Sunday 15 April 2018

29 - Hands of the Ripper, Nightcomers, Dorian Gray, Scorpio, New York crime films, Klondike Fever, Golden Needles, Parker, Jordan, Highway to Hell, Prizzi, Hoffa, Oliver Stone, Reds, Ragtime, De Palma, Cannery Row, Coen, Freshman, oh my

Watching the Picture of Dorian Gray (1945 - B/W). Donna Reed doesn't bother with the accent. Weird to see people doing the Diddy Dick and Dom/Reeves and Mortimer Marvin and Otis heads on puppet bodies thing. As it goes into the present, it feels more American. Angela Lansbury (with a relatively undiluted accent) and George Sanders give it all they got, while Hurd Hatfield is convincingly British (then again, he was a bit of a West Brit).

The Nightcomers (1972) - Weird Winner touches (e.g. the kids acting younger despite being played by an early and a late teenager respectively), it looks very expensive, like a typical period drama so the kink is out of place. Brando channels his inner Richard Harris, and proves very capable in his performance as the typical Irish village idiot. The kite bit is very Children's Film Foundaation. What could have been a period plodder is well served by Winner's sensationalism. It feels like a dirty version of the Amazing Mr. Blunden, with Stephanie Beacham having sweet love with Marlon.  Seeing Brando pelted with arrows in an English bog is something. Is it a good film? It's well shot, and has a nice score, but it makes no sense. It's a bad idea, but it's so absurd, it entertains. And Thora Hird's in it.

Rewatching Hands of the Ripper (1971). It's weird. It's played almost too seriously for such a schlocky idea, but no, they do it as a tragic romance. The soft-focus and the stolen sets from Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Lynda Baron belongs in a different version of the same film. The ending is great, though. Still better than Demons of the Mind, and the vampire lesbian films of the era. However, it is almost a perfect translation of 1970s girls' comics in Britain, which were either about cursed young girls or Victorian waifs going through endless tragedy.

Scorpio (-1973) - Better than I remembered. A slog at times, but the action is great. Almost a glimpse into what a Bond directed by Winner would have been like. The usual slack thriller tropes somehow feel energised with Winner.  One of the better Eurospy ventures. Realised that Winner perhaps should have directed Capricorn One. That film is too Altmanesque for my liking. Firepower (1979) doesn't hit anywhere, and I feel with Capricorn, an Englishman's eye on the Americana pomp may have helped.
Winner does get his sense of place, which is why I prefer Death Wish to the French Connection, Pelham 123, etc. Even if it has supposedly live TV footage shot on 35 mm film, and not videotape. But it has a small person manning a giant newsagent booth.

The Seven-Ups (1973) - The thing with 70s cop movies. I don't find the characters or plot interesting. But I like the locations. I like 70s New York in passing, because when there are films set within it, where it's centre stage, where people work, when it is in close-up, it loses its mystique, and it feels false. In car chases, e..g. in the French Connection, you see that New York, with real people, not staged extras. Though a lot of this footage gets samey, this is no exception. But I never feel for the characters. I wish that Alligator  had at least shot in Chicago rather than faking it in L.A., because it would have added character to the generic cop stuff.

Three The Hard Way (1976) - Jay Robinson's villain is wasted in this blaxploitation plodder. Yes, his plan is bigger than most blaxploitation - but instead of just killing all the blacks with a rare poison only African people are allergic to (which makes no sense  - what about light-skinned mixed race people), he should have turned them into literal brown sugar or something with a death ray.  The action is by Hal Needham, though, but it's TV movie-level lethargic.

Klondike Fever (1980) - Only an anachronistic studded cowboy hat worn by Rod Steiger and a few suspect food products some of the few (actually many) clues this is a Harry Alan Towers production, well that and the Moulin Rouge-themed club in Alaska. Relatively grand for a Towers of London "epic", with Lorne Greene (dressed as the First Doctor, astrakhan hat and all), Rod Steiger and Angie Dickinson supporting one-time Superboy Jeff East as Jack London. An early Vancouver movie (the future BC-shot genre TV regulars Michael Hogan and Blu "Jim in Huckleberry Finn" Mankuma" are among the actors alongside more familiar 70s Cancon regulars Gordon "Babar" Pinsent and Lisa Langlois as a teenage prostitute named Diamond Tooth Gertie). Rather dull despite some surprises.

The Looking Glass War (1969) - All-star spy thriller that literally wanders into the middle of nowhere. Cyril Shaps weirdly billed over Timothy West. Christopher Jones a dull lead. No wonder his career sank after it turned out post-Ryan's Daughter, he wasn't actually British, and had to be dubbed by Julian Holloway. Peter Finch was intended for the role of Leiser, Jones' character, who in the book is much older. The character of George Smiley is edited out of the script, but appears in the original LeCarre novel.  Scorpio is better.

Golden Needles (1974) - Robert Clouse's post-Enter the Dragon vehicle, again with Jim Kelly and Roy Chiao, but added Joe Don Baker. Features mystical nonsense about accupuncture needles that renew youth and sexual vigour - features a house mysteriously torched down by figures in hazmat suits wielding flamethrowers. Elizabeth Ashley is annoying, plus she looks disconcertingly like an angry Lorraine Chase. But it's meandering and boring, even when it's "Darius Jedburgh in Hong Kong". He even drinks  Jameson. But the film takes too long, even when Ann Sothern as a madam gets finger-torture. Meredith is fun, but the film is too mainstream for its own good. The climax, a proto-parkour footchase is pretty epic, but it takes too long to get there. The ending is a bit of a cop-out, though. Remade a year later as the trashier but badly-constructed Cirio Santiago film Bamboo Gods and Iron Men (197)5, also by AIP.

Birdy (1984) - Tonally all over the place, at points Parker thinks he's directing Midnight Express again. A lot of moping about. I like some of the photographic composition, but then again I liked the look and feel of Angel Heart (1987), even though the film is DTV-level erotic nonsense behind the gloss.

We're No Angels (1989) - Despite being set and shot in Canada and the US, and with an almost all-American cast, it still feels like a Terrible Irish Film, what with Jordan directing, Ray McAnally, "Catholic humour", and all.

Highway To Hell (1991) - Feels like it should have had a better budget, as the desert world of Hell feels too similar to the desert in the real world. Features Patrick Bergin as the Devil, the entire Stiller family (Ben as Atilla), Gilbert Gottfried as Hitler. It has some fun with the concept, and some intriguing visuals, but there's that 90s goofiness that permeates it and Chad Lowe's a feeble hero. Switch it with Kristy Swanson as the heroine, and it'd have been better. It feels a bit like a darker Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. And features someone calling himself Troy Tempest.

Been watching films like the flat Prizzi's Honor (1985 - it's not even beautifully shot like The Dead), Hoffa (1992 - great matte-work, and very artificial interior-exteriors too) - which I don't enjoy or am really interested in, but I watch them for the cinematography not the plot, and Oliver Stone's JFK (1991) and Nixon (1995). Just trying to seep in cinematography. The incessant flashbacks clutter up too much. They feel overlong and laborious, but they are ambitious.

And overlong but attractive pieces, namely  the 1981 double-bill Reds (1981 - not a big fan -the documentary bits muddy the waters) and the much richer Ragtime (1981 - RIP Milos Forman), which looks almost Fellini-esque at times. And it has the "million girls" song from the Simpsons "Princess Kashmir" episode. And Richard Griffiths as an American. And Jimmy Cagney in "young age" makeup.  Bruce Boa billed over Jeff Daniels and Samuel L. Jackson.

Antonioni is still rubbish, though.

Tried Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), what the fuck are they going for? No wonder De Palma never appeals.

Sisters (1973) - Feels bland, like a lesser cover version of Paul Bartel's Private Parts. It feels kind of empty, halfway between exploitation rubbish and a nothingy Hollywood thriller. Points for a character called Milius. The faux-Canadian ending with a cow and a tractor at a railway station, and Charles Durning in callipers tied to a pylon with binoculars - at least that's not forgettable, unlike most of the film.The split-screen just confuses matters.

Cannery Row (1982) - Too alienating in its artifice, rather dry, feels like it's a hard-hitting drama set in Toytown or Altman's Sweethaven. Audra Lindley (the American Yootha Joyce) is quite fun, though.

Private Benjamin (1980) - Almost TV movie-level in its backlot phoniness at times. Not much to say. Good for the genre it is in, but not my kind of comedy.

Tried watching Slaughter's Big Ripoff (1973), and bar the opening biplane assassination, it is nothing special. All the beats and humour segments - all almost identical. Slot in scenes, change actor or gender - and you'll get the likes of Hammer, Bucktown, Foxy Brown or Coffy, or the slightly more imaginative Cleopatra Jones. And unless, shot in New York, a lot of them don't look particularly visually astonishing. Though Foxy Brown (1974) has a nice title sequence featuring Swindon's finest (Yes, Pam Grier was raised in England, being a USAF brat), and a nice castration punchline.

Watching the Hudsucker Proxy (1994). The design and the mattes fascinate me, and Roger Deakins' cinematography is lovely, but I find Tim Robbins annoying, because he's a bit Michael Crawford-ish in it.  It's basically Crimewave II - This Time, It's Better. The Raimi influence is visible.  Probably the Coens' best looking film. Barton Fink and Miller's Crossing look good, but this looks different.

The Freshman (1990) - Bits of it sparkle, and Broderick is relatively appealing for someone who once killed two ladies in Fermanagh, although Brando is almost too good that it hurts it - because he's not like the Godfather. He IS THE Godfather. Maximillian Schell, Jon Polito, Paul Benedict and Bruno Kirby are all good. It's a rather generic comedy that goes very strange towards the end, but it works. It goes from sweet generic teen romance to komodo dragon smugglers,  and Jon Polito (I miss Jon Polito) and Richard Gant as undercover agents. The idea of an expensive feast of endangered animals is brilliant -almost Roald Dahl level genius.  One of the few US mainstream comedies I've seen that hits my sweet spot, maybe as it's about film students. They even have a Gwendoline poster on the wall. More engaging than My Cousin Vinny (I'm not a fan of courtroom stuff per se - I find it viusally unstimulating, even though I like Witness for the Prosecution but that's Laughton!).
And something like Throw Momma From The Train (1987), it's alright, but it's a little sweetened, though the storybook ending is ironic.

Was going to check out the other weird comedy Brando did - Free Money, a Canadian thing by Yves Simoneau whose films I've seen bits of (Pouvoir Intime, In The Eyes of The Dragon and the Robbie Coltrane vehicle Perfectly Normal) and were kind of forgettable. But it looks like an erotic thriller from the time.

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