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Félix et Meira (2014)
A beautiful, layered, subtle love story
I was completely blown away by this unique film. It is a gentle, nuanced look at two people from very different communities who connect and fall in love. The young woman is from the Hassidic community in Montreal. She is questioning her life and the limitations imposed on her by her community. The man she meets is not from her community and at a crossroads in his life. While this premise might seem implausible, it is explored with subtlety and respect. I cannot forget to praise the terrific performances of the three main actors. Israeli actress Hadas Yaron is simply amazing as Meria, the young Hassidic woman who is stifling in her marriage and community. Martin Dubreuil is also very good as Felix who is in search of something but is not quite sure what. All he knows is that he is instantly attracted to the shy, reluctant young woman and he must try to connect with her in any way he can. The chemistry between the two is simply electric. The character of Meira's husband could have easily been portrayed as the clichéd overbearing, uncaring spouse. Instead, actor Luzer Twersky makes him a sympathetic character trapped by his own failings. He simply does not know how to deal with his wife's angst. There are some incredible moments of tenderness in this film (The first time Felix and Meira hold hands is understated but very powerful). Overall this is a beautiful layered love story that is full of hope and happiness. Love will always find a way. Not to be missed. Bravo Maxime Giroux for giving us such a beautiful film.
Deadlier Than the Male (1967)
Solid 1960s James Bond-like film
Very light spoilers ahead: I was very surprised that this film was so good. I expected an over-the-top Bond spoof in the style of the Matt Helm films but instead got a solid story with good action scenes, dangerous female villains and a suave performance by Richard Johnson as the hero. By the way, Johnson plays Bulldog Drummond, a character from the pulp novels of the 1920s. They have changed the character quite a bit and made him a suave, sophisticated investigator who knows judo and is good with a quip or two. Johnson was apparently one of the actors considered for the first James Bond film and I can see why. He is confident without being cocky and quite smooth. The main villain is revealed about halfway through the film and turns out to be Nigel Green, playing a similar character to the one he played in the Matt Helm film The Wrecking Crew. Smooth, non-pulsed and very droll. Elke Sommer and Sylva Koscina are the two female villains and they are quite nasty. We even get Drummond's nephew helping out the proceedings.
There is a terrific sequence with a giant mechanized chess set that must be seen to be believed. Well done. The story is a tad slow and we only get to see London and the Italian coast as locations but the film works well without becoming ridiculous. Give it a chance I'm sure you will enjoy it. I give this 7 giant chess pieces out of 10.
Bons baisers de Hong-Kong (1975)
Overblown, silly James Bond Spoof
This ridiculous James Bond spoof comes courtesy of Les Charlots, a French comedy quartet that was popular in the 1970s. This film is so over-the-top and scattered that I think I need to break this review down to three elements:
The Good: Bernard Lee and Lois Maxwell (M and Moneypenny in the Bond series) have a short cameo at the start of the film.
There is a gun-barrel sequence where James Bond is shot!
The stunts are simply spectacular (the film was directed by a stuntman).
There is a great deal of location shooting in London, Spain and Hong Kong.
Gerard and Jean-Guy(two of Les Charlots) are appropriately dashing as French secret agents.
The Bad: An actor made up as Richard Nixon comments on the story occasionally.
Every English-speaking actor is dubbed in French with a dreadful accent
The 1970s fashions are just awful.
The Kung Fu sequences (there are a lot of them) are nothing special.
The Ugly: Clifton James (Sheriff Pepper in the Bond films) is an American agent/detective and is horribly bad.
Mickey Rooney as the main villain should be ashamed of himself for his overacting and hamming it up.
There is a stunt that almost goes bad where a dog is almost crushed under a car. Ugh.
Overall, a must if you want to see every James Bond spoof known to man. Otherwise, you have been warned. I give it 3 secret agent out of 10(For the gun-barrel sequence, M and Moneypenny and the illegal use of the James Bond theme as well as for two of the four Charlots). Oh yeah, there are also references to Clockwork Orange, The Marx Brothers and Mad Magazine.
Very quirky low budget comedy
This is a very amusing fish out of water story with the director playing the lead role. In a nutshell, the story concerns a woman(Lisa Kudrow)desperate for some help taking care of her kids while her husband is off fighting in Irak. She has to go back to work but cannot afford daycare for her two "monsters".Cue the husband's loser brother who has nowhere to go,no money and no idea how to take care of himself, let alone two pre-school kids. He eventually gets a job wearing a ridiculous blue suit and handing out fliers in the middle of a highway to promote an Internet company( check out the poster to see this thing). Pendergast, making his first feature, reminds me very much of Woody Allen, in his early days. He is excellent at finding the humor in an ordinary situation and does not resort to cheap laughs. In many cases we see just the result of a situation and can pretty much tell what has happened just from surveying the damage. A perfect example is his first day of babysitting. All we see is the mother leaving for work and then arriving later to find him and the two kids fast asleep on the living room floor with fruit loops everywhere(and I mean everywhere), the TV blasting and generally everything in disorder. He could have shown us moments from his day but this is so much better because as we survey the disaster zone, we can just imagine what kind of a day he has had. Lisa Kudrow gets top billing and is OK in her limited role as the harried mother who is desperate for her husband to return and just does not know what to do. Christine Taylor and Terri Garr both put in what are essentially cameos but to good effect. The two kids are never cute or coy and this helps make them much more human. They do not like this uncle who has appeared out of nowhere but a bond does eventually form with him. A lot of the humor comes from the blue suit and the character's difficulty in doing such simple things as handing out fliers or drinking while wearing it. Pendergast is excellent as the out-of-his-element Salman, whose name everyone mispronounces. The rest of the cast is very good with a special mention to Conchata Ferrell as the HR person who hires Penedergast. I saw this film at the Montreal Film Festival with the director present and the audience really responded well. I hope this film gets a major distribution deal. Penedergast is a director with a lot of potential. I give this film 8 blue suits out of 10.
Great Harryhausen effects make up for poor screenplay
**Some light spoilers** If you compare the three Sinbad movies produced by Charles H. Schneer and Ray Harryhausen, this one is easily the weakest. Firstly, Patrick Wayne is dull as heck in the role of Sinbad. Secondly, the film is much too long. Thirdly, the dialog and story are poor even for this kind of movie. But not to despair there are several great reasons to watch it. The great Harryhausen monsters and the very sexy Jane Seymour are the main reasons. The great locations in Malta, Jordan and Spain are also very well chosen and add to the atmosphere. They seem like mysterious lands where monsters could be lurking at every turn(and usually are). The Harryhausen monsters are great especially the Troglodyte and the chess playing baboon. The Minoton is also cool (only in the animated sequences but certainly not when it is a man in a rubber suit). What can I say about Jane Seymour but WOW!! What she lacks in acting ability she makes up for in screen presence and beauty. Upon re-viewing the film I realized that the Sinbad character does almost nothing useful until the very end when he fights the Tiger. He is mainly there to go along with the other characters and look good. Wayne plays him with almost no personality whatsoever. Taryn Power (Tyronne's daughter) is OK in a secondary role but I suspect she was cast more for her looks than anything else. Margaret Whiting is completely over-the-top as the villainous Zenobia but at least she seems to be having fun with all the corny dialog(her transformation into a seagull is laughable and the only bad special effect in the film). One thing that struck me as odd is with the amount of great location footage shot in this film almost all the closeups were shot in a studio with a blue screen. This is very weird as it is obvious that the main cast are in the long and medium shots, shot on location. Did the producers run out of time or money before shooting the close-ups or what? Overall a good film to see on a rainy day or with a child. If you let your imagination take over it works even better.
Good satire that could have been a little stronger
***Some very light spoilers***
While this is not as good as Albert Brooks' Lost in America, it does contain enough witty observations and funny characters to make it worth seeing. Brooks plays a character he has played before, namely a man who reacts to situations. The premise of the movie is quite good: The US State Department want to find out what makes Muslims tick(or laugh if you prefer) and send our reluctant hero to India and Pakistan to observe and write a 500 page report(if he can also find out what makes Hindus laugh, even better). Two "suits" from the State Department accompany him to "help" handle whatever problems he may have. Obviously the setup here is for these clowns to make his life difficult. Some of this does happen but it is not developed enough to make them memorable characters. Once in India, Brooks must hire a local assistant to help him. This leads to probably the best part of the film (certainly one of the funniest) when he interviews potential candidates. I won't spoil the fun here but let us just say that the "suits" did not screen the candidates too thoroughly. The assistant he does hire is easily the most interesting character of the film. Played by Sheetal Sheth as an eager ready to please assistant who really, really wants to learn, she outshines all the others in this film. Many gags follow as they try and find out what people find funny. the humor is really full of throwaway bits (the call center gags come to mind) as well as some great visual gags (the Taj Mahal gag had me laughing out loud). A lot of the humor is at Albert Brooks character's expense so , as far as I'm concerned, the film does not take itself very seriously(The whole meeting with representatives of Al Jezeera is quite good). Many times a situation is not developed to its potential leaving the viewer a little perplexed. The end is a perfect example. They built up the situation in the last 20 minutes or so and just when we are about to have a payoff, they rush the ending and give us a very limited payoff. Overall, I would still recommend the film, just go in knowing that this is a satire and enjoy.
Fair Play (1972)
This has got to be one of the worst films I have ever seen. It is a (bad) cross between a Western, a Comedy and a home movie. You can only wonder what a fine character actor like Paul Ford is doing here. I guess he desperately needed the money(he seems very uncomfortable delivering his lines). Supporting actors are dreadful, music is bad, haphazard direction and there is very little story to speak of(most of it very confusing and certainly not funny at all). There are large stretches where most of the action takes place in one room. This is supposed to be a western, how about a few more outdoor scenes? From the opening scenes where the young man arrives at the train station and tries to get a ride into town to visit his uncle(Paul Ford) straight through to all the stupid intrigue about a dead mysterious stranger, you will feel that you are stuck in some kind of horrible unfunny sitcom stretched to feature length. BTW, the title Fair Play is the name of the town where the action takes place (in case you were wondering). I bought this on a two sided double feature DVD(with Sam Peckinpah's terrific The Deadly Companions)for $2.99. If it were not for the Deadly Companions I would say that I got ripped off.
Avoid this one like the plague.
Au sud des nuages (2003)
Enjoyable road movie
A very enjoyable film that follows five old farmers from Switzerland who decide to take a train journey all the way to China. While this might seem like a very bizarre premise, the film works quite well. The film focuses on "the leader" of the group, an old salt named Adrien who is a man of few words. The trip to China, while starting off very badly, will have a profound effect on his life and on his way of seeing the world around him. He has kept his emotions to himself for so long that he does not know what to do when he feels pain ,sadness or joy. The film includes scenes shot in Switzerland, Germany, Russia, Mongolia and China but it is not a boring travelogue. We see these countries as places where ordinary people try to eke out a living and attempt to live as happily as possible.They don't always succeed. There are a few sad moments in the film but the lasting impression is one of hope. There are also some very funny moments to balance out the feel of the film. Recommended viewing.
The Flying Deuces (1939)
post-Hal Roach feature is sufficiently light and silly
This was Laurel and Hardy's first feature film away from producer extraordinaire Hal Roach. While this is in no way Laurel and Hardy's best work, it still contains enough gags and silliness to entertain fans and the younger set. Stan Laurel is as sharp as always as is Babe Hardy but the story is somewhat lacking and drags in spots. The premise is good though: Trying to forget a woman who turned him down, Ollie wants to drown himself and convinces Stan that he must do the same. The boys meet an officer of the Foreign Legion who convinces them that they should join the Legion to help forget. Of course you know these two misfits are not going to do well in the Legion with its strict military code and constant marching. This leads to many good moments when, for example, the boys are forced to wash and press "a mountain" of laundry(literally). I especially liked the stunt flying and the surprise ending which, for me, wrapped everything up neatly. The part I really didn't like is having Ollie act like a simpering idiot when in love. It is just plain embarrassing. In their older films, they would get into bad situations but were never the objects of ridicule. Thankfully, this sequence passes by quickly enough and we go on to some great gags.
Sadly, the boys would end up making only one good film after this one (Saps at Sea)before moving to MGM and Fox where they were stuck in a bunch of bad or very average films.
Cry Blood, Apache (1970)
OK low budget revenge western
This film is not as bad as most people have noted. I'm sure they were turned off by the very downbeat story and low budget. Many scenes were also dubbed which does not help. I found the plot delivered especially in the second half of the film. I liked the way the Apache seeking revenge went about tracking down the gang of killers and wiping them out one by one. The methods he uses to kill them off are certainly inventive. The other big plus in this film is the location shooting in Sequoia National Forest in California and other locations in Arizona(the entire film was shot outdoors). You can almost feel the cold wind blowing and taste the omnipresent dust. Performances are mixed. Jody McCrea(who also produced the film) is OK as the "hero" of the film. His motivations seem ambiguous but this did not bother me that much. Joel McCrae(doing his son a favor by appearing in this film) is not on-screen nearly enough but his facial expressions are so subtle that we understand quickly what he is feeling. Director Jack Starrett delivers one very weird performance as the bible-obsessed killer who lusts for gold constantly muttering to himself and to the others. Don Henley (not sure if this is the Don Henley of the Eagles)is quite good as the leader of the gang. Ruthless but more cunning than you think. The character of Billy is probably the weakest. He is supposed to be a ruthless goon but is played at times as a whimpering baby. The others are OK but nothing special. This is best viewed late at night when nothing else is on. Overall I give it 4 Apaches out of 10.