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A few reviews . . (film or TV)

A Dangerous Fortune - 2016 - 5/10
AKA - Die Pfeiler der Macht

German adaptation of Ken Follett’s Victorian / Edwardian twaddle.
Young boy is taken in by relatives after his father commits suicide rather than face financial ruin.
In due time, he is a rising star at the family business, the bank.
Revolutionaries, gambling, drinking, murder, fraud and bodice ripping spice the first half.
Second half is dreary love triangle and general whining. Soap opera.
German take on gaslit England is interesting, but seems too modern in many regards.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Mia Madre - 2015 - 6/10

Overwhelmed film director deals with troublesome actor, a pleading ex-lover, teenage daughter.
Oh, and an elderly mother who is hospitalized, her condition deteriorating.
Film consists of confrontations, interrupted by visitations and reflections.
Memories, both fond and uncomfortable, spill into her “normal” world.
Many threads and characters explored, but the script is well organized.
A poignant film, not necessarily a depressing one.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Out Of The Fog - 1962 - 5/10
AKA - Fog For A Killer

Freshly released from prison (again), embittered George takes a room in a halfway house.
Ex-cons have trouble enough readjusting, finding work, meeting others, but his attitude is poisonous.
And then nearby, young girls start to get murdered.
Police suspect number one? Bingo!
B-movie with fine acting, unimaginative script.
Barely an hour, good enough time waster.

What are you reading?

Campbell, Ramsey - A Little Green Book Of Grins And Gravity

To be honest, this could be renamed, as it is on the running headers, The Enigma Of The Flat Policeman.
This was an unfinished draft by a talented thirteen year old, who, at the time, was devouring books by John Dickson Carr. A year or so later, he discovered Lovecraft and set course in another direction.
So, how is this novella?
It is immature, derivative, and maddeningly interesting.
What fascinates are the interspersed editorial comments, trying to elaborate on the young author’s influences, reactions, relationships.
Obviously written decades later, it is clear that more than a little thought went into these. Perhaps the old master still has fondness for the young writer.
The insights are generous. For tentative writers, the comments regarding what sources and wellsprings were drawn from, are enlightening.

Campbell, Ramsey - Ancient Images

Old fashioned creep yarn about suppressed horror film starring Karloff and Lugosi.
When a print surfaces, it immediately disappears and the owner is found dead.
A friend begins investigating and discovers a trail of death. Most of those involved with the film had died under mysterious circumstances.
Of course, she firms her resolve to find that film, despite mounting warnings!

Campbell works with hints, suggestion, and the half seen.
His work is not the compact, blood soaked style still in vogue in one arm of modern Horror.
This work, from 1989, owes quite a bit to Basil Copper’s “Amber Print” a decade earlier.
Before that, however, was M. R. James’ “The Mezzotint”.

Sideshow thread of gypsy caravan never worked into the plot properly for me.
Found the main character clueless and ignorant, making fool decisions.
Poor resolution.

Campbell, Ramsey - Scared Stiff

Not as in fear firms your resolve, or when frightened, stand straight!
Stiff, as in, did you know your codpiece swelled to a jumbo when you were scared?
Seven tales of horror and carnality, and not soft focus, veiled, slow motion rompings.
Less romance, more rape. Little passion, accent on penetration.
Campbell mixes cruelty, revenge, disappointment, resignation.
To my mind, the best stories bookend the collection.
“Dolls” occurs in the past, in a rural setting, where pagan circles gather.
“Merry Way” lures a disenfranchised, naïve city innocent to the pleasures of the Maypole.
My copy was illustrated throughout by J. K. Potter.
Text and art are something between erotica and porn.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Rise Of The Nazis - 2019 - 7/10

Three part series focuses on the early years.
The political maneuvering and organizational building.
The corruption of and overthrow of democratic government.
This documentary spotlights players who rarely get mentioned in similar docs.
Kurt von Schleicher, Josef Hartinger, Hans Litten, Fritz von Papen, Ernest Jung.
The first two episodes are enhanced by well preserved newsreels and home movies.
The third and final episode is devoted to the Night Of The Long Knives.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Ladies Should Listen - 1934 - 6/10

Julian spends his last francs acquiring mineral rights in Chile.
If nothing comes from this in the next few weeks, he will be broke.
Not to fear, two lovelies cast their gaze at him.
One is the daughter of a millionaire, the other is poor but honest.
Both admire him because, well, he is a young Cary Grant.
Stuffy drawing room comedy is barely an hour long.
Better gags and jokes in the second half, but mawkish direction and ill pacing hurt this film.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Duke Of Burgundy - 2014 - 6/10

Maid bicycles up to the manor door. Waits. And waits.
The mistress of the estate finally opens the door with, “You’re late.”
Domination and servitude ensue, climaxing with passionate erotic grappling.
The tone is understated, muted, restrained. The color palette is dark. There are no males.
A group of females attend classes, hairstyles in tight buns, save for the mannequins in chairs.
Film is fraught with symbolism and “meaning” but it is heavy handed and lethargic.
Well crafted study of roles and power games, yet the resolution ebbed away and I ended up scratching my head, already forgetting threads and characters.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

9000 Needles - 2011 - 6/10

My acupuncturist asked me to track this down for her.
I did, then decided to give it a watch.
Documentary about Devin Dearth, businessman and bodybuilder, all but a vegetable after a stroke.
US insurance company stopped medical payments at 100 days of therapy.
He had revived by that point, but his entire right side was paralyzed.
He journeyed to Tianjin, China and began extensive physical therapy, herbal applications, and acupuncture.
The treatment lasted several months, cost $20,000, and used over 9000 needles.
Inspiring story, needed a tighter edit.
Comment – For most westerners, acupuncture is a last resort, often too late to provide beneficial results.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

The Case Of The Scorpion’s Tail - 1971 - 6/10
AKA - La Coda Dello Scorpione

Good Giallo that plays with conventions and expectations.
Older husband dies in airline disaster, and his young, promiscuous wife inherits a cool million.
She soon draws plenty of attention: police, Interpol, insurance investigator.
And a masked killer who wields a nasty knife.
Multiple locations dance across a jagged, deliberately misleading plot.
Audio commentary with the scriptwriter. In it, he tells how he favored thrillers based on money or revenge, which had to obey reasonable lines. He was not a fan of Argento’s maniacs, where anyone could be guilty in the final reel.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Eternal Beauty - 2019 - 5/10

The family tries to deal with Jane’s mental illness.
Jane tries to deal with Jane’s mental illness.
Overwrought film tries way too hard, and in effect becomes a jumble.
Does Jane really have a car? A phone? On which there are voices?
Does she take her pills? Does she have a boyfriend? A suitor?
By the end, will anyone care?
To be blunt, this is poorly written, incoherent and self-indulgent.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

TiMER - 2009 - 6/10

Indie flick.
A wrist implant allows wearers to know exactly when they will meet their life partner. Their “soul mate.”
Great, if the wait is six months or so. What if it is 30 years?
Do you date around with Mr. Right Now, waiting for Mr. Right to finally appear?
TiMER’s heroine’s band reads 00 - 00 - 00:00. Her true love is either dead or never bothered with the implant.
She meets someone who is fun, who refuses to get the implant. Can she fall in love the old-fashioned way?
With arguments, misunderstandings, and no guarantee of love.

What are you reading?

Marvick, Louis - The Friendly Examiner

“Death behind us, death ahead of us. Ruins above ground, and tombs underneath.” (from V2)

Enlightenment vies with religious dogma and superstition in an isolated village beset with mysterious and horrifying deaths.
M. Sperling is sent to Heilbrunn to investigate, ascertain the truth, and dispel any cobwebs of irrational fear.
The initial volume (and these are all slim) sets us into the Age Of Reason, circa 1760, with M. Sperling, agent for the Society of the Men of Letters (think the Republic of Letters), setting forth to verify reports from another member.
This playful tale serves to introduce Hippolyte Sperling, as he must deal with an ill-garbed, ill smelling hag who shares his coach, and then face a deadlier presence waiting at the far shore.

The second volume probes the disappearance of a key member of the Society. Denis Diderot.
Ostensibly toiling on his ”Encyclopedia” the philosopher is drawn into the cult of tombs.
More members of the Society are introduced and several narratives unfold as M. Sperling delves into the subterranean underbelly of society.
This was my favorite volume, and the one I found problematic. It ends with a cliffhanger, and what turns out to be a false trail. I found this puzzling, if not irksome. The road not traveled and whatnot. I long for a mild edit.

The third and perhaps final volume unveils a savior / scoundrel. Franz Mesmer. This episode, featuring Mesmer either as emissary of new science or honey tongued deceiver, contains a fair amount of action. Indeed, high adventure bookends this tale!
These are works of illumination – and darkness. Of understanding – and ignorance.
Of those who attempt to improve our daily situation – of those who would diminish our potential, enslave us to their will.
Fortunately, The Friendly Examiner is set centuries earlier. Current society has progressed beyond such warfare and our freedoms are secure.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

The Shadow Of The Cat - 1961 - 6/10

Gothic Hammer! Feline fans, yeah, baby!
The elderly (wealthy) female is murdered. Culprits, the greedy husband and two conniving servants.
The lone witness? Tabitha. The cat who saw it, and who decides wickedness ought to be punished.

Rather slim plot, but well executed. Nice cast, eerie score, and beautiful camerawork.
Of particular note is Tabitha’s perspective, which is low to the ground and flattened.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Athena: Goddess Of War - 2010 - 5/10
AKA - 아테나: 전쟁의 여신

Disappointing spinoff of the ground breaking IRIS.
South Korean security branch, NTS, squares off against international energy terrorist cabal.
Poorly acted, wrong headed direction, and a script with more holes than a rat infested wheel of Swiss cheese.
The main lead is too young, and early on grins and mugs as if auditioning for teen boy band.
A team captain is inept and foolish, as is a North Korean ex-elite agent.
Don’t get me started on the bane of K-dramas. The tears. Weeping, crying, sobbing like six year olds.
Yet these blubbering basket cases safeguard the nation.
There are exceptions, the chief being the rogue baddie who excels.

The director obviously knows action sequences, which are showcases. With actors, he seems clueless.
As much as I blame the series director for foolish comic relief and histrionics, however, the main culprit is the ridiculous script.
Long, gorgeous episodes in Italy - for no purpose.
Two episodes in Japan, guarding a pop star - for no purpose.
Double agents exposed, and then the duped side shrugs and says, “Well, they’re sorry, so back to work.”
Initially, the main villains are USA agencies, which is a wonderful twist, only that thread is abandoned.
Mmmmm . . . wasted 20 of my life hours on this goo.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Thieves - 1977 - 5/10

Not as awful as other reviews make out, but this is not for the casual.
In fact, this is for dedicated fans of theatre boards.
Based on a then-trendy Broadway play, this catches a married couple during a few sketchy days.
She (Marlo Thomas) longs for them to be like they were in their 20’s.
He (Charles Grodin) reminds her, frequently, they are in their mid 30’s.
The story opens up to showcase New York exteriors, but the dialogue is, as expected, verbose.
Interesting as a time capsule, though Kojak is, in many ways, a wiser choice to view seedy NYC.
The native New Yorker, active theatre type, next to me, would score this higher.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Dorian Gray - 2009 - 7/10

Stylish retelling of the Oscar Wilde classic.
Young man who never ages no matter how many sins he commits.
Dark, sexy, perfumed with decadence.
Stunning set design, a high point being Dorian’s house which has a palpable presence.
Insightful audio commentary, as well.
Stars Ben Barnes, Colin Firth, and the Witanhurst House in Highgate.
Yes, the house is very much a character.
Decadent rather than Horror, cynicism over splatter.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Killer-K - 2011 - 7/10
AKA - Little Girl K // 소 녀 K

Echoes of grindhouse. High voltage Korean actioner.
Young girl is in the wrong place, wrong time with friends. All are slain.
Except her. She’s given the “join us or die” offer.
Next, she is trained as a corporate assassin.
Story plays out over three episodes, each more violent than the last.
This aired late night in Korea, and had nudity and rivers of blood.
Episode three has the highest bullets - body count, but to my thinking, the highlight was episode two.
“K” had discovered who had killed her friends and exacted revenge.
No firearms for that one. Her favored weapons, long knives.
Blood drenched action with machetes, knives, swords.
At three episodes, this is an easy entry into K-dramas. The violent ones.
This is always the series I suggest when friends / coworkers ask for sampling Korean dramas.


A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Retreat From Kiska - 1965 - 6/10
AKA - Taiheiyô Kiseki No Sakusen: Kisuka

Kiska, small isle in the Aleutian chain is the furthest outpost of Imperial Japan.
American forces encircle the small garrison of 5000 men.
Japanese fleet command decide to try and rescue their men!
This is more of a tactical film than an action one, as the far smaller Japanese group rely on inclimate weather and uncharted waters to out maneuver their adversary.
Bare bones retelling, although what struck me was how often subordinates openly second-guessed their superior or kept urging him to do this or do that.
Other military films (US, British, Russian, German), the XO may voice disagreements behind doors, but on open deck the commanding officer is never challenged.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

IRIS - 2009 - 7/10
AKA - Airiseu // 아이리스

Convoluted K-drama actioner.
20 interlocking episodes with a cliffhanger or surprise ending each one.
Begins as espionage, gradually the existence of I R I S is revealed.
Conspiracies and plots spread like weeds.
Backstory and relationships are established in the first couple of episodes. By #04, the pedal goes down.

Gunfights galore. Lavish production values, filming sprawled across several global locations.
Unbearable romance elements. (the bane of K-dramas)

I thought this ended at Ep 17, but no, there were still plot twists and fresh narrative.
Wildly popular in Asia, spawned two sequels (mixed reviews there).

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

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.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

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.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

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.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

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.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

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.