Friday, July 26, 2013

Waltzes From Vienna (1934)

Beefing on Hitchcock
Waltzes From Vienna

The story of a young Johann Strauss and his endeavour to write The Blue Danube. Living in the shadow of his father, the elder Johann Strauss, the younger Strauss sets out to prove his talent and love of music. Having his confidence shattered publicly by his self-righteous father, "Schani" (as the younger Strauss is known) is commissioned to write a new march by a beautiful alluring Countess Helga von Stahl... much to the chagrin of his young fiance Rasi. Rasi becomes increasingly jealous of the Countess, and Schani's allegiances are torn between respect for his father, his love for his fiance, and his love and desire for his music. Things become even more complicated when the Countess conspires to make the young Strauss finally prove himself and gain the respect she knows he should have.

Hitchcock's one and only musical film, Waltzes From Vienna stands out from the catalog in so many ways. His first film after his departure from British International Pictures, the difference is obvious. Gone are the cheap sets and poor, stifled cinematography; in come the elaborate, gigantic sets with sweeping, grandiose camera work. This is the first film that immediately just "felt" like a Hitchcock film.

What I find rather sad is that Hitchcock called the film "the lowest ebb" of his career, and only made the movie because he had no other projects. Maybe because of that, or the fact that it relied so heavily on music, it often gets overlooked. In fact, I had to download a copy online to really obtain it. Luckily, the quality is near pristine... but there really should be a lot more recognition of this picture.

Hitchcock's sense of humour and personality makes its way almost immediately into the film; the opening scene following a wedding cake around a crowd, as the man carrying it scrambles to find somewhere to set it. This typical brand of quick, dry humour that Hitchcock fans are familiar with extends through the entire film, allowing it to be classified essentially as a "romantic comedy."

The story of Strauss writing The Blue Danube actually acts as somewhat of a "macguffin" to the ever-present love triangle. What really got me thinking was that the actual love triangle wasn't really between Strauss, his fiance and the Countess... but in fact between Strauss, his fiance and his art: his love of music. The Countess, who had only mild romantic feelings towards Strauss, acted merely as representing his love of music and goal of becoming a great composer. She was his path to fame, and both she and Strauss knew it. The one person who didn't quite realize this was the fiance, Rasi, who simply did not trust or understand the real intentions of the Countess.

As for casting, everyone was fabulous, including of course Edmund Gwenn, who appeared in 3 other Hitchcock films... but to me, the real stand-out performance came from Jessie Matthews, who played Rasi. She was just absolutely adorable and despite the character's ignorance and arrogance, I still just couldn't help but love it whenever she became indignantly jealous.

There was, of course, a happy ending... and I found myself uttering the words "absolutely wonderful" as the movie came to a close. To hear that Hitchcock himself was so down on this film is quite disheartening really, because it very quickly catapulted up into the stock of my personal favourites. I would love for Criterion to get their hands on this picture, and maybe someday the rest of the world will be more aware of this rare gem by one of the most famous directors of all time.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Number Seventeen (1932)

Beefing on Hitchcock
Number Seventeen

I've spent the past week trying to figure out what to say about this movie. I'm going to keep this short and quote the Wikipedia entry:
On its initial release, audiences reacted to Number Seventeen with confusion and disappointment. The film is not often seen nowadays, but continues with generally negative reviews with critics from Rotten Tomatoes noting the film as, "highly entertaining but practically incomprehensible" and as an "unsatisfactory early tongue-in-cheek comedy/suspense yarn". In the Hitchcock/Truffaut book (see above), Francois Truffaut has a similar verdict, telling Hitchcock he had found the film "quite funny, but the story was rather confusing".
I think that about sums it up. If you want a story summary, the Wikipedia page provides that as well... although I hardly was able to make any sense of it. To use the word "convoluted" is a bit of an understatement. I actually watched the film twice in hopes that maybe it would seem a bit less cluttered, but alas... It still felt like a good half of it should have been left out to streamline the story just a touch.

From what I've heard, Hitchcock had no desire to make this film at all, but was made to do it as a sort of "punishment" for the failure of his prior films. It's really no wonder this was his final movie with British International Pictures. He was never fond of the lack of freedom in story choices, and if anything they clearly were a stifle to his talent.

So yeah... Obviously, I would never ever recommend this movie to anyone. Maybe someday I'll gain some appreciation for it, but I don't see that happening any time soon.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Live-Beefing LOST: Season 3, Disc 2

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven't watched LOST, you may be confused or apathetic about the following post. Please go watch the series through at least once before bothering with my writings. Thank you.

s03e06 - I Do

Oh yes, I think this is the Nathan Fillion episode. Also known as "Kate Gets Married" to some fans. One of my favourite Kate episodes. "Hey yourself." I really would like to know how many times that was said through the series. This was after Sawyer got his "pacemaker" right? I forgot what I saw last time... It's been too long. This episode really reveals everything you would ever need to know about Kate's personality. Faced even with the most perfect life and escape from her incessant pursuit by the authorities, she still has to run. She just can't stop. Oh yes, dead Eko. I don't think I hated Nikki and Paulo quite as much as most people. The characters were actually quite interesting. The actress who played Nikki was horrible though. Paulo wasn't that bad at all however.

Compound breach. It's a rogue Alex with a slingshot. Poor thing; she thinks they killed Karl. Kate really doesn't look too bad in a wedding dress. Maybe she should wear that all the time. Well, if anyone could convince Jack to do something he doesn't want to, it would be Kate. The Others really have a smart intuitive way of doing things. A lot of foresight too... I mean, building a runway for an off-chance that a plane will need to land there in a few years. WHO ARE YOU WORKING FOR?!?!

Mmm I want tacos. Maybe I will get some tacos tonight. I need to implement my own "taco night"... I really don't know why Sawyer is the one person Pickett decides to focus all his rage on after his wife was killed by someone who wasn't Sawyer. That never made much sense to me. Oh hey, the Eko funeral. Mr Eko's jesus stick gave Locke a message. Always listen to sticks, that's what I always say. "Who the hell's Ben?" The continuity on Sawyer not knowing who people are is always great and amusing. Kate's annoying when she's desperately angry. Okay, so that's one of the many instances in which she's annoying. She's also annoying when she's trying to be desperately sexy here.

Everyone flies Oceanic. It wasn't until after the crash that anyone flew anything but Oceanic. Maybe if I had been trapped on an island with crazy people, I'd find Kate attractive. Not having much to choose from, I guess you can't be too choosy. And now the great set-up to get Jack to see Kate and Sawyer so he'll agree to do the surgery. Talk about a long con. I'd like to think Ben had this planned from the start, and not just reacting on the moment. "I need to get the hell off this island." Okay, they'll just take you back to the other island.

Nothing quite like a pregnancy scare to make a girl drug her husband and run away. The famous Ben surgery scene... or something. Jack wasn't on Jacob's list?! Wait, Jacob had a list?!? Oh great, Danny's gonna go all rogue-like and stuff. And Jack counters by sabotaging the surgery. It's like a chess match filled with ignorance of the other side's moves... "This is for Colleen" ...who you didn't kill. I was really happy when Juliet shot Danny. Despite Jack not knowing they were on a different island, this was really a brilliant move on his part. Although, I can't believe he actually had to TELL Kate to run.

s03e07 - Not In Portland

This was another great WTF opening for Lost. Juliet walking down the flickering greenish hallway, greeted by Ethan... She MUST be on the Island. she's an Other, and so was Ethan. There was NO way this was not taking place on the island. Wa-huh?!? Miami?!?! Oh, I guess we're gonna recap the previous episode now, despite the recap already recapping... Smart. Yeah, take THAT Pickett. Asshole. I bet Sawyer enjoyed smashing his head into the electrocuting button. But wait, I thought Juliet WANTED Ben dead during the surgery. She is so fickle... Women.

Ed, Juliet's ex. Such a great smarmy character. It's almost too bad we didn't get to see more of that guy. Oh, I bet Jack feels a bit dumb now. Oh god, Pickett needs to shut up. Someone shoot him fast. Alex to the rescue! I love that girl. And Tom. Everyone loves Tom. Ed really is just a sleaze. Aw man, Alex has a boyfriend. What a rip. I'm loads better than that Karl guy. "I'm Tom by the way..." Mittelos Bioscience. These Lost people definitely like their anagrams. You want your ex-husband to be hit by a bus? We can make that happen!

Hey look! It's Mac! And not Fat Mac either... Really young skinny Mac, and he's going by the name of Aldo! Ah, Room 23. I need to make my own Room 23. Maybe when I get married, I'll keep this apartment, just turn it into a brainwashing room and show the Room 23 video in loop. I like this plan. I like this plan a lot. "Because you're insufferable and you're mean... Well, you asked me for the truth mom..." Best death scene on the whole show. Although the most satisfying is coming up here in a moment...  Thank you, Juliet.

I am loads better than Karl. Oh, the "counting to five" story makes its third appearance. Technically, Kate kept her promise that she'd never come back to that island for him. She went to the barracks instead. Technicalities.

s03e08 - Flashes Before Your Eyes

Another great episode... and one of the most confusing for casual viewers, I would assume. Any Desmond episode is a fantastic episode though, really. Poor Claire. This is why people should never go for walks by the beach. The water just comes and sucks you right in. Now Claire's got a thing for Desmond, right? I think the show could use a good love triangle. Geez, Charlie is so suffocating! They're going to try to out-drink a Scotsman. Brilliant plan.

Oh Charlie hit the wrong button there. And speaking of hitting buttons... A lot of people think this is a different version of the whole "sideways world" but I've always been 100% certain this always happened, much in the same vein as The Constant. And that episode only solidified my belief of that. Except, instead of his past consciousness being merged into the current, it happened the opposite direction (and not so completely) here. Little bits of his future are bleeding through into his memory. "Just had a bit of deja vu, that's all." And of course, this all happened before he joined the military. I guess his stint in the military and the subsequent military jail was a very short period... between this and the race around the world just mentioned by Widmore. Many people also wonder how much about Desmond's future Widmore actually knew, considering how much Daniel's mother knew. How ironic... Charlie singing an Oasis song. "This is why we don't do drugs."

Poor Desmond. He just gets trashed on constantly. Hahaha. Constant. See what I did there? Ahh Eloise Hawking. Her picture was on the desk of Desmond's monk guy's office. Another of the few really unanswered questions is how Eloise knew all these bits of information about Desmond's life. The pushing the button and race and all that could have been gained maybe through her son at some point, specifically after getting his journal... but would he have known all the bits about not proposing to Penny? Or was that part maybe planted into Desmond's thoughts by Hawking to manipulate what ended up happening? But then how did she know about the guy with the red shoes? That would imply that she had done this a few times, but we can be fairly certain that didn't happen... This episode really is one of the few that leaves the most open-ended questions.

The famous photograph of Desmond and Penny was taken in front of a fake background. I have to wonder if that is meant to imply something... It seems like such a clue of some sort. It looked real enough, but it wasn't. "Don't you dare re-write history." Such a great line! Just give me a whole show about Desmond and Penny and I'd be happy. Make your own kind of music, Desmond. If there's any (human) character on the show that actually had the ability to affect time in any real way, it would be Desmond. Naked Desmond running through the jungle yet again. Sorry Des, you can affect time, but you can't change it. Charlie has been destined to die since day 1 on the Island. I've lost count, but it's definitely in there since the beginning. "No matter what I try to do... you're gonna die, Charlie."

s03e09 - Stranger In A Strange Land

And now, for the worst episode of the series. I am going to see if I can find anything in this that makes it NOT worth skipping. Kate and Sawyer arguing... Kate insists they can't leave Jack behind... Okay so far, so annoying. At least there's Karl... who I am loads better than. I hate Bai Ling. Although I guess it proves Jack has a thing for rail-thin strange-looking women. They couldn't find a pretty Asian woman for him to hook up with?! They had to get the most painfully bizarre one they could find. Ah yes, the sheriff woman... Who is really important... and yet we never see or hear from her ever again. This episode really is stupid. "You have back yards?"

Ah the old "It's complicated" argument. Or should I say NON-argument. Oh god, we're back to the Achara story. Wow she's so fucking weird looking... It actually makes me mad at how strange she looks. Can we get Ana Lucia back please!??!  Are her teeth transparent??? Or just rotted? This sheriff lady... It's like they reeeeally wanted Jane Curtin but couldn't get her. Isabel. We never ever ever see Isabel ever again. Luckily, after this episode, we don't see Achara ever again either. Is this the same office we see in season 6? Or was it 5? Whenever the Ajira flight lands and there's that annoying Tina Fey wannabe lady...

Oh hey, it's Cindy! There's an attractive woman in this episode! The girl with the weird teeth wants to know how Ana Lucia is doing. How cute. That was probably one of the most uncomfortably awkward scenes in this entire series. Karl's sobbing. I am so so much better than him! Alex should go out with ME instead. "We had an excellent surgeon, Jack. His name was Ethan." Yeah, whenever I'm mad at a woman and want to hurt her emotionally, I force her to give me a tattoo. Oh no! Juliet is going to be marked! ... Whatever that means. This episode is retarded. Oh great, Sawyer and Kate are arguing again. At least he seems to be able to see what a whining little selfish twerp she really is.

Okay yeah, this episode was pointless and useless. I should have skipped this one. Oh thank heavens that's done with.

s03e10 - Tricia Tanaka Is Dead

No "Previously on...", Hurley as a kid, and Cheech Marin means this episode is a good one. "In this world, son, you gotta make your own luck." says the guy who immediately runs off, possibly to never return. Poor Hurley and poor Libby. So a dog brings you a decaying human arm... That's a good sign, right? Hey look, a van! Tricia Tanaka is kind of a bitch. Aww, Johnny ran off with Starla? Stupid Johnny. He wasn't a good friend at all. Well, Tricia Tanaka is dead. I guess that finishes off this episode. Oh wait... there's more?

Well, Nikki would have gone with Hurley to get the car running, but Paulo wouldn't let her. Ow! A dart in the foot. Ow! Ow! Ow! Oh hey everyone! Kate and Sawyer are back!! Hurley's mom is so great. Oh hey, dad's back. Roger Workman... aka Ben's dad. "I'll be damned, you found yourself a hippie car." Kate is really good at listening and following orders. Wow, scary-looking psychic lady. Not as frightening as Achara though. Hugo ain't no fool. He catches on pretty quick, really.

"I came to ride shotgun." There isn't a lot of meat to this episode, and many dismissed it as "fluff" way back when, but it marks a great turning point for Hurley and the series as a whole. Especially in regards to the ending and Hurley's status with the Island. Just a great happy episode. How could that not make you happy? And now Kate's off to find the French woman... but you don't find the French woman, she finds you. And shoots you.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Rich And Strange (1931)

Beefing on Hitchcock
Rich And Strange

A young married couple, Fred and Emily, inherits some money and goes on a voyage around the world. After Emily begins an affair with a wealthy bachelor, Commander Gordon, Fred meets a German princess for an affair of his own. They both decide to leave their spouse and run away with their new-found loves, but when Gordon informs Emily that the "princess" her husband loves is really conning him, she decides to return to Fred only to find his money all gone. The couple returns home as poor as they began.

The fourteenth motion picture by Alfred Hitchcock is quite unique. Rich And Strange is practically a hybrid between the older silent films and the newer sound films at the time. The film uses many of the older techniques of film-making that were phased out with the introduction of sound, namely the make-up, broad exaggerated style of acting, and excessive use of inter-titles setting up and explaining scenes. Honestly, I've never quite seen a movie made in this fashion. Everything about the movie screams "silent film" except for the fact that sound is used quite properly throughout.

As for the story and characters, this is easily one of the best and most entertaining of Hitchcock's few romantic comedies. There are no real plot twists that catch you off-guard, no suspense, no mystery... It's just a fun romp across the globe on a luxury liner, with a pretty decent love story filled with lies and betrayal. The dialogue is quirky and funny, and there is plenty of unspoken slapstick that adds to the enjoyment of the film.

My personal favourite part of the film is the fifth character, a bumbling old maid who is simply out to get a man, no matter who it might end up being. She acts as mere comic relief through the entire film, and does a fantastic job at stealing many scenes. The actress, Elsie Randolph, was terrific and actually appeared in one more Hitchcock movie 41 years later in 1972's Frenzy. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for her next time I watch.

I really have no complaints about the movie whatsoever. Even the awkward line walked between silent and sound film techniques wasn't distracting and just felt comfortable and right for this movie. While I wouldn't place this in his top 10, Rich And Strange definitely grabs a special spot in the Hitchcock motion picture catalog. I definitely suggest finding one of those "20 movies for 10 bucks" box sets with the film included and give this a watch.