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A few reviews . . (film or TV) — Page 17


Hollywood: A Celebration Of American Silent Film - 1980 - 9/10

One of the greatest documentaries about filmmaking, and the greatest documentary on the Silent Era.
Definitive, 13 part series about the rise, flowering, and overnight shattering of silent films.
Narrated by James Mason. Dozens of stars, directors, screenwriters, stunt men, etc … were interviewed.
Film clips, stills, music. Historian or fan, this is a must!
Kenneth Brownlow interviewed surviving participants in the nick of time. Now they are all gone.
Hollywood: A Celebration Of The American Silent Film aired in 1980. It was scheduled for DVD release in 2004, then was withdrawn over legal wrangling over money by various estates. On IMDB one can see the DVD box, which never came out.

All episodes available from time to time. YouTube and other routes.
Copies from Laserdisc offer best quality.
Interviews with Brownlow indicate official DVD release highly unlikely.


Cinema Europe: The Other Hollywood - 1995 - 8/10

Essential companion to Hollywood: A Celebration Of American Silent Film, the definitive, 13 part documentary of early Hollywood.
An excellent introduction and a good checklist for hunting down movies to view.
The English version is narrated by Kenneth Branagh, there is footage from vintage interviews as well as survivors.
At only 6 episodes, this is less detailed, but highly recommended, nonetheless.
This probably ought to have been 10 episodes, at least, but there may have been budget limitations.

Five episodes were on post WWI productions and studios.
Silent footage used was of excellent quality throughout.
Series book-ended with an introductory episode (up to the end of WWI) and the usual “end of an era” chapter.
One chapter follows Scandinavian films, another French, another German, another Britain.
Especially poignant listening to Joan Morgan, English child actress, who received the “big offer” from Hollywood. Her father turned it down without consulting her. Fifty years later, one could tell the lost opportunity still hurt.
Little on Italian films, brief mention of Soviet Union, nothing on Austria.


A History Of Horror - 2010 - 6/10

Three part documentary on cinematic Horror.
1930’s Universal, Hammer in the ‘60’s, knives in the 80’s.
Mark Gatiss chats with historians, surviving relics, and filmmakers.
There are detours throughout, such as the Val Lewton films of the 40’s, Euro Horror that paralleled the blood drenched Hammer productions, and major studio releases of the 70’s.
I knew every single one of the films referenced, as will most readers of this forum.
A nice introduction, but no undiscovered ground.


Horror Europa With Mark Gatiss - 2012 - 6/10

Decent introduction / overview of Euro-Horror for newcomers.
The aficionado will see little new.
Begins with Expressionistic films from Weimar Germany.
After World War II, focus swings from France to Italy to Spain.
Talking heads include Mario Bava’s son, Kümel, Argento, Toro.
Sequences from Daughters Of Darkness, Diabolique, numerous Giallo, Devil’s Backbone.
Jess Franco mentioned once, Jean Rollin one of the larger omissions…
Not a bad documentary, but at 90“ this barely skims the waters.


Candy - 2006 - 6/10

A hero, a heroine, and a heroin problem.
Typically sad story of a young couple’s slide into addiction.
Predictable narrative, but reminder how powerful Heath Ledger could be.
And what a loss.
Co-starring Geoffrey Rush and Abbie Cornish.


The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society - 2018 - 6/10

A search for identity, an unspoken mystery, and three romances, set in post World War II London and the Channel Island of Guernsey.
Successful author Elizabeth receives a chance book request from an island inhabitant.
Brief correspondence sparks curiosity, leading to a visit.
Slowly she discovers the back story of the literary society and the potato peel pie.
And the rarely discussed German occupation of Guernsey and Jersey.
The search for identity is her own, the mystery is of one of the society’s founders.
Of the romances: one is barely sketched, the second seems forced infatuation, the third completely implausible.
German activities? Mmm, possibly given 5-10 minutes.
Dewy eyed romantics, breathing a heart tugging fragrance, may enjoy more.


Circus Of Books - 2019 - 6/10

Outsider look at gay culture, in this case the humble bookshop.
Including the sequestered side room that houses the porn.
Late 70’s, Barry and Karen Mason were rackjobbing Hustler magazine when they realized one of their largest clients was mismanaged.
Book Circus.
The couple bought it, modified the name, and voilà!
Sandwiched between family moments and employee comments is the march of time.
The AIDS pandemic, Moral Majority repercussions, the advent of the online experience.
Tone ranges from regret to wistful nostalgia for younger, more thrilling times.
A few dates seem fudged, although only those who strolled through the era will notice.
Memorable clips of Stryker Force (1987) help make Circus Of Books an enjoyable documentary.


Who Killed Nancy? - 2009 - 7/10

Nancy Spungen was killed Oct 1978. Six months later, boyfriend-suspect Sid Vicious died of an overdose.
Case closed, everyone decided “Sid did it.”
Police records reveal there were actually six suspects.
This documentary picks up the threads with mixed results.
Lots of interviews with friends, drug buddies, roadies, etc … As well as a solid soundtrack.
Narrative meanders and never quite targets the prime alternative.
One has the impression Sid didn’t kill Nancy (witnesses confirm he was passed out) … but who did? And why?
This should have been better.
Essential, nevertheless, for fans of The Great Rock-N-Roll Swindle or readers of Jon Savage’s “England’s Dreaming,” or anyone who moshed in punk shows.


A Town Called Panic - 2009 - 7/10
AKA - Panique au Village

I rolled my eyes when one of the girls chose this kiddie film.
Wrong assumption, this was entertaining fun.
Monty Python-esque animations, subtitled Belgium cursing, adventures ranging from under the sea, to the center of the earth, and romance in the music class.
Story races merrily along, with effortless, and endless, charm.
How Horse puts up with Indian and Cowboy, however, is way beyond me.
Then again, I had friends like those. More like, I was (am) one of those insane friends.


A Date With The Falcon - 1942 - 5/10

Second outing for George Sanders’ suave thrill seeker and police meddler.
Early on, he is supposed to be flying off with his not-yet-wed bride on their honeymoon.
When a pair of dark eyes and thick eyelashes beckon, his fiancé is forgotten.
The plot - if you tend to be charitable - is of a kidnapped synthetic diamond inventor.
Misunderstandings with police, banter with lovelies, and glowering heavies cannot disguise a fluff story.
Film relies on Sanders’ charm, but is beneath his talents.


The Ship Of Lost Men - 1929 - 6/10
AKA - Das Schiff der Verlorenen Menschen

A young American doctor gets caught on a battered ship sailing from Hamburg to Brazil.
The captain is a cruel tyrant, the crew are cutthroats or criminals on the run.
Into their midst falls a female aviatrix (early Marlene Dietrich) who ignites passions.
One of the last Silents, this is moody, darkly lensed, and slow as a wintry puddle.
Viewers longing for things to happen will wait and wait and wait.
Many times, when a film plods, I study costumes and sets.
Not here, with minimalist interiors and so dark, even shadows are few.


Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans - 2009 - 6/10

Where to begin …
Nicholas Cage gives another crazed, over the top performance in Werner Herzog film.
A cop with neither morals nor check switch.
The group I watched this with hated it.
For myself, I have mixed feelings.
Co-starring Val Kilmer, Brad Dourif, Eva Mendes, and Xzibit, this should have been better than a television knockoff.
Cage’s character pops more drugs than Mötley Crüe, with less consequences.
For local color, Herzog did some point of view shots from the back of an alligator, later an iguana.
Plastic alligators.
If you view this as a parody of police procedurals, you may like this better.


Berberian Sound Studio - 2012 - 6/10

Toby Jones plays sound designer hired to work on 70’s Italian horror film.
Think Argento or Fulci (Zombie, Demons . . . )
Interesting for the first half hour, bogs down, grows pretentious, artsy, preposterous.
Reviews have been all over the map. I think I scored kindly.
Film looks good, though dark, and does a fine job showing how effects were made.
Jones plays his character one-note. The narrative wanders then stops.


St. Trinian’s - 2007 - 6/10

Remake of the 50’s classic series.
England’s notorious St. Trinian’s all girl school.
Lots of girls in uniforms. Cute girls, hot babes, randy vixens, Goth gurlz, stoners.
Goofy hijinks in a silly plot to save the ‘school for misfits’ from closure.
This comedy was slagged by a pile UK critics, 35-60 year old geezers, but fared better after a global release. A hoot from beginning to end.
Colin Firth, Rupert Everett, Gemma Arterton, Russell Brand, and probably 10 future stars.


Confession, Theory, Actress - 1971 - 6/10
AKA - Kokuhakuteki Joyûron

Something between experimental cinema and avant-garde theatre.
Three women recall key events that drew them into acting, along with traumas.
The three are “high maintenance” souls, prone to dramatics.
Swoons, breathless declarations, half hearted suicide attempts.
Camera work includes odd angles, and framing characters off in corners or near the bottom of immense skies.
Though the film can be a trudge at times, the overall experience is of eavesdropping.
How much you enjoy may depend on how high your voyeur DNA.


I’m Thinking Of Ending Things - 2020 - 6/10

Potentially great film “enhanced” by screenwriter / director.
Girlfriend (Lucy-Lucia-Louise) goes with new boyfriend Jake to meet his parents.
Lucy and Jake have been together six, seven weeks, so this is a big step.
Problem is, she suffers misgivings. About the weather, about the trip, about the relationship.
Jake is a nice enough guy, but …
The journey takes forever, as does their car talk. Once at his home, time slips begin to occur, along with déjà vu and other fracturing.
Note: Because of recent reading (unrelated), I was alert to p-o-v which is paramount in this movie.
Fascinating film will engross the dedicated audience (ie: fans of this director).
For most, this may be deadly slow. Scenes play out far too long. Sometimes this technique works to sustain tension, there is little of that here.
The ending is a bungle. While I had suspicions about what transpired, I had to check reviews to confirm them.
The director made this so opaque that it was incomprehensible, unless one had read Reid’s book.


Savage Wolf Pack - 1974 - 6/10
AKA - Yaju O Kese

A young girl is chased, then repeatedly raped near US air base in Japan.
She commits suicide. Her brother, a big game hunter in Alaska, returns with vengeance on his mind.
First, though, were the rapists US soldiers or a rogue motorcycle gang?

Steady boil film, punctuated with minor violence here and there.
Each side probes the boundaries of the other. Caught in the middle is a runaway rich girl.
Knockoff of other films, but has its own refreshing character.
And yes, all the guns come out during the finale.


Good Hair - 2009 - 6/10

Who knew a documentary about “fixing” bad hair could be so fun?
$1000 hair extensions, hair relaxers containing sodium hydroxide (lye), and a outta control stylist competition.
Plus, answers to questions like -
“How do you have sex with a woman wearing a weave?”
Answer - Girl on top. Touch hair and die!
Hosted by comedian Chris Rock.


Complete Unknown - 2016 - 5/10

His birthday party permits a brief relaxing of the tension in Tom’s marital dilemma.
Until he spies the guest in the shadows, and recognizes an old flame, missing over a decade.
Narrative is that of what have you been doing, rather than why.
A misstep to be sure, but others are more grievous.
Her past involves identities, which are sketched in an opening montage.
Acceptable in a bygone era (The Great Imposter (1960) or Catch Me If You Can (2002)), but not in a digital world, and not in a modern job requiring credentials.
Rachel Weisz’s character, a chimera of unresolved mysteries, is beyond far fetched.


The Disappearance Of Alice Creed - 2009 - 6/10

I picked this up, blithely assuming it would be a fun ride thriller.
Plus, Gemma Arterton moves easy on the eyes.
This is, however, an unrelenting, grim, kidnapping yarn.
Methodical preparation, the quick snatch, then plans slowly fester, as back histories and private agendas surface.
Music was dire gloom throughout.
Didn’t care for this, but well executed.


After.Life - 2009 - 6/10

Christina Ricci breaks up with her boyfriend (as he’s trying to propose, no less!).
Storms off in the driving rain. The road is treacherous but the cellphone beckons.
Next sequence, she’s on the slab arguing with Liam Neeson.
“I’m not dead. I can’t be.”
“That’s what you all say.”
Neeson is a mortician with a gift. He can communicate with the dead in the three day window as they transition from this world to the next.
Dour, unsettling film. Especially when you begin to wonder if Ricci’s character is not really dead.
Definitely not an action flick, and the characters are not always sympathetic.


Limits Of Control - 2009 - 5/10

What the hell was that?
Oh, a Jim Jarmusch film. No wonder it was incomprehensible.
Hitman Isaach De Bankole journeys across southern Spain,
and receives instructions from quirky messengers along the way.
Target is shrouded, as are the reasons. Narrative glides between literal and allegory.
Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Bill Murray and Paz de la Huerta play bit parts.
The scenery was great, moving from Madrid to Sevilla into the Andalusian countryside.
Pace never picks up, and viewers are given few clues, though that is part of the charm of a Jarmusch film, or reasons for annoyance towards his oeuvre.


Jo - 1971 - 7/10

French farce, starts moderately, then builds situations and cascades mishaps.
Successful comic playwright wants to branch into mystery dramas.
He acts out deadly scenarios, only to accidentally … well, who knew the gun was loaded?
Then, there’s the body. Oh, those pesky corpses.
Worse, an estate agent keeps bringing potential buyers for his home.
His wife has planned a party. Police inspectors are sniffing around.
The jokes pile on. Much seems to echo the best of Tati.


Shiri - 1999 - 7/10
AKA - Swiri // 쉬리

Shiri was one of those films that put Korea on the map for Asian action fans.
Also a viewed as a passing of the action genre torch following the Hong Kong takeover in 1997.
Narrative revolves around a breakaway N Korean unit trying to disrupt peace gestures.
Espionage cat and mouse punctuated with high voltage gunfire sequences.
In the midst of all that a love story tries to blossom.
Red meat for Asian fanboys. Loosely remade into IRIS.


Jasper Mall - 2020 - 6/10

Walk through snapshot of a shopping mall in decline, down to one anchor store.
Overheard are employees, regular shoppers, storefront owners.
Again and again, “business ain’t what it was.”
No causes are given, however. This is not a doc on malls or changing shopping habits.
This shows one mall, hanging on, losing ground.
I watched, disinterestedly. Being a guy, malls never tempted or charmed me.
A young couple is shown. For those puzzled, their relationship mirrors the mall.