Film Reviews

Film Review: Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965)

Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines
or: How I Flew from London to Paris in 25 hours 11 minutes
directed by Ken Annakin
Frames in this review are taken from the Fox DVD, which shows once again that price is entirely unrelated to technical quality.

Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines is surprisingly funny for a comedy from 1965 filmed in 70mm. [...]

The wry verbal humor works better. The two most important capitals of the world are, of course, London and Paris. Tossing a dozen letters into international mail bins: "You know, between these invitations and the newspapers, we should reach every flying man in the world." And the pervasive joke about the limited capabilities of the planes — Flying across the English channel? How daring, it's twenty-two miles of open water! There's also the girl that Dubois keeps seeing, but she's always a different nationality each time and named after a famous actress: Brigitte, Ingrid, Marlene, Françoise, Yvette, or Betty.


Film Review: The Double Life of Veronique (1991)

La Double Vie de Véronique (1991)
aka The Double Life of Veronique
directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Frames in this review are taken from the Criterion Collection DVD.


France has long served as a haven for Polish expatriates.  In music there’s Frédéric Chopin, in chemistry there’s Marie Curie, and in film there’s Krzysztof Kieslowski.  Indeed, Kieslowski would pay tribute to two centuries of Franco-Polish friendship in his Three Colors trilogy: Blue, White, and Red, from the three colors of the French flag.  Despite the grand conception of the trilogy, the individual films remain intimate, each focusing on the personal connection made between two individuals.

The Double Life of Veronique goes farther.  The two people here are connected in a far deeper way, for they are two instances of the same young woman: Weronika in Poland, and Véronique in France.  Both are played by French actress Irène Jacob.  (Duality is a common theme in Kieslowski films: the posthumously-produced Heaven would follow two unrelated people who are spiritual twins, one male and one female.)


Film Review: Henry V (1944)

The Chronicle History of Henry the Fift with his battel fought at Agin Court in Francealt

Henry V (1944)
directed by Laurence Olivier
Frames in this review are taken from the Criterion DVD.

Laurence Olivier's Henry Vis a vivid dramatization of Shakespeare and a great cinematic achievement.  The young English King crosses the Channel, defeats the enemy, and returns to England with a French bride.  Although France begins the play as the enemy, it ends up being joined to England by the bonds of matrimony.  The film concludes with a shot their rings, Queen Katharine’s bearing the fleurs lis, and King Henry's both Plantagenet lions and fleurs de lis.

If this seem too simplistic a description of the relationship between Britain and France, then that's simply a consequence of its function as wartime propaganda.  The film was shot and released during the Second World War, as another great English-speaking host prepared to invade France.  The Soviet equivalent would be Eisenstein's Ivan the Terriblealt, in which a ruthless Russian prince consolidates Russia, fights a great patriotic war against the Mongols, and sends envoys to Queen Elizabeth of England.  Except that film presented Ivan’s brutality in such a way that Stalin would be none-too-pleased.

In contrast, King George would surely approve of Olivier's Henry, a paragon of virtue and moral clarity.  Shakespeare's Henry had excesses in his youth, but leaves them behind when he coldly scorns [...]

Film Review: Grand Prix (1966)

Grand Prix (1966)
directed by John Frankenheimer
Frames in this review are taken from the two-disc Warner Brothers DVD, released in July 2006.

Grand Prix is the showpiece film for Formula One racing and a cult favorite in the racing community.  It shows historical racetracks from Formula One’s early days that no longer exist, and pioneered the in-car race footage that is now a staple of television footage.  Yet despite its niche position in the market, the film is actually quite accessible even to someone whose only contact with racing comes from channel-surfing.

In a way, Grand Prix is the best Arthur Hailey film ever made, even though it's not based on an Arthur Hailey novel.  It brings in a Grand Hotel-esque cast of characters, spins them around in a blender, and spits them all out into a spectacular climax.  And, unlike that stillborn Arthur Hailey 70mm spectacle Airport, Grand Prix requires no artificial action beyond what happens in the normal course of a race.  The expert camera work and careful editing give the live-action racing sequences a thrill that is impossible to achieve with special effects.

Formula One racing

The reason to watch this film is for the racing.  The surrounding plot is close to soap opera and is not that interesting.  Fortunately, the racing scenes are spectacular and absorbing, shot from inside the cockpit, in the air, along the track, in a chase car, pretty much everywhere that a camera can go.  The fact that most of it was shot in real life with the cars traveling at high speeds gives it a very authentic look, and some of it comes from actual Formula One races.  The excitement is enhanced by the editing, with frenetic cutting juxtaposed with longer sequences that provide the viewer with situational awareness of the larger race.


Film Review: Hell's Angels (1930)

Hell's Angels (1930)
directed by Howard Hughes, dialog directed by James Whale
©1930 Caddo Company, Renewed 1958 Hughes Tool Co.
Restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive
Frames in this review are taken from the Universal DVD ©2004 Universal Studios.

There's no trailer on the Universal DVD for Hell's Angels, but it doesn’t matter. No trailer could possibly sell the film as well as Martin Scorsese's biopic The Aviatoralt. Some of the most spectacular scenes in this film are excerpted in The Aviator, most notably, the Zeppelin bursting into flame in a lengthy hand-colorized shot, as well as the dizzying climatic dogfight, featuring perfectly choreographed aerobatics and a surprisingly believable head-on collision of two planes.


All in all, Hell's Angels is a rather enjoyable example of the type of film spectacle that was extraordinarily expensive then and would be prohibitively costly today. Were it not for the flying, the film could've been shot in a couple of weeks for far less money. It's far superior to most early-sound films, and with some allowance for the melodramatic story, remains quite watchable today.



Film Review: Woman in the Moon (1929)

Frau im Mond (1929)
(Woman in the Moon)

directed by Fritz Lang
Frames in this review are taken from the Kino DVD which is © 1929 Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung, renewed by Notice of Intent to enforce a Copyright 1996 under the Uruguay Round Agreement Act by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung successor of UFA, English Translation © 2004 Kino International Corp, Licensed from Transit Films GMBH on behalf of the F. W. Murnau Foundation, Wiesbaden

To catch misspellings in web searches: Frau im Monde


Watching Woman in the Moon will send shivers up the spine of the space enthusiast.  The science depicted in the film has an impressive pedigree — the technical sections are attributed to Dr. Hermann Oberth, the father of German rocketry and mentor of Dr. Werner von Braun, creator of the V-2 ballistic missile and later head of the Saturn rocket program.


Film Review: Pillow Talk (1959)

Pillow Talk (1959)
directed by Michael Gordon
starring Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall, and Thelma Ritter

Whenever a remake comes out, you can count on the original film being placed on the DVD release schedule.  And even though the deliberately retro Down with Love isn't a direct remake of Pillow Talk, there are so many recycled elements that it might as well be.  After all, we’re not really watching for the plot, but for the 1960s atmosphere.  In 2004 Universal quickly replaced the laserdisc-port 1999 DVD with a fresh edition.  Pillow Talk in widescreen is almost a poster child for letterboxing, with its expansive sets, the rear-projection scenes of the main characters sitting in cars, and of course, the his-and-her split screens of phone conversations (sometimes split three ways).

Those phone conversations launch the plot, as the premise for the comedy is that songwriter and playboy Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) shares a party line with interior decorator Jan Morrow (Doris Day).  He's constantly hogging the line, crooning the same old love song to different women in English and French.  Doris Day kept playing pure virginal characters, and romance isn’t on her character’s mind this time either.  She’s happily single and resisting advances from her clients, but she is quite annoyed that she never gets to use the phone line.  When the two parties get on the line simultaneously, Allen attributes her party-crashing phone interruptions to her "bedroom problems."   She then happily redecorates her bedroom.



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