Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
Mugen no jûnin (2017)
Miike is terrific at staging action, and he certainly gets to show that off here. But "Blade of the Immortal" has exactly one card to play, and it plays it over and over and over for nearly 2 1/2 hours. That card is: Hero who can't be killed, but can be whupped, fights fight after swordfight of varying scale to defend the teenage heroine, forever getting his arse kicked then rebounding. There are various leading and subsidiary villains, but nothing plotwise to vary the eventual monotony of this emphasis.
I guess if you're really into samurai movies, the excellence with which Miike stages the fights here will more than hold your attention. But as well-made as the movie was, there was nothing in terms of character or concept to do the same for me--and fights alone don't make a movie as far as I'm concerned. The lack seemed particularly dramatic to me because I'd just seen Miike's more recent "First Love," which is a terrific action movie whose plot is always surprising you, and whose characters are far more memorable than here. "Blade" is scarcely less beautifully crafted, but conceptually it's dull by comparison.
C'mon, Let's Live a Little (1967)
C'mon, let's stink up the joint
This was the last thing directed by David Butler, who'd done a lot of TV in recent years but earlier had made a lot of good major-studio features including prime vehicles for Janet Gaynor, Shirley Temple and Doris Day. This film purportedly had budget problems, and it's easy to see that it was probably not a great experience for anyone, least of all Butler, who was over 70 at the time and was clearly not the guy to make a mid-60s teen musical. At best, the movie feels like a mediocre television episode of the time; at worst, it's the "rock" equivalent of such bottom-barrel country music movies at the time as "Las Vegas Hillbillys" and "Hillbillys in a Haunted House."
The print I saw was about 13 minutes shorter than the official original runtime, and I assume several songs got cut, since the first one doesn't turn up until nearly half an hour in, after which point they're almost incessant. The music is perfectly decent-Vee and DeShannon were fine singers, if not much as actors-even though the songs here are hardly memorable. But everything else pretty much blows, from the godawful comedy relief (poor Patsy Kelly and Eddie Hodges) to the utterly stupid plot engine of a terribly clean-cut campus "rebel" calling for "complete freedom," which both the dean and the movie seem to think is a terrible idea. This is a movie too afraid to do more than hint at politics, while suggesting that they are Bad. Real, wholesome youth don't have any ideas or issues on their minds!! Yeesh, even the same year's "The Cool Ones" was less antiquated.
Even as fluff, this movie is airheaded-at least the equally silly beach party movies knew not to meddle with campus protest and such. Throwing everything but the kitchen sink in, there's a "flubber"-type subplot involving a wacky scientific-inventor kid (Hodges). There's also some "hillbilly" relatives who show up for five minutes, then disappear. Needless to say, the only things that have any value here are the music and the occasional go-go dancing, and the underwhelming climax from "The Pair Extraordinarire" really does suggest they ran out of money during production--surely the movie intended to end with a slightly bigger bang. Others have claimed "C'mon" is a potential camp classic (a la "The Cool Ones," which is MUCH more fun), but really, it's too lame for that.
While of course "Anna" could hardly have any greater retro hipster value, it's hard to get around the fact that it's pretty shapeless and amateurish in many respects. Sure, they were trying to go for a loose, spontaneous feel. But that just means the plot is paper-thin and rudderless, people barely seem interested in mouthing the lines to their pre-recorded songs, and it's hard to tell just how much attention was put into the occasional choreography, because the scenes deploying it are so raggedly shot and edited. The goofiest, most surreal stuff is at the very beginning and in the last 15 minutes or so. It's fun, but not enough to redeem the whole, somewhat too-random enterprise.
Everyone acts naturalistic save Anna Karina, playing a more cartoonish take on the stock ingenue who (here's the entire plot) turns out to be beautiful-and the mystery model our hero was looking for-when she takes her "bookish" glasses off. (It's totally a Marlo Thomas-in-"That Girl" performance, which is to say a proto-manic pixie dream girl.) Marianne Faithful looks like she's about to nod off during her brief appearance, which may well have been the case. Jean-Claude Brialy comes off best, simply by managing to hold the screen without looking artificial or bewildered, despite the fact that he has to spend most of the time looking quizzically into space, searching for his elusive quarry. If you're fascinated by Serge Gainsbourg (who just sort of hangs around in various scenes, without any defined role), I'm sure the soundtrack has major appeal, but this quasi-pop opera has throwaway and sometimes downright irksome passages as well as some very good songs.
I was very glad to see "Anna" at last, but can't say I'll ever be inclined to watch it again. It's the kind of hard-to-find curiosity that's much more interesting in the imagination, BEFORE you actually see it. Think of it as the equivalent of the paper dresses that were briefly a fad in the same era: Cool, disposable, impractical, a conversation piece likely to fall apart completely if used more than once.
Laughter in the Dark (1969)
Not a disgrace, but still a muffled misfire
Like a lot of movies that attain a certain fascination because they've become so hard to see (this got a very brief initial release, then was never released to home formats), Tony Richardson's film of the Nabokov novel is of course interesting as a bucket-list curiosity. But it's not actually very good. Swtiching the setting from the novel's mid-30s Germany to modern England blunts the original social commentary, and helps turn this from a misanthropically cruel, ironical comedy into a not very interesting story of a man who falls for a venal pretty girl, and is then ruined by her and her secret lover. That plot is basically unchanged from the novel, but there's nothing sophisticated or ambiguous about its telling anymore.
Nicol Williamson (who replaced Richard Burton after filming started, because Burton kept showing up late and drunk) is too young for his role, Anna Karina too old, but even if you throw out the novel's character conceptions (in which the female protagonist's shameless amorality seemed linked to her extreme youth) , these actors don't create interesting new ones. (Williamson at least gives a hardworking, serious performance; Karina is out of her element working in English, and isn't handled in a fashion to get by on charisma alone in a role you'd love to have seen Louise Brooks circa 1930 do.)
Jean-Claude Drouot is generically handsome and wooden as the lover, like an actor who'd have been cast as the lead in a cheap Europudding James Bond knockoff at the time--providing little to fill out a character whose actions turn from the merely mercenary to the flabbergastingly perverse. There's the required "Swinging London" nightclub scene with a band (I haven't been able to figure out who they are) and "psychedelic" effects. But otherwise the film seems rather divorced from its own time as well as the one it was originally set in.
This isn't a truly bad movie, but there's neither real conviction or wit to it, so the story is ultimately meaningless--these people mean nothing to us, nor do they illustrate any larger ideas. Like the very different and almost equally hard-to-see "King, Queen, Knave" a couple years later, this is a Nabokov adaptation that pretty much misses entirely the tone and value of the source material, and doesn't come up with anything worthy to replace it.
Der goldene Handschuh (2019)
Ick...in a good way, I guess
This is a grotesque interpretation of a novel apparently inspired by a real-life 1970s serial killer. The film was hated by most critics, particularly in its festival debut, because it was considered too repellent and sensational. Conversely, I suspect mainstream horror fans won't like it because it's not crafted like a suspense film-the kills are presented in a depressing, banal rather than "exciting" way.
It's a tough movie to watch, but for reasons that I think are strengths: You rarely see this kind of bleak underside of life depicted accurately in movies. Even films like "Barfly" that purport to also be about alcoholic Skid Row types generally cast the most glamorous actors possible, and make their characters' poverty, self-destruction etc. look sort of "quirky" and "colorful." Here, even the (very few) attractive characters are presented in the worst 70s clothes and hairstyles (with terrible period German pop music in the background), while most of the figures here are old, ugly and conspicuously unhealthy. (It's kind of amazing afterward to look up the cast on IMBD afterward, and see all their nice, clean publicity photos-you'd swear they emptied out a homeless shelter for many of the roles, rather than using professional actors with long resumes.)
It's an incredibly bleak milieu that is its own answer to the question of why police didn't track down this killer sooner-he, and his victims (also drunks and/or prostitutes), were all people that German society had long ago given up on. No one cared about them, or whether they went missing.
You can fault the film for giving very limited "insight" into the protagonist or why he murdered. But he's clearly just a mentally deficient person just functional enough to support himself, so he did not fall into the hands of authorities that might have diagnosed and treated his considerable problems. The lead's performance is so convincingly repellent that I was stunned to see that he's actually a very handsome, young actor-here his age is indeterminate, and his physical acting/makeup is subtle enough that you really think you're watching a somewhat disabled and disfigured person rather than a clever performer's approximation of one.
Anyway, it's a thoroughly unpleasant movie whose characters are profane in the dumbest and crudest ways, whose sexual acts (when they can perform at all) are depicted with nasty vividness, who live in squalor and die in filth. Which, frankly, is probably a pretty accurate depiction of most serial killers' lives and activities. If watching that reality isn't exactly "entertaining," it's nonetheless pretty compelling if you can take it. I wouldn't want to watch a movie with this brutally misanthropic a vision like this very often, but once in a while, it acts as a sort of palate cleanser to remind you that most violence in real life is ugly and pathetic, not an exciting thrill ride.
When dull movies happen to fun concepts
This is your basic "___ From Hell" thriller, in which the seemingly harmless new person in the heroine's life of course turns out to be a devious, homicidal nutcase--in this case Isabelle Huppert as the nice older French lady whose path Chloe Moritz Grace not-so-accidentally falls across.
Given that the main actors are certainly competent, and Neil Jordan has made some great films, you might expect this to be better than just another chip off the old "Single White Female" et al. block. But it's actually worse: Most movies of this nature are at least trashy fun. "Greta" is uncommonly slow and restrained until the last few minutes, yet it has no greater psychological depth or even atmospheric style (usually a Jordan plus) to justify taking that approach. And the script is preposterous like the dumbest genre exercise of its type, completely dependent on characters ignoring all warning signs, walking straight into harm's way, getting improbably overpowered by someone they should easily be able to physically out-match, et al.
his movie would actually be a lot more entertaining if it were worse--you keep hoping it will at least get campy, but it (and the stonefaced Huppert, who barely seems to be trying here) doesn't have the energy for that. Instead, it ends up a surprisingly dull, even exasperating mediocrity that makes you wonder why on Earth so many people with usually-better (or at least more ambitious) taste in projects chose this uninspired B-movie material.
Beyond Evil (1980)
Not quite bad enough to be good-bad
This terrible possession thriller is graced by an orchestral score by Pino Domaggio, familiar from all his Brian DePalma scores (and it duly sounds like them). So it takes a while to realize just how cheesy this movie is--really, it deserved a soundtrack of one finger at the Casio keyboard. Perhaps the funding ran out prematurely, because aspects of the film are...well, not exactly good, but certainly more professional than others. And the absolute worst are the post-production FX (crude green rays from glowing eyes, solarized images, etc.), which would have seemed pretty elemental even twenty-years earlier.
John Saxon and Lynda Day George play a (somewhat squabbling and shallow--not sure if that's how we're meant to perceive them) couple who luck into an amazingly cheap mansion on a Hawaiian island. It's cheap, of course, because there's an evil spirit, which soon possesses Lynda. Who is not, let's face it, the actress to pull off this sort of thing without lots of triggering a fair amount of unintentional laughter. She looks glamorous as usual, but if you're hoping for some nudity, sorry--the most you'll get is Saxon (who admittedly was in pretty great shape still) taking his shirt off quite often. Anyway, this film is silly and suspenseless, but not energetic or outrageous enough to be entertainingly bad, which is what I'd hoped for. If you're seeing it for the actors, well, you'll see them--though they've certain been better used elsewhere.
Time Walker (1982)
Mummies for dummies
This isn't a great bad mummy movie--there's quite a number of those--but it's bad enough to be fun, if not bad enough to be memorable. It has all the right ingredients, but never quite kicks into a high enough gear (esp. re: violence and sex) to realize its full cheesy potential. Still, the script is verrrry silly, complete with a leap into sci-fi towards the end. I enjoyed seeing Ben Murphy, whose post "Alias Smith & Jones" career I kinda missed; he's still very handsome here, and manages to escape with dignity unscathed--unlike a lot of the other cast members, many of whom are intentionally (or unintentionally) over the top. It was also interesting to see Robert Random, who doesn't make much impression here but is notable for having finally surfaced recently as the nominal male lead in Orson Welles' endlessly delayed "The Other Side of the Wind" (shot a decade earlier, more or less). Anyway, this movie doesn't quite fully capitalize on the trash potential of reawakened-Egyptian-mummy-turns-modern-campus-slasher, but that conceit alone is worth some entertainment value, and "Time Walker" is relatively slick by 80s B-movie standards. It just could have used a bit more energy and outrageousness.
Walk the Walk (1970)
An odd artifact, but rough sledding
This oddity is part drugsploitation movie, part sermon, and part hippie happening. It's the kind of movie in which many of the actors seem to have never acted before or since, apart of course from Bernie Hamilton, the only person here who actually had a career. The writer-director made a prior feature called "The Stud Farm" that was apparently an early gay-themed drama, but there's no evidence it has survived-or that he learned the first thing about filmmaking from it, since this exercise often seems amateurish and possibly semi-improvised. (There are scenes that go on forever to no point at all, notably the very first scene of the main character freaking out in his room.)
42-year-old Hamilton plays an unlikely "seminary student" living in a monastery who is indiscriminately addicted to drugs, and stumbles upon a provider in the form of equally long-in-tooth Judy (Honor Lawrence), who appears to have some kind of guru status in the local hippie scene. She also offers improbable sex for money in the same scene.
Even these starting premises make no sense, but there's some garish color and a lot of the era's lame country rock and psych rock (none by well-known artists) on the soundtrack. This is one of those films that no doubt has a much more interesting story behind it than the pretty tedious, shapeless story onscreen-what was the background of the people who made it? Was there a script at all? Why are two none-too-youthful-looking fortysomethings starring in a movie about counterculture hipsters? Why does Judy betray go-between Toke (Eric Weston), dispatching him to buy drugs on credit, then dooming him to the drug dealers' vengeance by claiming she didn't? Were the long, dull dialogue scenes improvised? Did they happen because funding fell through for something more watchable, involving more locations and actors? Who on Earth thought Lawrence was a suitable lead (let alone capable of an eventual dual role)?
These questions arise because the most interesting thing about "Walk the Walk" is wondering just how it turned out so badly. It's the kind of terrible movie in which you can't even be sure what the makers intended, it falls so wide of anything audiences would have wanted to see then (or now).
There's some spectacular bad acting here, particularly at the start, and in a scene where Hamilton spurns overtures from a very hammily played gay man (Bert Hoffman). But most of "Walk" is static and boring, with the kinds of problems that often come from technical compromises forced by losing crew members (as when a talky scene is filmed entirely in longshot). Scenes at a coffee house where there's dancing and sometime live music are the only relatively lively ones in the movie, aside from a ludicrous and incongruous chase climax in a desert area. (How did the characters suddenly get there?) If you're a sucker for vintage counterculture movies like me, you'll be curious enough to sit through this...once. But it's a hard slog, and I'd be surprised if the film originally got much of a release, because it must have struck most potential distributors as beyond salvage.
A review from someone who actually saw it
I had mixed feelings about this film--it's well-made and has some important things on its mind, but also just tries to cram too many talking-points in, to the end result that the storytelling is only semi-plausible. It would have been better as a shorter film without quite SO many curveballs thrown the protagonist's way. He doesn't need to embody every characteristic that someone like him MIGHT have, or every obstacle he might experience.
But I was driven to review mostly by the ridiculous number of obvious trolls here voting the lowest they can while obviously not having seen the film. Are alt-right types so scared of unflattering fictional depictions that they need to pile on public forums like this just to frantically discourage other people from seeing those depictions? Well of course they are. How pathetic. I mean, at least you people might have done your homework and read a few reviews so you could more convincingly pretend to have actually seen "Cuck" and had some real basis for criticizing its content. But then, you folk aren't exactly renowned for being very bright. You're as obvious as Scientologists posing as indignant Average Joes to scream bloody murder at any Scientology expose. All you do is underline the film's depiction of alt-right incel types as whiny, paranoid mom's-basement dwellers who are obsessed with "masculinity" yet have the tantrum-prone emotions of 5-year-olds.
You know what actual grownups are self-confident enough NOT to do? "Review" films they haven't seen, because they're afraid others might see that film and learn it's a little too accurate a portrait.
El Silbón: Orígenes (2018)
Uh...OK, let's hope the sequels are more coherent
This is a fairly well-produced and well-crafted supernatural thriller with some nicely atmospheric passages, though it does take a while to get going and is over-reliant at times on routine jump scares (sudden soundtrack thumps, a figure speeding through the foreground, etc.).
The problem is, once it gets going, it loses focus. Maybe I wasn't paying close enough attention, but it took me a long time to figure out that the story was taking place in two separate time periods, something not helped by the fact that several characters were played by confusingly similar-looking actors. As a result, the dual storylines just seemed tangled rather than complementary. Nor is the "whistler" a particularly scary entity (esp. the tuneless upward notes it whistles over and over), even if it is based on a well-known regional folk tale.
This had some good elements in terms of atmosphere, acting and several quietly tense sequences, but it just seems poorly put together as a narrative, with occasionally clumsy blackout transitions between episodes and not much sense of an overall arc. At heart the movie simply wants to scare us, and it's counterproductive to that mission for it to so frequently make the viewer think "Huh? What's happening now? And wby?"
Ultimately just rather dreary
(Minor spoilers) This beautifully shot film is much reminiscent in many ways of "The Witch" and the recent "Hagazussa," two movies I loved. But while atmospheric and interesting to a point, it finally falls well short, not so much because the horror elements turn out to be irrelevant window-dressing--though that doesn't help--but because there's just so little to the storytelling. The characters gain no complexity or depth past our first meeting them, the situation grows more bleak yet doesn't really develop much suspense or urgency.
The revelation of the real villains here might have been effective if the film had worked in a thread of social commentary throughout, instead of misleading us with vaguely supernatural flimflam. Better to just make a straight-up Ken Loach-style miserabilist period piece than a halfhearted stab at a genre film that turns out not to really be anything of that nature at all.
Strong on mood and visuals but weak on the kind of screenplay substance that is needed to sustain feature length, "Gwen" should have been a 20-minute short. While I actually LIKE "depressing" films, they can't just throw downbeat plot turns at us and expect a poignant impact that has to actually be earned in emotional terms. Failing that, this film ends up feeling like a dirge rather than the moving "folk ballad" it seems intended as.
The Art of Self-Defense (2019)
I like Eisenberg and Nivola, so I was primed to enjoy this, but what a letdown. It starts off with a decent droll tenor, even if the humor is pretty lame and the story very simplistic (fraidity-cat nerd gets mugged, then gets empowered in karate class). But rather than evolving into something more interesting, the film just gets mean-spirited without truly going "dark," with improbable developments and insufficient depth to pull them off. Characters who turn out to be sorta evil remain cartoonish, so there's no punch to the revelations.
This is neither a farce or a "black comedy," just some tepid compromise between, and it wastes some very good actors. You've seen Eisenberg playing a dweeb before--he's certainly good at it, but this movie doesn't bring out anything new--while Nivola, who's normally terrific, is neither very funny or sufficiently threatening in a role that calls for both. Likewise Imogen Poots and David Zellner get one-note roles. I don't know what this movie was trying for, but it didn't work for me. I would have rated it lower (because I really did wind up disliking it), but in technical and acting terms the filmmaking was competent enough to give it a medium grade.
The Annihilators (1985)
More 80s upstanding citizens vs. those evil gang punks
This is one more uninspired 80s "We're gonna drive the punks outta this town if it kills us!" crime drama in the mode of "Class of 1984," the "Death Wish" sequels, and so forth. Many of those films have significant camp value, but despite some other posters here claiming this one is a riot, it's more a watchable C-grade mediocrity than anything memorable.
It's good to see Gerrit Graham top-billed for a change, although really he's not a primary figure among the four Vietnam vets who ride into an anonymous inner city to avenge a buddy killed by members of the gang that's terrorizing the whole neighborhood, and his character makes an early exit. There's not a lot of spark or magnetism among the other good guys, though I guess at this point seeing Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs of "Welcome Back Kotter" play a poker-faced tough guy was a novelty. The bad guys (the usual only-in-movies multiracial crew of overgrown delinquents, this time without any actual "punk" styling) aren't particularly flamboyant or memorable by the standards of this subgenre, though they do briefly pull a "Dirty Harry" on a schoolbus in the last 15 minutes.
I'm not sure why this was the last feature Charles Sellier directed (among three in two years, including the cult horror "Silent Night, Deadly Night"), except he was a successful producer before and was a successful producer afterward, so maybe he just found sticking to that role easier. Anyway, you've seen better films of this type, and you've seen worse.
Champagne from P. Sturges, gone a bit flat
This anecdotal comedy is based on a book, and feels like it-the kind of mild humor book popular back then, which offered mildly humorous variations on a subject (in this case, foreigners' perspectives on the French). In fact the source book was a collection of newspaper humor columns by a French writer pretending to be a expatriate Englishman, Major Marmaduke Thompson, played here by Jack Buchanan. He offers his arch perspective on the "funny" ways of his French wife ("Lola Montes'" Martine Carol), acquaintances, and society in general. Noel-Noel plays a purportedly typical Frenchman to illustrate these ideas.
Surprisingly, this movie was apparently a considerable success in France (it was shot in both English and French), though it didn't do well elsewhere, and is mostly (if somewhat unfairly) remembered now as Preston Sturges' final flop. Perhaps the French version made the English more the butt of the joke. In the English-language version, the fun had at the expense of both nationalities is so mild the film just doesn't develop much of a notable viewpoint, let alone comic energy or narrative momentum. It's not dire (I'd say Sturges' prior flop "The Beautiful Blonde from Bashful Bend" is more of an overt misfire, because it tries so hard and falls flat), but it's just tepidly amusing.
Though Sturges was well-traveled and fluent in French, this theme just doesn't bring out the boisterous self-confidence seen in nearly all his American films. His U.S. stock company is sorely missed; though everyone here is competent, they often seem to be working in different idioms, from boulevard comedy to farce to crude slapstick.
Admittedly, in this period comedies about culture clash tended to paint those cultures in unimaginatively stereotypical terms, something that "Funny Race" doesn't transcend. And it's not entirely fair to judge this film on the basis of an 80-minute, TV-print-looking cut of the English version. (For all I know, that may have been the length at which it was released overseas-in France, it was 105 minutes.) But on the evidence, this isn't an underrated Sturges (like "Sin of Harold Diddlebock" aka "Mad Wednesday," which was also only available in inferior prints for many years), but one that merits its reputation as no disgrace but a disappointment nonetheless.
A travesty, but OK if you're looking for "Shakespeare goes 'Twilight'"
Never mind all the fake early ten-star reviews here--if you can't tell they're fake from the writing, click on the person's handle and you'll see that inevitably they have never posted about another movie before.
This movie gets five stars for being well-produced, good-looking, professionally acted and crafted. I can't argue that it would probably entertain less discriminating (and younger) audiences, esp. if they have no prior experience with "Hamlet." (God help the high school student who one day is going to figure they can skip reading the play and do a book report just from seeing this film.) But if you ARE at all familiar with "Hamlet," this is is pretty ludicrous. It's not that it departs from the play in many ways; "Hamlet" is such a ubiquitous classic that it can certainly withstand and even welcome some imaginative, revisionist takes.
(partial spoilers ahead] The probolem is that this particular take is that of a stereotypical current teenage romance-novel-slash-fantasy a la "Twilight" and "Wicked." Poor Ophelia must of course be a spunky little rebel who only PRETENDS to go mad, won't let men tell her what to do, and other things that seem more than a bit preposterous for a young lady in a medieval Danish court. Of course Hamlet is ALL about her, in a brooding, lovesick, tormented Robert Pattinson-in-"Twilight" way. Things are manipulated so crazily to make O. the center of this whole story that she even sees the Ghost of Hamlet's father before he does! Because she is just that special.
Gertrude is made to be bitchy and insecure, reducing Naomi Watts' performance; Clive Owen is solid as Claudius, and other performances are OK. But it's distracting that another concession to young audiences is making the court multi-ethnic, as if there were many black people around in 11th-century Denmark or whenever this is supposed to be. It's not that this is quasi-modernized, which needn't be a bad thing; it's that it's done in such a stereotypical, shallow, trendy fashion that the effect is ultimately kinda laughable.
You can't say this is really a "feminist" take, because it's too juvenile in its approach--Ophelia may be somewhat "empowered," but she's also the girl whom the Prince himself offers to "walk away from it all" for! She's supposed to be "tough," in a sort of Katniss-in-"Hunger Games" way, but she also gets to be Cinderella, too. If you're getting the feeling from my description that this movie piles up way too many cliches in order to hit the target audience bull's-eye, you'd be exactly right. But jiudging from the film's reception so far, obviously you can OVERESTIMATE what your audience presumably wants, and give them so much of it that they feel condescended to. This expensive-looking movie is pretty much going straight to VOD, and that is because it is more 21st-century "Gidget" than "Hamlet." Doing the story from Ophelia's point of view was a good idea--and someday, someone may do it right.
Sequestro di persona (1968)
Abduction without viewer seduction
This dullish thriller utilizes the same kidnapping theme that would dominate many Italian movies (and Italian life) through at least the 70s, although later treatments tended to be more in the realm of sensational action-packed crime thrillers. This movie doesn't seem certain how seriously to take itself-there's not much action, and the Sardinian atmosphere is vivid (at least photographically), but there's not enough insight into the politics or economics that would justify a relatively non-exploitative approach.
Franco Nero plays the son of a tightfisted local landowner; his friend, son of another wealthy local landowner, is the one who is kidnapped at the beginning of the film. It's Charlotte Rampling's POV we get during that key initial scene. Yet her vacationing-Brit-girl casual girlfriend of the kidnapped man turns out to be largely superfluous to the plot, making it seem as though her inclusion was really not much more than a commercial appeal to English-speaking audiences. (Rampling being Rampling, her character also comes off as extremely glamorous but a snippy brat, so we're not all that sorry she stays on the margins.)
There are echoes here of Bertolucci's much later "Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man," particularly in some later plot revelations. But in their different ways neither film works very well. Despite its regional focus, this one feels too much like a production compromised and rendered a little characterless by the requirements of "international" casting. There's a climax of violence and desperation, but the film just hasn't worked up enough suspense for it to have that much impact. It's all a near-miss, no cheesy knock-off but not strong enough to be memorable.
Ghosts of Hanley House (1968)
Nice try, underwhelming results
Note: The current IMBD plot description "Five people are spending the night in a haunted house. Things get dicey when some of them start turning up decapitated" is only half-right--the second sentence is very inaccurate and misleading.
This is a game low-budget regional attempt to do a traditional "haunted house challenge" story a la "The Haunting," et al. But it's undone not so much by the low budget as unimaginative direction and lack of atmosphere. (Admittedly, the soft, probably TV-copied prints this movie can be seen in probably don't help.) You know the handling will be somewhat clunky right off with some poor matching of shots including day-for-night ones. Otherwise the film makes a semi-intelligent decision to keep things relatively dark (hiding production shortcomings) and avoid overt violence, but there just isn't much sense of style or idiosyncrasy to the direction to convey any real sense of threat. Too many of the "scares" are in the form of crude sound effects obviously dubbed in later, and which the adequate (for this kind of movie) actors seldom react to at all. There's so little attempt to ratchet up suspense that when "The End" comes, it's one of those times you think "Wait--that was IT?" Not because things didn't happen, but because their presentation is so flat there's no sense of having reached a story's climax. Anyway, you've certainly seen worse, and this is notable for not being particularly lurid or cheesy in an era when most low-budget horror was exactly that. But it just doesn't really come to life. Compare it to another low-budget film from just a few years later like "Let's Scare Jessica to Death," and you can see how an ability to convey an unsettled atmosphere makes all the difference.
Killing Spree (1987)
If your friends had made this, you'd be more amused
This isn't an unintentional campfest but a piece of deliberately ridiculous genre trash that's like a more amateurish version of Troma-type gore-horror sillliness-which is going pretty low-end even by the standards of such things. I somewhat enjoyed "Asbestos Felt's" over-the-top hysteria as the homicidally paranoid hero, and probably everyone else had a lot of fun making it. But once you get the gist (and you'll probably guess supposedly cheating wife Lisa's actual "secret" very early on, as I did), it's just not energetic or funny, let alone professional enough, to be more than a wiseguy neighbor's elaborate play-acting home movie with his friends as cast and crew. And I LIKE a lot of grade-Z weirdness, from "Manos" to "Bride of Frank" to whatnot. But this isn't authentically weird, nor is it an inspired-enough joke, so for me it got pretty dull pretty fast.
Head Count (2018)
Rating seems weird
Did the filmmakers tick somebody off or something? It makes no sense that this movie has such a low rating, and several dismissive user reviews. (No, I am NOT affiliated with the film.) It's very well-crafted and genuinely unpredictable. Are horror fans so boring in their expectations that they actually resent a movie that doesn't provide the usual routine "kills," or gore? This movie has what most don't: An original narrative. I didn't love the ending, but up to that point was fascinated. It's not that "scary," but it's INTERESTING, and how often can you say that about a new horror movie? Most such are "spoiler-proof," in that the plots are so predictable it really doesn't matter if someone spills the beans or not. But with this film, I wouldn't tell anyone what happens after the twenty-minute point, because it's actually surprising. If you need severed limbs or something, I guess this movie isn't for you, but I found it imaginative and impressive.
Karl May (1974)
No cowboy action here, just formal parlors and courtrooms
In looking for "Our Hitler," which I've never actually seen, I was surprised that the only thing my major-city public library system had by Syberberg is this earlier film, which is much lesser-known than "OH" or "Parsifal." There is some brief use of the toy sets, superimpositions and such that would be greatly more prominent in those much more famous (and experimental) films. But "Karl May" is by contrast a pretty straightforward costume-drama biopic, if a slow and of course very long one, as is Syberberg's wont.
The hugely popular German author of western adventures is portrayed primarily in later (roughly turn-of-the-19th-century) years, when he was already wealthy and famous. The main focus is on his persecution by those who wanted to bring him down via lawsuits and press scandals. May was indeed a bit of a slippery character: He had some early criminal history (mostly a result of extreme poverty, it seems, given such "crimes" as stealing candlesticks), plagiarized some of his works from other sources, and claimed to write about his personal adventures when he'd never been to America whatsoever, let alone ridden the Wild West with a "Red Indian" pal. But as portrayed here, he seems less a con man than a semi-delusional fabulist whose foes are mostly motivated by greed and jealousy.
In contrast to Syberberg's best-known later work, this film is naturalistically shot on period-suitable exterior and interior locations, even if its costume-drama plushness is somewhat undercut by a square aspect ratio and pedestrian cinematography. (Admittedly, this may or may not be partly the fault of the DVD I watched, whose transfer looks like it was duped from TV-or perhaps "Karl May" was produced for broadcast in the first place?) Indeed, the whole enterprise is talky, slackly paced and lacking in much tension or dramatic momentum, despite the competent performances.
If you're looking for much exploration of May's unique place in German culture and its philosophical/social/et al. connotations-as "Our Hitler" and "Parsifal" manages with different subjects-you won't find it in this rather straightforward, even unimaginative biopic, at least not until it finally staggers towards its prolonged end. If Syberberg had progressed no further than this film, he never would have gotten international attention. "Karl May" is a worthy yet dullish treatment of an interesting subject, and it doesn't take long for the viewer to realize they won't gain much more insight from its three hours than they would from reading an encyclopedia entry about May.
Well, you do get reminded that in the 19th century, many people (particularly those in positions of authority) viewed the poor as morally inferior, and saw May's rather minor failings as the inevitable result of his being born "riffraff"-rather than seeing the inspirational upside of his triumphing over incredible adversity (including nine siblings dying in infancy) to become a literary figure almost as popular as Dickens. Though it's not really spelled out that way, you could view the whole story here as an illustration of the era extreme class divisions, with the resentful "upper" class attempting to ruin a lower-caste man who had the good luck and sheer nerve to reach their own economic level, and then some.
Roll Red Roll (2018)
Strong doc about important subject
This is a very good documentary about a problem much more pervasive than most people realize. I know that in my midwestern hometown, the same thing could easily have happened when I was in high school decades ago--except then the girl almost certainly wouldn't have reported being assaulted, realizing that even if she did, the school, parents and police probably would have "hushed it up" to protect the all-important football team, and she would have most likely gotten "slut-shamed" besides.
And all the one-star reviews here? Click on the relevant users' names, and you'll find that "mysteriously," none of them ever seem to have reviewed another title on IMBD. Yeah, I guess some folk are still invested in covering up this incident, and revising the history that the documentary chronicles. Too little, too late, folks.
I don't get it
Of course, as usual the ten-star advance "user reviews" here are from people who "mysteriously" have never written an IMBD review before--i.e. studio shills. But "Booksmart" has gotten great early reviews, and several people I know who saw early screenings really did love it. So I went in fully expecting to enjoy it, and was dismayed when immediately--I mean, even before the opening title--the film was making "Funny, huh? Wasn't that funny?!?" noises despite nothing particularly funny happening. I'll give Olivia Wilde points for making a very colorful and energetic movie that might indeed convince a lot of people through sheer high spirits that it's a great comedy. But instead it felt just strenuous to me, trying too hard to cover the fact that the funny, clever, witty material wasn't actually there.
The premise is ridiculous--bookworm protagonists are horrified to discover that after all their sacrifices for the future, all the party-hearty types at their high school ALSO got into Ivy League schools. This would make sense if it took place in a wealthy community where everyone was a "legacy" student thanks for their family's donations. But the movie makes a point of singling out two characters as the only "truly rich" ones here. Those two, like every character save the two lead girls, are complete "SNL"-style caricatures. What's worse, they all also seem to be played by actors who are about a decade too old, once again apart from the two lead girls.
Even so, the premise and the casting and everything might have worked if "Booksmart" were an outright farce. But it seems to be aiming to be sorta-kinda "real," while the characters nonetheless behave like no teenagers past or present. Everything here is so over-amped and contrived for effect, yet the ingenious comedy situations and bright lines that approach might have served are nowhere to be found.
Like I said, I don't get it--it's a very lively and well-crafted movie that nonetheless felt completely phony and unfunny to be. It's not boring, but I have no idea what people who like it are responding to, beyond the fact that "'Superbad' for high school senior girls" is probably good enough for many. But I liked "Superbad" well enough, and this movie just did nothing for me. You could say it aims for a mix of "Superbad" and John Hughes, but those movies do a much better job turning recognizable teenage life into farce with some heart, and if Wilde intended something similar (I'm not sure what she intended, beyond punching across every scene as if she might never be allowed to direct again), she misses the mark. A for effort, C for derivative/uninspired content, and D for over-effortfully trying to hide that empty content. It's like a student paper with a very splashy cover but nothing original or thoughtful inside.
Rapsodia satanica (1917)
Vanity, thy name is...Satan!
This gender-switched version of "Faust" has an elderly countess selling her soul to the devil in order to regain her youth and beauty. The only condition is that she cannot fall in love. Once back in her splendor, however, she behaves recklessly and does indeed violate that contract, to the ruination of more than one man, and the inevitable fate for herself.
Lyda Borelli was briefly a leading Italian screen actress-I'm not sure why her movie career ended so soon after this film-and she has an interesting presence here. But often the elegantly staged film seems over-indebted to the Theda Bara school in both her theatrics and her character look, even if the protagonist is ultimately more a tragic figure than pure "vamp." It's a handsome movie that benefits from attractive settings both indoors and out, some lyrical climactic imagery, as well as lovely color tinting on the print I saw.
Kiss me, you eight-legged freak you
This rare "Latvian horror film" isn't really a horror film proper, but more of a grotesque fairy tale similar in tenor to "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders," albeit with more of a softcore sexploitation tilt. It's often handsome and imaginative (if variably accomplished in technical terms) in its soft-focus Gothicism, but also kinda cheesy in that much of it just seems an excuse to get the admittedly very pretty young heroine kinda-sorta-almost raped over and over in nightmarish or dreamlike circumstances.
She's a student whose priest-principal allows her to model for a Madonna statue at the request of the artist he's hired to create that work. But the painter turns out to be a leering hedonist, as well as, er, possibly some kind of spider-demon. So our heroine is forever running from variably-imaginary perils (they're mostly posited as dreams or hallucinations, until at the end they are apparently "real" enough to require the priest's physical battle with spider-man) of a mostly erotic nature, whether she's harassed by a sort of orgiastic Bosch painting come to life early on, or being ravished by a giant tarantula puppet. Sometimes she's scared, sometimes she kinda likes it--you know, the usual contradictory nonsense for this kind of enterprise, in which the constantly undressed heroine must embody the target male viewer's fantasies of both violation and lusty consent.
The director is certainly talented in the visual realm. But a major problem to "Zimeklis," one that heightens the silly side to its horny Gothicism, is its really tacky synthesizer score. It's a shame an otherwise fairly elaborately realized (if still modestly scaled) fantasy should get such rinky-dink accompaniment. The overall atmosphere of arty quasi-surreallism would be greatly enhanced by something more in the realm of Eno-type ambient sounds, Tangerine Dream, or chamber-quartet-type composition.