Reviews written by
t-birkhead

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486 reviews in total 
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9 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Another dark and measured gem from Claude Chabrol, 21 February 2010
8/10

Taking an affair as its starting point Les Noces Rouges gives off first impression of being slightly conventional stuff, but as it creeps along, Claude Chabrol's masterful grasp of character and performance turn it into quite the gripping item, perhaps near classic in fact. The two main characters are Lucienne and Pierre, Lucienne wife of the mayor in a small French town and Pierre the vice major. While these two lovers seek to be with each other, to make love and be free Paul, the slightly crooked major is on the verge of an important land deal and Pierre's wife, the sickly and sympathetic Clotilde resides at home. One can somewhat sympathise with Lucienne and Pierre, Paul seems more interested in business than his wife and is away a lot, whilst Clotilde seems to be not much of a wife for an outgoing and amorous man, seeing as how she is ill and bedridden whenever she is seen. The scenes of lovemaking are vigorous and the small town portrayed with a keen sense of parochial life and beauty, though the focus of the film is tight Chabrol does not neglect the setting, it is an attractive place well captured by cinematographer Jean Rabier, especially the lovers lakeside meeting place. The sense of sympathy towards the characters is a great boon to the film as their behaviour worsens, one can understand their starting point and so their descent into dark deeds is all the more nastily compelling, but also sad. Stéphane Audran is typically fine as Lucienne, seeking passion and control but tinged with doubt and subdued feeling, while Michel Piccoli is equally good as the more obviously controlled Pierre. Claude Piéplu gives as good as both of the former though and his discovery of their treachery makes for one of the best scenes of the film. Add to all this a classic suspense sequence and the potent finale, great ironic work with the bare minimum of fuss and no unnecessary words and the film easily finds its way to greatness, in my book at any rate. Well recommended, a beautifully wrought and impactful work likely to please anyone who has the patience for its measured paced charm.

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Watchable, moderately interesting but not especially impressive Italian thriller, 21 February 2010
6/10

Cold Eyes Of Fear tends to be one of the more disliked of early 70's Italian thrillers and its not too hard to see why. A notably talky affair from a director best liked for his flair with action and violence, but also a home invasion thriller sadly lacking in the madcap sleazy kicks or heavy duty nastiness for which home invasion films are so loved, this film was always likely to disappoint a goodly number of folks, but overall I quite liked it. It tells of a young bounder in swinging early 70's London who takes his latest female conquest back to his uncles flat for a spot of loving time. Unfortunately the premises have been breached by a thuggish thief and things get worse when the fellows partner turns up. They are searching for something, and it all comes down to a matter of past crime and high up corruption, with steadily mounting tension, increasingly frayed nerves and the odd splash of pleasingly boisterous fighting. There really should have been more though, more action, more tension and especially more of a nasty edge, veteran director Enzo Castellari keeps this a smooth ride with some individual cool scenes and its reasonably compelling, but much of it lacks spark, interesting but workmanlike. The decent performances keep it going though, as do the character arcs. Gianni Garko starts out confident and moves into increasingly rattled as the nephew, Giovanna Ralli goes from easily led prostitute to increasingly strong willed and outspoken, whilst of the two baddies, one goes through interesting conversions during the course of the film, leading to a neat little psychedelic freakout which I didn't expect. Ennio Morricones jazzy score is good fun as well and it all adds up to an attractive package. Its just that when all's said and done, this one never leaps out like it should, encroaching on boredom in a number of spots and just too low key and tame. So as I said before, not difficult to see why so many dislike this film, but I still dug it to a reasonable degree. I guess I must just be pretty easily amused. But hey, if you're still reading this, you might get a bit of a kick out of too. Just approach with caution, as its more or less completist only stuff.

Lost Souls (2000)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Distinctly ho hum slice of Satanic horror hokum, 18 February 2010
4/10

Lost Souls seems to be one of those films that a minority of viewers claim as actually great, while most look on in disdain, this slim chance of it being a good time persuaded me to watch it but really, its not that good at all. Easy to see why some might be persuaded into this but unfortunately, this one only approaches good in a few isolated moments, it is fairly watchable but ultimately not so good, mostly tiresome in fact. The plot centres on Winona Ryder playing a former victim of possession turned worker for the catholic church in pursuit of demons and whatnot. During an exorcism coded writings are discovered foretelling the Devil's rebirth on Earth in human form, and the man in which this is to happen. From then on the film is a race against time to stop this from happening, but its not an especially doom laden or exciting one. I did get a couple of chuckles from supposed scare sequences, one of which is hackneyed enough to be really quite amusing and the ending is quite fun, but overall this was very much a lacking film. Ryder sleepwalks through her part, she comes across as a bit agitated but nothing more, no haunted feeling, no intensity or urgency, she does her bit but without any real spark. Fair work comes from the hardy ever reliables that are Philip Baker Hall, Elias Koteas and John Hurt, all do their best to inject gravitas and manage it pretty well, more of them would have given the film a much needed charge I feel. Unfortunately its mostly a Winona Ryder show, though Ben Chaplin does pretty nicely, suitably confused and ultimately fearful as the "to be possessed". The film has been praised for its visuals, and seeing as director Janusz Kaminski was a cinematographer for Spielberg some of the shots look quite nice, but generally the film is no great shakes visually, it has the generic glum and gloomy look of many, many Hollywood thrillers and the whole film is over-edited, few shots stay around for long enough to have much impact. The other source of the films fandom is in its supposed twists or depth, neither of which I can credit really. There is no ambiguity of note written into the film and different interpretations are closed down throughout the film by its banal and predictable chain of events. As for some kind of a twist, it may well have been intended but the insipid Ryder can't pull it off. So all in all, this film simply doesn't work very well. On the plus side though, it is perfectly bearable and sometimes unintentionally funny stuff, it never quite attains true tedium and has the odd neat moment and an OK finale. Not too bad an experience then, but very much skippable.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Idiotic fare to make the not so good original look great by comparison, 15 February 2010
4/10

I watched this one straight after the first Black Scorpion and while that one was surprisingly palatable while still not very good, this film is just a bit poor really. More of the same in most respects, Darcey Walker/Black Scorpion has a new partner and there are two new supervillains terrorising the city, the earthquake inducing Aftershock and the ludicrously hammy and perhaps racist Gangster Prankster, a character who seems inspired by The Joker and a sense of racial injustice and comes across as both noxious and infantile. Stoney Jackson throws himself with gusto into the role, but its so badly written that he brings down every scene in which he appears. Sheree Rose is much better as Aftershock (who at least has an OK backstory and a degree of interest to her) in a loud and silly performance that ends up providing a number of quite fun moments but the two don't quite balance themselves out. As with the original, this one is directed by Jonathon Winfrey and written by Craig J. Nevius, but the film oversteps itself, the humour is much broader and the events attempt to be more epic but can't achieve much on the budget, but worst of all there's less Black Scorpion action. Joan Severance is good value as ever and Garret Morris again effectively handles his role of the helpful Argylle, their scenes together provide if not dramatic weight than at least some chemistry and easy fun, which is more than can be said for Whip Hubley as Darcey's new partner, I got the feeling the guy probably can act OK, but in this film the role is ill written and thankless (he also gets a pretty horrid moment of so called comedy). Also, Laura Harring (Mulholland Drive) appears as a ditsy secretary, and she sure is a great looking lady, but the role is pretty darned bad (the writing is all pretty stinky actually). For all its blatant badness, I still had a bearable time with this one, it carries out its rank idiocy with some degree of verve, it has a few laughs (crotch electro-shock!), very mild excitement and a fairly easy pace, never quite in the "so bad its good category" but it is at least crappy in a mildly amusing way if like me, you happen to have a bit of a soft spot for really bad films. I wouldn't ever recommend this, it has too many cringe making bits to be all that "fun" but its better than a poke in the eye with a wet stick as far as this kind of braindead junk goes. A generous 4/10 then, make of that what you will.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Stupid, but relatively engaging slice of lowbrow super-heroine trash, 15 February 2010
5/10

I can't say as I expected all that much of this one but to its credit it was actually a pretty entertaining and easygoing affair that kept me watching and drew a few mild chuckles out of me, along with being occasionally slightly exciting. It tells of hot police lady Darcey Walker, suspended for beating a prisoner, who decides to don a skimpy costume and become the heroic vigilante Black Scorpion, administering rough justice to various criminal types, before in classic comic book style coming up against an evil genius with a good plan for serious mayhem. The main draw here is Joan Severance as Darcy/Black Scorpion, a darn fine looking lady with good screen presence and likable to, she brings the material to life and gives the film an effective verve. Regrettably she's no fighter though, and the action and choreography is never especially inspired, but it does have a certain sense of fun rough 'n tumble to it. Helpfully there is a fair portion of action too, stopping the film from ever getting dull. Director Jonathon Winfrey has a little style but not much genuine flair but things are never taken too seriously and the plotting is occasionally quite decent, the film begins well, Darceys first outings as Black Scorpion are nicely done and the main baddie has a good back story. As far as acting goes no one is that noticeable, save Garret Morris as car designer for our Scorpion, effortlessly amusing without being overbearing in his portrayal his light performance suits the material perfectly. Bruce Abbot puts on a decent enough show as Darcey's partner as well, a good regular straight cop role. The film needed a better ending and would in general have been more suited to straight to video rather than TV, more sleaze and violence could have made this a minor gem I think, though there is a wee bit of nudity and a little violence, mostly at the beginning. A fair amount of action for sure, but the fighting is a bit soft for my liking on the whole. Also, just generally the film never rises above mindless time filler, just about reasonable fun but mindless and forgettable, I won't be revisiting it any time soon for sure. Still, its altogether not too bad, might be worth a look if you have the time to waste and Joan Severance is pretty sweet in it.

8 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Beautiful, sedate and chilling French suspense classic, 14 February 2010
8/10

Sitting down to this one I expected art and intelligence more than much in the way of excitement, happily despite its elegantly measured pace and glacial stylings La Femme Infidele exerts an impressively tight grip from early on. The film centers upon Charles and Helene, a well to do couple who seem to have it all, well appointed house, well behaved son and chic friends, but all is not so well for them. Their life together is cold, frozen even and Helene is having an affair with a Parisian writer. Charles becomes suspicious and hires a PI to investigate and what follows is not difficult to predict. The joy here is in the performances and the studied unease, director Claude Chabrol handles things with refreshing economy and the film mounts with ease from the chill of its characters to a growing disturbing feel, what little of violence and the macabre there is is displayed in a marvellously matter of fact fashion that gives it all the more impact. Michel Boucqet is powerfully creepy yet somewhat sympathetic as Charles, he may not be much of a husband but his inner turmoil is fascinating, whist for all her similar coldness it is hard to condemn the actions of Helene as skillfully portrayed by Stephane Audran. Maurice Ronet is equally nuanced as Helenes lover despite his small amount of screen time, an apologetic and aware turn with a sort of flawed humanity that contrasts well with the coldness of Charles and Helene. Unshowy in its technique and focused on drama for much of the way this is not a film likely to give much solace to those drawn by the description of Chabrol as a "French Hitchcock", this is subtle but potent stuff, even poignant towards the end with its rays of forlorn hope but without pandering to commercial instincts. Highly recommended, this is a smart near masterpiece with much to think about and I look forward to delving more into Chabrol's oeuvre, of which this seems a perfect starting point.

3 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Pretty classy late period Deodato fun, 9 February 2010
7/10

This film gets little notice as far as Deodato's oeuvre goes and its not too hard to see why, but I think its worthy of consideration despite its flaws. Its a psycho thriller of sorts, most reviews/blurbs for the film reveal what the score is and the film itself pretty much lets on by around the half hour mark, what we have here is a case of a concert pianist named Robert Domenici driven nutsoid by accelerated ageing and killing because of it. A fine central performance from Michael York is the biggest draw here, complemented by excellent make up. He portrays his physical and mental disintegration in very credible fashion, in the films early stages he is arrogant, kind of an ass but mostly a predictably headstrong young fellow buoyed by his expertise on the piano, as the film goes on though he adeptly mixes pathos and brutality, flashes of savage anger and violence alternate with malicious cunning and gloating evil but all eventually is shown as a sick facade as desperation takes hold. Surprisingly in the later stages he is often sympathetic, the characterisation may not entirely ring true but the performance is so committed that it drives even its more contrived points along with a determined authenticity. Aside from Michael York, an underused Edwige Fenech is both stunning and instantly likable as Yorks girlfriend, whilst Donald Pleasance makes the best of an odd role as an inspector. The character is tired and not very effective, he has flashes of inspiration and anger but is mostly worn and a bit weak, its a good performance but the writing slightly lets it down. In general the film is a bit lopsided, it isn't always believable and focuses on Robert, who isn't intrinsically a likable guy, to the detriment of developing other characters or tightening up the plotting. I couldn't help thinking for instance that a more able police force would have wrapped the case up far quicker and the film doesn't make good use of its longer than average time span. It also could have done with more grue and suspense, more nudity and general exploitation, it has a few choice grisly and blood spurting moments but they are really spread out. Some kudos are definitely in order for its emotional ambitions and poignant if overblown final block though, unusual for a late period, lower tier Italian horror to make such an effective bid for the heartstrings, its quite a welcome and touching surprise. Oh yes and the Pino Donagio score is tense at times but unremarkable at others, overall average. Ultimately, I liked this one quite a bit. Flawed, but it does some things very nicely, moves along pretty well, throws up a couple of agreeably brutal moments and is unusually emotionally intense. Worth a watch for folk that really groove to this sort of film, generally pretty sweet, but not essential and a long way from Deodato's best.

1 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
Fair humdinger of a heavy metal horror howler, 9 February 2010
6/10

Though metallers from the very start of the genre have been tripping down the horror/occult route, it took till the 80's for film makers to have enough balls to mix the two. And thus we have this film, which will have some cheering, many booing and a fair few just gently drifting off to sleep in between its bookends of brain fried awesomeness. The film follows Lyn, backing singer for some undistinguished but catchy hair metal chuggers, whose singer wigs out and gets kill happy, a couple on screen before he exits in pursuit of a security guard and two years pass with him. Oh yeah and he gets a bit slicey on Lyn, so she's none too pleased by the whole affair, especially since he's kind of a douche anyway. Anyways, two years later and Lyn is fronting the band, murderous previous lead Billy Eye got the chair and all is groovy as they practise for the upcoming Rocktober Blood tour. But wait a minute folks, all isn't groovy, because someone is taunting Lyn and she's pretty convinced Billy is back for a spot of the old grisly vengeance. Technically this should be where the film gets really righteous but instead it calms down a little too much, Lyn goes off to a lakeside retreat, we gotta cheesy workout scene, some stalking, a little death, but the film is pretty much just shuffling its cards. A few wacko moments and the bands manager gets some chuckles, being a staunch and sensible English guy, but its pretty much just building up to its climax. And oh baby what a climax, the final ten minutes is a veritable blizzard of brilliance, we get a big style musical performance, 80's rockers Sorcery are performing the tunes and we get three of 'em, all pretty catchy and mixed in with the rockingest kind of idiot slasher fun imaginable. Well, the actual slashing don't rock so much as the rocking presentation, but it still rocks, which is the main thing. After all, when a film rocks it avoids sucking, a film cannot rock and suck at the same time because that would be a logical contradiction. Everything ends on a literal high note and the crowd goes wild, as encore worthy a send off as ever there was. As far as acting goes (as if it really matters) Donna Scoggins is a capable enough lead, Trey Loren is a hysterical villain and Nigel Benjamin is good value as band manager Chris. Not like the acting is actually good, but it has enough of a pop to it to be good fun. Altogether this is far from great but I still liked it. Husband and wife team Beverly and Ferd Sebastian handled it, they tend to be better known for earlier exploiters like Gator Bait and others, none of which I've actually seen. A fair number of the good exploit hitters took a swing at the slasher genre during the 80's, with Doris Wishmans mind warping gem A Night To Dismember being one of the most notable, but Rocktober Blood is sadly a bit restrained and though goofy in extremis a bit lacking in tits and gore goodies that would have bumped it up into greatness. For silly slasher fans this is still a pleasant slice of idiocy, it just sags a bit in the middle. Completists only need apply, but if like me you just have to see all available 80's slasher trash this is capable stuff, so dig in if it sounds like you're sorta thing I say.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
A hard to resist gem of sharply inspired, charmingly humane comedy, 8 February 2010
8/10

I don't know much about Czech history or its cinema, so I suspect some of the subtleties of The Firemen's Ball went over my head, but as a skillfully mounted, sharp edged comedy its an absolute delight and bears every bit of the ability that director Milos Foreman showed in his later American work. Banned soon after it was made by Soviet authorities of the time it uses the story of a chaotic retirement ball thrown for the aging chief of a fire service by his underlings to poke fun at failings, both of government and those of people themselves. Lack of planning, of clear leadership and or authority or respect causes the bureaucratic planners of the ball to slip at every turn, prizes at a raffle go astray, a beauty contest turns to farce and the fire team completely fail at their actual job. The bureaucrats themselves often lack even names, they are denuded of much personality. Like machine parts not quite working right and getting worse as things go on, it is not hard to see why the film was so disliked by the authorities, but it is sharp rather than harsh to its subjects. The film builds up its comic events with consummate ease and the camera is alive to to humanity in the faces of every character, picking up on frustrations and mounting agitation, for the townfolk at the ball confusion and for the younger people there a sense of fun and freedom, of exuberance just waiting to burst out. The film doesn't spare foibles, it is quite an even handed work but most of its ire seems directed at a system rather than individuals. And happily in amongst the mounting comic chaos there are moments of beauty and of pathos, charming and evocative cinematography from Miroslav Ondricek. Altogether this is a little beauty of world cinema for me, a lovable and highly amusing work, all the more impressive for actually making me laugh. I don't tend to enjoy comedy and don't even like to laugh much, but I found The Firemen's Ball, it may not be for fans of latter day comedy, those who like things lewd or crude or even just speedily paced and surreal, but for fans of a gentler humour, of world cinema and of satire sharp without cruelty this is well worth a look, quite terrific stuff.

2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Pleasing slice of sleazy cheesy horror thriller entertainment, 7 February 2010
7/10

The late 80's was a time when political correctness and a sheer sense of overkill brought about by the ferocious quantities of slashers of the decade caused horror focused on sleaze and slaying to melt away into the land of craptitude, with just a few notable joints bubbling up above the generic slurry. This film is far from the best of such late period shiners, but still pretty good fun in a thriller infused, blackly humorous sort of way despite its flaws. The plot sees sex line workers menaced by a clown masked nutcase called Bobo, necessitating young photographer Kevin to investigate along with his girlfriend who works at the place, as well as detectives Myers and McDonald. This one was directed by Michael Schroeder, who seemed to get into film under Paul Bartel's (he exec produced this one) wing and is better known for the Cyborg sequels. They were relatively imaginative and unconventional affairs and this film is too, bolstered by a interesting and enthusiastic cast. Cameron Dye and Karen Witter as perfectly reasonable as the young lovers doing a bit of investigation, convincingly headstrong if not especially likable, but more fun are Tracey Walter and Silvana Galardo as the two cops, Walter is better known for playing Miller in the Alex Cox classic Repo Man and gives a comically hard boiled turn with Galardo decent as a calmer, more collected yin to his raging yang. A still bigger plus for cult fans are various character actor and straightforward noted oddball cameos, we have Bud Cort as a pervy accountant, Geoffrey Lewis as a drunk, Paul Bartel as a prurient hotel clerk, Tab Hunter driving a car and best of all, Divine in his last film appearance, in a rare straight role as a cop. Pretty darned weird to see Divine without a dress I gotta say. Oh yeah and Karen Black has a nice role as the lady who runs the sex line being targeted, doing her instantly entertaining slightly nutty schtick, though her character drops out of the film too early. Then of course there are various lovely ladies, some of whom get gratuitously naked which is a definite upper, like Star Andreef and Karen Mayo Chandler. Pretty well kitted out to please, the film does well for itself but it needed a bit more. The tart dialogue is often laugh out loud funny, lots of good lines here, but the plotting could have been better and more gore would have been real handy. The kills are mean but not quite brutal enough, though Bobo does make for an impressively creepy killer (I hate clowns). The two leads aren't that interesting and the pacing occasionally flags, also the mixture of horror and thriller could definitely have been better stirred. some tension, a few shocks, the odd surprise here though, it all ends up being pretty toothsome. Well to me at least this was pretty cool, it isn't any classic and really its completists only stuff. But if you're like me and pretty much have to see every available 80's genre film out there this one should prove a perfectly pleasant if unspectacular pit stop. Make of that what you will...


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