Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Pre-Code Blogathon Special: Little Caesar

Little Caesar 
Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell, William Collier Jr., Sidney Blackmer, Ralph Ince, Thomas E. Jackson, Stanley Fields, Maurice Black, George E. Stone, Armand Kaliz, Nicholas Bela, Ferike Boros, Lucille La Verne,  Noel Madison, Tom McGuire, Henry Sedley, Landers Stevens
Director: Mervyn LeRoy 
First National Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures Inc., USA. 1931. 
This is my contribution to the Pre-Code blogathon event (March 31- April 3 2015) hosted by Shadows and Satin  and pre-code.com . Visit their sites for great articles on movies made between 1930 and 1934!
The movie is based on the book "Little Caesar" by William R. Burnett.

Caesar Enrico "Rico" Bandello (Edward G. Robinson) and Joe Massara (Douglas Fairbanks Jr.) are two street criminals making gas station robberies. Rico wants to be a real gangster boss like Diamond Pete Montana. Joe is more interested about dancing and girls. Rico and Joe head for east looking for greener pastures.
Edward G. Robinson
Rico "Little Caesar"
Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Joe Massara
Rico joins Vettori's (Stanley Fields) crime gang. Joe meets dancer Olga (Glenda Farrell) who arranges him a job at dance hall Bronze Peacock managed by De Voss (Armand Kaliz). Olga wants Joe to leave the criminal life behind, but Joe does not know it is possible anymore. Once a gang member always a gang member.
Edward G. Robinson and Stanley Fields
Rico joins Vettori's gang
Armand Kaliz, Glenda Farrell and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
Olga gets Joe a legal job
In Little Arnie Lorch's gambling house Vettori, Little Arnie Lorch (Maurice Black) and Pete Montana (Ralph Ince) negotiate about keeping gang wars and violent crime down for a while because the new head of Crime Commision McClure (Landers Stevens, uncredited) is tough on crime and incorruptible. Rico is always ready to shoot his way out, so Pete must give hotheaded Rico a warning.
Ralph Ince
Diamond Pete Montana
Vettori's gang uses Joe as legal front for preparing robberies. As they are rivals of Lorch, they want to rob Bronze Peacock that is in protection by Lorch. Rico forces reluctant Joe to attend the robbery. During the robbery Rico shoots McClure. Rico's recklessness puts him against Vettori. Vettori is weak so Rico takes the true leadership of his gang with Otero (George E. Stone) as his right-hand man. Gang's driver Tony (William Collier Jr.) cracks under pressure. There is a touching scene where Tony's mother (Ferike Boros) contemplates how Tony used to be a good boy before. Rico kills Tony on the steps of a church.
Planning the heist
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Glenda Farrell
Olga is worried about Joe
William Collier Jr. and Ferike Boros
Tony and his mother
Sergeant Flaherty (Thomas E. Jackson) becomes Rico's nemesis, watching as Rico rises from foot soldier to gangster boss. Rico even gets into favour with "the Don of Dons" Big Boy (Sidney Blackmer). However Rico gets too ambitious and his downfall comes fast. His arrogant pride becomes the final nail in his coffin.
Thomas E. Jackson
Sergeant Flaherty
Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Glenda Farrell and Edward G. Robinson
Things are getting dangerous
Edward G. Robinson Rico
Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico?
In the 1930s atmosphere of Great Depression, Prohibition Era and the rise of Al Capone, Hollywood became interested in hard-boiled crime stories. Being one of the first feature length gangster movies, Edward G. Robinson (along with James Cagney and Paul Muni) was one of the actors who created the archetype of silver screen mob boss, later imitated and parodied by everyone and their dog.

The acting in the movie is overall good, but what makes this movie a true classic is the magnificent performance of Edward G. Robinson. Rico is a brawler who shoots first and asks questions later. He is vain and over-ambitious. Like Al Capone, Rico is not afraid to appear in newspapers. Rico enjoys luxury life but he is also an absolutist. After his downfall Rico is stripped of his wealth and fame, he is forced to live in homeless shelters and he even starts drinking. Joe on the other hand goes straight, testifies against the gang and becomes a musical star with Olga.
Edward G. Robinson and Stanley Fields
Rico is not afraid to show his face in the newspapers
This movie has several points that would not have been accepted under the Hays Code. Although not as violent as Howard Hawks' "Scarface" (1932) there are plenty of murders and cop killings for a 1930s movie. The gangster way of life is also shown to be glamorous. Olga's dresses are more revealing than was later acceptable. Joe and Olga seem to live together without being married (scandalous!). Also one of the controversial aspect of the movie was the hinted homosexuality of Rico. This is shown in Rico's distaste for women, his jealousy over Joe and in the scenes of Rico and Otero together. The writer of the original story William R. Burnett was annoyed by this adaptation and he wrote a complaint to the film studio.
George E. Stone and Edward G. Robinson
Otero admiring his boss
For a modern viewer to movie may seem bare-boned and overly talkative at times. Still it is the prototype of Mafia films, having everything that is essential to the genre: hotheaded antihero, protagonist who tries to leave crime behind, gang wars, drive by shootings, lavish mob funerals and slowly progressing incorruptible police detectives. It is essential watching for those who want to learn about the roots of gangster movies.
Drive by shooting Mafia style
Rating: Very good

Friday, March 27, 2015

Movie Review: Hop

Starring and voice cast: James Marsden, Russell Brand, Kaley Cuoco, Hank Azaria, Gary Cole, Elizabeth Perkins, Hugh Laurie, Tiffany Espensen , David Hasselhoff, Chelsea Handler, Dustin Ybarra, Carlease Burke, Veronica Alicino, Django Marsh, Jimmy Carter, Billy Bowers, Benjamin Moore Jr., Eric McKinnie, Joey Williams, Tracy Pierce, Will Cleveland Smith, Coleton Ray, Greg Lewis, Mark Riccardi, Cici Lau, Jayden Lund, Christian Long, Hugh M. Hefner, Nick Drago, David Goldsmith, Rick Pasqualone 
Director: Tim Hill
Universal Pictures, Relativity Media, Illumination Entertainment, USA, 2011. 
Hop title
Fred O'Hare (James Marsden) tells a story about how he became the Easter Bunny. In Easter Island there is a Easter candy factory operated by bunnies and chicks. Young son of Easter Bunny (Hugh Laurie), E.B. gets to visit the factory with his dad. Easter Bunny then goes to deliver the candies to kids Santa Claus style. 
Easter candy factory
James Marsden
Fred O'Hare
20 years later in California O'Hare family children Sam (Kaley Cuoco) and Alex (Tiffany Espensen) make their parents proud because they may have brilliant careers ahead. Fred O'Hare (James Marsden) on the other hand procrastinates and does not know what to do with his live. Also E.B. does not really want to become Easter Bunny and he runs from home to Hollywood. As Fred's family decides that it is time for Fred to move from home, Sam arranges him a temporary accommodation in the mansion of her boss. E.B. is also looking for new home. Hugh Hefner will not let him enter the Playboy Mansion.
Easter Bunny Sr. and Carlos
No entrance to Playboy Mansion
Kaley Cuoco
Fred hits E.B. with his car and bunny decides to move into Fred's mansion. Fred does not like the idea of living together with a messy bunny who wants to play drums. Also E.B distracts Fred during his job interview. Meanwhile chick Carlos (Hank Azaria) conspires to get the control of the candy factory. Father bunny sends commando bunnies to get E.B. back home. 
James Marsden
Fred loves Easter
Blues band Blind Boys of Alabama and David Hasselhoff appear as themselves. Kaley Cuoco's brisk character Sam is quite similar to Penny in "The Big Bang Theory". James Marsden is okay as Fred, trying to make his family proud but ending up in awkward situations. Fred's father (Gary Cole) was quite discouraging daddy figure. 
David Hasselhoff
The Hoff
Easter bunnies and chicks
The movie combines cartoonish animation with live action. Usually I find those kind of movies a bit awkward and this is no exception. The story is a traditional growing up story and buddy comedy about mismatched pair that has to work together to succeed. The setting of the movie the movie is like "Alvin and the Chipmunks" (also directed by Tim Hill!) or "Smurfs" with a "Santa Clause" twist and chick minions similar to "Despicable Me". Candy factory is visually delicious and the bunnies and chicks look cute. There are some funny moments but many of the jokes are not as funny as they could be.

Rating: Average

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Movie Review: The Hunchback

The Hunchback (a.k.a. The Hunchback of Notre Dame)
Starring: Mandy Patinkin, Richard Harris, Salma Hayek, Edward Atterton, Benedick Blythe, Nigel Terry, Jim Dale, Trevor Baxter, Vernon Dobtcheff, Nickolas Grace, Matthew Sim, Cassie Stuart, Gabriella Fon, Michael Mehlmann, Olga Antal, Zoltán Bán, Scott Bellefeville 
Director: Peter Medak 
Adelson-Baumgarten Productions, Alliance Communications Corporation, Stillking Films, Transatlantic Media Associates, TriStar Television, USA, Hungary, Canada, Czech Republic, 1997. 
The Hunchback of Notre Dame title
This made for TV movie is based on the novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" by Victor Hugo.

In 1480 Paris times are dark and possession of a printed page is punishable by death.  Archdeacon Dom Frollo (Richard Harris) destroys printing presses. He finds an abandoned baby and adopts him. 25 years later there are dangerous ideas about round Earth. Gringoire (Edward Atterton) is a young idealist who tries to enlighten the people and demands freedom of information. The beauty of Dancing Gypsy girl Esmeralda (Esmeralda) charms everyone, even Dom Frollo.
Mandy Patinkin
Richard Harris
Dom Frollo
Salma Hayek
At festival a king of fools is chosen, ugliest face wins. A young disfigured man Quasimodo (Mandy Patinkin) lives in the Notre Dame Cathedral and is the bell-ringer of the cathedral. Clopin (Jim Dale) chooses Quasimodo as the king. Quasimodo has fun and falls in love with Esmeralda. Dom Frollo says that the people are only mocking him and forbids Quasimodo ever leaving the cathedral again. 
Edward Atterton
Jim Dale
Mandy Patinkin
Quasimodo as the king of fools
Dom Frollo hires some goons to kidnap Esmeralda. Gringoire and Quasimodo stop the attempt. Quasimodo is arrested and Gringoire is knocked down by officer Phoebus (Benedick Blythe). Gringoire wakes in "Court of Miracles", a society of thieves. Esmeralda saves his life by saying that she will marry him. Quasimodo is whipped publicly and only Esmeralda show him compassion by giving him water.

Minister Gauchére (Nickolas Grace) has modern views and he thinks that printed books should be allowed. Dom Frollo opposes as only church should have books. As Frollo can not get Esmeralda, he frames her for murder of Gauchére. Quasimodo must protect her from the soldiers and Dom Frollo.
Nickolas Grace
Richard Harris
Thou shalt not pass
There are many versions of this story, this version was generally entertaining and well made.The movie follows the classic story with some minor changes, for example Phoebus has a very small role in this version. Also this version has a sub plot about Dom Frollo's crusade against printed books. Richard Harris is eerie as an obsessed self-whipping priest who is a manipulating father-figure to Quasimodo. Salma Hayek is well cast as beautiful and friendly Esmeralda. Mandy Patinkin brings credibility to the suffering and sympathetic character of Quasimodo. Also Nigel Terry and Jim Daly pull good roles, the other as King Louis XI and the other as the king of the commoners. The sets look nice. Apparently a huge set resembling the half-finished Notre Dame Cathedral was built in Budapest. 
Ringing the bells
Salma Hayek and Mandy Patinkin
Moment of compassion
Half-finished Notre Dame
Comment on the DVD: the Scandinavian release published by Atlantic Film AB contains Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian and Danish subtitles. All of them contain severe timing errors which results to almost half of the sentences missing. If you must rely on subtitles it is very hard to follow the story.

Rating: Good

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Movie Review: Titanic 2

Titanic 2 
Starring:  Shane Van Dyke, Marie Westbrook, Bruce Davison, Brooke Burns, Michelle Glavan, Carey Van Dyke, D.C. Douglas, Dylan Vox, Wittly Jourdan, Myles Cranford, Josh Roman, Cameron Gordon, Michael Gaglio, Kendra Waldman, Matt Lagan, Gerald Webb, Amin Joseph, Heather Nemeth, Sarah Belge, Paul Jacques, Wes Van Dyke, Ryn Harrison, Erica Duke, Shannon Murray 
Director: Shane Van Dyke 
The Asylum, USA, 2010.
Titanic II title
Huge iceberg is broken from glacier in Greenland. James Maine (Bruce Davison) goes to investigate it with Dr. Kim Patterson (Brooke Burns). James' daughter Amy Maine (Marie Westbrook) and Kelly Wade (Michelle Glavan) are nurses in Titanic II ship, making its maiden voyage 100 years after the first Titanic voyage. Millionaire playboy Hayden Walsh (Shane Van Dyke, grandson of Dick Van Dyke.) is the owner of the ship and he is Amy's old boyfriend. Captain Howard (D.C. Douglas) is certain that the modernized ship will do just well. 
Titanic II
Marie Westbrook and Michelle Glavan
Amy Maine and Kelly Wade
Shane Van Dyke
Hayden Walsh
Global warming causes glacier to collapse and cause a huge Tsunami wave. James and Kim issue a warning about fast moving ice. Titanic II starts taking precautions. The ship's engines are not yet fully tested. Passengers are panicking and iceberg hits the ship. It seems that history is repeating itself. Evacuation begins but there is also a Mega-Tsunami coming to finish the ship.
Passengers of the ship
D.C. Douglas
Captain Howard
Brooke Burns and Bruce Davison
Kim Patterson and James Maine
The effects are above average Asylum level, the ship and glaciers look good (TV-level good) at many scenes. The movie is seriously made low budget disaster film without usual ironic Asylum winks. The movie also has some dramatic moments. Of course there are goofy moments and Amy's nursing solutions are quite weird.
Ship on the sea
Wittly Jourdan as radio operator
Westbrook's Amy is the heroic dame Van Dyke's Playboy Hayden turns out to be a heroic dude after all. Most experienced actor here is Bruce Davison, and also Brooke Burns does okay. The extras act silly but at least the making of documentary shows that they had fun. If you can get past the movie's silly setting, budget limitations (and things like concrete hallways in a ship), it is an acceptable ship wreck adventure. 
Shane Van Dyke and Marie Westbrook
Hayden and Amy try to survive
Going down
Rating: Good (as a low budget Asylum film) Bad (if you were expecting a sequel to Cameron's Titanic)

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