Reviews written by registered user
james_oblivion

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44 reviews in total 
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126 out of 149 people found the following review useful:
If only more people had the guts to make films like this...., 8 October 2003

I really wish that there were more movies like "Henry" out there. Most people still don't realize just HOW controversial this film was when it was made. The MPAA wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole. McNaughton fought for 4 years to get an R rating, but no dice. And since he didn't want the X, and there was no NC-17 rating at the time, it was finally released, with no rating, in 1990. And why? I've seen films with MORE violence in them...Romero's "Day of the Dead" leaps to mind. But it's not the violence in this film that makes it so disturbing. It's the way the material is handled. And this is what the film's detractors obviously can't appreciate.

"Henry" doesn't bother with any type of morality...it neither glorifies nor denounces Henry's actions. It simply observes. It places those actions before us and says "there it is...you deal with it...you sort it out." People who don't like this film often say that there's "no character development...no discernible plot line...etc., etc." Those people should stop throwing around film school terms. This is one movie that doesn't present events in a "movie reality"...it shows us things as they are in the real world. Character development means showing you enough of the characters in 90-120 minutes to make you feel as if you've known them forever. How often do you spend 90 minutes with a real person and know that much about them...or feel that you can seriously identify with them? It's just a conceit of film-making. Same with plot lines. Does life have a plot line? Not at all. Life is an endless succession of things happening. Some seem important and/or entertaining...some don't. "Henry," in its attempt to realistically portray the life of a serial killer, does not need a plot line...in fact, it benefits from having only a very loose plot line. Much like a homicidal version of "The Catcher in the Rye," this film seems much like a lot of things that happened, as opposed to a carefully constructed fictitious story...which make it seems all the more real...and all the more disturbing.

"Henry" is disturbing on many levels. Firstly, it feels very real. Too real, perhaps. Nothing is slicked up...nothing seems counterfeit or contrived. The entire thing is so utterly plausible that it chills you to the bone. Secondly, the complete lack of police involvement is equally disturbing. The only time you see a police car in this film, it's driving past in the background as Henry is cruising the streets. It drives past...and that's it. And Henry isn't scared...nor is he even aware, apparently. He has nothing to hide. He knows the police won't connect his crimes to one another...and they certainly won't connect them to him. So what has he to fear?

And finally, the setting of Chicago makes the film more disturbing for me, as I'm somewhat familiar with that city and can spot some locales in the film that I recognize. In fact, a friend of mine who lives in Chicago told me that the first time he watched "Henry," he and a friend rented it and sat down in his friend's apartment to watch it. It was about halfway through that they realized that the apartment they were sitting in was the same one used as Henry's apartment in the film. All I can say is...I'd never use that bath tub again.

All in all, I truly wish that more directors had the guts to make films like "Henry." Honestly, I can't think of one film that's comparable. There simply aren't any films out there that are anything like this. This is truly one of the most disturbing films I've ever seen. After seeing "Happiness," I guess that "Henry" probably got knocked down to Number Two on that list. But "Second Most Disturbing Film Of All-Time" is still a damn fine achievement, in my opinion.

If you want to see an accurate and appallingly realistic portrayal of what the life of a serial killer must be like, definitely give "Henry" a viewing. Make up your own mind from there.

Oh, and a final note...one reviewer stated concretely that his biggest problem with the film was that "serial killers work alone." This is, of course, not always the case. The real life counterparts to Henry and Otis (Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole) DID kill together, as did Bianchi and Buono, the infamous Hillside Stranglers. Those are not the only such instances...but they're certainly the best-known. Therefore, the overly broad generalization that serial killers "work alone" is no real attack on the realism of this film.

38 out of 38 people found the following review useful:
The best of the Universal series, 16 February 2006
8/10

This sixth entry in the Universal Sherlock Holmes series was the third which defied the initial conception of the franchise. Universal had envisioned Sherlock Holmes as a sort of archetypal hero who, transported into the modern era of WWII, could be put on the government payroll, as it were, to work as a contract agent to hunt down Nazi spies on behalf of the Allies. Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, this idea met with a great deal of consternation, not only from serious Sherlockians, but also from film critics whose knowledge of Doyle's work was marginal at best.

Granted, most of the Holmes films made up to that point had been updated to their respective eras (in fact, only Fox's two Holmes features with Rathbone and Bruce had taken place in their appropriate time period), but in those cases, the modernization was all on the surface. Automobiles, telephones, and the fashions of the day were all on display...but that was, for all intents and purposes, scenery. The stories, though changed (sometimes drastically) from their original forms, had a timeless quality about them. The first three Universal films, however, were very timely, with plots focused explicitly on the events of the Second World War. This took Holmes out of his element...not only in the literal sense of removing him from Victorian/Edwardian London (as previous films had done), but in transforming the character of Holmes from a consulting detective into a spy-hunter. Indeed, at times, there is more James Bond than Sherlock Holmes in this character. This trend peaked (or bottomed out) with Sherlock Holmes in Washington...the final straw for critics and audiences alike. The film was a critical and box office flop and Universal saw fit to alter the series' direction from that point on.

Though still taking place in the 1940s, the subsequent films did their best to place Holmes back in his proper role, solving intricate mysteries with deductive reasoning...rather than the pure chance and intuition that often guided him in his forays into international espionage. This may (or may not) be accredited to the director Roy William Neill (who directed all but the first entry in the series), who, with the fourth film, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, became the associate producer...a title he would retain throughout the series' run. From that point on, the films became more Gothic in tone, in many ways more closely resembling the Universal horror films of the era than the first three Universal Holmes pictures. This decision yielded immediate positive results. Sherlock Holmes Faces Death was easily the best of the first four entries, and subsequent films topped one another until peaking with The Scarlet Claw.

Oddly enough, the film is set in a French province of Canada...for no discernible reason. The setting is completely superfluous to the plot, which could easily have played out anywhere (ideally Great Britain). This is made all the more puzzling by the fact that the predominant accent present in the film is British, rather than French Canadian...even American actors threw on Brit accents, despite the fact that American accents would have been more sensible in Canada. But no matter. This slight idiosyncrasy aside, The Scarlet Claw is the ultimate Rathbone/Bruce Universal outing. Not adapted from any of the original Doyle tales, (though borrowing heavily from The Hound of the Baskervilles), The Scarlet Claw is dripping with atmosphere. Fog-wreathed marshes are the setting as Holmes tracks a ghostly apparition that has graduated from sheep mutilation to murdering humans. The local villagers believe the culprit to be supernatural, but level-headed Holmes rejects the idea out of hand, and sets himself to the task of finding the murderer.

Rathbone, as Holmes, is at the top of his form here...cold and detached, clinical in his reasoning. And Bruce's Watson, even in this dumbed down incarnation, is a pleasure to watch. Crisp direction, beautiful cinematography (particularly for a B-film), plenty of twists and turns along the way, and no small amount of deductive reasoning from Holmes, make this the strongest entry in the Universal series. The later films were often good, but none ever matched the achievement of The Scarlet Claw...which is simultaneously Gothic, suspenseful, and very, very Holmesian. It is not without its logical flaws, but the flaws are justified by the picture's enormous entertainment value. And of all the films in the series, this one is, by far, the most entertaining.

43 out of 48 people found the following review useful:
Chomsky once again blows off the blinders..., 29 September 2003

Well, not the blinders of those who like to cast aspersions like "paranoid" and "delusional" in his direction...but they'll never escape their tunnel vision, so why should Noam labor against futility?

Let's start by getting something out of the way. Though he'd laugh at me for saying this, Noam Chomsky is one of the most intelligent and (an important distinction here) knowledgable human beings on the planet. Not only is he gifted with incredible intellect...he has used that intellect to absorb volumes upon volumes of information that most people have never been privy to...let alone memorized and analyzed, as Chomsky has. That said, let's move on.

Chomsky is an anarchist. And the fact is that while everybody in the world thinks that they know exactly what an anarchist is, in reality, it seems that, for the most part, the only people who understand anarchism are anarchists. Everything the media has ever said about anarchists is a lie. Their use of the word "anarchy" to describe chaotic situations and chaos in general is an utter corruption of the word anarchy, which, from its very roots, means quite simply "absence of a governing body"...nothing in there about chaos that I can see.

Chomsky subscribes to many of the ideals put forth by Michael Bakunin, a contemporary (and fierce opponent) of Karl Marx, and the recognized father of international anarchism. So, because Chomsky is an anarchist, he will obviously be viewed by many as a delusional paranoid. Then again, those who classify him as such wouldn't recognize Big Brother if he was bulldozing their homes to build a new shopping center.

What you will find in this film (and in Chomsky's book, which is far superior) is compelling evidence (based not on delusions, but on facts) that American media is controlled by a corporate elite who use it essentially for propaganda purposes in order to, if I may lift a phrase from Chomsky, "control the public mind." Once you realize how consolidated the corporate media really is, and how they twist the facts in order to pump disinformation into the homes of unsuspecting citizens, you'll never be able to look at CNN the same way again.

As for the critics, who feel much safer and infinitely more free than they have any reason to...their dismissals of Chomsky as a left-wing crackpot who doesn't know what he's talking about (despite the fact that he's studied extensively and most of his critics have gotten the bulk of their information from the same media sources he proves unreliable) only further strengthen his case. Not only does the corporate media distort the facts in order to lull the masses into a false sense of security...quite obviously, they're doing a tremendous job.

41 out of 46 people found the following review useful:
First Impressions, 11 October 2007
9/10

A Scandal in Bohemia has its share of "firsts." It was the first short story to feature Sherlock Holmes (after Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the character in his novel, A Study in Scarlet), it was the first episode of the excellent Granada series, and as such, it was the first time the viewing audience had the pleasure of seeing Jeremy Brett in the role of Holmes. It was also the first Granada episode I ever watched.

I went into the Granada series not knowing what to expect. I'd heard many great things said about it, and particularly about Brett, but I had no real expectations. So I decided to give it a go, and to begin at the beginning. Within a few minutes of starting A Scandal in Bohemia, I leapt out of my seat and ran to grab my favorite collection of Sherlock Holmes tales. The reason being that, although I hadn't read A Scandal in Bohemia in some time, I found that it was all coming back to me as I watched the episode. I was literally shocked by how faithful it was, and had to check the story just to be sure that it really was staying as true to the source material as it seemed to be. And indeed, it was.

Throughout the course of the various Granada Holmes series, they would consistently remain true to the source material...or, in the instances where they strayed (mostly in the feature- length adventures), at least remain true to the SPIRIT. This was quite refreshing to me, as someone who loved the stories, and had seen countless adaptations that had strayed so far from what made them great. A Scandal in Bohemia was, to that time, the most faithful Holmes adaptation I had ever seen...and, along with many of the other wonderful Granada episodes, it's still among the most faithful.

Jeremy Brett, as Holmes, is superb from the word "Go." His magnificent performance in this episode engaged me instantly, and prepared me for the 40 adventures to follow...during which time, I would come to embrace his Holmes as THE definitive screen characterization of the world's greatest detective. Brett is the character of Sherlock Holmes come to life. Everything that he was in the stories, and everything that he often WASN'T in other adaptations, Jeremy Brett had it...and his presence alone made each and every episode a delight to watch.

David Burke also bears mentioning here, as a fantastic Watson to Brett's Holmes. Not at all in the Nigel Bruce mold, a characterization which has dogged many other adaptations throughout the years, Burke brings a charm and quiet intelligence to the role that complements Holmes's eccentric brilliance perfectly and, as with anything else in this episode, stays true to the essence of Conan Doyle's original story. Burke would serve as a faithful and amiable Watson throughout the run of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, before being replaced by the equally capable and likable Edward Hardwicke.

As an initiation into the Granada Holmes entries, A Scandal in Bohemia served its purpose admirably. I was struck by how faithful it was, how capable the direction and production design were, and how wonderful the performances were. It was as if someone had breathed life into Conan Doyle's story and raised it from the page for all to see. Suffice it to say, I was mightily impressed, and have been a devotee of the Granada Holmes series, and Jeremy Brett, ever since.

26 out of 27 people found the following review useful:
First glimpse at a new Holmes...or the resurgence of the old one, 21 February 2006
6/10

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death is the first film in the Universal Sherlock Holmes series (1942 -1946) to abandon the idea of Sherlock Holmes as a prototypical 007 spy-hunter, battling Nazi agents and keeping Britain safe from the Axis powers. The bizarre experiment which began, apparently without a shred of irony, with Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror was brutally maimed when Sherlock Holmes in Washington flopped. And so, the direction of the series changed (for the better) with the fourth outing, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death...to the point that it can almost be viewed as the starting point of a completely new Holmes series.

Here, the allusions to WWII are vague, at best. Gone are the overt references to the Nazis and the intrusive patriotic speeches...which merely impeded upon the proceedings in the previous films. Holmes is in his element here, solving a dense mystery by using deductive reasoning. The film is still modern, making use of such devices as automobiles, telephones, and electric lights. But this is all incidental. If we overlook the updating of the surface elements, the story itself is rather timeless. Telephones and automobiles were present in Conan Doyle's later Holmes stories, anyway...and the Gothic tone of this film (and several of those which followed) gives it an almost Victorian or Edwardian feel, despite being obviously set in the mid-20th Century. And most importantly, Holmes is back to the business he should never have abandoned.

Loosely based on The Musgrave Ritual, the film is entertaining and certainly of higher technical quality than its predecessors, despite the fact that the series was forever doomed to the ranks of the low budget B-picture. The camera work is evocative, with fluid motions and intriguing angles...which would become a staple of the Holmes series...and the direction is excellent, with Roy William Neill (who also began his role as Associate Producer with this film) really coming into his own as the driving force behind the franchise. Rathbone's Holmes (whose hair has, thankfully, undergone quite a transformation) is in better form here than in previous entries...detached and focused, he relies on reasoning, rather than chance, in order to solve the mystery that's presented to him. Nigel Bruce, as Watson, turns in his usual bumbling-yet-lovable performance. Dennis Hoey once again manages to out-bumble Watson as Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard...a canonical character who made his first Universal appearance in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, and would go on to appear in a total of six of the twelve films.

Overall, not the best film in the series, but a step in the right direction. Once the filmmakers got their proper footing, in regard to the series' new and improved direction, they produced much better work...peaking, many (myself included) would attest, in 1944 with The Scarlet Claw. Other subsequent Holmes titles, such as The Spider Woman and Terror By Night, also outshine, in my estimation, this fourth Universal venture. But this film marked the great change that heralded all the treasures to come...and as such, has amassed much favor among fans and critics alike. And rightly so.

31 out of 39 people found the following review useful:
C'mon, people!, 3 February 2003

Reading these reviews, my mind is truly blown. People throwing around terms like "bad acting" and "cheap effects"...saying there's no plot and it looks like it was shot with a VHS camcorder. Who cares? Lighten up. The people who seriously berate this movie obviously have little to no knowledge of Full Moon or Troma films. Here's a hint. When you pick up a video and the box says "TROMA" on it, you are 100% guaranteed to find the following:

Appalling acting, Ludicrous dialogue, Poor production values, Thin plot, Outrageous effects, Copious nudity.

And nine time out of ten, you'll also find gore galore.

For what it is (a Full Moon film, distributed by Troma, Inc.), Redneck Zombies is pure gold. When I first watched it, I kicked back on my couch, cracked open a bottle of fine Belgian ale, and laughed all the way through. This movie is SUPPOSED to be cheesy...it's supposed to be bad...it's supposed to be stupid and cheap and lame. That is its purpose. Deal with it, or don't watch.

There's plenty here for fans of the horror genre (including some hilarious Texas Chainsaw Massacre parody scenes), and (of course) fans of Full Moon and/or Troma won't be disappointed. My personal favorite scene involves the genuinely creepy Tobacco Man. To this day, at work or in social gatherings, I'll occasionally pull out the line "Dark times is comin'." And when everyone looks at me like I've just vomited human excrement onto the rug, I know deep down that I am the coolest person in the room. But I digress.

At any rate, if you're a Troma fan like me, definitely give this one a watch. It's way up there with the original Toxie and Class of Nuke 'Em High. And don't let these negative reviewers steer you wrong. They wouldn't know CLASSIC cult horror comedy cheese if it was gnawing on their small intestine.

26 out of 30 people found the following review useful:
A Christmas Delight, 11 October 2007
10/10

No Christmas season would be complete without watching this marvelous adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Blue Carbuncle.

This is such a wonderful episode that descriptions tend to fail me. Everything and everyone is at peak form here. Jeremy Brett's performance as Holmes is absolutely delightful (even by Brett standards), as is Burke's Watson, and their interplay in this episode is among the very best in the series.

There is a great deal of humor to be found here, including some genuine laugh-out-loud moments...and, of course, a nice little mystery at the heart of it. The production design, as always, is excellent, and the direction top-notch. There is a very authentic feeling of Christmas here, and it really shines through. And it's nice to see that even the dour Sherlock Holmes has a bit of the Christmas spirit in him...in his own way.

A wonderful episode, from start to finish. I can't praise it enough. I could say more, I could be more specific, but I don't want to ruin the fun for any first-time viewers. See it for yourself and it will quickly become a Christmas tradition, as it has for me.

The Sign of Four (1987) (TV)
26 out of 30 people found the following review useful:
Excellent adaptation, 15 February 2006

One of Conan Doyle's best Holmes stories is adapted to perfection in this, the first feature length Holmes adventure from Granada Television. Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke are fantastic (as always) and the supporting cast are quite good, not to mention appropriately quirky (especially important in this adventure).

The adaptation itself is, as was typical with the Granada series (and at least the first two feature length outings), quite faithful to the original story. It's well crafted and beautifully directed, with all the twists and turns of the Conan Doyle original (one of his most remarkable tales).

In short, this version of The Sign of Four manages to outshine all previous adaptations, and hasn't been rivaled since. The 1983 television version with Ian Richardson was certainly passable, but doesn't come close to this. Once again, Granada prove that their Holmes is without equal.

23 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Extraordinary..., 18 December 2003

This is one of those films that come along very infrequently. It's incredibly powerful and profoundly disturbing. It has a clear message, but never preaches. It is very involved, yet oddly distant. And it is the most extreme, unpolished depiction of prison life that you will ever see, should you be lucky enough to find it.

Co-written by acclaimed singer/songwriter/musician/novelist Nick Cave, this film carries his mark. It is every bit as dark, gritty, chaotic, and brutal as his music (or his novel, the cult favorite "And the Ass Saw the Angel"). The story itself is quite loosely plotted, but extremely layered. It's hard to take it all in with one viewing...and each repeat viewing is an experience unto itself.

Cave also plays a pivotal role in "Ghosts" as Maynard, an unconscionable psychotic whose violent raving pushes the already worsening conditions of the prison to full-scale chaos. Cave's performance is searing, bringing every bit of rage and hatred and bile to the surface...and his entrance into the film is truly unforgettable.

The film-making here is top-notch, from a cinematic point of view. It certainly wouldn't meet Hollywood's "standards," but I mean that as an extreme compliment. The cold, distant cinematography sometimes brings to mind Kubrick's film version of "A Clockwork Orange," and the way the brutality is handled visually makes "ACO" look like "Bambi" by comparison.

Certainly, this is one film that you should not miss. It is, unfortunately, quite rare...but it can be found if one looks hard enough. I will stress quite strongly, however, that this film is NOT for everyone...but for those with strong stomachs and an appreciation of challenging cinema, this is a definite must-see.

24 out of 29 people found the following review useful:
Sherlock Holmes versus...the Nazis?, 13 February 2006
5/10

It was an interesting enough idea, I suppose, to set a series of Sherlock Holmes films in the "modern day"...at the time, the WWII era...but those who are familiar with the first two Rathbone/Bruce films might be thrown off by it. When the rights passed from Fox to Universal, the two stars were retained, but apparently our two heroes stepped through a hole in the space-time continuum. The Fox films were Victorian period pieces, whereas Universal took the opportunity to utilize Sherlock Holmes in the series of modern-day B-movies into which this entry falls, several of which were fairly standard wartime propaganda...pretty much the order of the day for Hollywood films circa 1942-1945.

While the film may boast some entertainment value, the plot is actually quite silly. Sherlock Holmes (sporting a remarkably bad haircut) has been charged with the task of guarding Dr. Franz Tobel, the inventor of a bomb sight (which, when you see it, will give you an idea of what the film's budget was) that will apparently revolutionize airborne warfare. Holmes's task is to keep Tobel safe (at which he fails) and to keep the bomb sight out of the hands of the Nazis. When Tobel is abducted, Holmes must unravel a coded message before his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty does. Though the credits state that the film is an adaptation of Conan Doyle's story, The Dancing Men, only the code itself is taken from said story. And a small reference to another story, The Empty House, also shows up early in the film. Apart from that, you'll find no Conan Doyle here.

Interestingly enough, what makes Tobel's bomb sight so remarkable, apart from the fact that the bombs seem to land where they're supposed to, is never expounded upon...leaving the viewer to assume that both Allied and German bomb sights were abysmally inaccurate, as both sides are clamoring to get their hands on one that actually works. Probably not the best way to bolster confidence in the Allied fighting machine...but then, logic is scarce in this outing. Holmes relies just as heavily upon chance and educated guesses as he does upon deduction, and it's the bumbling Watson (who was never bumbling in the original stories) who inadvertently provides the solution to the major stumbling block (despite the fact that the solution should have been obvious to someone as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes).

All in all, this film has its moments, but fails to live up to the legend of the world's greatest detective. Rathbone is a fine Holmes and Bruce (despite the almost unforgivable dumbing down of the Watson character) does a good job, as well. But much of the supporting cast seem to be phoning in their performances. The production values are rather noticeably low and the script is fairly ludicrous. I still watch this one from time to time, and certainly prefer it over Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (the first Universal Holmes entry)...but I can't help but think that Sherlock Holmes deserves better than this.

Interesting sidenote - This film contains the series' one and only reference to Sherlock Holmes's hypodermic cocaine usage. As Holmes is describing to Moriarty an elaborate hypothetical death scenario involving an intravenous needle, Moriarty interjects "The needle to the last...eh, Holmes?" How this managed to slip by the censors at the Breen Office (which, at the time, strictly forbade such references) is perhaps the one great mystery to be found in this film.


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