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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes [Blu-ray + UV Copy]
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes [Blu-ray + UV Copy]
Dvd ~ Gary Oldman
Price: £14.99

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars SIMIAN WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION, 4 Aug 2014
In the 1960s Arthur P. Jacobs purchased screen rights to Pierre Boulle's novel "Monkey Planet," for Twentieth Century Fox. It became Jacobs' dream project, facing an uphill battle with skeptical executives. Not helping the producer's cause was Boulle's public statement, calling "Monkey Planet" his worst novel.*

Rod Serling and Michael Wilson co-wrote the screen adaptation for Planet of The Apes (1968), which is far more Twilight Zone in construction than Boulle. Jacobs wisely cast Charlton Heston in the lead role. Heston, who loved the script, was helpful in influencing studio heads to green light and assign director Franklin J. Shaffner, who the actor had worked with in the underrated The War Lord (1965).

Studio misgivings were laid aside when Planet of the Apes (1968) proved to be a monstrous success. Before Star Wars, Batman, etc, Planet of the Apes was the original blockbuster franchise, spawning four sequels, a short-lived television series, an animated series, and a comic book. The original film still retains its classic pop status, despite revisionist opinions, usually by those who have not seen it and dismiss it as a cheesy byproduct of the sixties and seventies. Actually, it is science fiction at its most preferable: the cinematic equivalent of Cracker Jacks with its prize being smart dumb fun amidst caramel popcorn and salty peanuts. Who, in all honesty, would find Kubrick's academic psychedelia 2001: A Space Odyssey, made the same year, as fun an experience as American icon Heston being put through Sterling's pulp karma in the form of gorillas on horseback? Heston's Col. Taylor, disdainful of mankind, is replete with character flaws, yet we root for him as he is catapulted through a physical and emotional nightmare, in which he is forced to do a philosophical about-face, only to learn he was right all along. Heston's physicality perfectly responds to Sterling's blunt ironies. It is the hippest performance of the actor's career and one can understand his hesitancy regarding the sequel; Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970).

Heston's performance here amounts to a cameo, with James Franciscus filling in, albeit with a second rate imitation. Still, once past the unnecessary rehash of the first film, Beneath, in its innovative second half,proves to be the strangest, most underrated of the franchise. It is also the only sequel, which retained the original's flavor.

Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971), the best of the sequels, benefits from the quirky performances of Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowell. Writer Paul Dehn crafts an inventive, humor-laden narrative that delights in seventies pop culture. Dehn, a noted film critic, drew, in part, off Rod Sterling's original script draft for the first film, as well as Boulle's novel, in which Apes and humans coexist in a modern society. The Sterlingesque first half gives way to Dehn's pre-apocalyptic sensibilities and pop social commentary on racism and violence.

Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (1972) is literally Bazooka Bubble Gum armageddon,especially in the unrated version, found on home video. The slavery theme, in the decade immediately following the civil rights battle, made Conquest an enormously popular entry and Dehn sells the preposterousness of it by sheer style alone.

Battle for the Planet of The Apes (1973) fatally erred by switching horses in the middle of the ride (i.e. taking script-writing duties away from Dehn). The result was hopelessly dull family fare pretension with a vapid happy, happy, joy, joy intolerable New Age peace and harmony ending, which contradicts everything before it. The short-lived television seres, while hardly classic, was a slight step-up. By now the reputation of the original suffered from overexposure and the inevitable law of diminishing returns.

After Tim Burton's failed, all gloss re-boot from 2001, Twentieth Century Fox waited a full decade before handing the new Apes project over to producer and writer Rick Jaffa (among others), feeling the time was ripe to right Burton's wrong. Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) justified their patience. Director Rupert Wyatt and actor Andy Serkis were considerable assets to the film's critical and box office success. Rise is the first Apes to utilize CGI and the results are mixed. The primary detractions come in form of egregious homages to the original film, including Heston's infamous line, which is rendered a disservice to this wily pulp. Rise also set a new pattern in dull human counterparts. James Franco is adrift and his brow beating may possibly have been the result of realizing he had been upstaged. Freida Pinto is wasted, reduced to decor. The only genuine interaction between actors is found in John Lithgow's Alzheimer victim with Serkis' remarkable turn as Caesar. Rise is also water logged with the most vapid and dull of subplots: the big bad wolf capitalist executive playing havoc with science for profit, before his inevitable comeuppance. The epic social underpinnings of the 1968 original are scaled down to a commentary on animal testing, but one that smartly yields to a revamping of Conquest. Wyatt's stylish direction mostly overcomes the sloppy writing. Flaws, aside Rise was successful enough to warrant this year's entry.

A sequel was planned from the beginning, with Serkis returning for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014), directed by Matt Reeves, who previous credits include Cloverfield (2008) and Let Me In (2010). Some critics are hailing Dawn as the best of the entire Apes franchise, and although a distinct improvement over its immediate predecessor, this proves to be a slight exaggeration, but only slight. As Rise was conscientious folklore retelling of Conquest, Dawn uses Battle for a diving board and, fortunately, transforms its source (the worst of the Apes films) into one of the best.

Dawn, with returning writers Jaffa and Amanda Silver, repeats some of the missteps of Rise. Homages to the original abound and still serve as distractions. However, new writer Mark Bomback seems to have assisted in upping the ante (although his resume would not indicate that potential) delivering a script with the primary message that Them is synonym to Bigotry.

Dawn,like the best Apes films, has a Rod Sterlingesque sheen, but it also indebted to Dehn's somber, subtle as weapons of mass destruction apes branded social commentary. Additionally, there is a distant aesthetic relationship to Budd Boetticher's hyper complex, cryptic character prism filtered through the sensibilities of independent filmmaking (despite being a big studio enterprise). It is, or rather should be within our nature to root for the underdog, but as in a Boetticher film, we are unsure just who the underdog is. Both simian and human are prone to profiling and race demonization, but often this is borne through desperate struggle to survive, rather than being a genetic trait.Although,the shading is laudably complex, Dawn, like Rise, slightly falters in a vital area; the human counterparts themselves are mostly a dull lot with only a few performances rising above sketchiness. On the other hand, focusing primarily on the apes proves to be a good choice.

Aided by motion capture, Serkis' powerhouse performance as Caesar is even more impressive this time around and is the most, if not the only, successful collaboration between actor and CGI to date and, unlike the recent Spiderman travesty, the effects are utilized only to strengthen performance and narrative. Although clearly the protagonist, Caesar is fallible and fears change, which is Dawn's second big theme, practically splattered on us through a bull horn, which is hardly a criticism. Almost matching Serkis is Toby Kebbell's performance as the radical militant Koba. It is a given that Dawn will not be a favorite among a good number of NRA members or George W. Bush foreign policy fans, but Kebbell avoids degenerating into cartoon territory, which would have been easy to do. His Koba is not entirely without sympathy and understandable motive. A third, notable performance is found in Karin Konoval's reprise of the orangutan; Maurice (the name being a nod to Maurice Evans who played Dr. Zaius in the 1968 original). Maurice has taken on the mantle of a pedagogical simian. Anti-war, anti-racism, pro-gun control, pro-civil law, and pro-education, Dawn Of The Planet Of the Apes, is, quite possible, rendered a summer nightmare for obtuse summer blockbuster zealots and social media forum kooks.

Some criticisms have been leveled against this film for its preachiness and pacing. Aesthetically echoing its message that trust is hard earned, Dawn is more akin to a thought out, gradually convincing us homily as opposed to a banging-the pulpit Transformers sermon. Yet, this is not a summer move devoid of visceral excitement. Indeed, it is a rare, flavorful popcorn, aided immensely by Michael Giacchino's score, building to a dynamic, Orwellian crescendo.

* Boulle had previously written the novel Bridge on the Rive Kwai' received credit for the screenplay, but declined to show up for the Academy Award. The reason for the no-show was that Boulle did not write the script, but agreed to receive credit for the film's backlisted writers.

** my review originally appeared at 366 weird movies.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 10, 2014 10:40 AM BST


Transformers: Age of Extinction [Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Bonus Disc]
Transformers: Age of Extinction [Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + Bonus Disc]
Dvd ~ Mark Wahlberg
Price: £17.99

4 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars RECOMMENDED: 2 BAYER ASPIRIN AND A LONG SHOWER, 10 July 2014
Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) is one for the shower. It is an endless two hours and forty minutes, made strictly for an illiterate, masochistic audience who seek out movies that will bang them over the head and deafen them. The rest of us may feel so wiped out that we will need to run home, take two Bayer aspirin, and wash off the residue of director Michael Bey's masturbatory excesses. Bey has made enough money pleasuring himself to toys that he could put a serious dent in the national deficit. That says a lot about contemporary movie executives and perhaps even more about the typical moviegoer.

That aptly named Age of Extinction could very well be a prophetic symbol for movies as a meaningful form of entertainment. To say Transformers is soulless is too much of a given. I cannot imagine anyone even talking about the movie afterwards, except perhaps out of sheer embarrassment for having dragged oneself in to see it. I am unsure how many of these movies have been made, and have no desire to find out after having seen this one; but the fact that a series of Transformers movies have been produced already almost guarantees it making a gazillion dollars off numbed contemporary audiences forever looking for sensation devoid of feeling.

Based on the Hasbro robot toy line, Transformers is too pornographic in its violence to be seen by children, and any parent taking their kids to see it should have their head examined. The actors, who include Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer, and John Goodman, are in the nadir of their careers. They are lost among scraping metal, explosions, and countless product placements, which at least provides minuscule relief from all the "noise, noise, noise." Unfortunately, like Boris Karloff's Grinch, we are rendered powerless in our attempt to shut it all up because the noise is the only thing that prevents us from succumbing to complete boredom. Death from boredom would be far preferable, however, and leave less wear on the posterior. Robots are supposed to be cool, and despite having robots who can turn into cars, Transformers can't inspire any emotion besides lethargy. I kept asking myself how Bay could manage to make robots dull, until I remembered that Clint Eastwood worked hard, and successfully, at sucking all the fun and poetry out of the Western and transforming it into a hopelessly vacuous genre.

Not helping the robots is shockingly asinine dialogue delivered by Goodman (in voice over), Wahlberg as a mad scientist type, and Grammer as the stock CIA exec. Incredibly, the girls in the movie are even more witless, reduced to cardboard whores for Bay's fetishistic lens.

Transformers is not so much a movie as a heavily advertised media event. Doubtless, the besotted businessmen funding this clanging, metallic peepshow fancy their product as imaginative enough to rake in plenty of dyed green paper from its zombified audience. To be certain, the producers will be quite busy tallying their profits, but all that green is rendered an illusionless illusion because, although good movies are still being made, American Cinema is broke, and all the king's horses and all the king's men will not be able to put it together again.

* My review originally appeared at 366 weird movies
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 19, 2014 12:36 PM BST


Beneath the Planet of the Apes [Blu-ray] [1970] [US Import]
Beneath the Planet of the Apes [Blu-ray] [1970] [US Import]
Dvd ~ Paul Richards

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars MASS FOR THE BOMB, 7 July 2014
It is all there in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970): from Alpha to Omega, from Moses to St. John of Patmos all the way through to Martin Luther's antisemitism.

We last saw Taylor (Chuck Heston) in the original Planet of the Apes crying like a baby, making mud pies before the post-apocalyptic ruins of the Statue of Liberty with dumb (i.e. mute) brunette Nova (Linda Harris, in a bad performance) by his side. Insert invisible wormhole to swallow Taylor up whole. Nova now waits for new knight-in-a-loincloth Brent (James Franciscus) to rescue her.

Yes, American astronaut Brent has a loincloth too, and cuts a leaner, more-sylphlike figure than Heston (of whom he gives a second-rate impersonation. Franciscus fared better in his best performance as blind detective Mike Longstreet in the TV series "Longstreet," which is as lamentably forgotten as Franciscus himself). Nova and Brent go cave exploring and what do they find? An elongated and pointless rehash of the first movie.

Cornelius (David Watson, briefly replacing Roddy McDowell as the chief chimp) and Zera (Kim Hunter) do much hand wringing. Meanwhile, there is a gorilla named Ursus (James Gregory) who is prone to booming his own second-generation, agenda-laden scripture. ("The only good Jew is a dead Jew" has far more expansive potential when mouthed as "the only good human is a dead human.") A simian neo-Fascist yahoo, Ursus takes his cavalry into the Forbidden Zone, hot on the trail of Brent and Nova. A prophetic Jonestown awaits.

Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) laments: "Someone has outwitted the intelligence of the gorillas."

"The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked merciless force!" Hallelujah, General.

The hippie apes protest the impending war (i.e. Vietnam).

Meanwhile, our Adam and Eve protagonists (make that Second Adam with Eve) have been bamboozled into joining a charismatic, apocalyptic religious cult, a la Jim Jones.

Former King Tut Victor Buono (with Moses' staff and sacred scroll in hand) starts slaying in the spirit and whips up a pillar of fire, apparently delivered personally by a cobalt-cased deity, to stall the Mighty 7th. Ursus may just be another replacement for the Pharaoh, but with Gregory's evangelical charisma practically melting the ape makeup, the stoic Randolph Scott could never have competed.

"If you are caught by the gorillas, you must remember one thing."

"What's that?

"Never to speak!"

"What the hell would I have to say to a gorilla?"

"That thing out there, an atomic bomb... is your god?" "Get outta my head!"

"Mr. Taylor, Mr. Brent, we are a peaceful people. We don't kill our enemies. We get our enemies to kill each other."

Insert nihilistic finale.

Rod Serling (who co-wrote the script for 1986′s Planet of The Apes) was commissioned to compose a treatment for Beneath the Plant of the Apes, which was summarily (and foolishly) rejected. Apparently, for this first sequel, the producers wanted something formulaic. in the mold of its predecessor (which suceeded because it defied formula. Leave it to executive produces to miss the obvious). Prolific television and Goldfinger scripter Paul Dehn was hired and delivered what Zanuck wanted, at least for the first third. Most series fans consider Beneath akin to an Apocrypha, but it is the only sequel which retains the original's flavor (and then some). Once one gets past the story repeating itself, and its reduced budget (making for some embarrassing long shots of actors in pullover masks), the film's descent into a Mass for weapons of mass destruction renders Beneath the most bizarre of the Apes' series.

MASS FOR THE H-BOMB:

"Behold our God. The heavens declare the glory of the Bomb, and the firmament showeth His handiwork."

Chorus sings: "I reveal my Inmost Self unto my God. Unto my God. Unto my God!"

"Glory be to the Bomb, and to the Holy Fallout. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen."

"May the Blessings of the Bomb Almighty, and the Fellowship of the Holy Fallout, descend upon us all. This day and forever more singing Amen!"

Amen.

Although critics correctly assessed Beneath as an ill-constructed movie (mainly due to the opening rehash), it has a delightfully inherent cynicism, with militant fundamentalism as the not-so-subtle, but well-deserved, target. Dehn shrewdly hones in on the charismatic fundamentalist ambition for a self-created apocalypse. Tired of waiting for God to blow up the world? Well, by gosh, we will give him a helping hand and transform our deity into the guts-guns-and-glory mother of all Golden Calves: the Armageddon bomb! Alpha screws Omega. Having served in the second world war, Dehn was a personal witness to the aftermath of the Hiroshima bomb, and his own apocalyptic fears made their way into the film with brass knuckled subtlety. He was even shrewd enough, in second sequel (1971′s Escape from the Planet of the Apes), to flesh out his own version of a rapture via a discarded rocket (a la Superman's escape from Krypton).

Heston, possibly smelling a hint of blasphemy afoot, loathed the script, along with the resulting film. Although he was accused of doing it only for the money, Heston actually committed due to an admirable, professional sense of loyalty to both Zanuck and Twentieth Century Fox. Not believing in the film, Heston felt guilty taking a salary and donated his entire paycheck to charity. When people say "they don't make actors like they used to," Heston fits into the "used to" category. However, hating Beneath`s script and (rightfully) fearing it would diminish the original, Heston desperately wanted to put an end to further potential sequels and slyly suggested blowing up the world at the end (unintentionally taking Dehn's sci-fi version of "Revelations" one delirious step further). Surprisingly, producers embraced the suggestion.

Producer Richard Zanuck to Chuck Heston: "We can't exactly do the sequel without you, Chuck."

Chuck to Zanuck: "Oh, alright, I have one condition: I'll do it, if you kill off my character at the end."

(Sort of) God:"In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead."

Co-star James Franciscus was decidedly more enthusiastic than his predecessor and rewrote some of Brent's dialogue--although his character was mostly called upon to deliver one-linerzingers, such as the melodramatic "My God, it's a city of apes!" Reportedly, there was much loincloth binding on set.

Original Apes director Franklin J. Schaffner declined to direct the script, leaving Zanuck's to commission television director Ted Post.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes was a box office hit, which secured Dehn as the primary screenwriter for remaining sequels. With a brief reprieve of humor in Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971), Dehn's ominous obsessions would lead the series into further violence. Although he was clearly no Rod Serling, Dehn proved to be a fairly good franchise choice, avoiding repetition and staleness, at least until the final "family friendly" Battle For the Planet of the Apes (1973), which he only co-wrote after his earlier, bleaker script was rejected. A short-lived, pedestrian television series followed, which Dehn was not involved in. Still, the saga remained moderately successful (financially) until Tim Burton`s 2001 pastiche.

Many consider 2011′s Rise of the Planet of the Apes to be a rebound, and the best adaptation of Pierre Boulle's novel since the 1968 original film. Oddly, just about everyone ever associated with "Planet of the Apes," in any of its incarnations, received some kind of homage in Rise, with the notable exception of Dehn.

*My review originally appeared at 366 weird movies
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 13, 2014 12:42 PM BST


The Greatest Story Ever Told [DVD] [1965]
The Greatest Story Ever Told [DVD] [1965]
Dvd ~ Max von Sydow
Price: £4.35

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars THE MOST BI-POLAR EPIC EVER MADE, 7 July 2014
Big budget Hollywood Bible blockbusters are a category that can put shame to the campiest excursions found in low budget horror and sci fi pics. The king of sword, sandal, and sacred cleavage (male and female) was undoubtedly Cecil B. DeMille. Like many patriarchal types, DeMille was, by most accounts, a mean-spirited, obsessive controlling showman, who aggressively pushed his propaganda in some of the greatest howlers ever committed to celluloid. The trademark DeMille camp was intact from the beginning, with his silent King of Kings (1927) gifting us some of the most jaw-dropping intertitles in cinematic history. Mary Magdalene, in jewel studded bra, on the way to meet her lover Judas, mounts her chariot and barks the command: "Nubian slave, harness my zebras!" Still, even DeMille was ecumenical enough to place blame for Jesus' death on the religious leaders, as opposed to Mel "I hate other religions" Gibson's medievalism of condemning an entire race of people.

DeMille was at his most seductive in Sign of the Cross (1932), a sexy romp about first century Christians starring Charles Laughton as a leering Nero and the slinky Claudette Colbert taking a pre-code bath in goat's milk. As usual, the sinners are more interesting than the hopeless saints.

By and large, the Hebrew Bible makes for better cinematic material than the story of Jesus. Those primitive tribal tales make no apologies about contradictory portrayals of a divine being who is, alternately, a savage and a benign father (depending on who was writing). Some of the more outlandish fantasies found in the Torah are almost hidden, which is rather convenient for the childish, self-proclaimed literalists who tend to bypass such passages. Darren Aronofsky`s Noah (2014) looked at the troubling contradictions without blinking, and gave us one of the most challenging Bible-inspired works of art since Arnold Schoeberg's opera "Moses und Aron."

A hopelessly derivative pastiche of preexisting rabbinic narratives, the New Testament Jesus narrative is a bit more problematic. Worse, Jesus himself is, more often than not, rendered in artistic representations as a kind of reverential masochist, a bland "John Boy" Walton deity. Some of the figures that surround Jesus are infinitely more compelling. The giddy and girlish Mother of Christ delivers her Magnificat (which echoes Hannah in 1 Samuel). That soliloquy is better written than almost anything that comes out of Jesus' mouth. The sassy Martha is the Mary Ellen Walton we all secretly root for over her hopelessly pious sister. Insert-foot-in-mouth Peter makes for a more colorful companion than that dullard, beloved John. The woman at the well and post-Gospel figure Paul have more personality than Jesus himself, with a few notable exceptions. When Jesus steps out of character and horsewhips the money changers, or mantles a Garboesque "I want to be alone" attitude, he suddenly comes to life. Oddly, those wonderful Technicolor miracles and kicking demon ass moments are often inexplicably bypassed in Hollywood treatments, probably because they are uncomfortably "unrealistic." Of all the Tinseltown interpretations of Jesus, the blandest of the lot is unquestionably King of Kings (1961). That film was much criticized upon its release as being too reverential. Lately, there has been a critical reevaluation, praising it as a worthwhile version. Don't believe it for a second. Contemporary critics are perhaps a bit too awestruck with director Nicholas Ray and the prettified Jeffery Hunter. There is a reason Orson Welles sought to have his name removed as the film's narrator: the movie lacks tension and is just too damned polite and impersonal. Even the usually dependable Robert Ryan, as John the Baptist, comes off merely as an actor quoting scripture. The eloquent but too academic cinematography and the unbiblical Barabbas subplot are the main attractions, despite the fact that said subplot hopelessly veers the film away from its self-proclaimed intent.

A few years later, director George Stevens hoped to produce the quintessential screen treatment of Jesus' story. Stevens had previously made a pseudo-Christ film in his golden-hued myth Shane (1953), which is, perhaps, the most overrated Western to date. Not only did Stevens fail aesthetically with his big screen Jesus, he delivered one of the most abysmal flops in film history. Yet, for all its resounding awfulness, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) has points of interest, like a celluloid train wreck. It is a camp masterpiece of sorts, maddeningly bi-polar; and, despite its ultimate dullness, we are hard pressed to look away.

It opens with narration delivered so execrably that it would not even cut mustard in a local church passion play. A kitsch painting of star Max von Sydow`s Sistine Chapel Savior introduces us to "The Greatest Story... Ever Told." Following the obligatory bluish Viewmaster presentation of Luke's Nativity (featuring Dorothy McGuire's too old, too wooden Virgin Mary and Robert Loggia's Joseph of the Waxy Beard), the film gets some much needed peppering in Claude Rains' King Herod. Rains, in his last film, invests his usual expert sliminess in the role. Jose Ferrer plays Rains' successor, Herod Antipas, with a cool tone that nicely counters Charlton Heston`s John the Baptist. Heston's John parallels the film itself in unevenness. We hear him first in woefully stiff voice over. John's introduction to his cousin Jesus is replete with all the expected melodramatic pauses that we have come to expect. Surprisingly, John doesn't know Jesus, but that's true to the awkward source material. Fortunately, once Heston raises his Moses-like staff, his performance kicks in. In sharp contrast to Robert Ryan's subdued performance of the same character in King of Kings, Heston plays the part of a chiseled ancient Baptist preacher (dressed like Johnny Weissmuller), who, like his modern counterparts, screams fiery sermons, bullies people into the baptismal tub, and has a propensity for telling those he disagrees with that they will burn in Hell. Heston's fundamentalist condemnation of Ferrer's Herod Jr. is so unexpected and eye-rolling, it gives the movie a desperately needed booster shot of interest.

Von Sydow is the embodiment of El Greco's Christ, and although the script does not give him enough moments, there remains a sliver enough to conclude he is one the best celluloid Messiahs to date, despite being a blue-eyed Swede icon. As per the norm, the Jesus story has a bad ending and von Sydow has to get through it, but his performance is blessed with several moments to make your hair stand on end. Alas, the temptation scene is not one of them. Stevens has Christ climbing, struggling with pronounced fear, all the way up a familiar rock formation to face Donald Pleasance`s tempting Beelzebub. Old Nick, forever snacking, offers the Nazarene a bite of jerky, but Jesus explains, with exasperation, that he is fasting. It is a well-played moment. However, the triptych of temptations that follows are a flat walk-through of printed quotes (though still better than King of Kings` handling of the scene). Pleasance's recurring Satanic appearances, although an idiosyncratic device, are fatally contrived and happen at woefully opportune moments (seducing Judas into betrayal, inspiring the crowd to pick Barabbas, prompting Peter to deny Christ, etc).

Following Heston's beheading, we are subjected to a series of numbingly risible vignettes: The Greatest Dead Spot Ever Told. Along with von Sydow, Michael Anderson (as an Aryan, baby-faced James), is saddled with dialogue worthy of Ed Wood: "What's your name?" "James. What's yours?" "Jesus." `That's a good name." "Thank You." Clearly, the plethora of writers were twirling pencils. Originally, the film was four hours. Understandably, Stevens had to make cuts--and this is one of the scenes he kept!

Justifiably, much has been made of Stevens' All-Star Parade of cameos. Stevens' gave a canned defense: in years to come, no one would notice. However, nearly fifty years later, these walk-ons are still blatantly obvious. Some have countered that Franco Zeffirelli likewise utilized established actors in his miniseries Jesus of Nazareth (1977). However, Zeffirelli actually employed Laurence Olivier, Anthony Quinn, and James Mason as actors. In Stevens' version, Ed Wynn, Pat Boone, Roddy McDowell, Sidney Poitier, Carroll Baker, Robert Blake, Sal Mineo, and Angela Lansbury are woefully out of place celebrities. The raspberry award has to go to John Wayne, in a Roman toga, infamously sputtering, "Surely, this man was the son of Gawd." Understandably, it is a moment that has sent audiences howling ever since. Nearly matching the Duke in sheer embarrassment is Shelley Winters, who can be among the most ingratiating of actors. She does not disappoint expectations, yelling her way through her attention-craving role of a now-cured diseased woman, as if both Jesus and the audience are deaf.

Equally infamous is Stevens' decision to use Glen Canyon, Pyramid Lake, Lake Moab, and Death Valley as shooting locations because "they look more like Israel than Israel." Critics and Biblical literalists pitched a bitch, but since it is Sunday school storytelling, the complaints could be muted there. The boulders themselves look aptly muscular, validating Steven's location decision. The real complaint lies in all that academic, hyper-professional framing (no doubt aided by uncredited co-director David Lean).

Jesus, his apostles, and crowd are tediously positioned like figurines on a velcro board, with white robes straight from the dry cleaners. These vignettes, featuring the Hare Krishna commune dozen, could be the ultimate cure for insomnia. However, just when we are about to give up the ghost to monotony, The Greatest Story Ever Told gets refreshingly offbeat with the raising of Lazarus. Naturally, this is the Big Kahuna of Jesus' miracles (which compounds the uncomfortable fact that only one of the four canonical gospels even bothers to mention it). Jesus is rejected and chastised by that spitfire Martha for arriving too late to heal her now dead brother. Jesus weeps, walks off, looks up to God, prays feverishly, and transforms into a bona fide fanatic. It is an excellently acted moment and, for once, Jesus is a human desert prophet, rather than a celestial king on a pedastal.

Alfred Newman, not one of the great film composers, delivers a good score, complimenting von Sydow's fringe moment... until Stevens' screws it all up by slamming the musical brakes. The director' throws a monkey wrench into his own scene by replacing Newman with the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah.

Smartly, Stevens' does not show us a closeup of the zombie. Rather, Lazarus is barely seen from a long distance, making one question whether or not the miracle is authentic or hallucination. Yet again, Stevens ruins a good setup by having Wynn, Van Heflin, and company sprint over to the local Roman shop, mimicking a non-musical barbershop quartet in proclaiming Jesus' prowess in the miracle department.

The Greatest Story Ever Told gets a brief rebound before waddling into its saccharine Precious Moments finale. In the temple scene, Jesus finds his El Greco moment, and sends the Capitalists packing. Then, he outdoes himself with a torch-in-hand homily. Von Sydow's savior transforms into a confused, diehard Gnostic, Baptist New Age preacher, ranting on and on about "The Light." He riles the masses with such eccentric charisma, it is no wonder he is betrayed by David McCallum's frightened and unsettling (but still under developed) Judas.

Stevens' gives Judas a starling end. Rather than the customary hanging, the traitor throws himself into a raging flame. Perhaps the director and his fellow writers noted the two contradictory gospel accounts of Judas' death and decided to do an in-between-version. Regardless of reason, it is a provocative decision that works.

As Pontius Pilate, Telly Savalas delivers a bold, sturdy performance that would be surpassed by David Bowie`s very different interpretation in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).

The trial scene is well composed with reds beautifully and strategically placed. Alas, we do have to endure the (as usual) boring crucifixion scene, but it is not quite as torturous as the return of Handel and that damned kitschy painting.

The film itself proved a temporary beheading for the Biblical epic genre. Costing a staggering twenty million in 1965 dollars, The Greatest Story Ever Told has, to date, recouped eight million of that initial investment. Perhaps in the afterlife, George's next project will utilize more cost effective, 21st century CGI.

* my review originally appeared at 366 weird movies


Godzilla [DVD] [2014]
Godzilla [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Price: £9.99

2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Godzilla: The living, breathing can of Raid, 7 July 2014
This review is from: Godzilla [DVD] [2014] (DVD)
As a movie character, Godzilla always seemed too imitative of his predecessors, notably King Kong (who had far more personality and craft) and a couple of Ray Harryhausen creations (which had more craft). Still, the 1954 Japanese original, distributed by Toho Enterprise and directed by Ishiro Honda, was an imposing manifestation of the H-Bomb. Grimness permeates the original, birthed from an authentic response to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings and the 1954 nuclear tests in the Pacific (which had resulted in radiation sickness visited upon occupants of a Japanese freighter). The beast of nature brutally emerges, like a fevered dream, amidst raining soot and decimated fallout shelters, to take revenge upon mankind. Contemporary audiences may roll their eyes during some of the clunkier dialogue (i.e.the preachy finale) or squirm through dated FX, which do hold true to form. Horror films, more than any other genre, date quickly: but that hardly renders the original mere camp. The clicking newsreel footage, juxtaposed against the dramatic tensions between the four human characters, nearly banishes the preposterousness of it all. Predictably, American distributors demanded a dumber version tailored to Yank attention spans, which cannot handle much in the way of foreign narrative, let alone subtitles. The result, directed by perennial hack Terry Morse, cut out nearly an hour of footage and added an Americanized half hour with actor Raymond Burr, who in the role of reporter Steve Martin is awkwardly placed throughout the film, pointlessly narrating what we are already seeing. Worse, by muting the escalating human drama, Morse and company actually made the film a duller affair, robbing it of its gnawing pop power. Burr is simply too phlegmatic an actor for such surroundings, lacking the anxieties of Takashi Shimura (an Akira Kurosawa regular) and Momoko Kochi, or the haunting quality of Akihiko Hirata. Western audiences flocked to the bastardized version anyway, and, until a few years ago, when both versions were released on the Criterion Collection, most Americans were largely unaware of the Japanese original.

It was the success of the American Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956), rather than Honda's Godzilla (1954, originally titled Gojira), which set the increasingly cartoonish pattern that followed. Honda, who had previously been an assistant to Akira Kurosawa, wrote the original film's screenplay and invested a stark sobriety into his absurd narrative. However, it was the American box office which dictated the remainder of Honda's output. By the third entry in the ongoing franchise, King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962), the big green lizard (still technically a villain) does battle with of one of his own influences. However, the guy in the rubber gorilla suit here looks more like an embarrassing reject from the Island of Misfit Toys than he does the titular hero of the 1933 classic. King Kong vs. Godzilla nearly serves as a new definition for "execrable." That, in itself, could prove entertaining, but the film fatally succumbs to unbearable dullness. Even the most hardcore Godzilla fundamentalists are pressed to defend this one, and it is almost shocking to find Honda directed it as well. While the original Godzilla isn't a certified classic, it is rousing pulp fare.

Within a few films, Godzilla morphed into a kind of jolly green giant, super-dino protector of Japan. Occasionally, the new genre injected fleetingly charming, idiosyncratic scenarios for the kiddie audience, such as a giant moth (Mothra) accompanied by twin fairies, or a mini-me son (Godzooky), who could only produce smoke rings, or Godzilla himself playing environmentalist while fighting a psychedelic smog monster. On those rare occasions, the franchise flirted with Rankin and Bass terrain, but, more often than not, Godzilla and his multifarious nemeses danced round each other like sumo wrestlers before delivering Curly Howard punches. This Godzilla is as far removed from the original as later Adventures of Superman (1952-1958) episodes were removed from first season episodes. The comparison is apt. The first incarnation of Godzilla, like the first appearance of George Reeves' Superman, possessed grit, even amongst cardboard sets, melodramatic dialogue, and basement effects. Certainly, the noirish black and white cinematography helped the Man of Steel. Later, the color Superman looks painfully long in the tooth, confronting a martian in green pajamas. We feel equally embarrassed for late Godzilla as a predecessor to Barney, fighting laughable villains in fatigued plots.

With the law of diminishing returns holding true, an attempt was made to take Godzilla back to his original, edgier incarnation in Toho's The Return of Godzilla (1984). This was a direct sequel to the 1954 original, ignoring all the remaining entries. As in the original, an American version followed, with Raymond Burr reprising his role in New World Pictures' Godzilla 1985 (1984). In the home front incarnation, most of the original's nuclear theme was jettisoned--which is nonsensical, since this has always been the series' driving point. As stale as Return is, 1985 is downright brittle. For once, Western audiences didn't buy it, resulting in a flop. However, Returns was a major success in Japan, which spawned a reboot cycle, with Godzillla quickly becoming a parody for the second time, battling robotic versions of himself.

In the late 1990s, Roland Emmerich directed his version--or rather the Jurassic Park (1993) version-of the character. Critics almost unanimously panned it, and zealous fans were even more contemptuous due to all the liberties Emmerich took with the franchise "rules." However, neither critics nor fanboys could stop Godzilla (1998) from a juggernaut three hundred million dollar worldwide gross. Despite box office success, the American market steered clear of Godzilla's radioactive breath until this summer's blockbuster extravaganza.

Director Gareth Edwards was hired to direct today's Godzilla on the strength of his first film, Monsters (2010), which was shot on a low budget (for Hollywood) and reaped both financial and critical success. Oddly, Edwards decided he wanted to hone in on Godzilla as a superhero (or, perhaps not so odd, since that genre has virtually doused all of our summers and those to come for God knows how long). It is something akin to how Lee Tamahori, in his Bond franchise entry, Die Another Day (2002), inexplicably decided to take the overblown You Only Live Twice (1967) as his inspiration point, rather than a superior, smaller effort like From Russia With Love (1963).

Despite Godzilla's nearly one hundred million dollar opening, it is premature to say whether Edwards' reboot of the character will stomp its way to or past Emmerich's financial success, although already critical and audience consensus is considerably more favorable with this summer's entry. Like much of the current crop, Godzilla is more an assault on the senses than actual movie. Edwards seems to have forgotten an unwritten lesson from the plethora of Godzilla sequels: apart from the original, the human occupants are an intrusion, especially when Godzilla is the protagonist. Instead, Edwards gives us an hour-long buildup with dull, stock characters we don't give a damn about. The only freshness to be found in the performances is with Juliette Binoche, who is killed within ten minutes. That leaves us with the angst of Bryan Cranston, who is killed off within the first quarter of the movie. Of course, both are seasoned (old) actors, which leaves the remaining screen time for beefcake Aaron Taylor-Johnson who, miraculously, manages to make Raymond Burr look like an animated personality.

Of course there are other lessons: if you have a bland protagonist, give him a kid with a personality to protect from monster carnage. However, Edwards forgot the "personality" part. The obligatory doe-eyed tyke is simply plopped down on Johnson's lap and, after a few close calls, kid exits stage left when reunited with parents.

Godzilla himself makes a belated entry and, even among the monsters, he is a supporting character. The main bug, I was informed, is a ripoff of the monster in Cloverfield (2008). Unfamiliar with that film, I looked it up: indeed, it is so. Since it is the veteran lizard, not a newbie insect, who fans came to see, it is unlikely that they remained excited after the opening weekend.

By and large, 50′s rockers aged better than their paler offspring, as anyone who has seen Keith Richards, Rod Stewart, or Ted Nugent lately can verify. Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Little Richard managed to have fun and be far more innovative without reaping notoriety from unhinged self-destruction. The bulk of Godzilla is as lethargic as a second generation rocker burnout hobbling onto a nostalgia stage. Godzilla himself, the equivalent of a 50s rocker, gets virtually handed the tourist guide to world hotspots, and has much potential stomping ground, trampling through Vegas and San Francisco. There should be plenty of merriment to be had in seeing dual sin cities leveled. While, indeed, they do get pulverized, the production team inexplicably forgot to inject humor into the proceedings. Edwards takes the fashionable route of going with an action film over the character's horror origins, but still manages to pick and choose from the worst examples of both. Instead of investing wit into the mayhem, Edwards repeatedly cuts away to dull military defense maneuvering, with a wasted David Strathairn waxing concerned. That Edwards made a better, more imaginative film on one-hundredth the budget of Godzilla is telling.

What Godzilla does get right are the scenes when we finally get to see him as the living, breathing can of Raid. It takes him awhile to get to that Rock-'em-Sock-'em Robot ass-whompin' stage. Godzilla looks hip again, albeit briefly, and does his thing well enough to make us forget some of the risible dialogue that could have been written better by a high school student. That takes some doing, with one too many "OMG, I can't believe this is happening" exclamations after sight of the "unidentified creature."

Godzilla is not entirely disappointing, and mostly avoids the numbingly generic route of Transformer movies, which may be the worst examples of 21st century cinematic excess to date. Still, this should have been better. It cannot be that difficult to write and produce a better movie about a radioactive hydrogen dinosaur.

*My review originally appeared at 366 WEIRD MOVIES.


The Lego Movie [Blu-ray + UV Copy] [2014] [Region Free]
The Lego Movie [Blu-ray + UV Copy] [2014] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Chris Pratt
Price: £13.00

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A POP CULTURE MANIFESTO, chock full of surprises and a triumph for all., 7 July 2014
Usually, movies about toys are merely an excuse for mass merchandising. Make no mistake: The Lego Movie (2014) is immersed in marketing, but that is secondary because the filmmakers wisely and creatively keep the film's heart intact. The Lego Movie may prove to be the best film of the year and, in its second run, can be seen for less than the price of an actual Lego. That is a far better spend than putting a second mortgage down for most of the first-run dreck we are inundated with.

The Lego Movie is a pop culture manifesto, composed of wall-to-wall references and jokes that come at you fast and furious. Yet, the in-jokes are so judiciously worked into the fantasy at large that they leave you smiling instead of spinning. This was no doubt helped by the writing/directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. The duo clearly were inspired by the level of imagination found in the long-popular toy. It is remarkable what a mere two artists can do, as opposed to committee-style filmmaking. Lord and Miller began their collaboration with the cult series "Clone High" (2002) and continued to the big screen with Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (2009) and 21 Jump Street (2012). In addition to the writing/directing team, what makes The Lego Movie so winning is the personality to be found in plastic.

As a mystic toy, Morgan Freeman spoofs his pious screen persona, and his sense of joy in doing so is contagious. Equaling Freeman in voice work is Chris Pratt as the protagonist construction worker Emmett; Elizabeth Banks as Wyldstyle; Will Arnett as Batman; Alison Brie as Unikitty; and Liam Neeson as GoodCop/Bad Cop. A smorgasbord of high- and pop-culture characters make appearances, from Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte) and Shakespeare (Jorma Taccone) to Wonder Woman (Cobie Smulders).

Brick City is a universe in its own right and it absorbs everything that came before it with shrewd wit, including Star Wars (with Billy Dee Williams and Anthony Daniels reprising their respective roles). The Lego Movie even does the impossible: it makes George Lucas' characters fun again. The animation here is among the most innovative since the golden age of Disney and the Fleischer Brothers. It is also delightfully weird. It sometimes seems as if Busby Berkeley has risen from the dead, been given an orange plastic brick and an unlimited budget and let loose.

Emmett is the much-needed, flawed little guy hero, and probably the best example we have seen of the type since Wall-E or The Iron Giant. We root for him, as opposed to Batman (and after the last Batman movie, why would anyone cheer the caped crusader)? Yet, here in The Lego Movie even Batman is unexpectedly fresh. Even better: amidst all the dazzling effects, the viewer genuinely hopes that two pieces of plastic, Emmett and Wyldstyle, will interlock.

The most surprising thing, in a movie chock full of surprises, is the glorification of the individual over the status quo corporation. One would hardly expect such a "Piece de Resistance" from a giant manufacturer. Even Will Ferrell rises to the occasion, giving an all too rare good performance as the evil President Business of unfettered capitalism.

Reportedly, over four million digitalized lego images were used in the film, which would seem an invitation for disaster. The production not only pulls it off, but does so with shocking precision through all that hyperkinetic color splashing. The last act of The Lego Movie takes an unexpected route, and one may fear the worst, but the filmmakers pull off yet another surprise, giving us that rarity of all rarities in animated films: an ending which should not be given away.

This is an epic film whose narrative commendably refuses to take the well worn dumbed-down path so often prevalent in movies of this type. Its minuscule flaw may be that it is overly ambitious, but proves a welcome retreat from the plethora of excrement that is bankrupt in ambition. The Lego Movie pulls off the impossible: it restores some faith in the imaginative and creative potential of the medium, at least for 101 minutes.

* My review originally appeared at 366 weird movies.


The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - Limited Edition with Comic Booklet (Amazon.co.uk Exclusive) [Blu-ray] [2014]
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 - Limited Edition with Comic Booklet (Amazon.co.uk Exclusive) [Blu-ray] [2014]
Dvd ~ Andrew Garfield
Price: £13.00

8 of 30 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A MOVIE FOR BLITHERING IDIOTS, 7 July 2014
The comic book superhero cult is becoming a new fundamentalist-type religion in the West. The fans (AKA fanatics) approach the movie story of their hero in tights with memories of past comic books, going over the character's history like scriptural literalists cross-checking every passage. A misplaced comma might be equated with blasphemy. Most amusingly, literal faithfulness and realism are often demanded in movies about characters who started off wearing underwear outside of their pants. If a critic dares to say something negative about the funny-paper deity, they may receive death threats, as did the first professional critic who publicly panned Dark Knight Rises (and never mind that said critic was right). Of course, the fanboys may only resort to mockery, as they did with Roger Ebert, ridiculing him for dying of cancer, when he dared to give a negative review to Thor (2011). These are the Marvel and DC Taliban; their behavior is so nonsensical it is mind-boggling.

It is perhaps ironic (or perhaps not) to find as much of a level of obsessiveness over characters created by modern Westerners as over those created by ancient Jewish writers. Primitive figures spun from tribal tales have been replaced by Superman, Batman, and Spiderman. We get just as offended by liberties taken with the Caped Crusader as we do liberties taken with Noah. We root for Hulk to wallop puny false gods with the same hip-hip-hooray we afforded Mel's Lethal Jesus taking one more bloody blow to prove how much of a true "guts and glory" God he is. Ben Affleck as Batman is as heterodox as a wimpy eco-friendly deity who has the audacity to care about the world he created.

Spiderman should be the hero least prone to this type of obsessiveness. He is not like Superman, doused in all that sloppy pious savior mythology. Nor is he is a brooding billionaire crusader for truth like the Dark Knight. Peter Parker, as created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, was an idiosyncratic angst-filled teen who had everyday problems like the rest of us. He was never destined for canonization .John Semper, producer of "Spiderman: The Animated Series" (1994-1998) perhaps said it best: "It does not matter who Spiderman's villain is. What matters is Peter Parker can't pay the rent and has girlfriend problems." That's pretty simple advice to remember, which Spiderman 3 (2007), with its smorgasbord of villains, failed to heed. Director Sam Raimi had already delivered two financial, critical hits. Rather than trust Rami's track record, Sony interfered, and the result was franchise implosion. Amazingly, Amazing Spiderman 2 (2014) failed to learn that lesson, and delivers the worst film to date about a super arachnid.

The first sign of a here-we-go-again bad omen with Amazing Spiderman 2 is the presence of seven writers credited for the screenplay. That many writers working on Green Lantern (2011) indicated movie-making by committee, and it turned out to be just that. The plethora of chefs here deliver a stale Snickers bar with the guts squeezed out, which is surprising since the Amazing Spiderman (2012) at least seemed to be aware of what had gone wrong in Spiderman 3 and went some distance towards correcting the misstep.

Andrew Garfield returns as Peter Parker, and he has angst in his spandex regarding girlfriend Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone). In the first film of the reboot series, Stone's Stacy proved a better love interest than Kristin Dunst's self-pitying, eye-lash batting Mary Jane. At the end of Amazing Spiderman, it seemed that Parker's promise to distance himself from Stacy had been resolved. However, in the sequel, we are subjected to an extended rehash of that promise. Parker also has the backstory of his parents to contend with. That backstory was the reboot's most pointless addition, but at least it was kept to a minimum. Here, it receives full blown treatment. Aunt May (Sally Field) has become a suburban bore, but she solicits more sympathy than her nephew, who has already lost much of his charm. The scenes with Parker and Stacy are what the film is really about, or rather, should be. However, that set-up is mostly squandered for something that begs description. Pressed, a synopsis could possibly be found, by why would one want to?

Amazing Spiderman 2 is akin to Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin (1997): an aluminum Christmas tree on circuit overload. Seldom has so much excess been thrown onto a screen. The answer for such a mess, at least the answer for returning director Marc Webb, is big-name stars. Here, Jamie Foxx, as Electro, fills the same sort of shoes Sir Arnold wore as Mr. Freeze. Joining Foxx in the super-villain team-up is Paul Giamatti as a metallic rhinoceros and Dane DeHaan as an emaciated Goblin. Webb proves as inept as Schumacher or Zach Snyder at handling action sequences, and we feel his lethargy, gorging on AC/DC colored CGI. With a solid dramatic base, such gluttony would be forgivable, except the dramatic elements here are as apathetically handled, with far too many witless one-liners used as exclamation points. Stone, who was the freshest thing about the first film, is wasted here.

It would be easy to dismiss this as a video game (as opposed to a movie), except that games are supposed to be fun. The only people who may find any joy in Amazing Spiderman 2 are unimaginative, in-denial Marvel fundamentalists; but whether those folks are really human or not is open to debate. Amazing Spiderman 2 is a movie for blithering idiots.

* my review originally appeared at 366 weird movies
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 18, 2014 11:16 AM BST


X-Men: Days of Future Past [DVD] [2014]
X-Men: Days of Future Past [DVD] [2014]
Dvd ~ James McAvoy
Price: £10.00

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bryan Singer's long overdue return brings much needed life back to pulp mutants, 7 July 2014
For years, Trekkies have perpetrated the "odd-numbered curse" rumor that befell the original crew's movies. According to this theory somehow, someway the odd numbered movies are mysteriously inferior to the even numbered entries. While there is a certain truth in that, it is not because of some silly curse, nor is it a mystery. Movies do not just magically "make themselves," and the actors do not make it up as they go along. The common denominator in the even numbered Star Trek entries is Nicholas Meyer, who wrote and directed Star Trek II (1982) and Star Trek VI (1991) and co-wrote the script for Star Trek IV (1986). The strengths of Star Trek IV lie in the writing, particularly that which is clearly from the stylistic hand of Meyer. The film's weaknesses lie in Leonard Nimoy's pedestrian directing.

When the third X-Men movie, The Last Stand (2006) was released, fans (and some critics) were shocked that it fell far short of the first two entries. Since Bryan Singer directed and co-wrote both X-Men (2000) and X-Men 2 (2003), and was not at all associated with The Last Stand, that third film's lesser quality should not have been a surprise. Regardless, Singer has returned after an eleven year absence to direct and co-write Days of Future Past. With him, the franchise is vital entertainment again. Although not without flaws, X-Men: Days Of Future Past (2014) is as much imaginative dumb fun as Singer's previous efforts. Its biggest misstep is that it is not a stand alone movie. It expects the audience to have seen all the previous X-Men movies, and after The Last Stand it should be counted as almost a miracle that any future movies were even made about mutant super-people. (Except, of course, we are talking about the 21st century American market; the same market that actually made a hit of live action Scooby Doo movies, the Transformers franchise, and the Fast and Furious franchise). It is probably helpful to have along a translator who speaks Marvel Comics if you are unfamiliar with all the characters' histories--and there a lot of characters, too damned many for Singer to balance with the same level of deftness that Joss Whedon is adept at.

Like many Trek stories, this X-Men opus tackles a time travel plot, albeit an overly complicated one. Thankfully, it turns playful. There are plenty of allegories bandied about and historical parallels abound (think the Vietnam War and a Terminator-like apocalypse). An older Professor X (Trek veteran Patrick Stewart) and Magneto ( Ian McKellen) meet their younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender), shades of Picard-meets-Kirk or Spock-meets-Spock-Prime. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) has to go back to 1973, which means waking up to the music of Roberta Flack and the discovery that Richard Nixon (Mark Comancho) was not only deep in Watergate, but also aiding and abetting Dr. Trask (Peter Dinklage) in a robot plot (it always helps to have robots). References to the Kennedy assassination and the magic bullet are thrown in for good measure (which diverts us back to another unused Trek plot).

Singer occasionally gets waterlogged, probably from trying to appease fanboy expectations. Additionally, his return to pulp is excessively long in its last quarter. However, it is capped off with a winning finale, which feels like a teenage interpretation of "Twilight Of The Gods" (minus Wagner himself, of course). Singer keeps the film flowing through pop references galore, which helps levitate all that on-sleeve, existential mutant angst. Even the much-missed Jim Croce provides good tonic, via his legendary "Time In A Bottle," as does John Ottman's assured score. Once past the confusing opening, X-Men: Days Of Future Past shifts gear into ambitious, melodramatic fun, and has a few surprises up its sleeve, at least to those of us who forgot our Marvel concordance. Now, if the producers are smart, they'll keep Singer employed in this franchise (providing he can keep out of jail).

* My review originally appeared at 366 weird movies
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 13, 2014 12:41 PM BST


Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow [Blu-ray] [2014] [Region Free]
Live Die Repeat: Edge of Tomorrow [Blu-ray] [2014] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Tom Cruise
Price: £13.00

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cruise continuing to surprise in the visceral "Edge of Tomorrow.", 7 July 2014
With his Napoleon complex, obsessiveness over religious fads, questionable treatment of wives, salary demands, and downright paranoia over maintaining his box office standing, Tom Cruise makes himself an easy target. However, occasionally this actor picks interesting roles and reveals genuine talent.

Cruise started off roughly around the same time as Johnny Depp, and early in their careers the contrast between the two could not have been more pronounced. If anyone was the patron saint of loud, dumb summer blockbusters, it was Cruise. He set the model with Top Gun (1986), and who could forget Cocktail (1988) ? That box office bonanza, one of the worst movies of the last half century, is proof that the masses will buy just about any excrement if it is marketed right. Cruise went on to act in and produce Mission Impossible (1996). Despite having Brian De Palma in charge, it was not a good start to the franchise. Yet, the franchise dramatically improved, especially with Ghost Protocol (2011). Depp’s goals were more artistic, and he seemed ill-suited to the blockbuster mentality. However, the distinction between these two box office leviathans has blurred. Depp has become increasingly apathetic, even cartoonish as the star of his own blockbuster franchise, which started off bad and has only gotten worse. Despite a promising early body of work, Depp has gone into autopilot mode, while Cruise only works harder (sometimes too hard). Cruise’s fretting about securing his star status has, for the most part, reaped rewards, while he has expectedly proven his superiority in manning the blockbuster ship. Unexpectedly, Cruise continues to take startling risks at times, even if he does not inspire extended confidence with a planned Top Gun sequel, yet another Mission Impossible, or a here-we-go-again version of Van Helsing. Still, Cruise may merely be continuing a shrewdly cultivated balancing act and, in doing so, maintaining his ability to surprise.

One such surprise is in the summer sci-fi outing, Edge of Tomorrow (2014). The unoriginal title is hardly promising, nor is the much bandied-about description “Groundhog Day Meets Independence Day.” The clever tagline “Live. Die. Repeat.” suggests a video game. Numerous critics have made the comparison, but director Doug Liman and a trio of writers (Jez Butterworth, John-Henry Butterworth, and Christopher McQuarrie) take a self-conscious, witty approach in spirit of Hiroshi Sakurazaka’s novella “All You Need Is Kill,” on which the screenplay is based.

As soldier Cage, Cruse abandons his normal poster boy persona with relish. He is a coward and reluctant hero, mercilessly bullied by his Master Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton, impressing again). Predictably, Cage manages to get himself killed in war with the alien Mimics. Only, these extraterrestrial neo-Fascists revive him time and again, in an attempt to study the battle techniques of humans. As in a video game, even death is not a finality; and while under normal circumstances comparing a movie to something out of Nintendo is no compliment, here it is that looping, arcade-styled aesthetic the filmmakers first mimic, then cleverly divert from.

Cruise’s Cage is nearly matched by Emily Blunt’s Rita. It is a rarity for Cruise to have a vital female lead and, like her character, Blunt inspires him into something transformative. Almost as surprising as Cruise is in an atypical role, Blunt is equally so, even though her part is still secondary. It may be a minuscule quibble, given the excellent work of the two leads. Cruise has securely returned to his torch-carrying,old fashioned move star mold. It is a welcome return. An unsatisfactory third act almost threatens to dismantle the film, but, thankfully, fails.

The sublime Groundhog Day was awash in romantic spirituality and originality. Edge of Tomorrow takes a more visceral route, aided considerably by Don Beebe’s cinematography which consciously pays homage to Spielberg’s WWII opus Saving Private Ryan. This does not mean that Edge Of Tomorrow is brainless. Alas, it might have been more profitable if it had been. American audiences, who rarely can form syllables or go beyond spoon fed formula, have mostly stayed away and Edge of Tomorrow is expected to be a box office flop, having been quashed by Disney’s umpteenth retelling of “Sleeping Beauty.”

As the saying goes: one will never go broke underestimating the intelligence (or taste) of the American public.

*my review originally appeared at 366 weird movies.


Will Penny [DVD] [1968] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Will Penny [DVD] [1968] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Charlton Heston

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vastly underrated (while still imperfect), 14 May 2014
From 1956 on, actor Charlton Heston kept an actor’s journal, which he published in two volumes, in 1976 and 1996. These are some of the most fascinating and valuable behind-the-scene writings published on the subject of studio filmmaking. In addition to these writings, Heston was also an exceptional and underrated visual artist. Often, when actors turn to painting, the result is less than memorable, and can even be downright painful. One thinks of Henry Fonda’s vapid watercolors or the recent, execrable “world leader” portraits by George Bush as painful examples. Heston’s visual art was an extension of his journals. His pen and ink drawings of makeup artists, stuntmen, cameramen, and technicians celebrated the unsung blue-collar workers. I was fortunate enough to attend a small showing of Heston’s extensive work and it remains of the most compellingly unique exhibits I have attended to date.

The story of the making of Will Penny (1968) is a standout entry in Heston’s “The Actor’s Life: Journals.” Heston was handed an incomplete script. Under normal conditions, the actor would have refused to read an unfinished screenplay, but Heston was so taken with the fragment that he immediately expressed interest in taking on the role of the aging, illiterate cowboy Will Penny. Heston was then informed that the writer, Tom Gries, was insistent on directing. When Heston inquired on Gries’ directing experience, he found it consisted of “a couple of television programs.” Heston put up a mild protest, but quickly changed his mind upon learning that Gries’ demand was unconditional. While it is fortunate that Heston compromised in what turned out to be one of his best and most underrated roles, his skepticism about Gries’ lack of experience had some validity.

The central performances and an intelligent, sensitive script are the strengths of Will Penny; however, Gries’ television-like visual direction and an embarrassingly melodramatic performance from Donald Pleasance are noticeable flaws. As excellent as Heston’s work is here, Joan Hackett is even better. She imbues her part with an unglamorous freshness (Heston amusingly related that several actresses turned down the role upon reading the description of Catherine as plain). Heston later counted Hackett as the best of his leading ladies, and for good reason.

Will Penny is not a Wyatt Earp type. He does not bravely face down the enemy to clean up a corrupt town. Rather, he is a fifty-year-old cowhand who works with cattle. It’s all he knows. He doesn’t even know how to write his name. When he gets into a fight with a younger co-worker, Penny uses a frying pan “because I use my hands to work.” When a trail job ends, Penny finds himself traveling with a young Lee Majors and Anthony Zerbe in hopes of finding work. Majors is a bit of a nonentity here, but Zerbe gives a very good performance as a recently transplanted, thickly accented European immigrant who awkwardly shoots himself and then milks every ounce of sympathy he can.

Zerbe and Majors try to steal an elk from demented preacher Quint (Pleasance) and his sons (one of who is played by Bruce Dern in one of his worst and most cartoonish performances). Penny is inadvertently drawn into the conflict, which will have eventual and horrific consequences.The three men temporarily part company when Penny lands a seasonal job as a line rider. Penny finds his shack occupied by squatters in the person of Catherine (Hackett) and her young son (Jon Francis).

The romance between Penny and Catherine is authentic. They do not wind up in each others’ arms within thirty seconds. It is the building of the relationship between the two that gives Will Penny its substance. Even the inevitable conflict between Penny and Quint is in service of the understated chemistry between Heston and Hackett.

While Gries’ does not have the cinematic visual flair of the best directors, his strength lies in characterization and elegant writing. This was Gries’ first feature film. His subsequent films were mere assignments, lacking the personal vision of Will Penny.


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