Saturday, April 2, 2011

First-Time Viewings (March, 2011)

March turned out to be a pretty active film-watching month for me. Here are my quick thoughts on the older and newer films that I caught up with for the first time.

30 is a Dangerous Age Cynthia ***1/2
Following the incredible Bedazzled was no easy challenge, but Dudley Moore gave it his all with 30 is a Dangerous Age Cynthia, a film that also features Moore's own script and score. Suzy Kendall co-stars and, while it isn’t quite the film Bedazzled is, 30 is a Dangerous Age Cynthia is a lot of fun and I am grateful to TCM for the recent airing, as it is currently not out on disc.

Bed of Roses (1933) ***
Bed of Roses is a short but provocative pre-code film from the underrated Gregory LaCava starring an absolutely wonderful Constance Bennett. The dialogue is smart and risqué and Bennett controls every frame of the film, but the film ultimately falls short of LaCava’s greatest works, like My Man Godfrey.

Black Legion ***1/2
A fascinating and thought provoking film from director Archie Mayo, Black Legion is mostly remembered for giving an early leading role to Humphrey Bogart. What really made the film stand out though is how topical it felt as its plot foreshadows many nutjob conservative extremist groups that are active today, especially the paranoid tea-bagging movement.

Blue Magic ***
Candida Royalle scripted and starred in this fun adult-film from the seventies, which teams the striking beauty up with icons Veronica Hart and Samantha Fox among others. The film, which features some striking art direction and production design, is most notable for Royalle’s snappy and witty dialogue, which wouldn’t have been out of place in a classic Screwball comedy. My write-up is over at Harry Moseby Confidential for those interested.

Bombshell ****1/2
A hilarious and smashing Jean Harlow film which serves as a reminder as to why she is still so missed so many decades after her tragic death at the age of 26.

Box (Miike Takashi) ****
Miike’s eerie contribution to the Three Extremes anthology film is a subtle and extremely disquieting work that perhaps isn’t as outrageous as some of his more well-known films but is still as unsettling.

Bronson ****
Nicolas Winding Refn’s A Clockwork Orange homage would have been an intriguing film regardless of who was cast as its title character, but Tom Hardy’s astonishing performance transforms it into a great work.

Cyrus ****1/2
A wonderful film that takes its place as one of the most overlooked of 2010, Cyrus is a funny and moving work featuring a trio of truly excellent performances from John C. Reilly, Marisa Tomei and Jonah Hill.

Eyewitness *1/2
An exceptionally talented cast, which includes William Hurt, Sigourney Weaver, James Woods and Morgan Freeman, is absolutely wasted in this lame and terribly plotted film from the usually more reliable British director Peter Yates.

Funeral Home ***
A fairly well-done Canadian horror film from the early eighties that is mostly memorable for providing the terrific Lesleh Donaldson (Happy Birthday to Me, Curtains) with one of her biggest roles. The print I saw came from a horrible looking public domain version, and I suspect my opinion would be higher if I could find a good print of the film.

I Spit on Your Grave (2010) ***
I have always had mixed feeling about the original I Spit on Your Grave and I have reservations about the remake as well, specifically director Steven Monroe's bizarre choice to switch the point of view halfway through the film. Like the original though, it is hard to shake the film and the performance of Sarah Butler is truly impressive.

ItalianAmerican ****
I filled a gap in my Martin Scorsese collection thanks to TCM’s recent airing of this rare documentary he made in the mid-seventies focusing on his always entertaining and fascinating parents. ItalianAmerican is funny and very loving and is a key, if little known, entry in Scorsese’s incomparable filmography.

Nowhere Boy ****1/2
Now this is how you make a rock-documentary. With its smashing lead performance by Aaron Johnson, sensitive direction from Sam-Taylor Wood and moving score from Goldfrapp, Nowhere Boy probably tells us more about what really made John Lennon the troubled genius that he was more than any other film about The Beatles that has ever been attempted. A tremendous work.

R.P.M. *
A patronizing look at the sixties ‘counterculture’ from director Stanley Kramer, R.P.M. is a terribly inept and hopelessly out of touch work that wastes the considerable talents of Anthony Quinn and Ann-Margret. An atrocious film that is as insulting as it is poorly made.

Sandcastles ***
Now here’s a real oddity. The marvelous Bonnie Bedelia and a young Jan-Michael Vincent co-star in this strange shot on video Canadian ghost-story from the early seventies. This made for TV movie has a real sappy harlequin streak running throughout but Bedelia is truly touching in it and I quite enjoyed it.

She's Out of My League **1/2
For the first half of the film She’s Out of My League is a fitfully funny and sweet romantic comedy but it seriously runs run out of steam in the second. The always reliable Jay Baruchel keeps it watchable but it is finally a missed opportunity at making what could have been a really funny film.

Superman Returns ****
I had put off watching this big-budget return of the Man of Steel from a few years back due to my love of the Christopher Reeve series from my childhood but, at the urging of my wife, I sat down and watched this recently and was really pleasantly surprised. It’s a rousing film with a great cast, I particularly admired Kate Bosworth’s take on Lois Lane, and it’s a shame that Warner Brothers’ nixed the sequels.

The Best of Times **
A perfect example of a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, The Best of Times teeters between comedy and drama and ultimately just comes out annoying. Made nearly watchable by the always-engaging Kurt Russell, The Best of Times eventually collapses under the weight of one of Robin Williams’ most grating performances.

The Kids Are All Right ****1/2
Another great film from 2010, along with works like Black Swan, The Fighter and The Social Network, that we can look back on someday and say “I can’t believe that The King’s Speech won best picture over that.”

The Nickel Ride ***
A solid if not totally convincing story of an aging gangster, played wonderfully by Jason Miller, at the end of his line. Eric Roth’s script is sharp but I can’t help but think the film would have been better with someone besides Robert Mulligan, who I typically like, was in the director’s chair.

The Yellow Handkerchief ***1/2
A beautifully acted, the performances from William Hurt and Kristen Stewart are both particularly special, road-film that could have been even better if director had figured out how to tell his story without relying so heavily on voiceovers and flashbacks.

They Call Him Cemetery *1/2
A dreadfully slow Italian Western from director Guliano Carnimeo (Anthony Ascott), who made the wonderful The Case of the Bloody Iris around the same time. Carnimeo handled a number of solid Italian Westerns in the sixties and seventies but he just seems on auto-pilot here. Also known as A Bullet for a Stranger.

Tony Manero *****
My thoughts on this remarkable film can be read here.

Twilight ***1/2
Twilight: Eclipse ***1/2
Twilight: New Moon ***
So my admiration and love for Kristen Stewart got the best of me and I finally sat down and watched the Twilight movies in March. I have to say that I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed them especially the first and third films, which I thought both worked as quite captivating romances and thrillers. While I am bothered by some of the CGI, and I wish they were harder in nature, I was really taken with the films and am not ashamed to admit it. The Twilight films are easy to pick on but think about most of the junk (in film and music) being marketed towards teenagers today and these really stand out.

Two in the Wave ****1/2
A moving documentary on the friendship and collaborative relationship between Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut that might not tell hardcore fans much they don’t know, but all the wonderful archival footage makes the Two in the Wave indispensable.

Visions **1/2
An okay film from adult auteur Chuck Vincent, starring Wade Nichols, Susan McBain and the wonderful Sharon Mitchell, Visions isn’t among Vincent’s great works but it’s an interesting attempt at making an almost dialogue free avant-garde adult picture. I will be writing on this film soon over at Harry Moseby Confidential.

2011 Films:

Battle: Los Angeles ***
Roger Ebert, in an amazingly condescending and mean-spirited review, called anyone who might enjoy Battle Los Angeles an ‘idiot’. Well, I did quite enjoy Battle: Los Angeles and, yes, I am quite fine with someone like Roger Ebert considering me an idiot. Battle Los Angeles’ biggest fault lies in its editing, as the film would have been much stronger with twenty or thirty minutes cut out. Still, this is an enjoyable apocalyptic science fiction film, which thematically can be open to several different interpretations, and Ebert’s elitist and pompous piece serves as a reminder that this is a man who has routinely picked on genre films and filmmakers throughout his career like a bitter schoolyard bully.

Hall Pass *1/2
For a long-time Farrelly Brothers fan like myself, Hall Pass was a truly depressing experience. Two valiant efforts from Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate make the film almost watchable but otherwise this is easily the worst film the makers of the Moon in the Gutter favorite There’s Something About Mary have ever released.

Mildred Pierce ****1/2
Of course, this rating is only based on the first two-parts of Mildred Pierce, as the rest premiere in April, but so far I think this is Todd Hayne’s finest moment since Safe well over a decade and a half ago.

Red Riding Hood **1/2
Yes, the CGI sucks and yes some of the performances are lacking, but for the most part I enjoyed Catherine Hardwick’s dazzling looking new film. While Red Riding Hood mostly just succeeds as a visual treat I did admire Hardwick’s frenetic camera work that made the film both dreamy and disorienting.

Sucker Punch ***1/2
Every few years or so a film will come down the line that will have people screaming about the ‘the death of cinema’. Here’s the thing though. Art doesn’t die, it might change and it might go into a different direction but it continues. People screaming about how Zack Snyder’s newest film signals the death of cinema are really speaking out against something that challenges their own perceived 'idea' of cinema. Frankly there is no difference in them and the folks who decades ago complained that talkies ruined film. Sucker Punch is a vibrant and challenging work that I promise will seem much better when we get a chance to see Snyder’s original Hard-R directors cut on Blu-Ray and DVD.
I’ll save my thoughts on it till then but there is a LOT to admire in this work.


ThatQuebecGuy said...

I'm a bit surprised about the low rating you gave They Call Him Cemetery, it's one of my favorite spaghetti western comedy! Sure it's never that funny, but the comedic bits really help build that wonderful childlike version of the Far West in which the story takes place. I do wish the focus was more on Garko and Berger than on the two blonde boys or at least that the two actors that played them brought more to the roles, but they work as cartoon characters. Garko and Berger (two actors I like a lot) really brought something more to their very archetypal role, I though they were excellent and had a great chemistry, every time they were on screen the film suddenly became amazing (and pretty damn funny too)! It's not a great movie, but I think it's positively charming and Carnimeo's best western.

The only other movie you saw last month that I saw is Battle: Los Angeles, which I disliked very much, but I certainly wouldn't call anyone who liked an idiot.

Also, I've been checking out some your older entries recently and I can say that my "to watch" and "to listen" lists have grown considerably!

MondoHeather said...

Fabulous mix of cinema. I'm especially intrigued by FUNERAL HOME and the 30's Screwball material. Jean Harlow can never be mentioned or praised enough.

Jeremy Richey said...

Quebec Guy,
Okay, you have officially made me want to go back and rewatch THEY CALL HIM CEMETERY. I should have mentioned in the post that the version I saw was absolutely horrible quality. If I ever track down a better print I will give it another shot!
Also, I hope this was clear in my post but I have no problem with anyone who might not care for BATTLE LOS ANGELES (or any other film). My issue is with someone who looks down on another filmwatcher for enjoying something they might not. I think it's really bad form...thanks again for your comments!

Awesome Heather..thanks!
I really enjoyed FUNERAL HOME and it is another one that I would love to see a better print on.
Glad to see we also share a love for classic Screwball Comedies and Jean Harlow! We are going to be weatching PLATINUM BLONDE probably later this week and I am really excited about it. Thanks again!

ThatQuebecGuy said...

Too bad about the horrible quality of the print you watched, I was lucky enough to see a good print of They Call Him Cemetery, in Italian with subs no less (I tend to find the Italian dubs better than the English ones)! I think it was from Koch Media's DVD, which is sadly OOP.

About Battle: Los Angeles, it was clear, don't worry about it! I also feel the same way. Oh, and for what it's worth I thought the first alien attack on the marine platoon was very effective, but that's pretty much it. ;)

Roger said...

Hi, Jeremy,

Just a quick comment about "Eyewitness." It was the 2nd produced script by "overnight sensation" Steve Tesich, who wowed us with "Breaking Away" and won the Oscar. He made the deals new writers usually make, and like many others was allowed to do his dream project(s) ("Four Friends, as well, another college-coming of age film). Tesich was as much the "star" of this film at the time as Yates and Weaver and Hurt, and like many high-profile Hollywood films the recipe didn't quite gel.

After a great adaptation of "Garp" he fell away from film writing and returned to writing plays, apparently increasingly bitter over his Hollywood experiences.

Cheers, Roger

Ned Merrill said...

Wow, I agree with you far more often than I disagree with you, Jeremy, but you're WAY off on EYEWITNESS. It's no masterpiece, of course, but I've always found it to be an intelligent and well-crafted thriller with a dream of a cast working on all cylinders.