a wind-up mechanical songbird; a startling sexually suggestive run thru ripe wheat fields*; the rush to bring in the harvest before a raging storm arrives. (You can feel the plug being pulled before that storm has a chance to come in and bust the budget.) As the waitress turned bride, Mary Duncan is a remarkably modern presence, a spit-curled beauty who can stand up for herself. And Charles Farrell, immensely appealing as the handsome son not yet able to take on his ornery dad (David Torrence). But then, every actor, every piece of the meticulous sets, every pause, parry & punctuation; most of all every composition (portrait & landscape) is the stuff of movie magic & legend. And if it’s not quite the supreme masterpiece SUNRISE is . . . well, what the heck is.

DOUBLE-BILL: *Ripe fields of wheat have a similar erotic effect on Miriam Hopkins & Franchot Tone in King Vidor’s superb rural romance THE STRANGER’S RETURN/’33, still not out on DVD.

Friday, May 6, 2016

LES TRIBULATIONS DE CHINOIS EN CHINE / UP TO HIS EARS (1965)

A companion piece to the far superior THAT MAN IN RIO/’64, this follow-up reunites director Philippe de Broca with his athletic star Jean-Paul Belmondo in an even broader comic adventure. But straining to top the earlier film, everything now feels forced, with actors trying too hard to be funny. The story, taken ever so loosely from a Jules Verne novel, is the old saw about hiring a hit man to take yourself out, then having circumstances change without being able to put a hold on the contract. Here, complications include a lost fortune, a two million dollar short-term life insurance policy and a prearranged marriage. Jean-Paul has to spend the rest of the film running around the world in 30 days trying to keep ahead of various assassins. Along the way, he finds love (in the form of Ursula Andress), loyalty (from valet Jean Rochefort in the film’s best perf), and stunt-filled close-calls at every turn (many exceedingly well-staged). But it’s less non-stop adventure then cul-de-sac burnout.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: Go first with THAT MAN IN RIO/’64. In France, they count admissions rather than grosses. (So much easier to compare over the years!) EARS, with a little under 3 mill in sales, RIO just under 5 mill. And 2 million absent Frenchmen can't be wrong, non? (Figures from IMDb.com)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

CHINA CLIPPER (1936)

Fictionalized account of the team that created the famous China Clipper, a sort of luxury boat with wings that expanded commercial aviation by flying in stages across the Pacific. (It’s what got Pan-Am going. See the cool posters below - click to enlarge.) B-pic director Ray Enright, with a solid B+ budget, has a good cast on the male side, but a remarkably uneventful story. Pat O’Brien is the hard-nosed company head, putting friendship, romance, even loyalty to the side in his single-minded pursuit to get things off the ground . . . and he does! That’s about it on the story-arc side. But what makes the film worth a look is how it reflects on a few personal issues. There’s Henry B. Walthall, a leading man from 1908 on, here in his last role. Only 58, but looking as if he couldn’t cast a shadow, he fell ill on the set, dying almost precisely as his character does in the film story. Then there’s light comic supporting man Ross Alexander, working a running gag about chasing off the unwanted attentions of man-hungry Marie Wilson. A closeted gay actor on his way out @ Warners, he’d suicide the following year. Most of all, there’s an unexpectedly raw depiction of the troubled marriage between O’Brien and little remembered Beverly Roberts. This is almost certainly personal shit from the life of the physically disabled aviator/scripter Frank ‘Spig’ Wead, using a relationship that would receive fuller attention & development in John Ford’s deeply felt, wildly uneven THE WINGS OF EAGLES/’57.*



DOUBLE-BILL: *As mentioned, WINGS OF EAGLES/’57; a unique film from any standpoint, half boisterous flyboy Air Force drama/half blistering Scenes From A Marriage reportage.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

BREAKER MORANT (1980)

With this fiercely admired war drama, Bruce Beresford came on-board as the most conventional of the handful of directors who belatedly led Australian cinema onto the international scene in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. (Others included Peter Weir, Fred Schepisi & George Miller.) The fact-based Boer War story covers the court-martial proceedings against three Aussie lieutenants charged with executing prisoners in the field. While the larger purpose is to use the trial, and its preordained outcome, as a sop to the German Kaiser so he’ll keep his forces out of a war that’s winding up. In other words, it’s a set-up, with ‘honest’ soldiers taking the fall for following pointedly ambiguous instructions from their superiors. The problem is that the film, good as it often is, is also a set-up, siding against the establishment by making them all ghastly hypocrites. Overkill, since we’re already on the soldiers’ side. And also because there’s actually much to be said on both sides on the issues, a moral complexity for a G. B. Shaw or a Tom Stoppard to work thru. Instead, Beresford irons out intellectual wrinkles and cues our response. (At one point, he actually has the lead prosecutor twirl his mustache.) Very near the thudding rhetorical importance of a Stanley Kramer movie summation. Fortunately, Beresford is a far livelier, more technically assured helmer than Kramer. So, with help from Donald McAlpine’s handsome lensing, and a host of near-legendary perfs out of Edward Woodward, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown, et al., the film is pretty devastating while you are watching. The questions come later.

DOUBLE-BILL: Chances are, Beresford is a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s imposing WWI drama PATHS OF GLORY/’57.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

DIAMOND HEAD (1963)

Piffle, but popular Hawaiian soaper, one of the year’s top grossers, with Charlton Heston, in one of his better contemporary roles lording it over his pineapple plantation paradise (as well as the rest of the cast). Tipped for a U.S. senate run, he’s tripped up by his sister’s engagement to a native Hawaiian son (Yvette Mimieux; James Darren). Chuck’s not having it, even though his mistress, a Hawaiian of Japanese extract (France Nuyen), is having his own unwanted child! Hmm, where, oh, where could this be going? Complicating factors for the widower Heston include Elizabeth Allen’s romantically attached sister-in-law and local boy Darren’s older half-brother George Chakiris, also with eyes for Yvette. Soggy stuff, helped a bit by local color & spectacular scenery, and not so much by Guy Green’s routine megging. But what to make of Aline MacMahon (mom to Darren & Chakiris) in swarthy make-up and James Darren barely boasting a tan as the film’s two ‘pure-blood’ Hawaiians. It’s not so much that it’s late-in-the-day for this sort of Caucasian-only casting, but that race issues are the only thing moving the plot. Lose that and you’ve got nothing to play against.* So, when Mimieux & Darren work up a sweat at their engagement party doing a traditional frenzied sexual native dance, the only taboo being broken is the one about stiff white guys doing the native twerk shuffle.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Even back in 1937, THE HURRICANE found a leading man in Jon Hall, son of an actual Tahitian princess. On the other hand, just last year, ALOHA got into trouble using Emma Stone as a mixed-race Hawaiian.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Chakiris soon slipped from features to tv, succumbing to the infamous Supporting Actor Oscar® curse just five years after WEST SIDE STORY/’61. Somehow, he lost dramatic ballast when he wasn’t dancing.

Monday, May 2, 2016

TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH (1949)

Handsome, thoughtful Loneliness-of-Command WWII pic doesn’t win any awards for originality, but is uncommonly effective, with everyone involved underplaying to the top of their form. Gary Merrill’s the burnt-out Colonel who’s grown too close to his airmen and started to make decisions based on sentiment. Gregory Peck’s the General above him, reluctantly brought in to inject a relentless sort of faceless discipline that puts the mission (daylight sorties across the Channel) ahead of individuals. It’s one tough call after another, and resented all ‘round. He gets quick results, but at what cost? To the men; and to himself. Henry King, a perpetually underrated director who also brought a kind of faceless discipline to the job, gets gravitas without losing pace.* (Even with no background score over 2+ hours, the film really moves.) While ace lenser Leon Shamroy shows how much he learned from the work of William Wyler & Gregg Toland, director & D.P. on BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES/’46. The verisimilitude is both believable and admirable, without throwing too much Greatest Generation pablum at us. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck saved that sort of cooked up reverence for some of his other big WWII pics, like THE LONGEST DAY/’62. This one’s infinitely better; sober, somber, consistently involving, loaded with touching human moments and with the action served on the side.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: *Henry King probably did his best work in the silents. But his better sound-era work tends to get critically smothered by a few deadly prestige items Zanuck assigned to him.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

GUNGA DIN (1939)

For anyone who doesn’t break out in P.C. hives over British Rah Rah Raj attitude, this lightly played colonial epic remains one terrific action/adventure pic. Scripters Charles MacArthur & Ben Hecht glanced at the famous Rudyard Kipling poem about a courageously loyal native water-bearer . . . and decided to rework their own THE FRONT PAGE, swapping out Chicago for India, then splitting the controlling Walter Burns character into Victor McLaglen & Cary Grant*, still scheming to stop Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (in the Hildy Johnson spot) from quitting them to marry lovely young Joan Fontaine. The film has a loosey-goosey feel, unusual for ‘39, maybe because director George Stevens started shooting as Joel Sayre & Fred Guiol reworked the script, adding huge set pieces of serried ranks assembled, swarming troop attacks, religious cult rituals & reckless acts of bravery, all neatly integrated, all stunningly lensed by Joseph August. (Check out those dark, interior Temple of Death scenes.) Stevens, who got his start making Laurel & Hardy shorts, could never resist tossing in comedy routines that flatlined without Stan & Ollie to play them (here, a tedious ‘spiked’ punch routine), but it’s the only misfire. Everything else is colossally entertaining, with Grant in a particular state of near bliss, whinnying like a horse as he shows how to turn physical slapstick into something elegantly natural.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/DOUBLE-BILL: *Grant did play newspaper editor Burns the next year in HIS GIRL FRIDAY/’40; and for Howard Hawks who had originally been set to direct this. OR: George Lucas & Steven Spielberg must have gone deep GUNGA DIN before making INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM/’84.

ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: Much in the way HOW TO MARRY A MILLIONAIRE/’53 frees Marilyn Monroe for one of her least self-conscious, most delightful perfs by having Betty Grable play the ‘dumb blonde’ (Marilyn’s the vain one), so too is Cary Grant freed with Douglas Fairbanks Jr in as 'most dashingly handsome' (the role Cary turned down), opting instead for devil-may-care roughhouse.