Sunday, June 26, 2011
Dorfmann to Towns.
Even though The Flight of the Phoenix was nominated for two Oscars it has somewhat faded away into obscurity. When released in 1965 it was a commercial success but critics weren't as impressed. This is shame because it has a stella cast which provide some very fine performances in a quite entertaining movie. I knew of this movie but didn't realise it was based on a 1964 Ellison Trevor novel of the same name. Unfortunately I believe there is to be a re-make in Holywood's mania to re-make everything because it is easier to do so than find some originality.
One critic at the time called this movie ' grim and implausible'. Grim I absolutely agree with but that is the whole point!! A plane load of men crash landing in the Sahara with little water and nothing but pressed dates to eat is a grim situation. Which leads to the critics so called ' implausible' situation of the rapidly dwindling survivors building an aircraft from the wreckage in which to save themselves. To me this critic has got it wrong as the movie is no different from any other Hollywood movie. They are entertaining and 9 times out of 10 based on implausible, unrealistic situations, which inthemselves provide an escape from reality for a few hours. I don't see anything wrong with that.
The problem arises if the plot and implausibility aren't backed up with a good script and acting. In this case we get both. This is where it is somewhat unfortunate that Phoenix has somewat disappeared as the acting in particular is extremely good. We all know James Stewart ( my favorite actor bar none ), was one of the very greatest actors ever, and that Richard Attenborough was a fine one too. But here it is Hardy Kruger who is the standout. Like many of the movies he starred in he again plays a German named Heinrich Dorfmann. As a character he isn't exactly a nice guy and unhesitatingly calls those around him 'ignorant' and 'stupid'. He is extremely arrogant and yet Stewarts character, pilot Frank Towns sees in him the future and the death of is own type.
The survivors are put on a strict water ration as they believe they will be found, but as it dawns on them they won't Dorfmann, who states he is an aircraft engineer, advises building an aircraft from the wreckage. Towns is dis-believing and laughs at him asking ' are you joking with me'! This reaction brings to the fore Attenborough in a very fine performance as Lew Moran who mediates between the two. As Dorfmann convinces them his plan will work the survivors set to work as it is deemed better than waiting to die from lack of water. Also the numbers are dwindling due to murder from a few rouge Arabs, and several members trying to walk out to an oasis 106 miles away.
Stewart, Attenborough, and Kruger are the three protagonists here but both Ernest Borgnine and George Kennedy star as well. Borgnine plays a man who is somewhat slow and off his rocker, and he dies off early in the movie. Kennedy at the time was a realitive new comer with a minor role, and yet is one of those who reach safety. The rest of the cast is virtually unknowns and I didn't know any of them. But really they are there to make up the numbers because the movie is more about the battle of wills between the old world of Stewart and the new of Kruger.
A battle of wills it is to. Stewart is pragmatic and can't believe a cobbled together aircraft will fly and is horrified the survivors will be flown out lying on the wings!! As things tense up Attenborough finally turns him around suggesting it is betteer to die in a ball of flame if the craft crashes than to die of thirst. Things really reach a head when Stewart and Attenborough find out Kruger was a model airplane designer!! They are literally speechless but realise it is too late to tell the others and wreck their morale. They both have serious doubts as to whether the craft will fly.
One interesting by plot is the slow decay of the men mentally. Some hold up well where as some fall to pieces. Stewart at one stage asks himself, 'what is happening to us'. I think this was a good part of the plot as it added to the desperate situation and was a fair reflection of humanity when faced with a very real slow death. 'Grim' the critic stated, well of course it is!
The building of the plane proceeds with various deaths and power struggles along the way until it is finished. The last part of the movie sees the attempt to get the aircraft flying and Kruger having one final fit as he loses it completely with Stewart. Of course we get a happy ending with them all arriving safely at a near by oasis and many of them diving into it. The movie ends with Stewart and Kruger begrudgingly acknowledging each other. They realise they needed each other and without the one or other they would all be dead.
|The DVD cover.|
Click here for a synopsis and more:
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Well Daniel and Karina I actually took myself off to see this after I steadfastly said I wouldn't !!!! Why I hear you ask?!! Well on Saturday night I won a paltry NZ$63 in our national lottery...only one more number and it would have NZ$28,000 ..but them's the breaks huh?! Anyway since my investment of NZ$18 turned into NZ$63 I thought 'what the hell I ain't paying am I?', so off I went because I really can't get by without a weekly trip to the flicks.
I really wasn't keen on seeing this at all which started from the moment I first saw the trailers months ago. Ryan Reynolds can be so-so but I did like him alot in Buried, and funnily enough in The Proposal with Sandra Bullock. But other than that Reynolds plays Reynolds. In some ways he reminds me of Keanu Reeves who is always the same...completely wooden. What gets me is why I felt like avoiding this, I still can't define it because Reynolds alone wasn't enough to deter me. I think the shot of the alien looking out of his cockpit at Jordan reminded me too much of a similar shot in Enemy Mine from the 1980's with Dennis Quaid....( anyone remember that or am I just old??!! ). I think when I saw that I turned off and thought, 'seen it all before'. But I will say this now I shuddered when I saw the Captain America trailers and thought 'oh my god it looks worse than Green Lantern...god help us!'.
Anyway in I went and pretty much got what I expected. It is the usual formulatic, CGI heavy, plotless, all been done before, Hollywood weapon of mass destruction on intelligence, yawn fest. I just sat there thinking to myself it is the same movie I saw last week , and the before that, and the one before that, and so and so, and so, and.....yeah.
It isn't that it isn't visually appealing as I did like many of the visuals, but the plot was diabolical, and the whole thing like an over done formula. There was no originality anywhere. The whole structure of the film is like the one last week, and the one before that, and the one...oh I've been there haven't I? It is almost a scene for scene, week in week out replay, but with different actors and visuals. And this is what I am getting sick of week in week out. The same fucking movie over and over and over. Christ! Hollywood has millions at its disposal and yet produces the same bloody movie each week!!!!!!!
It wouldn't be a problem if each movie was constructed differently, or added something new or innovative, but on Sunday I could have fallen asleep and woken up wondering how I ended up watching Thor again, or Source Code, X-Men, or heaven forbid Super Trash...oops, Super 8. But one thing Green Lantern had going for it which Super 8 didn't was the fact there was no under handed promotion to it. What you saw in the trailers was what you got, and not the sneakiness of Super 8, which is why I hated it so much and why the bad taste in my mouth still lingers.
Anyway rant over!!....nah!...here's some more!! I didn't hate Green Lantern because I got what I was expecting...and I didn't really pay for my ticket so it had an added bonus. I even paid extra to see it in 3-D!! Fair to say though I wasn't impressed either. I've seen worse movies by far ( The Green Hornet for example ), but for me Green Lantern was just another example of the deep rooted problem with mainstream Hollywood. Just not enough originality. I feel with the quality of the movies coming out out of Tinseltown recently there is a major excersise in dumbing down of the audience. I for one don't really want to play the game. Super 8 was a real low for me and it is with real horror that I read how many people really liked it and called it the best movie of the year. Somehow the dumbing down is here and we haven't realised, or not wanted to see it happening.
Green Lantern is just another expensive movie with little going for it. It even fails on the entertainment side as I can go to the flicks next week and see the same movie again, but with a different title! Oh yes..the green CGI suit did tend to make Reynolds look like 'a bloody lego-man' didn't it Karina?!!!
Boring, pure mind rot!!!
RANT OVER!!!....now I'm off to watch some Alfred Hitchcock classics to remind myself that once there was intelligent life in cinema!! Anthony Perkins here I come!!
Sunday, June 19, 2011
Fritz Lang filmed M in 1931 and it was his first 'talking' film. It is interesting because if you listen closely there are several scenes where there is no sound what-so-ever. I mean none! No background score, no voices, no vehicle noise, nothing. It is quite strange and I kept finding myself turning up the volume in trying to find some noise. And yet in other scenes, when there was no narrative between actors, Lang had background noises such as voices, whistles, and horns. A soundtrack to a film of course was still its infancy, and it is enlightening to watch just to remind ourselves that what we see on our screens now wasn't always so.
When you look closely it is a primative film which mirrors the youthfulness of the medium, especially the equipment. To look at the final product of M and then at at the primitive conditions in which it was made under is to appreciate it even more. Fritz Lang was a perfectionist and even with the equipment he had he understood film and cinema like no-one else at the time. Metropolis is a good example of this. But M, whilst not as technique/visually/ heavy, still is a real showcase of Lang's techniques and thinking.
The stairwell scene is the first example. He hung a camera over the well and pointed it straight down to get the shot. It may sound backward by our standards but it was cutting edge stuff in the early 1930's. The other thing which is immediately obvious, and which Alfred Hitchcock latched onto and used in his own films, was the use of the high overlooking shot. Lang built platforms and other structures on which he hoisted up his cameras to get a shot looking downwards. In M there are huge amounts of this as we see people moving around the streets. The other shot that really sood out, and was unusual for the time, was one of a policeman sitting at his desk with the camera underneath in the footwell looking up over his knees to his face. Very cutting edge stuff for 1931, and still quite brilliant.
M is a pure masterpiece of film technique. I just loved watching it and seeing Lang's thinking on film making. The high shot was his speciality and the disc I had has a few photos on it showing the elaborate sets Lang had produced, and the platforms he had built over them for his cameras. It is primitive stuff but no-one can ever convince me modern film makers are in any way better than those of the past. Fritz Lang for me was a pioneer and one of the very first genuinely great filmmakers, of whose influence Alfred Hitchcock no-less acknowledges on his own career. How many have been influenced by Hitch into our era?? Lang's influence has a very long reach when you really think about it!
One thing really made me laugh and that is the amount of smoking. In almost every scene everyone is either smoking a cigarette or cigar. It is incredible and in some shots the smoke is so thick you can cut it with the proverbial knife!! Watch M and you'll be amazed! All those actors must have died of lung cancer!! Other things are also interesting. The use of primitive CGI for instance. In one scene Lang has a high shot and on each side of the frame he has superimposed two buildings. You can always tell this is films of the era because the imposed shot is shaky and jumps compared to the background it is put on. Notice this too in the court room shot where two big elaborate lights are on each side of the judges. You can see them shudder slightly against the background. Lang's use of this technique is very good when compared to its use in other films where it is extremely crude, and the shuddering of the imposed shot is more than obvious. But for its day Lang's use of the technique, and his quality of it, is remarkable.
What also stood out was the editing as it was very sharp unlike many films of the era where there is a clear cut in the film. Sometimes editing was so poor the scene was cut just before it actually finished. Again Lang's eye to detail stands out and M is a very well made film overall. With such good editing it hasn't the jerkiness many early black and white films were known for. M is a quality film all round and Lang has to be acknowledged for this.
I don't need to go into a synopsis suffice to say M was one of the very first films to deal with a serial killer. Certainly in a way that wasn't for entertainment purposes alone. It is surprising that such a subject like this was allowed to be played in the 1930's. Lang has also shown great eye for detail in the plot as he has in its visually making. I was immensely impressed with how he has shown what mass hysteria starts. We see this as the child murders increase and people start pointing the finger at each other willy nilly. In several scenes two men are falsley accused in the street and subsequently mobbed and assaulted. True to life stuff and I felt revoltion at it all as it was a true reflection of the mass ( or mob ), and society.
I also liked how Lang then shows how the police and authorities react to the murders. They quickly realise asking for the publics help is more a hinderance than a help due to the constant false accusations and mass hysteria. For me M shows that nothing changes as people of 80 years ago react the same way as we would today. M isn't about a particularly pleasant subject dealing as it does with child murder, which brings out strong emotions in us all. I think Lang has produced a very prescient view on humanity when it comes to this. The police and their efforts to apprehend Beckert are very well played as Lang shows their scientific approach to their work. The frustartions they feel are palpable as the presure mounts on them from the public and local authorities. This isn't a film just from the murderer's point of view but also from that of those charged with stopping him. There is no sentimentality displayed and the grittiness is superb from all the players.
|Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert.|
And here for more:
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Saturday, June 11, 2011
So what Chandler has done in fact is write a short piece on each of Hitch's movies interposd with some of those involved, from Hitch himself, the actors/actresses, script writers, and technicians, etc. It does provide some really interesting reading as she takes you behind the scenes. And in that regard this is what this book is, a look behind the scenes of Hitchcock's many films. She starts from his very early days as a studio's dog's body until 1978 when his health failed.
I like how Hitch himself recognised in the 1920's and 30's the fact that German cinema was way ahead of Britsh and American of the time. Their film techniques were revolutionary and influenced Hitch enormously. Many of his own films mirror that debt. I was also surprised to know that the use of 3-D has been around since the 1920's! I honestly didn't know that. Hitch saw its use in German cinemas and used it in Dial M for Murder. He was keen on the technique and hoped it wasn't it a 'phase'. Dial Murder itself had a very limited run in 3-D in theatres.
Things interesting titbits like the fact that no matter the set, or how hot things got, Hitch was always immaculately attired. He never took off his suit jacket, and only wore a short sleeve shirt once, in Marrakesch, for The Man Who Knew Too Much re-make...but still had on a tie!!. He believed in the director setting an example by his appearing professional at all times. He certainly was professional and his sets were legendary for their quietness and efficiency. Sky larking and practical jokes were virtually unknown. And little snippets like the fact the utterly lovely Grace Kelly was supposed to star in On the Waterfront but pulled out to star in Rear Window solely to be directed by Hitch. Oh!... and the blood in the famous shower scene of Psycho was actually chocolate sauce!!!