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Brilliant; without a shadow of a doubt the best episode of the show so far
After feeling on the verge of even quitting this show at some points , with number after number after number of the week, here comes an episode that is on a whole other level; it leaves you with the same feelings of exhilaration and anticipation that the best episodes of "Lost" did. It is hilarious (the Fusco segments), tense, and shocking, with at least two, maybe three double whammies of plot twists and turns. The flashback kiss between Reese and Kara explodes with erotic energy; I think I want to be killed by Kara. My only reservation has to do with Finch's once-again ludicrously overpowered hacking skills, but at least in this episode he has a worthy adversary who sees through most of his tricks. Hopefully this one will function as a turning point for the series as a whole. ***1/2 out of 4.
La dentellière (1977)
Navel gazing - with your eyes closed
Within the first few minutes of watching this dismal, dull, uneventful film I recalled one of my favorite Roger Ebert reviews (it was for "Hell Night", 1981), where he quotes one of his friends saying "If nothing has happened by the end of the first reel....nothing is going to happen right through to the end". The rule is confirmed yet again in "La dentellière", where one directionless, shapeless, purposeless scene follows another, until the film dies its own sad little death. Isabelle Huppert's fine performance (and beautiful youthful face & frequently nude body) are its only value. 0.5 out of 4 stars.
Le prix du danger (1983)
The French "Running Man"....except it came earlier and it is faster, funnier, smarter
This unjustly forgotten film combines sharp social satire, very black comedy, and some terrific action footage; it's a lot like a French version of Arnie's "The Running Man" - an earlier, better version. Michel Piccoli has a ball with an atypical (for him) comedic role that allows him to explore his showmanship and parody that mix of charisma and vacuity that characterizes most TV-show presenters. Will what this movie portrays as a fictional scenario (a TV game show where people get hunted and killed for real, with their own consent, for a huge money prize) ever happen in reality? I firmly believe that the question is not "if" but "when". *** out of 4.
Person of Interest: Til Death (2012)
Person of Interest's Valentine's Day episode
OK, the Fusco-Rhonda and Harold-Grace (in flashbacks) dating scenes are kind of sweet. However the main plot is the corniest of the show so far. More often unintentionally than intentionally funny, especially when we're meant to believe that each spouse tried to "call off" the hit contract but couldn't, when we had earlier seen the husband tell his hitman "I thought you'd take care of this" and the wife text to her sniper "Now!". The series is completely stagnant at this point - the same things are happening in every episode. Kind of makes you glad 23-episode TV seasons are largely a thing of the past. ** out of 4.
Max et les ferrailleurs (1971)
Unusual, intelligent cops-and-robbers story
Very original premise for a crime movie: detective Michel Piccoli hatches a plan to induce a small-time gang of scrap merchants to commit a bank robbery so that he will be able to arrest them on the spot and divert attention away from his other professional failures. The film is impeccably made, but might seem a little too tepid to those grown up on a diet of flashier American and British action movies (just compare this one to the same year's "Dirty Harry" or "Get Carter"). Romy Schneider is arguably miscast (too classy to be a prostitute), but she makes it work, and is at her most voluptuous here. **1/2 out of 4.
Un coeur en hiver (1992)
Exquisite tone poem
This finely tuned drama about a love triangle that never really begins has a slender story, but also well-observed character studies and beautiful performances (including an underrated one by the witty, approachable Elizabeth Bourgine). It's perfection on a minor scale. **1/2 out of 4.
Cold, clinical, completely lifeless (no pun intended)
Ever wonder why they don't make too many movies about accountants, investors and business-deal negotiators? Because the only thing more boring than their lives, is watching their lives on the screen. Nina Hoss has a magnificent, mesmerizing face, but that alone is not enough to sustain your interest throughout this thrill-less "thriller"; supposed "twist ending" (already spoiled by most professional reviewers!) only succeeds at rendering the film even more pointless, and actually turned my rating from *1/2 to * out of 4.
Pretty good clinic-set mystery, if a little on the longish side
Apparently this one is based on the Miss Marple story "A Caribbean Mystery ", though you probably wouldn't recognize it if nobody told you so. It still offers a sufficient amount of suspects and red herrings to keep you guessing. The "Laurence and Marlène mistakenly think Alice is dying" subplot eats up too much screen time, but does get wrapped up with a funny ending. **1/2 out of 4.
Desiderando Giulia (1986)
4 & 3/4 Weeks
Zero plot and very little heat in this empty, boring soft-core. Serena Grandi has an amazing body and a beautiful face, but the male lead is a petulant bore; it's no wonder that her best erotic partner is a pole! In short, Serena Grandi....Yum, the movie....Blech. * out of 4.
The Titan Games (2019)
Big, loud, hugely entertaining, if also a little headache-inducing
"Titan Games" is a lot like an update of "Gladiators", and it's equally entertaining, though with all the cheering crowds, the flashing lights, the slow-motion replays and the pop songs, it may also give you the occasional headache. This show features the strongest, sexiest women on TV (athletically superior to the WWE wrestlers). Personally I found the changes in the format of the 2nd season unnecessary and unfair to the contestants who entered the game early (as they had to win a lot more challenges for a shot at the championships), but the 2nd season also gave us a phenomenal female winner - so phenomenal, in fact, that there isn't much suspense in the final episode because it is abundantly clear that one woman is in a whole different league compared to the rest. As for the men....well it's certainly fun to see a schoolteacher beat a UFC champion! My favorite challenges are Lunar Impact, Launch Pad and, of course, Mount Olympus. The Rock is a charismatic host. Obviously the show was cancelled by COVID (there is no point in making it without a crowd), but it might return and in that case I'll be watching. 7.5 out of 10 stars.
Near the bottom of the barrel
"Thor the Mighty" offers two muscle gods for the price of one....but that price is a very cheap, very boring potboiler (nearly all the action takes place inside some caves). Twelve-pack-abs Joe Robinson looks like he might defeat even Steve Reeves in a fight; massively built Harry Baird could have been the first black action hero on the screen, and in some ways he was, but he is largely relegated to the role of the comic-relief sidekick here. The most pleasant surprise of the film comes when the blonde heroine (Thea Fleming) takes charge with her sword at the end. * out of 4.
Life Itself (2014)
Intimate, unflinching portrait of the influential film critic
I count myself as a lifelong (well, ever since I discovered him, anyway) fan of Roger Ebert; his reviews, along with those of Leonard Maltin and Pauline Kael, shaped about 90% of my concept of what film criticism should be: above all else, something that a) tells you enough to judge if you're gonna like a movie regardless of whether the author of the review likes it or not, and b) something that is worth reading (and re-reading) for itself, for its own value as a piece of writing, no matter if you agree with it or not. This documentary has many choice moments (like filmmaker Errol Morris suggesting that he probably wouldn't have a career if Siskel and Ebert hadn't promoted his early effort, "Gates Of Heaven", against all odds), but I felt the quantity of focus on Ebert's health condition, although Ebert himself demanded it, bordered on the uncomfortably voyeuristic at times. It's a sad yet still hopeful movie, because, after all, Ebert will live forever: with his thousands of reviews covering several decades of film production, plus his "Great Movies" retrospectives and other tributes, there will always be something new by him to be discovered, studied and argued for or against. As he himself said, he is still seeing us all at the movies. *** out of 4.
Well-done documentary that leaves you wanting more
As a long-time fan of Pauline Kael (I still read her capsule reviews daily - if you can find an old Cinemania CD-Rom, they're highly, highly recommended, they also contain Leonard Maltin and Roger Ebert reviews, and really after those three you don't need anyone else), I found this documentary entertaining, if somewhat superficial; well-selected clips and images from over a hundred movies enhance it and prevent it from being a "talking heads" affair, but it could have focused more on Kael's actual writings, i.e. the actual text of her reviews, to show us more clearly what the fuss was all about. We do get some of that ("Limelight", "Sound of Music", "Bonnie & Clyde", etc.) but I was left wanting more. I would also appreciate a little more emphasis on the more obscure films and filmmakers she championed, rather than her well-known favorites Brian De Palma and Robert Altman. Still, the film is worth at least one viewing by any Pauline Kael addict. *** out of 4.
WWE: Royal Rumble (2021)
Entertaining if thorougly predictable....until the genuinely shocking ending
The first two matches, Drew McIntyre vs. Goldberg and Sasha Banks vs. Carmella, are quick and predictable, but fine for what they are (appetizers). The women's rumble is typically entertaining (Billie Kay is hilarious), if very predictable in its winner and hardly memorable. Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens Last Man Standing is....again....utterly predictable but it does offer some "Whoa!" and "Holy S..t" moments. The men's rumble bucks the trend of the night with a winner who personally (having read no spoilers beforehand whatsoever) left me with my mouth hanging open: I was certain they were going for the "sentimental favorite" (Daniel Bryan) angle, but even when there were only four superstars left in the match, I still didn't believe it could be him . Overall a good show....though with a nearly 4-hour running time you may have to break it down to two separate sittings.
Silver Blaze (1937)
Last and least of the Wontner Holmes films
Hopelessly muddled (I still don't know who committed the second murder, nor do I care), plodding and crudely made, with a terrible soundtrack; this one is only for diehard Sherlock Holmes addicts. Arthur Wontner was an enjoyable Holmes, but all his (surviving) films suffer from low budgets and faulty prints. ** out of 4.
Person of Interest: Wolf and Cub (2012)
The case-of-the-week is basic and uninteresting (kid witnesses gangland murder, killers go after kid....have you ever heard that one before?), and the background "machine" story does not advance one step, in fact it regresses since the son of Finch's business partner goes back home without learning a single thing. And what happened to those CIA guys looking for Reese? I mean, Carter is taking phone calls from Reese inside the police station now, it's not like she's trying to cover up her tracks anymore. The only thing you'll miss if you skip this episode is Fusco getting shot in the butt. There, I told you. ** out of 4,
Innovative Sherlock Holmes mystery, though you have to watch the whole movie to understand why
For at least two thirds of the way, this film plays more like a turkey than a triumph; the direction is static and there are incredibly long flashbacks where the narrator does not even appear in most of the events she is recounting, while Sherlock Holmes becomes a guest star in his own movie. But, in the last third, the film regains its footing with a couple of smart twists which prove that all those flashbacks served a purpose after all. Not to say much more, so that I won't spoil it for you, but this mystery uses a narrative technique that is most unusual for its time and didn't enter the "mainstream" for at least 15 more years, when a much more famous director employed it. Arthur Wontner is a very pleasurable Holmes, but like his other films, the print itself is pretty poor. **1/2 out of 4.
The Speckled Band (1931)
The longest 50 minutes of your life
Dreadful movie, or just a dreadful print? You be the judge. Certainly the picture is close to unwatchable, the sound is even closer to unlistenable, the 50-minute surviving footage seems hacked with a buzzsaw, and I'm sure we would all like to see a full and remastered version some day, but you can still see that Raymond Massey is miscast as Sherlock Holmes, Athole Stewart is indifferent as Doctor Watson, and Angela Baddeley is shrill as the damsel-in-distress. I'll refrain from commenting on the direction under these circumstances, though at least some of those superimpositions are an ambitious technique for the time - if the only one evident. *1/2 out of 4.
More of an action / crime pic than a mystery
Arthur Wontner's second Sherlock Holmes effort sees a noticeable production upgrade in comparison to the first, made only one year earlier: there are exterior shots, crowd scenes, and at the climax a boat chase (!), fistfights and shootings. Granted, most of the action is crude, sped-up and murky, but it's still an advancement over "The Sleeping Cardinal"'s boxed-in style; the villains are more sinister here too, compared to how Moriarty was portrayed in the first film. Wontner is even better as Sherlock Holmes in his second go-round; he has grown into the role. Doctor Watson has been re-cast and re-profiled to more fit the mold of the romantic, two-fisted hero. Worth noting: Holmes does not appear in his "greatest case" until the first third of the movie is over! **1/2 out of 4.
The Sleeping Cardinal (1931)
Unthrilling but still somewhat interesting
This archaic attempt to bring Sherlock Holmes to the cinema screen is painfully slow-moving and will be hard-going for all but the most dedicated early-talkie buffs, but Arthur Wontner and Ian Fleming (no relation) are agreeable as Holmes and Watson, respectively. The best scene of the film involves a talking painting! ** out of 4.
They Might Be Giants (1971)
One-joke "high concept" comedy wears thin after a while, but remains mildly engaging throughout thanks to George C. Scott's multilayered (both lucid and delusional) performance and Joanne Woodward's appealing turn. Despite all the name-dropping, it is not so much a Sherlock Holmes parody or homage (there is hardly any deduction) as it is a romantic comedy and a celebration of the liberating potential of fantasy. **1/2 out of 4.
Sh! The Octopus (1937)
One of the most peculiar comedies of the 1930s
A mad scramble of haunted (light)house, mad scientist, monster movie, and buddy-cop story elements; usually I hate this type of ending, but in this case it might have been the only one that makes some sense. The film's stage origins are all-too-obvious, but there is an impressively well-done "transformation" scene. Hugh Herbert and Allen Jenkins, in rare leading roles, have some terrific moments together; still, you can sort of see why they connected more with the public in supporting parts. ** out of 4.
The 4th part of the German "Schoolgirl Report" series has abandoned nearly all pretenses of being a "documentary" (there are no interviews with random passers-by, for example), and it has lost any feeling of innocence as well; it's just crass sexploitation. There is no story; the sketches alternate between the unfunny (the Italian guy who says "Mamma Mia" and "Amore" a lot) and the tasteless (the gang-rape of a black girl). * out of 4.
Riveting little tale
First of all, the Alfred Hitchcock introduction for this one is hilarious! It actually reminded me of something Monty Python would do in their "Flying Circus", 15+ years later. Sir Alfred was truly ahead of his time. The tale itself is pretty riveting, with a predictable yet still effective (particularly for how "far" it goes) ending. Terrific performances by Gene Barry and - especially - Nancy Gates. *** out of 4.
Person of Interest: Judgement (2011)
Cartoonish action filler
Reese and Finch take down a powerful, well-connected Eastern European criminal organization in two days. We also learn that Reese is impervious to bullets: he is protected by an invisble shield, even when he is shot at by four men, but in the rare case that a bullet smashes through it and hits him, no medical treatment is necessary; a simple patch will do. He hasn't acquired the ability to fly yet, which is where Superman still has the edge on him, however I'm sure that Finch will hack into a super-secret government program that will allow Reese to fix this minor issue. ** out of 4.