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Reykavik-Rotterdam has its moments, and lead actor Baltasar Kormákur does a pretty good job of maintaining a continuity through the film ... but, to be honest, there's not a lot that's extraordinary here.
There's virtually nothing new to this one; it's a rework of ex-con trying to make ends meet and being reeled back into crime, with the kicker of having to help a dumb brother-in-law who's in over his head. Then you have the scheming business owner looking to cut in on the ex- con's lady, and manipulating others to take the ex-con out of her life. (Sound like something you've seen before?) Frankly, Warner Brothers started making this film over-and-over with the birth of the talkies, and the only new angle is containerized shipping as the backdrop and cellphone ringtones as embedded clues.
The cast is certainly fine, but they don't have much to work with as far as their characters. You don't get a sense of anything beyond a bunch of low-lifes aspiring to nothing more than than the continuation of their low-lifedom. And the comedic bits are somewhat shoehorned in for quick and unsatisfying relief -- except for the goofball gangster sequence in Rotterdam, which really didn't last long enough.
It's not a bad movie at all, but it's not something that bears repeat viewing ... it's a spot of entertainment, but wound up in rather tired film clichés. And it's nowhere near the level of an Academy Award nomination for best foreign film.
Don't remake, don't reimagine ... just solve the case!
"Hard-Boiled Murder" may be a unique creature of 1990s television, when networks still cranked out fare for the "older" (i.e., of drinking age, in Hollywood terms) audience that would at least recognize characters from 1960s-1970s shows. And who better to turn up with Dick Van Dyke than another '60s icon in Mike Connors, reprising his role of the rock 'em, sock 'em Joe Mannix.
The beauty here is that, instead of some oddball, come-out-of-retirement bit, the writers went back and found a Mannix episode -- "Little Girl Lost " -- where the detective tied up some loose ends, but never solved the case. He also promised the subject of the episode that, someday, he'd find out who killed her father.
Advance the timeframe 25 years (just about the same interval from the original Mannix episode) and Mannix is still doggedly on the case, and still surviving as one of the lone-wolf PIs. Using a spare-but-telling collection of clips from the Mannix episode as flashbacks, the story progresses with several of the original players from a quarter-decade past reprising their roles.
Since this is a "Diagnosis: Murder" show, there's a bit less of the harder edge of "Mannix," and the solving of one mystery -- the corruption angle -- seems a bit soft and hasty. The twist ending that solves the original murder also might be bit predictable, but it's a nice bit to finally close the case.
Sure, it's a trick concept that's not going to work for every show every week, but it's a concept done very well here. And viewers who knew about the show at its initial broadcast in 1997 got a bonus: Nick at Nite, which handled Mannix reruns, broadcast "Little Girl Lost" in the hour prior to the premiere of "Hard-Boiled Murder" on CBS, and it showed the nice continuity of the storyline.
The Pleasure Seekers (1964)
Fascism Can Be Fun!
When the one thing that nearly everyone agrees on about a film is the nice Technicolor, you know there's not a lot to offer otherwise. "The Pleasure Seekers is a somewhat typical early '60s romp -- maybe with the idea of men and women bedding down for the night thrown around quite freely -- but this, after all, is Europe! It's Madrid!
Yes, it's Spain, where at least a couple of Franco's concentration camps were still in business a few years before the making of this film. It's a cinch that the stuff involving wild hip swingin' Ann-Margaret and a passel of Latin lovers was filmed in Hollywood, and not the Spain of the 1960s. Newspaper publishers still faced a good police grilling for running ads for two-piece swimsuits; Madrinellos would appreciate three American women cruising the town, but Francisco and Dona Carmen wouldn't have found it amusing at all.
Still, the movie shows that you can have loads of laughs and love in a country run by a fascist dictator, which really exposes it for the false froth it was then and remains today. It was a tired old formula plugged in to give everyone the idea that Spain under Franco wasn't so bad and, for three footloose and fancy American gals, it couldn't be beat. Just don't pay any attention to the Guardia in the leather hats busting into a door down the street.
Trois places pour le 26 (1988)
Maybe too late, but still in the nick of time
You don't need to be a Demy fan to like this film ... but it helps. The fast-paced, MGM-style, burst-out-in-song style that started with "Lola" appears in Demy's last film. Considering that Demy and his star, Yves Montand, would both be dead within three years, it's a good thing that "Trois places ..." made it to the screen.
It's a shame, however, that the film wasn't made 20 years earlier. For one thing, the contemporary up-tempo Eighties-style music of Michel Legrand -- while good in its own right -- doesn't mesh as well with Montand's own music of the Forties and Fifties as presented in the "Montand Remembers" show-within-the-show. (Montand plays himself, which is a nice touch.) And while we get to see Montand as a song-and-dance man -- something that international film-goers didn't experience very often -- it's at the graying end of a career.
The 20-year difference would've also helped the storyline, where Montand is looking for an old love from his early days in Marseilles. The story is that he hadn't been to his old haunts in 20 years, but the "Remembers" show and other references to his lost love date back to the early Forties. The streetwise girl of his youth (now married to a baron who's in prison after a financial scandal) is depicted in "Trois places ...," however as a woman in her late 40s at best with a 20-ish daughter. The film setting is contemporary (late 1980s), so there's a two-decade disconnect that, for the film to work, you just have to accept and move on.
Once you push that to the side, however, "Trois places ..." is archetypal Demy at his happiest, with near-misses, strokes-of-luck and the lavish pastel palette of his early color work. The only clunker is near the end, where the confusion of age and the vague mother-daughter connection with Montand sends a whiff of incest as Mathilda May begins a literal May-December relationship. (The storyline rushes to quash this for the viewer, although poor Yves is still in a quandary as the film ends.) "Trois places ..." is no starter film for anyone interested in Demy, but it's fun, entertaining and a good coda for his work. Worth seeing.
Note: "Trois places ..." is part of "integral Jacques Demy", the 12-disc DVD release this fall of all of Demy's work by Arte Video. It's only being sold in France as a Region 2 DVD release, although -- for 100 -- it can be shipped to the United States from amazon.fr, among other vendors. There are loads of commentaries and mini-documentaries that are only in French, but all of the films feature English subtitles. The prints are restored to the eye-popping color of original releases.
The Ugliest Girl in Town (1968)
The Classic Hollywood Dogpile, in more ways than one
Anyone who's made it this far on IMDb to The Ugliest Girl in Town likely knows that this is considered one of the worst American TV series of all time. This is a tag often given out by people who've never watched a minute of the show; it just sounds good to trash it, based on its iffy premise and the fact that, well, everyone else trashed it.
It's also unfair. TUGIT, to be sure, is a pretty mediocre entry in the spectrum of TV series let along sitcoms but it's time to quit the blind bashing. If anything, it offers fair warning that intercontinental transplants of shows and concepts can be risky business, and that part often isn't heeded. (Coupling, anyone?) The leads of Peter Kastner and Patricia Blake are an engaging couple, having more than a few giggles making the best of Kastner's cross-dressing antics as Timmy/Timmie. In a situation where he can't possibly take himself seriously, Kastner's portrayal of a Hollywood talent agency young-man-on-the-hustle (think Mike Ovitz with a goofy streak) who's sidetracked by love at first sight is just about believable, due to his self-deprecating style. The pilot even dips into an effective bit of pathos as he sees the new love of his life jet off from LAX to London forever, except that .
The real problem comes with trying to merge the wittier (certainly compared to U.S. standards) British sitcom style with the hit-them-over-the-hammer joking of American sitcoms that derived from various Lucille Ball vehicles. It's balancing the subtle with the shtick, which really didn't work until five guys (at just about the same time) down at the BBC hit the solution by going absurd with Monty Python's Flying Circus.
It's not that Americans didn't stop trying, as the same kind of U.S./U.K. TV comedy merger went another round with From a Bird's Eye View, which tanked two years later in Britain and whiled away as one of those NBC import summer time-burners (unlike better series such as Strange Report).
The Ugliest Girl in Town wasn't the best execution of a concept, but it had its funny moments with likable leads romping through the last vestiges of Swinging London. There are hundreds of shows (and I swear I've seen most of them) that offered far worse and escaped the constant dead-horse beating this one gets.
The Spanish Earth (1937)
Interesting, if shaded, documentary
The Spanish Civil War remains as one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts involving a major country, and it's impossible to sum up its many nuances. You'll get one view of the conflict here with incredible footage of war and glimpses of rural Spanish life.
This, however, isn't a documentary as much as it is straight Soviet-style propaganda. The style of the film, from the poor farmers bettering themselves with a homemade concrete irrigation system to the election of soldiers to hear impassioned political pep talks from movement leaders, s straight from the Stalnist manual of Lifestyles of the Glorious Peoples. This isn't meant to Red-bait any of the participants -- they truly believed in a "free" Spain, and fascist-backed Francisco Franco's regime wasn't the answer, either -- but the reality was far different and is only now coming to light after 70 years.
The Spanish Civil War was also very much a fascist/Soviet proxy war, and the Soviet Union had a not-so-hidden hand in its direction. Look carefully at the fighting sequences, and you'll see very atypical people in different-style uniforms guiding artillery and directing troops.
As a historical insight -- despite what now appears to be a ham-fisted approach in propaganda -- the film is priceless. And many thanks for TCM and its ever-expanding programming efforts in broadcasting the film in July 2007; hopefully, we'll always have somebody unwilling to slice, dice and crop something and still call it a classic, ala AMC.
Ugly and Awful
This warmed-over bit of German suburban angst is one of those films where you wonder why you bothered to sit through the whole thing. I did at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, where the screening ended with one person clapping for two seconds and several people voicing support when I yelled, "that was pointless b#!!$%*t" as the credits rolled.
The claustrophobic setting looks more like a project as a final film-school thesis (which, I'm guessing, is exactly what this film is) than any real symbolic statement about this way-too-uptight family and the goofy kid nephew who comes to stay for a bit. I suppose it's a coming-of-age film, albeit one with virtually no soundtrack or any other cultural milepost of teen-aged youth, save for an inane video game. There are no other characters, except for two silent piano movers (who are either moving a fake baby grand by just picking it up without a piano dolly, or are from the planet Krypton).
My real beef isn't the tedious, pedantic textbook-style writing, acting and directing, which delivers characters you don't care about doing virtually nothing. (Even the sex scene is just, well, boring by-the-numbers stuff.) It's that, to prove some point about the lifeless nature of it all, the main character kills the family dog in a manner that is a combination of inhumanity and just plain laziness.
Now, the family dog probably gets too much attention from the mother of the family, but she's got a workaholic husband, a moody kid who keeps getting stinko drunk and this oddball nephew, and I'd probably side with dog in that situation. But there's no reason to dump the dog in a swimming pool and then walk away (even closing a window to its tired panting), leaving the poor pet to exhaust itself and drown. And, then have the mother discover the death as the final scene in the picture.
So this is where we end up after 90 minutes? Pointless.
Silence of the North (1981)
Good movie, and Neil Young, too.
If ever there was a film about a brave woman trying to survive in hard places (the wilderness) and hard times (the Great Depression), this is it. This movie received good review when released -- Roger Ebert cited it as a exemplary film at the time -- but it's disappeared. Some of this is likely due to its Canadian production; if a U.S. company makes a film in Canada, it's easy to find, but domestic Canadian films often get lost in the shuffle.
Ellen Burstyn is marvelous in the lead role; she gives a performance that keeps the film tipping over into a standard Lifetime TV potboiler, albeit in the pines. She tries, she adapts, she grieves, but all in a realistic way that life will go on, and she'll go along with it.
Smallpox 2002: Silent Weapon (2002)
The FX network broadcast this film on January 2 with little fanfare, and that's too bad; it deserves a wider audience. The movie is very realistic and, with few exceptions, the actors don't come across as actors. They look as "real" as any of the other experts that pop up on innumerable documentaries that pop up on U.S. cable channels today.
The plot revolves around a strain of smallpox that appears in April 2002 in New York and, by the fall, is the cause of death for 60 million people on Earth. (That's summarized in the first 100 words of narration, so it's not a spoiler.) It's produced in the basic docudrama style of what happened, the cause, personal anecdotes and the summary. Stock footage of civil disruption and disasters are woven into the new footage that gives the movie a realistic look. Reports are also interjected from the BBC, SkyTV and New York's WNBC with familiar news readers.
The ending is a bit rushed, with the last 20 minutes going by in a "boy we have to wrap this up" flurry of connecting loose ends. The terrorist's identity is also left vague, which is one of the movie's few letdowns. (Others may see this as a realistic plus.) One small correction on an earlier review -- the person doesn't travel around the world spreading the disease (that's the plot line of "12 Monkeys"). The infected person only appears for one morning in downtown and midtown Manhattan, which may be scarier than someone criss-crossing the planet with a biological weapon.
The Weather Underground (2002)
Interesting but manipulative
"The Weather Underground" is well-made -- so much so that it's fairly easy for nine out of ten viewers to buy into the premise that this is a somewhat-objective documentary. Some of us who remember the era of the late 1960s and 1970s with less nostalgia for the anti-war movement have a different POV; this film is a very well-engineered play by the members of the Weather Underground to appear as anti-heroes as likable as Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John.
It's a clever work. To escape the terrorist tag, much is made of the fact that the successfully planted bombs never killed anyone. Of course, this may also represent a streak of amazing luck, given that all of the devices were fairly crude in construction and could've easily killed plenty of people with a misfire.
Of course, one planned bomb did go wrong, destroying a New York townhouse in March 1970. "The Weather Underground" notes this, along with shots of the grieving father of one of the bomb casualties Diane Oughton. What the film doesn't reveal is that two women survived the blast, and one's name was Kathy Boudin.
Doesn't ring a bell if you've seen the film? The name's only seen for a fleeting 10 seconds or so when the camera pans over a list of names. Boudin, however, was as famous as any of the other members depicted. The daughter of a well-known lawyer, Boudin eventually married fellow Weatherman David Gilbert, who's the guy in the film that's still in jail. He's there because he was convicted of aiding the robbery of a Brinks armored truck in 1981, when three people were killed -- and Boudin was convicted as well. Gilbert and Boudin had a son -- Chesa Boudin -- who was raised by Bill Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn (also prominent figures in the film) and is now a Rhodes Scholar.
So why not have Boudin in the film? It's because, at the time of the production, she was up for parole (since granted) on the Brinks robbery conviction, and the filmmakers didn't want to ruin her chances for getting out of jail. It's a curious circumvention of truth, but it's pretty much the main theme of "The Weather Underground:" We were actively looking to overthrow the government, we blew up buildings, we helped rob armored cars, but, hey, it all came out OK. One of us even got on Jeopardy!