31 May 2009

Hitchcock | Aventure Malgache (1944)

Aventure Malgache (1944)
written by Jules Francois Clermont and an uncredited Angus MacPhail

Hitchcock's second World War II propaganda film, intended for the French Resistance. This one doesn't work as well as the first. The producers of the film didn't think so, either, and did not release it.

This one has a very specific audience; its intention was to encourage disparate French communities to put aside their differences and unite to fight the Vichy government. It's a more political film, lacking the chases and escapes of Bon Voyage, but also sporting much more humor. Frankly, I found it dull and could barely keep my eyes open to keep up with the subtitles. (5/10)

Watched the region 1 DVD released by Image in 1998. Same disc as Bon Voyage.

Hitchcock | Bon Voyage (1944)

Bon Voyage (1944)
written by Angus MacPhail and J.O.C. Orton

The first and better of the two World War II shorts Hitchcock directed. Hitch felt guilty about being in America while Europe was being torn apart by the war, so he volunteered to create a pair of propaganda shorts intended for the French Resistance.

Bon Voyage tells the tale of a British pilot, shot down over occupied France, who manages to escape with the help of the Resistance and -- unknown to him -- a German spy. The spy uses the pilot's escape as a way of digging out Resistance members. It's all pretty exciting, sort in the same tradition as The 39 Steps and The Lady Vanishes. Not bad for a short piece of propaganda. Had it ever been expanded into a full-length movie, this could've made for a nice follow-up to Lifeboat. (6/10)

Watched the region 1 DVD released by Image in 1998. The transfer's one step above public domain-quality and the English subtitles are burned in... but, I wasn't expecting much. This isn't exactly A-list Hitchcock, bound to sell millions.

30 May 2009

Guest OLR: The Fury (1978)

Saying this here might get me crucified, but it's better than Scanners. (6/10)

d. Brian de Palma

OLR: Naked Lunch (1991)

I feel like I understand this film less and less the more I watch it; I'd better get around to finishing the book someday. (7/10)

d. David Cronenberg

29 May 2009

Hitchcock | Lifeboat (1944)

Lifeboat (1944)
written by Jo Swerling and an uncredited Ben Hecht, based on a story by John Steinbeck

It's interesting what sixty-five years of shifting culture will change. Watching this movie, I was expecting Willy, the Nazi, to end up being an OK guy. After all, this is what would invariably happen in a modern movie. A movie made in 2009 would use Willy as a way to comment on the prejudices of the regular Americans and Brits in the boat. Willy would reveal that he was drafted and didn't buy that Nazi crap. The characters on the boat would slowly realize how much in common they have with their enemy. At the end, Willy would sacrifice himself for the good of all and they'd close out the movie feeling sorry for their suspicions and reevaluating their preconceptions. I didn't realize how sick I am of that plot device until I watched this film.

Admittedly, Lifeboat is a little preachy itself. Americans and Brits from all social strata need to stop their squabbling, get together and beat the hell out of the Nazis. Literally, they do this. Not very subtle. Still, this an excellent film even if it does serve as propaganda. A great mix of characters keep the boat lively with action, even if we can't physically move elsewhere. I was initially worried that Tallulah Bankhead's character might be too much -- like Willie in Temple of Doom -- but she balanced her portrayal perfectly, never allowing Connie to delve into throw-her-overboard annoyance.

I love it when Hitchcock does these experiments. Is it possible to make a full-length movie set entirely on a lifeboat? Yes, and it can be done quite well. I'm looking forward to re-watching Rope to see him do it again. (8/10)

Watched the region 1 DVD released by Fox in 2008 as a part of the Alfred Hitchcock Premiere Collection. The transfer's okay, except for some damaged sections near the beginning.

28 May 2009

Hitchcock | Shadow of a Doubt (1942)

Shadow of a Doubt (1942)
written by Thornton Wilder, Sally Benson, Alma Reville and Gordon McDonell

Hitchcock would often claim this film to be his personal favorite. It is in the IMDb's top 250 highest rated movies. I just don't see it. This is -- no doubt -- a good film, but I can't imagine it making my personal top ten of Hitchcock flicks by the end of this project.

There were several parts of the film I just couldn't buy. The romance between Young Charlie and Detective Graham felt horribly tacked on. It seemingly arose out of nowhere and existed merely to check a box on the list of "things a Hollywood picture needs." I also had a hard time with Young Charlie's reluctance to turn her uncle in for fear of breaking her mother's heart. Even after Uncle Charlie tries to kill her twice, she does nothing but tell him to leave town. Her mother's feelings are more important than her own life? Quite the daughter.

Other than that, it's a nice film. (7/10)

Watched the region 1 DVD released by Universal in 2006. Nice transfer and a nice documentary.

24 May 2009

Hitchcock | Saboteur (1942)

Saboteur (1942)
written by Peter Viertel, Joan Harrison, Dorothy Parker and an uncredited Alfred Hitchcock

These "wrong man" movies are starting to feel a little familiar (and I'm still fourteen years away from the movie with that exact phrase for a title). They are still interesting to watch, nevertheless. You know without a shadow of a doubt that the wrongly accused man will clear his name and catch the bad guy by the end of the picture. Yet, somehow, the film is still suspenseful. I got nervous, hoping the blind man and his granddaughter didn't notice the handcuffs on Barry. It felt claustrophobic when Barry and Pat were absurdly trapped in a mansion during a ball. Movies have this strange power over logic and Hitchcock is well-aware.

This is Hitch's first post-Pearl Habor film. The British director and writers give us a fascinating outsider's view of the country during the early days of the war. Besides the two main characters -- Barry and Pat -- the only good, honest people in the entire film are the outsiders they encounter on the road. Specifically, the truck driver, (most of) the circus people, the blind man in the cabin and the cabbies that find Pat's note are all decent, hard-working folks who implicitely trust in Barry's truthfulness. All of them stand in stark contrast to the villains, who are physically normal-looking and part of the upperclass. It paints a picture of two different Americas, fighting or ignoring each other during a time of crisis. It's not something I expected to see pointed out in a wartime movie.

While this movie sometimes sort of feels like a practice run for Notorious and North by Northwest, it's strong enough to stand on its own. (7/10)

Watched the region 1 DVD released by Universal in 2006. Nice transfer and a nice documentary.

18 May 2009

OLR: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008)

A meditation on life and death that, while I don't think it has anything to say we don't already know about those subjects, has a quiet beauty about it. (7/10)

d. David Fincher

17 May 2009

OLR: Death Race 2000 (1975)

A car running over someone or blowing up or some naked people cavorting or a plane crashing all compete to keep you entertained. (7/10)

d. Paul Bartel

OLR: Splinter (2008)

Other than the best "amputation of an evil limb" scene ever, there's not much here outside of shaky-cam remake of The Thing / Bride of Re-Animator. (5/10)

d. Toby Wilkins

16 May 2009

OLR: Star Trek (2009)

Great action, acting, design and sensibility combine to knocked Batman Begins from the "best reboot ever" platform. (8/10)

d. J.J. Abrams

15 May 2009

OLR: Zack and Miri Make a Porno (2008)

A standard romantic comedy arc wrapped in some funny porno gags. (6/10)

d. Kevin Smith

OLR: Kevin Smith: Sold Out - A Threevening with Kevin Smith (2008)

Almost as fun as the first, except for the never-ending dog story and the extended description of Smith's rectal troubles. (6/10)

d. Joey Figueroa & Zak Knutson

12 May 2009

OLR: An Evening with Kevin Smith 2: Evening Harder (2006)

Smith was more guarded and didn't have any stories to rival those in the first Evening, plus he seemed grumpy during the Toronto half. (5/10)

d. J.M. Kenny

03 May 2009

Hitchcock | Suspicion (1941)

Suspicion (1941)
written by Samson Raphaelson, Joan Harrison and Alma Reville, based on a novel by Anthony Berkeley

After reading about how the studio refused to allow Cary Grant to portray a villain, as was his character in the original novel, it's hard not to be disappointed with the film. In hindsight, it's clear that the novel's ending -- in which Johnnie poisons Lina, but she has him mail a letter accusing him of her murder before she dies -- was what Hitchcock was aiming to shoot until nearly the end of the movie.

In fact, that's the way I was expecting the movie to go while watching it for the first time. The way Joan Fontaine played the scene when Johnnie brings her some milk -- which she suspects is poisoned -- I felt sure she was going to drink it as an escape from her misery. Dark though it may have been, I thought this would have be a bold change from the usual melodrama-romances of this era. What if, just this once in a Hollywood movie, getting married to someone you barely know was a poor idea? What if you fell in love with a monster? And, indeed, much of the movie explores these ideas as Lina's mistrust of her husband grows deeper. Unfortunately, this is all tossed aside by the new ending, turning Lina into a silly girl with an overactive imagination and Johnnie into a sucidial jerk.

Despite misgivings over the plot, the movie's very well-made otherwise. The two leads give great performances -- though I don't think Joan Fontaine is a good as she was in Rebecca, despite what the Academy thought -- and Nigel Bruce steals every scene he's in as adle-headed Beaky. The cinematography is similarly excellent, with some nice lighting (including the cool shot of the glowing not-poisoned milk). It's close to a great film, but just doesn't quite reach that level for me. (6/10)

Watched the region 1 DVD released by Warner Bros. in 2004. Great transfer and a nice featurette.

01 May 2009

Guest OLR: Los cronocrimenes (2007)

Primer for Dummies... Watch this instead of Deja Vu. (6/10)

d. Nacho Vigalondo