Fearless (1993, Peter Weir)

I try not to concern myself with the Academy Awards these days. I scoff at the thought of them actually awarding quality, but I’m still pleased when someone like Clint Eastwood wins and perplexed when something like Crash does too. So I’m a little surprised at my reaction to Rosie Perez in Fearless. I’m enraged she didn’t win back in 1994, absolutely enraged. Not only is she outstanding, amazing and… oh, what was the word I banned from The Stop Button for overuse. Oh, incredible. Not only is she all those things, Peter Weir gave her the direction for an Oscar-winning role. He shines a light on her and says, “Look how great she is.” And she didn’t win. And she disappeared into direct to video (at best) obscurity by 1997.

As for the rest of Fearless, it’s probably Jeff Bridges’ finest work. The film shifts from being all Bridges to being all about Bridges by the end and, since some of the shift gives time to Perez, it’s not bad, but the film never really establishes what’s so wrong with him. There’s a big revelation towards the end and it’s not particularly effective, nor does it make much sense. It’s a case of a T-intersection and the story took the one leading toward an affirming ending, which isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not as interesting in this particular story. Some of the problem comes from the lack of emotional backstory on Bridges and his family. Isabella Rossellini plays his wife and it’s impossible to imagine them together outside the film’s present action. Any successful scene with Rossellini, all the work comes from Bridges, Perez, or the music. Her performance is the film’s biggest handicap.

The music–I thought it was Gabriel Yared, but it turned out to be Maurice Jarre, which surprised me since Jarre tends to have a (classy) “cool” sound–makes the last act work. Peter Weir loves his symbolism, but in the last act, he really gets going and there are a couple times he hits the audience over the head so hard, they’re seeing stars. For the rest of the film, he does a great job. But, since it’s Weir… well, I got worried he might Owl Creek Bridge the film. I actually was worried about it from the beginning, something on the back of the laserdisc set off the warning light. I’ll ruin it for everyone–no, it’s not an Owl Creek Bridge. Instead, it’s a rewarding experience.

The writing’s excellent in spots, but Weir’s getting such great performances out of his cast, except Rossellini, it doesn’t really matter. Tom Hulce is great as a slimy lawyer and Debra Monk and Deirdre O’Connell are particularly good. A young and only okay Benicio Del Toro shows up for a bit too. Obviously it was before discovered his niche of the grumble-talk.

I’ve been waiting thirteen years to see Fearless. Back when it came out, I liked Jeff Bridges for some reason. Maybe because my mom likes him. I never got around to it on tape, then it came out pan and scan on DVD. I got the widescreen laserdisc on remainder back in 1999 or 2000 and just now got around to watching it. Even with Rossellini, it was worth the wait.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Weir; written by Rafael Yglesias, based on his novel; director of photography, Allen Daviau; edited by William Anderson; music by Maurice Jarre; production designer, John Stoddart; produced by Paula Weinstein and Mark Rosenberg; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jeff Bridges (Max Klein), Isabella Rossellini (Laura Klein), Spencer Vrooman (Jonah Klein), Rosie Perez (Carla Rodrigo), Tom Hulce (Brillstein) and John Turturro (Dr. Bill Perlman).


Memories of Murder (2003, Bong Joon-ho)

So all Song Kang-ho needs is a good movie… Well, not quite. In my Foul King post, I accused Song of being the weak link in Korean cinema and maybe he’s not. Maybe he just makes some bad choices. Still, in Memories of Murder, he plays a well-intentioned buffoon of a detective facing a rural serial killer. Memories runs strong for the majority of the film, but it’s based on a true story and that reality mucks up the denouement. It’s a mix of a mystery, thriller, and a comedy, but in the end it needs to be a drama about men working together and the film hasn’t been building for that conclusion.

Bong Joon-ho is a wonderful director and his sense of composition and timing makes Memories work, then he goes and breaks a big rule. Never have someone look into the camera unless it’s going to work. He does it and it doesn’t work and it hurts the film. Otherwise, he’s great. Memories has a quietness about it when it’s among the rice paddies or in the fields or anywhere in outdoor rural settings. When it gets to the town or city, Bong loses the film. For example, the rural town is never visually defined. It doesn’t seem too rural, as it’s got a huge factory district and such. The lack of establishing shots only becomes a problem when he’s moving from country to town.

The script is a more complicated matter. The film has two and a half protagonists, Song, a city detective played by Kim Sang-kyung, and another rural thug cop played by Kim Roe-ha. The thug cop is hardly a character at times, more just a reminder of Song’s character’s mindset before he realized his tactics weren’t going to stop the killings. The real killings took place over five years. In the film, it seems like six months at best. There’s never any look at the city detective–who the film follows once he arrives–outside his police work and there’s never any hint he exists outside the police station.

While inside the police station, everything–writing, directing, acting–works great. When it’s about the investigation of the crime, it works great. But when it gets to cinematic moments (except a great chase scene), Memories of Murder trips. It’s a slick looking film–lush colors and perfect film stock–so any grittiness has to come from the characters, and the actors don’t really have any to offer. Kim Sang-kyung is fine through most of the film, but when it’s most important for him to be really good, he isn’t. He doesn’t have any subtext (which, oddly, Song does).

In the end, the film can’t escape the realities of the actual murder investigation. While it doesn’t let the audience predict (unless the viewer knows something about the case), Bong doesn’t prepare the film for where it goes. The end is a disconnect from what came before and it’s too bad, because until the third act, Memories was going to be outstanding. Instead, it’s just really good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Bong Joon-ho; written by Bong, Kim Kwang-rim and Shim Sung Bo; director of photography, Kim Hyeong-gyu; edited by Kim Seon Min; music by Iwashiro Tarô; production designers, Ryu Seong-hie and Yu Seong-hie; produced by Cha Seoung-jae, Kim Moo Ryung and No Jong-yun; released by CJ Entertainment.

Starring Song Kang-ho (Detective Park Doo-Man), Kim Sang-kyung (Detective Seo Tae-Yoon), Kim Roe-ha (Detective Cho Yong-koo), Song Jae-ho (Sergeant Shin Dong-chul), Byeon Hie-bong (Sergeant Koo Hee-bong), Ko Seo-hie (Officer Kwon Kwi-ok), Park No-shik (Baek Kwang-ho), Park Hae-il (Park Hyeon-gyu) and Choi Jong-ryol (Du-man’s father).


One Crowded Night (1940, Irving Reis)

One Crowded Night opens strong enough–a Mojave desert motel and lunch counter, run by a family with a past, with employees with romantic woes. It’s an RKO B-picture, as the most recognizable people in the cast are bit players from bigger films. It’s filmed on location (at the motel) and it starts centered around Anne Revere’s character, which gets it that “strong enough” comment. Revere plays a woman whose husband’s in prison and she’s dropped out from her former life. At first, it sounds like he did it, then we find out he was framed. Once I heard it was an unjust imprisonment, I knew Crowded Night was going to get into trouble, but she’s real good anyway. Unfortunately, she doesn’t remain the focus… especially not after the husband shows up.

If it had been about the women, Crowded Night could have been excellent. All of the female actors are good, with Revere and Billie Seward standing out. Seward’s particularly exceptional. Crowded Night was one of her last films, after a number of Westerns, and it’s worth seeing just for her performance. Another reason it should have concentrated on the women is the men. None of the male actors are good, only a couple are mediocre–though Steve Pendleton approaches having a good scene–and the two most important, Charles Lang and Paul Guilfoyle, are terrible.

The film’s constructed to solve a problem–it’s a sixty-eight minute deus ex machina, in fact–and all the added complications take away from what works. Oddly, the film was never predictable past the unbelievably fortuitous set-up. Characters remained in peril throughout, making for a tense last ten minutes. The director, Irving Reis, did go on to bigger films, which is no surprise, since much of One Crowded Night is well-directed. At first I thought it wasn’t, then I realized it’s just the editing. The film has the worst cuts between shots I’ve ever seen. They’re eyesores and until I caught on, I blamed it all on Reis. Actually, the bad taste from the edits was carrying over into his good work.

So, for a sixty-eight minute B-picture, One Crowded Night is fine. Seward and Revere make up for the film’s acting and writing deficiencies and Reis is just a bonus.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Irving Reis; screenplay by Ben Collins and Arnaud d’Usseau, based on a story by Ben Holmes; director of photography, J. Roy Hunt; edited by Theron Warth; produced by Cliff Reid; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Billie Seward (Gladys), William Haade (Joe Miller), Charles Lang (Fred Matson), Pamela Blake (Ruth Matson), J.M. Kerrigan (Brother ‘Doc’ Joseph), Paul Guilfoyle (Jim Andrews), Anne Revere (Mae Andrews), Gale Storm (Annie Mathews), Dick Hogan (Vince Sanders), George Watts (Pa Mathews), Emma Dunn (Ma Mathews), Don Costello (Lefty), Steve Pendleton (Mat Denlen), Casey Johnson (Bobby Andrews), Harry Shannon (Detective Lt. McDermott) and Ferris Taylor (Detective Sgt. Lansing).


Blondie (1938, Frank R. Strayer)

When I was in middle school, I read most of the comic strips in the newspaper, Blondie being one of them. I remember seeing, in the TV listings around the same time (probably a little later), some station running a bunch of Blondie movies at five o’clock in the morning. I missed taping them, but they’ve since shown up on DVD (some of them–I guess the series has twenty-seven entries). This first film, which I wasn’t expecting much from, is actually fairly good. There are a number of problems, the most damaging being the kid. First–as a relatively modern reader of the Blondie strip, I wasn’t aware of its classical content–is the name: Baby Dumpling. I’m not sure I ever got over it, but the silliness dulled as the movie went on. However, the kid playing the kid, Larry Simms, comes off like a little shithead, not an adorable troublemaker.

The film’s at its best when it’s out of the house and doing comic strip-sized gags. There are a number of three panel gags in the film–until the last act, most of the film is these gags, actually–and they work well for the most part. When in the house, Penny Singleton and Arthur Lake are less successful together then they are alone. For whatever reason, doing the comic strip gags doesn’t work with the two of them. When the film’s acting like its own animal, they’re all right. Lake isn’t particularly good, though he’s a decent physical comedy actor (which is why the scenes with him alone work better) and Singleton ranges in quality too, best when she’s putting up with him, which is the Blondie character’s defining trait. The film’s best scene is a quiet one, when they both check in on the baby. Watching the film, even today, one is participating in the concept–the adaptation of the Blondie comic strip, which has its own set of rules, rules a regular film does not have–and the baby checking scene really breaks free of the concept. It gives the characters real character, as opposed to the two dimensional adaptation.

The best performance in the film is Gene Lockhart, who plays a captain of industry obsessed with tinkering. In a film with so many mediocre performances, Lockhart immediately stands out as giving an excellent performance. I kept waiting for him to come back around.

As for the writing and directing… well, the writing’s all right. It’s certainly not as innocuous as I expected and I did laugh a few times. The director, Frank R. Strayer, is adequate. He’s better outside than in, but the film doesn’t offer many of those opportunities.

I wasn’t expecting much from Blondie (in fact, I was expecting to turn it off), but it’s a nice enough way to spend seventy minutes.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Frank R. Strayer; screenplay by Richard Flournoy, based on the comic strip by Chic Young; director of photography, Henry Freulich; edited by Gene Havlick; music by Leigh Harline and Ben Oakland; produced by Frank Sparks and Robert Sparks; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Penny Singleton (Blondie), Arthur Lake (Dagwood Bumstead), Larry Simms (Baby Dumpling), Gene Lockhart (C.P. Hazlip), Ann Doran (Elsie Hazlip) and Jonathan Hale (J.C. Dithers).


Godzilla (1984, Hashimoto Koji)

On a few levels–like the one with the giant monster–Godzilla fails. On some other ones, like the production values, the acting, and the approach, it succeeds. It’s a peculiar film and it should have been better. Apparently, the Japanese film industry had some trouble in the 1970s and the Godzilla series took a nine year break. Since it was such a public return, this Godzilla became an event picture. It’s also a quintessential 1980s film (and not in a bad way). There are a handful of films, from the 1980s, dealing with metropolitan environments (Die Hard is one). It’s just an observation, not a thought-out theory , and it’s more about the feeling the films convey than any sort of sociological commentary. It’s also late and I don’t want to use the wrong word.

For the first half hour, Godzilla is going to be pretty good. There’s a good lead performance from Tanaka Ken as a reporter and the film’s structured around his discovery of a story and the revelation of Godzilla’s return (this Godzilla is a direct sequel to the original Godzilla). For that first half hour, when Godzilla’s nothing but a shadow and an outline, the film really works. Once it shows up, the film loses its footing. Instead of teasing the audience with the newly improved monster, we get the full monty and we didn’t need the full monty. We needed the tease. The Godzilla-based special effects vary in quality, but the film still manages to create a context where the giant monster isn’t trespassing. However, some of the miniature work in Godzilla is breathtaking. It’s never been this good since, maybe because they were worried about creating a miniature city to matte behind people and for people to interact with, instead of just giant monsters fighting….

Once Godzilla shows up, the film–which had established itself as mildly political already, the Prime Minister is a protagonist–loses the good character stuff it was doing. One character is actually shipped away, just because there’s nothing for him to do between montages of military equipment preparing for Godzilla. The film bounces back at the end, when the characters get stuck in a building Godzilla’s knocking around. The film stays with them instead of centering on Godzilla and there are some great destroyed city sets for them to run around on.

The film reminds me–with its problems–a lot of Behemoth, because there’s an attempt to do something with the film, then the need to satisfy audience expectations. Godzilla is a boring film and it needed to be longer and more boring. It needed fifteen minutes of scientific mumbo-jumbo and some more scenes with people walking through Tokyo at night. This music in this film, besides the song at the end–a song, in English, saying goodbye to Godzilla–is some of the more effective scoring I’ve heard. It does a lot of work for the film. Sets mood for characters, sets up story changes, all sorts of good stuff.

I usually consider Godzilla films a guilty pleasure (and preface any post with that disclaimer), but Godzilla doesn’t fit that categorization. It just works too differently to scratch that itch and instead it scratches one I didn’t know I had.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Hashimoto Koji; screenplay by Nagahara Shuichi, based on a story by Tanaka Tomoyuki; director of photography, Hara Kazutami; edited by Kuroiwa Yoshitami; music by Koroku Reijiro; production designer, Sakuragi Akira; produced by Hayashi Norio and Kanazawa Kiyomi; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Tanaka Ken (Maki Goro), Sawaguchi Yasuko (Okumura Naoko), Natsuki Yosuke (Dr. Hayashida), Kobayashi Keiju (Prime Minister Mitamura), Takuma Shin (Okumura Hiroshi), Ozawa Eitaro (Kanzaki), Koizumi Hiroshi (Minami), Suzuki Mizuho (Emori), Naito Taketoshi (Takegami), Orimoto Junkichi (Director-General of the Defense Agency), Sato Kei (Gondo), Takeda Tetsuya (Homeless Man), Hashimoto Sho (Captain of Super-X), Kaneko Nobuo (Isomura), Emoto Takenori (Kitagawa), Murai Kunio (Henmi) and Tajima Yoshifumi (General Hidaka).


Shakedown (1988, James Glickenhaus)

Shakedown is such a terrible film, I’d have to go through it line by line to adequately catalog its deficiencies. The big action climax features Sam Elliot hanging onto landing gear of a jet flying over the World Trade Center, then dropping into a river. This climax–from take-off to dropping into the river to the plane landing–takes about thirty-seven seconds and features some of the worst special effects I have ever seen. So why did I sit through Shakedown? A few reasons. First, it’s Peter Weller from his “prime.” I’m not sure Weller’s any good in Shakedown, but the role’s different for him–it’s a poorly conceived character, but Weller brings some respectability to it (enough you occasionally forget the quality of the film, then the dialogue reminds you). Second, I’ll probably never see another James Glickenhaus movie and the guy has a great name. His movie’s absolute trash, but he’s got a great name. Finally, Shakedown was filmed on location in New York City. Today, there are a few blocks in Los Angeles where movies set in New York do most of their filming. Back in the 1980s, movies like Shakedown could afford to film in the city and today, eighty million dollar superhero movies cannot. Fourth–I know I said finally, but I wasn’t sure I was going to admit to this one–Shakedown is a document of an era past and, to some degree, forgotten. An era I mostly missed.

I know little about the cheap action film genre. Something happened in the late 1980s, when big companies (Warner and Fox) started producing this dreak. While I never saw that crap… well, some of the Seagal’s, but never the Van Damme’s (until he hooked up with Peter Hyams and, wow, had Hyams ever nose-dived). Had I seen Shakedown growing up, before I could just dismiss it out of hand, maybe I’d feel different about it. It’s an awful film. Its ideas are kind of scary–it’s offensive to women, blacks, intellectual whites, ignorant whites–the only real people of merit are Texans and Jimi Hendrix devotees. I certainly wouldn’t want to know anyone who thought it was good, but it is so absurd it was mildly amusing. I didn’t have a bad ninety-six minutes, especially not after the Universal logo at the beginning took up a whole minute as they tried to stretch it above the ninety minute mark.

There are also a lot of familiar faces in the film. There’s one scene with a parking lot attendant who has a very familiar voice and it turned out to be Harold Perrineau. Richard Brooks has a decent-sized supporting role and he’s actually pretty good. He probably gives the best performance in the film.

But seeing it on location was the most compelling aspect of the film. Not even movies shot in New York today use it to the extent Shakedown used it. Otherwise, it’s a piece of garbage. It’s so stupid, one would have to watch it to believe it. But, somehow, as a film, it’s not offensive. It’s not poorly made–besides those end special effects–though Glickenhaus does love low-angle shots. The writing’s awful. Maybe because it wasn’t a hit. But Weller, coming off Robocop, couldn’t find anything better to do?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by James Glickenhaus; director of photography, John Lindley; edited by Paul Fried; music by Jonathan Elias; production designer, Charles Bennett; produced by J. Boyce Harman Jr.; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Peter Weller (Roland Dalton), Sam Elliott (Richie Marks), George Loros (Officer Varelli), Thomas G. Waites (Officer Kelly), Daryl Edwards (Dr. Watson), Jos Laniado (Ruben), Richard Brooks (Michael Jones), Blanche Baker (Gail Feinberger), Shirley Stoler (Irma), John C. McGinley (Sean Phillips) and Patricia Charbonneau (Susan Cantrell).

Watch on the Rhine (1943, Herman Shumlin)

Wow, Watch on the Rhine’s got it all. Not only does it have a nice metaphor for the United States waking up to the horrors of the Nazis and determining to do something about it (which the United States never did), it’s also got a nice ending telling mothers their place is to send their children to certain death. Watch on the Rhine is an odd piece of propaganda. First, it’s a little too late. The film came out in 1943 and the events take place in 1940. It’s selling a particular false history. The play–from co-screenwriter Lillian Hellman, Dashiell Hammett gets the main credit–came out in 1940, so I suppose it was at least honest… Second, the film’s a mash of a family drama, a play adaptation, and the propaganda. The first quarter of the film, until Bette Davis gets home with her German resistance fighter husband and oh-so-precious kids, is an amusing family drama. Lucile Watson, playing the matriarch, is absolutely fantastic, even if she is playing a metaphor for isolationist America. All of her scenes, as she gets excited for her returning daughter (Davis) and the grandchildren and the son-in-law she’s never met, make Watch on the Rhine something special. These scenes bring honest human emotion to even the most extraordinary circumstances.

Then, once Davis and her husband arrive (Paul Lukas, who’s saddled with some bad dialogue, but his performance is incredible–so incredible the word’s making its return here to The Stop Button to describe it) and the film changes. Davis has a number of monologues and, for a moment, the viewer forgets it’s a play adaptation and thinks she’s talking to her family. But the moment passes quickly because the shots never change. Director Herman Shumlin is the least exciting director I’ve seen recently. Watch on the Rhine, at times, positions itself like Casablanca, reminding just how important Michael Curtiz was to that film. It’s not a technicality, these lack of reaction shots, it’s the absence of the characters. The film is from the perspective of the family, of Watson and son Donald Woods, even from bad guy George Coulouris (who’s also great and brings a real sense of dread to Rhine). When there are no reaction shots, the film is floundering. Davis is good and her delivery of the monologues is good, but, in a film, monologues aren’t delivered. There are only three or four but they’re all important and Shumlin messes them all up.

Hammett’s dialogue ranges in quality. When it’s a bunch of Nazis talking shop, it’s fine. When it’s the romance subplot… it’s not. From his IMDb filmography, it looks like his only credited screenwriting credit. He’s particularly bad–this might be from Hellman’s play, I don’t know–with the children’s dialogue. While they’re supposed to be wise beyond their years (as children of a resistance fighter), they’ve also got a lot of cute dialogue. And the eldest son, Donald Buka, has an important part and Buka’s awful.

Obviously, Rhine’s worth watching for the lead performances–particularly Lukas and Watson–but it doesn’t deliver the flawed film the first act promises. It wouldn’t have been perfect, but it would have been special.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Herman Shumlin; screenplay by Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman, from a play by Hellman; directors of photography, Merrit B. Gerstad and Hal Mohr; edited by Rudi Fehr; music by Max Steiner; produced by Hal B. Wallis; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Bette Davis (Sara Muller), Paul Lukas (Kurt Muller), Geraldine Fitzgerald (Fanny Farrelly), Lucile Watson (Fanny Farrelly), Beulah Bondi (Anise), George Coulouris (Teck de Brancovis), Donald Woods (David Farrelly), Henry Daniell (Phili Von Ramme), Eric Roberts (Bodo) and Donald Buka (Joshua).


Bubble (2005, Steven Soderbergh)

I’m not sure who’s odder, Soderbergh for making it or Coleman Hough for “writing” it. Since much of the actual scene content is improvised, I think I’m going to have to go with Soderbergh. Bubble leaves one with quite a few thoughts–especially if the viewer knows the cast is nonprofessional and turn in better performances than professionals and if the viewer also knows the story behind the film’s release (it was a simultaneous theatrical, DVD, and cable release)–but the primary thought is about Soderbergh. He’s an odd duck. There’s no better description.

Bubble is exceptional because I’ve never seen a film change so much. It’s only seventy-three minutes long and for the first thirty, I wasn’t sure. The great experiment (also from Soderbergh’s perspective, as he’s planning on doing more of these small films with nonprofessionals across America) was failing. It’s a beautiful looking film–Soderbergh shot it in digital Panavision, it’s got a great score and perfect sound design–but it doesn’t work. Then, all of a sudden, it works. When the film synopsis first appeared, it played up the mystery angle (undoubtedly for the theater-goers) and once the mystery shows up, Bubble comes together. But calling the film a mystery would be misleading. Bubble is a film about nothing, where not much happens. Given how much was out of Soderbergh’s control–the improvised scenes, the location shooting–it’s amazing he pulled it off. Unfortunately, once a film becomes so finely tuned, one or two things can knock it down from the perfection pedestal. In Bubble’s case, one is the end credit sequence (stills of doll factory rejects–Bubble finally becomes a “Steven Soderbergh” film instead of a… film). But, more importantly, there’s a shovel scraping against concrete and Soderbergh didn’t cut right after the shovel left ground. Really.

The nonprofessional cast is fantastic, with the best performance being from Debbie Doebereiner, who’s the lead. Second best is the police detective, Decker Moody. The other two really good ones are Dustin Ashley as the male lead and Kyle Smith, who’s only got two scenes, but one of them–between him and Moody–is amazing.

I frequently forget about Soderbergh. I think it’s because he’s not one of those one-a-year guys. He needs to do more films.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Soderbergh; written by Coleman Hough; director of photography, Peter Andrews; edited by Mary Ann Bernard; music by Robert Pollard; produced by Gregory Jacobs; released by Magnolia Pictures.

Starring Debbie Doebereiner (Martha), Dustin James Ashley (Kyle), Misty Dawn Wilkins (Rose), Omar Cowan (Martha’s father), Laurie Lee (Kyle’s mother) and David Hubbard (pastor).

Behemoth the Sea Monster (1959, Eugène Lourié)

I’m not sure the British are really suited for giant monster movies. No offense to the Brits, but watching a bunch of folks stand around and keep the stiff upper lip while radioactive monsters from the deep attack London isn’t too much fun. Behemoth might be unique in the giant monster genre in that respect–it’s more interesting before the giant monster shows up. Once the monster shows up, the film slows down to a crawl–the last ten minutes are grueling. Before, during the investigation, Behemoth at least entertains and the director, Eugène Lourié, has some good composition in the British seaside town and particularly during exposition scenes.

Besides starring Gene Evans, more on him in a second, Behemoth has the distinction of being a complete rip-off of the original Godzilla. I didn’t think the British ripped it off until Gorgo, a few years later, but I stand corrected. Behemoth, the monster, comes from the sea, is a dinosaur, has been effected by radiation, and has fire-breath. Even the fishermen angle resembles Godzilla (Godzilla, however, got that aspect of the story from an actual incident). Behemoth doesn’t follow Godzilla’s story structure, nor does it stick with the one it has in the beginning, following two or three characters, characters who disappear as the monster starts showing up.

Gene Evans was a favorite of Sam Fuller and seeing him play a marine biologist would be fun enough, but seeing him play a marine biologist who’s sure of a giant radioactive monster is even better. André Morell plays Evans’s British counterpart–and, if one wants to read enough into a scene, his lover–and Morell gives Behemoth a certain bit of credibility, but it might just be the accent.

I watched Behemoth because it’s one of King Kong special effects producer Willis H. O’Brien’s last films. The stop-motion work isn’t too good, however, and the best special effects in Behemoth are a couple of the rear screen projection shots. They perfectly mix the foreground and background. Maybe it’s the black and white. The film doesn’t handle the special effects well in its structure either. After it ended, I realized Evans never even sees the monster. At least it’s got me curious again about O’Brien’s work, because it certainly hasn’t gotten me wanting to see anymore of Lourié’s.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Eugène Lourié; screenplay by Lourie and Daniel James, from a story by Robert Abel and Alan J. Adler; directors of photography, Desmond Davis and Ken Hodges; edited by Lee Doig; music by Edwin Astley; production designer, Lourie; produced by David Diamond and Ted Lloyd; released by Eros Films Ltd.

Starring Gene Evans (Steve Karnes), André Morell (Professor James Bickford), John Turner (John), Leigh Madison (Jean Trevethan) and Jack MacGowran (Dr. Sampson).


Born on the Fourth of July (1989, Oliver Stone)

In the last ten years, Tom Cruise has turned in a number of excellent performances (well, four… four is a number) and a bunch of decent ones. He’s only been bad once (of the films I’ve seen). So, Born on the Fourth of July was a jarring reminder to the early period of Cruise’s acting career (before his wingnut career), when he was staggeringly awful. Cruise is so bad for most on Fourth of July, I actually had to look up a good adjective to use to describe that awful acting. Of course, Cruise’s inability fits Stone, maybe even more than Charlie Sheen’s inability fit him. Stone’s shot composition in Fourth of July is beautiful, but absolutely useless for a narrative. It’s slick and colorful, that neo-Technicolor Bruckheimer-produced films use. To get the film to move, since the shots don’t do it, Stone uses a lot of quick editing in Fourth of July, the same quick editing Bruckheimer appropriated a few years later. Maybe it was immediately (I never saw Days of Thunder).

Stone makes Fourth of July as melodramatic as possible, then bumps it up a notch. For a film based on a true story (I’ve read the actual book and a lot of the movie was a surprise to me), it’s beyond any reasonable license. Only at the end, in the last ten minutes, when the character finally gets to be a real person, does Cruise’s acting rise to being near-poor. It’s when the true story becomes somewhat worthwhile… but the film skips the character’s major personal development. There’s nothing about him becoming active in the anti-war movement. One minute he isn’t, the next he is, then the movie ends. Since it’s shed everything else we’ve had to sit through (his family, his girl, his relationship with other vets), Fourth of July hits a reset button and all of a sudden Cruise is a guy in a wig, not the guy who started the movie without the wig, then got it inexplicably later on. Still, it’s ten minutes and it’s laden with Stone’s idea of nuance, so it doesn’t help. It just gets better.

I was going to make note of all the people who starred in Fourth of July and went on to bigger things. Jake Weber even shows up for a shot. Then, I realized Stone used all three of the non-Alec Baldwin brothers and I decided against giving him any credit for casting discoveries. However, a handful of the performances are good. Raymond J. Barry is good as the father and Frank Whaley and Jerry Levine (Stiles from Teen Wolf–I recognized him but didn’t know who it was until I looked it up) are both good as Cruise’s friends. There’s a whole period where Cruise and these guys play their characters in high school and all of them look about ten years too old.

I keep trying to remember other things–the timeline goofs were obvious to me and I was born twenty years after the era depicted–but, in the end, I think I’m sad Oliver Stone doesn’t get to make his movies anymore. He still works, he still writes, but he doesn’t get to do this kind of film anymore and–good or bad–Born on the Fourth of July was a socially relevant piece. During the scenes in the awful veteran’s hospital, my fiancée turned and asked me what I thought vet hospitals looked like today. Stone had a real audience until Natural Born Killers and, while he did manipulate them, he did it for a good cause. I’m not sure there’s been any manipulative filmmaker since who’s been able to reach such a broad audience and actually had something good to say….

Those last few sentences are an observation, not a defense of or recommendation to see Born on the Fourth of July, though I do suppose John Williams’s hideous score needs to be heard to be believed. Oh, and I can’t forget this one. Stone rips off Coppola’s fan as helicopter blade metaphor from Apocalypse Now, but I guess it’s all right, since Spielberg went on to steal a flag shot from Fourth of July for Saving Private Ryan.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Oliver Stone; screenplay by Stone and Ron Kovic, based on the book by Kovic; director of photography, Robert Richardson; edited by David Brenner; music by John Williams; production designer, Bruno Rubeo; produced by A. Kitman Ho and Stone; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Tom Cruise (Ron Kovic), Kyra Sedgwick (Donna), Raymond J. Barry (Mr. Kovic), Caroline Kava (Mrs. Kovic), Jerry Levine (Steve Boyer), Frank Whaley (Timmy), Willem Dafoe (Charlie), Josh Evans (Tommy Kovic) and Jamie Talisman (Jimmy Kovic).


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