Monthly Archives: April 2012

Day of the Outlaw (1959)

Synopsis:

Cattle-rancher Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan) is about to draw against small-time farmer Hal Crane in an almost deserted saloon deep in the hills of Wyoming….The saloon door bursts open and in struts ex-US army officer, Captain Jack Bruhn and his band of outlaws, saddled with gold and on the run from the US Cavalry. Bruhn has been mortally-wounded and wishes to rest in the town, holding all those present captive…..

Review:

“Day of the Outlaw” is not particularly well-regarded by film critics and has largely been relegate to the dustbin of cinematic history. A bleak and sombre movie,  unable to ignite the hearts of audiences and the industry on its initial release, I think it’s high time for a re-evaluation.

Many are of the opinion that Ryan’s performance is atypically wooden and that his character lacks depth, apparently the fault of a genuinely boring script. None of these views hold much sway with me. Starrett starts off the proceedings as the cattle-ranching villain, a man intent on murdering a farmer for both his land and pretty wife; yet by the end of the movie, Starrett is the only hope for the town as they become increasingly captive to the ramshackle soldiers of fortune under Bruhn’s command. I liked the way that Starrett’s transformation from bad-guy to good-guy is not driven by Ryan’s performance – he plays it the same throughout –  but by the events around him.  I think that’s a nice touch and a more realistic representation of what happens in the real world.

Burl Ives is energetically commanding as Captain Bruhn, an army man whose moral code is closer to that of Starrett than to his own company of thieves and murderers.  Bruhn bans his men from drinking the towns’ whisky and socialising with the towns’ women (all 4 of them) but this order is very grudgingly accepted and there is a simmering feeling of ‘mutiny’ beneath the scenes in which Bruhn’s men are together.  Bruhn has also adopted one of his gang as a surrogate son and I thought that this relationship comes across really well in the film (David Nelson plays the ‘son’, Gene) with a touchingly memorable sequence near the end of the movie where Bruhn makes sure that Gene will survive the tortuous game of cat-and-mouse alive.

As the film goes on, Bruhn’s and Starrett’s objectives align as both men wish to avert a night of raping, looting and murder. I liked the plot evolution in this movie and the idea of Starrett and Bruhn riding off into the snow-capped mountains  – to meet their almost certain death –  as a way to avoid a massacre of the townspeople was quite unique. It’s comparably rare in films that our two main protagonists (and enemies) join forces to save the lives of innocents. This situation generates some degree of suspense in the latter part of the movie as the audience wonders whether Bruhn will live long enough for the plan to work before they get caught-out by the more unsavoury characters in his gang….

The soundtrack is strong and almost resembles a funeral march; very apt given that much of the movie is about people waiting to die….

I have said all the above without mentioning the camerawork set against the backdrop of the extreme Wyoming winter. I mean, the look of the movie is great and we get some special shots of men and horses driving through walls of snow – and it looks damn hard.

I reckon that a major reason for this film falling from view is because it takes itself so seriously. There are no comic characters and there is no light-hearted relief; the subject matter is rich and the director ensures that we take the movie for what it is – a fine bit of serious entertainment.

hotdog rating: 8.5/10

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Blackthorn (2011)

Synopsis:

Butch Cassidy (Sam Shepard) didn’t die at the hands of the Bolivian army – he is very much alive and has been living in the Bolivian mountains for the past 20 years. Cassidy figures that as an old-man it’s now time to return home. Along the way he encounters a Spaniard (Eduardo Noriega) on the run from a band of what appear to be bounty-hunters. Cassidy’s memories of better times with his old friends are ignited and once again he is drawn into a battle for his life…..

Review:

Sam Shepard gives an authoritative – to the point of dominating  – performance as the gravelly-voiced “James Blackthorn”  aka “Butch Cassidy”.  Stephen Rea is the other stand-out role for me; he plays MacKinley, a man who spent his life chasing Cassidy and who certainly never accepted the official story of his death. Time and the bottle have not been kind to MacKinley – by now a broken man in an isolated South American village – but the scene where he walks into the Doctor’s office to find the sickly Cassidy on a stretcher is priceless and Rea plays it magnificently.  What’s even better is that despite his hate for the man, MacKinley realises the ridiculousness of their situation – it seems both are just old men trapped in Bolivia by their actions of twenty years ago…

There are some decent plot devices and ‘twists’ which keep the story interesting but it’s really the South American landscape, Shepard and Rea that make this movie for me. Moreover, some of these plot details will be of great interest to anyone with a knowledge of the Butch and Sundance legend, providing a slightly different take on their relationship with each other and Etta.

Technically, “Blackthorn” is mighty impressive. The film looks superb on screen and the cinematography of the Bolivian mountains and valleys comes close to enchanting at times. In addition, the camerawork during a ‘chase’ sequence across what seems like hundreds of miles of salt-flats is very ‘flash’.

The editing technique employed throughout is very effective – with the camera cutting away and back again at key moments –  and most noticeable during the shoot-out sequences. This isn’t an excessively violent western but the action scenes are done very well with the best of the bunch being the shocking mini-massacre at Cassidy’s ranch.

A lot of people don’t like Westerns, but this is worth a try even if you scoff at the sight of a John Ford movie or a Clint Eastwood spaghetti shoot-out. This is more a about a man, driven by a set of morals left behind by the rest of the world, trying to put the past right;  and as such, could have been set in any time period. Director Mateo Gil is brave to set such a theme in the style of the Western in this day and age, but pulls it off brilliantly.

I’d recommend this one to you all and if this is anything to go by, we’ll be hearing of  Mateo Gil a lot more frequently in future.

hotdog rating: 8/10

Fulci’s Gates of Hell Trilogy screening in HD

Folks,  this opportunity is just too good to miss. Once again, thanks to the guys at The Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square.

http://www.princecharlescinema.com/indexreview.php?searchtext=gates+of+hell&display=s&submit=search+films

Out of the 3, I think I have to say “The Beyond” is the best – it’s fucking terrifying and I really believe Fulci captured the feeling of dread more so than any other director has done before or since, in this movie.

Get yourselves booked on this one.

Pin (1988)

Synopsis:

A workaholic doctor uses a medical dummy called Pin to communicate with his young children, Leon and Ursula. However, Leon develops a strange relationship with Pin which only worsens after his parents are killed in a bizarre traffic accident. As time passes Leon becomes increasingly unstable and protective of his sister, terrified of losing her to a new boyfriend. Leon consults Pin for advice on what to do…..

Review:

“Pin” is a low-key pyschological thriller merging elements of  “Psycho” (1960) and “Magic” (1978).

Terry O’Quinn (Lock from TV’s “Lost” and star of the 1989 thriller “The Stepfather” (1987)) plays the good-hearted Doctor and father who educates his children – Leon and Ursula –  with the aid of ventriloquism and a full-size medical dummy, Pin.  However, the lonely Leon is unable to see past his father’s unique ability to throw his voice and is convinced that Pin is actually alive.

As the film goes on, Pin becomes more and more life-like as Leon dresses him in his (dead) father’s clothes and sits him at the dinner table for communal meals. Leon even puts Pin in a remote-control wheelchair such that he can move around the house. This sets the scene for one of the film’s best moments as a terrified would-be girlfriend is tormented and chased through the house by a mobile Pin on wheels…..

A nod should also be given to Cyndy Preston’s input as the innocent but compromised, Ursula. Without her performance, the film would probably fall over and it’s her tender scenes with Leon which are most dramatic. There is a grubby undercurrent of sexual tension and incestuous intention throughout the movie which gives it a real ‘creep-factor’ & this feel is very much enhanced by the glaring performance of a young David Hewlett as the mild-mannered but sexually-frustrated and wild-eyed Leon. A cringing scene involves Leon reading aloud his most recent poem to his sister and her new boyfriend; a poem about an isolated young man raping his attractive sister…..Nevertheless, the audience is forced to sympathise  with this pathetic kid and his bizarre fantasies, which says a lot for Hewlett’s performance in the lead role.

The film’s ending is a little predictable – and if you have seen “Psycho” (1960) you’ll see it coming a mile-off –  but on further consideration a little ambiguous, meaning the film isn’t readily forgotten. (Note: Pay attention to the film’s opening and you’ll understand….).

Whilst this is no ground-breaking thriller; it’s still a haunting, under-appreciated and surprisingly disturbing movie.

hotdog rating: 7/10

Sleepless (2001)

Synopsis:

A retired detective, Moretti (Max Von Sydow), investigates a series of gruesome murders which bear an uncanny resemblence to those committed 17 years previously; back then the perpetrator was a psychotic dwarf who committed suicide after being apprehended by Moretti , so he’s dead….isn’t he?

Review:

A director known for his ‘Hitchcockian’ camera angles and lavish murder scenes doesn’t disappoint; but unfortunately, the film’s first 20 minutes are so thumping with suspense that the rest of the film can’t quite live up to the opening reels. Yet, some bravo camerawork and a genuinely suprisingly plot-twist near the end keep the audience involved. Argento’s use of visual horror is as in-your-face as ever but everyone should find something to love in this movie.

There at least 2 jaw-dropping sequences. The first is the movie’s opening, set aboard a deserted commuter train at night. A prostitute is travelling back from a particularly sick client and has accidentally picked up a folder containing graphic images showing him to be a sadistic murderer. Of course, said psychopath is now on board the train with her and thus ensues a game of cat-and-mouse executed in an atmosphere of almost mesmerising tension.
The second notable sequence is near the end of the movie and our leather-gloved killer is now after the lead ballet dancer in a production of  ‘Swan Lake’.  The camera focuses on the floor of the area backstage and follows the manic footsteps of cast-and-crew busily preparing the next act in what can only be described as organised chaos; only to drift off to the side and another room where our ballet-dancer’s feet are dangling in the air as she is held-up off the floor and decapitated. This scene runs for at least a minute and is a real tour-de-force of the director’s unique style.

Few of Argento’s films benefit from a strong lead but Von Sydow is perfect in the role of the aging sleuth who still wants to solve the puzzle after 17 years. Moreover, the score by Goblin is one of their best and harks back to Argento’s golden years (“Deep Red” (1975), “Suspiria” (1977) and “Tenebre” (1982)).

The only real drawbacks are (1) the over-acting inherent in the English dubbing and (2) off-balance pacing to the middle of the movie. Both of these unpalatable traits are too often found in the Italian slasher genre.

Overall, Dario Argento  makes a triumphant return to the giallo genre with this piece of stylish entertainment and it’s likely his best movie since “Phenomena” (1985). Whilst “Sleepless” (2001) doesn’t breathe the same air as that movie – and it’s nowhere near as wacky –  it is as darn close as Argento has come come in a while.

hotdog rating: 7.5/10

Troll hunter (2011)

Synopsis:

A group of student film makers follow a notorious bear ‘poacher’ only to discover that he is in fact a ‘troll hunter’ employed by the Norwegian government to kill the wandering mythical creatures that haunt the country’s rural landscape……

Review:

“Troll hunter” starts off in chaotic but intriguing fashion and once the first ‘troll’ crashes through the woods in the middle of the night, you know this is going to be one hell of a ride.

The film’s special effects are mighty impressive given the b-movie budget and the trolls themselves look relatively convincing but what’s truly striking about this movie is the gorgeous cinematography of the Norwegian countryside. The camera captures the isolation of the iced-landscapes and the wooded forests with some degree of  ‘punch’ indeed; sometimes it feels like you are watching a lovingly detailed nature documentary.

The star of the show is undeniably the troll hunter himself, played by Otto Jespersen. A kind of elderly bounty hunter with an array of strange-looking weapons and air of resignation so thick you could cut it with a knife; here is a man sick of the authorities and their lies, who with age and the passing of time has become quite ambivalent to the consequences of his actions. This makes for a wonderful contrast with the endless optimism of the wide-eyed and youthful student film-makers who become quite besotted with him.

Whilst most of the movie is clearly told in jest, the final third is darker as one of our young film-makers realises that his previous encounter with a troll has likely lead to a significant and very real medical problem……

Stand-out scenes include a magnificent drawn-out sequence in which our troll hunter and his camera crew scope-out  a ‘troll lair’ only to be trapped inside and forced to hide as several trolls return. But can they hide the stench of one of their number’s secret Christianity? (Trolls pick up on that you know).

Some viewers may find the script a bit clunky and awkward but this likely just reflects the foreign nature of the film to an English-speaking audience.

Overall, a defiantly cool and crazy movie built on a tongue-in-cheek dark fantasy; very much recommended.

hotdog rating: 7.5/10

Meek’s Cutoff (2010)

Synopsis:

A small group of settlers head across Oregon; although led by subdued father-figure “Solomon” (Will Patton), they are guided by rough mountain-man “Mr Meek”. The group already distrust “Meek” but after stumbling upon a native american who agrees to lead them to much-needed water, the settlers begin to split apart and question the trust they have placed in one another.

Review:

An incredibly slow-paced film which seems to take forever to get started.  This western contains no shoot-outs  nor does it offer  up a showcase of the vices of frontier country (gambling, rampant drinking and prostitution) yet amazingly, and perhaps coincidentally, the film feels ‘action-packed’ and captures the mood of quiet desperation in a way I didn’t expect.  This is basically a ‘siege’ movie – along the lines of “Rio Bravo” (1959) and “Assault on Precinct 13” (1976) – but set in the uncharted wilderness and with the earth’s elements as the invisible bad guys.

The script is thankfully sparse but the sound in this movie is fantastic – not the score, but the acual sounds of the wagons moving, the water jugs clunking and the hardened ground cracking.  The attention to detail here almost echoes the masterful work of one of the genre’s greatest signatories, Sergio Leone.

Veteran supporting actor Will Patton is sturdy as the softly-spoken optimist and leader of the gang, “Soloman”. Michelle Williams impresses as the new young wife of the widowed Patton but rather unfortunately, Bruce Greenwood’s “Mr Meek” is a complicated character who probably receives too little screen time in the latter half of the picture. In fact it’s the women who are much the centre of the camera’s gaze with their colourful attire lighting up an inhospitably barren and scorched landscape.

Paul Dano (remember him as the mute and moody teenager in “Little Miss Sunshine”?) gives a great turn as one of the younger settlers who quite quickly comes to distrust the native american leading them to water…or is it, as “Mr Meek” says, to blood?

The audience constantly expects some kind of revelation, withheld by director Kelly Reichardt for the entirety of the film, which means that the ambiguous ending will feel like an anti-climax to some. Not for me however, the film’s final moments sum-up the preceding 90 minutes brilliantly – bleak, hopeless and so very uncertain.

A refreshingly different Western, carefully-shot and thought-provoking. In 10-15 years, this could well be regarded as a minor modern classic.

hotdog rating : 8.5/10

The Devil Inside (2011)

Synopsis:

A young woman tries to find out what caused her mother to murder 3 people in an exorcism 20 years ago. She travels to Italy to meet her incarcerated mother and  a group of renegade priests, bent on performing exorcisms against the wishes of the church in order to rid the world of demons.

Review:

A ‘lost footage’ movie in the same vein as “Paranormal Activity” and “The Blair Witch”

An interesting plot is dragged down by a woeful script and several unconvincing performances. A film surprising slim on shock sequences in conjunction with an entirely predictable yet materially unsatisfying ending leaves the viewer feeling short-changed and a more than a little bemused.

Enough said.

hotdog rating: 3/10