Random Film of the Week: Hard to be a God

(Thanks, kinolorber!)

 

Hard to be a God MPImagine an episode of Game of Thrones as performed by the cast of Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade minus the fantasy elements and with an even more staggering attention to medieval detail and you’ll maybe grasp a small potion of the late Aleksei German’s outstanding, brutal (yet beautiful) Hard to be a a God. This 2013 film (the director’s last) isn’t for the easily disturbed but if you’re willing to sit through the almost three hour running time, you’ll likely find yourself glued to the screen from beginning to end.

While it may not look like a sci-fi film, right from the start you’ll see subtitles that note the story takes place on an earth-like planet going through its medieval phase about 800 years after ours. A group of scientists have been send there to observe the planet and gently nudge it forward without using technology or politics as it goes through what should be a renaissance phase. Unfortunately, things kind of get a bit out if hand when intellectuals of all types become targets for murder by a tyrant’s roaming militia intent on keeping the people uneducated and (mostly) harmless. Actually, about 28 minutes in, you get a reminder that you’re on another world thanks to a quick shot of something mechanical making itself known. But even then, the illusion of an incessantly nasty age isn’t at all broken.

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Random Film of the Week: The Pirate

The Pirate MPEvery movie fan (this writer included) has a case of “Hollywood Blinders” they slap on for certain films they love because without them, thinking of anything abnormal taking place behind the scenes ruins much or all of a particular movie’s strengths. This little review just so happens to be about one of those films some outright adore while others don’t take to it all that well.

While its comic book colors and highly exuberant performances make Vincente Minnelli’s 1948 musical The Pirate a mostly to extremely fun to watch slice of Hollywood entertainment, it’s the behind the scenes stuff that makes the film somewhat problematic as a classic one can fully enjoy unless you ignore certain elements. For this particular film, those Hollywood Blinders take the form of an eye patch (or bandanna or even a big felt pirate hat if you like watching your colorful, imperfect musicals with two working eyeballs).

The pairing of Gene Kelly and Judy Garland should have been a wonderful one and in fact is when the film hits most of its high marks. But thanks to the studio system’s lousy treatment of her from the beginning of her career, Garland’s star was far from shining bright during the troubled production. The results are amusing and impressive at times, but it’s also a somewhat flawed film with a too quick finale that pops in as if the cameras were running out of film and something needed to get shot or someone had to walk the plank.

(thanks, SuperVintageCinema!) 

Garland’s assorted troubles (including a nervous breakdown that kept her off set for an extended period) thankfully don’t show up in the finished product. But it’s clear that the wide-eyed gal next door who played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz less than ten years previously was a wider-eyed and far more troubled soul on a downward spiral to a much shorter life than she deserved. Toss in a fantastic Gene Kelly dance sequence with The Nicholas Brothers that seemingly got them pushed out of the movies (and Hollywood) for a few years too long and you end up with a film best seen with those Hollywood Blinders on. Nice and tight, now.  So, buckle your swash and slap on that eye patch, folks. There’s a storm a-brewin’ on the shooting stage and you’re getting shanghaied and strapped into your seats for a wild ride… Continue reading

Show & Tell: On Ray Harryhausen’s Fairy Tales

Red StareIn regards to every well-worn fairy tale, “It’s not the tale, but how it’s told” is the order of the day. Parents and other creative adults well-versed in story time voices and acting have this mantra branded on their brain cells and know how to make any yarn they spin keep kids at rapt attention. Still, for many of his longtime fans, Ray Harryhausen’s incredible stop-motion versions of Mother Goose stories and five classic fairy tales are some of the most memorable versions ever created.

Save for The Tortoise and the Hare (which was incomplete until its 2002 premiere), I can recall some of these films along with his earlier Mother Goose shorts being shown during assembly hall sessions or in the occasional class where a regular teacher was out sick and the substitute called in hadn’t time to whip up a proper lesson plan. While most of these 16mm shorts were part of my childhood, I’d imagine plenty of today’s little (and more tech savvy) whippersnappers haven’t a clue who Harryhausen was or what made (and still makes him) him great and such a huge inspiration of countless filmmakers and visual effects artists to this day.

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“Once Upon A Time…” Is Soon To Be A Well-Read (and Seen!) Verse Again…

FTB RapunzelWell, well welly-well well! It seems that there’s yet another blogathon I get to be a part of and yes, you’re invited for the ride as a reader OR writer if you want to huff and puff and show your stuff. Movies, Silently is hosting The Fairy Tale Blogathon from November 9-11, 2014, so zip on over there on your magic carpet to check out the rules and see what’s already been snapped up.

Given that the blogathon is open to such a wide range of films, TV shows and commentary on them, I’m betting a bunch of you can join in and post your own two gold eggs about a favorite fairy tale adaptation. I won’t reveal what I’m doing just yet, but if you’re clever enough and look in the right place, you’ll figure it out really quickly. Okay, the image on the left is a BIG giveaway and that’s all I’ll say.

Um, and they lived happily ever after, the end? I guess that’s how it usually goes in that sunshine, birdies and rainbows world some of you expect. Usually. But I say expect some surprises if you think ALL fairy tales end this way!

Random Film of the Week: The Big Parade

(thanks, SilentPianoNinja for making this spectacular modernized trailer!)
 

The Big Parade MPIf you know someone who’s straddling the silent movie fence or avoiding it entirely for some strange reason, The Big Parade is a great movie to get them into appreciating a great many important films they’re missing out on. Director King Vidor’s absolutely brilliant and hugely influential 1925 film benefits from stellar performances all around, and a half comedic/half dramatic structure that introduces its cast of characters with vigor and plenty of humor in that first half before pulling no punches in its latter half’s battle scenes.

The great and handsome as heck John Gilbert along with the beautiful Renée Adorée give what would have been Academy Award-winning performances had the Academy existed at that point in time and for me, this is one of the more stirring pre-sound epics worth rounding up friends and/or family to watch this classic with. You’ll need a kettle of popcorn, a barrel of root beer (that barrel will come in handy later) and perhaps a box of tissues to go ’round the room, as this is 141 minutes of fantastic film making that’s truly stood the test of time Continue reading

Random Film of the Week: KONGA

(thanks, Movie Trailer Graveyard!)

Konga MPWhile it’s not the worst man in a gorilla suit sci-fi/horror hybrid out there (Bela Lugosi Meets A Brooklyn Gorilla or A*P*E*, anyone?) 1961’s KONGA is nevertheless a terrifyingly bad movie that’s worth a watch for a few reasons. You’ll marvel at the ferocious, scenery chewing by Michael Gough’s mad botanist/scientist Dr. Charles Decker, the kitchen sink plot that tosses in carnivorous plants, terrible, inaccurate science, botany and biology, a love triangle that’s actually a square that gets whittled away corner by corner as the film progresses and some mostly lousy special effects that make this a total howler. I’ll get back to the ape suit later and the man in it, as both are another key to making this film so hysterically funny.

You have to admire a film that wants you to believe that Dr. Decker returns from his year-long trip to Africa (he’s actually missing and presumed dead!) with some strange ideas, some recipes for a serum that can make plants and animals grow to extreme sizes and a cute baby chimpanzee. His plant experiments end up creating a number of oversize man-eating varieties including (eek) some that look like gigantic black rubber penises with green veins a’poppin’ and red tongues hanging out (seriously). Before that rolls around in your head too much, Decker’s real showpiece is Konga, that baby chimpanzee he gives his serum who SOMEHOW changes into a gorilla (Wait, WHAT? Science takes another hit, folks POW!) before using his new “pet” to get revenge on a few of his peers (spoilers inbound, but it doesn’t matter because even if it’s all given away, this one’s worth seeing for the laughs it provides)… Continue reading

Let’s Get Snoop-id With The Sneaking Around: The Snoopathon Is Here!

snoopathon-blogathon-of-spies-negriWhee! Super spies, evil guys (and gals) and perhaps some long trench coats and fog await you, dear reader over at Movies, Silently and a few other blogs over the next three days. Pop on over there and like a hero in a good spy mystery, you may find yourself rendered unconscious and wake up somehow back here reading not one, but TWO posts about secrety angenty stuff. I won’t say which flicks get the treatment here, but I bet you’ll wake up tomorrow and forget ALLLLL about what you saw. Um… Wait, that’s NOT a good thing! Hmmm… I should have diluted that formula a little more, huh? Oh well, as long as you click and read, I’m happy! Mua-ha-ha-ha-haaaaaaa…

Turner Classic Movies Finally Gets With The Program on YouTube

 
Like many of you out there, I love Turner Classic Movies quite a lot, although the popular classic movie site isn’t without its issues. I’m still waiting to see more imports (where are Cul De Sac, {The Mad Adventures of} Rabbi Jacob, The Tall Blonde Man With One Black Shoe and other intriguing foreign films that deserve a wider American audience?) and a more stable Underground (I can be the host, as I have a LOAD of ideas to make it better and more accessible to new viewers to the weird and strange!), but overall I’m happy with most of what they do. That said, they’re finally using YouTube a lot more effectively, posting videos for current programming for the day during the week, which goes a long way towards making folks like me see what’s coming on during the day without having to check the cable guide or just turn the channel on when we crawl home and hope we’ll see something we haven’t yet. Yeah, the frequent rebroadcasts need to be worked on a bit, but for now, I have one LESS thing to gripe about…

Sleuthathon, Anyone? Get A Clue This March…

Sleuthathon_SherlockAh, the joys of the blogathon! Like-minded fast to slow typists of assorted interests and skill sets, some of the more precisely well worded and edited post, some of the punchy, short perfect post and me with my fishing around for words and hoping they all fit together once I drop my five-cent bowl of alphabet soup on the carpet before I can even open my packet of crackers, *sob!*

Anyway, Fritzi over at Movies, Silently is at it again, hosting not just a blogathon, but a Sleuthathon featuring films up to 1965 about assorted gumshoes, nosy folks who find themselves detecting danger and other flicks and TV shows.

If YOU have a favorite film detective who fits the bill and can string together a few sentences better than I can, feel free to check out the link for submission guidelines and perhaps contribute one of your favorite films, group of related films or shows. The more, the merrier!

Random Film of the Week: Kiss Me Deadly (1955)

(thanks, criterioncollection!) 

kiss me deadlyIf you’ve never seen this Robert Aldrich-produced and directed film noir masterpiece, drop what you’re doing (well, unless you’re operating heavy machinery or in the middle of something where dropping anything will cause a major or minor disaster) and go look this one up. You’re guaranteed to say something like “What the…” at least two or three (or a dozen) times while watching this one, trust me. Mike Hammer is supposed to be a hard as nails private eye, but in this flick, he spends about a quarter of the film either getting chased, beaten up, shot at and otherwise maimed by assorted people who want him out of the picture he’s supposed to be starring in.

Deviating quite dramatically from the Mickey Spillane novel, this one’s a blazing hot mix of a downward spiral into a particularly dark hell for private eye Mike Hammer (masterfully played by Ralph Meeker), who has so many brushes with death here that the film ends up having a nasty comic edge thanks to the level of violence on display. No one here escapes unscathed, as everyone either wants Hammer dead or disabled (or both) and the few people on his side tend to drop like flies or come pretty close to it. The film also offers up a big twist at the end that turns it into a sort of wild sci-fi flick, but I won’t spoil that surprise other than to say it’s a big reason the film is so insanely brilliant…

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