Tag: hollywood

MOVIE REVIEW | ***B&D SATURDAY FLASHBACK*** Sabrina (1954)

Sabrina poster
And so I stumble across another Billy Wilder picture that I had no idea was a Billy Wilder picture until his name popped up on the screen.  It turns out this dude churned out a lot of movies that have stayed pretty famous and kept good reputations 60 odd years later.  And of all his movies that I’ve seen, Sabrina definitely falls more on the side of things like The Seven Year Itch than something like The Lost Weekend.

So, Humphrey Bogart, the original hard boiled PI and king of film noir.  The ruthless gangster of more than one James Cagney movie.  The greed infected killer of The Treasures of the Sierra Madre…  Not exactly the guy you expect to see in a love triangle fuelled, romantic comedy romp.  But here is, none the less.

One half of pair of brothers with William Holden, the two are described in the opening voiceover with Bogart, “Linus Larrabee, the elder son, graduated from Yale, where his classmates voted him The Man Most Likely to Leave His Alma Mater Fifty Million Dollars. His brother, David (Holden), went through several of the best eastern colleges for short periods of time, and through several marriages for even shorter periods of time. He is now a successful six-goal polo player and is listed on Linus’s tax return as a six hundred dollar deduction.

While they grew up in luxury, their chauffer’s daughter, the titular Sabrina, played by Audrey Hepburn, grew up in love with their life and in love with David.  After a couple of years in France, Sabrina returns grown up enough to finally be noticed by David.  Hepburn really is one of the only actresses who could ever play a part like this.  When David declares his love almost immediately after her return, and when every man at a party stops dead in their tracks on her arrival, it never seems far fetched.  If any women in the history of Hollywood could have that effect, it’s Audrey Hepburn.

David’s infatuation with Sabrina threatens to destroy a $20million business merger, so Linus decides to intervene and stop the two from hooking up.  And you’ll never guess, but Linus falls in love with her too.

With almost six decades of terrible rom coms in its wake bastardising so much of movies like Sabrina, no one is going to be surprised by the ending and the path it takes to get there, but it’s how the movie delivers these now old standard devices that makes it work.  The comic relief of the Larrabees hen pecked father works every time, the growing attraction between Bogart and Hepburn is totally believable and the schmaltz is never too on the nose.

Really, with two of Hollywood’s greatest screen presences in Bogart and Hepburn (plus Holden isn’t too bad either), and one of the greatest directors of all time, I shouldn’t be surprised by how good Sabrina is, but it really did take me off guard.  I just never expected anything that could be described as a rom com to be this watchable.

(Review originally posted Dec 19, 2013)

Sabrina
Directed By – Billy Wilder
Written By – Billy Wilder, Samuel A Taylor, Ernest Lehman

MOVIE REVIEW | Swimming With Sharks (1994)

Swimming
“This is not a business, this is show business. Punching below the belt is not only all right, it’s rewarded”.

Hollywood making movies about Hollywood always runs the risk of being a naval gazing, self indulgent wank. Make it too upbeat, and it’s just rich people bragging about their rich, easy lives. Make it too cynical, and it’s poor little rich people complaining about their easy lives. But despite that risk, I tend to love most Hollywood movies about Hollywood. The key seems to be relentlessly making themselves the butt of the joke. Like the Robert Altman’s darkly hilarious The Player, or David Mamet’s sweetly hilarious State and Main. Or Woody Allen’s goofily hilarious Hollywood Ending. But what happens when a Hollywood movie about Hollywood goes dark and cynical, but doesn’t include the laughs? You get Swimming with Sharks.


Allegedly based on Joel Silver, the real life producer of blockbuster franchises The Matrix, Die Hard and Lethal Weapon, Kevin Spacey plays Buddy Ackerman, a high level producer, famous for his ruthless methods and unabated anger. When his personal assistant, Rex (Beniccio Del Toro) leaves for a better job, he’s replaced by Frank Whaley’s Guy, a fresh faced, eager to please newbie. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | There’s No Business Like Show Business (1954)

No Buisiness

Wow, I thought I’d seen song and dance numbers before.  But everything until now has been pretty subdued, stripped back, low key, and even a little half assed, compared to visual and aural assault of There’s No Business Like Show Business. And I mean that in a really, really good way.


Ethel Merman and Dan Daily are Molly and Terrance Donahue, a small time vaudeville duo in 1919.  Over the first half hour or so, the movie traces their ever growing family as they all take to the stage.  As adults, their three kids all join the show, becoming knows at The Five Donahues, made up of the parents, eldest son Steve (Johnnie Ray), only daughter Katie (Mitzy Gaynor) and youngest son Tim (Donald O’Conner).

On the road, they meet up-and-comer Vicky Parker, played by Marilyn Monroe, who becomes the object of Tim’s desire, and from here on in, it really become Donald O’Conner’s movie.

There’s No Business Like Show Business is definitely a musical, but it’s not the kind where people spontaneously break into song and everyone else in the street somehow knows the words and choreography.  Well, actually, that does happen once, but even then, it’s shot to seem more like a dream sequence than something happening in the reality of the movie.

But for the most part, the singing and dancing are confined to the stage where the many variations of the Donahues perform for paying audiences.  For me, this made a huge difference in my enjoyment of the song and dance numbers.  There’s something so artificial about most musicals that never quite sits right with me.  By finding a logical way to incorporate these performances, it made me much more willing to go along with everything.

The way the movie is structured, I’m pretty sure the writers came up a list of songs first, then figured out how to wrap a narrative around them.  The story and non-singing scenes are fine, but they never feel like anything more than an excuse to get to the next song.  Which is fine too, because the spectacle of every single song and dance really is amazing.

I think this is the first Ethel Merman movie I’ve ever seen.  And hearing her sing made me understand her iconic reputation.  She’s a super strong presence who is pretty hard to ignore.  And that, along with the inclusion of Monroe, makes it even more impressive that Donald O’Conner steals the show from them both.  As the youngest, most impulsive son Tim Donahue, he definitely gets the most interesting character to play, and O’Conner really takes advantage of it.

There’s No Business Like Show Business is big, over the top, cheesy, broad and hokey.  But it’s all those things in the best possible way.  It totally commits while never taking itself too seriously.

There’s No Business Like Show Business
Directed By – Walter Lang
Written By – Pheobe Ephron, Henry Ephron

***2013 RECAP*** MOVIE REVIEW | Before Midnight

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The 90s gave us a big wave of new, alt film makers who at their core, were massive movie nerds. Nerds like Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater. Tarantino has been able to follow his indulgences to some really great places and is possibly more recognisable than any other director working today. The recently retired-from-film-making Soderbergh is one of the most well respected names of the last two decades. Smith rode his train way past the last stop of relevance and film making creativity long ago, easily distracted by whatever bright, shiny trinket he might see out of the corner of his eye. Rodriguez only gets more and more unpredictable (in good and bad ways) as the years go on. And then there’s Richard Linklater, the quiet achiever.

Linklater is the guy who can make crowd pleasing fluff that’s actually really good, like School of Rock. The guy who can actually come really close to translating Philip K Dick to the screen with A Scanner Darkly. The guy who can make genre pulp like The Newton Boys one minute, then turn around and make an art house, philosophical talk fest like Waking Life the next. All that, plus a movie a lot of people see is an outright modern American classic, Dazed and Confused.

He’s also the bloke who’s made a trilogy out of two people doing nothing more than walking and talking. Sequels are usually reserved for action, sci-fi and the odd comedy. With the just released Before Midnight, Linklater has managed to build a franchise on one compelling relationship.

If you haven’t see 1994’s Before Sunrise or 2004’s Before Sunset, look out, there will be some spoilers. There’s no way to talk about Before Midnight without getting into the movies that preceded it.

Ethan Hawke is Jesse, Julie Delpie is Celine. They met nineteen years ago in Before Sunrise, on a train in Austria. They spend the night walking around Vienna, talking about life, the universe and everything, and falling in love. With Hawke’s character flying back to America the next morning, they have to say goodbye. Until nine years later, when a book he writes about that night leads to a publicity stop in Paris where Delpie’s character tracks him down in Before Sunset. They spend the day walking around Paris, talking about life, the universe and everything, and realising they have stayed in love this whole time, without ever seeing each other.

Which brings us to today, Before Midnight finds them in Greece and these two crazy kids have finally got it all figured out. They’ve spent the last nine years together, popped out a set of twins and the honeymoon period has long since passed. While the long, single takes are still there, Midnight deviates the most from its predecessors in its reliance on an extended cast. The first two Befores focused purely on Hawke and Delpie, with other roles barely more than extras with a line or two. The first half of Midnight however, has them surrounded by their children, friends and colleagues. And then… Then the second half kicks you right in the guts.

When the two main characters argue it feels so real I got uncomfortable watching it. They have the kind of arguments where they are both completely right, but going about everything completely wrong. So it’s hard to want either to win. While Sunrise and Sunset are all about the unlimited possibilities of love and romance and how ultimately, nothing can get in the way, Midnight is about what happens when you get what you want and the novelty wears off.

I wouldn’t call it cynical, there are still plenty of those little moments that make you think Jesse and Celine are the world’s most perfect couple, Before Midnight is just a little world weary. LIke the two earlier films, Midnight finishes at the perfect moment and if the series ends here, no one could complain. But I don’t think it will end here and can’t wait to see where these two characters are in another nine or ten years. And I can’t wait to see what else Linklater makes in between now and then as well.

Directed By – Richard Linklater
Written By – Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke

***2013 RECAP*** MOVIE REVIEW | This is the End

The End

There’s nothing worse than a trailer for comedy that shows all the jokes, so once you’re in the cinema, the only things left are the exposition and awkward struggle for an emotional payoff.  Well, This is the End is not that.  The trailer is hilarious and packed with solid jokes.  And even with all the teasers, sneak peeks and pre-release extras that come with an Apatow affiliated movie, that mountain of promotional material is still only a fraction of the non-stop jokes hurled at you every second of This is the End.  And the best part is, almost all of them hit their mark.


The trailer sets up what you’ll be dealing with.  Most of the Apatow crew, playing themselves, with a few pop culture cameos thrown in, are at a party at James Franco’s house.  The drugs, drink and douche baggery flow thick and fast until rudely interrupted by the apocalypse.  In what has the be one of the biggest mass character killings in comedy film history, almost everyone is offed in the first third, then the real movie kicks in.  How do entitled, spoilt, selfish, pampered, useless movie stars deal with a crisis?

If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the movie focuses on Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Craig Robertson, Danny McBride, James Franco and Jay Baruchel playing heightened, not so flattering versions of themselves.  But that’s just the beginning.  What drives the story, the laughs and even the heart of This is the End, is how it uses preconceptions about these guys, and Hollywood stars in general.  It reinforces some stereotypes and character traits, overblows others to insane levels and flips a few completely on their head in ways that make sure there are plenty of surprises long after you expect the premise to have run out of steam.  It’s also great to see that nothing, including dubious film choices the actors have made in real life in the past, seems to be off limits.  The Green Hornet, Your Highness and their shared success based on playing Apatow-style man children all come under fire.

Writers (and first time directors) Rogen and Evan Goldberg have clearly learnt a lot under Judd Apatow and his fingerprints are all over this.  Especially in the vulgarity to heart ratio.  It’s a tried and tested recipe, plenty of swearing, insults and consistent aggression throughout, that somehow makes the heart and emotional climax seem totally earned and not at all schmaltzy.  I really was surprised at how invested I was in the “lesson” the heroes need to learn to survive the end of the days.   And even though I knew what was coming and had predicted exactly how it would happen the first time I saw the bright blue beams of light, Rogen and Goldberg manage to find plenty of ways to add twists and turns before you get there.  Especially through their use of the core characters.  I don’t think it’s spoiling anything to say not all of them learn a lesson, find redemption or get a happy ending.

This is the End is exactly what I was hoping for going in.  I’m a fan of the Apatow stable and got what I wanted.  Rogen and Goldberg prove jokes can be profane and smart at the same time, they prove the third act of a comedy doesn’t have to lose all momentum just so they can wrap up the plot, and they prove that they might have the healthiest perspective of anyone in Hollywood about how lucky they are the live the lives they live.  It takes real talent to highlight how much better you have it than your audience, but still make your characters sympathetic.

This is the End
Directed By – Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogan
Written By – Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogan

MOVIE REVIEW | Sabrina (1954)

Sabrina poster
And so I stumble across another Billy Wilder picture that I had no idea was a Billy Wilder picture until his name popped up on the screen.  It turns out this dude churned out a lot of movies that have stayed pretty famous and kept good reputations 60 odd years later.  And of all his movies that I’ve seen, Sabrina definitely falls more on the side of things like The Seven Year Itch than something like The Lost Weekend.

So, Humphrey Bogart, the original hard boiled PI and king of film noir.  The ruthless gangster of more than one James Cagney movie.  The greed infected killer of The Treasures of the Sierra Madre…  Not exactly the guy you expect to see in a love triangle fuelled, romantic comedy romp.  But here is, none the less.

One half of pair of brothers with William Holden, the two are described in the opening voiceover with Bogart, “Linus Larrabee, the elder son, graduated from Yale, where his classmates voted him The Man Most Likely to Leave His Alma Mater Fifty Million Dollars. His brother, David (Holden), went through several of the best eastern colleges for short periods of time, and through several marriages for even shorter periods of time. He is now a successful six-goal polo player and is listed on Linus’s tax return as a six hundred dollar deduction.

While they grew up in luxury, their chauffer’s daughter, the titular Sabrina, played by Audrey Hepburn, grew up in love with their life and in love with David.  After a couple of years in France, Sabrina returns grown up enough to finally be noticed by David.  Hepburn really is one of the only actresses who could ever play a part like this.  When David declares his love almost immediately after her return, and when every man at a party stops dead in their tracks on her arrival, it never seems far fetched.  If any women in the history of Hollywood could have that effect, it’s Audrey Hepburn.

David’s infatuation with Sabrina threatens to destroy a $20million business merger, so Linus decides to intervene and stop the two from hooking up.  And you’ll never guess, but Linus falls in love with her too.

With almost six decades of terrible rom coms in its wake bastardising so much of movies like Sabrina, no one is going to be surprised by the ending and the path it takes to get there, but it’s how the movie delivers these now old standard devices that makes it work.  The comic relief of the Larrabees hen pecked father works every time, the growing attraction between Bogart and Hepburn is totally believable and the schmaltz is never too on the nose.

Really, with two of Hollywood’s greatest screen presences in Bogart and Hepburn (plus Holden isn’t too bad either), and one of the greatest directors of all time, I shouldn’t be surprised by how good Sabrina is, but it really did take me off guard.  I just never expected anything that could be described as a rom com to be this watchable.

Sabrina
Directed By – Billy Wilder
Written By – Billy Wilder, Samuel A Taylor, Ernest Lehman

MOVIE REVIEW | ***DIRECTOR DEBUT WEEK*** Bigelow: The Loveless (1981)

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It probably says something about Hollywood, that the only woman to ever win an Academy Award for Best Director, makes such masculine movies.  With an Oscar win for The Hurt Locker and a nomination for Zero Dark Thirty, Kathryn Bigelow is no stranger to making tough as nails movies about tough as nails characters.  And with Point Break, she has a genuine action movie hit to her name, that seems to be more and more beloved as time passes and nostalgia grows.  So even though I knew absolutely nothing about her debut before I started watching it, it was no surprise to see that there’s a bubbling pool of testosterone at the core of The Loveless.

In some ways an update of The Wild One, The Loveless begins with a gang of bikers descending on a small town.  Well, it’s not even really a town, it’s just a roadhouse diner and motel. And it’s not really a gang, it’s a few leather clad greasers, lead by Willam Dafoe as Vance.

Stuck there for a couple of days while they repair one of their bikes, Dafoe and his guys alternate from trying to lay low, to openly antagonising the locals to banging one of their daughters to full blown aggression.  All the while, the town is so small, this hand full of bikers almost outnumbers the residents.

Willam Dafoe nails it in the central role.  And even as the main character, he might have the least amount of dialogue in the entire movie.  But that’s fine, even three decades ago, Dafoe had an amazingly craggy, worn, expressive face that can say so much with juts the slightest look.

Not just Dafoe though, the entire movie has a really restrained, minimal, almost noir look and feel.  No one ever says a single superfluous word, and no big flashy moments are resorted to if the same point can be made with a quick exchange of looks.  Until all that restraint boils over into the big climax of The Loveless that is the biggest indicator of where Bigelow was headed as a director.

Based on the cars, I guess The Loveless set in the 50s or 60s, but I also get the feeling Bigelow is keeping the era deliberately ambiguous.  Usually, in any period piece, references to the specific time are usually shoehorned into exposition, but that never happens here.  I’m probably reading too much into it, but to me, it almost felt like a timeless parallel universe.  It could have been set in a weird version of present day when it was made in 1981, it could be set in a weird version of present day when I watched it in 2013.

Watching The Loveless and thinking about Bigelow’s more recent movies, like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty, the only conclusion I can come to, is that being married to James Cameron turns people into ice cold, hard assed bitches who make awesome, yet ice cold, hard assed movies.

The Loveless
Directed By – Kathryn Bigelow
Written By – Kathryn Bigelow, Monty Montgomery

MOVIE REVIEW | ***DIRECTOR DEBUT WEEK*** Spielberg: Duel (1971)

duelposter
I’m not a big Spielberg guy.  He has a couple of movies I really love, a few I think are really over rated, and a whole heap I’ve never bothered watching and probably never will.  But as ambivalent as I am, there’s no denying the amazing impact he’s had on film making over more than four decades.  There’s a reason why he has possibly the most famous behind the camera name in Hollywood.  And you can see the beginnings of that future notoriety in his first move, Duel.

Dennis Weaver is David Mann, a dude in a car trying to get to a meeting.  Stuck behind a filthy oil tanker on the highway, he decides to over take.  For some reason. the tanker driver takes offense to this and starts a game of vehicular intimidation and harassment.  Is starts small with tailgating, over taking then slowing down, that kind of thing, until the truck tries to run Weaver off the road.

Shaken, he stops at a roadhouse.  Showing the kind of dead horse flogging subtlety Spielberg will go on to exhibit throughout his career, Weaver calls his wide and it’s revealed he let another dude cross a few lines with her at a party the previous night and decided to ignore it to avoid conflict.  I wonder if that will serve as any sort of motivation to his actions when he gets back on the road and the truck reappears?  Upping the anti of torment until Weaver knows this has gone further than just intimidation and his life is actually in serious danger.

Made for TV with a tiny budget, Spielberg makes Duel a much better movie than it has any right to be.  Four years before he’d invent the entire concept of the blockbuster movie with Jaws, it’s great to see what a truly great film maker he is.  A solid 90% of this movie is the car, the truck, the road and nothing else.  Apart from the odd awkward voiceover from Weaver, there’s hardly any dialogue and the most we ever see of the truck driver is his arm out the window once or twice.

In true B movie style, the entire movie is a build up to one big climax that probably represents most of the meager budget, but that doesn’t stop Spielberg from finding ways to ramp up the tension and suspense all the way through.  Especially through the practical stunt driving.

It was 1971, so there were no computers to fake anything.  And Spielberg uses a lot of long, wide shots, so you can see how fast these vehicles are going, and how close they are to each other at these insane speeds.  It’s hard to give a shit about stunts and action sequences when you know it’s basically just a cartoon made by a computer.  With Duel, the reality of everything happening on screen makes it that much more intense.

Watching Duel gave me a lot more respect for Spielberg.  Not in a way that makes me want finally to get around to watching things like War of the Worlds or The Terminal.  But in a way that makes me really wish he’d make something small and simple again.

Duel
Directed By – Steven Spielberg
Written By – Richard Matheson

MOVIE REVIEW | Oz the Great and Powerful (2013)

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Sam Raimi began the new millennium in real style.  The Bryan Singer X-Men movies were solid, but Raimi’s 2002 Spiderman is really responsible for the invasion of mega budget superhero franchises we’ve had since then.  He followed it up with a great first sequel and a not so great (but not as bad as people say) second sequel.  A couple of years of letting the disappointment of Spiderman 3 die down and he returned to his roots with a low budget horror movie called Drag Me to Hell that you probably never saw.  Meaning this year’s Oz the Great and Powerful was his return to a huge budget, big name stars and a property we’re all familiar with.  And I think he nailed it.


James Franco is Oscar “Oz” Diggs, a turn of the 20th century travelling magician and grifter.  When he works one con too many, he escapes his vengeful victims in a hot air balloon, flying right into tornado.  Until this point, everything is in square screened black and white.  As Franco takes in his new surroundings, the aspect ratio widens and the spectrum exploding colours fade in to show the land of Oz in all its glory.

Franco quickly meets a witch played by Mila Kunis, a winged monkey voiced by Zach Braff, another witch played Rachel Weisz’s Evenora. an anthropomorphised china doll named appropriately (or is that lazily), China Girl and yet another witch, this one played by Michelle Williams.  There’s a prophecy to live up to, a mountain of gold at stake, a war to be won and innocent lives to save.  And I’ll be buggered if Franco’s Oscar Diggs doesn’t also learn a few valuable lessons along the way.  This thing really does move at breakneck speed and never really stops for a breather.

One thing struck me half way through Oz.  If everything in The Wizard of Oz was just Dorothy’s dream, how and why does the world exist outside of her head?  Do her dreams come with back story to fill in what happened before she got there?  I’ve never read the source books by L. Frank Baum, and let’s be honest, I probably never will.  So maybe he explains this, but to me, that realisation sort of took the wind out of the movie’s sails a little.  But only a little.

Heavy reliance on CGI gets a lot of criticism, and generally it’s deserved, but when used well, like it is in Oz the Great and Powerful, it can be just another tool at a director’s disposal to tell their story in the best, most effective way.  The little China Girl is a great example.  She’s more realistic and more effective as a character than anything crapped out in Avatar.  The CGI is also offset by the old fashioned, mechanical nature of the gadgets the Diggs character and his band of Tinkers build to use in their fight against the evil sister witches.  Even though computers were used to create pretty much everything we see on the screen, the fact that they’re depicting Edison style, early 20th century inventions gives these super modern effects a certain old fashioned charm.

Oz the Great and Powerful will never have the enduring legacy or classic status of 1939’s The Wizard of Oz, but if we had to get a 21st century, CGI heavy version of this world, I’m glad they gave the reigns to Sam Raimi.  And I’m glad he gave the lead role to James Franco who jumps in head first and really delivers on the charisma needed to make Oscar Diggs the conman and reluctant hero this movie needed.        

Directed By – Sam Raimi
Written By – Mitchell Kapner, David Lyndsay-Abaire

MOVIE REVIEW | Martin & Lewis: At War With the Army (1950)

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Gee, film makers sure had it easy back in the day.  At War With the Army shows comedy teams could become huge stars and massive box office draws with almost no comedy.  I’m not above big, broad, physical comedy, but even the dumbest jokes need some sort of context, some sort of reason to be there.  But it seems sixty years ago, the combination of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin was reason enough to throw in am obvious, predictable gag, no need for story or further justification.


This is the first Martin and Lewis joint I’ve seen, it was also the first to have them in the starring roles.  They’d been featured in two movies as a duo before, but this was their big premier as the main characters.  Which makes me wonder, how did they become such a phenomenon as a comedy double?  Because why would anyone watch At War With the Army and think they deserve another shot at the title?

That makes it sound like I think this is one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.  That’s not the case at all.  It’s just one of the laziest movies I’ve ever seen.  Jerry Lewis making a silly face and doing some amazing physical comedy that directly relates to the story being told… Hilarious.  Jerry Lewis making a silly face and doing some really lazy, thrown together physical comedy for no discernable reason… Confusing at best.  Dean Martin playing Lewis’ self-appointed superior who’s arrogance hides a genuine affection for Lewis deep down… That can lead to some laughs and nice bit of heart at the end.  Dean Martin basically being a selfish prick and never really attaining any redemption… Not really a great basis for comedy gold.

The weirdest part is, it’s not as if there’s no story to hang the jokes on.  This thing has story and exposition out the wazoo.  It piles on the characters, mix ups and misunderstandings in an attempt at farce, but it never really holds on tight enough to any of these aspects to keep them in check.  Instead characters, scenarios, loose threads and plot points float in when needed, are completely forgotten about when the next one comes along and pop up again out of nowhere when needed again.

In typical farce fashion, all the loose ends, quick fix solutions and lies converge on one hilarious point for the big climax.  Only, they don’t.  I had long stopped caring about any character enough to keep track of who was who,  where they fell into this wacked out world of wacky wackiness and who knew what about who.  Spinning plates isn’t so impressive if you let each one fall and smash behind you as you start the next one a-spinnin’.

The funny thing is (hey, I found a funny thing about this movie.  Bonus!) that even though I found At War With the Army pretty pointless, it has made me want to see other Martin and Lewis collaborations.  Because if they went on to become such an iconic duo in comedy, what followed must have been amazing to make people forget about this pile of mediocrity.

Watch the full movie streaming for free HERE
Directed By – Hal Walker
Written By – James B Allardice

 

MOVIE REVIEW | Heaven’s Gate (1980)

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It’s one thing for a movie to bomb so bad it ruins a director’s career.  It’s another thing for a movie to bomb so bad, it almost ruins the studio that made it.  Heaven’s Gate was director Michael Cimino’s follow up to The Deer Hunter, which had won him a Best Director Oscar.  It’s also seen today as one of the movies that killed the American auteur system of the 70s.  People like Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Dennis Hopper, Peter Bogdonavich and Warren Beatty had all had a great run making personal films that created critical buzz and decent box office returns.  Then Cimino crapped all over it with this shit bomb that went way over schedule and way over budget.


Actually, that’s harsh.  Before watching it, Heaven’s Gate had a mythical status for me as that shit bomb, so I had some pretty strong preconceived notions.  Preconceived notions only made stronger when I saw it came with an almost four hour running time.  Seriously, four hours?  If you can’t tell your story in two and half, three at the absolute most (and your movie had better be a ball tarer if you’re gonna take three hours of my life), maybe you should look at making a TV series, not one of film.

And that’s the thing, while I was watching, I checked the clock a few times, but not constantly, so the running time wasn’t a huge issue.  But when I think back, I can’t recall four hours worth of story.  It opens with main character James Averill, played by Kris Kristofferson, graduating from Harvard in 1870, in a sequence that could have been done in ten minutes, but goes for closer to thirty.  It then jumps twenty years ahead to the midst of land disputes between American land barons and European immigrants.   Kristofferson is on the side of the immigrants because he’s banging an immigrant whore…  Oh, that and because he’s a top bloke with principals and stuff.  About an hour in (just over a quarter, if you’re doing the maths), we meet Nate Champion, played by Christopher Walken, Kristofferson’s rival for the whore’s golden heart.  It’s great to see Walken before he became “Walken”.  No weird line deliveries, no creepiness, no “quirk”.  Just a solid, subtle performance.  That really is the broad strokes of what fills the four hours, it’s not a complicated story, though the characters are.

Watching Heaven’s Gate, it’s easy to see where all the money and time went in its making.  It looks absolutely amazing.  Shot on location in a Montana national park, every exterior shot has the most amazing, natural backdrop of deep valleys, snow capped peaks and wild frontier.  In a modern world of movies full of slapped together CGI, this really is one of the most impressive looking movies I’ve ever seen.  And more than just the natural wonders, Cimino adds an almost gold filter to the majority of the film.  Some scenes are somehow monochrome, but full of deep, rich colour at the same time.

On one hand, I can understand why it wasn’t a huge success on release, but on the other, I think it is a legitimately awesome piece of film making.  And the best part, the title comes from a roller skating rink seen several times throughout the story.  Yep, this epic tragedy is named after rolling skating rink.  I can only hope if a movie is ever made about some terrible time in my hometown’s past, they have the forethought to call it Skate Haven.

Directed By – Michael Cimino
Written By – Michael Cimino

MOVIE REVIEW | Buster Keaton: Sherlock Jr. (1924) / Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928)

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I figure if I was gonna jump in to the world of silent movies, I could do a lot worse than starting with one of the big two names.  In Sherlock Jr. the initial title cards setup Buster Keaton’s character as a cinema employee and student detective.  Initially, this seemed like a pretty ham fisted attempt to link a series of otherwise unrelated sketches.  The first, Keaton struggling for money to buy his sweetheart chocolates before a date.  This simple sequence is nothing more than Keaton sweeping rubbish in front of the cinema, talking to a couple of people while finding and losing money.  Such a simple premise, but full of great jokes.


Later, at the home of his sweetheart, her father’s pocket watch is stolen and Keaton is setup as the crook.  Dejected, he goes back to work at the cinema and falls asleep while running the projector.  This is where Sherlock Jr. really takes off.

A lengthy dream sequence, that takes up around half of the total running time, sees Keaton enter the movie he’s projecting and get caught up in a stolen pearls mystery that parallels his own troubles with the missing pocket watch.  This is a really elaborately scripted, meticulously shot and amazingly edited fantasy sequence that must have been mind blowing at the time.  It really is impressive to see some of the tricks and effects they pull off, all in camera, achieved through nothing more than editing and performance.

Four years later, Keaton made Steamboat Bill Jr. (there are no character or thematic links between the two, only the “Jr.” suffix in their titles).  This is definitely a step up in ambition, performance and film making skill in every way.  While Sherlock clocks in at around 40 minutes, Steamboat breaks the one hour barrier.  And Keaton uses the extra running time awesomely.


This is much more like the kind of straight forward movie plot we see today.  Where Sherlock is an excuse for sketches to be loosely strung together, Steamboat has a real, flowing narrative that works as an excuse for sketches to be tightly strung together while telling a Romeo and Juliet style romance.

Keaton plays William Canfield Junior.  He arrives in the town of River Junction, fresh from college in Boston, to work on his father’s rundown steamboat.  Keaton’s Bill Jr. is hardly the man’s man Bill Sr. was hoping for in a son and this clash of ideologies leads to some of the funniest sequences.  Coincidentally, Bill Jr’s college sweetheart also arrives in River Junction.  Even more coincidentally, she’s the daughter of Bill Sr’s arch rival, the owner of a new luxurious riverboat.

Keaton’s ever escalating desperation to please his father and his girlfriend, while also adapting to life on the river, make for some of the best physical comedy you’ll ever see.  Like with Sherlock Jr, I spent most of the movie wondering how those things were physically possible.  But they have to be, because with no high tech special effects or CGI to rely on in the 20s, the only way they could be done was physically.

When I decided to watch Sherlock Jr. and Steamboat Jr, it almost felt like homework.  Like I had to get these two under my belt to help my movie nerd cred.  But once I actually watched them, I realised why they’re still talked about today, not because they’re “important”, historical documents, but because Buster Keaton was amazing and because these are great, funny, well made movies.

Sherlock Jr. – Watch the full movie streaming for free HERE 
Directed By – Buster Keaton
Written By – Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, Joseph A Mitchell

Steamboat Bill Jr. – Watch the full movie streaming for free HERE 
Directed By – Charles Reisner, Buster Keaton
Written By – Carl Harbaugh, Buster Keaton
 

MOVIE REVIEW | Before Midnight (2013)

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The 90s gave us a big wave of new, alt film makers who at their core, were massive movie nerds.  Nerds like Quentin Tarantino, Steven Soderbergh, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez and Richard Linklater.   Tarantino has been able to follow his indulgences to some really great places and is possibly more recognisable than any other director working today.   The recently retired-from-film-making Soderbergh is one of the most well respected names of the last two decades.  Smith rode his train way past the last stop of relevance and film making creativity long ago, easily distracted by whatever bright, shiny trinket he might see out of the corner of his eye.  Rodriguez only gets more and more unpredictable (in good and bad ways) as the years go on.  And then there’s Richard Linklater, the quiet achiever.

Linklater is the guy who can make crowd pleasing fluff that’s actually really good, like School of Rock.  The guy who can actually come really close to translating Philip K Dick to the screen with A Scanner Darkly.  The guy who can make genre pulp like The Newton Boys one minute, then turn around and make an art house, philosophical talk fest like Waking Life the next.  All that, plus a movie a lot of people see is an outright modern American classic, Dazed and Confused.

He’s also the bloke who’s made a trilogy out of two people doing nothing more than walking and talking.   Sequels are usually reserved for action, sci-fi and the odd comedy.  With the just released Before Midnight, Linklater has managed to build a franchise on one compelling relationship.

If you haven’t see 1994’s Before Sunrise or 2004’s Before Sunset, look out, there will be some spoilers.  There’s no way to talk about Before Midnight without getting into the movies that preceded it.

Ethan Hawke is Jesse, Julie Delpie is Celine.  They met nineteen years ago in Before Sunrise, on a train in Austria.  They spend the night walking around Vienna, talking about life, the universe and everything, and falling in love.  With Hawke’s character flying back to America the next morning, they have to say goodbye.  Until nine years later, when a book he writes about that night leads to a publicity stop in Paris where Delpie’s character tracks him down in Before Sunset.  They spend the day walking around Paris, talking about life, the universe and everything, and realising they have stayed in love this whole time, without  ever seeing each other.

Which brings us to today, Before Midnight finds them in Greece and these two crazy kids have finally got it all figured out.  They’ve spent the last nine years together, popped out a set of twins and the honeymoon period has long since passed.  While the long, single takes are still there, Midnight deviates the most from its predecessors in its reliance on an extended cast.  The first two Befores focused purely on Hawke and Delpie, with other roles barely more than extras with a line or two.  The first half of Midnight however, has them surrounded by their children, friends and colleagues.  And then…  Then the second half kicks you right in the guts.

When the two main characters argue it feels so real I got uncomfortable watching it.  They have the kind of arguments where they are both completely right, but going about everything completely wrong.  So it’s hard to want either to win.  While Sunrise and Sunset are all about the unlimited possibilities of love and romance and how ultimately, nothing can get in the way, Midnight is about what happens when you get what you want and the novelty wears off.

I wouldn’t call it cynical, there are still plenty of those little moments that make you think Jesse and Celine are the world’s most perfect couple, Before Midnight is just a little world weary.  LIke the two earlier films, Midnight finishes at the perfect moment and if the series ends here, no one could complain.  But I don’t think it will end here and can’t wait to see where these two characters are in another nine or ten years. And I can’t wait to see what else Linklater makes in between now and then as well.

Directed By – Richard Linklater
Written By – Richard LinklaterJulie DelpyEthan Hawke