Sunday, August 24, 2014

RIP Richard Attenborough

This wasn't what I was planning on doing today but I found out about an hour ago that he passed away at the age of 90. Of course I know him best from Jurassic Park but he appeared in and directed a plethora of films, some of which I have in my collection. I figured that for Letterboxd I should rewatch the John Wayne film Brannigan (where he's a co-star), as the review I have for it there is quite brief and it deserves a better one for me, and I can tip my cap to Sir Richard in that new review.

Also, I won't be back until Wednesday night as in the meanwhile I'll watch some movies I reviewed here but never even posted a review for on Letterboxd due to the last viewings being years ago.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Doorway To Hell

Doorway to Hell (1930)

Runtime: 78 minutes

Directed by: Archie Mayo

Starring: Lew Ayres, James Cagney, Dorothy Matthews, Leon Janney

From: Warner Brothers

I was thinking about seeing more than one film today but I just had time for this one, a movie that is pretty much forgotten about now and I explain why I picked it out. I explain the plot in the Letterboxd description so onto that.

Nevermind how I can find such obscure titles such as this and others I've reviewed for the site, except that I have my ways... I picked it out as it was only the second film James Cagney ever did, it was his first as a gangster (even before The Public Enemy) and hey, it has a pretty cool title.

This tale is about how gangster Louie (Lew Ayres, who looks like Kyle MacLachlan) tries to run all the gang territories of Chicago with his second in command, the greatly named Mileaway (Cagney), and he does so while wishing he was Napoleon. Not to spoil anything but there are several allusions to Mr. Bonaparte throughout the picture, whether they're obvious or more subtle. He then quickly decides to leave the game in order to marry a dame, but of course things go awry. Louie's little brother in a military academy also factor into things, and there are some melodramatic moments.

This movie is fine; not awesome but it's still fine. You have some expected “tough guy” dialogue that's a trademark of the genre (not to mention such things as shootouts), there's some nice cinematography and there were some nicely-done moments. While it does drag at times even with its 78 minute runtime, While the acting was nice overall, I'd say that Cagney was the highlight of the picture.

Overall the movie isn't as grand as the classic gangster hits of the 1930's but then again this was one of the first non-silent ones in the genre Hollywood did and others improved upon this film and made sure to make the violence more explicit, among other things.

I'll return tomorrow night.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Doctor X/The Public Enemy

Doctor X (1932)

Runtime: 76 minutes

Directed by: Michael Curtiz

Starring: Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Lee Tracy, Preston Foster

From: First National Pictures (a subsidiary of Warner Brothers)

The Public Enemy (1931)

Runtime: 84 minutes

Directed by: William A. Wellman

Starring: James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Edward Woods, Joan Blondell, Donald Cook

From: Warner Brothers

Last night on TV I saw the former and earlier tonight I watched on the DVD I have in my collection. I explain the plots to both films in my Letterboxd reviews so I'll skip right to those.

First, Doctor X, which I rated 3 stars:

This was a movie that was on Turner Classic Movies late last night so I figured I would give it a watch; its horror plot, two strip technicolor, and stylish ways made it sound interesting.

In short, it's about a head of a college (Doctor Xavier) which happens to have a bunch of eccentric weirdos in its science department and he's convinced by the cops that one of those professors is a serial killer of women who leaves his mark only during a full moon... oh, and the killer's a cannibal too. Via a Rube Goldbergian process the Dr. tries to experiment and figure out who the killer is. A newspaper reporter (who, while having some amusing moments, is more often “odious comic relief”) and the Doctor's daughter (Fay Wray) also figure into the proceedings.

Like I said this is filmed in an early version of Technicolor, which is definitely not refined like what we're familiar with, but it gives the movie a unique look. It has a pretty good atmosphere, cool makeup from Max Factor, really nice sets from Anton Grot (a lot of the action takes place in an old Gothic mansion, which does help in the atmosphere department) and nice usage of light and shadow. Unfortunately it does drag at times despite it being only 76 minutes long and that odious comic relief... it's a shame.

At least the movie has memorable moments (including tense ones) and a pretty rad finale in particular due to its ghoulish and wacky nature.

Now, The Public Enemy, which I rated 4 1/2 stars:

I have seen this movie before but that was years ago and it was long overdue for me to revisit this classic gangster tale that made James Cagney a star.

This chronicles the rise and downfall of the greatly named Tom Powers, a bootlegging gangster during the Prohibition Era. You first see him pal Matt Doyle as kids, and they were troublemakers, especially Tom. Then, as they grew up Tom's straitlaced brother Mike joined the Marines during World War I and became respectable while Tom fell in with the gangster crowd and enjoyed the spoils of that; this resulted in a feud where their poor “ma” was caught in the middle.

Originally Tom Powers was going to be played by Edward Woods and Cagney was to be Matt Doyle, the loyal pal. However, as they rehearsed they realized it'd be best if they did the switcheroo so the two actors traded roles and history was made.

That was really for the best as old James does a tremendous job as the antihero, someone who is willing to smash a grapefruit in the face of a dame he's grown tired of, or get revenge for grudges from long ago, and yet the character is so captivating, and Cagney's performance so magnetic, you almost root for him to succeed despite his bad ways and a personal life that's actually a mess. It's no surprise this role launched him into acting superstardom.

But, the rest of the film is great in general also. You have a well-filmed tale, nice stock sets, quality performances from the rest of the cast (whether they're part of the menagerie of colorful gangster characters or the more innocent parties; the most charming of the former was Nails Nathan) and an always fast-paced and entertaining story with plenty of tough moments. It is also aided by its Pre-Code nature and some rather suggestive scenes.

Like I said I was long overdue to see this again and now I wish I wouldn't have waited so long for the repeat viewing.

I'll return tomorrow night.

Thursday, August 21, 2014


Crack-Up (1936)

Runtime: 71 minutes

Directed by: Malcolm St. Clair

Starring: Peter Lorre, Brian Donlevy, Helen Wood, Ralph Morgan, Thomas Beck

From: 20th Century Fox

I can thank a website and YouTube for the film I watched today. The IMDb plot synopsis then the Letterboxd review:

"Colonel Gimpy heads a spy organization trying to get the plans for a new airplane. Test pilot Ace Martin agrees to help." Yes, those are real names... well, the Colonel is in disguise... and in the review below I didn't mean to make an implied Top Gun reference; maybe it's just that films about pilots are destined to have homoerotic undertones!

I'll admit, I discovered this film via the great website Rupert Pupkin Speaks, where many guests post lists of films on the obscure side that they recommend and while it tends to be action-oriented all sorts of genres can be brought up. Recently, someone brought up this film and when they mentioned that Peter Lorre was the star and he played someone named COLONEL GIMPY and he played someone who acts like a person that I'll call “mentally challenged” but actually is an undercover spy named BARON RUDOLPH MAXIMILLIAN TAGGART working for “the enemy” and I had to see this politically incorrect tale, which is easy to find online and yet it's only been seen by a few people here.

Overall, it is an odd tale and yet I was still entertained by it. I heard it described as an early version of a film noir and that seems to make sense. There's a star pilot with the great name ACE MARTIN and with the name you'd think he would be a hero but well... there are multiple people who aren't as virtuous as they first appear to be. Lorre is the clear highlight of the movie whether he acted as his true evil spy self or acted as the “harmless eccentric”. The MacGuffin here is plans for a new airplane that “enemies” would love to have.

I also have to make note of how Joe Randall (a fellow pilot) is a HUGE fan of Ace Martin; Randall has a fiance but he seems to worship Ace in an almost homoerotic way, which I don't think was the intention but that's how it came off.

Anyhow, it's a curio and if you're a Lorre fan it's worth checking out.

I'll return tomorrow night and I plan on talking about two films.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Test Pilot

Test Pilot (1938)

Runtime: 119 minutes

Directed by: Victor Fleming

Starring: Clark Gable, Myrna Loy, Spencer Tracy, Lionel Barrymore

From: MGM

Here's a random film; it's one that I believe is still not out on DVD, for whatever reasons. Nevermind how I found it but I did and I checked it out. The cast did intrigue me for sure and the plot sounded interesting to me too. I explain the plot in the Letterboxd review, so onto that.

Here's a random movie I watched late last night. I will admit that it was the three stars and the topic of aviation that caught my attention.

This melodrama is about the cad known as Jim Lane (Clark Gable). He races airplanes and also tests them out and does dangerous things. He acts rather goofy and childish often; I wondered if he smelled too much gasoline while flying, but him loving the alcohol is probably understandable considering the job. Anyhow, complications happen and he lands on a Kansas farm where he meets the smart and sassy Ann (Myrna Loy), literally the farmer's daughter. They have a whirlwind romance and get married.

Always around as the third wheel is Jim's mechanic and buddy, the greatly named Gunner (Spencer Tracy). Now, I'd say that they were more than friends... oh no, not like THAT. What I mean is that Gunner is pretty much Jim's caretaker; you'll understand if you saw how impulsive and reckless Lane acts, especially if he goes on a bender. I know, it was a little weird for Gunner to always be around and be asked for advice from both Jim and Ann, but I just went with it. And Jim can do some nice things for other people; it's just that he's often a victim of his gung-ho attitude.

Like I said it's melodrama; you get to see how dangerous the job can be, which puts a strain on the marriage. Overall it's a pretty entertaining film. A big asset is the three stars and they all do a quality job, especially Loy, who has to run through a gamut of emotions, from spunky girl full of attitude to a wife that's overwhelmed due to worries concerning her husband's job, and she does it all well without overacting. All three are able to deliver some nice, long speeches which are also interesting.

All that drama, some laughs and nice aerial footage from the aircraft of the day make this a fine watch even if all three stars have been in clearly superior films to this.

I'll return tomorrow night.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Expendables 3

Expendables 3 (2014)

34% on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 134 reviews)

Runtime: 126 soul-crushing minutes

Directed by: Patrick Hughes; well, I understand there was studio interference, or at least that's the rumor

Starring: A whole bunch of people; probably too much, as a matter of fact

From: The incompetent buffoons at Lionsgate

Oh boy... here we go. For the record, I gave this 1 ½ stars at Letterboxd. I'll explain why.

"Barney augments his team with new blood for a personal battle: to take down Conrad Stonebanks, the Expendables co-founder and notorious arms trader who is hell bent on wiping out Barney and every single one of his associates."

If I was the type of guy to give one sentence reviews, for this movie I would have said, “I really should have downloaded the leaked copy...” and I probably would have gotten many likes. But I like to be more in-depth than that and in this case I have quite a bit to say about this movie and why I feel so let down by it when I saw it today... not via torrent but on the big screen at my local cineplex.

Now, I am someone who loved the first two movies in this series, rating them at 4 and 5 stars respectively. I know most would disagree strongly with the ratings but that's my honest opinion; the second film in general gave me an incredible adrenaline rush when I saw it in the theatre. I think both movies are a lot of fun in an 80's sort of way.

With this film, I started to worry about it early in the year. As others noticed, most of the people in the huge cast were on the side of the good guys and that was just stupid. Then, the rating of PG-13 hit; the horrible movie studio known as Lionsgate always wanted the rating for the movies and those clowns finally got their way. Well, you saw how well the rating helped out at the box office... I know the excuse is that the movie leaked. IMO it's not that many people who would have seen it just watched it on their laptop; it's that people saw it on their computer screens and spread the word that the movie sucks, and well... I agree! It does suck.

I place a lot of the blame on Lionsgate. They had to be the ones that wanted “the youth angle” and they also had to be the ones to choose non-actors for some of the roles; you get to see Victor Ortiz fire a shotgun a few times and that's about it; you don't even see the people that presumably got mowed down by those blasts. Ronda Rousey was nice to look at in the movie, sure... she's not even Gina Carano when it comes to acting, to be honest.

I was hoping I'd enjoy the action scenes despite the stupid rating. Well, besides things being neutered the rating may as well have been irrelevant as the action was poorly filmed (way too close too often) and when it wasn't hard to follow it was just not engaging or exciting in the least bit. The rather bad CGI didn't help either.

On a messageboard someone described “the young crew” as “The Forgettables” and that is really the perfect description for them. What a blank void they were and their contributions were pretty much meaningless.

The story... terrible. Too often I was wondering what was going on or what happened to a character that resulted in them being where they suddenly ended up with no explanation. How an important character got captured I still don't get; did I literally blink and miss it? Was it just badly filmed? Probably both... really, this is a poorly made movie all around. I hadn't seen any of the young director's films before but I did hear a rumor that there was the dreaded studio interference... I've already given a few of many reasons why Lionsgate is just atrocious all around.

Antonio Banderas... I don't know why most people went wild over the character; as someone here mentioned, he was as loathsome and obnoxious as Jar Jar Binks and that really was true. Then again pretty much all the characters were A-holes and spouted off acres of horrible dialogue and “bro-speak” and in general acted like A-holes.

Really, the only reason this gets the rating it does is Mel Gibson as the villain. It was an interesting character and old Mel does a swell job with the role. Even he can't help how the character got treated, though, or how the final showdown between Stallone and Gibson was incredibly limp and flaccid.

So, this movie sidelined the people that most people wanted to see for far too long, introduced terrible characters you couldn't give a flying F about, was poorly made and filmed, had unexciting action and a weak plot... no wonder why there was bad buzz once people first saw this. This year has had some disappointments movie-wise but this is a big one to me; I had the sinking feeling I wouldn't have a blast with it like the first two but for it to be a lame waste of time generic action movie of modern times is almost soul-crushing.

I'll return tomorrow afternoon.

Monday, August 18, 2014

All Is Lost

All Is Lost (2013)

93% on Rotten Tomatoes (out of 214 reviews)

Runtime: 106 minutes

Directed by: J.C. Chandor

Starring: Robert Redford

From: Lionsgate

Here's a movie I was finally able to check out, via the Epix channels, which I get for free now but that'll be ending at the end of the month, so I figured I'd better watch it now before it's too late. I did not always hear the best reviews for this but I was intrigued as this was literally a one man show with Redford the only actor on screen and you see the story unfold with basically only a few lines of dialogue after an opening letter that's read at the very beginning of the picture. Of course it's been compared to Gravity but this is a lot different, especially when you compare the budgets. The IMDb plot description then the Letterboxd review.

“After a collision with a shipping container at sea, a resourceful sailor finds himself, despite all efforts to the contrary, staring his mortality in the face.”

Since it came out last fall at around the same time as Gravity (and due to the plots there were the obvious comparisons, which is unfair as the latter is a 100 million dollar blockbuster and All is Lost had like a tenth of that for its budget) I was interested in seeing it but I wasn't all in. I heard some middling reviews so I wasn't sure how I'd feel about it. Finally, last night I sat down to check it out.

While this isn't a 5 star classic like Gravity, this is still a movie well worth seeing and I was glad they pulled off the gimmick where you followed only one person for an entire film and through only a few lines of dialogue you saw an old sailor on a solo journey on his yacht in the middle of the Indian Ocean experience catastrophe and catastrophe and how he dealt with each event by seeing his actions and not being aided with any sort of dialogue, whether you see him speak or get an inner monologue.

“Gimmick” is probably making it seem like a cheap device, which is not what I want to imply. You get not too many spoken words and yet it was still entertaining the entire time and never boring. You always knew what this boater with no name was thinking just from the way he was acting and his facial expressions.

Oh yeah, and the boater being Robert Redford was a big asset; as he's been acting since 1960, you knew he'd deliver a quality performance and be a huge reason why this film with a unique gimmick would work and not be considered dull and boring (well, at least not so by the majority that have seen it). I also hear that he did a lot of the stunts in the water by himself and not with a double which is impressive considering he was in his mid 70's when this was filmed.

Anyhow, if you're worried that the gimmick doesn't work or that the movie is just that, a gimmick... be rest assured the movie is more than that and if it sounds at all interesting to you I definitely say you need to track it down for a viewing.

I'll return tomorrow night.