Friday, September 29, 2006

Murder! (1930)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!
Buddy, next time you convict someone to the death penalty, deliberate the case a little more in the JURY CHAMBER, rather than at home after... just a suggestion...

Mystery Thriller Drama (UK)

Starring: Herbert Marshall (Angel Face, Foreign Correspondent),

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Torn Curtain, The Wrong Man)

Overview: A juror in a murder trial gets second thoughts and goes through the motions of reinvestigating the crime himself.

Acting: All too theatrical, and by that I mean not only fit for the stage but all too full of theatrics. Imagine choreography out of a musical, where everyone speaks in unison, (in stuffy BRITISH accents no less), and set up so everyone gets face time on the lens, even though there's a dozen people on the shot. When the film turns mystery it gets a lot more realistic, but my God is this outmoded.
Rating: 6

Cinematography: I was just going to rag on the iron maidens that were the cameras of the 30s but I do recall several great shots that have that touch of the Hitchcockian signature. The circus scenes have that stark German expressionist lighting he's famous for and there's even an up-close static shot of a trapeze artist's face as he swings, so the background sways back and forth, with him almost motionless. The best shot would have to be the one signifying the passage of time, the lengthening shadow of a gallows with a noose, as the young lady's time begins to run out!
Rating: 8

Script: Trudging through the sound kinks of this, the worst any film era had to offer in these dark days of the talkies, we have ambient sound of a grinding record player throughout the whole production, we have a scene with the radio so loud over the characters that we can't make out either the ethereal voice or those of the players. Murder! took a shot in the arm for the cause and though not great to start off with, it certainly has no lasting value in this day and age of THX. The novelty sure must have been some powerful thing, because wow, is it ever terrible to hear. Oh and the script was ripped right out of a play. If I wanted to see a play, I'd go a see a play. This medium is film, try and stay there huh?
Rating: 4

Plot: An entertaining enough story but there's no twists whatsoever, just a mystery to be solved, and somehow along the way I really didn't care enough to try and solve it. Rather, I preferred trying to figure out how large a puddle my stream of catatonic drool would get. Oh and it looks like a play, and even rips off the play within a play in Hamlet. Yawn. You basically told me how it would end half way through. Who does that?
Rating: 4

Mood: I read that Hitchcock liked this film because of innovations that weren't possible before sound. Apparently this is the first talkie that has the stream of consciousness narration, where we hear someone's thoughts. Woopie, how about making an actual good movie instead?
Rating: 4

*stream of consciousness voiceover in haughty accent* "I wonder what this leading lady would look liked dipped in chocolate.. mighty sweet I'd imagine, Haw haw"

Overall Rating: 52% (God, It Kills To Watch This!)

Aftertaste: The biggest lesson I learned while watching this one was this: Theater should stay in theater. I never quite realized how much I truly detest films that look like the plays they came from until now. I know I've mentioned it when mentioning such films as House Of Yes and Sleuth, but this cinches it. If ever I hear about a film that tries to stay as true to the theater as possible I'll make sure never to see it... and so odd that I love the Dogville trilogy so much...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Blackmail (1929)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!
"Murder? Little old meeee?"
Genre: Thriller Drama (UK)

Starring: Anny Ondra (The Manxman), John Longden (Young And Innocent, The Skin Game)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (North By Northwest, Topaz)

Overview: When a woman steps into the home of a less than gentle man, things get out of hand, but she soon finds there's more in store when a stranger approaches with a proposition.

Acting: There's two parts to acting: the look and the voice. Some got what it takes for radio but move awkwardly, others are real lookers but their accents make them unemployable. Well the producers of this film decided to turn it into a talkie half way through, which didn't seem like that big an undertaking, however the lovely Anny Ondra had an extremely thick German accent. The synch dubbing made her dialogue look a little too much like a Kung Fu movie, which is a shame because these people did a great job under Hitchcock's direction.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: The Thriller, as we all know, has a true champion in Alfred Hitchcock, which would make a battle to the death an interesting thing to look at given his girth. His expertise with a tungsten light, however, would allow him to defeat the strongest of opponents with stark shadow and close-ups of dramatic scenes, like a dead man's hand or the flashing marquis of a cocktail mixer as it transforms into a hand holding a knife flashing downward thrusts, signifying the woman's stomach-churning guilt. This is it, Blackmail is where it REALLY starts. You can see the genius floating to the surface. It's close...
Rating: 8

Script: This is what I mean when I say that some films are sacrificed to the cause. Some stories are sacrificed to too-symbolic experimentalism, some to new technologies in CGI, or like this one, to this new fad that is "the talkie". If they had decided to just not make a talkie this would have been better, but they decided half way through, and with this terrible sound engineering we have the fakest sound of a bird chirping the morning call overwhelming any other sound for a full minute, voiceovers that were obviously added later and the opening scene, though it includes people's lips moving, has no sound. It's awkward!
Rating: 4

Plot: The story is a simple little three-act: girl goes upstairs with man, girl realizes her mistake all too quickly, then stranger shows up with all too much info. It's a decent story but it was a little too disjointed and I found the climactic ending rather predictable, and not in a "yay, I'm smart cause I solved the mystery" way... see, because it's not a mystery. Right.
Rating: 6

Mood: For as much as the talking, the crappy-sound-technology cameras, the story and all other bad things interfered with this production, somehow, somewhere, it's all forgivable for the overall veneer that Hitch' slapped on over this production. The action is entertaining, the drama is sincere, and the characters are tres Film Noir. Not bad, which is impressive in itself.
Rating: 7

How convenient you should be dating a cop. Oh right you stood him up to go meet the dead guy...

Overall Rating: 66% (Kill The Sound And I Won't Tell Em What You Did...)

Aftertaste: At this point it's more like these old films are sinister little teases of the potential of his later works. I'm actually very much enjoying my exploration of Hitchcock in chronological order (as much as possible). You see this way when people go on and on about how much better Hitchcock is than any other director alive, I can turn into a huge snob and belittle the speaker in question, in a haughty British WASP voice, "My good sir, you would expect that a man who has made ten films would know what he's doing by the eleventh. This is grossly untrue when you speak of this idol of yours. Perhaps you should consider actually informing yourself before you speak fallacies". Then I'd tip my hat and slap him with a glove.

This is why I learn so much... to be a dick.

The Manxman (1929)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!
Hitchcock, during the silent era, was always about one man too many

Silent Drama (UK)

Starring: Carl Brisson (The Ring), Anny Ondra (Blackmail)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (The Pleasure Garden, Family Plot)

Overview: A fisherman and a lawyer from the Isle of Man, best friends since childhood, find that even the strongest friendships can crack under the pressure of a woman's love.

Acting: Hitchcock is a great director and his mastery of players is clear to me at this, my seventh viewing of a film of his. He has a crew that knows to zoom-in and capture the intensity of emotion when it's needed, and his characters are a truly animated bunch, sometimes even to a histrionic point. Though a touch melodramatic, this film's characters warrant their types, and when it comes time to sober up, the shift is even heavier given the exuberance of these people's carefree lives. Yeah, one hell of a performance.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: The terrific use of close-ups was eroded a little by a new observation of mine: the occasional beauty shots of ships on the ocean or the sands and rocks where our characters live, though nice, felt forced. Not forced in the sense that they weren't well done or irrelevant, but forced in that 'too many establishing shots' kind of way. Rather than having scenes that took place amongst these beautiful crags or aboard a rustic sailboat with others ships surrounding, the cinematographers simply spliced on some panoramic shots to stagger the action. I'm learning a lesson or two about the montage: make it relevant rather than simply tossing in dailies in editing, no matter how well-shot they are.
Rating: 7

Script: I don't know why Hitchcock refrained so frequently from using an appropriate amount of intertitles in his silents, but I didn't have too many complaints about the on-screen time of words in this one. Though one or two more would have been nice, the story is told clearly enough. It's nice seeing the reactions of the characters without a barrage of written explanations. My favorite line was quite character building. Thought the fisherman explained that he wasn't 'good with words', when we read his comically simple letter, we know it by that singular example.
Rating: 8

Plot: Girlfriend of Squish was frustrated at the direction this took, asking why she just didn't go the lane of least resistance when faced with a dilemma of the heart, but I replied, "That story's been told, this one far less." I guess that's what good storytelling is about, a tale that you haven't heard a hundred times (literally), the query of "what if" into the less than perfect, different-thinking characters that exist in this world. As love triangles go, this tale is simple, but the trip is a little different than you might expect, and for that, it's worthy of note.
Rating: 8

Mood: This is Hitchcock's last silent film, and it's fairly engrossing, tragic themes being what they are. There's no doubt in my mind that Hitchcock's reputation as a great filmmaker had not yet come to pass in the Silent Era. I suppose some people are just better suited for talkies. I suspect (thought I haven't read) that Hitchcock's early career was guided by producers rather than his insistence on a vision, and he let cinematographers do as they pleased. I'm sure to learn more in future readings.
Rating: 7

Hot Babe... Dumb Ass

Overall Rating: 76% (No Film Is An Island)

Aftertaste: I guess what I've learned more than anything is that people are surprised that this guy's been around for so long. Imagine a director who's been around long enough that when the wave of the future, the talkie, comes around, he's already directed nine feature films. It's no wonder he was in a league of his own, given that he was swimming leagues ahead of the rest...

Champagne (1928)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!
I don't care how forward thinking you are, she's a loose goose in any era...

Genre: Silent Comedy Drama (UK)

Starring: Betty Balfour, Gordon Harker (The Ring)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (The Lady Vanishes, Notorious)

Overview: When a spoiled rich girl learns that her father's money has all been lost, her life undergoes some humbling changes.

Acting: Here's the thing, they all did a great job. She was dramatic in her displays of a gaudy bon-vivant, her more reserved fiancee went nigh-stoic when she embarrassed him, the Maitre d'Hotel was AS lascivious (if not moreso) than the creepy suitor (seen below). Obviously, this is what Hitchcock focused on, because the characters performed very well. But it's hard to save a sinking ship...
Rating: 8

Cinematography: Back in the day, I only notice editing when it was great, until now. Now I see how a film can be ruined by the all-too-long take. This is almost worthy of watching as a lesson of what NOT to do. Close-ups go on forever, showing unnecessary nuances of emotion, walking shots drag on, even the witty little shot of the waiters swaying back and forth in the dining room of a cruise ship went all the way to that "Yeah I get it" moment. As for the good shots and interesting angles Hitchcock is known for, clearly this was either a project he didn't care about, or had no creative control over. The worst thus far...
Rating: 5

Script: Either this was made by illiterates or avant-gardists, because this borders on the malignant. All they needed was a few more explanatory intertitles but no, they leave it all the way out there, not properly explaining what going on on-screen. Infer all you like. If you ask me it's a story about a drunk who goes around interpretive-dancing her opinion of people... or something.
Rating: 3

Plot: You know what the best part of a comedy is? When it's funny. I sat there and from time to time would laugh uproariously at the fact that there was absolutely nothing humourous happening. The funniest part was when she hugs her man and he leaves, her flour-covered hands leaving palmprints on the back of his suit. Ohh HO HO HO BAHAHAHAH UPROARIOUS. It should have been called a drama with a few funny moments. Either way it's a terrible film with a teeny twist that is so not worth the trip.
Rating: 4

Mood: We popped this into the DVD and what's the first thing we hear but incredibly morose music, the most inappropriate soundtrack ever for a comedy. After a few minutes, we turned it off, the awful sound being part of the reason. I took it to my place and continued to experiment with a more apt sound, leaving it on mute. As expected, it made the experience far greater. It's nice to know that the user has to be left making the effort to fix a film's score. That makes me feel real special. The film's mood was so vague to me that I had no idea what some scenes were getting at. I think it loses something in my 2006 interpretation of the 1928 social scene.
Rating: 4

*Chanting the Character's mantra* "Lascivious, lasciviously, lasciviouser, lasciviousness, lasciviousism..."

Overall Rating: 48% (Ouch! There's A Hitch In This Cock!)

Aftertaste: To quote like the two flaming queens as they reviewed films in "In Living Colour":

Hated it!

(Avoid this like the plague)

Easy Virtue (1928)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!
"I know it's only out eighth date but I think we should do it! Let's be wild! Let's remove our hats!"

Silent Drama (UK)

Starring: Isabel Jeans (Suspicion, Gigi), Franklin Dyall

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, Dial M For Murder)

Overview: After a notorious divorce, Larita moves to the south of France to rebuild her life. There she is romanced by an Englishman, and risks having her past brought to light once more.

Acting: There are some obvious directorial flaws in this one as the pantomime is more than dramatic, it's downright comedically theatrical. However, there's this one great scene where Larita calls John to discuss his proposal of marriage, and we see the telephone operator's face as she reacts to the conversation, rather than rather than seeing the couple speak into their respective phones. That's a tremendously original way of conveying a scene, especially in silent film, no matter how over-the-top it may seem.
Rating: 7

Cinematography: I was surprised how little of the Hitchcockian signature was left behind on this print, given that Downhill was showing obvious streaks of his burgeoning style. Still, the exterior shots are majestic and grand, the artistic moments are frequent and though you can see the occasional attempt that just wasn't 100% effective, it's a worthy experiment nonetheless.
Rating: 7

Script: The intertitles should have been more numerous. At this stage in my study of the silent film, I've grown to expect that on occasion, the scene should be inferred (as it was impressively done in my Acting category example), and I've grown accustomed to doing so, however there were two or three scenes that not only should have conveyed a more specific mood through dialogue, but that needed something interjected in the extended static shot being presented. As for the words themselves, there were only a couple memorable lines.
Rating: 6

Plot: I'm trying to see the error in the story that would earn the reputation this film received for being poor, and I don't see it. It might be a little long given the standard three act tale: introducing this woman's terrible secret; romance; consequence. It may be a predictable and twistless tale, and perhaps even a completely outmoded story in this day and age, but I believe it still has value as a study of the high-society British divorcée.
Rating: 7

Mood: As just stated, I suppose this story has no real lasting value. Unlike The Crowd, made in the same year as this one, this is not a story that could still happen today. For that reason people might find this just a little less than interesting, though I found myself intruiged from a historical perspective, learning about the social mores from the twenties. On a side note, listening to a silent film to modern ambient music that I love creates a wonderful juxtaposition, and enhances the experience that much more.
Rating: 7

"Honey, be a dear and fetch me a darling"

Overall Rating: 68% (Easy Come, Easy Go)

Aftertaste: The first thing I read about this was "Hitchcock's worst ever silent film". I remained stoic knowing that this was worthy of a study for the sake of being able to say I stuck through his early stuff to find those little hidden momoents. What's the first thing I see but a dynamically shot intro with special effects and great 'Point Of View of a monocle' shots. I knew right away that it wouldn't be anywhere near as bad as anyone told me. Not one of Hitchcock's popular films, this is still a treasure to die-hard fans, and those who appreciate silent cinematography.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Downhill (1927)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!
Is it me or are French film poster the best of the bunch?

Genre: Silent Drama (UK)

Starring: Ivor Novello (The Lodger), Robin Irvine (Easy Virtue)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Topaz, Marnie)

Overview: A promising young student is expelled when he takes another student's blame for theft. So begins his life's downhill descent for the sake of another man's honour.

Acting: When I saw Ivor in The Lodger, I dreaded the promise of his overzealous acting in this one. Knowing that this was produced in the same year also served to reinforce the fact that Hitchcock's style of direction would not have been any different, letting his crew run amok before the camera. Was I ever wrong! I have no idea what happened, but this is a masterpiece in comparison. I really enjoyed the portrayals, the characterization was quite rich, and with so many great expression-showing close-ups, I found it very fine indeed!
Rating: 8

Cinematography: Here we begin seeing the Hitchcockian signature cinematography. In fact, when that shot of Ivor going down a subway escalator is shown, I said, "There's a touch of Hitchcock, great shot." The shot continues for easily another ten seconds. I chuckled saying "and boy did he ever know it was." It's interesting seeing that what this man lingered on in his early cinematic career became a shooting style synonymous with his name. As for the montage of the boy's delirium, it's nightmare dream-sequence genius.
Rating: 8

Script: The intertitles used a common simple great style with a touch of a flourish, with a nice font and none of the German expressionist Avant-garde frou-frou that they had in The Lodger. What was disappointing was that there weren't nearly enough. Sometimes you'd see a scene unfold, and though you could mildly infer what was being said, it would have been nice to have that safety net. When they had the opportunity to add poignancy to the scene with words, they chose to leave it blank instead. Worst of all, the crime of the theft was explained without words, so we thought it was a whole sexual harassment false-accusation kind of thing.
Rating: 6

Plot: The story is very simple: a young man does for a friend what he felt was appropriate, and somehow it ends up biting him in the ass all too hard. What makes this film memorable is the step-by-step exploration of that descent, because it isn't done in a predictably linear fashion of: expelled, kicked out, living in the gutter, then you die kind of way. It's far more realistic, more 'your life has changed because you didn't finish the education you were promised and you have to live with it.'
Rating: 8

Mood: This is what the film is all about. The characters, the occasional unique shots and the trip through madness and descent that our hero goes through. The beauty is that there's none of the over-zeal I've seen in Hitchcock's other productions, and it looks like he's really beginning to turn films into his own creations at this point.
Rating: 8

"Oh, ho! Life is so sweet right now, nothing could go wrong!"

Overall Rating: 76% (Not THAT Steep, But A Thrill Nonetheless)

Aftertaste: This is just about as hard to find as The Pleasure Garden, and again I have but one man to thank, LIAM! I tried something new for the first time, and I should have thought of this ages ago. As this version has no sound whatsoever, I decided to play some Aphex Twin in the background (electronic ambient, no vocals). The juxtaposition was interesting with the occasional synchronicity that occurred, and besides that I knew I'd like the score. I would recommend this style of viewing for many a silent film out there, and I'll be doing it far more frequently. It really enhances the experience.

The Ring (1927)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!
"Ahahaha, what's REALLY funny is that I'm banging the OTHER guy too! Happy Honeymoon!"

Genre: Silent Drama (UK)

Starring: Carl Brisson, Lillian Hall-Davis

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (The 39 Steps, The Man Who Knew Too Much)

Overview: When 'One-Round' Jack gets beat in a boxing match, his woman seems to prefer the other man. Jack does what he can to defend his honour and keep his dame out of his opponent's golden gloves.

Acting: The roles aren't anything deep, but still they do a great job, especially Lillian. She portrays a woman who isn't this cold-hearted bitch, but rather just a woman who knows what she wants and perhaps doesn't realize the impact her desire has on those around her. You don't feel that she's this cruel vixen, and I commend the crew for letting someone who could have gone so bad so quick stay human.
Rating: 7

Cinematography: There's a few more worthy scenes in this one that in our last viewing, but perhaps I'm a little biased given that boxing is my favorite sport. Come to think of it, a boxing montage during that 'rise through the ring' scene would have been preferable to watching a sticker with a name on it climb up a rankings wall. Either way, though professionally shot, there is yet not any sign of what I would call the 'Hitchcock signature' on the visuals of this film.
Rating: 7

Script: The script for this one was 'basic explanation', serving simply to take the plot in the direction that you know it's going in, no twists, nothing strange. There was one party scene however, where the husband-to-be becomes jealous of 'the other man'. The dialogue is all too slow in coming, with too much space filled with partying, killing the pace and flow. Lessons learned: if a scene is just about dialogue, let the characters speak it through, rather than drawing it out and wasting film on watching people's lips move as they walk around dancing.
Rating: 6

Plot: Simply put, it's a love triangle, and in the early days, it's obvious that Hitchcock was fond of love triangles. I'm surprised he went the way of the thriller given his penchant for double-crossing ladies. Come to think of it, what is a thriller without a psycho-jealous female? I guess it's Hitchcock's way of naturally progressing to a perfect form... Anyways, the story of a man who's woman likes winners makes her change her tune when her man gets knocked out in the ring. Simple as that, and predictable, sure, but a fun ride nonetheless.
Rating: 8

Mood: The main theme is jealousy and rightly so. My favorite shot, the one that perfectly conveys the entire plot, would have to be during the wedding. As the husband places the ring on her finger, the bride's upper-arm bracelet, a gift from the other man, drops down her arm to her wrist, expressing in a simple symbol the entire issue at hand... pardon the pun.
Rating: 7

Oh no, he's doing a GREAT job, no worries!

Overall Rating: 70% (Not Quite a Knock-Out)

Aftertaste: This is really the only thing Alfred Hitchcock directed that is credited as having been out and out written by himself, and by that I mean it's not an adaptation or lifted from a novel. Though it's not a deep tale with twists and turns I'm surprised he didn't write more. I guess directing two to three movies a year can keep a man pretty occupied...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Devouring Buddha (2002)

Genre: Experimental Documentary Short (Canada)

Starring: Victims and perpetrators of the Cambodian massacre

Directed By: Korbett Matthews

Overview: The Tuol Sleng Prison, a once Cambodian high school turned execution and torture camp for the Khmer Rouge, has since been transformed into a museum honouring the victims of the massacres. This documentary explores the Buddhist belief that the ghosts of those victims still linger there.

As I did with Antonio Gaudi, rather than discuss all 'integral elements' of Devouring Buddha in my usual way, I thought it best to let the process of this review flow in a more airy fashion. You see, this documentary is experimental before educational, intensity and inspiration before information, it's an ethereal, ghostly voyage that is virtually scriptless, a documentary that prefers to let its images speak a thousand words.

It begins with a narrator telling the history of this Cambodian museum, letting us learn of the atrocities committed by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, then, after those few scant sentences, the film continues in a slow and haunting montage rivalling the best cinematographers out there.

Luckily, I was granted the honour of having the subtext explained by the director himself. He explained that the Khmer school of Buddhism attributes every day with a different colour, which inspired his to shoot every day's footage with a different filter. From a ruined and vine-laden temple floor in vibrant greens, to water splitting behind a boat in a cold blue, the still and perfectly shot images are given an added element of the high-art that also, as Korbett puts it, "dictate memory of dark historical abyss in an almost post-traumatic fashion." Images of modern people are juxtaposed with the grainy black and white mug-shots of the victims of the past, serene sounds are overlaid across the busy streets of Cambodia today, helping to symbolize the forced rural living that Pol Pot ordered as he made cities illegal.

A slow pan shows a vast empty stadium, a girl walks across a threshold only to fade away before she reaches the other side, these are the types of images that convey the deepest emotions. Since Buddhists believe that cremation is necessary to continue on the cycle of life, given that these victims were either hung or stabbed then tossed into the pits of the killing fields to rot, they were also left to continue a restless existence in their haunted city.

This is what Korbett decided to focus his study on, following the haunts of those slain, exploring the ghostly events with a venerable score, and leaving the depth of his scenes to speak the emotion that no guide or instructor could ever hope to convey.

The most disappointing thing about this documentary would have to be its availability. This relatively new Canadian short film that made its way through the festival circuit is very difficult to find, and I suppose if I've done a good enough job in inspiring you to see this then pehaps you could ask the filmmaker directly on how to get your hands on this yourself. The following link includes a short synopsis and contact info for Korbett:

Overall Rating: 88% (Eats Away At You)

Aftertaste: When I asked Korbett "Why the title?" he explained that the Khmer word for 'to rule', as in govern, also means to devour, so not only do we begin with a title that invokes emotion, but are left with the double meaning that adds irony to the horrible history of Cambodian between 1975 and 1979. I loved it.

The Lodger (1927)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!

Well, to be fair, the degree of fog was minimal

Genre: Silent Crime Thriller Drama (UK)

Starring: Ivor Novello (Downhill), Malcolm Keen (The Manxman)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Strangers On A Train; Frenzy)

Overview: The Avenger has already killed seven women. When a strange fellow takes up residence in a London home all too close to the last killing, suspicion and doubt abound!

Acting: Alright, so this is the first film I've watched in my exploration of the 'cock (might as well get THAT joke out of the way right now) and the third movie he directed. Um, yeah. If you're a diehard fan like me, watch it. If you like stuff like The Sheik, do it because you love the tragically overzealous portrayals by all. I'm talking "Oh! *Swoon* Woe is me!" [hand on tilted-back forehead]
Rating: 5

Cinematography: The best shot of the whole film was when the lodger moves in. He enters encased in rolling fog, and soon after the symbol of his caustic presence is made ever so clear as he walks about upstairs. The shot is of the family looking at the ceiling where we see someone walking, as though the ceiling were glass. That was cool. The lodger himself was so boldly pale however, that he looked like he belonged in some Keaton Slapstick. All other shots were all too rote. I was disappointed. Perhaps the print quality is to blame.
Rating: 6

Script: Silent films have three kinds of scripts: minimalist, poetic/comic, or explanatory. Minimalist scripts intentionally include very little writing to leave more room for pace and action. The poetic/comic script attempts to enhance with character-building descriptions, gags and even illustrations. Then there's the straight up "this is what's happening" explanation type. What happened here I'm not sure, because it's this ugly mess of all of the above, where there was Avant-garde elements in the beginning, there weren't explanations when they were needed and from time to time it was all too obvious nothing needed to be said. Failure.
Rating: 5

Plot: I'm sure to piss off a lot of Hitchcock fans right now, but I found the plot disappointing and predictable. When you invite a red herring in the house, you should dumb him down a little bit, rather than reinforcing his innocence in every over-the-top scene. When a director spends so much time making someone look this guilty from the introductory shot on, you know there's far, far more going on. Luckily, there actually WAS far more going on, but there are story elements that are left completely unresolved, leaving behind a bitter taste, almost like the budget was running out and they had to wrap everything up right away. This had real potential, yet the end moved too quickly. Not nearly enough suspense or clues along the way.
Rating: 5

Mood: The man who played the lodger was just so far out there weird. All pale and gaunt, he's blatant in his effect, permeating too greatly the entirety of the film, and if it's anyone who understands the degree of allowable excesses in silent film, believe you me, I'm that guy. I know when something is Expressionist and I know when something is overdone. This was more of the latter. There WERE other characters, but only one had a focus so intense. It was too much of an attempt to manipulate the viewer.
Rating: 6

"Hello! Any lodgings for a psychopath?" "Sorry, wrong movie bub."

Overall Rating: 54% (Got Caught In My Throat)

Aftertaste: Alright, so this is the first film I've watched for my October Hitchcockathon. I was told that this was relatively classic, that this was his best silent work, that though this may not sit in the realm of Psycho for its fame and grandeur, it would still be awesome, especially to a silent film fan. Yet, at the same time, I expected a real stinker. When I kicked off this night with three guests, we turned it off after twelve minutes. I stuck it through and though the ending was decent, the quality of the print suffered far too greatly for true appreciation. I'll be glad to hit the films that actually LOOK good. It's too bad, I was really looking forward to this one.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Pleasure Garden (1925)

Hitchcock! Hitchcock! Hitchcock!

With a name like Patsy, you just know she'll get shafted..

Genre: Silent Crime Drama (UK, Germany)

Starring: Virginia Valli, Miles Mander (Murder, My Sweet, The Picture Of Dorian Gray)

Directed By: Alfred Hitchcock (Vertigo, Rope)

Overview: The first film Alfred Hitchcock ever directed, it is a story of two female dancers and the men they get entangled with.

Acting: Until this flick, Alfred Hitchcock merely assisted in the direction of two films. This is the first film he did all by his lonesome and the crew he managed did quite well considering the era. The melodrama of 1925 wavered between the ripe and the rotten, and we're lucky to have realistic dramatic moments at the end rather than the hammy fad of too much zeal.
Rating: 7

Cinematography: The twenties, where women wore those tight flapper hats and they all looked alike... That was my big problem with this. Had it not been for the clarifications of Girlfriend of Squish, I'm sure I'd have gotten lost knowing who was who and who was dating whom. Right, right, Cinematography: Rote, all too common, save that fantastic ending.
Rating: 7

Script: Lots of intertitles explained the action and aided quite a bit in defining the characters quite well, like the witty-quipped tart and her honest friend. Rather than simply being a vehicle for explaining the action, it was a nice surprise having some writing that went just a little deeper. Oh, and without the script we wouldn't know the dog's name was Cuddles!
Rating: 8

Plot: Based on a novel, this is story before anything else, so we have a solid multi-layered drama about a nice girl who meets a selfish man and a saucy tart who meets a loyal man and it all culminates with a terrific and really exciting finish in some tropical clime. The first half of the story was a little slow however, perhaps ten minutes shorter would have made for a more dynamic story. I will admit that the end was better than any of the early Hitchcock I've seen so far, especially since it's so believable.
Rating: 8

Mood: The quality of the silent era films are, often as not, rough. This was just a good enough print to forgive its flaws while still being a constant reminder of the age. Besides that, when you have flapper girls with those tight hats and long cigarette holders courting princes and dancing the Charleston, you know it's authentic... well I GUESS it's authentic... pardon me for not having been born.

Rating: 7

When you date someone who dresses like a yoddler, you get what's coming to you...

Overall Rating: 74% (Pleasure More Than Pain)

Aftertaste: How obscure is this? For me to see it, I needed to get a friend from out of town lend me the version he taped off of the television back in the day. Good luck finding it yourself, and thanks a bunch Liam! It makes me realize that when this VHS technology goes away, a lot of stuff will be left behind, though I suspect that will be a good thing, given all the garbage I suffered through so far.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Garth Marhengi's Darkplace (2004)

"Hallaw, Oi'm Gahth Marhengi, ahnd you ah nawh ihn moy Dahk Playce"

Genre: Horror Comedy Series (UK)

Starring: Matthew Holness, Matt Berry ("The Mighty Boosh")

Directed By: Richard Ayoade

Overview: This show set in a hospital tells tales of the supernatural all while spoofing the worst the 80s had to offer, "Ray Bradbury Theater" and "The Kingdom".

Acting: Terrible. Not only is the overdubbing ridiculously obvious, but there's so much overacting it's clearly the fault of the director at this point. Then there's their boss, this administrator who just plain can't act his way out of a paper bag... you know if this wasn't the entire point of the series, this would have been horrible...

Rating: 8

Cinematography: Take the eighties look, big hair, bangles, lighting gels that are all too much, add cheap effects and props, 'special' or otherwise and you have yourself an embarrassing little secret. Do it two decades later and it's genius. You just have to see it to believe it, and no it's not low-budge, it's actually high-budge to LOOK low-budge. I think that adds up to costing more than normal somehow.
Rating: 9

Script: Constant sexual harassment is one thing. Monotonous delivery and all the characters laughing at a horrible pun is another. Again if this were a show from the eighties, it would have been prominently featured in TV Carnage. This way we can be ashamed while still laughing at ourselves as such shows as Miami Vice and The A-Team. Leaps of logic galore, while still going way overboard on the exposition.
Rating: 8

Plot: There's a neat touch here. Not only is this a spoof of the eighties, but the nineties too, because they do this "interviews with the original cast ten years later" thing, and they add little elements of hilarity by adding this laughable context, like talking about how important the series became, how these people were geniuses and innovators... just constant self-praise and glorification. As for the actual episodes, so out there you have to laugh, but don't worry, you do.
Rating: 8

Mood: How best to explain the perfection that is the captured essence of the era? Admittedly it's a little too farcical to be taken remotely seriously, unlike the perfect "Look Around You", but when you have doctors who run around with shotguns and each episode has them facing a new supernatural evil, that often just seems like people were scrambling to come up with something on short notice. Random slow-motion running, chases with bluescreens, guns going off gratuitously, and each episode ends with this deep introspection on the roof, there's even an episode that has a rock video in it, and Lord it's just too perfect.
Rating: 9

"Yeh, a coarse weah loisinst fizishins"

Overall Rating: 84% (Allow Me To Shed Some Light)

Aftertaste: The Brits have this stupid way of making six episodes and calling it a season. The downside is: that's it. The upside is, people like me who don't know if they want to commit to hours of television can be content in this sort of thing because it's two and a half hours. I'll admit the first time I saw this show I thought it was retarded, but I was convinced to watch a couple more and yeah it grew on me. I think you'd like it too.

The Shield: Season 4 (2005)

Hello, Glenn Effin Close, what more do you WANT? Vic with a gun? Well there it is!

Genre: Crime Drama Series

Starring: Michael Chiklis ("The Commish", Fantastic Four), Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction, The World According To Garp)

Created By: Shawn Ryan (Writer / Producer of "Angel")

Overview: In a precinct in a rough L.A. neighbourhood, we follow the lives of those who work there, from the corrupt cops to the straight and narrow. Season four's focus is on the tough new captain and her controversial seizures policy, Shane's corruption and Vic's drive in putting community leader Antwon Mitchell behind bars.

Acting: Alright, for those few frequent readers out there (Hi Mom!), you already know that I dig the Chicklis, I like the Pounder and the Dutch, everyone's great in this, and season three took this to new highs. How better to raise the stakes than bringing in Glenn Close, film star extra-ordinaire? It's neat because she has this non-aggressive look about her but she's tough as nails and can be as intimidating as anyone with her threats, since they hold so much truth, given all the power she wields.
Rating: 9

Cinematography: There's nothing new or innovative compared to any of the other seasons of this series, but why mess with perfection? We have a gritty style of filming that is perfect for this style of show, always dynamic and interesting, and don't even get me started on the action. This season had one of the best and most realistic shootout scenes of the series. I only wish it had been longer.
Rating: 9

Script: There's something a little new here this time around and that's a lot of dialogue between the cops and the community they're serving. The new captain has a lot to prove and she's written in this no-nonsense, tough way that make you realize that she's perfect for the job. The usual head-butting politicking is still the order of the day too, but there's even more of it. These writers deserve more money, because they're no way they're getting paid what they're worth.
Rating: 9

Plot: Less intense than previous seasons, the show goes in a more bureaucratic direction. Of course there's killing and intimidation and gangland action, but there's a lot more going on behind the scenes in the station house, more interpersonal stuff, and a touch less of the corruption we've grown accustomed to. For as much as I love this show, I'll say that this isn't the best season of the bunch, but I still couldn't stop as I neared the end. The end is intense for sure, the last five episodes span six days I think?
Rating: 8

Mood: I can't imagine not giving this the highest rating every season. Only if they stopped teaching me the everyday operations of a precinct from interrogation to arrest, or maybe if they started having the streets fill up with ballerinas or stopped being as gritty and hard-edge as they do with their not-quite-made-for-TV style, then maybe I'd stop being this into it. But until then, I'm into it. You should get into it.
Rating: 10
"Whassmadda? You never seen a black man in a nice shirt before?"

Overall Rating: 90% (Hard As Nails!)

Aftertaste: When committing yourself to a season of a show, you're saying a lot about the kind of spectator that you are. Those of you out there who work your schedule around a show, either setting your VCR if you're not there or planning your meals around "Fear Factor" or "Lost" are saying that this entertainment is not only worthy of your valuable mindspace and attention, but are also saying that it's worthy enough to allow something to wedge it's way into your life significantly enough that you may stick through to the end, be it six hours for a British Series or 60 hours (as would be the case with HBO's "Six Feet Under" or more if talking about "The Sopranos". I'm not only proud of the fact that I let this show wedge its way into my life, but I'm proud of the experience and truth it brings to me. Who can say that about the bickering masses in "Survivor"?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Lone Wolf And Cub: White Heaven In Hell (1974)

Trust me, snowbound Samurai are better than any downhill Bond, anyday.

Genre: Samurai Period Action Drama Serial (Japan)

Starring: Tomisaburo Wakayama (Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, The Ninja), Akihiro Tomikawa as Daigoro!

Directed By: Yoshiyuki Kuroda ("Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman")

Overview: In the sixth and final episode of the Lone Wolf and Cub Series, our assassin is bent on vanquishing the Yagyu clan that framed him, but the Lord has several worthy opponents to put between himself and Lone Wolf.

Acting: It's too bad that after seeing Daigoro in action last episode we don't have a plot that involves him as much, but I suppose that stands to reason, given this is the film with the most dudes to slay. As for the target dudes in question, they're all solid choices for skill of word and blade. This isn't one of those cheesy ninja movies, it's quality.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: There was someone getting bisected in number five, and I guess that was so popular they did it here again, and it's great. Yes, dying painfully kicks ass, as long as it doesn't happen to me. Hey, it's not like the 14th century Japanese populace didn't love goin' out and getting de-limbed for a lord. It was probably the funest and noblest thing you could do back in the day, so don't blame me for knowing how cool it is to watch powerful jets of spraying blood flying all over the place. Yeah, that's right. Oh and great scenery too.
Rating: 9

Script: There's even some interesting subplots going on, like when the Yagyu lord starts watching his entourage bite it one at a time, and he goes and digs up his concubine's children. You'd expect this simple action-inviting "yes sire" kind of response, but there's twists and turns that keep you guessing even when you know it's the last film in the set. Fun indeed.
Rating: 8

Plot: Frankly, I shouldn't have been surprised that this does'nt get resolved all nice and clean. Sure there's a big final showdown but instead of completing the series here, they leave it open ended, most likely in hopes that the series would continue. So yeah, a little disappointing in the end because it's not actually the end. Reminds me all too much of "The Kindgom". I guess I'll have to actually pick up the manga and READ something to get the final conclusion that I wanted. Rating: 8

Mood: Lone Wolf not only faces his long sought after foe, but also is chased by his hardest opponents yet, men who are neither man nor corpse, spirit not corporeal. When your enemy has more tricks up his sleeve than you could imagine to the point that he pull out flying ghost assassins... you know it's going to keep you glued to your seat. The most supernatural Lone Wolf yet turns out to be one of the most interesting. I mean not only is it samurai, it's freaky powers samurai!
Rating: 9

"Yes my son, every night I follow the ritual sucking-of-the-blade-I'm-gonna-shank-dudes-with... it's like the noblest thing you could trick out, Bro."

Overall Rating: 84% ("In Heaven, Everything Is Fine...")

Aftertaste: Well for as much as it was disappointing ending a film series with a bit of a cliff-hanger, it was a good run overall. In fact the whole series, including the re-dubbed, re-edited Shogun Assassin, averages out to a solid 86%, and that is 'highly recommended' in my books. Had this been just a story about some lone samurai wandering around chopping people up, it still would have been great, but adding the element of a child that needs protecting all while learning the way of the Bushido early on, well that adds just a nice sweet touch that adds depth and reason to the tale being told.

Double Happiness Daigoro Detail Corner: The lever-pulling cub nails three kills and three-dozen assists!

Total kill tally for our young cub: 8 Kills, 37 Assists!

Lone Wolf And Cub: Baby Cart In The Land Of Demons (1973)

Have no fear, the cart is never far behind!

Samurai Period Action Drama Serial (Japan)

Tomisaburo Wakayama (Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, The Ninja), Michiyo Ookusu (Face, Zatoichi (2003))

Directed By: Kenji Misumi (Lone Wolf And Cub: Sword Of Vengeance, Hanzo the Razor: Sword of Justice)

Overview: In the fifth instalment the Lone Wolf and Cub Series, our hero is challenged by five samurai messengers who each have a piece of his assignment. He must kill a young girl wrongly planted as heir to a Lord. We also see Daigoro prove his own bravery and honour when accused of working with a wanted pickpocket.

Acting: In my previous reviews of this series I never really assessed the young Cub Daigoro's acting. Granted he is three years old and until now his role has been fairly subdued, more like a ward to be guarded than a character developed, but here we have a nice little storyline where the kid proves his stoic and aged demeanour, very cool indeed. As for the rest of the cast, top notch as always.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: Gore flying around is still the order of the day. I think we see our first midline bisection if I'm not mistaken, and it looks really believable, icky! I'm not surprised anymore at the crazy authentic haircuts, costumes and villages but I'm still impressed at the skill of the storyboarding and the visuals, not to mention all the blood and samurai action.
Rating: 9

Script: The honour and life lessons exudes our hero like the blood dripping from his blade. I will admit that the dialogue was a little harder to follow, but I'll chalk that up to the booze and the company. I think my favorite of the speeches was the one delivered by one of the mission-giving samurai. Wounded, he falls near the fire, flames lowly rising. He quickly shares his part of the task as he becomes completely engulfed. Intense!
Rating: 8

Plot: By the fifth in the series, you pretty much know how it's going to be: here's some money, be a ronin even though it's not all that honourable, kill this guy, face an army to do it, mission over. Lots of twists in this one though. The doozie of a mission is delivered in a series of challenges, there's some genuine risk going in, and the subplots are plentiful. A terrific story this time around.
Rating: 9

Mood: Knowing how far this person is willing to go to make a buck and hone his skill to go back and slay the Yagyu who framed him is made abundantly clear in this one. We always knew that he was willing to lay himself on the line, but no one seems innocent in his eyes when there's dollars involved, and he's almost brazen in his cold attitude towards fate and his son. As ever it was, this is super-cool and immersive.
Rating: 9

See, the cart is safe, no worries

Overall Rating: 86% (Damned Good)

Aftertaste: I'm debating watching all the Zatoichis now. Not only was there the 2004 film, but the original 1965 series numbered over twenty, and there's also the 17 episodes of the 1974 TV series to consider as well. It's alright kiddies, I'm not going Samurai crazy anytime soon. I think I'll take a little break after this to catch up with more well-known classics...

Double Happiness Daigoro Detail Corner: One more kill brings baby Cub to six!

Epidemic (1987)

Yeah, it's a real outbreak... * Cough Cough*

Genre: Apocalyptic Drama Horror Thriller (Denmark)

Starring: Lars von Trier, Niels

Directed By: Lars von Trier (The Element Of Crime; Dancer In The Dark)

Overview: Part biopic, part thriller, we follow scriptwriters Lars and Niels as they write a screenplay about a plague that ironically shares synchronicity with an actual disease that is soon to sweep Europe.

Acting: Having a director in a film doesn't make it better. Lars plays the protagonist in this, his story's doctor as well as Lars the screenwriter, and oddly enough the second role played seems less natural. When playing yourself in front of a camera I guess it can be more than you might want others to see, which invites the question: why did you allow yourself to be so prominent in your own film?
Rating: 7

Cinematography: I found it unique enough to have the title come up in the upper left-hand corner of the screen as the credits appeared at the bottom. But Lars was a complete moron when he left the Epidemic© title there for the whole duration of the film. Not cool, not art, just stupid. What is the artistic significance of keeping a big red title there during a black and white, grainy, low-budget, art-house and mildly pretentious film? There's some neat looking scenes from time to time, but ultimately, Europa Trilogy II is not such a great visual experience that you need the title emblazoned in your memory for the entire time. As if!
Rating: 6

Script: Natural normal everyday blather, an interesting lesson in wine tasting when a professional shows up, way too many scenes of people laughing. Quite a weak script, especially the part where the hypnotist shows up. God, I never realized how bland this was 'til just now.
Rating: 5

Plot: I love you Lars but this is the worst work I've ever seen of yours. It wasn't compelling, it wasn't fun, it was like you took the experiences you had while developing a film that wasn't quite a feature and added those life-events in the film to make up for time. It seemed lazy, rather than art... of course art can be lazy too, not to piss off any other purveyors of lazy art out there.
Rating: 6

Mood: There's this part near the end where they're all having dinner and then suddenly the 'special guest' arrives, a guy in a monkey suit of a tux and some pudgy plain young woman. The man in the tux goes on to hypnotise the lady and 'puts her in the movie'. She's all freaking out, talking about people dying in the streets (since it's a story about an epidemic). I guess it's a way of selling the script to the producer, but seriously, who on earth brings in a hypnotist to pitch your film idea to someone? What is this freaky garbage? Instead of that, why not show what the fictional disease actually DOES to people? DUH.
Rating: 7

"Listen to my words very carefully... you're enjoying this film... you really like it... honest..."

Overall Rating: 62% (Sick and Weak)

Aftertaste: I was so looking forward to the little know Larsian films, and after Element Of Crime I knew that I'd be enjoying all his works. Oops. Maybe the beginning of this story is all too true to life: they're having a producer over to pitch their script to them and it gets deleted somewhere along the way, so they make up a new story, not even close to being part-way finished.

Seems that this was a very weak effort.