Monday, May 31, 2010

Hardware (1990)

Dir: Richard Stanley
Severin Blu-ray

The film starts with a nomadic cyborg looking fella wandering the desert and salvaging robotic junk. It cuts to an urban setting where Dylan McDermott and his partner are going to visit a junk dealer. It feels that though, despite his budget limitations, Stanley is creating a large scale post-apocalyptic world. The rug is pulled out from under us when we are introduced to McDermott's girlfriend (Stacey Travis) and her claustrophobic apartment where the bulk of the film actually takes place. Living across from Ms. Travis is a gross perv that watches her and calls her bad names while he abuses himself. McDermott brings Travis a robot head, seen in the opening, for her "art" (art is highly in demand after the apocalypse). The Head builds a body and goes homicidal. The perv gets caught in the middle but mostly it's just Ms. Travis battling a robot in an apartment. Not the worst premise but kind of a let down if you were expecting something on a larger scope that the beginning would suggest. The premise isn't really the problem though, the script was written by an angry thirteen year old and directed in the style of a Nitzer Ebb or Ministry video. A pretty juvenile film and it's surprising Stanley has such a cult following today.


Bigger Than Life (1956)

Dir: Nicholas Ray
Criterion Blu-ray

Nicholas Ray? Check! Criterion? Double check! Bigger Than Life ? Not so much. In the film, Ray takes on high melodrama in a story about a teacher (played sweatily by James Mason) that gets addicted to Cortisone pills. The bad part? Cortisone makes him insane!! Hilariously insane in fact. He becomes even more of 50's creep by calling his wife an intellectual inferior, belittling everyone around him, and eventually deciding he needs to sacrifice his son to God by stabbing him with a pair of scissors. No shit. It takes roughly seven hours to tell this story, or maybe it just felt like it. There is a half hour interview with Ray from the late 70's on what looks like a cable access program. I wondered if that was the real reason Criterion released the disc is because they had no other titles to attach this extra too.


MacGruber (2010)

Dir: Jorma Taccone

I watch "Saturday Night Live". It was born the same year as me so I have always felt a connection to it, even when it was bad. So I was certainly aware of the MacGruber skits, which are nothing more than mini MacGyver parodies, but never thought of it as the breakout character on the show. After seeing a feature length film, that opinion holds up even more. The idea was to take these sixty second videos of Will Forte's racist, homophobic action hero and put him in an over-the-top tribute to 80's action films. The problem is that the film is confused on what it wants to do. It's never action packed enough to be an action movie but it seems to shy away from being truly ridiculous and delivering on the comedy. It flirts with being outlandish and offensive but each time it sets it up, it just fizzles out. It also relies too heavily on homophobia to get an uncomfortable laugh out. I was also disappointed in the lack of SNL or even just comedian cameos. I wanted to like but have to say that there is definitely a reason it bombed at the box office.


Daybreakers (2009)

Dir: The Spierig Brothers
Lions Gate Blu-ray

Recently I have complained about the lack of ideas in the details of sci-fi films. Most are just shoot-em-up action films wrapped in a sci-fi setting. In Daybreakers we get nothing but ideas (vampire cars with cameras and no windows, congealed blood in coffee, school zones starting at 2am for the kiddie vamps, etc..), or mostly what-ifs. The premise? What if there were more vampires than humans? The food supply would diminish and the blood suckers would search for a blood substitute. Why didn't they just call the folks over at True Blood? (sorry) Enter Ethan Hawke as a vampire scientist thats trying to create a synthetic blood but to no avail. He's a sad, guilty vampire and he happens to meet some human rebels that are on the run and are trying to cure vampirism. One of their members in Willem Dafoe who used to be a creature of the night but became human again because, wait for it!, he was exposed to the sun and water at the same time!?!?!?!?!? Uh-huh. So Hawke tries to recreate the accident in a controlled environment, bad guys come, good guys win etc.. The film starts with promise as it seems like it's being taken seriously and is sort of a refreshing take on vampires in the face of all the other vamp flicks we've been getting lately. The film loses it's way when Dafoe shows up playing it up for yucks and the idea of turning him human is just embarrassing. It's definitely a step in the right direction from the brothers previous outing, Undead (2003).


Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Dir: J. Lee Thompson
Fox Blu-ray

In the final entry we see the beginnings of the first entry in the series. The Ape City is starting to take shape under the leadership of Caesar (MacDowall again) and humans are being used as slaves to teach the apes knowledge. We see the three factions, the war like gorillas led by General Aldo (Claude Akins), the orangutans represented by Virgil (composer Paul Williams) and the familiar chimps. There is also a cameo by John Huston! (his voice anyway) as the Lawgiver. The plot has Caesar, Virgil, and a human, MacDonald, go to the ruins of a human city that is underground looking for something left by Caesar's father. They are spotted by the mutated humans that live there and are followed back by these war mad nut cases. While gone, General Aldo stages a coup to take over so he can kill all humans. He almost kills Caesar's son, named Cornelius! (he's his own father's father!) trying to cover his tracks after Cornelius over hears his plans. Caesar returns and the mutants attack closely on his hills. Aldo declares martial law and all heck break loose. We end with a violent and bloody conflict and the stage is set for part one. This makes the series a spectacular, circular tale that ends at the beginning and it must be applauded for this heavy sci-fi approach. While the films aren't perfect, they compliment each other well and I was glad I watched them all in a row. Ape shall not kill ape!


Planet of the Apes 40th Anniversary Collection (Planet of the Apes / Beneath the Planet of the Apes / Escape From / Conquest of / Battle for) [Blu-ray]

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Dir: J. Lee Thompson
Fox Blu-ray

Part four of the franchise is set in an austere dystopian urban future and picks up with Cornelius and Zira's baby all grown up, he is also played by MacDowall. In this future all the dogs and cats died so people did the natural thing and took on chimps as pets. These pets turned to slaves as people's distrust in the grew and they became more intelligent. Only one can actually talk though, the future ape that everyone thought was killed in Escape..., he is posing as Montalban's slave and renames himself Caesar. Human and ape relations get pushed to the brink and Caesar leads an ape uprising against all humans. It is of course the humans own faults that apes rise up to be the dominant species through their own fear and prejudices. MacDowall does a great job of portraying Caesar differently than Cornelius. In this he is a seething, angry young man as opposed to Cornelius' worrisome, analytical mindset. This is by far the most violent entry and turns into a war picture at the end with plenty of seventies red movie blood. The film does a fine job of bridging modern society into the world of the first film without hitting us over the head with obvious references.


Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Dir: Don Taylor
Fox Blu-ray

Here we get a departure from the first two films and find the tables turned. In this outing the apes are the outsiders as Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (MacDowall is back), and Milo (Sal Mineo) somehow figure out how to work a spaceship and use it to travel back in time to around the same year that Taylor first left out on his mission. THey are captured and taken to a zoo until they reveal they can talk. Hunter yuks it up by making monkeys (sorry!) out of some scientists. Then a shocking tonal shift happens when a gorilla chokes Milo to death in a cage! After that detour, Cornelius and Zira become celebs, Zira gets pregnant (from Cornelius, the movie is strange but not that strange), some sleaze ball gets her drunk and she reveals that the world blows up in a few thousand years. This starts mass hysteria and while most people believe that killing Cornelius and Zira would be wrong, they all agree that forcing them into an abortion will save the human race from talking apes in the future! The apes go on the run, Zira has the baby, and they meet Ricardo Montalban who owns a circus that happens to have a baby chimp of their own. You can probably guess what happens there but it leads to a really disturbing scene that is fairly unbelievable. This is certainly the strangest of the entries as it shifts from comedy to despair with little warning, it is a nice set up for the more ambitious sequels to come.


Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Dir: Ted Post
Fox Blu-ray

From the social commentary that was Planet of the Apes, we take a sharp turn south to the sci-fi geekiness that is the low rent sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Not long after Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his team left earth, three more astronauts were sent on the same trajectory to follow them. And why wouldn't they? It also makes sense that they would choose Brent (James Franciscus) to lead up the mission since he looks like Heston only two feet shorter. In fact, in one of the better moments, Dr. Zira actually mistakes Brent for Taylor. Brent goes through a lot of what Taylor did only condensed and less interesting until he finds an underground city inhabited by telepathic human a-holes that worship a nuclear bomb, But not just any nuclear bomb, the ALPHA BOMB! This thing can destroy everything on the planet and if the apes find out about their existence they have to use it. Makes sense. While in the underground city, Brent finds Taylor (Heston actually reprises his role) and the two take on the psychic baddies (including Victor Buono credited as "Fat Man", I won't mention what Don Pedro Colley was credited as). *SPOILER ALERT* But they fail and the Earth actually gets blown up which is kind of bad ass. Kim Hunter returns as Zira as does Linda Harrison as the Mute Nova, but even though Cornelius is in the film they couldn't coax Roddy MacDowall back for this installment. He would return for the next three however. This one is a major disappointment following the original but is still fun in it's own nerdy way. This disc contains a documentary specific to the film and some stills galleries.


Planet of the Apes (1968)

Dir: Franklin J. Schaffner
Fox Blu-ray

I remember liking the original Planet of the Apes but realized I hadn't seen it in years. I also couldn't remember anything about it's four sequels so when I saw it on sale for $50 dollars I couldn't resist picking up this Fox Blu-ray box set. Now let me talk about the box itself for a moment. It may be the nicest box set I have ever laid eyes on. While the Blade Runner pops to mind because of it's coolness, it's frankly a cheap plastic toy (still awesome though). The Apes set however is a beautiful coffee table book filled with outstanding photos in a slip case that just happens to hold five discs in the interior cover. This is worth owning for even the most passive of Ape fans.

That being said, let's discuss the first film. Four astronauts, led by Charlton Heston, are sent form (then) modern day Earth to what they believe to be another planet. It takes a few thousand years to get there and when they crash land they find that one of their companions was killed in transit. The remaining astronauts wander the lifeless desert in search of water and civilization. They come across a speechless, neanderthal type of humans scrounging for food but are almost immediately attacked by a group of intelligent apes riding horses and shooting guns. Heston is captured but is also rendered speechless because he was shot in the throat. While in captivity he meets a more progressive ape named Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) and her husband Cornelius (Roddy MacDowall). They are amazed by an "intelligent" human and try at all costs to protect him from the religious zealot that is not only the "Keeper of the Faith" but the "Minister of Science", Dr. Zaius. This fact is not lost on Heston's character as he points at that the one man (or ape) should not be able to hold both positions. The good guys are captured, an escape happens, and the final showdown occurs. What sets the film apart is solid directing and an excellent script co-written by Rod Serling. In fact, the script still has relevance today with it's stance on zealots that don't want to believe in evolution still having a voice forty years later. I am sure that at the time he would never have guessed that human intelligence hasn't evolved much. Schaffner plays up the frustrating aspects perfectly, he sutures you in and makes you want to punch some of these apes in the mouth. And then there's Heston. He gives one insanely over-the-top, toothy performance. I have to wonder if he read the script before committing to the project or maybe he just didn't care. But when he yells "It's a madhouse, a madhouse!!" I jumped off the couch cheering. The ending is now famous of course, I won't mention it here on the off chance you haven't seen it, but I am also referring to Heston's characters ending. What is often over looked is what happens to the apes that help him. Frankly it's far more depressing and truer to real life unfortunately. It really is a science fiction master piece and strangely was released the same year as one of the other great achievements 2001: A Space Odyssey and the two couldn't be more different in style.

The disc is packed with extras, including two commentary tracks and behind the scenes footage. The transfer looked excellent on my 1080p plasma. Highly recommended!


Lives of Bengal Lancer (1935)

Dir: Henry Hathaway
Universal DVD

Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone star as Lieutenants in the British army in this action film set in India. It's quite a long set-up until we get to the main plot which concerns itself with a new arrival (Richard Cromwell) getting captured by insurrectionists and the Cooper and Tone putting their personality differences aside to go and rescue him. The film is solid on all fronts but nothing out of the ordinary, and it does suffer in the pacing department in spots. Kathleen Burke shows up in a small but important role. If you're looking for some light adventure, then here you go.


Terminator Salvation (2009)

Dir: McG
On Demand HD

I have seen all the entries in the Terminator series but must confess that I have little to no attachment to them. What the previous films did succeed at that this newest entry doesn't even attempt to do, is have ideas. Even if they were just heady, nerdy sci-fi ideas, there was something there with at least the slightest attempt at social or political subtext. With McG's (seriously) attempt at a reboot (yawn) the audience gets two hours of things shooting bullets at each other. There are no cool ideas, the action is staged without flare, it's never fun, and it has nothing to say. What we're left with is some really good looking special effects that at the end of the day you won't remember at all. The movie is never bad per se, it just sits there lifelessly. It attempts to tell the story that we hear about in all the other films, so we know how it turns out making the movie a big "so what?".


Monday, May 24, 2010

Angel Face (1952)

Dir: Otto Preminger
Warner Bros DVD

It's always great to see characters in a film that are as smart if not smarter than the audience. That's the biggest impression Angel Face left on me as I watched it again. It's an excellent femme fatale story that begins when paramedic Frank (Robert Mitchum) meets Diane (Jean Simmons) on a call to her house. Diane's step-mother almost died from an accidental (?) gas leak. Diane becomes smitten with Frank so she follows him and insinuates herself into his life. She finds out that Frank has a girl, she tries to scare her off, used to be a driver, she gets him a job as a chauffeur, and wants to open his own garage, so she tries to get a loan for him. Frank goes along with most of it but never buys in completely like a chump. Diane is just able to pull him in in such a way that he can't escape. To give away too many more details would take away from the enjoyment of the film, but I will say that I loved how everything that would normally be kept a guessing game to the audience is spelled out for us and we're still captivated on what will happen next. The final act ventures into The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) territory but not in a distracting way. Top notch film making from Mr. Preminger. The single disc is from Warner is no longer in print but it is still available as part of the Robert Mitchum Collection Box Set.


I Drink Your Blood (1970)

Dir: David E. Durston
Grindhouse Releasing DVD

Where to start with this convoluted plot? At the beginning you say? A group of traveling satanist/hippies/rock band/acting troupe (?) are having a ritual in the woods in praise of their all mighty dark lord. One of the members invited a local girl to watch, it impresses the chicks, and the other members don't like that none so they brutalize her and live her for dead where she crawls back to her small town. The town is even smaller due to some construction happening and budgetary restraints that would have gone to pay extras. The satanic hippies' van breaks down and the closest place for help is, you guessed it, the same backwater burg. They walk in and buy some meat pies and are told that they can stay at the abandoned hotel. They mess with a guy from the town and make nuisances of themselves. The first girls kid brother figures things out and gives them meat pies filled with rabies. The rabies and some LSD gets the party started proper and everyone goes nuts! Yeah! It's as sleazy and gross as you might imagine or want it to be but it's also very well shot (by an uncredited Joe Mangine) and directed for the basement priced exploitation cinema that it is. It was famously re-titled because it was paired with another movie that had absolutely nothing to do with it called I Eat Your Skin (1964). In fact, the ad guy that came up with the title is briefly interviewed on the disc along with some of the actors and the director of the film. It's certainly not a masterpiece but I've seen far worse exploitation dreck from the era.


Iron Man 2 (2010)

Dir: Jon Favreau

Let's play catch up! To show just how far behind I am, I will admit to seeing this at the midnight screening the night before release. Big mistake, it will probably be my last midnight expedition to the theater ever. Stop talking and/or texting people! And no saving seats for your ten friends! Anyway, the film didn't exactly salvage the night itself. The overblown sequel to 2008's mostly competent and entertaining super-hero action outing tries to repeat every note of it's predecessor and fails. Downey Jr.'s charming and smart-ass Tony Stark turns into a middle age cry baby that pushes everyone in his life away and then miraculously saves the day and gets the girl without ever changing or learning a lesson. Go ahead and be assholes kids, you'll still win in the end. The script has Iron Man fighting a bunch of other Iron Mans (Men?) led by Sam Rockwell and a lethargic and mumbling Mickey Rourke. Scarlett Johansson shows up to push a button and let's her stunt double get the best action sequence. Gwyneth Paltrow is back so there can be a woman in the cast with some dialog. In all it feels like little to no effort was made to put together even the most basic action film as there are hardly any action sequences and the story is just patched together. The entire film is in the trailer. Scratch that, there are some scenes in the trailer that aren't in the film that actually look more interesting. But we do get to see Iron Man trying to scratch records at a party! Really this is just an advertisement for the Blu-ray disc and the upcoming slate of Marvel films that will hopefully be better.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tokyo Sonata (2008)

Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
E1 Entertainment DVD

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is mostly known for his strange, esoteric horror films like Kairo (2001) and Cure (1997). In recent years he has delved into more normal Japanese horror territory with films like Loft (2005) that are a little more accessible and recognizable as "J-Horror" as it's been dubbed (you know a pale girl with black hair in her face). With Tokyo Sonata Kurosawa leaves horror behind for a story about a modern Japanese family that is falling apart. The father is a mid-level salary man that his just been laid off and is trying to hide it from the family. He has no discernible skills and even goes so far in an interview to say that he will do any job at a company even though the interviewer keeps asking him what talents he has and what job he wants. He can't answer at all and asks if he means karaoke when he's asking about skills. Certainly a comment on the modern business man whose only talent is making money. His wife is unappreciated and ignored and more intelligent than she's given credit for. The oldest son wants out so badly he has decided to join the U.S. Military and ship out to the Middle East. And the youngest son is awkward at school and just wants to take piano lessons which his father won't allow. He uses his lunch allowance to secretly pay for lessons upon finding out he may be a child prodigy. Things keep deteriorating from there until everyone gets a head-scratching moment that at first seemed out of place until I remembered I was watching a film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. I felt watching it that Kurosawa was influenced to make the film from another Japanese master that he does not share a name with, Ozu. The film felt like a modern take on Ozu's quiet and reserved films dealing with similar subject matter. I had felt that Takashi Miike's Visitor Q was almost an attack on Ozu, at the very least it was an Anti-Ozu film, but this one feels more like a tribute. A beautiful and quiet film that reaffirms how interesting Kiyoshi Kurosawa can be.


The Lovely Bones (2009)

Dir: Peter Jackson
Paramount Blu-ray

Speaking of an over-reliance of computer generated effects! Peter Jackson goes out of his way to insult your intelligence by creating a rainbow filled, candy colored heaven in a movie where a little girl is raped and murdered. This is quite possibly the most painful viewing experience I have had in a decade. It is based on the novel by Alice Sebold about a teenage girl growing up in the suburbs in the seventies. She lives a perfect existence until some creep down the street (played sweatily and completely over the top by Stanley Tucci) drags her in to an underground room and kills her etc.. Thankfully the scene is not very graphic which is a complaint in the Entertainment Weekly review! Seriously! After that her "spirit"? drifts between the real world and her own heaven so she can narrate the next four hours or however long this thing took. In the real world her happy family (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz) begins to fall apart until her younger sister uncovers the culprit. I will now give the requisite spoiler alert because I would like to mention the ridiculous retribution bestowed upon Mr. Tucci's fiend. After eluding capture and driving to who knows where, Tucci tries to pick up another young girl at a cafe. She turns him down and then he slips off a cliff where his completely computer generated body gets bounced around and mangled by the rocks below. Yeah for random justice. One of the worst devices in writing is when you are supposed to find closure in a completely random event that was not set in motion or directly effected by a main character in the story. This is sloppy film making and a pointless exercise in futility. It's impossible to figure what exactly Jackson's intentions are here. Is it to establish that he believes in a Christian heaven? That pedophiles are bad? That violence can destroy a family? He never clearly sets out to explicitly say any of these things but infers all of them no matter how obvious they might be. The final product just flops between being obnoxious and lifeless.


The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009)

Dir: Terry Gilliam
Sony Blu-ray

This movie will be forever over-shadowed by the fact that it contains pieces of Heath Ledger's last screen performance and that his part was finished by Johhny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law. Gilliam was able to pull this off because of the structure of the story. Christopher Plummer plays the titular character that roams around with his Imaginarium, his daughter (Lily Cole), and two assistants. They invite people to take part in the Imagainarium which is some sort of illusionary paradise created by the participants deepest desires mixed with the Doctor's mystic abilities. It seems that everyone that enters the contraption has a similar fantasy that looks like a computer generated, Looney Tunes fever dream. After they meet Ledger's character Tony, he is played by a different actor every time he re-enters, a clever enough solution but it can't stop you from thinking about the behind the scenes circumstances that led to this decision. To give the story conflict, Tom Waits plays a devil character that enjoys betting on people's souls with the Dr. and the devil is there to lay claim to his daughter's soul on her upcoming birthday. They enter into a new wager so the good doc may save his daughter and Ledger's Tony is a wild card that may not be as altruistic as he seems. The problem with the film is that the story makes enough since that there are unanswered questions and it's not incoherent enough to be interesting. Gilliam's reliance on computer generated images is disheartening as well, the scenes with hand-made, practical sets looks much better and give the film an air of originality that immediately disappears when the cartoons pop in. And when we finally find out Tony's real story, it's so dark and cynical yo can feel how out of place it is and you're not sure whether to laugh or be outraged. It's not a terrible film but the script seems half-hearted and borrows heavily from Giilliam's other films.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Murders in the Zoo (1933)

Dir: A. Edward Sutherland
Universal DVD

This is part of the Universal Vault Collection that was made available to purchase only through the Turner Classic Movies website. It was clearly a response to Warner Brothers vault collection that produces DVDr's on demand for films that would not sell well in retail stores. I expected the discs to come in a bare bones package and the discs themselves to be on the purple-backed DVDr, so I was pleasantly surprised when I received (after a couple months of waiting) a very nice box with five silver discs. Each disc containing a lesser known Universal horror film with what promotional material from the original release that could be found added on as special features. First up is Murders in the Zoo, which was the only film not actually produced by Universal and the only pre-code film in the set. It's about a big game hunter (played by Lionel Atwill with a psychotically jealous streak when it comes to his wife (the striking Kathleen Burke). The film opens with it's most gruesome image, a man with is mouth sewn shut, so don't expect too many more shocks after that. There are plenty of murders though as Atwill uses various animals to cover-up his homicidal tendencies. He even tries to off a young Randolph Scott who works at the zoo. It's a good movie but unfortunately a good portion of it's very short run time is used up by the "comic" relief of top-billed Charles Ruggles who plays a press agent for the zoo that's afraid of the animals! How wacky. It's definitely not the reason to buy the set but certainly not a deterrent either as it's one of the only films currently available with Ms. Burke in the cast.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Dir: Guy Ritchie
Warner Blu-ray

My mental image of Sherlock Holmes is someone who is refined, a little up-tight, slightly arrogant, and super intelligent. With Ritchie's re-imaging of the classic character, you get pretty much exactly what you expect, none of those things. This Sherlock is disheveled, a brawler, a smart-ass, and through most of the film he has hard time figuring out a mystery that is as easy to put together as a 20 piece puzzle. Here Holmes is turned into every other modern day hero only the setting is different. Downey Jr. does a fine job and Jude Law is more than capable as his sidekick Watson, but everyone else is there to fill screen time. Mark Strong is a one note villain that does nothing in the way of menace, and Rachel McAdams is so stiff and lifeless you have to wonder why Holmes would have any interest in her at all. The film is neither good nor bad really, it just makes you wonder why it was made at all.


The Flesh Eaters (1964)

Dir: Jack Curtis
Dark Sky DVD

This was a low-budget New York based production and is considered by some to be the first gore film. Don't let that mislead you, were not talking buckets of Lucio Fulci red carnage here, but there are a few surprisingly graphic attempts at disembowelment. The film takes place almost exclusively on, what we're told is, a small island off the coast of New York. A charter plane carrying a movie star, her assistant, and a world weary pilot, is forced to land there because of a storm. The three castaways find that a German (you know he's evil, he's German!) scientist conducting some sort of furtive experiments there. They soon find that the water surrounding the island is filled with flesh eating bacteria that leaves nothing but a classroom skeleton if you get close enough to it. Half way through the film a way-out-there beatnik gets stranded on the island (for more victims) and the scientist uses him to conduct the final stages of his master plan. The movie, though sometimes silly) is actually a well paced and cleverly written tale of horror. The screenplay comes courtesy of Arnold Drake, mostly known as a comic book writer and the co-creator of two of my faves, The Doom Patrol and Deadman. Strangely and off topic, director Curtis went on to voice Pops Racer in the American re-dub of the Speed Racer cartoon. He handles the special effects very well, most of the creature and effects shots are pretty effective. The Dark Sky DVD looks great and offers the added "Nazi Experimentation" sequences as a bonus feature.


The Snorkel (1958)

Dir: Guy Green
"Icons of Suspense" Sony DVD

There's not many familiar Hammer names or faces (except for Jimmy Sangster on writing duties) associated with this rather typical thriller. The opening is pretty striking and does the job on suturing in the audience, but the rest of the film, while well made, is a pretty predictable cat-and-mouse affair. It's the story of a man (Peter Van Eyck) that may have possibly killed his wife's former husband. Her young daughter turns up when the woman is killed and says that she saw everything that happened to her father and believes the new husband also killed her mother. From there it is story of trying to convince the girl she is wrong while she fights to prove herself right. Technically there is no mystery here at all, the audience is in on everything from the start, but it's still a decent watch. The most interesting thing is that reportedly after the success of Psycho (1960), Sangster was asked to write several mysteries that were known at Hammer as the "mini-Hitchcocks", and while this film feels like it would have fit into that vein, it was made two years before Psycho was released.


Cash On Demand (1961)

Dir: Quentin Lawrence
"Icons of Suspense" Sony DVD

Oh sweet lethargy, how I would loathe the if not for the apathy. So, I watched this a while back as I was very excited about a new Hammer Films box set but I will finally pontificate upon it. This is probably my favorite film in the "Icons of Suspense" set. It's the story of an uptight jerk of a bank manager (played to perfection by the great Peter Cushing) whose small English town bank is robbed by the clever and suave Andre Morell. The entire film takes place in the bank and the story is played out in real time (remember how that was all the rage in the late nineties?). No violence is necessary, only a war of words as Morell fleeces the bank right before Christmas while the vault is full of payroll money. The concept isn't too far removed from The Desperate Hours (1955) but is played with more dry wit and a valuable lesson learned. It's a perfect example of what a filmmaker can accomplish when relying on the written word and great performances over a budget and major set pieces. The fact that you get five other films in the set makes it a must have purchase.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Universal Blu-ray

I have a hard time watching Tarantino films and I blame it all on him, of course. I was a teenager when Reservoir Dogs came out and frankly I loved it. Then I read an article in Film Threat Magazine comparing the film to Ringo Lam's City on Fire. I still enjoyed the movie but I was hooked. It was the first issue of Film Threat that I purchased, because of the Reservoir Dogs story, and it opened a whole new world for me. City on Fire was screened at midnight in Dallas (where I'm from) not long after I read the article by a guy who would bring in a new Hong Kong film every weekend. I started looking for more foreign action films, which led to action and exploitation films through out the ages. It also introduced me to new friends that I would have for over a decade now. The other film from that period in my life that would play an important role in my cinematic development would be Hal Hartley's Trust which led me down similar paths. As Tarantino made more films, I was becoming more educated. Now I only see his films as a series of references to things that we both enjoy. I am constantly being taken out of his movies by the use of sound cues from other films or character names borrowed from directors and actors that we both admire. Inglourious Basterds is certainly no exception as the title itself refers to a film that I have seen several times (the first being under it's alternate title G.I Bro!). The other problem is that I'm constantly wondering if there are references I'm not getting, and should I? All that aside, I also have just found most of his films lacking in some of the very basic things that make a good film. There lack of narrative cohesion make every film feel like a greatest hits of remakes. However, With Inglourious Basterds, QT seems to be trying to overcome his decencies making for what I believe to be his most successful film to date. Now don't take that as a glowing endorsement, the movie still has it's problems with pop culture references, but we're getting close to something here. The story takes place in WWII and is not exactly about a group of Jewish-American soldiers that hunt down Nazis and violently kill them. In fact that story is hardly explored at all and takes a back seat to the story of a young Jewish woman (Melanie Laurent) who is hiding her true identity and is now running a cinema in Paris. A young German soldier is taken with her and insists and screening a propaganda film that he stars in at her cinema. All the highest ranking Nazis will be there prompting a plot for revenge and a way to end the war. This story is the most intriguing and could have sustained a great 90 minute film, unfortunately we needed another hour added on and a movie star so Brad Pitt leads the Basterds as they (really violently) terrorize Germans along the French Country side. The Basterds themselves have very little dialog and relatively minimal screen time. The biggest and most talked about parts go to Cristoph Waltz (his openeing scene is fantastic) as a Nazi "Jew hunter" and Diane Kruger as a German actress working as a double agent. Also look for a rather ridiculous cameo by Austin Powers. The movie could have been much better than it was had it had more focus on one particular story and it's geeky ending undermines anything the film could have been.


Buy this instead.

St. Trinian's (2007)

Dir: Oliver Parker & Barnaby Thompson
Sony DVD

It took two people to direct this? Here's an attempt to relaunch the British St Trinian's film series from the 1950's/early 60's about school girl that get involved in horse racing and other such illegal activities all in the name of tomfoolery. This movie is a chore to watch. The filmmakers do nothing to hold the viewers attention. The main draw here for most would be the cast members that have gone on to be more famous (Gemma Arterton, Russell Brand) or if you just want to watch Rupert Everett embarrass himself in drag. Let's not forget about Colin Firth slumming it either. A tedious and over-long bore.


The Man Who Never Was (1956)

Dir: Ronald Neame

A World War II film of a different kind, this one shows absolutely no war footage. It's a true story about a plot by the British to try and fool the Nazis into thinking that they would be attacking Greece instead of Sicily. Clifton Webb stars as Lt. Cmdr. Montagu (the screenplay was based on Montagu's novel) whose come up with the idea to mislead the Germans. We follow the plan from it's conception to execution and then into the Nazi efforts to confirm the information. Everything is told in great detail with no questions left unanswered. There are some moments that are probably played for dramatic tension, but everything works. The film could be considered a bit dry but it's thoroughly engaging with Neame's no-nonsense approach to the story. Gloria Grahame also stars, in one of the only color films I have seen her in, as a friend to Montagu's secretary that unknowingly plays a huge help in the plan. The DVD is bare bones but certainly worth watching.


Goodbye Gemini (1970)

Dir: Alan Gibson
Scorpion Releasing DVD

Cheers to Scorpion for getting titles like this and Girly out on DVD, unfortunately this one has a lot be desired in terms of enjoyable viewing. It's the story of fraternal twins, played by Judy Geeson and Martin Potter, that appear to be sheltered and a little too co-dependent. They meet a guy named Clive that looks to corrupt the duo by introducing them to party and drink and ultimately giving brother Julian over to some enthusiastic trannies that that quench his secret desires. He uses the photos from the encounter to try and blackmail Julian but things go awry. Michael Redgrave plays an older official type that is curious about the twins after seeing them around. He tries to help out sister Julian before finding out she may be involved in a murder. The story meanders here and there and Potter gives an over-the-type performance that at times is difficult to watch. Gibson directed three films for Hammer but none are looked upon very well. He's a competent visualist but lacks a lot in the storytelling department. The disc has commentary by Geeson but I did not finish listening to it. She sounded a bit uptight or maybe even upset. Her presence in the film is really the only high point though.