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There's a lot to like about this movie, but I didn't really enjoy it., 10 February 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I think I would have enjoyed this story better if I'd read the novel it is based on ("The Full Treatment") or as a radio drama play that trimmed down the extraneous elements and didn't exhaust my patience the way this movie does. The story had promise (in spite of a psychological premise that hasn't aged well since 1960), but in the end the director and the writer couldn't quite make it work.

There is some excellent stuff here and there - I think that the opening shot that pulls back from a car radio playing a happy tune to seamlessly reveal a scene of disaster and carnage is good enough to redeem the problems with the remaining 2 hours of screenplay. But there's an awful lot to get through in the next 2 hours, and a lot of it is a slog.

I've liked Ronald Lewis since I saw his role as the chauffeur in another Hammer production, "Scream of Fear!", and I when I saw that he was going to be prominently featured in this one, I was looking forward to seeing him stretch out. But his character is high-strung and unlikeable (even though it seems that his terrible behavior is caused by what we would now call "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder") and sometimes the director can't get him off the screen fast enough for me. Lewis is out there front and center, chewing the scenery in a thankless role and I can't help but wonder if this picture damaged his career, or at least slowed it down some.

The other problem, of course, is that the whole "repressed memories leading to murder" thing has lost most of its credibility over the decades, sapping some of the drama and energy from the proceedings on screen. As this tale of psychodrama among the jet-set spins out, the thought kept intruding - "This has nothing to say to my life". Oddly, that never comes up in "Scream Of Fear!", possibly because the heroine is a "poor little rich girl" who is wheelchair bound and seemingly fragile.

But the black and white photography is crisp.There are some great visual setups (oddly, the driving scenes are the least convincing scenes in the movie, ironic considering the Lewis' character is a race car driver). Diane Cilantro is adorable and a pleasure to simply behold (although her character is missing from the middle third of the movie).And there is a fascinating contribution from Francois Rosay who is on screen for maybe 5 minutes altogether, but who pulls the final climax together with a wordless performance that is in some ways the strongest in the movie.

So, did I like it? Not nearly as much as the similar "Scream Of Fear!". Did the movie have a lot of things to redeem the problems with the plot and the unlikeable protagonist? You bet.

Redeemer (2014)
Lean, mean, stripped down and amped up tale of brutality and morality, 10 February 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Sometimes I like to take a chance with a movie I never heard of when I shop the discounted DVD racks at my local Walmart or Target, especially if the cover reviews are good and the premise sounds interesting. In this case, my gamble on "Redeemer" paid off handsomely with a sort of Chilean Western-cum-old-school-Kung-Fu tail of vengeance and redemption.

Of course, the violence is in the new vein of Krav-Maga with broken rhythms, joint attacks, grappling and gun-play that have come into vogue since "The Raid". It's well staged, high-energy and invigoratingly brutal. And we all know that's what you came here for (don't be ashamed, it's what *I* came for too), so that's good.

But the director and screen-writer managed to work in a stark, elemental feel of Good vs Evil that works splendidly in the stripped down environment of an isolated town jammed up against mountains and sea coast. That allows for some wildly beautiful photography that allows the viewer to catch his breath (I say "his" because I can't imagine a typical female viewer wanting to watch this.) But it also throws the human actions and emotions we see into sharp relief. That's some careful and inspired film design right there.

This is a "B" picture all the way, about as subtle as a shot of "Red- eye" whiskey. But even so, the actors here get the job done, in spite of an indifferent job of dubbing into English (I wish I could have watched this in Spanish with just English subtitles). Marko Zaror may not have a lot of dramatic range, but the movie showcases all his acting strengths and none of his (undoubted) weaknesses, so the end result is both enigmatic and instantly identifiable - he's the Hero on a Quest, and you know what drives him (because the movie shows you in flashback what happened), but at the same time you don't know him at all. Put the character in a tuxedo at a party, the actor might stumble badly - but here, in this, he's perfect.

So, if you are looking for a fresh take on martial arts action, this is worth your time. If you are a fan of this kind of movie, you should seek it out and take the time to watch.

The Drop (2014)
This is THE "crime film" to see from 2014, 10 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Powerful, understated performances by the three principle actors, and a convincing portrayal of a back street neighborhood that gets by mostly on the underground economy run by the crime bosses.

The closest equivalent I can think of here is 2013's "Killing Them Softly", but Brad Pitt's portrayal of Cogan and the Runyon-esque feel of the plot and dialog make that movie considerably less grim than this gem. But you should see them both and make your own decisions as to which one is better or more effective.

Tom Hardy and James Gandolfini really sell this one. And I don't automatically swoon at the thought of a Dennis Lehane film (his adaptations of his own "Gone Baby Gone" came across like a Lifetime Movie Special in spots) but he's done excellent work here.

Highly recommended if you like this sort of thing.

Dracula 3D (2012)
Visually luscious, uneven story and acting; worth seeing as a cheesefest, 10 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Warning: the actual plot of the film has very little to do with Bram Stoker, Universal, or Hammer films aside from recycling the character names. That may or may not be a disappointment depending on whether you are tired of the same old tropes or want to see them done one more time with Argento's trademark visual style.

Speaking of which - the photography and scene design roll over your visual inputs like melted better. Every scene, every shot is just drenched in color and detail. Sometimes I wanted to do a screen capture of a scene and frame it on a wall of my house. So that alone made me feel as if I got my money's worth and spent my time in a worthwhile manner.

On the other hand...well, on the other hand, some of the dialog is risibly bad. And some of the acting (including 70-80% of what Asia Argento does) is clunky and wooden. I'm will to overlook some of this in a film where a lot of the lines are probably dubbed...but there are an awful lot of clunkers here that detract from the film.

Casting: the actor playing Dracula was an interesting choice and had some visual appeal, but seemed too calm and sedate for the part. That might have just been an effect of the way the character was written. Gerard Butler had the same problem in a previous Dracula movie - they just didn't frame the actor in a way that best framed his strengths. This actor doesn't ruin the movie by any means, but he isn't Christopher Lee. You don't spend all the down time between his scenes holding your breath for his next appearance.

As I mentioned, the plot's all over the place and doesn't really have a lot of momentum and sometimes doesn't make a lot of sense. The editor also tends to stick in short scenes and shots here and there that either stop the movie cold or else disrupt the flow. I'm not sure I got to see the best version of the movie, either - for instance, Dracula's spy/henchman Zoltan is made out to be a pretty ruthless bad ass in three different scenes, but Hauer/Van Helsing dispatches him in about 5 seconds. And did I mention that Hauer/Van Helsing only appears after more than 1/2 the film has gone by?

Oh, well. It was worth seeing once in the DVD player on a Tuesday afternoon when I was under the weather and unable to go to work.

Parochial action vehicle with the all the depth of a puddle, 4 January 2017

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I found "One More Shot" on a specialty Roku Channel ("Black World") and gave it a watch one weeknight motivated by a fondness for obscure films and boredom. It wasn't that good, but I've done worse.

The opening credits tell us that this movie is an example of films made for a South African audience in the mid 80s. Apparently this audience was cut off from what I would think of as "mainstream", and a home-grown film industry kept them supplied with light entertainment and novelties, of which this film is a prime example. So "One More Shot" shouldn't really be judged by the same standards of a Hollywood(or even Bollywood) movie from the same era. But I'm going to do that anyway.

In essence, this isn't so much a movie as a sketch of a movie. Here'sthe plot summary: People (I'm not going to call them "actors") say things, do things, punch each other a lot, and then the good guys win.The end. And I'm making it sound more coherent than it really is.

So what about the actual execution? Well...while some of the individual scenes and setups aren't that bad, the movie appears to have been edited by some someone who needed to turn 30 minutes of plot into an 85 minute movie. So there's a LOT of padding disguised as exotic "travelogue" style footage, a lot of driving, several training montages (did I mention this is sort of a martial arts film? It's sort of a martial arts film) and about a hundred fights.

OK, it's a martial arts film, so never mind the acting (which is uniformly wooden, stiff, and unnatural) are the fights? I'll give the movie this: both of the "heroes" are supple and fluid in their moves and techniques. Once in a while there will be a nice leg sweep or lunge punch, etc., done with some panache. But boy, do the bad guys ever fall down unconvincingly. You can actually see the stunt men thinking "Well, this fight scene is over, time to lie down again."

I'm making it sound as if I hated this movie...but I didn't. It was mildly enjoyable, the equivalent of popping a chunk of bubble gum in your mouth and chewing on it. But I seriously think that I may have put more mental effort into writing about this film than the crew put intofilming it.

Everything you ever loved - and hated - about 90's cheesefests., 13 November 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

What does it mean to say that the acting in "Honor and Glory" is really, really bad? Well, it's bad not in a "Manos: Hands Of Fate" or "Wild,Wild World of Batwoman" way, and not in an "Ed Wood movie" way...but in a "not even as good as one of the better Chuck Norris movies" way.

No one screws up their lines, there is no real incompetence on display in the camera-work or the costuming, and the cast is attractive and photogenic...but the screenplay seems to be written on the level of a Power Rangers movie. And the acting goes there too, which would be OK if they were playing it for laughs...but the movie plays things straight, so the humor is unintentional.

For instance, in the introductory scene that introduces the "reporter" half of the team, a Senator's daughter - SENATORS DAUGHTER, mind you - PULLS A KNIFE on the reporter in the presence of her camera crew, and the reporter kick-boxes her into submission. And then the reporter and her crew waltz off, and NO ONE remarks on it for the rest of the movie - no filed charges with the police, no scandal, nothing.

That's the kind of movie this is. Lacking any real heft or humanity or consequence, it fills 90 plus minutes with kick-boxing and witless dialog and silly plot devices until things wind up. The end.

On the plus side: It's cheerful, things keep moving, and Rothrock has just a little bit of something that translates well to the camera - which is probably why someone thought they could have her carry a movie.They were wrong, but not disastrously so.

It's also a Godfrey Ho/Hall vehicle, but without the part where he shoe horns completely related ninja footage into a 3rd rate action movie and them tries to pretend the ninja stuff relates to the rest of the movie via awkward linking dialog scenes. So that's a relief.

You can give this one a miss, but it won't hurt you to watch it the way some of Ho's stuff hurts you.

Solid mini-series, worth your time if you like "Twilight Zone" or "Warehouse 13", 13 November 2016

Well, this mini-series apparently vanished into obscurity after its initial showing. That's a shame, because there was a lot to like and admire about it.

I recently got to see the whole mini-series on DVD, and I thought it was very well done, with hardly a false note or bad performance in the whole show. I especially liked Peter Krause as the protagonist - without being too aggressive or mopey or "emo", he managed to combine believable toughness and humanity in his portrayal of "Joe Miller", and had me rooting for him from the beginning.

The plot, which shared elements of "The Twilight Zone", "Warehouse 13" (which actually came later, I think) and "Friday the 13th - The Series"), is all about a quest for the Philosopher's Stone, but is fairly bleak about what actually happens to human beings when they encounter the "Uncanny" in real life, and I like that a lot. (Its seeming successor, "Warehouse 13" is considerably more cheerful and optimistic in feel.)

Six episode was just about the right length, since it left me wanting more. (And there were enough dangling plot threads and a stinger ending, that implied the creators were interested in continuing the story if there was a demand for it.)

So: "The Lost Room" will probably not change your life. But I'll bet you'll enjoy it a lot and will remember it long after similar Sci-Fi series have vanished from your ken.

See it for the acting and atmosphere, 11 November 2016

Brad Pitt is amazing in this, and the best reason to see it. In fact, this movie is a gem of fine actors under good direction.

I remember reading the George V. Higgins novel this is based on, and wondering how well such a dialog-heavy story would transition to the movie form. Well, the director and screen writer managed to include almost every major passage of conversation and every monologue and oratory that I remember from "Cogan's Trade", and in fact helped me understand a couple of the plot points and character motivations that had been buried (for me, anyway) so deep in the dialog passages that I missed them.

And in spite of the fairly simple plot (2 mooks rob a local card game with the unintended consequence of causing the local crime- based economy to collapse, Cogan sets thing right with brutal - but not sadistic - efficiency), the movie doesn't feel padded or as if it is treading water.

Not for everyone, by any means - but if atmosphere and character study are more important to you than gun fights and action, you'll like "Killing Them Softly".

If you're a fan of giallo and slasher films, this is worth your time., 2 November 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Generally credited as the inspiration for most of the slasher and serial killer movies in the next 70's and 80's, Bava's "A Bay Of Blood" isn't perfect by any means, but is well worth your time to take it in at least once, if you can.

Whereas most of the films it inspired keep things simple (one killer, a bunch of nubile young victims, various gimmicky shocks and inventive ways to skewer and maim them), "Bay" distinguishes itself by having multiple killers, bright, crisp photography, and a whole lot of off-putting or unlikable characters who each get a brief moment of "stage time" before they dispatch each other in various jarring and startling ways.

Mostly I think what makes Bava better than his imitators is his timing and setups - he knows just how long to focus in on his characters and just how much "humanity" to imbue them with before they get shuffled off this mortal coil.

Saw it once, don't feel the need to ever see it again, but I thought it was pretty darned good.

Not especially convincing monsters, but everything else is great., 28 September 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

When I say "not especially convincing", I mean that both the concept of the monsters and the special effects that put them on the screen are pretty weak, barely above the depictions of walking pickles and flying oven mitts that drove the typical Corman monster/science fiction movies.

Even so, this is a classic of its kind. Cushing carries the film with his usual aplomb, and everyone else delivers the kind of performance that a Hammer film needs - generic cardboard roles that somehow are invested with life and energy by hard working, well-directed actors and actresses. (Update - apparently this was not a Hammer film after all, but an effort from "Planet Productions" using a lot of the usual Hammer talent.)

Least convincing moment - the first moments of the standoff between the monsters and the villagers as the villagers try fire and dynamite to destroy the beasts. Still pretty decent as these things go, but not at all exciting.

Most convincing moment - when one of the monsters has Cushing's arm in its tentacle, and his assistant has to take drastic action to save him. The expression on Cushing's face as he looks at his friend, assenting to what most be done, is the emotional peak of the entire movie, and shows why this actor is worth every penny they paid him.

Great, solid stuff. Won't surprise anyone or convert anyone, but fans of this kind of genre stuff will find lots to enjoy.

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