Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Fly

This is not a Fred Astaire film! That would have been great, though - Astaire tapdancing with six feet... I took a break in the Fredfest to watch The Fly, the original from 58. Scientist messes with nature and pays the price. Starring Vincent Price.

It's interesting when you watch a remake before the original film. Often you will prefer the remake, since you saw that first. The original The Thing seems weak when you've already seen the remake by John Carpenter. And the remake of The Fly, by Cronenberg, is such a strong film that the original seen today is slightly silly. It still has it's qualities. For one thing, it's not a cheap B-movie. It has an expensive look. One thing that is lost, though, is the mystery. You know what has happened, you know why the woman in the opening of the film has killed her husband and why she is obsessed with flies. Something I wondered about is, why is the film set in France? Is it based on a French book? It creates the strange situation where the supporting characters speak with a heavy French accent, but the main characters don't.

A central line in the film is "It's like playing God." As usual in these films, there is a warning against experimenting with nature, creating the iconic ending - the fly with a human head, about to be eaten by a spider. Heelp Meeee!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Unused page...

... from Hey, Wait...

You'll Never Get Rich

Basically, it's Fred Astaire joins the army. Co-starring Rita Hayworth.

The story in this type of film is never the most important thing, but here it's even flimsier than usual. Some silliness about Astaire's married boss having an eye on Hayworth, and to avoid suspicions from his wife he brings Astaire into the picture, who to get away from it all enlists in the army. Or something. Most of the humour in the film doesn't work. The film has two characters that are supposed to bring comic relief, but they don't. The flashlight scene is supposed to be funny, but it isn't. The musical numbers aren't too bad, though. Rita Hayworth is a good dancer, but she doesn't really achieve the sort of alchemy with Astaire that he and Rogers did. I'm not sure why. She might be too goodlooking and unreachable next to Fred. Ginger Rogers seemed more real, somehow.

Some of the magic of those films is that the goofylooking Astaire gets the girl in the end. If he looked like Clark Gable it would be pointless, of course. He gets the girl because he can dance! And Hayworth seems more like the equivalent of that Italian guy in Top Hat, Astaire's competition for Rogers in that film, an obstacle to overwin.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fred Astaire

Got a bunch of Fred Astaire dvds. I've seen most of the films he did with Ginger Rogers, so I've been buying some of the other ones. First: Royal Wedding, from 1951, directed by Stanley Donen. Astaire and Jane Powell are brother and sister dance partners on tour in London. Also starring Peter Lawford.

The most famous sequence in this film is the one where Astaire dances on the ceiling and that was recently ripped off in Inception (always thought that film needed a song and dance act). There's also the scene of him dancing with a hatstand. Both of those are on youtube. If you've seen them there is really no need to see the film, which is not that good, really. Astaire is getting a bit too old here to have a romantic lead, and the scenes of Powell and Lawford are boring. A lot of the musical numbers, like the Haïti one, are for the show within the film and doesn't really have anything to do with the story. And I miss the comic relief of the early Astaire and Rogers films. Having seen those films in black and white, the use of colour in this film seems almost distracting. And also, the quality of the transfer is not good, it's like watching a videotape. The film is no masterpiece, but still, it's a shame.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Kill, Baby... Kill!

The fourth film in the Bava box, Knives of the Avenger, is a viking film. I'm skipping that one for the moment and rather watched Kill, Baby... Kill! A remote village is cursed by the ghost of a dead girl. The people who see her will then die. A doctor who has been called to the village tries to find out what is behind the curse.

Nice title! It's not quite fitting, but who cares. It's a return to the gothic world of castles, fog and spiderwebs. The film looks great, as usual, with a very good transfer. The colours really pop. It's maybe a bit slow, but has some remarkable, haunting single images or scenes, that in the end maybe work better than the film as a whole. But Mario Bava shows that demonic children can be a lot scarier than werewolves or vampires. Werewolves don't exist, after all, whereas children do.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Girl Who Knew Too Much

Leticia Roman is an American tourist in Rome who witnesses a murder. The dead body disappears so nobody believes her. She meets an Italian doctor, John Saxon, and together they try to find the killer.

This film is a mix of Hitchcock and Agatha Christie, but has also a touch of Roman Holiday. Leticia Roman is the first in a long line of stupid and hysterical girls in Italian giallo films, screaming their head off at the drop of a hat (She doesn't take her clothes off and take a shower, though). It reminds me of Gaslight, 1944, where Ingrid Bergman is so helpless, you can't help but end up rooting for Charles Boyer to drive her crazy. In the tradition of giallo it is the least likely person who is the killer, and in the same tradition the motive for the killing makes no sense at all. But the film looks great - it was Bava's last film to be shot in black and white.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Black Sabbath

This is an anthology film, hosted by Boris Karloff, who also acts in an episode called The Wurdulak. The other episodes are The Telephone and The Drop of Water.

The Wurdulak episode re-uses some of the sets from Black Sunday - the crypt and the church ruins. It's a similar type of story, but with vampires instead of witches. The horror part is mild by today's standards, but it also manages to be genuinly creepy. The film looks gorgeous, with rich colours, and is not overlit the way old films often are. It is a lot moodier than what I remember from the Hammer films. There's a scene you can't help giggle at - closeups of two persons riding what is obviously a fake horse, but then Bava himself mocks it in the final image of the film, showing how the effect is achieved.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mario Bava

Got the first box of Mario Bava films and will be watching those, starting with The Mask of Satan or Black Sunday. Barbara Steele is sentenced to death for being a witch. 200 years later she comes back from the grave to seek revenge.

The only Bava film I had seen before this was Bay of Blood, that I didn't care for too much. This film however, his debut as a director, is something completely different. Shot in stunning black and white, it's a more classic horror film, closer to Poe or Stoker, and simply dripping of atmosphere, with deep shadows, naked trees, fog and spiderwebs as far as the eye can see. A masterpiece, that you can find the influence of in Tim Burton, Sam Raimi or Mike Mignola. As for Steele, a Gothic dream goddess, I prefer to believe she is a witch for real, and that acting is just something she did to pay rent.

In Italian films the sound is always put in later, and the dubbing is something one just has to get past. It's not too bad in this film and actually helps in giving it more of a dreamlike quality.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Fabulous Baker Boys

Business is slow for nightclub pianists Jeff and Beau Bridges, so they hire a girl singer, Michelle Pfeiffer. Written and directed by Steve Kloves.

This is like a romantic comedy for people who don't like romantic comedies. Or a feel good film that doesn't make you want to puke. It's Kloves' debut as a director, but it's very assured, as if he has done it all his life. Why is he now only working as a writer on the Harry Potter films? He managed to recreate some of the mood from the classic comedies of the forties. I think Cary Grant and Jean Arthur could have done a film like this.

Damn, I miss Michelle Pfeiffer! I don't think I've seen too many of her films after Batman Returns. She used to be so good in films like this one, Married To The Mob and Frankie and Johnny. And she can sing, too! Bridges has a difficult job here. He's playing a guy who is pretty much dead inside, and how do you do that without it getting monotonous? But no one can do understated like Jeff Bridges. There's one scene in the film where he becomes alive, playing the piano in a jazz bar. And of course, Pfeiffer is witness to that moment, instigating the fallout between the two brothers. I like that they avoid the obvious happy ending and go for something more bittersweet. A perfect film.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rancho Deluxe

Jeff Bridges and Sam Waterston are a couple of modern-day cattle thieves. Written by Tom McGuane, directed by Frank Perry and also starring Harry Dean Stanton and Slim Pickens.

Quirky, I guess, is the best word to describe this film, which really belongs to McGuane. It's not often a writer gets to transfer his personal vision onto film as completely as this. It could probably only have been made in the 70s, before the filmmaking by committee era we now live in. Also: where's the Slim Pickens of our generation?!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

Stay Hungry

Jeff Bridges wants to buy an old gym as part of a real estate deal to tear down a city block and rebuild it. Checking the place out he gets to know the people who work there. Directed by Bob Rafaelson and also starring Sally Fields and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

This film has some similarities to Five Easy Pieces, Rafaelson's earlier film with Jack Nicholson. They are both about a rich guy slumming, trying to find himself. Which is sort of a 70s theme, I guess. Comparing the two films, Stay Hungry comes up a bit short. Rafaelson seems to lose interest in the story, and Sally Field is bland next to Karen Black. Bridges does a solid job, as natural and understated as always. One of the best scenes in the film is one where he does a folk dance with a big, goofy grin on his face. Another good, almost surreal scene is one of Mr Universe contestansts running in the streets. Schwarzenegger is pretty good, actually, in his role, giving a relaxed, charismatic performance. There's also lots of ugly 70s clothes.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Winter Kills

19 years after the assassination of the president of the USA, his brother, Jeff Bridges, hears the confession of a man who claims he was the killer. Now Bridges has the rifle with fingerprints as proof, but the rifle disappears and soon everybody involved in the confession starts to die. The film is based on a book by Richard Condon, who also wrote The Manchurian Candidate. It is directed by William Richert and is also starring John Huston, Anthony Perkins, Eli Wallach and Sterling Hayden. And Toshiro Mifune! And Elisabeth Taylor?!

This is a STRANGE film, but it is beautifully shot. Cinematography is by Vilmos Zsigmond. I would love to see this film in a cinema. I hadn't even heard about this film until quite recently. Apparently it was finished in 75, but not released until 79. Basically it's a filmversion of all the JFK conspiracies. The president's name in the film is Keegan, though, not Kennedy, and thank god they don't try to do the accent. But it's an amazing film. Sometimes the editing is a bit jerky as if there are scenes that were never shot. John Huston is having a lot of fun in the Joe Kennedy role.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Jagged Edge

Glenn Close is the attorney for Jeff Bridges who is accused of murdering his wife. Also starring Peter Coyote as a prosecutor and Lance Henriksen in a small role, directed by Richard Marquand.

This is one of the "sexy thrillers" that was popular for a while in the eighties. It's the sort of empty, stylish films they made a lot of. Actually, it's not that stylish, it has a pretty much flat tv direction by Marquand. De Palma he ain't. The script is by Joe Eszterhas, who also wrote Basic Instinct, to which this film has some similarities. Don't be surprised if there should be a twist ending. Close and Bridges are good, but they are both slumming here. Also: Shitty synth score alert!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Jeff Bridges, part 2

Jeff Bridges has been in some classic films, but he also has his list of turkeys. Heaven's Gate is the most famous one, I suppose, but I'd say that film is Citizen Kane compared to Against All Odds, from 84 , directed by Taylor Hackford . Watching the film you can't help but constantly wonder, they took one of the best film noirs ever, Out Of The Past, and remade it into this?!

Bridges plays the Robert Mitchum part, James Woods the Kirk Douglas part and Rachel Ward the Jane Greer part. Jane Greer herself, poor woman, plays Ward's mother. The film also stars another film noir icon, Richard Widmark, in a supporting role. I wonder if they asked Mitchum and he turned them down. If so, good for you, Bob! The story is Woods asks his friend Bridges to go find Ward who is hiding somewhere in Mexico.

God, is this a boring film. Even the final showdown where everybody is pointing guns at each other manages to be boring. The film has some of the most insanely stupid dialog this side of Plan 9 From Outer Space. It has two of the least convincing fightscenes ever. One thing it does have is a musical number with Kid Creole and The Coconuts, okay, I'll grant it that. It also has one thing the original didn't have, a sex scene. I always thought the one thing missing in Out Of The Past, the one thing that really held it back from achieving greatness, was a scene of Mitchum shtupping Greer. You call Casablanca a masterpiece? Where's the scene of Humphrey Bogart going through the Kama Sutra on Ingrid Bergman, that's what I'd like to know.

But I guess the joke is on me since I actually sat through the whole of this film.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

12 Angry Men

A boy is accused of killing his father. If he is found guilty he will get the death sentence. 11 jurors believe he did it. The twelvth, Henry Fond, is not so sure. Directed by Sidney Lumet.

This is a film that made a big impression on me when I saw it on tv as a kid. It's a very clausdrophobic film, mostly taking place in a single room. I still remember the very powerful moment of Fonda walking out of the court building at the end. That one man can make a difference like that was a very strong idea for the young Jason. It's still a very good film, with solid acting by all the jurors, including Lee J. Cobb. Henry Fonda, of course, was born to play this part. I can't really think of any American actors today having the same qualities of decency and honesty. Morgan Freeman would be the closest, I suppose. If I was ever found with a dead prostitute in my bed I wouldn't mind having him in the jury. And, by the way, I'd use this film as exhibit A in the case against colourfilm, 3D and all that silliness. Black and white images pull you into to the story somehow, it makes you see things clearer, and isn't that what it's all about?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Lady Eve

Henry Fonda, naive and clumsy millionaire, meets Charles Coburn and Barbara Stanwyck, father and daughter con artists, on a cruise ship. They decide to rob him of his money, but then, whaddayaknow, she falls for the big lug. Written and directed by Preston Sturges.

A screwball comedy classic, the film still holds up well. Henry Fonda was never a comedian, but is well cast for the role. His inherent decency is just moved a couple of notches to the left, into gullibility. Barbara Stanwyck is also perfect in her part, and both are surrounded by the top notch character actors that the studio system could bring. Maybe it's just fluff, but it's wellmade fluff, which is a big difference.

An early strip

I had done some single image cartoons before, but I think this was the first strip I ever did.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Darling Clementine

The gunfight at O.K. Corral is one of the western myths that keeps being retold. It seems every generation gets its version. Unfortunately, I belong to the generation that gets Tombstone, from 93, one of the silliest and least convincing westerns ever (even though Val Kilmer was good as Doc Holliday). I haven't seen Doc yet, from 71, a revisionist version with Stacy Keach in the titlerole. Gunfight At O.K. Corral, from 57, with Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas, is pretty good, and then there is My Darling Clementine, by John Ford, from 1946.

If I were asked to name my three favourite westerns, I'm not sure which would be nr. 1, Rio Bravo or The Searchers. I like both equally. But nr. 3 would be My Darling Clementine. Henry Fonda stars as Wyatt Earp, Victor Mature as Doc Holliday and Linda Darnell as Chihuahua, a saloon singer in love with Doc. Ah, Linda Darnell... The story takes place in Ford's beloved Monument Valley, the mountain formations often visible in the backgrounds. There's a lyricality in the best of John Ford's westerns that is often missing in other films from that period. He sure knew where to put the camera. In this film he's also got a great story, told in marvelous black and white, and is avoiding the broad humour that marred some of his later films. A masterpiece.

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Ox-Bow Incident

A rancher has been killed and his cattle stolen. A posse turns into a lynchmob. Directed by William A. Wellman and also starring Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn.

This is an interesting film. Most of the outdoor scenes are obviously filmed in a studio. It gives the film a theatrical quality. Actually, the film is more like some leftwing drama, with speeches and everything, the cowboys suddenly a lot more eloquent than they should have been. Henry Fonda plays a voice of reason, a part close to the one he later played in 12 Angry Men, but this film is bleaker, and must have been very unusual in 1942, right in the middle of WW 2. It could be seen as an attack on what happened in America at the time, like the internment of the Japanese Americans, and the film certainly hasn't lost any actuality after 9/11.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Tin Star

Lone bountyhunter and ex-sheriff Henry Fonda rides into a small town. He gives lessons to new sheriff Anthony Perkins. As is often the case in these movies, there's also a widow and her son around. Hmm... I wonder how that will turn out. Lee Van Cleef has the role of a killer. The director is Anthony Mann.

It's a decent western, nothing revolutionary. Very nice black and white photography, though.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Henry Fonda

Moving along - got some Henry Fonda films, mostly westerns, but will also rewatch 12 Angry Men and The Lady Eve, but first: Jesse James. This is a technicolour film from 1939, starring Tyrone Power as Jesse, Henry Fonda as his brother Frank and also Randolph Scott as a sheriff. It's directed by Henry King but has several John Ford actors.

The James brothers are seen as the heros in this film, the railroad agents are the bad guys. It's a bit too simplified and black and white, the filmmakers skipping on some of the facts. The Youngers, part of the James band, are completely ignored, and we don't learn much about Robert Ford either.

It's a famous story and like the shoot-out at OK Corral retold several times. I liked the recent Brad Pitt version even though it was ssllloooowww and almost more artfilm than western. My favourite is still The Long Riders, though, by Walter Hill, from 1980. The trouble when you've seen a couple of these films is that you know what is coming. The failed bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota - the sequence where the horses crash through the windows is always impressive, and at some point Robert Ford will be twitching and sweating and Jesse James will step up on a chair and grab the picture on the wall. The good thing about the Pitt version was that the story didn't end there. We found out what happened to Ford later. This version of the story however, doesn't really tell anything new.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A page from new book

This is the first page from another story in the new book. I got a bit tired of drawing with a pen, so I'm trying out some other techniques, including brush, as you can see here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Some Like It Hot

Witnesses to a mob killing musicians Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis join a girls' band whose lead singer is Marilyn Monroe.

It's a bit funny that the famous last line in this film is "Nobody's perfect." since it's a pretty much perfect film: the script, the actors, the direction, all in timeless black and white. Just one element wrong - an other director or a wrong actor and it might have fallen apart. The studio apparently wanted Bob Hope and Danny Kaye. Billy Wilder originally thought of Frank Sinatra in the Lemmon part. One can only wonder how that would have worked out. Marilyn Monroe was at her cutest and funniest, and Tony Curtis scores comedy gold pulling a Cary Grant as the millionaire. I just realised this is the only Curtis film I have. He must have done some other good films as well?

Watched with modern eyes, one can maybe ask why Monroe isn't mad at Curtis for lying to her. If the film had been made today, I'm sure there would have been an extra 15 minutes of them quarreling before she, of course, would forgive him. But it's not really necessary, the film never taking place in a realistic universe to begin with.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Notorious Landlady

Diplomat Jack Lemmon rents an apartment from landlady Kim Novak who is suspected of having killed her husband. Directed by Richard Quine, screenplay co-written by Blake Edwards and also starring Fred Astaire as Lemmon's employer.

It's a bland title for a bland film, but not all old black and white films can be classics, I suppose. At more than two hours it's far too long, and there's not much chemistry going on between Lemmon and Novak. It's fun to see old Astaire in a non dancing part, he's still got class, but he doesn't get a lot to do. The ending is sort of Hitchcockian, or could have been with a better director. Well, at least I managed to sit through it unlike Quine's How To Murder Your Wife. Next, to end this, a real classic: Some Like It Hot.

Monday, October 4, 2010

An old cartoon

Text: Open wide.

An early attempt with animal characters, from 85, inspired by Tex Avery. Also playing with my pseudonym, I see. "Jason" might not be perfect, but it's probably better than "J'azz".

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Days Of Wine And Roses

PR agent and social drinker Jack Lemmon meets secretary and teetotaler Lee Remick. They marry and soon she's a drinker too, their alcoholism eventually spinning out of control. The film is, again, in gorgeous black and white, directed by Blake Edwards and also starring Jack Klugman as an AA councelor.

It's a very good film. Not every scene rings completely true, it's a bit too Hollywood at times, but far less moralizing than what I had expected. Lee Remick is of course cute as a button, so to see her in her alcoholic state, clutching a bottle, is even more tragic. It seems quite realistic in the way Lemmon gets sober and joins the AA, but is dragged down again by Remick's dependency, and finally has to leave her to save himself and their daughter. When it becomes clear that there will be no happy ending it's very moving, even more so since it's an old Hollywood film and happy endings pretty much are the rule. The final image sums up the film by being both slightly corny and heartbreaking.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Fortune Cookie

I had planned to watch How To Murder your Wife, a film I had been curious about a long time, since Jack Lemmon plays a cartoonist, but the director, Richard Quine, is no Billy Wilder and has almost no visual sense or feeling for timing. I stopped the film after half an hour, decided to rather watch the real thing and popped in The Fortune Cookie.

Cameraman Jack Lemmon is knocked over by a footballplayer during a game. His brother-in-law, ambulance chaser Walter Matthau decides to sue, asking Lemmon to fake an injury. Lemmon reluctantly goes along with this, thinking it might reunite him with his gold digger ex-wife.

Actually, this is the first pairing of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau on screen, not The Odd Couple that came two years later. It's another cynical comedy from Billy Wilder, shot in glorious black and white. Lemmon is very good in another of his decent, ordinary guy roles, but the film is owned by Matthau, pretty much creating here his screen persona for the rest of his career. It's maybe not the masterpiece that The Apartment was, but still a fun film.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Jack Lemmon

Got a bunch of Jack Lemmon films, starting with The Odd Couple, based on the play by Neil Simon. Lemmon is kicked out by his wife and moves in with divorced poker pal Walther Matthau.

Is this the first meeting of Lemmon and Matthau on film? They got great chemistry but the film itself feels strangely flat. There are no laugh out loud moments. The best part of the film is the scene with the two giggling, British sisters. A lot of the humour is based on Lemmon taking the wife part, cleaning and cooking, this driving Matthau crazy, Lemmon being upset because Matthau is late for dinner, Lemmon and Matthau giving each other the silent treatment and so on. It just feels a bit old.