Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)

Director: Michael Cohn

Writers: Thomas E. Szollosi, Deboragh Serra, Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm

Composer: John Ottman

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Sam Neill, Gil Bellows, Taryn Davis, Brian Glover, david Conrad, Monica Keena, Anthony Brophy, Frances Cuka, Chris Bauer, John Edward Allen, Miroslav Taborsky, Andrew Tiernan, Bryan Pringle, Dale Wyatt, Joanna Roth, Karen Hart, Rozmberska Kapela

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The fairytale is over.

Plot: Based somewhat more authentically on the Grimm Brothers' story of a young woman who is disliked by her stepmother, the film includes the talking mirror, a poisoned apple, and some ruffian gold (not diamond) miners (and they aren't dwarfs or cute). It takes place at the time of the Crusades, and depicts the attitudes of the wealthy and the peasant classes toward one another.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I really dig the attempt at turning a dark fairy tale into a darker horror picture.  I say attempt because the first half is great until Lilliana (Snow White as played by Roth) runs away and comes across the miners where it takes a few turns at an action adventure picture.  It's not a deal killer but it's the second half of the picture that feels like the writers were searching for ways to keep the story going until the apple scene, which by the way, Lilliana is only sleeping for eternity for about five minutes of screen time before she's awoken so she can face the evil Claudia (Weaver).  Weaver comes off best in the acting department.  Roth is OK, too, I guess.  But Sam Neill's role is rather thankless.  I don't know who could have done something with the role of Lilliana's father, Frederick. I like the darkness of it all but there's something missing that would elevate this into something special and I'm not sure what it is but I have a feeling it's in that second half.  The Universal DVD's sole extra is the international theatrical trailer.  It's funny but the Universal logo that plays just before the film is formatted to fit a 16:9 screen but the film isn't.  That's just rubbing it in your face that they released a less than desired product.

The 7th Commandment (1961)

Director: Irvin Berwick

Writers: Irvin Berwick, Jack Kevan

Composer: ???

Starring: Jonathan Kidd, Lyn Statten, John Harmon, Frank Arvidson, Wendy Berwick, Wayne Berwick, Johnny Carpenter, Patrick Cranshaw, Jack Herman, Charles Herbert

More info: IMDb

Tagline: You Be The Judge!

Plot: A man and his girlfriend driving in their car have an accident. The man gets amnesia and wanders away from the accident. He is taken in by a traveling preacher, and several years later returns to his hometown as the Rev. Tad Morgan, still unaware of his previous life there. His girlfriend, who was injured in the accident and is now an ex-convict living with her crook boyfriend in a sleazy apartment, decides to take her revenge on the now-respectable preacher.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Probably.

Does this broad look like bad news to you?

Yep, she sure is alright.  But she's also got a damn good reason to want revenge and you can't fault her for that.  Nope.  This is the third film I've seen in the excellent Something Weird Video DVD set called 'Weird-Noir' and I'm loving it.  The performances are good, the dialogue and so on but it's the story that sells it the most.  It's also about an hour and twenty minutes which helps but the situations these people are in get crazy.  Ted/Tad (Kidd) and his ordeal with Terry (Statten) get off the charts with the lengths she goes through to get what she wants.  Then there's her asshole, woman-beatin' man, Pete (ruthlessly played by John Harmon).  The ending is great, too, as each of them...well, you have to see it yourself.  Seriously, if you dig film noir, you should drop the ten bucks or whatever and get this set of six films.  It's totally worth it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Pottery at Ilza (1951)

Original title: Ceramika Ilzecka

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Writer: Andrzej Wajda

Composer: ???

Starring: Potters!

More info: IMDb

Plot:  In the second of three short films before starting his long and admired career as a feature film director, Wajda turns his camera onto the potters of Ilza, Poland where they've been masters of the craft since the 14th century.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

Ultimately this is just a fluff piece, all 10 minutes of it, made by Wajda and cinematographer Jerzy Lipman when they were in film school in Poland.  He and his classmates made short films that would in no way attract attention to anyone who would see anything political in their films so they chose lackluster subjects such as this.  After the war Poland was under the rule of communism so keeping a low profile wasn't a bad thing.  In the film you learn as much as a few minutes will allow about the pottery craftsmen in the idyllic town of Ilza.  It certainly looks like a lovely place to visit.  The people there are dedicated to their craft and we get to see them at work throughout the process of making vases, sculptures and so on.  It's hard to get bored or excited about this but it's worth watching if, for no other reason, that it's an early work by Wajda.  It's on the A GENERATION (1955) DVD, part of Wajda's War Trilogy available from Criterion.

Road to Perdition (2002)

Director: Sam Mendes

Writers: Max Allan Collins, Richard Piers Rayner, David Self

Composer: Thomas Newman

Starring: Tom Hanks, Tyler Hoechlin, Rob Maxey, Paul Newman, Liam Aiken, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Craig Spidle, Ian Barford, Stanley Tucci

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Pray for Michael Sullivan

Plot: Set in the Depression era a mob hitman (Hanks) unravels after his wife is murdered and his son finds out exactly what his father is. Now Hanks takes it personal and takes revenge.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

Great flick.  It's gorgeous and it takes its time.  The performances are splendid and Thomas Newman delivers a wonderful score but I can't help but feel I've heard that theme before and it was from Carter Burwell.  The Conrad Hall's cinematography is just stunning.  It's so good that you don't want the film to end.  Obviously it does and it's a good one.  Even though Hanks is playing a gangster on the wrong side of the law, he's still a good man who, as far as we know, only kills bad people.  Has Hanks ever played a villain or a really bad man?  I can't think of any.  Anyway, not much to say about this one except it's fantastic and I'd almost forgotten how good it was in the ten or so years since I last saw it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tom Jones: Smash Hits (198?)

Starring: Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick

More info: Amazon

Plot: Tom Jones sings his hits in this TV special featuring sequined jackets in every color and sexy moves leaving not a single dry seat in the house.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I LOVE Tom Jones.  He's one helluva singer and he can belt 'em out like nobody else.  He's such a comfortable performer in the way he effortlessly sings and moves.  Anyway, this DVD gives you the following songs (for laughs I've included what color of sequined jacket he wears):

1. Green Green Grass of Home (blue)
2. Daughter of Darkness (black)
3. Delilah (green)
4. Georgia On My Mind (no jacket, hahaha)
5. I Can't Stop Loving You (still no jacket)
6. She's a Lady (red)
7. Love Me Tonight (dressed like real estate salesman)
8. Spanish Eyes (red)
9. What's New Pussycat? (black)
10. You Are the Sunshine of My Life (green)
11. He Stopped Loving Her Today (green)
12. Endless Love (Theme from) duet with Dionne Warwick (blue sports jacket)
13. Unchained Melody (no jacket)

The man sure loves his sequined jackets.  Naturally, Tom Jones is great.  My only real issue is these arrangements (the music as arranged for the band/orchestra) aren't the same as the original recordings we all know and love.  They're cheaper as if dumbed down for a cheap TV variety show with fewer performers.  There's even a synthesizer playing some parts reserved for other instruments.  The result feels cheap.  I've searched and searched and I can't find any information as to when this was filmed.  It had to be made after 1981 as that's when Endless Love was first recorded by Lionel Richie (who wrote the tune) and Diana Ross.  The Tango Entertainment DVD runs 37 minutes and features 13 songs (not 12 as is listed on the DVD and the menu!).  It also comes with trailers for MIKE HAMMER, CRACKER, ZULU DAWN, WILD GEESE, 1st & TEN seasons 1 & 2, AT LAST THE 1948 SHOW and DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET.

The Naked Road (1959)

Director: William Martin

Writer: William Martin

Composer: ???

Starring: Jeanne Rainer, Ronald Long, Art Koulias, Frances Hammond, Eileen Letchworth, Harry Stanton, Kent Montroy, Ed Jordon, Paul Judson

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Unbelievably-Fantiscally TRUE! The brutal facts behind the expose of the so-called PUBLIC RELATIONS racket!

Plot: When a woman is left with a corrupt Judge as collateral for a speeding ticket, a Good Samaritan bails her out... then holds her prisoner as a future sex slave!!!

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? I just might.

This is the second film in the six movie set from Something Weird Video called 'Weird-Noir' and it's pretty damn good.  This one runs 74 minutes which feels a little too long.  I'm getting ahead of myself.  I didn't know a single thing about this picture when I popped the disc in and that was a good thing.  The setup of getting Gay (Rainer) from innocent model to hijacked into white slavery and hooked on the drugs takes quite a while and it's a well-thought out and elaborate scheme that gets her there.  I liked that writer/director Martin takes his time with that because it goes a long way into taking you on that journey with her.  I really felt bad for the gal.  These people are sleazy.  Then it's a matter of her spending time in the organization and trying to figure her way out of it.  That's when it slows down.  It doesn't help that some of the actors say their lines slower than they should.  It feels like amateur filmmaking sometimes but the story and Gay's situation is compelling enough to keep you interested until it almost suddenly ends.  This is the first of four pictures Martin directed.  I hope he got better but this is a pretty good start and a pretty fun and sleazy film noir that's under the radar.  Thanks, SWV, for putting these out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Generation (1955)

Original title: Pokolenie

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Writer: Bohdan Czeszko

Composer: Andrzej Markowski

Starring: Tadeusz Lomnicki, Urszula Modrzynska, Tadeusz Janczar, Janusz Paluszkiewicz, Ryszard Kotys, Roman Polanski, Ludwik Benoit, Zofia Czerwinska, Zbigniew Cybulski, Tadeusz Fijewski

More info: IMDb

Plot: During the Nazi occupation of Poland, a generation of youth comes of age. Stach and his friends start with spontaneous acts of defiance, which can prove deadly, but have no organized purpose. Then, while at work as an apprentice, Stach learns elementary Marxian economics from a shop steward. When he sees the valiant and beautiful Dorota, a leader of the Youth Underground, he volunteers. He recruits his friends, and they become a cell in the resistance, tasting courage, discipline, and tragedy. In the background lies the potential conflict between the Communists and the partisans, both anti-Nazi, both Polish, and on their own collision course.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

What a great flick.  It's Wajda's first film.  In fact, it's just about everyone's first feature film behind and in front of the camera including a young actor by the name of Roman Polanski.  Filmed barely a decade after the war, Wajda created a marvelous piece of work with some wonderful imagery.

Dorata (Modrynska) schools the boys who think she's just another pretty face masquerading as a leader of the local resistance.

That was a great little scene.  Wajda's film is filled with little moments of humanity among those of horror and terror.  The way he throws in little details that make the difference between art and fluff are sometimes as subtle and impressive as this scene where Jasio (Janczar) is being pursued by the Germans.  He dead ends at a doorway, opens the door while turning away from it so as not to see that it has been barred and locked (pictured).  We know what's waiting for him for a second or two before he does and for us, the audience, it's heartbreaking to say the least. 

It's a powerful debut for one of the finest cinematic artists of the last century.  The performances are genuine, the emotions, situations, etc.  The cinematography and Jerzy Lipman's use of light, and lack of, are gritty and real.  It's probably been a couple of decades since I last saw any of Wajda's work.  I need to fix that.  Watching these mid-century, post-war European films makes me feel like nothing else. There's a special sensitivity of hope and despair that you don't see from the U.S..  Our films from that time largely offer escapism where as those from Europe inspired a reality devoid of Hollywood fantasy.  This Criterion DVD offers a nice print with a half hour featurette of interviews with Wajda et al, his second (of three) short films he directed prior to this film called CERAMICS FROM ILZA and a collection of still galleries to include production stills, publicity stills, movie posters (the 3 seen in this post) and Wajda's own paintings and drawings.