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Showing posts from March, 2019

In The Heat Of The Night (1967) ****1/2

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In The Heat Of The Night(1967) features electric performances from Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger, a taut script by Stirling Silliphant, confident direction by Norman Jewison, striking cinematography by Haskell Wexler, tight editing by future director Hal Ashby, and a rollicking score by Quincy Jones (including the famous title song sung by Ray Charles). A stone classic that still impresses.

The Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicion (1970) ***

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The Forbidden Photos Of A Lady Above Suspicionarrived at the end of 1970, the same year that Argento's The Bird With The Crystal Plumage catapulted the giallo to popularity (though before the genre's boom and saturation the two years following). Despite having one of the very best titles for a giallo ever, a great visual style, beautiful costumes, a sultry, bossa nova-flavored Morricone score, and assured direction by Luciano Ercoli, Forbidden Photos is a bit slow, the mystery isn't all that interesting, there isn't a single on-screen kill until the "twist" at the end, and the ending itself is pretty unexciting. There is a definite attractive quality to the film; I just wouldn't rank it high on my list of top gialli.

You can find my Giallo Feature Films Ranked list here.

A Fish Called Wanda (1988) ****

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Somehow A Fish Called Wanda(1988) escaped me all this time, but I'm very glad that I finally got around to seeing it. It's a very good film—hilarious at times—with a brilliant cast (Kevin Kline in particular steals practically every scene he's in). The plot and action sometimes play second fiddle to inventive gags and set pieces, and the score is easily the most dated and uninteresting part of the film, but it plays wonderfully as a sort of fusion of an Ealing comedy and Monty Python—appropriate, given that Wanda's director is one Charles Crichton (his last film at age 77), himself the maker of such classic Ealings as The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). Don't be an "ASSHOLE" like me; if you haven't seen this film yet, make it a priority—you won’t be ”DISAPPOINTED.”

Tommy (1975) ***1/2

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I only managed to get around to seeing Tommy (1975) tonight. It being a Ken Russell film and a Ken Russell musical, it is, naturally, gonzo and great (but not Gonzo The Great). As a first time viewing though, I couldn't help but think that the themes (consumerism, religious fervor, idolatry, etc.) were just a bit lost in the constant barrage of trippy imagery, though that imagery is audacious and technically impressive. In any event, the awesome (musician-heavy) cast (in particular Ann-Margret) give bonkers, over-the-top performances and the music is, of course, excellent (I feel like you have to be a Who fan to even approach this film).

You can find my Ken Russell Feature Films Ranked list here.

The Fifth Cord (1971) ***1/2

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What Luigi Bazzoni's The Fifth Cord(1971) lacks as a mystery it more than makes up for as a super stylish piece of filmmaking. So while it may be somewhat conventional as a film, it's quite good as an artsy giallo (and gains strength on revisits). 
The cinematography by Vittorio Storaro really is top notch—fluctuating between meticulously framed, beautifully lit compositions and roaming, motion-heavy shots that never lose focus. Themes of isolation and imprisonment are reinforced by the strong visuals. 
The Fifth Cord presents a macho-deconstructionist role for Franco Nero and a progressive performance by Silvia Monti, as a divorced single mother. Ennio Morricone is on board with one his many great scores. The final fifteen minutes are quite exciting, featuring a gripping chase and action-packed fight.
You can find my Giallo Feature Films Ranked list here.

Us (2019) ***

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For his sophomore effort director Jordan Peele has delivered us Us (2019), a well-made and thoughtful but ultimately overhyped horror film. That's coming from someone who loved Peele's first film, Get Out (2017), on both the first and second viewings. That film was quite hyped as well but I felt it delivered in ways that Us does not. Honestly though, I'm still processing Us and I feel like I need a second viewing to form a better opinion. Here's my thoughts after the initial one...

Without getting into plot mechanics or specifics, Us is undoubtedly a more ambitious film than Get Out. It's also more muddled because of this though. The themes explored—doppelgängers, nature vs. nurture, the ambiguity of good and evil, cyclicity—are all intriguing, but the plot and characters feel underdeveloped as a whole (even in a film where I felt the running time dragged a bit).

I also found some of the technical aspects to be lacking—murky shots, poorly filmed action (I was conf…

Karen O & Danger Mouse "Lux Prima" (2019) ****

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Karen O and Danger Mouse's collaborative LP Lux Prima is the first great album of 2019 (that this listener has heard at least). Every track is catchy and tightly produced. I've given this album a number of spins already and it's holding strong. Simple and sexy.

For fans of Zero 7, Air,Serge and Charlotte Gainsbourg and Daniele Luppi.

Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (2009) ****

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Inferno(L'Enfer)(1964) was to be director Henri-George Clouzot's twelfth film but was abandoned after Clouzot suffered a heart attack, following multiple production woes. Henri-Georges Clouzot's Inferno (2009) is part documentary, part reconstruction (from 185 reels of footage) of the film that never was.

According to WikipediaSerge Bromberg, one of the directors of H-GC's Inferno, was "caught for two hours in a stalled elevator with a woman who turned out to be Clouzot's second wife, Inès de Gonzalez. Upon learning the identity of the woman and of the existence of the footage, Bromberg convinced her to release it to make his film."

Inferno is the story of hotel manager Marcel (Serge Reggiani) and his extreme jealousy towards his younger wife Odette (Romy Schneider). Supposedly Columbia Pictures provided an unlimited budget, and 3 camera crews, including 150 technicians were employed. Unfortunately, one problem after another seemed to beset the film, inc…

Street Law (Il Cittadino Si Ribella) (1974) ***1/2

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Street Law (aka Il Cittadino Si Ribella) (1974) is an above average poliziotteschi from director Enzo G. Castellari. Star Franco Nero, who tends to act BIG in most of his roles, goes a little too over the top at times, but he's still very good at portraying a man pushed to his limits, yet largely inept at doling out justice (Paul Kersey he is not) when the police fail to satisfy his thirst for vengeance. Street Law is propelled by two outstanding theme songs by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis (1, 2) and two intense action sequences that bookend this great vigilante film.

Lucky (2017) ****

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Lucky(2017)is an introspective, moving, and hilarious film filled with magic moments (and just as effective and affective on a second take). It seems that Harry Dean Stanton was destined to play this part. The fact that it was the last feature released in his lifetime (and given the subject matter of the film) is just perfect.

Actor and first time director John Carroll Lynch lets scenes play as vignettes, much like the style of Jim Jarmusch(and it's incredulous that HDS never starred in any of that director's films). Lucky really is Stanton's showpiece, but most of the supporting cast is excellent too, including Stanton's friend and conspirator David Lynchwho steals just a little bit of the thunder.

Forgive the pun, but how lucky the world is to have received the gift of this film and this wonderful man.

The Danman Top 100 Films (2019 Edition)

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5 years ago, I created my Top 100 Films. Blogpost for 2014 edition here. Letterboxd list for 2014 edition here. Please see the link just before the pictures for a listing of the titles in the 2019 edition.

I decided to task myself with reevaluating this list every 5 years, so here we are, 5 years to the day. I set basically the same criteria for myself as I did last time:

1. I had to currently own a physical copy of the film on Blu-ray or 4K UHD (in 2014 I still owned a decent amount of DVDs and included some in my Top 100, but not this time). Naturally, this means that there are films that are missing from the list that would have been included. The biggest omission I can think of is Blue Velvet(1986), which I did own previously but already sold back, in anticipation of the Criterion Collection (whose releases make up a healthy 30 spots in my Top 100) edition arriving in May of this year.

2. I tried to limit the number of titles I chose by the same director. Kubrick, as my favorite di…

The Lady From Shanghai (1947) ***1/2

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Orson Welles' The Lady From Shanghai(1947) is one bizarre noir—part love triangle, part murder mystery, part courtroom drama, and always a bit confusing. Rita Hayworth, devastatingly beautiful, gives quite a good performance here, in a drastically different role from her sultry star turn in the previous year's Gilda. The overdubbing lends a very surreal quality to the film and the atonal/disjointed filmmaking (a Welles trademark throughout his career—whether intentional or through studio meddling) make it a sometimes frustrating but unique experience. The famous hall of mirrors sequence during the finale (an influence on Enter The Dragon(1973)) is a showstopper, with bold technical flair.

Gilda (1946) ****

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Much of what makes Gilda(1946) great (both the film and the character) and much of its legacy lives on the sex appeal of the bombshell-defined Rita Hayworth. The film is a very good noir as well—utilizing solid direction, lush cinematography, gorgeous gowns, and it's got the crime element, hard-biting humor, plus a ruthless love triangle—but it wouldn't be half of what it is without that particular "femme fatale" (though she isn't really). As well, there is an interesting (and uncommon, for the time) gay subtext running throughout this story of repressed desires, power dynamics, and the potent emotion that is hatred. To riff on the infamous introductory scene of the titular character, I don't know about "decent," but Gildais definitely dazzling.

You can find my Film Noir Feature Films Ranked list here.

Panique (1946) ***1/2 [1946 Noirish Double Feature Pt. 2]

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Panique(1946) is a very good film about an eccentric (and unfortunately gullible) outsider, a manipulative criminal couple, and the dangers of mob mentality. Infused with film noir flavor, strong cinematography, and a tense immediacy, Panique is worth a watch.

Notorious (1946) ***** [1946 Noirish Double Feature Pt. 1]

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Notorious (1946) is my favorite Hitchcock film and #12 in my Top 100 Films. I hadn't watched it in 10 years (!) and I skipped buying the previous 2012 MGM Blu-ray release, as I'd been waiting (very patiently, it seems) for The Criterion Collection to upgrade their previous 2001 DVD release. And it was worth the wait for their new edition because the new 4K restoration, wealth of supplements and beautiful artwork finally give the film the home video treatment it deserves (hopefully Spellbound(1946) will receive the same upgrade soon).

In my eyes the quintessential Hitchcock film, Notorious—without a single gunshot or punch, but certainly with its share of bravura shots (including an infamous Hays Code-pushing kissing scene)—combines technically impressive aspects with magnetic performances by Ingrid Bergman and Cary Grant, and an excellent script by the prolific (and often uncredited) ace screenwriter Ben Hecht.

Hitchcock is well known as "the Master of Suspense" and

Sawdust And Tinsel (1953) ****

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Sawdust And Tinsel(1953) was considered by director Ingmar Bergman himself to be his first truly great film. Of the films of his that predate Sawdust that I've seen (those being the two Summer films), I think they are also both great but Sawdust really feels like Bergman hitting his stride and seems to be regarded as his first true masterpiece.

Central to Sawdust is circus ringmaster Albert—beaten down by life on the road and having abandoned his wife and children—and his younger mistress Anne—a bareback rider in the show, just as eager to escape the carnie lifestyle. During our time spent with them, they make each other jealous and angry through various acts of self and outwardly-aimed degradation. We also spend time (including in one very effective and memorable flashback near the very beginning of the film) with another couple, the pathetic clown Frost and his headstrong but empathetic wife Alma. As well, there is a key scene between Albert and his wife, now successfully runnin…

Army Of Darkness - Director's Cut (1992) ****

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While I prefer the Theatrical Version overall (and prefer the first two films for their darker tone), any way you watch it, Army Of Darkness (1992) is a cult classic—fun, funny, and filled with zingers.

The Director's Cut is the longest version of the 4 official cuts (comparison here), but I lean toward the Theatrical for the tighter editing and a certain line of dialogue (although there are some bits only in the Director's and International Cuts that are cool). Some of the f/x in the Director's Cut have not aged well at all either. As far as the endings go, I like both the "happy" and "apocalyptic" ones for different reasons.

Other random thoughts: I always forget that Bill Moseley is in this filmand I don't think I ever noticed the skeleton holding Ted Raimi's severed head before! While AOD doesn't have the same impact on me that it did when I was a teenager, it's still a good time, and it was enjoyable to see this film with a sizable…

Prisoners (2013) ****

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On my third time watching Prisoners(2013), despite knowing the ending, I still found it to be a powerful, engaging, and emotionally heavy experience. The cast is tip top, the performances are compelling and honest, the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson is subtle and haunting, Roger Deakins' cinematography is, as always, impeccable, and Denis Villeneuve's direction is a perfect match for the material.

For fans of Se7en (1995), Zodiac (2007), and Memento (2000).

You can find my Denis Villeneuve Feature Films Ranked list here.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) ***1/2

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Upon a second viewing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom(2018) held up well and I still feel that it's thus far the second best film in the Jurassic Park series. Hiring J.A. Bayona was an inspired choice, for while Fallen Kingdom looks the most like the original film with those trademark Spielberg/Cundeyshots (including some nice parallel callbacks to the 1993 film) and feels very much like an Indiana Jonesfilm, it also has a gothic flavor reminiscent of Bayona's 2007 film The Orphanage (particularly in the finale), where the horror ramps up. While it's a bit overlong, it's still a more than solid thrill ride with some tense action scenes, enough originality to stand on its own, and is a slight step up from the previous film (which I also greatly enjoyed). From the ending of this film the stakes have been set high for the next one, so I hope it delivers.

Alien: Covenant (2017) ***

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As I wrote the first time I saw it, Alien: Covenant (2017) is yet another flawed but intriguing and entertaining film in this franchise. I don't think this is any better or worse than the third or fourth films, which get a lot of flack.

With CovenantRidley Scott tried to satisfy both the fans of his lofty Prometheus (2012) and of his proto-slasher masterpiece Alien (1979) by continuing the story of gods, creation, and power from the former and ramping up the action, horror, and iconography from the latter. Ultimately, for this fan, he failed, due to numerous decisions—too much CGI, tonal disparity, a half-assed attempt at a new Ripley, and poorly-drawn characters that make incredibly dumb choices.

But on "Take 2", I still enjoyed parts of Covenant—the brilliant dual roles of Michael Fassbender, the handsome cinematography, and a better execution of the ideas explored in its predecessor. Due to the box office underperformance, I've not sure if a sequel (part of a p…