Blu-Ray Review: The Lady From Shanghai

Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Orson Welles
Based on a Novel by: Sherwood King
Starring: Rita Hayworth, Orson Welles, Everett Sloane, Glenn Anders, Ted de Corsia
Country: USA
Running Time: 88 min
Year: 1947
BBFC Certificate: PG


Orson Welles blew everyone away with his ‘official’ directorial debut Citizen Kane (he made Too Much Johnson before that, but it was only originally produced to be integrated into a stage show and was never screened in cinemas until its rediscovery decades later). OK, it didn’t particularly make waves at the box office, but it was critically acclaimed and made people sit up and take notice of the precocious young director. However, Welles didn’t have much luck following that. From his follow up The Magnificent Ambersons onwards, his productions were plagued by interference from studios and he never managed to strike gold in the same way due to this. In an early review – http://blueprintreview.co.uk/2011/11/touch-of-evil/, I argued that Touch of Evil might be a better film than Citizen Kane, but I saw the ‘director’s cut’ which had been re-edited in the 90’s from the original studio released version.

The Lady From Shanghai is one of these studio tampered films, with the original cut presented to the producers coming in an hour longer than the version we have today. Welles was also particularly vocal about his dislike for the score by Heinz Roemheld (a 9-page memo he wrote detailing changes which were never made can be found in this handsome dual-format set). Nevertheless, the film is regarded as one of the better studio films he made, so a Blu-Ray re-release like this is more than welcome. I’ve seen the film once before, but couldn’t remember a lot about it so was keen to revisit it.

The Lady From Shanghai opens with Irish rogue Michael O’Hara (Welles) happening across the beautiful Elsa Bannister (Rita Hayworth) and soon after saving her from the hands of some muggers. They share a sexually charged horse carriage ride, following which Elsa offers O’Hara a job on her yacht. He initially refuses this as he discovers she’s married, and to a criminal lawyer to boot. However, her husband Arthur (Everett Sloane) comes to see O’Hara and persuades him to take the job. O’Hara and the audience can smell something fishy, but the hard-headed Irishman decides to risk it and heads along on the couple’s cruise. Of course, he gets into a mess of trouble as Arthur and his associate George Grisby (Glenn Anders) drag him into a faked murder plot.

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Cinecast Episode 465 – Ny Ny York

Award season is upon us and from here on out we’ll be diving into a lot of so-called “Oscar Contenders.” Perhaps no other film in 2016 is as universally lauded as Damien Chazelle’s La La Land starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Andrew and Kurt are finally able to put a discussion to this picture after Kurt had seen it months ago at The TIFF. Is it quite the spectacle everyone claims? From there, we quickly pound through a Watch List that includes Mozart in the Jungle, some b-level (c-level?) sci-fi horror pictures, Wes Anderson at his “most mature” and venture back to the Satruday morning cartoon cereals. This episode is kept a little tighter this week. If you want a little more from the guys, be sure to check out The Super Ticket with the Mamo Matts in which we talk a little movie called Star Wars Rogue One.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

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Review: Orson Welles Centenary Releases

To celebrate what would have been Orson Welles’ 100th birthday, Mr Bongo Films are releasing a collection of much sought after and rare films from the acclaimed director, including a brand new restored 50th Anniversary Edition of Falstaff: Chimes at Midnight. I was lucky enough to get my hands on screeners for three of the films in their lineup. I must admit I’d only actually seen three of Welles’ films prior to this week; Citizen Kane (of course), The Lady From Shanghai and Touch of Evil. I love all three (Shanghai to a lesser extent), so I was keen to dig further into his filmography. Below are my thoughts on the films I was sent.

Too Much Johnson

Director: Orson Welles
Screenplay: Orson Welles
Based on a Play by: William Gillette
Starring: Joseph Cotten, Virginia Nicolson, Edgar Barrier
Country: USA
Running Time: 66 min
Year: 1938
BBFC Certification: U


I was always under the impression that Citizen Kane was Orson Welles’ debut feature, but three years earlier back in 1938 he’d directed Too Much Johnson. This was meant to be integrated with Welles’ stage production of the play of the same name, by William Gillette. The venue didn’t have any projection facilities though, so the film was never screened. It was believed to be lost for decades after a fire in Welles’ home in 1971, but a work print was rediscovered back in 2008 and has now reached British homes through this DVD release.

Too Much Johnson is a silent comedy in which Augustus Billings (Joseph Cotten) is caught in bed with another man’s wife. He escapes out the window before the husband Leon Dathis (Edgar Barrier) gets his hands on him, but this sets the scene for an epic chase across the city and eventually all the way to Cuba.

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TCM Film Fest 2015: Chimes at Midnight

R3-Chimes-at-Midnight

Orson Welles’ career is the stuff of legend – wunderkind Hollywood golden boy with Citizen Kane, then losing most of his subsequent films to studio interference, and eventually finding it impossible to raise enough money to even complete the films he wanted to make. By 1965 when he made Chimes at Midnight, the funding came from Spain and Switzerland, and the film barely got a release in the US. Even before becoming a big shot Hollywood actor/writer/director, Welles was already a noted Shakespearean scholar and actor, and in the late 1940s, his film output shifted to Shakespeare as well, with versions of Macbeth and Othello. He’d long intended to do a Falstaff story, combining the five plays featuring the characters – a stage version called Five Kings hadn’t quite gotten off the ground as early as 1939, then he staged it in 1960, when it was also unsuccessful. Undaunted, he focused on a film version, which became Chimes at Midnight (sometimes known as just Falstaff). Unlike many of his projects during his later career, Chimes at Midnight was finished, and finished pretty much according to Welles’ wishes.

Upon initial release, the film was dismissed by critics, but it has since gained a reputation as one of Welles’ greatest films – Welles himself felt it was his best work. Rights issues have plagued the film, however, and it’s been very difficult to see in any kind of decent quality (it is watchable on YouTube). Rumor has it that the print screened at TCM Fest (courtesy of Filmoteca España) will soon make its way to DVD/Blu-ray, which would be great. As of now, though, the people who saw it at TCM Fest have probably seen the best version of it since its original release.

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Cinecast Episode 352 – This is What Happens with Progress

 
Though the power of the RowThree fell silent for a couple of days, Andrew and Kurt refused to give in. Andrew talks Locke. Kurt talks some Orson Welles, some Wickerman and some Nuclear Power on this weeks Watch List. Kurt’s 11 year old son Willem joins for a discussion the best performance of Schwarzenegger’s career. And Westeros is in chaos, as always.

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 


 

[mp3player width=640 height=76 config=cinecast.xml file=http://rowthree.com/audio/cinecast_14/episode_352.mp3] DOWNLOAD mp3 | 93 MB
if player is not working, try alternate player at bottom of this post

 
 
Full show notes are under the seats…
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2014 TCM Film Festival: Touch of Evil

TCM-Fest-Banner-r3

touch-of-evil

I knew this TCM Film Festival was going to be a brief one for me, as having a one-year-old daughter lessens ones flexibility considerably, even with a very considerate husband. My major goal was to find one thing that he and I could go to together since he was going to spend a lot of the rest of the time alone with our daughter while I galavanted off to watch movies. As soon as I looked at the schedule, it was clear which film that would be. We both name Touch of Evil as likely our favorite Orson Welles film (yes, over Citizen Kane), and have done so long before we even knew each other. The chance to see it at the TCL Chinese (no, I’m still not used to calling it that) in the version cut according to Orson Welles’ notes – it was just meant to be.

Going to a movie at the TCM Film Festival when one of you has a pass and the other is depending on the standby line is something of a stressful situation, but thankfully we got there early and he got in fine. It was the first time I had been in the Chinese theatre since TCL bought and remodeled it, and I’m a bit ambivalent on the new look. The decor is as resplendent as ever, but it’s all stadium seating now, which results in some 230 fewer seats (though 900 seats is still a lot) and generally makes it feel much less communal than it did before. It’s still a great way to see a movie, but it didn’t feel as much like a classic movie palace experience. But I’m being nostalgic for a time I never knew.

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Review: Jodorowski’s Dune

Dune

One of, if not the, most famous films never made was Dune. Sure, we got the mid-eighties David Lynch version – admittedly that is a significant guilty pleasure of mine – and some terrible TV miniseries in the early 2000s, but every science fiction cinephile worth their salt has drooled over the folklore behind Chilean writer-director-mime-surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version which would have starred Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Udo Kier and Salvador Dali and scored by Pink Floyd. The implosion of the project in the mid 1970s and the scattering of the creative and technical team resulted in Ridley Scott’s Alien, but also, according to the storyboard matches inside the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, inspired imagery from Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Flash Gordon, Contact and a host of other classic blockbuster science fiction epics. It was something like all the musicians that were at that one Sex Pistols show went on to create almost the entire Punk movement.

This documentary may be a talking heads and animated cut-away straightforward but when you have the burning energy of Jodorowsky as the main subject, even at 84 years young, there is more energy and passion (and more than a bit of crazy) to burn. His vision of the coming of a cinema version of Frank Herbert’s cultish science fiction novel was as the coming of a cinematic God. It was to be something sacred, with more than a touch of madness. That he had never actually read the book, well that wasn’t going to stop him. He assembled his creative team, his ‘spiritual warriors’ in Paris from all over the world, young special effects and writer Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star, Alien), graphic artists Moebius, H.R. Giger and Chris Foss and preached to them, almost like a cult priest or guru, for months in designing the storyboards and production design element. None of the creative team had read the Frank Herbert novel either, trusting to Jodorowsky’s unrelenting passion for his own ideas and vision. To say there was hubris and grandiosity going into the project is an understatement, but this is the writer director of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, the former film birthed the idea of a “Midnight Movie,” a practice which still continues (to a degree) today, and the latter, perhaps the strangest movie ever made. Trying to raise money from Disney, Paramount and the Other studios proved fruitless, as nearly everyone speculates, it was too visionary (and its runtime likely too epic) for the Hollywood Studio system, and too expensive to make anywhere else.

Thus, the project lives on as a dream. The perfect dream that exists in the minds of a few, because it was never realized, has become idealized. Something that was to be made by spiritual warriors to mutate young minds has, after 40 years, passed into kind of a legend, almost myth, and it is now collected here as kind of a bible insofar as the storyboards and concept art collection that resulted and how it is further (and handsomely) eulogized by way of this documentary.

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TIFF Review: Jodorowsky’s Dune

Dune

One of, if not the, most famous films never made was Dune. Sure, we got the mid-eighties David Lynch version – admittedly that is a significant guilty pleasure of mine – and some terrible TV miniseries in the early 2000s, but every science fiction cinephile worth their salt has drooled over the folklore behind Chilean writer-director-mime-surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky’s version which would have starred Mick Jagger, Orson Welles, Udo Kier and Salvador Dali and scored by Pink Floyd. The implosion of the project in the mid 1970s and the scattering of the creative and technical team resulted in Ridley Scott’s Alien, but also, according to the storyboard matches inside the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, inspired imagery from Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Flash Gordon, Contact and a host of other classic blockbuster science fiction epics. It was something like all the musicians that were at that one Sex Pistols show went on to create almost the entire Punk movement.

This documentary may be a talking heads and animated cut-away straightforward but when you have the burning energy of Jodorowsky as the main subject, even at 84 years young, there is more energy and passion (and more than a bit of crazy) to burn. His vision of the coming of a cinema version of Frank Herbert’s culty science fiction novel was as the coming of a cinematic God. It was to be something sacred, with more than a touch of madness. That he had never actually read the book, well that wasn’t going to stop him. He assembled his creative team, his ‘spiritual warriors’ in Paris from all over the world, young special effects and writer Dan O’Bannon (Dark Star, Alien), graphic artists Moebius, H.R. Giger and Chris Foss and preached to them, almost like a cult priest or guru, for months in designing the storyboards and production design element. None of the creative team had read the Frank Herbert novel either, trusting to Jodorowsky’s unrelenting passion for his own ideas and vision. To say there was hubris and grandiosity going into the project is an understatement, but this is the writer director of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, the former film birthed the idea of a “Midnight Movie,” a practice which still continues (to a degree) today, and the latter, perhaps the strangest movie ever made. Trying to raise money from Disney, Paramount and the Other studios proved fruitless, as nearly everyone speculates, it was too visionary (and its runtime likely too epic) for the Hollywood Studio system, and too expensive to make anywhere else.

Thus, the project lives on as a dream. The perfect dream that exists in the minds of a few, because it was never relalized, has become idealized. Something that was to be made by spiritual warriors to mutate young minds has, after 40 years, passed into kind of a legend, almost myth, and it is now collected here as kind of a bible insofar as the storyboards and concept art collection that resulted and how it is further (and handsomely) eulogized by way of this documentary.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Let’s Wash Our Brains: RoGoPaG

Directors: Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini & Ugo Gregoretti
Screenplay: Roberto Rossellini, Jean-Luc Godard, Pier Paolo Pasolini & Ugo Gregoretti
Starring: Rosanna Schiaffino, Jean-Marc Bory, Orson Welles, Mario Cipriani, Ugo Tognazzi
Producers: Alberto Barsanti, Alfredo Bini & Angelo Rizzoli
Country: Italy
Running Time: 123 min
Year: 1963
BBFC Certificate: PG

In 1963, legendary Italian producer Alfredo Bini brought together three of Italy’s hottest writer/directors; relative newcomers (at the time) Pier Paolo Pasolini and Ugo Gregoretti as well as the great Roberto Rossellini, and combined their talents with the equally (if not more) popular Jean-Luc Godard to create the multi-director portmanteau (or anthology) film Let’s Wash Our Brains: RoGoPaG (a.k.a. RoGoPaG). The largely radical filmmakers were given free reign to create what they liked to each fill around 30 minutes of screen time, limiting themselves “to recounting the joyous beginning of the end of the world”. Each of them tackle the theme in their own unique way, resulting in four standalone pieces of work that don’t attempt to rub shoulders in any way. Unfortunately, like most of these anthologies, the results are rather hit and miss. So let’s have a separate look at the four films within RoGoPaG:

‘Illibatezza’ (Virginity) is Rossellini’s entry to the collection and for me was the weakest, getting things off to a poor start. Telling the story of attractive air hostess Anna Maria (Rosanna Schiaffino), who is stalked by the irritating American tourist Joe (Bruce Balaban), most of the film consists of dated, unfunny comedy as Anna Maria tries her best to shun her admirer. It’s all rather dull until the film’s point/twist finally comes around to make things vaguely more interesting when Anna Maria’s husband is advised to tell her to dress like a skank to ward off Joe who is “drawn to her purity”. Unfortunately this backfires as it turns Anna Maria into a woman no longer attractive to her husband. I’m not sure what sort of a message this is, but at least it adds a talking point to the dreary antics that preceded it.

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Top 10 Corrupt Movie Cops

Apparently our friends over in the criminal justice department are also big movie dorks as well. And what kind of movie would they like the best? The kind with corrupt officials of course! So I stumbled upon this list the other day about movie cops gone bad. Seems like an easy topic to list off, but there were several on here I almost forgot about. There are probably hundreds more, but here are ten good ones. Beware that there may be some *SPOILERS* in the text that follows. And I need to rewatch L.A. Confidential someday soon.

 
 

10. Dudley Smith, L.A. Confidential
You may want to think of James Cromwell as the sweet farmer who gave a pig a chance in Babe, but he shows another side of himself in L.A. Confidential. He basically controls the organized crime in L.A., blackmails city officials to get his way, and murders (or has someone else murder) everyone that gets in the way of his quest for drugs and power. It’s hard to even keep track of all the people he kills during the movie and before it even starts. This may have just been the unedited Babe sequel, Babe: Pig in the City.

 


 

9. Norman Stansfield, Leon the Professional
If you haven’t seen this film, you should if only to see a bad-ass 12-year-old Natalie Portman. She plays Mathilda, a girl whose whole family has been murdered by corrupt DEA agents headed up by Norman “Stan” Stansfield. Mathilda’s father had been keeping cocaine for the agents, but they found out he’d been keeping some for himself, and Stansfield, who’s addicted to drugs himself, decided to take out the whole family. Mathilda was out shopping when the murders happened, so now Stansfield wants to find her and kill her. She’s not totally helpless since she finds a father figure in the hitman down the hall, but it’s still not very nice of this officer to be trying to gun down a little girl.

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