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A few reviews . . (film or TV) — Page 11


Faneditors, take note!

Count Dracula - 1970 - 6/10
AKA - Les Nuits de Dracula

Faithful retelling of Stoker’s novel, up to a point.
Christopher Lee as the elderly count who grows more youthful as the film progresses (years before Coppola’s take).
Excellent Barcelona locations, effective music, solid acting, are all undercut by indifferent direction.
Aside from his usual money problems, one gets the feeling Jess Franco simply lost interest.
No nudity, certainly no hard core pornography that mark many of his films.

The print I saw was outstanding, and boasted a fine commentary by historian David Del Valle and actor Maria Rohm.
Rohm is sharp and her answers insightful. Glad she participated, otherwise hers would be lost history.

Cuadecuc, Vampir - 1971 - 6/10

Christopher Lee filmed Count Dracula for Jess Franco in 1970, with a powerhouse cast.
While the narrative was faithful to Stoker, the budget was meager and it showed.
Nevertheless - during filming, director Pere Portabella lensed this strange dish.
Black n white, silent film, consisting of outtakes, over-exposures, and oddities.
Such as, you’ll see the clapperboard from time to time, also cameras, actors hanging around, laughing.
The music is a mix of ambiant, musique concrète, lounge, and empty silence.
Sets are atmospheric, the pace is lethargic.
Some have slotted this into arthouse territory, but it strikes me as an art installation.
Meaning something you might see in a museum or gallery, watch it for 10-20 minutes, then drift away.
Definitely a curio.


Have Sword, Will Travel - 1969 - 6/10
AKA - Bao Biao // 保鏢

The yearly shipment of gold is due to be shipped to the emperor.
Alas, the leader in charge of protecting the wealth has aged and lost his kung fu.
He summons help from a young couple, while a powerful outlaw clan strategizes.
Into the midst arrives a stranger, with astounding swordplay prowess.
This character gets compared to Eastwood’s Leone gunslinger, though my take is Shane.
Leisurely paced action film is a bit over complicated romance wise, but the final sequence is a dazzler.
With the ensuing bloodshed, I imagine John Woo must have viewed this.


Budapest Noir - 2017 - 6/10

Fine Neo-Noir set in 1936 Budapest, as nearby Fascism and Nazism unmoor Hungary’s stability.
A journalist unexpectedly ends up paying for an attractive woman’s meal.
Two beats later, he is assigned to a nearby murder of a prostitute, who turns out to be the female earlier.
The reporter’s itch sends him to the morgue, where the body has disappeared.
Then the hunt. Why the cover-up? Why was she murdered? Most of all, who was she?
No new ground here, though for Noir buffs any new, good film is a quiet celebration.
Though shot in Budapest, the usual turista locations are absent.


Chi-Raq - 2015 - 5/10

Spike Lee somehow reworks Aristophanes’ hysterically funny “Lysistrata” into a preachy tirade.
Fable of women withholding sex until rival gangs make peace (no peace, no piece) blended with with gun violence, diatribes against the NRA, posters of victims, whatnot.
Essentially, there are two films: one a broad comedy, the other, if handled correctly, a savage indictment of how US gun owners value guns more than life.
The message is heavy handed, and, to be honest, embarrassing to see Lee present a film so awkward.
Fully, half the scenes are carried on a couple beats too long, dragging the pace.
Apologists defend this film saying it is not a comedy, but rather a satire.
Sorry, satire generally uses a razor honed knife. Lee swings Fred Flintstone’s club.
On the plus side, much of the dialogue is rhyming couplets, and the “Lysistrata" business is funny as hell.
The cinematography is terrific, with several lush looking set designs.
Moreover, one of the best characters is Samuel Jackson’s chorus, Dolmedes.
Once he utters the phrase, “signifying monkey,” you immediately recognize Dolemite!
Otherwise, a fine cast wasted and wicked concept bungled. A shame.


Kampf um Norwegen: Feldzug 1940 - 1940 - 6/10
AKA - Battle For Norway: 1940 campaign

Nazi propaganda overwhelms with details, grows tiresome.
Documentary shows invasion and conquest of Norway in 1940.
Animated campaign maps are helpful, also a wealth of images.
Every skirmish is mentioned with scant fighting footage.
As propaganda, this is not vitriolic hatred, but more the morale booster.
Why German is in the war with Norway (it’s the fault of the English).
The presentation struck me as dull until the last section, the conflicts around Narvik, where the Allies were giving the Kriegsmarine and Gebirgsjägers a hard time of it.
Goebbels, supposedly dissatisfied, mothballed this and it was considered lost until found in 2006.


French Cancan - 1955 - 6/10

After Henri’s establishment closes, he regroups and decides to launch another.
This time, he will revive a bygone, notorious dance number, the cancan.
Love affairs, misunderstandings, arguments and pitfalls.
Will he be ever able to open his cabaret, the Moulin Rouge?

Afterward, I knew this was going to cost me.
“You never said this was a musical.”
“C’mon, Jean Gabin stars, Jean Renoir directs, in color!”
“It was like an MGM musical. Bloated nonsense. I don’t see how you like these things.”
“Big screen, too! Old fashioned magic.”
“When the Miss Fisher movie comes out, we’re seeing it. You owe me.”
“Aww, man …”
“And I renewed the subscription to the Hallmark Channel.”
“Oh, bummer, dude!”


Bamboo House Of Dolls - 1973 - 6/10
AKA - Nu ji Zhong Ying // 女集中營

Wonderful exploitation sleaze from the Shaw Brothers.
Japanese troops attack a hospital, murder most of the patients, drag all the attractive nurses, kicking and screaming, to an internment camp.
Viewers familiar with the WiP genre can predict the following:
Rapes, beatings, tortures, a lesbian commandant, prison catfights, stoolies, and wardrobe limitations.
Indeed, all prisoners wear flimsy blue tops and skimpy blue panties.
Those outfits are shredded or ripped off every five minutes, exposing huge swathes of gratuitous nudity.
Subplots involve hidden gold and spies.
Compared with other WiP fare, this is on a par with the Ilsa series.


Wagon Tracks - 1919 - 6/10

Stodgy, William S Hart western, though Hart vehicles typically carry the dust of Victorian theatre boards.
Hart goes to meet his younger brother, a recently graduated doctor, arriving on a paddle-wheeler.
While card playing, however, the young man has been gunned down.
Hart, leading the wagon trail to Santa Fe, ponders how the cull the guilty out of the herd.
The print I saw was wonderful, the tinting outstanding.
Even small details such as inter-titles, feature imaginative touches.

At barely an hour, the pace is unhurried, and effectively evokes the Old West.
Hart knew and was friends with Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, and he strived for authenticity in his Westerns.
A first class production.


L’ecole de la Chair - 1998 - 6/10
AKA - The School Of Flesh

Bored rich female initiates an affair with surly rent boy.
Beforehand, she had been warned by several of his ex-lovers / victims.
Challenge or self destruction?
Following the initial docking maneuver, they play games and test each others boundaries.
The plot, or what masquerades as a plot, are cobbled together set pieces.
Likewise the assembly of supporting characters, though some are more memorable.
Despite the occasional twist, interlude in the bazaar, and raw emotions, from the very beginning, one realizes this is not the happy ending love story.
French, not too talky, though there is quite a bit of dialogue.


Murders At The Zoo - 1933 - 6/10

Pre-Code nasty misses greatness because it pulls its punches.
Lionel Atwill plays Gorman, a sportsman (meaning he shoots piles of animals), who ships a big collection to the zoo.
Early on, however, we witness how he deals with a rival for his wife’s affection.
Binding the man and stitching up his mouth before abandoning him to the hungry jungle.
Other particularly cruel offings follow.
Unfortunately, Paramount defused this throughout with comic humor, which undercuts the tone.
Better, since the wife had a wayward eye, would have been to juice the sexual angles.
Directed by Eddie Sutherland, who I’ve always regarded as loose change,
Coulda, shoulda been terrific.


Ditch Day Massacre - 2016 - 5/10

Dead teenager flick. Falls squarely into Revenge cinema as opposed to Slasher.
Six high schoolers skip classes to have a day party.
Swimming pool, booze and banging.
Unknown to them (being blind from drinking and squirming) the stranger has slipped inside.

There is a backstory, which I shall not go into.
Suffice to say the theme is of brutal justice, with no regard to bystanders.
Acting is as expected. Production shows limited budget.
Gore is minimal for the genre.


The Fat Black Pussycat - 1963 - 4/10

Abysmal film, somehow oddly watchable.
Black-gloved killer prowls Greenwich Village, targeting the Bohemian set.
Beatniks, poets, dancers, poseurs and loose women.
A very square police detective gets nowhere interviewing the hipper-than-thou denizens.
He ventures into the Fat Black Pussycat Cafe, goes to swinging parties, hooks up with an anthropology professor.
Acting is uniformly dismal. Lots of pre and post coital situations, though.
Directing is terrible, editing worse.
The second half jumps all over the place with little coherence.
Extras include trimmed sex scenes and alternate ending, likewise incoherent.
Must-see for bad film connoisseurs.


Trois Femmes en Colere - 2016 - 6/10
AKA - 3 Angry Women

Well, not necessarily that angry.
Grandma, a feminist firebrand in the 60’s, realizes the young generation does not care, has no will to struggle, and that she and her sisters fought for … for what?
In one way, she has outlived her time, in another, she carries an unpleasant ghost of an earlier time.
Femme number two is her daughter, snared in an “open marriage.”
Meaning, husband can cheat at will. Yet if she does …
Femme number three is the granddaughter, medical student, whose boyfriend wants her to be his support, rather than an equal partner.
OK enough concepts. The males are not necessarily despicable or domineering. They merely take advantage and exploit their fortune.


The Grand Seduction - 2013 - 6/10

Charming narrative of lies here.
Tiny fishing harbor in Canada is dying. No money from fishing, folks leaving for the city.
They are in the running for a petrochemical processing factory, however, if they can get a resident doctor.
A big city doctor is shanghaied in, then the web of deceit spins.
By turns laugh out funny, then sadly amusing, almost depressing.
Those who have witnessed the death of their childhood home will relate.
Distaff cousin of The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain, without Mr Grant.


Until Death - 1987 - 6/10
AKA - Per Sempre

Rainy night, a struggling husband is buried alive by his young, pregnant wife and her lover.
Six years later, the couple are still together, but their relationship is rocky, and the man has no use for the wife’s needy son
Another stormy night, and the drifter appears, seeking shelter.
Soon enough, he assists the wife in her cafe and befriends the child.
Italian TV movie boasts inventive camera work and the luscious Gioia Scola, but the script, despite trying to keep the viewer guessing, treads familiar territory.
Some of the son’s nightmares are memorable, hands clawing through plastered walls for one.
Not bad, but not great, either.


A Dark Song - 2016 - 6/10

Grieving mother hires occult specialist to help her contact her deceased child.
Lengthy setup as proper location is found, supplies stored, preparations begun.
Pace of this will vex the impatient.
This is about the ritual, the process, the incantation.
Exterior photography is spectacular and forbidding, while the house seems a character in itself.
Events begin to go awry, and you realize mother and interlocutor each have unspoken agendas.
For the more knowledgeable, the ritual in question had been attempted by Aleister Crowley.


Alt-Right: Age Of Rage - 2018 - 6/10

Topical documentary shuffles interviews with leaders of Alt-Right and Antifa.
Attempts to be non-judgmental, each side will find something to cheer for their team.
This struggle still strikes me as early days. My take is times will harken to the Weimar era, and a lot of blood will flow.
Most of the footage was of the Charlottesville riots. As in Weimar Germany, police stood idly and watched.
For those curious to know how Americans seemingly abandoned their moral compass, this is poor guide.
The history is not yet written.


Brand New Testament - 2015 - 7/10
AKA - Le Tout Nouveau Testament

Behold, God!
Lo! The Divine One Himself. After creating the world, the air, the firmament, and all that, He is bored.
So He sits all day in His celestial office, pecking away at His computer, creating laws and certainties that only exist to irritate, foil and flummox his worshipers.
Yes, us.
The story, however, a comedy, is about His daughter, who longs to escape and “do things” like her older brother.


The Dead Room - 2018 - 6/10

“Christmas Ghost Story” that has nothing to do with Yule.
Aging voice actor (Simon Callow) regales younger colleagues with how horror stories were in better days.
He is a traditionalist and has scant sympathy with modern scripts of gore splatterings and exclamations.
Nevertheless, carry on!
The new sound studio is actually an old location, reported to be haunted.
Bah, nonsense! Until the old ham begins hearing faint traces, catching fleeting images.
Story, written by Mark Gatiss, is perfunctory and not especially original.
BBC, if you are listening, please approach another writer next outing.
Personal suggestion, Reggie Oliver.


Cargo - 2009 - 6/10

Space SciFi from Switzerland.
The exhausted planet Earth has been mostly abandoned.
Folks are saving coins and heading for Rhea, the great new world.
Travel takes eight years in massive cryogenic cargo ships.
After three years, our heroine is roused, suits up as glorified patrol guard, and prowls the vast emptiness of dim corridors.
Why? There is a stowaway loose, endangering lives and the ship itself.
Gradually, darker discoveries emerge.
Several CGI shots, luckily kept to a minimum. Predictable, derivative plot.
Decent, post industrial “wet” sets.
(Just curious, why doesn’t leaking water freeze in space? Heating a massive vessel so that water puddles about strikes me as a colossal waste of energy. Sorry.)
Not a bad film, but not a good one, either.


Toys Are Not For Children - 1972 - 6/10

Jamie is twenty years old, going on eight.
With a young woman’s curves, and the emotional maturity of a child.
Jamie works at a toy store, where she is exceptional. She really knows her toys.
She is popular with customers. Especially male customers, postman, delivery men, guys just hanging around.
Innocent Jamie is a hot pussy in heat, catnip for horny tomcats.
At home, her bedroom is crowded with toys. Special favorites share her bed.
As mentioned, Jamie really knows her toys. Intimately.
A lot of viewers trash this film because, I think, they expected exploitation.
This is sordid, unpleasant, the path of a girl who will eventually work on her back for a living, or on her knees.
The print I saw was in marvelous shape, with a so-so audio commentary.


Spoorloos - 1988 - 7/10
AKA - The Vanishing

While refueling at the large, touristy gas station, the girlfriend disappears.
No one sees anything, there are no surveillance cameras, only a grainy snapshot.
Wisely, or maddeningly, the director does not show us, either.
We view numerous “possibilities,” though these are not red-herrings.
We simply see what the boyfriend sees, or later, remembers.
Gripping study of the training and false starts of a blossoming sociopath.
Remade a few years later in compliance with American attitudes and expectations.


Watcher In The Attic - 1976 - 6/10
AKA - Edogawa Ranpo ryôki-kan: Yaneura no sanposha / 江戸川乱歩猟奇館 屋根裏の散歩者

Morbid and twisted Edogawa Rampo story set in early 1920’s finds bored man spying on his fellow residents.
He soon zeroes in on once-aristocratic female, now servicing gentleman callers.
Clients include a tycoon, as well as a man who frolics as a clown.

Voyeur and prostitute gradually escalate into murderous duo.
Relatively short film, though slow going. Many scenes pan well arranged, symbolic visuals.
Whole production is steeped in a rotting sensuality. Sex as decay.
Ample nudity throughout, not to forget one memorable smothering death.


Suzanne’s Career - 1963 - 6/10
AKA - La Carrière de Suzanne

Bertrand is a pharmacology student, fellow student Guillaume is more affluent, and a womanizing ne’er do well.
At a party, they meet Suzanne and Guillaume decides to bag her because she looks “easy”.
Later, he decides to leech her savings. Think In The Company Of Men (1997).
Bertrand isn’t much better, the weak friend who tacitly approves such mistreatment.
Suzanne is a cipher, independent yet submissive, intelligent yet displaying poor judgment.
One of Éric Rohmer’s moral tales.


The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich - 1968 - 7/10

Groundbreaking documentary is showing its age.
Based on Shirer’s thick book (1000+ pages), this neatly slots into rise - apex - fall.
Compared with later, longer documentaries, this qualifies more as a survey.
Despite that, this is an excellent primer, and worthwhile if one cannot commit the time for more thorough explorations.
One of the best elements of this are the interviews with survivors, including those who actually knew Hitler, or knew others of the inner circle.
This firsthand retelling is missing from virtually all subsequent histories.