Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Recent viewing

Some quick words about stuff that I've seen or currently watching - but first, news about a new Criterion Collection boxset coming out near year's end: AMERICA LOST AND FOUND: THE BBS STORY.
BBS Productions being the company of Bob Rafelson, Bert Schneider and Steve Blauner, and their films are classics of the late 60's-early 70's -- films like FIVE EASY PIECES, THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, EASY RIDER, DRIVE HE SAID (Jack Nicholson's directorial debut), A SAFE PLACE, THE KING OF MARVIN GARDENS...

and the artistic pinnacle of The Monkees and Monkeemania, HEAD!

Hopefully, I'll take a crack at this sometime down the road...

With a title like CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD, you're sure to be guaranteed some sort of fantastic action... you'd think. Unfortunately, for me, that title turns out to be the best thing about this movie, disappointing because it was something I'd been hunting down for years.  I have the original CLEOPATRA JONES in my collection - CCCG isn't available in the U.S., and having watched it, I think I can understand why.

Despite a bunch of great elements that should guarantee cinematic nirvana, CCCG comes off as a lesser version of ENTER THE DRAGON...

The story has Cleopatra (Tamara Dobson, reprising her role), on the hunt for two other missing Federal agents in Hong Kong, who've been taken prisoner by the Dragon Queen (Stella Stevens), who is making her move to control the entire drug trade.
Aided by private detective Tanny (Ni Tien), Cleo kicks asses and a path to the titular Casino of Gold, which the Dragon Queen controls, and many asses are kicked, henchmen killed and a Final Showdown eventually settles all scores.

THAT sounds like an exciting movie!! And yes, those things DO happen -- but I fell asleep watching this. TWICE.

Wha happen?  Well, there is action aplenty, but aside from some car chases and some indoor motorcycle action, the fights are very uninvolving, which is surprising considering the director is former stuntman Chuck Bail (THE GUMBALL RALLY). Well, maybe not so surprising -- shooting kung-fu is way different than staging car crashes... the script isn't really very good, but you can say the same thing of ENTER THE DRAGON... there's something else that was a distracting element for me, and that was Tamara Dobson's makeup. She's credited for doing her own makeup in this film...

Hmmm....  well, I don't think that it's a fall-back skill for her.  She plays the role more Bondish in this, and with a bit more humor, so I assume that the outlandish makeup was an intentional element.

And you know what happens when one assumes...  Anyway, it was pretty distracting, and not in the fun way.

The cast is pretty decent; along for the ride is Norman Fell, as Cleo's handler and Clueless White Guy Comic Relief. Stella Stevens makes a decent lesbian Dragon Queen.

So, why isn't this a better film? I blame the script and direction...  it certainly looks great, and probably wouldn't be too bad watched with friends and lots of liquor nearby. I just expected better - maybe then I wouldn't keep falling asleep watching it.

Crass American remakes of foreign hits is apparently not a recent development - I came across a remake of Fritz Lang's M, done in 1951 by Joseph Losey... and it's actually pretty good, despite what purists would probably say.

There's no major divergence from the basic storyline... although it's a bit strange seeing it with American characters on American soil - aside from the fashion and car makes, it's almost like a contemporary film, with the emphasis on what is now called 'stranger danger'... and it doesn't shirk on the climax of the film, which, in light of what happened to Losey can be seen as prescient and very-on-the-nose. The cast is top notch - David Wayne, Howard DaSilva, Norman Lloyd, Raymond Burr, Jim Backus, Walter Burke, and many other character actors of the time. The cameraman is Ernest Lazlo, who also shot another L.A. travelogue, KISS ME DEADLY, of which this almost seems a dry run of; seeing that Robert Aldrich was Losey's assistant at the time, it seems that Aldrich learned his lessons well.
It's a film that's hard to find - if you ever come across a copy, or run across a screening, definitely set aside 90 minutes and give this a watch.

Currently plowing through tv boxsets of MAX HEADROOM: THE COMPLETE SERIES... and DARIA.

I wonder if we'll ever look back at the current MTV programming and consider THE HILLS and JERSEY SHORE to have been clever instances of satirical programming and disguised social commentary?

Nah! - do your teen a favor and give them the DARIA set for Christmas and/or birthdays... give them the Real Thing.

Finally, THE WOLFMAN - I waited for the unrated version to be released. I thought the end result was extremely decent -- the homaging was nicely handed (I particularly liked the Bava-ish touches in the scenes in the woods), and it was handled seriously, unlike THE MUMMY -- it was almost TOO serious with all of the frontloading of the "Daddy Issues"... if you haven't figured out what Anthony Hopkins will be within the first half hour, then you're not paying attention, since it's all but spelled out in big neon letters with a hand pointing --- and I also think that it's time for the "Daddy Issue" Plot to take a big time-out for awhile. It didn't do THE HULK any good, and I can't really say that it added anything of major importance to THE WOLFMAN.