Christopher Lee

The Three Musketeers (1973, Richard Lester)

The Three Musketeers is so much fun, you barely notice when the film takes a turn in the last thirty or so minutes. The Musketeers are on a mission—they’ve got to deliver a letter to England to save at least one lady’s honor, possibly two—and just as the film reunites them all with the promise of action… it starts shedding them. They get in individual fights or duels, leaving Michael York to go on alone. Well, he brings faithful servant Roy Kinnear along, but Kinnear’s just there for the (very good) laughs. It’s not like he’s going to tell York the important things, like how to get off England since it’s an island.

York’s the film’s protagonist, though George MacDonald Fraser’s script isn’t great about treating him like it once all the “guest stars,” not to mention Raquel Welch’s cleavage (once Welch’s cleavage arrives, it’s all anyone present gives any attention, cast and crew alike), come into the film. York’s D’Artagnan, would-be Musketeer, who happens across a trio of real Musketeers who could always use another partner in literal crime. See, the Musketeers work for the King, meaning they brawl (sword brawl) with the Cardinal’s guards. The film never bothers explaining why there’s the animosity between the groups or why, although loyal to the King (Jean-Pierre Cassel), his Musketeers fight with the Cardinal’s men, even though the King is allied with the Cardinal. Charlton Heston, with what appears to be a fake goatee, is the Cardinal.

Doesn’t matter, the guys in red are bad, the guys in (mostly) black are good. The good guys are Oliver Reed (Athos), Frank Finlay (Porthos), and Richard Chamberlain (Aramis). Reed’s the drunk pensive but heroic one, Finlay’s the vaguely inept dandy, Chamberlain’s the adept dandy as well as the trio’s Don Juan. Chamberlain, we’re told, likes the married ladies. So does York, as Welch is married, and the film gets a lot of laughs out of mocking her cuckold (a fantastic Spike Milligan).

The first half of the film introduces York, the Musketeers, evil (he’s eye-patched so there’s no mistaking it) Christopher Lee, and the political ground situation. See, Cassel is useless fop who’s going to let Heston do whatever Heston wants to do, so long as Heston at least pretends Cassel isn’t a useless fop. The film shot on location—in Spain, not France, but still in palaces and such—so you’re seeing the intrigue play out with these impeccably costumed (Yvonne Blake’s costuming is magnificent) “royals” lounge around palaces and deserve a Revolution more by the minute. It adds a wonderful subtext to the film, which showcases and romances the grand opulence of historical royalty without being able to not show it also as, you know, utterly pointless and a really bad way for society to function. Because the Musketeers are alcoholic gambling addicts who end up stealing from the commoners. Arguably, the Cardinal’s guards are “better” civil servants. Though—again, Fraser doesn’t dwell—the Musketeers are mercenaries between wars; adventurers in the sense drunken carousing is adventuring.

And, arguably, the big mission at the end is against the King, though arguably for France. Musketeers is lightly bawdy adventure comedy for the whole family—though, unless she really, really, really likes Michael York, there’s nothing anywhere near approaching the male gaze equivalent of Raquel Welch—so no dwelling on politics, infidelity (klutzy Welch doesn’t even seem aware her husband might mind being cuckolded), or even its characters. See, one of the things you realize in the finale—besides how, outside a cat fight between Welch and bad lady Faye Dunaway in ball gowns (and what glorious gowns they are), the ball Welch and Dunaway are dressed for, and some solid sight gags, the finale’s action is rather uninspired and unenthusiastic—you also realize the titular Three Musketeers are totally unimportant to the film at this point. York getting the most to do makes sense, but the film goes so far as the make the other Musketeers comic relief. Brief comic relief.

It’d be fine if the sword fights were better, but they’re not. Three Musketeers starts with a gymnastic training sword fight scene between York and his father and then some more nonsense with York (he’s naive to the point of buffoonery, which is rather endearing as York plays it completely—and very Britishly—straight); it takes the film awhile to deliver a great sword fight, but then it does deliver a great one, with Lester’s best action direction, John Victor Smith’s best cuts, but also Dons Challis and Sharpe’s sound editing. Three Musketeers goes from being a “handsome” period piece to a considerable period action picture. And then the fight’s over and it’s back to handsome period piece, funny, active. But once Welch’s cleavage enters the literal frame, Lester and the film’s ambitions for an action picture disappear.

There’s a decent night time sword fight with the opponents using hand lanterns to see, but the finale’s fireworks-lighted long shot swordplay brawl isn’t anything special. The most impressive thing about a grand action picture’s third act shouldn’t be the awesomely ostentatious costume ball costumes but then you also wouldn’t think David Watkin’s photography would be so much better on the ball than the action sequences either. Three Musketeers goes into the third act somewhat soft and never really recovers.

At least solid performances from everyone. It’s hard with Welch because she’s got a lousy role and you almost wish she was bad so she wouldn’t work in the lousy role. But she’s not. She’s not a comedic genius but Lester’s not interested in her performance, he’s interested in her anatomy. York’s a good lead. Reed’s awesome. Chamberlain’s got like six lines. Finlay’s good. Supporting cast… Milligan and Kinnear are great, Cassel’s fine, Lee’s great, Dunaway’s okay (again, crappy part), Heston’s tolerable.

Of course, I’ve skipped mentioning the subplot about French Queen Geraldine Chaplin and British prime minister Simon Ward, somewhat unintentionally, but suffice to say, it’s an important subplot and both actors are good. Even if theirs is the far more interesting story than anything else going on in the picture. Especially the Welch cuckolding Milligan subplot, which is sometimes hilarious, usually funny, but not interesting. It’s cheap laughs. Chaplin and Ward… Fraser and Lester could’ve done something. They do not. Nice roles for both actors though. Thin but nice.

The Three Musketeers is glorious, gorgeous adventure. It has the pieces to be better but not the ambition. It’s easy; sometimes easy is good enough.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Lester; screenplay by George MacDonald Fraser, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas; director of photography, David Watkin; edited by John Victor Smith; music by Michel Legrand; production designer, Brian Eatwell; produced by Alexander Salkind, Ilya Salkind, and Michael Salkind; released by CFDC-UGC.

Starring Michael York (D’Artagnan), Raquel Welch (Constance de Bonacieux), Oliver Reed (Athos), Richard Chamberlain (Aramis), Frank Finlay (Porthos), Christopher Lee (Rochefort), Geraldine Chaplin (Queen Anna), Jean-Pierre Cassel (King Louis XIII), Faye Dunaway (Milady), Spike Milligan (M. Bonacieux), Roy Kinnear (Planchet), Simon Ward (Duke of Buckingham), Georges Wilson (Treville), and Charlton Heston (Cardinal Richelieu).


This post is part of the Costume Drama Blogathon hosted by Debbie of Moon in Gemini.

Once Upon a Spy (1980, Ivan Nagy)

Once Upon a Spy is a strange result. I mean, it’s a TV movie (pilot) for a spy series, complete with a kind of great James Bond-lite seventies music from John Cacavas, Christopher Lee in a electronic wheelchair with a rocket launcher, spy mistress Eleanor Parker working out of a secret headquarters in the Magic Mountain amusement park… oh, and leads Ted Danson and Mary Louise Weller bicker adorably. And Welsh writer Jimmy Sangster makes American Parker say “bloody” a lot because he doesn’t care what Americans sound like.

I’m getting ahead of myself because there are two things to examine and the rest of it all makes sense.

First, Sangster’s script. It’s boring–I can’t imagine not changing the channel from Once Upon a Spy on a relatively temperate Monday night in February 1980. There’s no chemistry between the characters. Sangster can’t even try to figure out how to force it into the script. There’s some attempt to address sexism–though Danson’s dorky computer guy (who all the ladies love–literally, two attempt to grope him) doesn’t know anything, he ignores everything Weller’s super spy tells him. Because, as it turns out, Danson’s the one evil mastermind Lee is really after. Danson beat him for the “Einstein Award for Smart People” once and Lee has never forgotten it.

Really.

But if there were chemistry–if Lee and Danson facing off actually did anything, if Danson had an iota of charm outside the strange experience of seeing him so completely without the thing his career’s based on, if Weller’s finale outfit didn’t go through three changes (from cleavage to no cleavage but leather cords wrapped around her legs to a version where it’s no longer a jumpsuit), if Nagy actually had any concept of how to pull of a spy movie based on charm–well, if any of those things, Once Upon a Spy might be somewhat successful.

Instead, Danson comes off like a wooden plank. Despite a little bit of a belly, he’s clearly a physical guy. He’d need to be to have the endurance for all the women falling over him. He doesn’t play computer nerd well, he doesn’t banter with Weller well, he doesn’t banter with Lee well, he doesn’t banter with Parker well. Maybe there are three big problems with Spy–Sangster, Nagy, and Danson. Maybe it’s not just Nagy’s lack of direction to his actors or Sangster’s lame writing, maybe it’s Danson himself. But with the direction and writing being so problematic, it’s impossible to know.

It’s concerning ABC let this one get made with such a dearth of chemistry between its leads. Even if it was in 1979… because there’s nothing there and it wastes Weller’s time. And she’s pretty good, all things considered. Once Sangster’s got her established as overcoming polite sexism to become a super spy, he’s got nothing else for her to do except babysit Danson. Her relationship with Parker is cold because Sangster writes Parker’s character so badly. Maybe if the character were exaggeratedly British, but instead it’s just Parker in a conference room all to herself with nothing to chew on. Nagy’s got no idea what to do with actors.

After Weller, the best performance is probably Lee. If only because he’s a mad scientist who has created a shrinking ray and has to pretend Ted Danson is a worthy intellectual nemesis. Then Parker, who has nothing to do, but does it with professionalism and dignity and as much style as she can get away with given the lame script and direction.

Once Upon a Spy is disappointing. It just needed to be cute and fun. Still, it’s competent as far as most television movies go and Weller’s likable. And that music’s all right.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Ivan Nagy; teleplay by Jimmy Sangster, based on a story by Lemuel Pitkin and Sangster; director of photography, Dennis Dalzell; edited by Bob Fish and William Neel; music by John Cacavas; production designer, Duane Alt; produced by Jay Daniel; aired by the American Broadcasting Network.

Starring Ted Danson (Jack Chenault), Mary Louise Weller (Tannehill), Eleanor Parker (The Lady), Leonard Stone (Dr. Webster), and Christopher Lee (Marcus Valorium).


Captain America II: Death Too Soon (1979, Ivan Nagy)

Captain America II: Death Too Soon, although it actually doesn’t have an onscreen subtitle, could just as well be called Captain America II: The Show No One Wants to See. I don’t even mean the eventual show (Death Too Soon is the second, Reb Brown-fronted CBS pilot), I mean this pilot movie, which retains executive producer Allan Balter and a lot of the crew from the initial attempt. It’s a complete wreck.

First example: Len Birman. Awesome co-star of the previous pilot movie. Given nothing to do outside some exposition, which he handles admirably. Except perving on Connie Sellecca, who does not give a good performance as a trouble-shooting super-scientist. She doesn’t. But she does start an actual subplot with her boss, Birman, sniffing her hair. It’s weird. What’s weirder is it doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t exactly get dropped, there just isn’t anymore character development for the characters. At first, I thought it was star Reb Brown sniffing her hair, but he’s actually got an entirely separate love interest.

Brown, or Captain America, is in love with his painting. Writers Wilton Schiller and Patricia Payne can’t stop having people talk about Brown and his stupid painting. He paints portraits of old people, cats, women on horses. He just loves painting. And maybe he should, but Death Too Soon doesn’t develop Brown’s protagonist either. Instead, it runs him around in a dumb costume for desperate action sequences. There’s obviously some significant spending on this second attempt, but Balter doesn’t use it well. It’s too cheap on the character stuff, too focused on motorcycle stunts and awful fight scenes; Death Too Soon amps up the previous pilot’s “Wonder Wonder”-wannabe syndrome. Everything good in the previous pilot gets flushed for everything bad in it.

There’s one good segment in Death Too Soon. Otherwise, director Nagy alternates between atrocious and incompetent. He’s never even pedestrian. It’s a poorly directed pilot. Except one chase sequence where Captain America’s motorcycling on a dam. It doesn’t even end well. But it’s really well done before it goes bad. It’s incredibly out of place.

Christopher Lee and Stanley Kamel play the villains, along with Lana Wood (who’s awful). Lee and Kamel are fun together, with Lee turning in a mostly awesome performance. He doesn’t class it up though, he just excels in his own role. It’s kind of cool, actually. He protects his brand.

Okay supporting turn from Katherine Justice as Brown’s human love interest. John Waldron’s obnoxious as her kid though. And Ken Swofford’s awful as a government stooge.

Death Too Soon also has this really weird “pro-gadget, anti-science” thing going on, which should–combined with being a failed “‘Wonder Woman’ for boys” TV pilot, Lee, Brown’s desperately lighted blond hair, experimenting on babies, Birman’s perving, Justice’s too tight jeans–make it a lot of bad camp fun. But it doesn’t, instead it’s just awful. It’s a poorly produced television pilot. It fails.

Except the dam. And, at some point in the production, someone did come up with some all right ideas. Mostly involving Lee’s character. Nagy just couldn’t execute any of them.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Ivan Nagy; teleplay by Wilton Schiller and Patricia Payne, based on characters created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon; director of photography, Vincent A. Martinelli; edited by Michael S. Murphy; music by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter; executive producer, Allan Balter; aired by the Columbia Broadcasting System.

Starring Reb Brown (Captain America / Steve Rogers), Katherine Justice (Helen Moore), John Waldron (Peter Moore), Christopher Lee (Miguel), Stanley Kamel (Kramer), Connie Sellecca (Dr. Wendy Day), Len Birman (Dr. Simon Mills), Ken Swofford (Everett Bliss), Christopher Cary (Professor Ian Ilson), William Lucking (Stader) and Lana Wood (Yolanda).


The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Peter Jackson), the extended edition

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey is really long. Director Jackson’s greatest achievement with the film has to be making that length work. He runs out of ideas for action sequences (worst is when he repeats one just a couple set pieces later), he doesn’t give his actors anything to do (he’s more concerned with showcasing the makeup jobs on most of them); in fact, he barely has any enthusiasm for anything in journey.

He starts to wake up when Hugo Weaving arrives, but Weaving isn’t particularly good. Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee show up just after Weaving, which is good, as they’re both great (and they lessen the load on Ian McKellen, who’s otherwise got to maintain the film himself). Not enough can be said for McKellen, who isn’t just excellent in an underwritten role (they’re all underwritten), but he’s also the only regular cast member who Jackson trusts. While Martin Freeman’s supposed to be the protagonist, Jackson doesn’t trust him. He gets around to it by the end of the film (after a number of aimless, if decently paced, adventures for Freeman) for Freeman’s scene with Andy Serkis. Or Serkis’s CG stand-in, which isn’t just the best performance of a digital character (by far), it’s the best rendering of a digital character. The film cuts between Serkis’s painstakingly rendered character and the rest of the party’s adventures in a video game. The CG isn’t ever so much cheap as boring.

Okay, the monster cats look cheap.

The party refers to thirteen dwarves. None of them make much impression, except the leader, played by Richard Armitage. His part’s poorly written and the script gives him a lot of bad dialogue and strange behavior–the best being in the film’s inert climax, accompanied by some real bad music by Howard Shore–but Armitage makes it work. He at least brings consequence to his performance. None of the other twelve dwarves bring anything–like I said, Jackson and photographer Andrew Lesnie are far more concerned with showcasing their makeup.

When he does get something to do, Freeman is likable, never exactly good. Jackson and his fellow screenwriters skip over character development, fully utilizing Hobbit’s position as an afterthought prequel to Lord of the Rings to get them out of first act responsibilities. Sadly, the exposition–and Journey has nothing but expository dialogue (except maybe between Blanchett and McKellen)–litters the rest of the film.

It could be a lot worse, though it should be a lot better (Jackson could’ve just done all CG for the amount of use he has for his human stars). And it is impressive how he manages to be boring overall but not from scene to scene.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Jackson; written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Jackson and Guillermo Del Toro, based on the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien; director of photography, Andrew Lesnie; edited by Jabez Olssen; music by Howard Shore; production designer, Dan Hennah; produced by Carolynne Cunningham, Zane Weiner, Walsh and Jackson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Ian McKellen (Gandalf), Martin Freeman (Bilbo), Richard Armitage (Thorin), Ken Stott (Balin), Graham McTavish (Dwalin), William Kircher (Bifur), James Nesbitt (Bofur), Stephen Hunter (Bombur), Dean O’Gorman (Fili), Aidan Turner (Kili), John Callen (Oin), Peter Hambleton (Gloin), Jed Brophy (Nori), Mark Hadlow (Dori), Adam Brown (Ori), Ian Holm (Old Bilbo), Elijah Wood (Frodo), Hugo Weaving (Elrond), Cate Blanchett (Galadriel), Christopher Lee (Saruman) and Andy Serkis (Gollum).


The Wicker Man (1973, Robin Hardy), the final cut

The Wicker Man can never decide on a tone. Director Hardy and writer Anthony Shaffer are both interested in minutiae of the film’s fictional setting, but never the same minutiae at the same time. Hardy is more interested in how the people live, cut off from the mainland, while Shaffer is more interested in how it all concerns the mystery.

Only Hardy isn’t much interested in the mystery. He’s too busy giving a folk feeling to a decidedly not folky setting. Stylistically, it’s a wonderful disconnect–a bunch of islanders, living in the modern world, but with ancient religious beliefs, all different ages, all apparently co-existing peaceably. The mysteriousness of the island, however, proves a problem as it’s supposed to be this utterly controlled environment–private property owned by lord Christopher Lee–yet Shaffer’s characters aren’t a bunch of isolates, they’re “normal.” Or normal enough the audience should be disturbed by them.

However, the unevenness aside, The Wicker Man’s a fine picture. Hardy does a good job directing–he and editor Eric Boyd-Perkins cut a constantly foreboding (but not necessarily threatening) experience, with Edward Woodward a solid lead. Woodward’s mainland police officer is sympathetic without being likable. The film sends him to the island in search of a missing girl; Woodward (and the viewer) are left to imagine her awful fate.

It should be more exploitative than it comes across. Hardy doesn’t exactly hurry through anything, but he keeps a different, brisker pace during certain sequences.

However, once Lee shows up, he starts running circles around Woodward. Lee’s not just better, he has a far better part. There’s a lot more he can do with it, while Woodward’s pretty much stuck.

There’s some good support from Britt Ekland, who has a sense of humor about it. Lee has one too. It helps–especially since Diane Cilento and Ingrid Pitt, as blonde harpies meant to fill Woodward’s mind with impure thoughts, play it all way too seriously.

The Wicker Man has numerous significant rewards (like when Harry Waxman’s photography gets to shine), even if it stalls quite often on Shaffer’s various narrative shortcuts.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robin Hardy; written by Anthony Shaffer; director of photography, Harry Waxman; edited by Eric Boyd-Perkins; music by Paul Giovanni; produced by Peter Snell; released by British Lion Film Corporation.

Starring Edward Woodward (Sergeant Howie), Christopher Lee (Lord Summerisle), Diane Cilento (Miss Rose), Britt Ekland (Willow), Ingrid Pitt (Librarian), Irene Sunters (May Morrison) and Lindsay Kemp (Alder MacGreagor).


Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002, George Lucas)

Attack of the Clones is bad. The beginning almost seems all right, with Ewan McGregor and new addition (and astoundingly terrible actor) Hayden Christensen on a mission. It plays like a thirty minute TV pilot slapped on the front of an otherwise tedious Star Wars entry. This time around, director Lucas is so lazy, he doesn’t even bother clearing out the discarded red herrings. They all just hang around, daring the viewer to stare into one and plunge into the abyss.

Lucas’s vision for the film is cheap and manipulative. Not just playing on viewer expectation, but on feigned sympathy. Lucas manipulates the viewer into accepting the cheapest, most exploitative narrative twists. Even though the film’s awful–the acting’s awful, the writing’s awful, David Tattersall’s photography’s awful, John Williams’s music is awful–Lucas’s vision for Clones is a success. He’s pandering. Lucas is acknowledging he’s no longer a defining vision in blockbuster movie-making (regardless of ILM’s involvement) and he’s showing he can do the same thing as all the other guys are doing.

Right down to Natalie Portman having her midriff exposed after a vicious attack from a giant bug. Strangely, Portman’s medical condition is never questioned. There’s no plot points about the giant bug talons injuring Portman or an infection. It’s just a ploy to get her suggestively clad.

It’s desperate. But it’s acceptable. It’s the new norm, the one Lucas didn’t do anything to create. But he can mimic it, he can mimic other styles–Lucas’s ability to adapt established film narrative approaches to new, entirely different material has always been one of his more uncanny skills. But there’s not a thing he cares about in the film. If it isn’t some new effects shot, it’s a direct response to some critical dig at the previous film in the series.

It’s petty. Lucas isn’t insane. He can tell Christensen is bad and has absolutely no chemistry with Portman, partially because he’s a stalker and a jerk. Lucas doesn’t like Christensen’s character and gives him nothing likable in return. Still, even though the script fails Christensen, he’s still an awful actor. Portman gets a lot of sympathy, just for what Lucas puts her through with Clones.

McGregor does better than his costars, but he still isn’t any good. Lucas is so particularly bad at directing his actors against the digital cast. Especially Sam Jackson, whose scenes with Yoda make one wonder if Lucas even told him where to look.

Temuera Morrison is bad too. Ditto Christopher Lee.

No one’s good in Clones. Lucas and co-screenwriter Jonathan Hales don’t even give Anthony Daniels anything to do it. Lucas has no enthusiasm for anything in the film. It’d be funny if the film weren’t so long.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George Lucas; screenplay by Lucas and Jonathan Hales, based on a story by Lucas; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Ben Burtt; music by John Williams; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Rick McCallum; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Frank Oz (Yoda), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Silas Carson (Viceroy Nute Gunray), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) with Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) and Christopher Lee (Count Dooku).


Sleepy Hollow (1999, Tim Burton)

For the majority of the running time, at least Sleepy Hollow isn’t boring. Burton gets in an event every ten minutes, which keeps it moving. It often gets really stupid and watching Johnny Depp’s histrionics get tiresome after the first five minutes, but at least it moves. Until the finale, which drags incredibly. Since the film is constructed as a mystery, once the villain’s identity is revealed, it becomes a lot less interesting. Burton could have done something better, but not much in Sleepy Hollow suggests he cares enough to bother.

Besides the supporting cast and the production design—and Emmanuel Lubezki’s photography, which is lovely—there’s nothing special about the film. For a lot of it, Depp is running around with costars Christina Ricci and Marc Pickering, looking like their babysitter. Ricci’s playing the love interest though, which would come off as odd if Depp was for one moment trying to create a believable character. Watching him primp around—his facial expressions could power a small town alone—is mind-numbing.

But the supporting cast features some excellent performances—Michael Gough, Ian McDiarmid and Richard Griffiths are all wonderful. Michael Gambon doesn’t do well though, neither does Jeffrey Jones. Miranda Richardson has some good moments and some awful ones.

The script’s stupid, but it’s unclear if any of the problems are Burton’s fault. His sensibilities—besides the production itself—are reined in. He even rips off a moment from Total Recall.

It’s a lame, worthless movie… but not intolerable.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Tim Burton; screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, based on a screen story by Kevin Yagher and Walker and a story by Washington Irving; director of photography, Emmanuel Lubezki; edited by Chris Lebenzon and Joel Negron; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Rick Heinrichs; produced by Scott Rudin and Adam Schroeder; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Johnny Depp (Ichabod Crane), Christina Ricci (Katrina Van Tassel), Miranda Richardson (Lady Van Tassel), Michael Gambon (Baltus Van Tassel), Casper Van Dien (Brom Van Brunt), Jeffrey Jones (Reverend Steenwyck), Richard Griffiths (Magistrate Philipse), Ian McDiarmid (Doctor Lancaster), Michael Gough (Notary Hardenbrook), Marc Pickering (Young Masbath), Lisa Marie (Lady Crane), Steven Waddington (Killian), Claire Skinner (Beth Killian), Christopher Lee (Burgomaster), Alun Armstrong (High Constable) and Christopher Walken (Hessian Horseman).


Burke & Hare (2010, John Landis)

I don’t know how Landis could have a more indistinct return to feature directing than Burke & Hare. The film manages to be completely professional in all aspects–though the use of The Proclaimer’s “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” so well identified with Benny & Joon, is questionable. There are occasional Landis touches, but nothing really approaching any personality for the film or its characters.

The script goes to rehabilitate the image of the historic murderers Burke and Hare by making them lovable, funny men, so there’s not much for the film to do. But it doesn’t even do what its conclusion implies. For a ninety minute film, there’s a lot going on–besides the titular characters murdering people to supply cadavers, there’s a competition between two surgeons (a wonderful Tom Wilkinson and a goofy Tim Curry) and then Burke’s romance of a dance hall girl (or whatever they were called in 1820s Scotland).

As Burke, Simon Pegg is a secondary character until the movie’s half over. The first half is spent mostly on Andy Serkis’s Hare. Pegg does well in his scenes with love interest Isla Fisher (who’s occasionally good and always genial) but his scenes with Serkis don’t work. Serkis isn’t a movie star, Pegg is. There’s something off in the chemistry.

Jessica Hynes is good as Serkis’s wife, Michael Smiley’s excellent as Wilkinson’s sidekick… there really aren’t any bad performances.

Landis shoots it Panavision, which seems a little much. The film is still cramped.

It’s inoffensively without any value.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by John Landis; written by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft; director of photography, John Mathieson; edited by Mark Everson; music by Joby Talbot; produced by Barnaby Thompson; released by Entertainment Film Distributors.

Starring Simon Pegg (William Burke), Andy Serkis (William Hare), Isla Fisher (Ginny), Tom Wilkinson (Dr. Knox), Jessica Hynes (Lucky Hare), Tim Curry (Dr. Monroe), Michael Smiley (Patterson), Ronnie Corbett (Captain McLintock), David Schofield (Fergus), David Hayman (Danny McTavish), Allan Corduner (Nicephore), Hugh Bonneville (Lord Harrington), Bill Bailey (Hangman), with John Woodvine (Lord Provost), Jenny Agutter (Lucy) and Christopher Lee (Old Joseph).


The Mummy (1959, Terence Fisher)

I’ve long held there are no good filmic Dracula adaptations. I’m now going to say there aren’t any good Mummy pictures after the Karloff one. This Hammer production was an officially licensed remake of the Universal production… only not the Karloff title, instead the inferior Universal follow-ups, The Mummy’s Hand and The Mummy’s Tomb. These films are awful, so, in making their first official remake of a Universal horror picture, Hammer chose to remake two awful ones (combining them into a single picture).

I didn’t grow up on Hammer horror films. I knew about them, mostly through their excellent poster art and the Maltin Movie Guide, but I didn’t really see them until I was in college. And then I discovered they’re truly awful, ineptly written wastes of time. The Mummy is, shockingly, one of their better efforts, mostly because it’s a fruit of a poison tree so it’s not Fisher’s fault. Who knows if he’d have directed it well–Jack Asher’s lighting makes the sets look as big as shoe boxes.

Peter Cushing’s a weak lead, but he’s not terrible. Christopher Lee’s okay as the mummy, I guess. Hard to mess it up. Yvonne Furneaux can’t act, but the movie doesn’t really expect anyone to act, so who cares… Only Eddie Bryne, as a police detective, and Felix Aylmer give good performances. They’re very out of place in the picture.

The Mummy‘s a dreadful waste of time and I recommend everyone avoid. But there are worse Mummy pictures.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Terence Fisher; written by Jimmy Sangster; director of photography, Jack Asher; edited by Alfred Cox and James Needs; music by Franz Reizenstein; production designer, Bernard Robinson; produced by Michael Carreras; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Peter Cushing (John Banning), Christopher Lee (Kharis, the Mummy), Yvonne Furneaux (Isobel Banning / Princess Ananka), Eddie Byrne (Inspector Mulrooney), Felix Aylmer (Stephen Banning), Raymond Huntley (Joseph Whemple) and George Pastell (Mehemet Bey, Alias Mehemet Akir).


Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005, George Lucas)

This movie got good reviews, right? I mean, I know Episode I got good reviews, but this one did too, right? I suppose the CG is better than before–except for Yoda, who’s desperate for a good puppeteer–and the action sequences are a tad more engaging. The space battles, mostly. The actual lightsaber fight scenes are terrible. Lucas never establishes what makes a good… lightsaber-er. I mean, does one have to be a strong Jedi to do it or can a mediocre Jedi simply be good at it? The lightsaber fights aren’t much fun because it’s impossible to tell if the person winning is overcoming the odds or not.

But besides the improved CG, there’s absolutely nothing to recommend the movie. Even Ewan McGregor, who technically isn’t bad, doesn’t have any actual good scenes. Oh, I forgot about the backdrops–the composite backdrops, when Lucas sticks the actors in front of green screens and CG backdrops–are awful. They look worse than a matte painting in a Roger Corman movie.

Back to the acting–hopefully I’ll get around to script at some point, but it might be hard to muster the enthusiasm–Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is a constant battle between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman for worst performance in a galaxy far, far away (and this one). While Christensen is abjectly terrible, Portman’s somehow even worse–it’s a shocking statement, but true. Maybe it’s because Christensen’s in a lot of the movie, so the viewer gets worn down. Portman’s only in a handful of scenes–which doesn’t make much sense in terms of Lucas’s “sweeping” narrative–and she’s like a infrequent, deep stab into the chest.

The supporting cast is no better. Ian McDiarmid’s awful, Samuel L. Jackson’s apparently turning in a comic performance. No one–not even George Lucas–could think Jackson was giving a good performance. Actually, I think Jimmy Smits might give one of the film’s better performances.

Too bad, I got to the script. It starts immediately, with a poorly written (and laugh-out loud funny) opening text crawl. Then there’s the coughing robot–not to mention all the other robots, besides R2-D2, speaking English. Why doesn’t R2 just speak English too? Lucas turns R2 into an action hero–only for a while, though a Gizmo arc from Gremlins 2 would have been amusing–and those scenes aren’t terrible. It’s at least cute. There’s a stupid Chewbacca cameo. Every cameo and reference is stupid, depending on the viewer’s regard for the old Star Wars movies, they’re even offensive. It’s like Lucas never watched the original trilogy (yes, even Jedi).

There’s more–much more–like how it seems like Lucas never auditioned Christensen with McGregor, since they have absolutely no chemistry. There’s Portman calling Christensen by the nickname he had in the first movie–you know, when he was a little kid. It’s as creepy as the Luke and Leia kiss (in hindsight). I don’t even want to talk about the Luke and Leia introduction–it’s one of the worst scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s got to be.

Revenge of the Sith is a piece of crap. It’s so unfunny, there’s not even a point in musing on what happened to Lucas. There’s a character named Darth Plagueis (yes, I did have to Google the spelling). You know, as in Darth Plague-is. A grown-up wrote that name down and thought it was good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by George Lucas; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Roger Barton and Ben Burtt; music by John Williams; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Rick McCallum; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Jimmy Smits (Senator Bail Organa), Frank Oz (Yoda), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku) and Keisha Castle-Hughes (Her Royal Highness, The Elected Queen of Naboo).


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