Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Stagecoach Is Still A Great Movie

and what an entrance for John Wayne... he appears and there's a hard zoom into an extreme close-up; iconic.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cinerama's Russian Adventure

Cinerama's Russian Adventure (1966)

Runtime: The version I saw was 128 minutes

Directed by: A bunch of Soviet directors

Starring: This is a documentary

From: Two Soviet companies and the American one that put together this compilation of footage

Not only do I deliver a review, but I also provide some education for those that don't know about an interesting format from way back in the day: 

Before I talk about this I better make sure that people know what Cinerama even is; judging by number of ratings on sites such as Letterboxd and IMDb, not even that many film fans have seen the releases done by Flicker Alley of some Cinerama films, made by Cinerama Productions Corporation. That process is from the early 1950's and lasted a few decades; it was on a giant curved screen that wrapped around you almost 150 degrees, and the picture was shown via 3 projectors. This was impressive as it debuted even before the widescreen process of Cinemascope, which was the catalyst for all but a few specialized releases in modern times being widescreen of some type, whether 1.85:1 or something in the range of 2.35:1.

Not surprisingly, the showings of those documentaries were big deals and to best wow the audience, those films were all about the sights & sounds of locations all around the world. I hadn't seen anything from Cinerama before and the impetus behind me seeing this first was its presence on Amazon Instant Video. That seemed like the best way of trying out one of these; it wasn't even made by Cinerama Productions-rather it was several shorts made by companies in the Soviet Union using Kinopanorama, which is practically identical to Cinerama. They just put it together for American audiences and added an intro/narration from Bing Crosby.

What is seen here is various sights/sounds all across the Soviet Union in all the four seasons, scenes of life in Moscow, a few minutes at a dance company, and the ending moments are from the legendary Bolshoi Ballet. There are also segments that a few will find more objectionable by today's standards... whales are hunted and you see one butchered, and there's time spent at a circus. It's not a traveling one... rather, they hold performances in a circular arena with seating on three sides. There are comedic moments and trapeze stunts, yet you also see bits involving animals and there have been accusations that in general, critters in circuses aren't treated well. I can't say for certain about that but seeing lions get on the backs of horses as they ride around... I might not want to know how they were trained to do such a thing, even if the visual is pretty incredible. Also, there's a bizarre segment where you see trained bears do various things, the highlight being one driving a tractor! Somehow that is presented straight as if it's supposed to be as authentic as the rest of the footage.

I better explain how the image is simulated for disc release; the process is known as Smilebox and it emulates the curved screen the movies were originally shot for. Stitching the images together, where they are put together is obvious; then again that was always present in the print so that is to be expected if you ever watch one of these. As for my high rating on this, I am a nerd who enjoyed seeing all that footage from the Soviet Union, from horses pulling sleds on a snow-covered landscape to loggers transporting timber down the river; also, all the cultural material, such as the ballet and earlier, those native dances. While I watched the stream in HD, seeing it on Blu-ray would be better and the stream's audio was in mono; the other big selling point of the format was stereo sound, which was another novel feature for the time and Flicker Alley replicated the sound for the releases, so I don't know why the stream was like that.

This documentary shows the USSR in a favorable light, which was uncommon in the Cold War era and hell, the way things are now you won't find much praise for Russia. I'll be happy to support a smaller niche label that releases films like these and ones even more obscure, so in the future I'll be seeing at least one more of these.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

10 To Midnight

10 to Midnight (1983)

Runtime: 101 minutes

Directed by: J. Lee Thompson

Starring: Charles Bronson, Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens, Gene Davis, Geoffrey Lewis

From: Cannon

Oh, the 1980's...

Recently I discovered that all the Cannon movies on Amazon Video which recently became free if you had Prime... they'll be leaving Prime already once March 1 rolls around. Henceforth, I reasoned I should watch at least one of those, and in some circles people still laugh at some of the most over the top moments in this picture; specifically, the surreal moment where Charles Bronson holds an odd sex toy and bellows at a suspect the immortal line, “IT'S FOR JACKIN' OFF, ISN'T IT?”

The plot: Bronson is a hard-nosed police detective (would you expect anything else) who has to team with young neophyte Andrew Stevens as a killer named Warren Stacey is slicing and dicing young women. When I say he's just like a Men's Rights Activist, I am not being trite; he's not a bad-looking guy and is in shape, but he doesn't know how to talk to women so he comes off like a real creep. Instead of saying horrible, incredibly dunderheaded comments on Reddit, he kills. Warren knows enough to wear gloves to avoid any fingerprints; to avoid further evidence, he... does the murders without any clothes on. That character was pretty chilling, especially considering he spoke in a whiny fashion and was sometimes a crybaby; like I said, a Men's Rights Activist.

The cops don't have enough evidence against him and as Chuck has a college-aged daughter, he decides to plant evidence; not that a cop would ever do such a thing... honestly, I am not anti-police yet I can easily admit that some are poor human beings, and for whatever reasons evidence has been planted, even if it's for what they think are noble reasons, as was the scenario here. As you can suspect from what has been said so far, the movie is high on the sleaze factor; plenty of women are seen nude and there is some pretty vile dialogue. This is obviously not for all tastes. Yet I was entertained by this trash.

10 to Midnight is at least well-made, there are some nicely done suspense scenes, shades of giallo and slasher are conspicuous, the acting is fine-familiar faces include Lisa Eilbacher, Andrew Stevens and Geoffrey Lewis-the final act is aces, and there's a synth score that is pretty rad; hell, the opening credits tune and the one right before the final scene sound like synthwave that was made a month ago by some guy in his basement at about 3 AM and uploaded to YouTube. I am sure some will find it obvious the Reagan-era political beliefs that too many criminals are being coddled and there are too many loopholes that set them free... some won't like such a viewpoint and I won't share my mine but in the context of this movie I can be amused as that's how many 80's flicks were. Those that love sleaze definitely need to give this a whirl.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Love Witch

The Love Witch (2016)

Runtime: 120 minutes

Directed by: Anna Biller

Starring: Samantha Robinson, Gian Keys, Laura Waddell, Jeffrey Vincent Parise, Jared Sanford

From: Anna Biller Productions

Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!

Yes, I did decide to watch this movie the night before Valentine's Day so I could talk about it on what is technically St. Valentine's Day... but I may sound like a tool saying that so let me continue. I have no good explanation for not seeing it sooner; there are now regrets that it took me this long to check it out, especially considering it's been on Prime for months and I've known about it since pretty much it was released.

While the movie is set in modern times, much of it has the retro vibe, inspired by the Technicolor movies of the 1960's (especially the horror flicks) and it's easy to forget the time period as you see all the colorful sets and costumes. Elaine is the titular witch, who is quite attractive... her appearance is part of the social commentary as she wishes to be valued for more than just her good looks. She makes potions to make men fall in love with her but it always goes wrong. They go wild as she does various sexy things yet in the end they are not able to handle it.

I haven't seen any of Anna Biller's other work... then again she's only done some shorts and this is her second feature film. I can say it is admirable how she not only wrote and directed, but produced, did at least some of the groovy score, was the editor, art/set director, made most of the costumes, and also production design. More so than typical, the successes and failures of the movie are on her shoulders. I believe the movie overall is a success. It may be a little overlong at 2 hours exactly but otherwise I can't carp too loudly. Ms. Biller set out to make a movie which is feminist and tackles such topics as the patriarchy and unfair standards women have to follow. I feel anyone can enjoy this but as a dumb man I can only assume the target audience will be most interested in the film's messages.

Samantha Robinson as the lead is not just a pretty lady who was made to look red-hot in the film; she was a smoldering presence, a true treasure as someone whose performance was hammy (as in the style this was aping) and it was note-perfect for the movie. The rest of the cast is fine and there are various interesting-looking people presumably cast for their appearance, but Robinson was the standout and as her role is so important I am glad they did not choose the wrong person to play Elaine. Naturally this won't be for all tastes, yet for me the movie works and is more than just a 60's gimmick.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

For A Few Dollars More

For a Few Dollars More (Per Qualche Dollaro In Piu) (1965)

Runtime: 132 minutes

Directed by: Sergio Leone

Starring: Eastwood, Van Cleef, Gian Maria Volonte, Mario Brega, Luigi Pistilli

From: Several Italian/Spanish/West German companies

I probably don't need to elaborate on why the movie is great, but I'll do it anyhow: 

A discussion I saw online yesterday about the Spaghetti Western genre was another reminder how I should see more of those movies. Incredible English titles like God Does Not Pay on Saturday, Have a Good Funeral, My Friend... Sartana Will Pay and Hey Amigo! A Toast to Your Death sound like must-watches for their names alone. As I rewatched the first movie in the Man With No Name trilogy, this was the perfect opportunity for another flick I hadn't watched in many years. Much to my delight it is still great.

On the surface the story may sound basic: two bounty hunters on their own decide to try and collect the huge bounty on the head of El Indio, a bandit that was just broken out of prison. The movie is a lot more than that. The bounty hunters are shown to be awesome... not just because they were Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, but in their own ways they each collect a separate bounty on a lesser-ranked foe. Indio (Gian Maria Volonte) is shown to be a formidable foe, and also someone who is willing to do vile things as you see him get revenge on someone. All three characters are tremendous, as are the performances by the men who played them.

The most interesting aspect is that Indio carries around a pocketwatch containing a picture of a young lady and it plays a pleasant tune when open. He uses that several times for purposes of gaining an advantage, but you later discover this locket haunts him due to an event from the past, and it was a fascinating twist to show this evil person also be damaged and tormented by his past.

The movie weaves its way around the story of a plan to rob a heavily fortified bank in El Paso for a great sum of money and its aftermath; again, it's not as simple as it sounds and there are quite a few twists to the story. The sun-baked Spanish desert was a beautiful location to show scenes that were lensed quite well and there is no shortage of memorable moments involving the usage of guns (the finale and the hat-shooting scene are the two best to me), but the Morricone score is legendary, and an important cog in this machine, an important asset of making this film so beloved. As an aside, the theme to the movie was used in The Mexican, a quality tune by the 70's British band Babe Ruth. That has been covered a few times, and two red-hot versions of that are by 80's dance legend Jellybean Benitez and in the late 70's, an astounding funky disco version lasting 12 ½ (!) minutes by the group Bombers.

No matter which part of the trilogy you think is the best, all should be watched and in a vacuum, this has to be one of the tastiest dishes in the Spaghetti Western genre.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Howard The Duck!

Howard the Duck (1986)

Runtime: 110 minutes

Directed by: Willard Hyuck

Starring: Lea Thompson as a HOT 80's rocker chick, Tim Robbins overacting as much as he could, Jeffrey Jones, all the actors who played Howard

From: Universal

To think that this was actually stranger than what I remembered as a kid, and I remembered it as being pretty odd. Yet I don't hate it like some do: 

Note that this viewing did not come because of one of the 70mm (!) screenings that have recently occurred. Regrettably it was the Alamo Drafthouse who put them on-I hope people heard the recent news about the gross behavior that they have allowed for years now-yet I imagine this revival screening would be quite the experience, especially with a sold-out crowd that is going quackers for the movie. I did see this more than once as a kid but the last viewing before last night had to be when I was still a kid, meaning “a long, long time ago.”

I remembered the movie was odd and as an adult I realized that Lea Thompson as an 80's rocker chick was greatly appealing (and it certainly was in the film) but wow was this strange. Howard coming from a world that is exactly like Earth except there are 3 foot tall ducks instead of humans brings up a number of questions but it's best to look at all the duck-related puns and not think much about it. Anyhow, there are jarring tonal shifts throughout, many odd bits, Howard sometimes talks like he's a detective in a 40's noir, a few performances are over the top-I am especially looking at Tim Robbins here-and it's just weird overall. I suppose that's what you get when I understand that the comic book character is existentialist and the stories are usually highly satirical. It seems like an odd fit for a movie which I have to assume was made both for kids and adults.

The most infamous aspect is the relationship between Howard and Beverly. One scene sticks out the most there, and it is rather incredible that they both flirt with each other and an interspecies romance is even teased, but she is comfortable around a 3 foot tall talking bipedal duck to be walking around her loft in just her underwear? Sure, I enjoyed the visual and yet it is one of For certain, this is not a rated PG movie by today's standards... the rating was quite different in the 1980's. There are even DUCK BOOBS in the beginning. Like I said, weird overall.

Yet the movie does have its merits. The gonzo story is never boring. Jeffrey Jones as a human being is certainly objectionable but as an actor, he delivered some quality performances and he did here with his original character and what he turned into. As George Lucas had his full support behind this, no surprise that the movie was nicely filmed and the special effects were top-notch for the time. There's a scene at a roadside diner that has several different effects and while if you look hard enough you can see a flub or two that reveals how it was done, all were compelling. It has to be said that comic book movies having overblown finales full of special effects, random stuff blowing up and huge end of the world stakes... that did not start in the 21st century. The stop-motion creature at the end was unforgettable.

While the movie has inexplicable moments such as Howard trying to get a job and ending up at a weird sex club, there are also those big dollar special effects and a great soundtrack. The score itself is fine but the soundtrack I really enjoyed. As it was done by Thomas Dolby, no surprise it's 80's-tastic, and that's a positive to me. The title song, dare I say it's legitimately great? I will, as it was co-written by both Dolby and George Clinton (!) and you hear Clinton on the album version of the track.

No surprise that something this daffy would fail upon release but have at least a small cult following. Those that complain (and from what I understand, there are strong arguments for this being the case) about Marvel movies “all being the same”, this is the polar opposite of that, even if it's to Howard the Duck's detriment. Those that find it fowl... I mean foul, I won't argue with their viewpoint. I am not even quite sure how to rate this, but I guess it's average as I mentioned many of the highlights & lowlights and I suppose they balance out to being average, even if this is a 180 from average meaning “typical”.