Ha! She's been "The Bride" here for years, NP.
THE GUNMAN (2015)
I read Jean-Patrick Manchette’s thriller The Prone Gunman a couple of years ago, vaguely aware Sean Penn had starred in this movie adaptation. I didn’t enjoy the book. It started brilliantly with a well described ‘hit’ but descended into a short, brutal and unsympathetic little tome. Martin Terrier, the lead character, is a phenomenal assassin, but a hopeless incurable romantic. The two facets did not gel well together on the page.
Sean Penn’s Jim Terrier – I don’t know why they changed the character’s name from Martin, to Jim – has some of the idealistic principles of Manchette’s anti-hero. He’s surrounded by a familiar cast of miscreants played by familiar faces, none of whom seem to want to be there. Ray Winstone and Javier Barden in particular are hopeless. Here, Terrier is supposed to be English but Penn doesn’t bother to hide his stateside accent. I think in the original novel, everyone was French. The film introduces a big business backstory about the exploitation of African mineral wealth which was completely absent from the novel. The screenwriters must have spent time watching The Constant Gardner before putting pen to paper as there are obvious similarities. There is too much violence and it’s way too improbable. Given how the film ends, you wonder why Penn didn’t take Winstone’s advice and go straight to Interpol.
Despite Pierre Morel being the director of Taken, The Gunman is poorly constructed and, like in the book, the brutal action drags. It deservedly failed to make money.
THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS. Going into this, I didn't know this would be a zombie apocalypse movie, but it is--and it's a damned good one. The focus is on the girl of the title, apparently part of a new generation of "Hungries" who are born with a sense of self--and also an insatiable desire to eat living things. Well done and thoughtful, with a fine cast including Glenn Close, Paddy Considine, and our own Gemma Arterton.
Yes, that's a good movie.
Please ignore the above.
Coincidentally I also watched Ghost of Frankenstein a couple of weeks ago, for the first time in years. While Lon Chaney Jr doesn't have quite the pathos or menace of Karloff, he plays it well enough, and it's great to see Evelyn Ankers who was also in the Wolf Man.
THE PASSAGE (1979)
Sub-Alistair MacLean war picture starring Anthony Quinn as a Basque shepherd leading a fugitive German scientist to freedom over the Pyrenees.
It’s not very distinguished despite an experienced cast. James Mason is too old for this sort of fare. Malcolm McDowell is intentionally hilarious as a deluded S.S. officer with unique methods of torture. Christopher Lee, dreadful. It’s based a novel by Bruce Nicolaysen and as he also wrote the screenplay we can apportion most of the blame his direction. British director J. Lee Thompson has an impressive body of work from the fifties and early sixties, but he was slumming it by 1978, making endless Charles Bronson movies. In fact, this type of high budget / low return epic was exactly Bronson’s forte at the time so I’m surprised he wasn’t cast in the lead. The trick ending is good, but doesn’t redeem the awfulness of what came in the preceding ninety minutes.
A few interesting James Bond associations: title designer Maurice Binder was co-producer, future M Robert Brown pops up as a German Colonel, Moonraker’s Michael Lonsdale is watchable as a resistance fighter and cinematographer Michael Reed, who made the Alps look beautiful in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, makes the Pyrenees forbidding here. Sadly, nobody earns any stripes for this one.
I liked The Passage. Haven’t seen it for decades but that sort of comic book actioner has always appealed to me.
It’s the rainy season here, and with some lovely thunderstorms for real life effect, I’m going through some a lot of Hammer and Universal Monster movies 😃
Dracula Has Risen From The Grave (1968)
This has some very good opening scenes in a church but then falls away a bit after that. Rupert Davies is good as a priest who is determined to get rid of Dracula, as Christopher Lee tries to get revenge by turning the priests niece (Veronica Carlson) into a vampire. Nicely directed by Freddie Francis but somewhat let down by a less than charismatic turn by leading man Barry Andrews.
Taste The Blood Of Dracula (1970)
Dracula is revived by three outwardly respectable Victorian gentlemen (including Geoffrey Keen) and satanist Ralph Bates after meeting in a bordello. The three become targets of Dracula after they beat Bates to death. Another solid entry in the series, nicely directed by Peter Sasdy.
Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (1969)
This is a terrific entry in the Frankenstein series, Peter Cushing puts in a magnificent and cold-blooded performance as he experiments with brain transplants with the help of Simon Ward and Veronica Carlson (again) who he has blackmailed. Freddie Jones is excellent as this movies Monster. Terence Fisher directs this one and he really knows how to make scenes suspenseful.
"DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER" on the big screen.
Many rate this low against the other Bonds. I have a soft spot for it- back in 1971, after George Lazenby in OHMSS, there was something special about Sean Connery's first appearance here saying "My name is Bond, James Bond". Audiences cheered or clapped, and I was one of them.
Not this time, of course, but the memories linger. It brings a different perspective from those who've only seen it on TV, out of context. A pleasure to see it on the big screen one more time.
A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
A DAY AT THE RACES
We whipped out some Marx Brothers over the past couple of days. I'd seen DUCK SOUP and A NIGHT AT THE OPERA before (but not in 20+ years) but not A DAY AT THE RACES. All three were extremely funny and very entertaining films and it was a lot of fun to watch them with my wife who'd never seen any of them before.
I know that DUCK SOUP is probably the best regarded of the three but I think I liked it the least for the simple fact that it was more anarchic and scattershot. The other two films deliberately had more structure to them and I think that that structure really benefitted the zaniness that the Marx Bros relied on in terms of providing focus. Reading up on the films afterwards, it looks like the desire to give more focus was definitely planned by the producers of those two films.
Regardless, great stuff. Lots of laughs.
I have seen it argued the reveal of the volcano headquarters in You Only Live Twice is a moment that can only be properly appreciated on the big screen.
Were there any such moments in Diamonds are Forever that worked differently given the scale of the screen?
last night I watched....
Queen of Outer Space, 1958
starring Zsa Zsa Gabor, based on an idea by Ben Hecht (who in a fairer parallel universe would have been one of ours)
Exciting plot: a rocket ship carrying four earthmen is knocked offcourse and crashlands on Venus, where they are taken prisoner by the planet's inhabitants.
gosh, how are they going to get out of this?
Turns out the planet has no men, and is ruled over by a despotic queen who blames men for war and destruction, and plans to destroy the earth. ZsaZsa actually plays the rebel leader, who helps our earth-friends escape and overthrows the evil queen just as she is firing up some sort of space laser. Communications are restored to earth but the earthlings are told they better stay on Venus for the next year, just to be safe.
If you can see the image I have attached you are probably already studying the clothing worn by the Venusians. Note that not only the length of the skirts but the primary colour scheme foreshadows Star Fleet regulation uniforms: obviously Rodenberry was drawing inspiration from only the finest of science fiction sources
SCTV borrowed the plot for their scifi epic 2009, Jupiter and Beyond
Wishing not to steal Barbel's thunder, I saw DAF at the BFI back in 2002. The best scene was Bond's elevator ride up the Whyte House and his mountaineering above the Las Vegas skyline followed by the confrontation with two Blofeld's in Ken Adam's brilliant penthouse suite set. Both myself and my mate, who is not an out & out Bond fan, found this sequence stunning. All Bond films look better on the big screen.
I'm at the head of the queue making that argument!
Yes, I agree with Chris that the mountaineering outside the Whyte House looks terrific on the big screen and suffers on a small one. I also agree that in general the Bonds look better in the cinema.
Next week- "Live And Let Die".
And Gymkata- a few years ago I caught "Night At The Opera" and "Day At The Races" at a cinema. They work so much better with an audience, since the jokes were timed live on stage to allow for laughter and weed out weaker material before the filming.
Ripley's Game (2004)
This is sort of a sequel to the "The talented mr. Ripley", but instead of Matt Damon the lead is John Malkovich. Because the director had to leave the production to direct an opera, Malkovich actually directed a third of this movie. Riply is still an amoral trickster and thief, but he makes a couple of choices that makes me question if he's a full-on psyco. Riley is asked to find someone who can kill for money. Partly as revenge for an insult at a party Ripley picks Jonathan (Dougray Scott) because he has terminal cancer and he's an "inocent".
Lena Headey plays Jonathan's wife in an early role and Ray Winstone is cast against type as a gay pot-user. I really like this thriller. It's smart, very well acted, beautifully shot (much of it in Italy) and the plot is excellent!
Oh you can totally tell that those films had been well rehearsed in terms of timing. The comedic bits all had tremendous flow to them and were all killer, no filler. Just great stuff.
No, you’re wrong, Barbel, you’re behind me in the queue 😆
Seriously though, I’m envious of you being able to see those old classic Bonds in the cinema!
Broadly speaking the more structured approach is a trait of the MGM produced Marx Brothers films, while the earlier Paramount ones have the more anarchic style that you mentioned there Gymkata. I personally really enjoy it both ways, but in the end my two favourites (Animal Crackers and Duck Soup) belong to the Paramount period. In fact, regarding Duck Soup the only thing it's missing for me is a Chico piano scene. They are always a massive highlight for me.
Coincidentally my last film seen is also a Marx Brothers movie - ROOM SERVICE. One of my least favourites from the Brothers but as almost all of the Marx Bros films are currently streaming on The Criterion Channel I decided to revisit a few of them and this rewatch didn't do anything to improve my opinion of the film. It did have a few decent laughs, but far fewer than the average Marx Bros film. It was based on a pre-existing non-Marx Bros play, which possibly explains why.
The Cat And The Canary (1979)
I watched this because of the cast which includes Honor Blackman, Edward Fox and Wilfred Hyde-Whyte. Unfortunately it’s a very dull affair and nothing like as good as the Bob Hope original. Relatives of the late Cyrus West are called to his mansion, full of secret panels and sliding bookcases, for the filmed reading of is will. The sole beneficiary has to spend the night in the house and deemed to be sane in the morning…you can guess the rest.
The humour is forced and baring some decent storm atmospherics it’s a slow watch.
Taking my cue from CoolHandBond's Hammer triple header, I caught up with these two, which I'd recorded earlier:
SCARS OF DRACULA (1970)
This film is regarded as the first to demonstrate the decline in Hammer Studios output. That’s a tad unfair. It certainly has its stale moments – the chattering hovering vampire bat being one of them – but it also takes time to try and deliver something more akin to what horror aficionados might regard as the traditional elements of the vampire / Dracula movie, despite being the nearside of trashy.
Roy Ward Baker directs and he was always serviceable for Hammer, rarely putting a foot wrong without ever suggesting he would do anything extraordinary. The script is by John Elder and while it’s cliched and sometimes unintentionally hilarious, it does make sure the horror and suspense aspects remain front and centre. This isn’t a movie which will distract you with a love story or a moral conundrum, it’s out for shock and for 1970, I think it’s fairly shocking. There are some distinctly nasty moments, albeit many of them are ‘silent’ shots as we witness the aftermath of the debacle. There’s oodles of bright stage blood. There’s a particularly vicious encounter between the aforementioned vampire bat and the local priest which is well edited and distinctly unsettling, especially given it takes place in a church.
The writer and director do well to reintroduce Dracula’s castle, personality and estate: he has many prized possessions, a servant [played with some delight by Patrick Troughton], a horse and carriage which is able to self-navigate, he retains power over wild animals, can communicate telepathically with bats, is an urbane host, climbs up walls, and has a mesmeric sensual power over women. His seductions are particularly erotic. His killings are gory and startling. Christopher Lee plays the titular count for a fifth Hammer outing [he did also play Dracula in other movies] and he’s very effective, although his make-up appears slapped on, giving a sense of a pantomime villain. I enjoy the way he cringes angrily away from a crucifix. His overcurious, obvious glances of desire at the heroine are wickedly perceptive. I enjoyed too that, after having his castle almost destroyed by baying villagers in the opening reel, Dracula never leaves his home turf, relying instead on his servant Klove, who he treats with violent disdain.
There’s a beauty-and-the-beast love story underpinning the fiery dénouement and plenty of fine interplay between the characters, who are gamely struggling to get a hold of dialogue which doesn’t amount to very much. Dennis Waterman is a bit too modern for the hero, but he’s better than Christopher Matthews who plays his brother, a cheeky lothario who ultimately gets his comeuppance. Two of Blofeld’s Angels of Death from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service appear: Anoushka Hempel is a succubus and Jenny Hanley is the beautiful wide-eyed heroine.
I enjoyed it.
LUST FOR A VAMPIRE (1971)
This Hammer Horror disaster-piece is nominally based on the characters created by Sheridan Le Fanu for his vampire novella Carmilla, a book which preceded and was an influence on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Hammer had already adapted the novel for the previous year’s The Vampire Lovers, which starred Ingrid Pitt. This one misses Ms Pitt and gains absolutely nothing. Ralph Bates plays a writer who wangles a position at a girls finishing school at which Mircalla Karnstein is running amok. Unintentionally hilarious, this plays out like Topless St Trinians meet the Lesbian Vampire. Our first look at these luscious ladies sees them indulging in erotic Greco-Roman dancing as an exercise class. I couldn’t stop laughing. All the sly looks, bedtime kisses and nude swimming seductions, heaving bosoms all over the place, and a strange man in a cape and top hat watching every sordid little sex game or throat biting murder. The whole thing’s a 95-minute joke, I feel.
Good looking women aside, the movie has very little to offer. It isn’t tense, it isn’t shocking. The best moment comes five minutes in when Yutte Stensgaard’s vampire is resurrected and awakens totally nude covered in blood. Thing is, the promotional still is far more chilling and bloody and pseudo-erotic than the film shot [mostly seen from behind.] Otherwise Lust... is a dreary drag through all the usual Hammer staples.
Stock footage of Riegersburg Castle is used to represent the Karnstien Schloss. This was apparently Le Fanu’s original inspiration for his vampire’s abode. For Hammer, the inspiration was The Scars of Dracula, as the castle sets created for that movie are reused here. Susanna Leigh is the heroine [I use the term loosely]; for those interested she was also the heroine in the Bulldog Drummond escapade Deadlier Than The Male. She’s the only one making any kind of effort. The director and the nominal stars certainly aren’t.
Mr Jones (2019)
This movie tells the story of how the Welshman Gareth Jones was the first journalist to report on the Holdomor, the man-made famine in Ukraine in 1932-33. Stalin's genocide of the Ukrainans is not very well known in spite of the aproximately 3.5 million dead.
James Norton plays Jones while Venessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgård co-stars. Some scenes are shot in an experimental style, probably inspired by interwar movies made in Germany. Jones told George Orwell of his experiences, inspiring the novel "Animal farm". This link is used as a framing device in the movie. The subject of the movie is dark, but important. Very much worth watching. James Norton's performance strenghtens my belief that he's a strong candidate to be the next Bond.
It's worth mentioning that the Metro-Vickers Affair were a show trial was held against six British engineers is part of a sub-plot in the movie. Ian Fleming traveled to Moscow in 1933 to cover it. "Mr Jones" may give some insight into what it was like for Fleming to be a foreign journalist in Moscow at the time.
(If you want to learn more about the Holdomor I can reccomend Anne Applebaum's "Red Famine: Stalin's war on the Ukraine".
Try not to lose faith in humanity if you read it)
Another round (2020)
This Danish movie is about four male teacher in their fourties who decide to performman unusual experiment. A Norwegian philosopher has a theory that humans are born with a blood alcohol level that's 0.05 too low. The four friends decide to test the theory and see what the effect is professionally and at home. The results are positive, the alcohol provides them with the courage and playfulness that prove to be an asset. They decide to increase their BAC, something that affect their lives differntly. Some handle it better than others.
The director says alcohol is important life, both as a negative and a positive. The negative effects has been the the topic of many movies, but few celebrate the positive aspects of alcohol use. The movie is funny, at times moving and thought provoking.
One of the teachers is played by Mads Mikkelsen in a different and well-acted role. Don't miss the chance to see le Chiffre interpret modern dance! 😁
THE ASSASSINATION BUREAU (1968)
Oh, gosh. I have a feeling I ought to like this.
I feel terribly guilty that I don’t.
Basil Dearden directed a handful of fine British movies – like Victim, Khartoum, etc – but this isn’t one of them. The Assassination Bureau is based on an unfinished novel by Jack London. It has the feel of a prestige production. The sets and costumes are fabulous. Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography is very lush. There’s a starry cast enjoying themselves. So what on earth’s gone wrong?
This period black comedy about an Edwardian era secret society of assassins simply lacks grace and style. It’s far too flat and obvious when it needs to be vivacious and misleading. I give full marks to Diana Rigg and Oliver Reed, the latter playing against type as a charming devil-may-care gentleman, who are spritely and mischievous and wouldn’t look out of place replicating this sort of powder-puffery in The Avengers [not hard for the late Dame Diana]. The rest of the cast is so-so. Telly Savalas is always a great villain, as is Curt Jurgens, but they are hamming it here, as are some of the over eager supporting players, many of whom are familiar from 60s or 70s British television.
It starts wonderfully well with the initial meeting between Rigg’s bossy suffragette supporting journalist and Reed’s gentleman assassin crackling with sexual tension and a frisson of genuine danger. She’s out to have him murdered; he decides that’s a good idea. Cue a sort of Kind Hearts and Coronets meets Jules Verne Adventure which lacks all the wit of the former and the excitement of the latter. It’s not without charm, but that’s mostly due to Rigg and Reed. When you see the notorious rabble-rousing Reed playing with a tongue so gently in his cheek, you wonder how his career went so badly astray. It couldn’t all simply be down to the booze. Rigg also deserved a far greater cinematic legacy. She looks gorgeous in period costumes.
At times The Assassination Bureau was very amusing, but there simply weren’t enough of those times. I was disappointed. I don’t know what I expected, but I expected something more substantial than this which could easily transfer itself into a Cold War spy spoof the sort of which was very prevalent at the time. The frantic finale is set aboard a Zeppelin and the dodgy special effects show up the lack of overall artistry.
ABOVE US THE WAVES (1955)
This was a British WWII film in classic mid-50s style. It has most of what you would expect of a WWII film of the era - black and white cinematography, some understated derring-do, a mission of exceptional difficulty, and cast including the likes of John Mills, John Gregson and Donald Sinden who are familiar faces from other classics of the era.
This particular film is about attempts to sink the Tirpitz in using midget submarines. The film gave a decent sense of the cramped quarters in the midget submarines and the perils of the mission. I was not familiar with this particular operation so didn't go into the film knowing how the mission would pan out (apart from having some knowledge what the eventual fate of the Tirpitz was in the war). Certainly a very interesting sector of WWII and one which I will enjoy exploring further.
THE BAREFOOT CONTESSA (1954)
“Life, every now and then, behaves as though it had seen too many bad movies, when everything fits too well – the beginning, the middle, the end – from fade-in to fade-out.”
So begins Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s The Barefoot Contessa, a well-regarded and very bitter trash drama about a Cinderella girl in Hollywood. Ava Gardner plays Maria Vargas, a beautiful Spanish dancer persuaded to become a movie star by Humphrey Bogart’s weary director Harry Dawes. The story covers the three years and three ‘loves’ of her Hollywood life. The first of these is oil and movie mogul Kirk Edwards, a thinly veiled interpretation of Howard Hughes. This is a man she detests. Playboy Alberto Bravano rescues her in histrionic fashion, but she only tolerates his self-centred antics. The man she adores is an impotent Italian count, Vincenzo Toriato-Favrini.
The film strikes a curious bridge between implausible melodrama and circumlittoral no-drama. When Mankiewicz wants his characters to be profound, angry or just darn clever, he has them spouting quite impossible dialogue. There are several long speeches, lots of knowing asides, and that one tremendously dull verbal confrontation between Edwards and Bravano, which is settled by a classic put down from Ava Gardner: “I did not want to go. Now you have spoken, I feel I should go.” For much of the narrative, however, nothing happens. For instance a whole ten minutes is taken up by Bogart and Gardner discussing her suitability to be a film actress, a series of convoluted sentences which mean something and nothing. Another five minutes is spent introducing the backgrounds of insignificant characters at a casino.
When the really important details start arriving, Mankiewicz’s screenplay feels hamstrung by the conventions of the time. He can’t properly explain Vincenzo’s plight. Instead there’s a wedding night letter and an overwrought semi-confession. The oversight is shocking, both because it feels so unlikely – how could a war damaged veteran not explain his body is disfigured and missing a penis? – but also because it feels so cruel – didn’t someone tell poor Maria? What a callous bunch. Mind you, Maria is nothing if not a cheap date anyway [“To a girl with nothing, a man with hundreds is just as rich as a man with millions”] and cavorts openly with musicians, gypsies, dancers and chauffeurs with no thought for how others may react to her actions.
I won’t give away any more of the plot; I’ve probably spoilt it already. The film is remarkably heavy going. Mankiewicz was at the top of his game in the early fifties and his writing demonstrates this, yet it feels hopelessly out of place. There are some monumentally great lines, but they don’t provide the film with an emotional core. The movie is very static and lacks drive. It needed more directorial, cinematic ‘tricks’ to enliven what we see; the central flashback idea isn’t original enough to keep us interested past the first third. In fact once Maria leaves Spain for Hollywood, the film stumbles, misses out all of the star building process [which might have been interesting] and never gets back on its feet. Maria Vargas as a character becomes a cipher for all wannabe actresses with thoughts of glamour and riches. I’m not even sure there was a moral to the thing. It ends in the rain, exactly as it started, only this time the clouds are clearing, which doesn’t sit right on such a depressing portfolio.
It’s worth noting that Jack Cardiff photographed the movie and his work is quite original. He deepens the colours and the reds come up dark, bloody crimson, the greens almost black emerald, shadows seem to lurk over the characters. Much of the action takes place at night and those shadows creep everywhere. It’s almost as if he’s attempting to give a technicolour movie the look of a film noir. There is a particularly good shot of a bloody Italian sunset. Cardiff also makes Ava Gardner look ravishing.
The same year this film came out, Judy Garland made A Star is Born, which sort of treads the same ground. That film retains its dark edges, casts a bitter eye over Hollywood and the star / studio system, but never forgets to entertain. The Barefoot Contessa is too dark, too introspective and has a level of interest with peaks at ‘middling.’ I’m a big Humphrey Bogart fan, but he’s miscast here, as is almost everyone. It’s Ava Gardner’s movie, but she’s not a big enough actress to pull off the trick in the same way Judy Garland does.