Monday, March 25, 2019

SON OF REVENGE OF REVIEWS 3.27.19

THE LAST SEDUCTION (1994) Hapless small town guy Peter Berg is manipulated by big city hustler Linda Fiorentino. This slice of '90s hardboiled noir is directed by John Dahl who did some really fine feature work (Red Rock West, Rounders) before turning to TV. Fiorentino is simply splendid as the femme fatale who takes off with close to a million dollars of conman hubby Bill Pullman's cash. The movie was budgeted and intended for a fastplay cable entry of the Skinamax variety. But Dahl had other plans and actually had to pledge to the producers that he had "no artistic aspirations." He must have had his fingers crossed because this lean, spare story, fueled by equal parts lust and greed, is nothing short of a masterpiece. Terrific performances, a great jazz score, smart dialogue and loads of twists and turns. Fiorentino lost out on an Oscar nomination only because the movie appeared on cable before going to theaters.

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PRIVATE'S PROGRESS (1956) A British service comedy featuring Ian Carmichael as his patented clueless ninny who gets drafted into a behind-the-lines mission to recover art stolen by the Nazis. Richard Attenborough in one of the series of wiseguy Cockneys he played in the 50s. And Terry Thomas in his breakout role as Major Hitchcock. "A shower. An absolute shower." Lots of fun with a cynical, satiric edge. Carmichael would return as the same character (along with others in the cast) in the classic labor union comedy I'M ALL RIGHT, JACK (1959).

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COLT .45 (1950) Minor Randolph Scott western that packs lots of shootin', ridin' and story twists into a tight 74 minutes. Scott is a salesman for Samuel Colt who gets his six-guns stolen by bad guy Zachery Scott who goes on a crime spree using them. Zach's a "leaves no witnesses" type and real psycho. The time period of the movie purports to the the 1840s but everything about the production is the usual 1870s setting of these fastplay westerns. The Indians in the story are all played by actually Native Americans and are allied with hero Scott to see that justice is done. Lloyd Bridges is here playing the kind of scheming rotter he excelled at in this period of his career. Ruth Roman is the love interest and she's one tough gal. Over the course of the movie she's slapped, punched and shot off a horse but maintain her pluck throughout.

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TONY ROME (1967) Frank Sinatra wise-asses his way through Miami Beach leaving a trail of fresh corpses in his wake. It's standard private eye stuff with everyone lying to Tony to hide their sordid little secrets. Sinatra seems to be having a good time and does a surprising number of his own stunts. Director Gordon Douglas keeps things moving as he always does. I imagine that some of the reveals in this might have been shocking or edgy for 1967 audiences, all very "adult." 
And Tony's good with a comeback.

Diana: People change. They don't always turn out the way you expect.
Tony: I know. You should see my baby pictures.

Tony: This isn't a family. It's just a bunch of people living at the same address.

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LADY IN CEMENT (1968) A sequel to TONY ROME and superior in many ways. The wisecracks are funnier. Raquel Welch replaces Jill St. John and Dan Blocker relishes the chance to play a heavy for once. All of the scenes with Frank and Dan are gems with a few laugh-out-loud lines. There's a real chemistry there and it's apparent these guys liked each other a lot. Ol' Blue Eyes must have liked Blocker the way he lets he big literally throw him around. It's boilerplate private eye stuff and, thanks again to Gordon Douglas, races along as fast as Tony's POS Ford can take it.

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MURDER PARTY (2007) Just recently discovered director Jeremy Saulnier and decided to check out his first flick. A naive nobody finds an invitation to a "murder party" to be held on Halloween. he makes a costume and shows up to discover that he's top be the victim of a bunch of art school students looking to earn an NEA grant. Oh yeah, it goes over the top and is grisly fun as well as bitter social commentary.

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 KINGDOM (2012) Wes Anderson movies play like a cover of the New Yorker come to life. There's a fragile charm to them and a heavy dollop of quirk. They're airily constructed and exist in an alternate universe removed from real emotion and consequence. Like so many pretenses to art, they're enjoyable but forgettable. And there's always a conscious effort made to make sure the audience doesn't think these are stories for kids even though they have the tone and pacing of classic children's stories. Usually this divide takes the form of an unnecessary sexual reference to guarantee a PG-13 rating. This movie is no exception. A splendid cast playing the sort of characters that populate Anderson's films against a backdrop of an idyllic world free of all cares and worries but the ones the characters create for themselves.

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RAW DEAL (1948) Excellent film noir directed by Anthony Mann. Dennis O'Keefe is on the run from the cops and torn between two loves, his loyal gal pal Claire Trevor and the legal secretary, Marsha Hunt, he has the hots for. The triangle heats to the boiling point as O'Keefe wants to settles the score with the guy who sent him to the slammer. John Ireland is on hand as a sardonic gunsel and Raymond Burr at his burr-ly best as a sociopath pyromaniac.

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THE DEVIL AND MISS JONES (1941) Billionaire Charles Coburn decides to take a job, incognito, at one of his own department stores to get to the bottom of who's been agitating his workers. It turns out to be Jean Arthur and her rabble-rousing boyfriend Robert Cummings. Comedy ensues in a story that manages to take on the issues of management vs. labor while skirting around the more dire consequences. The usual bright and heartfelt script by Norman Krasna and sure direction by Sam Wood. Arthur is, as always, adorable as the principled everygirl. Cummings gets everything he can out of some very funny scenes. And Coburn, in an Oscar-nominated role, gives his best put-upon magnate performance.

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211 (2018) Another Nick Cage actioner cranked out from the mill at Millennium. Like all their product, it's competently made and delivers what you expect from them. That beings lots, and lots and lots of gunplay. A simple set-up leads to the last half of the movie being one extended shoot-em-up between a gang of military trained bank robbers and the entire police force of a mid-sized town. And Cage is Cage. What can I say? It's on Netflix.
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 (1986) This might go down in cinema history as the only time Chuck Norris can be seen smiling on film. Witless, meandering script, indifferent direction, lazy editing all hamper what might have been a fun little romp. Chuck and Lou Gossett Jr seem to be having fun and have a nice rapport. And Chuck does his very best to deliver comedic lines along with the spinkicks. But it's all a pointless exercise as everyone else is phoning it in.

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REVENGE of REVIEWS 3.26.2019

CLOSE (2019) Noomi Rapace, cinema's most durable woman, in a slickly made, smart chase thriller. She's a professional bodyguard trying to work herself and her client free of a cabal of killers intent on killing them both. Some solid cliffhangers and thrilling action set pieces. I don't buy for a single second that 5'4" Noomi could take down men twice her size but that conceit is part of the price of admission when you watch flicks like this. And I got to hand to her, she takes a beating like no other actress. From the near-constant brutality in the "Girl" movies, the self-inflicted C-section in Prometheus, and What Happened To Monday where she plays six characters who get their fair share of abuse.

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ADAPTATION (2002) Charlie Kaufman is assigned to write a screenplay adaption of The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean. The impossible task of turning this extended essay, that contemplates the value of flowers and human relationships, into a movie drives poor Charlie both mad and meta. A dark and funny plumbing of the creative mind of a writer with Nick Cage playing the real-life Charlie as well as his fictitious twin brother Donald. Cage is uncharacteristically restrained here and the effect is properly awkward and squirm-inducing. The movie goes off the rails as Charlie's life as a writer becomes inextricably immersed in his current work-in-progress. My personal favorite is the perfectly-cast Brian Cox as the real-life screenwriting seminar bully Bob McKee.

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ELYSIUM (2013) This movie makes cinema history with the only bad performance I've ever seen from Jodie Foster. After the excellent and edgy DISTRICT 9, writer/director Neil Blomkamp falls into the sophomore feature "an idea I had in film school" trap. Disjointed, contrived and heavily reliant on coincidence, this wannabe "meaningful" sci-fi actioner comes off as an over-earnest cartoon. Basically all the rich folks leave the despoiled and poisoned Earth to live on an impossibly huge space station where they restrict illegal immigration. Get it? DO you? The imponderables that ensue mount up until they create an un-breachable wall between the viewer and the strident entertainment desperately trying to teach us all something. My advice? Watch it choosing the French or Portuguese language option.


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DIE BRUCKE/THE BRIDGE (1959) Every great war film is an anti-war film. This classic (made over the objections of the German film industry) tells the story of a group of teenage soldiers left behind to defend the only bridge that leads to their hometown against an American armored unit in the final days of the war. The film does a terrific job of letting us into the boys' lives and building up each as an individual so that the devastating final act has maximum emotional impact. Heartbreaking as well as inspiring as the boys start by fighting for what their believe is the honor of the Fatherland but wind up fighting for one another.

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ZELIG (1983) This mockumentary by Woody Allen imagines the life of Leonard Zelig, famous in the 1920s as the human Chameleon, using period film snippets, photos and wonderfully crafted faux footage. I can imagine this was Allen's most fun project to write. His newsreel narrations, songs and dialogue sequences are pitch perfect for the period. The conceit is that Zelig (Allen) has the ability to "become" whoever he's in the company of. Mia Farrow plays the intrepid psychiatrist who delves into the depths of the compulsive mimic's psyche to learn the origins of his strange affliction. As Zelig says, "...it shows exactly what you can do, if you're a total psychotic!"

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HONEYMOON IN BALI (1939) Excellently crafted romantic comedy that deals with grown-up issues like ambition and loneliness. In a classic rom/com trope, department store exec Madeline Carroll has to choose between the man who's safe (Allan Jones) and the guy she has the hots for (Fred MacMurray). The movie digs deeper into this scenario than we usually see to pose questions we've all asked ourselves now and then. Snappy dialogue and a few "air force" exchanges created to be as risque as the Hays Office would allow.

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KINGDOM (2018) Korean drama series currently on Netflix. In 16th Century Korea, a disease spreads across the land causing the dead to rise. Without ever using the "z" word, this horror/action epic takes a a fresh look at the sub-genre with classic period intrigue, well-delineated characters and a cast we care about. And some seriously creepy imagery. Absolutely compulsive viewing. Don't start it late in the evening (yawwwwwwwwn) like I did,

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VELVET BUZZSAW (2019) An atmospheric, slow-burn horror parable set in the world of modern art. Jake Gyllenhal and Rene Russo lead a cast of art critics, dealers, agents and curators who all fall victim to their own greed and pretensions when a vast collection of paintings is found in the apartment of a dead artist. I was reminded of Roman Polanski more than once as this story built itself deliberately toward scenes as inventive as they were disturbing and deft touches of the darkest humor. I was surprised that I got so engaged in this story considering how unsympathetic most of the characters are. As well as an effective spookfest, this movie savagely exposes this universe of charlatans devising new strategies to either draw attention to themselves or invent new ways to bilk the wealthy. On Netflix.

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THE BRIDE WORE BOOTS (1946) Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Cummings are battling spouses in this divorce comedy set among the horsie set in Virginia. After seven years of marriage, Bob confesses that he hates horses. SHE: "You told me on our honeymoon that you loved horses." HE: "We were on a boat!" It's downhill from there as misstep follows mishap and their marriage doesn't look like it's going to make it to the finish line. Not a classic by any means but fun nonetheless with Robert Benchley, Willie Best and a seven-year-old Natalie Wood all in fine form.

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SEVEN GOLDEN MEN (1965) A VERY 60s Euro heist flick with a cast from all over the continent. A gang of professionals works under the direction of a criminal genius to loot several tons of gold bars from the vault at Credit Suisse in Geneva. But the Swiss cops know the gang is in town somewhere and doing everything they can to find them. The movie is ALL heist and double and triple crosses and moves along at the pace of a getaway car. And as hard as the robbers work for their payday, the gang's mascot chippie works even harder changing her outfit every five minutes.

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THE SUBSTITUTE (1996) I had entirely forgotten how fun much this movie was. Tom Berenger is a special forces badass who takes over his girlfriend's high school class after she's been mugged. What follows is a Punisher story basically. Terrific supporting cast with Diane Venora, Ernie Hudson, Richard Brooks, Luiz Guzman and William Forsythe thinner than I've ever seen him. Totally gonzo action flick with lots of fully delineated bad guys getting what's coming to them. Though the gunfights are 80s crazy, the fistfights are played straight with Berenger made to really work hard at coming out on top.Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Sunday, March 24, 2019

MORE REVIEWS! 3.25.2019

HOLD-UP (1985) Jean-Paul Belmondo comedy heist flick based on the same Jay Cronley novel as the Bill Murray movie QUICK CHANGE. It's fun, of course, with a few harrowing truck and car stunt scenes directed by Rene Julliene. And this is one of the last films in which Belmondo would do his own stunts. He retired from stunt work saying that he didn't wish to be "France's flying grandpa." Set in Montreal, one of the few times the actor shot in the western hemisphere. Kim Cattrall is here, dubbed in French, a year before appearing as Grace Law in BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.

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LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM (1988) Art house meets grindhouse in Ken Russell's attempt to bring one of the worst horror novels ever written to the screen. Amanda Donahue is simultaneously alluring and unsettling as an acolyte of of a giant serpent living in caves beneath an English manor house. Hugh Grant and Peter Capaldi look astonishingly young as the two erstwhile heroes of the story. I'm convinced, by the way the movie is shot, that Russell intended this to be shot in period and in black and white as an homage to silent films. The way each scene is framed and the style of acting brings me to this conclusion.



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PRIVATE HELL 36 (1954) Steve Cochran and Howard Duff as a pair of LA cops in a devil's bargain over a stack of stolen cash. Steve wants the money so he can do right by nightclub singer Ida Lupino. Howard knows what he's done is all wrong by his wife Dorothy Malone. Fine, taut police noir directed by the master Don Siegel. Siegel had a real flair for bringing an immediacy to stories like this with his use of realistic locales far from the studio backlots. He also had a knack for drawing you into the more intimate scenes to make you feel a part of them. The guy never placed his camera wrong.

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SADDLE TRAMP (1950) Aimless drifter Joel McCrea becomes responsible for a quartet of orphans when a pal of his dies unexpectedly. This ones rates in the "pretty darn good" western category. Sharp writing, fast pace, some real suspense in a gorgeous technicolor production. McCrea excelled in heavy drama, screwball comedy and as an action star and this one is a fine entry in the string of westerns he made throughout the 1950s. A strong supporting cast led by John McIntyre, John Russell and Ed Begley.

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THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN (1970) Unusual combination of western and prison story. Professional crook and full-time louse, Kirk Douglas gets ten years in Yuma but tries to tempt new warden Henry Fonda into letting him go in exchange for half of a hidden fortune. Engaging and fun so long as you can get past the painfully dated soundtrack featuring a theme song by Trini Lopez. I guess Jerry Fielding could only score so many movies. A trove of great characters actors fill out the cast including Warren Oates, Burgess Meredith and Hume Cronyn.

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 (2008) Grim, realistic film about the occupation of Berlin by the Russian army following the end of the WWII. Based on the diary of a German woman who survived the war only to have to deal with the brutal abuse that came with defeat. Not exactly a date night movie, the story reveals ugly truths about human nature and what it means to live another day. There are no good guys in this movie, only human beings paying for the decisions they made by the harshest means. Works as a companion piece, practically a sequel, to 2004's DOWNFALL.

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ERASED (2012) Currently on Netlfix. Aaron Eckhart is a credible lead in a flick that could have been TAKEN 4 if only Liam Neeson had signed on. It's a solid chase thriller with loads of paranoia and suspense. The action takes place in Belgium which looks like a country created solely as a backdrop for spy dramas. The action is frequent and believable for the most part. No one gets up after dropping three stories or receiving a blow to the head from a hammer. Though the characters spend more than forty eight hours on the ruin without every taking on calories.

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BELLMAN and TRUE (1987) Tight, British bank heist flick with a fresh perspective. A computer programmer is dragooned into a 12 million pound bank job when a mob uses his son as hostage. Well-crafted and suspenseful with loads of (at the time) state-of-the-science tech aspects.

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KILL ME AGAIN (1989) One of my favorite directors, John Dahl, on his first excursion into noir territory. Femme fatale Joanne Whalley hires PI Val Kilmer to help her fake her own death in order to escape from her psychotic boyfriend Michael Madsen with a million is stolen mob money. It's all juicy gumshoe stuff and moves along at a clip, peppered with tough talk and iced over with cynicism. Betrayals, lies and double-crosses pile up as fast as the corpses and all comes to a satisfactory conclusion. Kilmer is too young and too pretty for the role but manages to pull it off nonetheless. My wife and I re-cast it a true 50s noir and deciced on Robert Mitchum, Lisabeth Scott and Dan Duryea

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HONOR AMONG THIEVES/FAREWELL,FRIEND (1968) Unusual heist film as the robbery takes place in the second act and serves to set up a mystery. Delon is his usual suave, enigmatic self and Bronson relishes his role as a total heel. Some clever complications and solutions and the kind of slow-burn suspense sequences often present in Euro-crime flicks. And there's some tres 60s elements as well but, thankfully, no horrid Euro-music soundtrack to mar the action.

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