Tuesday, February 28, 2017

A TOUCH OF ZEN (1969?, TAIWAN), THE CONFORMIST (1969?, ITALY)

1969
A Touch of Zen
A Touch of Zen is King Hu's creative martial arts film that definitely foreshadowed such later films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero. The film was released in November 1971.

Bernardo Bertolucci's tense political drama about a man that finds it easier to go with the flow than to fight against Fascism in 1930's and 40's Italy was released in 1970 in the Italy and the United States.

Did you catch that? This is a blog post about 1969 films featuring two films clearly not released during that year. But that's what the 1001 book lists them as. In every subsequent addition the publishers never feel the need to make the necessary correction. There are several other films in the 1001 book that clearly are listed in the wrong release year. The film Tetsuo was released in 1989 but listed in the book as 1998! I realize it isn't the most pressing issue in the world today, but I reserve the right to bitch about it a little!

The Conformist

The following films that I have previously seen were not listed in the 1001 book under any year. I'm pretty sure they are correctly listed here as 1969 releases.

1. Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice-A big hit at the time, I’m sure this rather odd wife swapping movie would  be really dated today, and  I fear not in a good way. And does anyone remember when Elliot Gould was a really big star?

What the world needs now is love sweet love...
Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice
2. Goodbye, Columbus-Based on Phillip Roth’s novella, this feels to me like a more Jewish version of The Graduate. It isn't as good as The Graduate, but not a bad film in its own right. It also get extra credit points for having several library scenes. And does anyone remember when Ali McGraw was a really big star?

3. Winning-The only memorable thing to me is about this Paul Newman/Joanne Woodward racing pic is the theme song, to be forever played in the years that followed during the opening credits of The Wide World of Sports.

4. The Love Bug-How I did love this movie as a kid. Rock on, Buddy Hackett!

5. The Magic Christian-Like Easy Rider, another screenwriting credit to Terry Southern. This strange, trippy move has Peter Sellers adopting Ringo Starr (or something like that) and I remember something about Laurence Harvey stripping and Raquel Welch dressed as a Viking and what was this movie about again? It’s been awhile since I’ve seen it, I guess. What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Ringo and Raquel in The Magic Christian

6. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service- James Bond finally gets married and Bond has to be played by George Lazenby? Sounds like grounds for an annulment to me.

7. Take the Money and Run-Woody Allen’s first starring role, this semi-documentary of a criminal is definitely one of his “early, funny ones.”

8. Doppelganger-There's a mirror earth in this interesting British sci-fi that also taught me what the word doppelganger meant.

9. Paint Your Wagon-Gotta love Clint Eastwood, but I really could do without hearing his rendition of “They Call the Wind Maria.” What next? Charles Bronson singing “The Farmer and The Cowman Should Be Friends?”

10. If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium-Three things I remember about this American tourists traveling by bus through Europe movie: 1) The theme song was catchy. 2) It had a slew of 60’s and 70’s character actors in it (Michael Constantine, Norman Fell etc.) 3) Suzanne Pleshette looked gorgeous.

Suzanne Pleshette in her pre-Bob Newhart Show days in
If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium

11. The Comic-I remember Dick Van Dyke is pretty funny and touching as a former silent screen comedian adapting to old age.

12. A Boy Named Charlie Brown-I'm trying to decide if this is better than Snoopy, Come Home or not. (Thinking...)

13. The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes-Kurt Russell gets a shock or something and turns from a mediocre student to a genius. I'm guessing Joe Flynn is in this Disney flick somewhere.

14, Don’t Drink the Water-Early Woody Allen, but with Jackie Gleason in the lead.

15. Alice’s Restaurant-Arlo Guthrie’s famous twenty-plus minute song translated into a movie. Dare I say this movie might be really dated if viewed today?

Arlo and Patricia Quinn shadowed by a "VW Microbus"
in Alice's Restaraunt
16. Eye of the Cat-Some evil cats and a crazy old lady in a wheelchair is what I remember mostly about this one.

17. The Illustrated Man-Need to watch this movie based on Ray Bradbury's book of short stories all linked to a dude with lots of tattoos again.

18. Medium Cool-Fiction, but semi-documentary in style. It's about a reporter amidst the turmoil of the 1968 Democratic convention. I'm very surprised this one isn't in the book.

18. The Monitors-What the hell was this one about again? I know I saw it once upon a time. Just looked up the details to see that Larry Storch and Avery Schreiber were in it! (You may question whether the last statement deserved an explanation mark. I say any mention of Larry Storch warrants an explanation mark!)


20. Number One-Charlton Heston as a quarterback for the New Orleans Saints is just a strange concept to wrap your head around.

Charlton Heston in Number One.
 Yep, still difficult to accept this picture.

I'm pretty sure the moon landing happened in 1969.
Or did it? (Cue dramatic music)

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? (1966), COME DRINK WITH ME (1966)

1966
Liz and Dick as Martha and George
in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf
In my warehouse of famous plays that I’d like to direct in local theater, I’ve always thought that Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? would be at the top of my wish list. After viewing the famous movie version for the first time in years, I’m not so sure that would be a good idea. It’s so damn dark...this story of a middle-aged couple and younger couple caught up in a web of collegiate politics, emotional denial, bitter regrets and all-around drunkenness. Albee’s play is brilliant, and the film is a great way to become acquainted with it, if you can’t see it on stage. It also features what might be a career performance by Elizabeth Taylor going against type and Richard Burton, playing a part seemingly tailor-made for him. I loved the way Mike Nichols filmed this with it’s starkness and black and white photography. I'd still rate it a favorite, but after viewing, I’m currently too depressed to ever consider trying to put on a community theater version.

Pei-Pei Cheng fending off an army in Come Drink With Me
King Hu’s Come Drink With Me is one of the classics of Hong Kong cinema from this period of releases by the prolific studio run by the Shaw Brothers. This film involves a lot of cleverly stated fight scenes, some surprisingly placed mysticism, cool set designs featuring an ancient monastery and a rowdy local tavern, a sexy but deadly female lead warrior, and a drunken beggar who turns out to be a martial arts expert. You can also see the obvious influence this film had on Quentin Tarantino. 

I’m not sure it’s quite as good as Hu's A Touch of Zen, but is much better than some of the flicks I use to watch on late night telly during the 80's on Kung Fu classics!

Here are a list of some other films released in 1966 that I have seen that didn't quite make the 1001 movie cut.

1.  King of Hearts-This film about a World War I soldier that gets separated from his unit and gets stuck in a town where everyone has evacuated except residents of the local mental institution has always been one of my favorite cult movies. It seems to have lost favor over the years, but maybe that’s because there have been so many movies that could be seen at your theoretical midnight movie screen in the last three decades that this one might have gotten lost in the shuffle. That’s a shame because it’s really worth checking out.

Alan Bates running the asylum in King of Hearts

2. The Bible-This epic story of Genesis has some pretty dramatic scenes but also seems to go on indefinitely at times. I give this evaluation without having seen this in many years, but there you have it. You do gotta love the concept of John Huston as Noah.

3. Born Free-Movie about life among the lions was certainly popular in its day and one you could actually take a kid like me to see when it was fairly new...and now I've got to rev up the theme song because now it's bouncing around my head.

4. Morgan-Those wild sixties dark Brit comedies...I need to have a marathon of these films and see Morgan!, The Knack and How to Get It and Bedazzled for starters. I’ll take suggestions on where to go from there.

5. Thunderbirds Are Go!-I just loved me them exciting space exploring puppets! Apparently so did the creative team behind the comedy Team America!
  
Thunderbirds are always Go! in my book
6. Cul de Sac- This early Polanski is a pretty good psychological drama.

7. Farhrenheit 451- For more Truffaut appreciation..

Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451
8.  The Fortune Cookie-Matthau, Lemmon and Billy Wilder. Sounds like a plan.

9. The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini-I noticed I've listed a lot of movies on this blog that I’ve seen that would be categorized as "beach movies." I think the reason for this is that Ted Turner's Superstation use to show these all hours of the night back when I'd want to watch something…even a Tommy Kirk/Deborah Walley movie.

10.  One Million Years B. C., Fantastic Voyage-During the year of Welch, 1966 A. D., we had a choice between Raquel in her fur bikini battling dinosaurs in One Million Years, B. C or the more conservatively dressed Raquel in the cerebral sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage. Which do I prefer? Depends on which part of my brain you are asking.

 
The scantily clad Raquel from A Million Years B. C
hung on many a wall during the 60's and 70's
The more cerebral Raquel from
Fantastic Voyage

11.  Harper-Entertaining Paul Newman police procedural based on the Ross MacDonald novel and adapted for the screen by William Goldman. And with all films written by William Goldman, I recommend getting the commentary track on the DVD featuring the musings of this opinionated screenwriter.

12.  The Wild Angels-Hippie motorcycle movie with Peter Fonda, Bruce Dern, Nancy Sinatra, Michael J. Pollard and directed by Roger Corman. Sounds groovy to me, man!

13  A Man Called Flintstone-Yet another spy spoof featuring America's favorite Stone Age family. I know when I think of espionage films, the first names I think of are definitely Hanna and Barbera!

14. After the Fox-Criminal intrigue comedy with Peter Sellers that had a catchy title song from The Hollies. I was surprised to see that this film was directed by Vittorio De Sica.

15.  Batman, Munster Go Home-These two shows were popular enough during their two-year runs for a feature films to be made from them. I've probably seen every episode of both these series. Judge me how you will. Now I just have to figure out if I prefer the Beverly Owen or Pat Priest interpretation of Marilyn Munster. When, I'm done with that, I can try to figure out if I prefer the Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt or Lee Meriwether version of Catwoman.
 
Batman: The Movie

Munster, Go Home

16.  The Silencers, Murderers Row-There were two Matt Helm spy pictures starring Dean Martin released in 1966 to popular appeal and critical indifference. I've seen all the films in this series and do remember The Silencers as probably being my favorite.

17.  Boy, Did  I Get a Wrong Number!-Bob Hope's later film selection left a lot to be desired, but I guess Phylllis Diller is good for a few laughs if you’re in the right frame of mind. I do recommend Richard Zoglin's book Hope: Entertainer of the Century where the author makes a good argument that Hope was indeed the entertainer of the century.

18.  You’re a Big Boy Now-Pre-Godfather directoral effort from Francis Coppola that is basically a coming of age story and one that I remember really liking when I saw it years ago. This may be one to not watch again in fear of losing my good feelings about the film.

19.  Way, Way Out, Birds Do It-If you couldn't get your fill of Jerry Lewis movies like Way, Way, Out (With Jerry flying into space) you might try the Soupy Sales vehicle Birds Do It (With Soupy just flying.)

20. The Professionals-For full review...

The Professionals


I've seen all the 1966 films from the 1001 list, so it would be
most logical for me to proceed to a different year for my next post.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

THE SOUND OF MUSIC (1965), CHIMES AT MIDNIGHT (1965, SPAIN)

1965

You really can't talk about films from 1965 without mentioning the perennial family classic, The Sound of Music, one of the most popular family films of all-time and the Oscar winner for Best Picture from that year.

After watching The Sound of Music again, I found myself talking to a friend about it the next day and tried to make the case that it was really a pretty edgy film. They raised a skeptical eyebrow to that. But my point was that the film was edgy because it was just so damn unedgy! It doesn't try to be anything other than what it is: The story of a nun who falls in love with a rigid guy, who falls in love with her. He's got these rowdy children who are in reality darn near perfect. The guy is marrying a baroness, who is supposed to be the heavy, but steps aside when she sees the guy is in love with the nanny/nun. And there is plenty of uplifting music: Maria, Do-Re-Mi, My Favorite Things and Climb Ev'ry Mountain, a song I couldn't hit the notes on in high school chorus.

They do get chased by Nazis...I guess that's kind of edgy.

Also, the picture above is one of the most popular memes on the Internet. For those not hip to it, you are supposed to add in something to the effect of "This is me not caring anything about a particular subject. These kids and their memes...

This is a strange screen shot of a fade-in I took of The Sound of Music.
It looks to me like Maria and the Von Trapp children are ghosts appearing
in a graveyard of some kind...I think I've been taking too much cold medicine
lately.


Orson Welles as Falstaff wearing his "crown" in Chimes at Midnight

It's a little funny that I grew up hearing about Orson Welles as basically a one-hit wonder and becoming pretty marginalized as a film-maker after that film was released. But what about Touch of Evil? The Magnificent Ambersons? The Lady from Shanghai? Or Chimes at Midnight? It seems like only recently has Chimes of Midnight gotten the appreciation it deserves thanks in part to a wonderful restoration and distribution from the Criterion Collection. The film is a brilliant hybrid presentation of several of Shakespeare's plays with Falstaff  (also played by Welles)  that the director somehow manages to meld into a cohesive whole. The photography, acting (John Gielgud as the King is a standout), and characterizations put this near the top of must see Shakespeare adaptations. The muddy, ugly battle scene is one of the best ever filmed. And the relationship between Prince Hal and Falstaff supplies the important and ultimately tragic center of this classic film. Jaunty score by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino.

----------------------------------------------

Here are some other films released in 1965 that I've seen at some point in the past that didn't make the 1001 movie cut. I'll mention something about the music in each film since a lot of movie title music is running through my head as I go through the titles.

1. The Cincinnati Kid
The reputation of this film seems to be as a poor man's version of The Hustler, substituting poker for pool. I actually saw The Cincinnati Kid before I saw The Hustler and like it just as well as the more noted film. Steve McQueen heads an all-star cast and the plot is interesting even if it comes to a statistically improbable solution. (Drawing for an inside straight flush?)
Music: Soulful opening theme from Ray Charles


You're good kid, but as long as I"m around, you're only second best.
Lancey Howard (Edward G. Robinson) teaches
Cincinnati Kid (Steve McQueen)  an important life lesson.

2. The Family Jewels
Been a long time since I saw this one. Jerry Lewis playing seven roles is something that is something to love or hate. I'll let you decide.
Music: Speaking of family, Jerry's son Gary and his band The Playboys perform their biggest hit "This Diamond Ring," in the film.

3. Clarence, the Cross-Eyed Lion

I may or may not have seen this film, but the series it spun into (Daktari) was one of the favorite shows of my childhood. The plot features a doctor and his family protecting animals and curing the locals, but I mostly liked it for the appearances by Clarence and Judy the Chimp.
Music: The theme of the show featuring African drums and something that always sounded like a xylophone would always get me primed to watch the show. Play it now and I'll still come running and salivating like Pavlov's dog!
 

Clarence, the Cross Eyed-Lion appears to be giving
some Mustafaish advice to his adopted family.
.
4. For a Few Dollars More
The middle film in Sergio Leone's dollar trilogy isn't quite as majestic as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, but doesn't have the plagiarism issues of A Fistful of Dollars, either. But really, all three of these films should be on any film buffs watch list.
Music: Ennio Morricone doing the theme for a Sergio Leone film. Hard to beat that.

5. Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine
The story of a mad scientist who builds sexy robots to rob men won the Best Picture Oscar of 1965. Vincent Price also won Best Actor for his role and...okay, I'm lying about this silly film winning any Oscars. It is kind of fun to watch Vincent Price ham it up as the sinister Dr. Goldfoot. 
Music: I remember the theme song, but I hadn't realized it was done by The Supremes. If you are thinking about The Supremes greatest hits, you probably don't think of the theme from Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine first, but I admit it is kind of catchy.

Vincent Prince in Dr. Goldfoot. Love ya anyway, Vinnie!

6. The Greatest Story Ever Told
George Stevens's star-studded epic about the last year of Jesus is the one I still probably consider the definitive Jesus movie. It seemed to always be shown in two parts when it was on TV in the seventies. The all-star cast seemed pretty cool at the time, but was probably a bit of a distraction. The oddest casting choice was John Wayne as a Roman guard at the crucifixion, though my personal favorite from the cast is Telly Savalas as Pontius Pilate. Score by Hollywood music legend Alfred Newman.

7. Help!

The Beatles film Help! has always paled in comparison to A Hard Day's Night for me, but I might need a reviewing of this one. It certainly has some great songs: Lennon's "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away," McCartney's "The Night Before," Harrison's "If I Needed Someone." And how could I not mention Ringo's "Act Naturally?"

So much younger than today...The Beatles in Help!

8.In Harm's Way
Yet another all-star cast epic from this era and features John Wayne and Patricia Neal at the center of this Otto Preminger film about Pearl Harbor. Jerry Goldsmith provided the musical score. Goldsmith was nominated for eighteen academy awards during his distinguished career. Some of my favorite scores of his are from Planet of the Apes, Papillon and Chinatown.

9. John Goldfarb, Please Come Home
Pretty goofy comedy (from what I remember) about a pilot who lands in an Arab country and involves blackmailing the United States to send over a football team or something to compete against...I can't remember really. I do remember the fun opening song by Shirley MacLaine.


Peter Ustinov, Richard Crenna and Shirley MacLaine consider wiser
career options in John Goldfarb, Please Come Home

10. The Knack and How to Get It
I've really got to have a 60's Brit Mod Movie marathon pajama party real soon. I was surprised that the score of this film was from John Barry.


11. McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force
I did a newspaper report in school once depicting the events of the week I was born. The two major events of that week were the Cuban missile Crisis and the network premiere of McHale's Navy. Looking back, I'm thinking the McHale's Navy premiere was probably the less significant of the two. It does seem odd that a theatrical version of the series was released in 1965. I honestly can't understand what was  the motivation was behind McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force. It's certainly no Munster, Go Home.


McHale's Navy: The Motion Picture
                               
12. The Monkey's Uncle
One of those 60's Disney movies that I'm pretty sure I watched during consecutive Sunday nights on The Wonderful World of Disney. The title song is performed by Annette Funicello backed by Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys! I just finished Wilson's memoir I Am Brian Wilson and he shockingly makes no reference to this film!

13. Monsters From the Surf a.k.a. The Beach Girls and the Monster
From The Beach Boys to The Beach Girls and the Monster! This Grade Z horror flick Is basically Beach Blanket Bingo meets Plan Nine from Outer Space. The music was provided by Frank Sinatra...Sinatra, Jr. that is! My favorite credit from the trailer is featuring "The Watusi Dancing Girls from Hollywood's famed Whiskey A-Go-Go!"


Monsters from the Surf...We got a monster costume and a girl in a bikini.
Let's make a movie!

14. Red Beard
The was the sixteenth and final collaboration between director Akira Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune- one of the greatest actor/director teams ever. Masuro Sato did the Red Beard score and was a frequent collaborator with Kurosawa. But before you think Sato's a bit too highbrow, I will point out he also did the scores for Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster and Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla!

15. A Thousand Clowns
One of my all-time favorite films from the sixties, A Thousand Clowns is about a non-conformist writer that has to choose between his values and doing what he needs to do to keep custody of his young nephew. Funny, moving and fine performances from Jason Robards (Murray, the Uncle) and Barry Gordon (Nick, the nephew). Herb Gardner wrote the screenplay based on his own play. The score was written by Jazz artist Gerry Mulligan, who juxtaposes a war-like theme set to the background of people going to work.


A Thousand Clowns
Murray: Nick, you are about to see a horrible, horrible thing.
Nick: What's that Murray?
Murray: People going to work.
16. Thunderball
One of the best of the early Connery Bond films. Also, one of the best Bond themes and sung by the one and only Mr. Tom Jones!

17. What's New Pussycat?
And speaking of Tom Jones, the Welsh singer also lent his vocal talents to the theme song (written by Bacharach and David) to this wacky comedy that is also noted for an early screen appearance by Woody Allen. The eclectic cast includes Peter Sellers, Peter O'Toole and Ursula Andress among others. From what I remember, it was basically a screwball comedy on acid.


The Peters (Sellers and O'Toole) in What's New Pussycat

18. Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini
My goodness, were there really two Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello beach movies that came out it 1965? I guess they were kinda fun and did offer late supporting work for Buster Keaton. That's worth something.
Music: Beach Blanket Bingo featured the title song sung by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, as well as Harvey (Erich Von Zipper) Lembeck's song "Follow Your Leader." The Beach gang also teach you how to stuff a wild bikini in the title song of that film. The How to Stuff a Wild Bikini soundtrack also features what must be the only musical duet credit for Mickey Rooney and Brian Donlevy.

19. The World of Abbott and Costello
I bring up this film because it did come out in 1965 even though it featured clips from the comedy team of Abbott and Costello, probably the most popular movie comedy team of the 40's. I grew up watching A & C on television on Tuesday nights on TBS in Atlanta...Seemed like they showed a movie of theirs every week. Abbott was the straight man and Costello was the frustrated and hyper chubby one. They don't seem to be held in the esteem that other golden age comedians are...but really, the 1001 movie list couldn't list even one of their films to see?

Well, ll pick five of my favorites

1. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
2. Buck Privates
3. The Naughty Nineties (Mostly because it had the Who's on First routine.)
4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Keystone Kops
5. The Time of Their Lives (An offbeat one, but probably my favorite of the bunch.)
Music: I got nothing for the music here, though I did like Raoul Kraushaar's theme from the 50's Abbott and Costello Show.


Abbott and Costello: Does anybody really know who's on first? Does anybody care

20. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
Grim adaptation of John Le Carre's novel about an spy who goes undercover to infiltrate a Communist spy ring. The polar opposite of a James Bond spy film in that in shows the minutiae, danger and sometimes boredom that accompanies espionage work. A good film and does feature Richard Burton in one of his better roles and a cute Communist library employee played by Claire Bloom.
Music: The melancholy theme by composer Sol Kaplan is also keeping with the "This is nothing like a James Bond movie" theme.

Sexy librarian meets grumpy spy in The Spy Who Came in From the Cold

1965 may not have been "The Greatest" movie year of all-time,
but it did bring back some great memories for me.