Thursday, March 5, 2015

Grand Exit

Grand Exit (1935)

Runtime: 68 minutes

Directed by: Erle C. Kenton

Starring: Edmund Lowe, Ann Sothern, Onslow Stevens, Robert Middlemass, Wyrley Birch

From: Columbia

Here's a short review from me; makes sense as I saw a short movie. I'll give a spoiler and say that tomorrow night's review will be of a film I've seen many times in my life and it is one featuring Harrison Ford. As of now there's still differing opinions on his condition but as someone who has seen his films since I was real little, I really hope he ends up being fine.

Basically, I came to watch this as I saw it was on primetime last night on TCM, part of a month long deal where each Wednesday night they spotlight the films of Ann Sothern. I looked online and saw that it was barely watched here on Letterboxd and less than 100 people on the IMDb have given it a vote so I figured I should give it a shot.

The plot is that an arsonist is burning down buildings insured by a certain company. That company brings back a wild womanizer (Tom Fletcher, played by Edmund Lowe) who loves the bottle and isn't always easy to work with but as he's “the best” arson investigator they have to deal with him. A young lady (Sothern) always seems to be around when they start... is she the one starting them; is Tom Fletcher the guy behind those acts, wanting his job back? While there's a moment or two that doesn't make much sense (in an alternate universe where this movie was longer I doubt those plot holes would be there), it's not too egregious.

I actually don't have too much to say about this. It's average all around, from the story to the sleuthing (for being so highly praised early in the film, Fletcher sometimes comes off as ineffectual), from the humor-there's a running gag involving him having a revolving door of secretaries which is barely a subplot and it kind of seems pointless-to just about everything else. At least it's short at 68 minutes and the two leads are charming, which helps. It's just that there's no real need to see this unless you are a fan of either Edmund Lowe or Ann Sothern.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Touki Bouki

Touki Bouki (1973)

Runtime: 89 minutes

Directed by: Djibril Diop Mambety

Starring: Magaye Niang, Mareme Niang, Aminata Fall, Ousseynou Diop

From: Cinegrit/Studio Kankourama

Here is another review from me where I go against the grain. In this case it's a highly praised movie from the country of Senegal and I really don't get the praise. I explain why below and I'll return tomorrow night.

I realize that I am an outlier here as most who have seen this film from Senegal rate it higher than I do and in fact cries of it being “great” aren't too hard to find. Maybe I haven't seen enough French New Wave or similar films but I just did not really enjoy watching this at all. It's a shame as I really did want to like this, a film known as The Journey of the Hyena in its native Wolof language.

The story is rather simple: two young adults (a male and female couple) live in the capital of Senegal, Dakar. They're in the poor slums of the city, outside of the high rises and nice houses. They wish to leave to go to France, the country that for about 100 years up to 1960 had Senegal as one of its colonies. As they're poor they try a few methods of acquiring cash to leave. That's really about it. Not a whole lot happens in this glacially S-L-O-W movie, and it's oddly paced to boot. Now, I am not a rube that needs ADD editing or frenetic pacing to be entertained. To list a random example, I never though Refn's Drive was “dull” or “boring”.

It's just that the two leads are total blank slates and you're never given any real reason to care about them, their plight, or their desire to leave their country and hope for something better in another country. Instead, the movie has abstract moments and some surreal ones too. That'd be fine, except that as a whole I thought this movie didn't work and all that nonsense didn't really matter. Oh, and for anyone who is an animal lover, a vegetarian lover/vegan or just don't like seeing cows and goats legit getting killed on camera and graphically seeing the blood pour out of them as they're killed... I am not a vegan by any means but I had no idea that was in this film and I personally did not see to see it. Those more sensitive, you have been warned.

Personally, I was actually more interested in checking out how Senegal looked back then. I sadly don't know much about Africa in general and I do need to look up information on that for my own education. What I saw in the film (and I had plenty of time to look at the scenery due to the slow as molasses pace) it was clear that there were still French influences, such as the automobiles; there were plenty of Citroen and Renault cars to look at, and judging from a billboard they still sold French cars there at the time, and presumably still do now. The obvious differences between those that had money and those that don't were apparent. I got to see the colorful traditional outfits the common folk wore and even the country's version of wrestling-amateur and not the sort of stuff that John Cena does-known as Laamb in Wolof.

Maybe what I am saying is that I'd prefer a documentary about the country, its history and how it's managed to be one of the better countries on the continent in the post-colonial era, at least when it comes to such things as political coups and much of the turmoil that plagues too many countries there. I'd obviously get more out of that than what I got out of this, where apparently much of it was lost on me. At least the actual filmmaking was good for someone who I understand had no formal training and the Triumph motorcycle with the cow skull looked pretty rad...

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Trollhunter

Trollhunter (Trolljegeren) (2010)

Runtime: 103 minutes

Directed by: Andre Ovredal

Starring: Otto Jespersen, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Johanna Morck, Tomas Alf Larsen

From: Several Norwegian companies with long hard to spell names

After watching something very obscure I watched a pretty well-known recent foreign genre movie, from the lands of Norway. The Letterboxd review is below and I'll return tomorrow night.

After watching something super obscure to start off this month, I decided to watch a popular foreign film ever since it came out in 2010. This was back in the time before people started to tire of the found footage genre, but this seems to be one of the higher rated ones out of that subgenre, which seems to be populated with total dreck.

The plot is that three young filmmakers start off doing a documentary about a suspected bear poacher but it turns out that he's actually the title character and they end up following him watching what exactly he does, which is supposed to be a secret as it's a government conspiracy (I imagine it's a worldwide thing to think that your country's government covers up major events). The whole field is explained and you see how they're eradicated, the different varieties, how they live, etc.

The whole thing is a little far fetched but you go with it as the movie treats it seriously. It's tongue in cheek but is done with total seriousness. Now, I am not insulting the folklore of that region of the world. It's just that some of those trolls are very large, as in 50 feet or more. Still, the world is rich (e.g., as it's the government, you have to file paperwork after each troll killed) and that is a big help and kept me interested the entire time, even if the other characters aren't too developed and Hans the Troll Hunter is the crux of the focus... it is a great character and I liked the performance from Otto Jespersen.

Also assets were that with the low budget (I understand only the equivalent of a few million American dollars) the trolls weren't shown too often. They looked fine the times you do see them; if they would have shown up more often, they'd probably look crappy with the budget. The natural scenery of Norway was a big plus. From what I've seen all the Scandinavian countries are absolutely beautiful and that is in full effect here; I enjoyed gawking at that.

While this is more a fun movie than a scary one, it's still enjoyable and just a pleasant experience.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Blood Stained Route Map

The Blood Stained Route Map (Pimudun Ryakpae) (2002... or 2004)

Runtime: In total, approximately 140 minutes

Directed by: Phyo Kwang

Starring: Chang-su Choe, Ryon Hwa Kim

From: Korea Film

Here is something quite different for me as I unofficially participate in the annual month long watching of foreign films over at Letterboxd... a movie from NORTH Korea. That's right. It's technically a two part film but I have the reviews for both parts below. I shall return tomorrow night.

Part 1:

The past two years, I've enjoyed the deal where for a month Letterboxd users watch movies from other countries every day during said month. I do it too but the past two months it was after the fact so it was unofficial and it's far less than 30 or 31 films. This year I am managing to do it on the correct month and who knows how many films I'll end up seeing.

I decided it'd be rather interesting to watch a film (actually released in two parts, even if the two parts put together are only 140 minutes; the second part's coming up in a few minutes) I found out about from this site. Yes, it is from North and not South Korea, and there's actually a copy of both on YouTube with English subs. Now, I only knew the North Korean cinema scene from Pulgasari, a film I can't say I've seen. Somehow, the idea that the director and his wife were kidnapped from South Korea and for years he was forced to make films and this was one of them... it doesn't fill me with desire to check it out.

But, due to this month and judging solely from Letterboxd and the IMDb hardly any people at all (let alone from the West) have seen this so I figured I should check it out and try to rate it fairly despite my great sadness at what has happened in the country since the Korean War decades ago. I don't want to bring politics into this so let me move on and talk about the film.

I'll briefly explain the plot of the movie here. It's not presented in the clearest of fashion but 10 years before the present time of the film (which is set in the past) the Japanese are looking for two gold Buddha statues that are on an island. Besides them being gold statues it also states the identity of the rightful owners of the island; the importance of the islands strategically to the Japanese is explained.

The father splits the map in three and gives it to his sons. Pops is soon dead but the kids escape. While the majority of the film is in present time, there are flashbacks to ten years prior and you see what happened to the characters and how the ended up where they did. One of the sons early on kills himself rather than give up his piece so you follow the now adult two surviving brothers who have been separated for years.

The movie was made in this century and yet it looks older than that. I am not surprised that country's film scene would have primitive film equipment, or that all the sound was added in post-production. While I understand the circumstances of the country this film was made, this isn't too good. In the review of Part 2 I'll post soon I'll explain why.

Part 2:

Minutes ago I posted a review of Part 1 of this two part movie. Why it was released in 2 parts when they are each 70 minutes long I cannot explain... then again to keep things in perspective there are way more important questions I have about that country.

If you are wondering about story structure or other things from a country where the citizens are forced to be isolated from the rest of the world... judging things just from one motion picture may be a big leap but even in North Korea the film scene is like the rest of the world. There are such cliches here as a rebellious daughter, people looking for revenge, an outsider entering a competition and doing well in it & that sort of thing. While the movie isn't always presented in a clear fashion, amongst all the dialogue there are action scenes that are actually fine (whether it be sword fights, martial arts, or other forms of combat), and the filmmaking itself is just like a low-budget film from everywhere else. Generally in terms of how the plot is put together it's the same as elsewhere and depending on your knowledge of the ethnicities of that part of the world you'd either think this is from elsewhere in the Pacific Rim region of Asia or that it was South Korea. They didn't try to reinvent the wheel, in other words.

The reason I rate it as 2 stars is how things are muddled sometimes, it likely could have been shorter and that would have helped, and the amateurism does hurt things. I do realize the government does play a big role in the North Korean film world and who knows how big their role was in this story, but I can surmise any person who makes films there is hampered by them and how they can't learn like other filmmakers can, especially in more developed countries.

It was certainly different to watch a motion picture from that particular world. It wasn't an alien experience or surreal to watch. It was shot and put together in an acceptable manner so it was not like Birdemic or anything else amazingly inept. It's just a mediocre piece of work, that's all.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

RIP Leonard Nimoy

I do not have much to say tonight, except that as a kid I did watch the original show and saw the films with the original cast multiple times so I was saddened by this news. I reviewed the first four; you can search for them if you wish.

I will return on Monday night with a review.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

World On A Wire

World on a Wire (Welt Am Draht) (1973)

Runtime: 212 minutes

Directed by: Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Starring: Klaus Lowistch, Barbara Valentin, Mascha Rabben, Karl Heinz Vosgerau, Wolfgang Schneck

From: The greatly named Westdeutsch Rundfunk

I had a busy evening so there's no time to write a lengthy intro. This is my virgin experience with a legendary director, again thanx due to Hulu Plus. I'll return Saturday, likely in the evening; the Letterboxd review is below.

I decided to watch my first Fassbinder film, and as the movie was only restored a few years ago after years of it being almost impossible to find, why not watch this, a 2 part miniseries made for German television? It turns out that this film seemed like an inspiration for several later famous motion pictures.

The plot is sometime in the near future of Germany. One of the creators (Vollmer) of a computer simulation program (Simulacron) dies mysteriously. The other creator (Fred Stiller) moves up the corporate ladder at the place where Simulacron is located at. Weird things begin to happen. A man who works security there (Gunther Lause) vanishes into thin air... and the day after it happens, an important drawing suddenly is gone and Lause's existence is erased, as if he never existed. Stiller tries to figure out what's going on. Part 1 sets up the situation and introduces the characters. The end of that drops the bombshell, the key component of the part. Part 2 is the fallout of that.

The key thing to note is that Simulacron is a program where over 9,000 human beings are created in a simulation world and those beings think their world is real. It's not like The Sims or anything of that sort. People can actually transport themselves into the faux world for a short amount of time and it certainly looks real and the simulations are just like human beings. From the outside, the company can look in and by introducing various factors they can actually predict what can happen in real life up to 20 years in the future; now what could go wrong there? Corporations naturally want a piece of that action. That's supposed to happen later on but one company wants it now. It's only one piece of this puzzle, though.

I won't reveal what the bombshell is, but it's one of several instances where I was reminded of more recent films. I heard that there was a bit used in Inception and the transporting of yourself into another world is Total Recall and of course there's The Matrix with the whole “simulation world that appears real” thing. Tron and Blade Runner are other movies that came to mind. I tell you, Phillip K. Dick was an incredibly influential man in the science fiction world.

The film is odd and at times I did feel the 3 ½ hour length. However, it was certainly well-filmed by the prolific director. I understand that mirror are a common trope for Fassbinder but I highly doubt they were used more often anywhere else than here; they are in the majority of scenes and besides it being something he must have liked it fits into the theme of the movie. Various high concepts and philosophy are brought up, usually well. And all this is done not only with infamous director Ulli Lommel in a key supporting role (I was shocked when I found out who played that character) but in a kitschy early 1970's version of what the future would be, a world that unfortunately did not come true. Shame, as I wish I could have bright orange phones and cowskin-covered office chairs!

This is my first Fassbinder but I know it won't be the last I see from what I understand was a very colorful human being.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wings In The Dark

Wings in the Dark (1935)

Runtime: 75 minutes

Directed by: James Flood

Starring: Myrna Loy, Cary Grant, Roscoe Karns, Hobart Cavanaugh, Dean Jagger

From: Paramount

After too long, I decided to go real old-school and watch something from the 1930's. The Letterboxd review is below and I'll return tomorrow night.

I realized it's been a few months since I've seen a motion picture this old and as not too long ago I got a 5 disc set of lesser-known movies that Cary Grant did for Paramount I figured I should watch one and I picked this out as the plot sounded the most interesting to me... it also has Myrna Loy on loan from MGM, back in the days where there was contracted talent and studios could loan them out to other studios for films.

The plot isn't too complex: Grant is Ken Gordon, a talented pilot who is working on creating a plane that can fly on instruments alone and without the need for the pilot's eyesight. Well, irony is a cruel SOB here as Gordon is-wait for it-blinded in an accident; an accident from trying to light a stove, of all things. Loy is aviatrix Sheila Mason, flying and doing stunts as sexism won't allow her to do more. Those two good-looking people end up getting to know each other better and she wishes for a romance but he at first is bitter about his fate and then there's his continuing plane project...

This isn't a great film but it's an easy watch at 75 minutes and it's pleasant; there aren't too many surprises and at times it was a little far-fetched; still, the charm of the two leads and such wacky characters as Gordon's Scottish mechanic and Sheila's shifty manager... it does help. There's also a cute German Shepherd and Grant does a fine job with a role where most of the time he's without sight.

Like I said this was entertaining if not a must-see. There's melodrama and what little flying you do see is fine. The other films that Loy and Grant did years later (Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House and The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer) are better known and likely better but if you like the two stars and can find this, it's worth a watch.