Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Hoodwinked -- the Suspects(2005)
Written and Directed by Corey Edwards and Todd Edwards
Starring the voices of: Anne Hathaway, Glenn Close, Patrick Warburton, James Belushi, David Ogden Stiers, Xzibit, Chazz Palmenteiri, Andy Dick.
IMDB Entry

Hoodwinked starts out with Red Riding Hood (Anne Hathaway) visiting Grandma's house, with the wolf (Patrick Warburton) in the bed. After a witty variation on the dialog on the original, the Wolf jumps at Red, Grandma (Glenn Close) is discovered tied up in the closet, and the woodsman (James Belushi) crashes through the window.

Then the police arrive.

Yes, Hoodwinked is another postmodern version of a fairy tale, following the ground that Shrek and others plowed. What sets it apart is witty dialog and a surprisingly sophisticated story.

Because, in the movie, the scene at Grandma's house is not the main thread.  Chief Grizzly (Xzibit) has a bigger problem:  the Goody Bandit, who's been stealing recipes and putting bakers and candymakers out of business. The chief thinks the Wolf is involved, but his detective, Nicky Flippers (David Ogden Stiers) thinks otherwise.  So he has everyone tell their story.

Here's where it rises above most animated films:  the stories are all different and are colored by the teller's point of view. As each of the characters tell their tale, we see the different perspectives and discover that what one assumes is not exactly what happened. 

The concept is reminiscent of Roshomon, though by saying that, I give the wrong impression.  The movie is fun, and part of the fun is discovering how the original story (by Red) plays out with the information given by the other characters.  None of the characters are the way the appear, and it's fun to see the truth and how it all dovetails.

In the final part of the film, Red, Granny, the Wolf, and the Woodsman unite to bring down the Goody Bandit. While the identity isn't a big surprise, it still is both fun and entertaining. Directors Todd and Cory Edwards keep the action and jokes coming from start to finish.

All the voice actors are excellent. The main standout is Patrick Warburton as the Wolf, but Andy Dick is also worthy of mention in his small role.

The movie did well enough, mostly because it was relatively cheap, and there's talk of a sequel.  I'm looking forward to it.

Edited 12/15/2014.  The sequel was a major disappointment, alas.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Force of Evil

Directed by Abraham Polonsky
Written by Abraham Polonsky, Ira Wolfert (from his novel)
Starring John Garfield, Thomas Gomez, Marie Windsor, Howland Chamberlain
IMDB Entry

The Hollywood Blacklist had many innocent victims. Abraham Polonsky may not have been innocent, but he was a victim, and I think films are weaker because of it.

Polonsky (not to be confused with Roman Polanski) had some success as a writer of films, most notably the boxing drama Body and Soul, and decided he wanted to direct. This was still unusual in 1940s Hollywood (Preston Sturges had done it, but few others), but Polonsky took his shot with the gem of a film, Force of Evil (Not to be confused with Touch of Evil)

The movie is the story of an upheaval in the numbers racket.  John Garfield (not to be confused in any way with Alan Garfield) plays Joe Morse, a lawyer for an organized crime group. The group is working to take over the numbers racket.  Their plan:  causing the number 776 to be the winner on 4th of July.  Bettors always played that number very heavily on that day, so if it came in, it would be too much for many bookies to pay off.  Those who didn't join the syndicate would not be able to cover their bets, and either would have to borrow from the syndicate, or go out of business.  Joe is responsible for trying to get bookies to join the syndicate beforehand.

John Garfield and Thomas GomezThe fly in the ointment is Joe's brother, Leo (Thomas Gomez), a small time bookie who doesn't want to fall in with the big time crooks. Joe has to convince Leo before July 4, and Leo -- an honest bookie who will pay everything he owes, even if it ruins him -- refuses.

Polonsky made no bones about being a Communist, and the film is clearly an allegory about how big business crushes the small competitor. But the film works not because of that, but because of the relationship between the two brothers.

Leo is the moral one in the film, while Joe learns too late that some things come at too great a price.  Thomas Gomez is terrific in the role.  He was a well traveled character actor, best known as one of Edward G. Robinson's henchmen in Key Largo, and this is a performance to savor of a man who wants to stand up for what is right.

John Garfield was good (as he usually was) as Joe, one of his best performances as a cynical man who learns that cynicism isn't good enough.  Garfield was a vastly underrused actor of his time, a leading man type who was typecast as criminals and never really got the breakthrough role where he could become a major star.  The movie he first starred in,They Made Me a Criminal, pretty much describes

Polonski's Communist leanings did not sit well once the Red Scare began.  He refused to name names and was thus blacklisted for almost 20 years.  He did some film work -- writing a screenplay or two with a front, directing at least once without being credited -- but didn't show up officially until Tell Them Willie Boy is Here in 1969.  Once again, he showed his revolutionary credentials (the movie deals with the treatment of Native Americans), but the film was much more heavyhanded. 

As for John Garfield, he truly was one of the innocent victims.  Never a Communist, but socially very liberal, his politics caught up with him in the red scare and he found it hard to get work.  The stress contributed to his dying of a heart attack at the age of 39.

The film has been rediscovered and the allegory may seem a bit obscure, but as a drama, it's still as good as ever.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

All These Women (För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor) (1964)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Written by Bergman and Erland Josephson
Starring: Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson, Eva Dahlbeck, Jarl Kulle
IMDB Entry
Back in college, I took a course called "Emergence of the Artist."  The idea was to follow the career of a film director and see how he developed.  The first time they gave it, it was about Alfred Hitchcock, but when I took it, the director in question in Ingmar Bergman.
The professor, Frank Gado, had his quirks.  One was that the only type of art that was worth studying was those which examined the relationship between man and God. The other was that he was a passionate fan (and acquaintance) of Ingmar Bergman.
We watched 23 films in the ten weeks of the course (Union College had 10-week trimesters and is still unable to change this to two 15-week semesters with various objections that boiled down to the argument "It can't be done!" as though 90% of US colleges didn't exist).
We started with Bergman's first film, Frenzy, (as writer, and it has nothing to do with the Hitchcock title) and went through a lot of things that are rarely shown these days:  Illicit Interlude, Thirst, The Naked Night.  And eventually All These Women.
In 1964, foreign films were given US titles, and All These Women is not exactly the Swedish title, which is better translated as Let's not talk about all these women. A bit wordy, but, in a way, it fits, since All These Women is unique among Bergman's films.  It's a comedy.  A slapstick comedy.
Yes, for someone known as making serious and often depression films. Bergman had his bright side.  Of course, his best known film (at least, in adaptation) is also a comedy:  Smiles of a Summer Night.  But that was a French-style reaction comedy, where the humor comes out of how the characters react.  All these Women is pure slapstick.
It announces this very early on:  it starts with a funeral scene.  But instead of Death in a black cape, the soundtrack is playing "Yes, We Have No Bananas."  The story involves flashbacks of the dead man, a famed cellist who has affairs with many women (he schedules their lovemaking so they don't meet).
Jarl Kulle plays Cornelius, a writer trying to do a biography of the cellist, Felix (who is never seen). The film was also Bergman's first film in color.
It did not get particularly good reviews, but I remember it was mildly funny and worth checking out.  It seems to have gained a bit in stature over the years, as people see the typical Bergman themes underneath the slapstick (it's clear that the character of Felix is a stand in for Bergman himself).  But it's especially fascinating if, as you watch the slapstick, you tell yourself this is slapstick done by Ingmar Bergman. The idea alone is worth quite a few smiles.