Weekly Mishmash: August 24-30
Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs (2008). It pains me to say it, but this second direct-to-DVD Futurama movie is a big fat bore. What may have been a semi decent TV episode has been stretched into a feature-length slog, padded out with stupid Family Guy-style gags. Sure, I laughed a few times, but at this point Matt Groening and company really need to give the franchise a rest.
The Hidden Fortress (1958). I hate to sound redundant, but uh … this was also kind of tedious. Which makes me feel guilty since it’s vintage Akira Kurosawa and a big influence on George Lucas’ Star Wars script (although even Lucas himself admits it’s not his favorite Kurosawa). Interesting story, and one can obviously tell that Kurosawa is having a field day with the widescreen format, but the characters seemed cardboard-thin and it plods along with little variety in the landscape or tone. On the plus side, I did enjoy Toshiro Mifune (what an intense actor) and the birdlike woman who played the princess. Still, I’d take Rashomon or High and Low over this any day.
Scaramouche (1952). Plush, swashbuckling classic with luscious color and a youthfully attractive cast (yep, even in horrid stage makeup Eleanor Parker looks so lovely). What really counted here was the famous climactic sword battle — director George Sidney executes the long, long scene beautifully. It moves fluidly from a theatre balcony, though the side hallway, out to the lobby, through the audience, then up on stage — boggling the mind as to how many rehearsal hours Stewart Granger and
José Mel Ferrer needed to execute it flawlessly.
Winchell (1998). Somebody needs to make a good flick about the notorious gossip columnist Walter Winchell. Although this made-for-HBO effort is fun and breezy, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Stanley Tucci is appropriately smarmy in the title role, and Paul Giamatti is good as Winchell’s put-upon ghostwriter. Unfortunately director Paul Mazursky covers too much ground (some 60 years) and can’t resist using every cliché in the retro-biopic book, including the spinning newspaper headline. The spinning newspaper headline, people!
Youth of the Beast (1963). A dazzling, at times incomprehensible mob action flick from Japanese cult director Seijun Suzuki. Often I couldn’t keep track of what was going on, but the director’s lurid “film noir meets ’60s pulp” sensibility keeps things going at a breakneck pace. Very similar to Suzuki’s Tokyo Drifter, although I think I slightly prefer this one due to the magnetic and oddly chubby-cheeked leading actor Jo Shishido. Oh, and I have to mention the wonderful sets in this movie — the nightclub, the movie theater, and the geometric establishment pictured above with separate operator booth, neat sculpture, and bi-colored phones at each table. Groovy!