Blu-Ray Review: The Party

Director: Blake Edwards
Screenplay: Blake Edwards, Tom Waldman, Frank Waldman
Starring: Peter Sellers, Claudine Longet, Herb Ellis, Denny Miller, J. Edward McKinley, Steve Franken
Country: USA
Running Time: 99 min
Year: 1968
BBFC Certificate: PG


The Party is a film that has a strange personal relevance to me. I wasn’t sure if I’d seen it fully before watching this screener (although afterwards I felt pretty sure I had), but it’s a film I know best from some catchphrases (particularly “birdy num nums”) that my uncles used to quote with my dad. Due to this, I felt I had to take up the offer of reviewing the film, to better know this title that obviously had a big impact on my family.

The Party takes quite a simple premise and simply lets it play for the duration of its running time. Peter Sellers stars as Hrundi V. Bakshi, an Indian bit-part actor working in Hollywood whose clumsiness ruins a film shoot. The director (Herb Ellis) rings his producer Fred Clutterbuck (J. Edward McKinley) to ask him to make sure Hrundi never works in Hollywood again, but Clutterbuck’s secretary accidentally takes Hrundi’s name as being down to invite to the producer’s exclusive party. The bulk of the film takes place at this party where Hrundi gets into all manner of trouble and social faux pas, helping the gathering degenerate into chaos. During all of this, Hrundi falls for aspiring actress Michèle Monet (Longet), who’s also having a hard time at the party due to her rude and aggressive date.

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Blu-Ray Review: One-Eyed Jacks

Director: Marlon Brando
Screenplay: Guy Trosper, Calder Willingham
Based on a Novel by: Charles Neider
Starring: Marlon Brando, Karl Malden, Pina Pellicer, Slim Pickens, Katy Jurado, Ben Johnson, Larry Duran
Country: USA
Running Time: 141 min
Year: 1961
BBFC Certificate: PG


The 1961 western One-Eyed Jacks is a curiosity for numerous reasons. Most notably perhaps is the fact it was the one and only time the great Marlon Brando worked behind the camera as director. This wasn’t always set to be the case though. The production began life as a script written by Sam Peckinpah, based on the 1956 Charles Neider novel, The Authentic Death of Hendry Jones (which Peckinpah would later turn into his own film, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid). Brando’s production company, Pennebaker Productions, got hold of it and Brando wanted the then relatively young Stanley Kubrick to direct it. Kubrick agreed, but insisted on a new script by Calder Willingham. The three of them worked on it at Brando’s home, but various clashes caused Willingham to leave the project (to be replaced by Guy Trosper), followed by Kubrick. With filming already set for a month’s time, Brando stepped in and Paramount agreed. Some believe this was always Brando’s plan, but by all accounts the job was too much for him as the film spiralled rapidly over budget (it reportedly ended up costing $6 million dollars, from an original budget of $1.8 million) and he lost interest during post-production, leaving the studio to edit his 4 hour 42 minute cut down to a more manageable length.

As with a lot of troubled, lengthy and expensive productions, the film was released to mixed reviews and disappointing box office returns. In more recent years though, some critics have called for a reappraisal of the film and last year a new 4K digital restoration was completed by Universal Pictures in partnership with The Film Foundation, in consultation with filmmakers Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. It’s this polished version that now reaches our homes with Arrow Academy’s new dual format release. Being a western fan, I donned my cowboy hat and took this curious pony for a ride.

One-Eyed Jacks opens with Rio (Brando), Dad Longworth (Karl Malden) and their accomplices robbing a bank in Mexico. Whilst stuck in a hilltop siege with the Mexican law, Rio sends Dad off to get new horses to aid their escape. He instead chooses to run off with the loot, leaving Rio to get caught and rot in a Mexican jail. He escapes 5 years later and seems hell bent on exacting revenge for what happened. Rio finds his chance when he happens upon Bob Amory (Ben Johnson), who is planning a bank job in Monterey, California, where Dad is currently sheriff. Rio joins Bob’s gang and soon comes face to face with Dad, but rather than shoot him down straight away, he plots a slower route of cruel vengeance. Part of this involves or is possibly waylaid by Rio forming a relationship with Dad’s step-daughter Louisa (Pina Pellicer). Further complications ensue as the audience wonders just what Rio plans to do to his former partner in crime.

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Blu-Ray Review: All Night Long

Director: Basil Dearden
Screenplay: Nel King, Paul Jarrico
Based on a Play by: William Shakespeare
Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Marti Stevens, Keith Michell, Betsy Blair, Paul Harris, Richard Attenborough
Country: UK
Running Time: 91 min
Year: 1962
BBFC Certificate: 15


I may spend much of my free time writing about films and work for a production company who make them, but film isn’t my only passion in life and, depending on my mood, isn’t necessarily my biggest either. My first love was music and it remains a vitally important part of my life. I’m an avid album collector and have been ever since I got a copy of Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ on cassette for my 6th or 7th birthday. I’ve also played the piano since the age of 5 and had short stints learning the saxophone, training my singing voice and self-teaching myself some basic guitar chords. Films are hugely dear to my heart too of course, but they’ll never fully replace the joy I get from listening to or playing my favourite songs or albums.

I pride myself in appreciating a wide range of music, from classical to metal, but one particular genre has long been my go-to and that’s jazz. The whole reason I learnt to play the saxophone as a teenager was because I’d discovered jazz music and artists such as Charlie Parker who brought the instrument to vivid life. I often go through phases of different types of music I listen to more frequently than others, but jazz is always there in the background.

So what better way to combine my two life passions than in a film about jazz? I’ve been looking for some good ones recently as my jazz love has been in overdrive, but there aren’t that many good ones available. I tracked down a couple of documentaries, such as Ken Burns’ fantastic Jazz TV series, but feature films on the subject tend to largely be biopics and I’ve never been a fan of biopics, so tend to avoid them. Network have recently come to my rescue though, asking if I’d like to review Basil Dearden’s spin on Shakespeare’s Othello, All Night Long, which is set in the 60’s London jazz scene and features jazz luminaries such as Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth and Tubby Hayes. Needless to say, I took them up on their offer.

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DVD Review: Janis: Little Girl Blue

Director: Amy J. Berg
Starring: Cat Power, Janis Joplin, Karleen Bennett
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 2015
BBFC Certificate: 15


Janis: Little Girl Blue is a documentary which looks at the life of powerhouse ’60’s blues singer Janis Joplin, who joined the infamous ’27 club’ when she succumbed to drug and alcohol abuse in October 1970. Being a huge fan of ’60’s music from an early age, particularly Janis’ brand of blues rock, I’ve long had a great admiration for her. She had a raw, bone-rattlingly powerful voice like no other that helped revolutionise the way we thought about female vocalists. So an offer to review Janis: Little Girl Blue was not one I was going to turn down.

Charting Janis’ life from her teenage years (after a brief run through her childhood) to her death, the film runs chronologically, using letters she wrote to her family over this time as a sort of framing device. Read out by the musician Chan Marshall (a.k.a. Cat Power), these add a strong sense of poignancy to her tale, which could otherwise have easily fallen into the simple ‘lived fast died young’ bracket. Right through to the end, the letters were sweet and sadly apologetic, displaying a vulnerability not evident in her wild, passionate musical performances.

As well as using these letters to give the film emotional weight, director Amy Berg sensibly avoids using talking heads from celebrity fans (other than a couple over the credits). Instead we only hear from those who actually knew Janis – her family, friends and band members. This helps keep the film from being a fluffy ass-kissing affair and keeps the film focussed on Janis as a person rather than a mythical music icon. A wealth of personal artefacts have been made available too, including a scrap book of notes and photos on top of plenty of archive film footage.

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Blu-Ray Review: Culloden & The War Game

Peter Watkins is a British filmmaker that revolutionised the docudrama format in the 60’s when he wrote and directed two feature length BBC TV films, Culloden (a.k.a. The Battle of Culloden) and The War Game. The BFI have packaged these two films together and released them on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD. Below are my thoughts on each individual title and the features included in the set.

Culloden (a.k.a. The Battle of Culloden)

Director: Peter Watkins
Screenplay: Peter Watkins
Starring: Tony Cosgrove, Olivier Espitalier-Noel, Don Fairservice
Country: UK
Running Time: 69 min
Year: 1964
BBFC Certificate: 15


Through making Culloden, the then young Peter Watkins quickly became known as the golden boy of the BBC, even before the film was screened, as the first cut was so well received by his peers. With Culloden, he took a radical new approach to the historical documentary. Dramatically reconstructing the past was nothing new, but he did so whilst keeping the shooting style and presentation in line with modern documentary techniques. He took a subject from the distant past (the 1745 battle of Culloden, the last battle fought on British soil and last attempt to overthrow the king) and made it look as though TV cameras and documentary crew were there on the scene to capture it.

This approach gives a feeling of authenticity to the content, which is important as Watkins’ film seeks to crush the myth that the Great Britain we now know was forged on freedom and honour through glorious battle. Instead we are shown the stupidity and cowardice of ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’, whose incompetence and poor choice of military advisor dealt a decisive victory to his enemy, the loyalists. After the shambolic massacre of the battle, we then witness the systematic murdering, raping and pillaging of the king’s dissenters, as the loyalist troops tear their way back to England through the Highlands.

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Blu-Ray Review: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls

Director: Russ Meyer
Screenplay: Roger Ebert
Based on a Story by: Roger Ebert, Russ Meyer
Starring: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John Lazar, Michael Blodgett
Country: USA
Running Time: 109 min
Year: 1970
BBFC Certificate: 18


Russ Meyer is an unusual character in the history of American cinema. His first feature film as a director (after working as a combat cameraman in WWII) was The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959). Widely acknowledged as the first commercially viable American ‘skin flick’ (or softcore porn as the films are more commonly known these days), it grossed more than $1,500,000 in the US at the time of its release from a budget of a mere $24,000. This success spurred Meyer on to make a name for himself as the ‘king of the skin flicks’, producing dozens of successful exploitation films that always featured incredibly buxom female stars, even when his films started to mix in other genres and become wild action-packed romps.

What’s interesting and unusual about Meyer is that, despite his reputation for making what were pretty much porn films, he actually became respected as a filmmaker in many circles. One of the key reasons for this was that he showed all the traits of being a true auteur. He worked as director, producer, screenwriter, cinematographer and film editor on many of his films, giving him a huge amount of control over the end product. His films had a recognisable style because of this. As well as the large-breasted stars, his films had a punchy editing style and bold, well composed cinematography. He made exploitation movies that actually looked good and were well put together, unlike many of the ‘skin flicks’ that would follow in his wake.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls represents an unusual point in Meyers career though. After Easy Rider, which was cheaply produced by a bunch of young ‘hippies’, became a huge unexpected success for Columbia Pictures, the other studios wanted in on the action. A number of the companies believed that giving money to young directors, fresh out of film school, would produce exciting counter-culture movies that the nation’s youth would flock to see (which is what kick-started the 70’s New Hollywood movement). 20th Century Fox’s plan though was to give a large budget to an already successful indie director with a reputation for making commercially successful genre films for very little money. The director they chose was Russ Meyer and the film he made was Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.

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Blu-Ray Review: Seconds

Director: John Frankenheimer
Screenplay: Lewis John Carlino
Based on a novel by: David Ely
Starring: Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph
Country: USA
Running Time: 106 min
Year: 1966
BBFC Certificate: 15


In my review of The Train earlier this year, I talked of my appreciation of John Frankenheimer and belief that he doesn’t quite get the respect he deserves. Back in the early 60’s he could do no wrong though. He had a run of four critical and commercial successes with Birdman of Alcatraz,The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May and The Train. This was followed up by the spiritual successor to the middle two titles, Seconds, creating an unofficial ‘paranoia trilogy’. A dark, unusual and quite challenging film, it wasn’t nearly as successful as Frankenheimer’s previous work, which may explain why its follow up was the more spectacular crowd-pleaser (and his first film in colour), Grand Prix. Over time, Seconds has been better appreciated though and Eureka have deemed it worthy of addition to their superlative Masters of Cinema series. I got hold of a copy to see how it stands up today.

Seconds finds the middle aged banker Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) unhappy with his life. A mysterious phone call from his supposedly dead friend Charlie (Murray Hamilton) offers a chance for improvement though. Charlie leads Arthur towards a shady organisation who promise their customers a fresh start by faking their deaths and setting them up with a new and sought-after lifestyle, with a new face to go with it (achieved through extreme plastic surgery). Although unsure of the procedure at first, Arthur is talked (or pretty much bullied) into it. He becomes Antiochus Wilson, a West Coast artist with the face of Rock Hudson. At first this new identity seems idyllic, bringing romance in the form of the free spirited Nora Marcus (Salome Jens) who helps loosen up the uptight former banker. However, as time goes on, Arthur/Antiochus finds that all is not as it seems and he learns to appreciate the true value of life so wants to re-assume his original identity. The question is, will the organisation allow it?

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Review: Selma

SelmaStill1

Director: Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere, The Door)
Writer: Paul Webb
Producers: Cassandra Kulukundis, Todd J. Labarowski, Emanuel Michael
Starring: David Oyelowo, Carmen Ejogo, Wendell Pierce, Lorraine Toussaint, Tom Wilkinson, Giovanni Ribisi
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 127 min.


Sometimes there’s a sense that a movie is succeeding because of its timeliness and little more. It’s why there are instances of multiple biopics vying to be first out the door after a subject’s death but sometimes, it’s a little more abstract than that. That certainly appears to be the case with Ava DuVernay’s Selma which was in production long before the events of Ferguson ever happened but in the wake of that national disaster, Selma is likely to become a rallying cry for change and it’s a damned fine one at that.

Written by newcomer Paul Webb, Selma picks up in early 1965. LBJ is in office and he has a pretty good relationship with Martin Luther King Jr.. In one particular meeting, King pushes for change, namely in the ability of African Americans to vote. Johnson argues there are more important issues to deal with; he has a different agenda. King pushes ahead with the argument and along with the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group take action and their next fight to Selma, Alabama. A ripe territory for a showdown.

Du Vernay’s film isn’t simply a retelling of the events leading up to what happened in Selma. It’s also a portrait of a man who has been fighting for a long time. A man who is tired; a man who feels defeated; a man who leads but does not go on alone. Webb’s portrait of King gives the good with the bad. The film shows King to have been a great preacher, a man who could mobilise masses, but it also doesn’t shy away from King’s troubles; his infidelities, his indecision, his feeling of defeat and fighting an unwinnable fight. Mostly it creates the picture of a man who led a movement but who was only human. A man who relied on the supported by the people around him to succeed.

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The Stewardesses – Unseen Movie Marathon

unseenmovies

This is the second of at least 224 planned posts in which I shall slowly work through my DVD collection. The reason for doing this is first and foremost to admit that I have a problem. I buy way too many DVDs that I want to watch but never watch. On the morning of May 24th, 2009 I owned 224 DVDs which I have never seen. I have never seen them theatrically, on television, on VHS, on Beta or even by means of the DVD which I own and possess on the shelf. My plan is to watch at least one of these each week. If I’m lucky I will see more than one but to keep this reasonable considering my time restraints one a week is pretty good. I will write up my thoughts on each movie.

This weeks (or half week) review is of the 3d version of The Stewardesses, I watched it in honour of the new Pixar movie Up which I watched earlier in the evening in 3d also.

The Stewardesses

The Stewardesses 3dI put up a post about talking to people about movies that deal with sex and how it is hard to talk about them because you never know if you will offend people and how there is a double standard when it comes to violence. There is a lot of cinema which has graphic sex in that is truly great cinema. Unfortunately, The Stewardesses is not one such film. I ended up purchasing it back when I was in Toronto because I was interested to check out the first 3d x-rated film. I had checked on Wikipedia and it was actually the highest grossing 3d film at the time. I’m sure this is no longer the case even when inflation is taken into account. I figured I was in for a light sex farce or romp that would make me laugh a few times while it tried to titillate me with fairly mild sex compared to today’s x-rated movies. I figured I’d end up with something like American Pie or of similar vein. Instead of this I ended up with a very dry movie about a group of stewardesses who go on some dates and end up having sex. The sex is fairly tame when compared to what is in adult films today so I was right on that account although there is some full frontal nudity but it never actually occurs during the sex scenes. In between the sex though I sat bored as the rest of the movie had terrible dialogue, no humour and no real sense of pacing or any feeling that it was going anywhere. I even thought that they had forgotten to finish off one of the storylines and was about to write off the movie as a complete waste of time when they went back to the stewardess that seemed to be the main character. This is when the movie took a dark nasty turn that just didn’t feel like it fit either. The only reason I’m giving The Stewardesses one star is not because I liked the ending, in truth I thought it was extremely painful and hard to watch. It was hard to watch not because of how dark it is nor because of how it is able to change things up and at least make the ending interesting but simply because it must have taken some guts to go the route that it did.

Overall, I wish that I had picked a better movie to talk about when it comes to the whole sex in film as there really is no reason why I would ever want to bring this film up during a discussion unless it was about bad movies that I have seen that are so bad they are just boring. As a final note I should mention that I watched half the movie in black and white 3d and the other half in color. If you are watching an old style, with the blue and red glasses I would recommend watching the black and white version. The effect is much better and you don’t get any glowing spots from certain colors. 3d has really come a long way from where it was and it is unfortunate that we still can not use the polarized RealD glasses that are available in theatres when at home.

If you own this one and haven’t watched it I suggest just passing it on to someone else unless you are just being a completionist and have to see it for some reason.

The Taking Woodstock Poster Just Blinded Me

Either I didn’t take enough drugs this morning or the poster designer took too many before opening Photoshop and working on this poster for Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock. I understand you’re trying to channel the 60s but is the tie-die mess really necessary? The design itself isn’t so bad (reminiscent of the cool concert posters that now sell for thousands on e-Bay plus I like the folded look) but the colours…it’s a little too psychedelic for me. Add in the fact that I wasn’t particularly impressed by the trailer and you’ve got a movie that I’m going to to forget until the day before it opens. I will say one thing for it, at least it looks like the designer was proficient in Photoshop unlike the dude that designed Richard Kelly’s The Box poster; I could have done better with one eye closed.

You may want to cloud the room with a little smoke before looking at this thing that Kurt found via Rolling Stone.

Taking Woodstock One Sheet