Ralph Bakshi on making your own cartoons

Here’s a great little excerpt from master animation director Ralph Bakshi (Fritz the Cat, Wizards, Fire and Ice).  I like Bakshi’s films because they’re so different and unique from what we consider the norm for animation (Disney/ Warners).  I don’t agree about all his comments about Disney and Warners, but I understand how he feels as those types of films have oversaturated the market and really kept anything new and innovative from making it to the screen.  What he says about it applies strongly to the modern animation storytelling of today, which is just a vapid wasteland of the same old shit.  And really, all those 2D Disney artists complaining the studios don’t make hand drawn films anymore…really, what’s stopping them banding together and making their own film?

This is the first time I’ve seen an interview with Bakshi.  I love the thick Brooklyn accent.    

Quick Review: “The Amazing Spiderman” (2012) Dir. Marc Webb

Just a quickie post because I’ve been busy the last few days, but I did see The Amazing Spiderman last night.  In a nutshell:  It sucked.

My beef with it:

-No fun at all, Spidey takes himself way to seriously.

-Miscasting…Andrew Garfield’s not a bad actor, but he’s way to good looking to play nerdy Peter Parker.  Interesting casting with Martin Sheen and Sally Field as Aunt May and Uncle Ben, but sometimes they were way over emotional about every little thing Peter did…Peter’s a nerd, not normally known to get in trouble all the time.  Their shocked reactions are like a parent who deals with an out of control son all the time.  I just wish his Aunt and Uncle could have been…a little more relaxed…and a little more cool.  And where’s Uncle Ben’s all important line, “With great power comes great responsibility?”

-More Miscasting…why is everyone Peter Parker goes to high school with played by 30 year olds?  Even the extra’s for christ sake.  Ralph Macchio was in his 20’s when he played the Karate Kid, a perfect example of an adult actor who could play a teenager (seriously! He looks 14 or 15 in the first Karate Kid movie when in actuality he was 21).  There are good older actors who actually look the part and can play teenagers.  If you want another great example, just look at Jack Gleeson who plays Joffrey on Game of Thrones.  He’s 20, playing 16.

-The high school scenes (with the soundtrack included) feel like something out of an 80’s John Hughes movie.  Hughes movies aren’t bad, but they’re a product of their time and doesn’t seem to reflect the more futuristic world Spiderman is set in.

-James Horner’s score – he borrows several themes from his previous films…and in many places I could here “A Beautiful Mind” in the background.  Not very original.

-Peter Parker’s kind of a little shit in this movie.  Totally acting on impulse for his own selfish reasons.  We love Parker because he never catches a break, sure, but for him to be out for blood after his uncle is killed by a Kwik-E Mart thief?  I know I’ve discussed being open to different interpretations of superhero characters in movies, but for me there’s something about this interpretation that goes against the spirit of what Spiderman is all about.  The scenes where Spidey tries to his goofy, sarcastic self…they just come off as annoying.  And  Spiderman is not a brooding teenager…he’s a regular joe getting through the day the best he can…and his Spiderman side, for me, is an outlet for all the things he wishes he could be in his normal life.

-The Lizard just isn’t threatening enough as a villain.  Dr. Connors is more a sympathetic victim to his experiments, and his anger and thirst for vengeance seem more like after side effects of the drug serum he takes as opposed to his actions being motivated by character.

-What ever happened to Peter hunting down his uncle’s killer?

-What ever happened to the corporate Oscorp crony The Lizard was after?

In general, the tone is all wrong, and there is just some basic sloppy storytelling at work here.  Raimi had a much better understanding of Spiderman as a character in the first two films (I didn’t see the 3rd, but it sounds like it had some of the same issues as this one bogging Spiderman down in dark brooding mode).

Dark Knight Rises was not a great film either, but I enjoyed it at least because it still kept in the spirit of Batman.  The Amazing Spiderman just didn’t do it for me, and while the tag at the end tries to promise more for future films, I really hope they just stop here, because this whole Spiderman reboot is not working at all (really, that teaser didn’t tell us anything…I didn’t give a crap who that guy was in the shadows taunting Dr. Connors, and it didn’t make me want to invest time in any future films).

The Amazing Spiderman tries to be different, but winds up coming off as boring and uninspired.  So far, I’m not digging 80% of the movies so far that have come out this summer.  I hope something changes soon with what time the season has left.

The Dark Knight Rises (2012) Dir. Christopher Nolan

So finally we come to the end of an era of Batman, the Christopher Nolan era. I caught the The Dark Knight Rises at a late showing last night (11:15pm, with a running time of almost 3 hours we got out at 2:15am!  What a long ass movie!).  There were a lot of feelings I had to put aside with this film.  One of them was comparing it with The Dark Knight, which I knew just wasn’t going to happen.  That film for me was so perfect, and after seeing Heath Ledger’s performance as The Joker, there was no possible way in my mind that this sequel was going to top that.  It’s the one thing I’m certain the filmmakers knew they had going against them when they started with this movie, so the solution apparently was to go in the other direction and make this one as big and as epic in scope as humanly possible.  But while the villain Bane in this film is nowhere near as compelling as The Joker, they certainly do a good job of making himself a worthy threat, and he is certainly a force of nature in this film.  So what did I think overall?  Well, its definitely not my favorite Batman film.  It’s the weakest in my mind in the Nolan trilogy, and its got problems, especially when concerning logic.  But I did really like it, and I never walked away feeling disappointed.  It was to me a satisfying conclusion to a great trilogy.

I’m going to get into some major earth shattering spoilers here, so turn back now if you don’t want the movie ruined for you.  There are a couple of things I’d just like to say before I begin.  First off, I’m not married to any particular interpretation of Batman, whether it be the comics, or the Tim Burton, Adam West, or Joel Schumacher versions.  Or even the animated series, which I do love.  I see them all as just somebody else’s own take on the character, and I enjoy them for whatever interpretation they may be.  It’s not the interpretation of whose right and who isn’t that matters to me, what matters is if the story is compelling, and that the character is true to itself by the rules set for the world of the film.  Somebody argued with me about The Joker in The Dark Knight claiming that in their mind The Joker was always clean cut and well groomed, never the messy creature he was in the film.  But for Nolan’s interpretation, I thought it was a unique take on the character, and it didn’t make The Joker any less sinister or terrifying. The other thing I heard argued about this film was that Alfred would never ever walk out on Bruce Wayne.  But then again, I don’t think Alfred was ever quite explored in this way before.  What if he did get fed up with Bruce?  He sees Bruce as inviting more pain onto himself…and it just couldn’t stand idly back in the shadows and take much more of it.  On a side note, I can see why this was an issue because of the events of the film.  Alfred needed to be written out of the story anyway, otherwise in the back of the audience’s mind we’d be too concerned for what happened to him, which is distracting when there’s so much other stuff going down.  I was happier they didn’t resort to killing him off, but the fact that he left out of his emotional heart suffering, I think it was the wisest solution for his character.

With Catwoman, while I did like her, it seemed like they didn’t really expand on her character as much as they could have.  I do like the struggle of her being the sort of good/bad character that she is.  But in the grand scheme of the plot she does come off as being sort of secondary.  She has her moments though.

As for Bane, he’s probably the most difficult character to wrap around.  His performance has some things that hold the actor back, the one thing being that he wears a mask, so the whole performance has to be done through the eyes. Not an easy task.  As for his voice…it didn’t really work for me.  He sounded like a mix of Darth Vader and a Texas oil man…there really just wasn’t much menace behind it.  His actions are pretty devastating which more than make up for his handicaps.  He also rips into Batman/Bruce Wayne pretty hard, even to the point of having him exiled to a prison somewhere in India (how this was accomplished I have some issues with).  But while he was no Joker for sore, I still thought he was a formidable villain, which was all I could really ask for in the first place.

But there was one major problem I did have with the villains.  I did have a problem at the end with the reveal of Talia al Guhl who turns out to be the main villain behind everything, which pretty much dethrones Bane turning him into a lackey.  I’ve seen these kind of twists done in films before and it just frustrates me because we’ve put all of our emotional investment into Bane as being the leader, only to be told afterwards he’s just following orders from someone else we don’t really know or have any reason to fear.  And we have no reason to fear Talia until we’re told were supposed to at the very end of the film, and it just doesn’t work.  There isn’t much in the way of exposition of her true identity which is sort of rushed through, and she is just sort of killed off without us having any real connection to her real identity.  We spent the whole film believing she was one way, only to be told she was somebody else, and then to have her die, all I could think was…well, I don’t think I really understood who this person was in the first place.  You could probably compare something like this with the Vader/Emperor relationship in Star Wars, but we had reason to fear the Emperor who was far more terrifying than Vader, and he was basically using Vader as a puppet.

Towards the middle of the second and third act, the film starts running into logic continuity issues.  While having Bruce trapped in a prison in idea is an interesting concept, the problem is it takes Batman out of the picture for the good majority of the films running time, and it seems to go on a bit too long without having Batman actually show up.  The logic of Bane getting Bruce taken to India, and then Bane going back to Gotham again so quickly was also a little puzzling.  And once Bruce got out of the prison, how exactly was he able to sneak back into Gotham after it was sieged under terrorist control?  The police also don’t seem to have much of a clue as to how to deal with this situation, and having them all clustered in one group didn’t seem terribly smart.  Then there’s the nuclear blast going off out in the ocean.  I’d hate to say this, but Gotham would be screwed anyway thanks to nuclear fall out, everyone would probably eventually die from cancer.  Fishing industries would go under as everything in the nearby ocean would essentially become poisoned.  The whole city would go under and have to be evacuated anyway.  And finally, the whole “death” of Batman is a little premature.  Everyone knows he managed to get out of the ship somehow, its no surprise, but the fact that Bruce fixed the auto pilot thing so quickly when he had so much other shit to deal with was a little too convenient.  How could he have possibly had time to get around to it?

There’s a lot to complain about here for sure…but to tell you the truth, I still managed to really enjoy the movie.  The experience itself never let me down, and I liked that it managed to keep the dark, grounded, and heavy tone consistent throughout the film.  Some other things I did like…Joseph Gordon Levitt’s John Blake was a great character.  I don’t know if it was necessary to spell it out for us that he was Robin (I kinda figured that out on my own).  I did think it was sort of ironic that Blake would figure out Bruce Wayne was Batman based on a 20 year old memory at an orphanage when Gordon could never seem to put 2 and 2 together throughout the film series, at least not until the very end…but I don’t think Gordon’s moment of revelation about Bruce really had the punch we hoped for.  Morgan Freeman was good as always as Lucius Fox, but I think he shined far more in The Dark Knight (especially in that great scene in that film where the guy tries to blackmail Fox when he thinks he knows Bruce is Batman, and Fox’s response is just priceless).

In the end, I was satisfied though.  I wouldn’t mind owning this film to complete the trilogy.  This will sound strange…because I think The Avengers earlier this year was a better film than this one…but somehow I wound up enjoying The Dark Knight Rises much more than that film.  Go figure.  It could have something to do with the grounded, darker tone.  It could just be that I have an affinity for the Nolan Batman films more than the Marvel films.  Is The Dark Knight Rises a great film? No, but its still engaging and compelling in its own way and despite its flaws it had me going for most of the film.  It is definitely worth seeing, and if you’re like me, not being a huge comic book person, I think more than likely you’re bound to have a good time with it.

“What is a baby anyway?” A look at a sequence from Lady and The Tramp

A friend of mine likes to do outdoor film screenings in his backyard, and last night he had more of a family friendly night, and featured a screening of Wallace and Grommit “A Matter of Loaf and Death”, and then the main feature, “Lady and the Tramp”.  “Loaf and Death” is probably the weakest of the Wallace and Grommit shorts.  It does have a few good moments, but none of the great surprises and the emotional center that really held the other three shorts together.  But really I’m here to talk about “Lady and the Tramp”, and in particular my favorite sequence in the film, “What is a baby?”.

I haven’t watched Lady and the Tramp in at least two years, but it is probably more of a favorite of mine now as an adult than it was when I was a kid.  I enjoyed it as a kid of course and watched it regularly, but the themes of this film were definitely on a more mature level than most Disney features.  Is it a perfect film?  Well, I’d say almost.  Looking at it now, I have a little ambivalence about the ending because Tramp ultimately decides to settle down when he seemed so much more passionate about being a free dog, and what that life offered him.  He seems to go against his own principles in a way.  The other issue I have is the fake out of Trusty’s death.  Yes, I understand this is a movie with children in the audience.  But it does bother me when filmmakers manipulate the audiences emotions this way, to present a sad moment only to take it back at the very end.  This is a little different than a film like Snow White, where while her death was sad, it was already foreshadowed and we knew ahead of time that she could come back from it.  But these issues aside, Lady and the Tramp is an absolutely wonderful film with an emotional heart.

“What is a Baby” is my favorite sequence in this film and probably one of my top favorite sequences in the history of film (I will write more of these in other posts).  As a dog, up to this point, Lady has been asking questions about whats been going on with Jim Dear and Darling when they are expecting a child.  She doesn’t really know what a baby is, but whatever it is, it sounds important to her masters…and possibly more important than her, and her fear that she won’t be as loved by them now that the baby has arrived.  There are so many layers of depth and emotion as Lady goes to investigate this strange new presence.

First of all, the art direction and cinematography of this sequence is stunning.  As it starts out with Lady walking through the darkness of the house, following the sound of the baby crying, with the darkness of the scene reflecting her own confusion as everyone else seems to know something she doesn’t.  As it progresses though, she enters the baby’s room with this glowing warm light from the window, which backlights Darling as she sings a lullaby to the baby.  It’s an absolutely beautiful shot.  Then there’s the progression as Lady approaches the crib with caution, fearing a little she might be intruding and that she might not be welcome.  But she is…as Jim Dear raises her up so she can see the baby.  And in that moment she discovers that she is equally loved by Jim Dear and Darling as they are with the baby.

I have watched this sequence over and over again and it never fails to bring a tear to my eye.  It’s a quiet moment, but I also think it’s one of the most beautiful sequences Walt Disney has ever produced.  It helps that the rest of the film is just as terrific, and this moment wouldn’t shine as well if they hadn’t already done such a great job building the empathy for Lady’s character up to this point.  The voice talent is exceptional.  This sequence features Barbara Luddy as the voice of Lady.  Some of you Disney fans will also know her as the voice of Merryweather in Sleeping Beauty.  But she’s wonderful in this movie.  And then there’s Peggy Lee, who is the voice of Darling, and she is also the voice of Peg, the female dog where Lady is taken to the pound.  But her voice here singing the lullaby “La La Lu” is just so heartfelt.  I can’t say again how much I love this scene.

There is real master filmmaking in this sequence.  Sometimes I am put off by a lot of animated features today, where many times the “emotional moments” come off as too saccharine, or slam you over the head with a sledgehammer to call attention to themselves.  But there is a truth and an honesty to this sequence that makes it so beautiful and work so well.  I hope someday I get to have a moment in one of my films like this one.  It’s not the one you’d first think of when watching Lady and The Tramp, most people think of the famous spaghetti eating sequence.  But I’m presenting the video here so you can watch and decide for yourselves.  This was Walt Disney at his finest.

Going to Dark Knight Rises/ Commentary on the Colorado shooting

Well, it’s been almost a week since my last post, so I’ll just update a little bit here.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the new Batman, The Dark Knight Rises this weekend.  Harry Knowles hated it, so it’s bound to be good…Right?  I hope so.  His frustrations with it had to do with what he thought was not an appropriate depiction of Batman’s character, and that Batman went against the character he was in the comics.  Well for me…I’m not bound by the comics, so I’m just riding on what I think will be Nolan’s depiction of the Bat.  It’s his vision, so I’m willing to ride with it.  I’ll post a review of it after I see it this weekend.

I also just wanted to say something about the shooting that happened at the Colorado Batman screening last night.  First of all, I am deeply saddened by these events and my heart goes out to the families and their loss.  It is scary to think of the horror these people endured, for people who were excited to wait till midnight to watch the latest Batman film.  It is a terrible, terrible tragedy, and I think there is some truth to what was said…that as film geeks, we saw an attack on our community.  These are people like us who love the movies.  To hear of those who were innocently slaughtered, its horrible to hear about those people, who only went in expecting to see something that would make them happy.

As for the shooter, James Holmes…like the rest of us, I can only speculate why he would do something like this to innocent people.  The only explanation I can think of is that the man was probably mentally ill.  There was talk that he was pretty much a recluse.  Something in his mind made him snap and made him believe he did what he had to do for the right reasons…the only reasons that made sense to him.  His intention seems obvious enough that he wanted to send a message, and if that’s the case, he certainly got the reaction he wanted from everyones shocked and angry responses.  Talks about gun control, censorship, violence in the media are all these huge topics going around online from people’s comments.  His actions seem straight out of a movie, right down to rigging his apartment to explode as police went there, which they thankfully averted.

But for someone to feel so compelled to do something this horrendous, I will say truthfully from my own perception….I don’t see a monster in this person.  The media wants us to see him in that way, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the killer himself wants everyone around him to think of him as one.  It’s exactly what he wants…but I refuse to believe it.  I see a man who had something missing in his life.  There’s all this talk about how shocked everyone who knew him was that he would do something like this, including his family who claims to have no idea what drove him to kill so many innocent people.  Well clearly that’s bullshit.  It seems like nobody ever bothered to pay attention to him.  Before a person is compelled to do something like this, there is always a cry for help in one form or another.  Killers aren’t born, their human beings first.  I hate the picture the media has posted to portray this guy.  With that smile, it makes him look sadistic and evil.  Everyone seems to be doing their best to paint a picture of a monster that needs to be destroyed, by capital punishment or otherwise to pay for his crimes.  There’s something wrong here. I’m not saying this guy shouldn’t be punished for his crimes.  But the way he just turned himself in after it was all over, its like he wants this…like he wants people to see him as this nasty human being.  He’s got our attention now.  Everyone is paying attention to him…and it had to be at the cost of a dozen lives and 70 wounded.  Why would he want people to hate him?  He just seems kind of sad….and lost.

It just sounds like there was something empty inside him he could never fill.  It’s hard to say because I don’t know him personally.  But it sounds like nobody did really.  I wish a lot of people would stop looking at every other issue to blame (like gun control, violence in media, censorship, etc.)  and stop and look at the man himself.  What he did was truly awful, yes.  But I’m not angry at him for it.  I don’t believe anyone who says that he’s evil or a monster.  I just feel sorry for him.  I’m sorry the people around him hardly got to know him or see what was happening to him.  He is alone in this world, and that’s probably the heaviest thing anyone can bear.  I am sorry for the victims of this crime.  I am also sorry for James Holmes, who probably didn’t deserve what happened to him in his life without anyone to notice, and the terrible price that was paid because of it.

I am going to see Batman this weekend, because I really don’t want a sad event like this to deter me from it.  But really, if I’m going to pray for the victims of this tragedy, I’m going to pray for the man behind the gun as well.  No one deserves to be the victim of such a heinous crime.  But nobody deserves to walk the world alone either.

Villain Watch: Nurse Diesel (High Anxiety 1977)

High Anxiety is not a great film, but it was made at a time when Mel Brooks was at his most creative and successful.  The film itself is essentially a send up of Alfred Hitchcock movies, and parodies the most famous scenes in those films.  But there really just isn’t the love shown here in this film that we’ve known from Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein.  In Young Frankenstein, it’s obvious how much Brooks loved the original film, as he went right down to getting the original laboratory props from Frankenstein to put in his film.  High Anxiety is more in the vein of Spaceballs, and while I do enjoy Spaceballs, again, it just doesn’t have the true love of Brook’s passion behind it, and for the most part it just feels like a riff on the Star Wars Trilogy.  But High Anxiety has two things going for it that make it worth watching: Cloris Leachman’s Nurse Diesel and Harvey Korman’s Dr. Montague.  It’s worth it because the two of them are not only among the funniest characters of Brook’s creations, but they are also fun memorable villains.  
As much as I love Harvey Korman though, I’m really here to talk about Cloris Leachman.  I love her.  She’s hilariously brilliant, and while she will always be memorable as the disturbing creature of every horses nightmare, Frau Blucher, she’s given far more room in this film to shine with her comedic skills.  Nurse Diesel just has this wonderful, pliable face as she comes up with the most disturbing and disjointed mouth shapes you’ve ever seen.  Her hunched back and boobs you could spear a man with just make her all the more hilarious as you wonder out of what back alley did this woman really come from.  And on top of that…she’s a dominatrix to her boyfriend Korman who is completely and utterly submissive to her.  In some ways, she seems to be a combination of Nurse Rachett and Mrs. Danvers from Hitchcock’s “Rebecca”, with the dominatrix personality thrown in for good measure.  
Her scenes add the pick me up this movie needs whenever it slows down.  Sometimes the actual parodying of Hitchcock movies doesn’t seem to add much to the overall story…even though that’s what Brooks is known for, in this case I found those scenes kind of held the movie back as if to stop everything to tell a joke instead of the parody being more integrated in the story, like Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.  But there are a few scenes I love in this film.  I love the scene with Harvey Korman terrifying the patient with his fear of werewolves as he plants the fake teeth in his mouth.  The patient who thinks he’s a dog was brilliant.  And there’s a great scene with Brooks and Madaline Kahn pretending to be an annoying Jewish couple as a way to get through airport security.  It’s those places this film does shine.  
But really, it’s Cloris Leachman to me who is the real star of this film.  If anything, its worth watching this film for her performance alone.  She is definitely one of the greats, and Nurse Diesel is definitely one of the craziest and most fun villains in film.  

1941 (1979) Dir. Steven Spielberg

Well this came to me as a big surprise.  1941 is a film I never really got around to watching until now.  I was put off by it from other people who claimed it just wasn’t up to par with other Spielberg classics at the time, such as Jaws, Close Encounters, and Raiders.  It was received to mixed reviews by audiences and critics and both Columbia and Universal wrote it off as a flop.  But that’s not all true.  1941 did make money.  It made $90 million worldwide from a $35 million  budget, which for 1979 is a pretty hefty budget for a film.  I can see why audiences didn’t care for it.  It doesn’t have any of the heart-tugging magic of Spielberg’s films of that era.  It’s got issues.  For one thing, it’s a bit long for a comedy.  There are probably one too many plot lines going at the same time, a few of which don’t get totally resolved.  Sometimes the film would spend so much time on one storyline that I started wondering what was going on with the other characters in the film, some of which I hadn’t seen for a good 30 minutes.  Is this film one of Spielberg’s best?  No, not really.  Is it a bad film?  Oh good heavens no.

Upon first viewing it did take me some time to get into the movie, but the characters and the extraordinary cast had my interest from the beginning.  It was even written by Robert Zemekis and Bob Gale, pre Back to the Future.  Every big star you can imagine is in this film from Dan Aykroyd to John Candy, John Belushi, Robert Stack, Ned Beatty, and Christopher Lee as a nazi commander!  It’s worth the wait as the film builds to its absolute chaotic finale. The effects and miniature work are all spectacular.  My dad had stories about when he worked on the MGM lot and he saw the pyrotechnic crew putting the charges on the Santa Monica pier miniature with the ferris wheel.  The ferris wheel rolling down the pier to me is an iconic shot in the film.  And then there’s John Williams fantastic score, with another great memorable march for Belushi’s cigar chomping Wild Bill character.  But my absolute favorite moment in the film is the ending, as Ned Beatty gives his stirring speech about being an American patriot and nails his christmas wreath on the door of his shattered house, only by doing so it knocks his entire two story house off the side of the cliff towards the ocean.  The scene was supposedly  shot all in one take with 7 cameras running as the entire house went over the cliff.  It’s a spectacular and hilarious gag.

Of course, then there’s the characters infused within this film.  One of my surprise favorites was Treat Williams as the army officer Sitarski.  I haven’t had much exposure to Treat Williams work with the exception of The Phantom (a film where I thought his villain character was one of the weaker aspects of an otherwise great and fun film).  But here I think he delivers a better performance just in showing what a nasty SOB he can really be.  Slim Pickins was also enjoyable in the film, although one of my issues was that his story never really felt resolved, and I felt his whole plot line could have been cut without having an impact on the main story.  But I do think he is funny, and his story with the Japanese guys is enjoyable.  Another character I loved was Robert Stack as Gen. Stilwell, a grown army general who can cry during Dumbo at the drop of a hat…well…I loved that scene.  The tribute to Dumbo was nice, even if it was a bit long.  Ah the days when Disney was much more lenient with the copyright of their films!

There is also something to be said about the look of this film and its production design.  In a way, the film feels like something out of a 1940’s Hollywood film.  It’s like the Hollywood fantasy version of what it was like in 1941.  I think it many ways it adds to the satire.  There’s a lot of great attention to detail.  The miniature work for its time was very believable, and I loved all the shots of John Belushi’s plane flying through the towering buildings of Downtown Los Angeles.  It’s one of those movies where the gags are hit and miss, but the gags seem to work best when they get really big and over the top.  It’s all just part of the fun of it.  Even though it doesn’t always work, this movie is still so much more enjoyable to watch than the much more flat dull jokes in Spielberg’s most recent movies (Kingdom of the Crystal Skull anyone?  Yeech.)     

I’ve read some stories that Spielberg was embarrassed by how this film turned out, but really I think he’s being to hard on himself.  This was still the enlightened age of Spielberg when he was still young and not afraid to try new things.  I’m glad he tried to get away from the emotional heart tug side that made him so successful, and just did something that was totally different, weird, and fun.  I like that it actually makes fun of Americans in their reaction to Pearl Harbor.  Apparently Spielberg got some flack from guys like John Wayne, who said World War II was nothing to make fun of considering all the millions of lives it cost.  Maybe the guilt of Wayne’s comment set in and made him decide to do Schindler’s List and Private Ryan (I kid of course, those are both exceptional films).  I actually kind of wondered what the reaction of this film would have been like had it been made 10 years earlier in the 1960’s, which is a time I’m sure this movie really would have spun some heads.  It might even of had a much larger cultural impact and possibly even could have been more successful.

But for whatever reason, 1941 is what it is, and to tell you the truth, I think it’s an underrated gem.  It’s got its problems yes, but it was made at a time when Spielberg’s youthful energy was at its prime.  There is some really great stuff to look at in this movie.  And it really is a lot of fun if you just allow yourself to sit back and enjoy it.  If you haven’t seen this film, by all means it’s worth your time for at least one look.  For me, I plan to watch it again and again.  It’s definitely going on my list.  Highly recommended to all.  

Basil Rathbone

I thought I’d pay a little tribute now to one of my heroes of classic cinema, Basil Rathbone, one of the truly great character actors of the 1930’s and 40’s.  Not only is he a great actor, but he’s also one of the most truly awesome swordsman in Hollywood.  Throughout most of his career he was often typecast in the role of the villain in several major films such as Sir Guy of Gisborne in The Adventures of Robin Hood,  Captain Esteban Pasquale in The Mark of Zorro, Levasseur in Captain Blood, and many many others.  But when he wasn’t busy trying to kill Errol Flynn, he got to take his heroic turn as Sherlock Holmes in a 14 film series.

It was actually The Hound of the Baskervilles, the first in the series of Sherlock Holmes films that made me a fan of his.  It was probably my first real introduction to him, and I just loved his take on the character of Sherlock Holmes. He was just really fun to watch as he interacted with Nigel Bruce as Watson, who played Watson as a more befuddled, comical character.  The two of them were a great team together.  There are little things about Hound of the Baskervilles that are just plain cool, like at the end of the film when Holmes decides to go to bed, he turns to Watson and says “Watson, the needle”, indicating a hint at Holmes addiction to morphine.  I remember the first time I saw it too, I was actually fooled by Holmes disguise as a hermit living out on the marsh.  Holmes also never seemed to mind goading at Watson and poking some fun at him once in awhile, and the way the two characters bounced off each other made for a memorable team.  

One of the greatest things I love about Basil Rathbone is his ability as a swordsman.  He’s just incredible to watch, even when he’s fighting the likes of Errol Flynn in Robin Hood or Tyrone Power in The Mark of Zorro, the intensity and energy he brings to those scenes is just fantastic.  I think his fight in Zorro is probably my favorite of all his films, as Tyrone Power was just as much a master of the sword and the two of them would just unleash on each other.  It’s a great exciting moment in the film.  Rathbone had some funny quips about his sword fights with Errol Flynn, as he remarked later in his career “I could have killed Errol Flynn any day!”  In someways, I believe him after watching the fight scenes in Robin Hood and Captain Blood.  Even though he never won, I was always secretly rooting for Basil to kick his ass, and I only wish someday I could see a real fencing match between the two just for the sake of fairness.  But I’m willing to bet every time Basil would be king.

As a villain, I always loved how he could pull off so well that sinister edge.  I notice half the time he was usually the henchman to the main villain of the story, but Rathbone was always the one carrying out the villains agenda, sent out to kill someone or take action on the villains behalf.  But yet there was always some sense of sympathy to his characters that made you wonder how he got to be so vengeful to his fellow man.  He was rarely ever the boss, but you could imagine the horror in something like Robin Hood if Gisborne were in charge over Prince John.  He would probably wind up ordering genocide on the poor!  He was always a major presence that everyone made sure to take seriously.  But thankfully, we got Holmes on the other end of it to show his much lighter side.  That character must have been a blessing for his career, which finally gave audiences a reason to root for him.  But as much as we love him for Holmes, I think audiences just as much love to hate him for being the mean, nasty, son of a bitch he could be.

I don’t really know if today we have an equal to Basil Rathbone as an actor.  Of course, I suppose Rathbone is an actor for his time.  But he always gave the most in everything he did.  He could be just as evil as he was charming.  I always even felt he did have a kind of sex appeal as well.  He could never seem to win out against Errol Flynn, but Rathbone in my mind was always the better actor and could be far more versatile.  He is one of my absolute favorite actors of the early days of cinema, and I don’t think there will be anyone else quite like him.

And if you ever wanted to know just how cool the guy was, here’s an excerpt from his Wikipedia page:  “Rathbone was once arrested in 1926 along with every other member of the cast of ‘The Captive’, a play in which his character’s wife left him for another woman.  Though the charges were eventually dropped, Rathbone was very angry about the censorship because he believed that homosexuality needed to be brought into the open.


Nice.

They Call Me Trinity (1970) Dir. Enzo Barboni

This is a great Spaghetti Western I was introduced to last night, which not only features two awesomely badass protagonists (Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer), it’s also hilariously funny.  I’m talking about of course the film They Call Me Trinity.  I’ve seen very few Spaghetti Westerns in general, but this is probably the first I’ve seen thats an all out comedy.  Most of the fights are choreographed in a very slapstick fashion, as guys get flipped around and thrown out of windows, another guy gets shot in the nuts from under a balcony, and then there’s the main character Trinity (Terrence Hill), who can shoot bad guys behind him without turning around.  It’s an all out great and very fun film.

But what really makes this film work is the relationship between Trinity and his brother Bambino, an outlaw secretly acting as sheriff while he broke the real sheriffs leg and left him for dead somewhere.  Bambino is probably my favorite character in the whole film.  He can literally take a punch from anyone without flinching and the guy is built like a rock.  He walks around town with a grunting, surly attitude, as he responds to anyone walking by who says “Hi Sheriff!” with a quick “Shut up!”.  But really its the chemistry between these two characters that really sells it, as Bambino sort of puts up with his brother Trinity, a feared gunslinger in the west who always walks around town with his happy-go-lucky attitude.

The plot mostly centers around Bambino and Trinity protecting a group of peace loving missionaries (someone in the film refers to them as Mormons) from nasty villain Major Harriman and his gang of mexican outlaws.  The missionaries of course forbid the use of guns on their land to protect themselves, so Bambino and Trinity wind up teaching them hand to hand combat.  This is the kind of film that never for a moment takes itself seriously, and that winds up being its most charming aspect.  The threat is real enough, but no fight scene is too far out or over the top.

For anyone who wants to see a really great, fun comedy, this film is available on Netflix for rental.  Now I’m looking forward to checking out the sequel, “They Still Call Me Trinity”, which I heard is superior to the original.  If the sequel is definitely better than this film, I’m there for sure.  Terrence Hill and Bud Spencer were a team together for 18 films (not all of them being westerns).  But if their other films are any indication of what I’ve seen in this one, then I think this movie has made me a fan.  I LOVE this movie, and I’m looking forward to checking out more of their future collaborations.