Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Iron Lady (2011)

Synopsis:

A flashback look at the life of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, told from her dementia-stricken perspective.

Review:

I thought this movie was touching, and nothing like I expected. I had envisioned some type of political biopic strewn with  scenes of political confrontation in the House of Commons as well as the physical violence which characterised the street battles of the UK during the 1980s. Instead, we were confronted with an old-woman spending her days shuffling around her London flat trapped in a private hell of vivid nostalgia. These flashback scenes are shot with panache and performed with feeling – something which surprised me. This is no ‘gimmicky’ film and makes little to no attempt to ride on the reputation of its main protagonist at all.

Meryl Streep is outstanding as Lady Thatcher herself whilst Jim Broadbent is also on top-form as the wise-cracking spectre of her now-deceased husband Dennis. The superb Anthony Head, has a small but pivotal role as Thatcher’s number 2 – who eventually betrays her…..

So much of the movie is rather sad, yet there are uplifting moments: the unlikely romance of the Thatchers and some thumping ideological monologues from Streep being two which stuck in my mind.

It’s a movie which is involving and an emotional one to sit through. Don’t expect the UK-version of Ben Hur though…..

hotdog rating:8/10

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The Bounty Hunters aka Adios, Sabata (1971) trailer

This is a brilliant trailer for a fantastic movie.

Puppetmaster 2 (1991)

Synopsis:

The puppets resurrect their old-master Andre Toulon at the Bodega Bay hotel. Another group of paranormal researchers head there to try to figure out what happened during the events of  “Puppetmaster” (1989). One of the reserachers bears an uncanny resemblence to Toulon’s deceased wife….and Toulon aims to transfer her soul into a life-size mannequin, but he needs the puppets to obtain human brain tissue for his plan to succeed….and are they willing?

Review:

A completely crazy movie. But, very fun indeed if you like these sort of low-budget straight to video horror pictures. I always think that this sequel runs like a pantomine and the pre-credits scene is alone worth the rental price –  a brilliant little homage to Frankenstein’s monster…..

The film suffers from a poor cast and some terrible production values – although the stop-and-go animation of the puppets is as good as ever. We see a very different side to Toulon’s puppets here and we get more of Toulon’s back story. Although wrapped up in those bandages and with those silly goggles on, our puppetmaster looks more like the invisible man than anything else.

The great thing about this film is that it is really the pupppets who are pulling the strings and not the puppetmaster himself….I liked the characterisation that this lent to the puppets. The puppetmaster turns on them and they turn on him, revealing  that our little friends are not actually the demonic creatures we envisaged but the tortured souls of once compassionate beings. The fact that the puppets try to fob the Toulon off with pig brains – rather than kill innocent people and use human brains – was a nice touch.

Compared to the first movie, there is quite a bit more gore and some graphic sequences – one of the researchers has his head drilled straight through by Tunneler, which the censors must have loved.  In addition,  the ending is very bizarre – and frankly, quite unsettling, but I won’t spoil it…..it’s certainly not expected.

Once you add in the classic Richard Band score then I reckon this is a quite a bit better than the original entry in the series – being both more enjoyable and better-scripted than “Puppetmaster” (1989). This also seems to be the consensus in the Puppetmaster  ‘fan’ community.

hotdog rating: 4.5/10 

The Far Country (1954)

Synopsis:

A self-reliant loner (James Stewart) trying to drive cattle to Dawson encounters a crooked-official (John McIntire) hell-bent on extracting and stealing as much economic rent from everyone around him……..and his sights are now on the town of Dawson.

Review:

Apparently, a historically inaccurate account of life along the Canadian border around the turn of the century – but I don’t care about the historical relevance of this picture. This is a great piece of entertainment and not just interesting because of  fantastic cinematography (as implied by some critics).

Stewart gives a memorable performance as one of his nastier – and deeper  – characters; a bitter man without a shred of empathy for his common man.

Perhaps, the only person in the world he cares for is his constant-companion, the elderly and fatherly Ben Tatum played by an in-form Walter Brennan. Director Anthony Mann includes the regulars Harry Morgan, Chubby Johson and Jay C Flippen as the colourful inhabitants of the gold-town of Dawson. John McIntire gives a show-stealing turn as the cruel, preacher-like and all-powerful ‘lawman’ “Mr Gannon”.

Mann doesn’t make Stewart the hero of this picture – too often, Stewart’s character shies away from getting involved and stands-by whilst others are killed – and the film is so much better for it. At the end, Stewart does the right thing but is it for the right reasons?
This is a darker western than most people would think and cannot be accused of falling into that group of older-movies now dismissed as too sentimental for younger audiences.

Ruth Roman gives a subdued but elegant performance as “Miss Castle”,  a woman wishing to capitalise on the economic expansion of the times but also weary of the distorted arm of the law in this part of the world……

Perhaps, I should also say that whilst the movie has a lot of things going for it, the cinematography is absolutely out of this world. Those snow-capped mountains that etch the skyline against which our protagonists ride are just mesmerizing.

To be fair, the finale lets the picture down a bit – the gunfight between McIntire and Stewart is no way near as good as their war of words in Gannon’s Kangaroo court – but this is a mere mute point given the rest of the movie.

At the end of the day, for me this is one of the better westerns made in the 50s. A must-see film.

hotdog rating: 8.5/10

Bend of the River (1952)

Synopsis:

Two men with mysterious pasts, McLyntock (James Stewart) and Cole (Arthur Kennedy) lead a group of settlers deep into the wilderness beyond Portland. The settlers begin to run out of food and McLyntock must return to Portland – now under the rule of a corrupt official –  to secure the promised-supplies of food for his group of homesteaders. However, things do not run smoothly…..as it becomes clear that Cole may have different plans and intentions to McLyntock.

Review:

An ‘epic’ which feels a bit like it could have been a 6-episode series or something.

Each character gets into the audience’s head and we care for all of those involved. Cole’s performance is the real treat and of course, Jimmy Stewart is as reliably gallant as you might expect.  Stewart plays a reformed raider looking to leave his past self from where he came and to set-up as a rancher with his group of settlers. Cole, although initially warmed by these ideas, cannot shake his own past and soon begins to diverge from Stewart – the pace of their parting quickens once money and gold  become involved. In essence, this is what the whole film is about – the damaging effects of money , gold and greed on the good intentions of men.

Watch out for stalwarts  Harry Morgan and Royal Dano as the hired but untrustworthy help. Rock Hudson is highly-billed but he actually doesn’t play much more than bit-part in the film – he’s  a gambler stuck in-between Stewart and Kennedy.

The film looks great – Anthony’s Mann camera captures some of the best scenery I have seen here –  and  the movie moves along like the galloping horses on our cattle drive. It’s never boring – and no scene is ‘wasted’. In fact, my favourite sequence comes early on in which Stewart covertly kills a small group of indians who attack his beloved and word-weary settlers at night.

A sentimental (yet good) script coupled with the old-fashioned ‘you-saw-it-coming’ plot developments may put some viewers off this picture, but to miss out on this movie as a result would be a terrible shame. Rent it, at least.

hotdog rating: 8/10

Fade to Black (1980)

Synopsis:

Eric Binford (Dennis Christopher)  is a movie geek who lives with his wheelchair-bound Aunt.  After a series of set-backs, Eric starts to lose his sanity and begins stalking those who have wronged him, in the guises of well-known characters from his favourite movies….

Review:

This is a strange picture built on an interesting idea and a jazzy script.

Eric’s isolation from the real-world is the subject for the bulk of the first half of the film. In this first act, we are introduced to a somewhat loveable loner who spends his days working at a film advertising company and his nights staying-up-til-all-hours watching old movies. His disabled aunt (and landlady)  is a nasty caricature – a bitter, twisted and repressed woman who respectively spends her days shouting-her-mouth-off at her lethargic nephew.

The second half involves Eric dressing up as Dracula, the Mummy and a Gunfighter in order to fulfil his murderous fantasies. These set-piece murder sequences are the highlight of the film for me. The ‘ hoppalong Cassidy’ Gunfighter scene on the pier is very creepy indeed – the shadows in this shot are just fantastic.  There’s also a quietly disturbing sequence in which Eric paints half his face in a Bela Lugosi Dracula mask whilst rotating his head in the mirror; a stylish if hardly subtle reference to his splitting personality.

The script is absolutely littered with references and trivia snippets related to a wide-range of movies which makes for great entertainment for the film buffs amongst us. The soundtrack is pulsating and the final song at the end credits, “Heroes”  is a nice touch.

I think “Fade to Black” is a pleasantly different take on the slasher genre in that the villain is perhaps the most ‘human’ person in the film. Although clearly mentally unstable, Christopher does enough to ensure that audience sympathy lies with our loveable Eric by the time the end credits role.

All that said, the movie loses direction between the two very different halves and seems to lurch back and forth without really knowing where it’s going.  You also can’t help thinking that the film could have been quite a bit better and some of the supporting cast really let the film down; the cops in this picture are stereotypical cardboard-types whereas Eric’s ‘love-interest’ is nothing more than a marilyn monroe doll with all the personality of a dead cat. This movie is not for gore-hounds either: we feel sympathy for Eric  precisely because the picture does not dwell on the violence of the murders – the exception could be the barber-shop shooting – which has the unfortunate side-effect of making Eric seeming less like a monster, and what is a horror movie without a monster?

Overall, “Fade to Black” is a stalk’-n-‘slash picture with a difference. It turns out to be an intelligent little horror thriller which draws the audience into the pitiful world of a man losing his mind. Despite this, the film doesn’t really work on all levels – partly due to the fact that Christopher himself cannot carry the rest of the cast through to the conclusion –  and also seems a little ill-at-ease with itself and our main protagonist at times.

Flawed, but worth-watching.

hotdog rating: 6/10

Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984)

Synopsis:

Jason Voorhees escapes from the local morgue…heads back to Crystal Lake for some more slicing and dicing of horny teenagers. However, he is being hunted by the brother of a previous victim..

Review:

I hadn’t actually watched this film for some time until last night, as part of the Prince Charles’s cracking Friday the 13th Marathon. For me, it’s by far one of the better entries in the series. Indeed, in many ways, this movie is heads-above the other sequels.

Firstly, it’s usually the case that the acting in these sorts of films is just dreadful. “The Final Chapter” is a little different in this regard, so much so that the audience begins to connect with individual characters and actually cares when they are dispatched by everyone’s favourite psychopath. Specific credit to Corey Feldman as a young boy obsessed with all things horror and Crispin Glover as the sex-mad but painfully shy ‘Jimmy’.

Secondly, the film’s atmosphere is pretty wicked. Gone is the over-the-top humour and idiocy of part 3.  “The Final Chapter” is directed by Joseph Zito – also at the helm of 1981 cracker “The Prowler” – and he does a great job at painting a dark and moody picture. . It’s amazing how he manages to make the houses seem like vast caves with nooks and hide-holes everywhere – where could Jason be lurking next? Another plus on the atmosphere side comes from the movie’s pacing with the kills coming quick and fast…there is little let-up here and hardly time to breathe between each set-piece slaying.

Thirdly, Tom Savini’s special make-up effects are outstanding and add so much colour to some of the kills. My personal favourite probably being a post-sex Crispin Glover screaming rhetorically  “Where’s the corkscrew?” because of course, we know that said missing-corkscrew is going to make its presence felt very soon…..

Jason’s demise also deserves a mention here. Apparently the crew agonized how best to put him out of his ‘misery’ – not that he looks sad, he seems quite happy being on a 3-day bender of butchering young innocents – and what they finally came up with is, frankly, spectacular.

Critics Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel famously slated this film, Ebert going as far as saying that the film-makers should be ashamed. But this is an unfair criticism. These pictures were aimed at a young audience wanting a roller-coaster ride; in other words, at cinema-goers who craved excitement and entertainment at a theatre, rather than art. “The Final Chapter” is just a thrill-ride and nothing else.

“The Final Chapter” is the last movie in the series in which Jason is still ‘human’ – although quite how he survived a machete through the back, being hung from a barn door and an axe driven through his head in previous installments is not quite explained ( he’s obviously a tough-cookie) – and the film benefits from this because the cards are not ALL stacked against our teenage fun-lovers. There is the slightest hint at the back of our minds, that someone COULD actually kill Jason.

Paramount intended this to be the last Jason movie. Of course, it wasn’t.

Overall, a great fun-movie which is entertaining, gory and at times quite frightening. Up there with part 2 as the best of the bunch.

hotdog rating: 7.5/10

War Horse (2011)

Synopsis:

A young man develops a remarkable friendship with a young horse on a farm in Devon.  However, World War 1 breaks out and the horse is taken by the army. The film follows the horse’s story as well as the young man’s experiences on the battlefields of Europe.

Review:

It’s not very often that I put family movies on here, nor is it a frequent occurrence for me to go to a cinema to watch one. But, thanks to a friend, I had tickets to an advance screening of this latest offering from Steven Spielberg.

The film starts off like a made-for-TV movie that you might find on some non-descript sky television channel. A young man (Jeremy Irvine) and his family are beset by farming woes but purchase a horse, and with the boy’s help, this horse manages to save the day.  I should say that the boy’s boozy and haunted father is played by the brilliant scottish actor Peter Mullan but the mother is largely forgettable. Irvine does a decent job as the movie’s main protagonist – other than the horse of course.

However, once we get to the actual war the film changes gear a bit. As you might expect from Spielberg,  trench warfare is portrayed realistically and quite savagely. The film looks wonderful on screen and some scenes are quite breath-taking – my favourite being the summary execution of two German deserters behind a cycling-windmill at night. I mean it’s one of the best camera-shots I have seen in some time, which further coupled with the marvellous finale filmed against an early evening sky, makes for astonishing viewing.

It’s an emotional picture interwined with scenes of  both violence – althought nothing as brutal as in most recent war movies –  and comedy. There is a wildly amusing sequence, laced with some witty dialogue,  in which a British army officer and his German equivalent club together in No Man’s Land to cut the horse free from barbed-wire.  More generally, the Germans in the movie are portrayed in quite a positive light with at least 3 of the movie’s characters being good-hearted men of the kaiser.

On the other hand, the notion of the horse as the main character just didn’t really work for me and whilst all of the characters are quite interesting in themselves, we don’t really feel as if we know them because they are just bit-parts in the horse’s tale.

Understandably for a family film, it’s all very heavy on sentimentality and towards the end of the picture this was beginning to gnaw at me. Another drawback is the predictability of the whole thing – there is nothing to surprise or shock you in this warm story – which is actually quite disappointing for a movie  including so much warfare and emotional strife. It’s just a bit too formulaic.

I won’t take anything away from the ‘technical’ brilliance of this picture – it really is superb –  but I was a little surprised at the lack of character development from Spielberg.
Nevertheless, it’s an enjoyable movie which will pull your heart strings in certain scenes at least – and honestly, I would recommend it to everyone.

hotdog rating: 7/10

Today is Lee Van Cleef’s birthday….

Lee Van Cleef was one of my favourite actors, particularly in the italo-westerns of the 1960s. This, to my knowledge, is the only interview he gave which is available online…..he comes across as a very humble individual and someone who it would have been great to have a beer with.

For me, his best role was as Colonel Mortimer in For a Few Dollars More (1965).

Fear in the Night (1972)

Synopsis:

A young woman (Judy Geeson) is attacked by a man with a prosthetic arm. Said woman then moves to an isolated boarding school in the English countryside with her teacher-boyfriend (Ralph Bates). Once there  she meets the sinister headmaster (Peter Cushing) and his seductive wife (Joan Collins). However, she continues to be stalked by a man with a prosthetic arm…….

Review:

A charming little film. Certainly predictable but with some stand-out moments, one of which includes the magnificent opening credits sequence which culminates in a shot of some guy’s legs dangling down from the tree he hanged himself in……

Cushing gives a commendable if subdued performance as the ‘not-quite-all-there’ headmaster and Joan Collins just sorts of hangs around in tight trousers looking sexy as hell. I liked Ralph Bates as the teacher and Judy Geeson’s husband. However, Geeson is not believable and gives a melodramatic performance as our ‘woman in peril’.

The film gives away it’s plot-twist about half-way through the proceedings but this doesn’t have a negative impact on the viewing pleasure of the audience.

I liked the score for this picture – fits the mood quite nicely – and the cinematography of the school and its isolated surroundings are outstanding.

Although it feels like a made-for-TV movie, it’s still a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half with more than few creepy moments. Watch out for the thunderous jump out of your seat finale.

hotdog rating: 6/10