Return to Peyton Place (1961, José Ferrer)

I’ve read a review of Return to Peyton Place positing the whole film as a disservice to Mary Astor. It might have been Maltin. Right now, I’m reading Bruce Eder’s review over at allmovie. Eder’s a smarty-pants (he does or did a lot of scholarly audio commentaries) and I’d almost recommend it over my own post, because I made a few of the same observations. Return to Peyton Place starts out bad, with Rosemary Clooney singing a silly song over location shots of the town. The first Peyton Place had a great score–if it was a little derivative of Aaron Copland’s Our Town score–and the first couple seconds of music in Return to Peyton Place seemed all right… then the singing started. Clooney was married to director José Ferrer at the time and one imagines there’s a connection to her involvement.

Worse, the first scene is with Carol Lynley. I’m a Peyton Place fan and I can imagine how upset people seeing this film in the theater would have been. Lynley is a poor substitute for Diane Varsi, who originated the role. Poor substitute might be too polite. Lynley’s acting is a crime against celluloid. But then Eleanor Parker and Tuesday Weld and Mary Astor show up–and here’s where Eder and I agree–and Mary Astor’s first scene is really good. Immediately after, she becomes Mrs. Bates, complete with haunted house, but the first scene is good. Tuesday Weld manages to have a few good moments, but she’s busy being in love with Swedish sky instructor–she visibly competent, though I don’t know if I’d say anything if I didn’t know she turned well. Eleanor Parker–replacing Lana Turner, who was the lead in the original Peyton Place–is around because she has to be, but there’s no emphasis on her. It’s a bad sequel in that way–it’s set after the events in Peyton Place, but certain things didn’t happen….

The idea of the film–besides Mary Astor combating her son’s new, pregnant Italian bride (Fox was very international with Return to Peyton Place)–is Lynley writing a book a lot like… Peyton Place. The novel was (I’m Googling for the appropriate adjective) notorious at its publication. That idea of turning that notoriety into filmic content in a sequel, it’s not a bad one. It would allow for the film to cover the existing situations in the narrative and create all sorts of conflicts and yada yada yada, but it’s so poorly handled, it just doesn’t work. Jeff Chandler–who’s good–is bad in Return to Peyton Place. He doesn’t fit the role of book publisher and his scenes are all with Lynley and… oh, they’re awful together.

It’s hard to imagine a good sequel to Peyton Place. You would need the entire cast to return. You would need five or six stories, good ones (instead of two and a half bad ones). You’d need a good writer–though, Return to Peyton Place’s scenes are competently paced–and you’d need a good director. But still, even with all of those components (and Return to Peyton Place has none of those components), there still isn’t a good artistic reason for a sequel….

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by José Ferrer; screenplay by Ronald Alexander, based on a novel by Grace Metalious; director of photography, Charles G. Clarke; edited by David Bretherton; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Jerry Wald; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Carol Lynley (Allison MacKenzie), Jeff Chandler (Lewis Jackman), Eleanor Parker (Connie Rossi), Mary Astor (Mrs. Roberta Carter), Robert Sterling (Mike Rossi), Luciana Paluzzi (Raffaella Carter), Brett Halsey (Ted Carter), Gunnar Hellström (Nils Larsen) and Tuesday Weld (Selena Cross).


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Volunteers (1985, Nicholas Meyer)

The oddest part of Volunteers is the opening credits. I queued it because I’ve been reading Ken Levine’s blog (he’s one of the screenwriters) and he did a whole write-up on it a while ago. I suppose I knew, but had forgotten, Nicholas Meyer directed the film. Volunteers is his follow-up to Star Trek II, which would have been considered a success for him. He even brought James Horner along from Star Trek to score Volunteers. James Horner should not score comedies (though he does use some of his other material, I think from Star Trek and Aliens, in the film).

Since Meyer brings nothing to the film, all the responsibility falls on Tom Hanks, who does the whole film with an exaggerated New England accent. He manages to keep the accent for the whole film too. The film takes place in 1962, just after Kennedy started the Peace Corps–I missed that detail somehow, I just thought they were showing the old film clips over the titles to be historical–and I’m wondering if my misunderstanding affected the first twenty minutes. The first twenty minutes are mildly amusing. Tom Hanks is acting like a prick, which he’s very good at doing, but nothing really made me laugh. Then, once he gets to Thailand–maybe just on the Peace Corps plane–Volunteers starts getting funny. It might have more to do with John Candy. Candy is good in Volunteers, better than anything else I’ve ever seen him in. Still, he’s not the best supporting cast member–Gedde Watanabe is great.

Since I saw the film for Levine, I suppose I do have to say something about the writing. It’s good and funny. There are quite a few laugh out-loud moments in Volunteers–most of Watanabe’s lines for a forty minute period are real funny–and the film’s never predictable in the story progressions, with the regular exception of the romance between Hanks and Rita Wilson. The film’s become a footnote in Hanks’ biography for that reason. She’s not good, but it hardly matters, the film isn’t interested in her character. The funny stuff is going on elsewhere.

Even with the traditional romance story-arc, Volunteers ends on an unexpected note, managing to stay truer to itself than expected. The film’s humor isn’t irreverent–Levine and co-writer David Isaacs are sitcom writers who write for good shows–but it is a referential humor. One would need to know, for example, about the CIA’s activities in East Asia, which might not have been too much to ask in 1985, but certainly is too much today. Hanks’ performance is also so unlike his regular performances (he only had a few years before he found his shtik) doesn’t help its accessibility either. Still, there’s no excuse for its bad reputation. It actually needed to be longer–Levine and Isaacs set up a few jokes they never finished and could have….

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Nicholas Meyer; screenplay by Ken Levine and David Isaacs, from a story by Keith Critchlow; director of photography, Ric Waite; edited by Ronald Roose and Steven Polivka; produced by Richard Shepherd and Walter F. Parkes; released by Tri-Star Pictures.

Starring Tom Hanks (Lawrence Whatley Bourne III), John Candy (Tom Tuttle), Rita Wilson (Beth Wexler), Tim Thomerson (John Reynolds), Gedde Watanabe (At Toon), George Plimpton (Lawrence Bourne Jr.), Ernest Harada (Chung Mee), Allan Arbus (Albert Bardenaro) and Xander Berkeley (Kent Sutcliffe).


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Golgo 13: The Kowloon Assignment (1977, Noda Yukio)

Certain films I don’t even bother asking my fiancée if she wants to watch. Golgo 13 was obviously one of them. Sonny Chiba as an invincible hitman, bopping around the hip and neon 1970s Hong Kong… I figured she wouldn’t mind sitting it out. I think I might have known Golgo 13 started as a manga–certainly I did after I saw this film’s listing with Chiba’s name and did a minute of Googling–and I had played the old Nintendo game in the late 1980s. I was never particularly good at it (though I did remember the name “Duke Togo” when it came up in the film). I tend not to see–or even considering seeing–most kung fu movies. Sonny Chiba is an exception. He’s not much of an actor, but he doesn’t need to be, he just needs to kick ass. He kicks a lot of ass in Golgo 13.

While the film isn’t masterfully directed, the action scenes are excellent so those ass-kicking scenes are fun to watch. I know I commented in my Raiders post about how Spielberg’s taken credit for Bruckheimer’s short-shot editing, but Golgo 13 has them and has them in a style more consistent with their current use then Raiders does. I’m not sure Golgo is the film to start it, but I imagine the short-shots do come from this genre.

The film succeeds because it never fails to entertain the viewer. It runs ninety minutes or so and there’s a fight scene once every five or six minutes. There might be one stretch where there isn’t one, but then there’s a good chase scene or something. It works out. However, Chiba has to share the film with the police detective hunting him down (I’d love a monograph comparing it to Heat… or maybe just Golgo 13 dubbed with Heat’s dialogue… or vice versa–Golgo even ends at an airport) and the cop, played by the singularly named Callan (who appears to have no other credits), is bland. He’s not likable, so it’s good Chiba’s constantly outsmarting him. For a while, there’s a female detective who has some good fight scenes.

While the film is more matter-of-factly violent then any American film I’ve ever seen, it does owe a lot to American films of its period, particularly the blaxploitation film, seeing as how Mr. Big is a white guy. He also has an island fortress. He also has diplomatic immunity and there are a number of scenes mirroring Lethal Weapon 2 (except, you know, Sonny Chiba is actually tough). My only quibble with the film are the long cigarillos Chiba smokes throughout. I think they’ve got to be a reference to the comic book, since Chiba smokes them with visible effeteness.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Noda Yukio; screenplay by Matsumoto Takeshi and Nakajima Nobuaki, based on the manga by Saitô Takao; director of photography, Akatsuka Shigeru; edited by Suzuki Akira; music by Ibe Harumi; produced by Leung Callan; released by Toei Company.

Starring Sonny Chiba (Duke Togo), Leung Callan (Detective Smith), Shihomi Etsuko (Ling Lam), Shindo Emi (Lin Yip), Elaine Sung (Laan Kong), Danna (Dut Lai), Nick Lam Wai Kei (Fung Chow Lui), Jerry Ito (Polanksi) and Lee Chi-Chung (Ming Wong Tak).


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Monkey Grip (1982, Ken Cameron)

Adaptations of non-epic novels tend to be the best source for non-original films. Of course, a film and a novel are different forms. The difference needs to be respected and the film form needs to be more considered. It’s a difficult process–it requires real thought and attention. The neon sign of carelessness in an filmic adaptation of a prose work would have to be the narration lifted directly from the source material. Monkey Grip is full of that narration. It’s used as a bridging device, often when the main character, played by Noni Hazlehurst, is biking. Because, as we all know, people don’t bike to get from point A to point B, they bike to think about life’s mysteries. Occasionally–two or three times–the film doesn’t use that bridging device and forces the viewer to discern changes in time, place, and character relationships. At those times, Monkey Grip works fine. Well even. In addition to being a lazy device, the narration isn’t particularly well-written. In fact, when it goes on for more than a couple sentences, it’s bad. Monkey Grip, the novel, very well may be a bad novel. Unless a bad novel is bad because it features ghosts or dinosaurs, it does not have much filmic potential. I’m just guessing, but the closing narration was so poorly written, it was enough to take a half star off my rating for the film. The writing is bad.

The film’s about a divorced woman with a daughter who works in the Melbourne music industry. I have memories of seeing a movie and seeing people excited their music and being perplexed because the music was so bad. This viewing must have been when I was kid, but I can’t remember what it would have been. Whatever the genre of music in Monkey Grip–it’s pop, but pop changes; I’m sure if its Australian New Wave. It’s bad. The woman can’t sing. The lyrics are stupid. It’s painful. But I let it go, because Hazlehurst is a sad looking woman and she’s playing a sad woman and it’s fine. I could tell Monkey Grip wasn’t going to be anything special–you can tell with dramas, except Japanese family dramas, those tend to fall apart at end–and I was willing to put up with the narration.

The real problem with the film is its unawareness of itself. The Monkey Grip of the title is Hazlehurst’s heroin addict, actor boyfriend’s hold on her. He’s played by Colin Friels, who’s fine. His character is empty because the film is so empty. He’s supposed to be good looking and charming. Well, Colin Friels is good looking and charming, so that’s supposed to be enough… Actually, for the first half of the film, it is. In the first, the narration goes on and on about his outbursts, but we don’t even see one until fifty-five minutes into the film. This subject starts, in the narration, five minutes into the film. Lot of summary storytelling here, since Monkey Grip takes place over a year (exactly no less, same beginning and ending setting too, real cute). So Hazlehurst has to take care of Friels and it’s a simile for having a child who grows up and moves away. It’s not a metaphor because Hazlehurst tells Friels it’s like having a child who grows up and moves away, which it’s the nudity-laden sex scenes all the more weird.

But, Hazlehurst doesn’t have a visible relationship with the daughter. The kid’s cute. Her job is to be cute, nothing else. Precocious maybe. The film doesn’t recognize this oversight on the character’s part (since it’s an attempt at a first person point of view) and it makes Hazlehurst’s character hard to take seriously. There’s a scene where she flips because there’s a heroin needle out and her roommate doesn’t know about the heroin use… but the kid does. The attempt at the “old soul” kid and the childish mother, which the film tries to establish from the third or fourth scene, fails throughout. It’s unfortunate, since the kid, played by Alice Garner, probably gives the film’s best performance. Garner is actually the novel writer’s daughter–and, if you look it up on Wikipedia, there’s an explanation about the entire cast of characters being on the dole. That situation was never explained in the film and all the actors, who are pretty bad, look way too old to be in college.

Since the direction’s so pat, it’s impossible to get interested in Monkey Grip. For most of the film, the narration is a poor choice, only getting bad toward the end (it even disappears for fifteen minutes or so, which is great). While fails to engage the viewer, it’s not awful… However, the less said about the scary movie music (it reminds of John Carpenter’s Halloween score) and the low motion shots, the better.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Ken Cameron; screenplay by Cameron, based on the novel by Helen Garner; director of photography, David Gribble; edited by David Huggett; music by Bruce Smeaton; production designer, Clark Munro; produced by Patricia Lovell; released by Cinecom Pictures.

Starring Noni Hazlehurst (Nora), Colin Friels (Javo), Alice Garner (Gracie), Harold Hopkins (Willie), Candy Raymond (Lillian), Michael Caton (Clive), Tim Burns (Martin), Christina Amphlett (Angela) and Don Miller-Robinson (Gerald).


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