The Cinema Penitentiary Diaries June 20 – 30

  1. Kiki’s Delivery Service Despite all the hoopla about Pixar and the rest of the computer animation studios, Japan’s Studio Ghibli will be the one remembered in history as the place where the art of animation by human hands, hearts, and minds persisted through these inhuman times. “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” an early work by Hayao Miyazaki, tells the delightful tale of a witch who finds her place in a small town by using her powers to make timely deliveries.
  1. Poltergeist (2015) The main difference between this remake and the original is the bad personalities of the family members. The original featured the blandly nice suburban family that is typical of a Spielberg production. Although Spielberg did not produce the remake, his censorious eye is ever present, ensuring that the production never degenerates to the level of a horror picture. He allows s certain nastiness to run though the family tree, but the poltergeist tree is never allowed to express a deeper, more destructive nastiness that could cause some permanent damage to the snot-nosed kids.
  1. Hatari Howard Hawks’ worst movie has is defenders. They claim the rhino hunters are an allegorical film crew.  Even if this theory had any credence, it is no excuse for Hawk’s lazy direction and the script’s half-assed eavesdropping on meandering human relationships. The casting sinks this picture from the outset.  Elsa Martinelli is no Angie Dickinson and Red Buttons is an annoying second banana.  John Wayne has become so comfortable in this role that he could crap his pants and never notice. Fury Road After seeing this a second  time, without the chaotic visuals of the 3D, my opinion of it has risen considerably.  At least I can see why so many people enjoyed it.  I was wrong abut the editing, which is even better than Mad Max 2. I thought it was godawful at first, but it was just the 3D screwing up the edges of the image.
  1. The Innocent In the world of Luchino Visconti’s last film, the characters are imprisoned in opulence. The art on the walls, the furniture, the music, the food, even the clothing and especially the veils tightened across the faces of women, are inhumanly oppressive. There is no escape from beauty . It suffocates everything.  There is no room for the killing winter air in these over-heated rooms. The  film is a overture to a suicide note, a fight against the flight to freedom..away from Mozart, Di Vinci, and the golden ripeness of Laura Antonelli, the last of the Italian screen goddesses who died this month at the age of 80 from a heart attack.
  1. Tomorrowland The message of Tomorrowland is that people will accept and welcome the apocalypse because in doing so they are excused from doing anything to try to prevent it. People want the world to end because such an end would be the end of responsibility. And that message is an important one  for the sons and daughters of a complacent generation that ignores the signs of a planet in decline in favor of arguing over social issues, most of which have no personal significance to them.  The message is so important that the shortcomings of the movie are irrelevant.  At its worse, it is a sight better than most of the futuristic mayhem that has been passing for escapist entertainment of late. And its getting later every day.  Forget about the conversational skills of tomorrow’s sex dolls. You are never going to be able to afford their price tag anyway. Start thinking about taking back the power from the dynasties that are making laws against drinking rainwater.
  1. Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel If you liked the first one, it is a safe bet that the sequel will appeal to you as well….it is pretty much the same thing, but the telling is so random that the script might have been written on flashcards. Spring A guy falls in love with a girl who has to give birth to herself every twenty years in order to sustain her immortality. She explains to him that this will create some problems for them over time, but he is insistent upon making a go of it anyway.
  1. House by the Cemetery There is a zombie in the basement who is killing every who goes down there. One of Lucio Fulci’s best horror films. King Lear (Godard) How to rip off Cannon films, those exploitation idiots who will green light anything if they think it gives them class. Jean-Luc Godard directs wunderkind Peter Sellers as a descendant of William Shakespeare who is trying to restore his plays that were destroyed at Chernobyl. Looking for King Lear, he eavesdrops on a gangster (Burgess Meredith) and his daughter (Molly Ringwald) in a cafe, picking up some choice lines that might have been written by his famous ancestor.  As a bonus, there is a prologue with Norman Mailer as the Great Writer explaining some things to his daughter. Sound like a hit? No, but somebody smells prestige.  What I got out of it was the utter imbecility of trying to stage Shakespeare in the post-Chernobyl world.
  1. Lady in Cement Frank Sinatra as private detective Tony Rome. The Bear What I hated about this picture was that the scenes seemed to be staged, the director repeatedly putting the cub into terrifying situations and peril. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter This lovely adaptation of Carson McCullers’ novel features Alan Arkin in  one of his best performances and a young Sondra Locke (later Mrs. Clint Eastwood)  in her screen debut. Like “To Kill a Mockingbird,” this  is a memory film in which a woman recalls a significant episode from her childhood involving a friendship with a strange man.  Robert Ellis Miller was a television director who directed a brief string of sensitive movies in the Robert Mulligan mode between 1966-74. This  was his best, and makes me wish he had not returned to the vast wasteland.
  1. Hail Mary A nice try from Godard on capturing the mystery and terror of pregnancy, but its self-conscious modernity compromises the air of ancient spirituality he sometimes achieves through meditations on the natural world. Anyone claiming to completely understand the picture is full of shit because Godard himself struggled to understand his subject, but could not get beyond the flesh.  I saw the picture several times while managing the Orson Welles Theatre in Cambridge, MA, where I defended it against Cardinal Bernard Law’s efforts to have it banned.  At the time, I  was impressed with Godard’s achievement, but can’t say I got much of value out of it.  Today, the picture says nothing to me, and much of it seems outright stupid. Still, I enjoy watching it, and will probably revisit it several more times. That is the Godard paradox. The Evil Eye I was thrilled to finally see this picture that my father had promised to take me to see at the drive in when I was a kid. But he had eaten too much sauerkraut at lunch and cancelled on me, as he feared an attack of diarrhea might strike while at the drive-in. But when I finally got hold of the movie, it turned out I had already seen it under the title “The Girl Who Knew Too Much.”  Furthermore, the movie my dad and I had planned to see at the drive-in was not “The Evil Eye,” but “The Hypnotic Eye.”  Such are the perils of memory.
  1. Scarface (Hawks) The most violent of the thirties’ gangster pictures is more frightening than DePalma’s over-the-top remake because of the societal naivety of the period. It must have scared the crap out of its audience, while the horrors of the remake were played for laughs. What a difference a half a century makes. Hunchback of Notre Dame (Deiterle) Sometimes you just have to forget about the novel if you want to enjoy a movie. Hugo’s novel would be impossible to film as it was primarily a treatise on the architecture of 15th Century Paris, with the story of the bell-ringer and the gypsy girl interwoven to keep the reader engaged.  The movie versions of the novel, of which this is the best  on several counts, despite the happy ending, remind me more of  Bizet’s “Carmen” than Hugo’s “Notre Dame de Paris.”
  1. Beyond the Darkness Pathetic horror from Joe d’Amato, who is more of a pornographer than a filmmaker, even when he tries to do a clean job. Hatchet for a Honeymoon Elements of “Psycho” inspire Mario Bava’s chiller about a gender-confused young man who goes bananas at the sight of a mannequin in a wedding dress, a condition that escalates to a murderous psychosis when a real woman tries on such a garment.  Day of the Beast A priest  commits as may sins as he can in order to get in good with the devil so he can find out where the Antichrist is to be born so he can kill it and save the world from destruction. From that imaginative beginning, this Mexican horror falls on its face and never gets up from the mess it is in.  The Abyss Directing “Aliens” taught James Cameron a lot about filming in confined spaces, and he brings this knowledge to The Abyss, which could well be his masterpiece. See the 171 minute special edition, as the theatrical version doesn’t begin to tell the whole story, and individual sequences are weakened by the most minor cuts.
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