Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Three Musketeers (2011)

I wanted to see this one when it came out in the theaters last year, but just didn't make it.  Having just watched it on DVD, now I'm glad I didn't waste my money.  This version sucked.  Funny thing is, that's actually hard to do.  The Three Musketeers, by their very nature, are interesting.  They're living in an interesting time period, with great villains and great costumes.  How do you mess that up?

Well, this movie starts by writing the musketeers with zero personality.  This is the first time I have actively disliked Athos.  Dude, that is just unheard of.  Athos is awesome.  Or he's supposed to be.  Not here.  He was... boring, flat, uninteresting, and completely lacking in anything that made me want to root for him.  Porthos and Aramis were far more interesting, and usually they're the boring ones.  They, at least, were a few pegs up the personality board.  D'Artagnan... ugh.  Just a smirking teenager.  With bad hair.  He seemed so ridiculously young... I just... yawn.

What was good?  Mads Mikkelsen as Rochefort.  Now, he was well cast. Too bad they gave him so little to do, because he was interesting and an entertaining villain.  Orlando Bloom was also good as the Duke of Buckingham.  He made me grin.  And I love Milla Jovovich.  She's one of the few modern actresses I really like.  But while she looked great in her costumes, I just didn't buy her version of Milady.  I love action, and I love women who can hold their own, but there's got to be some sense of reality or I just can't get on board.

Speaking of action, there were lots of sword fights!  You think I'd have liked those, and they were some of the better moments.  Except when the camera kept going all slow-motion and making what was otherwise fun to watch devolve into stupid.  And the big fight between Rochefort and D'Artagnan just relied too much on cheats by setting it on the top of a roof.  Instead of a truly interesting sword fight between two talented swordsmen who hate each other and have the fate of France at stake, you get this sort of "but wait, we can make the fight COOLER" type of deal from the film makers.  *rolls eyes*  Most of the action moments seemed to have this great desire to outdo something... not sure what, but they certainly pushed right past even my usually willing suspension of disbelief into ridiculous land.

And airships!  I love airships and blimps.  Don't ask me how, but they made those boring too.  Not to mention lame and they appeared to quite defy physics and air currents.  It's hard to make me not like a sequence with airships fighting with cannon, but they succeeded.

The funny thing is, I really had rather low expectations for this film too.  I wasn't expecting much more than a popcorn diversion.  I didn't even get that.  Except for Rochefort.  He was my favorite part.  He looked great too.  Costumes and set decorations and interiors were all first rate, though.  It looked good, at least.

What a waste of a fine story.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Caravan (1946)

A writer!  Amnesia!  Quick sand!  Love triangles!  Revenge!  Gypsies!  Marrying people you don't love because you think the person you do love is dead! 

This movie is ridiculously full of movie cliches, but instead of driving me crazy, I actually found myself enjoying the convoluted combination.  I'm not entirely sure why either.  This isn't a good movie, by any means, but it is amusing.  Maybe it just tickled me that Stewart Granger was playing a writer? Maybe it's because the people making this film seem to be enjoying themselves?  Maybe I was just in an accepting and non-judgmental mood?

Stewart Granger plays Richard Darnell, an aspiring writer desperate to sell his novel so he can earn enough money to marry his childhood sweetheart.  He saves an older gentleman from thieves, returns him and his nearly-stolen jewelry home, and disappears into the night, not expecting any thank yous.   Richard is one of those rare Honest Men.  I loved that!  The older gentleman, (who is from Spain) however, tracks him down anyway.  Not only does he love Richard's book and offers to help him get it published, but he offers Richard a job transporting those jewels to Spain.  That's just the opening few minutes. Okay, there's a flashback in there to Richard's youth, showing how the lower class boy meets and falls in love with upper class Oriana, and how her wimpy but scheming and slimy upper class friend, Francis, resents Richard and covets Oriana for himself.  This rivalry, of course, carries into adulthood.

Sir Francis (Dennis Price) grows into a vile, loathsome creature who calls himself a man.  There doesn't seem to be any depths he won't stoop to to get what he wants, and he wants Oriana (Anne Crawford), though why, I'm not quite sure.  He certainly doesn't love her.  She loses all her wealth when her father dies, so she doesn't bring him any wealth.  I think he wants her simply to spite Richard, who has bested him at every turn his entire life.

Richard takes the job transporting the jewels, but being the honest sort, he puts his trust into a fellow "traveler" named Wycroft that Sir Francis sends along to sabotage and murder Richard.  The ratfink very nearly succeeds, and so Richard ends up severely wounded and with amnesia.  He's rescued by a lovely gypsy dancer named Rosal (Jean Kent), who falls in love with him (and therefore starts a second love triangle).

And then things get even more complicated and more cliche, and yet, it all ultimately worked for me.  It may get complicated, but it's also predictable, not necessarily in a bad way.  I found the conclusion satisfactory.

I really liked Stewart Granger in this one.  He's nice, sweet, and honest, but then he gets to show off his bitter and broody side later in the movie.  I'm quite fond of angry Stewart Granger.  He glowers and internalizes so well.  Dennis Price was appropriately slimy and nasty.  The two ladies were adequate, beautiful and fiesty and fought for what they want.  And I really love the name "Rosal."

All in all, I found this movie pretty entertaining.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Birds - TCM Fathom event

Many thanks to Raquelle at Out of the Past!  Through her recent contest, I won two tickets and took my boyfriend to see The Birds last night on the big screen.  The Birds has always been up in my top five Hitchcock films, mostly because of Rod Taylor, and the fact that I grew up twenty minutes from Bodega Bay.  Seeing this movie is like revisiting my youth!  We used to stop by the building used for the schoolhouse quite frequently (it is actually not near the bay, but a fair bit inland and was an antique shop last time I was there... a long time ago), we would eat at The Tides restaurant, and we'd drive around the bay past where the Brenner house would have stood.  I also really love how the bird attacks grow in scale throughout the movie, how there is zero explanation of what sets them off, how those birds are pretty darned frightening in their sheer quantity and mindless inexorability.  I also loved the subtle, wary, and complex relationships between the characters.

My favorite scene has always been the very last one of the movie, as they get warily into the car and drive away, surrounded by the temporarily quiescent birds.  My second favorite scene has always been the attack on the house at the end, watching those bird beaks slowly break through the wood of the door, Rod Taylor rushing about to prevent them from breaking in.  Loved that!  The most frightening scene for me was always finding out what happened to the farmer.  Egads!

I think I also always liked this movie growing up because -- and this will sound really odd -- but it seemed like one of the more realistic Hitchcock films to me.  The characters are caught up in their own lives, dealing with love and loss without another care in the world but their own, and into their world comes this unexplainable force of nature that wreaks havoc and forces them to rethink what is important.  I loved that collision of nature with daily human life.

Last night was the first time I've seen the movie in probably fifteen years.  I found that I appreciated the dialogue and subtext between the characters a lot more now than when I was younger.  I particularly liked Jessica Tandy now, where I didn't like her character when I was young. 

The image was not the sharpest, but other than that, I had no real complaints about the technical side of the viewing.  I really hope they continue releasing films; however, I really wish they'd do it on a Saturday instead of a Wednesday.  Weekdays are impossible for my family to attend due to work schedules.  Very frustrating.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945)

I have been suffering from Stewart Granger withdrawal and so, after a very long absence from watching classic movies, I caught Madonna of the Seven Moons, with Stewart Granger, Phyllis Calvert, and Patricia Roc.  I had no idea what this one would be about going in, and I was rather surprised to find a rather serious story under a great deal of melodrama.  A few spoilers follow!

Phyllis Calvert plays Maddalena, a young woman who is attacked (and presumed raped) in the opening of the movie.  This scars her for life, and, even though she ends up happily married, she develops a split personality as a way of dealing with her fears and trauma.  When she's not shy and quiet Maddalena, happily married to wealthy Giuseppe with a very modern daughter, Angela, she runs off and becomes Rosanna, an aggressive and rather fearless peasant woman who has fallen in love with thief Nino (Stewart Granger).  Whichever personality she is at the time, she has no memory of her other self.  Both personalities are lost souls, though, and if there's one thing Phyllis Calvert is very good at playing, it's lost, doomed souls.  She never does find peace from her personal demons, no matter how hard she hides from herself.

Like I said, serious subject, actually.  The majority of the movie is about Giuseppe's attempt to understand what happened to his wife and why she does what she does, and Angela's (Maddalena's daughter) search to find her.  She's helped by her very respectable boyfriend and his best friend, who is part of an absolutely adorable husband/wife team (I loved them!).  They're contrasted by a very disreputable dancer/con artist and a jealous woman who wants Stewart Granger for herself and isn't happen when Rosanna returns.  It's rather interesting that all the good guys are upper class, all the bad guys lower... deliberate?  Or just because it's convenient to the plot?  I have no idea.

The dancer/con artist is a scheming rat named Sandro (Peter Glenville), who is Nino's nasty younger brother.  Nino may be a thief, but Sandro can't wait to get Angela alone so he can rape her, and he very nearly succeeds.  He's quite slimy and thoroughly loathsome. I thought the parallel between the daughter and Maddalena's own violent past would come into play at some point, but oddly, it doesn't.  The ending of the film struck me as not necessarily unsatisfactory, but more of just a "well, that's one way to get out of the situation" ending.

The movie was mostly entertaining, the cast worked well, the heavy melodrama suited their handling of the subject matter, and I think the only reason I wasn't more disturbed was because it was so melodramatic it was hard to take it quite seriously... even if it was serious.  Which is all very confusing, I know.  But then, I'm still rather confused about how I feel about it.  It was definitely interesting, that's for sure.

And Stewart Granger was awfully good-looking in this movie. :-D

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Indiana Jones Marathon

Yesterday, select AMC theaters were hosting a marathon of all four Indiana Jones movies.  I couldn't wait to go, mostly because after seeing Raiders last weekend, I was dying to see Temple of Doom.

I should explain up front that I am one of like 5 people in the world who actually love Temple of Doom.  I realize I am deeply in the minority on this.  For most, that film is too dark, or pushes their suspension of disbelief too far.  Most people I know (including my family) vastly prefer Last Crusade to Temple of Doom, but I'm the opposite.  Last Crusade is so full of stupid and deliberate attempts at cute/humor that it drives me insane.  Temple of Doom has the advantage of being one of the few sequels out there that did not try to follow in the first movie's footsteps.  I love that about it.  I think that is one of its great strengths.  Same lead character, totally different setting, characters, plot.  Last Crusade goes back to typical "let's recreate the wheel" realm.  Another strike against Last Crusade in my book.

Seeing all three movies in a row (which I've never done with these) really highlighted the differences.  Raiders is, of course, damned near perfect.  This viewing was far superior to last week's IMAX screening.  There were no glitches with the projection, the volume was only loud, not outrageously loud, and those two hours flew by.  I mean flew.  Fastest two hours ever.  And I loved every second of it.  I sat there grinning the whole time like I'd never seen Raiders before.  The mark of a great movie:  it truly does not get old no matter how many times you see it.  I love Indy.  I love Marion, I adore Belloq.  I love Katanga.  I love the ark.  I love that beautiful, awesome truck chase.  I love the score.  The only thing I don't like is that massive, epic Egyptian Grand Canyon that comes out of nowhere.  That is the only part that makes me roll my eyes.  Other than that.  Sheer love.

But while I saw Raiders a jillion times in the theater when it came out, my family only saw Temple of Doom about 8-10 times in the  theater.  And I've only seen it a couple times on television since, and not for a few years now, so, for yesterday's marathon, it was the one film of the three I was really looking forward to seeing again.  REALLY looking forward to seeing.  I love the musical opening credits, love Willie standing in front of the movie title.  Sure, Willie is annoying and shrill and screechy for about half the movie, but I'm okay with that.  I've known some people who would behave no differently thrust into her situation.  And she actually grows and changes as the movie goes on, something I appreciate.  Oh sure, I can do without the gross feast scene at the palace, but it's short, and it happens to be coupled with some of coolest and most pointed dialogue in any Indiana Jones movie, where Indy's finally called out on his archeological methods.  That's a great moment.

But this movie really gets going for me when Indy discovers the secret passage in Willie's room.  From that point on, I love this movie.  Short Round is one of the few movie kid characters I love.  He isn't an idiot, for one thing.  Plane in trouble?  Shortie checks for parachutes on his own, no one needs to tell him to do that.  He saves Indy's bacon more than once in this movie, and his acting never seems forced.  And I love that Indy never talks down to Shortie, lets him take on adult responsibility ahead of Willie, even.  Their relationship is one of things that makes this movie work so well for me.

Now, yesterday was a near perfect day, except for one mishap.  The theater had a fire alarm go off .  In the middle of Temple of Doom.  Everyone in all of the AMC's theaters had to evacuate to the lobby.  They did not pause the movie immediately, and so when it was finally determined the alarm was false, mass crowds filed back to their respective theaters, and the movie finally started again, the movie started about eight minutes after we'd left.  Dude.  If this had happened early in the movie, I might not have minded.  But when did it happen?  Right when Willie was about to be lowered into the pit.  When did it pick up?  In the middle of Indy's fight with Pat Roach's guard.  What did we miss in those eight minutes?  ONLY MY FAVORITE PART OF THE ENTIRE MOVIE!!!!!!

Yes, I missed The Moment.  The reason I drove forty miles yesterday to see this in the theater again.  The moment I always sit through this entire movie waiting for.  This moment:

The moment when John William's "Slave Children Crusade" theme kicks in all its full glory, and Indy is done with taking crap from the bad guys.  He is going to free those kids and no one is going to stop him.  The camera zooms in, music soars, the audience cheers... 

But no.  I didn't get to see Shortie rescue Indy, didn't get to see Indy rescue Willie, didn't get to see that famous close up, didn't get to see them rescue the kids...  It also threw the rest of Temple of Doom a bit out of kilter, so the whole movie seemed to rush after that point.  But I love the showdown on the bridge second best, so at least I got that.

Of all the eight minutes of film in the entire day to miss, it had to be that eight minutes?  Dude!!  Yeah, I'm still sore over it. Very sore.

Then came Last Crusade.  I did not like Last Crusade at all the very first time I saw it in the theater.  Then, of course, we went back to see it multiple times, and I got used to it.  I accepted the stuff I didn't like, and embraced the few moments I really did like.  Seeing it directly after Raiders and Temple of Doom, I felt like I was back at that first viewing again, where all the flaws just bugged me.  I should say that I love the plot of this movie, I just don't like the stupid dialogue that plagues this movie.  This is the only Indiana Jones movie that makes me aware of the script, which pulls me out of the movie.  I think I can count the moments/scenes I genuinely like in this movie on two hands.  In the order they happen:

1.  Indy pretending to be a Scottish lord
2. "She talks in her sleep."  Followed by Sean Connery's little smile.  Now THAT is a brilliant moment.
3.  "The floor's on fire.  And the chair."  Love that whole scene.
4.  "There is more in the diary than just a map" scene
5.  "I'm sorry, son, but they got us."
6.  The entire tank chase/capture/rescue, from "goose-stepping morons like yourself should try reading books instead of burning them" through the tank crash.
7.  Donovan shooting Dr. Henry Jones.
8.  "Indiana.  Indiana.  Let it go."

Okay, that last is my favorite moment in the entire movie, when Sean Connery's character, who has been calling Indy "Junior" the entire film, finally calls him Indiana.  I actually seem to have this big thing for that, as my favorite moment in Raiders is when Belloq also finally calls him Indiana.  It just so happens both moments are when Dr. Jones/Belloq have to reason with Indy, and his name seems to help reach him, but still.  Love it. 

And I should also say that I LOVE Michael Byrne as the German Colonel.  He is the only character who is not an idiot in this movie, who doesn't have any stupid dialogue or stupid moments.  He is awesome.  I loved him the first time I saw the movie, and I loved him yesterday.  He's the anodyne to the pain of watching the filmmakers turn Marcus Brody from smart and cool and capable in Raiders to an idiot and a fool simply for comic relief purposes.  I cannot forgive them for that.

I would actually liked to have stayed for the fourth movie, just to see how it played after the first three, but I was just kind of done with sitting at that point, and my ears were aching from wearing earplugs all day long.  The theater's fire alarm was two bright white flashing strobe lights, and that had given me a giant migraine too.  I really didn't think I could make it through another two hours.  And so, I cut out. 

So, how's that for a giant rambling post on my experience at the Indiana Jones Marathon? 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

I got to see this again on the big screen for the first time since 1981.  Raiders has the record as the film I've seen the most times in the theater.  I absolutely love this movie.  It's about as close to perfect as I could ask for.  And this is also a film I never could handle on the small screen.  When it came around on television (back when they would overdub the language, there was no such thing as widescreen, and commercial interruptions were frequent) we'd watch it... sort of.  It was always disappointing.  When it came out on DVD, well, I didn't even buy a copy, and this is one of my favorite movies of all time!  I just knew I'd never watch it, so why spend all that money to buy it?  Even after all these years, I still have most of it memorized.  From "Hovitos are near" straight through to "You know, a drink?"  I have all the sound effects memorized.  All the music.  I have no need to watch it on a small screen because I can pull it up in my head at any point as I remember it.

But I jumped at the chance to go see it again on the big screen.  It's playing on IMAX screens, but the closest IMAX theater to me does not one of the really large screens, so that was a bit disappointing.  It was also played so fricking loudly that my earplugs were very nearly not sufficient.  I felt so sorry for the kids in the audience, getting their hearing completely ruined at such a young age.  I don't know how they could stand it.  I seemed to have had a glitchy screening too, as it jumped several times in the opening scene and went out of focus more than once.  It seemed to straighten out after the first ten minutes, and it was pretty much awesome from then on.

The funniest thing was, there was no sensation of seeing it on the big screen.  It just felt... normal.  LOL!  All the things I used to look at were right where I expected them to be.  Very refreshing to see it as it was meant to be seen, as I remember it. 

And it was glorious, from the Paramount logo right through the end credits.  It was a very fun evening at the movies.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

John Williams at the Hollywood Bowl

My family and I were able to attend the concert last night at the Bowl.  It was quite an enjoyable evening, marred only by the head cold I currently have, which damped my enthusiasm quite a bit, and the obnoxious drunk couple sitting in front of us who felt being loud and rude was appropriate public behavior.

But the music was great, and that's what we were there for.  I particularly enjoyed the clips of movie swordfight scenes set to a cue from Williams' score to Adventures of Tin-Tin.  How could I not love seeing clips from Black Swan, Scaramouche, Prisoner of Zenda (both versions), Mark of Zorro, Robin Hood, Three Musketeers, and too many other films to name.  But I do admit, Tyrone Power and Stewart Granger on the big screen, for no matter how short a time, sure had my attention.  Really in the mood for some good old fashioned swashbuckling right now!

They also played the last reel from E.T, with live music.  Something about that live music really made seeing that special.

They also played the theme from Laura, with clips from various romantic films over the years. I appreciated that.

And, of course, there were the standard Star Wars favorites, which are always fun.  The addition of a chorus allowed them to do "Duel of the Fates," one I hadn't heard live in quite a few years now.  Really enjoyed that.

We took my nephew, who wore his Captain America costume... with a Jedi robe and lightsaber.  I can't tell you how fun that was, observing reactions to this little boy dressed as a superhero and a Jedi.  Very funny.  He really enjoyed the concert, the Star Wars music the most, of course.  Though he kept asking us when they were going to play the love theme from Attack of the Clones, and, sadly, that wasn't on the program.  The end of ET had him spellbound (he's not yet seen that one), and he was asking for a flying bicycle afterwards.

Thanks to John Williams and the LA Philharmonic for a lovely concert.