Thursday, October 30, 2014

Amsterdamned (1988) Scary Movies

Dick Maas is an award winning filmmaker, that hasn’t stopped him from occasionally drifting down into the exploitation ghetto with films like Saint about a killer Santa Claus or The Lift about thinking elevators that kill their occupants (don’t laugh the film actually works). He’s also made A film called Amsterdamned, which is where I discovered him.

Amsterdamned is a great little thriller. Less horror film and more a thriller the film concerns hard boiled detective who pieces together that a bunch of random killings around the canals of the city are actually the work of a serial killer. The killer hasn't been discovered because he comes in and out of the city's canals when no one seems to be looking. The detective has to scramble to try and stop the mad man before he kills anyone else.

Way back in my video store days Amsterdamned was one of those films I was constantly recommending to everyone who wanted something they hadn’t seen before. They’d always come back and want another film like that. While I could recommend other good films, I couldn’t really recommend anything like it. Dick Maas’s films aren’t like anyone elses, or even his own since he jumps from genre to genre and style to style with the greatest of ease.

If I were to say what the film was like I’d have to say the German film called the Embalmer about a frogman wandering around the canals of a European city, but outside of the plot the two films are different since the embalmer is a moody black and white film that fits into the Krimi genre of the mid-60’s where Amsterdamned is high octane thriller with a great chase or two.

Say what you will about Mass and his films, there is no denying how good he is at staging a chase, all one has to do is look at any of his chases, say here or in Saint and you know he’s a master.

This is a must see when it plays this weekend at Scary Movies-and that goes for anyone who wants a great thriller and not a horror film.

Crimes at The Dark House (1940)

If you want to see Tod Slaughter at his most over the top and wildyy insane this is the film. It's based on the Wilkie Collins story The Women in White.

The film opens with Slaughter killing a prospector in Australia. It’s a gruesome killing, even by todays standards as Slaughter drives a spike into the head of his victim via the ear canal. Slaughter than steals the man’s money and a letter saying that his father has died and that he is now the Lord of the manor. Slaughter then assumes the identity of the dead man and heads off to take over the estate. Slaughter is completely out of his depth, but manages to run over everyone who is try to make sure he’s the right guy buy checking on a mole he supposedly has or being recognized by the woman with whom he is to have fathered a daughter. Unfortunately bluster only carries him so far and he soon has to start up his killing ways.

When I say this film is wildly over the top and completely unrestrained I’m not kidding. This film gets completely nuts as Slaughter chews scenery and behaves very very very badly. Why anyone puts up with the nonsense is beyond me. Actually what’s beyond me is why this never ended up on MST3K or Riff Trax since this film is funnier than it is scary. You really don’t have to make fun of it because it’s making fun of itself

Thinking about it this film is probably the litmus test for whether you like Tod Slaughter or not. If you can go with him here you’ll be able to go with him anywhere.

I love this film a great deal. It’s a perfect party film. If you like you horror tinged with (unintentional) humor see this film.

Point and Shoot opens Friday

Opening Friday is POINT AND SHOOT the story of a young man who went off and ended up fighting in Libya with the rebels. I saw the film at Tribeca where it wowed some critics but didn’t impress me much. The problem with the film, which has largely faded from my memory is that it’s very much about everything except the person at its center. Here is the the short piece I wrote after seeing at Tribeca

…the okay POINT AND SHOOT is the story of Matthew Van Dyke a young man with a wicked case of OCD and a burning desire for adventure. After traveling the world on motorcycle he ended up going to join the rebellion in Libya. The story of what happened is the film. A good but unremarkable film, the film seems like any number of other films destined for PBS. For me the film suffers from telling the story but never really letting us know VanDyke. When the film ended I felt I knew his story but not the man. I think its worth seeing but I can't suggest paying theater prices to see it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Quiet in Odessa (2014)

Quiet in Odessa Trailer from dmitriy khavin on Vimeo.

Dmitriy Khavin's QUIET IN ODESSA will make you do something that's rare for any movie these days, and that is wish it was longer.  Khavin has fashioned a film that has so much going on that you'll want another 43 minutes to continue to hang out with some good people.

Begun two weeks after the May 2nd 2014 clash of pro-Russian (pro-Putin) and pro- Ukrainian forces in the city of Odessa the film documents a period of quiet leading up to the Presidential elections.  The violence, which only exists in the words of the people interviewed, was the first civil unrest since 1918. As the title says its a film about the quiet in a normally quiet city.

The film's initial focus is the city's Jewish community.  As the film opens we are in a synagogue and watch as a young man talks to us about the Jewish community in Odessa  and how many people have been returning to the faith after years in hiding. Living in a free country they feel they are able to come out in the open or connect with the faith of their parents and grandparents. From there changes and changes again into a discussion of what its like living in the city and the Ukraine and why people were willing to fight the pro-Russian forces to remain free.

I have just badly explained an absolutely wonderful film that is so full of life and magic I wish it was twice as long. This long short film does more in it's 43 minutes than most other longer films do. With in it's brief running time we get a whole world and a whole populace. We come to understand not only the place we are being told about but ultimately ourselves as well.

This is a film that isn't just about being Jewish, nor about being Ukrainian,... no, this is a film that is grander and more magical, this is a film about being human and being in love with a place that you live. This is not a film about just Odessa but about any city where people feel connected to the place and all of the people living there. This is a film about a place that people are willing to fight to protect their home and the people living there as well. The film also speaks loudly to anyone who has ever wanted to learn about or reconnect with the ethnicity of their family.

Director Dmitriy Khavin gets it right in structuring the film as a series of  opening doors or nested boxes. We start at the synagogue, then move to the family, from there we have the men in the steam bath, the reporter and the writer who moved there and finally the family in the self defense forces.  We start with a group of guys  learning about their religion and then it flows outward into bigger things, the families, the other residents, the emigrants,  and finally the fighters, all expressing the love of this place they call home. Through each door, or each segment we too fall in love with the city and the people that inhabit it.

One thing that impressed the hell out of me was that Khavin manages to say more about the rebounding Jewish community in Eastern Europe and the rediscovery of hidden Jews of their faith, than a full feature I had seen a day or two before.That other film it took 90 minutes to say what Khavin says the opening five minutes.

Another thing that Khavin gets absolutely right is the imagery. Odessa is not one place or one street or one anything, its lots of places and lots of people. We wander the city either as the families show off their homes or as the reporter wanders the city taking pictures. We see everything, the grander homes and the run down spots. Not only do we see it but we fall in love with it.

This is a great film.

Actually what I'd like it to be is a great feature. As good as the film is, it feels unfinished. The film has so many ideas floating around that there is more I'd like to know, especially at the end where the film deals with the family of self defense force members. They talk about what they do and they speak about protecting the polling places and then the film kind of just stops. We don't find out what happened in the election, or with the situation with pro-Russian forces I kind of get the feeling that Khavin had to leave the city before he had the whole story. Personally I'd love him to go back and tell us more.

Leaving us wanting to see and know more is a minor flaw as these things go, especially in this day and age when most movies leave one wanting less.

QUIET IN ODESSA is a great little film- GO SEE IT.

In a brief email exchange with the director he said that he is hoping to get back to Odessa in 2015 and pick up with the same people, assuming that the pro-Putin forces don't make a move to take the city.

The World Premiere is Sunday, November 2, 7pm, JCC Manhattan, 334 Amsterdam Ave, NY.
The screening will be followed by Q&A with one of the film's subjects, a member of
the Odessa Self-Defense Brigade and the film's director.
For Tickets and more directions go to the JCC Manhattan website.

The film will screen again at The Central Brooklyn Public Library on Nov 20 along with the director Dmitriy Khavin's film from 2012 The Territory.  For Tickets and information on that screening go the Brooklyn Library Event Page here.

Goodbye to Language (2014) or it's time for Godard to call off the joke.

I don't care what Godard did in the 60's and 70's the man needs to be have his editing suite taken away and he should be sent to a rest home.

Once there he should be joined by the cineastes, intelligentsia and self absorbed self important morons who have been championing his films of the last few decades. Either they need to admit their championing of his films has been a grand joke, or if they are genuinely rapturous about the crap Godard has been turning out then they should have their laptops confiscated and their fingers broken. These people can not be allowed to champion any sort of film when they clearly have their heads up their asses.

All of this brings me to Godard's latest- Goodbye to Language. Hailed by some as a great 3D film, the damn thing gave me a head ache and almost put me to sleep. I would have walked out but I was at the wrong side of the theater to escape.

There is no plot. Some gangsters run around shooting people, a dog wanders around, a couple wander around their house naked, except when they fart or shit while talking about the equality of all men (because then when it's clear all men are equal). There is talk of metaphor and other high ideas, all of which are cribbed from other sources. We watch clips from old films. And then after nothing happens we watch it snow while in a car and windshield wipers remove it from the windshield.

The truth of the matter this looks like the test reel of someone who just bought a new camera with some gangsters spliced in. If you came upon this film in your maiden aunts drawer you'd toss it in the garbage. That maybe the point, but at the same time it says really crappy things about the supposed great director that he's turning out such crap and asking us to pay for it. Personally I'd rather not pay my maiden aunt to see her home movies.

I completely understand that Godard is supposed to be a cinematic jokester, that this film may not be anything other than a joke, but his sense of humor has clearly escaped him like his ability to make a watchable movie.

As for the 3D- yes its clear that Godard knows how to arrange objects to exploit it (watch the way he angles a bench) but mostly its horrible and pointless- more so since he inter-cuts old movie footage which is flat. Other than one sequence where Godard fucks with the audience for a couple of seconds by having different images for the right and left eyes to look at there is even less of a reason for this to be in 3D then Guardians of the Galaxy.  (Thankfully the dual eye effects will prevent this from ever being shown 2D since there is no way to do that flat.)

Godard’s use of the 3D is not ground breaking. If you are saying it is then you haven’t seen enough 3D films nor understand the medium. The highlight is angling benches. The rest of the film looks exactly many any other 3D film I’ve seen including some an acquaintance shot for a local museum show in the 1990’s on the medium- no wait the museum stuff was better.

What a freaking joke that people actually think this groundbreaking.

Someone sitting behind me during the press screening was going on about how great the film was and how this was his second go through of this "amazing" film. Had he not left when the credits rolled I would have grabbed him when the lights come up and forced him to eat every word he's ever written so its erased from human existence before I bludgeoned him to death with the arm that he writes with.

Don't get me wrong I don't hate the film, its such a steaming pile of poo that it will be quickly be forgotten, I just hate that people keep letting Godard make films- worse I hate that they think his films are not shit.

While I don't wish anyone dead, I kind of wish Godard would die so that people can be objective about the crap he's turned out lately.

The film opens today at the IFC Center in New York. Avoid this one like the plague unless you are a self important mindless prol who has no idea what good movies or good cinema is.

Ticket of Leave Man (1937)

Wonderful Tod Slaughter film is less horrific and more crime drama with Slaughter playing a criminal known as The Tiger.

The film has Slaughter being hunted by the police since he is a very vicious criminal prone to killing at the slightest provocation. Slaughter is soft on a young singer in a garden restaurant.When she finds out that she has a boyfriend who is works for a bank, he switches his stash with counterfeit money  and has hi sent to prison.Then in his public guise as a good man who helps the unfortunate he conspires to get the man released and then to break him so he can use him as a patsy in a big robbery.

Moving like the wind this is as good as Slaughter films get with Slaughter not hamming it up too much, a pace that move like the wind and a plot that isn't completely contrived. This is just a good time with good and bad people.

An absolute must see both for Slaughter fans and for those who just like good thrillers.

(This one is a tad tough to find. I only found it in a 50 movie collection from Mill Creek called Night Crimes)

BTW- The title refers to someone who has been paroled- a ticket of leave means they have been released.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Magical Universe Opens Friday 10/31

"Magical Universe" Trailer from Wheelhouse Creative on Vimeo.
The wonderful Magical Universe opens Friday in theaters and on VOD. I saw the film last year at DOC NYC and really liked it. Its a great little film and worth your time- need proof? Here's my review from last year (which is quoted in the trailer above)

While on vacation director Jeremy Workman received a call from a friend saying he should stop by the home of a man named Al Carbee and ask him to see his art. Workman did just that on his way home to New York with the result that a years long relationship and familial bond formed between himself, his girlfriend and the artist in Maine.

When Workman met Carbee he wasn't sure what he was getting into. Carbee's home was a bit run down and once he was inside he found lots of fish tanks filled with guppies and lots and lots of Barbie dolls that Carbee used for his art which involved photos that were turned into collage. Workman cut the footage he shot that day into an award winning short. However over time the relationship deepened and Workman and his girlfriend became good friends with Carbee which spawned voluminous exchanges of letters and videos.Workman found himself documenting Carbee's life and art

I don't know where to begin. Perhaps I should say don't let the notion that Al works Barbies fool you, because it isn't fair. What starts off as look at a seeming crackpot artist turns into something strangely moving. Al grows on you. His art which at first seems weird, turns into something strangely compelling. The film by turns goes from a yuckfest at Al's expense into something moving. The film was not what I expected nor was my reaction to it. I know that when the film started I wasn't expecting to have been as moved by it as I was.

The film is kind of a weirdly akin to Resurrect Dead:The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles and Realms of the Unreal, in that all three films deal with outsider art and weird preoccupations with other worldly things. The big difference is that here we get to meet the artist face to face and in those two films they remain off screen.

Despite the fact that some bits of this film run a little too long (there is a bit too much of Al's videos for my taste) this is a really good film. Actually it one of the real surprises of DOC NYC and perhaps the film year. Rarely has a film that I was kind of sort of interested in so pleasantly surprised me. I like to be pleasantly surprised.

If you have nothing better to do I recommend you get to the IFC Center on Friday and come to know Al Carbee and his Barbies.

Curse of the Wraydons (aka Strangler's Morgue) (1946)

I'm a huge Tod Slaughter fan. To be certain his films are far from truly great but they are almost always fun. Sadly, even for a Slaughter fan this is a tough slog. Its not Slaughter's fault, rather it's everything else

The plot of the film is a convoluted mess having to do with the Wraydon family, cursed with insanity; a killer with an ability to leap to great heights; spies trying to get the goods on the British military, weird experiments and various romances. Almost all of it loops back to the main villain, the Chief (Slaughter)

Based on the play Spring-Heeled Jack or The Terror of London by Maurice Sandoz this is probably Tod Slaughter's most stagy and awful film with the sequences playing out as if they were tableaux or as if they were from the  early days of sound. While I understand the British film industry was hampered by the recently ended Second World War this is just point and shoot filmmaking. Its painful to watch.

Truth be told this is a really bad film. I should probably have run this during the Thanksgiving Turkey's week but I wanted to warn any of you dabbling in Tod Slaughter to stay the hell away from this turkey. Its all talk and digression and little action and forward motion.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Horns (2014)

A very dark fable and heart breaking romance of the highest order. Its a glorious film that doesn't take the easy route and is so much more satisfying for it.

First bit of business this is not a film for the kids, there is sex, violence, darkness and fuck is said about 800 times.

Daniel Radcliffe play Iggy an unremarkable young man in pretty much every way except for the fact that he has a the best girl in the world Merrin. Ig’s world is blown to hell when Merrin is found murdered and his statements are misconstrued as guilt. As the whole world turns against him, Ig doesn’t know what to do. Things get weird when Ig begins to grown horns, which everyone kind of ignores-except that the horns force the people around him to hell him what they really feel.

More fable then horror story, this semi tragic romance with humor is one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. A wonderful adult delight is exactly the sort of fairy tale that people don’t do any more. I loved this film which is brimming with all sorts of idea, emotions and even humor.

To be honest I don’t know what to say about the film, not because I can’t, I can wax poetic about the film and if you’ve talked to me over the 8 weeks since I first saw the film you know I will go on at length about it, to be honest it’s become one of my favorites of the year, but at the same time I don’t want to tell you anything about the film, I don’t want to wreck the emotion that the film generates, I want you to gop out and just see it, knowing as little as possible. I want you to be like the people around me who laughted and cried and bounced with delight during the course of the film. While I will say that the film has one of my most favorite moments of the year involving the use of the song Personal Jesus, I won’t say anything else.

I do have to say that director Alexandre Aja who has gone overboard with violent nattiness in previous films such as High Tension, manages to hit the right balance here. While there is some nastiness in the film (some of this is not for the squeamish) it’s done at the right time and the right way.

If you want an adult fable and down mind the dark, leave the kids at home and go see Horns, one the years biggest surprises.

The film opens Friday in theaters and can be had on VOD now

Face at the Window (1936)

When a bank is robbed the last thing the watchman says is that there was a face at the window. The banks gold depsoits are stolen by a fiend known as the Wolf and the bank teeters on the verge of financial collapse.  Enter Chevalier Lucio del Gardo (Tod Slaughter) a rich man offering to put his gold fortune into the bank. Chevalier has eyes on the bank and on the bankers daughter. She has no eyes for him, but to the poor teller who has vowed to catch the Wolf

Hoary over done melodrama that is funny for all the wrong reason but yet manages to be completely compelling-thanks to Tod Slaughter who nods and winks and over plays it to the point you'll be booing and hissing him from your couch. That no one suspects Slaughter is ludicrous since he is is dripping with evil from the first frame.

The solution to the film, involving the ability of electricity to allow completion of the action started before death is a laugh and a half, but at the same times shows you what we were thinking as a civilization 130 years ago when the source play was written.

This is exactly the sort of film they don't do any more because no one would believe it and because if anyone tried they would never play it straight since they would figure no one would believe it.

To be completely honest this is the sort of film that you need to watch on a dark and stormy night with the lights off and a big bowl of popcorn sitting in front of you. Its the sort of film that you put on to drive out the outside world and to disappear into another time and place  The perfect thing to do would be is to get another Tod Slaughter film or two and make it a grand night at the home cinema

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Nightcap10/26/14:Tod Slaughter week starts tomorrow, Lincoln Center's Scary Movies starts Friday, The Pink Panther, a must see at DOC NYC and Randi's links

Halloween is Friday and usually we take a stab at running horror films but this year we’re going to do something else. This year we’re going to take a look at a large portion of the output of the late great Tod Slaughter.

Slaughter was a barn storming actor who toured all through England with dark melodramas. These were the sort of things that got the audience to boo and hiss at his vile antics. Slaughter was always the bad guy, he chewed scenery mercilessly (trust me you’ve never seen scenery chewed until you’ve seen Slaughter do it) and he seemed to relish it. Slaughter fell into films thanks to the British Quota system. Since producers needed films to fill the quotas imposed by the British government they looked for projects that they could turn into quick movies. Since Slaughter was a known quantity with a repertory of “classic tales” (The Face in the Fog, Sweeny Todd) they scooped him up and turned the plays into films. Todd then split his time between the cinema and the stage.

Slaughter’s output of films was relatively small. He only did about 15 features and a about 6 shorts. I’ve never run across any of his shorts but I have most of his features. They are dark and creaky classics that are all perfect for curling up on the couch with. If thought of the Universal horror films make you warm and fuzzy, Slaughters films will make you completely rapturous. While there are no monsters there are good guys and bad guys but there is the dark and stormy mood that pervade the Universal films in spades.

I don’t know why the films never played much in the US. To be honest until the advent of home video I never knowingly ran across Slaughter or his films. I ran across his films in the dollar bargain bins and being a cheap bastard I picked the few I could find up. When I saw the couple of films I found for a buck or two I then had to hunt down the rest and then went to places like Sinister Cinema in order to get the remaining titles. The weird thing was that when I first started looking for films IMDB only listed a hand full of the films. Slowly over the years the list grew from 6 titles to the 21 that it now lists.

If you’re wondering if you’ve ever run across any of Slaughters films just ask yourself if you ever picked up one of those large collections of old movies on DVD- you know the ones like 50 Mystery or Horror films for 20 bucks or less? If so then odds are you’ve got a bunch of his films.

Over the next seven days we’re going to wax poetic about Slaughter and his films. We’’ll be hitting some of the biggies (The Demon Barber of Fleet Street akaSweeny Todd, Face at the Window, Murder in the Red Barn) and some of the lesser ones as well. Keep reading and hopefully you’ll get inspired to watch a few during this spooky time of year.

Tod Slaughter on stage in 1926
Lincoln Center’s Scary Movies starts Friday, Halloween and runs until November 6. The series is its usual mix of old classics and new releases, and including a documentary on the Marlon Brando Island of Dr Moreau focusing on the film’s original director Richard Stanley.

This year our coverage is going to be spotty. I have two posts ready to go, One on the wonderful thriller Amsterdamned because I’m a huge fan of the film and it’s director Dick Maas. The other post are three capsules on the other three older films The Pack, Reflections of Murder and Angst. Two of the three films are great little poisoned confections.

As of now I’m not certain how many more we’ll get to. Press screening were too close to the New York Film Festival and I couldn’t get off from the day job. I do have a ticket for Lost Soul, the Moreau film, but I’m not sure what I’ll get to beyond that since I’m seeing John Cleese speak and Hubert read (more on that next week)

For those of you with the ability to make the screenings details on the films and schedule can be found here.
This past Thursday John and I decompressed from the craziness of the New York Film Festival and the upcoming DOC NYC by going to Lincoln Center to catch the Film Comment Select double feature of Return of the Pink Panther and The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

 I’m not going to do a real write up of the films (though I will say the comedy is hysterical, while the linking material is poor). I will say that the night was a great deal of fun with raffles, trivia questions, trailers and a featurette on the making of Return. Best of all was listening to the audience laugh with rotating members seeming to gasp for air.

I had a blast and John did too. It was one of those nights where you have a great night with a great friend and barely say a word because you’re laughing too hard at what you’re watching together.
I've seen close to 20 films that  will be playing at DOC NYC this year so far and there are a lot of good ones. Actually they're all good or great with no stinkers anywhere among them.

Run as part of the BAM Puppets on Film series and a co-presentation with DOC NYC was  I AM BIG BIRD, which is about Carroll Spinney who plays Big Bird and Oscar. I'll do a full review closer to the festival- largely because I'm looking at a draft piece I need to go over again- but the long and short of it is the film is one of the best at DOC NYC and of the year. It will move you- no one at the BAM screening wasn't crying at some point-so bring tissues. Also Spinney and his wife will be there so thats a bonus since that means Oscar the Grouch will be there too.

You have one shot at seeing it and you must take it.

Pictures from the BAM screening are up at Tumblr.
This week in addition to the Tod Slaughter films look fornew release films as well as titles from the Lincoln Center Scary Movies series.

and now Randi's links

The World Clown Association thinks scary clowns are not funny
Alan Moore's Million Word Novel
"Lost" Albums
Secret casualties of Iraq's abandoned weapons
Back Stage at Disney 1983 (and a young Tim Burton)
Sphinx from the original 10 Commandments have been unearthed
Pronouncing  Shakespeare
Evil Vinyl
Pink Panther goodies
Lost Episodes from At Last the 1948 Show have been found

Raise the Titanic (1980)

When Clive Cussler wrote the novel of Raise the Titanic we were still something like fifteen years from actually finding it. There was a few less between the film version and the discovery of the wreckage. For many people, including Cussler there is a feeling that the film should have been dropped down on to the lost ship.

I on the other hand love the film a great deal, always have. It was a love of the film that got me into Cussler’s books. Cussler is one hell of a yarn spinner and even if his tales frequently fall into too fantastical to be true, they are rip roaring yarns

The plot of Raise the Titanic has the government creating a new weapon to fight the cold war with. The trouble is that the only known power source is a highly rare element that was is under Soviet control. However it’s discovered that a large deposit of the mineral had been mined by some American back in the earlier part of the 20th century and brought to the United States. Actually it made it as far as the Titanic and it’s maiden voyage. Desperate for the mineral the US government asks Admiral Sandecker and his NUMA organization to go looking for the ship and if possible raise it. Intrigue of course follows as trouble shooter Dirk Pitt is called into action.

This ain’t high art, it’s high adventure. Yes the special effects aren’t the best, NY TV film critic Stewart Klein said the underwater stuff looked like it had been filmed in a bath tub, but they are serviceable. The trouble was Star Wars came to town and raised the bar to an incredibly high level. People wanted hyper realistic effects, unfortunately this was before computers and no one had really worked out how to do the underwater stuff so it looked properly spectacular. It’s a minor flaw, but it’s not fatal unless you are going to be a movie snob.

I know the film, which was slowly starting to get a better rep when the ship was indeed found, thus wrecking the film’s premise of finding it intact. I know the film fell off the face of the earth for a while in the aftermath, but it’s slowly coming back simply because it’s a good film.

That the film works it’s simply because it’s a good yarn. It grabs you and pulls you in. The film’s structure of having a crisis and then needing to do a series of impossible things to solve it is near perfect. First our heroes have to find the ship then they have to try and raise it, and of course there are complications. Its just the sort of popcorn film you’ll want to curl up with on the couch.

Of course that the film works is due to the plot which is a gas, and the cast which is great. Richard Jordan is a great Dirk Pitt. He’s clearly a strong presence and capable of leaping into action. He’s so good that he remained in my brain when I was reading the novels. Jason Robards is a great Sandecker, radiating the right amount of stern control. I also like David Selby as a scientist brought into help Pitt. He maybe a stuffed shirt to start but Pitt manages to loosen him up.

This is a great great film. It’s the perfect thing to relax to.

Sadly Cussler hated the film so much that he refused to allow anyone to make a movie based on his books for decades. It wasn’t until he became heavily involved in the making of Sahara (which he also hates) that Pitt returned to the big screen for the last time. Sadly Cussler’s argument against both films is that the wrecked his carefully crafted stories. No offense Mr Cussler, I’m a fan, but let’s face it your plots are ludicrous in the extreme. They could never work anywhere but on the page unless they have you prose to speed us past the bullshit. There is only one of your novel’s that I’ve read that wouldn’t have to be changed (INCA GOLD) because they are so silly you can’t see them in a real world setting without falling over laughing. Honestly that as why I gave up on them around the time of VALHALLA RISING

See Raise the Titanic and have a good time

Saturday, October 25, 2014

We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!) (2013)

We first meet Bobo, sitting sullenly in the corner of her mom's rambunctious 40th birthday party. Awkward and androgynous, she's appealing and out of place. This is not a a world she wants to be a part of, but you immediately want to be a part of hers.

It's 1982 in Sweden and everyone keeps telling Bobo that "punk is dead." Bobo knows different. Punk isn't a genre of music. It's a feeling you have in your heart.

Lucas Moodysson's We Are the Best!, based on his wife's, Coco Moodysson, semi-autobiographical comic, Never Goodnight, is the punk-rock movie you didn't know you wanted but absolutely needed. It's one of the few movies that gives absolutely respect to the inner life of girls. There is nothing here that makes fun of them. They are treated as the absolute forces of nature that they are.

The reserved Bobo and her more antagonistic friend, Klara, decide to form a band on whim -- mostly to show up a few jerky teenage boys that made fun of them. Despite not being able to play instruments (or know anything about music), they decide to write a song about how much they hate gym class. In the process, they befriend the talented but conservative Hedvig.

The three girls' friendship is at the core of the movie. They are all open and sweet, and the three young actresses (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne) bring a natural quality to their roles. Some scenes feel improvised and the chemistry between the three is a delight. Even when they come into conflict over boys (stupid boys!), it is such a minor part of their journey. The band is the most important thing! It's so refreshing to see a movie that celebrates female friendship in such a way.

There is sweetness at the core of this movie -- all three girls come from loving families. While Bobo's parents are separated, they both still care about her. Klara's family is wild but supportive and while Hedvig's family is presented as being a bit more uptight, her mother just has her best interests at heart. The lack of conflict grounds the movie. The girls don't really have much to rebel against, no, but that makes them feel real and honest. Maybe there are bigger problems than gym teachers, but these girls are fighting against what they know to fight against. I'd be excited to catch up with them in a few years.

This is a kind-hearted movie that shows the power of girls to change their worlds. I am not 13 but I still want to go start a band now. It's never too late to be a punk.

Sahara (2005)

I'm a big fan of the Dirk Pitt novels. I've read most of them even when they were awful because the interaction of the heroes was always so much fun. For me any success of film adaption was going to rest on how well Dirk and Al were cast and played. Aside from Al being a bit too goofy the film makers have found the perfect casting in Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahan, these two are destined for screen team greatness if author Clive Cussler allows there to be another outing.

The two-fold plot has Pitt looking for a Civil War Ironclad in the African desert while a doctor tries to find the source of an unknown epidemic that is beginning to kill people. The two stories of course collide as our heroes must step in to first save the doctor before saving the world at large. Its a rip roaring slam bang adventure of the sort they don't make any more.

This is the type of movie that you go to get away from it all. Its not heavy or earth shaking, but its wonderfully distracting. Go see it. If you can give yourself over to it you'll have a great time.

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Decent One (2014)

When I got the press release I was fascinated with the prospect of seeing a kind of cinematic autobiography of Heinrich Himmler. The idea of taking his words and linking it up with photographs and footage sounded like a home run. When I finally saw the film this week toward the end of it’s New York Run I found the film to be more a curio than anything else.

The film is based on recently rediscovered journals, letters and other papers which had been raided from the Himmler home at the end of the war by American Soldiers which had never been turned over to the proper authorities. Taking the written material (which also included material from Himmler’s wife, daughter, father and mistress) the film weaves together a loose narrative of Himmler’s life.

I’m going to do something the film doesn’t do and that is explain things, and say that Himmler was one of Hitler’s high command. He ran the SS, the police and became the Ministry of the Interior. He was one of the minds behind the Final Solution and he eventually killed himself after being captured by the British.

I lay that out because despite an occasional inter title the film never truly explains who some people mentioned are or when or where we are in connection to the war or to events in Himmler’s personal life. There is a point a point where context of the letters disappears and we’re just left with words and images. Yes they build up to a very surreal sensation at the conclusion of the film, but they never quite have the punch they should have.

And the end of the film packs a punch. The buildup of Himmler’s words about being a decent human being and how despite it all he is a good man while we witness the death and horror he wrought is extremely fucked up. Yes I knew he was a monster going in. Yes I knew he thought he was a great guy but to see, to really see the disconnect is frightening. Talk about going into the head space of a monster, this is it.

Ending aside this is an okay movie that’s for a specialized audience of people interested in the war or the holocaust, as witnessed by the space audience in the screening I attended which was entirely men well over 60 (myself excluded.)