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The Thomas Crown Affair (1968)
Badly dated heist flick, with Steve McQueen miscast as a bored, wealthy businessman looking for a new thrill. He gets it in the form of a bank robbery he engineers with the did of several others. But soon enough hot on his trail, is a flamboyant, female insurance investigator (Dunaway) and an intrepid cop (Burke). The film reeks of its period (the late '60s), which is fun to a point. Besides McQueen's miscasting (watch for his seemingly endless, very fake laughing fit right after the heist) and Dunaway's hammy, unintentionally laughable acting (and the fact that she is garbed in increasingly silly outfits more suited to a circus clown), former TV director Norman Jewison apparently decided to photograph the whole thing in a herky-jerky, mod style. It was 1968, remember. The result is many harsh transitions from one scene to the next, and Jewison often favors long shots when closeups would have done better. As a result, it is virtually impossible to watch this movie today. Better to check out the 1999 remake. There are also many other heist films worth seeing.
I was never much of a U.K. TV series fan, until I stumbled across this show and "Doc Martin." These two shows now have me hooked. "Bally" reminds me of gentle Irish comedy movies like "Waking Ned Devine." And the nice thing, with "Bally" I have six years worth of episodes to watch. In my home state, Connecticut, we have a huge Irish American population and Connecticut Public Television airs "Bally" episodes at least once a week, which is how I became acquainted with the show. I have since watched a couple of episodes on youtube. I can't get enough of it! You can have "Dontown Abbey." Me, I'll stick with "Bally." I also watch occasional episodes of the various police dramas like "Inspector Morse" and "DCI Banks." But without guns and gun play, they tend t be very dull.
The Night Flier (1997)
Fangs for the memories
Veteran tabloid reporter Miguel Ferrer is on the trail of a savage killer who flies from rural airport to rural airport in search of victims. Soon enough the reporter begins to realize he's pursuing a blood-sucking vampire, Dracula cape and all. Shades of The Night Stalker! At some point, the killer starts warning the reporter off, to no avail. The story takes time to build, and the killer is barely glimpsed until the last five minutes. Keeping him in the shadows until the final confrontation, also done in The Nigh Stalker, pays off big time for the very shocking and bittersweet ending. Ferrer is intense as usual, and the supporting cast is populated by some pretty colorful characters. I was most intrigued by a scene where the reporter, already sensing something supernatural about his prey,finds the killer's empty plane on a tarmac and climbs inside, only to discover the controls rusted and ruined and the entire cockpit saturated with blood.
Harsh Times (2005)
Bad boys on the loose
Bale gives a riveting, intensely powerful performance in this grim crime drama. He plays an ex-special forces type trying to land a law enforcement job so he can bring his Mexican sweetie to L.A. But he is also a petty criminal who has increasing flashbacks to his time in combat. And he can't seem to mend his criminal ways, even as he is about to begin a job ostensibly with Homeland Security. There isn't much plot, just strong acting and a sense of the specific time and place, on the streets of south central L.A. I was reminded of STRAIGHT TIME with Dustin Hoffman as an ex-con who can't control his criminal tendencies. Not a movie for kids or anyone expecting another TRAINING DAY. This is not your typical Hollywood fare and was shot for peanuts. It is the kind of gritty flick that actors die for. One caution: The plot takes awhile to kick into gear.
This slice of ghetto life is like nothing else I ave seen. A young drug runner decides he wants out of the life. He also wants to save his sister, who has taken up with one of the kid's drug kingpins. In order to get out, he has to do some pretty fancy footwork. But he is a master strategist as we see when he plays chess with his dad. Wonderful location photography and acting, with a large cast of mostly unknown actors except for Sam Jackson as the dad and Giancarlo Esposito as the drug kingpin. The plot doesn't necessarily go in the direction you might think. There is a fair amount of violence, but most of it is off camera or quickly cut away from.
The Hearse (1980)
As much as I admire Trish VanDevere, this 1980 movie-of-the-week just doesn't cut it. A recently divorced woman moves into her late aunt's old house in the woods, only to be haunted by eerie figures and an old black hearse that appears to want to kill her. As she tries to figure out what's what, the lonely woman meets several locals, including a less-than-friendly general store proprietor, a hulking, horny sheriff, a nasty real estate agent and a guy her age who seems too good to be true. This low-budget effort, slightly reminiscent of a ghost flick VanDevere shot the same year with husband George C. Scott, apparently started out as a slasher flick but was turned into a haunted house/witchcraft thriller. A muddled plot and sloppy editing doesn't help. For genre fans only.
The Woman in the Window (1944)
Edward G. and Joan Bennett star in a noirish crime drama that feels almost surreal (with god reason, as the ending makes plain). Robinson is a staid professor whose family is off on a weekend jaunt. He meets an alluring woman who invites him to he apartment for "drinks and." When her psycho boyfriend unexpectedly shows up, the prof ends up killing him during a scuffle. To protect himself and the gal, he gets rid of the body. Then the fun really starts. Edward G. is at the top of his form here, and Bennett is sexy and ever so slightly tawdry, even fully clothed. The ending, which has been used or misused in many movies before and since, here works beautifully. I am surprised I had never seen this particular melodrama until now. I am no spring chicken, and used to be a film critic, to boot.
Footsteps in the Fog (1955)
A great cast makes this Victorian thriller a near-classic, hampered only by a low budget. Stewart Granger stars as a recent widower who is in fact a murderer. This fact is known only to one of his his servants (Jean Simmons), who uses this knowledge to improve her station. When the wily widower ends up in a romantic relationship with a woman of his own class, he decides to put an end to the servant. From this point, everything that can go wrong does, and the clever twist ending is a real hoot. A young Bill Travers plays a barrister in love with the woman the widower has his eyes (an lips) on. Since the movie is working with almost no budget, the action is played out on basically three sets, so that it feels a bit like a theatrical play. No harm done in the end, as it is well written and wonderfully acted. Simmons absolutely shines.
The Keep (1983)
It's been a few years since I last watched this riff on "Dracula," and it has not held up. This is either due to the studio cutting half the finished movie or the director not being suited to the horror genre. Perhaps it's both. Sadly, the novel (the original, not the revised version) is a humdinger. An ancient entity is imprisoned in a vast structure deep inside a Romanian mountain. It is bound by what appears to be a series of silver crosses embedded in the walls that bind it. During WWII, a Nazi contingent arrives and takes over the small town at the foot of the Keep, and curiosity and greed soon get the better of the bored soldiers. The creature is released and starts picking them off to regain strength and shape before it ventures out. The opening scenes are spellbinding, as Michael Mann is a visualist extraordinaire. But once the actual plot gets going, it's all downhill from there. The monster is never scary, there is little suspense and the jagged studio editing makes the story hard to follow. Admittedly, it was shot on a shoestring budget, and Mann does the best with what he had to work with. This is no cult classic, folks. The best we can hope for is a big-budget remake, especially in this CGI era.
Strange Invaders (1983)
Lotsa fun and some real thrills
I reviewed this clever tribute to low-budget 1950s sci=fi flicks (most notably "Invaders From Mars") some years ago. Having just watched it again, I felt compelled to write it up one more time. The people who put this charming cult classic together definitely knew what they were doing: A big city college teacher (LeMat) goes searching for his missing ex-wife in a rural Midwest town, only to discover the town is populated by what appear to be very hostile aliens (for one thing, they love blowing up cars). The professor learns the aliens took over the town in the late 1950s, with our government's permission. One of the great gags in this delightful movie is that, 25 years later, nothing has changed in the occupied town. It's still full of hayseeds and sock hops and hideous American-made monster mobiles. A tabloid journalist (Allen) joins the professor in his search, and all hell breaks loose as the aliens attempt to keep their identity a secret. The supporting cast is populated by award-winning actors like Louise Fletcher, doing a variation on her legendary Nurse Wratchet (around the same time, she also appeared in a spoofy remake of "Invaders From Mars"), and Michael Lerner, whose woebegone character has lost his wife and kids to the aliens and has been locked away in the funny farm. The movie was clearly shot on a shoestring, with poor sound quality and way too many single takes (watch the little boy at the end put his right arm around his dad for a split second before dropping it and staring off-camera at what probably was one of his real-life parents). But the film also exhibits a unique charm and features some truly unnerving moments (dig the "Evil Dead" bit when the professor's dog, now a captive of the aliens, appears to rush back and forth past the professor on a lonely road, unseen but definitely there via incredible sound effects and unusual camera work. Also, some of the other effects are extremely satisfying in their crude way, such as a series of glowing orbs that hold the captive humans and the aliens' spaceship. Plus, the story's pace never slackens. There's something going on every second of this movie; there ain't no padding. The ending is utter hokum, but intentionally so, I suspect.