Sunday, December 12, 2021

Missives from Flint Henry!

 Going through files looking for something else and I ran across this treasure trove of faxes, notes and address labels from the inestimable Flint Henry. Lots of in-jokes and peculiarities in Flint's own inimitable style.












Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Movie reviews abound!

STUCK TOGETHER (2021)
It’s on Netflix.

An ensemble cast of Parisians are forced into each other’s company during the covid lockdown.

Dany Boon produced this comedy with Netflix and it’s a cause to rejoice. Boon is a huge star in Europe and a true comic genius. He makes well-crafted comedies that are pure escapism. Here he deals with the serious subject of the pandemic with a lighter touch than usual. It’s not quite as manic as his normal fare and has some touches of drama, even pathos. But this slight departure is handled deftly and effectively as we become involved in this cast of engaging, well-delineated characters who are each having their own adventures during their forcibly shared experience.

Plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in a movie packed with solid

material, seamless plotting, characters you’ll care about and

some twists and turns you won’t see coming. Good to see that

someone still knows how to construct a funny movie that can

deal with topical issues without indoctrination.




RED NOTICE (2021)

Internationally infamous art thief Ryan Reynolds is caught by

 FBI agent Dwayne Johnson, but both fall prey to Gal Gadot,

 another internationally famous art thief. And a series of fights,

 chases, escapes, more fights, more chases, more escapes

 follow for the next two hours before Netflix mercifully suggests

 something else to watch.

It's not enough that the streaming service uses algorithms to

 determine your tastes, Netflix has now allowed their AI to write

 a movie, and this is the result.

And the end product is a movie in which Reynolds and

 Johnson play characters they’ve played before and say things

 they’ve said before and do things they’ve done before in

 service of a tired, contrived, simple-minded mess of a buddy

 flick. The characters live a life without consequence as they

 are beaten, blown-up, concussed and fall from great heights

 without the slightest harm. If the MCU was a germ that sent

 Hollywood down this dead-end road, this movie is the corona

 virus.


There is not a single original exchange or line of dialogue in

 this movie. The characters all speak in the same voice as if

 they’re at a production meeting. Worse than that, it’s like the

 notes on the script found their way into the actor’s mouths as

 though mis-typed on the final draft by an inexperienced studio

 typist.


The cast exists inside a bubble with no interaction with the real

 world. There’s no sense of a larger universe. I suppose giving

 life to anyone other than the five main characters proved

 problematic for the limited abilities of the program that came

 up with this. This claustrophobic effect in the writing is

 heightened by the painfully obvious use of greenscreen and

 CGI effects that fail to convince. (Hint to filmmakers: stop

 trying to fool us with those phony lens flares until you figure

 out how to do them)


To call this movie a train wreck is an insult to the old Ninety-

seven. At least train wrecks are exciting and surprising. 




THE TRIP (2021)

It’s on Netflix.

Soap opera director Aksel Hennie plans what he believes is the perfect crime. He’s going to murder his wife during a weekend trip to the family’s summer cabin. Unfortunately for him, his wife is Noomi Rapace who, film fans know, is virtually unkillable. Things go sideways, pear-shaped and ass backwards in a big hurry.

The kind of movie no one makes here anymore. What starts out as a dark comedy gets grimly serious it the second act and winds up being a satire on the state of current entertainment. Oddly, though essentially a bloody and hyper-violent horror action flick, this movie follows the same basic plot development as Preston Sturges’ SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS, the only other movie I can think of that starts as a comedy, leaps to suspense film/tragedy in the second act and comes back to offer a timely observation about human nature and the arts.

But, like I said, it’s a bloody romp. Slickly made and highly suspenseful with lots of highs and lows for the characters and a bitterly satisfying conclusion. And, once again, Rapace does her best to maintain her title as most physically abused woman in cinema history.



THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST (1968)

Top psychiatrist James Coburn is tapped to be the private therapist for the leader of the free world. While the sessions help soothe the president’s psyche, they’re making a paranoid nervous wreck out of Coburn. When the good shrink goes on the lam every intelligence agency in the world wants to capture him to pick his brain for national secrets.

A VERY 60’s satire of politics and American life in general that turns out to be precisely prescient about how the world of government and corporations were converging as they vied for power over one another. It’s also a sharp critique of the potential abuses built into our various intelligence agencies. Given what’s going on right now, this more relevant today than the day it was released.

It’s also funny, cynical and has some fine comic performances. Godfrey Cambridge is terrific and it’s a real pity he didn’t make more movies. The standout is Coburn’s infiltration of a “normal” American family of self-proclaimed liberals who keep themselves armed because they fear their “right-wing” neighbors. The movie takes no real stand on party politics or ideologies beyond mocking them. Its real concern is with government overreach and the very real dangers of corporate corruption.

The ending, in particular, was very funny at the time but is more chilling given the evolution of technology since 1968.
And yes, as I said, it’s very much a product of the at 60’s because it has so many really groovy sequences, man.
This was written and directed by Theodore J. Flicker who directed television for most of his career including an astonishing number of BARNEY MILLER episodes.



THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD (2021)

Angelina Jolie is a smokejumper assigned to a remote watchtower in the Montana wilderness. Her lonely days are livened up by the arrival of a little boy with two killers on his back trail and an approaching forest fire.

A pretty darn good action drama with some moments of high suspense and a pair of truly despicable villains. Angelina’s proven her action star chops in the past and doesn’t disappoint here or, more importantly, doesn’t engage in the kind of superheroic antics that have infested the genre.  

Written and directed by Taylor Sheridan, it seems to be his foray into action flick territory. While good, it’s very much inferior to his earlier efforts like the two SICARIO movies, WIND RIVER and the YELLOWSTONE TV series. And the MacGuffin, a hastily scribbled note containing information dangerous to some powerful people is of of step with the times. The idea that a little boy carrying around a piece of paper that could bring down a government or corporation is beyond naïve in a world where a laptop filled with information incriminating the president of the United States and his family is treated like a nothingburger.

Still, one of the better thrillers I’ve seen recently with some impressive set-pieces and a good cast.

An on a side note, does Sheridan love or hate Jon Bernthal? The guy gets put through the grinder in every movie the director makes.


SPEED (1994)

Dennis Hopper plants a bomb on an LA city bus that will go off if the bus slows below 50 mph. It’s up to courageous Keanu Reeves and perky Sandra Bullock to keep the bus at speed until a solution can be fond to save the passengers from going boom.

This crowd-pleasing thriller still works after all this time. The earnest performances, fast pace, masterful editing and the entirely CGI-free effects help lift this above the endless spate of DIE HARD knock-offs the studios churned out for ten years following the events at Nakatomi Plaza.

Hopper is creepily effective as a psychopath with a twisted worldview and warped sense of entitlement. Reeves is properly heroic and self-effacing. But the standout here is Bullock providing humor and heart into what could have been purely a shrieky victim roll. This is the movie that made Sandy a star and where audiences first fell in love with her. I recall seeing this at a packed house multi-plex and her effect on the audience was palpable as she drew laughs and cheers from all.  

The only flaw in the flick is the obviously tacked-on ending that takes place after they finally get off the bus. We’re “treated” to the kind of one-liners Stephen DeSouza might inflict on us as well as expected to believe that disabled Dennis Hopper could hold his own against Keanu Reeves atop a speeding subway car. But, by the time the movie turns silly, we’re all too giddy to question what happens next.

Still, I’d much preferred to see Hopper go down in a hail of bullets from the SWAT team than the ludicrous series of events that close out this solid actioner.


THE GUILTY (2021)

It’s a Netflix thing.

Jake Gyllenhaal is a cope working overnights as a 911 operator while on probation for a shooting incident. At his rope’s end in his persona and professional life, he gets too involved in a woman’s call for help risking all involved as he responds to the mystery voice.

This was a tough one to pull off on so many levels. The movie primarily takes place in the LAPD call center and Gyllenhaal is on screen for almost the entire running time. It’s essentially a one-man play though there are few ancillary characters. But the most important members of the supporting cast are the characters on the calls. Obviously, the lead actor carries a movie like this on his shoulders and Gyllenhaal is more than up to the task. Thanks to his performance, the movie is riveting beginning to end.

On the writing side, it’s quite a task to make a story like this compelling but the work here is superior, and we’re drawn into the story even though we only experience much of it through voices over a phone line. The reveals are well placed and presented without contrivance. They are also played out in such a way as we begin to get a really bad feeling about where things are going long before Gyllenhaal’s character begins to realize he consequences of his actions.

Good stuff.






STARSHIP TROOPERS (1997)

Earth is in danger of annihilation from a distant planet populated by an insect race. Johnny Rico and his school friends enlist to go to space and face the alien threat head-on.

This is the rare film that works as a parody, a pastiche and a straight-up badass action extravaganza all at the same time. Paul Verhoeven set out to make a movie that simultaneously glorifies and mocks fascism and the military. What makes it work is that he allows both sides of every argument to establish their points logically and earnestly. I mean, you can be appalled by Michael Ironsides’ stated world view or be nodding along. This is much the same approach that Stanley Kubrick took in DR, STRANGELOVE; presenting opposing views while not telling you how to think about each even though he filmmaker’s point of view was clear.

All that said, though clearly a pastiche, all care is taken to give the movie a clear, compelling through line, a logical (if often coincidental) series of events and a cathartic ending meant to evoke a wide and varied range of emotional responses from viewers. The cast is terrific as they fearlessly lean into the cartoonish aspects of their characters. The end result is that we’re drawn into their lives despite the fact that their characterization is as thin as the ensemble in an Archie comic.

And Verhoeven delivers on the action in spades. This is the mankind versus aliens movie I’ve wanted to see since I was eight and no one’s yet topped it even though there’s some excellent efforts in recent years.

Sidenote: I saw this in the theater with my buddy Flint Henry who was not a STAR WARS fan because that franchise didn’t have enough nudity or gore. I’m cleaning up his actual remark here. As the end credits rolled on STARSHIP TROOPERS I turned to him and said, “This is your Star Wars.”



Saturday, October 9, 2021

DR. WHIZZER!

A rare instance of me penciling, inking and lettering comics. 

This appeared in an issue of Frisbee World back during the Frisbee craze of the 70's. 





Sunday, October 3, 2021

 

MALIGNANT (2021)

A young woman is psychically bonded to a mysterious killer responsible for a spate of brutal murders. Or is the connection between them closer than that?

I won’t spoil the reveal in this film except to say that this latest James Wan horror flick explores a subject that’s rich with scary potential.

Though slickly made, this movie didn’t work for me the way Wan’s CONJURING franchise does. And for the same reason that most recent horror fare falls short for me. I need to feel like the spooky stuff is happening in a world I can relate to. There’s a reason why THE EXORCIST is one of the most frightening films ever made. William Friedkin made every effort to make it all seem real even to filming sequences in a pseudo-documentary style.

From the opening sequence on, this movie occurs mostly in a claustrophobic and surreal world that seems to be inhabited only by the core cast. There seems to be no extras in the cast. Events occur in an environment in which only the principle characters seem to be present. In fact, the movie’s first scenes take place in gothic edifice of a hospital set on a cliffside on a stormy night. Firstly, who puts a hospital at very edge of a rocky precipice miles from any community? And why are they doing medical procedures in the middle of the night with the full surgical staff on hand? This entire sequence would have been far more effective set in daylight in a well-lit hospital environment instead of a place that looks like Castle Frankenstein. Horror, like humor, needs the contrast of and stablished normality to work.

Sill, it’s all engaging enough if not particularly fear-inducing and the climactic actions scene is something straight out of the wilder horror flicks of the 1970’s. 





CONVOY 48 (2019)

Soviets build a rail line and run trains into besieged Leningrad despite constant attacks from the German army.

This one’s on Amazon Prime.

A solid war drama with lots of heart and rising consequences. Loads of historical detail went into this one as we follow two female music students as they volunteer to be “conductors” on a new rail line. What they wind up doing is joining a lumberjack crew to cut down trees for a bridge that will run across a frozen lake. The work’s not done and we see them drafted into being signalmen and even stokers for trains running a gauntlet to bring needed food and ammo to their besieged comrades.

Patriotic and nationalistic as all these recent Russian WWII epics are but with a clear-eyed view to the abuses of the Stalin regime.

If you like action movies set n trains (I happen to love them) then this is for you. Loads of fascinating detail of how to run a wartime railroad as well suspense, action and romance. 




FREAKY (2020)

Vince Vaughn is a masked serial killer who, by some unexplained mystical means, switches bodies with a withdrawn teenaged girl.

A horror/pastiche/parody/teen comedy without a single original thought in its head. This movie doesn’t just insult your intelligence, it assumes you have no intelligence whatsoever.

The filmmakers mash up body switch comedies like FREAKY FRIDAY and 18 AGAIN with standard slasher film fare without adding anything special, surprising, or even mildly amusing to the mix. The characters here aren’t cardboard, they’d wet tissue paper and check all the boxes. The main character is friends with the only African-American girl and gay boy at school. All the other kids are white, privileged and hateful bigots. The only teacher portrayed in the film (despite the fact that much of the action occurs at school) is a ridiculous one-note character filled with male chauvinist rage.

And there are no real character arcs in the film as nothing about the motives of any of them are given any screen time. The black girl is sassy. The gay boy is a campy caricature. The jocks are all venal brutes. The mean girls are just…mean. Alan Ruck is given the odious task of portraying the teacher who singles out the lead character for abuse for no reason than this is required to set up is comeuppance.

Do all kids these days use language like Wall Street brokers? I think not. But every character here draws from the same lexicon of foul, profane and scatological terms and phrases as if they were written by someone with no idea how people outside their social circle talk.

The action is entirely predictable down to the final frame.

Vaughn manages to elicit a few laughs as he channels a teenaged girl. Not worth enduring this mess.




RIFIFI IN PARIS (1966)

Jean Gabin is a gangster struggling to keep his place in the Paris underworld despite pressure from an international consortium of mobsters from Italy, Germany and the USA.

Not to be confused with the classic RIFIFI (1955), this is a pretty tepid crime thriller that might have seemed more exciting when it was released. Gert Froebe, fresh from playing Auric Goldfinger is good in a role as smuggler and George Raft shows up as the American capo intent on muscling Gabin out. French audiences must have dug seeing one of their iconic gangster actors on screen with Raft who made himself famous by playing mafia types as well as being real-life friends with Bugsy Siegel. They even have him idly flipping a coin, one of his signature gimmicks.

Oh, and Mireille D’arc is on hand but purely ornamental in a role as a grasping B-girl. 



BAD COMPANY (1995)

Lawrence Fishburne is cut loose from the CIA only to be hired by a private firm that specializes in dirty tricks and corporate espionage run by Frank Langella. Ellen Barkin is another of the company’s employees with ambitious plans that involve Fishburne and coldblooded murder.

Twisty, turny political thriller that’s slickly produced and exists in a world of movie reality. That’s not such a bad thing. It all has the same vibe as THE USUAL SUSPECTS and other movies in the “what the hell’s going on?” sub-genre of suspense films. It’s all engaging enough and features a terrific, understated score by Carter Burwell.



 

STAGE FRIGHT (1950)

Theatrical sensation Marlene Dietrich murders her husband and manages to pin it on schmo Richard Todd. But Jane Wyman is smitten with Todd and offers to get the goods on Dietrich. Things get more complicated as Wyman learns there’s much more to all this messy situation than she supposed.

A minor Hitchcock effort that’s entertaining, nonetheless. Wyman is cute and funny, even more so by playing her role entirely straight. She’s teamed with the always engaging Alistair Sim as her eccentric father. Dietrich is creepy as the murderess. IT’s not at all hard to imagine her bludgeoning a guy to death.  And Hitch has one of his better cameos halfway through the running time.

It's all fun but I sense it was a contractual obligation for the director as he seems more interested in creating complex camera effects than in the actual goings on within the story. It was no secret that Hitch found icy blondes attractive. Perhaps Marlene was a bit too icy for him.



 

MARGIN CALL (2011)

At a huge Wall Street investment firm, a risk assessor uncovers a trend in recent trades that will bankrupt the company unless something drastic is done and quickly. The solution the company’s managers come up with might just end in ruin.

This is, basically, the story of Lehman Brothers, the first and only Wall Street firm to fall when the housing bubble burst in 2008. The writing here is so damn skilled that I marvel at it each time I watch this movie and I’ve watched a half dozen times. They take a difficult topic, high finance and risk analysis and turn it into a nail-biting, ticking clock suspense thriller with no car chases, shoot-outs, or any physical peril at all. In fact, no one even raises their voice.

I’m no math genius, and like 90% of the population, have little understanding of how this stuff works. But the writers manage to inform the viewer of the import, magnitude, and danger of what’s happening to this company as the mortgage-backed securities fiasco begins to spin out of control. This is more entertaining and more informative than THE BIG SHORT, a film that covers the same territory but purports to the last word on the subject while only telling half the story.

In addition to the writing, a fine cast hits just the right tone of suppressed fear, defeat, and cynicism. Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Demi Moore and Kevin Spacey are all excellent and bring what might have been very dry subject matter to life. Stanley Tucci, in particular, is a stand-out in a small but pivotal role.

There’s also quite a bit of contemplation about the nature of finances, capitalism and how economics effect society for the good and the bad. The filmmakers present these issues for the viewer to think about them but never instruct on what to think about them.

This is masterfully crafted, grown-up entertainment from beginning to end.





THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (1952)

 Audie Murphy takes on a badge in order to hunt down the claim jumpers that killed that his dad. Sheriff Steve McNally takes him on as a deputy even though Adie gives him cause for concern with his quick temper and faster gun.

 A fine, fast-paced western actioner directed with his usual skill by Don Siegel. Even restricted to filming a backlot western, Siegel still mages to ick the best locations and most effective angles for his shots. He makes the familiar Universal western town set seem new even to jaded western fans like myself.

Murphy is, as always, intense and utterly believable in the action scenes. McNally does well here even though he’s a bit too urban and 50’s contemporary for a period role. Faith Domergue appears to be having a good time as a bad girl femme fatale playing all sides against the middle. And Lee Marvin is here in a small role that allows us to see him square off, briefly, against Murphy in a saloon scene.

All in all, a darned good western filmed with authority and verve.





ARISE MY LOVE (1940)

 Ray Milland is a soldier of fortune waiting to be executed by firing squad by fascists in Spain until he’s rescued by eager newspaperwoman Claudette Colbert arrives and, pretending to be his wide, secures a pardon. This event weds the pair to each other first by fate and then by a growing affection for one another that turns to love in the shadows of a looming world war.

In any other hands this might have been a mawkish, overly-sentimental bit of pre-war propaganda. But in the skilled hands of screenwriters Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder and director Mitchell Leisen, it’s a bright, funny, often moving bit of pre-war propaganda.

Milland is at his best here, witty and charming with a bit of the devil in him. Colbert is, as always, funny and winning. The movie is loaded with “air force” jokes meant to go over the heads of children (and probably the studio censors) that make the growing relationship between the leads all the more believable.

There’s plenty of suspense and action (particularly at the beginning) as well as some somber and foreboding scenes about the future of the United States in the years to come. This film was made before Pearl Harbor but accurately predicts that Americans would be drawn into the European conflict. The movie is trying to sway minds as, at the time this was released, it was an election year and the country was divided between going to war and remaining neutral. 


THE STRONGHOLD (2021)

 Just dropped on Netflix.

 A trio of cops in Marseilles come up with an unorthodox strategy for taking down a violent drug gang holed up in a fortress-like high-rise. The fall-out of the epic bust will take them beyond the limits of their personal codes of justice.

 I’ve said it before and stand by it, when it comes to police dramas, no one comes close to French filmmakers. And this one delivers on all of that par excellence. This exciting cop story, based on a true story, is one of the best crime movies I’ve seen in years. We’re made to deeply care about the cast which makes the suspense all the more excruciating. And IT is edge-your-set stuff in so many scenes. The massive raid sequence is riveting and perfectly staged. There’s also some keen character development, welcome moments of humor and real drama presented without sentiment.

 In addition to be a solid crime actioner, the movie also explores the moral tightrope between law and justice and the dangers of doing your job too well in a bureaucracy set up to preserve mediocrity and the status quo.

 I can’t recommend this highly enough. Great entertainment.




Monday, August 30, 2021

Reviews everywhere you look!

 

THE LAST MERCENARY (2021)

It’s a Netflix thing.

Jean Claude VanDamme is a former badass on the global stage. He’s forced to come out of hiding and retirement when he discovers he fathered a child decades before and his nerdy, slacker son is in a world of trouble.

The Muscles from Brussels tries farce.

He shouldn’t have gone there, and you shouldn’t watch him do so. VanDamme and a zany cast tries hard for laughs and fails in an epic way.





NORTH BY NORTHWEST (1959)

Madison Avenue ad man Cary Grant is in deep trouble when some foreign agents mistake him for the elusive Mr. Kaplan. Things grow more complicated when Cary is implicated in the mirder of a UN diplomat and must rely on the kindness off Eva Marie Saint to escape the law. But is she what she seems? Is anything what it seems?

A pure Hitchcock tour-de-force created while Hitch was supposed to be working on another movie. While collaborating with writer Ernest Lehman on the screenplay for THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE, the director grew bored and began making lists of suspense set pieces and challenging Lehman to string hem into a story. The result is this action chase classic while other folks were assigned THE WRECK OF THE MARY DEARE and made an excellent film of it.

The movie is a study in how to start and conclude a story. Cary Grant’s character is introduced in the middle of a hectic day and his personality and life situation are established in a series of scenes that are as witty as they are informative. Within moments of the start time, the everyday goes wrong and we’re into the heart of the cat and mouse game as Cary is thrust from a normal working day into a fight for his life with an enemy that appears to be everywhere.

This is flawless entertainment perfectly assembled by masters of their craft. Humor, action and tons of subtext. Every scene, gesture and line of dialogue is important to the story. I realized with this viewing that the establishment of Cary’s ability to hold liquor early in the film is an important plot element later on. My wife, who watched it with me and has seen it multiple times as well, had never noticed the homoerotic tension between bad guys James Mason and Martin Landau before.

Here we see Hitch playing with time in a way he has never done before. The famous cornfield scene takes an astonishing amount of screen time without dialogue and yet is engrossing every step of the way. To slap a slow-burn sequence into a bullet-paced story like this one without losing the audience took authority and guts. 



THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021)

The Warrens are back and participate in an exorcism that goes sideways when the demon jumps to a new victim. Now they have to provide evidence of demonic possession to clear the new victim of homicide charges.

Sadly, this is the weakest entry in the series and the problems all stem from the basic structure of the story. Usually, these movies begin with some kind of paranormal shenanigans plaguing an unwitting family of innocents and, when all else fails, Ed and Lorraine are called in on the case. In this outing we begin with them in the middle of action and the entire story moves forward incited by the events of the opening scene.

Setting the plot up this way deprives the movie of a reintroduction to the Warrens and the re-establishment of their daily life. That’s the element that separates this series from most horror offerings; the depiction of what everyday life is for a pair of lay exorcists. Those scenes of them at home, eating breakfast, scheduling their day, caring for their daughter, ground the stories in a reality that makes the scary stuff all the more impactful. Without them, this seems rushed and somewhat hollow. Lazy writing where things happen only because they’re necessary to propel the thin story forward. In the end credits, the real-life Warrens are seen in clips from a segment of Tom Snyder’s old talk show. The movie would have benefited greatly if this scene were included in the film.

That said, it’s still an enjoyable movie due mostly to some effective scenes and, of course, the all-in performances of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The great scenes include the horrifically terrific antics of the young possession victim at the start of the movie and a sly bit of humor as the Warrens convince a lawyer of the reality of demonic possession. I look forward to the next one





 
MOONRAKER (1979)

James Bond uncovers a dastardly plan by billionaire eco-terrorist Drax to make the world a better place by killing almost everyone in it and replacing them with catalog models.

I watched the Fan Edit version of this and it is a vast improvement over the original. If you’re not aware of fanedit.com you need to check it out. Lots of interesting re-edits of movies you’re familiar with.

This re-cut trims almost all of the sillier, goofier, cringe-worthy moments including groan-inducing puns, dopey punchlines and as much of the Jaws and his Swiss Miss gal pal as could be managed without wrecking the continuity. They also replaced some of the music using tracks from earlier Bond films and these provide the starkest example of what even minor changes can accomplish to make a movie more effective.

While this will never be a great Bond flick, the changes emphasize what’s good about it. Michael Lonsdale is perfectly despicable with some great lines. “It’s time to put you out of my misery.” There are some terrific action set-pieces including a boat chase on the Amazon. And the horrific scene in which the bad Bond girl is pursued by Dobermans, a horror movie subject filmed like a perfume ad, is very effective. Overall, the film is wonderfully shot by Jean Tournier and is one of the best-looking entries in the series.

The action climax is obviously an attempt to capture a portion of the audience that crowded theaters to watch STAR WARS wo years before. It very much resembles the end of THUNDERBALL in a lot of ways. 





THE PROFESSOR AND THE MADMAN (2019)

It’s a Netflix thing.

Mel Gibson is tasked with assembling the first Oxford English Dictionary. To help him with what many believe to be an impossible task, he enlists the aide of imprisoned lunatic Sean Penn.

Now, the movie I want to see is a movie about making this movie. Can you imagine Mel and Sean of set? Politically polar opposites and both with reputations as wildmen. They probably had restraining orders in their contracts. Or they got along like thieves. Either way, you know there’s a great story there.

And the story of the creation of the OED is a great story too though you’d never know it from this movie.

It took me a while to figure out why I didn’t enjoy this movie. The performances are excellent, the production is gorgeous, and the period detail is spot on. But the heart of the story is Gibson’s claim is that English is a living language and he stands in conflict with snobby academics who only want “proper” English included. And the filmmakers fail to present this in a compelling way and, by failing in this, show off their own elitism.

The most egregious example is when Mel and other cast members overhear servants speaking to one another in then-current slang. We listen with them but never SEE the servants as if only their words and not their presence are important. Movies are made to show not tell and this scene, a very good muffed by poor storytelling, should have been the opening of the scene. I would have had Mel walking the streets of the city overhearing conversations and coming to the grand realization of the mother tongue as a malleable, mutable thing. Remember the scene in THE 13TH WARRIOR where Antonio Banderas learns the language of his captors?

And ‘splainin’ not showing plagues this movie throughout. What might have worked on stage does not work on the screen. The world of the film is small though its subject is large. This movie would have benefited greatly with direction by Gibson as well. I am told that he provided his own cut to the studio and they rejected it. Sad. 





DIEN BEN PHU (1992)

Dramatic recreation of the final major battle between the Viet Minh and French forces before the French pulled out of Indochina in 1954.

Most history buffs have had cause to think of France’s final act in Vietnam in recent days.

This film divides his attention between the complacent life of colonials and ex-patriates living in Hanoi and the mounting horrors faced by French paratroops and legionnaires. The battle action is presented in a near documentary style that serves as a rare example of the full scale of armed exchanges on film. Not much effort (outside of dialogue exchanges) is made to clarify the various actions as Dien Ben Phu falls, bit by bit, to the commies. What is clear is the size of the operation. This level of realism is greatly aided by the film being shot on the location where it all happened.

The epic climax of the film also had the benefit of the cooperation of the Vietnamese army. I take issue with the accuracy (as opposed to realism) as the Viets are presented as parade ready and fully equipped with weapons, uniforms and gear they would not have had in ’54.  The Viet Minh was the very model of a motley, ragtag army. If the politburo in Ho Chi Minh City really wanted to score propaganda points, they would have presented the Viet Minh as they were, an armed insurrection of poorly armed civilians. It would have made their unlikely victory over the well-trained, well-armed and determined French forces all that more remarkable. But, as we know, reds aren’t very deep thinkers. 





THE LAST WARRIOR/THE SCYTHIAN (2018)

 

Lutobor is a loyal warrior whose wife and child are kidnapped by a roving band of Scythian mercenaries. The ransom to return them alive is the death of his own lord. Will Lutodor betray his oath and murder his master to save his family?

 

The Russians are making some terrific period action flicks and this one is one of the better entries. The locales are as brutal as the action in a story with all the elements of Robert E. Howard tale. Plenty of suspense and plot twists in what is essentially a western set in the steppe. And, boy, does the lead character take a lot of punishment. There’s even a dark ages version of Thunderdome that comes to a gut-wrenching conclusion.

 

Wild stuff.




PREDATOR 2 (1990)

An alien hunter lands in Los Angeles in the middle of bloody drug war. Danny Glover, a cop who just won’t listen, treats this extra-terrestrial invasion as a personal issue. Thing are complicated by the arrival of federal agent Gary Busey and his army of goons dressed in matching Dockers and Members Only jackets.

The most common of commonalities, the unworthy movie sequel. As a follow-up to their 1980’s SF action classic, the Thomas brothers wed their concept to the tired tropes of a rogue cop actioner. Where the original film was a seamless thriller featuring a strong through line, this train wreck is just a string of movie clichés with disjointed action set-pieces mixed in. There are more holes in the plot than actual plot as characters know things they could not know and always show up just at the right moment even if that means being in two places at once.

Doughy, slow-moving Glover is no replacement for Schwarzenegger and leads a cast of stereotypes with wafer-thin characterizations. Bill Paxton is especially embarrassing in an overplayed role as an a-hole cop. Nice to see Kent McCord in a in a big screen role though.

Most disappointing is the flaccid action climax of the movie, featured some astonishingly bad special effects. It’s just no patch on the awesome third act in the first film. And the idea that dad-body Glover could take down a Predator with such ease was ludicrous.

I think, if they were going to go this route with the movie, they should have just gone all-in and cast Chuck Norris in the lead. At least then we would have gotten a memorable mano a xeno fight at the end. 





BLOOD RED SKY (2021)

A Netflix thing.

I really don’t want to get into the plot on this one. I watched it totally cold and I suggest you do the same thing.

That said, this German horror action flick delivers on every level. Intelligently plotted with a well-crafted slow burn opening that perfectly sets up the emotional and technical issues that get this story off the blocks. The suspense and action scenes are seamlessly blocked out and the stakes rise minute by minute as the situation for the main cast goes sideways then corkscrews.

All in all, by the end credits you’ll feel like you watched A MOVIE, if you know what I mean. Solid, earnest, escapist entertainment.

BTW, my wife, who is generally not a fan of the genre, said it was the best movie she’s seen in years.


BABYSITTING (2014)

A receptionist at a comic book company agrees to babysit his boss’ bratty kid overnight in hopes of getting a chance to show off his portfolio. To do this, he has to forego his own birthday party. But his friends are having none of it and bring the party to  the boss’ house. 80’s style party mayhem ensues.

Structured much like the movie THE HANGOVER, we see the story set-up and then jump ahead to the following morning and catch up to what happened in between with the use of found video. The gimmick is so perfectly played that the viewer forgets all about it, giving into curiosity to learn how the chaos at the start of the film came to be.
It’s far superior to THE HANGOVER in every way. I found that movie to be tedious, unfunny and contrived and, worst of all, a complete waste of an excellent premise. Here, maybe because the French excel at just this brand of farce, the results are dazzling. Gags are set up in multiple layers then paid off on, built upon and paid off again. Often, separate extended comedy bits are going on the foreground and background simultaneously. I really had to marvel at how well crafted and timed every reveal, punchline and surprise were set up and exploited. And there are constant suspense elements playing in the background throughout the film that serve to torque up tension. From a missing child to a bunch of rare tropical fish to a very valuable memorial plate, we are kept on edge throughout until each element is hilariously resolved.

This is the work of a comedic trio (Philippe Lacheau, Tarek Boudali and Julien Arruti) who apparently are a franchise in France and produce consistent comic gold in a series of frantic farces like this one. I’ll review the very funny ALIBI.COM soon. 



THE LAST HUNT (1956)

Flat busted Stewart Granger accepts and offer from Robert Taylor to join him on a buffalo hunt. Trouble is, it turns out Taylor is mad, bad and dangerous to know.

This Richard Brooks (THE PROFESSIONALS) written and directed outdoor actioner was part of the trend toward “adult” westerns in the 1950’s. It’s a grim study of human nature that must have come as a shock to audiences for its frank treatment of sexual predation. Equally shocking would have been seeing matinee idol Robert Taylor playing a complete psychotic in a chilling performance.

Taylor was a big star at MGM who carefully groomed his image as a romantic leading man. After WWII, as was true with so many actors, Taylor had to seek different kinds of roles. He made a string of westerns and was very good in them as he transitioned, much like Tom Cruise has in his later career, into an action movie star.

This movie has a lot to recommend it from its hard look at the business of hunting to its rich lot of period detail and some excellent performances with Lloyd Nolan a standout as a grizzled buffalo skinner. A big boon to the film was its access to the national parks to film the actual annual culling of the preserved buffalo herds. For the weak of heart, I have to warn you that the death of the buffalos depicted in the movie were real, not special effects. 



LAWMAN (1971

Burt Lancaster is a lawman who cuts no corners and cuts no slack. When he arrives in the town of Sabbath to arrest seven men implicated in murder, he runs headlong into empire ranch owner Lee J. Cobb.

Part of the trend toward what I call “mean” westerns that begins with THE WILD BUNCH and runs through the early 1970’s. Most probably a reaction to the Italian westerns that were cresting ion popularity at this time.  

This one benefits from the presence of Burt Lancaster and a huge cast of well-recognized character actors like Richard Jordan (in his first role). Robert Duvall, Albert Salmi, Sheree North, John McGiver, Ralph Waite, John Hillerman, Joseph Wiseman and more. Wilfrid Brimley makes his screen debut here playing a corpse!

It’s a good story plainly told, and director Michael Winner eschews his usual excesses to present a story that was actually common in the Old West, the town that wanted law and order but rebels against the man who takes them at their word.

There’s a lot of action but the emphasis here is on human drama and ratcheting up suspense.



 

A QUIET PLACE PART II (2020)

The survivors of the first film abandon their farm to find new sanctuary only to find the alien dominated world an unforgiving place.

That rarity of rarities, the worth movie sequel. This one does what all great sequels so, continue the story, explore the universe the story is set in, stay true to the original characterizations and, mots importantly, does not confuse better with bigger.

Writer/director John Krasinski wisely keeps the scale and tone of this follow-up at the same level as the original. It is truly a second chapter in a bigger story.

The performances are uniformly excellent with Cillian Murphy entirely unrecognizable as a friend who’s not all that happy to see his old neighbors again.

The suspense, as before, is excruciating with a number of multi-layered action set-pieces that are marvelously realized. And, unusual for a sequel, it works as a standalone film with a welcome flashback at the opening to how all of this began. A third film is in pre-production, and I look forward to this is all brought to a conclusion.

Top drawer escapist entertainment.