Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981, Steven Spielberg)

Maybe it was the viewing atmosphere… I also was obsessing about something I’d read from either Spielberg or Lucas claiming credit for “MTV-style” editing with Raiders. Once the film was edited, the two went through and snipped a few frames at each edit point to hurry the film along. As I watched Raiders tonight, it all did feel very hurried.

The film is excellent–exciting, well-written, beautifully directed–but nothing sat, nothing resonated. I expected a transcendent experience (similar to the one Star Wars produces), but found myself very aware of the film. Not obsessively–I wasn’t watching the clock to see how long each sequence went and I didn’t time how long Indiana Jones and the audience were deceived about Marion’s death, but I did notice all the work being done in the film. Primarily, John Williams’ score. From the first sequence–when Indy’s running in South America to the plane–Williams’ score does more work than anything else in the film. It’s not bad–it’s a great score–but I just couldn’t separate my observation from the experience. The film just didn’t force me to do it.

Similarly, lots of little moments in the script do a lot of work in the shortest time possible–the rapid-fire humanization of Indiana Jones, his comedic accidents, the establishing of Indy and Sallah’s kids–it’s all fast and it’s all precise, and maybe it’s too fast and too precise for this presentation. The Raiders of the Lost Ark DVD is the cleanest DVD presentation I have ever seen. It doesn’t look like a movie, it looks like a Pixar digitalization. There are no DVD artifacts, which is fine, but there is no film grain either, which is bad. Raiders plays like one of those shows recorded on video back in the 1980s and 1990s, when everything just looked a little off. And Raiders shouldn’t look off.

I haven’t seen the film in eight or nine years and then it was in optimal settings–without looking for the Spielberg/Lucas editing innovation–on LaserDisc. I’ll have to watch Raiders again in similar conditions, but it was a rather unsentimental experience, which I wasn’t expecting from a film I’ve probably seen twenty times.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, based on a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman; director of photography, Douglas Slocombe; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Norman Reynolds; produced by Frank Marshall; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harrison Ford (Indiana Jones), Karen Allen (Marion Ravenwood), Paul Freeman (Dr. Rene Belloq), Ronald Lacey (Major Arnold Toht), John Rhys-Davies (Sallah), Denholm Elliott (Dr. Marcus Brody), Alfred Molina (Satipo), Wolf Kahler (Colonel Dietrich), Anthony Higgins (Gobler), Vic Tablian (Barranca), Don Fellows (Col. Musgrove) and William Hootkins (Major Eaton).


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Newsfront (1978, Phillip Noyce)

Newsfront is hard to describe. It’s a sincere attempt to lionize Australian newsreel cameramen, mixing in melodrama, bad music, and some good performances and direction. It’s a film very excited with itself–there’s beautiful production design and costumes of late 1940s to middle 1950s Australia–and very sure of itself. It unabashedly ends with a shot of the newsreels superimposed over the dutiful, incorruptible newsreel cameraman, turning his camera to get the real news, while grandiose music swelling.

On one hand, the film’s so unaware of itself, it’s hard to find fault with the melodrama, on the other hand, it’s so incredibly melodramatic–music frequently swells in ludicrous places, during two person conversations, ruining potentially good moments–it’s hard not to get upset with the film. There’s wasn’t much potential to Newsfront, so it’s hard to get too angry and the film’s barely varies in quality throughout (the end strikes a nasty hit, however), but it’s somehow very watchable.

The film beautifully mixes original newsreel footage with black and white photography, but then for scenes without the newsreels, switches to color. While the color shows off the production design, it ruins the visual continuity of the film. Newsfront‘s direction is particularly bothersome, because many of Noyce’s shots are unspeakably wonderful. Except he has a habit of moving the camera–swirling it around the room–during conversations, drawing all the attention to the camera movement, forcefully pulling the viewer’s attention from… the story.

Besides Bill Hunter’s infinitely perplexing existence as a heartthrob (is this guy really considered good-looking by Australian standards, I can’t believe it, William Bendix was better looking), he turns in a decent performance as the ostensible protagonist. It’s not enough to surmount the script, but it’s good. Chris Haywood is good as his sidekick and has a few nice scenes. Bryan Brown shows up–a young Bryan Brown–and turns in some good work. The film’s also got a really good death scene in it.

I watched the recent Blue Underground DVD release and I can’t think of a better looking presentation of a 1970s film. Maybe the Australians just take better care than anyone else, but this transfer was wonderful. Blue Underground’s run by Bill Lustig, who produced for Anchor Bay back when Anchor Bay was really something. Newsfront is a beautiful disc.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; written by Noyce, David Elfick, Bob Ellis and Phillipe Mora; director of photography, Vincent Monton; edited by John Scott; music by William Motzing; production designer, Lissa Coote; produced by Elfick; released by Roadshow Entertainment.

Starring Bill Hunter (Len Maguire), Wendy Hughes (Amy Mackenzie), Gerard Kennedy (Frank Maguire), Chris Haywood (Chris Hewitt), John Ewart (Charlie), Don Crosby (A.G. Marwood), Angela Punch McGregor (Fay), John Clayton (Cliff), John Dease (Ken) and Bryan Brown (Geoff).


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The Frighteners (1996, Peter Jackson), the director's cut

The Frighteners came right after (well, two years) Heavenly Creatures, so I assume–and sort of remember from 1996–it was supposed to be Jackson’s big break. Instead, it bombed. So, obviously, it’s his best work. The Frighteners is a Universal Pictures Michael J. Fox star vehicle (following Greedy and For Love or Money and The Hard Way) and it’s Fox at his best, when he finally shrugged off the trying-to-hard attitude that ruined his 1980s work. The film plays to Fox’s comedic, self-referencing traits, but without forcing references to earlier work. The scenes where he’s not being funny, fail. It’s not all Fox’s fault, the script fails there too. The Frighteners is best when it’s being silly. (However, as “Boston Legal” further confirms, Fox does well as a romantic leading man).

I wasn’t expecting much from The Frighteners. I haven’t seen it since the late 1990s, probably when the laserdisc came out. I missed the much-eBayed director’s cut laserdisc and waited to watch the film again until it became available in whatever format. I remember Jackson once referred to the version as “The Director’s Fun Cut,” as opposed to anything else, and it is quite a bit of fun. The Frighteners is so well-cast, has so many good jokes and performances (Dee Wallace-Stone is particularly good), it’s rather disappointing when it falls apart. The added footage does the film no harm, it just has a bad third act….

Throughout the entire film, Jeffrey Combs irritates as a wacko FBI agent, but he once disappears only to reappear, it becomes obvious how little he brought to the film. When he returns, the heart sinks and the eyes roll… He’s actually doing a Jim Carrey impression in the role, stealing mannerisms and expressions from Carrey’s early work–most visibly Ace Ventura and Dumb & Dumber. I kept wondering if they’d wanted Carrey (he and Combs share a resemblance), but couldn’t afford him or something. Even the initials are the same. It’s not just Combs who ruins the third act, it’s just heavy-handed and poorly written… but not so much it spoils the film.

Oh, lastly, the awful CG special effects. They don’t really affect the film’s quality, but many of these shots could have been achieved without CG, just with a miniscule amount of imagination and they would have actually looked good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Peter Jackson; written by Fran Walsh and Jackson; directors of photography, Alun Bollinger and John Blick; edited by Jamie Selkirk; music by Danny Elfman; production designer, Grant Major; produced by Selkirk and Jackson; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Michael J. Fox (Frank Bannister), Trini Alvarado (Lucy Lynskey), Peter Dobson (Ray Lynskey), John Astin (the Judge), Jeffrey Combs (Milton Dammers), Dee Wallace-Stone (Patricia Ann Bradley), Jake Busey (Bartlett), Chi McBride (Cyrus), Jim Fyfe (Stuart), Troy Evans (Sheriff Perry), Julianna McCarthy (Old Lady Bradley) and R. Lee Ermey (Sgt. Hiles).


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Interrupted Melody (1955, Curtis Bernhardt)

Interrupted Melody is an interesting example of economic storytelling. The film covers about ten years, has a number of strong character relationships, but moves gently through all of it. It’s got moments where there isn’t any dialogue, just the look between characters, it’s got a great love story–and, even better, a great struggling marriage. Director Bernhardt deserves a lot of the credit–for example, he knows just how long to let these scenes go and the first date between Eleanor Parker and Glenn Ford does better in five minutes what most films–most good films–spend twenty doing. It’s not just Bernhardt though. Interrupted Melody was co-written by Sonya Levien, who also worked on The Cowboy and the Lady and it had similarly perfect pacing.

Most of Interrupted Melody is a showcase for its actors, whether it’s Parker or Ford or even a young (and good-looking) Roger Moore. The film’s structure varies in focus–for instance, there’s a large part where Ford is the protagonist over Parker–but manages the transitions back and forth beautifully. So beautifully, in fact, I don’t even recall the first transition. The second, later one, I still do….

Besides being Parker’s best performance (probably, at least in the lead), Interrupted Melody has a great Glenn Ford performance. Ford never gets the proper respect–search for him on IMDb and the first title to come up is Superman, but he’s really good, especially in this, mid-1950s period of his career. Melody‘s not out on DVD, but it does run occasionally on TCM. TCM has their wonderful database, which allows you to vote for films for Warner Bros. to release on DVD. Like Interrupted Melody, for example.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Curtis Bernhardt; written by William Ludwig and Sonya Levien; directors of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg and Paul Vogel; edited by John D. Dunning; produced by Jack Cummings; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Glenn Ford (Dr. Thomas King), Eleanor Parker (Marjorie Lawrence), Roger Moore (Cyril Lawrence), Cecil Kellaway (Bill Lawrence), Peter Leeds (Dr. Ed Ryson), Evelyn Ellis (Clara), Walter Baldwin (Jim Owens), Ann Codee (Madame Gilly), Leopold Sachse (Himself) and Stephen Bekassy (Count Claude des Vignaux).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.

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