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The Animal Kingdom (1932)
Wittily presented male chauvinism
I came away from this with a somewhat different message than the playwright intended (the same playwright, I should point out, who started The Philadelphia Story with a comedic stylization of wife-beating). The hero, played by Leslie Howard, starts a publishing enterprise devoted to the avant-garde works admired by his friends. He marries, and surprise, his wife, played rather icily by Myrna Loy, has the philistine idea that he should publish a few titles which will actually reap a profit so that he can at least finance his little enterprise without losing the family fortune. The movie leaves no doubt that such a money-grubbing attitude is worthy of the deepest condemnation. Hubby naturally finds himself longing for his former without-benefit-of-clergy bedmate, played by Ann Harding, who understands his sensitive soul and is more likely to indulge his dissipating his wealth, since she has no more sense than he does.
Oh, I enjoyed the movie, but I'm surprised that so many seem not to notice how shallow and stupid its ideas are. Leslie Howard does his best to make the protagonist seem noble, and I guess that for many viewers, he succeeds. Loy, not yet a star, is lovely as always.
The Haunted Airman (2006)
Don't blame Dennis Wheatley
As a fan of the late prolific Dennis Wheatley who found "The Haunting of Toby Jugg" to be one of his most gripping thrillers, I was confused to find that this tedious mess was supposed to be inspired by that work. What there is of plot is undercut by uncertainty whether Jugg, from whose POV the story is seen, is a reliable narrator or a nutcase. Playing Jugg, Robert Pattinson mostly gives the perfect Goth fashion model note of cool emotionlessness, which presumably serves him well in the hunky teen vampire stories to which he owes his fame. For this story I would have preferred an actor.
Just for fun, the script includes a bit of interracial flirting which is perfectly appropriate to the 21st Century and perfectly inappropriate to World War II, during which the story is set. Casting a black woman as nurse in a British countryside rest home was inane altogether considering the era.
Don't waste your time. Read the book if you can find it.
Hassan wa Morcus (2008)
A false equivalence
The story has its heart in the right place. This is largely a comedy in which two men, a Coptic Christian in hiding and pretending to be a Muslim, and a Muslim in hiding pretending to be a Coptic Christian, become close friends, neither knowing of the other's deception. What will be their reaction when they find that they in fact do not belong to the same religion? The two deceivers are presented as being in equivalent situations, which aids in presenting a tidy can't-we-all-be-friends message but is fundamentally dishonest: the Copts are at the mercy of the majority Muslim population and are constantly persecuted by them. The movie can be enjoyed if you ignore this reality.
What, this isn't an episode of Sin City?
Watching this innovative black and white noir thriller, I kept thinking that Frank Miller must have written it, so perfectly does it fit the sensibility of his Sin City comic book series. Innovative, not exactly original: one can indeed detect the influence of any number of famous noir flicks, most notably D.O.A. But it's executed so perfectly that I wouldn't want to complain. My wife said that the film was rich in allusions to Bulgarian life and culture which went right past me. She is definitely not a genre fan but she really liked this movie. Certainly the best Bulgarian movie I've seen since the magically-realistic anti-communist fable The Well.
Roman de gare (2007)
Do you like to be misled?
If you enjoy mysteries in which the author misleads you, you might like this movie. Technically it's fine, and the players are agreeable, although the leading man doesn't look like a leading man and may not even fit the conventional definition. This I would consider a very positive point in another movie.
But for this one I had a problem. The writer/director has complete control over the "reality" of the film, and so can do anything he wants with it, but I found the manipulation to be irritating. I can't go into details because I want to keep spoiler-free, but there is suspense which is suspenseful only because the creator decided to mislead, and some of the action involved didn't really make much sense. Now when Hitchcock misleads us in Vertigo, for instance, he gives us a resolution which makes everything we've seen up to then suddenly come together and make sense. Here, when we discover we've been misled, we've just been misled and what we've seen and heard to mislead us played no other role than to mislead.
That applies more or less to the first part of the film. The second part is a more conventional murder mystery, which I found extremely predictable in its "suprise" resolution.
Silly but enjoyable doc about Hef's extravagant party
This is a sort of vanity project, but what do you expect from something featuring Hugh Hefner? Hef has enormous amounts of money to throw away on projects beyond the wildest dreams of most of us. Is this bad? Well, at least we can share this particular project by DVD. It's an unbelievably extravagant Halloween party, and we get the inside story from the small army of technicians and artists involved in the setup. (A few -- surprisingly few -- celebrity attendees are shown. Geez, what does it take to get an invite?) Elvira does her usual nice job and yeah, she still looks really good. (She sports her usual duds, which she does not shed. She narrates the doc but apparently was not actually at the party.) OK, the best part shows a family team of body painters putting "costumes" on a handful of naked girls hired to cavort at the party. Hey, this is a variety of art you'll rarely see demonstrated elsewhere!
The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
Dialogue and acting fail to save nonsensical plot
Mr. no-first-name Quiller is pulled out of his current assignment to investigate neo-Nazis in Berlin. Pulled by whom? He's clearly American. Then why does he report to a bunch of Brits? Reminds me of silly Roman Empire movie conventions where the older roles go to Brits and the younger to Americans.
This is only the first bit of nonsense. The basic question is why American or British intelligence organizations would be interested in what would basically be a German police matter. It is never explained why Quiller's organization (whatever it is) sees fit to devote its Berlin resources to investigating neo-Nazis rather than working against East Germany and its master the Soviet Union.
The supposedly neo-Nazi players show no devotion to or even interest in Nazi ideology. All they want is the location of Quiller's British control (who can obviously move at a moment's notice anyway).
In short, the story makes no sense. I have no complaint about any of the actors. I don't know whether to blame the failure on the author of the novel (which I haven't read) or Harold Pinter, the fidelity of whose adaptation is unclear. There are some nice bits of dialogue, but they don's save the movie.
Talking heads, but a well-argued message
This one does seem to get extreme votes in one direction or the other, doesn't it? Production values are minimal. This is almost completely talking heads, a bunch of people telling us what they think we should know. Ms. Bat Ye'or's heavily accented English is subtitled. That's fine: she had something worthwhile to say. The most interesting speaker was an ex-PLO terrorist.
One bit which stuck in my craw was a survey of world trouble spots where Islam was involved, which included Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechenya. Of these, I think it is inane to imply that the Bosnian massacres were at all the responsibility of the relatively unarmed Muslim population, which suffered the worst slaughter. I have less sympathy for Kosovars and still less for Chechens, but I've no doubt that responsibility for the violence in those areas must be shared to some degree.
Also, speakers were sometimes a bit silly about the uniqueness of Islam in allowing for some normally sinful acts such as lying. I'm sure Jews and Christians could find instances where lying is necessary as being the lesser evil.
Aside from that, the basic point, that Islam is a religion and a political system which mandates the subjugation of non-Muslims, which lacks the pluralist values we take for granted, was made convincingly.
Particularly useful in understanding Islamic thought was the explanation of how one Koranic text can supersede another. Thus nothing in the Koran can be trusted to be valid doctrine without a knowledge of everything revealed subsequently. And the Koran is neither arranged chronologically nor do most editions date the texts, so no one who has not devoted much study to the Koran and the history of its composition can know what doctrines are valid.
There was practically nothing in the film about the treatment of women under Islam, a matter which certainly merits attention. Muhammad's sexual relations with a nine-year-old "wife" were briefly mentioned.
All in all, the film justifies its title.
The Man in the Iron Mask (1977)
Okay, but not Dumas
I'm a big fan of Patrick McGoohan so I don't like to find fault in a piece boasting one of his customarily excellent performances. But it should really be noted that this is, like some other movie versions of the same story, a great mutilation of the Dumas version. Dumas's story, actually just one thread of a gigantic novel titled The Viscount of Bragelonnne, has a secret twin of Louis XIV who is hidden away in the Bastille unknown even to the King himself. Through the machinations of Aramis, with the unwitting help of Porthos, an overnight coup is affected and the King sent to the Bastille in his twin's place. The King is, however, freed from the Bastille and reclaims his throne when d'Artagnan identifies him as the authentic monarch. The twin, who is disavowed by his mother, is only then condemned to imprisonment in the quasi-eponymous mask. The King is presented not as a black-hearted villain, but as a King who is sometimes ruthless and even cruel because his office requires such qualities.
Hollywood invariably twists the story into one of a virtuous twin imprisoned in an iron mask who is led by one or more of the one-time musketeers to take the place of the evil king. This is simplistic claptrap, nothing to do with Dumas.
Action of the Tiger (1957)
Comedic attempted-rape scene
If for nothing else, this film is memorable for a scene in which the heroine is chased around the hero's boat by the mate, Mike, played by Sean Connery, as obvious prelude to rape, while said hero, a particularly grubby-looking Van Johnson (who had seen better days in Santa Fe Trail and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers) looks on indifferently. Somehow or other she gets out of this, but the idea that having escaped the clutches of Connery she would subsequently fall hard for Van Johnson give cinema one of it great "huh?" moments. Otherwise, the movie lacks much interest or originality despite the Albanian background which certainly could have been better exploited, as Albania was known during its Communist era as the last surviving medieval society in Europe, and attracted a goodly share of antiquarian tourists.