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The Fine Art of Tactical Retreat

Apr. 10th, 2019

11:46 am - For clarity's sake

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Aug. 31st, 2015

07:03 pm - Music Monday: Ghost Edition

Ghost - Cirice (Official Music Video) von asif60963

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Aug. 30th, 2015

07:44 pm - The Catman of Paris (1946)

Paris during the Belle Epoque. Charles Regnier (Carl Esmond) has written a rather sensational book surrounding a secret process whose true proceedings leave a lot of people in power quite embarrassed. Said people in power would really rather see Regnier incarcerated and his book destroyed, for the only way they can see him knowing the things about the not-Dreyfuss-Affair he put in his book is buying state secrets from someone.

Regnier doesn’t become more popular when the man supposed to correlate all the information about the old affair in preparation for another secret process – one against Regnier – is first strangled to death then kitty-scratched by someone dressed up to the nines in an opera cape, an excellent hat etc, and who meows quite loudly while doing the deed. Inspector Severen (Gerald Mohr) is convinced Regnier is the perpetrator, an assumption that gains weight by the mysterious headaches the audience knows Regnier to suffer from in connection with a cute series of hallucinations including a negative lightning, a buoy in bad weather (!?) and a cute black kitty. Regnier also just can’t remember anything about the night of the murder, so the very excitable police prefect isn’t the only one shouting “Were-Cat (person)!” quite loudly, for we all know the signs, right?

The next murder – of Regnier’s superficial and rich fiancée – happens under comparable circumstances and adds to the evidence against Regnier, but can a guy this suave really be a murderous kitten?

Republic Studios, the party responsible for Catman of Paris is mostly known for its serials and its B-Westerns, many of the latter directed by the (usually) great Lesley Selander who also directed this one. One can’t help but assume that Selander didn’t really feel at home in the horror genre, even though Republic’s earlier, and much superior The Vampire’s Ghost was also his work, and had more than a few moody scenes. That film also had a much better, and certainly much more interesting, script which might have been nearly as talky as this one is, but thanks to the always excellent Leigh Brackett, did actually have things to say about character and theme where Catman seems to spend hours on clunky exposition delivered as woodenly as possible.

While one can’t really expect a late 40s budget horror film of this kind to be all that exciting (excitement costs money, after all), or coherent (coherence needs the people involved to actually care, after all, and not just need to churn out their 30th film of the year to fill a cinema slot), some of it (I’m looking at you, the half of Monogram’s horror films that isn’t just boring) make up for their lack in more typical and sensible virtues through sheer bat-shit insanity. And while it stays boring more often than I would have liked it to, Catman of Paris does have quite a bit of that good stuff in it, too. It’s not just the fact that a lot of French people in Belle Epoque Paris speak either with the most sonorously American accent possible or a German/Austrian one, or random moments of script genius like the quickness the Prefect of the Parisian Police jumps at the idea of a Were-Cat-Man at the earliest possibility (scratches like from a cat! OMG! Were cat!) and never leaves the idea, the way a quaint (well, as quaint as it gets on this budget) Parisian café quickly turns into a punch-out saloon right out of one of Selander’s Westerns. And did I mention the coach chase?

Anyhow, these things are really just the beginning, for when the film really gets going, it introduces a professorial gentleman who posits a series of historical cat man appearances caused by astrological gubbins at crisis times in history, with this one, being the ninth, and a cat having nine lives, clearly being the last. SCIENCE! There’s also the way the film’s finale might explain the identity of the catman, but never bothers to even think about the logistics or motives of his deeds, or why Regnier has the buoy-centric visions, headaches, and amnesia, or, you know, why the catman is a catman? This sort of thing does go quite a way with me to make up for all that exposition during the rest of the film, the particular dullness of the romance, and the stiffness of the acting, but then, it would, wouldn’t it?

Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,in short,horror,lesley selander,carl esmond,lenore aubert

Aug. 29th, 2015

10:16 pm - SyFy vs. The Mynd: Riddles of the Sphinx (2008)

Of course, having decided to return to my irregular habit of taking a walk back through the SyFy Original catalogue from time to time, I begin by watching a movie so bad, it could have been improved mightily by not having been made at all, so the universe stays cruel instead of just indifferent.

Riddles of the Sphinx, as directed by one George Mendeluk - who I try not to call a hack because rudeness is wrong even in the face of a deeply shitty film - concerns the adventures of Dina Meyer whose character isn’t supposed to be a Lara Croft rip-off, oh no, and Lochlyn Munro who just happens to dress just like that New Mexico Smith guy, as well as of Munro’s character’s obnoxious, all-knowing teenage daughter. There’s a bit about a secret government agency, the threat of the Plague of Isis™ coming to destroy our planet, crappy dimension portals leading to really crappy riddles (and yes, there’s even a variation of that one whose adaptation in the film clearly suggests somebody got his Christian and Ancient Egyptian virtues mixed up writing this crap), Mackenzie Gray playing a character whose baldness clearly demonstrates he’s going to turn out to be evil and other nonsense that could have turned out rather entertaining in other hands (Paul Ziller’s, say) but is here presented with all the verve and charm of something completely without verve and charm (a trashcan?).

There’s just no minute on screen when the film actually commits to entertaining its audience. Instead it is going through the motions in a way I found incredibly annoying, bringing up silly ideas without ever seeing the potential in them, thinking nothing through, and not making up for any of this by any morsel of visual excitement, or just even mild interesting-ness. Obviously, a SyFy budget also doesn’t lend itself too well to a globe trotting adventure (something many other SyFy movies solve by having the Apocalypse take place in Kansas), so expect (or if you’re clever – avoid) really bad CGI not only with the film’s titular monster (which everyone involved must have been so embarrassed about, it’s more often than not replaced by its “human form”, a big guy with Halloween fake teeth in his mouth), but also coming into play for all the places the characters visit that can’t be replaced by two tiny locations in British Columbia.

Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,american tv,adventure,fantasy,syfy vs the mynd,in short,george mendeluk,dina meyer,lochlyn munro,mackenzie gray

Aug. 27th, 2015

07:38 pm - Two Men of Violence: A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014) & The Equalizer (2014)

I was all prepped up to file A Walk Among the Tombstones, a Lawrence Block adaptation by Scott Frank, under “another film where Liam Neeson plays an aging Man of Violence™ who has to get back to his old ways again”, in other words, as something that’ll probably be decently entertaining but also something that I’ve seen before a few times too often. And sure, A Walk does belong into this particular genre of crime films but this one feels special and weighty all the way through, with the clichés feeling close again to the truths that once built these clichés.

The superiority of Scott Frank’s film becomes particularly clear in comparison with the same year’s Denzel Washington version of The Equalizer directed by Antoine Fuqua. Whereas the Equalizer makes a lot of gestures towards the horrificness of violence and the toll it takes on those performing it (not much about the victims, nor about the fact the borders between the role of victim and perpetrator might get rather fluid sometimes, though), by the end, it’s basically fist-pumping Washington’s character (a guy who stops the time he needs to kill a bunch of people on his watch), spouting all the usual vigilante movie crap, and simply ignoring much of what it has set up, A Walk is all made out of one piece, not turning away from the violence yet also never simply condoning it. In fact, there’s nothing simple in this film’s moral world except perhaps simple human compassion. Again, compare the way the Equalizer uses the compassionate acts of its hero as a basis to then cheer on his acts of horrible violence, where A Walk treats both things as standing in opposition to each other even when some of Scudder’s violence really – perversely - is a product of that compassion. The difference is that A Walk heads for the grey moral zones this sort of thing causes with open eyes and a headful of thoughts where The Equalizer is shouting “FUCK YEAH!” way too loud to have time for thoughts, particular once the film has reached its second half, when all promising suggestions the people involved might actually have realized that McCall isn’t an awesome badass but both an awesome badass and a monster, and that there just might be a problem with that, fly out the window.

Of course, Antoine Fuqua’s unpleasantly showy direction doesn’t help The Equalizer’s case much either, always using the wrong kinds of gestures, and always in a way that suggests it doesn’t really want to think about the nature of its protagonist despite having brought it up during its first hour (of more than two, which also makes a simple plot unnecessarily bloated) itself. A Walk’s Scott Frank, on the other hand, has a clear, calm, and controlled approach to direction that looks much simpler than Fuqua’s but really brings out much more subtlety, eschewing to hammer ever point it makes home, and building up a sense of place and atmosphere.

Now, I wasn’t really planning to come down quite as hard on The Equalizer just after I watched it, because I had a decent – if not un-annoyed - time with it, it’s just that I saw A Walk Among the Tombstones right the next evening, and really couldn’t help but notice how much better Frank’s film is, and how much worse the Fuqua outing becomes in direct comparison, not so much for reasons of it being catastrophically bad, but because it is a barely decent film compared to one I expect to return to again and again, and its thoughtlessness truly becomes clear in the contrast.

What’s undeniably good in both films is the acting, and in this regard, I’d probably even argue The Equalizer to be slightly superior: for where Liam Neeson et al actually have interesting and not unsubtle characterisation and focused direction to work from, Denzel Washington, Chloe Grace Moretz and so on do their best to make something out of a film that just doesn’t seem to know what it actually thinks about its main character and that surely doesn’t want to face any unpleasant implications of the way he acts when it comes down to it, because fuck yeah, slowly walking away from an explosion. So where Neeson gives a performance that gains a part of its considerable strength and authority from the possibilities the work around and behind him provides it with, every bit of Washington’s success is one all of his own. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure all the coherence McCall has as a character belongs to Washington and the way he and Moretz play off of each other in their scenes, the bizarre tacked on happy ending notwithstanding.

Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,reviews,crime,action,scott frank,liam neeson,brian "astro" bradley,denzel washington,chloe grace moretz,antoine fuqua

Aug. 25th, 2015

07:56 pm - Bear Island (1979)

A UN sponsored group of scientists of different nationalities – of course all played by English native speakers doing horrible fake accents – under the leadership of one Otto Gerran (Richard “Nein, hören Sie!!!!” Widmark) comes to arctic, Norwegian Bear Island for some vague studies concerning climate change. Apart from the small former Nazi base the scientists are making themselves at home in, there’s only an old Nazi submarine harbour and a NATO base that is so completely out of bounds for the scientists they are not even supposed to make radio contact with it. Even before most of the expedition arrived, there has been the first mysterious disappearance (well, it’s a mysterious disappearance for the characters, the audience knows full well the victim was murdered), and that’s just the beginning of a series of violent events.

American scientist Frank Lansing (Donald Sutherland, not attempting a Californian accent as far as I can make out), who is actually on the island because his father was a German submarine captain who probably died right there and he feels in need of some closure, quickly discovers that there’s a huge cache of gold hidden on the island. It’s a lot of the stuff, and there are a lot of people in the expedition willing to kill for it.

Finding out who these people are will become rather difficult, though, because nobody on the island actually seems to have come to do any science at all, everybody has a secret, and nobody is truly who he or she seems to be.

By 1979, Don Sharp – despite a career that would in stops and starts continue for a further ten years – was still the always at least dependable, sometimes brilliant director he had been for decades, but he didn’t exactly move with the times anymore. From this perspective, he’s a very good fit for Bear Island, a thriller inevitably based on an Alistair Maclean novel that seems to come from a different world in a movie landscape after Star Wars and Jaws as well as after much of 70s action and adventure cinema.

There’s something old-fashioned and stiff about the film, a certain lack of sharpness and focus that results in a rather draggy middle act, with a script that can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a more visceral thriller, a variation of an Agatha Christie style manor mystery, or both, or nothing of the sort. From time to time, the film finds its step for ten minutes or so, thanks to Sharp creating a set-piece that’s actually exciting (if you like snow mobile duels, that is), or moody and actually telling us something about the characters (like Lansing’s first secret visit to the submarine base). Of course, a few minutes later, everything becomes a bit lifeless again, because obvious red herrings (seriously, no self-respecting old-fashioned mystery would be this obvious) have to be laid, and anything interesting has to wait for a while.

At least Bear Island has quite the cast. Apart from Sutherland (giving a performance fluctuating between bored and amused), and Widmark, there are also Lloyd “Bad Ass” Bridges, Christopher “I’m Polish, really” Lee, and Vanessa “Oops, forgot my accent for a scene again” Redgrave (wasted on playing The Girl, of course), and while the script does its damndest to not give them much to do or puts many a clunky line in everyone’s mouth, you can’t quite put this assembly of talent down, so from time to time, tiny sparks are indeed flying between them.

Technorati-Markierungen: british movies,canadian movies,reviews,thriller,don sharp,donald sutherland,vanessa redgrave,richard widmark,christopher lee,lloyd bridges

Aug. 24th, 2015

09:48 pm - Music Monday: A Little Classical Music There Kids Edition

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Aug. 23rd, 2015

09:25 pm - In short: Stung (2015)

Caterer Julie (Jessica Cook) and her employee and friend Paul (Matt O’Leary) are working a rich people’s garden party. There’s not really much to get excited about in the job, apart from watching the friendly alcoholic mayor (Lance Henriksen) get drunk in a chipper manner, or see the rich neurotic son (Clifton Collins Jr.) be rich and neurotic, giving Paul ample time to pine for Julie (unrequitedly).

Alas – or fortunately, depending on one’s viewing tastes – the party is attacked by icky killer wasps. Worse (or even better), their stung victims quickly pop open and give birth to really damn big icky killer wasps. Soon, there’s not much of the party left, and the few survivors (obviously including Julie and Paul, because how else would the two ever get together?) are barricading themselves in the manor house. Obviously, the wasps aren’t going to let things stand there.

So, what do you have to do to get a genre film made in Germany (or the other predominantly German language countries, for that matter), particularly when said genre isn’t “shitty comedy”? The public film support funds don’t want genre, the critics look down on it, kickstarting films is pretty difficult unless you’ve got additional sources, and who wants to stay on the semi-amateur backyard circuit forever? Honestly, the minor wave of German horror (etc) films made during the last few years is a bit of a wonder, suggesting a degree of perseverance from the side of the filmmakers I can’t help but admire.

Stung’s director Benni Diez apparently solved the conundrum of how to scratch enough money together by going the time-honoured way of getting a US source, and an American cast, resulting in a film that attempts to emulate one of your better US monster movies, despite being shot in Berlin with a German language crew behind the camera. Of course, given my usual love for the local and the specific, the resulting genericness of the setting is a bit of a disappointment; on the other hand, Lance Henriksen. Lance Henriksen in a very good and charming mood, and with more scenes than I expected him to have, even.

Otherwise, this is a competent, if not completely slick, bit of horror hokum featuring a neat (though not always convincing) combination of practical and digital effects (which always seems like the best way to go for me), some pleasantly icky moments of body horror, some funny jokes, some less funny ones – all wrapped up in a package of decent pacing and a total lack of depth, like a really good SyFy Channel Original. Please keep in mind that this description is not an insult coming from, for I do appreciate a ninety minute genre piece that just wants to entertain its audience for a bit. Particularly when it is like Stung and actually achieves what it sets out to do. I at least had quite a bit of harmless, riskless fun with the film.

Technorati-Markierungen: german movies,american movies,in short,horror,comedy,benni diez,jessica cook,lance henriksen,matt o'leary

Aug. 22nd, 2015

07:55 pm - U.F.O. Abduction (1989)

aka The McPherson Tape

On an evening in 1983, the Van Heese family come together in their family home in the boons to celebrate the eighth (or is it fifth?) birthday of their youngest member, Michelle. There’s the usual degree of familial tension, with the family father having died some time ago, Ma now looking into the bottle a bit too often, and one of the sons hilariously trying to assume the mantle of head of the family in a way that’d get me kicked in the ass by my Mum, who is of a more democratic bend, but it’s nothing anyone would make a melodrama of.

That changes when the sons of the family follow a strange light in the sky and observe what looks a lot like a landed UFO. Unfortunately, the three little grey man this very special ride belongs to discover the guys right back and clearly aren’t too fond of witnesses to their activities. The boys manage to get back home, but that’s of course not the last they’ll hear from the aliens this night.

As we all know, the POV/found footage sub-genre did already exist before the Blair Witch made her entry in the movie canon, so it will not come as a total surprise that Dean Alioto’s semi-professionally made U.F.O. Abduction purports to be the family video one of the Van Heese sons shot during that long night in 1983, nor that the characters disappeared without a trace beyond the footage. Why, even in 1989, the “shut off that goddamn camera!” trope is already in place. Clearly, Alioto’s film was quite ahead of its time.

So much ahead of its time, in fact, that Alioto remade the film in 1998 as Alien Abduction with a professional cast and a bit more money for effects. I have to say I prefer the earlier (and rather difficult to find) version here, I think not in spite of but because of, a certain technical roughness (as befits a supposed family video from 1983) and the absolute emphasis it puts on the audience imagining the dangers to its characters because it can’t afford showing much of them at all. This is of course the by now traditional POV horror trick, and is a little played out here in the far-flung future of 2015 but in Abduction’s case, the technique still works beautifully, and the film gets by quite well by letting our imagination do most of the work once it has set up the situation.

It does the highly important basic work needed to come by its effectiveness honestly, though. The actors may not be professionals but they sure do feel authentic. It is at least not difficult to believe them to be a pretty typical family of their time and place, which does make it quite easy to get sucked into their reaction to what’s going on around them and sells the strangeness and the threat of their situation.

Alioto also times his film impeccably, using just the right amount of time to set up the characters before the shit really hits the fan, and then demonstrates a fair bit of talent for timing the breaks in the action so that they feel real without letting things drift off into boredom or annoyance with the characters (always dangers in the POV trenches).

U.F.O. Abduction is a fine example of what you can achieve on a shoe-string budget when you have the right idea and the right amount of talent.

Technorati-Markierungen: american movies,reviews,horror,sf,dean alioto

Aug. 21st, 2015

11:18 pm - On ExB: Supersonic Man (1979)

What can you say about Supersonic Man, a true classic of the superhero movie genre, if by classic you mean cheap and silly rip-off of a more popular movie?

Turns out quite a bit, as clicking through to my column over at the energetically pointing Exploder Button will demonstrate, though I’m not so much “saying” as writing a love letter there.

Technorati-Markierungen: spanish movies,reviews,superheroes,comedy,juan piquer simón,cameron mitchell,richard yesteran,diana polakov,josé maría caffarel

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