Tuesday, 30 April 2013

APRIL 3O, 2013

090 BABY FACE NELSON (1957) Directed by Donald Siegel ****

Don Siegel once stated that his real forte was comedy although he didn't get much chance to try his hand at the genre. When he did make a couple of comedies at the end of his career they were pretty disastrous and very unfunny. No, I'm sorry Don, I'm afraid you will rightly be remembered for your crime films for they were your true forte, even if you didn't think so. Films like MADIGAN, CHARLEY VARRICK, DIRTY HARRY, COOGAN'S BLUFF are for me the best Siegel movies (along with his classic INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS) and I have fond memories of some of his earlier smaller budget efforts like THE LINEUP, which like BABY FACE NELSON is so rarely, if ever, seen today. BABY FACE NELSON was part of the 1950's gangster cycle that included such excellent films as Richard Wilson's AL CAPONE and Budd Boetticher's THE RISE AND FALL OF LEGS DIAMOND but for many years the film has eluded me. But now somebody has kindly uploaded a copy to You Tube. It is a poor copy but beggars can't be choosers and I am grateful to finally see it. I certainly wasn't disappointed. Although far from historically accurate the film is tough and gritty and thankfully makes no attempt to turn Nelson into a Robin Hood character (which would be pretty difficult!) and he is played superbly by Mickey Rooney who gives one of the best performances of his long career. Carolyn Jones, best remembered these days as Morticia in THE ADDAMS FAMILY television series is excellent as his girlfriend. The rest of the cast features some of my favourite character actors from the period - Leo Gordon (as Dillinger - see below)), Anthony Caruso, Jack Elam, John Hoyt, Elisha Cook Jr, Emil Meyer and Ted De Corsia. Sir Cedric Hardwicke also turns up, cast against type, a a lecherous old doctor. Siegel's direction is fast and snappy making this one of his best films of the period.  A nice good condition print on DVD would be a real treat.

Baby Face Nelson

Friday, 26 April 2013

APRIL 26, 2013

086 KHOLODNOE LETO PYATESYAT TRETEGO/Cold Summer of 1953 (1987) Directed by Alesandre Proshkin ****

It is 1953, Stalin in dead and Beria, head of the secret police, has announced an amnesty/pardon for all convicted criminals but not political prisoners. In a small Siberian trading post, two political prisoners, unaware that Beria himself is now out of favour and they too will soon receive a pardon live on the charity of the poor villagers and by doing odd jobs. The town is invaded by a small band of violent released criminals who shoot the local lawman and rob the villagers and who intend to escape on a motor launch which will soon visit the village. The local officials seem impotent to resist.
Only the two political outcasts, spurred by the attempted rape of a young girl who has been kind to them, decide to resist and one by one they pick of the criminals.  This is essentially a Russian Western which reminded me rather of both Andre De Toth's DAY OF THE OUTLAW and Sergio Corbucci's THE GREAT SILENCE (although, ironically, it is the Russian film which is devoid of snow) and it is a pretty good one with some terrific performances by actors whose names I won't even attempt to spell. The setting is as interesting as it is unfamiliar and while it has none of the sophistication or flash that a contemporary Hollywood film might have brought to the subject the direction of Alesandre Proshkin is unobtrusive and one can't help thinking that the film is better off for it.

Cold Summer of 1953

Also viewed :

087 VANILLA SKY (2001) Directed by Cameron Crowe ***
088 ABRE LOS OJOS/Open Your Eyes (1997) Directed  by Alejandro Amenabar ***
089 LIMITLESS (2011) Directed by Neal Burger  ****

Saturday, 13 April 2013

APRIL 13, 2013

083  THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES (2002) Directed by Mark Pellington. ***

I had always been under the impression that this film was rather underwhelming and, certainly, the only person I know personally who has given me an opinion didn't like it. I liked it a lot but if suffers from the malady that afflicts too many modern films. let me explain: personally I would have been quite happy if the film ended when Richard Gere doesn't pick up the phone - I would have been completely satisfied, although I can understand why the majority of viewers would have found that ending lacking. But as the film is inspired (rather than based on) supposedly real events that happened in West Virginia which culminated in the collapse of a bridge over the Ohio River director Pellington, understandably, had to take the story further and I have no problem with that. So what is my beef?  It comes when Richard Gere, playing a Washington Post reporter, jumps of the collapsing bridge, swims down into the depths, breaks into a sunken car, pulls out the driver and swims back to the surface!  And, I might add, he does this in December, at night and while fully clothed, wearing a heavy overcoat and his shoes!  C'mon, is it just me, or is that stretching it a bit?  I've seen so many films in recent years where the credibility of a film is ruined by such unlikely behaviour by a charater or by a script that ends in a dramatically satisfying way and is then spoiled by having a completely illogical twist ending that makes little sense even in the context of a fantasy film (Michael Stokes THE BEACON being just one example.  I can't say that THE MOTHMAN PROPHECIES was ruined for me because I liked it a lot for many other reasons. Performances are first rate from Richard Gere and Laura Linney and I was charmed by Deborah Messing who play's Gere's wife, partly because she bore a spooky resemblance to a friend of mine. Director Pellington builds atmosphere nicely.

The Mothman Prophecies

Also viewed

084 LAWLESS (2012) Directed by John Hillcoat  ***
085 MIMIC (1997) Directed by Guillermo Del Toro ***

Monday, 8 April 2013

APRIL 8, 2013

082 LE HAVRE (2011) Directed by Aki Kaurismaki *****

So often I find myself watching films where people are determinedly unpleasant to each other, more often they are downright murderous, so it makes a refreshing change to seeuman  a film where people are really nice to their fellows. LE HAVRE isn't "nice" in a pleasant Mary Poppins sort of way but in a way that actually celebrates the human spirit - ordinary people struggling with life and helping each other. This may sound corny but in the hands of Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki it works wonderfully. The story concerns an elderly shoeshine who sets out to help a young illegal immigrant - no more than that. The film is filled with characters who even if only on the screen for a few moments are beautifully drawn from the black clad Police Inspector down to the local baker and greengrocer. It is very much an ensemble piece so I won't pick out anybody for special praise (except maybe Laitka) but I will, for the film fans, draw attention to two small roles - the informant and the doctor - which are played respectively  by Jean-Pierre Leaud and Pierre Etaix, both formerly big stars of the French cinema. The film is also very humorous although the jokes are so laid back and straight-faced it is easy to miss them. I can't recommend this film enough.

Le Havre

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

APRIL 3, 2013

081 JUST IMAGINE (1930) Directed by David Butler ***

Seen to day this a totally bizarre piece of film history. A science fiction comedy musical set in 1980 when food is replaced by pills, planes have replaced cars, marriage is decided by a judge. Comedian El Brendel is revived from the dead to see the wonders and accompany the hero on the first manned flight to Mars. Brendel's comedy is far too broad for my tastes but just to be able to see this museum piece makes it worth the effort. Maureen O'Sullivan is the heroine and John Garrick (who bears a disconcerting resemblance to a young Bruno Ganz) is the hero although the film was for me totally stolen by the second female lead, Marjorie White - a blonde Betty Boop if ever there was one. Director David Butler started his film career in 1927 and went of to direct lots of highly entertaining Hollywood movies including Doris Day's classic CALAMITY JANE.  Being pre-code, some of the jokes in JUST IMAGINE are decidedly racy for the time. Fascinating.

Just Imagine

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

APRIL 2, 2013

079 THE RAVEN (2012) James Tiegue **

Poor Edgar! Having recently suffered fifteen minutes of Uli Lommel's THE RAVEN before consigning it to the "unwatchable" can I decided  to treat myself to a copy of the more recent version, of which I had heard a few good things and eagerly anticipated, rather than wait for a rental copy to arrive. It would be wrong to criticise the film for being historically inaccurate with regards to Edgar Allan Poe himself or to his last sad days in this world because this is, after all, a work of fiction but for the record almost the first thing we are told is that Poe was discovered dying on a park bench when actually he was discovered drunk in a tavern wearing clothes that were, oddly, not his own.  There seems to have been no effort here to put the "real" Poe into the story and instead we have here, as played by John Cusack (an actor I usually admire) somebody who shouts a lot and has a beard.  The plot, such as it is, has Poe combining with the Baltimore police to hunt down a killer who is disposing of his victims in ways described by the author in his tales -  in the film we actually see a newspaper headline referring to a "Serial Killer" and I wonder if the term was actually known in 1849. When Edgar finally confronts the killer the term "greatest fan" is used which also sounds rather anachronistic and other examples abound in the lazy script by Ben Livingstone (his first) and Hannah Shakespeare (obviously no relation to you-know-who) which bears a striking resemblance to the main elements of Matthew Pearl's two excellent novels "The Dante Club" and "The Poe Shadow".  The direction by McTiegue is all over the place. But wait! The photography Danny Ruhlmann is excellent and the costumes by Carlo Pogglioli are first class. Very disappointing.

The Raven

080 THE NIGHT VISITOR (1971) Directed by Laslo Benedek.***

Somewhere out in windswept, snowbound Ingmarbergmanland somebody is commiting murders by strangulation, axe and poison and the main suspect is that dour Swede Oscar Persson. Oscar swears he is innocent and that the real murderer is that other dour Swede Max Von Sydow who he swears was hiding in the bedroom closet wearing only his underwear - a discovery made while Oscar was trying to kill an overtalkative parrot. His wife, played by dour Norwegian Liv Ullman doesn't believe him, mainly because Max has been locked up in the local fortress-like Lunatic Asylum for years. Local detective, Trevor Howard, has trouble believing anybody. This is absolutely the best film I've ever seen where Max Von Sydow runs through the snow in his underwear - Ingmar never made him do that. Read what I've written again and tell me honestly that you don't want to see this film! Quoth the Parrot "nevermore". An American/Swedish co-production filmed in Denmark with an Swedish, Norwegian and British cast, Produced by actor Mel Ferrer with a Hungarian director. What a crazy world......!!!

Monday, 1 April 2013

APRIL 1, 2013

 078 DIE SCHLANGENGRUBE UND DER PENDEL/Blood Demon(1967 Directed by Harald Reinl ***

A surprisingly good German horror film - good inasmuch as the photography is excellent, the performances adequate, the direction competent and the story bizarre enough to keep you watching. Of course all this doesn't place it very high in the scheme of things but if you enjoy the genre then there are far worse ways tp spend 90 minutes. Christopher Lee is Count Regula who is executed for the murder of twelve women and is later revived to take his revenge on those who betrayed him and to continue his search for the secret of immortality. Supposedly based on Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum" the film does, indeed, feature an entertaining array of  torture devices to be used on Lex Barker and Karin Dor (Mrs. Reinl).  Lee, as one might expect, turns in the film's best performance despite having relatively little screen time. The film was a change of pace for Reinl who was better known for his WINNETOU westerns and Edgar Wallace krimis.