Saturday, 31 October 2009


I had been saving this for my Halloween viewing. Cerpts did a very positive review over in THE LAND OF CERPTS AND HONEY and I'm a big fan of the same director (Stuart Gordon)'s other Lovecraft adaption, DAGON (although to call this a Lovecraft adaption is ridiculous) but I was bitterly disappointed and quickly lost interest in the tiresome guilt ridden American family who inherit a castle in Italy. Of course there is something nasty in the dungeon. Cerpts put forward some interesting psychological points but if they held any water I'd totally past the point of caring. Lots of screams in the night and endless wandering down corridors and staircases. As with many modern horror films that lack a supernatural element this one resorts to some particularly nasty physical horror and a heavy helping of exceedingly unpleasant sexual violence. I lasted about an hour when I decided I could find something better to do. Rating *


Some wonderfully phantasmagorical images from the 1922 classic HAXAN directed by Benjamin Christensen.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

TAKEN (2008)

If you are into tough action films this one is a real treat. It's a double treat because here is a film that knows exactly where it is going, achieves exactly what it sets out to do and does it without wasting one foot of film. It signs in at a lean and very mean 93 minutes. It also scores heavily for me by actually having a good actor in the lead who can make the hero convincingly human as well as seriously badass. Liam Neeson plays a former ""preventer" for a U.S. Goverment Agency ("I prevented bad things happening") who has retired to be near his 17 year old daughter who lives with his ex-wife. The girl travels to Paris with a friend and no sooner is she on French soil she is grabbed by Albanian sex traffickers. Neeson hears the abduction over the phone and is soon on his way to Paris. The American scenes very cleverly inform us of his former trade, the people he worked with and, in a scene at a pop concert, show us his abilities and skills. By the time he arrives in Paris you know that the Albanians are in for a bad time. The action is fast and furious with an body count that would make some action heroes sick with envy. Yet, during the shooting, beating, stabbing, garrotting, crashing etc, thanks to Neeson's performance, you never loose sight of the fact that this is a man pushed to the very edge at the thought of losing his daughter. He shows no mercy to the scum he encounters and the film never moralises about his methods even when he improvises an electric chair which he casually leaves running after extracting the information from the man in it. Only once was I pulled up short by one of his actions (and I believe this is too intelligent a film for that not to be the reaction that the writer and the director wanted) when he casually puts a bullet into an innocent woman to convince somebody he means business. It is the most shocking scene in the film despite all the graphic violence that has preceeded it. Yet, even here, the film refuses to moralise. The only question the film asks us is what we would do if it was our child? We are not invited to pass judgement on Neeson's character, only on ourselves. Written by Luc Besson and directed by Pierre Morrel TAKEN is a terrific action film with a brain. Rating ****

Tuesday, 20 October 2009


This is so obscure that I couldn't find any decent (or indecent) pictures from it on the web. But it is worth saying something about - albeit nothing very good. It is a desperate attempt to put together a film nouveau noir out of other peoples ideas. Sean Young steals a bag of money from her boss. She packs, drives out of town, changes cars at used car dealership and that night stops at a motel and takes a shower......whoa! we've all seen that before. Here, however, she continues her journey the next morning and eventually arrives at a remote diner which looks straight out of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE. She is befriended by the kindly owner (an unconvincing performance from Tom Conti) and decides to stay there a while. Meanwhile her boss, who is a cigar chomping Al Capone clone who you'd have been embarassed to see in THE GODFATHER, is sending out his goons to find her. When one of the hoods finds her and attacks her Conti accidently kills him and later helps her gas another threat (who turns out to have been totally innocent) and they are both drawn into a web of suspicion and murder. The boss gets the barbershop treatment in a scene that is very similar to the one that opens Cronenberg's EASTERN PROMISES. The film saves a couple of twists for the climax but if you don't see them coming you've got no right to be traveling down these mean streets. Conti is a good, even great actor, given the right material. Here he doesn't have a lot to work with and has to do it with an American accent which I was constantly aware of although I can't say how authentic it was. Directed by Richard Trevor (English, I think) a film editor from his own script. He's done nothing since as a director. A shame as I like modest films, I like nouveau noir - but this totally lacks any originality. Rating *

Thursday, 15 October 2009

FRANKENSTEIN 1970 (1958)

I first saw this film circa 1961. I was fifteen years old and I'd never seen Boris Karloff in a horror film. FRANKENSTEIN 1970 turned up on a one day only show at one of our local cinemas and I had arranged to meet some friends for the show (the support feature was William Castle's MACABRE) when my mother decided she wanted to see the film! Horror! How could a fifteen year old kid go to the cinema with his mother when his friends were going to be there? Deviously I decided we'd go to the matinee and avoid my friends. Of course I had completely forgotten that as we left the cinema we would walk past the queue for the next show - and all my friends!

Anyway, enough of my moment of shame, and on to the film. Howard W.Koch had directed a couple of good movies early in his career, SHIELD FOR MURDER and BIG HOUSE USA , and he would later go on to produce the AIRPLANE comedies. There is certainly nothing wrong with his work on FRANKENSTEIN 1970 and he gets the best from a not too bright script. The film is particularly well shot ( ) and the newly released DVD print handsomely brings out the crisp quality of the black and white photography and the castle interiors (presumably left overs from a bigger budgeted production, are impressive. The supporting cast are all competent with Don "Red" Barry hanging up his stetson to play the insensitive film director who has the bright idea of making a film at the real-life Castle Frankenstein where the current Victor von Frankenstein, his mind unhinged by his experience under the nazis, is continuing the experiments of his notorious ancestor. Karloff, complete with scar and crewcut, walks (or limps) away with the film and shines in every scene - the early sequence where Karloff delivers to camera a monologue about the Frankenstein legend. Not a great film by any means, not even a very good one, but for Karloff fans and vintage horror fans generally it is an interesting one. Rating ***
This film has been released as part of a box set of four Karloff/Lugosi movies. To read what friend Cerpts had to say about the film and its four companions CLICK THIS LINK.


This Amicus production directed by Freddie Francis is, surprisingly, good fun. It's low budget with some flimsy sets and some ripe overacting (Michael Gough is a total joy as usual as he once again spits out his total contempt for the human race and for his wardrobe). The plot seems like something that was rejected as an adventure for Professor Quatermass back in the 1950s. Robert Hutton stars as a man with a metal plate in his head and Jennifer Jayne as a woman with a two foot high ginger bouffant on hers but look out for Zia Mohyadden with a colander on his!Ray guns and accessories from the local toy shop. Hard to believe this was onlyn 85 minutes long as it seemed twice that but I can't say it dragged. Good? Frankly, no. but definitely watchable. Rating **

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


Wonderful....a really enjoyable low-budget horror film from the Charles Band crypt which although it has a not too interesting "good vampire" of the type sadly becoming popular with todays teenagers also features Anders Home as his evil brother who thankfully adheres to the Max Schreck school of bloodsucking and peasant extermination. Other pluses are that there is less padding than usual and the film is actually made on location in Transylvania. Direction is by Ted Nicolau who made the excellent THE VAMPIRE JOURNALS (1997) which I believe is a spinoff from this film. The DVD to hand also features a short "making of" documentary of which the best part is a load of Romanian citizens saying that they've either never heard of vampires or that they are the invention of "simple minded Americans". Yeah, right. Also included is a very funny compilation of good bits from other Full Moon Pictures. Nearly forgot to say that Laura Mae Tate is cute. Perfect, undemanding late night viewing. Rating ***

Monday, 12 October 2009


This is an enjoyable, if somewhat odd, entry into the Weissmuller series. It starts with Jane returning from England where she has been helping with the war effort. We know Tarzan isn't the brightest light in the jungle because he doesn't seem to notice that when she left she was Maureen O'Sullivan and now she has come back as Brenda Joyce. Of course there is a treasure seeking safari on the loose led by Barton MacLane (again!) who are searching for the lost city of the Amazons. Oddly the Amazons seem to all be of the same age and rather pretty, except for their queen who is old Maria Ouspenskya - and nobody is older than Maria Ouspenskya! - who talks as though she is warning everybody about lycanthropy. Tarzan films are always better when there is a lost city around but why do they all seem to be populated by Europeans? As with all the later Tarzan films there is not a black face in sight anywhere. Johnny Sheffield is Boy again and one has to say that he was one of the more pleasing child actors in that he never really became irritating. This is quite violent for a Tarzan movie with lots of pretty Amazons getting shot, the entire safari being wiped out and Tazan watching two of the bad guys going under the quicksand without any attempt to help. Even Boy is condemned to death at one point in the story. Oh, by the way Cerpts, Weissmuller's nipples still look evenly placed to me. Direction by Kurt Neumann. Fun. Rating ***

Johnny Sheffield today (scary, eh?)

P.S. After my last TARZAN review a reader of this blog asked me how I could possibly give the film a *** rating. The answer is simple : I enjoy these films. They make no pretense to be anything more than what they are. I don't expect great art - or any art really. Any film that keeps me entertained without making me bored or irritated gets a ***.

Friday, 9 October 2009


This film should have been included as an "extra" on the DVD of Scorses's THE GANGS OF NEW YORK, being, as it is, a musical comedy about Irish immigrants and "Boss" Tweed in 19th Century New York. Deanna Durbin is good if you like Deanna Durbin and perfectly matched by Dick Haymes as a crusading New York Times reporter. Vincent Price easily steals the film with his perfect suave villainy as Tweed, relishing every corrupt moment. The musical score is okay but one really longs for a full scale musical number featuring an appearance by Bill the Butcher and the Dead Rabbits. Unobtrusive direction by William Seiter. Rating ***

See the whole film on You Tube.

A ROYAL SCANDAL/Czarina (1946)

Straight away I have to admit that if I have a blindspot amongst the acknowledged great directors, it is Ernst Lubitsch. People rave about "the Lubitsch touch" but his films just waft over me leaving no real impression. I couldn't really tell you why and I'm quite happy to admit that the fault probably lies completely with me. A ROYAL SCANDAL was a Lubitsch project but illness prevented him from working more than a few days as director. He was replaced by his fellow countryman, Otto Preminger, who finished the film according to Lubitsch's plan and signed it. My main reason for seeking the film out was that it contains a performance by Vincent Price which I've never seen. Price plays the French Ambassador to the Court of Catherine the Great (Tallulah Bankhead, far removed from Dietrich's take on Catherine in THE SCARLET EMPRESS). Price has two scenes, one at the beginning and one at the end, and is good in both.The film is ostensibly a comedy but it raised n'er a smile on my face. Rating *


Despite his following, David Cronenberg has always remained on my "very interesting list" and EASTERN PROMISES, despite its critical reception, does nothing to change my estimation. The film has three strong performances at its centre - Viggo Mortesson, Vincent Cassell and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Mortesson is the friend/driver for the son of a Russian Mafia boss in London, Cassell is the son, while Mueller-Stahl is the father. While the film concentrates on the relationship between these characters it is totally gripping. Unfortunately the main plot of the film concerns a mid-wife trying to track down the family of a young Russian girl who dies while giving birth. Her search brings her into contact with the Voy - the Russian Mafia. I found the performance by Naomi Watts less than charismatic and the coincidence of her being half Russian (one of several rather contrived coincidences surrounding her character) hard to take. The biggest problem for me is that the film lacks any real climax - the scene involving the rescue of a baby with Mortesson and Watts riding to the rescue on a motorbike is quite laughable and the decision to only refer to the imminent fall of the Russian godfather rather than actually show it is dramatically so unsatisfying that the film seems to just fizzle out. A shame because Mortesson gives a terrific understated performance (although the revelation that comes near the end of the film tends to negate everything that has gone before) which in its turn is overshadowed by German actor Armin Mueller-Stahl as the gang boss whose introduction as a kindly restaurant owner hides the true evil of the character.He stole the film for me, Famous Polish film director Jerzy Skolmoski plays Watts' uncle and the eagle eyed with spot ex-pop singer/film director Mike Sarne in a small role. Lots of good stuff here, often superbly done, but the construction frustratingly nearly sinks what could have been a terrific film rather that just terrific bits. Rating *** (original rating was ** but I upgraded it on a second viewing and added a new last sentence to my review).

Monday, 5 October 2009


Well, I've got nobody to blame but myself. Baz Luhrmann's film is a bit of a mess. No, let's be honest, it's a big mess. Luhrmann's style has always been, it seemed to me' to have no style at all and to just throw anything into the pot and see what happens. This undisciplined approach is the kiss of death to the epic subject matter of AUSTRALIA. That he veers from slapstick to romance to outback B-Western, from mystical to war movie might not have mattered if somehow he had made it all gel, but he doesn't. This failure is not helped by the fact that while overall the film looks absolutely gorgeous one is time and time again presented with quite dreadful blue screen work and some of the worst CGI sequences I've seen in a big budget film. The film is full of memorably awful scenes - the cattle stampede has to be one of the most ridiculous I've seen for a long time and Hugh Jackman's entry into the ballroom and the romantic scene that follows are groan inducing. The intercut clips from THE WIZARD OF OZ (not to mention a boatload of mixed-race Aborigine orphans singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow") would seem to be the last desperate touch of a director bereft of originality and totally out of his depth. Can't help wondering what Peter Weir might have made of it. Nicole Kidman looks absolutely stunning, gives a totally undisciplined and two dimensional performance - which really sums up the whole film. Rating **

Sunday, 4 October 2009


Ridley Scott's AMERICAN GANGSTER tells the true story of the rise and fall of black gangster Frank Lucas and the detective who finally brought him down. From the opening scene when Lucas casually pours petrol over a bound man and sets him alight befor shooting him we know that he is capable of any violent act. His main business is drugs which he floods the streets with and which he can sell cheaper than his rivals because he imports directly from South East Asia. The film depicts him as more intelligent and cultured than his fellows which tends to make us quite like him and the fact that he is played by Denzel Washington makes us have to keep reminding ourselves that this was a real mobster who was responsible for the deaths of thousands. Dramatically this works well as does Russell Crowe's depiction of Detective Richie Roberts as a cop whose honesty extends only to his police work and not to his private life. Lucas's personal lifestyle makes him almost invisible to the police investigations and it is only when he reluctantly goes against his personal taste and attends a sporting function dressed in flash pimp clothes does he draw the attention of the police. The film, like Lumet's SEPICO and PRINCE OF THE CITY, blurs the line between the crooks and those that hunt them - to the corrupt police (75% of New York's drug squads were proved corrupt - mostly thanks to the evidence of Frank Lucas) the film also implicates the U.S.Military personel who were smuggling drugs into the country on Lucas's behalf - even using the coffins of the war dead. Ironically, Lucas and Roberts would eventually become friends. The film is superbly acted with Washington giving one of his best performances in a film that is multi-layered and excellently directed. Rating ****

The real Richie Roberts and Russell Crowe who
portrays him in AMERICAN GANGSTER

Friday, 2 October 2009

TENGOKU TO JIGOKU/ High and Low (1963)

With a remake from Mike Nichols still on the cards for next year from a David Mamet script it seems a good time to look at Akira Kurosawa's classic again. The film is, typically for the great Japanese director full of pleasant surprises. Not the least of these is that the film is based on a police procedural thriller by American crime-writer Ed McBain. Toshiro Mifune plays Kingo Gondo (didn't GODZILLA fight him once?) who is approached by the board of the shoe manufacturers where he is the head of the factory to help them in a takeover bid. He declines because he is secretly planning his own takeover in a multi-million yen deal that must be concluded by the next day. As his assistant is about to leave with the cheque that will conclude the takeover he receives a phonecall that his son has been kidnapped. He is prepared to pay the ransom knowing that it will ruin him. Almost immeadiatly he discovers that the kidnapper has grabbed the wrong child and has taken his chauffer's boy. Realising his mistake the kidnapper rings back and says that Gondo must pay anyway or the chauffer's boy will die. Will he pay the money and ruin himself ? This moral question is only the start of this very tense film. The bulk of the plot (the films runs for well over two hours) is taken up by the detailed investigation of the police as they track down the kidnapper. Kurosawa creates an almost hypnotic rhythm as the cops go about their monotonous and seemingly impossible task until slowly even the most insignificant seeming piece of evidence slips into place. But Kurosawa never loses sight of the human story which centres on Gondo - his confusion at the choice that he has to make (we know from the beginning that he is a ruthless businessman but simply by highlighting his concern for the quality of his factories products and his care of its good reputation Kurosawa tells us he is a man with values). As I have said Kurosawa is full of little his camera tracks through a shanty town we hear a very unlikely piece of music playing, schubert's "The Trout", the sudden use of a coloured

detail in an otherwise black and white film (many years before Spielberg did the same thing in SCHINDLER'S LIST) and the great Japanese actor Takashi Shimura in a relatively minor role - but one that needs the natural authority he brings to the role. Great orchestrated set pieces, of course, such as the tense scenes on the train, the police de-briefing during a heatwave, the nightclub scene with lots of European faces in the crowd as they twist the night away and the truly eerie drug den with the threatening, pathetic, zombie-like drug addicts. Kurosawa's use of the cinemascope format is quite brilliant, showing (what we knew already) that he is one of the cinema's masters of composition.

Despite Hollywood's current obsession with remakes - a remake of this doesn't fill me with dread when I see the names of Nichols and Mamet connected with it. Western cinema has not done bad by Kurosawa - THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and THE RUNAWAY TRAIN were excellent movies and I'm rather fond of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and LAST MAN STANDING. Akira Kurosawa loved Westerns and in addition to Ed McBain here, he has used Shakespeare and even Dashiell Hammett as jumping off points for his own films and we must not forget that his HIDDEN FORTRESS was partly responsible for the idea behing STAR WARS. It seems a rather fruitful cross pollination for once, although maybe we should charitably forget BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS and THE SAVAGE SEVEN. Rating *****


Having only seen Martin Scorsese's THE AVIATOR a short while ago I was intrigued to see the film that Howard Hughes is making during the early part of that film. Reading comments on Imdb there seems to be a sharp division between those who feel the acting scenes are so dated that they ruin the film completely and those like myself who are a bit more tolerant of a film made way back in 1930. Yes, it is dated but I really didn't feel that the performances by the three stars - Jean Harlow, Ben Lyon and James Hill were noticeably worse than in many other films from the period. I was particularly fascinated to see Ben Lyon who for many years was a star on British Television with his wife Bebe Daniels in the series LIFE WITH THE LYONS. The story is slight and tells of two brothers, one heroic and honourable and one decidedly less so, who both fall for the same girl and who join the Royal Flying Corps at the outbreak of World War One. It's all a bit cliched now (probably wasn't in 1930) but I never found it boring. Of course it is the truly spectacular aerial combat scenes that really make the film. The dogfights are a very impressive example of amazing stunt flying and masterful editing while the earlier scenes of a Zeppelin raid on London are superbly staged model work. The shot of the huge airship emerging silently from the night time clouds is not one to forget easily. Howard Hughes is credited as the director but other scenes were directed by both James Whale and Edmund Goulding. As a piece of film history it is a must. The print available on DVD at the moment has been restored at UCLA Film Dept. Rating ****