Tuesday, January 17, 2017

When Eight Bells Toll (1971)

Director: Etienne Perier

Writer: Alistair MacLean

Composer: Angela Morley

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Robert Morley, Nathalie Delon, Jack Hawkins, Corin Redgrave, Derek Bond, Ferdy Mayne, Maurice Roeves, Leon Collins, Wendy Allnutt

More info: IMDb

Plot: A British agent, Philip Calvert, is on a mission to determine the whereabouts of a ship that disappeared near the coast of Scotland.

My rating:

Will I watch it again?  No.

This rather dull spy adventure has enough going for it to justify giving it a watch.  It's neat seeing Anthony Hopkins (in his first top-billed role) as a secret agent ala James Bond.  He's a down and dirty, no frills man of action.  It's odd seeing him in light but fun just the same.  Stunt legend Bob Simmons is the main stuntman on this picture who also played Hopkins' stunt double.  Simmons is most famous for being the stunt coordinator and double for Connery and Moore in nearly every Bond picture from '62 to '85.  The rest of the cas does fine and having Robert Morley and Jack Hawkins in the mix never hurt anyone's picture.  I learned something about Hawkins that I never knew.  He was dubbed in all of his roles after surgery for throat Cancer in 1965.  He was dubbed by Charles Gray (as he was in this film) or Robert Rietty.  Angela Morley's (as Walter Stott) score sometimes works well.  Her main theme is outrageous and outdated for what this movie is (but I really dig it).  It would be perfect for an over the top Eurospy film from say 1965 but one that would have the action to match it.  This film is at odds with the theme as there's rarely any moments that compliment the brashness of the music.  Most everything about this picture is low key and is void of the bright, outdoor settings and action you'd find in the Bond pictures.  It's probably the story and drabness of the locations that hurt this movie more than anything else.  There's not much excitement and considering MacLean's other work, this one is a low point for sure.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Who's Out There? (1975)

Starring: Orson Welles, Ashley Montagu, Carl Sagan, Peter Thomas (narrator)

More info: IMDb

Plot: This 1975 NASA documentary narrated by the great Orson Welles delves into the possibilities of extraterrestrial life as gleaned from the results of planetary probes, interstellar discoveries and findings about the nature of life itself.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  Nah.

I love Orson Welles and that actor's voice of his.  I love NASA, all things space and Carl Sagan.  It's only a half hour long so it's a quick watch and it's fun hearing Welles & Co. talk about the possibilities of life in the universe and the recent discovers about Mars.  The 70s production teams with nostalgia from my childhood dreams of being an astronaut.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The International (2009)

Director: Tom Tykwer

Writer: Eric Warren Singer

Composers: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer

Starring: Clive Owen, Naomi Watts, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Ulrich Thomsen, Brian F. O'Byrne, Michel Voletti, Patrick Baladi, Ben Whishaw

More info: IMDb

Tagline: They control your money. They control your government. They control your life. And everybody pays.

Plot: An Interpol agent attempts to expose a high-profile financial institution's role in an international arms dealing ring.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

I've only seen one other Tykwer picture and that's the brilliantly entertaining RUN LOLA RUN (1998) and being a huge fan of Clive Owen there's no way I was going to pass this up.  It looks fantastic.  That's the best thing I've got to say I think.  It's a pretty good thriller but I wasn't caught up in it like I should've been.  A story, and cast/crew, like this have the potential to keep you on the edge of your seat but not this time.  There's plenty of action and intrigue but it's missing that one important element that should have you riveted.  That would make for a much stronger experience.  The performances are fine and the picture provides an adequate level of adrenaline pumping action but it's missing something that keeps this from being a great ride.  What you see on screen looks like a satisfying meal but it's not quite done.  Now I need to find a really good 70s thriller to get me back on track. 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Sporting Club (1971)

Director: Larry Peerce

Writers: Thomas McGuane, Lorenzo Semple Jr.

Composer: Michael Small

Starring: Robert Fields, Nicolas Coster, Margaret Blye, Jack Warden, Richard Dysart, William Ramsey, Leon B. Stevens, John Seymour, Helen Craig, Diane Rousseau, Lois Markle, James Noble, Ralph Puroum, Ralph Waite, Jo Ann Harris, Linda Blair, Anne Ramsey, Claiborne Cary, Larry Deer

More info: IMDb

Tagline:  Dearest children of the 20th century, do you take such pleasures as your ancestors?

Plot:  This exploitative melodrama is set in northern Michigan where an exclusive private hunting club is located. There some of the country's richest, most powerful men come to relax and get closer to nature. Unfortunately, that means that they become engaged in debauchery and become brutal, amoral killers.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Nope.

This really is an odd picture.  Presumably it's plot building for the first fifty minutes (almost exactly halfway into the movie).   Shortly before that point we meet Earl Olive, delightfully played by the great Jack Warden.  He's having a blast.  Well, fifty minutes in is the point where we get some friction between Earl's people and the rich white folks.  It's not long after that the shit hits the fan and it's on between the warring factions.  The well-to-dos suddenly get silly and the movie has some horrible moments of slapstick comedy.  The tone moves depending on the scene and that's just one of the problems with this flick.  The other big issue I had with it is all of that time we spend with the rich folks for the first forty or so minutes, as if it's going to matter to the rest of the picture.  It does but only a little.  The big takeaway is that a group of wealthy and powerful people have an exclusive hunting club and when they clash with the lower locals, they start scrappin' and it ends with a rich old people orgy and an old fashioned duel with flint pistols between two of the rich folks.  The locals split the scene long before that.  This could've been so much more fun if it were taken more seriously and the shit hit the fan a lot sooner so that the movie would've been over sooner and with a lot of carnage and grisly kills.   Michael Small's score has some nice moments.  Besides, Jack Warden's fun performance, I can't recommend this unless you want to see something odd and kind of pointless.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ex Machina (2015)

Director: Alex Garland

Writer: Alex Garland

Composers: Geoff Barrow, Ben Salisbury

Starring: Domhnall Gleeson, Corey Johnson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander, Sonoya Mizuno, Claire Selby, Symara A. Templeman, Gana Bayarsaikhan, Tiffany Pisani, Elina Alminas

More info: IMDb

Tagline: To erase the line between man and machine is to obscure the line between men and gods.

Plot: A young programmer is selected to participate in a ground-breaking experiment in synthetic intelligence by evaluating the human qualities of a breath-taking humanoid A.I.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

Even though I'd heard good things about this picture, I've been burned before with an abundance of positive reviews only to be disappointed.  I LOVE this movie.  It's one of those flicks you sit back uninterrupted and soak it in.  I love the pacing, acting, story, surprises and ending.  It's a home run no matter how you slice it.  Even though I'd already seen THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) at least twice by the time I saw this, I did not recognize Gleeson or Isaac at all.  Despite the magic of seeing this for the first time is gone, I look forward to seeing this again being more enlightened to the story.  The Blu-ray looks amazing but I haven't had a chance to dig through the few extras.  Sadly there's no director commentary.  It would be great spending spending close to two hours listening to how this all came together.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Diversions (1976)

AKA: Sex Express

Director: Derek Ford

Writer: Derek Ford

Starring: Heather Deeley, Derek Martin, Jacqui Rigby, Jeffrey Morgan, Terry Walsh, Timothy Blackstone, James Lister, Tim Burr, Tony Kenyon, Gilly Sykes, Christopher Gilbert

More info: IMDb

Plot: Imogene (Deeley) has been sentenced to a prison term and her two guards are escorting her via train.  Once in the carriage she starts having sexual fantasies.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

Ahhhhh, 70s porn.  British porn.  Porn that shows a woman seducing a man in a barn, being raped by American G.I.s during WWII, stabbing her lover and then spreading his blood over her naked body and masturbating with the dagger used in the incident while he lays dead and open-eyed beside her...

But wait, she's not done.  She takes a souvenir and a snack.

After she showers off,   So that was fun.  Then her dreams take her to a fancy night on the town (no dialogue) and picking up a swanky fancy-dressed dude to take back to her or his place for a right boring shag before reality sets in and she's back on the train.  Bored, her mind wanders into a fantasy about being an unexpected prostitute (it's complicated but it serves the fantasy very well).  Uh, oh!  We've got Nazis!  And lesbians!

Before things get too tense with Nazi-Lesbian negotiations, we move on to a story where she buys an antique camera, sets it up in her apartment, and frolics naked in front of it while it mysteriously takes pictures on its own.  Frightened, she scampers off to bed.  She awakens to find negatives hanging in the bathroom along with the creepy guy who sold her the camera.  She faints and dreams of being in an old fashioned 1910s stag film (as you would).

Finally the train ride is over and she's let go.  That didn't make sense at all and I felt robbed of an explanation.  Now the internet says director Ford made two versions, a 50 minute cut for the stuffy British audiences and an 87 minute X-rated cut (this one) for us mature porn purveyors in the good ole US of A (and Croatia).  I'm not sure about that Croatia thing.  Some of the hardcore bits are obviously spliced in while others feel right at home.  Look, it's OK at best.  The sex isn't all that good and the non-sex is what you'd expect which only serves to link the naughty bits into some semblance of a plot.  What stands out, though is that it's British and there's a variety to the scenarios that help push this to a little above average.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Hard Contract (1969)

Director: S. Lee Pogostin

Writer: S. Lee Pogostin

Composer: Alex North

Starring: James Coburn, Lee Remick, Lilli Palmer, Burgess Meredith, Patrick Magee, Sterling Hayden, Claude Dauphin, Helen Cherry, Karin Black, Sabine Sun

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Love. Murder. Everything they do is 97% control and 3% emotion.

Plot: A cold hearted American hit man goes to Europe for 'one last score'. His encounter with a beautiful young woman casts self doubt on his lifeblood, and influences him to resist carrying out the contract.

My rating:

Will I watch it again?  No.

There's a wonderful scene late in the film between Cunningham (Coburn) and Carlson (Hayden) that's worth sitting through an hour and twenty four minutes of mediocre drama to get to.  It's the meat of the picture and its heart.  We learn a lot about these two men and only one of them has found peace and welcomes his life.  The other still hasn't figured out where he wants his life to take him.  And one of them also shows he's a lot smarter than the other one realizes.  The cast does a fine job and the story is pretty good despite the casual pacing.  Some scenes feature some nice dialogue exchanges but since some of them don't involve Cunningham, they don't do much in furthering his plot.  On that level, the film fails somewhat by not sticking to the story but it's hard to diss them as I enjoyed the ideas presented are interesting to ponder.  Burgess Meredith is delightful and it's just a damn shame that he isn't living forever so he can be in everything.  And Sterling Hayden just proves that he got better with age.  Coburn is Coburn and he does a fine enough job until you see him happy and then he's the Derek Flint Coburn.  I suppose the ending works since it was written and directed by the same person you have to properly assume that it's exactly what he wanted.  I would've preferred something a lot darker.  It would've made it a different and perhaps better film, one that I'd prefer.