Titirangi Storyteller

Telling tales from around the world

Posts Tagged ‘movies

The Blob!

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OMG – I forgot about the Bonomo Turkish Taffy! I’m missing the movies more than I realised… I must need a movie related project… Or it might be getting on time to make a pilgrimage to the Bronx and see if I can rustle some of those old ghosts…

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07/09/2011 at 12:06 am

Recurring Hitchcock – where do I begin?

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Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock, director at work

He’s been dead nearly thirty years now, but the man who practically invented the psychological thriller, conceived and delivered our very idea of filmic suspense, and took horror from 50’s b-grade kitsch into the realm of true terror continues to haunt the psyches of young directors hoping to emulate the master. It seems everyone from Gus van Sant (Psycho) to Anthony Perkins who played the psycho in the original and later directed Psycho III has had a go. I found a great article on /film covering the Hitchcock remake oeuvre – worth checking out.

His career spanned more than five decades, beginning in the silent era. (I wrote a piece on a couple of them last year.)

Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman star in Notorious

Yet it wasn’t until the mid 1930’s that his career kicked off with “The Man Who Knew too Much” starring Peter Lorre, but his move to Hollywood in 1939 and the gothic melodrama Rebecca that saw him begin a 25-year reign, where virtually every one of his films was a critical and popular success. He is still voted #1 director of all time in most movie polls.

If you’re curious, but don’t know which of Hitchcock’s 60+ films to begin with, here’s a good start. All of them are easily available on DVD, most with exquisite restorations. Dig in!

  1. Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in almost all of his films. Here he rides the bus beside Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief

    Notorious (1946)

  2. Suspicion (1941)
  3. Dial M for Murder (1954)
  4. To Catch a Thief (1955)
  5. Rear Window (1954)
  6. North by Northwest (1959)
  7. Vertigo (1958)
  8. The Birds (1963)
  9. Psycho (1960)
  10. Rope (1948)

Tippi Hedren leads her young charges to safety in The Birds

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12/06/2010 at 12:03 am

Once Upon a Time in Mexico – revisited

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I have a secret love for action flicks – and there are those in my collection I can watch over and over and never ever get bored.

It hit me about half an hour into Once Upon a Time in Mexico that this might be the perfect date flick – as long as you’ve got the stomach for heaps of cartoon violence. For chicks, you’ve got Antonio Banderas, Johnny Depp, Enrique Iglesias, Ruben Blades and bad boys Mickey Rourke and Willem Dafoe. For the blokes there’s non-stop action, shootouts, hi-jinks and some very memorable cameos from the incomparable Salma Hayek. And, there’s also one hell of story.

This, the third film in his Mariachi trilogy, is clearly director Robert Rodriguez’ baby. The first, El Mariachi, came in 1992, made on a budget of US$7,000. The second, Desperado, followed three years later, also written, produced, directed, scored, and ‘chopped’ by the director of the Spy Kids series. Though it is the third of the trilogy, the film stands on its own: fans may want to go back and uncover the earlier story, it’s not necessary to understanding this film. Come to think of it, Hayak’s character dies in Desperado but she’s back and hotter than ever here. So seeing the first two is strictly optional. They are out on DVD as a 2-disc set – should you go looking.

Sands contemplating the perfect puerco pibil

A Hollywood outsider by choice, Rodriguez works from an elaborate home studio in Austin, Texas, putting his films together with more can-do creativity than professional glitz. He shot Once Upon a Time in Mexico himself, in Mexico with a high-definition video camera.

A meltingly handsome Antonio Banderas plays El Mariachi, a gunslinger-guitar hero: a living legend – part man, part spirit. Then there’s Johnny Depp as Sands, a casually corrupt CIA agent with a penchant for disguise and chef-murdering, who recruits El Mariachi to foil a coup planned by the fascist General Marquez (Gerardo Vigil) with the help of drug lord Barillo (Willem Dafoe at his most sinister.) Where Banderas is all smouldering passion, Depp is indifferent. It’s a shame we don’t get more of Salma Hayek, but what we do get is unforgettable – the hottest woman on the planet.

Antonio Banderas as El Mariachi

Rodriguez takes full advantage of the small video camera, diving into the middle of the action. Careening at a dizzying pace; he becomes the camera, looking everywhere at once. And when he gets his footage to the chopping block he ups the ante, so the film is a Tasmanian Devil of a dervish, and you have the distinct sense that anything can happen. Yes, it is violent, but odd as it may seem, there is a joyful playfulness to it – blood that looks like raspberry sauce and the odd sense that Yosemite Sam might turn up any second, six-guns blasting. There is so much humour and plain silliness in the script and in Depp’s character (who actually asks a recruit, “Are you a Mexi-can or a Mexi-can’t?”), Once Upon a Time in Mexico is a tasty piece of eye candy. Highly recommended.

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18/05/2010 at 10:06 pm

Pan’s Labyrinth

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untitledIt’s 1944, five years after the end of  Spanish Civil. The close of WWII in Europe is at hand.

Ten year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) and her heavily pregnant mother Carmen (Ariadna Gil) travel to a remote fascist outpost in the Spanish forest, where they will join her new husband, Capitán Vidal (Sergi López). A ruthless man, he is charged with dispensing the last of the rebels. Despite the risks to her health, he has insisted she give birth to his son where he is.

Capitán despises stepdaughter Ofelia, not least for her love of fairy tales. But deep in the woods, Ofelia has met a wondrous faun, who has given her three tasks to complete to prove her character. If she passes, she will be returned as a princess to her true home deep in the earth. Can she do it? Or will Capitán and the horrors of the real world devour her first?

pans_labyrinth_xl_04-film-aThis is one of those rare movies that pulls you into its heart so you share the suffering of each the characters. It is savagely brutal in the way classic fairy tales usually are, though this is balanced by the beauty of the otherworld.  (Note – this flick is much too violent for young viewers to handle! Don’t be misled by the little girl on the cover.)

pans-labyrinth-picsGuillermo Del Toro is a master of fantasy. In Blade II (2002) and Hellboy (2004) he brought comic book characters to life. Here he draws on his passionate love of classic fairy tales to create his own fantasy world, so delicately crafted the CGI special effects blend seamlessly and you are simply dazzled by all that unfolds.

pans-labyrinth-1The two-disc set is loaded with special features, including making of featurettes on set and costume design, cast and crew interviews, commentaries, storyboards and more. One of my favourite movies of all time.

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14/04/2010 at 8:12 am

The basics of film noir

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Orson Welles & Charlton Heston in Touch of Evil

More than crime drama, film noir is about the passion that drives men to murder and women to give up everything for a moment in their arms. The phrase was coined in 1946 by a French film critic to describe the gritty, black and white melodramas that dominated cinema double-features throughout the forties and fifties.

Bogie & Bacall in The Big Sleep

Robert Mitchum, Humphrey Bogart and Edward G Robinson starred as wise-cracking thugs or dime-store detectives, hard as nails and too easily foiled by a dame. The femme fatale could seduce any man – and had to do it with her clothes on: Lauren Bacall, Jane Russell and Veronica Lake brought them down, though they didn’t have much better luck than their male counterparts. Operating under the Hayes Code meant that crime could never ever pay.

A few suggestions for the beginner:

  • The Maltese Falcon (1941)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • The Big Sleep (1946)
  • D.O.A. (1950)
  • The Wrong Man (1956)
  • A Touch of Evil (1958)

Film noir continues to evolve, especially in the low-budget, indy world, though Scorsese’s Oscar winner, The Departed (2006) could be considered an example of the genre. If you’re not quite ready to jump into the classics, try cutting your teeth on these:

  • Road to Perdition (2002)
  • The Cooler (2003)
  • Sin City (2005)
  • Hollywoodland (2006)
  • Lucky Number Slevin (2006)
  • Eastern Promises (2007)

Martin Scorsese directs Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon in The Departed

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20/03/2010 at 9:15 pm

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Bardot in the beginning and the end

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Two from Brigitte Bardot

While she never attained the status of Marilyn Monroe, French sex kitten, Brigitte Bardot, was adored by the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol and provided the inspiration for Amy Winehouse’s beehive. She retired as her star was falling and is now better known for her work in animal rights her reactionary politics which have gotten her in hot water several times in recent years.

Naughty Girl, from 1955 is a delight, the 21-year-old Bardot plays Brigitte Latour, a gangster’s daughter under the temporary care of nightclub singer, Jean Clery (Jean Bretonnière). The hapless Clery is ordered to rescue her from her private school before her father’s enemies kidnap her. He expects a chubby girl with braces on her teeth but instead, finds his hands full of an out of control Bardot, part woman, part child and all temptation who takes over his life. She ruins his engagement and burns down his flat. Astonishingly, in one of those ‘my how things have changed’ moments, Clery slaps her across the face when she misbehaves, which straightens her out and all is well.

Naughty Girl (1955)

Sexy and gifted, Bardot is simply incredible. The following year she made And God Created Woman, directed by her first husband, Roger Vadim, which launched her as an international star. Like so many of Hollywood’s blonde bombshells, she became more famous for her celebrity, love affairs, marriages and scandals than she was for her acting. In 1962 she made Vie Privée, directed by Louis Malle  and in 1963, she starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s critically acclaimed Contempt. But as her life spun out of control, the quality of her work became erratic.

Fast forward to Shalako, a badly scripted spaghetti western based on a Louis L’Amour novel. It’s 1968 and though she is only 34, Bardot is puffy and her teeth need work. Too much hard living, booze, drugs and lack of sleep have taken their toll. She can still play the vixen, but her powers have waned.

The surprise is finding Sean Connery slumming in this dog. At the time he was at the height of his fame as 007. Bardot plays one of a group of European aristocrats on a hunting tour of the American wild west. They refuse to abide by treaty agreements and find themselves in a battle to the death with the natives.  He’s the guide who comes to their rescue, despatch a few hundred Injuns to save them from their arrogance and stupidity. Painful viewing all around.

Shalako (1968)

Bardot today.

Bardot survived Hollywood, unlike her peers Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield. She appeared in a few more movies into the early 70’s and retired. Since then she has been a vociferous animal rights activist, but more often in the news for her right-wing politics. She’s easy to dislike – and yet, I can’t help admiring the survivor in her, surviving the public adoration and self destruction that too often accompanies that kind of celebrity. Having transcended ‘Bardot,’ she leaves us free to rediscover her early, unspoiled talent.

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

21/02/2010 at 11:18 pm


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High-brow Finnish horror washes all your sins away
Director: Antti-Jussi Annila

At first glance, this may seem like a standard horror flick, other than its setting – 16th century Finland. The Swedes and Russians have just ended 25 years of war and each have sent a party to define the new borders. We meet brothers Eerik and Knut, represent the Swedes, en route to the official rendezvous.

Whilst they are glad for peace, the endless years of war, away from their family has taken its toll and Eerik has become increasingly violent. He declares he has killed 73 people, including a farmer we meet as the film opens, who he claimed wielded an axe. Knut fears for the farmer’s adolescent daughter and locks her in the fruit cellar to keep her safe. As they set out for their destination, he asks Eerik to let her out.

Eerik & KnutThey are a day’s journey away when Eerik confesses he never let the girl out. Knut begins to see a young woman in the swamp who whispers for him to ‘come back!”

They meet up with the Russians and together they come upon a sauna, built in the middle of the swamp. Nearby is a village not on any of their maps. The people are accommodating, but rather strange – and extraordinarily clean, forever washing themselves and their clothing. There are 73 people in the village, but only one child. And the girl in the swamp is calling more desperately.

This film is a mere 85 minutes long – but the script is so complex and multi-layered and the suspense so thick, it was a relief when it ended. Afterwards, watching the making-of documentary was almost cathartic – seeing how it was made took some of the chill away. A director’s commentary helps answer some of the questions left dangling at the movie’s end, but still – it’s one you will ponder for a while. One of my top choices for 2009.

Eerik & Knut

Written by Titirangi Storyteller

20/12/2009 at 10:47 pm

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