Monday, October 31, 2011

High Anxiety (1977)

“Working? Hmm, working. Working is a big word. I'm a consultant. It's a fancy title for a part-time job.”

Usually when people “pay tribute” to the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock they try to mimic his filming style, his types of anti-heroes, his villains, his seductive blondes, etc, etc. I find they wind up sucking because the people who “pay tribute” try too hard one person that got a Hitchcock tribute right was Mel Brooks in his hilarious take on several of the director’s best films in his movie High Anxiety.
            The movie takes its main plot from Spellbound and Vertigo. Brooks plays Dr. Richard h. Thorndyke. He is assigned as the new head for the Psychoneurotic Institute for the Very, VERY Nervous. He himself is a very, very nervous man he suffers from high anxiety. Dr. Thorndyke tries not to let it become known but an old professor of his lets it slip to Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman) who is insanely jealous that he was passed up for the job.
            Just like in every Hitchcock film Montague plans to destroy Thorndyke by making it seem like he committed a crime. Of course Thorndyke is innocent of the crime so he has to flee and stay one step ahead of everyone. And also of course there is a “seductive” (I say this quotation only because it is a hysterical seduction) blonde named Victoria Brisbane (Madeline Kahn). She needs Thorndyke’s help to rescue her father from the Institute.
            I cannot even go into detail without giving away so many funny moments.
            Like a lot of Mel Brooks’ films his cast is incredible. Harvey Korman and Cloris Leachman steal the whole movie they are so hysterical together. Leachman plays the creepy Nurse Diesel who likes to play rough bondage games with Dr. Montague (that is all that I will say about that!). Madeline Kahn was as always brilliant she was so funny. I loved how they stuck her in a blonde wig and made her the typical Hitchcock blonde. If you do not know that Hitchcock loved his blondes than you would be missing out on a great joke. I found it so odd with Kahn and Books paired up as the love interest because I see it as Mel Brooks was her boss since he directed her in a few of his films so the ending is always a bit weird for me.
            What makes Brooks’ Hitchcock tribute so great is that he made the tribute fun. Right at the beginning he literally lets the viewer know that the movie is a tribute to the Master of Suspense so we know that he will be taking from the great director’s films. I remember when I first watched High Anxiety a few years ago I did not get the jokes or really know what he was referencing but now that I do know the references I find Brooks to be a total genius and the movie one of his best. Right away we know that his main references are Spellbound and Vertigo then he throws in the shower scene from Psycho, mentions North By Northwest (“Meet in the north by northwest corner.”), and even has birds poop on him.
              Even the music is dramatic like a Hitchcock film. I cracked up with the running joke that every time the music got dramatic the characters looked up or made a comment on it. When Thorndyke comes out of the airport he comments "What a dramatic airport" because the music kicked in and shots were filmed to be dramatically funny. 
            Mel Brooks is just awesome. I find him to be a total genius in whatever he does. This is what real spoof movies are supposed to be like they are meant to be funny but respectable to what is being spoofed. You can tell just by watching High Anxiety that Brooks great respected and admired Hitchcock. I am biased in my opinion but absolutely see High Anxiety especially if you are big Alfred Hitchcock fan.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Birds (1963)

“Why are they doing this? Why are they doing this? They said when you got here the whole thing started. Who are you? What are you? Where did you come from! I think you're evil. EVIL!” 

            Just like Psycho many people are very familiar with The Birds rather than Alfred Hitchcock’s earlier works. I can remember my brother Joe always renting this film when we were younger (though he claims not to remember but I clearly remember seeing the scene where Melanie gets attacked in the phone booth over and over again) and I thought it was so stupid. Of course I was younger at the time and thought old films were crap and really silly so I just laughed whenever Joe would rent it. I think he thought it funny as well because people were hysterically being attacked by birds. A few years ago when I became interested in Hitchcock and his films I found The Birds used on DVD for a reasonable price that I could not pass up and totally forgetting that my brother used to rent it over and over. When I watched the film again I had a better appreciation for it and for old films and I understood the premise of the stories. I still find The Birds totally hysterical and laugh whenever someone says it is a scary film. I am sure it was when it was first released but today it is silly.
            The film is based off a short story of the same title by Daphne du Maurier. The only things the novel and the film have in common are the location in a small seaside town (du Maurier’s location was Cornwall while the film’s was in California), the idea of birds attacking people, and an explosion.
            To quickly sum up the story of the film the main character is a woman named Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren). She is a play girl who has gotten into a little bit of trouble but now she is looking for something more meaningful in her life. While in a pet shop a man named Mitch (Rod Taylor) comes in. He plays a trick on her and lets her know that he is a lawyer and does not really care for her. Melanie decides to get back at him by bringing two lovebirds to his house in the small town of Bodega Bay. As soon as she gets there the birds in the town begin acting strange beginning with a gull attacking Melanie. The more she stays there the more aggressive the birds become and their attacks more violent.
            As he did with all his films Hitchcock masterfully created a great psychological thriller out of something that surrounds us every day. The director put it perfectly himself when he explained to Truffaut “…if the story had involved vultures, or birds of prey, I might not have wanted it. The basic appeal to me is that it had to do with ordinary, everyday birds.” The birds that were attacking Bodega bay were crows and gulls birds that would never bother anyone and are not known for violence or death. Knowing this bit of trivia it does make you think of birds when you see them. The film is nature turning on humans and that is scary since we know that forces of nature can be violent. Truffaut tells the director “I’m glad you didn’t give a specific reason for the attacks. It is clearly a speculation, a fantasy” to which Hitchcock replied “That’s the way I saw it.” So again he is mixing a fantasy with a reality to create great suspense and entertainment. He also said once that what is not seen or implied is scarier than what is seen because it allows for the viewer to make up their own scary thoughts and ideas of what happened.
            “[The viewers] come to the theater and they sit down and say ‘All right. Now, show me!’             And they want to be one jump ahead of the action: ‘I know what’s going to happen.’ So, I   have to take up the challenged. ‘Oh you know what’s going to happen. Well, we’ll just see about that.’ With The Birds I made sure that the public would not be able to anticipate from one scene to another.”
As the directors go on to say during the beginning of the film the audience expects the birds are going to attack there are clues and hints but all we know is that the animals are potentially menacing and will cause havoc.
            One thing I really liked reading about The Birds was Hitchcock’s little touches of irony: the beginning when Melanie and Mitch first meet in the pet shop he says the her “I’m putting you back in a gilded cage” adding to her characterization of a playgirl. Then later when the gulls attack she is not in a gilded cage but a cage like place all the same in a phone booth of misery. The director said it was a reversal of man being a cage and the birds on the outside. His other touch of irony comes at the end when Mitch’s little sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) asks if she can take her lovebirds with her lending “an optimistic note to the theme.”

            He also adds his little bit of dark humor when Melanie and Mitch are in the café before the large attack on the town. Here he gives the audience a breather from all the drama and tension. Truffaut said it was a bit too long but Hitchcock counters that when an audience is absorbed in a story the scene is short and if they are bored the scene is long.
            The four main characters are ok which I think comes from the fact that I am a fan of Hitchcock’s films from the ‘40s and ‘50s when he had all the great classic actors and actresses in them. Tippi Hedren is not horrendous but she was not the greatest. She was definitely one of his prettiest blondes he used in his films. Rod Taylor is not the typical leading male from his earlier film but in this new era he fits. I got a kick out of seeing a thirteen year old Veronica Cartwright as Mitch’s sister Cathy because I am so used to seeing her as the batty lady from the Witches of Eastwick throwing up all the cherry pits and yelling out “whores!” during a church service. Haha. Jessica Tandy played Mitch’s overbearing mother Lydia. I was not impressed with her because I was not sympathetic or impressed with the character. I did however like Hitchcock’s explanation in the scene where the sparrows fly in through the chimney and attack them that he filmed it from Melanie’s point of view which he meant as the audience’s point of view looking at Lydia cracking up.
            There are many more interesting behind the scenes stories and reasons for Hitchcock’s direction of The Birds in the book Hitchcock/Truffaut which I highly recommend reading. There were so many interesting things about the film that I could have added but why spoil a good book by giving away all its details.
            As I said at the beginning The Birds is one of Alfred Hitchcock’s films along with Psycho that are his most well known and one that everyone has either seen or heard of. It is not one of my favorites of his in the slightest but I appreciate it a little bit more after doing some research on it and learning some of the techniques and ideas he wanted to and did put across to the audience. The Birds is a film to see a few times (and separated by a stretch of time) just because it is a Hitchcock film and because the more you watch it the more you can appreciate it. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Dead End (1937)

Dead End is one of those films where I was not too thrilled with the story but there were moments of really good acting by the main actors. It is a typical 1930s story about the rich versus the poor: how the poor live in not the greatest of conditions and do not know where or when their next meal is going to be and the rich living in beautiful homes and getting whatever they want whenever they want. The film even opens with a few paragraphs how the tenements were built along the river and the rich once they realized the river side was nice property built their complexes right on top of the tenements.
            The film has three stories running through it that are brought together. A young woman named Drina (Sylvia Sidney) and her brother Tommy live in a tenement section of a neighborhood. Tommy is constantly getting into trouble with a group of boys (The Dead End Kids) and one day gets into serious trouble where the police are called after him and he has to evade them. Drina knows an architect named Dave (Joel McCrea), he went to college for six year to be an architect but he has not gotten a decent job. The two grew up together and she has had a little thing for him ever since. Dave has been seeing a woman named Fay who once used to live in poverty but got out of it and now lives in the expensive complex. Dave knew a man now called “Baby Face” Martin (Humphrey Bogart). Martin is no good he wanted by the police in several cities. He comes back to his old neighborhood and the boys flock around him in admiration. Dave warns Martin to get out of the neighborhood and leave the boys along. Martin does not listen and towards the end of the film the two men battle it out in a gun fight.
            Sylvia Sidney, Joel McCrea, and Humphrey Bogart give great performances. I never saw Sidney in a film when she was younger I am so used to only seeing her as the old lady in Beetle Juice who tells Barbara and Adam they are dead. She was excellent her performance was very moving. Also I found her to be not really pretty but adorable. For some reason I really liked Sidney’s eyes they were pretty. McCrea was just an awesome actor I like anything he is in. His character was supposed to be nice and caring and wanted a better like and you can believe that looking at him… the same can be said for Sidney she was very believable in her role. This was one of Bogart’s early gangster roles which he would become known for. I think I can say this is one of my favorite roles I have seen him in. His character was a bit tragic and I felt so bad for him when he saw his mother he went to her all excited but she did not want to see him. Bogart was amazing in that scene you just feel so bad for him with the incredibly sad face he puts on. You also feel bad for him because he came back to get his girl he loved when he lived in the neighborhood but she does not want to go with him. 
            To me what brings this film down are all the scenes with The Dead Ends Kids. I mean I understand they were integral to story but I think there was too much time devoted to them. They were in the original stage play so when MGM was making the film they brought the boys on in their stage roles. Had it not been for their too many scenes I would have liked the film a lot more.
            Dead End is a film to definitely see once. The story bored me but I did like how all the characters’ stories come together. Joel McCrea, Sylvia Sidney, and Humphrey Bogart’s performances are worth the viewing. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Animal Kingdom (1932)

“Behold, the bridegroom cometh. And no oil for my lamp, as usual. A foolish virgin me. Oh, foolish anyway.”

            The Animal Kingdom is a Pre-Code film I sat through because Myrna Loy is in it. I always look for as many films I can with an actor or actress I like either from the Golden Age or today. Sometimes I find myself liking the films even if the person I like is only in it for five minutes the whole time and sometimes I do not. I found myself in the middle with The Animal Kingdom- on one hand it is very risqué with great dialogue and on the other hand it is boring and many of the actors are boring and too over the top.        
            Tom Collier (Leslie Howard) is a free spirited book publisher. He has lived his like the way he likes much to his father’s dismay. His father says that he sent Tom to Harvard and he was only there for two years. He then sent his son to Oxford and he traveled to the school from Paris. To top his free spirited living off for many years he lived with a woman named Daisy Sage (Ann Harding) whom he was not married to.
            Daisy was gone for three months without notice and in the meantime Tom met a woman named Cecelia “Cee” Henry (Loy) and is now engaged to her. Tom’s father approves of Cee very much because he believes that she can ground his son and get him to settle down to what he sees a proper life. Tom travels into the city to let Daisy know about his engagement. Not knowing that Tom is about to marry Daisy suggests she and him get married and travel down to Mexico where she can paint. Upset and wanting to save them from doing something they will regret Daisy leaves again for another few months.
            When Daisy comes back she holds a showing of her work at a gallery. Tom and Cee are invited but she does not really want to go and tempts her husband to stay. When Tom finally sees the show he tells Daisy that her work is not that good to be shown her talent needs more time.
            Cee holds a surprise party for Tom and invites Daisy and his other bohemian friends. She does this not out of good feelings and intentions but to show her husband what outcasts his friends are compared to her socially acceptable friends. The friends do not mingle they mainly stick to themselves. Daisy reads Tom’s latest work and lets him know that his work is not good and he is selling out and not writing what he is capable of. During the party Cee talks to her friend Owen about buying Tom’s publishing company. Daisy walks by them and sees the two of them kissing. She cannot take anymore and she and the two other friends leave.
            Tom’s receives a huge check from his father. He tells Cee about the check and her true money hungry self comes out. While they are eating dinner in her room he tells her how much the room reminds him of a London brothel meaning that Cee is acting like a prostitute willing to do anything he wants for his money. She promises him anything wants now even unlocking her door and telling him not to take long.
            When Tom leaves the room and goes downstairs he tells his butler/friend to take him to the train station to go into the city.
            This is a pretty racy film. The two scenes I found the raciest were the ones with Myrna Loy in them (and not just because I am so used to her as the nice “perfect wife”). Tempting Tom to not go to the gallery opening Cee comes down in a negligee. He comments she barely has anything on to which she says he should come and help her dress. He starts kissing her on the chest and says he better not because they will be late. Cee recalls the story of how she found it one time and he liked it. This temptation is what leads Tom not to go to the opening.  The last scene with Tom and Cee as I mentioned is really racy especially when he says how much her room reminds him of a brothel. I cannot even tell you how gorgeous and sexy Loy looked when Cee tells Tom as she closes the doors to her room to not take long.
            I was not impressed with the acting in this film. Leslie Howard and Ann Harding had been in the stage version of the story. You can definitely tell they were stage actors by the way they spoke their lines and dramatically acted. On the other hand you can totally see that Myrna Loy was strictly a film actress. Howard I am never really impressed with if I see him in a film. Loy had been loaned out to RKO for Cee since apparently Selznick saw her as the only one who could really pull off the role. They were going to go with another actress but the producer felt Loy was prettier and could pull off the role of a seductress. She carried it off flawlessly you can see it in her eyes that her character was money hungry and had a great sexuality underneath. She had those eyes that could either be really sexy or could be really warm and caring in her films.
            The Animal Kingdom is an alright film. The story is interesting especially in the aspect that the wife acts more like a mistress than the other woman does. That is a great angle and one I would like to see explored in a film today. The acting is not the greatest but that can be over looked. Watch The Animal Kingdom for the dialogue alone because for a 1930s Pre-Code film it is some of the raciest I have ever heard from that period.

         The film is available to view on Youtube in full as of this writing. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Fog (2005)

“So now you know”
“That our forefathers murdered every man, woman and child on the Elizabeth Dane? And this town was built on nothing but lies?”
“And now they've come for revenge.”

            I have yet to see John Carpenter’s The Fog so do not mind me for my movie ignorance for having seen this 2005 version first. I was seventeen when I went to see this and I did not know what good movies were yet… and at the time I was madly in love with Tom Welling.
            Basically the story is about people living on an island off of Oregon called Antonio Island and they are attacked by killer fog. The fog is the ghosts of passengers from a ship that was sunk in the middle 1800s by the founding fathers of the island. The four men took the money and sunk the ship carrying lepers by setting it on fire. Now the ghosts are out for revenge killing all the descendants of the founding fathers. Tom Welling’s character Nick Castle and Maggie Grace’s (Lost fans will know her as Shannon) character Elizabeth are two of the descendants.
            As the characters are finding out more of what is going on Elizabeth discovers that her dreams of drowning and being on an old ship were memories from her past life where she was married to the ship’s captain. The fog and ghost attacks end when the ghost of the ship captain finds Elizabeth and takes her back to wherever he came from with him.
            I think this remake had a lot of potential because the story was interesting but the acting was not there at all and the whole thing just seemed blah. Well, let’s face it Tom Welling and Maggie Grace are not the greatest actors ever. The only actor that really held up was Selma Blair and her character was the only one who was semi-interesting.
            The whole remake of The Fog was definitely geared towards people of my age and MTV viewers at the time. It felt like it as trying to be a cool, hip film appealing to a new mass of horror fans. I will give it credit with the historical aspect because I like that stuff and I mentioned that in my review of the Amityville Horror remake. I was left really looking forward to watching the original The Fog by John Carpenter and now I cannot wait to see it. This remake although not completely terrible is one of the reasons why movies should be left alone and not be remade.