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Thriller: Death in Deep Water (1975)
The Girl In The Blue Bikini Casts Quite A Spell!
Popular opinion seems to be that the THRILLER series, of which this is the final instalment, went downhill in it's last season and reviews of this episode in particular are rather Luke-warm. I disagree. But then I find I disagree with the same general opinion on which episodes in the series 'worked' and which fell short. Some of the most popular leave me cold and vice verse.
I thought DEATH IN DEEP WATER was not only one of the very best but contained some of the best acting and most strikingly memorable images. Suzan Farmer's character, invariably dressed in a tight blue bikini, is both physically and intellectually attractive. She's no teenage bimbo draped across the scenery to be sacrificed once enough has been seen of her heaving bosom. She's a mature, scheming, beguiling, strong minded and very pretty temptress with a plan. And what a plan! The twist in the tale is very clever and well worth waiting for.
Bradford Dillman as the underworld hit-man in hiding is suitably frustrated and bored by his situation and one can see the whole scenario falling nicely into place. There is a bit of chemistry going on between the actors here and as a team they work together well.The acting is excellent.Ian Bannen seems a little out of place and his character is a cliché but everyone else is well cast.
The seaside locations in Devon are delightful & very well chosen while the set designs are quite elaborate for what is, by today's standards, a low-budget series (it wasn't in the mid 70s, but things have moved on a great deal on that score since).
As ever, given the compact running time there are some small plot holes that don't have time to be filled and some perfunctory moments that given another 30 mins would have been more convincing and. It's a story line that could be reworked into a good 90 minute movie and would still remain taut and brisk.
So don't give up on that final series of THRILLER, it pays off at the end!
Thriller: Sign It Death (1974)
One Of The Best In The Series
An immediate and perfect antidote to the misfiring previous THRILLER episode "K IS FOR KILLING" , this has all the right elements that "K" misses : Taught story-line, dynamic direction, snappy editing, superb casting, brilliant acting, some choice little twists and no half baked attempt at comedy. This is just a proper chiller from the very start. Francesca Annis as the plotting secretary is both captivating (those eyes!)and disturbing.While Patrick Allen as the high-powered businessman reminds us what a good actor he could be when not simply providing his distinctive vocal talents to commercials and public information shorts. The supporting cast are mostly spot-on for their roles. As ever in this series the look is now very dated with 16mm location sequences visually jarring with the inter-cut studio scenes shot on video, the lack of blood (despite numerous stabbings)and the often gloriously outlandish hairstyles and clothes of the era - but they all add greatly to the period charm of the series. This episode boasts a strongly character- driven story and if some elements of it seem a little comical today it's just a reminder of how much the world has moved on in the four decades since the series what first shown and become increasingly cynical and complex.
Thriller: A Place to Die (1973)
Lame Episode In An Otherwise Entertaining Series
Most of the THRILLER episodes have a certain something that overcomes the technical limitations of the era in which they were made : the mixing of 16mm exterior locations and VT studio interiors, the lack of blood and gore , the rather unnatural lack of 'language' in the dialogue, all of which are rather charming and evoke the TV you remembered from the early 70s.
However this particular episode has a fundamental flaw which makes the usual suspension of disbelief impossible. It's the ridiculous cliché of "village life". This seems to have been written by someone who hadn't ventured as far as the suburbs let alone a remote English village. The result is a Neverland of 'rural characters' which would have seemed out of date in the earliest Agatha Christie novel from the 1920s, let alone a TV drama written in the early 1970s. It's just nonsense. Here's "the gamekeeper"...with a shotgun under his arm, "the blacksmith" with his leather apron.... "The school mistress" a starchy spinster in a tweed hat... and even inevitable "village idiot"... and here they all are queued up one behind the other in the village shop (which by some quirk of set design looks like a trading post from a spaghetti western rather than a village shop). None of them seems to have any work to do, no one drives a car, in fact the whole village seems to have only one visible car, the newly arrived doctor's Morgan.
Irrespective of the story-line this backdrop is so fake it's laughable. So it's a dud episode I'm afraid. But never mind, if you are watching the box set keep going as the following episodes are so much better!
La route de Corinthe (1967)
Odd Miss-Fire From A Master Director Approaching His Peak
MAY CONTAIN SPOILER. Claude Chabrol knew how to make a great movie and over a long career, proved as much again and again. But his considerable output was prone to occasional dips and miss-fires in between the successes. WHO'S GO THE BLACK BOX? / THE ROAD TO CORINTHE is perhaps one of his worst. Like many (most?) of his lesser works it's an international co-production without the elements that he used so well - there is no dysfunctional family, no large country house setting and no bourgeoisie to prod and chastise. Instead we have a very mid 60's staple of glamorous spies and cold war paranoia. But it doesn't work on any level. The plot is too convoluted to follow and the characters too flimsy to care about. There's no one to root for or worry about while the action itself never sparkles, there's no memorable chase sequence and little suspense.The promising cast look out of sorts; Maurice Ronet looks bewildered or bored most of the time and Jean Seberg simply hasn't got enough character to get her acting teeth into so remains cold and detached. She does look great however and provides the visual highlight wandering around her apartment in a tight neon green bra-slip just prior to what should have been the biggest shock in the film but that's somewhat telegraphed so that what you remember is Jean looking sexy and not what happens next... Sadly thats the whole film in a nutshell. Worth a look if you are a Chabrol fan simply to appreciate how good most of his other films are by comparison.
Deep, Claustrophobic Study Of Sisterly Incompatability
Appropriately there really is very little dialogue in Bergman's THE SILENCE. Sometimes ten whole minutes will pass between the sparse and often caustic verbal spats between two sisters temporarily stuck in a large and mysterious Eastern European hotel while one recovers - or not - from some unspecified chronic illness that has interrupted their railway journey. Between the spiteful jibes and the longing glances into space the pair pay sporadic attention to the young son of the healthy sister and it's through his eyes that we observe much of what's going on beyond the walls of the hotel suite. He roams the corridors (as the boy in Kubrick's THE SHINING would do over a decade later) encounters a troupe of dwarf performers and a curiously friendly/sinister/comic waiter who communicates by improvised hand signals as he, like the other hotel staff members, does not share a common language with any of the three main characters. This lack of communication in itself becomes a central element in the pervading and stifling 'silence'.
In the streets below we see tanks rumbling past and occasionally jet aircraft scream overhead. Is this Hungary in 1956? Are we seeing the Soviets quelling the popular uprising? If it is the cars we see are a bit too modern... But the sisters don't seem to know and the language barrier restrains us too. While the boy amuses himself observing the bizarre characters, some of whom he play-shoots with a toy pistol, his bored mother is amusing herself with various men whom she either beds in empty hotel rooms or admits to pleasuring in dark corners of a nearby church. All her encounters are wordless and her actions self-gratifying. This promiscuity highlights an area of the sisterly conflict.While the healthy one flaunts her heterosexuality, the sickly one seems pious and disapproving, although she is not averse to pleasuring herself. In one scene she lies back on the bed during a respite from her illness, unties her pyjamas and slides her hand between her legs as the camera pans demurely away to her face which contorts for a brief moment of release. At other times she seems driven to distraction by what could be an incestuous lesbian obsession with her sister.
This is all deep and obliquely referenced leaving the viewer to form opinions rather than having then handed over on a platter. What is the deal here? Typical Berman! On the production side the photography is superb, as always, but softer and less naturalistic than in his later films. However the opening train carriage scene has no sense of being anywhere but inside a studio with back projection and model work that while it's up to the standards of Hollywood movies of the time,looks very unconvincing today. But the acting is excellent; the little boy is marvellously awestruck and natural, his mother is suitably sensual as she wanders around the interiors in a half open dressing gown revealing glimpses of her panties and the occasional bare breast in a most matter-of-fact fashion. The sickly sister is brim-full with melancholy and regret. Her frustration is palpable. The other characters are largely caricatures in the manner of Fellini, but none the worse for that.
Is it a good film? Answers on a postcard please...It really depends on how you receive it and how shocked you are by the sexual references and the one, brief, graphic scene which back in the day was the cause of much censorship discussion I'm sure!
Unique, Bizarre but Mesmerising Art House classic
CONTAINS SPOILERS. Bergman has such a daunting reputation that for many of us it's perhaps a leap of faith just to even chose one of his movies. The expectation is of something deep, brooding, obscure and rather slow. Comedy sketches have been written around the silences and menacing composition that are perceived to form the backbone of his films. There's a lingering aura of Bergman being 'only for the intellectuals'. Maybe some of this is, at times, true. Maybe not.It's a personal choice for each of us but the rewards for taking that leap and staying with a Bergman movie are well worth anyone's time and effort. None more so than PERSONA which combines a few famously bizarre surrealist sequences with a phenomenal piece of claustrophobic two-handed acting by Ullman and Andersson, the like of which I cannot honestly recall elsewhere. Their beautiful faces, often shot in ultra close-up are lit to emphasis every pore and minor blemish as if to highlight that however gorgeous as they are, these are human and imperfect faces on flawed personalities. The slightest twitch or tremor is given significance, the quasi-lesbian relationship they appear to develop is treated with an intense but chaste sensuality and the turns in the story are arresting and unsettling. The fact Ullman remains mute and Andersson does all the talking sounds like a recipe for some chronic naval-gazing. Not so. Introspective it is, self absorbed too, but Andersson's character has a secret or two which her initial prim, starched appearance belies. Her graphic description of a pivotal liaison in her past is truly unexpected in a movie of this vintage. It must have seemed alarmingly candid when first shown. It still does. It's also poetic and rather beautiful. I can only recall seeing one other movie, LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD,in which so much of the dialogue stems from just one of the characters and at times the direction PERSONA appears to take(or not, as the case may be)emphasises this similarity as do the striking monochrome photography and the exacting use of composition. Surrealist sequences aside, PERSONA is the more real of the two films, the least fanciful and at the denouement probably the more satisfying.
What does it all mean? Well thats the rub.As you'll see from the discussion boards on IMDb it's up for constant re-interpretation and perhaps because of this more than anything else it's a film that stays in your head long after the final credits.
Un flic (1972)
Disappointing End To A Great Director's Career
The moody opening sequence promises so much, the deserted storm-lashed seaside location, the carefully staged bank 'blagging' and the clever escape all bode well, but it's all down hill from there. The rest of this movie stagnates with a lack of pace, a lack of dramatic effect and far to much screen time given over to dreary details : washing faces, tying shoe laces. To make matters worse the big set-piece features a truly dismal special-effects train robbery straight out of THUNDERBIRDS TV series. Instead of keeping this brief and maintaining some suspension of disbelief it goes on and on and on giving the viewer repeated chances to confirm how unconvincing the model vehicles really are. And this is not the only poor piece of studio work; poorly executed painted backdrops feature in several scenes at a time when on-the-streets reality was already the established way to go. The story is confused, several characters seem superfluous and as the lead character, Alan Delon sleepwalks though the movie. There is laconic and there is plain boring, and sadly he's the latter on this occasion. It's a performance that matches the tone of entire film.
The Dreamers (2003)
A Dark Claustrophobic Essay On Youthful Hedonism
Against a backdrop of the 1968 student riots in Paris Matthew, a young American student obsessed with movies, hooks up with a brother and sister,Theo and Isabelle, the twin offspring of a celebrated poet, who share his passion. The friendship rapidly becomes deep and disturbing; the twins seemingly enjoying an incestuous relationship and Theo a bi-sexual disposition towards their new friend. But all is not quite as it appears. These seemingly sophisticated intellectuals live in a bizarre enclosed little world of their own, indulged by wealthy parents and more child-like than the American first assumes. In a film that is bursting with movie in-jokes and references,the trio join in protests at the Cinemateque, replicate the 'Louvre record' from BANDE A PARTE in a scene inter-cut with shots from the original movie and develop a parlour game of "Name the film or pay the forfeit" ,that soon stretches the bounds of taste and decency, once the parents have left for the country.
The trio spend most of their time in the large rambling apartment, which begins as charmingly shabby-chic and descends into student-squat squalor, indulging in ever more lurid sexually charged games. Nudity increases as they become insular and the world outside becomes more distant in a way that evokes a cult film of this era,PERFORMANCE. But THE DREAMERS, being a 21st century film,goes further and among several intimate and unsettling scenes that many might find offensive, the trio take a candle-lit bath in a haze of 'exotic cigarette' smoke which lulls them into unconsciousness, to find on awakening that Isabelle has started her menstruation while they have been asleep...and the bathwater has turned red.
If the subject matter is an acquired taste then without doubt the film looks wonderful. Paris in 1968 is lovingly recreated; the cars and backgrounds are right, the music includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan, there is much talk of Mao and revolution. The acting is very good, naturalistic and engaging. The leading trio all fit their rolls to perfection and Eva Green as the pretty, pouting, full-busted,long haired Isabelle is the perfect image (cliche?)of a freethinking 1960s femme fatale.
THE DREAMERS is a significant movie for me. Watching it for the first time I became intrigued by the homage it paid to Jean-Luc Godard's BANDE A PART, a film of which I previously knew nothing. I sought out the DVD, was entranced by this great movie(and Anna Karina in particular!)and have been hooked on French New Wave movies ever since. Re-watching it two years later I 'get' more of the filmic references, the haunting use of the theme from PIERROT LE FOU and the cameo of Jean-Pierre Leaud among others, but most of all I am struck by how intimate and graphic the relationships are portrayed. Not an easy film to like at times and not a film for all tastes but a brilliant one nonetheless.
Perceval le Gallois (1978)
Bizarre And Atypical Rohmer Film I Could Not Recommend
I like the majority of Eric Rohmer's individual and thoughtful low- budget movies (The only one I have yet to watch being SIGN OF LEO)but PERCEVAL lacks any of the usual charm and engagingly endless chatter. It leaves me utterly cold I'm afraid. It's....well actually it's pretty awful to be frank! Some of the acting, despite the constraints of the stylised elements (intrusive madrigals, forced rhyming and so forth) is good but it's a 2+ hours journey through a cardboard landscape to absolutely nowhere. One sees the credits roll and cannot help asking "is that it?" Rohmer's strength was always to create engaging contemporary love triangles in which much amorous youthful angst was discussed at length in rambling but rather mesmerising dialogue , usually by at least one very attractive young actress. Sometimes the stories ended abruptly or just fizzled out to nothing but in all cases there was an element of reality in that. Rohmer's costume pieces are all far less successful than the contemporary fables. PERCEVAL is the nadir. Everyone is allowed a dud. This is the great Rohmer's.Thats a far better record than most directors.
Conte d'hiver (1992)
Tender Tale of Hope and Coincidence
As he grew older it seemed veteran screen-writer and director Eric Rohmer grew a little more romantic and a little less cynical of life and love. His most famous work, the "Six Moral Tales" of the late 60s are expose's of human failings, pomposity and self obsession. Most of the characters are deeply flawed and many, though fascinating in their way, are distinctly hard to like or forgive. In the "Proverbs & Comedies" series of the 80s , the tales of life are a little softer, lighter, the characters more sympathetic and once the 1990's arrive and Rohmer's new "Four Seasons" series finds it feet, that trend has developed further.
The FOUR SEASONS stories carry a little more plot and rely less on the fairly heavy philosophy and religious conviction one would have encountered in MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S for example. There is hope where there had been despair.
CONTE D'HIVER is a bitter sweet tale of pretty young hairdresser Felicie and the aftermath of a brief passionate affair with the charming Charles. The result is that she bears his daughter but accidentally loses contact with him before he is aware of this. Life for Filicie is then a matter of putting up with a string of second-best lovers in the vain hope that Charles will somehow re- establish contact.
The action flits between Paris and provincial Nevers and as always the people the dialogue and the direction are wonderfully natural. The cinematography and editing are spare and unobtrusive and the acting is superb. There is one sequence, a lengthy scene in which Felicie watches , and is moved by, a stage production of a Shakespeare play that drags on far to long but otherwise this films almost skips along compared to some of the directors previous works, where the pace is always very measured and very slow. In all, a delightful film with a good cast headed by the attractive Charlotte Very, one of several excellent young actresses Rohmer cast around this time (Amanda Langlet and Emanuelle Chaulet being the others that spring to mind). Recommended