Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
The White Raven (1998)
A Genuine Old-Fashioned International Thriller!
I admit to having found The White Raven a good "little film". A return to the sort of B-list thrillers studios used to churn out on a regular basis. The title refers to an enormous diamond hidden during World War II. The last man to know of its whereabouts (played with barely restrained menace by the imposing Hannes Jaenicke) is in a European prison and is dying. He reveals a vital clue to Tully Windsor, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor, and Windsor suddenly finds himself the target of several groups competing for possession of the diamond.
No, The White Raven definitely wasn't Foreign Correspondent or Ministry of Fear, or even Beach Blanket Bingo. But, thanks to directors Jakub Rucinski and Andrew Stevens, it carried enough nice touches to make at least one viewing a worthwhile pursuit.
Chief among these was the late Ron Silver as Tully Windsor. After a career of playing slimy villains, Silver took on a heroic role and made it pay off. His usually sinister features easily metamorphosed into a cool, calculating James Bond-like expression, and he moved from crusading reporter to MAC-10 wielding hero without missing a beat.
Silver was one of a small handful of domestically recognizable faces within the cast of the film. Elizabeth Shepherd especially shone as Hannah Rothschild: one of the people hunting for the White Raven. She wore the matronly European power-broker role well, reminding us that she was originally considered for the role of Mrs. Peel in The Avengers.
Elsewhere, Roy Scheider practically slept through his role of Silver's boss within the Christian Science Monitor. Along with Scheider there was Doug Lennox as a somewhat stereotypical corrupt American military officer. The remaining cast of The White Raven read like an Eastern European phone directory, which was actually one of the film's major strengths. After years of enduring small films continually set in either New York City or Los Angeles, it was refreshing to encounter new faces and foreign locales. I had mentioned James Bond earlier. In many ways The White Raven stands as sort of a James Bond film with a reduced budget.
Back to the cast. I had already mentioned Hannes Jaenicke: playing Hannibal Lector as a WWE wrestler. There was also Jack Recknitz as one of those former Nazi concentration camp guards who miraculously managed to take on a high-level Eastern European law enforcement job after the war. Besides these worthies we also had Joanna Pacula . . . veteran of numerous television and film appearances . . . as a sculptress who becomes involved in the plot (and, subsequently, takes on the role of romantic interest for Silver). She does well, especially since she has to make the audience suspect that Not Everything Is As It Seems Here.
Which brings us back to one of the problems of the film. Michael Blodgett's adaptation of his book tends to confuse whoever we're supposed to be rooting for in the course of the picture. It becomes difficult for Silver's character (and by default, the audience) to identify positively with anyone because we're never sure who is with who at any one point. Was Recknitz's character associated with the Paris-based group run by Elizabeth Shepherd? Was Lennox working independently? Was Balboa fond of bananas? Who put the bomp in the bomp-shu-bomp-shu-bomp? Who is John Galt? (The situation isn't helped by the fact that people end up being killed left and right to the point where keeping a scorecard might be handy. You watch the film and almost wish someone would live longer than five minutes simply so that they could deliver some useful information.) And speaking of action, while parts of it did work in the film, others didn't succeed as well. For instance: while I was aware that Silver was the hero of the picture, I felt he managed to escape too easily from many of the tense situations he found himself in. Since he wasn't going up against Imperial Stormtroopers from Star Wars (perhaps the worst shots and stupidest searchers in all of motion pictures), then the average viewer could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow. In one instance Silver manages to escape a group of pursuers through the simple act of hiding in a doorway and standing still . . . which would've worked if he'd been Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, but he wasn't. Rucinski and Stevens did an overall remarkable job with what they had, but what the film needed for such scenes was a director like John McTiernan; someone who has a feel for actually inflicting suffering on a hero and setting up genuine fear for his survival.
But the pendulum swings both ways and the film builds nicely in other directions. Especially at the denouement, when the location of the diamond is finally revealed (as well as revealing how a large diamond can be smuggled out of a Nazi concentration camp). As with many other jewels, The White Raven possessed its own unique flaws, but it also managed to occasionally shine brightly.
Very Mild Fantasy For The Head
An extremely gentle retelling of the Shakespeare play (and much more overt about it than Forbidden Planet). Cassavetes is always a joy to watch, and even more so with Gena Rowlands sharing the spotlight. His take on the Prospero role is well suited for the sort of craggy all-knowing expression he brings to the story. This especially comes to the forefront in a scene when, upon spotting his estranged wife and her lover in a speedboat, he conjures up a storm (accompanied on the soundtrack by an appropriate selection from Stomu Yamashta's "Go"). This is only one of the moments throughout the film where the line between reality and fantasy becomes nicely blurred, and the viewer is left with the feeling that magic is more possible than one might believe. Add to this an excellent performance by Raul Julia, plus good work by Susan Sarandon, Vittorio Gassman and Molly Ringwald, and the film becomes a nice little treat to occupy the space behind your eyes.
Say Ah, Jasper (1944)
Way Too Intense For Children!
It has been at least forty years since I've seen this film, and the memory of it still haunts me. Perhaps it was because of my (at that time) tender age, but this short gave me a full blown case of the Whim Whams. Jasper needs to go see a dentist but is frightened to do so. In a dream sequence he visits a dentist's office run by Professor Scarecrow. The Professor begins his treatment, and Jasper finds himself strapped to the chair and facing the relentless approach of a horrifying machine. From there the terror and tension builds to a climax which Pal would not match (in my opinion) until WAR OF THE WORLDS some years later.
Early Bird (1983)
Good Source Of Chuckles
A wry look at a man effortlessly breezing his way through a morning radio show in a slightly surreal studio. I was a college radio DJ for five years and I can attest that more than a few knowing grins came over my face while watching this. I'm not saying that cooking meals on the control console happened, nor scrubbing record albums in the sink, but the overall attitude and mood of being alone in a windowless radio control room for a morning show was fairly (and humorously) captured in this film. The animation is superb and the attention to small details is wonderful. The only flaw is that, at five minutes and three seconds, this piece is way too short.
Disneyland: Man and the Moon (1955)
One of a handful of documentaries made by the Disney studio in the 1950's which showcased the space-travel concepts of Werner von Braun and his fellow rocket enthusiasts. As with the other documentaries in this series the program was split into two parts. The first half dealt with what was known about the Moon at the time, and discussed the problems humans would face in traveling there. The second half presented a fictional representation of the issues and theories discussed in the first half. Unlike "Man In Space" or "Mars And Beyond", however, the story presented in "Man And The Moon" was filmed "live" as opposed to animated. The audience follows the crew of a reconnaissance mission around the Moon as they experience various adventures. The science is somewhat dated by today's standards, and the special effects certainly aren't up to CGI quality, but the result is ultimately entertaining and no doubt caused quite a bit of science to remain lodged in the minds of young students when this film ran in classrooms as well as on television.
Somewhere . . . somehow . . . one of the finest short SF stories ever to be penned was brutally transmorgrified into a mishmosh of New Age symbolism heavily overlaid with bad acting. Asimov's original story was a well crafted tale of slowly consuming fear over a natural event. Mayersberg's film version by rights should have been a major genre event. Instead we find veteran character actors such as Sarah Douglas and Alexis Kanner (who should've known better) trying to shore up one of the worst David Birney performances ever filmed. Only two things can be recommended about this film: an interesting poster, and the fact that it was filmed in and around Paolo Soleri's "Arcosanti" architectural project out in Arizona.
American Playhouse: Tru (1992)
Engaging one-man show
Morse delivers a brilliant performance as the author Truman Capote, giving us a look into the man on one of the last Christmas Eves of his life. Never dropping into parody or stereotype, Morse presents a three-dimensional portrait which juggles humor with tragedy, and bitterness with bubbling wit. It's only a peek behind the curtain, but by the time the show is over we feel we fully understand the man who was sometimes more colorful and interesting than his literary output. Morse clearly earned his pay with this one.
Soul Survivors (1995)
A tasty little film which deserves more attention.
The sort of "little" film which studios used to excel at but seldom make anymore. Sort of a "soul" version of the more well-known "The Last Of The Blonde Bombshells". Ian McShane is excellent as a DJ and aficionado of soul music who becomes obsessed with the idea of re-uniting the members of a classic soul group, and the film follows his exploits as well as those of the group members; a cast which includes such genuine musical talent as Isaac Hayes, as well as acting stalwarts Taurean Blacque, Derrick O'Connor and Antonio Fargas. Not meant to be an epic by any means, this is nonetheless a chunk of solid gold.
crisp cool spy thriller
Covers an area of espionage seldom seen in spy movies: cryptography and cryptoanalysis. The whole production is given a faint brush of the surreal and it works, especially with Dirk Bogarde's performance as the title character driven by obsessions (and often overwhelmed by them). That the film also manages to work on an occasional comedic level is an additional tribute to all concerned. Keep your eyes open for a pre-M*A*S*H appearance by Donald Sutherland.
Seven Days to Noon (1950)
Brilliant low-budget thriller
An absolutely excellent thriller from the golden age of British SF filmmaking. Relying on tension and character rather than special effects, the film depicts a fevered manhunt for a scientist threatening to blow up London with a small A-bomb. Whereas other films would've easily dropped into stereotype, this film took the trouble to depict all the major characters as three-dimensional. Not to be missed.