Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Yes, you can have more movie reviews!

Yeah, once again, there's a lot of French language films in this latest batch of reviews. I have most of my DVDs on a server now which allows me to add sub-titles in English to movies that never had them. So I've been bingeing a bit on Gallic cinema recently.

BANG, BANG! YOU'RE DEAD! (1966) I fully expected this 60s spy spoof to have a cheesy theme song (sung by Jack Jones or LuLu) and animated opening credits. But cheapie studio American International had probably spent all their budget on the cast. Tony Randall plays his usual feckless character. Senta Berger is beautiful. Herbert Lom is menacing. Klaus Kinski is creepy. Denholm Elliott and Wilfrid Hyde-White work overtime to see who can act more British until Terry-Thomas shows up and blows them both out of the water. It's all silly and could have been an effective comedy but it fails to find a consistent tone or pace.
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Arrêtez-moi/ARREST ME (2013) French police movie with a more psychological bent. Sophie Marceau shoves her abusive husband off a balcony and arrives at a police station to confess just hours before the ten-year statute of limitations is up. Inspector Miou-Miou is having none of it. Engaging anti-structure movie that shows how both women came to be who they are on the night of their meeting.
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LONE HAND (1953) Fine, fast paced Joel McCrea western that packs a lot of story into a lean 76 minute running time. Joel's a dad who arrives in the territory looking to start a farm with his young son. But he runs into some hard luck and must turn to being an outlaw and risk losing the love and respect of everyone he cares about. Some effective suspense sequences and solid action. And a memorable early performance by James Arness.

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A DAY AT THE RACES (1937) One of the quartet of Marx Brothers movies that represent their best. Groucho is horse doctor Hugo Z. Hackenbush posing as a people doctor at a posh Florida health resort. Margaret Dumont as his favorite patient. Maureen O'Sullivan as the damsel in distress. Alan Jones standing in for Zeppo. And Harpo and Chico in top form. And, in the climactic horse-race scene Harpo is plainly visible doing his own riding ion a field of professional jockeys! Best line? Harpo is posing as a hotel detective and running a magnifying glass up the arm of Groucho's latest blonde floozie. "If you're looking for my fingerprints, you're a little early."
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ONE CHANCE SUR TWO/HALF A CHANCE (1998) A young car thief learns that her father is one of two men that her mother had dalliances with in the past. Boy, the French love that gag! Her two possible daddies are Jean-Paul Belmondo and Alain Delon who are teamed for the first time since BORSALINO. Of course, there's a reference to that movie here. The pair retain their chemistry here and play off one another effortlessly. Solid comedy and action with Belmondo doing his last on-screen stunts. He does his signature hanging from a helicopter deal and, as he climbs on board he gasps, "This is the last time! The last time!" I don't think that was in the script.

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FIREMAN, SAVE MY CHILD (1932) A classic Joe E,Brown vehicle with the loudmouth comedian as a small town fireman who's a baseball phenom. Brown plays yet another version of his credulous braggart character. There's loads of complications and a ticking clock suspense element in the third act. Like all of Brown's films this is a deft exercise in silliness loaded with clever dialogue exchanges and wild action. And the guy could throw a horsehide.

ANY NUMBER CAN WIN (1963) French film legend Jean Gabin gets out of prison to team with Alain Delon to heist a casino on the Riviera. Well-executed with some terrific suspense moments, beautiful women and loads of scenery. Delon is pitch-perfect as a heel with a bruised ego.

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THE 12TH MAN (2017) Inspiring true story of a Norwegian enemy of the Reich and his escape in to Sweden with the Nazis hit on his trail every step. All of this movie takes place in the brutal conditions of northern Norway. The protagonist is indefatigable and goes on where most of us would have laid down and died. Not for the faint-hearted and some breath-taking suspense scenes with real consequences.

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THE EQUALIZER 2 (2018) A worthy entry in what I hope becomes a franchise. Denzel is properly intense in a well-crafted thriller with some expertly executed action set pieces and chases. I particularly enjoyed the final showdown set in a violent nor'easter. Also enjoyed the way in which McCall touches the lives of those around him in a beneficial way in addition to all the badassery. And seeing Orson Bean in a dramatic role was a real treat.
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RETURN OF THE HERO (2018) Jean Dujardin and Mélanie Laurent are comic perfection in this excellently crafted period comedy. Dujardin plays an amoral heel who leaves for war promising to write every day to his young fiancee. When he fails to do so, Laurent, the girl's older sister posts a series of long letters from the "valiant" Captain ending with a final letter of his heroic death in India. Complications ensue when Dujardin returns years later. One twist, surprise, reversal and unforeseen complication after another leading to a thrilling and very funny climax.
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RAIN MAN (1988) Haven't watched this in decades. Seeing it again, the movie made me sad because H'wood makes almost no movies like this anymore. An actual, grown-up, mature drama that never stoops to cheap laughs, mawkish sentimentality or contrivance. Cruise gives his best performance to date and a level of craft he would not replicate until MAGNOLIA (1999). Hoffman is amazing in his restraint, working his timing like the master he is.

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FURY (2014) Re-watched this and was rewarded with some of the nuances I missed first time around. Other than films from the German POV, I can't think of another movie that deals with Americans in the final days of the war in Europe. I've spoken to quite a few vets who were in the rush to Berlin and this story presents the brutality of those days in a way that jibes with what I was told. The movie portrays the GIs accurately: killing machines still capable of compassion and mercy. Men resisting becoming the monsters they hunt but paying for that with little pieces of their soul.
The Shermans vs a Tiger 1 battle is a perfect demonstration of the meatgrinder our dads and grandads were thrown into. They were no real match for the German's armor but adapted tactics that required raw nerve and horrid losses to finally succeed against all odds.
There are those who question the accuracy of the Wild Bunch style ending. Well Audie Murphy went up against a German Panzer company all by himself and walked away leaving more than fifty dead, three tanks in flames and a grenadier unit in rout.

Un bonheur n'arrive jamais seul /HAPPINESS NEVER COMES ALONE (2012) Gad Elmaleh and Sophie Marceau in a fun romantic comedy. Child-hating Gad falls for Sophie not realizing that she had three kids and a troubled past with a series of ex-husbands. The kind of frothy stuff that they make here with Matthew McConoughey and Kate Hudson with a Gallic twist. Meaning, lots more sex and excused amorality. Fun stuff with a gifted comic cast and the kids are funny without being cute or cloying.
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CA$H (2008) Complicated (perhaps TOO complicated) con artist/heist thriller done in the French once-over-lightly style. Jean DuJardin leads a cast of liars, tricksters and pigeons in the kind of movie where you learn never to trust what you can see. I'm seriously going to have to watch this one again and soon to catch what I missed the first time around. Great cast with Valeria Golino, Jean Reno and others. This one moves fast at a blink-and-you'll-miss pace. And Caroline Proust cleans up nice. I'm used to seeing her as the overly-obsessed homicide cop who never showers in the excellent series SPIRAL.
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COME WHAT MAY (2015) Effective and suspenseful movie about a rural French village that decides to evacuate before the German invasion of 1940. Well-crafted characters, harrowing action and high stakes in a deliberately paced story that will draw you inexorably into these people's lives. Matthew Rhys is excellent as a British soldier who joins the evacuation after his unit is slaughtered. This movie contain one of the neatest (and most desired) scenes of retribution I've ever seen on film. Epic in scale but highly personal as well. It took real skill to balance the big and small story here.
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THE KING'S CHOICE (2016) Another tale of evacuation before a Nazi invasion. This time it deals with the king of Norway and the choices he made following the betrayal of his country by both weak-willed politicians and ones who outright colluded with Hitler. Ironically, King Haakon, a monarch, is the one who saves Norway's democratic status. A real, grown-up historical drama done to perfection to present an important chapter of the war most Americans were not aware of.
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CANYON PASSAGE (1946) Handsomely mounted technicolor production that deserved better than the second feature programmer status it was deigned for. An additional twenty minutes for more character development would have helped this movie in a big way. An astonishing amount of story happens off screen or is explained away in exposition scenes. While there's lots going on, this lack of development at the beginning makes it hard to invest oneself in what comes after. I also had a problem with Dana Andrews as a rough and tumble man of the west. He simply never looks period enough in these movies. But he gets able support from Susan Hayward, Brian Donleavy, Lloyd Bridges, Andy Devine, Hoagy Carmichael and Ward Bond at his most primal.

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