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A few reviews . . (film or TV) — Page 76

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Caught On A Train - 1980 - 7/10

Publishing agent climbs the battered Orient Express, and finds misunderstandings and gamesmanship.
Initially, all is fine. Fellow passengers, even an attractive American girl he tries to impress.
Then the imperious, elderly woman storms into the cabin.
Superbly acted test of wills will thrill live theatre buffs.
People who have ridden some older trains will recognize the discomfiture and disorientation.
Especially European border crossing checks, which sadly, one only finds in Eastern Europe now.

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Nightmare! The Birth Of Horror: Dracula - 1996 - 6/10

Good horror documentary about the genesis and development of Dracula.
Not the film, nor the Romanian prince, but the Bram Stoker creation.
Sorry folks, Bram never seemed to have journeyed to Bran Castle.
Stoker’s biography is sketched, but the focus is on how he fleshed out the story, where he kept coming up with fresh ideas and settings.
Films barely touched on, as cinema flowered after Stoker’s death.
Manuscripts - photographs - first printing books among highlights.

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Who Is The Black Dahlia? - 1975 - 6/10

To be truthful, she was Elizabeth Short, young Hollywood hopeful from Maine.
She moved to California when she was 18. Four years later, age 22, her body was found cut in half.
Noirish drama follows her from wide-eyed arrival to opportunistic chancer.
Good cast (TV stars and film character actors), with Lucie Arnaz effective as the elusive Dahlia.
Music is fine, camera work has too much sunny California to be full Noir.
Hollywoodized, sanitized, condensed retelling, this will be OK if you can tolerate unsolved mysteries.
(Annoyingly, the Hearst shenanigans are omitted.)
Terrible print. Not since I first watched this back in 1975 have I seen a decent copy.

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Angel Guts: Red Classroom - 1979 - 6/10
AKA - Tenshi No Harawata Akai Kyoshitsu // 天使のはらわた 赤い教室

Second, and arguably most acclaimed installment of this rather sordid series.
Editor of magazine runs across an old stag reel featuring an assault reenactment.
The acting was so realistic, especially from the victim, the editor decides to track her down.
Find her he does, working at a love hotel (hot sheets joint), and he offers to feature her in a quality photo shoot.
During discussion, he realizes the line between acting and acted upon had been crossed during that stag film.
Also, he realizes she has become one damaged, very broken soul.
Nikkatsu Roman Porno, so expect high percentage of nudity, fair amount of violence, and numerous joustings.
Also, because of tight Japanese censorship, expect the strategically placed flower vase, stick of furniture, casually tossed pillow. For all the excessive gropings and sobbings, you will have a perfect idea just what is going on – you just won’t get to see it.

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Love Is Strange - 2014 - 6/10

After living together 30+ years, a male couple decide to tie the knot and get married.
Soon thereafter, the one who is employed is fired because of a “morals clause?” Is that even legal?
They cannot afford their New York rent, they have zilch in savings, so they split up.
One moves in with family, the other with friends.
Pleasant enough film that predominantly tracks the older partner’s path within his nephew’s home.
Film suffers a lot of major flaws - men in their 60’s with no savings - first solution is to split up?
Not to spoil anything, but the ending struck me as fake and an emotional cheat.

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The Night Has A Thousand Desires - 1984 - 6/10
AKA - Mil Sexos Tiene la Noche

Interesting Jess Franco film. Not necessarily good, but interesting to me.
Female medium works nightclub/carnie circuit doing mind-reading tricks.
A group of calculated parties start using her for foul deeds.

Unlike many of Franco’s works, the sets and compositions are imaginative and detailed.
The vibe reeks of a late 70’s drug orgy. As with most of Franco’s oeuvre, copious sex and nudity.
Pacing is siesta time, Lina Romay floats like a somnambulist, though she is in full form throughout.

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Millennium After The Millennium - 2019 - 7/10

Absorbing documentary and overview of the 90’s cult show, though probably for converts.
Most of the creative teams talk, as do most performers.
Key episodes discussed, as well as the highly different seasons.
Morgan & Wong are not here to discuss the controversial S02, nor is Kristen Cloke (Laura Means).
This will be must-see for fans of this extremely dark series, and a good introduction to the curious.
It always struck me as a minor miracle that this ran 3 seasons. The equally dark Profit was given the axe after only a handful of episodes aired.

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Hour Of The Pig - 1993 - 7/10
AKA - The Advocate

In medieval France, an attorney, weary of decadent Paris, relocates to rural simplicity.
He soon realizes the rustic life is laced with scheming, cynicism, and homicide.
Beckoning country lasses offer their own challenges.
A powerful lord offers his ripe yet dim daughter, the inn servant helps the cock crow, and a mysterious gypsy wants him to defend her pig from a charge of murder.
Oh, can’t forget the ongoing witch trial!
Funny, in a cruel way. Colin Firth as the innocent with his assumptions.

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Miracles For Sale - 1939 - 6/10

Retired magician, Morgan, designs and sells stunts to headliners.
And also exposes fraudulent mediums, clairvoyants, mystics.
The blonde arrives, and soon there is a locked room murder.
Fast paced mystery with murder and magic
Romance, supernatural, comic touches, and a strong supporting cast (great for old movie buffs).
Robert Young fine as lead. Truth to tell, I hunted this down because it was the final film by Tod Browning.

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Black Coal, Thin Ice - 2014 - 7/10
AKA - Báirì Yànhuǒ // 白 日 焰 火

Two Chinese cops investigate severed body parts found on a coal conveyer belt.
They zero in on suspects then the entire case literally explodes in front of them.
Jump ahead five years. The detectives are apart, yet the old file has revived.
Challenging procedural, definitely not for ADD viewers.
Photography is flat, there are no flashy forensic solutions.
Just cops following thin leads and aberrant behavior.
Filmmaker assumes the audience has enough intelligence to follow a story, rather then being fed one.

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KEDi - 2017 - 6/10

Lightweight “documentary” for masochists. Oops, excuse me, cat lovers.
Everyone else, caveat emptor. γνῶθι σεαυτόν
Camera follows several cats living in Istanbul.
Humans care for them, declare how amazing they are.
Felines lead a merry life in an exotic locale.
Nothing negative whatsoever in this.

Cat people should purr happily watching this.
Captures feline personalities and activities.
I have been to Istanbul and can assure you there are many cats like these.
At an outdoor cafe, a big orange tom sat next to me and kept thumping my leg when he wanted more food.
In another bistro, a cat curled up beside Zelda and slept, happy sharing her warmth.

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Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries: S02 - 2013 - 6/10

Second round of episodes of Australia’s jazz baby sleuth.
As before, costumes are impeccable and the period set design full of details and eye candy.
Stories themselves more hit n miss than the first season.
First couple of shows approximate Murder She Wrote nonsense.
Plots are stale, characters awkward, direction is heavy handed.
Writing does improve and the episodes gradually return to the grace of season one, ending on a high point.

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The Glass Menagerie - 2021 - 7/10

Isabelle Huppert leads in an Amsterdam production of Williams’ play.
Set in their underground dwelling, mother and two children clutch elusive dreams.
The language is rapid, especially from Huppert, which means subtitles race by.
The language can be a distraction, however.
At one point my wife asked me to pause and “talk.” I knew what she wanted. I am Southern and still bear a soft drawl. That is noticeably missing here.
Casting, reflecting Woke inclusivity, rings false. There is no way a 1940’s fading belle would ever countenance a prospective suitor of color.
For theatre fans, for Huppert fans, watching her on stage make this indispensable.

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What If? - 2013 - 7/10

Tart romantic comedy.
Couple meet at a party, chat, drift away, but leave together so he walks her home.
She doesn’t invite him inside, advising her boyfriend will be so worried.
Instead, she writes down her phone number and says “call me.”
Oh yeah, whatever.
Still, being squarely in the romantic genre, they do succumb to natural attraction and become buddies.
On each other’s friend shelf.
Dialogue driven film, rather clever dialogue, with characters who are career professionals, who don’t want to cause or inflict emotional carnage, but who also don’t want to miss out on the real thing.
Good date film. Know thyself, though. These are not giggling twenty year olds, nor is the film aimed at that crowd.

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Open Your Eyes - 2021 - 5/10
AKA - Otwórz Oczy

She wakes in the hospital bed. What happened? Where am I? Wait a minute … who am I?
Another day in the amnesia clinic for Julia.
An exclusive center, where all patients are young and talented. Gifted.
Also tightly watched and controlled.

Two episodes set up characters, stories, and the “surveillance village” concept.
Followed by three episodes where everyone twirls their thumbs.
Padding. Trying to make characters with the personalities of potatoes seem intriguing.
Then the last episode, where the plot is shuffled, and is suddenly interesting.
Why didn’t writers do this from the beginning? Why? Because they were told to deliver a Netflix ending.
Meaning, there ain’t no ending. Producers hope for a S02 for a series with more fat than an elephant seal.
Dull writing, weighted down with zombie actors.

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Lips Of Blood - 1975 - 7/10
AKA - Lèvres de Sang

Moody, atmospheric, dreamlike Horror film is a must for Jean Rollin fans.
A man sees a photo of a ruined caste, which triggers a childhood memory of an encounter.
He starts inquiring about the castle, the photo, and finds opposition to his search.
After a trip to the city tombs, he unleashes four female vampires, nude save for the sheerest fabric imaginable.
Most of this was filmed at night in a cemetery, urban wastelands, and underground.
Rollin’s films always have a measured pace, but he has a photographer’s eye for details.
As vampires, the ladies are fairly laughable, especially when the teeth appear.
Most will gaze through the fabric, however, I daresay.
A rewarding film. Novices, be warned, this is close to arthouse.
Prudes - nudity galore.

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 (Edited)

A Curtain Raiser - 2006 - 6/10
AKA - Un Lever de Rideau

One act short of youthful miscommunication and fateful decisions.
“Bean-counter” boyfriend starts tallying how many minutes and hours his girlfriend has kept him waiting.
Most disrespectful, he concludes, while complaining to an older friend.
The more experienced male tries to offer advice, suggesting patience and dialogue.
The girl arrives - 45“ late - and the boyfriend’s resolution is sorely tested.
Thirty minute film, while elegantly staged, may tire impatient viewers.
For more curious souls, an easy introduction to director François Ozon.

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Ladies They Talk About - 1933 - 6/10

Barbara Stanwyck in Pre-Code women in prison flick.
Moll used as decoy while gang pulls off bank heists.
Only she gets caught and sent to the slammer.
San Quentin seems nicer than most caged women pens.
The matron and wardens are no-nonsense, but sympathetic.
Jailbirds listen to records, read, play cards. Hardest duty is laundry.
Stanwyck displays gentle and rotten streaks side by side.
Her loyalty to her old gang is paramount, though, which places her outside redemption.
At barely an hour, the film is loaded with plotlines, twists, romance, and razor edged dialogue.
For all that, not essential Pre-Code.

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An Evening With Miriam Margolyes - 2021 - 6/10

Miriam shares the stage with Simon Callow at the Alexandra Palace.
She is hawking her new biography, he is interviewing.
Callow has read the book, or he has been well prepared as questions are pertinent.
Upbringing, school, training, outrageous incidents.
Interesting, though not compelling.
Callow, somewhat difficult to read, deploys a stock laugh, whether amused or uncomfortable,
Second half, Margolyes answers audience questions (from knowledgeable to humorous to asinine).

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October Gale - 2014 - 6/10

Recently widowed doctor goes to her remote family cottage out on an island.
Grieves, tidies up, reminisces.
Twenty minutes into the film, she sees an intruder crawling across the floor, gunshot wound to his shoulder.
Who shot him? Why? How did he get to the remote island? In the middle of a storm, no less.
Thriller, only in the loosest sense as the plot plods along with limited tension.
Smart looking photography, minimal dialogue, low-key characters with underdeveloped motivations.
Story never goes anywhere, and watching seems more killing time.

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The Woman Executioner - 1968 - 6/10
AKA - La Femme Bourreau

Tempted to score this higher, for the strangeness factor.
Surreal Expressionistic film of man who copycats a serial killer.
Confused, abused man begins affair with his therapist / parole officer.
He also identifies with a recently executed female serial killer and starts wearing with wigs and heels.
Film is loaded with jump cuts and the narrative often leaps.
The result is borderline incoherence, yet it has a great score and the “look” is particularly striking.
For you cult buffs, Jean Rollin was in the acting credits.

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The Sleepers - 2019 - 8/10
AKA - Bez Vědomí

Top notch espionage thriller set in Prague, 1989, as the revolution is imminent.
Maria wants to visit her sister in Czechoslovakia, husband Victor is less keen.
After all, they fled as dissidents years ago. What could happen? asks Maria.
A traffic accident could happen, with Maria waking up with no husband.
From there, she contacts the British embassy, Czech security, none with answers.
Clouding her search further are agents of the KGB and StB (Secret Police).
Narrative twists and turns, most characters are determinedly miserable.
Realpolitik predominates.

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Magic In The Moonlight - 2014 - 6/10

Woody Allen film set in 1928 Europe.
Colin Firth plays magician asked to debunk a female mentalist / hoaxer.
Mentalist is quite pretty and an uneasy romance beckons.
Picture Houdini wooing a Zeigfield Follies girl.
Gorgeous sets, costumes, vintage music.
The 1928 date was a loaded time utterly ignored (Wall Street Crash was 1929 - Hitler became chancellor in 1933).
Likewise the realization that this entire world of gardens and country houses is a breath away from extinction.
Plot remains feather light throughout.
Not to spoil anything, but the narrative faltered in the third act. Badly.
Before that misstep I had been enjoying the movie.
At its core, keep in mind, this is a magic show.
Magic insiders, Allen delivers a successful pledge, a very poor turn, and no prestige.

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Stella Runs For Office - 2002 - 6/10
AKA - Stella í Frambðdi

Odd, to say the least, political comedy from Iceland.
The leading party watch and giggle as rivals repeatedly sabotage themselves.
Until campaign advisor Stella emerges as a darkhorse contender.
Weirdly funny film with out of place music interludes:
A woman plucking a chicken while listening to “Sway,” two blue collar guys dancing to “Big Spender,” the drunken inspector seizing the microphone in a revue.
Many laugh out loud moments. Other times, I knew I was missing jokes and references.
Definitely not Scandinavian Noir.
Quirky - foreign - way off the path.

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Seisaku’s Wife - 1965 - 7/10
AKA - Seisaku no Tsuma // 清作の妻

Back from military training, Seisaku is the village’s righteous man, the role model.
As such, admired, respected, and disliked and equal measures.
Of all girls available, he chooses the lovely Okane, whom villagers shun as a harlot.
Theirs is a hothouse relationship, possessive and obsessive.
While the Russo-Japanese War washes ever closer, villagers hope Seisaku enjoys a glorious death.
Measured study of petty village behavior and the madness of love.