Valley of the Kings (1954, Robert Pirosh)

Eighty-six minute movies are not supposed to be boring. Eighty-six minute sound films anyway. Valley of the Kings manages to be boring in the first twelve minutes. Even those twelve minutes are boring. It takes the film until just over the halfway point to actually get moving. Not interesting, not good, but moving. There are three action scenes back-to-back–a sandstorm, a Bedouin duel, and a fist-fight atop a giant Egyptian statue. The film tries to start with action too–a buggy chase within the first six minutes, but chases are hard enough to do in cars, much less buggies.

Valley of the Kings was filmed on location in Egypt, so I imagine those visuals were much of the prospective appeal, but the writing’s bad–in multiple ways–and the director doesn’t know how to make the visuals work for the film. They’re background instead of attraction and the film still tries to replace content with them. At eighty-six minutes, it’s hard for a film to take much responsibility–and Valley of the Kings tells the story of the archeological proof of Joseph in Egypt (something archeology has yet to prove), and it’s a deep subject. A lot has to go on… and nothing goes on in Valley of the Kings. It tries to be a few films–one about this search for evidence, another about adulterous relationship, and yet another (action-filled one) of grave-robbing intrigue. In the end, it doesn’t any of these subjects seriously and there’s little to hold together….

…except, of course, the locations–which are excellent in the second half–and Robert Taylor. Valley of the Kings is Taylor and Eleanor Parker’s second of three films together (for MGM). Their first, Above and Beyond, was great. This one manages to waste Parker by changing her character in the third act (she becomes positively unlovable in the last three scenes, then the film expects the audience to embrace her). She has a cuckold, played by Carlos Thompson (who I’ve never seen in anything else, much to my glee)… but the opening credits tell us the film stars Taylor and Parker. Taylor is getting the girl, so there aren’t many surprises once it gets going. Taylor is great in the film and would have been even better had to been serious film about archeology or adulterous affairs.

The film has a lot respect for the Muslim characters it portrays, much more respect then they get today in films–even in culturally sensitive films. It’s a reasonably important footnote in the history of American perspective of Muslims (Islamic fundamentalism hadn’t come around yet) and they’re treated with more respect then the European character, who’s a big shithead.

Valley of the Kings isn’t terrible thanks to the second half, but Robert Pirosh is a bad writer and a bad director. Of the two problems, the writing hurts the film most. With a good script and another twenty minutes, Valley of the Kings would… still not be as good as Above and Beyond, but it wouldn’t be so middling.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Pirosh; screenplay by Pirosh and Karl Tunberg, from a book by C.W. Ceram; director of photography, Robert Surtees; edited by Harold F. Kress; music by Miklos Rozsa; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Robert Taylor (Mark Brandon), Eleanor Parker (Ann Barclay Mercedes), Carlos Thompson (Philip Mercedes), Kurt Kasznar (Hamed Backhour), Victor Jory (Taureg Chief), Leon Askin (Valentine Arko, Antique Dealer) and Aldo Silvani (Father Anthimos).


RELATED

Advertisements

Leviathan (1989, George P. Cosmatos)

Leviathan has to be one of the few films where the hero punches out a woman for audience satisfaction, which is actually quite an achievement for the film, since it’s so derivative. Leviathan is Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Peter Hyams’ Outland rolled together, with an amazing 1980s cast kneaded into the dough–there’s Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters, Daniel Stern in his final, pre-Home Alone role, and Lisa Eilbacher from Beverly Hills Cop. Stern essentially plays his Home Alone role and Eilbacher isn’t particularly good (but, the good heavily outweighs the bad), but Hudson’s likable. The script gives the actors a little something–quirks, good speeches, anything to establish them in a couple minutes.

Leviathan is one of David Webb Peoples’ genre scripts. Peoples is known for Blade Runner, Unforgiven, and Twelve Monkeys, but he also wrote a lot of other sci-fi stuff that ended up getting made. Leviathan is actually a rather well-constructed film. It’s tense when it’s supposed to be tense and it never takes itself too seriously–though it would be hard, since Peter Weller is well-aware of what he’s doing (I think he once said he took the role so he could get a free trip to Italy). There’s even character establishment well into the second act, which I always like, coming out naturally instead of being explained to the audience. The script’s far from perfect–it prejudges Stern’s character, making it impossible for the audience to care about him.

When I worked at a video store, I once recommended Leviathan to someone over The Abyss (they came out at the same time). I caught hell for it from the customer and from a co-worker, but there’s nothing wrong with Leviathan. It’s beautiful–shot by Alex Thomson of all people–it’s ninety-six minutes of dumb fun with no glaring faults. Weller is always an interesting lead actor, it’s probably Richard Crenna’s finest work (Alien³ is actually derivative of Leviathan when it comes to medical officers), and Amanda Pays is good in the film. I rented it after I watched Dead on the Money and she’s actually good for a lot of Leviathan–she relates better to the film camera than the TV camera.

So, I feel rather vindicated. Now, I’m not recommending Leviathan, but there wouldn’t be anything wrong with it if I was….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by George P. Cosmatos; screenplay by David Webb Peoples and Jeb Stuart, based on a story by Peoples; director of photography, Alex Thomson; edited by Roberto Silvi and John F. Burnett; music by Jerry Goldsmith; production designer, Ron Cobb; produced by Luigi and Aurelio de Laurentiis; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Peter Weller (Beck), Richard Crenna (Doc), Amanda Pays (Willie), Daniel Stern (Sixpack), Ernie Hudson (Jones), Michael Carmine (DeJesus), Lisa Eilbacher (Bowman), Hector Elizondo (Cobb) and Meg Foster (Martin).


RELATED

Lucky Number Slevin (2006, Paul McGuigan)

Critics enjoy ruining movies on the day of release. They must–Roger Ebert gives away more endings then not (he gave away The Sixth Sense of all things). Worse, however, is when critics spoil the experience for the audience. I read a couple reviews of Lucky Number Slevin today and one said it’d have audiences picking it apart like they did Memento. Besides the incredibly odd image of anyone exerting brain power on Memento, this review put me on my guard during Slevin and it wasn’t fair of it to do so… There is a twist in Slevin, but you’re supposed to figure it out–heck, you’re supposed to figure it out really, really early. I figured it out late because I kept waiting for Patrick Duffy to take a shower. The twist isn’t what the movie’s about, it isn’t the filmmakers’ focus. In other words, last time I read that critic….

Lucky Number Slevin is Josh Hartnett and Paul McGuigan’s second film together, after Wicker Park. They’re an odd pair, or at least were when they got together–McGuigan makes tough violent films and Hartnett was, at that time, about to become Brett Ratner’s Superman. Slevin is easily McGuigan’s best film, just because he’s got so much to do–it’s not just witty banter between crooks or violent scenes or even an incredibly touching love story (the date in Slevin is the best movie date in years)–but it’s also a serious story about fathers and sons. I actually can’t wait to watch Slevin again, because without the fear of the Duffy, I can appreciate the film’s depth. It’s touching in small moments, small ways, ways maybe one cannot understand the first time through… maybe that critic was correct in that regard.

Still, for the first viewing, Slevin is constantly entertaining. There’s a slow start at the beginning, but once Hartnett appears, it starts. Nicely, it starts with Lucy Liu (as the love interest) popping in. She and Hartnett are great together in the film, but their relationship is so well written it’d be hard for them to be bad together. The other acting is all excellent, particularly Ben Kingsley. It’s his loosest role and he has a great time with it. Morgan Freeman is good, but he’s playing Morgan Freeman again. He’s been playing Morgan Freeman since Unforgiven or so. Stanley Tucci is in the film for a bit and he gets to say “fuck” again. He’s got one particularly great scene with it. Bruce Willis has a difficult role, since he’s supposed to be the enigma, but he manages to do a couple nice things with it. Hartnett’s back in his usual, excellent form (Mozart and the Whale seeming like a high school play).

I remember the back of my Sabrina (the remake) laserdisc. It said, approximately, everyone knows what’s going to happen, so the joy of Sabrina is watching it happen. I might not have predicted everything in Slevin (though the fiancée did), but I certainly did enjoy watching it unfold–McGuigan does a masterful job with it. He’s getting to be a singular talent.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Paul McGuigan; written by Jason Smilovic; director of photography, Peter Sova; edited by Andrew Hulme; music by J. Ralph; production designer, François Séguin; produced by Chris Roberts, Christopher Eberts, Kia Jam, Anthony Rhulen, Tyler Mitchell and Robert S. Kravis; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Slevin Kelevra), Bruce Willis (Mr. Goodkat), Lucy Liu (Lindsey), Morgan Freeman (The Boss), Ben Kingsley (The Rabbi), Michael Rubenfeld (Yitzchok), Peter Outerbridge (Det. Dumbrowski), Stanley Tucci (Det. Brikowski), Kevin Chamberlin (Marty), Dorian Missick (Elvis), Mykelti Williamson (Sloe) and Scott Gibson (Max).


RELATED

Kafka (1991, Steven Soderbergh)

I wonder how the producers sold Jeremy Irons on the film. It was his first major role after his Oscar and it immediately followed, so he probably hadn’t won when he started filming Kafka… however, imagine if they’d advertised the film as “Academy Award Winner Jeremy Irons running through the empty streets of Prague.”

Kafka’s Soderbergh’s first film after Sex, Lies, and Videotape and it’s an exceptional disappointment. All Soderbergh has to do in Kafka is set-up German impressionist shots to match the script’s built-in references–there’s a doctor named Murnau, a town called Orloc (from Murnau’s Nosferatu) and I think I saw a Metropolis poster. Soderbergh is a filmmaker concerned with the human condition and it’s entirely absent from Kafka. Kafka is a gimmick within a gimmick… There’s a certain cuteness–wink-wink–of Kafka in a Kafkaesque adventure, but the adventure is so incredibly lame–and derivative–watching the film is a chore. I suppose it did lead to Dark City–writer Lem Dobbs took whole ideas from Kafka and put them in that one–but it’s a lot like The Element of Crime.

Kafka did remind me–in its aloof and blatant humanity–a lot of Soderbergh’s Traffic. There’s a visible disconnect in some of Soderbergh’s films, when it’s obvious the material isn’t engaging him, so he just busies himself with the camera. Kafka has a lot of such busying. It does have some nice performances–Jeroen Krabbé is excellent, Joel Grey is mildly amusing, it’s one of Armin Mueller-Stahl’s good performances. Jeremy Irons is fine too (he doesn’t have to do an accent). Still, I knew there was major trouble from the beginning… Theresa Russell is the female lead and she’s terrible from her first scene.

I wonder if Kafka would have gotten a better critical response if it had come out before Barton Fink instead of after it. Lem Dobbs’s script–with it’s goofy characters and particular humor–is an obvious Coen mimic. It’s just a useless film… and, while I realize it’s not supposed to be a historically accurate portrayal of Kafka’s life, apparently, in the film’s world, the First World War never happened. That historical omission is much more interesting than anything else going on and it really shouldn’t be.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed and edited by Steven Soderbergh; written by Lem Dobbs; director of photography, Walt Lloyd; music by Cliff Martinez; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Harry Benn and Stuart Cornfeld; released by Miramax Films.

Starring Jeremy Irons (Kafka), Theresa Russell (Gabriela), Joel Grey (Burgel), Ian Holm (Doctor Murnau), Jeroen Krabbé (Bizzlebek), Armin Mueller-Stahl (Grubach), Alec Guinness (The Chief Clerk), Brian Glover (Castle Henchman), Keith Allen (Assistant Ludwig), Simon McBurney (Assistant Oscar) and Robert Flemyng (The Keeper of the Files).


RELATED

superior film blogging