Sunday, April 19, 2015

1988 - APPOINTMENT WITH DEATH, lazy Agatha Christie mystery make that very lazy

 Hercule Poirot investigates the murder of a mean matriarch who is vacationing with her family in the middle east in this strictly by the numbers murder mystery.  This is a Cannon film production the studio responsible for such classics as Lifeforce and Ninja III:  The Domination.

Hack director Michael Winner put together an interesting cast, Lauren Bacall, Peter Ustinov, Haley Mills, Carrie Fisher and an interesting actor named Jenny Seagrove who wasn't able to really get a career going in films. 

However even a decent cast has to deal with the artistic ambitions of Michael Winner and there isn't a whole lot any of them can do about it.  Winner stages ever scene with his usual direct (coarse) approach to filming a movie. 

The chief liability in this film is the Agatha Christie murder plot.  Once again Christie withholds information from the viewer and spends an unending amount of time focusing on the time of the murder.  Christie wrote a lot of murder mysteries and they weren't all winners but come to think of it mysteries kind of annoy my anyway.

102 minutes

1964 - ONIBABA, or Demon Hag

This is an exceptional drama with elements of horror from Japanese director Kaneto Shindo.  Two women living in a marsh during the medieval Japanese war period make their living by killing samurai soldiers and robbing them of their weapons and armour.  Into their lives comes a former soldier to upset their existence.

As atmospheric as you could ask for in an eastern Gothic film like this.  The marsh setting with the tall reeds is claustrophobic the photography is suitably creepy especially at night and there is a highly charged erotic atmosphere to the whole film.

This is a unique horror film.  Well worth a look.

103 minutes.

Monday, April 13, 2015

1952 - RETREAT HELL, schizo Korean War film.

This is a rah rah get those commies war film with lots of stock footage of planes dropping bombs.  The characters are right out of the book of soldier war movie cliches. The cowardly soldier who sucks it up, the old hardened vet who has seen it all and the civilian called up from the reserves etc.

However as you watch this film it becomes clear that the director Joseph Lewis is more interested in showing how grim war really is in particular the Korean War fought at times during the freezing winter months.  Hard to sell a lot of "of go get em" propganda when soldiers are freezing to death.

The  cast is a bunch of "B" movie actors with the headliners being Frank Lovejoy, Richard Carlson and Russ Tamblyn.  Tamblyn was usually seen in MGM musicals dancing around or as a dancing street hood in West Side Story.

The film was made with the cooperation of the Marines and was filmed at Camp Pendleton in sunny California with Camp Pendleton standing in for freezing North Korea.  Well that's Hollywood realism for yea.

94 minutes

2011 - A DANGEROUS METHOD - literate treatment about a crazy person and situation

Michael Fassbinder is analyst Carl Jung, Keira Knightley is his crazy patient who he treats with some unusual psychiatric methods which include sleeping with her and spanking her.  Into this mix is Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud.

For all the implied kink in this film, this is a very talky story.  There are lots of discussions about psychoanalysis.  This film is a real blab fest although the actors make the dialog sound pretty interesting.

Keira Knighley gives either a brave larger than life performance as the crazy patient or she is so over top it's hard to know where the top exactly is.  Either way it's certainly interesting.

Christopher Hampton adapted the film from his play.  Hampton is known for his classy adaptions of his plays like Dangerous Liaisons and Atonement.  The director is extreme film maker David Cronenberg so it's easy to guess where the emphasis on sadomasochism came from.

99 minutes.

Monday, April 6, 2015

2013 - THOR: THE DARK WORLD, a sequel to THOR

Follow up to Thor and not too bad.  This time Thor has to take on a bunch of evil Elves.  They want to return the universe to the "dark era" whatever that is.   The film has lots of action and hammer throwing.  Chris Hemsworth is the stud god, his earthling girl friend is played by Natalie Portman.  Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgard are the comedy relief.  Tom Hiddleston is back as Thor's evil step-brother Loki.  The topper in the cast is Anthony Hopkins playing Thor's dad Odin like a Norwegian King Lear.

These Thor movies are a strange mixture of Norse mythology, sort of science fiction, sort of fantasy all channeled through the Marvel movie universe not the Marvel comic universe which probably had an even more involved story line with this character than these silly movie time lines.

I actually kind of enjoyed this fight the elf nonsense loaded with overblown dialog and a lot of the cast running around in silly Viking outfits.  It's more of a comic book film then the overly serious Ironman and the self important Captain America because when you get down to it Marvel movies are basically silly comic book movies.

112 minutes.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

1965 - THE SLEEPING CAR MURDERS, an early film from Costa Graves

The first film by Costa Gavras is a competently made police procedural thriller.  The film appears to be influenced by American crime thrillers since the vibe of the film is not really European.

There's the put upon Police Inspector, his boss who is interested in advancing his career, the young rookie detective the usual suspects and red herrings found in these mysteries.

The film has a good cast with a couple of stalwarts of French cinema Yves Montand and Signoret in leading roles.

The story kind of plods along with lots of murders and does manage to create some whodunit type suspense. Everything gets wrapped up an exciting car which kind of reminded me of The French Connection's famous car chase.

The film runs about and hour and a half and is a decent and quick time killer.

95 minutes.

1956 - THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, on Blu Ray.

DeMille's final film probably sums up all of the good and bad things about his films.  DeMille had an interesting visual sense based on old Victorian and Renaissance paintings and certainly knew how to deploy large numbers of extras for maximum visual impact.  At the same time DeMille was not the greatest director of actors, he liked things played very larger than life.  There was no subtlety in a DeMille film.  DeMille also like to use stories from the Bible and American history as a basis for his films and by the time he had dramatized them they bore virtually no resemblance to actual historical events but could be pretty darn entertaining.

The Ten Commandments was a big production for DeMille.  It had the "cast of thousands," impressive scenes, dramatic use of color and lighting and a large of cast of very good actors.  It also had one of the most ludicrous stories about the life of Moses ever put on film.  Since so little was known about Moses, DeMille and his writers were free to invent large chunks of his life story.  In The Ten Commandments DeMille had come up with a bizarre story about a three way love triangle between Moses, the Pharaoh and the Pharaoh's wife which boarders on the tasteless.

Still, this is an amazing film and also a very long one.  This thing just goes on and on and DeMille's cast really pours it on with enough scenery chewing acting to make Al Pacino look subtle.  Amazingly, DeMille was 75 years old when he made The Ten Commandments.  He suffered a heart attack during this production but he continued to direct the film to completion.

Paramount has put together a stunning Blu-ray of the The Ten Commandments.  This film looks really good.

220 minutes.