Monthly Archives: February 2012

02/2012 – Movie ‘moments’ ……

As February 2012 month comes to a close, just thought I would relay some of my movie highlights from this past month:

I relished reliving the ‘eye-gauge’ scene from Lucio Fulci’s classic Zombie Flesh Eaters  (1979). When I was a kid, I could barely watch this sequence and I reckon it’s probably one of the reasons I can’t wear contact lenses…..

On an entirely different note,the soundtrack of Drive (2011) was astounding – very electro-cool. I thought the whole damn movie was wicked, one of the best films I have seen in some time.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching Seven (1995) again –  I hadn’t seen it in years – but I think Pitt, Spacey and Freeman are all on top-form in it. The film is so bloody dark with an electrifying element of tension underpinning every scene.

Curtains (1983) was an interesting canadian slasher movie that I hadn’t seen before in full….the killer’s mask is pretty awesome too.

I finished reading a great book on western movies by Howard Hughes called “Stagecoach to Tombstone”. You can purchase it on amazon here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Stagecoach-Tombstone-Filmgoers-Guide-Westerns/dp/1845115716

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Winchester ’73 (1950)

Synopsis:

The story of  a rifle and the fate that befalls its owners…..against this backdrop, original owner, Jimmy Stewart searches for the man who murdered his father.

Review:

A film which packs a punch. Anthony Mann’s “Winchester ’73” is probably his best movie.

James Stewart plays a complicated character, a crack-shot marksman who has become traumitized by the death of his father. Stewart originally wins the rifle of the title at a shooting competition but it is stolen from him and evades him for the rest of the film, switching owners frequently throughout – bringing only pain and suffering to those men who own it. The rifle’s owners include an unscrupulous and morally dubious tradesman (the gravelly John McIntire) and a brutal Indian Chieftain (an athletic-looking Rock Hudson) – both of whom are incapable of staying alive whilst keeping the rifle….the twist that comes later in the film is more predictable than a revelation of this kind should be, but this doesn’t detract from the power of the film which has a lot to do with some show-stopping performances from the cast. The best of which comes from Stephen McNally as the blood-thirsty ‘Dutch’ – a man no-one would like to come across on a dark night I can tell you………

Mann’s direction is untypical of the western genre with his emphasis on the psychological  and I loved the way the camera focusses on the gun at key moments – I mean this is one neat-looking weapon… – a blistering soundtrack rounds things off very nicely.

Mann’s iconic finale sees Stewart engaged in a rifle-shooting match with his father’s murderer amongst the rocks and undergrowth of mountains high above the plains. Whilst the good guy always wins in the films of this era, this is no happy ending.  Mature and bleak as Westerns come, “Winchester ’73” is a film which sticks in your head.

hotdog rating: 8.5/10

Rio Lobo (1970)

Synopsis:

After the Civil War, a Union Colonel (John Wayne) joins forces with two young confederates to both bring to justice a Union traitor and a ruthless land-owner intent on buying up the town of Rio Lobo…..

Review:

Howard Hawks’s last film basically uses a number of plot devices to hurdle itself toward a finale similar to that of his earlier masterpiece “Rio Bravo” (1959). Once again, Wayne and two other characters; one a young confederate soldier  (Christopher – son of Robert –  Mitchum) and the other an elderly trigger-happy lunatic (Jack Elam); find themselves walled-up in a small town jail about to embark on a dangerous hostage-exchange…….

Jerry Goldsmith’s fantastic soundtrack and Jack Elam’s crazed performance are real knock-outs in a film which although no classic, is a little under-rated. Certainly, Hawks’s most violent and bloody western it nevertheless feels a little old-fashioned. The film echoes themes of loyalty and of pulling a community together, despite historic differences, against a common-foe. You can’t help noticing that the confederates are painted as a down-to-earth honest bunch whilst the Union are out to fleece everyone around them….Wayne being the exception.

The opening credits are done very well and the first 15 minutes of the film concerns the robbery of a train carrying a shipment of Union gold. This scene is one my favourites in any western, where the johnny rebs attack not with guns but with a hornet’s nest…….. but from there on the film does drag in parts and isn’t helped by the lacklustre support offered by Jorge Rivero as the confederate Cavalry Captain and Wayne’s side-kick for most of the picture. Christopher Mitchum isn’t much better either.  The next eye-popping scene is probably the finale – very similar to “Rio Bravo” (1959) except for it’s the villains with the dynamite this time – which inevitably moves me to the awkward conclusion that this is  just a run-of-the-mill John Wayne movie sandwiched between two elaborate set-piece sequences…..somehow though, watching this film makes you feel that it is something a little more.

Some of the director’s hallmarks are evident throughout the movie. Women play a pivotal role (note the final sequence) – as in many of his movies – although the female lead seems to switch characters half-way through the movie whilst the dialogue and scripting is as natural as it comes. In fact, it seems that quite a few scripted lines were inserted tongue-in-cheek just to play on Wayne’s age and acting-talents – “If you were a better actor…”  as well as “he’s heavier than a baby-whale” spring to mind. Wayne the actor is old in this movie and there’s no getting around that for Wayne the characer either.  At times his stunt-double is blatantly obvious. Yet, Wayne comes across as more fatherly and a touch more darkly humorous than in some of his earlier works. Hawks obviously realised that there was no point having Wayne chase the ladies in this movie and his character has no love interest either – a relief for the viewer.

The exterior shots and camera pans are beautiful and it’s a good job they are because most of the film takes place in the open country-side not in the town as in “Rio Bravo” (1959).

All in all, it’s nowhere near Hawks’s best  but it’s a tribute to him that his average movies were still a notch-above most of the output of the industry.

hotdog rating: 6.5/10

Superstition (1982) aka The Witch

Synopsis:

A witch executed in 1692 returns  to the present day in order to wreak havoc on the town that persecuted her……

Review:

The film enjoys a bit of a cult reputation which I must confess is likely down to its lack of availability – until recently this movie was bloody hard to get hold of in the UK. In addition, it was one of the few films which although straight-to-video, generated enough interest to warrant a cinematic release in 1985.

Broadly speaking, ‘Superstition’ (1982) is  an odd horror movie which catapults itself to the viewer  with a mighty impressive number of death sequences in the first 20 mins or so . An elderly priest gets a rip-saw through his chest; a teenager’s head is blown up in a microwave and another kid is split in two by a sliding window. Later on things get even gorier……..

The best scenes of the movie are the flashback sequences to the 1692 witch-trial and its consequences (although the priest from back then does seem to resemble Billy Connolly). The imagery in these scenes is quite strong and I thought that these scenes were pulled-off very well, given how difficult it can be to come across with a genuine period-look in a movie. That said, the scene in which our lovely witch is drowned rips-off the special make-up effects of  ‘The Exorcist’ in a way which isn’t very flattering.

The director depends on cheap-shocks for most scares but these are effective – and let’s be honest, there are very few scary films that don’t contain at least a couple of  these jump-out-of-the-seat moments – and at times the moody and dark camerawork does manage to create an atmosphere of dread and tension.  The use of the ‘first-person’ view of the witch is reminiscent of the slasher genre – and I am not sure it fully works in a ‘haunted-house’ movie. I think that’s one of the film’s problems – it doesn’t seem to know whether it’s a by-the-numbers supernatural ‘Friday the 13th’ or something deeper akin to the ‘Amityville’ series. On the other hand, one of the film’s great successes for me was the avoidance of showing the witch, beyond her fiendishly rotten claws….

A pounding goblin-like score echoes Argento and there are flashes of  punchy direction, but this is not really in Argento’s league of panache despite what you may hear  from some quarters. It also has to be noted that a lot of this picture is remarkably nihilistic, just wait for the finale!

Nevertheless, an enjoyable horror flick which is moderately scary, if you can forgive the rather woeful cast that is.

hotdog rating: 7/10

Dario Argento tribute

Youtube is full of tributes to this guy, but the video montage below simply blew me away. The soundtrack is taken from the actual scores to his movies, most of the famous ones being performed by Claudio Simonetti and Goblin.

This is MUST-SEE viewing….if you aren’t familiar with Argento, you need to be. Deep Red (1975) and Phenomena (1985) are my favourites but Tenebrae (1982) is also pretty wild.

Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace 3D (2011)

Same as Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999)……but in 3D.

The first ‘prequel’ in the star wars series has a bad reputation, often derided as tedious, worn and lacking the magic of the original trilogy. I think this is quite unfair – it’s no sci-fi classic but it isn’t as poor a movie as many of its detractors would make out. The performances from Neeson and McGregor are very good; little Anakin is rather annoying but he isn’t exactly afforded that much screen time to be frank.

That said, the 3D effects were lost on me and added little to the overall feel of the picture. Yes, there occasional scenes which utilised 3D-technology to good effect but they were actually relatively few and far between.

In essence, this film has been put into a 3D format retrospectively – the movie was never ended to be in 3D – and this shows. You can’t help thinking that is purely a money-spinning re-release for Lucas and co.

My favourite opening to a horror movie…The Fog (1980)

John Houseman plays Mr Machen, a old-seaman who tells the most terrifying story…..

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D17TGgf4JAw&feature=related

I just really adore this film. I know  it’s not one of the best films ever made, but it has a magnetism for me. maybe it’s because it is simple – an old-fashioned ghost story with a cracking score.  In all ways, The Fog just works.

Lord of Illusions (1995)

Synopsis:

Whilst trailing a low-value fraudster, private detective Harry D’Amour finds a fortune teller hideously murdered. D’Amour links the killing to  talented illusionist Philip Swann and his young wife, who have a shared past with the dead fortune-teller. The illusionist is then tragically killed on-stage during one of his acts and as D’Amour digs deeper, he finds that Swann’s role in the death of a satanic cult leader called “Nix” 13 years previously is the key to the puzzle.

Review:

Well, this is in a similar vein to Clive Barker’s previous hit, “Hellraiser” (1987). It’s a bit messier in plot and doesn’t bind as well as “Hellraiser” but in other ways it’s quite a bit better.

The cast are solid and the characters interesting in all manners of ways. There’s also plenty of gore and a number of scenes which make you cringe – I’m thinking specifically of the horrendous contraption they attach to Nix’s face when they kill him at the beginning of the film.

The most interesting part of the movie for me was when D’Amour confronts the members of the magic circle on whether all of their illusions are “fake” and if there is indeed such thing as “magic”. The head “magician” is portrayed by the always enjoyable Vincent Schiavelli (Fredrickson from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975)), although to the detriment of the viewer, his is but a bit part.

However, the movie – like a lot of Barker’s output – is a bit homoerotic. Particularly, the relationship between Butterfield – the cult’s chief disciple –  and the evil Nix, who is played rather melodramatically by Daniel Van Bargen (who some of you will know as Spangler from TV’s “Malcom in the Middle”). Why butterfield needs to be clad in some kind of gay jumpsuit is beyond me but there you go.

You also can’t help wondering that the film could have been far superior if the plot wasn’t as confusing – the purpose of Nix’s resurrection isn’t really made clear, it’s not enough just to say as the script does, that he’s here to “murder the world”. It begs the question, why? Some people seem to like this ambiguity but I’m not sure I did.

It’s chiefly a horror movie, so is it scary? Unfortunately not, being more unsettling than genuinely frightening.

Overall, a reasonably intelligent, bleak and serious horror film which has its fair share of moments but in the end, this is a bit of a mess, notable for a few dramatic eye-bulging sequences and little more.

hotdog rating: 5.5/10

 

Open Range (2003)

Synopsis:

A free-grazing duo (Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall) must bear arms in order to protect themselves from a crooked rancher (Michael Gambon), who has a local town under his heal.

Review:

In plot, very similar to Anthony Mann’s The Far Country (1954). This is also a film which much like Costner’s other movies pits the goodness of rural life against the immoral money-hungry world of ‘the town’. It’s a great movie to look at and Duvall and Costner play their roles perfectly; particularly Duvall who gives one of the best performances of his career as the father-figure, “Boss”. Gambon’s over- the-top villain is just what’s required to make the dynamic between the three very interesting indeed.

So, you may ask what sets this western apart from others? Well, for me it’s the pure grittiness of the shoot-out sequences; there are no clean-cut deaths or elegantly shot gunfights that could pass for a ballet – Costner ensures that each shoot-out is as realistic as can be and it’s bloody hard to watch at times – I haven’t seen it done this well since “Unforgiven” (1992).

Who would like this? Well, anyone who likes pretty scenery,  a good old-fashioned yarn and more than a generous spattering of vintage if slightly hammy performances.

I liked this, a lot.

hotdog rating: 8/10

Rio Bravo (1959)

Synopsis:

A town sheriff (John Wayne) enlists the help of a recovering drunk (Dean Martin) and a young gunslinger (Ricky Nelson) to prevent a local criminal  springing his brother from jail.

Review:

Howard Hawks’s answer to “High Noon” (1952).

Lovingly crafted and unashamedly old-fashioned, “Rio Bravo” is ill at ease in the company of many of the westerns made in the late 50s and early 60s.It’s stylishly shot but there are only a few stand-out pieces of what you may call “cinematic brilliance” – one being the scene in which Martin locates an injured rifleman above him in the balcony of the saloon by noticing drips of blood land in the beer glass he is lusting after (see picture below); and another being the beautiful ‘sun-set’ sequence.

It’s really the characters which make this film – and for that, full-credit must go to the cast and an intelligent, amusing script. Dean Martin and John Wayne effortlessly shine throughout the picture and the scene with a broken Martin’s “redemption” is fantastic to watch – the dynamic between these two is genuine and heartfelt. The gentle story is told almost perfectly –  the audience is not distracted by any over the top auteur-like shenanigans – in the hugely claustrophobic settings of the hotel, saloon and town-jail.

Walter Brennan’s part as old-timer “Deputy Stumpy” is so etched with humour and one-liners that it’s difficult to know sometimes whether you are watching a western or a comedy piece. We also have the brilliant Dean Martin in a role which was ideally tailored for him. It’s also the last movie in which John Wayne and Ward Bond played together. Bond plays a friend of Sheriff Chance, who wants to help out but isn’t particularly capable of doing so – and it doesn’t end well for him.

Now on to some of the drawbacks of this film. It’s very slow-moving and the “musical” scenes are from a bygone age. The finale is somewhat weak – yet indulgent – and doesn’t sit well with the rest of the movie for me.
But does this mean the film is worth skipping>? NO. this a movie which manages to hold your attention and ignite your emotions, despite any inclusion 0r celebration of artistic devices – and that’s, friends, why we at hotdogcinema love Howard Hawks’s movies.

Overall, a compulsively watch-able  and unpretentious classic of the genre.

hotdog rating:9/10