Film Review: North by Northwest (1959)

Also known as: The Man In Lincoln’s Nose, The CIA Story (working titles)
Release Date: July 1st, 1959 (Chicago premiere)
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Written by: Ernest Lehman
Music by: Bernard Herrmann
Cast: Cary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, Jessie Royce Landis, Martin Landau

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 136 Minutes

Review:

“Now you listen to me, I’m an advertising man, not a red herring. I’ve got a job, a secretary, a mother, two ex-wives and several bartenders that depend upon me, and I don’t intend to disappoint them all by getting myself slightly killed.” – Roger Thornhill

I feel like I’ve been reviewing a lot of perfect films, lately. But it’s not because I magically stumbled upon a treasure trove of perfection. The reality is, most of these films I had planned to revisit and review anyway but since the FilmStruck streaming service is closing down Nov. 29th (this may be posted after that) I wanted to squeeze in as many movies from that service as possible. But this isn’t about FilmStruck and I’m working on an article about that anyway.

I saw North by Northwest when I was really young. And then, a few years ago, I got the pleasure of seeing it on the big screen, which is how everyone should watch this the first time, if they are presented with the opportunity to do so.

I love this movie and in some ways, it almost feels like what could have happened had Alfred Hitchcock ever directed a James Bond film in the classic era. However, this predates the James Bond movie franchise by a few years, so Hitchcock was ahead of the curve. Plus, the main character isn’t a spy but is a man that has become the victim of a mistaken identity. So it has a solid Hitchcock trope already in place and while this doesn’t globe-trot, it sees our protagonist travel to different parts of America.

The film is perfectly shot, superbly acted and everyone that comes on screen has amazing charisma and personality that is fine tuned to work within the picture but not to overpower or dilute the scenes for the sake of performance. Also, the one on one chemistry between Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint is magical.

North by Northwest boasts some top notch, high octane action sequences that were far better than anything you’d see in 1959. Between the crop duster scene and the big finale on Mt. Rushmore, this was a film ahead of its time but very grounded in the concerns and real world worries of the late 1950s.

This feels like Hitchcock’s biggest movie and in retrospect, I can’t think of one that comes off as grander in scale. Also, as great as his movies are, it’s hard to think of one that is more fun and entertaining. This really isn’t just a perfect film, it is the perfect Hitchcock film and really encompasses his best tropes, his style and everything that made his work at his peak, some of the best motion picture releases of all-time.

Movies this good are few and far between. While I love just about everything that Hitchcock has ever done, this may be the tip of his grand and near perfect iceberg.

Rating: 10/10
Pairs well with: other Hitchcock films of the 1950s.

Film Review: The Being (1983)

Also known as: Beauty and the Beast (US alternate title), Mutant Monster (Germany), The Ultimate Terror (Germany)
Release Date: November 4th, 1983
Directed by: Jackie Kong
Written by: Jackie Kong
Music by: Don Preston
Cast: Martin Landau, José Ferrer, Dorothy Malone, Ruth Buzzi, Marianne Gordon, Bill Osco

Cybelle Productions, Best Film & Video Corp., New World Pictures, Aquarius Films, Crest Films, 82 Minutes

Review:

I have no idea what the hell I just watched but the monster was kind of cool.

The Being is a weird and confusing pile of crap. Since it’s crap, I figured that I would run this turd through the Cinespiria Shitometer. The results label categorize this thing as a Type 4 stool, which is defined as “Like a sausage or snake, smooth and soft.” Well, I guess that puts this in the middle of the seven types of stool, which doesn’t make it as bad as 1982’s Parasite, a deplorable shitfest.

This movie makes little to no sense. Somehow the mayor owns a potato company and there is this big conspiracy. You later find out that there has been a lot of toxic waste dumped in the area. Next thing you know, this big slimy monster with one eye and sharp teeth shows up to kill everything. What we have here is a lowest common denominator low budget 80s horror flick with one of the strangest stories I’ve ever encountered. Radioactive potatoes turn people into weird cyclops xenomorph killers… or something like that.

I feel bad for Martin Landau. Why did he do this movie? At least he would recover and win an Oscar for playing Bela Lugosi in Tim Burton’s Ed Wood 11 years later.

There isn’t really anything in this film that is worth anyone’s time. While the monster is generally cool looking, it is still a pretty immobile creature and other than having a few neat closeups, he’s pretty unexciting.

Film Review: The X-Files (1998)

Also known as: The X-Files: Fight the Future
Release Date: June 19th, 1998
Directed by: Rob Bowman
Written by: Chris Carter, Frank Spotnitz
Based on: The X-Files by Chris Carter
Music by: Mark Snow
Cast: David Duchovny, Gillian Anderson, Martin Landau, Blythe Danner, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Mitch Pileggi, William B. Davis, John Neville, Dean Haglund, Bruce Harwood, Tom Braidwood, Jeffrey DeMunn, Terry O’Quinn, Michael Shamus Wiles

Ten Thirteen Productions, 20th Century Fox, 121 Minutes

Review:

I already reviewed The X-Files television show. This review is for the first film in the franchise, which is also known as The X-Files: Fight the Future.

The film takes place between the fifth and sixth seasons of the series and was released at that time as well. It continues and expands upon the main plot thread of the show regarding the alien conspiracy. It moves along the story pretty well and doesn’t have a definitive ending, thus leaving it open for further expansion on its mythos.

The film is really good if you are a fan of the television series and it was one of my favorite chapters in the overall story. However, if you aren’t versed in the series, it is probably hard to watch and even harder to follow. Sure, it is eerie and creepy and has a lot of cool shit in it. The problem, is that it relies on the viewer to have knowledge on the series and the alien conspiracy plot thread that has spanned five seasons, by this point.

It also doesn’t feel like a feature film, it feels more like an expanded episode with a much larger budget and better special effects.

Mulder (David Duchovny) and Scully (Gillian Anderson) are great but when aren’t they?

It would be best to watch this film between seasons five and six, if you are binge watching them. In fact, if you are watching the television series, this is required viewing because a lot happens that effects the show and jumping into season six may be a bit confusing without seeing the film first.

I do like the film in the same vein as the series but it should really be a part of the series and not a chapter placed elsewhere that may be missed by modern viewers because it isn’t available on Netflix like the show is. Although you can rent it on Amazon Video for a few bucks.

Film Review: Ed Wood (1994)

Release Date: September 23rd, 1994 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Based on: Nightmare of Ecstasy by Rudolph Grey
Music by: Howard Shore
Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, Lisa Marie, Max Casella, George “The Animal” Steele, Juliet Landau, Ned Bellamy, Mike Starr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Korla Pandit, G.D. Spradlin

Touchstone Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures Distribution, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Visions are worth fighting for. Why spend your life making someone else’s dreams?” – Orson Welles

Ed Wood is a magnificent film. It is also the greatest thing Tim Burton has ever directed, which says a lot considering his massive body of work. I have also never enjoyed Johnny Depp and Martin Landau more. Additionally, the film features one of the best roles of Bill Murray’s career.

Shot in black and white, to mimic the time that Edward D. Wood Jr. lived in and the films he made, Ed Wood boasts some fantastic cinematography. It doesn’t just feel like a period piece shot in black and white as a gimmick, it actually has warmth, depth and is a character itself, within the film. It gives the movie a perfect tone and it is also matches up to the actual filmmaking work of Ed Wood, the director. When we see scenes being filmed for Plan 9 From Outer SpaceBride of the Monster and Glen or Glenda?, Tim Burton’s sets and visual tone match those films pretty flawlessly.

Martin Landau won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Ed Wood, as horror legend Bela Lugosi. It was a fantastic performance and the best of Landau’s storied career. While it was great seeing him recognized and this film as well, I feel like it was deserving of other nominations. It did also win for makeup, the only other category it was nominated for.

Everyone in the cast, top to bottom, gave some of the best performances of their careers. Johnny Depp was absolutely captivating and charismatic as the title character. He brought real life to the legendary persona of Wood. He connected with the audience, as well as long-time Wood fans and gave an exciting identity and character to the maestro of bad cinema. He was sympathetic and you wanted nothing more than for Wood to succeed, despite the odds being stacked against him and the limitations of his abilities. Depp’s Wood had passion and heart.

Bill Murray plays Wood’s friend, a transvestite wanting to be transsexual named Bunny Breckinridge. Breckinridge was a collaborator with Wood and played a role in his most famous film Plan 9 From Outer Space. Murray did a fine job with the part, committed to Bunny’s flamboyant personality and strong desire to become a woman. This is my favorite of Murray’s more serious roles. Granted, he still brings an element of comedy but this is the first real dramatic role I remember seeing him play. He had panache and delivered his dialogue brilliantly.

Jeffrey Jones was a perfect casting choice for the psychic conman Criswell. He looked the part, acted the part and conveyed him as a real showman. Sarah Jessica Parker and Patricia Arquette both did good as the leading ladies: Parker for the first half of the film, Arquette for the latter. For the role of Tor Johnson, there really was no better choice than George “The Animal” Steele. Lisa Marie was a good Vampira and Max Casella was a nice addition to the cast, as he is a really good actor that I feel is still underutilized. Lastly, Juliet Landau plays a small role but she really nails it. She was quirky, smart and pretty mesmerizing.

Ed Wood is a film about imagination and creation. It is also about passion. While this is a very romanticized version of the director’s life and work, it makes one want to be a dreamer and to follow those dreams, despite the world standing in the way. It also shows Wood’s struggles with his identity and who he is and how it should be okay to embrace who you are and not be scrutinized for it. While Wood wasn’t a great filmmaker, he was still a man ahead of his time. Ed Wood, the man, shows that you can have artistic and creative brilliance, even if it isn’t executed in the best way. He is a hero for those with a creative intelligence that have a hard time cultivating it into something spectacular.

This is a great period piece and a stupendous showbiz biopic. It was some of the best work of every talented person involved in the picture. Ed Wood is a true classic and a perfect homage to the man, his life and his work. And frankly, it is one of my favorite films of all-time.

Film Review: Cosmic Princess (1982)

Release Date: December, 1982
Directed by: Charles Crichton, Peter Medak
Written by: Johnny Byrne, Fred Freiberger
Music by: Barry Gray, Derek Wadsworth
Cast: Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, Catherine Schell, Brian Blessed

Group 3, ITC Entertainment Group, RAI Radiotelevisione Italiana, 91 Minutes

cosmic-princessReview:

Cosmic Princess is a television movie that was made for American audiences using two episodes of the British television show Space: 1999. It was the fifth and final feature length film created from that show. It is comprised of a pair of season two episodes, The Metamorph and Space Warp. The episodes are spliced together with some alterations and edits, making them one tale where they were originally two separate stories.

This film also appeared on the original first season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, when the show was still only on public access in Minnesota.

I’ve been an avid science fiction fan my entire life. While I have seen Space: 1999, I wasn’t as fond of it as a lot of the other stuff on television back then. It kind of plays like a more serious version of the original Battlestar Galactica or Buck Rogers In the 25th Century. The uber seriousness is probably why I didn’t adore it like those other shows.

As a feature film, Space: 1999 doesn’t translate well. The editing is a mess and no matter how hard they tried to make Cosmic Princess into a coherent story, it still feels like two unrelated tales amateurishly welded together.

The first half of the film was the better half. It wasn’t good but it had Brian Blessed as an evil space warlord. Once that plot is resolved, we get a sort of “monster of the week” episode. The first half is more exciting and the stakes feel higher. The second half is pretty boring and doesn’t feel all that important unless you were invested into certain characters. If you had lots of episodes to invest your emotion into, it would probably work. As a final act of a film, it is empty and pointless.

The source material probably isn’t half bad but seeing it like this, isn’t doing anyone any favors.

Additionally, the film features some good shots and decent effects but by 1982, they already look incredibly dated when compared to Battlestar and Buck Rogers. Plus, Star Wars had already been out for five years when this hit the airwaves. Granted, it looks better than the Doctor Who special effects of that era but it certainly couldn’t match the charm.

Cosmic Princess is really a nonsensical mess. But I don’t blame Space: 1999 for that, it just shouldn’t have been edited into a series of TV movies.