Film Review: Prince of Foxes (1949)

Release Date: December 23rd, 1949
Directed by: Henry King
Written by: Milton Krims
Based on: Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger
Music by: Alfred Newman
Cast: Tyrone Power, Orson Welles

20th Century Fox, 107 Minutes

Review:

“It is my belief that everything, even death, can be turned into profit.” – Cesare Borgia

Prince of Foxes re-teams director Henry King with his swashbuckling star Tyrone Power. It also adds Orson Welles to the mix as the famous tyrant Cesare Borgia. The fact that I get to see two of my favorite actors play off of each other, is the real treat of this film.

While the poster and the subject matter may make you think that this is a big swashbuckler (albeit in Renaissance Italy), there is very little swordplay and it is more of a historical war drama with a bit of romance and some swashbuckling elements just lightly sprinkled in.

Orson Welles is the perfect Cesare Borgia. While I didn’t live in 1500 and can’t compare the two men, Welles’ personification greatly embodies the spirit of what Borgia was, historically speaking. The power, the boldness, the heartlessness and the ability to conquer for the sake of ego and wealth. Orson Welles captures this and adds in his own cool and eloquent qualities. He also looks like a Renaissance era Sith lord.

Tyrone Power walks into the film with a smile and unrelenting charm but that is why he was a favorite to star in these sort of pictures. His acting chops and masculine presence are strong enough to stand in front of Welles’ Borgia and to hold his ground. While Welles typically outshines most, Power doesn’t lose his presence in the picture and it is still very much his movie.

The film, where possible, made use of accurate locations and historical structures in an effort to make Prince of Foxes as authentic as possible. The world truly feels real and lived in. It doesn’t feel as if these men are just on some Hollywood back lot or in a studio.

The cinematography is lush and lively, even for a black and white picture that came out in the film-noir 40s. The costumes are perfect, the sets are finely ornamented and the attention to detail is pretty astounding. The sound is also pristine, which must have been a challenge with the on location shooting.

Prince of Foxes is neither my favorite Tyrone Power or Orson Welles picture. However, it was still a film of high quality that brought these two giants together. It kind of holds a special place for me because of that. And I’ve always loved tales of the infamous Borgia family.

TV Review: American Horror Story (2011- )

Original Run: October 5th, 2011 – current
Created by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Cesar Davila-Irizarry, Charlie Clouser, James S. Levine, Mac Quayle
Cast: Evan Peters, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Lizzie Brocheré, James Cromwell, Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, Kathy Bates, Michael Chiklis, Finn Wittrock, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloë Sevigny, Cheyenne Jackson, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., André Holland, Billie Lourd, Alison Pill, Alexandra Daddario, Grace Gummer

Ryan Murphy Productions, Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, 20th Century Fox, 78 Episodes (so far), 37-73 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

I just binge watched the first three seasons of American Horror Story, as I was running out of things to watch on Netflix and this was in my queue for a few years. I have yet to see season 4, as it isn’t available yet.

I have a few friends who obsess over this show, which is probably why I put it off for so long. Usually, when a bunch of people build something up really high, I am left disappointed. I think the only time I wasn’t was when I finally sat down to watch Breaking Bad.

I wouldn’t call American Horror Story a disappointment though. It was pretty enjoyable and I’ll watch future seasons, albeit at my own leisure. But I wouldn’t call the show special or hype it up to everyone I know.

The premise of the show is horror, which is obvious by the title, but other than tapping into supernatural elements and showing something scary every now and then, it plays more like a teen drama. But that is the way of Hollywood these days. Sure, most of the characters are older than teens but this is definitely a show written for them.

The show just isn’t scary and that is why I have reservations about horror being used in a television format. Sure, you can churn up a few frights and provide creepy visuals and a dark tone but over the course of a 13 episode season, the monsters you are selling get less and less scary. When the reveals have to happen early because modern audiences can’t tolerate suspense, there is nowhere else to go other than adding in more teen drama and stretching out a resolution.

I guess the one thing that irks me about the show, is how the payoffs seem rushed, the resolution happens almost too early and the final few episodes of each season play like an epilogue that is too fleshed out. The grand evil each season is conquered around episode 11. So what you get is two more episodes that really aren’t necessary. I don’t care about any of these characters that much. It’s like the ending to the extended edition of The Return of the King – you just want it to be over.

Highlights of the show include the acting talents of Jessica Lange and Evan Peters (who was Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past). The rest of the cast, at least the actors who appear over multiple seasons are all pretty good. Although, Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau was horrible. I don’t blame her, as the character of Laveau was horribly written. The writers really tarnished the well respected legacy of the New Orleans Voodoo Queen and turned her into an evil vengeful idiot. Kathy Bates was fantastic though, I do want to point that out.

I like the show more than I dislike it but it hasn’t solidified me as a fan and it is a moderately enjoyable way to waste a weekend.

Update:

After the third season, I watched two more. Each year gets worse and worse, to the point that I’ve completely stopped caring about the show. The last season I watched was Hotel and I have no more interest in the future of this anthology franchise. I think there are two more seasons after Hotel with the possibility of this going on forever… but I’m done.

Film Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2005)

Release Date: October 22nd, 2005
Directed by: David Lee Fisher
Written by: David Lee Fisher
Based on: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari the 1920 film written by Hans Janowitz, Carl Mayer
Music by: Eban Schletter
Cast: Judson Pearce Morgan, Daamen J. Krall, Doug Jones, Lauren Birkell

Highlander Films, Image Entertainment, 76 Minutes

Review:

I’ll admit it, initially, I was pretty stoked about this movie before it came out in 2005. I remember a friend directing me to the website where I watched the trailer and read about the development of the picture. I was then quick to buy a copy as soon as it was made available. I wanted this to be good.

Unfortunately, it falls short in a lot of ways.

First, the film is a technical achievement in how it was shot and presented. While it is filmed with a lot of green screen work, the actors are transported into the visual world of the original The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Most of the technical work goes off without a hitch but in some spots, sets may have worked better and its not like recreating the original sets would have been that costly, it may have been cheaper and easier than filming in green screen and trying to get the actors to match up with the original shots. Plus, I’m not sure that a shot for shot remake was necessarily the best idea either.

Also, the acting, for the most part, is pretty bad. I can dismiss it to a point, due to it being a recreation of the original body of work, as silent films employed a lot of physical action and overstated expressions but this film overstates its performances pretty profoundly. I’d hate to come off as a dick but it felt like a community theater troupe giving the film a Shakespearean panache.

The only real acting highlight was Doug Jones as Cesare. However, Jones is well-known for his physical performances, which is why he constantly plays weird sorts of characters and will forever be employed by Guillermo del Toro. Lauren Birkell was also fairly good, as she was the only major character that was subtle and mostly played her part to a t.

It is hard to remake a bonafide classic, however. I just feel like it would have been better had the filmmakers done their own interpretation of the film, as opposed to trying to seamlessly recreate it with the addition of sound. It put them into a box and it was a box that was already perfect the way it was.

I’m not against a Caligari remake, it just needs to have its own identity and breathe its own life into the story. Look at what the 1970s remake of Nosferatu with Klaus Kinski did; it was a stellar film in its own way and still a fantastic homage to the original silent classic.

I can’t deny the appreciation that the filmmakers had for the original, however. It is obvious that their intentions were noble and they tried their damnedest to recreate the Caligari world but the approach and execution were off.

Film Review: Detour (1945)

Release Date: November 15th, 1945 (Boston premiere)
Directed by: Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Martin Goldsmith
Based on: Detour: An Extraordinary Tale by Martin Goldsmith
Music by: Leo Erdody
Cast: Tom Neal, Ann Savage

Producers Releasing Corporation, 68 Minutes

Review:

“Money. You know what that is, the stuff you never have enough of. Little green things with George Washington’s picture that men slave for, commit crimes for, die for. It’s the stuff that has caused more trouble in the world than anything else we ever invented, simply because there’s too little of it.” – Al Roberts

Historically speaking, this is mostly an unknown film. To fans of film-noir, however, it holds a special place among the great noir pictures of the 1940s.

On its surface, it is a b-movie. It wasn’t made by a major studio and was one of countless noir style pictures that were being churned out like ice cream cones at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

However, with so many of these movies being made, one of these b-pictures had to stand out. Granted, it isn’t the only b-movie noir to make some sort of impact but it is one of the most beloved by noir experts.

I never saw this picture. Reading about it in several places made me want to check it out and I’m glad that I did. Detour is an exceptional movie and a lot better than it should have been but the studios on “Poverty Row” had to fight hard to compete with the big studio system in Hollywood.

The script was really good but it was also adapted by the guy who wrote the novel that the film was based on. It’s an interesting story, well executed and a lot of the credit also has to go to the performances of Tom Neal and Ann Savage. They weren’t Oscar caliber performances but the two leads had a chemistry and Savage was dedicated in her commitment to the role of the unlikable and brutal Vera.

The film also makes the most out of very little and shows that ingenuity and heart can go a long way. I’m not sure if Edgar G. Ulmer, the director, intended to make something this good with the limitations of the production but he succeeded. He had experience in producing quality pictures though, as he did a pretty good job eleven years earlier at Universal with The Black Cat, a horror film starring Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and an uncredited John Carradine.

This is a relatively short movie but it tells its story and is quickly paced. The only real negative, is that you don’t seem to have enough invested in Tom Neal’s Al Roberts to care too much about his fate, even though he is an innocent guy that just stumbled into a bad situation.

Detour is still impressive. For fans of film-noir, it should be seen, as it is quite possibly the best of the b-movie noirs of the era and it stands above a lot of the films the major studios were putting out.

Film Review: Bottle Rocket (1996)

Release Date: February 21st, 1996
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Written by: Owen Wilson, Wes Anderson
Music by: Mark Mothersbaugh
Cast: Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Robert Musgrave, James Caan, Andrew Wilson, Lumi Cavazos, Donny Caicedo, Jim Ponds, Tak Kubota, Kumar Pallana

Gracie Films, Columbia Pictures, 91 Minutes

Review:

“Here are just a few of the key ingredients: dynamite, pole vaulting, laughing gas, choppers – can you see how incredible this is going to be? – hang gliding, come on!” – Dignan

A commercial failure upon release, Bottle Rocket would go on to wow a lot of the top critics and still became a launching pad for the careers of Wes Anderson and the Wilson brothers.

While not my favorite Anderson picture, I still love Bottle Rocket and the fact that it shows that Anderson wit and style yet is still pretty straightforward and not as stylized as his films would become after this one, starting with 1998’s RushmoreBottle Rocket feels like a Wes Anderson movie in spirit and substance but greatly differs in how it feels more grounded in reality.

At its core, this is a comedic heist picture. While that is a major plot point, the film is more about relationships and self discovery. While you get the feeling that this trio of bandits are going to fail miserably with the big heist, you can’t not be taken in by Owen Wilson’s goofy plan and charisma. His antics are hilarious and his schemes are even more amusing. The carelessness of how he handles his business and openly talks about his schemes in public make you wonder how these guys didn’t get arrested before the big job. But it all just adds to the brilliant absurdity of this entertaining movie.

The vast majority of the film was shot around Hillsboro, Texas – a small town midway between Dallas and Waco. The landscapes and environment have a really simplistic yet majestic feel to them. All the outdoor bits are shot really well and it is a real contrast to Anderson’s work after this picture, where he shoots a lot within the confines of very opulent and stylized interiors.

This is a 90s indie comedy of the best kind. It feels very indie and very 90s but still has an original appeal that very much makes it its own thing. Both Wilson’s are great, as is their buddy Bob, played by Robert Musgrave, a guy who should be in more movies. He pairs well with the Wilsons and matches their comedic timing and delivery quite well.

Bottle Rocket is a fun and amusing picture. It has a visual allure and is kind of sweet. It is a hard film not to like.

Film Review: Ramona (2015)

Release Date: May 19th, 2015 (Cannes)
Directed by: Andrei Creţulescu
Written by: Andrei Creţulescu
Cast: Rodica Lazar, Dorian Boguta, Andi Vasluianu, Serban Pavlu, Ana Ularu

Kinosseur, Wearebasca, deFilm, 25 Minutes

Review:

In a nutshell, this is a 25 minute short film about a woman going on a revenge killing spree. However, there is no dialogue and no real explanation for her actions, other than a small bit where she flips through some pictures of girls that look physically tortured.

I guess it is similar to I Spit On Your Grave and other films like that but it is a super stylized modern neo-noir looking picture. It also lacks a setup and therefore, you have no real emotional attachment to this woman’s violent revenge quest.

The film is unfortunately one of those that falls victim to style over substance. It plays out in what feels like real time, as it is comprised of a few long take shots but those moments between the killings weigh down the picture and dilute the little bit of violent action that does take place. 80 percent of this short film is walking and driving from place to place and then waiting.

Does it feel real? Yes. But again, it isn’t something you can connect with emotionally and it plays more like a really long music video without music until Bauhaus’ “She’s In Parties” plays at the very end, twenty-plus minutes into this.

The cinematography is nice and the shots are very well choreographed but there isn’t much else here.

I guess this is the third part of a trilogy of short films. I’m not sure how related those films are, if at all, other than having the same cast, but maybe seeing those first would have given this a bit more clarity. I’ll still check those out, if I can find them, and maybe that will make me understand this film a bit more. But as a standalone effort, this just isn’t something I was into.

TV Review: Hemlock Grove (2013-2015)

Original Run: April 19th, 2013 – October 23rd, 2015
Created by: Brian McGreevy
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy
Music by: Nathan Barr
Cast: Famke Janssen, Bill Skarsgård, Landon Liboiron, Penelope Mitchell, Freya Tingley, Dougray Scott, Tiio Horn, Joel de la Fuente, Madeleine Martin, Camille De Pazzis, Lili Taylor, Madeline Brewer

Gaumont International Television, ShineBox SMC, United Bongo Drum, Inc., Netflix, 33 Episodes, 45-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2014.

Hemlock Grove is a Netflix Original Series. I’m watching through all of their shows in an effort to do a list ranking them in the near future.

This was a much better show than I thought it would be. I was wondering if it would be more like True Blood or more like that atrocious piece of shit Twilight. It was definitely more or less its own thing but aligned on the True Blood side of the equation, in that it was very adult, didn’t deal so much with teenage love, had no sparkly bitch vampires and served up a decent amount of gore.

The early episodes aren’t well acted in some spots but it does improve. The style of the show is also unique in that it goes into the werewolf and vampire, or in this case “upir”, mythos but there is a lot more to the supernatural and bizarre here. It also brings in a heavy science element that makes this show not seem like a redundant recycle of all the other popular supernatural shows that are out right now.

It’s not a great show by any stretch but it is good, at least the first season. The plot thread of the second season wasn’t on the same level as the first, in my opinion, but it still provided enough to keep me interested and looking forward to season 3, when and if it ever drops. So far, season 3 has not been announced.

The first season worked really well on its own and if it had been a one off, it would probably be well-regarded and have created a cult following. The second season takes away some of the magic of the first but it is really a trade off for going deeper into the secrets of the show. I’m fine with that though.

Update:

The show went out with a serious whimper. More like a big bowl of WTF in the worst way possible.