Macbeth

*Originally written in 2004 – I actually included this version of Macbeth in some of my University work on Shakespeare on film, along with Throne Of Blood… that work was probably better than this post

macbeth-musical

Famous for going through several cuts, budget and time problems, and for being slammed by critics at the time for its strange imagery and dark and foreboding tone, Welles’s Macbeth has now been recognised as a good, if not great adaptation made even more admirable by the constraints which constantly surrounded it.

The story of Macbeth is simple and well-known: Macbeth, proud soldier and follower of his King Duncan, stumbles upon a Witches’ Haven one night with his partner Banquo. The Witches give their prophecy that Macbeth will eventually become King, and that the sons of Banquo will also reign. This worries both men, but they decide to discuss it later. On hearing the prophecy, the ambitious Lady Macbeth inspires Macbeth to murder Duncan and usurp the throne, which he does. Soon guilt sinks in along with deep paranoia and Macbeth believes that everyone is out to get him.

Welles keeps fairly close to Shakespeare’s dark work in dialogue and plot, and certainly gives his film the same feel which the play itself gives. The setting is dark, rocky, full of shadows and isolated, and the choice of Black and White filming adds greatly to the tone. Welles shows he is a master of lighting, shadow, and contrast, and uses this ability to its fullest. As Macbeth’s paranoia grows, the imagery becomes more surreal and ominous – hangman’s trees stooping in the background; long takes to emphasize the growing worries in his mind. Overall, Welles captures the play’s atmosphere perfectly. His portrayal of Macbeth as a man not in control of his own fate is good, and of course his acting is fine. The rest of the cast is also strong, including big names like Mcdowall, Herhily, and Napier. Much has been said about the heavy accents but it’s something I personally overlooked. The final scenes, full of religious imagery, are very good although Macbeth’s death has been done better and it seemed that the Holy Father character was only included so that Macbeth could end on…well, I won’t spoil it. Not as good as Kurosawa’s, take but a very different film with a very different style.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of this version of The Scottish Play!

Advertisements

Halloween II and III

*Originally written like 2001 or roundabouts when I had no clue what I was doing. Spoiler Alert – I still don’t. These are crappy reviews so I’ve stuck them both together for a double dose of pain.

Halloween II

Halloween-II-1981

After the smash of Halloween it seemed inevitable that there would be a sequel. Carpenter’s films have a habit of ending with a cliffhanger, and fans wanted to see whether Michael would return. He does, just as Laurie is taken to a nearby hospital. Loomis is still on the prowl, and Michael follows Laurie to hospital intent on finishing his work, killing any unfortunate doctors, nurses or patients who get in his way. Once again Laurie and Michael are alone to chase and fight to the death.

Unfortunately this for the most part feels like a cash-in, and is a much inferior sequel complete with weaker performances and more elaborate deaths. There are good points though, Curtis and Pleasance are still great, while the setting is quite atmospheric. Many of the original cast come back for a short while, helping to keep us interested with the plot, and there are plenty of kills. However, much of the film lacks the tension which Carpenter can easily create, and we do not care about any of the new characters. Michael now seems to be entirely unstoppable which further distances us from the reality of the first film. This is okay, and definitely worth watching if you’re a fan of the first.

Halloween III

Halloween-3-09-g

Firstly, yes this has little or nothing to do with the other Halloween films, and it is the worst so far. To gave it credit though it must be said that Carpenter wanted to take the series in this direction, telling a different story in a different film each Halloween. This was an ambitious and exciting idea which had potential, even if that potential was limited. Unfortunately this film is a mess, and flopped, ending Carpenter’s idea. Viewers were expecting more Myers mayhem and were disappointed by the complete change of direction here.

An evil toy maker decides to kill millions of children via his Halloween masks. He is the owner of the company Silver Shamrock, and infuses all the masks with black magic which will burn any child who wears it on Halloween night when a special jingle is played. After a successful advertisement campaign it seems that his mask is a massive hit, and his plan will be complete. Only Doctor Challis and Ellie can stop the evil, but will they?

This was the first Halloween movie I saw, when I was very young, and a few moments have stayed with me since then-  Cochran’s goons on patrol, killing anyone who gets in their way, and the jingle which is admittedly creepy, though a familiar tune. The idea is good, but it falls on its face through a combination of bad acting and poor storytelling, and in the end little makes sense. The shock ending is still good though, but its potential impact is decreased by the fact that we don’t care for the characters, that we don’t really meet any kids, and that we have become bored by the end. Little is explained, most of the deaths are bizarre, while sufficiently bloody. Plus the whole thing looks cheap and doesn’t have enough scares. If there had been a better cast, more thought with the story, and better direction it could have been a lot better. It even could have become an effective satire on Commercialism, especially during the holidays. For fans of the series, watch it once, but don’t expect much.

Let me know in the comments what you thought of the first Halloween sequels and their place in the series!

Disney Songs – Pinocchio

ef036c5d00480985f46578fb6a642a1a

If that image doesn’t conjure up heartwarming nostalgic feelings, then I don’t know what will. That’s right folks, today I listen to all of the songs from Disney’s second masterpiece Pinnochio – some of which have gone on to become seminal and iconic pieces of pop culture. I, and I assume most of you, will be familiar with these ones so I’m also including some of the songs which didn’t make the final cut. Enjoy!

When You Wish Upon A Star‘. No other song is so associated with Disney as this one. The song frequently appears in the greatest movie song ever lists and critics usually rank it as the best Disney Movie song. It is a lovely song, hopeful, dreamy, and with an instantly memorable melody. I can’t say I like certain parts of the arrangement and backing vocals – things which later versions have removed or updated, but the core of the song is timeless and magical.

Little Wooden Head‘. This is a twee, fun little number with Gepetto talking and singing over tinkling, bouncy music which sounds like it has been produced by a music box. Better backing vocals then emerge to fill up a nice enough jingle, but it’s forgettable compared with the songs around it.

Give A Little Whistle‘. Another centerpiece for the movie and company, this merges old fashioned moral sentiment with a hopeful message – if you’re uncertain, give a little whistle and let conscience be your guide. Like many early Disney songs it’s little more than a brief jingle rather than a fully fledged song, but also like so many of them it’s unbearably catchy.

Hi Diddle Dee Dee‘. Honest John… well he was both honest and dishonest, and his lyrics here remain highly relevant today as every nobody clamours on top of each other to be a somebody – after all, it’s great to be a celebrity. The first Disney song by a bad guy, it’s unusually cheery and upbeat – but that is all part and parcel of the tempting nature of fame and the dark side – poor old Pinocchio wouldn’t be sucked in so badly if it wasn’t so seductive and innocent seeming on the surface.

I’ve Got No Strings On Me‘. I might like this song more if it wasn’t so effing high pitched. I think that may be biggest problem with the movie as a whole – it just hurts my ears. That being said, it’s another utterly timeless song with a few musical styles and interesting time changes, and even with all the ear-bleeding you’ll find yourself singing parts of it hours afterwards.

Hi Diddle Dee Dee Reprise’. Thief! Kidnap! Help!

When You Wish Upon A Star Reprise‘. So sad. So happy. Bittersweet? It’s the end, and a perfect on at that.

I’m A Happy Go Lucky Fellow‘. This one was written for Pinocchio but was left off and then included in Fun And Fancy Free. Honestly it suits the short rather than the movie it was originally intended for. It segues in nicely from the title track and of course it’s good to see Jiminy again. It’s a light and silly song – not much more than a piece of fluff, and not really very good with all those old trumpets and choral vocals I usually can’t stand.

Honest John‘. More of the same really, a self-explanatory song about the character with that horrible singing style I don’t like. It bounces up and down and moves quickly, but is broken up with the odd spoken part and sound effect which sound bizarre without any animation to go along with it – Hi Diddle Dee Dee clearly does the same job better.

As I Was Saying To The Duchess‘. A big swelling of strings, joined by brass for an epic opening. A summery string piece follows before the vocals begin. Funny lyrics sun in a funny voice. Brief.

Three Cheers For Anything‘. Wait wait wait. Is there where Pink Floyd got some of the lyrics for Another Brick In The Wall from? Wow, that’s a revelation or coincidence or something. It’s quite a light song, the music reminds me of Tom and Jerry, a nice drum section steadies the ship in the middle -nice, not necessary.

Monstro The Whale‘. Well, not exactly what I expected. This sounds like some camp 1960’s comedy. It also sounds like clothes shop muzak. It doesn’t make Monstro sound menacing or monstrous, but more like a cheeky wee scamp who’d steal your lunch money, then give you some change.

Turn On The Old Music Box‘. Sounds like Jiminy. A quaint, easy listening song with an old-fashioned feel and a desire to share even more old-fashioned stylings. There’s a catchy part in the middle, some swooning backing vocals… yeah, I could see this one appearing in the movie.

So, Pinocchio. Some more iconic songs, and a few interesting asides. Really, there are three songs here which you would want to bring along to the next world and share with the population. What, you’ve never had those fantasies? About being shot forward in space and time, or sent to another galaxy, and you can only bring limited music/movies/books/whatever with you? Yeah, based on that fantasy, there are only three songs which you could honestly take with you from this soundtrack, and only one of those is an absolute must. Say it ain’t so? Say it in the comments!

Hard-Boiled

*Originally written in 2004

hardboiled.jpg

One of the true ‘must see’ action films of the Nineties, not only because it was the first to fully establish John Woo as the master of action movies and Chow Yun Fat as a superstar (at least in the West), but because it has had a massive influence on every action movie made since, and is easily one of the most entertaining, over the top, gung-ho action movies ever. Slick, stylish, violent, funny, clever, with interesting characters, a superior plot which will keep you guessing, and filled with set pieces, explosions and chases, Hard-Boiled is a genuine classic.

Chow Yun Fat stars as Tequila, a cop with a love of Jazz, a man whose skills are never questioned, but whose methods are sometimes checked as they have a tendency to end in death and demolition. He also enjoys the odd bit of existential musing, and is always trying to win back his love, who happens to be a superior within the force. The film opens with a fight between cops and arms dealers which ends in the death of Tequila’s partner. Tequila kills all possible subjects so they are left with no evidence as to who the boss is. We meet Tony, played by Tony Leung, who is one the arms dealer’s lead men. He does his job flawlessly, and at all costs, but doesn’t want to see his boss harmed. However, when a rival with greater ambition wants to recruit him, Tony double-crosses his old boss. Tequila intervenes and many more are killed. Tony and Tequila continue to come into contact with each other, and we learn that Tony isn’t who he appeared to be. Soon Tequila works out where the massive armoury is, and a massive gunfight ensues, taking up the last 40 minutes of the film. Will Tequila get revenge, will any more twists enter the story, who will make it out alive?

The film is incredibly clever for an action film, with a twisting near-convoluted plot, but this is all the more astounding when you witness the level of action which takes place. The set-pieces are almost overwhelming, with so much going on at one time they beg to be re-watched repeatedly. Each actor is convincing, and it seems Fat and Leung were born for these roles. The final hospital scene has some of the best, most exhilarating action ever filmed, and no-one is safe as patients, doctors, kids, cops, and bad guys are slaughtered. Almost every window is smashed, all manner of guns are fired, and Woo is on top form. His slow-motion style and balletic gun play have never been better, and there is one Steadicam shot which goes into a lift, moves between floors, and features many deaths and explosions, plus dialogue -it’s one of the most awesome things you’ll ever see and must have been a nightmare to film. Few action movies can suck the viewer in like this does, so that we care about the characters and are not just watching vacantly. Hard-boiled succeeds on all levels, and must be seen by all action fans. It is the benchmark of the genre.

Jeepers, my old reviews were all plot, weren’t they? Let us know in the comments what you think of Hard-Boiled and how it ranks alongside John Woo’s other films!

Kids

*Note – Originally written in 2003

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Larry Clark’s debut is a bleak and unrelentingly honest look at how city teen life can be. It stirred up much controversy upon its release and is still powerful today. Drugs, sex, violence and no remorse for one’s actions all make this daring film-making, and almost essential viewing.

It is Telly’s mission in life to have sex. Preferably with under-aged girls and if they are virgins – all the better. The film opens with his seduction of one such girl; he spouts all the sincerity and caring words he can muster and she gives in. As soon as it is over he is out the door, mission accomplished, telling his friend Casper everything that happened in gory detail. We follow the two around their city as they steal, talk about sex, fight, get drunk, get stoned. They are part of a young gang which seems to have spread throughout the whole city. Morals are non-existent, but they believe that homosexuality is evil, or at least a joke. AIDS is a joke too, and all other STDs, as none of them have ever heard of anyone who has had any. We see the juxtaposition of guys and girls talking about their experiences, and planning ahead for the night. Jennie has only been with one guy, Telly, and because one of her friends has been with 9 guys, she decides to go to the sex clinic as support. Her friend comes out clean, but Jennie tests positive for HIV. Jennie begins a very slow race to find Telly, perhaps before he can destroy another girl’s life. Telly is once again on the prowl.

Each performance here is outstanding, particularly Leo Fitzpatrick and the late Justin Pierce as Casper. None of the characters repent what they have done – it’s all they have, and they enjoy it. Even Jennie appears to be passive, taking drugs when she should be finding Telly. None of the sex scenes are particularly explicit, but it is the fact of their age, of course, which caused such an uproar. However, this behavior obviously does go on, you only have to hang around most city streets at night to witness it. The violence is also cleverly edited, but like the sex and drugs, we only need a glimpse to set our imagination and disgust off. There are no happy endings or answers here, perhaps giving fuel to those who say this is just exploitation. For me, Clark is simply exposing a particular reality, maybe in the hope that we can do something about it. The fact remains that (some) teens have, and probably always will continue to do these things, but maybe not with such a lack of remorse.

Let me know in the comments what you think of Kids and if it has any message to get across.

Kickboxer

*Originally written in 2001

jcvd1.jpg

Probably the most famous of Van Damme’s early work, Kickboxer is another simple story of revenge and a showcase for his skills as a martial artist. It has some good fights, and some interesting moments showing the arduous difficulty of training and trying to achieve your best while not losing your focus. Although it suffers from some cheesy acting, dialogue, music, and a highly disturbing dance scene, this is a must for Van Damme fans, and those with an interest in martial arts movies who don’t want to stray too far from the West.

Van Damme stars as Kurt Sloane, the younger brother of a flashy American Kickboxer. They train together, but his brother Eric seems to be more interested in looking like a good fighter than actually finding the ability and skill to be one. Eric takes part in a fighting competition and is crippled and almost killed by Tong Po – a fearsome Kickboxer with a great rage and discipline. Kurt decides to avenge his brother, but no-one will train him as they believe Tong Po is too popular and strong. Eventually he finds a wizened old trainer in the middle of nowhere who teaches him to reach his full potential and push through barriers which he never though he could surpass. He also meets Winston Tyler who provides some laughs, and Mylee who provides a potential love interest. Of course it is the fights that matter, and the revenge plot is safe enough to give the fights reason. Rather than cheap montages, we see the tough training regime Kurt goes through, and see Tong Po kicking a cement wall to build up the strength and invulnerability of his foot. Sounds odd yes, but how else would we know he’s a hard lad? Throw in a sub-plot about gangsters and kidnapping and it all builds to a thrilling in ring climax. A good film for fight fans, light-hearted, fast, and worth watching.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Kickboxer – just another crappy action movie or one of Van Damme’s better films?

The Guest

the_guest_main_one_sheet_cmyk

Adam Wingard may be heralded as one of the most successful and promising young upstarts of horror, but it’s clear he has more up his sleeve. The Guest is a throwback to another time – a time when any number of movies about creepy neighbours, babysitters, distant family members would come into the homes and lives of an innocent family and slowly unleash terror. The Guest is many things, horror included, but it also has plenty of action, uncomfortable laughs, tragedy, knowing nods to past classics, and some great performances.

The Guest sees a mysterious young man paying visit to a grieving family. Their son was a soldier but lost his life in Afghanistan, and the man who stops by introduces himself as a soldier and friend of their son. He has come to help look after the family, knowing they would struggle if their son was killed – he is the model guest, sweet, helpful, and interested in helping out any way he can. As is the case with such films, David (The Guest) isn’t being entirely honest and eventually suspicion creeps in leading to the twist and thrilling climax.

Although the story follows the usual expected plot for such films – nothing I’ve said above is really a spoiler (what follows may be spoiler territory) – though the twist is not what you’d expect, almost sci-fi in nature. The twist is fine and explains David’s various skills, but doesn’t really make sense. After all the good things he does for the family I don’t buy that he would be forced to kill them – it’s the fact that he seems so kind and goes over and above for them that makes the final act more ludicrous and tragic. It doesn’t harm the film much, just makes it less credible. Apparently there had been additional scenes which further explored David’s background but the director preferred the ambiguity. In the hands of a lesser director or worse cast it could have been a more noticeable problem, but Stevens gives a career best performance, Monroe is solid as always, and everyone else performs well. While this eventually becomes like a slasher movie, its roots are more firmly in the thriller genre. The action scenes are swift and often brutal, not overly bloody and more akin to something like Die Hard. It’s a film which most genre fans will enjoy and doesn’t suffer from dipping its toes in multiple pools.

Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Guest!