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Leatherface (2017)
Waste of fake blood
6 March 2018
Complete disappointment from the directors of the outlaw masterpiece called "Inside." Almost incoherent, psychologically preposterous, and dramatically inept, it has none of the lunatic intensity of "Inside." The two Frenchman may not have understood the script and they bring no observable nuance to American setting and dialogue. Great effects, wasted cast of known talent, but a travesty. Best thing you can say is that Bulgario turns in a great performance as Texas.
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Overrated dreck
22 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Certainly one of, if not THE, most overrated film on IMDb, it's so far from being "the best gangster movie ever made" and "an undiscovered gem," it leaves me uncertain whether to laugh or puke. Basically what it is is a Bad Acting Olympics, in which two puerile hams chew scenery, props, costumes and would have finished the camera if left to their own ways. I refer to Gary Oldman, who clearly knows better, and the god-awful Sean Penn, who clearly doesn't. Penn blubbers and weeps and shrieks and curses his way through an overly-convoluted plot whose subplots keep canceling each other out, as (SPOILER) an undercover cop trying to get into an Irish mob comprised mainly of his old friends. Scorsese covered much the same in "The Departed," which was infinitely better than this twaddle. If Penn isn't moping or weeping or shouting, Oldman is (whoever put THEM in the same movie?) while now and then Robin Wright goes all Joan Crawford as well. Only Ed Harris emerges with dignity intact. Terrible phony gunfight at end comes from nowhere, director has no idea what he's doing, cop subplot simply trickles out. People who praise this belong in a special room in hell with admirers of "Patch Adams" and "Scent of a Woman."
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Crimson Peak (2015)
Red in couth and paw
17 October 2015
Coolest chick knife-fight flick ever made. Well, all right, (SPOILER) shovel vs. cleaver. No one can accuse me of not paying attention.

Anyhow, superb film craft in service to an undernourished narrative. Film students will love parsing the allusions to other films (particularly Hammer and Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons) but it hasn't the magic of Pan's Labyrinth. In fact, it can be argued that Del Toro has regressed since that magnificent merge of truth, myth and drama. This one is sort of Edith Wharton or Henry James with special effects by Tom Savini--not that that's a bad thing, now. Mia is a wan rich gal swept up by an Englishman and hauled off to his spooky place on the moors where things go creak and crack in the night. Besides the Baronet, there's his obviously psycho sister whom nobody seems to notice is completely wacko. Great atmosphere, laughable plot (and laughably unsurprising) but, as I say, a cool chick blade-fest at the end
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Juggernaut (1974)
14 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Richard Lester's "Juggernaut" appears to finally getting the respect it deserves as a superbly human suspense film. Plot: seven bombs are placed aboard ocean liner. High seas prevent lifeboat evacuation. Royal Navy bomb disposal team is airdropped to defuse devilishly clever bombs or everybody goes down with the ship. So ignore the copy line "The Greatest Sea Adventure Ever filmed" (it's not even a "sea adventure," it's a "bomb disposal adventure" and hello, it may be "the greatest bomb disposal movie ever filmed.") Superb performances by the best actors in GB, with Lester's gift for finding human moments amid all the tension--lost kids, scared clowns, heroic Indian stewards, humane policemen, witty upper class faded beauties plus the requisite alpha studs dealing with a terrible situation, all of it original. Note also how the red-blue theme is woven throughout the production (first image: red, blue streamers entangled as ship departs and the film comes down to a RN bomb disposal expert's choice between life and death when he must decide to cut a red or blue wire.) Lester constricts his own famous "style," the free-wheeling, goofily improvisational aspects of his Beatles films, and keeps the plot tight, the suspense high, the human vignettes touching, and the look and feel of the film entirely fresh. Thanks to Kino-Lorber for rescuing this superb film from the memory hole; it belongs with a few other diamond-perfect thrillers like "Charlie Varrick" and "The Third Man."
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Maleficent (2014)
Intellectual pablum
7 November 2014
Superb technical craft manages to disguise for about an hour the utter banality and PC drivel of this feminist agitprop version of Sleeping Beauty. It's particularly disappointing because the cover art shows a horned Angelina Jolie looking like Faye Dunaway on steroids, and Jolie does give a camp romp a la Dunaway or any of several other screen divas of malfeasance. But the feminist screenwriter can never make any sense of the story in any save political terms--male patriarchy bad, except for a prince who looks like a eunuch--while Maleficent, horns and all, comes out, I suppose, for female empowerment. Lots of bad decisions--besides using this script--occlude the thing as well. I think it was a bad idea to have Maleficent actually engage in combat with the forces of maledom, like a Superhero. It just looks goofy. The story is rewired grotesquely to accommodate the correct point of view with King Stefan (SPOLER) emerging for no reason except that thing between his legs, as the villain. Also gone are the core elements that make the story so endearing--the 100 year curse, the swarming thorn forest that hides the castle until Prince Charming hacks through it, and Maleficient's metamorphosis into a dragon. There is a dragon, but now he's a good dragon, that is, a contributor to NOW with an autographed pic of Bela Abzug on his wall, like the movie surrounding him, a need to vandalize the classics for this year's fashions. In fact so ridiculous is this one that Sleeping Veauty is only asleep for about 46 seconds!
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Fury (2014)
The theory and practice of war
17 October 2014
The annoyance of this picture is the stupidity of some of the criticism. A Brit moron has already complained it doesn't show any Brits. Hello, chauvinist assclown, how many Brits were there in the Second Armored Division? As many as there were Yanks in the Battle of Britain. What utter stupidity. As for the film itself it's probably one of the best evocations ever of the squalor, waste, horror,filth, fear and general nastiness of war. An American Sherman , Second Armored Division style, rolls across Germany. The war's almost over, but people still die in the hideous hundreds every day and missions are only accomplished in blood expenditure. The central image, almost a lietmotif, is a closeup of a trank tread crushing through anything in its path. That's war: huge, brutal, sloppy, unfeeling, destructive. A crew calls their vehicle FURY and goes about business with weary, frightened but determined professionalism. The new guy is too tender for this rough treatment, but he learns. The Sergeant treats him with tough love. Meanwhile, everywhere, people keep getting blown up or set on fire. The lucky ones get a shot in the head. Real tanks are used, so the sense of them has hulking tractors of war is intense, and the movie creates combat more pursuasively than anything since "Private Ryan." (But wait? Where were the Brits on Omaha beach! Why it's a crime Spielberg didn't show them!) Some reviewers, with great talent for missing the argument, say all the guys are stereotypes, but that's the point, not the mistake: war grinds you to your elemental self. You cease to be who you were and become this new animal, tired, scared and, as the greatest generation happily proved, willing to serve and die despite the misery of the ordeal.
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Stands up well
8 October 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this 59 years ago and some of its images have remained buried in my unconscious, coming out at odd moments over the six tweener decades. Thus, when it hit DVD I had to check it out again. Yes, Flynn is 46 and looks like he just got stung by a jelly fish, and yes, when the swords and lances come out, the visor goes down so a real stud can do the man work, but it's a completely enjoyable romp. Unlike the Warner Bros costume pix, this one was filmed in real castles which add immeasurably to its interest; the English countryside, green and sunlit, also helps, as do first-class costumes, lots of horses and a stout cast of English yeoman actors playing English yeomen. Everyone's a pro and while Flynn hasn't the sparkle and elan of his younger days, he's a solid lad around which to build a medieval oater, even if Alan Hale had been dead five years when this one was before camera. Good music, good (but not great) fight choreography and toward the end a cast of at least a hundred make it a rouser. Plot is piffle, and it asks us to sympathize with English occupiers over French homeboys which isn't easy to do, but Peter Finch, mad as hell and not going to take it any more, makes a convincing Dastardly Villain. I've remembered him (SPOILER) getting a battle ax in the chest off a Flynn right hand pitch for 59 years, just as I've remembered the all the King's knights cheering at the end after they drove the Frenchies off. A nice revisit. One oddity: It was released in US as "The Warriors," which is certainly how it's known, to the extent that it's known at all. So why file it, Dr. IMDb, under the name "The Dark Avenger," since, btw, there's no avenging done anywhere in it, and it's so sunny and costume-crazed there's no dark here either.
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Cry Danger (1951)
Great old noir
16 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Been waiting a year to get this one after I saw a preview on TCM; it's finally been released on DVD in a beautiful restoration. Best thing: LA back when it was a wooden town, with a lot of balconied buildings with stairways running this way and that out of them. Great B-W cinematography beautifully brought back to life, with crisp focus, scenes that are naturalistic in content but stylized in angle, superb night lighting, and, of course, fabulous hats and smoking. The performances are first rate too, with Powell's whip-fast smart guy comebacks and, of course, here they are, Rhonda Fleming. (Something about the lingerie of the '50s turned the gal's boobs into nosecones under those ultra tight sweaters.) Plot is good, not great: Powell, after five years in slammer for crime he didn't commit, goes on a hunt for the real criminals and a missing 100K. He's assisted by a drunken, one-legged marine hero, his imprisoned buddy's wife (La Fleming) while being tailed by a hardnose cop named Gus. Bad guy is William Cannon behind a dippy mustache. Some pretty tough violence, but one oddity: no money scene. SPOILER Bogart confronted his femme fatales memorably in both MALTESE F. and DEAD RECKONING. Yet the final face-off between Powell and Fleming never occurs; he walks out of the picture and it's over, implying her arrest. No, no, no: We've got to SEE the look on her face when she realizes Rocky saw through her I-love-you act. Better still, she should pull a gat on him and eat hot lead from his righteous .45. But this one just goes wan and tepid when it should be hot and hard.
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Not quite to the heights of the first year
23 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Just finished Episode 10 of "Vegeance" with a degree of sadness. So much guilty pleasure now gone. Nothing like homo-erotic tits'n'ass softporn mixed with vats of fake blood, hacked limbs, ingenious death strokes (the guy who got his face chopped off: outfrickingstanding!) and more conspiracy than November 22, 1963. But, as I feared, all of my favorite characters died. (SPOILER) That's because I find the evil Romans far more interesting than the virtuous slaves. "Vengeance," like "Arena" before it, was jammed with villains I loved to hate and nominal heroes I hated to love; the ignoble Romans had a variety of character flaws with saving attributes-- their motives were base but believable, their actions debauched but presented without hypocrisy, their manipulations far more creative, their energy levels far more sustained than the competition on the other side of the line. Spartacus, now played by Liam McIntyre, has become a pompous bore, speechifying at a moment's notice about all the words that came through the rain in shouts to Lt. Henry in "Farewell to Arms," while Crixus is a baby, Doctore doesn't have much to do and Gannicus is far too pretty and shallow. And, yes, the slow-mo eruptions of corn-syrup plasma do become tiring. More importantly, how will the series survive without (SPOILERS) Glabus and Ashur the Syrian, much less Lucretia (it does look like Ilytheia has survived, and perhaps she'll arrive in "War of the Damned" as Crassus's new mistress; and speaking of Crassus, whoever plays him in "Damned" better have some chops. I could see John Hannah, in modest disguise, for he had the snivelly cunning necessary, and it would be a help, as this year certainly missed his diabolical energy.) Still, with great episodes in three and four and the sudden, bloody demise of simpering Seppia lighting up nine, it offered enough pleasure to get a little more than by. I thought the vine gag to get the boys off Vesuvias was thin, and Glabus vs. Spartacus not much in sword choreography and the flying fireball machines a little too convenient as force multipliers The whole ending was thin, except for Lucretia's death dive, an unexpected moment exactly appropriate revelatory magnificence. I will indeed pony up for "Damned," in hopes that DeKnight can regain the tragic yet epic grace of the original. But Doctore DeKnight, get us a Crassus equal to Olivier's; what about . . . Christian Bale?
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5 August 2012
I can't add much to what's been said, only that it seems to me it's Astaire's best comic acting role and that Rita is adorable, magnificent, talented, and beyond compare. When they dance, it's magic. What did strike me as curious was the fact that the film was set in Argentina for no apparent reason, and its version of "Argentina" seems to be any wealthy American suburb in America, New Canaan possibly, or maybe Kenilworth or Chevy Chase? It's as "Argentinian" as your aunt's patootie, whatever that means. Was it a response to FDR's "Good Neighbor" policy back in '42 perhaps? Or perhaps the South American stylings, as mild as they were, were to justify Xavier Cougat's presence in the pic, although he's characterized as "coming down from New York". His Latin-themed orchestrations are the only verifiably "hispanic" touch. Very strange. The Acunas are a wealthy family who speak perfect upper-class yankee patois and only show the remotest familiarity with hispanic culture. Mr. Acuna's secretary is one of those flitty, maybe gay fussbudgets always breaking down into hysterics or bumping into the furniture. Nobody speaks Spanish, nobody tries an accent, and nothing in the design or culture of the picture suggest Buenos Aires. Seen today, it seems quite odd, maybe even crazily charming in an anthropological sort of way.
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thin but pungent noir
30 July 2012
Thin, ultimately silly film is given unearned heft by virtue of Jack Draper's cinematography which turns ancient Mexican ruins into the nightmare city of classic noir, the wet streets and shadowy alleys that are the essence of the genre. Glenn Ford is sour and surly as an American insurance man who travels the tropics with a full wardrobe of tweed suits (maybe that's why he's so grim). Down on his luck in a vividly evoked pre-Castro Cuba, he signs on to smuggle a certain antiquity BACK into the Mexico from whence it came for reaasons that never make much sense. Soon there are three or four factions vying for whatever he has taped under his left nipple: a sleazy archaeologist (Sean McClory), an American hot thang with plasticene-brassiere breasts that jut like nose cones (Dianna Lynne), a sultry hispanic gal (Patricia Medina), and finally some kind of Mexican expert and his thug son. There's too much fist fighting over a gun--Glenn and Sean duke it out about four times over Sean's Colt Detective Special--and the whole thing never makes much sense. But damn, it looks GREAT! Don't know who this Draper guy is--he seems mostly to have worked in Mexico--but his deep focus photography really brings the location to menacing, palpable life. The best passage follows as Ford evokes the ruins and what they mean to dim, pointy-titted Lynne, and it's pre-PC so he's able to make vivid the human sacrifice that blasphemed the place and thus give it a vibration of tragedy and death otherwise unearned in the movie. The other delight is McClory's debauched archaeologist, under a blonde crewcut and some heavy tortoise-shell specs. He's very vivid and far more charismatic than the dreary, mumbly Ford The movie really looses it in its climax, and ends in a silly shootout and fistfight in a backlot Hollywood set that wastes all the good will it had built up with the location work; suddenly, it looks like early TV and in a sense it has become early TV.
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Watch for the Hal of it
28 July 2012
The flimsy book doesn't help a bit, and Mr. Abbott's inability to translate the stylizations of Broadway to the more naturalistic world of the film pretty much doom this one to pure anthropological significance. Yes, it's the first Lucy-Desi project, even if they have no scenes together and were reportedly unimpressed with each other during the making. So do not look for that Desilu magic, as it was still 10 years in the future. The movie crams together too many genre conventions for its own good: college football pic, zany mix-up, stiff leading man (Richard Carlson!), lost gal drama, fish outta water, south of zee border and worse, it features the dull Francis Langford as chief songbird of lyrics at the edges of the putrid. The dance numbers look like rehearsals for the invasion of Normandy--masses if unskilled, badly co-ordinated extras in clumsy formation-- and for some reason unbilled chorus boy Van Johnson, who can't dance a lick, is in the front row of every single crowd shot. But there are two saving graces. The first is the very young Ann Miller, also 10 years before her glory days at MGM, as Pepe, a racist caricature to be sure but one that can dance. In dark make-up as per cliché, Miller fricassees up a storm, giving a preview of the gifts she was to bring to the Freed unit.. And she's only the second best dancer in the picture! The best is Hal La Roy, and this is his only starring role in a major picture (he is featured in some Vitaphone WB musical shorts, such as "Jitterbut No. 1" but no other movies.) Lord what a talent, and what a crime he never got to do more. Like Gene Nelson of a subsequent generation, he just never got the break his talent warranted. So watch, enjoy and conjure what might have been when he does his loose-legged, spurred solo atop someone's idea of Mexican fountain which is the central architectural feature of Pottowattamie College" in Last Stand, N.M.: What a number, and how did he get those legs not only to bend like that but to bend like that at warp speed? You'll think Industrial Light and Magic computer-generated the number, that's how fast and astonishing it is. Boy, would I have liked to see him in a major film with someone like Hermes Pan or Stanley Donen calling the shots. Too bad and so sad it never happened.
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Ichimei (2011)
Surprisiingly muted given the original and the genre
19 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Miike remade "13 Assassins" to take full advantage of technical advances since the original arrived in the early '60s. Thus it was more spectacular, a great battle movie that put us in the heart of slash-pierce-hack-crunch-and-filet combat.. Of its kind, it was great and the update made sense. The same cannot be said for his remake of the Kobayashi masterpiece, which was intimate, a rumination on the cruelty and hypocrisy of bushido. A nutshell: an impoverished older samurai comes to a great house seeking a place to commit hara-kiri: he's told a young man tried the same trick earlier, a "bluff" suicide, hoping to get money or a job. But the House forced him to live up to his word, even though he'd sold his swords: thus he committed seppuku with wooden blades. It turns out that the older man is the younger's father in law: he's come for vengeance on the house, and (spoiler) after revealing he's defeated the young man's three primary adversaries in single combat, he draws blade on the house and goes down in a bloody frenzy of vengeance. Great revenge movie, but Miike rewires it. You'd expect him to lay on the gore (as he did in "13" and many of his quickie yakuza films) but instead he dials it way down, keeps it somehow intellectual rather than visceral. Sorry, but I'm shallow enough to be disappointed: I wanted to see heads roll and arms chopped off. (It's a SAMURAI movie, right?) He retains Kobayashi's deliberate, almost ritual like pace and symmetrical compositions, but the understated intensity (SPOILER!: the old man fights his last fight with the wooden sword, so he is incapable of killing the Household guard) of the climax lets the movie end without the emotional catharsis it demanded. A disappointing exercise.
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Babes in Arms (1939)
Strange currents make it more creepy than beloved
8 July 2012
It's an early Freed Unit picture, and among other Freed staples it has the work of Roger Edens, snatches of "Singing in the Rain" and "Good Morning," plus a whisper of "Broadway Rhythm." But it's kind of cuckoo. The director is Busby Berkeley, who wanted everything BIG even when the movie was supposed to be SMALL. Thus BB encourages the Mickster to go into his full Eugene O'Neill mode and he out-shouts everyone in the movie, including the hurricane! That is, when he's not on the verge of tears. If a woman had so over-heated, you'd say it's her time of the month; I can only guess Mick's ego went nuclear and BB wasn't interested enough to rein him in. He may not have even noticed. The most absurd stroke is that Rooney clearly believed he was a great impressionist too, and BB let him do crude impersonations of Gable and Barrymore, among others, that seem pointless and self- congratulatory. Judy is early Judy: shy, more Dorothy Gale than the windstorm of talent she'd become in later Freed masterpieces like "Meet Me in St. Louis" and so forth. Some other oddities, or at least they seem odd now: a big number in which Mick and the "kids" march through the streets of a Long Island coastal town, carrying torches and proclaiming that they are the future has an odd Nazi vibe to it. Creepy. Then there's baritone Doug McPhail who was five years from suicide; he's the next Nelson Eddy except there was no next Nelson Eddy which may be why he poisoned himself. Johhny Sheffield, later to be "Boy" to Johnny Weismuller's Tarzan, is briefly glimpsed and such MGM regs as Guy Kibbee and Margaret Hamilston are around to ground the movie in solid professionalism. It's sure watchable, even today, but now you think: these people thought they were riding the wave and the wave was coming in to crush THEM.
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wispy but sustained by La Esther.
8 July 2012
Generally considered the worst of the films created by MGM's legendary "Freed Unit," and probably not helped by the ineptitude of its inexperienced and temperamentally unsuited director, Robert Alton, it still boasts the incredible radiance of Esther Williams, and baby, can that gal radiate. Beautiful wet or dry, she's perfect for fluff of this pitch and though disparaged by Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly for her lack of talent (which they encountered in "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," she's still consummately professional. Would you want to see a film this dopey starring a Meryl Streep? I don't think so. Williams projects vitality, sexuality, life-force and intelligence as the Tahitian-American aristocrat mistaken for a local peasant by island newcomer Howard Keel. A better script might have toyed with this classic musical mix-up for its entire length, but this one disposes of it by Minute 25, leaving it nowhere else to go. What follows is beautiful scenery (Maui standing in for Tahiti), some unmemorable songs (mostly by the great Arthur Freed himself), a lot of racial condescension which will set your teeth to grinding, an underused 17-year-old Rita Moreno, plus somebody's idea of "native dancing" with color co-ordinated hula skirts. Keel is sunny. broad-shouldered and shallow, but Esther's buoyancy keeps the thing afloat and watchable. I have to say at one time Keel fantasizes about her, and imagines her in a water ballet. Hmmm, I know if I fantasized about her, it wouldn't be in no stinkin' water ballet!
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A spoonful of medicine doesn't make the sugar go down
4 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I can just see the story conference where Gene and Stan say to Mr. Mayer, "Gee, L.B., you'll love it. An hour and a half on lacerating male self-hatred, in which three ex GIs, ten years into the rest of their lives, decide they really suck big time and finally come to accept their utter mediocrity!" But that's exactly what this very odd duck of a picture is up to, and it's not helped by gratuitous forays--certainly inconsistent with the overall theme of the work--into parody with TV, advertising, Dinah Shore and Dr. Joyce Brothers among its disparate and incoherent targets. So it doesn't amount to much beyond an interesting failure but it has a few good numbers, notably the famous "trash can dance" by Kelly, Daily and Kidd and a number in a boxing gym where Cyd Charisse throws her 38-22-38 bones around in a tight sweater--and I mean TIGHT!--among a bunch of sweaty pugs. But there are plenty of disappointments. Why on earth is there no climactic Kelly-Charisse number? Who do we get so little of Michael Kidd. In fact, while these guys are quickly sketching in how bad their lives after the war suck- -one's a sellout, one's a small fry, one's a fraud--there's not enough dancing and there's way too much self pity. The ending is an overlong, overchoreographed and underwhelming fist fight sequence which reunites the spirit of the three ex soldiers who thought they'd do so much better and and settled for so much less. After the ebullience of "On the Town," this one is a real bitter pill to swallow.
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Rock of Ages (2012)
not bad enough to be good
26 June 2012
"Rock of Ages" will become one of those lonely-guy deals for late nights with vodka and memories. Meant to be an anthem to the bad old days, its thinness of conceit and its shallowness of performance keep it weightless and it really needed to go into R territory to make its points. The two kids up front are lightweights--Diego and what's her name, oh yeah, Juliane Hough--about whom you don't care because they are so shallow and pretty in a TV commercial way. They look like the third and fourth places winners of the 2006 "American Idol" cycle. Their little shenanigan of a plot--he thinks, but no, she didn't, thus they separate and go sleazy but when they discover each other again and are redeemed by love for each other and for true rock--is completely mechanical and really gets in the way. Their instantly forgettable faces and unimpressive talent range really underwhelm the movie. Only guilty pleasures remain: Cruise is surprisingly good as the debauched 80s rocker Tracee Jax who's had all the sex the rest of us never got, and looks good belting out the songs. Mary J. Blige knocks the movie apart in her brief role as a strip club proprietoress with a heart of gold and Catherine Zeta-Jones does a hot MILF routine as a reformer with a heart of molten lust (she has the best legs in the pix, as well!) Then there's someone named Malik Akermann, "Swedish-Canadian" (!) who plays a reporter who jaxx, whax and roxx Stacee's soxx off. Don't know her, but in boyttalk, she's extremely sensual in a sensually extreme way. I see this one as a fast-forward tour de force, where you jetspeed through the crap to get to the five or six good numbers well performed.
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Prometheus (I) (2012)
The Flaw
10 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
It doesn't seem that anybody's got it yet, so let me explain why all the disappointment with "Prometheus." It's that the climactic sequence is arbitrary; i.e., it is not expressive of the ideas of the movie. For an hour and 50 minutes, the film has teased us with provocative whispers along ancient alien lines (Erik Von Dannekin, call your lawyer!), suggesting that life on earth was a kind of experiment by a superior human type with really good abs, who donated a key bit of DNA to the compote that would become life on earth. Not new, but always fun. But at a certain late point, Sir Ridley can get no more thrills out of it, so the movie turns, arbitrarily, into a low vaudeville form that might be called "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!" and watches while two Chicken Littles try and avoid being squashed by a rolling piece of space junk. It's exciting as spectacle but meaningless as drama; it has nothing to do with the issues evoked and everything to do with sociopathic gravity. It the space junk had kerplunked to earth a hundred yards this way or that, (spoiler) the ordeal by rolling steel donut would have been avoided and if one of the little chicks had run 50 feet to the left instead of continuing 200 yards on the straight ahead, she wouldn't have ended up as part of the asphalt. The movie can be likened to a '78 red Saville ragtop with the engine of a Corvair. All dressed up and it goes 22 miles an hour!
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Act of Valor (2012)
a comment on the acting
10 June 2012
Too much time is wasted in most of these reviews complaining about the quality of the SEAL acting. As compared to what? Oh, other melodramatic conceits where the starting point is the "interesting psychodynamics" of the hero, who is almost always haunted by tragedy or loss, an alcoholic, or has someone's idea of a fascinating flaw. That, however, misses the point about high-speed operators. They don't have flaws. They are bland. They are shallow. They believe the clichés. They are not interesting. They're men with incredibly high levels of IQ and testosterone, and technical capability, no doubt a kind of body genius. Think of elite athletes. How interesting are they? Not very. They're only interesting in action, as with SEALs. The movie captures this dimension in a way no concocted melodrama ever has. The ironists out there don't like the fact that Rorke carries a flag into battle and that Chief has five kids and a happy family life; however that's more realistic by far than giving Rorke a drinking problem and making Chief a wife beater. Ironically, the personalities of the '40s and '50s war movie heroes were probably a lot closer to the reality than the subsequent imaginings of neurotic men in battle. The neurotics crack early; the solid guys kick in the door and get it done, and when it's over they say boring things. The movie gets that, even if too many fools in movieland don't.
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vivid but disturbing
17 February 2012
Gosha was the Don Siegel of Japan, an artist of action, a poet of mêlée. So it is with this newly restored early picture of his, now available from Criterion in blazing black and white. Typical sam fare: clunky plot, great sword work, cool flourishes (like blowing dust giving mythic quality to climactic duel, or the use of blood to punctuate kills, never overdone but extremely dramatic.) Extremely enjoyable, it turns out to be an "origins" tale in which we learn how the three outlaws (if Japanese TV fame) came together. Briefly, seems wandering ronin decides to throw in with peasant reformers who've kidnapped magistrate's daughter for leverage on tax reform, and one way or other, the two others come to his side and ultimately they face off in duels and battles with magistrate's own ronin, soldiers, various thugs and creeps. Lots of racing, slicking, sword fighting in flip-flops and bathrobes. What did somewhat shock me was the utter disregard the movie shows for women. They are used up and tossed aside like Kleenex, with no regret or mourning or much in the way of grief. At least three are murdered or commit suicide, and two more dumped. I know this is emblematic of Japanese society in early '60s, but even so, it seems a little overdone here. I don't like to judge then by the standards of now, but even if gals were objects in '64, by those standards Gosha goes a bit overboard.
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Drive (I) (2011)
Not so fast
17 September 2011
Not quite as good as reviews had lead me to expect. Ryan Gosling's almost autistic performance is offputting; he seems more insane than heroic and his pleasure in violence somewhat dilutes the movie's spell. At one point, he even puts on a blank mask before doing a bad deed, and the ref to Jason of the FRI13ers is clear. Possibly a livelier, warmer and less psychotic anti-hero would have been more pleasing and might have jacked the box office prospects a bit. Gosling plays a kind of existential loner with almost off-the-charts car skills, which, alas, the movie loses interest in as it diverts to knife and gun killings of the bloodiest kind. In any event, with a crush on a next door neighbor (English cutie Carey Mulligan), he agrees to help her recently paroled husband do a job, not realizing it's a set up which is run by the same Jewish mob that is bankrolling his own NASCAR sortie (also quickly abandoned). Once the deal goes bad, it's mainly about killing as the bad guys keep sending hitters and he keeps wiping them out. It may stir some jollies to see Albert Brooks (SPOILER) kill two guys with bladed weapons, unleashing a spray of plasma like a broken dam. Then, too, the giant Ron Pearlman head is always a wonder to behold. Plot: a little confusing. Action sequences: well done, as I say, quite bloody. Style: very noir moody, with lots of bleeding red lighting and odd compositions, slow mo overused, in the Euroart (Director is a Dane) trad. If you like this sort of thing, as I do, you'll find it cheaply mezmerising but lacking the depth and passion of true noir.
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Force of Arms (1951)
Curtiz the pro
3 September 2011
Just caught it on Turner. The reviews calling it "routine" show how dull-normal some people are. In fact, the old pro Michael Curtiz (look him up) brings an extraordinary sensibility to the film. Gone are his romantic stylings of Casablanca and Robin Hood, his lush, overdone Warner's agreeable foolishness. Instead, he portrays war as bitter and without glory, full of random death and meaningless violence. The three combat sequences are superb, and Holden, as he would later demonstrate in "Bridge on the River K" is brilliant as a reluctant soldier who has no sense of glory and no wish to be a hero, but is nevertheless the everyman Infantryman, who knows he must do his duty. Curtiz doesn't turn this evocation of battle into boy's fantasy; it's hard, bitter, terrifying and brutally unfair to children and especially young American men who never thought they'd be dying in the slopes of Mt. Casino. The romance is nicely done, even if the ending is trite (but, in the way that cheap melody can be, amazingly satisfying). Olsen and Holden have great chem (as they proved in three other films as well) and all in all, the whole piece is kept in a register of near-realism that's very affecting. A neglected minor gem from the great Curtiz.
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Prime Cut (1972)
Nothing but cellulite
27 August 2011
Uncertain gangster drama that wastes considerable talents of Marvin and Hackman, two marvelous actors. Its one kick (or kink) wears thin fast: that's to ascribe the worst of moral degeneracy (drug trafficking and white slavery) to rural America and to blaspheme typical American romantic rural imagery with sin. Hackman is the villain, who hides his operations behind the facade of a bucolic Kansan cattle ranch, and director Michael Ritchie, displaying a true hack's banality, thinks he's onto something when he pitches gun battles in the middle of country fairs, sunflower and wheat fields. Oh, that's so heavy, man. (The fact that it's a 1971 pic, at the height of anti-war cynicism about American institutions, is no excuse.) Marvin is a Chicago enforcer sent to KC to collect on a $500,000 debt the rebellious countryboy kingpin (Hackman) has declined to pay. Everything about the movie is vulgar and tawdry, especially its image of a rural American community as center of the usual city sinspot of a "flesh n dope franchise." Still, I suppose it could have been a kind of crazed masterpiece if Ritchie had any gift at staging action. He hasn't; the gunfights are perfunctory and banal and defy any sense of logic or reality. A piece of suet.
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helps to be half-deaf
16 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
It probably helps to be half-deaf for "Battle LA," in that you are spared most of the appallingly trite dialogue; I see lines quoted that make me cringe, like "I need you to be my little marine," but they were of no consequence while I saw the pic, as I completely missed them. Thus, as a completely visual document, the film is quite impressive, a realization of LA as Stalingrad, with hyper-intense battle-to-death tiffs between U.S. Marines and creepy- crawlies from outer space, who seem to have conquered intergalactic travel but still use recoil operated firearms. As a poem of action, the movie flows swiftly and excitingly and captures at least as much of the deadly essence of close-quarter battle as anything. I much preferred the firefights-- small units manuevering against one another in the rubble to find firing angles and then blowing each other away for tiny bits of real estate--than the bigger spectacle stuff, the vistas of Santa Monica turned into Beach Red as the bad guys blasted their way ashore, shredding surfers by the dozens. I also didn't care for the over-the-top "final mission" where this particular platoon, led by the initially realistic but ultimately too heroic Aaron Cleftjaw, manages to locate (spoiler) and destroy the inevitable mothership. One odd flaw should be mentioned: it's a shame they didn't get more out of the invaders. They're seen from afar as loose-jointed robots and their speed is frightening, but I think the movie would have been better had they been personalized in some way, given a face, a set of fangs or mandibles, more than just a distant shape. We need to hate them since we can no longer hate even the most repulsive of human beings by the mandates of PC; so these bad actors should have been given the face of hell's worst demons.
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Missing the point
12 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
It seems to me that most of the professional (!) reviewers and most of the amateurs here have missed the point about SEASON OF THE WITCH and therefore missed what's deliciously transgressive about it. Yes the f/x pretty much suck. Yes, there's a lot of narrative time-wasting (the bridge sequence, which seems to be a nod to "The Wild Bunch," no matter how inappropriate here), Yes, the frequent sword choreography is wildly disappointing, the best fight being a match between Ron Perlman and a boy (Robert Sheen) just for sport; but it builds rhythm and showcases moves otherwise absent in standard routine sword-sandal stand-and-hack fashion. Its marketplace weakness may be its PG-13 rating, which leaves it neither there nor here. In other words, it's probably not shocking or bloody enough for R-raters or even those whose taste demand that they go beyond R into such unrated niceties as "Inside" and "Martyrs." Yet the frequent close-ups of pustule-pocked plague victims will certainly turn off the young at heart. So who's the movie made for? Search me. (I would love to see an unrated version come to DVD sometime down the line.) The acting, however, is first rate, from Cage and Perlman, who have good comic timing, particularly by Claire Foy as the girl the two knights have been tasked to take to trial and presumable execution. Even Stephen Graham, so disappointing as Babyface Nelson in "Public Enemies"" has a sparkle. You know the plot so I won't waste time on it. The (SPOILER) amusing thing about the movie is that it's set up like one of those endorsement-of-rationality jobs ("The Crucible" coming to mind, or even "Witchfinder General") which promote the idea that witchhraft is really elite- controlled hysteria meant to cynically leverage the peasantry into obedience. Hello, "Season" doesn't go there after seeming set up exactly for that dreary destination; instead it takes the opposite, the anti-rationalist position, that witches and demons are literally true, to be feared, and must be fought. The church, it implies, is right, and the Latin imprecations directed at the demon actually work. I loved it! Perhaps it's the movie's Hungarian setting leaking historical melancholy into the proceedings--the Hungarians, after all, have a history rife with actual demons, from Hitler to Bela Kun to Stalin to the KGB interrogator during the revolution--or perhaps it's one of those rogue notes that just slipped in, but it's so nice to see that someone takes demons seriously.
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