#43a: Lumet: Film Maker (1975) April 16, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Documentary, 4 stars, 1970s, films about films, Short, 2011 , add a comment
This ten-minute documentary short is made up of behind-the-scenes footage of some of the filming of Dog Day Afternoon, with the occasional on-set interview with some (to be honest, minor) crew members, snippets of audio interview with Lumet himself, and a voiceover narration.
Today it’s the kind of material that would come out as part of the EPK and be included on the DVD — it has a largely promotional tone, talking about how great Lumet is to work with, how great Pacino is, that kind of thing. From a modern perspective, much of the information is duplicated elsewhere on the DVD, but for those not interested in a two-hour audio commentary it’s here.
What it does still add is footage of Lumet at work. Based on what we see, you can well imagine how he managed to finish the shoot a whole three weeks ahead of schedule, and how he produced such an authentic-feeling final result. There’s the soundman, for instance, who humorously has to dash off halfway through his interview for the next setup.
It feels a bit daft reviewing what would today be just an EPK and/or DVD featurette. But as this comes from a time before those things existed, when it wasn’t designed to go straight to the DVD just for the interested (though I don’t know where it was shown — in cinemas as a kind of extended trailer, I presume? It doesn’t look like a TV special, especially at just ten minutes), it’s a “documentary short” — look, IMDb says it is.
But then, are feature-length DVD ‘making of’s a kind of film too? Lost in La Mancha would have just been the DVD extras, had the film not gone tits up. What about Hearts of Darkness, which is now, pretty much, placed as ‘just’ a Blu-ray extra?
#9: Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro (1979) March 26, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Animation, Anime, Crime, 5 stars, adaptations, 1970s, Adventure, world cinema, 2011 , add a comment
The Castle of Cagliostro, the second animated big-screen spin-off from manga-inspired anime TV series Lupin III, was the first film directed by Hayao Miyazaki, who even non-anime fans have heard of these days thanks to Spirited Away’s Oscar win (eight years ago now!) and Pixar’s recent championing of him.
I’m ashamed to say I haven’t see a great deal of Miyazaki’s output, so I can’t comment on how much of an indicator (or otherwise) Cagliostro is of what was to come, but it’s a fine film in its own right — Steven Spielberg reportedly called it “one of the greatest adventure movies of all time”, and I’m inclined to agree.
For starters, the action sequences are brilliant — exciting, inventive and varied. I don’t know if Spielberg saw this before tackling any of the Indiana Joneses, but you can feel the tonal connection. There’s also a similar amount of humour. The animation itself is very good — there are prettier examples of the genre, but the locations especially are beautifully painted, and it’s aged very well for a ’70s-produced animation. The score is rather dated though.
As I mentioned, this is the second spin-off film from a TV series, and at times it does feel like it: characters turn up under the impression the audience already knows who they are and what their connection is to the others. It’s not a major problem — most are introduced well enough within the context of the film that it can still be easily followed — but it’s there.
Is this a good film to interest non-anime fans? Maybe. The plot and structure are familiar (in a good way) from the wider adventure genre, and some of anime’s regular stylistic flourishes aren’t as much in evidence as in some other works. The genial tone may make it too “Saturday morning cartoon” for some — and by “some” I tend to mean teenagers or the teenage-minded, who would be better suited to something like Akira because it’s all Dark and Serious and Grown-Up; the kind of person who would’ve chosen a PlayStation over a Nintendo console because it was black instead of white/coloured and therefore Adult and Not For Children; childish idiots who think they’re Mature, in short.
Um, where was I? Oh yes: Indiana Jones; Roger Moore-era James Bond — it’s that kind of tone, more or less, and if you enjoy that kind of film then I don’t see why you wouldn’t enjoy this. Unless you think cartoons are for kiddies only (in which case, see the long sentence at the end of the last paragraph).
The Castle of Cagliostro is a fun and exciting adventure, and convinced me enough that I bought the only other Lupin III title currently available on UK DVD (the film that precedes it, The Secret of Mamo). And when the director of Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jurassic Park says something is “one of the greatest adventure movies of all time”, one really ought to listen.
The Castle of Cagliostro placed 4th on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2011, which can be read in full here.
2 films about 3 or 4 Musketeers March 6, 2011Posted by badblokebob in : Editorials, 1970s, 2011 , add a comment
Finally, some reviews!
And the title pretty much has this one covered, so…
The Three Musketeers
Where to begin? The action, I suppose. It’s loaded with the stuff. It puts later movies — from eras when we’re more accustomed to non-stop, regularly-paced action than the ’70s — to shame with its barrage of sword fights. And if you think they’d all be the same and become repetitive, you’re dead wrong.
The Four Musketeers
this second effort has less action, which could be fine, but more importantly it’s less fun. In and of itself such a statement doesn’t make it bad, but it consequently fails to fulfil the promise of the first film. It’s also a little more ramshackl… Considering Three Musketeers has a kind of endearing scrappiness to it, that a similar factor becomes a negative point here either means they took it too far or there was a certain luck to the first film hanging together.
Richard Lester’s Four Musketeers was shot at the same time as the previous year’s Three Musketeers, because it was originally meant to be one film that was split in two when someone realised how darn long it was. This split led to a legal battle over actors’ fees and, eventually, a new standard clause in actors’ contracts to prevent such two-for-one ‘cheats’ by producers in future.
The longer-lasting advantage of this is it made The Three Musketeers the film it is, because having Four Musketeers as a second half would’ve dragged it down.
Put simply, this second effort has less action, which could be fine, but more importantly it’s less fun. In and of itself such a statement doesn’t make it bad, but it consequently fails to fulfil the promise of the first film. It’s also a little more ramshackle — a common feature of sequels these days I suppose, when they’re rushed into production and overstuffed with characters and storylines. Considering Three Musketeers has a kind of endearing scrappiness to it, that a similar factor becomes a negative point here either means they took it too far or there was a certain luck to the first film hanging together.
It’s a bit grim too — Athos’ backstory with Milady; the murder of the Queen’s lover; the murder of Constance; the cold-blooded execution of Milady; and ending up with Richelieu still in power too — none of it sits well with the jolly swashbuckling tone that still dominates. There are some good action sequences nonetheless — for instance, the ice-covered lake; breakfast/siege in the ruined fort; and the burning-building finale — which go some way to make up for the shortcomings.
(As an aside, the cast & crew (some of them at least) returned a couple of decades later to film The Return of the Musketeers, an adaptation of one of Dumas’ sequels, Twenty Years After. For filming Twenty Years After about twenty years later they must at least be commended, and I shall have to track it down sometime.)
A shame that it couldn’t live up to its predecessor, though it still has moments to recommend it.
Comedy, Action, 5 stars, adaptations, 1970s, Adventure, British films, Historical, 2011 , add a comment
I like a good swashbuckler. I don’t know exactly what it is about sword fights, but they’re probably my most favourite kind of action sequence. The 1973 Three Musketeers, then, is a film I’m slightly amazed I’ve not seen before. Especially as I absolutely loved it.
Where to begin? The action, I suppose. It’s loaded with the stuff. It puts later movies — from eras when we’re more accustomed to non-stop, regularly-paced action than the ’70s — to shame with its barrage of sword fights. And if you think they’d all be the same and become repetitive, you’re dead wrong. Screenwriter George MacDonald Fraser (yes, he of the Flashman novels) and/or director Richard Lester (yes, he of A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Superman II and III) and/or the stunt team are constantly inventive in sequence after sequence.
It helps that most have a comedic bent, to one degree or another. This is no po-faced history lesson, but instead pure entertainment. Every scene has a lightness of touch, from screenplay to performance to direction, that never allows anything to take itself too seriously. Spike Milligan may appear as comic relief as a landlord-cum-husband-cum-spy, but he’s more than equalled by… well, pretty much everyone else. The humour might not be subtle — it’s mostly slapstick, often with a bawdy bent — but it is entertaining.
Thanks to this most of the fights aren’t strictly sword fights, I suppose. Indeed, Oliver Reed seems to dispense with his blade at the earliest opportunity and turn instead to sticks, wet towels, whatever else happens to be at hand. It lends a certain kind of organised chaos to proceedings; the kind that elevates a technically proficient duel into a funny, exciting, memorable segment of cinema. I would list standouts, but instead may I recommend you watch the film and, every time an action sequence starts, count it as one I mentioned. But particularly the one in the laundry and d’Artagnan and Rochefort’s lightbox-lit nighttime duel. And also— Now, this is why I said I wasn’t going to list any.
The star-smattered cast are, as noted, more than up to the task. The titular musketeers — played by Reed, Richard Chamberlain and Frank Finlay — may fade into the background a little while Michael York’s young d’Artagnan and the villainous pairing of Charlton Heston and Christopher Lee drive the story, but each makes an impression even with their limited screentime. The same could be said of the women, Raquel Welch as d’Artagnan’s love interest Constance and Faye Dunaway as the conniving Milady de Winter. York earns his place as the lead amongst such company, though, making a d’Artagnan who is by turns athletic, clumsy, hot-headed, loyal, and funny. As I said, everyone pitches the lightness just right, but York perhaps most of all — he doesn’t send up the youngest musketeer, doesn’t make him a pun-dispensing action hero, but finds all the humour in his actions and dialogue.
This film was shot alongside the next year’s sequel, The Four Musketeers — originally intended to be one film, it turned out so long they decided to split it in two. This feels like a wise decision. For one thing, the story seems to wrap up very neatly at this point. The villains may still be free and in power, but the diamond storyline is thoroughly concluded. I don’t know if any major rejigging occurred in the edit, but assuming not, it would surely feel like a film of two halves were it to just continue at the end of this one; the final action sequence is suitably climactic, the following scenes suitably rounded off. Secondly, it means it doesn’t outstay its welcome — while it’s all thoroughly enjoyable, you can have too much of a good thing. It also means the film ends with a sort of “Next Time” trailer, which feels very bizarre indeed, but is also a tantalising glimpse of what’s still to come.
The Three Musketeers is proper swashbuckling entertainment, with emphasis on… well, both words. It’s certainly swashbuckling and, even more so, it’s entertaining in the truest sense of the word. I loved it.
#113: Solaris (1972) December 9, 2010Posted by badblokebob in : Drama, Sci-fi, adaptations, 4 stars, 1970s, Mystery, world cinema, 2010 , 1 comment so far
I don’t know if you’re aware of a website, dear reader, called iCheckMovies.com? It’s one of those (many, I believe) sites where you can tick off which movies you’ve seen — in this case, not just any movie (though that’s changing ’soon’), but movies from certain well-known lists. Well, it used to be just well-known(-ish) lists, but it’s constantly broadening its horizons and… Anyway. My point is this: some movies only crop up on one list (lots of the Shorts, for instance), while others manage two or three or four, but (as you’d no doubt expect) some crop up on loads. It’s a handy way to see that, too.
Solaris, for instance, is on IMDb’s list of the best sci-fi films (#39) and films from the ’70s (#43); it’s on They Shoot Pictures…’s 1,000 Greatest Films (#227), Empire’s 500 Greatest Movies (#285), 10th on Total Sci-Fi’s 100 Greatest Sci-Fi Movies, 53rd on Arts and Faith’s 100 Spiritually Significant Films, and included in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies; not to mention half a dozen other general greatest/must-see lists featured on iCheckMovies.
What does all that matter? Not a great deal, I suppose — film appreciation is subjective ‘n’ all — but it does leave it with a weight of expectation. The fact that it’s the better part of three hours long, in Russian, and notoriously slow-paced, adds a different kind of weight. It’s quite easy to see how Soderbergh felt able to remake it into just 90 minutes (and he still made a slow-paced film).
And it’s true, parts are like an endurance test — Berton’s seemingly endless drive through a future cityscape (actually just ’70s Tokyo), for instance — but, though still glacially paced, most of the film has some discernibly relevant content. Provided you’re not expecting Star Wars, that is, but who in their right mind would be? Talking of things being discernibly relevant, the film occasionally switches into black & white for no reason I can readily discern. Explanations welcome in the comments.
Though ostensibly science fiction — it’s set on a space station orbiting a possibly sentient planet that’s doing Funny Things to the crew — Solaris isn’t concerned with the scientific implications of any of its concepts. While I’m going to come up short on providing detailed analysis, it seems to me Tarkovsky’s adaptation is more concerned with memory, loss, grief and what it means to be human/alive. The planet, which somehow creates tangible people — not mere shared hallucinations — from the memories of the crew, is used as a way in to these things Tarkovsky clearly wishes to consider. The sentient(?) planet is not an end in itself; the film spends no time considering what this different kind of consciousness (if it is a consciousness) means, how it might work, or any other scientifically-bent notions that other films or filmmakers might choose to focus on. It also doesn’t centre on the romantic side of events, the route Soderbergh chose to pursue; or, if it does, it does so coldly and clinically and doesn’t feel romantic in the slightest. Alternatively, that could be the point.
Solaris is one of those films I think we can safely say is Not For Everyone. There’s much to ponder for the so inclined, not least the intriguing ending. I feel certain I, much like the scientists in the film itself, have barely scratched the surface.
Read my considerably more thoughtful (if I do say so myself) review of Steven Soderbergh’s remake here.
#111: Living Free (1972) November 13, 2010Posted by badblokebob in : Drama, adaptations, 3 stars, 1970s, British films, true stories, 2010 , add a comment
Living Free is, in many ways, a tale of obsession. I’m certain that wasn’t Joy Adamson’s intention in writing the book, and I don’t think it’s the filmmakers’ intention either, but the facts can still play that way. The Adamsons devote months of their time, give up a promising career, spend all their savings, drive themselves into debt, and are nearly killed several times, all in a frequently-extreme effort to save three delinquent lion cubs who would be put down were it not for their sentimental attachment.
Picking up immediately where Born Free left off — with literally the same shot, in fact — Living Free proceeds to recap the first film, inserting new actors Susan Hampshire and Nigel Davenport into footage from the predecessor. Watched 24 hours after the original, this feels like so much padding, but viewed in isolation — or six years later, as this was first released — it’s probably a useful primer. It also allows a chance to recap some of Born Free’s finer wildlife moments, including the cubs wrecking the house and the marvellous head-butting warthog. I love the head-butting warthog.
The rest of the story moves into What Happened Next territory: Elsa dies, the Adamsons’ obsession with finding and saving her cubs begins. The film skips the book Living Free, adapting threequel Forever Free instead, presumably for dramatic reasons — I imagine Elsa and cubs just living isn’t as much of a Story as her death and subsequent events.
Much of the film again plays like a documentary, particularly the sequences where Joy imagines what the cubs may have been up to during the weeks they were missing. Even after decades of excellent work by the BBC Natural History unit, producing hundreds of hours of exceptional documentaries, the wildlife photography here is still often stunning. Stand-outs include one of the cubs playing with, and then being attacked by, a snake, or a slow-motion chase sequence which shows the beauty of both the lion and… whatever it’s chasing… (look, I’m no expert.) It may not have the same charm as the first film’s playful antics, but it’s by no means devoid of spectacle.
Living Free isn’t as endearing as Born Free. By the very nature of trying to keep the cubs wild, they’re less relatable than Elsa and consequently we become less attached to them. As you may’ve guessed, I found it more interesting to look on the film as a story of obsession, one that threatens to ruin the Adamsons’ lives, though ultimately it has an upbeat ending.
Though nothing the film could have told (while sticking to the facts, that is) would rival the real-life tragedies that were to come: the Adamsons eventually grew apart, Joy was murdered by a former employee in 1980, and George was shot by bandits in 1989. It’s a sad end for a pair who, for all their faults, devoted their lives to doing good.