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A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Rifkin’s Festival - 2020 - 7/10

Sue handles PR for a rising, acclaimed director at a film festival in San Sebastian.
Older husband, Mort, tags along because he wanted to visit Europe, and because of suspicions.
This is one for arthouse buffs, as it includes a raft of homages to Godard, Truffaut, Fellini, Bergman …
Flashbacks and dream sequences often decolor to black and white.
Most of the jokes are sly, literary based. Movie fanatics, steeped in foreign films, will appreciate more than others.
Not the finest Allen, but this is very good, and should prove irresistible for fans.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Sweet Home - 1989 - 6/10
AKA - スウィートホーム

“If they come back safely, we have a new venue for tourism.
“If something bad happens to them…by supernatural causes…think of the publicity for our community.”
Such are the calculations by the local mayor as he hands over the keys to a cursed home, empty 30 years.
The film crew enters, searching for rumored paintings from a reclusive master.
Takes awhile to gain traction, but once underway, boy, this Horror gem delivers.
Essentially, the “old dark house” plot, with misgivings ignored and curse protections tumbled.
The second half go-go-goes, with kitsch mixing gore, 80’s special effects, and ukiyo-e designs.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Oblivion - 2013 - 6/10

Austere set design and intriguing premise cannot overcome fuzzy direction and a lazy script with major loopholes.
Post-apocalypse Earth (aliens this time out).
Planet is radioactive toast and most of humanity has relocated to Titan. No, not nearby Mars, but far beyond the asteroid belt, orbiting Saturn.
While big siphons suck Earth’s oceans dry for Titan plumbing pipes, rogue aliens keep blowing things up.
They shoot down spherical battle bots, as well. Jack (Cruise) is the janitor.
Film, based on a comic, which swiped from dozens of TV shots and movies, hasn’t a single original thought or idea.
This would have made a tight 30” Twilight Zone episode, instead of a 2+ hours trudge.
Minimal action, more cerebral fare, though this does have its advocates.
Especially if you are in the Solaris / Cargo fold.
Don’t get me going about the flight recorder or why aliens scamper on four legs early, two later.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Wasteland - 2012 - 6/10

Solid criminal revenge set in that happiest of places, Leeds.
A recently released con enlists three buddies to take down the thug who set him up, the local drug kingpin.
Characterizations were a bit weak as the focus was on scouting, planning, and the caper.
Lean film that wasted little time, and thankfully did not suffer Guy Ritchie wannabee-ness.
Perhaps a bit cute near the end.
Impressive debut from first time director.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Félvilág - 2015 - 6/10
AKA - Demimonde

The wicker basket floats in the Danube. Curious souls drag it ashore, open it, revealing a corpse.
Then … four days earlier …
A young girl, desperate, applies for a position as maid, cook, whatever. She has no references.
Almost on a whim, she is hired, and enters a suffocating world.
The madam, once a courtesan at her peak, is now mistress to a powerful man, and her youth is fading.
She sees “something” in the girl, and despite the top maid’s warnings, the innocent follows into the cloistered world of cigar smoke, whisky tumblers, sheer lace, and discreet staircases.
Gorgeous film from Hungary, eroticism tightly restrained.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

The Father - 2020 - 7/10

Dad struggles with dementia or Alzheimers.
Perceptions and memories, crossed and faulty.
Viewers benefit (or suffer) by being placed in his confused situation, constantly adjusting to shifting realities.
Acting is stellar across the board, though the back story is scant.
Better than I had feared – I had anticipated another version of King Lear.
Still, I seem to have viewed a lot of these vanishing souls over the years.
The flaw with most of these is that you observe characters in steep decline, rarely when they are hale.
Iris (2001) is a brilliant exception.

What are you reading?

Mannin, Ethel - Lucifer And The Child

Jenny Flower, another grubby street urchin from the London dockside, enjoys a rare outing to the country.
More than the countryside, however, as she wanders away and enters the deep woods.
Where, at age 7, she sees the stranger who seems to wear horns on his head.
“Hullo, witch,” he approaches, and she realizes there are no horns.
Never mind, Jenny saw what she saw.
Such is the initial, fateful encounter between the young girl, one with “bad blood” that runs in her family, and the individual she calls Lucifer.
For many, the story, a conflict between corruption and redemption, recalls Arthur Machen.
It does not seem so to me. The style is more modern and lacks Machen’s inimitable wordplay.
The portraits of the back alleys of London are vivid, set against the rising waters of war in the late 1930’s.
One is tempted, lured into wickedness, or one seeks it freely.
Jenny, who picks her side early on, is a troubled soul, at odds with the world.
Cheers to Swan River Press for reprinting this lost (once banned) gem.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Eye In The Sky - 2007 - 6/10
AKA - Gun Chung // 跟蹤

Hong Kong caper film with Simon Yam and Tony Leung.
Tightly organized gang circumvents omnipresent surveillance cameras, staging several mid-tier heists.
Yam heads up the plain clothes surveillance team, who hone in on the hideout while the gang plans a final haul.
Nothing new here, though professionally executed.
This ain’t Johnnie To or John Woo at their prime.
Diehard HK fanboys will watch and yearn for the 1990’s.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Lightning Strikes Twice - 1951 - 6/10

The priest visits the convicted killer on death row.
Only! There is a second trial and he is acquitted!
Story abruptly shifts to an actress, traveling by bus, to a Western dude ranch.
Soon enough, her path crosses that of the killer, acquitted of murdering his wife.
Good mystery, set in the sagebrush, with strong performances and Noir camerawork.

Directed by King Vidor, this is reminiscent of Douglas Sirk.
Females dominate the proceedings, led by a high strung Mercedes McCambridge and a smoldering Ruth Roman.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Three Cases Of Murder - 1955 - 6/10

Trio of stories, one slightly supernatural, one a murder mystery, one surreal.
In the first, the inhabitant of a museum painting repeatedly “steps out” of the canvas to furnish his abode.
Whimsy, with an unpleasant, nonchalant edge.
The second is of boyhood friends, now business partners.
One is the drab hard worker, the other is charismatic, especially to the ladies.
And when the shy soul introduces his glamorous new girlfriend to his partner …
The finale, with headliner Orson Welles, is one of guilt.

After a political leader crushes a rival, does he suffer remorse?
That especially rings false (politicians with guilt, with consciences?)
Weird fantasy sequences compensate, yet this is the weakest.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Shin Shinobi No Mono (3) - 1963 - 7/10
AKA - 新忍びの者

Although not the final film in the series, this is the final of the Goermon trilogy.
By far, this is the most compelling, packed with intrigue, questionable history, and stealthy action.
Here, Goemon continues to be driven by vengeance for the murder of his wife and child.
There is no “magic” in the trilogy, yet the production values are first rate, and the characters - if you can keep up with them - are well defined and absorbing.
Furthermore, Raizo Ichikawa’s character grows from brash, talented warrior to a thoughtful, if cynical veteran.
Viewers steeped in Japanese jidaigeki cinema, can discern the transition of Ichikawa’s Goemon into Nemuri.
An outstanding introduction to chambara.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Book Club - 2015 - 6/10

The ladies start their book club in the late 1930’s, early 1940’s.
Over sixty years, they have been together, many of them for longer than their marriages.
Along the way, they discuss pivotal books, historical highlights, life in Washington DC.
As a documentary, this is hardly incisive.
Yet as the “human experience” this is life-affirming.

Clearly, the ladies are from a much earlier era, when people stayed put and held tight to each other.
Only caveat with the film is that the ladies’ names were not indicated while they spoke.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Miss Bala - 2012 - 6/10

Mexican film about aspiring beauty contestant getting embroiled with the drug cartel.
Narrative begins plausibly as two girls hurry to the cattle call, and line up for their big break.
That night, they go to a party thrown by police and federal drug agents.
Who in their right mind would attend a DEA shebang?
The main girl gradually gets sucked into a war between gangs and cops,
all the while showing up for her beauty contest appearances!
After awhile, realism gave way to allegory.
One of those “interesting” flicks; worth seeing and recommending, but more arthouse than grindhouse.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Goku, Body Snatcher From Hell - 1968 - 5/10
AKA - Kyuketsuki Gokemidoro // 吸血鬼ゴケミドロ

This starts so promising, too.
Passengers on an airliner include a professional hitman (with his weapons) and a young psycho with a bomb.
As the jet hurtles into reddening skies, birds hurl themselves against the fuselage, and then a flying saucer!
This is too much, and the aircraft crash lands in nowhere.
The alien craft lands, as well, and wouldn’t you know it, they are hostile aliens.
Alas, the aliens are but a sideplot as survivors squabble, argue, and turn on each other.
Yes, 1968, not the current era. Human antics never change.
Cheesy special effects and hammy acting cannot enliven a script that grows dull and preachy.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Love Wedding Repeat - 2020 - 5/10

A man shares a fabulous few days with his sister’s best friend.
Chemistry, sparks, the works. Yet he bungles the parting, and she gets away.
Three years on, at his sister’s wedding, the flame returns.
Rom com is a showcase for formulaic writing.
Quirky, broad based characters – check.
Preposterous situations – check.
Wait, there’s not enough plot! How about, at the end, we hit RESET and start again, and change one bit.
(The reset has been used in dozens of films, my favorite being Run, Lola, Run.)
Inoffensive date flick … mmm … watchable / forgettable.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

The Gatekeepers - 2012 - 7/10

Documentary interviewing six former heads of Israel’s Shin Bet, and the endless problems stemming from the Palestine occupation.
All calmly, matter of fact, discuss assassination, interrogation, torture.
Refreshing candor and bluntness.
Men express genuine surprise when peace accords were reached in Oslo, only to watch it all unravel.
None hold back on pin-pointing the chief instigators and enablers for war and terror:
Hamas, Islamic Jihad, religious West Bank settlers, gutless Prime Ministers.
Nominated for an Academy Award, lost to the feel-good, crowd pleaser, Sugarman.
Kinda says it all.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Innocents With Dirty Hands - 1975 - 6/10
AKA - Les Innocents Aux Mains Sales

This feels like two filmed tacked together.
The first half, an intense thriller, finds a young wife and her lover plotting to murder the older husband.
A tale as old as dirt, and yet, there is a problem with the body, and the timeline.
This is absorbing, in the very best Hitchcock tradition.
The second half is, regrettably, dominated by endless talking, and it felt very stagebound.
I realize many love this one, but I suspect they love the first half.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Love Never Dies - 1921 - 6/10

Boy meets girl, boys bests rival, boy marries girl, the end.
Nope, that’s the first fifteen minutes, and from there on the story takes strange turns.
Such as, the new husband’s mother turns out to be a woman of ill repute.
So the son has made something of himself. So what? The stain, the moral outrage.
The setting is the South, the time is pre-automobile. Honor matters.
Creaky King Vidor melodrama grew on me, and it is enhanced by a train sequence and rafting finale.
That said, around the 45” point, there is a leap in continuity. A reel is missing.
Not to worry, one can quickly deduce the missing narrative, and the story will make sense by the abrupt end.

What are you reading?

Murphy, Damian - The Narcissus Variations

A few pages in and one enters a hallucinatory dream spell, cast by Mr. Murphy.
Our narrator has arrived at a far outpost of the Empire. He is a member and servant of the Kin.
His assignment at the outpost is unknown, which is a typical method of the Kin (and Empire), letting servants find their role. Immediately, he sets about transcribing and amending odd journals.
This is a decayed society, with remnants of misunderstood or partially working technology.
Readers are as uncertain of events as our narrator, who is not unreliable, only not fully aware.
Knowledge does increase with each page as pieces begin to fit, if imprecisely.
A beautiful book, and the story enthralling, although the ending feels rushed.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Ghost - 2012 - 7/10
AKA - Phantom // 유령

Korea’s Cyber Squad Unit investigates the suicide of sex scandal actress, and dives deep into the snake pit of blackmail, vengeance, murder.
Series is a hacker’s delight.
Identify theft, DDoS attacks, steganography, file manipulation, malware, falsified texts.
One episode involves crashing media outlets and traffic lights with a virus. Afterward, citizens flocks to a rising computer security agency. Its stock soars.
Three stars if you can guess who launched that virus.
Police procedural series is one cat and mouse contest, with villains and heroes getting outflanked, then outsmarting the other. Evidence tampering, moles, bribery.
The main villain is well characterized and sympathetic. One could identify with his drive for revenge.
Ghost is slick, fast paced, with more twists than a coiled sidewinder. Also, no romance. This K-drama cranks from start to finish.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

The Shadow Whip - 1971 - 6/10
AKA - Ying Zi Shen Bian // 影子神鞭

Energetic Shaw Bros. Actioner of revenge, missing treasure, and a quest.
A young swordsman, refusing to give his name, is soon in the thick of three villains, a bandit clan, a master, and a beautiful, whip wielding female.
Well choreographed conflicts are lengthy and frequent, serving to fill a smidgen of a plot.
Outdoor photography shows a lot of snow, which was an unexpected surprise.
Most distracting, the music score seemed to crib heavily from James Bond films!

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

Murder In Moselle - 2018 - 6/10
AKA - Amours à Mort

During a ballet performance at the closed steel mill (enacted by ex-workers), the despised mill owner is murdered.
An inspector arrives, meets with the owner’s daughter – who happens to be an old flame of the officer.

Why, he even asks her to start helping with the investigation.
Subplots are as non-compelling as the romance, and revealed histories feel forced.
Not as unbelievable as Hallmark, but please, ordinary souls dodge the police.
Minor crime mystery outing suffices as fast food; it fills a hole.

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

The Wall - 2019 - 7/10
AKA - La Faille

Modern variant of the “locked room” mystery.
After a stripper is found murdered, and carefully posed, a top investigator is sent from Quebec.
The locale is a “closed” mining community, meaning one huge complex.
(At times, to me, this resembles a vacant shopping mall.)
Anyway, the inspector is a hard-nosed boat rocker, who quickly commands the local cops.
Just as well, as there are other staged killings, and no shortage of suspects.
The actual mine is under financial distress and suffers saboteurs.
Tightly constructed series, and for snow bunnies, enough white to make you giddy!

A few reviews . . (film or TV)

The Party’s Just Beginning - 2018 - 6/10

Liusaidh is in love with Alistair, who is in love with Ben, who is being drawn into evangelism.
Ah, the unhappy love triangle.
Liusaidh, wracked by grief, drinks herself senseless at bars, engages in meaningless sex.
When she has visions, they are of catastrophes.
Powerful film of misery without relief, without exits.
Karen Gillan (who also penned the script) showcases acting chops that should rank her with the best in class, though she seems to be going a more lucrative route.