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Archive for the ‘ANIMAL LOVERS’ Category

Hatari

10 Oct

Hatari – Directed by Howard Hawks. Wild Animal Action Adventure. A company of animal collectors snares big game in Africa. 156 minutes Color 1962.

* * * *

Howard Hawks had no signature visual style, even when he used the same photographer. Nor was he much of a director of actors. His films are plainly shot in simple setups. What he had was a freewheeling attitude about scripts which in the morning he would make up among the actors or who ever passed through the shooting, and then film it later in the day. This openness and casualness produced a big permission for actors, so sometimes wonderful performances arrived. John Wayne’s, for instance. He is an actor who often chooses to “come from strength”, but here he pretty much lets that slide, and what comes to the fore is his wisdom, forgiveness, and rueful wit. He does not have any other actors in the picture who are on his level of artistry or humor, save Red Buttons, which is a shame, because that and their variety of foreign languages slows things down to the level of competence, which is a local train not a superchief; John Wayne is a superchief. However, what results here is a very amiable party indeed, casual, agreeable, and fun. This is not a movie you intently watch; it is a movie you hang out with. The story line is flimsy and contrived, and it all takes place indoors on Paramount sound stages, and looks it, as do the actors slathered in thick tan pancake. The story involves, if that is the right word, a couple of unconvincing romances, one of them between Wayne and the Italian actress Elsa Martinelli who is of all things called Dallas, the name Claire Trevor had in Stagecoach. (One must cover one’s eyes when John Wayne kisses anybody.) But, in the long and beautiful African scenes, Elsa Martinelli has such a terrific rapport with wild animals that I took her to be a professional trainer. She is remarkable with three baby elephants, and seems to harbor a leopard as a watchdog. The episode with the monkey tree is fascinating – evidently all the actors did the animal work in the picture – and wildebeest and rhinos and cheetahs and ostriches are caught in long and very exciting sequences. The chasing down and capturing of the wild animals feels authentic and was the raison d’etre for the film. These are interspersed with drunk scenes, which are not funny (at what moment in history did drunk scenes in Hollywood cease to be funny) and with sophomoric hijinks, which are not funny either. Hatari means danger in Swahili and the relaxed and genial nature of the story with its foolish excesses is just a necessary relaxation from the real and intense excitement of the hunts. Henry Mancini has written a brilliant score.

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The Courage Of Lassie

09 Jun

 

The Courage Of Lassie – Directed by Fred A Wilcox. Family Film: Animal Drama. A collie is rescued by a young girl and finds an heroic destiny on the front lines of WW II. 92 minutes Color 1942.

* * * *

This picture opens with a long sequence in which, in woodland, only animals appear. It’s delightful. And odd. And one wonders how they did it. Anyhow, they don’t open pictures like that any more. It was made after National Velvet and it banks on that and on Lassie Come Home, although Lassie never shows up here at all – the dog’s name is Bill. That emerald Frank Morgan has a part and so does the nice old man Harry Davenport. Tom Drake is as always cute with his boy next-door-face and his odd Lower East Side accent (In a very few years he would be playing her husband and the father of her child). Elizabeth Taylor is an adolescent here and is not called upon to carry the picture – the dog does that just fine – but her character is the heart of it. It is interesting to see what she kept as an actress as she grew, what bad habits she retained, what ones let go, how she developed technically and what it was the public saw in her – something to do with kindness to dumb animals – Bill, Velvet, Montgomery Clift. There are times here when the emotion is forced and sentimentalized and emotionalized, but the story carries her into those temptations, and she is, after all, very young, untrained, and with only a few films behind her. She mercifully lacked Margaret O’Brien’s horrendous self-possession. But then as now she knows what she stands for. That was perhaps the strength the public saw in her from the start. The pictures is beautifully produced with wonderful outdoor photography and a pleasure to spend time in front of, by oneself or with one’s youngsters. The story is unusual in that it is an early revelation of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, and it is well told – with a rich slather of 1945 MGM ethics. We who lived through that time knew it was not like that, and we didn’t even want it to be. You won’t waste your time; enjoy it for what it is!

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The Lost World: Jurassic Park

21 May

The Lost World: Jurassic Park – Directed by Steven Spielberg. Sci-Fi Action. Dinosaurs, still hanging around on a tropical island, draw competing scientists and developers. 2 hours 7 minutes Color 1997.

* * * * *

Pete Postlethwaite devours the screen like a brontosaurus rex whenever he is on it. This is wonderful to behold, because his ruthlessness outstrips the passion of any other character in the movie, and so one loves him for it. The others fare not so well. For the “action sequences” devour character as well as characters. This is true of all such films. David Koepp has written a brilliant script, which means that its wit compliments the wit of the director, and he has made for us characters who have a living eccentricity, in scenes that are beguiling and actable. But all of that is in the beginning of the film. As soon as the dinosaurs start competing with the humans all character is lost as the film bogs down in spectacle, escape, acts of derring-do, mayhem, terror, clumping and munching – in fact, in story- behavior in which, because it is minimally verbal, character, charm, eccentricity, and even motive are devoured. It’s no one’s fault. It’s simply a characteristic of the genre. They all end up this way. The chief consequence of this is that one ceases to love the characters – because they are characters no longer. And too bad too. Because we have the glorious Jeff Goldblum as one of a group of four heros (really five until our beloved Richard Schiff becomes an ors d’oeuvre for a rex). With his bright and wonderful face, and endearing tallness, and supple intelligence, he plays a character who disapproves of everything, in a role which almost becomes thankless because of that. Julianna Moore is delightful in a love scene walking away from him in the middle of a river; she plays a character who approves of everything. And the dewy Vince Vaughan plays a kind of side-car part which is actually underwritten and functions really only to make a certain defunct radio work to save the day (it’s actually night). Never mind. It’s a director’s film, and Spielberg has a witty mind. Never is he unprepared to entertain us. The action sequences unravel with imagination and care and stunning execution. And in this is he ably abetted by the camera of Janusz Kaminsky and the surprising editing of Michael Kahn, who will supply us with a sterling close-up of Moore’s face, for instance, just when you would never expect you would need the relief of it from the action in play. Spielberg always gets his endings wrong, and he does not fail us in this one. It’s a failure of value in him, as, for the wrong reason, he brings the tale around to a city he has not previously established, and so the big bus-wrecking sequences, and so forth, have no connection to us. The ending comes out of nowhere into nowhere. His wit does not fail him, as the rex clomps by an Animal Control vehicle, but his thinking does. This means that the value of actions floats free of the value of settings, streets, a harbor, a ship, and, most important, human inhabitants. However, the film has delivered so much “entertainment” one has to forgive him once again, simply on the grounds that our exhaustion forbids us from sustaining anything more than a sigh of relief that the entertainment is finally over.

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Making The Misfits

08 Nov

The Making The Misfits –– directed by Gail Levin –– documentary on the last film of Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift  — 2001 black and white 2001

* * * * *

We who were alive at the time, knew a lot about what was going because Marilyn Monroe was such a photographed figure. Her genius was, in fact, for the still picture not the motion picture –– and Eli Wallach says the same. Monroe, Gable, and Clift all died before the film was released. I remember talking to Celeste Holm about it the week it opened; she’d gone to the Roxy to see it, and she said, “You could shoot moose in there.” Because the movie was a coffin? The theatre was empty when I went too. Holm said that Monroe couldn’t act. That’s probably right. In a sense Monroe was prevented from it by the script which makes of her a marshmallow saint whom everyone loves –– which means there was no inherent character defect or inner conflict in the character, nothing for her to play against, no failing to let us in. The film was remarkably photographed and produced, and the producers and their survivors talk about it. What the actors, such as Kevin McCarthy and Eli Wallach, say about their work is fascinating. John Houston was a gallant director, energetic but also lazy. He loved filming horses. The Misfits has a grainy and horizontal quality to it, and is well worth seeing. Its failure lies with Arthur Miller who wrote it; its failure lies not in its characters or situation but in its story. It would have been far more interesting if Monroe’s capacity for atrocious behavior had been an element in that story. Then you might have had something. Too late now, though. This documentary made years later seizes the world of studio filmmaking at it its richest. Scenes of the crew lying around in the hideous heat of Arizona while the demoralizing Monroe was hours late are a testament to the fortitude of the craftsmen whose skills and devotion brought the good strong films of that era before us.

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Batman Forever

07 Nov

Batman Forever –– directed by Joel Schumacher –– the caped superhero is beset on all sides, of course. ––122 minutes color 1995.

* * * * *

“Was that over-the-top? I can’t tell,” utters Jim Carrey, and one wonders at the question. Has Jim Carrey ever been under over-the-top? Certainly not in this film. He is clearly a great film creature, and give him a gilded cane and stand back. The picture itself is overloaded with focal possibilities. First we have Tommy Lee Jones miscast as someone who is not a genius and therefore cannot be played by him. All Jones can do is howl with gruesome laughter. He plays a petty thief running a covey of red capped robbers, but he is at once supplanted by Nicole Kidman, whose blond hair brings the only daylight into the night-owl doings of the Batman milieu. God helps anyone who commits a 9-5 crime in Gotham; Batman only saves the night, never the day. Kidman, no matter how ever-glorious, is soon supplanted by Jim Carrey as a sedulous inventor employee of Bruce Wayne. Carrey consumes every scene he is in, with his brilliant physical comedy and hyperbolic acting style and range of invention. He’s wonderful of course. But his Niagara turns everyone around him into a trickle. He is followed but not supplanted by Chris O’Donnell who enters as a fledging Robin. The whole film is all quite lovely, and gives full satisfaction to one’s longing for midnight draughts. Val Kilmer is Bruce Wayne, and why not? The part is cast for the mouth showing under the mask. He is a very good actor and perfectly at ease in the role of the adult orphan. Complaints are irrelevant. So is praise. Who could critique a mud bath at a spa or champagne fountain at a wedding? Not I. Over-indulgence is at times the only proper rule of law. All I can say is that Jim Carrey fifteen years ago was at the perfect age to have played Hamlet, and should have done so. He had the antic temperament, the innocence of eye, and the pain.

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The Far Country

24 Oct

The Far Country – directed by Anthony Mann – A Western in which our cranky hero delivers a herd of cattle to the Yukon only to be double crossed. 97 minutes color 1955

* * * * *

Jimmy Stewart plays a self-centered adventurer who lands on his feet in a series of astonishing Canadian Rocky settings outside Jasper. Walter Brennan without his teeth and Jay C. Flippen as a drunken gold-panner play his picturesque sidekicks. The story is episodic, but the episodes are attention-getting. John McIntyre as the law-gone-bad character is a study in self-confidence. The glorious mountains are a mess to negotiate but Ruth Roman’s hairdo is never mussed in the mountains, but that’s Hollywood for ya, idnt it?. One of several strong Westerns Stewart made with director Anthony Mann — always with the same horse, Pie. Worth seeing.

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Blood And Sand

24 Oct

Blood and Sand – directed by Fred Niblo. Romantic Melodrama. 80 minutes Black and White 1922.

★★★★

The Story: A cobbler’s son becomes a Spanish matador, marries his true love, and then is made the plaything of a rich masochist widow.

~

Well, there he is, Rudolph Valentino, looking pretty good in a suit of lights. He was the screen lover of all time, and women went mad for him. It’s a bit hard to see why. Not because he isn’t good-looking or a good actor, for he is both, but because you have to grow up with someone to become that sort of mad fan of them. Your sexual maturity has to correspond with theirs. You have to see something in them at just the moment when you need to see it, and become entranced with its reappearance from film to film.

Valentino has a somewhat fleshy face, a beautiful mouth when it’s in repose, a long jaw line with perfectly flat cheeks, the right one adorned by a little scar, a thick nose, a brow high and broad with long eyebrows which bracket his eyes like eaves. The eyes are large, long, wide-set, and the left eye is slightly larger than the right. He has a great ass. He uses his figure for effect, but he never uses his looks for effect.

As an actor he has the problem all actors of that era had, which was to hold emotion in place to make the sure the story was being spelled out. This created by a false tension, almost as tableau. But otherwise he is easy in his work, natural, interesting in his choices and details, and you remain attentive to him because the camera dotes on him, since he is, after all, the focal character. It’s his story.

It’s a story which never works because no actor can actually play the ignorance and country bumpkin naiveté required as the basis for the character as he gains in worldliness, wealth, and sexual access. Tyrone Power years later is flaccid in the role; Anthony Quinn should have had the part, instead of the gigolo to Donna Sol, played by the incontestable Rita Hayworth.

Nita Naldi in the part in the present film doesn’t quite stack up as a femme fatale. She is matronly of figure and so the relationship between her and Valentino doesn’t wash, although Valentino is excellent in the emotional outskirts of the part. It’s one of those tempestuous relationships you have to suppose it is true because the story depends upon it and says it is true and because it is acted out in front of you.

But as a parable the story plays beautifully and always will. Valentino is 27. His technique is modern, and, more, you actually want to engage with him. It is the sine qua non of big movie stars, and the only reason to watch him now. He is rare. He died at 31.

 

Secretariat

23 Oct

Secretariat –– directed by Randall Wallace –– a horse picture in which an unpromising horse meets an unpromising owner who hires an unpromising trainer to win three unpromising races, The Triple Crown. 116 minutes color 2010

* * * *

Every time Margo Martindale as Miss Ham appears, the screen comes alive. She plays the woman who named Secretariat, and the female “support” to Miss Chenery, Secretariat’s owner, played by Diane Lane, who is sadly miscast in this part because she cannot play middle-class women well. A technical actress, she consistently fudges and softens emotion with half-grins and moues. See her in The Perfect Storm to see how great she can be, opposite Mark Walberg, an actor perfectly suited to her range. It’s like casting Brad Pitt as a society boy. He is a great actor, but only in lower class parts, and the same holds true of Lane. Secretariat is a Disneyfication of the saga of this remarkable animal, meaning that it is story-telling by the numbers. Everything is spelled out three times, as though no one in the audience knew how to read. But still, it’s a horse-picture and I am always stirred by horse-pictures and I was stirred by this one all the way through. Of course, we all know how it turns out, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting or suspenseful. That doesn’t mean my heart isn’t filled by this horse’s nobility, pride, élan, and talent. John Malkovich brings his usual perversity of affect to the proceedings, which supplies the sort of low brow comic zest in the old days supplied by William Demarest or Mickey Rooney or someone. The races also are poorly filmed, which is odd, isn’t it, for one sees either the feet of the animal or the top of the animal. It must be very difficult to actually film a horse while it is racing, but I missed the beauty of the creatures in full flight. The actual Preakness, the second of the three races is shown, probably from old color footage of that race, as a television event watched by Miss Chenery’s husband and children, which would have been more interesting had one been able to see it up close. But that’s all right. It was proper to tokenize the second race as a build-up to the last, The Belmont, in which Secretariat created records still unbroken. All of the settings and particularly the costumes, are fine, and so is the acting. especially when Margo Martindale is on screen. Oh, just watch that wonderful face. How right she is, particularly next to the, alas, consistent wrongness of Lane.

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Marmaduke

12 Oct

Marmaduke — directed by Tom Dey — a comedy in which a young family man finds his doggedness and a young dog finds his manhood. 99 minutes color 2010.

* * * * *

It’s fascinating to watch the great Lee Pace, he of the immemorial eyebrows, play this white bread comedy to the limit of all it’s worth and not one grimace more. This extraordinary actor, the finest actor of his generation for all I know, is completely convincing, moment by moment, in the peanut butter and jelly of the genre, including all the considerable physical comedy the part requires. He is never too much, he is never too little. So much so that it’s virtually impossible to see how really good he is. To taste and compare, watch him in Soldier’s Girl, The Fall, Infamous, in which he plays Hickock the partner of Perry Smith of the Sutter murders, and the passionate romantic lead/pianist opposite Amy Adams in Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day. Sit back and be amazed at the art of acting at its best. Pace at 6’4″ towers delightfully over William H. Macy who domineers over him as dog food boss. Macy, of course, looks like a basset, and, wonderful actor that he is, gives the film the bite required. But see how Pace embodies this impossible subjection. It’s parallel to what his own great Dane evinces until the end. The dogs all speak. Marmaduke himself speaks Owen Wilson, while the bully pooch speaks Kiefer Sutherland. Others speak others. It’s all quite nice and mindless. I believe it is a children’s movie. Probably for male children, since the principals principally are males, but I wouldn’t know. I myself am a male child and, therefore, limited in my perspective.

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