Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

WAIT UNTIL DARK (1967)
I liked Alan Arkin in this movie as a psychopath who, with Richard Crenna and Jack Weston, try to play a blind woman (Audrey Hepburn) in order to get their hands on a doll filled with drugs. He was just so... off. So bizarre. With hair and glasses that made him look like Doctor Octopus. As for the film itself... it has some really good moments, but I'm still not an Audrey Hepburn fan, and I thought I knew too much about it going in. It starts with the doll being filled, then shows us the three criminals laying out their plan, and then suddenly becomes about this blind woman and her husband. I hate to second guess the writer of the brilliant Dial M for Murder, but I can't help thinking that playing up the confusion would've really benefited the tension. If we took these men, as Hepburn does, at their face value and wondered at the strange signals being sent, then it would've really been a tense thriller. As it is, it's not bad, it's just not compelling, either. But most of the performances are good, even Hepburn's. **1/2 stars.

THE DEVIL RIDES OUT (1968)
Fantastic movie with Christopher Lee in a great role as a man trying to protect his friends from satanists. I can't believe I haven't seen this movie before; this is prime Lee and prime Hammer. And it's generally about smart people, which is always nice in movies like this; the motivations are clear and Lee especially is very intelligent about the situation. It's nice, too, that it's not overly sensational, but genuinely tense and scary. Charles Gray makes, as always, a great villain, uttering the most truly chilling words in the movie when he tries to mesmerize a woman into helping him commit some murders, and then, when he's foiled, tells her: "I'll leave. I won't be back again. Something will." Great make-up, too. **** stars.

DAISY MILLER (1974)
Wow, Peter Bogdanovich really hit a wall, didn't he? Targets is a chilling tension-builder, The Last Picture Show is an Americana classic, What's Up, Doc? is great screwball comedy, Paper Moon is fantastic... and then this is him just running into a wall and believing everything about his perceived genius. It's a mess of a movie, almost impossible to watch, and bleeding smug pretension from every frame. I really thought it wouldn't be as bad as I'd heard, but it suffers from the miscasting of Cybill Shepard in the lead on down. And I've seen Bogdanovich's next two films, Nickelodeon and At Long Last Love, which are just pathetic. Wow. No stars.

KILLER OF SHEEP (1977)
Neorealism is hard for me to get through, I'll admit, but this was an ultimately very interesting film about poor black families just trying to get through each day. It focuses mainly on one family, the patriarch of which works in a sheep rendering factory and tries to provide for his wife and children. It takes patience, but it's because the film simply (for the most part) observes its characters instead of manufacturing a heavy-handed message film. ***1/2 stars.

THE STEPFATHER (1987)
Terry O'Quinn is very, very good as a psychopath who murders his whole family and then moves elsewhere and marries a woman with a suspicious daughter. It starts off promisingly, but then meanders to its admittedly riveting conclusion. Even at 86 or so minutes, it seems padded. It's like a great episode of Ray Bradbury Theater pumped full of hot air. But O'Quinn, as I said, is great. It's just too bad the movie doesn't know where to trim. ** stars.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (2009)
I expected this to be bullshit, but I really got caught up in the build. Nice effects, too. It builds up really well, charting the developments of a couple who are filming their bedroom because they think they're being visited at night by a demonic presence. It's too bad it's all ruined by the final shot, which is cheesy and stupid. Just a couple of seconds shaved off the end would've salvaged it. *** stars.

THE GORE GORE GIRLS (1972)
I'd never seen a Herschell Gordon Lewis film before. Diablo Cody still has work to do to convince me that this guy's better than Dario Argento. The movie's basically sub-porno, with incredibly graphic violence that is at first disgusting, then funny (simply because it's so over-the-top ludicrous), then kind of cruel, and then just tiresomely gross. The only real pleasure in this ridiculous plot is the performance of Frank Kress as a famed private investigator who lives in an amazingly cheap apartment and spends a lot of time in, I guess, someone's garage made up too look like the smallest, dive-iest strip club in a non-porno movie. (The production values aren't really good enough to be porno.) I'm not even going to go into the arguments one could make about misogyny. It's not an offensive movie, it's just a stupid one, but it's a stupid movie with some moments of genuine humor and a fun central performance. I don't even know what the point of rating this one would be, since it just kind of defies attempts to bother, but I guess I'd go with ** stars.

1 comment:

Tallulah Morehead said...

Wait Until Dark is a film whose reputation far exceeds the few thrills it delivers. And it's biggest scare, when all the lights go out in the film and in the theater, and the audience is also in total dark (except, I assume, the "Exit" signs). On TV it can not work.

I've seen Teh Devil Rides Out a number of times, and while much of what you say in its favor is certainly true, the film has never raised a hackle or a shiver from me. This may have to do with my listing Stanists right below bedbugs on my list of Threats to Humanity. The movie is well done (except for some poor special effects. Hammer was never much good with opticals.), well-acted and well-written, but it carries no genuine menace for me. I realize that vampires are not real either, so why was Horror of Dracula scary, and The Devil Rides Out not scary? I do not know.

I noticed that the name of the secondary leading man, Leon Greene, was the same name as the man who played Milos Gloriosos in the movie of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, despite lookign quite different and having a very different voice. Turns out he is the same actor, but padded as Milos, and with a rich bass voice dubbed over his soft, higher, British voice.

The Stepfather was the first thing I ever saw Terry O'Quinn in, nad it was certainly apparent that this was a powerful actor, though a rather flawed film.

I've yet to see a Herschell Gordon Lewis movie, and I hope I can still say that when I die. Life is too short to spend any of it watching his splatter-porn.