Sunday, June 26, 2011

Arn: The Knight Templar (2007)

Director: Peter Flinth

Starring: Joakim Natterqvist, Sofia Helin, Stellan Skarsgard, Michael Nyqvist, Mirja Turestedt

More info: IMDb

Tagline: In a Time of War and Betrayal, a Hero Will Rise

Plot: Based on Jan Guillou's Crusades trilogy about Swedish Knight Templar Arn Magnusson (Joakim Nätterqvist), this adventure saga follows the son of nobility from his monastic education to his return to the family to help fight for the crown of Sweden. That mission is interrupted, however, when Arn impregnates his lover and is sent to the Holy Land, where as penance he must become a warrior for Christ in the battles of the Crusades.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Nah.

ARN has all the right ingredients for a good adventure story. It's got action, adventure, good performances, knights and swordplay, a big score, gorgeous location shooting over different parts of the world. It's got all of these things but one - I didn't find it compelling and I can't put my finger on why not. Natterqvist did just fine in the lead. He was a damn sight better than Orlando Bloom in KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (2005). I wasn't drawn into the story like I should have been. Maybe it needed more tension or danger. Or maybe Arn needed to be more dynamic. I'm at a loss. I'm stymied. ARN is a beautiful and well-crafted film. It's just missing that something that keeps it from being a great film - or at least a very good one.

Die! Die! My Darling! (1965)

Director: Silvio Narizzano

Starring: Tallulah Bankhead, Stefanie Powers, Peter Vaughan, Maurice Kaufmann, Yootha Joyce, Donald Sutherland

More info: IMDb

Tagline: She's One Mean Mother-in-Law!

Plot: Bankhead plays Mrs. Trefoile, a psychotically pious mother still grieving the death of her son. Mrs. Trefoile holds his fiancée, Pat (Stefanie Powers), against her will and decides to reunite the young woman with her lover, whom she's convinced is now in heaven. But Pat has plans of her own and won't allow a crazy mother to decide her fate.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? Nope.

#25 on Hammer Horror (1957-1976)

I can't find a trailer for this one anywhere. Oh, well. Thems tha breaks. This picture's OK. It's another one of those someone-gets-held-against-their-will movies that's predictable. What wasn't predictable was how light the tone was. Wilfred Josephs's whimsical score with a lot of harpsichord didn't help matters. Bankhead plays the religious nutter with frightening realism. The other actors do a very fine job but the real misstep is the tone. It's too damn light. There are moments of real horror and danger but they aren't nearly as effective as they would be had the picture gone to that dark place and just stayed there.

DDMD should have been a solid thriller. Instead it's just a piece of light entertainment that crosses the line every once in a while. I think it'd be tough to make this today without making it worse. You know how it is; they'd throw in some torture, amp up the sound effects, lots of jump scares, etc. Hollywood would take something like this with potential and ruin it even more than before. All I know is I've got one more Hammer thriller/horror (THE NANNY (1966)) on my Hammer list before everything else is straight up horror and mostly Gothic. Can't wait.

Murder by Death (1976)

Director: Robert Moore

Starring: Eileen Brennan, Truman Capote, James Coco, Peter Falk, Alec Guinness, Elsa Lanchester, David Niven, Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Nancy Walker, Estelle Winwood, James Cromwell, Richard Narita

More info: IMDb

Tagline: By the time the world's greatest detectives figure out whodunit... you could die laughing!

Plot: Five famous literary detective characters and their sidekicks are invited to a bizarre mansion to solve an even stranger mystery.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again? Absolutely.

FUNNY, FUNNY, FUNNY, FUNNY! The cast is incredible. I remember seeing this as a kid during the early days of HBO in the late 70s/early 80s and fell in love with it at first sight. Dave Grusin's score is fun and the dialogue (and story) is delightfully playful but what really sells this is the cast. Every single one of them pulls off their characters to a "T". It's a real peach.

Eileen Brennan - I love her to death. She needs to have my babies. She's a laugh riot in this picture.

Truman Capote - Who knew he could act AND be funny? He was great.

James Coco - Round and funny.

Peter Falk - He STEALS THE SHOW with nearly ever single line. One of the all-time best comedic performances.

Alec Guinness - He's always solid and his scene at the end of the picture where he plays several different people (in the same outfit) shows you how good one can be at acting. It's a splendid performance.

Elsa Lanchester - Her bubbly Jessica Marbles cracks me up every time - especially when she exchanges lines with Falk.

David Niven - You couldn't get a better actor for this role that riffs on the Nick Charles character from THE THIN MAN movies.

Peter Sellers - While his performance may not be the home run you'd like to see, he is a lot of fun to watch.

Maggie Smith - She's delightful, too, and needs to have my babies. I'm very passionate about women that make me laugh and she's high on the list thanks to this picture.

Nancy Walker - It's too bad she doesn't speak here but she still manages to pull off some great laughs.

Estelle Winwood - She's got the vapors and some great lines. The back and forth with Falk in a couple of scenes is priceless.

James Cromwell - Tall, skinny and funny and not necessarily in that order.

Richard Narita - He does a great job holding his own as the son of Peter Sellers's character, Sidney Wang.

Not only are each of these actors VERY funny and are ideal for their roles, they have a collective chemistry that would be near-impossible to duplicate. The way they work together and pull off laugh after laugh is remarkable. Not only that, but the actors they're paired with are a perfect match which just shows how good these people were in this flick. It was Peter Falk's passing this week that prompted me to dust off this DVD and give it a spin. For 30 years it was my favorite performance of his until I watched THE CHEAP DETECTIVE (1978) recently which was made by the same director, producer, writer (Neil Simon) and some of the same cast and crew. I didn't think it was possible for Falk to be funner than playing Sam Diamond but he did it in that movie.

I adore this picture. It brings tears of laughter to my eyes just thinking about it and ever since I saw this as a kid, I've always referred to the bathroom as "the can". Thanks, Peter Falk.

The Long Riders (1980)

Director: Walter Hill

Starring: David Carradine, Keith Carradine, Robert Carradine, James Keach, Stacy Keach, Dennis Quaid, Randy Quaid, Kevin Brophy, Harry Carey Jr, Christopher Guest, Nicholas Guest, James Remar

More info: IMDb

Tagline: "All the world likes an outlaw. For some damn reason they remember 'em." - Jesse James

Plot: The origins, exploits and the ultimate fate of the Jesse James gang is told in a sympathetic portrayal of the bank robbers made up of brothers who begin their legendary bank raids because of revenge.

My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again? Sure.

THE LONG RIDERS is different than just about any Western I've ever seen and I've seen a shitload. For starters, there's the casting. You can see that it stars several real-life brothers (all playing brothers of different families). Initially you can assume it's stunt casting and it would be except that it works really well. The chemistry between them is solid (especially between the Carradines and the Keaches) as well as their performances. David Carradine and James Keach come off the best.

Ry Cooder's score breaks away from the orchestral scores we're used to, using more traditional instruments of the period like guitars, mandolins, etc. It's great and works very well with the film and partly because it feels so natural and relaxed which takes me to another great point about this picture. It's very leisurely paced but never dull, not even for a moment. Walter Hill has crafted a damn fine western that's essentially a series of vignettes with several gaps in time, all the while NOT holding your hand telling us it's been 6 months (or longer) since the last scene. You're often left to figure it out...that is if you're paying attention.

The action is fun and the big shootout in slow motion in the final half hour is terrific and well done. And I have to commend the folks behind the sound design during that scene (and the picture). It's strikingly different and effective. I really dug this flick, not only because it's very, very good but for the chances the film makers took and the techniques they employed to make a Western that feels more authentic. Hill paints these outlaws with a broad brush showing you the good, the bad and the ugly side of the Youngers, James' and Millers. It ain't always pretty but it sure is a fun ride.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Centurion (2010)

Director: Neil Marshall

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Dominic West, Andreas Wisniewski, Dave Legeno, Axelle Carolyn

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Fight or die.

Plot: In 2nd-century Britain, Roman fighter Quintas Dias (Michael Fassbender) is the lone survivor of a Pictish attack on a Roman frontier post. Eager for revenge, he joins the Ninth Legion -- under General Virilus (Dominic West) -- and journeys north on a mission to destroy the Picts.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Noop.


Ugh. I hadn't seen so much as a trailer for this. All I knew was it was about Roman soldiers behind enemy lines in Ireland or something and it's got Michael Fassbender in it, a cat I really dig. If it hadn't been for a few very poor cliche's, I'd be in better spirits about it and would consider giving it another go sometime.

The performances are fine along with just about everything else except for some liberties the story takes. For example...Etain (Olga Kurylenko) is a super-tracking killer extraordinaire. The only reason she existed, it felt, was to bring in the female audience. She's over the top and silly. Just look at her in her getup.


I do appreciate, though, how her character's story is resolved. Then there's the other girl, Aeron (Axelle Carolyn). She's the love interest of our hero, Quintus Dias (Fassbender). She's actually A-OK in my book except for how her character's story is resolved. More on that later.

I'm diggin' Fassbender with every new film of his I see. And Dominic West needs to have his own movie as the Roman general. He was fantastic and gave the most enthusiastic performance in the picture.

CENTURION suffers from quickly edited fight scenes but it's not nearly as bad is it usually is these days. It also has a character (I forget his name) who kills a child in order save the rest of his surviving Roman buddies (there's six in total including the one they came to rescue). Must they really make him into the one guy of their lot to be a bad person? They really went out of their way to do it, too. The only reason they did that was so that the film makers would have more than enough reason to have him killed off. Why? Well because he killed a kid and he can't be allowed to live. BULLSHIT! He killed that kid before he could scream and send the enemy down on them (they were in the enemy's camp, you see), which would mean all of their deaths. We'd have a short-ass movie if that happened. Shit like this really pisses me off.

Then there's the ending where Quintas makes it back to the Roman HQ. He's the sole survivor of the 9th Legion and the leader and his wife think it would be best to kill him so that no one could know that the enemy slaughtered their top legion thereby causing a serious decrease in morale. OK, I'm down with that. I don't want to see Quintas die but maybe someone will step in and do something noble. Nope. They go to kill him and he gets the upper hand. After the deed, he's alone in the room with the leader's wife who asks him, "Where will you go?". He responds with, "Where I belong." and then bitch slaps her. For fuck's sake, really? This is Hollywood Bullshit 101 screenwriting and it stinks. Then Quintas goes back to that broad that lives in the woods and they lived happily ever after. I did rather enjoy the bitch slap.

So you might get the idea that I didn't like this picture. I did, but there are little bits and pieces that just cheese me off to no end that set my eyes to rolling. It also doesn't help that the last half hour of its 97 minutes lasts forever. I just can't take that kind of abuse which sucks because I'll watch ANY movie about ancient Rome...but that doesn't necessarily mean I'll watch it a second time.

Godzilla (1954)

Director: Ishiro Honda

Starring: Akira Takarada, Momoko Kochi, Akihiko Hirata, Takashi Shimura

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Incredible, unstoppable titan of terror!

Plot: A 400-foot dinosaur springs to life in the wake of heavy nuclear weapons testing over the Pacific Ocean, and before long, the fire-breathing Gojira (aka Godzilla) makes a beeline for an unsuspecting Tokyo.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again? HOLY SHIT, YES!

I remember seeing the Americanized version of this with Raymond Burr when I was a kid. Seriously, he was sitting on the couch between me and my funny uncle. Just kidding. I did see it, though. Over the years I've repeatedly heard that the original Japanese cut is superior. Now, I can't recall much of the US cut but, after seeing the original, I'll never go back. Gojira, as it was originally titled, is nothing short of remarkable.

So how deep can you get with a movie that features a guy in a rubber suit stomping on models? Pretty damn deep, I'd say. There are several things that make this work. The black and white photography helps the devastation and drama, Akira Ifukube's iconic theme and excellent dramatic score, the simple yet enjoyable story and then there are the somber scenes detailing the aftermath of Godzilla's rampages, the villages leveled, the innocents slaughtered. That's some damn powerful stuff. And the one scene that shows the destruction with the girls choir singing behind it will choke you up.

The parallels of this and the US atomic bombings in Japan at the close of the second World War are biting. I actually choked up. I know, right? It's a friggin' Godzilla picture! I had tried to imagine how these scenes must have impacted Japanese viewers at the time. It had only been 9 years since the end of the war and it was still very fresh in their minds. And to their credit for their restraint, they make one mention of it. One character remarks that Godzilla could have been partially released by "what happened in their past" when comparing it to the nuclear explosion at sea that released it.


In the final moments of the picture two men travel to the ocean floor to deliver a bomb that will destroy the creature. I actually felt sorry for it. It's rather sad and the music handles it very nicely and softly. One of the divers, the scientist who created the device, sacrifices himself so that no man could ever have the formula he devised in the idea that it could be used as a weapon. It's touching as hell and it's handled with such honesty and care that it would be impossible for Hollywood to recreate. I imagined a Hollywood producer watching this thinking it needed a big swelling score and some final, macho one liner for the guy just before he snuffs it. I hate that shit.


If you should watch this for the first time, get ready for less of a giant monster horror and prepare for something akin to a disaster movie with all-to-real memories and consequences. I was shocked at how much emotional impact it packed. There's an awful lot of humanity in this picture which makes this so much more than a movie with some bloke in a rubber monster suit stomping on models.

The Moonshine War (1970)

Director: Richard Quine

Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Richard Widmark, Alan Alda, Melodi Johnson, Will Geer, Joe Williams, Susanne Zenor, Lee Hazlewood, Bo Hopkins, Teri Garr

More info: IMDb

Tagline: 1932: The Moonshine War. The 18th amendment prohibited drinking. It didn't say a word about killing, double-crossing or blowing things up.

Plot: Frank Long, a Federal agent (McGoohan), comes to a sleepy Southern town looking to extort Son Martin (Alda) out of his rumored 150 barrels of top-notch moonshine. When Martin doesn't play ball, Long calls one of his gangster pals, Dr. Emmett Taulbee (Widmark), to lend some muscle only Taulbee wants it all for himself. The explosive finale leaves A LOT of people dead.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? Nah. But if a nice widescreen print surfaces I might give it another go.

I really dig period pieces like this, set during the Great Depression, along with gangster movies and just about anything remotely interesting set during the 1930s. When you add this incredible cast AND that's it's written by Elmore Leonard, it's a sure bet that I'm going to watch it. So after watching pirates cavort for couple of hours I tossed this one in hoping for one of those "hidden gems". Nope. It's just watchable entertainment with some good and indifferent performances and an explosive finale that almost makes up for the film's shortcomings.

I'm a HUGE fan of Patrick McGoohan's after having watching more than half of his great early 60s spy show DANGER MAN (AKA SECRET AGENT) and THE PRISONER. With that and a few movies I've seen him in, he's a beast of an actor. In THE MOONSHINE WAR he uses one of his "nerdy spy voices" he used in DANGER MAN but this time with a Southern drawl that's only sometimes present (that happens with Widmark, too). If McGoohan had gone with his normal voice, still keeping the wandering accent, he and the picture would have been better served.

Widmark is great as the main heavy as is Hazelwood as his enforcer, Dual Metters. The rest of the cast does a great job, too, and there's a lot of familiar faces even if you don't know their names like Will "Grandpa from THE WALTONS" Greer and Bo "THE WILD BUNCH" Hopkins.

Meet Lee Hazelwood, the guy that wrote the Nancy Sinatra classic,
"These Boots are Made for Walking." Seriously.

Alan Alda is OK but his character doesn't get much set-up which hurts because he's the one guy we're supposed to root for. He's the underdog, the local boy the corrupt government official and the gangsters want. The problem is Son Martin doesn't get much in the way of character development in the first half of the movie. The movie starts and ends with McGoohan and it's mostly his picture, then Widmark and then Alda. I didn't feel like I knew enough about Alda to get behind him.

I can't believe I've gotten this far talkin' about this picture without bringing up that one of my top top 3 favorite actresses gets naked...sort of.

Put me down for the first person who NEEDS to own this on Blu-ray!!!
The quality of this doesn't give me enough detail.

The music was hokey. I could have done without Fred Karger's score. There's something about bass harmonica that doesn't work. I dig the instrument but it seems like it's rarely used properly. It's an instrument that dances that fine line of funny cliche and being serious. I'm not terribly sure how to describe it but there it is. The score had a goofy TV quality that didn't work sometimes.

The ending, though...WOW! HOLY FUCKING SHIT! LOVED IT! After you go through the standoff that takes up the final half hour, it's earned and fucking beautiful. Watch this if you want it spoiled...

This isn't nearly as strong of a movie as I had hoped. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't going into this thinking it's the CITIZEN KANE of moonshine pictures. I guess I'm trying to say I was disappointed that, now that I've seen it, there was a lot of potential that wasn't fully realized. Is it mostly the director's fault this didn't work? Probably but considering the talent involved, I expected a little more. It's definitely worth watching if this sounds like your bag but lower your expectations a little and you'll walk away glad you checked it out.

The Spanish Main (1945)

Director: Frank Borzage

Starring: Paul Henreid, Maureen O'Hara, Walter Slezak, Binnie Barnes, John Emrey, Barton MacLane

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Loving her . . . taming her . . . called for all his reckless daring!

Plot: Laurent van Horn is the leader of a band of Dutch refugees on a ship seeking freedom in the Carolinas, when the ship is wrecked on the coast of Cartagene. governed by Don Juan Alvarado, Spanish ruler. Alvarado has Laurent thrown in prison, but the latter escapes, and five-years later is a pirate leader. He poses as the navigator on a ship in which Contessa Francesca, daughter of a Mexican noble, is traveling on her way to marry Alvarado, whom she has never seen. Laurent's pirates capture the ship and Francesa, in order to save another ship, gives her hand-in-marriage to Laurent, who sails her to the pirate hideout. This irks the jealous Anne Bonney and,also, Captain Benjamin Black, who was already irked, anyway. They overpower Laurent and send Francesa to Alvarado, and then Mario du Billar, trusted right-hand man, makes a deal to deliver Laurent to Alvarado also.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Eh, possibly.

What started off as a ho-hum period love story with buccaneers ended up being an entertaining pirate action adventure that's got a great final half hour. For the first hour it's lots of Maureen O'Hara getting in the way of manly pirate stuff (not really but she's always around) being pissy around her captive and soon-to-be husband, Captain Laurent Van Horn (aka The Barracuda).


It cheeses me off sometimes that there's the cliched aristocratic woman that gets thrown into the mix who catches the eye of the pirate captain who has to 'tame' her. At some point she'll succumb to his scoundrel, yet gentlemanly, ways and then you've got a happy ending. We all know the reality of that is bullshit but that's the convention of most pirate flicks out there so you just have to deal with it. At least in this movie Van Horn has a motive for marrying this broad (outside of his own lustful needs) which takes her away from his enemy, Don Juan Alvarado (delightfully played by Walter Slezak).

But it's the last act of the picture that really takes off with lots of double crosses, intrigue, swordplay and fighting. I suddenly straightened myself up on the couch and took more interest. This seemingly standard pirate flick picked up steam and had me hooked until the end.

There's a pretty damn good sword fight between Van Horn and his former friend who betrayed him, Mario (John Emery). I put it up on YouTube so you could see it in its entirety. Watch for the spot where Mario waits a beat for Van Horn to strike him (at the :45 mark). Outside of that actor's misstep, it's a much better than average sword fight.

See how long the camera stays on the actors? You get to SEE an actual fight instead of the seizure-quick edited fights we get nowadays. That shit pisses me off. I've seen many times in DVD extras where the actors talk time and time again about how many weeks or months they spent working on the choreography OF ONE FREAKIN' FIGHT only to see the sequence cut up into a gazillion edits with barely enough frames for your eyes to focus on and enjoy it. It's insulting to the actors who worked so hard for it.

Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to see this 1945 flick in Technicolor (it was RKO's first). The colors pop off the screen and it looks gorgeous. The acting is pretty good, Alvarado gets a little too silly and there's a bit too much "hey, look, there's a woman on board the ship" goings-on with O'Hara but the ending really made this a potential re-watch. Unless you can find it online somewhere, set your DVRs to keep an eye out for it on TCM. I dug it.