Monday, August 29, 2011

Dr. No

 The Bond films have been very much a staple of NZ telly over the years. I never fail to watch any one of them if I get the opportunity. No matter how many times I have seen a particular film I will watch it again, whether it is a favorite or not. Last year TVNZ played all the Bond films up to Die Another Day over our winter. But the buggers, for some dumb reason, didn't play them in order! So we started with Goldeneye and finished with From Russia With Love! But it now appears TVNZ is going to play them again late on a Saturday night...and in order. Yah! So last Saturday I sat down and watched Dr. No.

 I have always liked Dr. No. But this time I enjoyed more than ever, simply because I had read the Ian Fleming novel recently. Like the film the novel is my opinion one of the series best. I reviewed it on my fiction blog and called it 'impressive'. If I had to select a best Bond novel I would unhesitatingly say Thunderball, but Dr. No would be either second or third. I have found that the better novels also made the better film adaptations. Dr. No., From Russia With love, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service are all strong novels and so are the films.

 Now Dr. No wasn't actually the novel Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted to adapt first. They looked at Thunderball initially, but due to on going legal disputes between Ian Fleming and Kevin McClory,  Dr. No was picked instead ( the interesting thing with Thunderball is that Fleming wrote it as a screenplay instead of a straight out novel ). Dr. No was not the first Bond novel being the 6th published in 1958. But in being the first film adaptation it uses references to the previous novels. The most obvious is the scene where M makes Bond exchange his puny Beretta for the harder hitting Walther PPK. That particular scene is lifted form the Diamonds Are Forever novel. I suppose even at this early stage it was envisaged that more Bond films were expected to come.

 But initial reactions from American studios was luke warm to say the least. They felt Bond was 'too British' and that the film would be too 'sexual' in nature. Fortunately previous Broccoli collaborator Terence Young got around this by injecting humour the novels notably lacked. By doing so he cunningly dis-armed the censors of the times. Young's self parody worked a treat and the film retained enough of the novel to satisfy all concerned. The film was also on a very tight budget. United Artists only put up US$1 million for it. They were obviously skeptical of the whole thing! When you actually watch Dr. No it isn't actually apparent. I mean even though it is now a 50 year old film it still looks great. As an example of costs M's office cost only 745 pounds ( the pictures on the wall are cardboard, and the 'leather' on the door is red plastic! ). Even the opening credits had a tight budget, and yet the production designers created one of the most iconic openings to a film ever.

 Sean Connery may be regarded as the best Bond but he wasn't first choice for the role. Believe it or not but Cary Grant was wanted because he was such a high profiled actor and crucially, very popular. But he was discarded as he only committed himself to one film. Again the doubts about the film are apparent aren't they? Patrick McGoohan was considered because of his portrayal of John Drake in Danger Man, but he declined the role. Even Roger Moore was looked at, missing out only because he was considered too young. Even David Niven was considered before a 30 year old Sean Connery got the nod. Apparently Ian Fleming wasn't happy with this, stating Connery wasn't his vision of what Bond looked like. But his wife said Connery had the sexual attraction needed, and after his viewing of the film changed his mind.

 Entertainment Weekly regards Ursula Andress as the most iconic of the Bond girls. I tend to agree even though she may not have been the most talented of actresses. Her voice had to be dubbed through out the film due to her heavy Swiss/German accent. I never knew this until recently and never noticed it in the film. And yet if you watch closely enough you can definitely see it! But like Connery Andress wasn't initially looked at for the role as Honeychile Ryder. Julie Christie was initially considered but she was apparently not 'voluptuos' enough! Andress was selected after Broccoli and Saltzman had inadvertently seen a photo of her taken by her then husband.

 One thing about Dr. No is that even though it is a Bond film, I think Ursula Andress as Honeychile Ryder, is the more instantly thought of character. And we all know why don't we! Of course it is that famous ( or infamous ) white bikini. The scene when she walks out of the surf is incredibly iconic, and probably the most famous of the whole franchise. Both Halle Berry and Daniel Craig have done the same thing in Bond films in homage, but don't come near to Andress. In its day the scene caused an uproar, and yet what must be remembered is that in the novel Honeychile is actually completely nude, with only the knife on her hip!! I suppose by putting her in a bikini it was the closet the producers could get to the novel!!

 The bikini scene was an instant hit. Apparently bikini sales around the world after the film was released sky rocketed. Not many, if any, films can state they had such an enduring impact on women's fashion can they? The bikini itself was sold at auction in 2001 for a staggering US$61,500!! For me Honeychile Ryder is the most memorable of the novel's girls. I like her immensely as a character even though Fleming plays out his unsavoury rape fantasies with her. In the novel she was raped and received a broken nose in the process. She still considers herself a virgin despite this though. Thanks for that Ian!. Suffice to say Bond is the man who de-flowers her!

 In the novel she is a lovely young 20 year old that has a worldly innocence, and Fleming paints a wonderful picture of her physically and mentally. So how does Andress stack up? Well she doesn't have a broken nose! But to a certain degree she captures Ryder's wide eyed innocence and yet inner strength. She isn't quite the picture I get in my mind from the novel but she does a great job none the less. And again, without question, the bikini scene is one of cinema's most iconic and recognisable.

 Ian Fleming actually wanted his literary friend Noel Coward to play Dr. Julius No, but he famously turned the part down like this.... 'no no no!'. Joseph Wiseman got the nod for his 1951 film Detective Story. The other significant castings were of course Bernard lee and Lois Maxwell. Lee went on to play M in 10 Bond films, and Lois Maxwell as Moneypenny, in 14.

 One of my gripes with novel to film adaptations is the constant deviation from the original source. Granted sometimes it is necessary, but sometimes the film is unrecognisable from the novel. The Bond films are no exception. Fortunately though Dr. No follows the novel fairly well. There are changes, but when you realise the budget constraints, many of the logistics needed for a truly faithful adaptation would have been too prohibitive. Of course Honeychile Ryder's nakedness was covered by a bikini, but the novels giant squid fight is omitted entirely. The poisonous centipede is changed to a tarantula. Crab Key is a bauxite mine and not guano ( hence no burying of Dr. No under bird dung! ) And the end sees Bond and Ryder escape by boat and not in the dragon vehicle. Finally Dr. No lost his hands due to radiation and not to the Tongs he stole from. ( The tarantula scene was performed by Connery's stunt double who considered it the scariest stunt he ever did. A sheet of glass was used when Connery's face is visible ).

 But then some scenes are alluded to. For instance the novel sees Bond challenged to a survival test involving tarantulas, scolding hot pipes and the giant squid. In the film all we get is the hot pipes, and anyone who has read the novel will recognise the significance. So Bond's escape is changed markedly as is Ryder's. In the novel she is pegged down on a hill for some supposedly ferocious crabs to devour. The scene was attempted, but the crabs used had to be frozen for transporting, and then brought onto the site. Unfortunately they were too frozen and lethargic. The scene was abandoned in favour of her being chained down on a ramp to be drowned.

 I think many of the changes from the novel came from necessity. If you have never read the novels then you won't be aware that they were quite bleak. James Bond was a man who suffered depression, melancholy, and periods of self doubt. The films portray a more light hearted Bond which I like as I don't think the dark Bond would have made for an entertaining enjoyable film. If the Bond of the novels had been put onto screen I seriously doubt we'd still have him today as we do. But the necessity also spanned to cutting out Ian Fleming's rampant sexism, rape fetish, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, etc, etc. They wouldn't have been acceptable censor wise in 1962. Thank god, because these unsavoury traits of Fleming's do mar the novels somewhat.

 There is one interesting moment in the film that has lost its significance now, but is still worth a mention. In Dr. No's lair Bond spots Goya's portrait of the Duke of Wellington. I wondered at why Bond reacted the way he did and found out several days ago. Apparently just before filming the real portrait was stolen from the National Gallery by a 60 year old amateur thief. The scene was put in to tie in the theft!! 

 And now I must bring up a goof!! I don't normally make much out of this thing in films, but this one always gets me in Dr. No!! When Bond leaves his hotel room, after putting talcum powder on his briefcase clips, he puts the case down on a side table to the right of a lamp. And yet when he later returns and picks up the case, it has magically moved to the left of the lamp! Goof, and a very obvious one!! I never fail to laugh at it when I watch the film. There are apparently many more, but I don't think they are so obvious, and I don't go out of my way to seek them out.

When released in 1962 Dr. No was a financial success, and yet received a mixed critical reception. But over the years it has gained in reputation, and is now regarded as one of the franchises finest outings. After having recently read the novel I was surprised at just how differently I viewed the film. I have always liked it, but because it follows a very good novel so well, I appreciated it even more. It was interesting to compare it against the recently watched and reviewed OHMSS. I commented on the dated feel of the special effects in that film, and even though Dr. No has dated to, it is still the better film visually.

  What I love about Dr. No is it's definite 1960's feel. Nothing in cinema to me can ever compare to a film made in Technicolour. Sure the special effects are dated but they aren't overly cringe worthy. Many of Dr. No's mine shots are obvious models but they have retained a certain charm that hasn't diminished over the last 50 years. And possibly what sets this Bond film out, as well as its successor From Russia With love, is the lack of the famous Bond gadgets. In the novel there are no gadgets at all. They are purely a film fabrication, and they are obvious for their absence in this film. ( In FRWL Bond is issued a briefcase, but I don't really call that a 'gadget' in terms of what was too come ).

Well that is about it folks!! This was a real pleasure to re-visit. I can't tell you how much I enjoyed it! ( Suffice to say it took the edge of watching the Wallabies down the All Blacks 25-20 immediately afterwards! ). But the reason I enjoyed it so much was because of the novel. I rate the novel as one of the top three Fleming wrote and hence think it rolled over into the film. But what I love most about it  the film is the 1960's technicolour and feel to whole thing. Some films as they age go past dated, and for me Dr. No, even though visually dated special effects wise, will forever look great. I mean just the fact of Dr. No's lair was superb in the 1960's,  must have made it a fantastic cinema going experience for that alone.

 Without question one of the very best of the Bond films. In itself it provided the cinematic world with one the most iconic scenes ever filmed with 'that' bikini. Something the film is known for more than Bond himself is! And when you consider the budget it was made under, and the skepticism it initially attracted, this first up effort is nothing short of praiseworthy.

 ( I believe some of the filming was done virtually on Ian Fleming's doorstep in Jamaica, his residence of Goldeneye. He came out and actually watched the filming! ).

Click here for a synopsis and more:

Here for more:

THAT bikini!! Iconic shot isn't it??! Absolutely recognisable, totally unforgettable.
Cover of the edition I read.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Winter In Wartime ( Oologswinter )

 Winter in Wartime is a 2008 Dutch film adapted from a 1972 novel of the same name by Jan Terlouw. It was highly successful in it's native Netherlands, out grossing the likes of The Dark Knight and Twilight. It is estimated approximately 9000,000 people in the Netherlands saw it in a cinema, and a further 60,000 in Belgium. It was chosen by Dutch critics as the best Dutch film of the year and won numerous awards throughout Europe. Also it was shortlisted with 8 other films for that years Oscars in Best Foreign Language Film.

 This did pay here in NZ and at a local cinema, but it had a very short run and I missed it. In short the film is about a young Dutch boy who attempts to help the Resistance during the WW2 by aiding a downed English pilot. The boy, Michiel, is resentful towards his father, the town mayor, who he feels panders to the Germans too much. He has an uncle ( Ben ) who in is touch with the Resistance who he idolises. The film is set in January 1945 and is a coming of age story which sees Michiel's loyalties tested.

 The novel it is based upon was apparently a children's book. But I get the feeling it was aimed more at teenagers since the main protagonist is 14. It won a Dutch literary award and was adapted into a television serial in 1975, and plans are afoot to turn it into a musical. The author is Dutch and has worked as a scientist, politician, and has written 24 children's books. Before watching the film several nights ago I had actually heard of the book but didn't really know too much about it. And the thing that made me sit up was I'm fairly sure this is the only Dutch language film I've ever watched!

 Now as much as this film has been honoured there are several flaws with it I felt. They are not though in regard to the fine  script, acting, cinematography etc, but in the historical feel. One review I read praised the cinematography, and whilst beautifully done, it is inadvertently the flaw. The film is meant to be set in the last winter of the war, and anyone who knows the period would be aware that Holland was still occupied by the Germans....and starving. Sure other countries were as well but in early 1945 Holland's plight was particularly severe. This is an important thing against the backdrop of the film to remember.

 The Allies never actually pushed the Germans out of the country, and even after the German surrender Holland was in a bad state. Again if you know your history you will be aware the Allies had to mount an immediate airlift to feed the Dutch population. In many respects this airlift was a fore runner to the better known Berlin Air lift in 1948-1949. My gripe here is not that the film ignores the food shortages, as it does refer to them, but the actors don't look hungry, are remarkably healthy looking, and clothed far too well.

 Remember that by 1945 Holland had been occupied for 5 years, and yet the actors in the film are far too well clothed. I think more attempt should have made to provide clothes that looked worn out and patched up because quite literally in 1945 they were! For me just putting up a subtitle stating the year wasn't enough,  and hence the historical feel of the film was totally lacking. Besides the clothes being far too new and clean, I thought the actors looked too fresh face and healthy. Again this was a mistake. Surely make up could have been applied to show malnutrition and clothes that were too big fitted to give the appearance of starvation? Small things that would have given the film a more authentic feel.

Take notice!! Everything in this shot is far too clean for 1945!!
 Also, and this really glared to my mind, the German soldiers were far too well dressed. Their uniforms were far too clean even for occupation troops. For instance in one scene there is a public execution. The firing squad's helmets look as if they were brand new from the factory, and quite literally gleamed and sparkled in their newness. Again this was poor, I mean just throwing it in a puddle of mud would have aged them a bit visually. I also think the German soldiers ages were wrong. To many of them were of the age, where at that time of the war, they would have been at the fronts and not in Occupation duties. I mean as you are losing a war you don't have your fit and healthy troops occupying a country of half starved people do you?

 So yes this is undoubtedly beautifully filmed. But it is all far too clean. There is absolutely no historical accuracy visually, and for me I couldn't buy into the film because of it. But for that massive failing the rest of the film is excellent. I think the tension of the occupation is well realised in regards to how each individual reacted to it. We see the mayor trying to placate both sides and cop the criticism for it. Some people openly side with the Germans to save their own skins, which we see. And then we see the worst of the worst, as Michiel's adored uncle is actually a stooge for the Germans.

Not hungry or malnourished enough to be credible.
 So what the film lacks in visual authenticity it more than makes for in tension. I think the script went into enough detail to replicate what life was like under an occupying power. The use of illegal home made radios is there, as is the food shortage and the risks people were prepared to go to to eat. At one stage a simple rabbit is seen as a boon just as a small piece of meat. Also the dreaded raids and round ups are seen, as are firing squads.  But maybe more chilling was the constant threat of reprisals the population lived with if a German soldier was killed. We see Michiel forced into action as the Germans intiate a roundup for executions ( that includes his father ), after the body of the German killed by the airman is found.

 Funnily enough I worked for a Dutchman who fought in the Dutch Resistance, and was shot through the leg at Arnhem as a mere 13 year old. His stories of life under the Germans play out accurately in the film. I've also read biographies of Audrey Hepburn who lived in Holland throughout the war. Hepburn is a good example of the food shortages as she was a teen at the time, and her life long slim physic was a direct result of malnutrition during the war. Her young body wasn't getting the minerals it needed and she subsequently suffered. It is a fact she found it difficult to conceive which was directly attributed to her wartime food shortages.

Again..just TOO clean.
 What I trying to do here is show how by making the film too clean the producers have failed to replicate the feel and air of the era. I think some canny use of makeup, shoddy, patched , ill fitting clothes ( to make the actors appear emaciated ) would have really given the film the punch it lacked. Also the German soldiers were the wrong age and far too clean as well. The problem for me is the cleanliness was too glaring to be over looked. If you are going to make a period piece then for goodness sake make it look like the era in question. Doing it in narrative isn't going to cut the ice, and for all the good of the film, I think it seriously let down by its lack of visual authenticity.

 But I will state here very clearly at least the German weapons were accurate as were there vehicles up to a point. But more importantly the crashed British aircraft was made to look like a crashed Mosquito. So whilst the grittiness and bleakness of 1945 is lacking, their are a lot of historical accuracies that had attention paid to them.
 I like the film's intention in bringing to more modern audiences what life was like in Holland during the war. The narrative does it very well but it is backed by visual inaccuracies which mars the film too much. But for younger audiences I suppose it can be over looked. The essence of the plot is one of coming of age under trying times when loyalties were life and death. I think as this is aimed at a younger Dutch audience, then more reality should have been created to show what life was like VISUALLY.

 A lot to admire, and yet for historical purists like myself, somewhat teeth gritting in being too clean. Just a bit of thought and care could have made this more impressive than it is. But still there is more than enough to make this a well worth while watch.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

And click here for the official ( English language ) site:

Friday, August 26, 2011


 It is really disapointing when an initially good film is re-made, virtually shot for shot. It seems so damn pointless. I mean who will ever be able to figure out why Psycho was ever re-made in this fashion? Unfortunately 2007 Spanish horror flick [Rec] was re-made in America, and re-named Quarantine. I'm sure that I'm not telling you anything new here, but when I rented this DVD I didn't realise it was an actual shot for shot re-make.

 I saw Quarantine back in 2009 at my local cinema. I think these type of horrors really work as they are more believable than the normal run of the mill slasher flicks. [REC] cum Quarantine, Paranormal Activity, Blair Witch, all have an inherent creepiness that is far superior to any other type of horror movie in my opinion. The Blair Witch Project started it all off with its shaky camera lost/ found footage premise. But I think as the premise has grown, the chills have increased with it. Blair Witch was certainly innovative in its day, but it didn't really creep me out like Paranormal Activity or Quaratine has subsequently managed to do.

 [REC] then is a 2007 Spanish horror. Unfortunately I don't think it played here in cinemas but I wish it had of. Quaratine was bloody scary on the big screen, but since it is a remake I would have prefered to see the original. I'm not adverse to reading sub-titles and find it somewhat pathetic, and somewhat arrogant, that many people turn their noses up at doing so. Honestly, besides a few minor script changes, what was the point of Quarantine except to pander to those who won't read sub-titles?

 The problem now with reviewing [REC] is that I saw Quarantine first. Also since they are virtually scene for scene it becomes impossible to compare the two. Is one scarier than the other? No. Is the acting better than the other? No. No. No. No to all else. But more importantly is Manuela Velasco sexier and better looking than Jennifer Carpenter??! Ummm...hmmm, dunno! Suffice to say they both get infected last of all, in probably the scariest scene from both movies.

 So besides a bunch of people freaking out and screaming in Spanish or English there really is absolutely no difference between the two. The only real change is in the narrative rather than a visual one. In [REC] the infection is demonic in nature, whereas in Quarantine it is actually rabies. Why the change I don't know. I like [REC] more as the idea of a contagious virus from demonic sources is far creepier than a dose of dog bite disease! So maybe [REC] is the superior movie?!

 [REC] had a sequel in 2009 which starts at the end of the first movie. Angela Vidal, the female reporter, has been infected by the virus and is possessed by the girl in the attic. Fortunately in America Quarantine 2 took a different story line. I believe there are two more [REC] movies to be made. I haven't even seen a DVD copy of the second [REC] which is probably due to Quarantine squeezing it out due to being in English. This annoys me because we see the few who won't read sub-titles dictating to the many who do. I'd rather read sub-titles than not see a movie at all

  Since Quarantine is the shot for shot re-make, I say avoid it and watch the original Spanish version, simply because it got in first. Don't like sub-titles? Harden up! There is really nothing between the two, but I just don't like the thinking behind Quarantine. It was simple arrogance in making exactly the same movie just because the original wasn't in English. ( The Orphanage is another fine Spanish horror and I'm surprised that hasn't been turned into an English language re-make yet either ).

If you haven't seen Quarantine then I recommend you see [REC] instead. Scary, moody, claustrophobic, bloody, original, and nerve jangling. Quite simply a roll-a-coaster of a fright flick.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

The Unforgiven

 Throughout cinematic history many films have gathered as much fame for their off screen happenings as their on screen ones. Casablanca is possibly the best known for this even though the end result belies the off screen dramas that be-deviled its production. It is now considered, depending on which side of the divide you choose to stand on, the second greatest film ever made. Or the greatest worst film ever made! Suffice to say when the off screen dramas are analysed it is surprising the film was ever made at all.

 John Huston's 1960 adaptation of Alan Le May's novel, The Unforgiven is also notorious for its off screen problems. But unlike Casablanca The Unforgiven was unable to shake them off, and the end result is a deeply flawed film.

 Probably the best known drama is that of Audrey Hepburn being thrown from a horse and breaking her back. She was pregnant at the time, and her subsequent mis-carriage is blamed on this fall. Hepburn wasn't initially interested in making this film as she was afraid of horses. It is a sad indictment that her fears panned out the way they did. But professional that she was, she came back to finish the film after her recovery. Suffice to say with the lead actress out production had to reshuffled around her absence.

 But as much as this was a hurdle John Huston faced an even bigger one. In making The Unforgiven he wanted to make a film about racism in America, with particular regards to the treatment of the Indian. In 1960 this was unheard of and he faced stiff opposition from Rick Height, and his company,  who were financing the film. Height wanted a more commercially appealing, less controversial picture, compared to Huston's desire for a racial statement. The pair clashed constantly with Height trying to control the direction of the film. The end result was that neither party got what they wanted. And it showed.

 Without knowing the particulars regarding the prohibitive conditions Huston worked under, means an uninitiated watcher could do nothing but say he produced a poor film. Yes it is a poor film from a director who made the likes of The Maltese Falcon and The African Queen. But all great artists have their off days. When the final product is seen it would have been interesting to know what The  Unforgiven would have been like if Huston had been able to make the film the way he wanted. But he wasn't given free reign and the film must be judged on what it is.

 I must admit I didn't enjoy this film. It is a muddled mess and the first 30-40 minutes are all but incomprehensible! Honestly I watched it going WT.... is going on here?? It compromised of lots of jumping on and off horses, some desert shots, the arrival of a remarkably tuned piano, an old man and his sabre,........and a distinct lack of plot. It really was a complete mess and I came very close to giving up on it. But fortunately, just as my patience gave out at about the 45th minute, some plot kicked in.

 We find that the old man with the sabre has a story to tell. He states that Rachael Zachary ( a poorly thought out casting of Audrey Hepburn ), is an Indian by birth, who had been secretly adopted into the Zachary family after her own family of Kiowa Indians had been wiped out. The local white population want rid of her ( calling her a 'red-nigger' ), and the local Kiowa Indians want her back. Ben Zachary ( Burt Lancaster ), is in love with her, refuses to give her up, and withdraws from the white population to stand by Rachael. Then internal family squabbles rupture the family, and only four members are left to defend her as the Kiowas mount an attack on the Zachary homestead.

 The last 30 minutes of the film are actually quite good but somewhat cliched, as it becomes nothing more than a western shootout...quite literally classic cowboys and Indians stuff. The only really redeeming feature is that Rachael Shoots her Indian brother, and in the process deciding which side of the racial divide she wants to be on. The film ends with a bizarre shot of a flying gaggle of birds and the three survivors staring at it....again a bit wt....?

 I didn't enjoy this....more to the point, I couldn't. It is a poorly executed film all round. The first 30-40 minutes are an absolute mess. The editing is extremely poor which leaves the watcher bewildered because there is literally nothing happening! But for me the worst point is the foolish decision to cast Audrey Hepburn as an Indian. To be sure she is meant to be playing a white looking Indian but surely using an appropriate Indian woman would have been better considered. I mean if this was meant to be a serious look at racism against Indians, as John Huston intended, what better way to belittle that message by using a Dutch born, English passport holder? ( Even slapping in Medal of Honor winner , and America's highest awarded soldier, Audey Murphy, wasn't going to save the wreck ). 

 Audrey Hepburn went on to dis-own the film and I don't blame her. I've read a few Hepburn biographies and she didn't want to do this fill. But under contract she was all but forced to. She does a professional job but her performance feels forced to me. You can see just lurking under the surface her unhappiness with the role. She was mis-cast but that was not her fault. The rest of the cast feel as if they are working under a cloud to. It must have been a difficult set to work on with all the off screen dramas that dogged its production.

 In 1960 The Unforgiven was ambitious in premise. It's controversial nature saw battles over its production which ultimately affected the end product. What we get here is a neither here nor there type film. It tries to delve into Indian racism but fails to delve deep enough. It is neither a commercially made film either. Quite literally, the off screen dramas are replicated on screen, and the film is a forgettable mess! This mess makes it an extremely difficult film to watch ( let alone follow! ), and one can fully understand why Audrey Hepburn distanced herself from it.

 Frustrating, messy, clumsy, poorly edited, incomprehensible. The Unforgiven can never be forgiven for being so poorly made. Thank goodness it is only 116 minutes long as anymore would have been intolerable.

Click here for a synopsis and more:

Thursday, August 25, 2011


 I must admit to wanting to give this a miss as none of the reviews I had read were particularly favorable. The problem was compounded by watching The Sting and The Verdict several days before hand. Somehow moving from the late great Paul Newman to this didn't seem like a good move! Well in some ways I was right, and yet I found enough to like as well.

 I generally like vampire movies. As a horror figure they have fascinated me since kiddie hood. I've read Bram Stoker's Dracula and don't think any other novelist has even close to his vampiric masterpiece. And yet his iconic figure has spawned any number of vampire movies, whether following in draculaesque form or not. In Priest the said vampires are not the usual cliched vamps in being turned into vamps only if bitten by a vamp. In fact they are not human based at all but an entire different species.

 In Priest a human bitten by a vamp becomes a 'Familiar', a sort of in-between human vamp. So it takes the age old vampire legend and tweaks it a bit. I don't mind this as such as the vampire is a mythological figure that can be played around with ( figuratively speaking!! ). The movie starts with a cartoon type back story detailing a distant war between these vamps and humans. Between them they left the world a waste land after the Priests' ( humanities saviours as they are vamp killers bar none ), win the war and the remaining vamps are consigned to 'Reservations'. With the world decimated humanity retreats into city enclaves run by the church.

 These church run cities smacked of George Orwell's 1984 and I couldn't help but feel a big brother anti-church sentiment bubbling through. No matter as out hero's family is attacked by the church's non-existent vamps. Of course as the Church's ex secret weapon the hero wants to come out of retirement but is refused. Hence he goes rogue and gets assistance from a post-apocalyptic sheriff. Yep all the cliches come out to play I'm afraid!!!!

 Well no need to go into too much more plot as there isn't much from here on in! Suffice to say a lot of vamps get killed, our hero priest gets chased by his own kind, but they are killed by big bad nasty vamp leader, big bad vamp leaders plans are foiled, and hero prevails...oh and the movie ends with the matter of a sequel in no way being denied!

 So what we get is pretty much nothing new premise wise. But surprisingly Priest isn't all that bad. I found it superior to the recent Cowboys and Aliens as a comparison. Compared to C & A Priest's editing alone was leap years ahead. But the acting was worse! C & A's was wooden where as Priest's can only be described as poor. Sure the dialogue was utterly banal and actors cannot be criticised for that, but honestly Can Gigandet went to the Keanu Reeves school of wooden acting. He is terrible, just cringe worthy. His dialogue isn't great but his acting skills made them worse!! Karl Urban is acting beneath himself, but again his dialogue is poor, and he can't do more with it than he did.

 The whole cast suffers from poor dialogue and the script is patchy with it. I mean the first third of the movie was well done, but then it fell into the usual chase 'em kill 'em cliches, and it fell apart somewhat. But then surprise of surprises the movie has got a definite stylish about it. The CGI at times was a bit cheap and shoddy, but it then turned around at times and was spectacularly good. The motorbike scenes were poor but the vamp dens and human cities were quite cool. This is unfortunate because with a bit more effort then Priest could have been a really, really, cool movie. As it is it is a normal run of the mill 'could have been more' movie.

 But I will say this. Unlike Cowboys and Aliens Priest had a premise and didn't totally blow it. But at the same time it is a movie you almost forget as soon as you finish watching it. And there it is like Cowboys and Aliens in being a movie that promised so much, could have and should have delivered, but didn't. Priest then is a disappointment. With a lot to like the flaws are to great to ignore and at only 87 minutes long paying $17.90 to see it in 3-D is too much for too little. Just frustrating for blowing it when it wouldn't have taken much to get it right.

 A movie that pissed me off because it had alot to offer and didn't deliver enough.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Sting

 The Towering Inferno, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Coogan's Bluff, are all films that I have reviewed earlier on this blog. If you have been a regular reader, and have read those particular reviews, then you will be aware that I referred to the fact that these were films that were regularly played on NZ telly in the early 1980's. I vividly remember the last time I watched The Sting. It was 1983 and I was 12 or 13. I recall talking about it with friends of mine who had also watched it on a Monday back at school.

 Well after nearly 30 years I watched it again last Wednesday.....twice, back to back! And then again last night before I sadly returned it to the library. After those 30 years I could remember virtually everything, but what really hit me was the fact that at 12 I didn't understand the complexity of the plot. And yet I just instinctively knew, even back then ,what a truly great film it was. So when my first watch the other night was over it was fantastic to re-live those boyhood memories, and also appreciate the same film as an adult. The wonderful thing to was even though it wasn't visually new, the complex plot with the twists and turns were. And I must admit I was thrown, as was the point! In other words it got me! Suffice to say I had quite forgotten just how much I loooooovvveeeeeeeeeee this film!!

 The Sting is a 1973 caper film that deals with a pair of professional grifters. Confidence men might be the better known term ,but the producers of the film really went out of their way for accuracy/authenticity. It is based on real life grifters, Fred and Charley Gondorff, and written about in, The Big Con : The Story Of the Confidence Man, by David Maurer. The surprising thing about the film is that all involved in its script and research were relatively young. For instance David S. Ward the screen writer was born in 1945. So it was an incredible feat for such a young man, with virtually no experience, to write one of cinema's finest ever scripts. ( Robert Redford states he knew it was a great script from the moment he read it. But he also realised it needed an extremely accomplished director to make it work ).

 The script was only the start though. Apparently work on the film was a lot fun. In some of the biographies I've read lately a crew and cast can tell by the spirit on set whether a film is going to be good or not. On The Sting the feeling was high and it shows in the final product. The disc I had had several interviews with some of the cast and they all comment on this spirit. They just knew that they were involved in something very special. Redford called it almost 'spiritual'!

  First the script, and then there is the score. I had quite forgotten just how good it was. Honestly from the moment that main melody started my face split into the biggest grin imaginable! ( I kid you not, hearing it for the first time in 30 years I felt goose bumps ripple up and down my spine! ). You all know it ,and I'm sure you can hear it in your minds right now. Entitled 'The Entertainer', it became a top ten hit single in the States at the time. It is such a simple tune, and yet it is one of the most recognisable film themes ever.

 Actually the music is an almost uncredited actor here because it is the icing on the cake to the film. But there was a bit of controversy surrounding it as it is Ragtime, which was a style that had faded out by the Depression era. Yet the producers felt it fitted the film perfectly, and I don't think anyone can argue with it. It really is something very, very special! It was so special it was awarded one of the film's 7 Oscars, of the 10 it was nominated for.

 Over the years I've never felt Hollywood was very good at period type films. For me the English are the best in the world at them ( David Lean as a fine example ). And yet The Sting is an exception. The 1930's Depression air and feel is perfectly replicated. I just wonder why Hollywood has rarely been able to achieve it. Honestly if you look at photos from Depression era America you can see so much that is in the film. As an example, at the very start of the film as the theme is mesmerizing you, just watch the Joliet, Illinois street scene. For me it is epitomised by two images. One the guy rummaging in the trash can, and two, the guy leaning at an acute angle in a shop alcove.Very much images from the Depression.

 But it went even further with this Depression detailing with the very famous and unique way of introducing each new part to the sting. Of course I refer to the individual seven sections that start with a title card. The Players, The Set-Up, The Hook, The Tale, The Wire, The Shut-Out, and the fianle The Sting. My favorite scene has always been The Hook. Newman , as Gondorff, walks in to the poker game, apologising for his lateness, due to his 'taking a crap'! A superb scene that has stayed in my memory since boyhood, and one I enjoyed immensly watching again. A funny thing though comes out of the term 'sting'. In confidence tricks it was a term of conning money, and yet it has been turned on it's head and is now a law enforcement term!!

 And then the sets themselves! In my review of Doctor Zhivago I made it very clear that I believe hand built props cannot be beaten in a film. Modern CGI just cannot begin to replicate them ( I made this observation about the CGI imagery of San Francisco in, The Rise of the Planet of the Apes ). The sets were built on Universal Studios back lot and are quite simply, brilliant. Certain scenes were filmed in Pasadena and on Santa Monica Pier, but the rest is hand built. 1930's Joliet and Chicago of the Depression really came to life. Add it to that musical score and the film just keeps getting better. The whole Depression era has been meticulously replicated, and for me personally it is one of the very few times a Hollywood production was ever able to do it. When you realise the detailing that went in, it is no surprise why the end result was as close to perfection as a film could possibly achieve.

 So everything was there. A superb script, a brilliant set, and a magical musical score. All that was needed was a cast. And we all know that this is a very,very good cast. There isn't a weak link or performance anywhere. I believe everyone who worked on the set held director George Roy Hill in very high regard. He apparently had exceptionally high standards and a sharp eye for detail. Newman and Redford both state that Roy should take most of the credit for the film's success. He took an acknowledged great script and made it work.

 This was the second, and last time Newman and Redford acted together. As in my Butch Cassidy review I think Newman lifted Redford's acting. I like Robert Redford but I don't think he is in the same league as Paul Newman. But put the two together and there is an undoubted chemistry, that produced two of the greatest films ever in, The Sting and Butch Cassidy.

 But as much as this is a Newman Redford film, for me the stand out was Robert Shaw as Irish mobster, Doyle Lonnegan. For me his gangster performance is the most under rated one ever. I think it must rival Brando's in The Godfather, surely?? Shaw is absolute chilling as Lonnegan. He has the meanest look and a coldness very few actors have ever achieved on screen. He is ruthless, mean, vicious, vindictive, and down right bloody scary. He is not a man to fuck with at all, and Robert Shaw is almost too believable in the role. 'Ya folla?' is about as absolute, chilling, and scary, as 'We made him an offer he couldn't refuse'.

 The interesting thing about Shaw is that his on screen limp was real! He had torn his knee ligaments playing handball, and actually proposed pulling out of the role because of it. Suffice to say it stayed and added an added sinister air to the role. I have read somewhere that Shaw didn't want the role unless his name appeared on the opening billing above that of Newman and Redford's. He also supposedly wanted to be paid a huge amount of money. It is said this was the reason he wasn't nominated for an Oscar. I'm not sure how true this was but fortunately for posterity Shaw played the part. It really is hard to imagine anyone else pulling of the cold hearted sinister lonnegan as Shaw did. I believe Shaw is hideously over looked as Doyle Lonnegan when great performances are talked or written about.

 Of all the ingredients are were there, put together, and the end result speaks for itself. A perfect flawless film. It has defied greatness and gone into the realm of masterpiece .Very few films, even the true greats achieve the flawlessness of The Sting. What is there to criticise, or heaven forbid, dislike?! It has it all, from visual appeal, a score that you can't help but love, superb acting from the entire cast, and above all there is that script. How good is it? After 30 years it sucked me in as I thought the FBI was real, and Johnny Hooker was going to rat out Henry 'Shaw' Gondorff. But then that twist ending!! My god, it was perfection, and one of the great endings to a film ever. But like all films of the type there was just enough clues provided for the observant viewer to figure it out. But the true enjoyment really is to be sucked in. But even after multiple viewings, and knowing how it ends, this is a film that can be watched over and over again. Simply because it is just so damn good.

 I suppose 10 Oscar nominations says it all as well. Best Picture, director, screenplay, art direction, costume design, editing, and music. Redford was the only actor nominated for an award though. But in many respects the Oscars won are the testament of what I have alluded to. Every aspect of the film is detail personified, and in many respects the actors are almost an after thought!

 I just love this film. I had quite forgotten how much I did. For me it is one of the very best films of the 1970's. It is hard to believe that a film that is just flawless isn't in the AFI's top 100 list. It should be because The Sting is a film that got EVERYTHING right. There isn't a weak link in the film, and it must rank as one of the greatest films ever made. The Godfather is considered flawless, and I think The Sting rates the same platitude. It is flawless, and it is not only a great film but it is fun, entertaining, and quite simply a film that should be on your 'favorites' list!

A very, very, very special film.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Roman Holiday

 I know I know, it's one of the oldest proverbs in the book but I have to use it...they don't make 'em like this anymore!! In that one proverb I think I've summed up everything about this 1953 romantic comedy that I love so much. I'm sure I don't need to remind you that it stars the incomparable legends of Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck...but I will anyway! I've wanted to watch this film for a long time, and finally I managed it a few weeks ago.

 Like all films the history behind it is of interest, because initially the role of Princess Ann wasn't written with Audrey Hepburn in mind. At that stage Hepburn was still a relative unknown in the US, and Elizabeth Taylor was envisaged as Ann. But Hepburn got the role after a screen test, where the cameras were left rolling without Hepburn's knowledge, and her effervescent personality inadvertently came through.  The role of Joe Bradley was originally written with Cary Grant in mind, but he declined considering himself too old for a love interest.

 Instead Gregory Peck was offered, and got the role. He obviously had no qualms about being the 37 year old love interest to a 24 year old Hepburn! I can't remember why it was, but I did read somewhere why it was that Hollywood at the time intentionally paired young actresses with older actors. It was something to do with the archaic, absurd censorship laws the industry had to work under at the time.

 Under Peck's contract he had solo billing for the film. Hence his name was to be displayed first in the credits. But in an incredible act of generosity half through filming, he asked for Hepburn's name to receive equal billing with his own. A remarkable gesture from an old hand to an up and comer. But Peck was an acknowledged nice guy in Hollywood. Maybe with the on screen chemistry he had with Hepburn, he recognised a star in the making, and done it to help her launch her career. It is certainly no secret that the pair remained life long friends. I wonder why?!!

 In 1953 Gregory Peck was an established, well known star. But Hepburn was a virtual unknown. What Roman Holiday did was to propel Audrey Hepburn into the public eye. She had previous experience in the English film industry, and had played Gigi on stage in the States. And yet it didn't stop her putting in an inspired performance that won her a well deserved Oscar, ( her first of two ), a remarkable feat in quite literally her first big role.

 Of course the director was William Wyler, who Hepburn went on to make one other film with. An accomplished director, he had the distinction of making the epic Ben-Hur in 1959. The script was written by John Dighton and Dalton Trumbo,  which won an Oscar for Best Screenplay (as did the costume design ).

 The plot revolves around a young princess named Ann. She is from an un-named country who, on a European tour, becomes frustrated, and bored by the repetitious banality of it all. She escapes her royal escort and ends up meeting an American journalist. Thinking her drunk she inadvertently ends up back at his tiny flat. She wakes up in the morning and all the fun begins!! She takes off just as Joe ( Peck ), realises who she is. He follows her as he realises the money making opportunity she presents. Suffice to say all sorts of escapades ensue and slowly the pair fall for each other, even in the company of Joe's photographer buddy, Irving Radovich ( Eddie Albert ).
But after her fun and escapades she realises she has to go back to her royal duties.

 She has caused a real uproar with her disappearance, and even some royal heavies are called in to track her down. She returns to her world and meets Joe and Irving, who having decided not to publish their surreptitiously taken photos, show their journalistic hand at a 'meet the press' held by the princess.

 This is a fine film, and as I said, they don't make em like this anymore! What I like about it is the lack of what blights films today. There is no nudity, swearing, graphic sex, violence, or any such thing that modern film makers seem to think makes a film. What we get is a genuinely charming film, that is funny and heart warming, without being cheesy or cliched.  But what makes the film work is the very obvious on screen chemistry between Peck and Hepburn.

 It is funny because whilst some classic films have a palpable datedness about them Roman Holiday didn't. It was filmed in black and white to keep production costs down. This meant the whole film could be filmed on site in Rome, instead of an initially envisaged set in the States. But this isn't it. The acting is superb, and even the premise is still solid. We still have royal families in our era, so we can identify with Hepburn's character. The only part of the film that didn't quite work was the long shots of the scooter sequence. It is very obvious that it is not Peck and Hepburn doing the riding. Sure it was for insurance purposes, and general safety for the cast, but it is a bit obvious. But that is all I can criticise in an otherwise perfect film.

 Now I must comment on Audrey Hepburn! Gregory Peck is fantastic, but to make this work the character of Ann had to work more so. After all she is the whole point of the premise. What we get with Hepburn's performance is three very clear, distinct performances, within the one character. Firstly she is a bored, frustrated, caged young woman. She quite clearly yearns to break free of the constraints of royalty and its controlled way of life. When she wakes up in Joe's flat a second personality comes out. She is carefree, charming, playful and full of delight, as she does the things 'commoners' take for granted. Then thirdly, on her return she has matured, and is more commanding with her servants.

 Three very distinctive styles of character from the one character of Ann. Audrey Hepburn plays it superbly, and when you see the three in one performance, you can only say that her Oscar was well and truly deserved. It is a masterful performance from a young actress. One that infused her talent with her own charm, youthful exuberance, and looks.

 Roman Holiday is a just wonderful film. I loved it and watched it twice in the few days I had the DVD!!! They don't, and almost don't seem to be able to, make them like this anymore. The humour isn't as sharp as it was in 1953, but the budding on screen chemistry between Joe and Ann can't be denied. The viewers really want the two to be able to transcend their worlds and be together. It is in the end a bitter sweet story, and yet it is a genuine charmer in the way modern rom-coms can't replicate. Peck and Hepburn have an on screen chemistry that is so often lacking. It is what makes the film so wonderful. Add to it the backdrop of Rome, and you have the perfect romantic comedy.

 A real charmer that shows you don't need tits, bums, foul language, sex, sex, sex, nudity and violence to make a great film. Honestly charming is the only word to describe this film. It is a word I can't use on modern films. Fortunately the charm factor hasn't added a dated fell to the film as a whole. Something than can happen to other films of this type and era, by way of quaintness.

Watch, and fall in love with this wonderful, lovely charmer!! ( Like I stated, they don't make them like this anymore!! ).

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