Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)- Jack Arnold

 ★★★★

 

Deep beneath the surface, hidden from the world for who knows how long, lurks the Gil-man.Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) He sits, waiting for the human race to come close enough to exact his revenge for… wait a minute, why is the Gil-man killing everyone? Oh, well. Whatever the reason may be, the humans have come at last, and Gil-man is angry. At first he just kills whatever he can get his webbed hands around, mercilessly destroying all the men that cross his path, but then he sees Kay (Julie Adams) swimming seductively in his lagoon. She leaves him speechless (which he was anyway), as he is enamored by her beauty, and of course by her swimming ability. The callous, slimy exterior that covers his body might be how everyone sees him, but inside he just Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)wants to be loved by the only woman he has ever seen, whose has forever captured his heart.

Unfortunately Kay wants nothing to do with Gil-man, and would prefer to marry her fellow scientist, Dr. Reed (Richard Carlson), who is on this expedition as well. And wouldn’t you know it, her boss Mark (Richard Denning), who is also along for the ride, is vying for her affections as well. Apparently, everyone in this movie is just trying to win Kay’s heart. Who will she choose, the cocky, arrogant boss, the loving, yet non-committing boyfriend, or perhaps the incredibly good swimming and seemingly devoted Gil-man? Only time will tell!

O.K., I know that’s laying it on pretty thick, but come on, a movie this fun does things to you.

Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

The thin, easily forgettable plot of “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) is dumb and uninvolved; but that’s alright. Nobody cares because nobody watches this film for the story anyway. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)In fact, I applaud director Jack Arnold for not trying to give the film too much of anything except Gil-man. We get Gil-man swimming, Gil-man killing, Gil-man walking incredibly slowly, and of course, Gil-man lusting over Kay. That’s it, the whole package right there, Gil-man and Kay, and it couldn’t be any better. At first I was slightly irritated that there wasn’t more going on in this film. Couldn’t the Creature have had some reason for his actions? Perhaps by coming into his Lagoon, they were trespassing on sacred ground or something. Then it occurred to me that any kind of motivation for the senseless killing would have made Gil-man less terrifying. A movie killer with a purpose is exacting, regimented, and beatable because his moves can be predicted, but a monster that kills just because is almost unstoppable.

Ben Chapman plays the Creature on land, and Ricou Browning does the underwater scenes, both of them achieving a perfect combination of terrifying and pitiful. What they had to endure, with 14 hour days, limited visibility, and not being able to sit in their suit, is a true testament to their dedication to a character. Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)Especially since their faces are never seen of film. The costume itself is remarkable, the underwater scenes are stunningly filmed, and just in case the movie needed another selling point, it makes great use of 3D, considering when it was released. I am not typically a huge supporter of the 3D medium, but I think “Creature from the Black Lagoon” is perfectly suited for the extra enjoyment that it provides here.

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The Counselor (2013)- Ridley Scott

 ★★

 

“The Counselor” (2013) is a brutal drama film about the inner demons of man, and the extremes to which he (or any of his cohorts) will journey in search of happiness, even if it’s just superficial happiness.The Counselor (2013) Michael Fassbender plays a man known simply as Counselor. He has the love of a woman, Laura (Penelope Cruz), some money, and even a little power, but it’s not enough. An eccentric friend, Reiner (Javier Bardem), invites Counselor to join him in a drug trafficking venture that is both highly lucrative and extremely dangerous. Reiner connects Counselor to a smooth, fast-talking middle man, Westly (Brad Pitt), who warns Counselor of the dangers involved, and actually recommends him walking away before it’s too late. Reiner’s girlfriend, Malkina (Cameron Diaz), is always around as well, watching from a distance, with her pet cheetahs in tow, waiting to jump at the prey surrounding them. As you can probably guess, things go badly… very badly. The Counselor, and his associates are left scrambling for their lives, against a variety of seedy, underworld characters who seems to have no end to their violent and malevolent ways.

Greed, violence, sex, alcohol, and murder.The Counselor (2013) Those are the five words that best describe this film. More accurately than that, intense greed, extreme violence, unorthodox sex, an abundance of alcohol, and brutal murder. Perhaps these are issues that many people deal with in minor doses, but the characters in this film take it all to the next level. When the end credits roll and you’re left sitting there in the dark, there are many ways you may feel. Dirty comes to mind. Very, very dirty.

This film, directed by the great Ridley Scott, is the first original screenplay from Cormac McCarthy, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of “The Road”, “All the Pretty Horses”, and “No Country for Old Men”. As one might expect, his dialogue is captivating… and wordy. The majority of the scenes are dialogue reliant, and grab your attention through the plethora of words that are thrown at you, quickly. Unfortunately, this well-written dialogue isn’t enough. “The Counselor” is like a puzzle, a giant jigsaw puzzle.The Counselor (2013) Some of the pieces are there, with brilliant acting and an always professional director guiding the way, but there are plenty of pieces missing, and the table isn’t large enough to support it thinly being held together.

With a cast this spectacular the expectations are naturally high, and you won’t be disappointed in this aspect. Michael Fassbender might not be a household name yet, but year after year he keeps proving that he should be- with these deeply emotional and moving performances, even if they come in films that can’t live up to his own work. Javier Bardem, Brad Pitt, and Penelope Cruz (all of whom never share a scene with each other) are really just supporting characters to Counselor, and it works well this way. The largest downside with these legendary actors is that none of them seem to get enough screen time to satisfy. Pitt and Bardem are funny and charismatic, but leave you wanting more, and Cruz makes every scene she is in better, but it just doesn’t amount to very much because her scenes are few and far between. Cameron Diaz does an interesting bit of work here. The Counselor (2013)It’s a different role for her, and one that she seems to embrace with a new impressive maturity. Also adding to the overall ensemble are small but extremely effective roles from Rosie Perez, John Leguizamo, Edgar Martinez, and Ruben Blades, whose one scene will grab your attention and suck you right in.

“The Counselor” could have been a good movie, in fact it could have been great, but it’s not. It’s predictable, unexciting, and seems to be looking to shock more than enlighten or entertain. It’s not that it’s a bad film, more like one that lacks necessity.

His Kind of Woman (1951)- John Farrow

 ★★★

 

When it comes to Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell, she really is “His Kind of Woman”. The two play off each other so well and have such amazing chemistry that their films, no matter the flaws in script or production, are still enjoyable to watch simply because of how they fit together on screen. His Kind of Woman (1951)The first of their two pairings (and the better one) came in the form of a 1951 noir film, “His Kind of Woman” (1951).

The story revolves around a loner, drifter ex-con named Milner (Mitchum). He is offered $50,000 by an underworld criminal to head down to a hard to reach Mexican resort and await further instructions. Being an easy-going, no questions asked kind of fella, he goes, and wouldn’t you know it, the only other passenger on the plane is a former lounge singer, Lenore (Russell). The two hit it off, but their romance is short-lived as she is heading to meet her married boyfriend, actor Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price), who is using the resort as a hunting escape from his wife.

Instead of enjoying his time at the resort, Milner begins to suspect that something is wrong. Not that you could ever tell he was worried, with his lackadaisical attitude toward life, but everyone at the resort seems to have something to hide. His Kind of Woman (1951)The place is filled with a barrage of interesting characters played by some great character actors, like Tim Holt, Jim Backus, Leslie Banning, Majorie Reynolds, Charles McGraw, and John Mylong. They all seem to be searching for something down here, and few are going to find whatever it is they want.

The real fun, however, begins when Milner realizes that he has been brought out here so that a deported gangster (Raymond Burr) can steal his identity and get back into America. Simultaneously, Lenore decides to stick with Milner, and convinces Cardigan to help in Milner’s cause.

The plot is actually pretty good. The story, albeit predictable, still holds the audience’s interest. The script, credited to Frank Fenton, combines plenty of sexy tongue in cheek dialogue for Mitchum and Russell, and a seemingly endless amount of humor for Vincent Price, who laps it up during the final third of the film. His Kind of Woman (1951)All three of these actors deserve praise, not because they give outstanding acting performances, but because they act within their means. Few actors could ever play the strong silent loner better than Mitchum, and few actresses know how to heat things up as quickly as Russell. Price isn’t remembered for his comedic abilities, but here he rises to the challenge, fully embracing the ridiculous nature of his character, and the result is fantastic. I doubt that there are three other actors that could have achieved the same high level of audience satisfaction.

The real problems come from the production, which was a disaster. Howard Hughes (as always) was unhappy with the film and had it recut, adding new scenes directed by an uncredited Richard Fleischer. These scenes don’t make the film bad, but instead of an enjoyable crime film that should have run about 100 minutes, His Kind of Woman (1951)“His Kind of Woman” ended up being drug out with unnecessary scenes, overly wordy exchanges, and too many characters of which to keep track. This film could have benefited from twenty minutes of edited footage and adding a voice-over to help smooth through the rough spots.

Still, it’s hard to complain too much with a film that keeps you interested and excited throughout, and also delivers a few good laughs. Mitchum and Russell’s other collaboration came the next year in “Macao” (1952), and is another film that is filled with flaws- yet is enjoyable to watch. His Kind of Woman (1951)Apparently that’s just the nature of Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell films.

The Criterion Collection Announces New Titles for January 2014!

2014 is here! Alright, not really, but we do go a glimpse into what The Criterion Collection has in store for us with their January releases. If these selections are any indication, this is going to be a great year. Two classic films already in the collection are getting the much deserved blu-ray treatment, four new films are being added, and there is a fantastic addition to the Eclipse Series, featuring three of the final films from historic director Satyajit Ray. But enough introduction; here are the titles.

Being released January 7th, 2014:

  • Eclipse Series 40: Late Ray (1984-1991): The Stranger (1991)Satyajit Ray’s directorial career is amazing. It is also underrated. His films are just beginning to be widely seen and talked about by the average movie fan, and The Criterion Collection is partially responsible for his resurgence. Ray’s masterpieces, “The Big City” (1963), “Charulata” (1964), and “The Music Room” (1958) are already a part of the collection, and now three of his final films will be boxed together for us to experience. This set will include “The Home and the World” (1984), “An Enemy of the People” (1989), and his final film, “The Stranger” (1991).
  • “Throne of Blood” (1957): Throne of Blood (!957)This amazing film from director Akira Kurosawa is already part of Criterion’s Collection, but is at long last coming to blu-ray. It is a retelling of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, brilliantly set in feudal Japan. As always, Kurosawa delicately blends action, drama, and suspense, while creating a film that is not to be forgotten.

Being released January 14th, 2014:

  • “Thief” (1981): Theif (1981)Director Michael Mann’s films have many strengths. His ability to enthrall his audience in a heist or crime is one of his biggest, and in his directorial debut, “Thief,” that is exactly what he does. James Cann stars as a successful jewel thief, looking for a “normal” life. After a big score, his world is turned upside-down when his friend (and fence) is killed. This suspenseful, action-packed extravaganza clearly shows an endless amount of talent from the film’s writer/director, and you can see the foundation for the style that he would continue to use later in his career. It’s no wonder he has gone on to have such an accomplished career.
  • “Rififi” (1955):Rififi (1955) Another movie that is already part of The Criterion Collection (and also another crime story) is this masterfully crafted French film from director Jules Dassin. Dassin’s career is one that will take you all over the map, both figuratively and metaphorically, but his crime films are his best, or at least his most beloved today. “Rififi” is a story about four career criminals who band together for one unforgettable heist. This is a movie that is not to be missed, and I promise that the climactic robbery scene will stay with you long after the film has ended. As a side note, the wonderfully entertaining book, “The Ultimate Book of Gangster Movies,”  ranked “Rififi” the 27th greatest gangster film of all time. That’s pretty impressive.

Being released January 21st, 2014:

  • “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” (1963): Sometimes movies get added to The Criterion Collection because of their significance. Sometimes it’s because of some small, brilliant aspect that often would go unnoticed. Then there are the films that get added because, well, why not. “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” probably would fall into this last category. Stanley Kramer could make any type of movie, and he proved it with film such as “The Defiant Ones” (1958), “Judgement at Nuremberg” (1961), “Ship of Fools” (1965), and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967), all of which received Best Picture nominations.It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World Right in the middle of his filmography, however, is this screwball comedy about a group of strangers racing to a hidden treasure, all the while being pursued by a police captain marvelously played by Spencer Tracy. The cast includes a who’s who of comedy geniuses, and delivers laugh upon laugh throughout the extensive 161 minutes. For its release into The Criterion Collection, a newly restored, high-definition extended version is being released, with a running time of 197 minutes, giving us 36 more minutes of laughter and smiles. This is going to be great fun!
  • “La Vie De Boheme” (1992):La Vie de Boheme (1992) If you haven’t seen many movies from filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki, you don’t know what you’re missing. Already in The Criterion Collection are his latest film “La Havre” (2011), and in two different Eclipse Series, you can see “Shadows in Paradise” (1986), “Ariel” (1988), “The Match Factory Girl”  (1990), “Leningrad Cowboys Go America” (1989), “Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses” (1994), and “Total Balalaika Show” (1994). His latest induction into the collection features some of his “regulars” in a tale based on Henri Murger’s “Scenes de la vie de Boheme,” which also is the source material for the famous opera, “La boheme”.

Being released January 28th, 2014:

  • “The Long Day Closes” (1992):The Long Day Closes (1992) This film, from acclaimed director Terence Davies, centers around an eleven-year-old boy, as he attempts to deal with the struggles that many children his age face. His escape from the world is the local cinema, where Davies masterfully makes the movie house an intricate part of the young boy’s life.

Captain Phillips (2013)- Paul Greengrass

★★★★

 

Everybody seems to love a good pirate adventure, but when it’s a modern-day story based on the memoirs of the Captain who was hijacked, the fun disappears and only the horrific terror remains. That is what you will get with British director Paul Greengrass’s latest film, “Captain Phillips” (2013). The film is based on the memoir, “A Captain’s Duty,” written by Captain Richard Phillips, based on his experience aboard the U.S. container ship, Maersk Alabama, in 2009. The film stays with Phillips (Tom Hanks) throughout the ordeal, as he is almost always alone with the four Somali pirates, played by Barkhad Abdi, Barkhad Abdirahman, Faysal Ahmed, and Mahat M. Ali.Captain Phillips (2013)

Like almost all pirate movies, the adventure is there. It is a thrill ride of a story, adapted by screenwriter Billy Ray, who has shown a much appreciated maturity from his previous films.The action, however, is not the captivating part of the story. It’s the suspense that keeps you interested, particularly throughout the first third of the film, where very little happens. Director Paul Greengrass toys with his audience in an attempt to build suspense for the final act, and it works marvelously.

As usual for Paul Greengrass, this film has been shot in an almost-documentary style, with fast cuts and jumpy camera work making the audience feel like part of the experience. His films are unique today, and always put us into the middle of the action, whether we want to be there or not. There is no denying that any film based on an actual event benefits from his style, which is why his previous endeavors like “United 93” (2006) and “Green Zone” (2010) have been so well received.

Captain Phillips (2013)The directing, however, is not the reason you should see “Captain Phillips”. Nor is it the writing, the editing, or the fact that the cast and crew spent nine weeks filming aboard a container ship in the Mediterranean Sea to make the experience as realistic as possible. The reason that you should see “Captain Phillips” is because of Tom Hanks. It’s been 13 years since Hanks delivered a performance so powerful and emotional, and man is it good to see. Hanks has regained his previous form and showed that he is still capable of anything, delivering what promises to be one of the strongest performance of the year. It is he, with the help of Somali pirate leader Barkhad Abdirahman, who gives this film a depth, filled with power. Without these two performances, this would one of many actions dramas released each year, but thanks to Hanks, we are given something special yet again.

Gravity (2013)- Alfonso Cuaron

 ★★★★★

 

The vastness of space and the plight of one woman; that is what captivates the screen for the almost 90 minutes of filmmaker extraordinaire Alfonso Cuaron’s latest revelation, “Gravity” (2013).Gravity (2013) There is no way to say it more bluntly than to just throw it out there, this is one of the best films you will see this year, hands down. It also gets one of the shortest synopsis paragraphs I have ever written.

A small crew of astronauts led by Matt Kowalski (George Clooney), including scientist and first time space traveler Dr. Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), are performing a space walk when debris from a nearby satellite collides with them, decimating their ship. Ryan is thrown, spinning out of control into space, and Matt is charged with saving her and finding a way to return to Earth.

Alright, so it does get more complicated and involved than that simplification, but there is absolutely no need to ruin the film by giving you the emotional details, right? Gravity (2013)Alfonso Cuaron, who in addition to directing this film, also serves as co-producer, co-writer (with his son Jonas Cuaron), and co-editor, has created an immensely suspenseful, fight-for-survival film, but not in the way we are used to seeing… at least not in today’s films. It’s more in the style of Alfred Hitchcock or Henri-Georges Clouzot, with a suspense that is magnified because everything is drawn out into a more real-time scenario. It’s patient and exacting, which only makes things worse to witness from our helpless theater, and the end results keep you on the edge of your seat, gripping your chair.

Gravity (2013)

“Gravity” is a two-person show. Sandra Bullock and George Clooney are the movie, with Bullock controlling the majority of the scenes and the majority of the intensity. What separates Bullock’s performance in this film from everything that came before (yes, even her Academy Award winning role in “The Blind Side”), is that it doesn’t feel like she is acting here. She has stripped her past films and experience away and has truly become this character. Her ability to invite us into her life and share not just her current unfortunate predicament, but also the entirety of her life, is astounding and emotionally draining. Gravity (2013)She makes herself easily identifiable, which only enhances our bond to her and our hope for her survival.

The acting carries the picture, but it is the artistic side that is almost flaunted at us (in a good way). The long-running idea that a filmmaker has to choose if he is making a film for himself or the audience- the profit or the prestige, so to speak, doesn’t apply to “Gravity”. There is no reason to choose, because both categories have been blended into one. It is an art film that entertains. Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is a genius, and once again delivers a work of art that is certain to obtain him another Academy Award nomination. The musical score, composed by Steven Price, will at times take your breath away with its emotional evoking power. The editing (another sure-fire Academy Award nomination) by Mark Sanger is groundbreaking. And then there are the visual effects which are flawless, making “Gravity” the undisputed champion of space films, boldly setting the bar far above everything that has come before.

Gravity (2013)

Alfonso Cuaron is not a “household” filmmaking name. His films come few and far between, and his style and ability to push the boundaries of filmmaking, often leave viewers feeling out of sorts. Perhaps it’s because he has just evolved into a filmmaker that exceeds our comprehension. It’s been seven years since his last directorial film, “Children of Men” (2006), wowed and amazed, and who knows how long we will have to wait for him to stun us again.  Until that time, there is little to be said to him except simply, thank you.

Colorado Territory (1949)- Raoul Walsh

 ★★★★★

 

Wes McQueen (Joel McCrea) is quite plainly, just no good. He’s a dirty thief, with a history of violence that follows him no matter where he travels. He lives his life in the shadows, avoiding the law who always seem to be bearing down upon him, waiting to punish him for his past sins. There is nothing Wes wants more than to be able to walk in the sunlight once again, with his head held high. Colorado Territory (1949)As the western film “Colorado Territory” (1949) open, Wes has finally been captured, and is awaiting sentencing for his latest robbery. He is busted out of jail by a villainous man, with a menacing mustache and name to match- Plunther (Henry Woods). Plunther informs Wes that he has come at the request of the “Old Man” (Basil Ruysdael), in order to pull a train robbery.

Wes heads out to the abandoned city of Todos Santos in the Colorado territory, where he is to meet his new “crew”, and meet with the Old Man. On the stage ride west, another gang of thieves attempts to rob the stage, and both the driver and the man riding shotgun are killed. Wes saves the stage, its payroll, and the other two passengers, Fred Winslow (Henry Hull) and his daughter Julie Ann (Dorothy Malone). Nobody recognizes Wes for who he is, and it is assumed that the thieves were in fact Wes and his gang. Colorado Territory (1949)Wes enjoys the idea of being the hero, and likes the way he looks through Julie Ann’s eyes, but he reluctantly parts ways with her and her father, but promises to visit them at their new ranch soon.

When Wes finally makes it to Todos Santos, he is not the least bit surprised to find two foolish thugs, Reno (John Archer) and Duke (James Mitchell), who are to help in the robbery, along with Homer (Ian Wolfe), who is the blundering inside man on the train. He is, however, surprised to find a half Indian former saloon dancer with them, named of all things, Colorado (Virginia Mayo).

The remainder of the film heads off in exactly the direction you might expect, with Wes being smarter than everyone else when it comes to crime, but failing to see or understand anything about women and their motivations. Colorado Territory (1949)It’s only after the film ends and you can reflect that this story and its characters begin to take flight, lifting the entire production to new heights.

The truth is that this is a masterfully told story by one of the all time great filmmakers, Raoul Walsh. And why shouldn’t it be- he had made the film once before. “High Sierra” (1941) was Raoul Walsh’s intimate and intensely powerful Gangster film starring Humphrey Bogart and Ida Lupino. It was based on the crime novel of the same name by legendary gangster author W.R. Burnett, and is an all around brilliant movie. Yet somehow, just eight short years later, when Hollywood was remaking Colorado Territory (1949)and re-releasing as many potentially profitable films as possible, someone had the foresight to see the potential that this story had when moved to the old west, and in the days of the lawless gunman.

Joel McCrea does astounding things with this role, where despite being a wanted man with a past filled with crime, we easily sympathize and attach ourselves to him and his attempt to right things for himself. He really seemed to understand the plight of Wes McQueen, and his performance comes off as completely genuine.

Colorado Territory (1949)Of course if McCrea is good in this film, than Virginia Mayo is downright perfect. She seems to completely embody everything that is needed here, with a rough, rugged exterior, although inside she’s just a jaded, hopeless soul searching for love and attention. Her abundance of sexual energy (and legs), is just a facade that she puts on to make men do what she wants (and to give the film that element), but when she finds herself entranced by Wes and his quiet soft-spoken demeanor, she drops the act and becomes a real person. This film should have propelled Virginia Mayo and her career to a new level. She is stupendous and reaches new heights in her acting, and when you combine this performance with another Raoul Walsh film from the same year, “White Heat”, Mayo really moved herself out of the “dancing girl-next-door” roles that had made her famous throughout the 1940’s. Unfortunately, reviews for “Colorado Territory” weren’t favorable upon Colorado Territory (1949)its release, making her performance go mostly unnoticed.

I don’t understand why others have been critical of this film. Perhaps during the late 1940’s and even into the early 1950’s (because there was an abundance of good western movies being released), film goers just weren’t able to fully appreciated what they were seeing. Today, when good western films are few and far between, “Colorado Territory” fulfills on every level. The acting is impeccable, Raoul Walsh reminds us again why he IS one of the greatest directors in history (with his beautiful location shooting and flawless story arc), and Sidney Hickox’s cinematography is dead on with a film noir style, once again perfectly placed in the western setting. I have a hard time finding anything about this film that is wrong, but perhapsColorado Territory (1949) it’s just me and my undying love of the western genre.