Sunday, March 1, 2015

Nothing Lasts Forever (1984)

Adam Beckett (Zach Galligan), pianist, is a fake – he uses a player piano to perform Chopin's Polonaise in his concert. An outraged audience storms the stage and wraps up his head in the perforated player piano paper roll.

Fleeing on a train in Europe, he confesses to a Swedish architect (Jan Triska) that he's failed as an artist, an author, and a concert pianist. The architect suggests a return to America to concentrate on his passion – art.

But, catastrophe strikes the nation. California is rocked by destructive earthquakes, New York bus drivers go on a crippling strike that forces the New York Port Authority to take over control of the city.

There are new rules for entering Manhattan, a huge consternation for Adam, who has no papers, identification or portfolio. He gets in conditionally and is welcomed by his Aunt Anita (singer Anita Ellis) and Uncle Mort (noted comedian Mort Sahl), the psychiatrist.

Adam has to report to the Art Testing Center, where he's shunted off to watch cars entering the Holland Tunnel, working under his boss, Buck Heller (Dan Aykroyd). One day, another Art Testing Center failure, Mara Hofmeier (Appollina van Ravenstein), joins him in the tunnel. They become art-learning buddies, then bed mates.

Hugo (Paul Rogers), whom he met outside Carnegie Hall, takes Adam to an inner sanctum of the masses led by Father Knickerbocker (Sam Jaffe). He's assigned to bring his enthusiasm to the moon. Next thing you know, he's listening to a bossy conductor (Bill Murray) give instructions on a bus to the moon with a dozen or so other (elderly) passengers on a shopping tour of the Copernicus Consumer Zone.

Adam experiences "lunartinis," entertainment by Eddie Fisher (the real thing), dinner with Daisy Shackman (Imogene Coca), a lunar hula dancer troupe welcome, and Eloy (Lauren Tom), his intended soul mate.

Dan Aykroyd's and Bill Murray's Saturday Night Live buddy, John Belushi, was scheduled to appear in Nothing Lasts Forever, but he died a month and a half before the start of shooting.

Nothing Lasts Forever was never released by MGM. It also was never released as a DVD to the home market, which is strange because of its estimated $3-million production budget. Just recently, I saw it on Turner Classic Movies; up to then, it had only been broadcast in Germany and the Netherlands. Nothing Lasts Forever has been screened at several U.S. film festivals.

Filmed in black and white, Nothing Lasts Forever plays like a coarse 1950s B-movie. With a great cast, it's a strange movie that's achieved cult status. I didn't care for it, despite a plethora of good viewer reviews on the Internet Movie Database (IMBd.com). About the only thing that impressed me were Hugo's (Paul Rogers) nuggets of life observations.

The film was posted by a fan on YouTube in 2011, only to be taken down at the insistence of Warner Brothers, which now owns the film, citing copyright infringement.

Grade: D+

Quotations I like from the film:

"Life is a dream. The problem is most people are sleepwalkers and never awake." – Hugo (Paul Rogers)

"We shall show you that New York City is a dream created by higher beings as a temporary lodging place in the earthly sojourn." – Hugo (Paul Rogers)

"How the hell did I wind up singing on a bus to the moon?" – Eddie Fisher (himself)

"I can see the man in the moon; he's smiling at me." – Lunarcruiser (Calvert DeForest)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Gangster Squad (2013)

Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) was a top gangster leader in 1949 Los Angeles. He's mean, he's ruthless, and he doesn't want the East coast mafia coming into his territory.

His thugs are nasty fellas, luring a pretty starlet-wannabe to almost certain rape. Fortunately for her, LAPD Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) spots the pickup and breaks up the party.

O'Mara's tough, and his style catches the attention of Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte). Chief Parker declares guerrilla war on Cohen, and charges O'Mara to drive him out of Los Angeles.

With his wife Connie's (Mireille Enos) insight and advice, O'Mara puts together his squad: Lt. Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), wiretap expert Connell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), sharpshooter Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his tag-along, Navidad "Christmas" Ramirez (Michael Peña).  He also gets valuable information about Cohen from old friend Jack Whalen (Sullivan Stapleton).

Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) turns him down; he's having an affair with Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), Mickey Cohen's girlfriend. Cohen's associate advises her to cool it, but she doesn't.

Their first raid (plain clothes, no badges) is a Cohen-owned casino. They screw it up, unaware that there are Burbank cops present. Later, an attack kills Wooters' young shoeshine friend. Pissed, he springs the team from jail and joins up. Cohen has his adversary Jack Dragna (John Polito) killed, thinking it was his gang that raided his casino.

A planted bug provides information on Cohen's plans and they take down a drug shipment and more. Lots more. That ticks Cohen off and he fights back with vigor. Wooters has to talk to Grace about Cohen's planned Western U.S. gambling operation. Keeler's brilliance pinpoints 
Slapsie Maxie's nightclub and ruins it.

But yes, Cohen strikes back ... with vigor.

Others considered for roles included: Jamie Foxx (Coleman Harris); Adam Brody, Joey Edgerton, Luke Evans and Joseph Gordon-Leavitt (Jerry Wooster); Amy Adams and Kate Winslet (Connie O'Mara); and Ashley Greene, Amanda Seyfried, Maggie Grace, Camille Belle, Emmy Rossum, Aly Michalka and Lily Collins (Grace Faraday).

Gangster Squad's release date was postponed from Sept. 7, 2012 to Jan. 11, 2011, because of the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora. Colorado. In fact, a scene showing gangsters shooting into a theater audience from behind the movie screen was reshot so as not to offend the viewing public. The movie's trailer showing the original scene was pulled as well.

Gangster Squad is dark, like 1950s film noir, except it's in color, and lacks a mysterious murder. It's exciting, especially the night car chase. It's got funny dialogue ("I can't believe we're going back to Burbank" Well, you had to be there). It's violent and brutal, especially the Chinatown shootout, but that's the Los Angeles crime scene of the time.

One problem with Gangster Squad is that the actors act mean and cruel. But they come across as caricatures of mean and cruel people. And that’s quite the pity.

Grade: B

Quotations I like from the film:

"The whole town's underwater. You're grabbing a bucket when you should be grabbing a swimming suit." – Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling)

"Two things you can't take back on this job, kid. Bullets out of your gun, and words out of your mouth." – Lt. Quincannon (Jack McGee)

"Whores don't grow on trees. They're like mustangs. You gotta catch 'em before you train them to do tricks." – Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Joe Kidd (1972)

In early-1900s New Mexico, ex-bounty hunter Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood) wakes up in jail, handcuffed to his cot. Brought up before the Sinola County judge (John Carter) for poaching, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, he's given a choice: $10 fine or 10 days in jail. He chooses jail.

As he's about to be taken back to jail, Mexican revolutionary Luis Chama (John Saxon) and his friends burst in and demand justice before springing their friends from jail. Joe and the judge get away.

The train brings wealthy landowner Frank Harlan (Robert Duvall) and his “associates” – Lamar Simms (Don Stroud), Olin Mingo (James Wainwright), and Roy Gannon (Paul Kislo) – to town. Intimidating the hotel manager (Dick Van Patten) to give them the whole second floor, he has Sheriff Bob Mitchell (Gregory Walcott) bring Joe over for a talk.

Harlan hires him to be a "hunting guide," but Joe sees through it. Harlan wants to hunt down Chama, who's leading a peasant revolt against the landowners. Reluctant at first, he joins the cause when Chama raids his own ranch.

Harlan and his men don't take no for an answer, gunning down any Mexicans who don't cooperate. They occupy Chama's town, threatening to kill five at a time every six hours until he gives himself up. But before the first can be executed, Joe makes his move with the help of Chama's lover, Helen Sanchez (Stella Garcia), who'd been taken captive earlier.

He takes Chama in, and that's where the final showdown begins.

Clint Eastwood is at his best in Westerns, having gotten his big break as Rowdy Yates in the CBS television series, Rawhide, and his work with "spaghetti westerns" in the '60s. Joe Kidd opened between his iconic works – Dirty Harry and High Plains Drifter.

Unfortunately, Joe Kidd is pretty simple stuff, with (in my opinion) a couple of unnecessary characters – namely the two women.

Boo-Boo: The Savage 99 rifle that Frank Harlan (Robert Duvall) carries is a custom left-handed model. Duvall is right-handed.

Grade: C

Quotations I like from the film:

"Lamar, I got a dollar here says I can break your neck 'fore you get that rig moved half an inch." – Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood)

"I do not care what you think. I keep you for cold nights and days when there's nothing to do. Not to hear you talk." – Luis Chama (John Chapman)

"Bob, git outta here!" – Joe Kidd (Clint Eastwood)

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Iceman (2014)

Two ancient Chinese Ming Dynasty foes – Imperial guard He Ying (Donnie Yen) and his evil foe, Sao (Wang Baoqiang) – find themselves in modern-day Hong Kong, after being frozen for 400 years. They are awakened when their vehicle gets into a serious accident while they are being transferred via cryo-stasis pods.

Before he is frozen, Ying is accused of colluding with Japanese pirates against the emperor. In a battle and between Sao, Sao's accomplice Neihu (Yu Kang) and him, the three are covered by an avalanche and frozen.

Ying is befriended by Miss May (Huang Shengyi), who takes advantage of his modern-world naïveté and charges him large sums of money for rent and food. His chiropractic encounter with May's mother (Wong Man-wai) is hilarious and effective, and endears him to May.

Meanwhile, Sao and Neihu are having adventures of their own ... like visiting a house of prostitutes, only to reject those who are Japanese. Deputy Police Commissioner Cheung Yat-ming (Simon Yam) wants them captured at any cost.

Ying locates and beats up on Tang (Lem Suet), who was responsible for sending the frozen trio to Hong Kong when they were discovered. Tang knows where to find The Golden Wheel of Time, aka the Sindhu Saucer. According to Hindu legend, The Golden Wheel of Time allows time travel back to when the five stars aligned, but it can only be used once more before self-destructing.

Ying saves May from Sao at a night club, but ends up in the hospital. Everybody ends up there, and the chase is on. Eventually, we learn the true relationship between the three warriors and Commissioner Cheung.

Iceman is full of exciting acrobatic kung fu, with combatants displaying incredible moves and flights through the air. The bridge-battle scene toward the end of the film is pretty spectacular. Unfortunately, Iceman is pretty disjointed and rather hard to follow because of the back and forth nature of the flashbacks, which are not in chronological order. There are too many smooth transitions left out.

He Ying is considered to be the "Captain America of Hong Kong."

Released in Hong Kong as Bīng Fēng : Chong Shēng Zhī Mén, Iceman is a Cantonese-language remake of 1989's The Iceman Cometh, starring Yuen Biao. Produced on a US$32.2-million budget, Iceman had a box office of US$26 million. A sequel, Iceman 2, is scheduled for release in 2015.

Grade: C+

Quotations I like from the film:

"I saw that guy pee. Long range. Not just ordinary long range, freakishly long range." – Pang (Lo Hoi-pang)

"A cause is the effect. An effect is the cause. You sow the seeds, you reap the fruit. Whether it's cause or effect, it all depends on your karma." – Guru's Young Translator (Bao Yumeng)

"Discrimination really hurts." – May (Huang Shengyi)

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Night of the Hunter (1955)

Rev. Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) believes he's doing God's work. With H-A-T-E tattooed on the knuckles of his left hand, and L-O-V-E on the right, he marries, then kills, women wherever he travels.

Meanwhile, murderer Ben Harper (Peter Graves) is sentenced to death by hanging. But before he's caught, he hides the $10,000 he stole from a bank and swears his children to secrecy. He and Preacher Howell, who's serving time for car theft, share a jail cell and briefly discuss the robbery.

Ben's children – John and Pearl (Billy Chapin and Sally Jane Bruce) – must bear the taunts of their schoolmates; their mother, Willa (a very young Shelley Winters), keeps them out of school for their protection.

To make things worse, Rev. Powell arrives in town and with his smooth talking, begins to put the make on Willa and the kids. Willa and Pearl are quite taken, but young John sees right through the preacher.

Their friend, Icey Spoon (Evelyn Varden), thinks Willa needs a husband, and that the preacher is perfect for her. Willa succumbs to suggestions and marries him. To her disappointment, he's not very interested in her in a lustful and sexual way. The preacher, however, does insinuate himself into their lives.

Things get nasty, Preacher Powell keeps asking about the money, and Willa pays the price. And, if not for the help of Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish), a protector of strays ... well, let's just say things would become absolutely horrible.

Interesting Trivia: A scene showing Rev. Powell riding in the distance is actually a midget riding a pony (false perspective). Gary Cooper turned down the role of Rev. Power; he was concerned it might be a detriment to his career. Betty Grable turned down the role of Willa Harper. Robert Mitchum has said Night of the Hunter is the favorite movie in which he acted.

Night of the Hunter is based on Davis Grubb’s 1953 novel of the same name, which itself was based on the story of serial killer Harry Powers, who killed two widows and three children in Clarksburg, West Virginia.

Initially unsuccessful, the film attracted a wider audience as years passed and has been recognized as one of the greatest movies of all time. It has been preserved in the U.S. Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. The Night of the Hunter was remade as a TV movie in 1991, starring Richard Chamberlain.

I have to admit, Robert Mitchum is pretty creepy as the preacher, quite unlike his usual roles. Lillian Gish is, in a word, delightful. The Night of the Hunter was directed by actor Charles Laughton in his first and only directorial effort. He did a pretty good job, despite what the critics thought. And the black and white cinematography is quite stark and beautiful.

The only problem is the little girl actress, Sally Jane Bruce. Her performance is rather wooden and halting.

Grade: B

Quotations I like from the film:

I’m a strong tree with branches for many birds. I’m good for something in this world and I know it too.” – Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish)

You know, when you’re little, you have more endurance than God is ever to grant you again. Children are man at his strongest. They abide and they endure.” – Rachel Cooper (Lillian Gish)

"I feel clean now. My whole body's just a-quivering with cleanness." – Willa (Shelley Winters)

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Noah (2014)

Noah (Russell Crowe, and Dakota Goyo young), son of Lamech (Marton Csonkas), is the last of the line of Seth, Adam's "good" son; he tries to live a good, simple life.

He and his wife, Naameh (Jennifer Connelly), live with their three sons – Shem (Douglas Booth) the eldest, Ham (Logan Lerman) the younger, and Japheth (Leo McHugh Carroll) the youngest – follow the ways of his elders.

Interpreting his dreams, Noah concludes that God is going to destroy the world, and journeys to consult with Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins), his grandfather and the oldest man in the world. Along the way, they happen upon a young girl, Ila (Emma Watson), who is destined to become Shem’s wife.

A band of fallen angels known as "Watchers," who had helped Cain (Adam's "bad" son) spread his cities of technology across the known world, confront him. One of them, Og (Frank Langella), helps them because they were helped by Methuselah. Noah determines he must survive a great flood with a great vessel – an ark – to save the innocent animals.

Work begins, ten years pass, Noah and family grow older, the ark grows larger, the animals begin arriving on their own. First the birds, then (yikes!) the snakes. Then, Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone, and Finn Wittrock young), Noah’s nemesis and a descendent of Cain, and his huge band of followers. He's bad news.

Still the animals come, by the thousands – elephants, cattle, deer. Many are slaughtered by Tubal-cain's people for food (no, wait, those aren't only animals they're slaughtering), but they still arrive. There's another problem, and it has to do with potential wives and mothers, a problem resolved.

The rains come. The flood. The Great Flood. Their minds and souls are tortured by the wailing and cries for help from without the ark.

Both Emma Watson and Douglas Booth suffered lip, mouth and nose problems because kissing scenes had to be reshot many times.

Nick Nolte voiced Samyaza off screen; Mark Margolis voiced Magog. Considered for the Tubal-cain role were Liam Neeson, Liv Schreiber and Val Kilmer. Offered the role of Noah were Christian Bale and Michael Fassbender, both of whom had to decline because of scheduling conflicts.

Dakota Fanning was director Darren Aronofsky’s first choice to play Ila, but she had another movie commitment and had to turn it down. Also considered for the role of Naameh was Julianne Moore.

Noah, of course, is based on the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark from the Book of Genesis. Filmed on a $125-million budget, it generated more than $362.6 million at the box office, thanks in part to the controversy it generated. Among the criticism it received was its lack of Blacks and other people of color, while religious leaders gave it general support … except for Muslims, who felt Noah contradicted the teachings of Islam.

If you cling to a vision of Noah as a kindly old man with a white beard and halo, you're either going to be shocked, or disgusted at the way the patriarch is presented. Russell Crowe himself had no problem portraying Noah the way he did – that is, not necessarily a nice man (after all, he not only looked after the animals, and he “let the entire population of the planet perish,” according to Crowe).

And, if you don't think the men of the Bible didn't have base instincts and enjoy loving premarital sex, you're going to consider Ila's pregnancy blasphemous. I don't; I consider it a miracle.

Noah is not a two-page Sunday school parable from vision to rainbow, it's a two-plus hour movie that's been extended and filled-in with whatever nuances and side stories as it takes to tell a more complete story. Consequently, Noah has some awfully slow moments. It's okay, an interesting and fulfilling break from daily life, but it's not a film I'd keep for future viewing.

Grade: B-

Quotations I like from the film:

A great flood is coming. The waters of the heavens will meet the waters of earth. We build a vessel to survive the storm. We build an ark.” – Noah (Russell Crowe)

Fire consumes all. Water cleanses. It separates the foul from the pure. The wicked from the innocent. And that which sinks from that which rises. He destroys all, but only to start again.” – Noah (Russell Crowe)

The Creator made Adam in his image, and placed the world in his care. That birthright was passed down to us. To my father, then to me, and to my sons, Shem, Japeth and Ham. That birthright is now passed to you, our grandchildren. This will be your work, and your responsibility. So I say to you, be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” – Noah (Russell Crowe)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Hong Kong Confidential (1958)

The Arab Kingdom of Thamen's leader, King Faid, is targeted by Communists for a takeover. They've kidnapped his son, young Prince Abdul (Michael Barry), in an attempt to coerce Faid into canceling an agreement with the United States that would allow the U.S. to build a missile base in his country.

Given only two weeks to find the prince, CIA Field Chief Dan Young (King Calder), convinced that Abdul has been taken to the Far East, assigns Hong Kong Intelligence Chief Agent Casey Reed (Gene Barry) to the case. 

Posing as a corrupt nightclub singer working with pianist Fay Wells (Beverly Tyler), Casey is contacted by a British spy, Dennis Brooks (Brian Roper), who ends up dead in an alley. Discovering that Brooks was involved with gold smuggler Elena Martine (Allison Hayes), Casey heads off to Macao to find her, accompanied by British Intelligence agent John Blanchard (Michael Pate).

Unfortunately, he has to walk away from his act, leaving Fay behind. In Macao, he strikes out everywhere. But his nosing around attracts the attention of Club Jikki owner Tan Chung (Philip Ahn), who claims to represent her interests. Casey proposes a clever gold-smuggling scheme to Elena; she sends him to whiskey distributor and syndicate head Owen Howard (Noek Drayton).

Howard sets up a Club Jikki singing engagement as a cover for Casey. And then ... Fay shows up just before Casey is about to leave on a test-smuggling ripen. It turns out that Howard indeed is a link in the communist espionage chain. We know, but Casey doesn't, that he's going to be framed as the kidnapper.

But Casey has other ideas.

Hong Kong Confidential has a film-noir-"ish" quality – dramatic music heavy on the brass, lots of harsh shadows and dim lighting, a lot of tough guys. The movie is pretty short, 67 minutes, and that's good. Any longer and I may have fallen asleep.

Beverly Tyler, who plays Fay Wells, looks an awful lot like Janet Leigh at times.

Grade: C+

Quotations I like from the film:

"And remember, you keep your guard up. You're not getting paid to get killed either." – CIA Field Chief Dan Young (King Calder)