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A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Sobibór - 2018 - 5/10
AKA - Собибор

Concentration camp in eastern Poland, near Russian border, bears constant influx of arrivals.
Political prisoners, Poles, Belgium, Jews, Russians.
Bad behavior by Nazis, stoic endurance by incarcerated.
Rebellion brews as the war crawls to a conclusion.
Heavy handed direction is further marred by one-dimensional acting across the board.
This is certainly neither Son Of Saul, nor Come And See.
Worse, the film exhibits the recent Russian practice of dubbing all non-Russian speakers.
Voice actors, male and female, speak in a listless monotone.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Girl Shy - 1924 - 7/10

Silent era slapstick.
Harold Lloyd plays shy milquetoast who pens [I]The Secret Of Making Love[/I].
Actual females, however, make him extraordinarily nervous.
What to do, then, when love arrives? As well as a rival for her affections.
Jokes cascade furiously, with mishaps and a hair raising dash-to-the-altar finale.
Scenes of downtown Los Angeles, circa 1923, provide a portal into bygone, emptyish avenues.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

The Hourglass Sanatorium - 1973 - 7/10
AKA - Sanatorium Pod Klepsydra
AKA - The Sandglass

Difficult, at times baffling, journey into memory.
Józef arrives at the sanatorium where his father is dying – check that – has died.
The director says death has been suspended, as they manipulate time.
Father is dead, yet he is not dead (he exists in Józef’s memory).
The labyrinthian institute seems the de facto maze of recollection.
His childhood in the boisterous shtetl mixes with historical personages and incidents.
Waxwork mannikins suggest, but do not illuminate.
Logic and linearity are submerged, memory is deceptive and cluttered.
Much of this eluded me. I know little of Polish history, nor have I read many stories by Bruno Schultz, on which this is based.
While I was often lost, the visuals, surrealistic and dreamlike, kept me riveted throughout.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Project Nim - 2011 - 7/10

In the early 70’s, chimp infant Nim was taken from his chimpanzee family and given to a human family.
The concept, backed by Columbia University, was to see if chimpanzees could learn sign language skills.
Absorbing documentary from start to finish.
The family was the wrong choice as they let Nim grow up undisciplined and he developed anti social habits.
Like biting a face off.
Humans drifted in and out of Nim’s life, some honestly cared for him, others were disease experimenters.
Says a lot about animal medical testing, and human tendencies to anthropomorphize pets. Dog owners, take note.
Encouraging film for primates everywhere.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

The Second Mother - 2015 - 6/10
AKA - Que Horas Ela Volta?

Val works for affluent family as nanny, housemaid, cook, laundress, do-it-all.
She has a roof over her head, is paid, is a member of the family - more or less - and exploited.
The estranged daughter Val had to abandon years earlier, to send money back to, invites herself to stay for a period.
The girl, studying for college entrance exams, is an unsettling, confident force.
Film delves into several conflicts: generational, class, merit.
Hardly a subtle film, viewers may feel their sympathies frayed by every character.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Late August, Early September - 1998 - 7/10
AKA - Fin Août, Début Septembre

French drama follows a group of friends as they, more or less, relate to each other and to the ailing writer in the center of their midst.
Gabriel breaks up with Jenny who, nevertheless, wants him back even though he is in a relationship with Anne.
These are creative types - artists, writers, designers, publishers - who form an unrelated family.
Most seem constantly broke, yet dine out frequently and wear nice clothes.
Characters are supposedly young adults maturing, but many are too old to be believable.
Very talky, and little seems to get accomplished all around, though fans of French cinema are used to this.
Whether you enjoy might depend on personal taste and if you can relate.
I actually belong to one of those “unrelated families” so this was easy for me to identify with.
Note the release date: The whole publishing angle - actual books and readers - strikes me as long, long ago now.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Fighting With My Family - 2019 - 6/10

Still miss Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey)? She’s here, as is Florence Pugh and Nick Frost.
So is Vince Vaughn and Dwayne Johnson (AKA - The Rock).
Last detail is a heads up. This is a biopic of female wrestler, “Paige.”
Tight knit, wrestling obsessed, family promotes matches in villages and small venues.
If only they could catch a break, say, from a WWE scout, then they could roar in arenas.
Dreams come true, somewhat, in this follow by numbers, feel good flick.
Acting is fine, the story is corny.
Wrestling enthusiasts might applaud, maybe. They may not appreciate the arena as scripted.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Misbehaviour - 2020 - 6/10

Docu-drama of the 1970 Miss World competition, disrupted by a budding feminist movement.
Focus is on three individuals: Bob Hope, blindsided at how much the world has changed. Eric Morley, contest promoter, trying to navigate a new reality, longing for the 1950’s. Sally Alexander, reluctant voice of the movement.
Non period music. Fashions seem unspecific. The film doesn’t “feel” right.
For a film launching the Women’s Liberation Movement, producers play it safe and opt for feel good.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Cave Of Forgotten Dreams - 2011 - 7/10

Outstanding Werner Herzog documentary filmed inside the Chauvet caves of southern France.
Cave interiors have the oldest paintings known to exist, 30,000 years old.
The cliff face fell tens of thousands of years ago, sealing the original entrance, and protecting the art from us, the rabble.
Access was sealed immediately by French authorities after its discovery in 1994, so Herzog’s film will likely be the only view any of us ever see.
Wanted to dock this a point for intrusive music.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Alraune - 1928 - 6/10
AKA - A Daughter Of Destiny

Silent version of Hanns Heinz Ewers’ mandrake tale stars Brigitte Helm.
The daughter of a prostitute and an executed criminal, she is the ward of an obsessive professor.
Around her is a litter of longing males, who leave her curiously uninterested.
Flawed film suffers broad over-acting and choppy narrative, perhaps from censored footage.
The movie swirls with nervous energy throughout, and will appeal to Weimar cinema buffs.
Musical score is classical medleys (predominately Mussorgsky and Debussy) with jazz combo tossed into nightclub scenes.

There are two earlier versions.
A 1919 one, directed by Curtiz, considered lost, and an extant 1918 which I have been unable to track down.
There are also two later versions.

Alraune - 1930 - 6/10

Sound version of the 1928. Brigitte Helm reprises the lead, with new director and cast.
The “mandrake myth” is most pronounced in this, as are the scientific dabbler’s motivations and collaborators.
In this, the princess, desiring an heir, is the trial run.
Alraune, however, is the breakthrough, an artificial experiment brought to adult fruition.
Helm not only plays Alraune, but also Alma, the prostitute incubator.
During her turn singing a cabaret number, one can easily understand why she was Von Sternberg’s original choice for Lola Lola in Der Blaue Angel.
Typical of an early talkie, static camerawork seems rudimentary, the pace is dreary.
Both prints I viewed were nth generation soft, and overlaid with hard Danish subs.
Sound leaves much to be desired, but is passable.

Alraune - 1952 - 6/10
AKA - Mandragore

The luminous Hildegard Knef stars as the bewitching siren.
She is at times childlike, other times maliciously cruel.
Heavy mortality among male admirers, nonetheless.
Camerawork is high Gothic, and the costumes and interiors evoke Douglas Sirk.
As with other versions, the mandrake root is referenced, but the fable, the magic, is underplayed.
Instead, the subcurrent is of eugenics, which would have been an unsettling taboo in post World War II.
The Klimt inspired set design is a highlight.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

The Black Widow - 1947 - 6/10

A fun serial from Republic, and a slyly subversive one.
Usual nonsense about an evil potentate scheming to rule the world …
The “smartest guy” was not the manly hero.
No, it was Sombra, the Black Widow (played by the deliciously slinky Carol Forman), daughter of the poobah.
She leads her henchmen, devises strategies, overcomes police and Feds.

Bit by bit, she steals rocket parts and eludes capture.
The police put in charge a writer! Ha ha, that’s right, a writer of detective stories.
I guess producers did not want to stoop all the way down to using an English major.
He is assigned a female reporter. Typical of the period, he constantly condescends and belittles her.
Episode after episode, he gets trapped or overpowered, and she’s the one who comes to his rescue.
Viewed over several weeks, amusing enough.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Demon Eye - 2019 - 4/10

Way out on the moor wastelands, Dad, troubled by “something,” kills himself.
Next beat, his long estranged daughter flies in from the States to find out what happened.
Backstory pertains to a village girl from 1850’s who fashioned a tin amulet and prophesied doom and gloom for sinning, wayward locals.
Right quick she is burnt (well, no one likes debbie downer) and the village begins to wither.
So, will that Yank lass find that long lost demon amulet?
Fine outdoor scenery undercut by damn near everything else.
An OK premise, but producers seem so obsessed with avoiding clichés that they pile on inventive, ridiculous alternatives.
For example, throughout, a crying baby doll wails and is supposedly scary. To whom? Audience males who’ve just found out they got their girlfriend’s sister pregnant?
Most of the characters resemble street bums – there is a dog, we never see – John & Sadie?
Stupid film, that could have been better had fools not been in charge.
Almost, but not quite, a “bad cinema” pleasure, though connoisseurs will want to seek this out.
There is a birthing sequence that had me laughing out loud.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Certified Copy - 2010 - 7/10
AKA - Copie Conforme

Confusing, talky French movie set in Tuscany.
A couple meet at a book lecture, then go on a small road trip.
Inside a coffee shop, all points of reference shift.
Dense film, packed with mysteries and revelations.
Questions whether a copy is equal to an original, or superior, are debated.
Deliberately composed to be misleading - for example - does the couple know each other?
Is a sham relationship better than a failing one?
In French, English and Italian.
Juliette Binoche stars. Gorgeous scenery. Definite arthouse fare.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Nobody - 1999 - 6/10
AKA - だれも

Decent video thriller of three fashionably dressed office men who casually insult another trio.
The other three, while less clothes conscious, are more comfortable with violence.
Events swiftly get ugly.
Low budget is disguised using night settings and rainy environment.
Then there is the female model, a fetching siren who “loses” accessories.
Not a bad flick, though a few reveals are preposterous.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Hitchcock - 1986 - 6/10

From the BBC Omnibus series, this shallow overview came out a few years after his death.
First part covers his English era and early US years.
Second half covers his prime years and “decline.”
Talking heads are a mixed lot, and most seem a tad dismissive, the writers especially so.
Some actresses also aired their laundry. Again, this was released within a few years of his death.
Smattering of film clips with major omissions (The Lodger, Lifeboat, Notorious, To Catch A Thief, many others).
Worse, spoilers mar the film reviews (in 1986, most filmgoers had viewed the majority of Hitchcock’s movies).

More recommended would be Alfred Hitchcock and David O. Selznick Collaborations, a documentary covering his early years in the States and lengthy struggles with the obsessive producer.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Gantz - 2010 - 6/10
AKA - 前編

Japanese Sci-Fi - Horror - action film based on popular manga.
Recently deceased souls were revived by Gantz, a large black sphere, to eliminate aliens among us.
Aliens are at once ordinary and strange.
If combatants succeed, points are awarded. 100 points = return to living. Dead combatants stay dead.
Followed by a sequel.

Gantz: Perfect Answer - 2011 - 6/10
AKA - ガンツパーフェクトアンサー

Not nearly as different or inventive as the first film, but the sequel reveals who is killing those “recently deceased,” and why.
And what happened to combatants who were slain in battles.
More full on conflicts, with a highlight occurring in a high speed subway.
The rare sequel that provides resolution to the first movie.
Both Gantz flicks ought to be viewed as a pair.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Boyfriends And Girlfriends - 1987 - 6/10
AKA - L’ami de Mon Amie
AKA - My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend

During lunch, city employee Blanche meets student Lea.
Both are in their early twenties and talk soon revolves around boyfriends, potential boyfriends, lovers.
The females we understand somewhat, their emotions, their reactions. Males, not so much.
Casual connections, impromptu breakups.
The girls are a chummy duo, and I speculated that if this movie was remade, would producers feel compelled to inject a lesbian subtext?
Decent Rohmer film should be fine for his fans, though it is as airy as a soufflé.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Russia 1917: Countdown To Revolution - 2017 - 7/10

Compressed telling of events leading up to the Bolshevik revolution.
Narrative begins 239 days out, until time collapses to “Zero Hour.”
An unlikely takeover of power, a nation, and history.
Talking heads propel the facts, but they frequently disagree.
Modern reenactments are used sparingly for Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin and Kerensky.
Remainder of the visuals are period newsreels and Silent era footage.
Those Silent films were especially useful, as they were accepted as history.
Many of the declarations by participants were taken as factual and believed.
Worthwhile viewing, though lacking depth and not without flaws.
For example, one of the speakers opines that this is where “fake news” begins.
Sorry, as long as humans have breathed, they have deceived.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Carry On Screaming - 1966 - 6/10

Guilty pleasure here.
Silly spoof of Hammer films, packed with puns, slapstick and smoldering innuendo.
(Fenella Fielding is the essence of smokin’ hot.)
After a series of females go missing in the woods, Detective Sergeant Bung and his assistant get on the case.
They visit Bide-A-Wee Rest Home, hoping for witnesses, but the sergeant only finds temptations.
Classic horror films, TV horror, and English lore are all skewered.
Corny, wacky nonsense is an elixir for farce aficionados.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Suite Française - 2014 - 6/10

Can a sensitive Wehmacht officer and sensitive young wife of his enemy find love in Occupied France?
Paris has recently fallen and Nazi officers are billeted with local families.
In this film, at least, the homes have attractive females of varying availability.
While our lieutenant is a gentleman, others act on urges.
Although “based on a true story,” this is not remotely original.
The more interesting aspects are how villagers react to the invaders, and turn on each other.
That is secondary, however, to the doomed love of kindred spirits.
Weep n sleep.

What are you reading?

Crompton, Richmal - Mist And Other Ghost Stories

Traditional supernatural tales written in the 1920’s, though most seem to harken back to the Edwardian era. Crompton has a deft, unfussy style and the pages seem to breeze by.,
“The Bronze Statuette” beguiles young Marian, gentry of no accomplishments, with a predictable, if dull, future. Yet the statue, a pagan relic, casts a spell on her. Of all the stories, this is the most Machenish in tone, although the next story, “Strange,” also recalls an earlier, forbidden world.
“Marlowes” is the name of a house, not the splendid manor, but a small home ideally suited to two pensioners. The house, like other old dwellings, has a personality, and can be unwelcoming if it chooses to reject the occupants.
“The Haunting Of Greenways” catches the cuckoo, the insecure soul, never settled unless they are the select. You know the sort. If they cannot possess, cannot be loved, then no one else shall.
The title selection, “Mist,” finds a weary hiker, lost on the moor as the mist rises, thickens. Though he obtains refuge, it is bleak and suffocating. The story is not original, though it is well written and memorable.
Richard Dalby provides a succinct overview of Crompton’s life, as well as comments about her ghost stories.
Mist was a book I read about in a Halloween horrors article. For whatever reason, Mist excited casual readers more than the other recommended titles (from quality presses such as Swan River, Tartarus, Egaeus, Zagava, Centipede). It took me over a year to track down a copy.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Viy - 1967 - 7/10

Bratsky Monastery in Kiev releases students for summer break.
The rector warns them to avoid excess debauchery, before they dash off, stealing food and groping females.
As dusk settles, young priest Khoma and two companions request shelter from an old crone.
Before he realizes his situation, the woman mounts Khoma (not like that, naughty), seizes her broomstick, and away they fly.
Oh, no, she a witch!
Well, a lot more lands in Khoma’s plate. Cossacks, a dead maiden, gallons of vodka, and a spooky three night wake.
Funny, frightening, beautiful photography, with a hair raising finale.
Based on Gogol‘s short story, this is faithful and picturesque.