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La Cordillera (2017)
1/10
Major disappointment from Ricardo Darin
5 October 2017
I'm a big fan of Ricardo Darin. Now 60, he's been in films and TV since he was 3, and starting in 2000 he's become known worldwide. I've seen 10 of his films, all excellent, so I was keen to see him as the Argentine president in this one. Big mistake. It featured on the first day of the London Film Festival in the "Thrills" section: presumably a joke on the part of the programmer. I should have done my homework. The director has written 3 fine films for Pablo Trapero, but his own "The Student" was a bore. There's so much wrong with this one. It starts with a workman going to the presidential palace, and there's talk of a funding scandal, but neither strand goes anywhere. Too much time is spent on the president's unstable daughter, a tiresome distraction from the oil conference (in which Venezuela, with the world's largest oil reserves barely features.) She seems to be there because the actress is the director's partner. This is the ultimate "so what, who cares?" film. I would have walked out, but was in the middle of a 28-seat row, and didn't want to disturb so many others, so sought refuge in sleep. Maybe I missed something thrilling. Great location in the Andes, though.
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4/10
Oh, that dialogue
19 July 2017
Having seen two Konrad Wolf films set in WW2 ("Stars" and "I Was Nineteen", I was keen to see more of his work. I wish I hadn't bothered with this one, and can't explain why I sat through it to the end. I see it has been voted one of the 100 best German films, which says a lot about German cinema, none of it good. The two major problems are the story and the dialogue. As a voice- over near the end admits, the story is banal. I've had experience of life behind the Iron Curtain, so the girl's decision to split with the man she loved and return to the laughably-named German Democratic Republic made no sense to me. She wasn't a Communist, she'd seen the way the system treated her friend and fellow student, and she barely bothered to see her mother, so what drew her back? The joy of working in a factory making railway carriages, which was a waste of her intelligence? Lack of courage and imagination ("I've always lived in the same town")? What really sinks this film, as Thomas from Berlin points out, is the dreadful dialogue. Since the book is drawn from a Crista Wolf novel, and she helped write the script, I suspect the blame is largely hers. Characters, with the exception of the hero's father, just don't talk like human beings. I certainly feel no urge to read any of the lady's novels.
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Kagi (1959)
5/10
Not Ichikawa's best
5 February 2017
I've admired other Ichikawa films, particularly "Alone on the Pacific" and "Fires on the Plains." With the possible exception of Klimov's "Come and See" the latter is the most harrowing war film I've ever seen. However, I couldn't get on with "Odd Obsession,"and can't understand why it won awards. I saw it many years ago, and foolishly tried it again last night. I kept falling asleep: it's a legitimate form of criticism and no, I hadn't been drinking. The film starts with Tatsuya Nakadai (star of many Japanese classics), as Dr. Kimura, detailing how humans decline over the years. He points straight at the camera and says this decrepitude will come to us all, so you know this film is going to be different. The doctor is giving an old man injections to treat his impotence (no Viagra in those days), and the old boy invites him to his home, hoping that the doctor, who's already involved with his daughter, will dally with his young wife. The idea is that jealousy will revive his flagging libido. One problem is that while the male actors are interesting, the women are not. I don't know why, from a land with so many exquisite and enchanting actresses, Ichikawa chose two puddings, with particularly unfortunate eyebrows. I don't know the younger one, but Machiko Kyo (from "Rashomon" and "Teahouse of the August Moon") was normally attractive. The old man has high blood pressure, and the wife seems intent on finishing him off by over-exciting him, so maybe Ichikawa made her look ugly to mirror the ugliness inside the character. Another problem was Japanese inscrutability. Nobody seemed passionate about, or even very interested in, anyone else. It was hard to see why the doctor went along with their games. The son of a fisherman, he was young, handsome and ambitious, so why did he bother with two women with neither beauty or money? (the old man had reputation but no means.)
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The Alfred Hitchcock Hour: The Star Juror (1963)
Season 1, Episode 24
7/10
Not the best version
29 January 2017
This is pretty good. Others have outlined the story, so I just want to mention that there is a superior version of the original French novel, and it was released a year before this episode aired. It's a French movie, directed by Georges Lautner and starring Bernard Blier, who like Dean Jagger was an excellent(and bald!) character actor.

Lautner's movie is, if anything, even more scathing about small town small-mindedness. The two versions develop the story differently, and not having read the novel I've no idea which is more faithful to it. Suffice to say I saw the French movie on DVD, and it's well worth seeing, assuming you can watch a film and read its subtitles at the same time (I pity those who can't; they miss an awful lot of great stuff.)
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2/10
Dire B movie
20 August 2016
John Bentley had the misfortune to be best known as Noele Gordon's husband in that feeble soap "Crossroads." However, starting with "Calling Paul Temple" in 1948 and right through to 1963, when the form was dying out, he starred in a series of low-budget British B movies. Some, particularly those made by Terence Fisher, were pretty good. This one isn't. It's one of the dullest films I've ever seen, and I see now why I'd never heard of its director, Denis Kavanagh.

The main character, played by Theodore Bikel, is not at all sympathetic. He's a loyal member of Hungary's Communist equivalent of the KGB and only escapes to Vienna because his mentor has been purged and he fears being next. The premises in Budapest where these charmers operated (and before them the Black Arrow fascists, the other side of the same debased coin) is now open to the public, billed as The House of Terror.

Bikel escapes alone, leaving his wife to suffer the consequences. (Greater love hath no man, than he sacrifices his wife to save his own hide.) In Vienna he meets British agent, who takes him to meet his boss, The latter is suspicious and wants Bikel to prove he's not a plant by getting him to return to Hungary and help an aged professor to escape. This time he condescends to rescue his wife. Not only hasn't she been punished for his defection, she's not under surveillance.

Both escapes are ridiculously easy. No gun turrets, no guard dogs, no No Man's Land with mines. Just snip a bit of barbed wire and you're free. The Commies send assassins after Bikel, but they are comically incompetent. One misses Bikel in a Viennese park, and manages to kill the film's only interesting character (a shady wheeler-dealer) instead. The other shoots at Bikel on the runway at Paris airport, but only gets him in the shoulder, then promptly gets arrested.

Truly inept.
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6/10
Who'd have thought it?
18 August 2016
I won't bother you with the plot, as other reviewers have given plenty of detail.

As so often in films like this, an fading American star was imported. Pat O'Brien was 58 at the time, with what one reviewer's described as a turnip face (given his Irishness, potato face seems nearer the mark.) He looks tired, though given the character is a drunken, depressed widower, that's quite appropriate.

Despite his age and lack of dynamism, O'Brien flattens three villains in a fist fight. Since one of them is played by Freddie Mills, who'd only lost the world light-heavyweight championship seven years before, that scene wasn't totally convincing (English understatement working overtime.)

The heroine is played by the lovely Lois Maxwell, 30 at the time. The character is rather silly (she interferes without knowing the facts, thereby putting O'Brien's son in danger.) The film's main problem is that the leads make a very ill-matched couple, and have zero chemistry.

This is the last of a string of low budget B movies Terence Fisher made in the '50s, all competently made without being inspired. Who would have thought that his next film, "The Curse of Frankenstein," would lead to a whole series of Hammer horrors, mainly directed by Fisher. The budgets for these were probably pretty low too, but he showed a real flair for Gothic horror, though the law of diminishing returns inevitably set in.

A couple of footnotes. The villains operate from the office of a coffee bar in which Tommy Steele performs, too much for my taste. Steele got his start in such a place. And I think this was one of the last films made in Southall studios: the area has changed an awful lot since those days.
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7/10
Decent little B movie
27 July 2016
This is the only feature directed by Stephen Clarkson. It's hard to see why, as he does a good job, and co-wrote the script with Maisie Sharman. I'm grateful to Renown and their Talking Pictures TV for the chance to see this rare film.

A teacher at a south of England girls' school is murdered, and since she had a talent for angering her colleagues, there are plenty of suspects. The investigation is led by Inspector Campbell from Scotland Yard. He's a dour Scot with a chip on his shoulder (he'd definitely have voted for independence!) but fortunately he's played by Gordon Jackson, who's always a sympathetic presence. I saw him play a villain in another Renown offering, I think "The Delavine Affair," and he didn't ring true.

One reviewer complained about the cut-glass accents, but given the date and milieu they're to be expected. The Queen still talks like that, and I agree it's irritating, but not as irritating as the inaudibility of so many modern American actors, which makes you wonder why their scriptwriters bothered writing dialogue.

"Death|" is unusual for a British B of the '50s is that there's some humour. When Campbell asks Miss Shepherd what book she's been reading she says "Death in Seven Hours", the book by Ms Sharman on which this film is based. She then needles the inspector by saying that an amateur sleuth solved the mystery. This gives the audience a clue, as later she solves the mystery before him, though to be fair that's because she'd seen something and not told him about it.

All in all, an enjoyable way to spend 64 minutes.
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White Fire (1953)
7/10
Superior British B movie
4 June 2016
I saw this under the title of "3 Steps to the Gallows". A better title would have been "3 Days to the Gallows," since when American seaman Scott Brady arrives in London and goes in search of his brother he finds the latter is due to be executed in three days' time for murder: he's innocent, of course. The film's scriptwriter plays the brother, and he's definitely a better writer than actor, seeming remarkably calm for someone facing imminent death for something he didn't do. John Gilling made several low-budget crime films in the 50s, and seeing this one made me want to see the others.The plot has some good twists, and there's a lot of interesting location filming. It was common practice to import minor American stars for such films, and Brady made a spirited hero, while Mary Castle, who I'd never seen before, bears a considerable resemblance to Rita Hayworth. She even sings in a nightclub, a la Gilda. The weaknesses are the way Brady wins all his fist fights (even against a professional boxer!) and the climax, in which the police turn up like the 7th Cavalry even though they had no way of knowing where the protagonists were. Very odd.
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Suicide (II) (2014)
8/10
Intriguing Israeli thriller
2 April 2016
Before you write a review, you're warned that if you write a spoiler without warning readers, you'll be blacklisted and all your future reviews will be blocked from appearing. How ironic, then, that IMDb has spoiled viewers' enjoyment of Benny Fredman's excellent debut movie by giving away too much in its three line synopsis.

The film is set in Jerusalem. It starts with Dafna (the coolly beautiful Mali Levi) torching her husband's music and video store in which the husband lies dead, gun in hand. It appears to be a suicide, hence the title, but a very unorthodox police detective suspects Dafna may have killed hubbie, a loser who was massively in debt to Muki, a terrifying gangster who's given him a tight deadline to pay up. Muki threatens not only him but his family.

Muki operates from a junk yard. He has a bizarre obsession with William Tell and the apple on the head of Tell's son, and is attended by two frightening thugs even balder than himself. One of them has no right eye (when I saw it the film was entitled "Eye for an Eye.") He's not Eyeless in Gaza but Eyeless in Jerusalem, and how he came to lose the eye provides the film's most gruesome scene.

To say more would spoil your enjoyment. What makes the film so intriguing is that it hops around in time, and you're never sure what Dafna is up to or how she feels about her husband (her mother's attitude is "Divorce the bum.")

All in all a first-rate thriller, though perhaps a tad too long.
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2/10
Desperately dull docu-drama
28 March 2016
Amos Gitai has made some fine films ("Kippur" and "Kadosh" in particular) but this is a major disappointment.

We get archive footage of Rabin's assassination, and various re- enactments, but the majority of the excessive running time focuses on the three-man committee appointed to investigate the security lapses which facilitated the killing. Each of the many witnesses is warned of the consequences of being untruthful, and there were so many witnesses I was ready to scream if I heard that warning again.These interminable scenes sent me to sleep for some time, and although I attended a screening where everyone was Jewish, a good many left before the end. I'd have done the same if I hadn't been in the middle of a row and reluctant to disturb others. I really should have been more selfish!

Gitai shows the toxic forces screaming their hatred of Rabin for seeking peace by reaching an accord with Arafat and the PLO. The mob at a Likud rally calling for Rabin to be killed, with Netanyahu on the balcony doing nothing to discourage them. The placards showing Rabin, who'd fought for Israel in the Haganah and then IDF, in Nazi uniform. The Orthodox rabbis invoking din rodef to say killing him was okay because he'd betrayed and endangered the Jewish people (one even said "Kill all Arabs.") The settlers, eager to seize yet more land from the Palestinians. To be fair, Hamas had rejected the Accord and stepped up its attacks: unless this was mentioned while I slept, its omission was a mistake.

There was a little light relief, from the witness who wouldn't sit down, and particularly the Orthodox woman psychiatrist, who'd never met Rabin but because she disagreed with his politics diagnosed him as schizophrenic. Overall though, I'd have been better off just reading a detailed account of this tragedy.
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3/10
A serious disappointment
25 March 2016
Having seen "Kill the Ref" years ago, I was interested to see more of Mocky's work, and bought subtitled DVDs of this, "Solo" and "L'Albatros." . I should have heeded the review by dbdumonteil, who knows more about French cinema than I ever will. He called "No Pockets" a botched job, and he's right.

Starting in 1959, Mocky has directed well over 60 features, plus shorts, documentaries and TV work. On this evidence he's put quantity above quality. It's hard to see how he got the budget to assemble such an excellent cast of actors (the women are relatively weak) but no surprise that his recent films feature largely-unknown "stars."

The actresses, particularly the excessively made-up Myriam Mezieres, are made to look rather unattractive, perhaps to emphasise the good looks of Mocky as our heroic reporter. Needless to say they're all crazy about him. Mocky's narcissism, the excessive length and some lousy dialogue (Alaim Mory is no Michel Audiard) make the whole thing an endurance test.
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9/10
Worthy of Clouzot and Chabrol
19 March 2016
M.Duval (Blier), bored and out walking, comes upon Catherine, a beauty sunbathing topless. He tries to kiss her and when she resists and screams, strangles her. He feels no great remorse or pangs of conscience, but when he finds himself on the jury at the trial of her main lover (she had several) does all he can to to get the wrongly-accused man acquitted. To say more would spoil your enjoyment. suffice to say the film is thoroughly gripping, and the ending terrific.

Pathe have been issuing DVDs of restored, relatively rare French films like this one. The prints are excellent and have English subtitles: I wish Gaumont would follow suit, as there are so many neglected works from the 50s and 60s by the likes of Cayatte and Hossein, brushed aside by the New Wavers like the abysmal Jean-Luc. "Juror" could have been made by the more prestigious Clouzot or Chabrol, as it shares their disgust at the prejudice and self- protection of the provincial petit bourgeoisie, Duval's wife being a prime example (no wonder he's so frustrated.)

I've seen three Lautner films restored by Pathe, and this is easily the best (probably his masterpiece, but I haven't seen all of his work.) It's a pity he mostly made silly romps with insufferably smug stars like Belmondo and Meurisse, where nothing's at stake. All that prevents me giving this film 10 is that after Duval met the prosecuting counsel in a shop pre-trial and said he believed the accused innocent, said counsel would surely have rejected Duval as a juror: that scene was a mistake.

As an outsider it was fascinating to see how the French legal system works. The juror basically conducted the defence (the defence counsel hardly said a word!) Duval constantly interrupted proceedings to ask questions. He grilled witnesses, called for one to be recalled, argued with the prosecutor and suggested a reconstruction at the crime scene. None of this would be possible in the adversarial system we have in the UK and Us: the French system, which seems focused on trying to find the truth, seems superior.
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2/10
Seriously disappointing.
12 March 2016
The synopsis sounded intriguing, and I'm a fan of both leads, so despite misgivings I went to see this film. Big mistake.

The main problem was the inappropriately jaunty, comic tone. Even when they were in the dock and being sentenced to death the gang were fooling about. It's safe to say that Communists aren't renowned for their sense of humour, and are unlikely to be at their perkiest when facing death.

I was so bored I fell asleep, so never found out why they pulled the robbery, or who had fathered Alice's child. The fact that this won 9 Romanian Oscar equivalents, including best picture, doesn't reflect well on that country's cinema. Funnily enough there were no awards for the acting, which was the best thing, apart from the actual propaganda film at the end. (The man on whom the leading character seemed based was as bald as Mark Strong, so why was this fine actor made to wear the least convincing toupee since Wayne, Stewart and Heston were last in films?)
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24 Days (2014)
7/10
Well made but inevitably depressing
18 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this in the UK Jewish Film Festival, where we were told Arcady had a job getting this film financed. It's extremely well made and acted: if, as one reviewer wrote, it was a huge flop, it didn't deserved to be. However, box-office failure would be understandable, since the French presumably knew the story well and wanted to be entertained rather than harrowed. One thing I didn't quite understand was the judge's ruling that this was an anti-Semitic crime. Apart from the obvious, pedantic point that most of the gang were Arabs (and Semites themselves) it's obvious that their motivation was financial. This bunch of half-wits had the idea that all Jews are filthy rich, then seized a young man whose family were nowhere near able to come up with the 450,000 euros they wanted. If their motivation had been hatred of Jews they would have just tortured and killed the poor lad. As the weeks went by and their frustration grew, their behaviour got more and more violent and they even stopped feeding him. The leader of the gang was particularly repellent.
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3/10
A waste of talent
3 August 2014
One of John Huston's rare flops: just another routine spy story, and less interesting than "The Kremlin Letter", his other Cold War tale, made three years before. I've never read any of Desmond Bagley's books, and after seeing this I've no desire to do so.

Any hope of credibility was destroyed by casting an American and a Frenchwoman as British agents. Whose brilliant idea was that? In addition, I for one had a job to make out what Ms Sanda was saying. James Mason was as stylish ever, and there were good contributions from Nigel Patrick, Michael Hordern and John Bindon, but Ian Bannen was terribly wasted.
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