A Second Chance: Alfred Hitchcock’s TORN CURTAIN

It's been a while since I have given a film a second chance. I've been in a mood for Alfred Hitchcock's work since I signed up for an online class celebrating 50 years of his work. Hitchcock had a very prolific career and sometimes you can overlook a film or overreact to a film that may not be quite on the level of some of the masterworks of a director. I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about my revisiting of the film "Torn Curtain" from 1966.

I first saw "Torn Curtain" around 2009-2010. At the time the only films of Alfred Hitchcock I had seen were "Psycho," "Rear Window" and "Vertigo." Turner Classic Movies (TCM) had been running his films in a marathon throughout the month. I decided to take the time and catch up on the career of this cinematic pioneer. One film I looked forward to was this political thriller that involved a man trying to retrieve a formula from East Germany and bring it back to the United States. That film was "Torn Curtain."

My first and only viewing at the time was filled with boredom as I found the film dense and sparse at the same time. I found nothing compelling about the leads, despite the pedigree of both of them. The plot felt labyrinthine. And there was just too much talking that didn't move things along quick enough for me. This was my first true disappointment with Hitchcock. I had high expectations that were not met.

Then came this course. TCM would again showcase a majority of his films and "Torn Curtain" was among them. I saw that it was online to stream and would expire the next day. So I decided to revisit this film from the later stages of the career of the Master of Suspense.

I judged this film wrong. It's really good. Bordering on great for me.

"Torn Curtain" really engaged with me as a spy thriller. Sure it lacks the extravaganza of the Sean Connery Bond films that were going at the time, but entertaining nonetheless in a Hitchcockian manner. It works in quite a few ways.

Paul Newman and Julie Andrews were not the type of actor that Hitchcock enjoyed working with. He particularly wasn't a fan of Newman's method acting. Despite this, I say it works. I see Michael Armstrong and Sarah Sherman. Not Newman and Andrews. This film, while on a global scale similar to his other films, is not the grand adventure of films like "Saboteur" or "North by Northwest." This didn't need Cary Grant or James Stewart. Hitch needed a new dimension to pull of these roles for this film and this was the right call.

It's also beautifully filmed with some shots that ease you into the tension such as this scene when Newman's character hears footsteps following him.

There's also a great scene that has Armstrong and the Farmer's wife (Carolyn Conwell) have to kill a man, but find out it isn't as easy as you think. It's an underrated gem of suspense filmmaking by Hitchcock.

I don't want to spoil too much of the film or this game I'm describing, but I wonder if part of the plot inspired a key moment in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater?

I was unfair to "Torn Curtain." It's very suspenseful and has all the elements we love to see in Hitchcock's filmography. I actually did not give this film another chance where I did give another chance to his 1969 film "Topaz." I've watched that film 3 times and can safely say I do not like that one. "Torn Curtain" however is a satisfying ride that is not as dense as I originally claimed it was.

Second Chance – Man Of Steel

  
In preparation for the release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I decided to revisit what is now the first film in the DC Extended Universe, Man of Steel. Directed by Zack Snyder and produced by Christopher Nolan, Man of Steel is a retelling of the Superman origin. Henry Cavill steps into the blue tights for the first time as Kal-El/Clark Kent. Michael Shannon is General Zod. Amy Adams takes on the role of iconic reporter Lois Lane.  

 I was excited to see this film upon its release and I did enjoy it the first time around. It is one of the most divisive and polarizing superhero flicks ever made where it literally is a 50/50 shot on who loves it or hates it. 

Watching it again leading up to this big follow up has just reaffirmed what I felt in 2013. I really enjoy Man of Steel. I love it’s modern sensibilities, scale and filmmaking. As what is now the opening chapter in a larger DC movie universe, I think it was a pretty good start point. Considering that Batman is supposed to be jaded and cynical by time of BvS, I think it makes sense that this is the moment that brings him back to the crime fighting world, while to quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “taking your first steps into a larger world.” 

 One thing that benefits Man of Steel is that it plays better at home than it did in theaters. I actually feel a bit more engaged than I did then and I enjoyed it on the big screen. For some reason the action feels less hectic and Hans Zimmer’s score feels less like constant punches to the head. I pretty much still enjoy the casting choices most notably Michael Shannon as Zod. 

   
I will say this as a negative about the film. It sets up a lot of great character moments and it never really follows up on them. It’s a shame actually because they really were some great moments. In addition to that the 2 scenes of note (we all know which 2 scenes in particular I’m talking about.) I did not have an issue with either of them. I understand the issues people do take with them but I just interpret them differently. 

 There are plenty of superhero films that are better written and directed than Man of Steel for sure, but after giving this a fresh look before the new movie I can safely say for myself that I love Man of Steel as much as I love the 1978 Superman film. It hits the right notes for me as the beginning of Superman’s story and I look forward to seeing the story continue with Batman v Superman.

A Second Chance: Star Trek: The Motion Picture 



With hearing about the passing of actor Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek fans across the globe have been paying their respects for the beloved actor, whose performance as Spock, crossed generations. My father is a Star Trek fan from The Original Series and I became a fan during the Next Generation. Most people have been watching the “Spock Trilogy” of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I probably will myself in the future, but I wanted to take time to start with the first Star Trek film. This is a film that when I viewed it for the first time, I was quite bored and it felt like bad pacing. It was however visually pleasing as best it could be at the time, with the effects that were available.

The most common complaint about this film is that it is slow. And that I can not disagree with. Honestly I would have thought it used 2001: A Space Odyssey as a template. However for me 2001 moves very well for its length and ST:TMP which is slightly shorter does not. The scenes take so long to run, the wormhole, the probe scanning the ship, the spacewalk by Spock. All of these take forever. The only one I appreciate is the reveal of the Enterprise. Mainly because Jerry Goldsmith’s score is outstanding and the look Kirk has when seeing his beloved ship again.



This movie feels as if Stanley Kubrick made a Star Trek film. That could be because the slow paced scene recall that movie. Also there are similar theme of evolution that are in the narrative. We also can not forget the work of Douglas Trumbull who did the effects for both this and 2001. So from a special effects view there are some similarities. If you also watch the Original Series, there is a season 2 episode called “The Changeling” that pretty much is the plot of this film only expanded. These things make this movie feel derivative. Yet for some reason I am never able to skip it when I am in a Trek mode.

If dealing with chronology, then one could skip this movie and go straight to Wrath of Kahn. I say if you’ve only seen it once, give it a second chance and if anything, you can enjoy the scenery. Besides why rush to watch what many consider the best Star Trek film in the series.

Live Long and Prosper to you all!



New Entries to Second Chance

Hopefully everyone has been enjoying my Second Chance series thus far. I have been having fun myself revisiting some of these films. I still have a few of the first group to watch, but I do want to add a couple more to the schedule.

Hulk Directed by Ang Lee- 2003
The Island Directed by Michael Bay-2005

A Second Chance Part II Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3

20140529-132948-48588882.jpg

For the second part of my series on films I’m revisiting, I bring the focus to one that has been the scorn of many comic fans since it’s release. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3.

Now for some perspective. This film came out in 2007. I had massive expectations for it, being a fan of the first film and liking the second even though I was not as big a fan for it as the first. (More on Spider-Man 2 later in the series.) I was excited about the inclusion of the black costume and Venom. I did have concerns about fitting in Sandman and the continuing story of Harry Osborne’s revenge on Peter Parker, but I figured Raimi delivered in the first two installments, I had faith.

When I saw this in theaters I was amazed. I had a great time and loved the action sequences and the humor. I know that most of the opinions on the movie tend to point at the Emo Spidey, but I found it hilarious. I left the theater wondering “what was the big deal about this?” How did this fun comic book ride gather all this much hatred. The second time I saw it was when I bought it on DVD. And the same opinion I had when I saw it in theaters, I had at that time as well.

I had recently seen The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and while it had had its flaws, I had fun with it. So I went on a little Spider-Man tear and bought the original 3 on Blu-Ray, as well as the complete series of The Spectacular Spider-Man. I rewatched 1 & 2 and was geared up for my viewing of number 3 in stunning HD.

I was stunned. And not by the picture quality.

What was this I was watching? No. Sam Raimi couldn’t have made this. The man who helped formulate one of the greatest superhero films ever in Spider-Man 2, how did this come about?

For starters, let’s begin with the score. Danny Elfman who had scored he first two films is replaced by Christopher Young, who is best known for his scores for horror films. Now throughout the movie you can hear the themes of Elfman’s work, but it just did not have the same feel as the previous films. It almost seems as if the music for this already places it in another universe. This is probably not a major gripe but it did bother me.

Next. The acting. Now I never had any issue with Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker, and I was certainly fine with his portrayal in the previous films. Yet this time around, it was just off. Perhaps it was due to the writing. Also equally bad was Kirsten Dunst, who I never felt was either right for the role of Mary Jane Watson, but it also shows how badly she was written in the series as a whole. MJ is not a damsel in distress as she was portrayed here. And last is James Franco as Harry Osborn/New Goblin. He just seemed to be hamming it up in every scene. Regardless if he was battling Peter in the city or in his mansion, which I realized that fight sequence had the absolute worst music possible. If it wasn’t for Thomas Haden Church as the Sandman, there may have been no quality acting in this film.

Last, the writing. What exactly was this movie about? It follows up on a couple story lines from 1 & 2, Peter and MJ’s romance and Harry’s revenge story, but there really was no plot whatsoever. Say what you want about Batman and Robin, at least there were motivations for characters on both sides (Mr. Freeze and Batman both looking for a cure to saved loved ones.) Cringeworthy dialogue, and a badly written story for Venom, one of Spidey’s most popular villains make this really tough to watch. Venom is literally Spider-Man’s equal. At least in terms of physical abilities. In other forms of media, when Eddie Brock (played quite like a weasel by Topher Grace) becomes Venom, he uses his power to taunt Parker and make his life hell. This does not happen. At all. What a wasted opportunity.

When I rewatched this, I really saw that this was on Batman and Robin level silliness. The difference is that Spider-Man 3 was supposed to be something more. Warner Bros on the other hand, knew they wanted a toy commercial with Batman and Robin. Afterwards I felt a sense of betrayal within myself. This was 2007. I was about to graduate from college with a degree on communication. I had studied scriptwriting and film making. How could I have thought this was actually good? I only hope the film community can forgive me. I have seen the light. If not for the revenge story being left open, as far as I’m concerned now, Spider-Man’s original cinematic story ended in 2004 with Spider-Man 2.

A Second Chance Part I George Lucas’ THX 1138

20140529-111503-40503720.jpg

For my first film in this Second Chance series, I focus on the debut feature of George Lucas, THX 1138. Released in 1971, this movie is a science fiction film that is also a look at a bleak and sterile future where inhabitants are drugged and any form of intimacy is outlawed. The movie has a kinda 1984/George Orwell vibe to it. The only humans you see are the inhabitants of this unnamed city. No humans are in control, but rather robots which also give it a spiritual connection to The Matrix.

The first time I saw this movie, as about 5 or 6 years ago. I was always a fan of George Lucas because of Star Wars and this was the only film he had directed that I had not seen yet. I knew the film had been released on DVD as a directors cut, but as one who is a completeist, I had to see his original version, if it was available. Knowing Lucas, I figured that would be difficult.

Thanks however to the power of the internet, I managed to find a pretty clear copy of the original version. After watching it, I thought, “well thank goodness Star Wars was better.” I thought this was a very bland, and soulless film. It sounds hypocritical because of the film’s overall theme and setting, but it just felt totally disconnected. Now a film of this nature doesn’t have a deep connection with its characters. So the connection has to be with the world or setting. There is no exposition on how the world came to be this way, so what draws us to be interested in this film? I know many people hate the fact that Lucas made changes to his Star Wars films, but in this instance, it was totally needed. The settings for this movie are minimal and so the special effects give the world a new look and feel. Lucas seems to hate when he doesn’t have the latest and greatest toys to make his movies with , but for this one he needed them. I feel if he could have done this in 1971, and the movie have this look to it, it could have had some modicum of success.

I know I have not spoken much about the acting from Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence, but in all honesty, the world they inhabit is the star of this film. Not to say they don’t do solid jobs, they certainly do.

When I first saw this movie, I thought it was terrible. Seeing the directors cut, improves the bland original and makes THX 1138 worthy of a second chance. If you are unsure, trust me “Everything will be alright.”

Links

LucasFilm Official website
Internet Movie Database Link (IMDB)
Wikipedia
Rotten Tomatoes

Everyone deserves a second chance

I recently have watched a few movies that I hadn’t seen in a while. The nice thing about this is that it allows time for you to look at something with fresh eyes. Almost as if you have never seen it. So I am going to write about some of these movies and see how my perspective on them has changed. Maybe I like them now maybe I hate them now. We shall see. The short list currently is as planned:

1. THX 1138 – 1971 Dir. George Lucas
2. Spider-Man 3 – 2007 Dir. Sam Raimi
3. Daredevil – 2003 Dir. Mark Steven Johnson
4. Spider-Man 2 – 2004 Dir. Sam Raimi

As I come back to other movies I hadn’t viewed in a while, then they too will be added to the list.