July 26, 2005

On viewing the first 20 minutes or so of Logan's Run

Logan's Run (Michael Anderson, 1976)

1. Thank God George Lucas came along and lifted movie sf out of doom and gloom. Before this, TCM showed Watch the Skies, a Richard Schickel documentary in which Lucas, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, and Ridley Scott discussed the sf films of the 1950s. (Spielberg could give Scorsese a run for his money in the film doc department.) Of course, everyone knows about the bomb and McCarthyism as the context for Them! and Invaders from Mars. But in this and other movies (sf and non-sf) all around the world in the early to mid 1970s, I feel that these are films made by people living in the ruins, but in the ruins of what? An examination of 70s sf would be very complicated.

2. It's interesting that after the youthful 1960's, this and Zardoz showed that societies that denied aging would be unhealthy.

3. You probably can't get more 1970s than Michael York.

4. On seeing the horrible stucco walls of the atrium where Logan kills the runner, I thought of Crow T. Robot saying "Filmed at the Student Union of the University of Minnesota, Duluth."


Awara (Raj Kapoor, 1951)

The plot is almost straight from Dickens or Victor Hugo. Raj (director Kapoor) career criminal stands in the dock accused of attempted murder of Judge Raghunath (Prithviraj Kapoor, father of Raj), who believes criminals are born, not made. Raj is defended by Rita, the judge's adopted daughter (Nargis). Raj's defense is his life story. Years earlier, Leela, Raghunath's wife, was captured by Jagga, the bandit. As his revenge on the judge for wrongly sentencing him and setting him on his path of crime, Jagga, after finding out that Leela is pregnant, realizes that the judge will think the child is Jagga's and reject him, whereupon Jagga will complete his revenge by making the child a criminal. That is just the setup. To detail the rest of the plot with its confrontations, coincidences, triumphs, and reversals would be a 19th-century doorstop novel in itself. The rich plot is only one of the many great elements in this movie. Kapoor's direction is equal parts Chaplin (Awara could be translated as tramp), Welles (low angles), neorealism (Raj also seems to be straight out of De Sica), and film noir (a key scene takes place at night on a rain-soaked street), with a dash of Powell and Pressburger (the dream sequence is like a Hindu version of A Matter of Life and Death's heaven, with dancing). The Bollywood film aspires to be a Gesamtkunstwerk that people would actually go see. This one succeeds. Song, dance, architecture, literature, theater, painting. It's all here and it's all excellent.

July 22, 2005

Recently seen and briefly noted 2

Nobody Lives Forever (Jean Negulesco, 1946)

Con man John Garfield comes back from the war and takes some time off in LA. There he's persuaded to con a rich young widow out of her 2 mil fortune. He falls for the widow, and his partners don't like that one bit. Shot in 1944 to get Garfield before his contract expired, this shows that even then Hollywood was gearing up for film noir. In a back room lit only by a lamp hanging from the ceiling, John Garfield beats the tar out of one of his partners and tells him for that he'll get nothing. The climax takes place at a fog-shrouded dock.

July 12, 2005

The Polar Express

The Polar Express (Robert Zemeckis, 2004)

At first the animation seems a bit too ostentatiously realistic, with the perfect depictions of a slightly frosted window, a flashlight beam complete with the imperfections from the bulb's shadow, a keyhole reflected on a child's eyeball. Also, the people seem a bit creepy, since they are not real, but not quite fake either. But over the course of the movie, disbelief is suspended to the point where I actually thought "This kid is not a bad actor." "Tom Hanks" is also good as usual, and his hobo is an even better Coen brothers character than his turn in The Ladykillers. I think I'm underrating this slightly since I feel if I was more than 20 years younger, this would be the greatest movie of all time. I love it now, probably because it's a religious allegory set among steam trains and retro machinery of all periods. The world of the Polar Express is a delight, with an obviously perfect reproduction of a late 20s Baldwin, a Victorian railroad car, and a 30s observation car. I loved the North Pole, since it looks like a combination of a medieval city and my neighborhood. (The towers at the North Pole are copies of the Pullman clock tower.) Here is the next Christmas classic.

Blind Shaft

Blind Shaft (Li Yang, 2003)

Yes, this is indeed one of those movies that you have to watch if you want to know What Is Happening Now. In coal country, China, two men travel to mine to mine, following a scheme in which they befriend some unemployed sucker, claim that the sucker is a relation when they look for work at the mine, and then kill him (making it look like a mine accident) at the first opportunity so they can collect on the compensation money. It's a state of China movie and a excellent crime movie as well. I was reminded of some tough early-30s Warner Bros. movie like Hell's Highway, which had social problems and men pushed to their moral limits in equal measures. In a recent article on Chinese cinema, Shelly Kraicer points that post-cultural revolution China is a nation that has cut itself off from its past and is now adrift. Blind Shaft really brings this home, since its China is a place where socialism is now a word in an old-fashioned song and the only rule is get rich or be destroyed. The visual is equally bleak, with men emerging from holes in the scraped, dead earth to descend into the coal darkness. The blue coat of the prospective victim is often the only color in the shot. Neorealist genre movies get me nearly every time.

Recently seen and briefly noted 1

Gunner Palace (Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein, 2004)

What are our men in uniform doing there in Baghdad? They're driving around in humvees mostly. In their free time, they hang around the pool. The black guys rap. Nothing you wouldn't expect. The most interesting characters, the Iraqi interpreters, are given short shrift.

The Mysterians (Ishiro Honda, 1957)

At the age of 7, if you had asked me what my favorite movie of all time was, I would have said this. It remained in my memory thereafter as a literal non-stop orgy of exploding models. Seeing this 27+ years later, there is a lot more plot than I remembered, but the battles between Earth and the Mysterians are still very satisfying with some excellent model work by Eiji Tsurubaya. Akira Ifukube deserves a more prominent place in film music history. His music (which you can hear in isolation on the DVD) is like a blend of Stravinsky and Sousa. Advice to aliens: if you want to breed with our women, don't have a list of specific women, especially if one of them is the girlfriend of one of the humans you're negotiating with. (Anachronism: there is an actress in this who looks exactly like Maggie Cheung.)

The Beginning


I used to have a website, Revenge of the Audience, where I would post brief film reviews. The tradition continues with From an Indian Lodge.