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Rain (1932, Lewis Milestone)

Rain is an adaptation of an adaptation. Maxwell Anderson’s script is based on John Colton and Clemence Randolph’s stage script of a Somerset Maugham story. The story’s from 1921, the play first ran in 1922, Rain is from 1932. Maugham’s story is a first-person account, the play is not but does follow the original narrator, Rain does not. In Rain, he seems an afterthought, which is kind of the problem. Rain has a lot of good scenes and good moments. Director Milestone has a great time showing off camera movement and editing to convey their intensity. He’s also got a lot of excellent montage sequences (he and editor Duncan Mansfield go wild). But he doesn’t have a good sense of the story. Not how to tell it. He knows where it needs to be effective, but he doesn’t know how to keep the energy up between those scenes.

Rain is just over ninety minutes and the last fifteen or twenty minutes feel like an eternity. It just won’t hurry up and do something. In fact, it gets really low towards the end, only for the finish to save things. Luckily there’s enough drama to interest Milestone and there’s enough heavily veiled (pre-Code or not) material in the script for stars Joan Crawford and William Gargan to get some gristle. Rain works out; just. It might help if the ending didn’t just reveal yet another potentially more interesting character in the narrative to follow.

The film, play, story are about a working girl (Crawford) who ends up marooned—there’s cholera on the connecting ship—on a South Seas island with a crazy Christian reformer (Walter Huston). Gargan’s a marine stationed on the island’s naval base who takes a liking to Crawford, regardless of her past. Meanwhile, Huston and his good Christian wife Beulah Bondi set about trying to slut shame Crawford and then ruin her life. They’re all staying in American ex-pat Guy Kibbee’s general store and hotel. Matt Moore and Kendall Lee are another American couple, traveling with Huston and Bondi. Moore’s a doctor, going to be stationed where Huston and Bondi are traveling to missionary. Crawford’s also going there, which horrifies Bondi who gets Huston worked up. Moore’s out on the slut shaming, which you’d think might lead to some kind of scene where Lee talks to him but I’m not sure she ever does. Lee’s never anything but background. It’s a missed opportunity.

Moore’s lack of material is probably the only not missed opportunity in the picture, which is weird since he was the narrator of the short story and still had stuff to do in the stage version. Much of Rain is from Crawford’s perspective. Some of it is from Gargan’s. Some of it is from Kibbee’s. The balance is all way off. The way Milestone directs the film, it needs to be a lot more focused on one. Crawford’s got a pretty significant arc; while it does eventually work into a big pre-Code infer not elucidate, the film would’ve worked much better with a tight focus on her. But then the same goes for… Gargan, Kibbee, Bondi, Huston, probably Lee, probably not Moore. Bondi and Huston can’t be the protagonists because the film’s got a lot to say about Christian missionaries. Kibbee would make it a black comedy sitcom for most of it then something darker. Lee would’ve worked. Gargan would’ve been a little off too. And Milestone doesn’t care. He’s too busy with the great montage sequences and occasional deft camera move. The script isn’t in his sphere of interest.

Neither are the performances. Bondi spends the movie a caricature, which is a really bad move considering how things turn out. Huston’s a little too intense. He’s standoffish in his scenes with Crawford, who tries hard but the lack of insight into her character is the film’s biggest failing. Either way it could go, will she be saved or not, the film makes it about Huston being loud and determined not Crawford’s experience. What ought to be the film’s most striking scenes, when even Milestone realizes it’s time to go to close-ups on a stage adaptation, get tedious instead. Crawford and Huston’s performances just might incompatible. She’s got this long close-up with no dialogue as she starts to break down from his booming preaching and she’s great and the shot’s long enough to see how she’s great… but it doesn’t go anywhere. Instead, the movie drops her for a while so there can be a couple surprises.

Rain had all the parts, someone just needed to think about how to make the stage narrative into a film one. Someone like Milestone, who does a bunch of great stuff, he just doesn’t support his cast’s performances. At all. It ought to be an amazing part for Crawford, Huston, Gargan, maybe Kibbee. But no. Crawford, Gargan, and Kibbee weather it best. Huston eventually gets rained out.

Oh, and awesome bit part from Walter Catlet at the beginning.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Lewis Milestone; screenplay by Maxwell Anderson, based on a play by John Colton and Clemence Randolph and a story by W. Somerset Maugham; director of photography, Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Duncan Mansfield; music by Alfred Newman; released by United Artists.

Starring Joan Crawford (Sadie Thompson), William Gargan (Sergeant O’Hara), Guy Kibbee (Joe Horn), Walter Huston (Alfred Davidson), Beulah Bondi (Mrs. Davidson), Matt Moore (Dr. Macphail), Kendall Lee (Mrs. Macphail), and Walter Catlett (Quartermaster Bates).



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Speed Racer (2008, Lana and Lilly Wachowski)

I may be a little naive, but I think one of the aspects of adapting materials between mediums is to encourage (or at least tacitly imply) someone to look at the original material. I find it particularly odd in the case of Speed Racer. Being somewhat aware of the cartoon but never having seen it, I’ve now formed the opinion–just based on the film–it’s for six year olds and anyone older than six years of age watching the cartoon is a little slow. The Wachowskis’ adaptation suggests there isn’t a single intelligent thing in the source, something their insanely bad, outrageously expensive adaptation gleefully amplifies.

The film is aimed at an audience of adults–it’s not aimed at NASCAR fans, simply because it gives the appearance of being high brow (but couldn’t be further from)–but adults who think the things they liked at age six are good. Not realizing a six year old might not make the best cinematic or literary recommendations.

Still, the film is so unbearably bad–the green screen shooting (there are very few real sets) looks terrible–I find it hard to believe the film has supporters, but I know it does… I’ve read positive reviews. Though such reviewers must be driving to work in a gift from Warner Bros….

I do have one positive observation to make about the film. The casting of John Goodman and Susan Sarandon. While their performances are awful, their makeup is very successful.

Otherwise, it’s indescribably bad.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Lana and Lilly Wachowski; screenplay by the Wachowskis, based on a manga and an anime by Yoshida Tatsuo; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Zach Staenberg and Roger Barton; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Owen Paterson; produced by the Wachowskis, Joel Silver and Grant Hill; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Emile Hirsch (Speed Racer), Christina Ricci (Trixie), John Goodman (Pops Racer), Susan Sarandon (Mom Racer), Paulie Litt (Spritle), Roger Allam (Royalton), Rain (Taejo Togokhan) and Matthew Fox (Racer X).


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Ninja Assassin (2009, James McTeigue)

Has there ever been a major studio ninja movie before? As far as I know, no. There were the Cannon ones in the eighties, but those, obviously, don’t count.

Actually, I didn’t even know Ninja Assassin opened theatrically. I’m slow keeping up with what qualifies one film to be released theatrically while another not. The main reason I can’t believe Ninja Assassin made it to the theaters is its standing as an enjoyable bad film. I mean, it’s not entirely bad, but it’s a complete piece of crap. It’s a ludicrous, terribly written disaster (apparently the producers hired J. Michael Straczynski to come in and punch up the script and he applied his usual level of horridness to it), but it’s not bad. McTeigue’s direction is absolutely fabulous. The fight scenes mix choreography and blood in a way I haven’t seen done as successfully since The Street Fighter. He really makes the film thrilling. It’s a symphony of violence in a way I’m not sure I’ve seen before–it’s completely and utterly mainstream, but still over the top, excessive and totally silly.

Unfortunately, McTeigure’s directing skills don’t include the ability to direct actors. The only reasonable performance in the film is Naomie Harris, who’s a) too good for this kind of tripe and b) wonderful. The lead, Rain, plays a sensitive Terminator, but with less emotive abilities than Schwarzenegger. It might have something to do with the language barrier.

Ninja Assassin is utterly useless and a lot of diverting entertainment.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James McTeigue; screenplay by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski, based on a story by Sand; director of photography, Karl Walter Lindenlaub ; edited by Gian Ganziano and Joseph Jett Sally; music by Ilan Eshkeri; production designer, Graham ‘Grace’ Walker; produced by Grant Hill, Joel Silver, Lilly Wachowski and Lana Wachowski; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Rain (Raizo), Naomie Harris (Mika Coretti), Rick Yune (Takeshi), Ben Miles (Ryan Maslow), Sho Kosugi (Lord Ozunu), Anna Sawai (Kiriko), Sung Kang (Hollywood) and Richard van Weyden (Ibn Battuta).


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