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Posts Tagged ‘Blind Spot Series’

For the second time since I started writing blind spot posts I really was blindsided by a movie. I recently purchased a box set of Billy Wilder movies, all of which I had seen before, or so I thought. As I started watching Witness for the Prosecution (1957) I quickly realised I had never seen it before. To be honest I think I had had mixed it up with Double Indemnity (1944 – also directed by Billy Wilder) or Otto Preminger’s Anatomy of a Murder (1959).witness for the prosecution charles laughton

On release from hospital barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) is ordered to take it easy by doctors and his overpowering private nurse Miss Plimsoll (Elsa – Bride of Frankenstein – Lanchester, Laughton‘s real life spouse). Despite this, he agrees to take the case of Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power). Vole has been charged with the murder of Mrs. Emily French (Norma Varden), a rich, older widow who he stands to inherit a fortune from. Things are complicated when it is revealed that Voles wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) is going to be a witness for the prosecution.witness for the prosecution marlene dietrich

Starting life as a play by Agatha Christie, Witness for the Prosecution had already clocked up more than a thousand performances in the West End and on Broadway. With the help of screenwriters Harry Kurnitz and Larry Marcus , Wilder manages to concoct a mystery that Hitchcock would have bee proud of. The announcement at the end: “The management of this theatre suggests that for the greater entertainment of your friends who have not yet seen the picture, you will not divulge, to anyone, the secret of the ending of Witness for the Prosecution.” And the tagline on the poster: “You’ll talk about it, but please don’t tell the ending.” Aren’t that far removed from Hitchcock stunts.Witness for the Prosecution Tyrone Power

A courtroom dram with lots of twists and turns is nothing new, you have probably seen countless times before, but this movie is over fifty years old, so many of the other movies we have seen have been influenced by this. Like so many Wilder movies, one of the keys to its success is the perfect casting. Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Elsa Lanchester are all brilliant but Charles Laughton is in a different world, I would go as far as to say I can’t imagine anyone else in the role. The sublime performances coupled with the measured direction allow for the near impossible task of making the twists interesting even if you see them coming. The result of this despite the pleas marketing people, viewers who know the plot aren’t disadvantaged by knowing the plot making me keen to see the movie again. And thanks to Laughton and Wilder, although far from a comedy the movie is full of funny moments.witness for the prosecution Elsa Lanchester

Full of all the twists and turns you would expect from Christie coupled with the perfect pacing and brilliance of Wilder. The ending is as brilliant and perfect as you would expect of Wilder.

Check out other Blind Spot posts HERE

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Most of the films I have spoken about so far in this series are either all time classics or more recent and highly regarded movies (mainly animated as that is where my blind spot lies) but Remo Williams is in a strange way the most appropriate movie for the series. Born in the mid 70’s I grew up in the 80’s watching thousands of movies on VHS as a kid. Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, or Remo: Unarmed and Dangerous as it is known in the UK market is the type of movie I would have watched in the 80’s. For example I remember watching a glut of cop thrillers involving revenge and or corruption including: Raw Deal (1986), Cobra (1986), Lethal Weapon (1987), RoboCop (1987), Number One with a Bullet (1987), Red Heat (1988), Blue Jean Cop (aka Shakedown) (1988), Cop (1988), Tango & Cash (1989) and Next of Kin (1989). However I didn’t see Remo Williams, why? Because I had never heard of it until I started blogging, over the last couple of years the name keeps coming up, usually on Man I Love Films and the MILFCAST. So it suddenly became an essential movie I hadn’t seen, a Blind Spot.remo-williams-the-adventure-begins-poster

Based on The Destroyer series of pulp novels; the first Created, The Destroyer was written by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir and published in 1971. The series now runs to nearly 150 books, but only one movie. The American title “The Adventure Begins” suggests the start of franchise, future films failed to materialise. There was a 1988 TV pilot with Jeffrey Meek in the title role, but it wasn’t picked up. A reboot has been suggested, most recently in 2009 when there were reports of Charles Roven and Steve Chasman, the producers responsible for The Dark Knight and the Transporter respectively (Jason Statham as Remo Williams could be interesting) taking an interest, but things don’t seem to have gone beyond speculation.remo williams

Sam Makin (Fred Ward) is a tough New York cop and Marine Corps veteran who is unwillingly recruited by CURE a secret government organization who rename him Remo Williams. Williams is sent to Korean martial arts master, Chiun (Joel Grey – best know as the MC from Cabaret) who trains him in the fictional “Sinanju”. Quickly sent on his first mission involving a dodgy weapons manufacturer and the resulting corruption within the US Army, he comes across Major Rayner Fleming (Kate Mulgrew – captain Janeway in Star Trek: Voyager) who is investigating the same thing.Remo Williams The Adventure Begins

Directed by Guy Hamilton who had previously been at the helm of a Harry Palmer and four James Bond movies, the potential franchise was in good hands. The interesting thing about the film is that it isn’t actually that good, in fact there are lots of things wrong with it. Chief among the problems, It looks cheep and the story lacks scope, ambition and direction. The portrayal of Chiun by Joel Grey rivals Mickey Rooney as Mr. Yunioshi in its awkwardness. The film never knows when it should be serious and when it needs to be a comedy. Having said all this, it has its moments and is often good fun. Fred Ward makes a good reluctant and moody hero and surprisingly good leading man. The big set piece fight on the Statue of Liberty is well choreographed and shot as are some of the other fight scenes. The first meeting between Remo and Chun is excellent, reminiscent of Morpheus and Neo. This along with the bullet dodging makes me think The Wachowski’s are fans. Composer Craig Safan’s score is often cheesy 80s synth’ but actually fit’s the tone of the movie well and is lifted the kung fu movie inspired sections. I can’t help thinking had I seen it in the 80’s I would embrace the good and overlook its problem the way I can with films like The Running Man (1987) and Road House (1989).Remo Williams the statue of liberty fight

As a fun action movie the film works, but it lacks any depth or subtext. I’m glad to have seen it but it is far from an essential classic and because I saw it 25 years to late it lacks the emotional nostalgia that I have for other 80’s movies.

You can find the rest of the Blind Spot Series at The Matinee 

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When I decided to take part in the Blind Spot Series I came to the concussion that if I was going to take it seriously I would have to confront my biggest blind-spot, animation. After talking to people who know and love animated movies I decided to take their advice and pick a movie each from Studio Ghibli and Pixar. Having looked at the synopsis of a few movies I decided the Studio Ghibli production that appealed most was Princess Mononoke original title もののけ姫 or Mononoke-hime from 1997, written and directed by the legendry Hayao Miyazaki.Princess Mononoke poster

Ashitaka, a young warrior prince, saves his village from rampaging demon possessed boar-god, in the process his arm is cursed/infected making it a deadly weapon. Advised the infection will eventually take over his entire body and kill him, Ashitaka begins a quest to find a cure. Along the way he meets many strange people and creatures and finds himself in the middle of a battle between an industrialised village led by Lady Eboshi and the intelligent animal inhabitants of the forest and their gods. The gods of the forest include a wolf-god and her adoptive human daughter Princess Mononoke. Seeing good and bad in both sides Ashitaka tries to stop the killing and find peace but is met with suspicion and animosity on both sides.Ashitaka Princess Mononoke

A note on how I watched the film. The DVD I watched came with both the original Japanese dialogue and English subtitles as well as the English language version complete with star-studded Hollywood cast (including: Billy Crudup, Claire Danes, Minnie Driver, Billy Bob Thornton, Gillian Anderson, Jada Pinkett Smith). I first watched the movie in its original form and am now playing the English language version in the background as I write this review. The English version isn’t bad despite some clunky dialogue but I do prefer watching movies as intended in their original language.

Hayao Miyazaki has sighted John Ford as an influence on this movie, I can see this and Akira Kurosawa in the epic nature of the story, the settings, the idea of a quest and the transparency with witch the subtext is demonstrated to the audience. Like Ford and Kurosawa, he isn’t afraid to depict violence, although it doesn’t in my eyes have the same impact in animated form. The story is basically good, with ideas, ideals and themes that are universal, this clearly explains the wide appeal. The thing that surprised me about a film seemingly aimed at a younger audience is how it follows the conventions of a three act manga movie (I have seen a few) intended for older viewers: An introduction to the setting and characters using standard liner storytelling and conventions of character development – a less interesting and less coherent middle with some philosophical deeper meaning and message – a finale involving a character introduced in the middle act turning into a god and/or daemon and going bat-shit crazy before being destroyed or appeased and finding a satisfactory conclusion.Princess Mononoke

The most notable thing about the movie for me is the way it looks, it is clearly Japanese making it very different to the works of Disney or DreamWorks, but more than that, it is clearly traditional hand drawn cel animation and not computer animation (although I understand there is some computer animation used) and all the better for it. Although I haven’t researched the style of the art, I get the impression it is inspired by Japanese art (possibly from the period the film is set). Whatever the inspiration, it does look beautiful at times, but I can’t help my prejudice, I would rather see a live action movie. There are times when I felt I was been preached at from multiple angles. The overriding message of conservation is overt through much of the film. The depiction of opposing characters who appear to be different races (or nationalities) point to an idea of acceptance and equality. My first impression was that I had seen it all done before, but it is worth remembering the film came out in 1997 long before many similar themed movies that came to mind while I was watching it, I suspect James Cameron has seen it more than once! To give it credit, although neither message is subtle, I can’t complain too much as they are good messages to depict especially to a young and impressionable audience. What I do have a problem with is the length, at around two and a quarter hours, it could easily have been trimmed by half an hour to make a tighter more concise movie that held the attention better.

In pointing out my problems with the movie it probably comes across that I didn’t enjoy it, I am pleased to report this isn’t the case. There is lots to like, admire and indeed enjoy in the film and I did enjoy watching it, however it didn’t charm or wow me enough to make me want to rush out and watch the rest of the Studio Ghibli movies (or animation in general). I would recommend it to any fan of animation and have to admit it has softened my opinion to some degree, I think I can safely say if a Ghibli film were to come on TV I may give it a chance, where in the past I would probably wouldn’t have. I will revisit animation later in the series, having already seen the Toy Story movies I will most likely watch WALL·E or Up.

You can see what Ryan and all the other Blind Spot contributors watched this month HERE.

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After a year of reading Ryan’s Blind Spot Series I have decided to join in for 2013. first up E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is over thirty years old and is much loved by a generation, my generation, however I have never seen it. Many people reading this will know the film better than I do. In this situation, reviewing a film that came out when I was six but didn’t see until I was thirty-six would somehow miss the point. So rather than reviewing the movie I am just going to share a few thoughts including my relationship with the movie.ET

It is not a movie I have avoided or not wanted to see, it is just something that has never happened. As I have mentioned previously on this site, I didn’t go to the cinema very often as a kid, I was a child of the home video generation. Unlike now when a big movie seems to find its way to DVD as soon as it has finished its cinema run things were different back in the 80’s and years passed without ET making it to VHS. It finally made it to VHS in the late 80’s. By this time I was in my early teens and watching movies like The Terminator and Aliens and wasn’t interested in a “Kids Film”. Some time during this period between the cinema and video release my dad borrowed a copy of the video from a friend that obviously turned out to be a pirate copy. The quality was so poor we couldn’t tell what was going on and gave up after ten minutes (possibly less). The film was re-released for the 20th anniversary in 2002. I went along to the one night only screening at my local multiplex to find it sold out and went to see something different.

I hadn’t actually given up on seeing the movie, but didn’t go out of my way to see it. Then two things happened, I signed up for the Blind Spot Series, knowing that ET would have to be on my list as I had previously discussed it with Ryan. And to celebrate the 30th anniversary the movie was shown on TV with a documentary about it. I promptly set my STB to record it and have just watched it, so what did I think of it?

ET-the-Extra-Terrestrial

You all know the plot. A group of alien explorers and botanists are collecting samples of plant life from earth when they are disturbed, by the US government. They flea leaving one of their number behind. He is found by a young boy who forms a strong emotional bond with the alien that becomes symbiotic causing great danger for both parties.

Firstly, it isn’t the movie I expected. The subplot of Elliot’s parents separation looms large in the background and with it the subtext of the broken society that was creeping into 70’s and 80’s cinema after the optimism and hope of the 60’s. This dark tone is mirrored by the darkness of the film visually, with a lot of nigh time scenes. But it is in the harsh light of day and of florescent lighting that the movie is thematically at its darkest. In that way, it makes a good companion peace with Jaws that may (or may not depending on which film critic you ask) be about infidelity. The relationship between boy and alien is always doomed, by giving the ET what he wants, what he needs, to return him home, will result in their separation. But all this can be countered by the idea of making the aliens, the monsters, the creatures who are different, good, honest and benevolent. In the time before glasnost, Steven Spielberg was preaching acceptance and friendship. How ever you look at it, it is clearly a very personal film to its director, but I often get the feeling all his films are very personal to him.E-T-The-Extra-Terrestrial drew barrymore

Although it has its moments it is a lot less fun than I expected. The sentimentality is ramped up to eleven with the aid of John Williams’ score, but this isn’t a criticism, the movie achieves what it sets out in this regard. My only real criticism of the movie is that it doesn’t have that one moment you expect from Spielberg to grab hold of you like: Quint’s story of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in Jaws, the “snowing” ash in Schindler’s List, the Omaha Beach landing in Saving Private Ryan or even the T-Rex footsteps in Jurassic Park. There are memorable moments in the movie but they just didn’t grab me.

Never held back by the schmaltz that is clearly present, as it is always balanced with great story telling and darker themes. A supremely well made movie that I enjoyed watching but saw far too late in life to fall in love with the way many people before me have.

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