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Horror Express (1972)
Atmospheric Horror Story
Horror Express has a passable story, good actors and fine production values. The story, about murders that occur on the Trans-Siberian express, is different enough to be interesting. Telly Savalas eats up the scenery as a Czarist officer, in contrast to the low-key acting of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, rival archaeologists who share a common interest in the pre-human find Cushing is taking back to England. This movie, the last to be shot at a Spanish studio about to close, has train interiors that look big budget. The train model special effects are crummy, but the action at the movie's end justifies the title Horror Express. The remastered Image DVD of this public domain movie is the best way to see this movie, a movie full of dimly lit train interior scenes.
Union Depot (1932)
Pre-Code Warner Brothers At Its Best
Union Depot starts with an exterior crane shot that slowly zooms into the train station from above, with no noticeable break as camera goes through the wall into the lobby of the station. Alfred Green, the director of this and many other Warner Bros. movies in the 1930s, keeps things hopping as two homeless men, played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Guy Kibbee, come into some money accidentally. Joan Blondell, always a welcome addition to any movie, enters the picture as jobless young woman who meets Fairbanks while at the station, running away from a sex maniac played by George Rosener, usually a screenwriter. Someone figured he looked right for the part. Union Depot, with its cynical view of life and its casual approach to sex, stands up better than the synthetic movies made after the strict Production Code took effect in July, 1934. The stars, the off-beat story and Alfred Green's fluid direction make this dated movie fine entertainment.
Gong yuan 2000 AD (2000)
2000 AD is fine mainstream action movie entertainment
2000 AD is a big HK 2000 Lunar New Year (February) movie release, made to capture as large an audience as possible with its story of a struggling video game designer (Aaron Kwok) who gets drawn into an Asian shadow world of spies, counter-intelligence and killers. An opening sequence involving the bad guy's way of delaying the arrival of some officials employs great visual effects, supplied in part by the technicians who worked on Independence Day and Gen-X Cops. Gordon Chan, the director of this action movie, does a good job choreographing the shoot-outs, fights and car chases. The story borrows some plot elements from The Net, but unlike Sandra Bullock, Aaron Kwok is the chaser, after the guys who murdered his brother in a bloody sniper attack. It is not Shakespeare, but 2000 AD moves fast, has colorful Singapore location shooting (no caning sequence here) and introduces great looking Singapore actress Phyllis Quek as key player in the action. Except for some ultra-violent sequences during the shootouts, 2000 AD is a fine, action packed movie.
B gai waak (1998)
Extreme Crisis is a fast moving HK film with plenty of explosions and firepower
In the opening credits for Extreme Crisis, Bruce Law identifies himself as Director.Stunt Co-Ordinator. This movie would be about eight minutes long of you removed all the stunt work and action sequences. There are plenty of stunts, shootouts and explosions, as a tough Hong Kong cop teams with a Japanese Special Details Unit (SDU) officer to filght a Japanese cult that is trying to free their imprisoned leader, held in an HK jail. Before HK authorities can turn over the cult leader to the SDU officer for extradition, "Lone", another cult member, goes on a killing spree in downtown Hong Kong, trying to force the release of his leader. While the story seems to have borrowed from Die Hard, including the villain Lone's attire, Extreme Crisis is a tougher movie. In this movie, there are no jokes, little chit chat and no attempt to humanize the psychopathic villains. What stands out is the destructive action sequences, such as when five parked cars on a downtown street are simultaneously launched skyward by a terrorist bomb. Extreme Crisis is all graphic detail, told in a linear story with no flashbacks to slow the action. If it is action you want, it is action you get from ace stunt director Bruce Law.
Wai Si-Lei chuen kei (1987)
Wisely travels the world after the dragon pearl
Wisely, the famous writer/adventurer, is tricked by his friend (played by Teddy Robin Kwan, the film's director)into helping him steal the dragon pearl. Sam Hui plays Wisely in this big budget HK movie, with production units filming some scenes by the Great Pyramids, and many scenes in Nepal. There are car chases and crashes, chases by horsemen and plenty of fights along the way. The Legend of Wisely is a live action comic book. A lot of effort went into making this movie, and it shows as Wisely goes from one hazard to another, a HK version of Indiana Jones. If you can, see the Universe DVD version of this movie, a widescreen transfer that highlights the panoramic views of the Himalayas in Nepal, where much of the on location action takes place.
Ji dong qi xia (1989)
Maggie Cheung Takes Center Stage in "Iceman Cometh"
"Iceman Cometh" starts out as a manhunt by Ming royal guard Yuen Biao after a rapist-killer of thirteen women in the royal palace, including a relative of the emperor. The guard is transported along with the killer to a snow covered area by a Tibetan wheel with time travel properties. After the two are frozen in the snow, a scientific expedition finds them years later and brings their frozen bodies back to modern Hong Kong. The guard and killer are accidentally thawed out, and the guard ends up getting involved with a call girl (Maggie Cheung)
Maggie Cheung steals every scene she is in. Yuen Biao is tops in action scenes with his opponent, the actor who played Panther in "Supercop," but Biao is no match for Maggie. She uses him first as a housekeeper to clean up her messy apartment, then as an enforcer to shake down her clients for additional payoff money. She is the one with most of the problems, from a pimp who threatens to throw acid in her face if she doesn't go out with a client to her later run in with the rapist murderer.
The movie also has some nice technical effects when the Tibetan wheel goes into its time traveling mode at the end of the movie, but the real special effect is Maggie Cheung's acting range. She can project some personality on the screen.
Night Court (1932)
Pre-Code Classic about Corrupt New York City Officials
When MGM released "Night Court" in 1932, its story of crooked judges and a corrupt system of justice in New York City was pulled from the newspaper headlines of the previous year. When, in the movie, cabbie Mike Thomas's wife is set up, arrested and jailed for prostitution, that part of the story didn't surprise New Yorkers, who had read for months of the activities of Chico Accatuna (the spelling of his last name varies), nicknamed the "human spitoona." Just as in the movie, this unsavory character would set women up for an arrest by the vice squad. Once the woman lost her job and reputation as the result of the arrest, criminals such as Lucky Luciano would then force these women into prostitution.
In this movie, Mary Thomas is sent to jail to discredit her, since she accidentally saw the bank book of the crooked Judge Moffett, played by Walter Huston. He had given it to his girlfriend when he told her to hide out while Lewis Stone's judicial commission was investigating Moffett and others for corruption. She moved in next door to the Thomases,in a rundown walk-up rowhouse, and managed to drop the bank book (which showed tens of thousands of dollars in the judge's secret account) into the crib of Mary's son when she dropped by.
At one point, this picture is as grim as any you will see. Mary is in jail. Her little boy is in a city foster care facility, crying his heart out. Mike, trying to spring her, goes to a lawyer who is a crony of Judge Moffet and informs the judge of Mike's plans. Moffet, lying on a sofa, tells an associate to "get me bad boys, very bad" to take care of the troublemaker cabbie. These "bad boys" beat the cabbie to a pulp, then put him on a slow boat to South America.
In a great scene, Mike later tells Moffett, now a prisoner in Mike's apartment, about all the questions Moffett's henchmen had asked him. Mike closes by saying they didn't him the most important question: "Could I swim?" Audiences in 1932 must have cheered when they heard that line, delivered just right by actor Phillips Holmes.
Now, "Night Court" is like a time capsule, a reflection of a world long gone. Mark Hellinger, the co-writer of the play the movie is based on, was a reporter who had first hand knowledge of the real life events he borrowed for the story. The hero in this movie is a cabbie, not a cop, a district attorney or any other government official. In this movie, except for Lewis Stone's character, who is murdered, all the public officials you see are on the take. The movie makers didn't identify the cop who arrested Mary Thomas as a member of the police Vice Squad. If they had, that would have dated the movie. As a result of the tremendous scandal involving Chico Accatuna and the compulsory prostition racket, the NYPD Vice Squad had a new name, the Public Morals Squad. This scandal helped get La Guardia elected Mayor and is the basis for this pre-code crime classic from MGM.
Le clan des Siciliens (1969)
Life Imitates Art, Seeing "The Sicilian Clan" In Queens
I first saw "The Sicilian Clan" at the Mayfair theater in Fresh Meadows, in 1970. A Woody Allen movie was the main feature then, but I went to see "The Sicilian Clan," a great crime movie then and now. The Mayfair, then operated by the Weinstein brothers of Miramax fame, changed in 1974 from showing foreign and off-beat movies to X-rated movies, movies hard-core enough to get the new theater operator sent once to Rikers Island by the Queens DA. The Queens DA at the time, John Santucci, never bothered the wise guys portrayed in "Goodfellas," but then, Santucci never went to jail like his predecessor, former DA Thomas Mackell. In the glossy world of "The Sicilian Clan," the criminals are professionals who make money the old-fashioned way - they plan robberies. The picture starts with members of the Manalese family, arranging for the escape from custody of career criminal Roger Sartet (Alain Delon). Sartet is in big trouble, having killed two policeman during his capture, according to a comment later made by Lino Ventura's character, a tough cop. The escape from the police van is suspenseful, as is most of this movie. "The Sicilian Clan's" plot has the thieves take a hijacked jet to New York. Instead of landing at an airport in Queens, though, the jet lands on an unfinished highway. To show the attention to detail director Henri Verneuil took, as the jet rolls over a bridge, you briefly see dirt from the bridge supports fall down, from the weight of the landing jet. About eight years after I saw this movie, Queens mobsters using inside information robbed the high security vault of Lufthansa airlines at JFK Airport. That robbery and its aftermath are part of the plot of "Goodfellas." In "The Sicilian Clan" Sartet's character has inside information on the burglar alarm installation at the Villa Borghese, where a big jewelry exhibit is taking place. He uses this information to get Jean Gabin's character, the head of the family, involved in the robbery. Thinking it over, Queens in the 1970s was the most appropriate place to see a crime movie like "The Sicilian Clan." A French crime movie that in part imitated what was happening in Queens.
The Narrow Margin (1952)
Charles McGraw At His Best
While director Richard Fleischer gets plenty of credit for his role in making the film noir classic "The Narrow Margin" on a shoestring budget, it is hard to imagine this picture without actor Charles McGraw in the lead role. As a tough cop escorting a witness to testify in Los Angeles, McGraw's performance is what holds the picture together. Try to think now of one actor around today who could portray a cop who is at times calculating, other times sarcastic and almost always menacing. In the Hollywood of the 1940s and 50s,Charles McGraw usually played secondary roles in A pictures. In "The Narrow Margin," McGraw shows that with a competent director, he could put on some performance as the star of a movie.
Hei ma wang zi (1999)
Director Wong Jing makes a good movie out of an improbable story.
Hong Kong's film industry is in the doldrums, yet Wong Jing's movies continue to be box office hits. Prince Charming is an improbable romance that stars Andy Lau, playing an unemployed guy hanging out on the fringes of society. He lives in a rundown building with his foul-mouthed mother and a friend. This friend just split with his long time girlfriend, nicknamed Tart. Andy Lau's girlfriend has just dumped him for a record producer who offers her a job in Taiwan. Then there is a thug nicknamed "Fatty" who is trying to get back the money he loaned Lau's friend.
Into this mess comes "Ice," the nickname of the character the very pretty Michelle Reis plays. She is trying to find her mother, who stayed in Hong Kong when her father went to Shanghai many years earlier. "Ice" grew up with her father, who is now rich. She ends up using Lau's mother as a guide to help her with the search in the HK's Mongkok district. At the same time, a gang is trying to kidnap her to get ransom money from "Ice's" father.
There are plenty of ups and down in the story. Wong Jing, who is the writer/director of this action/romance, keeps the action moving. If you want a guided tour of Hong Kong, and a chance to see a pretty good movie without much objectionable violence, "Prince Charming" is right up your line.