Category Archives: book to film

The Tell-Tale Heart 1941

This is a one-reeler from 1941, adapting the classic Edgar Allan Poe tale, and starring Joseph Shildkraut and Roman Bohnen. Both performers are staggeringly brilliant in their roles as the narrator and the old man, especially Bohnen who particularly frightening.

Whereas the original story is a monologue of madness, this Doane Hoag screenplay is a slightly updated full drama with dialogue. This is a sad state of affairs as we can sympathize with our murderer, and his motivations, at first, something I think Poe never had in mind. It kinda really made me wonder what was in Hoag’s head.

The use of the verb ‘quit’ in the dialogue is unintentionally hilarious in light if its use in Brokeback Mountain. It’s very difficult to stay with this short film once that exchange is had. That said, and ignored, this is a brilliant twenty-odd minutes of atmospheric intensity.

The work as full drama over monologue transforms it incredibly into almost a completely different piece. Still the use of sound and imagery are phenomenal. Cudos to director Jules Dassin, who would go on to make The Canterville Ghost, Topkapi and Never on Sunday. Worth seeing if you get a chance. TCM has been showing it in between some features this month for Halloween.

Atlas Shrugged: Part I

Atlas Shrugged: Part I ~ There is a small subset of science fiction writers whose work has reached out into areas so not in the fiction arena. There’s L. Ron Hubbard, a pulp, sci-fi, fantasy and adventure hack who set out purposefully to create his own religion – the notorious Scientology. And then there’s Ayn Rand, whose own personal madness fueled a more philosophical movement – Objectivism. All I have to say is thank God Philip K. Dick never decided to branch out into religion, philosophy or politics.

I loved Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead,” “Atlas Shrugged,” and even her lesser known work “Anthem,” but the whole Objectivism thing kinda leaves me cold. Of course the problem here is that the brilliant Atlas Shrugged is almost a monument to the movement. That said, I was very hesitant to see the film version, or at least the first part of a two-part (quite possibly three) film adaptation.

Released last year to art house theaters and not doing well financially at all (it cost $20 million to make yet made less than $5 million at the box office), Atlas Shrugged: Part I is still an amazing film. The story, that of a future society where the intellectuals have gone on theoretical strike and brought the world to a standstill, is staggering.

The film looks great, but the problem is with the execution. The actors, mostly unknowns and character. actors, have no charisma here, and coupled with Rand’s heavy handed dialogue, the beginning is all talk and almost sleep inducing. When I was paying attention, I felt like I was being lectured and browbeaten for being a capitalist. Not good. This is a subversive Wall Street, just without Michael Douglas, and without a soul.

When the story does begin to pick up and I started to warm to a couple of the characters, Ayn Rand’s bourgeois arrogance kicks in. It’s almost as if she’s making fun of the upper class, or more accurately those folk ridiculous enough to want to make a living. The attitude is enough to pull me out of the film and keep me from enjoying on any level. It’s very heavy handed.

Don’t get me wrong, like I said, I like Rand’s writing a lot but I just don’t like being preached at. I never felt that way on the page. And of course, as noted in the title itself, this is only part if the story. Atlas Shrugged: Part II, with an all new cast of better known actors, opens to art house theaters next week. I hope it will be more like Ayn Rand’s fiction and less like philosophies.

Cloud Atlas Preview

Based on the wonderful groundbreaking steampunk novel by David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas opens on October 26th, 2012.

The Black Cat

The Black Cat ~ This 1934 film, ignoring the many others that use the same title (there have to be at least eight that I can think of, right off the top of my head), is the first onscreen meeting between Universal horror stars Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, the first of eight Universal horrors to feature them both.

In a futuristic mansion built on the site of a World War I fortress, the two rivals engage in a battle of wits, chess (yes, chess), and torture, both physical and psychological. Caught in the middle are a newlywed couple, dropped into the conflict with circumstances almost hilariously similar to Brad and Janet’s in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And much like that film, horror and hilarity ensues, but without the musical numbers. Apparently, Boris tortured Bela on this site during the war, and Bela is back for vengeance. The houseguests, among others, are pawns in this game of cat and mouse.

Boris Karloff’s Hjalmar Poelzig is a subtly sinister Satan-worshipping priest in the style of Aleister Crowley, but with the fashion sense of the wicked queen from Snow White and the Huntsman. It truly is a contest of ‘what will he wear next?’ in this flick. His height, and his physical presence, are much scarier than his calm demeanor, and the effect, for me at least, makes him seem even more frightening here than in his Frankenstein roles.

Bela Lugosi makes a worthy opponent for Karloff here as Dr. Vitus Werdegast. Bela, more so than any other role I’ve seen him in, puts in a fabulous performance. In fact, he steals the film. I have always thought him to be an over-actor, relying on his accent to excuse him from any real work, but here he is really quite good. I was impressed.

Also starring in this Universal horror is the house and stage set itself. Art deco was very popular in the 1930s and it was made into a starring character as the backdrop here. As the drama unwinds, even in the slow parts, one cannot help but marvel at the very expensive (for then) sets, a relic of a lost time in architecture.

The film itself is supposedly based on the Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name, or at least it is, according to the credits. Director Edgar G. Ulmer later admitted in an interview they used the title to get publicity for the movie. It should be mentioned this flick was quite violent for the time, went through several cuts, and was even banned in certain European countries. While the most successful Universal film of that year, this has become a mostly forgotten film, but definitely worth a watch for horror fans and film fans alike.

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry

Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry ~ There was a time when I was a kid that I thought Peter Fonda was the coolest guy on Earth. He was in stuff like Race With the Devil and Futureworld and of course Easy Rider, so he could do no wrong. He was also in this charmer.

Until I saw Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry again recently I could remember very little about it. I remembered it starred Fonda, and Susan George, in the bizarre title roles, it was a car chase flick, and it was frequently one of channel 6’s late night Friday movies – you know, the ones I wasn’t supposed to be staying up watching – both because of the content, and because it was past my bedtime. Little else was retained by my memory.

Upon watching it again for the first time in almost maybe forty years, I am struck by how really bad it is. It may have been okay or mediocre for the time (1974), but let’s just say the years have not been kind. Rather than an interesting time capsule like other seventies films I’ve watched recently, this is a creaky relic.

Loosely based on the novel “The Chase” (later known as “Pursuit”) by Richard Unekis, one can easily see the influence of earlier films of the genre like Vanishing Point, Two-Lane Blacktop, The French Connection, and even Bonnie and Clyde. The problem is that you can also see this film’s own influence on the destruction and mocking of the genre later in the decade by stuff like Smokey and the Bandit, Eat My Dust, and The Blues Brothers. This is the beginning of the car chase movie becoming a joke, amusing or not.

This movie is so seventies, down to the theme song by Marjorie McCoy being used throughout as if choreographed by Quentin Tarantino, to the crazy fashions and ugly cars, to the endless shots of the scenic southwest. And the late Vic Morrow wonderfully eats up the screen as the obsessed pursuing cop. It’s worth a look for the curious, but it’s no masterpiece, but Peter Fonda is still cool.

John Carter Is Awesome

John Carter ~ In the year of The Avengers , there are only a few movies that I have been anticipating with the same tension and excitement as that of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. There is Battleship, which is more a curiosity than anything else, as in how can a flick based on a kids game have such an awesome trailer? There’s also The Dark Knight Rises, which falls more into the morbid curiosity category. Regular readers know how much I absolutely hated The Dark Knight, so I am curious to see how much of a train wreck this one will be. And then there’s John Carter. In some ways, I have been more excited about this one than The Avengers.

First things first, all you critics and naysayers and underage idiots who think it rips off Star Wars can all just go to hell. John Carter is awesome. The books, by Edgar Rice Burroughs about John Carter of Mars are now over a hundred years old. A century, idiots, so if anything, George Lucas was mining Burroughs, not the other way around. And that goes for everything else under a hundred years old the uneducated are saying John Carter rips off. This is the original, literally the great granddaddy of pulp adventure science fiction. Everything from Flash Gordon to Superman to Adam Strange to Avatar owes a huge debt to this property.

And the other thing, yeah, that thing, I don’t want to hear any crap about box office. Yes, it was an expensive movie, and yes, it did not do well at the box office. The box office folks are talking about is domestic, John Carter did quite well overseas, where also apparently folks knew who the character was, despite the “of Mars” being removed from the title, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The fact is not that the movie did do well financially, it just did not do the numbers it was expected to do, that’s all. Let’s look at the facts – John Carter has made more money than The Artist and Hugo combined. Does that sound like a bomb to you?

There were other problems. The project got orphaned at Disney/Pixar, as nearly everyone involved in marketing was no longer with the company when it came out. So Disney only gave it the minimum promotion a motion picture of its size, budget and content should have gotten. Disney had written the film off before it even came out, and in recent weeks has even admitted it. Feeling saturated by the PR blitz of The Avengers and Brave? Well, enjoy, that’s John Carter‘s marketing money at work.

And then there’s the title. Disney had a real bomb last year called Mars Needs Moms, and decided that the word “Mars” was bad publicity, and so removed it. These are also the geniuses who wouldn’t call it A Princess of Mars (the book on which this movie is mostly based) because it would confuse the little girls (and probably the parents as well) in the audience. Not only is that just plain stupid reasoning, it’s also ripping the heart out of the character. John Carter is John Carter of Mars, period. It’s like calling a movie about Superman just “Man.” And also if they had kept the “Mars” in the title, at least some of the folks who weren’t aware of the character wouldn’t have at least known it was scifi of some sort.

Despite all that that, despite all of this crap that has been piled on top of the movie – I loved it. I’ve seen it three times. John Carter is the best movie I’ve seen this year. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a great movie, and there’s nothing original you haven’t already seen somewhere else (it has had a hundred years to be ripped off, mind you), but it is a fun movie, and I really enjoyed the two hours plus I spent in the theater each time. There hasn’t been an adventure like this is some time.

Based on the first novel A Princess of Mars, yet borrowing from later novels as well, John Carter stars newcomer Taylor Kitsch (“Friday Night Lights”) in the title role, genre actress Lynn Collins as the Princess, and Willem Dafoe brilliantly voice acting Carter’s Thark friend Tars Tarkas. Rounding out the cast are two veteran actors from one of my favorite HBO series “Rome,” Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, as well as Dominic West and Bryan Cranston who rule the screen while they’re on it.

I loved this pulp adventure of a Civil War vet transported to the otherworldly Mars to fight for and against its various peoples. I read these books as a ten year old at the Camden County Library when it was part of the long gone Echelon Mall, thanks to my reading enabling big sister. They were great then, and great now, as I read the first book again before seeing the movie. A friend of mine called it adventure porn for ten year old boys. I don’t find that all that offensive, I think it’s right on target actually.

John Carter is a fun adventure flick – don’t believe anything the naysayers tell you, go see it, go see it now.

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Midnight Cowboy

Midnight Cowboy ~ This is the movie that changed the way people thought about movies, and it was also the first and only X-rated film to win the Academy Award for best picture, although the X rating meant something a little different back then than it did later on. It cemented Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight as the stars of the 1970s, and it forever placed the song “Everybody’s Talkin'” in people’s heads when walking in crowds in New York City. It also features two of film’s most memorable characters, and one of its most quoted lines, “I’m walkin’ here.”

Based on the 1965 novel by James Leo Herlihy, written for the screen by Waldo Salt, and brilliantly director by the legendary John Schlesinger, Hoffman and Voight lead an all star ensemble cast through a tour of the seedier side of New York, a Time Square that no longer exists, and the darker side of life that still haunts us. At its core, it’s a tale of friendship and desperation.

The real feat of Midnight Cowboy is bringing life, thanks to the expert direction and the performances of the actors, to two almost cartoon-like characters – naïve hustler Joe Buck and the infamous Rico ‘Ratso’ Rizzo – amazing. You actually grow to love them and their relationship so much that the ending may bring you to tears. This is truly one of the best films of its era, and a definite game changer. Recommended.

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Quickies 2-10-2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows ~ I really liked this a lot. It was clever, and owed more than a lot stylistically to both “Psych” and “The Mentalist” in the way they showed how Holmes’ intellect works. Whereas the first movie worked very hard to pull in new and old fans with its new twist on the characters, this sequel played it closer to the source material. Great ending in tribute to the old stories as well. If you’re a reader, you’ll see it coming a mile away. Loved it, and can’t wait for the next one.

Three Inches ~ This SyFy pilot doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, a serious concept or a sitcom filmed like a drama. A teenaged boy discovers that he’s telekinetic, but can only move objects a distance of three inches. Superhero antics without costumes that comic book fans will hate. It might as well be “Alphas” meets Mystery Men, but with a hesitant sense of humor. Me, I hope it doesn’t become a series, but it’s always nice to see Andrea Martin, and she’s great here.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol ~ Now I slept through a lot of this apparently. That seems to be a problem because to me, it didn’t seem like I missed much. Tom Cruise didn’t talk much, and it felt like wall-to-wall action. Cruise hanging off the building, which I did see, is do not miss. The problem is that I only really saw an intermittent half-hour of this flick, and it’s really almost two and a half hours long. Judge as you see fit.

Jazz Boat ~ Screenwriter Ken Hughes directed this 1960 pseudo gangster musical that was apparently supposed to be Britain’s answer to Guys and Dolls. It’s all youth gangs in London tussling over girls and money in a confrontation that finally takes place on a riverboat on the Thames, with musical interludes along the way. Much more entertaining than it sounds, we get to see what kind of star Anthony Newley could have been. I liked this a lot, serious guilty pleasure.

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The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau ~ This is one of those movies that I really wish I didn’t know the premise of before I started watching it. The on-screen electricity between Matt Damon and Emily Blunt at the beginning of this flick is marred by knowing that their relationship is doomed. It made me sad that the bulk of the movie would be about them trying to get together and stay together while others pull them apart – when what I really wanted to see was them together and watching their romance bloom. Perhaps it’s something we can see when and if they are paired in another film, because they have chemistry, and it is sadly wasted here in this non-romance.

Now that is not to say this is a bad movie, it’s not, it just doesn’t play well with the abilities of the actors. Damon is good, Blunt is good, but they could have been great. The movie is scifi, not romance, and it’s based on the classic scifi story “Adjustment Team” by the late Philip K. Dick. The premise is that our lives are predetermined by Fate, and maintained by agents of Fate. If we veer off course, these agents step in and make sure all goes to plan. Damon and Blunt are not meant to be together – and it rolls from there, hilarity ensues, and the action begins.

Again, it’s no romance, more like another Bourne movie with a supernatural edge, but it’s good. John Slattery from “Mad Men” does a suitable imitation of that role as the leader of the ‘adjustment team.’ I also like team member Anthony Mackie, and it took me a while to figure out where I know him from. He’s been in the background of a million different things, nothing major, but I think he’s someone to watch.

All in all, it’s not a bad scifi flick, even though it quickly disintegrates into an action flick. Defnitely worth a watch, worth a rental or a pay-per-view. Good premise, good acting, and you just can’t beat Dick. Behave. You know what I mean. And watch out for the men in hats.

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Quickies 10-4-2011

Harper ~ Although it looks and feels as dated as it is, this quirky Paul Newman detective thriller is still entertaining because of Newman’s charm, and the source material. It’s based on John MacDonald’s 1949 novel The Moving Target featuring Lew Archer. The story was updated to 1966 standards and Newman changed the name of his character because he thought his films that started with an H (Hud, The Hustler, Hombre) did better in the theatres. Wonderful detective flick, great William Goldman script, and an all-star cast of the time. Recommended.

Table for Three ~ The more I see Brandon Routh in movies, the more I think he’s better suited for comedy than he ever was as Superman. Yeah, Superman was definitely a mistake. This flick however, a screwball comedy about a lonely guy with commitment issues who becomes involved with his two married roommates who may or may not be psychotic, is beautifully suited to Routh. Good for a laugh.

The Guard ~ We walked into this film blind after missing a showing of Columbiana by just a few minutes. I still haven’t seen Columbiana, and I think we made a good choice. This comedy thriller from writer/director John Michael McDonagh was a pleasant surprise. The odd combination of small town Irish police officer Brendan Gleeson and FBI agent Don Cheadle in this offbeat buddy cop flick is highly entertaining in the spirit of the Irish comic cinema. Fun flick, recommended.

Unknown ~ This Liam Nielson starring thriller portrays a man with memory loss who may or may not be who he thinks he is. It’s slow and predictable with a much too underrated score for a supposed action flick. And January Jones offers another wooden performance that cements her title as the worst actress working in movies and television today. Wait for free TV for this one.

Almighty Thor ~ This is the official copycat rip-off of Thor by The Asylum. You know The Asylum, they make movies that seem like real blockbusters but are simply designed to cash in on the original movie’s name. Sometimes they are funny, sometimes they’re not half-bad, and most Saturday nights they run on the SyFy Channel. This one’s not really that bad. Thor and Loki tussle on Earth and in Asgard, and the god of thunder wins in the end. Decent but cheesy story and special effects, but an enjoyable watch.

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