Monday, April 21, 2014

My Glib Review of The Wolf Of Wall Street.

Glib Reviews of Recently Released DVDs

- Directed By Martin Scorsese

Its pretty difficult, given all the similarities structurally and otherwise between this film, and Scorsese’s most re-watchable film; Goodfellas, not to jump right in with comparisons. The stories of two very different, but maybe not so different kinds of criminals, diverge enough for the films to be distinct: Wolf Of Wall Street has a grander, slower pace than the rapid fire coke binge that is Goodfellas.

There is maybe more coke in ‘Wolf,’ than in ‘Goodfellas,’ but just as DiCaprio’s Operatic winking at the camera is tempered by other drugs, especially Quaaludes, Wolf Of Wall Street has a more labyrinthine languorous (I did doze occasionally) rhythm to it. The three hours feels like three hours, but in grand old Scorsese tradition, you feel the length is fairly well justified. Master film makers at work.

Though, on one viewing of Wolf Of Wall Street, I can’t call it a masterpiece, but I didn’t think that Goodfellas was the genius film making that now, after many many viewings understand it to be, back in the day, either. Marty’s (yeah, why not call him Marty?) films, even the ones that I don’t consider to be among his best, merit more than one viewing. There is always a lot going on.

I have seen, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and King Of Comedy dozens of times each, and I still notice things I missed the last time, or read them in new ways given the person I am at that point in my life. Does ‘Wolf’ have that kind of staying power? 

Maybe, It is a hoot and very much a comedy. Any film where the main character is repeatedly breaking the fourth wall, not so much narrating as whispering in your ear, you have to take it with a sense of humour. The crew of weirdoes Jordan assembles as he climbs the ladder of ripping off both the poor and the wealthy with his penny stock schemes is so grotesque and absurd, they must be real.

Jonah Hill, who I am mostly sick of; completely rehabilitates himself with this one role, I can see him as something other than Jonah Hill staring at people, and occasionally saying something creepy and or funny. Hill’s Donnie Azoff is both creepy and funny as Jordan Belfort’s right hand toady/man. The horribleness of coke fueled penny stock fraud is laid out in lurid fashion throughout this movie. It is both horrifying and titillating to watch, which I am thinking is the intent of the film makers. The uncomfortable laugh has longer life than the guffaw in terms of watching a film more than once.

Scorsese is of course like only so many film makers, trying to knock it out of the park every time, to be in the Zeitgeist. This film achieves the Zeitgeist, the music, the era, evokes a certain pride, and a certain shame from most of us, who lived through that era (the 80’s and 90’s) except of course guys like Jordan Belfort;whose only real penance for all the fraud he committed, were tennis lessons in ‘Rich Folks’ Jail. At the end he has re-invented himself as another kind of huckster. At least Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill had to live like a schmuck in the end of Goodfellas.

For me, while I really enjoyed the film, it’s not one that I am rushing to watch again, like most of Scorsese’s films, I need time to think about it a bit more, and more importantly, discuss it with other cinephiles who have seen it. Currently I am slotting it as a mid-level Scorsese flick. It was a fun ride, but what else is going on? For me, not as much as I hoped. I really liked it, but I didn’t love it; loved parts of it.

7.7685 Creepy as Hell Jonah Hill Moments, Outta 10

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Swashbuckler Fest 2014

Swashbuckler Fest 2014

- Directed by Richard Wallace

Another delightful entry in my (much delayed) SwashBuckler Fest 2014. I’m really enjoying all the technicolor palette these films tend to have, and how well they use that to great effect. 

This particular version of Sinbad comes with one small mechanical creature, a mocking bird that basically spend the picture hanging out with Sinbad, giving him clues to his enemies doings that fly right over his smiling face. Sinbad is played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. 

Fairbanks almost lives up to his Famous father’s level of swashbuckling. I’d say in every way except the weird lack of sword fighting show offery; almost all of the ‘fight scenes’ have abbreviated sword bits, but oh the leaping, and the bounding. This Sinbad really is more of a thief and a scoundrel, using his quick wits (and no planning whatsoever) instead of his sword, or fists. He almost has that same twinkle as His Pops. Almost.

The story sets itself up as being Sinbad’s untold ‘8th adventure.’ Sinbad narrates his adventures to a group of guys sitting around the docks waiting for someone to tell them outrageous stories, that they can scoff at, or believe. He tells them of meeting the lovely Shireen,played by Maureen O’Hara who was a great ‘Spitfire’ in “Against All Flags,” she’s the number one concubine in the Emir’s harem. 

The Emir is almost of course played by Anthony Quinn. Between Quinn and Fairbanks, the funky turbans and hats they wear would make Little Edie Bouvier jealous. O’Hara once again has  some firecracker lines, and seems to love/hate the leading man. Hmmm. will she go with him in the end? What do you think?

There is a lot to like in this flick with standout supporting roles also from Walter Slezak as  the wily ‘real villain’ of the piece, Melik. I especially loved the brief part of an auctioneer (Sheldon Leonard), who Sinbad cons out of  a legendary ship, The Prince Ahmed. Coincidentally, everyone in Basra and Daibul thinks that Sinbad is the almost mythical Prince of Deryabar, where Alexander the Great’s treasures are said to be hidden. 

Fairbanks seems a merciless ham at first, projecting so much of the Silent acting style that he grew up with; but it really is the character of this rendition of Sinbad... blowhard storyteller who is winking at you as he steals your sword and rests it under your chin.

The great Alan Napier (sadly, perhaps, most famous for the Batman TV show as Alfred the butler), playing old men old since time began, plays The last king and only resident of Deryabar in another stand out cameo, as he helps the jumping bean called Sinbad find his destiny. In the end, the scheming harem girl O’Hara of course goes off with Sinbad. the end of the Emir and his plots is a scene worth the admission. 

Hokey and as old fashioned and ‘innocent’ a movie as there might have ever been. I wish modern Pirate movies contained as much joie de vivre as the three flicks out of four in my SwashBuckler fest. My favourite parts were all the scenes with the bird, and The great repartee between the three leads, Quinn, O’Hara, and Fairbanks.

7.999999 Pirates pretending to be Princes who turn out to be Princes after all, outta 10

Monday, April 14, 2014

Super Hero Movie Update #1 2014

Super Hero Movie Update #1 2014

- Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

- Directed by Alan Taylor

Yesterday I actually went to the movie theatre downtown and paid almost 18 bucks to see Captain America : The Winter Soldier on the big 3d screen. In the evening, I watched the most recent Marvel superhero movie on Blu Ray, Thor: The Dark World. (after falling asleep about 10 minutes in the night before)

As far as being cinematic entertainment, both had their strengths and weaknesses. Thor, despite starring a bunch of “Gods” and having a great pace, thanks to Game Of Thrones (and many other ‘big’ TV shows) stalwart director, Alan Taylor; does not have the gravitas it should considering the ridiculously high stakes the villain and heroes are playing for.

Therein lies the problem, Christopher Eccleston does a good job with what he has to work with. It’s just well, he doesn’t have much to work with. Malekith is really kind of one note and has little in the way of memorable moments. Superhero stories need memorable interesting villains. In the comics, and on screen. It’s still a good movie and I liked it as much as I liked the first one, maybe a bit more. 

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, on the other hand has a great villain in the legendary Robert Redford, playing maybe the coolest version of a staple Marvel character: Alexander Pierce (whose father was one of the original WWII ‘Howling Commandos’, in the movie ‘verse, this is Cap’s unit, rather than Nick Fury’s) Pierce is a very human villain, who is charismatic, and has some grown up dialogue and character motivations to play with. 

The Big Bad in Captain America is not the Winter Soldier, though he has the best action scenes. Action scenes that I had heard terrible things about, but in fact were pretty awesome. 

This sequel builds on the first Captain America movie, and on The Avengers, in terms of story sidebars, and continuity stuff, while maintaining its own very distinct main story, and really fleshing out the characters of Captain America, The Black Widow, Nick Fury and giving solid intros to the Former ‘Bucky’ turned ‘Winter Soldier,’ (who in the comics was ‘dead’ a long time, and was brought back in spectacular fashion, in one of the best runs of Captain America ever.) as well the Falcon, who I felt was a solid addition to Cap’s team. 

The film never felt crowded with heroes, villains and side characters. Thor, The Dark World, sometimes feels a bit crowded, and characters never really get many moments to give them a bit more heft, The Warriors Three are separated, and on their own, are a bit dull. Sif gets a better treatment, as does Odin, even if he is either scolding, or praising. He doesn’t do very much for an all powerful being. Jane Foster, too, is a bit more proactive, despite needing to be 'saved' pretty often.

Both films have a few nice ‘easter eggs’ for us comic book nerds. I for one appreciated that in the beginning of  The Winter Soldier, Cap is sporting a new (no stars n stripes colours) more modern uniform/armour. Said Armour is the same one worn in the comics by the current Samuel Jackson Nick Fury, who in comic book land is the son of the ‘original cigar chompin Nick Fury, made most famous as an Agent of Shield, via Jim Steranko’s all too brief but Iconic run on the comic. 

It is pretty similar to the armour Cap himself wore, after he was famously killed a few years ago in the comics, and of course came back to life. In that time the Winter Soldier had taken up Cap’s mantle as Captain America. The mentioning of ‘dangerous people, the bad guys want gone, like Stephen Strange, aka Dr, Strange, the Sorcerer Supreme, who I want to have his own movie so badly. He has a very cinematic origin story.

So, both of these Marvel Movies were fairly entertaining, But the Winter Soldier is a much better film, all around. Both pictures though do feel like they might be part of a shared universe, with the various Avengers centric plot bits that float through them. 

I look forward to marathoning all these DVDs someday, and like reading a big comics story in order, to get that epic kick from the multi hero stories. These Marvel movies are following the HBO/High End TV model of the very long stories, intertwining, and giving various characters a voice. I am mostly enjoying the ride.

Loki, of course is the real and only scene stealer in the Thor movie. Which really is maybe the real plot. Loki's plot. 

Some nice end of credit scenes in both that give you more peeks into the upcoming Avengers, and Guardians Of the Galaxy. I was a bit freaked out by the Benicio Del Toro scene, it was so terrible. Oy.

Captain America: the Winter Soldier

8.0003 former Army Buddies who now are programmed to kill you outta 10

Thor:  the Dark World

6.58989 Arch Villains who look cool, but are in fact: world killingly bland outta 10

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Scaramouche, Swashbuckler Fest 2014

SwashBuckler - Fest 2014

Day 2 (a few days ago, I’ve been busy)

- Directed by George Sidney

Scaramouche is worth sitting through just for the climatic sword fight at the end which is a huge 6 minute school of swashbuckle and derring-do. Stewart Granger is a Bastard (the old school royal dad, not so royal mom kind, not the modern what a jerk variety) who feels immense guilt for flirting with a girl who turned out to be his sister. 

The Scaramouche in the title refers to When Granger has to take it on the lamb when his l’l Bro like chum Richard Anderson (A teen Oscar Goldman from Six Million Dollar Man!) gets killed in a duel, he hides out with the red headed gal that should be his girlfriend, in a Commedia dell’arte troupe. Scaramouche is a much pranked upon clown, whose grotesque mask is more real than any Frenchman in the picture.

This movie is as close as cinema gets to a live action Daffy Duck Cartoon than any film I know. It is ludicrously over the top all the time. Stewart Granger literally chews through Louis the Fifteenth chairs like the scenery they are, every scene, all the time. He’s more Daffy Duck than Bugs Bunny, though he aspires to be Bugs, in every scene. Mel Ferrer oozes Bad guy you Love to Hate juice with every smarmy poke of his sword. It seems the leading cause of death in pre-revolution France was duels behind the cathedral after dinner. Who knew?

Ferrer is as much a joy to watch in his super villainy, as it is to watch Granger as Andre Moreau, slacker friend to revolutionaries, turned reluctant revolutionary and eventually master swordsman (mental note: always train with the trainer who trained your enemy’s trainer) and thus he is finally able to meet his nemesis in a sword battle that would make Flynn, Rathbone, Power, or any Fairbankses proud to have been a part of. 

In a fairly early role for Janet Leigh, she is a bit overmatched by the immensity of her leading men, but that suits the character, and she shows a nice comic timing in her best moments, you can really see the actress she became later on shining through in this silly wonderful movie.

This might be the Swashbucker movie I have seen the most times, as I ‘discovered it’ in a 100 yen sale bin of vhs tapes when I lived in Japan. My first year was frugal. I had a few tapes, and fewer dvds. I watched it a lot. I have since got my own dvd copy, not the best quality, but the kind of adds to the sentiment for me. 

8.222 Feisty redheads who keep getting the wrong idea Outta 10

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Swashbuckler Fest 2014

SwashBuckler Fest 2014

I decided after watching this really great compilation of Errol Flynn Sword Fights that my Film Prof from almost 30 years ago posted on facebook, stating that he always wants to watch ‘Swashbucklers’ this time of year.  I am a huge fan of such movies myself, be they the typical Pirate movie, or the Samurai and Ronin of Japanese cinema, I love a great sword fight.

So I decided to do a quick four night, four movie Swashbuckler festival. I first instinct was to reach for the store copy of Captain Blood, then see what else we had, more obscure, maybe. But then I remembered that I had at home, a cheapie ‘boxset’ of ‘ Great Pirate Movies” that I got somewhere on sale. It has four Swashbucklers on it, including one of my all time faves, that I hadn’t watched in maybe ten years, Scaramouche. But that movie is on disc two.

- Directed by George Sherman

The first picture though, and rightly so, was a Flynn, an Errol Flynn who is The Swashiest Buckler of them all (aside maybe from Fairbanks Sr.) in this late career Pirate tale that has a trio of great performances from the aforementioned Errol Flynn as Royal Navy undercover agent Brian Hawke, Anthony Quinn as a swarthier than thou, Pirate Captain Roc Brasiliano, and last but not least; a dynamite Maureen O’Hara, as the Lady Pirate Captain ‘Spitfire’ Stevens. And quite the Spitfire she is, with the greatest wardrobe of big shouldered Pirate Lady outfits and ball gowns, all of which come with a derringer and a knife. 

The premise and plot are pretty standard fare, and luckily all the real effort is put into some great swashbuckling action scenes. The film starts with Flynn being flogged, and reacting not in screams of pain, but moans of pleasure, that put me in mind of the old Drive In Movie routine from Cheech & Chong where they are parodying such scenes. The Flogging is to make it appear as though he’s being drummed out of the Navy (something to do with a female passenger? believe- able, he’s Errol Flynn.) and is getting a real flogging so nobody thinks he’s a spy.

Everybody thinks he’s a spy. Especially Anthony Quinn’s Captain Brasiliano, he never buys The Charm school stuff that makes all the ladies in the picture, just a bit weak in the knees. He is trying to infiltrate an infamous Pirate Republic, and set up the pirates so that the Navy can come in and clean the place up. Errol Flynn is not a convincing double agent, but he’s freaking Errol Flynn, he oozes a very dated sort of machismo that is palpable onscreen, and people just go along with his vague need to rage against the machine.

The Pirate Enclave actually seems pretty orderly. Everyone wears fine silks and hugely bold colours, a great many of the men wear skirts or culottes that look like skirts. The colour palette of this group of free spirited thieves and murderers is technicour-ific. the supporting players also deserve a mention, all the small parts have character, and everyone with lines gets a chance to shine. I adored Alice Kelley as the Princess Patma, and her Scots Nanny Molvina MacGregor, played by veteran character actress Mildred Natwick, who steals scenes from everyone.

The sword fight set pieces are as good as any. Spitfire Stevens is a very modern woman despite being an 18th century Pirate, she gets a chance to show off her own formidable stage-fighting skills and athleticism in the climatic final sword battle. She gets a chance to fall back into a strong irish brogue when she gets her fur up over the constant advances of both Quinn, and Flynn. 

I’m really glad I chose this picture first. It’s a first rate bit of Errol Flynnery, with a nice side helping of great supporting cast, and the richest colour palette this side of Robin Hood. A Ripping yarn as they used to say, ripping. Against all flags is well worth your time if you can track it down.

8.9999 Scots Nannies with loaded pistols in their knickers outta 10