It Came from Outer Space (1953, Jack Arnold)

I used to love this movie… I guess I should have checked movielens because it’s right on the nose for it.

It has Richard Carlson, who I like, and Barbara Rush, who I remember liking from The Young Philadelphians and Hombre, and it’s directed by Jack Arnold, who I like. Or do I remember liking them and am I misremembering? No, Creature from the Black Lagoon is good and Carlson is in it and Arnold directed it. It Came from Outer Space is not terrible (though I’m seemingly in a one and a half star rut the last couple weeks, starting with Azumi 2). It’s just not good. It’s too short (at eighty minutes) and it has problems with how time passes….

I think I’m upset. I’ve gotten used to watching films I used to like–used to love in some cases–and being underwhelmed or enraged at my former appraisal. It goes with watching something again and being more intelligent. Nostalgia only earns only so much credit. Nothing, for example, feels quite as good as something remembered as great turns out to be great again. People have actually frowned upon my whole “watching again” practice, from both ends–some people only watch something once and that evaluation stands and other people don’t change their initial evaluation. At six, you love Dracula so at twenty-six it’s got to be good. When I was six, I liked “Voltron” a lot. I’m not sure “Voltron” is good.

It Came from Outer Space isn’t dated, its relevance has not passed. It’s just not good. Arnold doesn’t use his sets right and he doesn’t take any time with the scenes. He rushes and it feels rushed. There’s a difference, of course, between short scenes and rushed scenes.

I rented this film and I can’t imagine if I bought it. That’s the great drawback of the evolving opinion. You buy something and it sits and you watch it and you think, “what the hell?” So I suppose there’s a benefit to not having disposable income. Still, I’m so glad it was only eighty minutes.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Arnold; screenplay by Harry Essex, based on a story by Ray Bradbury; director of photography, Clifford Stine; edited by Paul Weatherwax; music by Irving Gertz and Henry Mancini; produced by William Alland; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Richard Carlson (John Putnam), Barbara Rush (Ellen Fields), Charles Drake (Sheriff Matt Warren), Joe Sawyer (Frank Daylon), Russell Johnson (George) and Kathleen Hughes (Jane).


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36 Quai des Orfèvres (2004, Olivier Marchal)

Quick rule of thumb: do not set the present action of your movie over seven years and then skip six and three-quarters of those years. And I’m being generous with that three months. 36 Quai des Orfèvres is one of two films–it’s either a damn good cop movie (with some bad dialogue) or a piss-poor revenge drama. The director, with a ludicrous dedication at the end–almost as ludicrous as The Towering Inferno‘s dedication to firefighters, goes with the latter and it’s too bad, because there’s a lot of good stuff in here.

First, it’s got Daniel Auteuil, who seems to be in a lot of good films. It’s also got Gerard Depardieu, who’s astoundingly good as the conflicted–yet essentially “good”–cop. Until he becomes the bad guy. Once Depardieu becomes the bad guy, 36 is set down the road to its inevitable mediocrity. Even without the six year break from the story, I don’t think there’s anything they could have done to turn it around.

It’s also different to watch a French cop movie. Watching American movies and TV, you quickly become an authority on the American variation–for a while, in fact, 36 appeared to be a modern (and good) version of L.A. Confidential–so watching a French cop movie is different. The prisons are nicer and the cops tend not to shoot the criminals as often as they do in America. They also don’t beat them and French people make smoking look cool. Auteuil makes smoking look so cool, if I were single, I’d probably start smoking.

Of course, even though the film didn’t get US distribution or even a DVD release, Robert DeNiro is remaking it, directed by Marc Forster (who’s a native of Germany, incidentally) and written by Dean Georgaris (who “wrote” Tomb Raider). I suppose if DeNiro gets a reasonable co-star… No, scratch that. Remakes of foreign films do not fix the problems (Vanilla Sky). All they do is invite disrespect for the original piece. And there’s a lot to respect about 36 Quai des Orfèvres, just not enough to make it good. This film has four screenwriters. Very few films–modern films–are good with four screenwriters. (Very few modern films are good with any screenwriters, I suppose. Bring on the chimps!)

(Another thing about long present action–don’t cast too old: Auteuil’s French. When I see him with the grown-up daughter, who’s aged too much for seven years, I’m thinking it’s his girlfriend, not his kid).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Olivier Marchal; screenplay by Marchal and Dominique Loiseau, from a story by Marchal, Franck Mancuso and Julien Rappeneau; director of photography, Denis Rouden; edited by Hugues Darmois; music by Erwann Kermorvant and Axelle Renoir; production designer, Ambre Fernandez; produced by Franck Chorot, Cyril Colbeau-Justin and Jean-Baptiste Dupont; released by Gaumont.

Starring Daniel Auteuil (Léo Vrinks), Gérard Depardieu (Denis Klein), André Dussollier (Robert Mancini), Roschdy Zem (Hugo Silien), Valeria Golino (Camille Vrinks), Daniel Duval (Eddy Valence) and Francis Renaud (Titi Brasseur).


L.A. Confidential (1997, Curtis Hanson)

I haven’t seen L.A. Confidential since 1998 or so, whenever the laserdisc came out. Before the film came out–I saw it in the theaters of course, being a big Russell Crowe fan back then–I read James Ellroy’s book. So, obviously, the film cuts a lot and I don’t remember the book very well, except that it took place over a long period of time. I don’t think it was that good, but you did get to know the characters… You don’t in L.A. Confidential: The Movie. Instead, you get to know and care when the filmmakers tell you to care. It’s Oscar-bait. As I started watching it, I thought it would be okay Oscar-bait, but it really isn’t. For a few reasons.

First, since I’ll be on and on about it if I don’t get it out of the way: Kim Basinger. 1) She does not look like Veronica Lake, she does not resemble Veronica Lake, never in a million years would I think she does. According to IMDb, Izabella Scorupco turned down the role and she owes me dinner for the thirty minutes or so of Basinger “acting” I just had to endure. 2) Kim Basinger is awful. The number of films, probably starting with Batman, that she has hurt or ruined with her aforementioned “acting” probably equals the number of films she has “acted” in. I sort of remember once saying Nine 1/2 Weeks was her only reasonable acting job. Since I haven’t seen it in a long time, I won’t make such a claim. However, after seeing her “talents” on display in L.A. Confidential, I doubt I’d be able to reinforce said claim.

There: a paragraph for Basinger’s bad acting. Does Guy Pearce get a whole paragraph? Maybe. He is not good. His character needs to be good. The audience needs to identify with him, not against him. We aren’t suppose to think cops beating the shit out of and murdering innocent (or misdemeanor-committing) people is okay. Does that mean Pearce is actually so good that I’m just upset because he was so good–he was supposed to appear unlikable, correct? No, he was terrible. The scenes between him and Basinger at the end were awful. Not to mention how terrible their actual sex scene was. That was a special kind of awful. Made me want to stick pencils in my ears to break the drums.

However–and I’m breaking up the crap with some pearls–Russell Crowe is good. He has very little do. Most of his scenes are with Basinger and so he had no one to work with, but he still shines through. His character is decent and deserving of a better film. However, L.A. Confidential has got to be one of Kevin Spacey’s best performances. Since Spacey has turned into such an embarrassing Oscar-whore (sort of like Crowe), I’d forgotten how good he could be. If L.A. Confidential had been about Spacey’s redemption… Oh, one can only dream. The film also has David Straithairn and underuses him, which is an incredible affront to the species.

No, the problem with the film, why it doesn’t achieve or overcome the awful acting, is the writing. Brian Helgeland and Curtis Hanson kept a couple parts of the book (I think, the Nite Owl murders seem to be how I remember), tossed the rest, but kept scenes from the book and lines of dialogue. Scenes and lines that mean nothing without the rest of the book. Or they didn’t keep the rhyming parts. So, the film deceives. In the middle, until about the 90 minute mark, it still seems like something good could come of all this stuff. A period cop movie called The Nite Owl Murders could have been amazing, but this film isn’t a cop movie. It’s not noir or neo-noir or anything like that. It’s Oscar-bait and, as Oscar-bait goes, I suppose it’s on par for 1997. If I remember correctly, 1997 was actually a good year, it was just that a bunch of shit was popular… as it goes. Gattaca, for instance, was from 1997. Comparing the two films is an incredible insult to Gattaca and possibly the whole idea of art in general.

I watched the DVD (my laserdisc is probably long gone–I rented the DVD for a buck and quarter and the laser cost $32 from Ken Crane’s). There are some audio looping problems, but I don’t think it’s the disc, because I noticed the mouths didn’t match the dialogue. Maybe there’s a good version of it out there somewhere, in the Warner vaults or something, but I really doubt it….

One last thing about 1997. I just saw that it’s the year Air Force One came out. I’ve never pinpointed, specifically, the downfall of American popular cinema. I can tell you when it was good, when it was better than it is now, and when everything was shit. But is there a turning point? I think it might be Air Force One–you had the previously reliable Harrison Ford in a complete piece of garbage. Petersen was already done, so I’m not putting anything on him, so I think I’ll hang it all on Ford whoring himself for money–in Air Force One. With a few blips–and pretty insignificant ones–his career has been downhill from that specific film. So it’s all his fault. I guess. None of this rant had anything to do with L.A. Confidential….

Okay, I’m done. (Damn Izabella Scorupco. Somebody ought to make her sit down and watch Basinger epic The Real McCoy over and over again. Except cut out all the Val Kilmer parts, because he was funny).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Curtis Hanson; written by Brian Helgeland and Hanson, based on the novel by James Ellroy; director of photography, Dante Spinotti; edited by Peter Honess; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Arnon Milchan, Hanson and Michael Nathanson; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kevin Spacey (Jack Vincennes), Russell Crowe (Bud White), Guy Pearce (Ed Exley), James Cromwell (Capt. Dudley Smith), Kim Basinger (Lynn Bracken), David Strathairn (Pierce Morehouse Patchett), Danny DeVito (Sid Hudgens), Graham Beckel (Dick Stensland), Paul Guilfoyle (Mickey Cohen), Ron Rifkin (Dist. Atty. Ellis Loew), Matt McCoy (Brett Chase) and Paolo Seganti (Johnny Stompanato).


Azumi 2: Death or Love (2005, Kaneko Shusuke)

So, why when making a sequel to a successful film, do film companies do it on the cheap? This practice is getting uncommon in the US (except direct-to-video sequels), but was prevalent in the 1970s–each Planet of the Apes film made more money and had a drastically lower budget. It’s like the company is assuming they’ll make some money no matter what, so why bother? Azumi 2 does the double injustice of having incredibly shitty villains too. It’s not just the “comic book,” ninja super-villains, the special effects of their powers are awful….

I guess I saw the first film in January, long ago enough that I started remembering it during Azumi 2 and some comparisons were inevitable. Like how much better a director the first film had… Azumi 2 is rather confused. It’s got some action, but not a lot. Too much of the silly super-ninjas, not enough regular ninjas. There’s no budget, so the characters spent all their time walking around the forest. I’m not sure if Japan has forest preserves, they must, but I mean like in the US. Azumi 2 could have been shot in Central Park or something, there’s so little variety. It’s a small movie, filled with small shots–Kaneko can’t get the camera off the ground and so the audience isn’t feeling anything grandiose. It’s not all Kaneko’s fault (I’ll get to what he does right in a minute). It’s the script. There’s a big warning sign for sequels–if the sequel is produced by the producer of the first film and said producer is writing the sequel, that’s a problem. It’s a big neon problem. It doesn’t help that Azumi 2‘s other screenwriter appears to write anime. Anime is… cartoons. Super-villains are okay in cartoons. Super-villains aren’t okay messing up Azumi 2.

With these moronic super-villains, one of these twits is dressed up like a raccoon or something (really), and they all have rubber chest-plates, you’d think that I wouldn’t have anything nice to say. Oh, these super-twits. Can’t act. All the good acting is from people from the first film (more in a second). First, a compliment for Kaneko, and probably the only friggin’ reason I’m giving this film a “1.” I haven’t yet. I hate kind of liking sequels to films I recommend. It’s a personal insult or something. All right, here it is… Azumi 2 does not mess around with dying people. People don’t just go quiet into that good night. They don’t want to die and we don’t want them to die. And Kaneko shows it to us–three or four times–and it hurts. There’s some real human conflict in these scenes, a real sensitivity, that’s totally foreign to the rest of the film. These scenes aren’t short either. I think one of them goes on for a couple minutes. A couple minutes of someone dying… alone, but not exactly, it’s a beautiful scene and it tears.

The acting, from a handful of people, is good. Ueto Aya, as Azumi, is good, though Kaneko doesn’t know how to shoot a bad-ass. In the scenes where people are saying she’s “just a pretty girl” or something, it’s shot from those characters’ perspectives, not from either hers or the third. The first film’s director knew how to shoot bad-ass. Kaneko just doesn’t and it hurts the stand-off scenes. Only a couple actors from the first film return, one’s good, one isn’t. The villains, super or not, are all pretty terrible. Some of the new good guys are okay, certainly okay enough to keep the film going–though the super-villains bring about some jaw-dropping. Who thought raccoon-boy was a good villain?

Azumi is based on a manga series that runs twenty-five volumes, but I doubt there’s an Azumi 3 on the horizon. Oddly, I just found that Azumi is going to be back next year… but on stage. Love that Google. I don’t know if I can recommend Azumi 2 to anyone, even folks who liked Azumi, though if you didn’t like Azumi, I don’t know if you could sit through the super-ninjas in Azumi 2, desperately waiting for a good moment. It’s not a terrible film (got the “1”), but it’s such a disappointment… what can you say? Don’t make cheap sequels or, if you do, hire someone who knows how to direct them.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kaneko Shusuke; written by Yamamoto Mataichiro and Kawajiri Yoshiaki, based on the manga by Koyama Yu; director of photography, Sakamoto Yoshitaka; edited by Kakesu Shuichi; production designer, Inagaki Hisao; produced by Nakazawa Toshiaki and Yamamoto; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Ueto Aya (Azumi), Ishigaki Yuma (Nagara), Kuriyama Chiaki (Kozue), Oguri Shun (Ginkaku), Shishido Kai (Hanzou), Kitamura Kazuki (Kanbei) and Hira Mikijiro (Sanada Masayuki).


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