Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Doctor Zhivago (dir by David Lean)


Klaus Kinski is the main reason to watch the 1965 film, Doctor Zhivago.

The legendarily difficult and erratic Mr. Kinski shows up about halfway through this 3-and-a-half hour film.  He plays a cynical and unstable prisoner on a train.  The train is full of passengers who are escaping from Moscow and heading for what they hope will be a better and more stable life in the Ural Mountains.  (The film takes place during the Communist revolution and the subsequent purges.)  That Kinski taunts everyone on the train is not a surprise.  Both Werner Herzog and David Schmoeller (who directed Kinski in Crawlspace) have made documentaries in which they both talked about how difficult it was to work with Kinski and how several film crews apparently came close to murdering Klaus Kinski several times throughout his career.

Instead, what’s surprising about Kinski’s performance is that he’s even there to begin with.  Doctor Zhivago is an extremely long and extremely stately film.  It’s one of those films where almost every actor gives a somewhat restrained performance.  It’s a film where almost every shot is tastefully composed and where the action often slows down to a crawl so that we can better appreciate the scenery.  It’s a film that stops for an intermission and which opens with a lengthy musical overture.  In short, this is a film of old school craftsmanship and it’s the last place you would expect to find Klaus Kinski luring about.

When he does show up, you’re happy to see him.  Even though he’s only onscreen for about five minute, Kinski gives the film a jolt of much-needed energy.  After hours of watching indecisive characters talk and talk and talk, Kinski pops up and basically, “Screw this, I hate everything.”  And it’s exciting because it’s one of the few time that Doctor Zhivago feels unpredictable.  It’s one of the few times that it feels like a living work of art instead of just a very pretty but slightly stuffy composition.

Just from reading all that, you may think that I don’t like Doctor Zhivago but that’s actually not the case. It’s a heavily flawed film and you have to be willing to make a joke or two if you’re going to try to watch the whole thing in just one sitting but it’s still an interesting throwback to a very specific time in film history.  Doctor Zhivago was designed to not only be a spectacle but to also convince audiences that 1) TV was worthless and that 2) Hollywood craftsmanship was still preferable to the art films that were coming out of Europe.  At a time when television and independent European cinema was viewed as being a real threat to the future of the film industry, Doctor Zhivago was a film that was meant to say, “You can’t get this on your black-and-white TV!  You can only get this from Hollywood where, dammit, people still appreciate a good establishing shot and treat the production code with respect!”  Even today, some of the spectacle is still impressive.  The beautiful shots of the countryside are still often breath-taking.  The scenes of two lovers living in an ice filled house are still incredibly lovely to look at.  The musical score is still sweepingly romantic and impressive.

It’s the story where the film gets in trouble.  Omar Sharif plays Yuri Zhivago, a doctor and a poet who falls in love with Lara (Julie Christie) while Russia descends into chaos.  The Czar is overthown.  The communists come to power and prove themselves to be just as hypocritical as the Romanovs.  The revolutionary Pasha (Tom Courtenay, bearing a distracting resemblance to Roddy McDowall) is in love with Lara and helps to bring about the revolution but is then declared an enemy of the people during the subsequent purges.  The craven Komarovsky (Rod Steiger) also wants to possess Lara and he’s so corrupt that he manages to thrive under both the Czar and the communists.  Alec Guinness plays Yuri’s half-brother and is the most British Russian imaginable.  Doctor Zhivago is based on a Russian novel so there’s a lot of characters running around and they’re all played by a distinguished cast of international thespians.  However, none of them are as interesting as the scenery.

As for the two main actors, Omar Sharif and Julie Christie convince you that they’re in love but not much else.  Sharif is never convincing as a poet and he feels miscast as a man who spends most of his time thinking.  Reportedly, Lean’s first choice for the role was Peter O’Toole and it’s easy to imagine O’Toole in the part.  But O’Toole had already done Lawrence of Arabia with Lean and didn’t feel like subjecting himself to another year of Lean’s notoriously prickly direction.  So, the role went to O’Toole co-star, Sharif.   Julie Christie turned down Thunderball to do both this film and Darling, for which she would subsequently win an Oscar.

(Speaking of the Oscars, Doctor Zhivago was nominated for Best Picture and, though it won five other Oscars, it lost the big prize to The Sound of Music, of all things.  1965 really wasn’t a great year for the Oscars.  The only 1965 Best Picture nominee that still feels like it really deserved to be nominated is Darling.  Of the other nominees, Ship of Fools is ponderous and A Thousand Clowns is almost unbearably annoying.  And The Sound of Music …. well, I prefer the Carrie Underwood version.)

Doctor Zhivago is a big, long, epic film.  It’s lovely to look at and it has a few nice scenes mixed in with a bunch of scenes that seem to go on forever.  In the conflict between the state and the individual, it comes down firmly on the side of the individual and that’s a good thing.  (The communist government attempts to suppress Yuri’s love poems because they celebrate the individual instead of society.  And though the government might be able to destroy Yuri’s life, they can’t destroy his spirit.  Again, it’s a message that would have worked better with a more thoughtful lead actor but still, it’s a good message.)  It’s a flawed film but watch it for the spectacle.  Watch it for Klaus Kinski.

Horror Film Review: Don’t Look Now (dir by Nicolas Roeg)


Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now (1973)

I have to admit that I’m actually a bit embarrassed to say that Venice is my favorite city in Italy.

I mean, it’s such a cliché, isn’t it?  Tourists always fall in love with Venice, even though the majority of us really don’t know much about the city beyond the canals and the gondolas.  I spent a summer in Italy and Venice was definitely the city that had the most American visitors.  Sadly, the majority of them didn’t do a very good job representing the U.S. in Europe.  I’ll never forget the drunk frat boys who approached me one night, all wearing University of Texas t-shirts.  One of them asked, “Are you from Texas?”

“No,” I lied.

“You sound like you’re from Texas!” his friend said.

“No, ah’m not from Texas,” I said, “Sorry, y’all.”

I mean, that’s not something that would have happened in Florence or even Naples!  In Rome, handsome men on motor scooters gave me flowers.  In Venice, on the other hand, I had to deal with the same assholes that I dealt with back home!

That said, I still fell in love with Venice.  And yes, it did happen while riding in a gondola.  At that moment, I felt like I was living in a work of art.  I can still remember looking over the side of the gondola and watching as a small crab ran across someone’s front porch.  That’s when I realize that, by its very existence, Venice proved that anything was possible.

I’ve often heard that Venice is slowly sinking.  That Venice has a reputation as being a dying city would probably have come to a surprise to the drunk Americans who were just looking for a girl from Texas that summer.  And yet, Venice has always been associated with death.  Just consider Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice and the subsequent film adaptation from Luchino Visconti.  Consider the controversial Giallo in Venice.  And, of course, you can’t forget about the 1973 film, Don’t Look Now.

Oh my God, Don’t Look Now is a creepy movie.  It’s probably best known for two things: the lengthy sex scene between Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland (which was apparently quite controversial back in 1973 but which seems rather tame when viewed today) and the film’s shock ending.  It’s one of the best and most disturbing endings in the history of horror and I’m not going to spoil it in this review.  The first time I saw the movie, the ending caught me totally off guard and gave me nightmares.  Admittedly, it’s not hard to give me nightmares but what’s remarkable is that, upon subsequent viewings, the ending is still just as frightening and disturbing.  In fact, knowing what’s going to happen makes the film even more chilling.

The film’s story is actually a rather simple one.  After their daughter, Christine, accidentally drowns, John (Donald Sutherland) and Laura Baxter (Julie Christie) take a trip to Venice.  Though they’re in Venice so that John can restore an ancient church, both John and Laura are mostly trying to escape their grief.  Laura meets a blind woman, Heather (Hilary Mason), who claims to not only be a psychic but who also says that she can see Christine in the afterlife.  Laura believes Heather and is concerned when Heather says that Christine wants them to leave Venice.  John, on the other hand, believes that Heather is a fake.

When the Baxters get a phone call informing them that their son has taken ill, Laura flies back to the UK.  Or does she?  One day, John spots his wife riding on a boat with Heather and her sister.  Has Heather abducted or brainwashed his wife?  When John goes to the police, they are as skeptical of him as he was of Heather.  In fact, they start to suspect that John may have something to do with a recent rash of murders.

Confused, John searches Venice for his wife but, instead of finding her, he spots a figure in the distance.  It appears to be a young child, one who is wearing the same red coat that Christine was wearing when she drowned….

It’s a simple story but it’s told in a very complex fashion.  Director Nicolas Roeg is best known for his fragmented narrative style.  Roeg often mashes together scenes from the past, present, and future and leaves it up to the viewer to put it all together.  (For instance, in Don’t Look Now, scenes of John and Laura making love are intercut with scenes of them getting dressed afterward.)  Roeg’s style that can often come across as being pretentious but, in Don’t Look Now, it works perfectly.  The audience is kept off-balance and is always aware that that’s more than one possible interpretation for everything that is seen.  Is Laura in the UK or is she on a boat in Venice?  Is Heather seeing Christine or is she just trying to con a grieving mother?  Is John chasing the figure in the red coat or is she actually the one pursuing him?  Is John chasing the figure because he believes that she’s his daughter or because he wants to prove, once and for all, that Christine is gone and never coming back?  Roeg keeps you guessing.

Death seems to permeate every frame of Don’t Look Now, whether it’s Heather’s cheery descriptions of the afterlife or the sight of a bloated corpse being pulled out of the canal.  Even when John is working in the church, he still nearly slips off a scaffolding.  While John restores ancient buildings to the vibrant glories of the past, the present seems to grow more and more ominous and menacing.  John and Laura may have traveled to Venice to escape their grief but their grief follows them.  How they deal with that grief — both as a couple and as individuals — is what determines their fate.  For a film that is full of mysteries, none is as enigmatic as Julie Christie’s smile when she’s on the boat.

I’m probably making Don’t Look Now sound like an incredibly grim film and, to a certain extent, it is.  After all, early 70s cinema is not known for its happy endings.  And yet, as dark and disturbing as this film may be, it’s impossible to look away from.  Roeg does a fantastic job capturing both the beauty and the decay of Venice while Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are so sympathetic as John and Laura that you find yourself rewatching and hoping that somehow, they don’t end up making the same mistakes that they made the last time that you watched.

Don’t Look Now is an essential horror film and one that’s as timeless as the sight of a crab running across someone’s front porch.

Film Review: Fahrenheit 451 (dir by Francois Truffaut)


Tonight, HBO will be premiering a film version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451.  This version will star Michael B. Jordan as “fireman” Guy Montag and Michael Shannon as Montag’s boss, Captain Beatty.  It’s one of the more eagerly anticipated films of the current television season but it’s not the first version of Fahrenheit 451 to be filmed.

The first version was released, by Universal Pictures, in 1966.  It was the first (as well as only) English langauge film to be directed by the great French filmmaker, Francois Truffaut.  (It was also Traffaut’s first color film, allowing the flames to burn in bright yellow and red.)  Unfortunately, Truffaut would later describe the film as being his “saddest and most difficult” film making experience.

Though there are a few noticeable differences, the film sticks closely to the plot of Bradbury’s novel.  Guy Montag (Oskar Werner) is a “fireman” in the near future.  Montag lives in a society where books have been banned and the populace is kept to docile through a combination of pharmaceuticals and mindless television programming.  Montag’s wife, Linda (Julie Christie), is content to live life without questioning anything.  However, when Montag meets a school teacher named Clarisse (also played by Christie), all of his previous assumptions are challenged.  What if the government isn’t always right?  What if ignorance isn’t bliss?  What would happen if, instead of burning books, Montag actually read one?  After witnessing a woman choosing to self-immolate herself so that she can die with all of her books, Montag is finally ready to quit being a fireman.  But his captain (Cyril Cusack) tells Montag that he needs to go on one more call, this one to Montag’s own house.

Truffaut’s film leaves out most of the overly sci-fi elements of Bradbury’s original novel.  For instance, in the novel, Montag is terrified of the robots dogs that the firemen use but the dogs never appear in Truffaut’s film.  As well, Traffaut totally eliminates the character of Faber, the former English professor who uses a portable communicator to keep in contact with Montag.  (Today, of course, that hardly seems like science fiction.)  In Truffaut’s film, the setting is designed to appear as contemporary and familiar as possible, a reminder that the story may have been sent in the future but that the issues it dealt with were relevant to the present.  With this film, Truffaut asked the audience, “How different is the world today from the world of Bradbury’s novel?”

Truffaut’s other big departure from Bradbury’s text was to cast Julie Christie as both Clarisse and Linda.  In the book, Montag’s wife was named Mildred and Bradbury went of out of his way to establish her as being the exact opposite of Clarisse.  In Truffaut’s film, the double casting of Christie seems to suggest that Clarisse and Linda are two sides of the same character.  Montag loves them both, though each appeals to a different part of Montag’s psyche.  Linda appeals to the side of Montag that wants to just accept things the were they are and be happy.  Clarisse, meanwhile, represents the part of Montag that wants to be free to feel everything, even if it means occasionally being unhappy or uncertain.  When Montag finally meets the Book People, he discovers that they are just as fanatical about memorizing and reciting books as Linda was about watching her television shows.  Was this intentional on Truffaut’s part, a suggestion that both the government and the rebels are, like Clarisse and Linda, two sides of the same coin?

It’s an intriguing but uneven movie.  Truffaut apparently didn’t have a great working relationship with Oskar Werner and, at times, Werner doesn’t seem to be particularly invested in the role of Montag.  (Interestingly enough, it’s also been suggested that Jacqueline Bisset’s character in Day For Night was inspired by Truffaut’s experiences working with Julie Christie in this film.)  When the characters interact, the dialogue sometimes feel stiff and dull, as if Truffaut never got over his discomfort with having to direct a film in something other than his native French.  At the same time, the film is full of hauntingly beautiful images, from the defiant woman standing in the middle of her burning books to the Book People walking through the snow.  Truffaut makes brilliant use of color and the visuals are often strong enough to overcome even Oskar Werner at his most sullen.

Fahrenheit 451 is an imperfect movie but one worth seeing.  Will the new HBO version be able to match it?  We’ll find out soon enough.

Shattered Politics #38: Nashville (dir by Robert Altman)


Nashville-Cover

“Oh we must be doin’ somethin right to last 200 years…”

— Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) in Nashville (1975)

The 1975 Best Picture nominee Nashville is the epitome of an ensemble film.  It follows 24 characters as they spend five days wandering around Nashville, Tennessee.  Some of them are country music superstars, some of them are groupies, some of them are singers looking for a first break, and at least one of them is an assassin.  The one thing that they all have in common is that they’re lost in America.  Released barely a year after the resignation of Richard Nixon and at a time when Americans were still struggling to come to terms with the turmoil of the 60s, Nashville is a film that asks whether or not America’s best days are behind it and seems to be saying that they may very well be.  (That’s a question that’s still being asked today in 2015.)  It’s appropriate, therefore, that Nashville both takes place in and is named after a city that everyone associates with perhaps the most stereotypically American genre of music that there is.

Nashville follows 24 characters, some of whom are more interesting than others.  For five days, these characters wander around town, occasionally noticing each other but far more often failing to make any sort of connection.

Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson) is a veteran star, a somewhat comical character who sings vapid songs about home and family and who smiles for the public while privately revealing himself to be petty and vain.  His son, Bud (Dave Peel), is a Harvard graduate who acts as his father’s business manager.  Oddly enough, Haven is an unlikable character until the end of the film when he suddenly reveals himself to be one of the few characters strong enough to keep Nashville for descending into chaos.  Meanwhile, Bud seems to be a nice and modest guy until he takes part in humiliating another character.

Haven’s lover is Lady Pearl (Barbara Baxley), who owns a nightclub and spends most of the film drinking.  Much like Haven, she starts out as a vaguely comical character until she finally gets a chance to reveal her true self.  In Pearl’s case, it comes when she delivers a bitter monologue about volunteering for Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign.

Haven’s lawyer is Delbert Reece (Ned Beatty), an obsequies good old boy who is married to gospel singer Linnea (Lily Tomlin).  They have two deaf children.  Linnea has learned sign language.  Delbert has not.  Over the course of the film, both Delbert and Linnea will be tempted to cheat.  Only one of them actually will.

And then there’s Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley), a mentally unstable singer who has come to Nashville with her manipulative husband/manager, Barnett (Allen Garfield).  Almost every character in the film wants something from Barbara Jean.  A mostly silent Vietnam veteran named Kelly (Scott Glenn) claims that his mother knows Barbara Jean.  A nerdy guy named Kenny (David Hayward) comes to Nashville just to see her perform.

Both Kelly and Kenny end up getting to know Mr. Green (Keenan Wynn), a rare Nashville resident who doesn’t seem to care about music.  However, Mr. Green’s spacey niece, L.A. Joan (Shelly Duvall), is obsessed with having sex with as many musicians as possible.

Among those being targeted by L.A. Joan is Tom Frank (Keith Carradine), one-third of the folk trio Bill, Mary, and Tom.  Unknown to Bill (Allan F. Nicholls), Tom is sleeping with Bill’s wife, Mary (Cristina Raines).  Unknown to Mary, Tom is sleeping with almost every other woman in Nashville as well.  When Tom takes to the stage at Pearl’s nightclub and sings a song called I’m Easy, the audience is full of women who think that he’s specifically singing to them.

Another one of Tom’s songs, the appropriately titled “It Don’t Worry Me,” is frequently sung by Albuquerque (Barbara Harris), who spend the entire film trying to get discovered while hiding out from her much older husband, Star (Bert Remsen).

Another aspiring star is Sulleen Grey (Gwen Welles), who is a tone deaf waitress who suffers the film’s greatest humiliation when she agrees to perform at a political fund raiser without understanding that she’s expected to strip while singing.  Trying to look after Sulleen is Wade (Robert DoQui), who has just been released from prison.

And then there’s the loners, the characters who tend to pop up almost randomly.  Norman (David Arkin) is a limo driver who, like everyone else in Nashville, wants to be a star.  The hilariously bitchy Connie White (Karen Black) and the bland Tommy Brown (Timothy Brown) already are stars.  (The character of Tommy Brown is one of Nashville’s oddities.  He’s listed, in the credits, as being a major character but he only appears in a few scenes and never really gets a storyline of his own.)  There’s the Tricycle Man (Jeff Goldblum), a silent magician who mysteriously appears and disappears throughout the film.

And, finally, there’s Opal (Geraldine Chaplin), an apparently crazed woman who is wandering around Nashville and pretending to be a reporter for the BBC.  (It’s never specifically stated that Opal is a fake but it’s fairly obvious that she is.)  How you feel about the character of Opal will probably determine how you feel about Nashville as a whole.  If you find Opal to be a heavy-handed caricature, you’ll probably feel the same way about the rest of the film.  If you find the character of Opal to be genuinely amusing with her increasingly pretentious musings, you’ll probably enjoy Nashville.

There is one more very important character in Nashville.  He’s the character who literally holds the film together.  He’s also the reason why I’m including Nashville in this series of reviews about political films.  That character is named Hal Phillip Walker and, though he’s never actually seen in the film, he’s still the driving force behind most of what happens.  Walker is a third-party presidential candidate, a man who seems to be universally admired despite the fact that his campaign appears to just be a collection of vapid platitudes.  Walker’s campaign manager, John Triplette (Michael Murphy), comes to Nashville and sets up the Walker For President rally.  That’s where Nashville reaches its violent and not-all-together optimistic climax.

Reportedly, Nashville is a favorite film of Paul Thomas Anderson’s and you can see the influence of Nashville in many of Anderson’s films, from the large ensemble to the moments of bizarre humor to the refusal to pass judgement on any of the characters to the inevitable violence that ends the film.  Also, much like Anderson’s films, Nashville seems to be a film that was specifically made to divide audiences.  You’re either going to think that Nashville is a brilliantly satirical piece of Americana or you’re going to think it’s a self-indulgent and self-important mess.

As for me, I think it’s great and I think that, after you watch it, you should track down and read Jan Stuart’s The Nashville Chronicles: The Making of Robert Altman’s Masterpiece.  It’s the perfect companion for a great film.

 

Embracing the Melodrama #21: Darling (dir by John Schlesinger)


 

Julie Christie

In my previous post, I talked about Ship of Fools, a film that was nominated for best picture of 1965.  As I pointed out in that post, when watched today, it’s difficult to imagine Ship of Fools as being worthy of that honor.  However, there was another melodrama nominated for best picture in 1965.  It not only clearly deserved that nomination but it probably should have won as well.  That movie is a personal favorite of mine, the brilliant British film, Darling.

In Darling, the beautiful and glamorous Diana Scott (played, in an Oscar-winning performance, by Julie Christie) tells us her life story, with the events on screen occasionally standing in contrast to the tone of her narration.  We learn how Diana went from being a somewhat successful model to being one of the most famous women in the world, a woman whose life is lived and obsessed over in three separate countries.

In England, Diana leaves her first husband for  Robert Gold (Dirk Bogarde), a writer who also abandons his family so that he can be with Diana.  They live in a dreary apartment and, over the course of one brilliant montage, we watch as Diana becomes increasingly disillusioned by Robert’s secluded lifestyle and Robert grows progressively annoyed with Diana’s hyperactivity.  Even being chosen to be the face of a world hunger charity organization fails to relieve Diana’s boredom.  (It does, however, give the film a chance to include a sharply satiric scene in which a bunch of rich white people socialize underneath pictures of starving African children.)   Diana soon starts to find excuses to leave the apartment and pursue an affair with the hedonistic advertising executive Miles Brand (Laurence Harvey).  In one of the film’s best scenes, Schlesinger shows us how long Diana and Miles have spent in a hotel room by focusing his camera not on the two of them but instead on the expiring parking meter outside.

Julie Christie in Darling

In France, Diana and Miles take part in wild parties that involve lots of cross-dressing, stripping, mind games, and predatory members of the social and media elite.  Diana is initially uneasy with this group of friends and it’s obvious that they have little respect for her.  However, that starts to change when Diana takes advantage of one of the party games to mock Miles for being unable to truly love anyone but himself.  Despite this, Miles still arranges for the disillusioned Diana to be selected as “The Happiness Girl” for the advertising campaign for a chocolate company.

In Italy, Diana’s best friend is Malcolm (Roland Curram) who is both her photographer and, as a gay man, is one of the few people in her life that Diana feels that she can trust.  It’s also in Italy that Diana meets a charming nobleman named Prince Cesare (Jose Luis de Vilallonga), who offers Diana a chance to become none other than Princess Diana, on the condition that Diana convert to Catholicism and that she help raise his nine children, the oldest of whom is the same age as Diana.

To be honest, it’s difficult for me to provide a rational or balanced review of Darling because I simply love this film so much!  I love it for the glamour, I love it for the melodrama, and I especially love it for its sharply satiric (and still very relevant) look at what it means to be famous for merely living.  I suppose that it would only be natural to compare Darling to the world’s current obsession with the Khardashians but that’s not really fair to Darling.  The Khardashians may be the natural end result of a world that obsesses over Diana Scott but, as played by Julie Christie, Diana Scott is everything — intelligent, witty, interesting, and, if not quite sympathetic, at least compelling — that a Khardashian could never hope to be.

In 1965, the Sound of Music won the award for best picture of the year but Darling is truly the movie that still has something to say about the way that we’re living today.

Darling

6 Reviews of 6 More Films That Were Released in 2013: The Company You Keep, Dracula 3D, Getaway, Identity Thief, Pawn, Welcome to the Punch


In part of my continuing effort to get caught up on my 2013 film reviews, here are 6 more reviews of 6 more films.

The Company You Keep (dir by Robert Redford)

Shia LeBeouf is a journalist who discovers that attorney Bill Grant (Robert Redford) is actually a former 60s radical who is still wanted by the FBI for taking part in a bank robbery in which a security guard was killed.  In one of those coincidences that can be filed directly under “Because it was convenient for the plot,” LeBeouf’s girlfriend (Anna Kendrick) works for the FBI.  Anyway, all of this leads to Grant going on the run and meeting up with a lot of his former radical colleagues (all of whom are played by familiar character actors like Susan Sarandon, Nick Nolte, Richard Jenkins, and Julie Christie).  Ben pursues him and discovers that Grant could very well be innocent and … oh, who cares?  The Company You Keep is a big smug mess of a film.   It’s full of talented actors — like Stanley Tucci, Brendan Gleeson, and Brit Marling (who, talented as she may be, is actually kinda terrible in this film) — but so what?  I lost interest in the film after the first 20 minutes, which was a problem since I still had 101 more minutes left to go.

Has there ever been a movie that’s actually been improved by the presence of Shia LeBeouf?

Dracula 3D (dir by Dario Argento)

Dario Argento’s version of the classic Dracula tale got terrible reviews when it was briefly released here in the States but I happen to think that it was rather underrated.  No, the film can not compares to classic Argento films like Deep Red, Suspiria, and Tenebre.  However, the film itself is so shamelessly excessive that it’s impossible not to enjoy on some level.  The film’s moody sets harken back to the classic gothic villages of the old Hammer films, Thomas Kretschman turns Dracula into the type of decadent European aristocrat who you would expect to find doing cocaine in 1970s New York, and Rutger Hauer is wonderfully over-the-top as Van Helsing.  Yes, Dracula does turn into a giant preying mantis at one point but if you can’t enjoy that then you’re obviously taking life (and movies) too seriously.

Getaway (dir by Courtney Solomon)

I saw Getaway during my summer vacation and the main thing I remember about the experience is that I saw it in Charleston, West Virginia.  Have I mentioned how in love I am with Charleston?  Seriously, I love that city!

As for the movie, it was 90 minutes of nonstop car chases and crashes and yet it somehow still managed to be one of the dullest films that I’ve ever seen.  Ethan Hawke’s wife is kidnapped by Jon Voight and Hawke is forced to steal a car and drive around the city, doing random things.  Along the way, he picks up a sidekick played by Selena Gomez.  Hawke and Voight are two of my favorite actors and, on the basis of Spring Breakers, I think that Gomez is a lot more talented than she’s given credit for.  But all of that talent didn’t stop Getaway from being forgettable.  It’s often asked how much action is too much action and it appears that Getaway was specifically made to answer that question.

Identity Thief (dir by Seth Gordon)

My best friend Evelyn and I attempted to watch this “comedy” on Saturday night and we could only get through the first hour before we turned it off.  Jason Bateman’s a great actor but, between Identity Thief and Disconnect, this just wasn’t his year.  In this film, Bateman is a guy named Sandy (Are you laughing yet?  Because the movie really thinks this is hilarious) whose identity is stolen by Melissa McCarthy.  In order to restore both his credit and his good name, Bateman goes down to Florida and attempts to convince McCarthy to return to Colorado with him.  The film’s “humor” comes from the fact that McCarthy is sociopath while Bateman is … not.

It’s just as funny as it sounds.

Pawn (dir by David Armstrong)

An all-night diner is robbed by three thieves led by Michael Chiklis and, perhaps not surprisingly, things do not go as expected.  It turns out that not only does Chilklis have a secret agenda of his own but so does nearly everyone else in the diner.  Pawn is a gritty little action thriller that’s full of twists and turns.  Chiklis gives a great performance and Ray Liotta has a surprisingly effective cameo.

Welcome to the Punch (dir by Eran Creevy)

In this British crime drama, gangster Jacob (Mark Strong) comes out of hiding and returns to London in order to get his son out of prison.  Waiting for Jacob is an obsessive police detective (James McAvoy) who is determined to finally capture Jacob.

In many ways, Welcome To The Punch reminded me a lot of Trance and n0t just because both films feature James McAvoy playing a morally ambiguous hero.  Like Trance, Welcome to the Punch is something of a shallow film but Eran Creevy’s direction is so stylish and Mark Strong and James McAvoy both give such effective performances that you find yourself entertained even if the film itself leaves you feeling somewhat detached.

Poll: Tell Lisa Marie What To Watch Next Sunday


So, guess what I did earlier today?  That’s right — I put on a blindfold, a stumbled over to my ever-growing DVD, Blu-ray. and even VHS collection and I randomly selected 12 films!

Why did I do this?

I did it so you, the beloved readers of Through the Shattered Lens, could once again have a chance to tell me what to do.  At the end of this post, you’ll find a poll.  Hopefully, between now and next Sunday (that’s August 21st), a few of you will take the time to vote for which of these 12 films I should watch and review.  I will then watch the winner on Sunday and post my review on Monday night.  In short, I’m putting the power to dominate in your hands.  Just remember: with great power comes great … well, you know how it goes.

Here are the 12 films that I randomly selected this afternoon:

Abduction From 1975, this soft-core grindhouse film is based on the real-life abduction of Patty Hearst and was made while Hearst was still missing.  Supposedly, the FBI ended up investigating director Joseph Zito to make sure he wasn’t involved in the actual kidnapping.

Aguirre, The Wrath of God From director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski comes this story about a Spanish conquistador who fights a losing battle against the Amazon.

Black Caesar In one of the most succesful of the 70s blaxploitation films, Fred Williamson takes over the Harlem drug trade and battles the mafia.

Don’t Look Now Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie are a married couple who attempt to deal with the death of their daughter by going to Venice, Italy.  Christie quickly falls in with two blind psychics while Sutherland pursues a ghostly figure in a red raincoat through Venice.  Directed by Nicolas Roeg.

The Lion In Winter From 1968, this best picture nominee stars Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn as King Henry II and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  Taking place on Christmas Eve, Henry and Eleanor debate which one of their useless sons will take over a king of England.  This film is also the feature debut of both Anthony Hopkins and Timothy Dalton.

Logan’s Run — From 1976, this sci-fi film features Michael York and Jenny Agutter as two future hedonists seeking Sanctuary and instead finding Peter Ustinov and a bunch of cats.  Filmed in my hometown of Dallas.

Lost Highway — From director David Lynch comes this 1997 film about … well, who knows for sure what it’s about?  Bill Pullman may or may not have killed Patricia Arquette and he may or may not end up changing into Balthazar Getty.

Mystic River — From director Clint Eastwood comes this film about murder, guilt, redemption, and suspicion in working-class Boston.  Starring Sean Penn, Kevin Bacon, and Tim Robbins.

Naked Massacre — From 1976, this stark film is something a grindhouse art film.  It takes the true life story of Chicago mass murderer Richard Speck and transfers the action to Belfast.  Also known as Born for Hell.

Night of the Creeps — From 1986, this film features alien slugs that turn an entire college campus into a breeding ground for frat boy zombies.  Tom Atkins gets to deliver the classic line: “Well don’t go out there…”

PetuliaConsidered by many to be one of the best American films ever made and one of the definitive films of the 60s, Petulia tells the story of a divorced doctor (George C. Scott) who enters into an odd relationship with Julie Christie.  Directed by Richard Lester, this film also stars Joseph Cotten, Richard Chamberlain, and the Grateful Dead.

What Have You Done To Solange? — From 1975, What Have You Done To Solange is a classic giallo that  features dream-like murders, disturbing subtext, and one of the best musical scores of all time.

So, there’s your 12 films.  Vote once, vote often, have fun, and I await your decision.

Voting will be open until Sunday, August 21st.

Film Review: Red Riding Hood (dir. by Catherine Hardwicke)


My problems with Red Riding Hood are more of a personal nature than anything else. I’m from a family that clashed old world values of women being blindly subserviant to the Man of the House vs. women being fiercely independent and only having a male in their lives to complement things. These elements were my luggage already brought to the table on seeing the film, but it shouldn’t damper one’s opinion on the film. If this review does this, it’s on me personally and not a reflection of the entire Shattered Lens.

Like Alice in Wonderland before it, Red Riding Hood takes the classic fairy tale and expands on it. While it does so, it doesn’t do it by much. What it has going for it is a nice visual style. Colors are vibrant and director Catherine Hardwicke really has an eye when it comes to forest landscapes (just as she did with Twilight). Mists cover the trees and capes billow in the wind, when it’s not concentrating on the town itself (which does look like a soundstage at times). In the end, however, it suffers from the same quasi teenage issues that Twilight had. I yawned a number of times. Granted, I understand that the movie may be targeted to a younger audience (and for them it may very well work), but even my audience groaned a little and they were target individuals.

Red Riding Hood is the story of Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who lives in a small village that lives in fear of The Wolf, who has been known to sneak in and attack or kill citizens. To appease the wolf, the townspeople keep animals tied outside. As a child, she forms a bond with a young boy named Peter. Time passes, and we find young Valerie bethrothed to Henry (Max Irons) by way of her mother’s plans (played by Virginia Madsen). Peter (Shiloh Fernandez) still has feelings for Valerie, and this all quickly becomes another Bella / Jacob / Edward triangle. It’s not at the start a story of Valerie choosing her own road, but having to hear from everyone around her that this guy should be the one she marries or that one is the right guy for her. To me, personally, the film in the beginning pushes as much of a pro-“I need a man to survive” stance as Battle:LA does a Pro-Marine one. Is this a terrible thing? Not if that’s where your mindset is, no. Every time I saw them mention anything along the lines of hand and feet worship some guy just because “that’s how it is”, I had to remind myself that it’s just the time period the story takes place in (though I’m sure the audience heard me groan at least once). Again, that’s just me.

In the midst of all this, on being asked to run away with Peter, Valerie is alerted to her sister’s death from the wolf. The townfolk make a point of going after the wolf, and decide to head out the cave where they believe the beast lives. They return with proof of a victory and plan to host a party for the deed. The town priest (Lukas Haas, who somehow seems to less here than he did in Inception) reaches out for help in form of Solomon (Gary Oldman). Solomon, arriving with armed guards warns the townsfolk of the evil of werewolves and that he will hunt it down. The next few nights will be Blood Moon nights, meaning that if the wolf bites anyone during that time, they’ll become werewolves as well. The townsfolk, not buying into this, decide to have a wild party with sexy dancing. This results in a visit from the Wolf, who confronts Valerie and telepathically asks her to come away with it, or the town will be razed. It all kind of escalates from there.

Oldman, for his credit, was fun here and slightly over to the top.  Oldman delivers his lines with flair, being far less subdued here than he was in The Book of Eli. For who better to hunt a wolf than Sirius Black himself, right?

And that’s part of the problem I found with Red Riding Hood. With the exception of Seyfried, the supporting cast is actually stronger than the main group of actors the story focuses on. Julie Christie plays Valerie’s grandmother, in a great turn, and as always Billy Burke (Drive Angry, Twilight) is supportive as Valerie’s father. He’s really one of the highlights of the film. As for Henry and Peter’s characters,  the most I could think of with them were the Winchester brothers in Supernatural. They’re eye candy for the girls, though I should note that none of the girls in my audience were excited as they were when I saw The Twilight Saga: New Moon. There were lots of screaming for that one.

What does work is that the movie is reminiscient of The Beast Must Die. It is a mystery of who the wolf actually is, and both Valerie and the audience are given clues. That I actually enjoyed, and the third act of the film wasn’t too bad. The action is quick and to the point, but again, it all kind of feels like I could have seen this as a series on the CW. There wasn’t as much of a worry about who would fall at the hands of the wolf or what dangers would face Valerie so much as they actually looked cool when it occurred. Easily a Netflix pick.

Poll: Which Movie Should Lisa Marie Review?


Last night, with the help of my friend Jeff, I conducted an experiment. 

First, I took out my contacts which basically left me blind.  Then, just to make sure I was totally without sight, I had Jeff blindfold me.  He then took me by the hand and led me over to my DVD collection.  Clumsily, I grabbed 10 DVDs at random and handed them back to Jeff.  I then proceeded to walk into a wall, at which point I tried to take off the blindfold and ended up losing my balance and falling down flat on my ass. 

Why was I risking life and limb to randomly select 10 DVDs?

I did it so you could have the chance to tell me what to do.  At the bottom of this article, you will find a poll listing the 10 DVDs I randomly selected.  Come next Saturday (June 19th to be exact), I will watch and review whichever movie receives the most votes in the poll.  In short, I’m giving you all the power.

Now, to be honest, I’m feeling just a little trepidation about doing this.  Whenever you set up a poll, you’re running the risk of absolutely no one voting.  Fortunately, I have a plan B in that I recently got the 1st season of Gossip Girl on DVD.  If nobody votes in the poll, I’ll just spend next Saturday watching Gossip Girl and writing several long — very long —  essays on how different Chuck is in the books as compared to the TV show.

The choice, as they say, is yours.

The 10 movies I blindly selected are listed below in alphabetical order.

1) Anatomy of a Murder (1959) — Jimmy Stewart asks Lee Remick a lot of questions about her panties.

2) Darling (1965) — Julie Christie claws her way to the top of the modeling industry and discovers ennui.

3) Emanuelle in America (1978) — Emanuelle investigates decadence in America.  Some people think that this movie contains footage taken from an actual snuff film.  We call those people “idiots.”

4) Hatchet For The Honeymoon (1969) — Mario Bava directs this film about a man driven to murder by the sight of an unflattering bridal gown.

5) Lost in Translation (2003) — I will admit that I squealed with joy when I discovered that I had randomly selected one of my favorite movies of all time.

6) Primer (2004) — Engineers play with time and space.  Oddly enough, this movie was filmed a few miles away from where I live.

7) The Sidewalks of Bangkok (1986) — Like most of Jean Rollin’s film, this is something of a misunderstood masterpiece.

8 ) Sole Survivor (1982) — An atmospheric little horror film with a sadly generic title.

9) Starcrash (1978) — Strange sci-fi movie in which Christopher Plummer recruits space pirate Caroline Munro to battle a pre-Maniac Joe Spinell.  This film also marks the screen debut of David Hasselhoff.

10) The Sweet House of Horrors (1989) — One of Lucio Fulci’s last films.

So, those are our ten options.  On Saturday, July 19th, I will sit down, watch, and review whichever movie receives the most votes.  On that day, for four to six hours, I will give up my independence and submit to the wishes of the majority.