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It's a damn shame Wadleigh didn't direct other fiction films!
I won't spend time arguing about the merits of whether "Wolfen" is going to be an "effective" or "gee-whiz" entertainment for you and the kids next Saturday night. What I will argue is how the craftsmanship that went into this film far exceeds the multitudes of celluloid treats that have been shot in the last decade.
Director Michael Wadleigh truly understood how to embrace the two sensory communicators that movies deliver to an audience, that of sight and sound, and wove a tapestry of motifs that help elevate a mere "super-wolves-preying-on-humans-in-NY" tale into something that "feels" like it's so much more.
So many contemporary directors of popular features, notably those who churn out horror flicks, frame scenes and trim shots down to movements and moments that simply, and I mean, VERY simply, propel the plot points. Period. Sure, there's quirky camera angles out windows, across streets, and up drain pipes, as well as amped up door slams and sudden weird little-girl yowls, to give it a "cool," slick MTV style feature film look. But it's all to service the plot point at that very moment in the narrative. If it's a piece of business that will be used again in the film, it will be hamhandedly shoved in our faces at first so we definitely WON'T forget it a half hour later. Very little thought is put into motifs -- things that aren't overt, but instead are picked up by the subconscious.
So, what were some of the things Wadleigh did? Take a look at the opening 10 minutes of this film. Sure, Christopher and Pauline Van De Veer get snuffed in Battery Park by mysterious wolfen. Dewey Wilson copters in from Staten Island, back on a case after a long absence. And at the morgue, no residual traces of a weapon are found on the bodies. All routine, yet key plot points. Now look and hear what Wadleigh spent time doing with his film-making craft to give the movie subtextual resonance.
Pauline Van De Veer cradles her pearl necklace in her mouth while riding in her limo. Dewey arrives at Battery Park munching on donuts. He stands at the morgue, eating a cookie, whole. A few moments later, Dewey is at his desk, smoking a big cigar. Why did Wadleigh choose to have these very specific scenes of business in the movie? To layer his film with motifs of "the mouth." The wolfen survive and attack with their mouths, and the humans subtly and continuously remind us of this, whether it's the sloppy sounds of Finney and Venora's passionate kissing or Hine's potato chip crescendo-crunches while surveilling the wolfen.
This film is packed with linking symbolism and subtext like this that aren't overt, but give it that extra weight, which makes it more than just an average horror flick. The wind chimes in Battery Park jingle exactly like the mirrored vertical shades in the Van De Veer penthouse, and with both of Dewey's visits to that domicile, we're cued audibly by those shimmering curtains, perhaps subconsciously, back to those precursor windchimes in Battery Park as a harbinger of the first attack. The visual cues of a Native American on horseback on the Battery Park windmill, a shadowy figure of ancient evil cast across the windmill's sails, the Haitian voodoo ring on the bodyguard's finger, a shaman necklace a derelict trades for some hallucinoginic pills, and the decrepit centerpiece, that of a crumbling, abandoned Christian church, are all somewhat subtle subtext images that enforce underlying belief systems and mystical notions that coincide with the fanciful existence of the centuries-old wolfen in our midst.
What about the wolfen's keen visual senses? Wadleigh shrewdly counterpoints that "dated effect" of the wolfen (as some of you dismissively characterize it) by focusing a spotlight on our limited human visual senses throughout this picture. And again, it's not huge plot points. It's simply subtextual to lend the film more weight. Whether it's Dewey not quite able to see the wolfen at the top of the church stairs, to his not quite seeing them beyond his car hood in the rain, to the derelict's altered point of view stumbling around the Bronx under the influence of drugs, to the need of humans to enhance their visual capabilities with computers (as in the case of the heat color-coded detection device used by Van De Veer's security chief), to finally, the absolute breakdown in human visual acuity...the mystical "vanishing" of the wolfen from everyone's sight in the penthouse at the film's finale.
There are literally a dozen more motifs running in this film. I only have a 1,000 words I can print. But this movie is truly a prime example of what lacks in film-making today. Craft, pure and simple. Care and thought put into each scene, each shot. Other layers of meaning beneath the simple plot line. Give "Wolfen" another look. I guarantee you will see and hear things that weren't apparent to you before. Will it be a better horror flick to you? Probably not. But you will appreciate a time when directors knew what to do with a camera, what to do with images, and how to make audio cues signal subtle, and subconscious, recognition bursts that, when woven together, all gave a film more gravity and impact. Oh, how I wish Wadleigh had directed more movies.
A Fine Madness (1966)
A Fine Waste of Celluloid
Okay, to borrow a few things from the previous commenter's observations, sure, this is an adaptation from a novel, and apparently the main character is an obnoxious lout who happens to be a genius.
Here's where this film fails in just about every department.
Not for a second do we buy that Sean Connery's Samson is a "genius" in any sense of the word. He's a thick-headed brute who hollers anti-establishment rants that really aren't enlightened nor are they particularly radical. The fact is, though, that he hollers a lot. There is no modulation to Connery's performance. No sense of a human being in there. His character is drawn to just be the hunky societal interloper whose mere physicality and scowls suggest a counterpoint to everyday norm. Genius, he is not.
Topping poor Connery in the shouting department is the screeching yowl of Joanne Woodward, whose hapless wife character of Samson, Rhoda, is given all the depth of a punching bag (literally). Connery takes swipes at her head, connecting with her skull in the end, along with throwing every dish in the apartment in her direction. He even shoves her down the staircase resulting in a broken leg, and perhaps, 1960's sentiments saw this as an uproarious moment of hilarity. You know, madcap abuse of the wife is always so mercilessly humorous. Anyway, you get the picture (reference the above reference to "thick-headed brute").
Jean Seberg is absolutely wasted in this performance. She plays the stifled wife of a renowned psychiatrist, Patrick O'Neal, who for some reason, and quite illogically I can only add, winds up having sex with Connery in a whirlpool bath and then dumping him the next time she sees him. There is no logic in having her character even in this film other than to flesh out the above-the-line star wattage on the marquee.
Only Clive Revill, playing a hare-brained psycho-therapist in every sense of the word, cuts loose with the material and lends a Peter-Sellers-like diversion for a total of 3 minutes screen time.
I cannot conceive of any audience, whether in the '60s or today, eliciting anything more than ho-hum chuckle and a wan smile over this pale comedy with absolutely no focus and one of cinema's most ill-conceived one-note main characters.
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars.
Shaggy Dog Sex Comedy Still Retains A Fresh Spin
They don't make rugged, charming actors like Australian Rod Taylor anymore. They certainly don't make rugged, charming actors with a sense of humor like Australian Rod Taylor anymore either. Today's Australian Russell Crowe certainly doesn't hold a candle to Rod's easygoing nature and natural characterizations onscreen. Mr. Taylor was the real deal, a guy who was very comfortable with their persona, with their onscreen presence, an actor who could breathe reality, and not "acting" technique into a main character. A guy who, if he gave off a macho veneer, didn't turn to the camera and practically announce he's a macho stud. He just is, camera or no camera. No effort.
Which brings us to "The Man Who Had Power Over Women." Yes, it's a dated sex comedy. Of course, the fashions and the decor are wonderfully seventies' kitsch. Sure, it has horrible tunes for the "rock" artist sensation whom Taylor's character represents to warble. But the script, the acting, and the presentation is surehanded, and dare I say, more mature than a lot of what passes for introspective sex fares onscreen today.
Taylor is a swaggering representative at a hot record company whose main task at hand is to appease the label's latest rock sensation Barry Black (fabulously played to the obnoxious hilt by Clive Francis). But this is just a backdrop to the main focus of the insightful script by Chris Bryant and Allan Scott (future Nicholas Roeg scribblers and then some!). For Rod is being dumped by his high society wife and facing a mid-life scenario of swimming in the dating pool once again. Problem is, he never left the dating pool while he was married. So, when he falls for his best friend's wife, the matter is given wonderfully adult dialogue, mature nuance, and frank exposition, as Rod discovers who he really is becoming. Carol White as the best friend's wife, James Booth as the best friend, and the always-reliable presence of Alexandra Stewart as the insatiably-sexed single friend of all three, present this bed rotisserie setup with appealing and refreshing honesty that is welcome and now seriously lacking in these politically correct and politically repressed times.
The dialogue is natural, filled with wonderful asides and quickwitted observations. While the story is certainly nothing new, as are the plot developments, it's the acting and the crisp characterizations that give this film its fanciful verve. And paramount to the entire presentation is Taylor's wonderfully assured and mature performance. Watch the two pros, Taylor and Stewart, go back to her houseboat for a little tryst, and you'll be in agreement that there is nothing exploitative or remotely Adrian Lyne-manipulated in this setup. They both behave like the two adults they are, comfortable in what they are about to do, and with no schoolboy leering or director's nervous veering from their matter of fact lust.
For a very quick dip (89 minutes) into a time where plastic cubes represented the hippest of furniture and human interaction wasn't didatically-crafted in anxiously-skittish edits, check out "The Man Who Had Power Over Women." My rating: 2 1/2 stars out of 4.
La cicala (1980)
This Cricket doesn't really chirp until the last 30 minutes
Virna Lisi plays Wilma, a travelling singer, who's known by patrons as much for her sexual techniques as she is for her cabaret vocalizations. Already in her late 40's, she's not faring well on the prostitution path of life when her fortune takes a turn after meeting Clio Goldsmith. Goldsmith is first introduced as a brainless nymphet confessing to a priest that she can't stop "doing" it. Naturally, the viewer's inclination, right at the start of the film, is to brace themselves for another one of those Italian "comedies" where portly, ugly men grope young, beautiful girls, and somewhere in Turin, they're rolling in the aisles with cacophonous laughter.
However, once the story gets underway, far more adult machinations begin to take place. Lisi and Goldsmith encounter Anthony Franciosa, a self-made businessman who owns a roadside gas stop, complete with bed and breakfast and billiards. Quicker than a reel change, Lisi and Franciosa are hitched and are living the fun life running the immense truck stop. Limp quips and leering drivers fill the middle half of the film, but when Lisi's 17-year old daughter appears, things get twisted in a carnal and deadly way before we see it coming. Soon, Lisi is the neglected wife, jealous of her long-lost daughter's assets, which leads to grave results for practically everyone.
Because of this left turn in tone and storytelling, "La Cicala" rises above the humorless romp of '80s Italian comedies and presents us with a far more meatier subject matter. Of course, this somber change in tone doesn't divert the director from incessantly focusing his lens at every curve of Ms. Goldsmith's and Ms. De Rossi's naked bodies with every exploitative moment he can wring from their performance. The direction is obviously rather amateurish, however, the technical crew (photography, lighting, etc.) and acting (particularly old pros Lisi, Franciosa, and good ol' standby Renato) lend this production more gravity and polish than it necessarily deserves.
If you're in the need for a love triangle soap opera, you will find all the necessary ingredients to satisfy your taste in "La Cicala." My rating: ** out of ****.
Caravan to Vaccares (1974)
A few recommendable moments but overall, pass the Nyquil
Charlotte Rampling must have been so bored with her character in this production that she went full tilt the next year after this picture was released into one of cinema's most confusing epics, 1975's "Zardoz," just for the challenge. Well, at least she got a good tan on location in this movie, and photographs here better than in any other film she has starred in. Alas, poor Charlotte appears to be so much smarter than the material she is given in this hamhanded cat-and-mouse yarn, shot entirely in the quaint environs of Provence, France. She smiles alot, and behind that grin she seems to be saying "Please call it a wrap so I can drive over to Marseilles for a wild night on the town."
Dullness doesn't translate to ineptitude however. The production values for this co-British/French effort are as high as those found on the other Alistair MacLean knock-offs of the '70s, like "Puppet on a Chain," "When Eight Bells Toll," and "Fear Is The Key." Like Barry Newman in "Fear Is The Key," actor David Birney gets to show his limited emotional range as the stalwart MacLean hero thrown into the middle of a deadly game of international policies and kidnapping. As a wandering American playboy, disenchanted with the Vietnam War and America, he stumbles into the schemes of the Duc, played with continental charm by the wonderfully droll Michael Lonsdale. Birney is coerced into protecting a Hungarian scientist who holds the secret formula to converting solar energy into economical power in his head. Shadowy hitmen, presumably hired by someone who wants that formula, follow their every move. Birney is occasionally forced to wipe his lackluster smirk from his face and perform some chop-socky moves on the villains.
Unlike the wartime MacLean novels like "Ice Station Zebra," "The Guns of Navarone," and "Where Eagles Dare," "Caravan To Vaccares" falls into the same trap as the majority of Alastair's later books displayed, that of simple chases, one curveball "twist," and a strong-chin, 2-dimensional hero always able to easily thwart the antagonists. The interesting tidbits to this picture come with the villains. Uncharacteristically (at least these days), this film's villains speak French, and yet their dialogue is not subtitled into English. Of course, you have no idea what they're saying if you don't parlez-vous, but in an interesting directorial choice, that's okay. Their actions and intensity translate their motives, and it's that decision to allow their every words to go unsubtitled that I applaud this element of the production. The producers knew their audience was intelligent enough to figure out what would be occurring on screen without spooning out translated dialogue. Thank you!
As for the principals, well, as mentioned, David Birney isn't the most convincing of badasses around. He exuded more testosterone when he got into a tiff with Meredith Baxter on "Bridget Loves Bernie." Charlotte Rampling is given very little to do but play the sexy, compliant companion who lets Birney make all the decisions. Her looks, however, betray this simplitude. She has the presence to suggest she could easily outmaneuver Birney on a speed-chess match. Which leaves us with Michael Lonsdale. Here, he exudes more confidence than his put-upon inspector in "The Day of the Jackal." He has a comfortable, wise delivery, a sly way of sizing up his minions and adversaries, that is a pleasure to watch. It is a shame Bond producers did not use him to the fullest extent when they cast him as super villain Hugo Drax in "Moonraker."
The plot neatly ties up most of its loose ends by the last reel, and you're rendered the satisfaction that David Birney didn't go on to reprise his role in any sequels. However, any movie that climaxes with him being attacked by rodeo clowns isn't all that bad. My rating: ** out of ****.
La chiave (1983)
What do you expect from the guy who brought us "Caligula" and "Salon Kitty?"
A main female character sums up this pile of narrative nonsense at the conclusion of the film saying something like, "I was faithful by being unfaithful." Meaning she was compliant in her husband's wishes for her to link up with their son-in-law so her horny husband could become sexually excited by watching her, thus sparking their marriage alive again. Set against Mussolini's rise to power in 1940s Italy, I suppose auteur Tinto Brass is trying to make some haughty comment on how the Italian populace of the time, repressed by Catholic guilt, succumbed to Il Duce's desire for them to fall faithfully in line with Italian pride and become unfaithful from the moral direction of the Church. Who knows really, because Brass is more concerned with Stefania Sandrelli's derriere than he is about political/spiritual ambivalence.
Alas, Mr. Brass' focus on lead actress Sandrelli's bottom is the only theme you're bound to come away with after viewing an hour and 50 minutes of this soft-core cornfest. British thesp Frank Finlay takes a leap at a starring role by heading south to Italy and being forced to look every bit the dirty old man under the meticulous kink direction by Brass. As the premature, if you will, hubby in this standard menage a trois, he can only last a matter of seconds in the sack with his much younger wife, played by the suitably stunning Sandrelli. It is only when he becomes jealous over his wife's attentions to his son-in-law, played with robot-amateur woodenness by Franco Branciaroli, that Finlay becomes excited enough to maintain another kind of woodenness. By drugging his wife into a fitful slumber and picture-posing her in various open positions for photo-ops, Frank cements our disgusted feeling that we are somehow watching the actual sad home life of the Italian Pinto, Tinto.
While nowhere near as decadent as "Caligula," "La Chiave" has that movie's ability to make you want to take a cleansing shower afterwards to wash its depressing, sleazy drivel off your conscience. Once we learn the designs of Finlay's ho-hum plan, in the first 20 minutes, all we're left with is countless meandering soft-focus shots of Sandrelli and Branciaroli strolling around Venice, fornicating in their hideaway lair, and Finlay foppishly sniffing after her like a pheremone-obsessed hounddog.
The fast-forward button won't help you on this one. You'll be woefully buzzing through a flick that has no worthwhile stopping point. My rating: 0 out of ****.
The Liberation of L.B. Jones (1970)
Starts out hackneyed, but ends with a punch
William Wyler had such a diverse and non-stereotypical career. He painted on a grand canvas with "Ben-Hur," "Funny Girl," and "The Big Country," romped about with fluff on "Roman Holiday" and "How To Steal A Million," and reined in on tight dramas like "Jezebel," "Detective Story," and "The Collector", all to name but a few. "The Liberation of L.B. Jones" was his last film, and its message is still powerful and taut. Here, Wyler reins in very tightly on a drama, placing his camera stock still in three-walled sets and allows the intensity to grow from the individuals coming undone within its frame.
Hollywood was just turning the corner in its presentation of dramatic material around 1970, with the revolutionary "The Graduate," "Bonnie & Clyde", and "Midnight Cowboy" already released, so Wyler's effort appears rooted to an earlier period in its presentation. Elmer Bernstein's music is bombastic and overly showy. The confining studios sets scream of the backlot environment "daring" pictures were then moving away from. And Wyler's static camera technique is a far cry from the fluid shots used by up 'n coming directors Penn, Nichols, Friedkin, and Wexler. But the overall tone and downbeat ending of "Jones" foreshadowed the de rigueur hard-edged storytelling that would make '70s pictures so vibrant.
Taking place in some jerkwater burg in Tennessee, the title character of L.B. Jones (played with dignified austerity by Roscoe Lee Browne) is a wealthy undertaker whose wife (the smoldering hussy embodied by Lola Falana) is practically rubbing his nose in her affair with a local cop. Jones wants to divorce her. The proceedings, if a courtroom action is necessary, would reveal her liaisons with the policeman, played by Anthony Zerbe, and Zerbe truly does not want his own wife to know of his infidelity. Thus, sets in motion the harrassment and tragedy of L.B.'s situation as only a town full of rednecks can perpetrate towards the threat of an intelligent, self-made African-American man.
Lee J. Cobb as the town's D.A. who always finds a way to help out the white folks, at the expense of blacks, walks a fine line of bigotry and self-discovery. It may be L.B.'s "liberation", but it's Cobb's character that will ultimately be put to a test. What's unique about this film is that he fails, miserably. Most movies made in the '80s and '90s about the racial plight of African-Americans, whether it be "Cry Freedom" or "Amistad" always have that knight in shining "white" armor that studios feel are needed to "help" the black man break the bonds of tyranny. The black character is never allowed to just gain freedom, discovery or triumph on the merits of his own strengths. This film has the guts to show L.B. take his "liberation" into his own hands, albeit with tragic results, and damns the white majority who are a long way from compassion and understanding.
The standout performance in the flick comes from Anthony Zerbe. If all you've seen are his scenery chewing in "Omega Man," his digit-dropping in "Papillon" or his head exploding in "License To Kill," check out his fully-fleshed out character of Willie Joe in this film. He embodies centuries of redneckdom in one person, portraying the self-inflated, unrepentent coward sheltered in police corruption so effectively that he masterfully overshadows the performances of everyone else onscreen. Unfortunately, Yaphet Kotto as a vengeful out of town visitor is given very little to do. And Barbara Hershey and Lee Majors barely have enough motivation to fill in their sketchy roles as Cobb's daughter and her altruistic lawyer husband.
If you can stand a little datedness to the narrative (and Elmer Bernstein's horrible score), take a look at this unflinching glimpse at an era of bigotry we thought was eradicated...but it's obviously not. My rating **1/2 out of ****.
Traficantes de pánico (1980)
aka Stuart Whitman sits at a desk pretty much the entire film
Mexico! Panama! Venezuela! Spain! Italy! Those are the countries this international effort was supposedly filmed in. Just knowing that, you probably are ready to sit back and be whisked away on a globe-trotting adventure with all the geographical verve as a Bond vehicle. Think again. If you can discern any identifying landmarks, let alone anything in this movie that you couldn't find on a two-mile stretch of a Boca Raton causeway, then you are quite the seasoned traveller. There's nothing remotely exotic about the locales. Therefore, the decision to film in five countries must have been purely economical. Each time the cast and crew ran out of money, they probably flew to Mexico, then Venezuela, and so on, to find another schmuck to invest in this picture.
With the varied settings of the five above-referenced countries splayed minimally across its background, "Hostages!" (subtitled: "Panic Makers!"...egad!) naturally takes place in Puerto Rico (huh?, go figure). It was produced and jerkily directed by the master of retread, Rene Cardona Jr. While this isn't quite the ripoff of, say, "Tintotera" was of "Jaws," you can still pretty much see discarded outtakes of "Desperate Hours" and "Dog Day Afternoon" stamped all over this picture. What passes for a robbery sequence of a casino tumbles into a "fugitives-on-the-lam" scenario. (The big robbery is shot so confusingly, it wasn't until later when I read the plot synopsis on the Paragon Video box that I discovered three casinos were supposedly being robbed!) In this case, it's not just two or three robbers scurrying out of the fire of the police, it's about a dozen fugitives running away from the cops! To say that we have no clue who is who, and could care less about any of these characters at the film's commencement, is to acknowledge the haze of dumbfoundedness we're first left in. After the majority of the casino thieves are dispatched in gun battles reminiscent of '70s porn "action" moments spoofed in "Boogie Nights," we're left with three desperate guys holed up in a wealthy family's house, holding them Hostage!
The only recognizable thespian in the bunch is the lovely Marisa Mell, 10 or so years off her role in "Danger Diabolik," as the matriarch of the well-to-do brood. She has a look of horror on her face the entire film ("Panic Makers!") which may have been caused more by the jet lag she suffered from needlessly flying to film in all those countries as opposed to the demands of her role. The thugs bark orders at the family members, the cops surround the house, the criminals take the family as hostages to the local airport for their getaway, and Stuart Whitman is finally relieved from his cramped desk setting. As Chief Inspector, he's spends the majority of the film having to sit at that desk saying timber-dry lines like, "Keep after them," and "Tell everybody to hold their fire" into a radio microphone. Were his scenes in the police station environs lensed in Venezuela? Spain? Italy? For all it looks like, Cardona could have just shuttled Whitman to a local All-State insurance office somewhere in the San Fernando Valley and not made Stu-boy leave his LA home longer than a half-day's shoot.
If you're rummaging for a bargain basement, garage sale of an action film, you can't get a better deal than "Hostages!" My rating: * out of ****.
What a horrible spectacular mess!!
In our digital, high-tech world today, just about any chimp with a relatively inexpensive camera has the ability to go out and ape a tale in the vein of directing idols like Tarantino, Scorsese or, hell, Chris Columbus. And thank God most of these efforts are never seen by the majority of a viewing public. But 3 decades ago, one actually had to get a bit of funding to nab a star like James Mason or Jean Seberg. Quite a lot of moolah was needed up front to gather a competent crew and pay for exotic locales. So somebody please tell me what possessed "Superman"-producer Alexander Salkind to fund one dime on this absolutely incompetent, horridly amateurish production?
Since the story centers around the drug trade, one can only assume a lot of this substance crept up at the craft service table. How else can you explain the incoherent directing and Grade Z acting of this international production? In a nutshell, James Mason is a head hitman honcho for a global drug crime fighting unit, headed by the lumbering piece of granite known as actor Curd Jurgens. Mason methodically has shot down some of the world's leading drug kingpins for the safety of us all. Jean Seberg, acting like Ann Heche on a bad day outside Fresno, plays his bored wife who darts off to Pakistan and falls into the arms of the lumbering piece of petrified wood known as actor Stephen Boyd. Boyd is a renegade hitman, having severed his ties with the do-gooder crime unit, and is on a mission to route out a double agent within the organization. Based on this simple description alone, if you haven't figured out who the double agent is going to be, perhaps this movie's 110 minutes will keep you in suspense.
Director Romain Gary's pathetic work on this film renders it not only a bad movie, but unfortunately, one that does not improve with "Mystery Science Theater"-like derisive commentary as you sit and watch it. (I don't know, maybe MST has already tackled a version of this flick). The editing is so needlessly choppy, perhaps Salkind only gave Gary unexposed trims of five seconds to film this lackluster narrative. Supposedly shot in Spain, Tunisia, and Afghanistan, we never really know where the hell we are, because an establishing shot is rare, and relativity of any locale to the plot is even rarer. It just looks like the same dusty trail road being used over and over, and a backroom at a Spanish studio being redressed to look like a hotel suite, a safehouse, etc.
The acting is downright sad. When Stephen Boyd first encounters Seberg, he interrogates her by simply spinning her around and around under some low-level gel lights, causing her to get...a little dizzy? Gary has the actors scream at each other, directly into the lens, and the glazed, wide-eyed hamming they do at the camera makes you want to jump out of the chair and go slap their agent, or their manager, somebody! Boyd, in particular, appears so depressed to be in this car crash of a film. Unshaven and wearing an all-leather outfit, he morosely behaves like Jim Morrison hanging over the balcony on Sunset Boulevard after dropping some bad peyote. On the flipside, James Mason doesn't say much in his early scenes, and I started to think, "thankfully he had the smarts to know to cut his own lines so he won't come off as horrendously as the others." But, oh, no, Jimmy starts barking the dismal dialogue about 20 minutes in, and one only hopes he had a decent guest house on location in Kabul or wherever the hell he was dragged to, to compensate for how bad he comes off in the film.
I cannot effectively describe the ineptitude and lack of talent displayed in this movie. My jaw literally dropped open in stupefaction several times. The only person that comes away from this compost heap of celluloid somewhat unscathed is ace stunt driver Remy Juliene who does what little he can to enliven the halfway mark with a typical (but needless, plotwise) car chase across the Afghani wasteland. The movie's finale reaches a pinnacle of laughability and dumbstruck awe when several individuals engage in a shootout. The whole thing is staged like Monty Python's hilarious tennis bloodbath sketch lampooning Sam Peckinpah films. And a fantasy sequence showing an ascension to heaven and hell has got to be seen to be believed. Conceived by technical advisor "Frank Fantasia", I simply slipped off the sofa convulsing with laughter, along with a sense of horror realizing people actually sat in a screening room somewhere and said, "Oh yeah, Frank, that sums it up. That's great!"
Even a one star rating would not convey how awful this movie is, so my rating: 0 out of ****.
Because of the Cats (1973)
Boys will be boys
Get a bunch of hormonally-stoked, wealthy, presumably-untouchable teen boys together in an iron-clad clique and let the proverbial sex and mayhem fly. Released in 1973, around the time David Hemmings had his hands full with "Unman, Wittering, & Zigo," and James Mason was dealing with "Child's Play," this youth delinquency story centers around a group of six well-to-do, but never-do-well teens who perpetrate rape and extreme vandalism. Bryan Marshall is the put-upon detective in Amsterdam who is assigned the case after a particularly graphic gang rape takes place in his metropolitan jurisdiction. All leads point to a Dutch seaside town and the six lads, who are seen as upstanding youth in the community, as the perpetrators.
The intriguing element about this otherwise slow-moving affair is the realistic bent director Fons Rademakers brings to the proceedings. The gang rape which opens the film has an air of frank reality not seen in many films during the '70s. His technique doesn't excuse the horrifying nature of the moment by using quick-cut editing, or slashing guitars on the soundtrack, or wild lighting and intense close-ups, all of which would be the way most commercial-driven directors of today would handle this sickly scene. We are forced to watch, along with the victim's husband, as she is taken by five of the six members of the gang. The vision of her just watching her husband with disgust is a hard image to shake.
Rademakers introduces naturalistic elements like this throughout. An interrogation scene of the boys' girlfriends by Marshall (which includes the barely-on-screen presence of Sylvia Kristel) is handled with nuance usually reserved for Hollywood A-type dramas. The natural, everyday-life approach to dressing and undressing (Marshall is seen full frontal, as is his prostitute girlfriend, the entrancing Alexandra Stewart)is executed in a manner completely devoid of any awareness of the camera. A Harrison Ford or Ben Affleck will always take care to cover their privates in a "bedroom" scene with a sheet or a back turn just at the right moment, which immediately makes an audience remove themselves from the story, thinking, "oh, that's right, he's a star; he doesn't want his ding-a-ling to show." Here, it's not cinema verite, but it is just natural.
Even though Marshall's not shy about revealing his shortcomings, it can also be noted he isn't shy about showing much range in his acting abilities. Both he and the criminal lads display a woefully limited amount of acting chops. On the other hand, the women in this film emote a more believable and compelling performance.
Unfortunately, the music score is oftentimes obnoxiously introduced. It sounds like the same cue is dropped in at varying points of transition without any thought of its dramatic effect or variance in rhythm or pitch on the scenes. It's quite distracting from any drama being built up on the screen by Rademakers.
Overall, the mystery of the story, which centers around a cult-like devotion amongst the boys, doesn't lend any surprises nor any suspense-filled moments. It's fairly threadbare. But the naturalness of certain scenes mentioned before, make it a step above the usual Euro-low-budget fare of the '70s. It's a naturalness like fellow Dutchman Verhoven exhibited in "Turkish Delight" and "Keetje Tippel", but without his over-the-top shock values. My rating ** out of ****.
Baton Rouge (1988)
Smoldering looks do not make a competent film noir
Antonio Banderas was young then (mid-1980s) and he was just perfecting his smoldering STARE. He's groping breasts. He's jamming fingers in women's mouths. He's sticking other things in other places. He's the swaggering Latin star that set Madonna's and Melanie Griffith's hearts a thumpin'. But there's nothing in this movie that suggests his character is anything but surface (albeit, a constantly fornicating surface). There's hardly a character that remotely resembles a human being here. The three main characters that dance about undressed with plots and doublecrosses in their heads are there to just serve a storyline. They are not believable people.
The butch Carmen Maura is a puppy dog rich woman who hooks Banderas at a service station and never lets go. Victoria Abril as the pseudo-psychologist who helps Maura with her rape-filled nightmares is as convincing as CarrotTop acting as Napoleon. This is the kind of film where plot motivations seemingly come out of nowhere, yet the characters seem to find it perfectly natural to suddenly scheme to kill another person. There is no breath or logical unfolding to scenes, therefore, the whole piece feels contrived. What twists do occur can be seen for miles, for days, for light-years away.
The title is derived from Banderas' mute brother's (who's been silent since his mom died - why? - we're never told) desire to take a trip from South America (the film's locale) to the famed city in Louisiana. Why does the mute kid want to go there? Your guess is as good as any. It's another one of those cute "foreign" kind of things typical of international films that are there for atmosphere and not much sense. There's no sense in your visiting this Baton Rouge anytime soon. My rating * out of ****.
A relatively hot-boiled suspenser
Sure, you've seen this all before, but this Aussie "let's-get-rid-of-the-hubbie-and-run-off-together" tale has a feeling of depth and emotion not usually found in similar late night cable trash.
Bill Hunter is the head police honcho of a scruffy outback burg. After solely busting up a drug deal, he finds himself in the possession of a lot of cash. Life will be fantastic for the underpaid, underappreciated officer! That is, until the sweaty, paunchy cop heads home to find his younger, slimmer wife doing more than a waltzing matilda on the town's local stud. When a struggle ensues, Hunter is shot and presumed dead. The adulterous wife and her honey dispose of his body. Will they find his incredible stash of drug money? Is Hunter truly dead? Will a nosy deputy make sure everyone gets their comeuppance?
The heated locale and single-minded determination of one of the characters plays like an involving Jim Thompson novel and has a great deal of tone comparisons to the Tavernier adaptation "Coup de Torchon." Hunter, who, along with fellow Aussie actor Jack Thompson, seemed to pop up in practically all of the films released from Down Under in the '80s, lends his role a sympathetic, assured performance. Mary Regan, as his unfaithful wife, deftly conveys a livewire bundle of nerves, acting on instinct and fear. And Jim Holt, as the squirrelly deputy, has an off-kilter demeanor that perfectly disguises his threat.
Even though this ran under 90 minutes, the film feels fleshed-out enough to economically and effectively unfurl its story. Any longer and it would not be as worthwhile a viewing as it stands. My rating **1/2 out of ****.
Serviceable caper for a rainy afternoon
If you enjoy your heist pictures with an excess of fluff and an absence of moral dilemmas, this mid-60's romp is the perfect pillow propper for the weekend.
Stephen Boyd is a handsome, stoic thief who's inevitably drawn back into a life of crime by a former tantalizing flame. Together with her weasly playboy sweetheart, on the run from a pair of Turkish hitmen (one being played by 'Live and Let Die's' down-home sheriff, Clifton James) Boyd's former gal pal and her friend mandate he enlist a team of crack heist men to break into a bank vault in Pamplona.
Did someone say the 'running of the bulls would be a fantastic diversionary tactic?' Well, if you did, then you too can be a heist caper writer! Between the noise of the bulls and the musical gala of the town's festival, our boys figure they'll be well-concealed in their quest to obtain Spain's finest jewels that are supposedly being held in the bank that week. But, of course, there's always complications...
Harold Stine's enriching colors bring this confection a glossy '60s cinematic sheen, and as always, Vic Mizzy has both melodic and comedic elements in his wonderful score.
After "Ben-Hur," Boyd rarely found much of a chance to exude depth in his characters, and this popcorn-light characterization does not allow him much elbow room to emote. Still, he's a commanding enough protagonist to keep our interest. The kittenish Yvette Mimieux is all blonde hair and smiles as his (seemingly) unsuspecting girlfriend. Although she receives second billing, the lovely Ms. Mimieux is only on-screen for less than a third of the picture.
With a wonderful shot of the Rock of Gibraltar and intimate locales around Pamplona, the scenery plays like a nostalgic postcard your folks might have sent you while on vacation to Europe in an earlier era. The inevitable heist twist, a la "Rififi," "The Hot Rock," on up to 2001's "The Score," take place here, yet the ending can easily be discerned. However, if all you seek is an easy-to-digest caper, sans humor and complex ingenuity, by all means, swipe this bull from your neighborhood rental shelf. My rating ** out of ****.