Archive for December, 2019

Tom Lim

Posted in FILM with tags , , on December 6, 2019 by dcairns

From Hilary Barta at Limerwrecks — OK, we know PEEPING TOM didn’t literally end Michael Powell’s career, but it’s still late Powell.

Here.

Culture Clash

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on December 6, 2019 by dcairns

Here’s Donald Benson on CLASH OF THE TITANS — just the kind of thing I like to see in a mini-blogathon!

I got to know Harryhausen films on television, not seeing one on the big screen until THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, after which I saw several more at UCSC and at some revival houses. I also took to browsing sci-fi and film magazines at the campus library. This was just before STAR WARS ushered in a special effects revolution.

My second-hand amateur guesswork: By the time of CLASH OF THE TITANS, Ray Harryhausen films had become a little like Disney animation features. They were marvels of craftsmanship and artistry, still the gold standard for new generations of animators and effects wizards inspired by dueling skeletons. But somehow they were less relevant as movies. They were generally well-written and directed, and looked better than their modest budgets, But they were of a style that felt increasingly old hat no matter what new wonders Super Dynarama wrought, just as Disney’s 60s animations settled into a rut despite unmatched character animation. 

Part of this was dictated by necessity. Harryhausen and Schneer would get Columbia to put up some money and go make the movie. Everything on the live action shoot had to be precisely pre-planned because of the budget and the effect requirements; no room for auteur directors (I believe they were brought on when much had already been set in stone).

Harryhausen certainly had artistic ambitions. He wanted to do War of the Worlds and a Baron Munchausen feature; test footage for both projects can be seen in a DVD documentary. Would these have broken the mold, or turned out as solid but predictable additions to the Harryhausen canon? As it was, there evidently came a point where the only projects they could get financed were two more Sinbad adventures. They weren’t sequels and Harryhausen was still pushing forward — SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER has a prince turned into a baboon, and the animated baboon delivers a character performance — but the subject matter must have felt like a clear retreat.

By 1981 films like JAWS and STAR WARS revolutionized effects AND created the blockbuster mentality. Harryhausen’s hand-wrought magic may have paled slightly next to technological breakthroughs (the way older fantasies paled next to Harryhausen), but they were oddly buoyed by same eager suspension of disbelief that allowed the Muppets to star in movies. More problematic was the blockbuster mentality. Harryhausen and Schneer were comparatively minor players; their fantasies fell into a weird dead zone between gigantic studio epics and low-rent matinee fare. Ray Harryhausen decided to go big … and then go home.

COTT was billed as his farewell performance, which meant something because he was finally being recognized as the guy who made all those films kids grew up on. It revisits the Greek myths of his most highly regarded film, “Jason and the Argonauts”, and brings back the same scriptwriter, Beverley Cross (his wife Maggie Smith plays a ticked-off goddess). There are ambitious effect sequences and an interesting experiment: the beast-man Calibos is an actor in close shots, and an animated creature in longer shots; an effect managed with editing as I recall. More money was spent, there were big names in the cast, and Harryhausen had a little more help in his animation studio. 

My main memory is that the effects were nifty, and the usual Harryhausen vibe was there under the glitzier trimmings. What I wonder is, how much of their usual control did he and Schneer give up to make their exit with a would-be blockbuster? 

As late shows go, it can be counted as a happy ending. Harryhausen did better and more memorable films, but COTT was a showy final bow and presumably a nice bundle for retirement. And after a lifetime of painstaking stop-motion work he spent his remaining years as a beloved elder statesman to the now somewhat-glamorous special effects industry, taking bows and at some point doing a heroic sculpture of Dr. David Livingstone, an ancestor of his wife. Better than going out on the frankly minor Sinbads, and probably better than trying to compete with his own proteges and/or CGI.

Donald Benson

Don't get your knickers in a twist

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on December 5, 2019 by dcairns

So, I don’t usually write about PRESUMPTIVELY last films for The Late Show — Philip Kaufman is still with us and might make another movie any time now, but TWISTED was 2004 so I think it qualifies as late, whatever happens next. It would be great if he made another film, even a tiny one. Just don’t let it be like TWISTED.

So, the late Kaufman films preceeding this one tend to be examinations of sexuality, you might say, from HENRY AND JUNE to QUILLS. But in there is RISING SUN too, which has some sex stuff too, while being essentially a dumb, glossy cop thriller. So this can be regarded as RISING SUN II, minus Michael Crichton’s Japan-bashing (although, come to think of it, the murder weapon is Japanese: the Yawara stick). It also clearly falls into the same camp as late Alan Pakula, but it’s handled in a livelier fashion than THE PELICAN BRIEF. The script is the problem.

Handy Andy Garcia

Ashley Judd is a newly-promoted San Francisco homicide cop who becomes a suspect herself when “Every man I kiss turns up murdered.” Which is quite a large cast of characters, as it turns out. Since Judd keeps having alcoholic blackouts — accompanied by DoP Peter Deeming’s trademark lens-popping — the question arises, dimly, Is AJ the killer? But this isn’t ever really a flier — it beggars belief that she’s drinking herself unconscious then beating men to death and leaving the crime scene preternaturally free of all bodily traces.

So the next question, and it really isn;t an engrossing one, is which of Judd’s two most expensive co-stars is the killer, since there isn’t enough best-friend material in the script to justify both salaries.

The film looks really nice — great Golden Gate fog shots in the credits. Two performers from Kaufman’s Frisco-set INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS pop up in cameos: the always-welcome Veronica Cartwright, and the Transamerica Building, AKA Pod Central, which gets to be the last thing Judd sees before falling unconscious for the nth time.

The film did make me want some Cabernet Sauvignon real bad.

Based on this, Kaufman could still be making great movies, if he had the material to do it with. Like the late films of Pakula, Parker and others who laboured in the glossy crime film genre in their last pictures, it’s stuffed with top industry talent before and behind the camera. And it would probably be more interesting with a tenth of the money behind it and more freedom to depart from exxpectations. But Judd is generally really good and really appealing. Among Harvey Weinstein’s punishments should be personally paying for, but having no creative input into, at least five Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino pictures.

So, not a good movie overall, but a good Ashley-Judd-kicks-a-rapist-in-the-face movie.

For some reason, TWISTED features characters named John Mills, Melvin Frank and Bob Sherman, but it reality it stars Tina Modotti; Nick Fury; Amedio Modigliani; Edward R. Murrow; Lin Xiao; and Lambert.