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3918 reviews in total 
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1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Haunted House meets Mystery meets Western, 28 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I love watching these films from the early thirties. Rarely are they good in the way that I need as a modern viewer. The story is not the one the movie directly delivers, but the larger story of movies finding themselves after the disruptive introduction of sound.

They just didn't know what would work, so they tried everything. Sometimes they invented, and that is very cool when you can find the first glimmer of some now mainstream stroke. What we have here is one third mystery of the old school. A man does not know who he is we have to find out after the one who could reveal all is murdered.

We have a third that is haunted house. This was already a well established genre. Here we have the phantom. He mysteriously kills and disappears as if a ghost. He has a terrifying call that usually brings death. He is dressed in black, skulks and covers his face with his cape, even — especially — when it is just us about. We find he has a horribly disfigured face... as disfigured as simple makeup could arrange anyway. We see comic fear of this ghost. It has everything a haunted house movie does except the house which is replaced here by the supposedly spooky Tombstone Canyon (where no one goes),

And a third is good old western, with good and bad ranchers. The good rancher is Judge Lee with a pretty cowgirl daughter who falls for our cowboy. In what seems like two days, they are engaged. A wise sheriff, rough town. Fights at cliff edge. Lots of galloping.

What a hodgepodge. What confusion! It is clear that this was a disposable experiment like hundreds of others, even thousands from the era.

Oblivion (2013/I)
1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Dream of us, 26 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

One measure of a science fiction movie is whether the science and fiction are coherent. I've been following the Hunger Games saga and this is driving me crazy. Some technology is advanced, some adopted from the sixties. In good hands, like with Nolan's Interstellar, this could be used to advantage.

In that case, essential plot points depend on the limits or reach of technology. Because some is advanced and some not, I can't understand the world. I can't enter it. I know the series is popular with young girls, and I assume that is because the technology is invisible, the politics drive the world and what matters is teen love (and family).

Here, the writing and art direction get this bit right. Everything we popularly assume about tech is advanced a step and half. The story is silly. The actions of the characters are cartoonish but understandable. The climax is yet another flight into an orbiting alien vessel, the destruction of which saves the world.

And is has our smiling boy. But despite all this, it feels comfortable because we can fit ourselves in the world, in the movie.

The one exception is the radio. I get that what keeps this couple (the one we originally see) together, is engineered nostalgia. And that the woman in control and all her presentation, including the static is designed to evoke the old. But how is it that our Earthly minions can block the signal? How is it that alligator clips and the wrong sized antenna are able to control the decades old ship where our master race cannot?

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Talking while Leaving Theater, 19 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When I heard that 3D would be going mainstream a few years ago, I hoped for a revolution in what we think films are. I believe we are seeing *some* radical rethinking, because with 3D and CGI, we get a less encumbered camera, one whose normal stance is eye height of a human ghost, anchored to the Earth.

In other comments, I have noted how this evolution is developing, even in the safest blockbusters. This by itself is a more fundamental shift in our world than nearly everything because it changes how we dream and love. But I was hoping for something more fluid in what realities we see, like *Birdman,* but for film, not stage.

The film world had a similar period where new technology challenged us to devise a new narrative vocabulary. For better or worse, our present stories evolved in the great experimental period from, say 1929 to 1941 (Citizen Kane). So rattling around in that period, one sees a much greater variety than we have today. Some of the experimental models stuck around for another ten.

Many of these are like this film — a play designed to only engage in the last few moments. This is a bit hard for modern viewers to watch, because there is the barest work to engage. We only have enough (enough for the period) to keep us in our seats. Simple events and a bit of chummy humor.

All the engineering goes into the end, where our growing threat is reversed by our smart woman.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Mixed Audiences, 3 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

God I love this stuff.

What happens here: a playwright has a murdered wife. He assembles the suspects to read a new play, and this play concerns events that implicate each of them. Each of these suspects is placed under increasing pressure by what he seems to know until the climax where the murderer is revealed.

For background, consider two techniques. One is mentioned in the film: the play within the play of Hamlet, wherein the murderer sees his act played out and gives himself away. This is far more sophisticated, as we have many suspects, not one. And they each are forced to be actors in the play, not spectators. Moreover, they play themselves!

The second thing is the great innovation that Poirot brought to the genre. At the end of his stories, he gathers all the suspects, confronts each one with some damaging new insight and reveals the murderer. In this, we share the role of audience with the gathered suspects as they hear the solution. It is a way of folding us into the story, increasing our engagement.

I will not reveal the trick this film plays on us, other than to say that it is extraordinarily clever and turns these two dynamics inside out so that the effect of each is transferred to the other. Genius.

Murder by the Book (1987) (TV)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Double Folds, 3 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This isn't worth watching for what it is, but I count it as a notable example, more so because it is a cheap TeeVee production with low aspirations.

The overall story is about art forgery.

The structure is adventuresome. The story we see is written by the mystery writer who is the main character. Actually the main character is an on screen image of the writer's character from earlier stories. The same actor plays the writer and his character, and we have a lot of banter.

The character gives advice on what to do next, while the writer works to get control because he wants to write — to be — a different character.

The interesting thing is that any viewer would easily understand the folds here, well enough to get the humor that saturates it.

I have a project that studies folding, stuff like this. Often, you'll find this in experiments and serious projects. When you find this in silly productions for fun, it matters. It validates the sophistication of the average viewer.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Sluggo, 3 March 2015

Yet another appropriation of the Holmes character. In this case, they had 23 minutes to fill with enough attractiveness to sell stuff.

The form demands light banter, very simple plots and secondary characters, and lots of slugging.

Slugging is required. Among the episodes I watched was one where most of the resolution of the story had Watson and Holmes competing for good punches.

Like other appropriations of the Holmes character, only the affect is used, and none of the dynamics. This is Holmes just barely in name only, and the use of Watson.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Plot Mines, 3 March 2015

For the sake of completeness of my Holmes project, I watched a couple episodes of this.

The fancy is that Holmes is placed 200 years in his future. The future setting allows the animators to use all sorts of visual shorthand for sets and situations. The appropriation of Holmes allows the writers existing stories that can be reduced to skeletal plots. These two devices were likely important to the decision to go, as they would greatly reduce costs.

This was inspired by Sherlock Holmes in the 23rd Century (of the decade before), an even cheaper production with even more abstract notions of a future.

When characters and story structures reach this level of reuse, like Frankenstein, it is because they have such power that all one has to do is reference them by sketching, and the viewer fills in details.

The amazing thing is the ends of the thing. The production itself is the scantiest, cheapest thing possible and the external reference is one of the richest.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Boys and Brown Leaves, 2 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Very spooky, slow. Based on a Lovecraft story.

The trigger event has a meteorite landing and exhibiting inscrutable properties, diffusing into the air. It is the remnants of a craft. German scientists from the 30s — one of our most enduring stereotypes — cannot figure it out, but before it disappears, they make the mistake of breaking the sphere embedded within. A colored goo is released and joins the water.

A nearby farm family with three boys come under the influence of this 'color,' and it is this deterioration that we see in our spooky parts. The film is in black and white, effectively using devices that evoke the silent era. The goo is rendered in color when we see it and that worked less well for me.

The narrative structure is what sets this apart. It has story in three periods. The focus is the appearance of the goo and over a year the deterioration of the family as witnessed by a neighbor.

A later period has this neighbor returning from WWII and encountering a group of occupying US GIs. Though they have no reason, and are warned, the leader decides to investigate the cursed farm. They provoke the goo in the farm's well and see it assemble and fly away from the planet.

Decades later, the head GI has returned and we follow his adult son as he seeks him, encounters the now aged witness and hears everything we have seen. Meanwhile, a dam has newly been built over the infected farm and the water is rising. The son finds and gathers his now crazed father at the edge of the water.

What works is having the elderly witness tell us the story from the 30s and see it in terms of films from that era. Watching the sons through this period was tough and touching. We could have had more of this and less of the brooding wife.

What did not work for me:

— the extra level of the soldier after WWII. This seems to be there only to tell us that the goo is still alive and to give us someone to later tell the story to.

— But in this segment, we see what could be all the goo assemble into something like a spacecraft and leave. But then are we to think that some remains. The oft-murmered question of whether "it is over" is not powerful enough to affect me.

— The finding of the lost father could tell us the answer to that question. He seems altered by some remaining force, or was he just suffering from what came before. We don't need answers to every question; this kind of story is better off with mysteries. But the filmmaker owes it to us to not raise unnecessary questions.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Extremes without Connection, 2 March 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is James Whale in his prime, for better or worse. The film was lost for generations before being reclaimed and restored, and for that reason is celebrated beyond its merits.

What we have is a collection of stereotypical scenarios and characters. A stormy night. A collection of stranded travelers. A very spooky house, containing a family of deranged people and their even stranger butler.

In turn, each character performs the most extreme behavior we can expect from their roles. It is hard to know at this distance in time how much humor Whale intended with this. Everything that could be over the line of serious presentation is. And the list of what is brought up is long: incest, drunken violence, blasphemy, denial, three distinct kinds of madness, gold digging, lust, instant infatuation, class struggle and damage. Sex in four incarnations.

An interesting decision is that there is no hierarchy, no agent more prominent or in control than any other. The wheel spins and who is central at that moment is left behind the next. Even the character of the house is not exploited as many would. The set was actually shown off to better effect, I think, in a following film: Secret of the Blue Room. There the place had agency. Here it is just an accident of place.

There is considerable art here in suppressing the notion of a master agent. This is a mystery like many of the period, but with no crime, detective or solution. Just everything else. It is a horror film, but with the terror removed. Sexy but hollow in the spots we normally would leer. All waves and no beach. Likely, this is his most personal film and it makes me wonder if we will ever welcome filmmakers like this back.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Fully Realized, 1 March 2015

Over the years, I have written one tirade after another about Clive Exton, the adapter of Christie for many of these Poirot mysteries. He just doesn't get the form, what makes the form of the detective story so captivating.

What he does is substitute character for discovery. The excuse, I am sure is that colorful characters can be cinematic and by design, Poirot's grey cells are always inferred, never seen. But I know that one can capture the process on film, because others have done it — even others within this long running series. So I pound my forehead when I see wasted opportunity.

But I do have to give him some credit, I think. This is the first in the very long sequence, years and years. Yet it appears fully formed, as whole as it will ever be. The characters have the same qualities they will keep. The locations, the dressing of sets and actors, and the percentage of populated street scenes.

All this would have been worked out in some detail, probably more preproduction work than any one episode would ever require. I assume that Exton played a role in this, because these are the hooks he exploits better than other writers on the team.

I disagree with his decisions. What works with the books is that there is a powerfully weaving mind in the body of a narcissistic pomp, not the other way around. But I do think he did a good job at what he attempted.

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