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La mariée était en noir (1968)
Good, not great, homage to Hitchcock
François Truffaut has always been one of the most famous admirers of Alfred Hitchcock, so it was only natural for him to make a film that is intended purely as a homage to his colleague. The elliptically presented plot is unlike any Hitchcock plot I, at least, am aware of; it's mostly the sophisticated camera work and the superb, ingenious music score by Bernard Herrmann that remind you of Hitch. To be honest, the film seems a little flat at first (the first two murders are not too special), but it gets better, and the ending is just about perfect. Jeanne Moreau, although arguably miscast, gives an excellent performance, and at least three of the men manage to create complete characters in a short amount of time. *** out of 4.
This is actually very good!
The 2002 version of "The Twilight Zone" has a generally poor reputation, and indeed the few episodes I have watched so far (at random) range from OK to mediocre, but "The Executions of Grady Finch" is actually very good! I watched this one right after "The Collection" (starring Jessica Simpson!), and while that one was utterly predictable, this one is riveting because you cannot tell how it will play out. The story is well-thought-out and clever and very Twilight-Zoney. This episode also benefits from two strong central performances, by Jeremy Sisto and Alicia Witt. I think this episode is giving me a message: should I quit watching this TV show? NOT YET. *** out of 4.
5 engaging enigmas, but be warned: the series has no finale
"Tru Calling" is one of my all-time favorite TV series, and "Paradox" is probably the closest thing I've seen to it so far. There are differences, of course (here the protagonists are four and they don't go back in time, they just receive images/hints from the future), but the core concept is very similar: if you know what will happen in the future, can you change it? Should you change it? Each of the five episodes presents a cleverly assembled puzzle to solve: the question is not just who-done-it? but where? how? why? and to whom? Only the "when" is a given. The characters are (probably deliberately) a little lacking in charisma, and there is arguably too much bickering between them, but the stories are gripping enough anyway. However, the series was dropped by the BBC prematurely; the "final" episode actually ends with at least four separate cliffhangers! It's a shame we will never know where this was going, but I for one am at least grateful for what we have. *** out of 4.
Monsieur Hire (1989)
Elegant psychological thriller
This subdued and elegant French psychological thriller is made with clockwork precision and for quite a while it looks like it could be a terrific whodunit as well as a terrific character study (it is based on a Georges Simenon book, after all), but it lets the cat out of the bag a little too early. With just some minor re-structuring (revealing the whole truth to the audience at the end and not the middle), the final scene would have had a stronger impact. Still, you cannot deny the perfection of this film's casting: both Michel Blanc and Sandrine Bonnaire (at her most beautiful) are ideal for their roles. And that POV shot during "the fall" at the end is haunting. **1/2 out of 4.
Class of 1999 (1990)
Ultraviolent blend of sci-fi, action, and satire
This sequel to the minor hit "Class of 1984" is more like a reversal (this time, the teachers are the true baddies), with a lot of "Terminator" and "Robocop" thrown in. The first half has some amusing satirical moments on "educational discipline", but the film soon reverts to action-explosions-noise-gunfire-corpses mode, as you might expect from the director of "Commando". Still, some of the special effects and stunts are indeed impressive, and although the main lead is a little weak, the supporting cast (including a still-superfine Pam Grier and a creepily white-eyed Stacy Keach) is strong. It's a junky but well-made film, with cult possibilities (just like its predecessor). **1/2 out of 4.
Slaughter High (1986)
It has it moments....if you can make it past the first 30 minutes
Another high-school-prank-gone-wrong-disfigured-victim-seeks-revenge slasher movie from the 1980s. If you can put up with a horribly amateurish first half hour, this one has a few decent moments and a couple of fairly gruesome and imaginative kills. It also has instances of head-slapping stupidity, such as Caroline Munro knocking down the killer with a baseball bat and then dropping it beside him and running away (!), of the fact that all the characters can quite easily leave the school building as one of them demonstrates but never even try to. Speaking of Munro, she is surprisingly convincing playing a teenager despite being 37 (!) at the time, but this was a big career comedown for her - she was in a James Bond movie less than a decade earlier, for crying out loud. One amusing line: "if a caretaker takes care of the place, a janitor....janits?" ** out of 4,.
Harper's Island (2009)
This show is exceptionally immersive and absorbing, often unbearably suspenseful (because you fear the worst might happen - and it usually does), at times genuinely upsetting, and in the end profoundly twisted. The first few episodes are like a soap-opera / who-dun-it with a murder here and there; but after episode 5, it changes mode into a survival thriller / who-is-doing-it. The writers take their time developing the characters, so you become emotionally invested in them, and each death is more heartbreaking than the previous one as the survivors get closer and closer to the finish line. The 13-episode format definitely works in its favor - no eternal dragging-out as it happened in another, more famous island show, for example. The mystery definitely takes a few pages out of Agatha Christie's "And Then There Were None", but then it rewrites them! There are clichés, of course, but you knew that going in. The performances are unusually strong for the slasher genre (some of the characters feel so real you want to jump into the screen and become their friend - Elaine Cassidy is superb). The cinematography and locations are terrific. The music is fitting. This is one of the most all-around satisfying TV shows I have ever seen. *** out of 4.
Café Society (2016)
Beautiful-looking but dull
"Café Society" feels more like a fill-the-one-movie-per-year-quota than anything important than Woody Allen had to share with the world. Vittorio Storaro's shimmering cinematography is glorious, and the performances are good, but the script is thin and meandering, and, worst of all, the look at 1930's Hollywood is extremely superficial. The continuous name-dropping by no means creates the illusion that Steve Carell is the great film agent that he is supposed to be; they should have, at the very least, cast some actors to play some of those famous figures who are always supposed to be at Carell's parties but are never seen! The picture also lacks humor - I saw it in a theater and the only line that really got a laugh from the audience was "It's a pity the Jewish religion doesn't believe in the afterlife - they would get more clients!". A mediocre entry in Woody's long filmography. ** out of 4.
Point Pleasant (2005)
A good series, though a little padded and with no real ending
"Point Pleasant" might at first seem to be "just" a teenage-oriented soap opera with supernatural elements, but in its course it also poses some thought-provoking philosophical questions: can you battle evil without becoming evil? Can evil feel compassion? Is everything predestined or can we shape out future? Is faith a matter of reality or a matter of will? Though it feels lightweight at first (Point Pleasant, the town, really is pleasant) and padded in the middle (it could stand to lose a couple of episodes), things get pretty dark in the final (and best - closely followed by the flashback-laden "The Last Dance") episode. Speaking of the final episode....it's not really final. The creators were obviously setting things up for a second season that never came, so the big story is left unfinished. It's like going to a football game only to have it cancelled (forever) right after the first goal! So I cannot recommend this series without reservations. But overall the good points outweigh the weaknesses. And one of the best points is the acting, especially by Elisabeth Harnois, who manages to portray the duality of Christina's nature, and Grant Show, as the kind of villain you love to hate. *** out of 4.
Chi l'ha vista morire? (1972)
Sporadically effective giallo
Wow, looking at George Lazenby here, you wouldn't believe that merely three years earlier he had played James Bond! With his worryingly skinny body, his unkempt hair and his "porn mustache", he looks as if he was deliberately trying to distance himself as much as possible from the image of Bond. The film itself is a well-made but slow and diffuse giallo; there are sporadically effective scenes (mostly the stalkings and the killings), but the Lazenby's investigation is not as gripping as it should be, and the ending may strike some viewers as a cheat, because the killer is a character who is barely in the film! The on-location shooting in Venice and Ennio Morricone's extraordinarily weird score help; the traditionally poor English dubbing doesn't. **1/2 out of 4.