Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Uptight (1968)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Jules Dassin
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Olive Films)

A militant black group in Cleveland kicks out one of its members when he gets drunk and fails to help them rob a warehouse of ammunition. After a guard is killed, one of them becomes hunted by the police. The ex-member turns him in for a reward, then spends the money in a wild night of drinking. The other gang members put him on trial and sentence him to death. This works on multiple levels: the personal story of the informer, the numbing effect of factory work in the big city, race relations in the late 60s, how violence begets violence, and more. Another triumph from director Dassin, although the topic lacks the same immediacy today as it had at the time of its release after the assassination of Martin Luther King, whose funeral is shown at the beginning of the film.

The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover (1977)


American International Pictures
Directed by Larry Cohen
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, MGM Limited Edition Collection)

Trashy "biography" of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, from his early days as a communist witch hunter to his rampant electronic surveillance in the late 60s and early 70s that brought down the highest members of government. The all-star cast doles out caricatures of famous figures, including the Kennedy's and Martin Luther King, in a series of unrelated sketches. This is for people looking to justify wild conspiracy theories or heated political debate, but any resemblance to actual history, or a good movie, is purely coincidental.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

At Long Last Love (1975)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Peter Bogdanovich
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Fox)

Bored socialites in the mid 1930's drink, sing and fall in love to the music of Cole Porter. Two couples who meet by chance become best of friends, along with their servants, but exactly who will end up with whom is up in the air. The actors all sing their parts and have a blast with the Porter lyrics, some of his best ever. It's an easy, breezy tribute to old Hollywood musicals of a bygone era.

The Chairman (1969)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by J. Lee Thompson
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Fox)

Gregory Peck is sent to China by the US government to steal a formula which allows food to grow in any climate. A transmitter is implanted in his skull which allows the military to listen to him at all times, and, unknown to him, also contains an explosive. He meets Chairman Mao, who is playing ping pong in his palace, where they have a frank political discussion and he is allowed to work with Chinese scientists. The formula is well-protected and he is unable to steal it. One of the older scientists is killed by the Red Army who monitors their every move. Peck escapes from the laboratory by stealing a tank and heading for the Russian border. Entertaining if predictable action thriller, though the politics are dated.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Christopher Nolan
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros.)

A downtrodden Bruce Wayne is coerced back into action as Batman when a new menace threatens Gotham City with nuclear annihilation. His romantic life becomes more interesting with the introduction of Anne Hathaway as the Cat Woman, although she is never called that by name. She wears skin tight leather and is one of the more annoying characters in recent memory. Perhaps the worst of the trilogy (assuming this is the last one), it resorts to the most obvious action cliche of all for the drawn out finale: the countdown clock. A pompous, self-serious melodrama with a soundtrack to match.

Matalo! (1970)


Exclusivas Floralva Distribuci├│n S.A. (Spain)
Directed by Cesare Canevari
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Wild East Productions)

A man is rescued from a hanging noose by Mexican bandits, who it turns out were paid. He reunites with his two pals, and girlfriend, in a dusty western ghost town. They rob a passing stagecoach of a chest full of government gold, but their leader hides it from the rest of the gang. They spend the rest of the film fighting each other for it and torturing a couple of unlucky passing strangers. As unpleasant as these characters and their morally bankrupt actions may be, it is very atmospheric due to stylish direction by Canevari and especially the soundtrack by Mario Migliardi, which is a mix of trippy electronic manipulation and fuzzy psychedelic guitar jams.

Rude Boy (1980)


Tigon Film (UK)
Directed by Jack Hazan and David Mingay
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Epic/Legacy)

A 20-year-old London adult book shop attendant gets a job as a roadie for his favorite band, The Clash. While on tour, he sets up drum kits for the show, then spends the rest of his time drunk or looking for women to bring back to the hotel. When the tour is over, he goes back to his dreary job. Interspersed with this story is concert and backstage footage of The Clash, which is really the only reason to watch, since the main story is rather aimless. Another subplot involving blacks harassed by the police is underdeveloped and could have been cut with no great loss.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Brief Encounter (1974)


ITC Films
Directed by Alan Bridges
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Timeless Media Group)

Sophia Loren and Richard Burton begin an arduous love affair after a chance meeting at a train station. First they meet once a week during breaks at their respective jobs, gradually becoming more emotionally involved. When they finally decide to meet for sex at a friends apartment, they are awkwardly interrupted. They keep meeting and even contemplate leaving their respective partners, but never consummate the relationship and eventually part. Some interesting ruminations on the meaning of love, handsomely shot in the English countryside, but never quite escapes its stage origins and of course pales in comparison to the David Lean classic.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Phantom Empire (1935)


Mascot Pictures
Directed by Otto Brower and B. Reeves Eason
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Serial Squadron)

Grueling 4-hour serial is a strange mix of B-westerns and sci fi. Gene Autry broadcasts a daily show from his "Radio Ranch". Lurking just underneath the property is the futuristic city of Murania, which is rich in radium and coveted by research scientists who will do anything to get it, including murder. Back at the Radio Ranch, Gene's friends Frankie and Betsy have formed a "club" called the Junior Thunder Riders, who wear buckets on their heads and capes, riding off to help anyone in need while shouting their slogan, "to the rescue!" Well, soon enough everyone needs rescuing from the clutches of the Queen of Murania. The later chapters tend to get bogged down in a political revolution underway down under, but in the last couple the action picks up with plenty of ray guns, melting cities, raising people from the dead, etc. Silly, juvenile, irresistible fun.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The High Commissioner (1968)



Cinerama Releasing
Directed by Ralph Thomas
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, MGM)

Australian outback cop Rod Taylor is sent to London to arrest a high ranking politician for murder. Instead, he ends up getting involved in a plot to kill him and in fact saves his life on several occasions, including a tennis match at Wimbledon. The old murder turns out to involve his wife, who decides to take matters into her own hands. A rather talky political thriller with macho Rod downing beer, and women, at every opportunity.

The Devil Is a Woman (1935)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Josef von Sternberg
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Universal)

Lionel Atwill is a Captain in the Spanish military with money to burn and gives most of it away to factory worker Marlene Dietrich. She manages to keep a young bullfighter on the side as a lover, even wrangling a few dollars from Atwill for him to eat. This story is told in a long flashback that takes up the first part of the film. Cesar Romero is Marlene's latest suitor, but he ignores the warning of Atwill and becomes her lover. This leads to a duel which almost takes his life, losing all of his money and reputation which almost ruins it. Director von Sternberg places his story amidst the colorful backdrop of the Spanish carnival, but it is hard to derive much pleasure from watching Dietrich flutter her eyelids and devour men.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Dark Knight (2008)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Christopher Nolan
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros.)

The Joker is terrorizing Gotham City and it is up to Batman to stop him. Hired by the mob, The Joker is more interested in creating chaos than robbing banks. Batman refuses to kill him, though he has many chances, due to a self-imposed rule, which the Joker exploits to his advantage. He has no such qualms, killing numerous innocent bystanders, policemen or friends of Batman. A romantic triangle involving the DA, a lawyer and Batman's real personality Bruce Wayne weighs down a plot already burdened by a relentlessly serious tone. Batman himself is the main problem: a one-note character with no emotions to speak of, a trait that rubs off on most of the rest of the cast as well. Overflowing with the usual Hollywood blockbuster action cliches: guns, explosions and cell phones. Heath Ledger's Joker is the only character that manages not to be one, but his schtick grows old too after a couple of hours.

Have Sword Will Travel (1969)


Shaw Bros.
Directed by Cheh Chang
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

A lone swordsman, who shuns money and fame, becomes entangled with an engaged couple and their uncle who are transporting a large stash of government bullion. The Flying Tiger Clan plan to steal the treasure, and they've got the manpower and skills to pull it off. The love triangle takes up too much time in the middle section of the film. However, when the fighting begins it is violent and bloody. There are the usual distractions of flying men, trampolines and backwards film gimmicks, but this takes on an almost operatic quality at times, especially the ending in which the two sides face off in an epic battle that takes place in a pagoda.

Monday, April 21, 2014

MASH (1970)


Twentieth Century-Fox Film
Directed by Robert Altman
My rating: 4 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Fox)

Surgeons in a mobile Army surgical hospital, or MASH, deal with harsh conditions in the field and bleak work on wounded soldiers by drinking, pulling pranks and playing golf. Their favorite targets are "regular Army" officers Frank Burns and the new head nurse, exposing through their hypocrisy that of the Vietnam War, which at the time had a striking resemblance to Korea. Altman perfected his style here, a constantly moving pastiche of real life, episodic but never boring. Characters drive the plot and they are some of the most memorable in all of American cinema, with fantastic performances from a large ensemble cast, another Altman trademark.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Race with Death (1976)


American International Pictures
Directed by Howard Avedis
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Shout! Factory)

Undercover cop Connie Stevens befriends wealthy heroin dealers and follows the stuff to the top. Two chase scenes anchor the film: the first has Connie driving a race buggy through the streets of Seattle in pursuit of a motorcycle, in the second she pilots a helicopter chasing a speed boat. Both are well-made, convincing stunts with excellent point-of-view camera angles shot at real high speed, they just can't duplicate this today with CGI. However, the rest of the picture is a run-of-the-mill 70s detective drama, with Connie occasionally mugging for the camera. The Shout Factory release apparently contains the edited-for-TV version cut for nudity, language and violence, as the on-screen title is "Race with Death". I never saw the original version so did not really miss those scenes, it still plays fine as far as continuity. It's also full-frame, but I did not notice any framing issues. Admittedly not a perfect release, but not enough to prevent most people from enjoying the picture either.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Trackdown (1976)


United Artists
Directed by Richard T. Heffron
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Shout! Factory)

Montana rancher Jim Mitchum goes to Hollywood to search for his runaway 17-year-old sister. His no-nonsense, tough attitude eventually leads him to the man who bought her for his high-priced call girl business. After she ends up dead at the hands of a rough john, Mitchum vows revenge. There are two memorable action sequences: a shoot out in an elevator shaft between two moving elevators, and the finale on a desert highway. Mitchum, though, is too stiff, he practically recites his lines, and his character barely more than a stereotype. Supporting work from all-too-familiar TV faces Erik Estrada and Cathy Lee Crosby also drag it down. 1979's Hardcore explored a very similar scenario, but Jim Mitchum is no George C. Scott.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Bamboo Gods and Iron Men (1974)


American International Pictures
Directed by Cesar Gallardo
My rating: BOMB
IMDb
(DVD, Shout! Factory)

An American couple in Hong Kong on their honeymoon is used to smuggle something to Manila without their knowledge. Hidden in a cheap Buddha statue, it is intensely desired by a man who believes he can control the world with it. However, when he finally gets the statue it is empty. So, he kidnaps the man's wife and demands to get a "pouch" with the secret power. It finally turns up by accident, but its contents surprise everyone. Absolutely dreadful Filipino production with amateur acting, pointless nudity, uninspired fighting and unfunny comic relief. It might fall into the "so bad it's good" category, especially the 70s fashions, but even that is a stretch.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Vengeance Is a Golden Blade (1969)


Shaw Bros.
Directed by Meng Hua Ho
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Image Entertainment)

A man and his daughter take refuge with a mountain "herbalist" after his wife abandons them for the leader of a local gang. His special "golden sword" is also stolen by them, but he spends the next 20 years or so making a new, stronger one. His daughter grows up to be an extraordinary martial arts master and takes it upon herself to get revenge on the gang. Along the way she discovers the family skeletons. After a promising beginning, the plot gets bogged down in these family melodramatics, with only the occasional fight scene, or raging wildfire, to break the monotony. The long awaited showdown between the two swords for the finale is almost an afterthought at the very end.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Batman Begins (2005)


Warner Bros.
Directed by Christopher Nolan
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Warner Bros.)

After witnessing the murder of his parents as a young boy, Bruce Wayne ends up a criminal in the far east. He is released from prison by a mysterious group who want him to join in their crusade for justice. He is trained in the ways of the ninja, but rebels against the group when he learns that they have a dark side. Back in his home town of Gotham, he becomes a one-man crusader against crime, donning a costume to strike fear into his enemies. He takes down a mafia kingpin, but faces his old ninja enemies one more time when they plan to destroy the entire city. The new origin story for the familiar caped crusader is somewhat interesting, but when Batman finally appears well over an hour into the film he's got the same old problem: no personality. He speaks in a low growl of monosyllables and one-liners, great for trailers but not much for drama. The plot unfolds in the usual blockbuster Hollywood style with lots of explosions, a contrived fight against time, last second escapes, etc. etc. Katie Holmes is present to provide the requisite romantic interest.

Escape from Zahrain (1962)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Ronald Neame
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Olive Films)

Arab rebel Yul Brynner escapes from prison with the help of student Sal Mineo. They take off across the desert with a couple of other small time prisoners and a nurse as hostage. They must fight the elements, their truck and each other to survive, all  the while being pursued by the military. The predictable plot is compensated by spirited performances, especially Anthony Caruso who has a blast with his Arab character, Sal Mineo as the student dedicated to the nationalist cause, Jack Warden as an American oil man and Madlyn Rhue as the hostage struggling to find her identity. James Mason makes a brief appearance at a desert oil pumping station.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Such Good Friends (1971)



Paramount Pictures
Directed by Otto Preminger
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Olive Films)

New Yorker Dyan Cannon reexamines her life when her husband's routine operation has complications that send him into intensive care. She finds out he has been having numerous affairs which causes her to have a near breakdown. She has impromptu sexual encounters with a friend and her doctor, neither of which are very appealing. Meanwhile her husband continues to get worse and is near death. The shock of an early scene featuring a naked, elderly Burgess Meredith dancing at a rooftop party eventually wears off, only to have to witness Cannon undressing and seducing an obese James Coco wearing a corset near the end. What happens in between those two scenes is only slightly more tolerable.

Skidoo (1968)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Otto Preminger
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Olive Films)

Ex-mobster Jackie Gleason is arrested and ordered to perform a hit in prison. Meanwhile his teenager daughter invites her hippie boyfriend, and all of his friends, to stay at their house. When she discovers her father is missing, she enlists the help of young gangster Frankie Avalon to find him. They end up on the yacht of Groucho Marx, the mob leader who goes by the moniker "God", as do Gleason who escapes from prison by hot air balloon and all of her hippie friends. A silly mainstream spoof of the hippie movement, complete with Gleason taking an acid trip in prison and Groucho ending up a pot-smoking guru. Catchy soundtrack by Nilsson including the nonsense title song advocating that we all just be happy and get along.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hurry Sundown (1967)


Paramount Pictures
Directed by Otto Preminger
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Olive Films)

In a small Georgia town just after the war, one man tries to force two families, one black and one white, to sell their farms so he can make a fortune in housing developments. He uses his wife, his influence with a local judge and sheriff, the good ole boys with shotguns, but they all fail. His attempt at revenge leads to tragedy. Michael Caine and Jane Fonda are miscast as the horribly unhappy couple with the most annoying kid in cinema history. This southern melodrama filled with racists, sexual innuendos and more dynamite blasting than a roadrunner cartoon just goes on and on for nearly 2 and a half hours.

Under the Flag of the Rising Sun (1972)


Toho
Directed by Kinji Fukasaku
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Home Vision Entertainment)

The widow of a soldier executed in WWII searches for explanations over 20 years after the war is over. Government bureaucrats give her a list of men who may have known him. During her visits to them they tell her various horror stories from the war, not always directly about her husband. However, one of them finally admits to knowing the truth which gives her some closure. The plot is episodic: the series of war stories do not always relate to one another. They are told in black and white, except for a couple of violent scenes which burst into color and slow motion: action cliches which undermine Fukasaku's attempt at a serious war drama. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Mountains of the Moon (1990)


TriStar Pictures
Directed by Bob Rafelson
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Artisan)

Two English geographers in Victorian England set off to find the source of the Nile in Africa. Their first expedition ends when they barely survive an attack by natives. Years later they return to try again, this time better equipped. They encounter various obstacles during a long journey across a harsh landscape. Their main foes, however, are native tribes, including a particularly savage one in the far interior. Ultimately, they do find several lakes, any one of which could be the source they are seeking. Back in England, the former friends become enemies in a scientific debate over their findings. Ambitious but ultimately unsatisfying story, with no one to root for, marred by jarring scenes of graphic violence. A far cry from director Rafelson's work in the 1970s.

Dinah East (1970)


Emerson Films, Inc.
Directed by Gene Nash
My rating: 1.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, VCI Entertainment)

A young man in Hollywood dresses as a woman to get a part in a picture. He retains his identity as a woman and becomes a star, but only a handful of people know his true identity. In a series of flashbacks, he tells the story of his relationships with other Hollywood stars, his son and his one true love a boxer. Interesting premise is undercut by low budget, episodic plot and especially the amateurish acting. At its best when exposing the hypocrisy of Hollywood, but those moments are few and far between in a film that seems more interested in sordid nudity and sex.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

'Gator Bait (1974)



Sebastian International Pictures
Directed by Ferd Sebastian and Beverly Sebastian
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Panama Films)

A redneck deputy and friend in the Louisiana swamp chase a wild girl for poaching, leading to an accidental shooting. He puts the blame on the girl, setting in motion a posse which goes after her for revenge. They terrorize the girl's siblings while she stalks them from the swamp. The back and forth continues until only a few are left alive. This exploitation classic features Claudia Jennings in various provocative poses and redneck attire. Shot entirely on location in Louisiana swamps, it is surprisingly effective and tense.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives (2010)


Strand Releasing
Directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Strand Releasing)

A farmer dying of cancer invites his sister to stay at his rural home while he receives care. The group has a series of encounters with ghosts from his past, including his long-dead wife and son. One night they set off for a cave where  he finally succumbs to his illness, with further elusive happenings. Introspective, deliberately paced film is not without its rewards, however some of the events illicit their fair share of unintended comedy. How else to react to scenes such as a talking "monkey ghost" who resembles Chewbacca with red eyes, or the one where a woman demonstrates it is possible to have sex with a talking catfish? While surely not the intention of such a serious film, it's the best comedy I've seen in years.

The Book of the Dead (2005)



Directed by Kihachiro Kawamoto
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Kimstim/Kino)

An aristocratic young woman follows a calling to a mountain. She has visions of the ghost of a young man killed there many years in the past. She is inspired to write sutras and make a painting on a very large cloth made from the lotus plant. Filmed in stop-animation with hand-painted backgrounds, at times the film looks more like a sacred Buddhist text. While the plot leans towards a melodramatic love story between the woman and her dead prince, it probably works better as a religious allegory, which it makes no attempt to hide. Images of the prince are frequently overlaid with those of the Buddha. While pleasing, especially to Buddhists, a subtle approach would have been more appropriate for the subject matter. As presented, it is somewhat of a disappointment.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tokyo Fist (1995)


There's Enterprise (Japan)
Directed by Shinya Tsukamoto
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Manga Entertainment)

A young door-to-door salesman slaves away in the hot streets of Tokyo. One day he is asked by his boss to give a bribe at a local boxing gym, where he meets a childhood friend with whom he shares a dark secret. Unable to satisfy his fiance, their relationship begins to disintegrate when she falls for his boxing friend. He decides to confront him by taking up boxing and is soon transformed by the demanding training regimen. His girlfriend undergoes a similar transformation through tattoos and body piercing. Tsukamoto exposes the dehumanizing effects of modern society through his main character, who uses boxing as a means of rebellion. Filmed in the director's instantly recognizable style consisting of hyper-kinetic action scenes overflowing with blood, this boxer becomes something almost inhuman. The girl follows suit, possibly motivated by a tragic incident in his past which occurred under a busy highway. Another fascinating film from one of modern Japan's masters of independent, rogue cinema.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

...Trinity Is Still My Name (1971)



AVCO Embassy Pictures
Directed by Enzo Barboni
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Hen's Tooth Video)

The continuing adventures of Terence Hill and Bud Spencer, half-brothers and reluctant outlaws. They pass themselves off as federal agents in an attempt to trick a greedy gun runner out of $50,000 in cash. The episodic plot places them in situations in which either their bad manners get them in trouble, such as an upscale restaurant, or their stupidity does, such as Spencer's attempt at confessing to a monk. Sometimes it works, other times it's a stretch, but it's all good-natured fun.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973)



Film Polski (Poland)
Directed by Wojciech Has
My rating: 3 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, DMMS Poland)

A man visits his dead (or dying) father in a creepy sanatorium. The doctor explains that time has been altered so that he can speak to and visit his father even though he is, or will be, dead. He wanders the halls of the decrepit building having encounters with various people from their past. Recurring characters include his mother, a young boy with a stamp album and the owner of a wax museum. Historical figures play a role, as do elderly Jewish men and topless women. Ultimately he ends up back where he started. Strikingly original set design is a major asset, but the nightmarish world and dream logic can be difficult to comprehend.

They Call Me Trinity... (1970)



AVCO Embassy Pictures
Directed by Enzo Barboni
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Hen's Tooth Video)

Lazy western drifter Terence Hill arrives in a dusty western town where his half-brother Bud Spencer has assumed the role of sheriff. The older brother convinces him to become his deputy and help fight a local gang harassing the innocent Mormon farmers. Hill has his eyes set on two Mormon girls while Spencer covets their horses. A band of Mexican bandits gets involved, leading to a long, drawn fight for the ending. If not for the choreographed antics of the fight scenes this could almost pass as a straight spaghetti western. Hill is a ridiculously fast, and accurate, gunfighter and Spencer is a mountain of a man who doesn't budge during fights, no matter who, or what, hits him. The fights are a combination of slapstick, wrestling, kung fu and gymnastics. Very much a product of its time, but hardly gets a chuckle today.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

What Time Is It There? (2001)


WinStar Cinema
Directed by Ming-liang Tsai
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Wellspring)

A young man selling watches on the busy streets of Taipei has a couple of brief conversations with one of his customers. He becomes obsessed with her to the point of changing every clock he sees to Paris time. Meanwhile, his mother is mourning the death of her husband and is becoming increasingly unstable. She sets a place for him at the table and later decides to turn off the power and block all sunlight into the apartment since it is preventing him from returning. In Paris, the girl of his obsession wanders around in a daze until meeting another oriental girl. The three plot lines converge when they all have very unsatisfying sexual encounters. Filmed in the usual Tsai style, which is understated with no music and a minimum of dialogue or camera movement, it is driven by imagery more than plot. I noticed recurring themes, such as eating, and locations, Tsai seems to like stark bathroom settings for some reason, but these don't seem to support any grand scheme other than the all too familiar "alienation in the big city" which has been done many times before and much more convincingly. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Eleven Samurai (1967)


Toei Company
Directed by Eiichi Kud├┤
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Animeigo)

After a spoiled young aristocrat murders a peasant on the wrong side of the river, a group of assassins vows to get revenge. Their plan goes astray when they are tricked into thinking a political solution will go in their favor. When they eventually ambush him their paltry 11 members are outnumbered by his devoted bodyguard contingent of over 50, leading to a final epic battle. The first hour or so is complicated and talky, dominated by endless scenes of political negotiations and a romantic subplot involving the wife of one the samurai. However, when the action finally kicks in for the final half hour, the pace picks up considerably. Beautifully shot in black and white by Sadaji Yoshida, who captures some truly striking scenes in rain and fog for the final fight.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Last Grenade (1970)


Cinerama Releasing
Directed by Gordon Flemyng
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Scorpion Releasing)

Mercenary Stanley Baker is hired by the British government to kill his old pal Alex Cord, who has gone rogue in the countryside near Hong Kong. After several cat and mouse encounters, Baker ends up in the hospital. While convalescing, he falls in love with the wife of the general he works for. It comes to an end when Cord decides to show up again, leading to a final showdown between the two men. After a promising beginning, it gets bogged down in a love affair that takes up far too much time and has an abrupt ending that seems merely an afterthought.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

I Cannibali (1970)



Euro International Films
Directed by Liliana Cavani
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 4
IMDb
(Blu-ray, Raro Video)

Bodies litter the streets of Milan and the government has forbidden anyone to move them. A young woman named Antigone (Britt Ekland) breaks the law by moving the body of her brother, with the help of a stranger who goes by the names Fish, Mowgli and Tiresia. Soon, Antigone and Tiresia are picking up more bodies, running through the streets naked and eventually getting arrested. Antigone's old boyfriend, who also happens to be the son of the prime minister, tries to help, but he is put in an insane asylum when he starts to believe he is an animal. Antigone is beaten up but eventually released, only to have another encounter with the police on the streets. Dated and with symbolism that is just too obvious, still, spending an hour and a half with Britt is not all bad.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Killer Clans (1976)


Shaw Bros.
Directed by Yuen Chor
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dragon Dynasty)

Two "clans" constantly fight with each other for vague reasons. An outsider is hired by one clan to kill the leader of the other, but it turns out he is in love with his daughter and can't go through with it. The old man survives an assassination attempt by one of his own most trusted men and lets the hired assassin marry his daughter. Numerous characters come and go and the plot is difficult to follow, but it all takes place on lush sets and features fighting that is not afraid to show some blood.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Golden Swallow (1968)



Shaw Bros.
Directed by Cheh Chang
My rating: 2 stars out of 4
IMDb
(DVD, Dragon Dynasty)

A master swordsman slices his way through the countryside in search of his lost love and former fellow student. He leaves darts as calling cards with the bodies, which place the responsibility not on himself but the girl. Unbeknownst to him, she is living peacefully with another man in a mountain hideaway, but is drawn out to clear her name. They eventually find each other at a brothel, leading to the inevitable duel between her competing admirers. Basically a series of sword fighting scenes with an extremely high body count and little in the way of character development or motivation.