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A few reviews

Vultural

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Le Code A Change - 2009 - 6/10

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French dinner party from Hell.
Spousal sniping, family conflicts, old flames, food nazis.
There were almost too many characters, but by the end of the film you knew who was who and what their stories were.
Passable.  Some reviewers were too harsh.  What did they expect?
Going in, I knew this would be a talky dinner party.
One character, praying inside the church, echoed my own thoughts every time I have a party to attend.

"€œLord ...
Give me the strength to go to this damn dinner!
Give me the strength to pretend, to laugh.
To ask questions, when I don't care about the answers.
To pretend that I'm there, when I'm far away."
 

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Beautiful Neighbor - 2011 - 7/10
AKA - Utsukushii Rinjin / 美しい隣人

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Stunning, mysterious female glides into the neighborhood.
Her husband is a foreigner (American) and forever abroad on business.
The woman next door is married to an overworked salaryman who is also gone most of the time.
Female bonding swiftly occurs.
Saki, the new arrival, is the beguiling spider, however.
Smiling softness cloaks the snares she lays for her friend, her friend’s husband, their child.
She is a destroyer.
Very much a “chick drama,” Yukie Nakama is mesmerizing as the duplicitous Saki.
One keeps watching to find out, if nothing else, what put the venom in her veins.
Beautiful photography, haunting music, though the plot falters near the end.
 

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The Guest - 2014 - 5/10

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Recently discharged soldier shows up at doorstep of family of his combat buddy.  Recently deceased.
Politely gains their trust with -
“He wanted to me tell you he loved all of you.”  and  “I would have been here earlier only I was in the hospital.”
Red flag alert for any family other than a movie family!  What kind of hospital?
Aarrgghh, they never catch on.  Instead they confide and reveal themselves.
Straight off the audience sees Dan Stevens is wound tighter than a rabbit trap.
First half of the film actually pretty good, before the plot bounds into the Land of the Preposterous.
Experimentation - civilian contractors - mercenaries - don’t wonder.
Not that I have to have explanations, in fact I enjoy ambiguous narratives.  Yet the script laid down miles of plot rail and left numerous questions suspended.
Better for non-demanding action buffs.
 

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Der Samurai - 2014 - 4/10

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Can’t say I wasn’t warned.
Low-budget horror film from Germany earned scathing reviews ... except ... from pretentious arthouse types.
In whose ranks I probably belong.
Apparently I am not pretentious enough, however.
Local police officer deals with problem wolf by feeding it in the woods.
“What are you trying to do?”  everyone asks.  “Feeding it won’t get rid of it!”
Chasing a lead, he enters an abandoned house and finds a homeless squatter.
Male - wearing a dress - applying makeup - wielding a samurai sword.
Lots of speculative arguments follow, along with foot chases.
Is the guy a werewolf?  Or an escapee of sorts in a dress?
Film - shot almost exclusively at night - suffers from limited costs.  No plot and no effects.
Dull - boring - offscreen gore - no sex - no nudity - scant violence.
Wine n cheese crowd might enjoy better, indie horror flick connoisseurs that they are.
 

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A Decade Under The Influence - 2003 - 7/10

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Broad overview of US filmmaking in the freewheeling 70s.
At the close of the 60s, film moguls passed into the sunset, and what seemed to get released were cash bleeding musicals.
Independent directors, taking their cues from European arthouse films of the 60s, stepped into the creative vacuum.
Stories were less epic, less fantasy, more personal, more relatable to modern audiences.
Doc covers a lot of ground in 2 hours. A multi-episode series might have been better. That said, since this first aired in 2003, many of the commentators have died. So perhaps this captures voices that might have been lost.

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Many individuals not mentioned, or they declined to participate. That’s always the way these shows go.
The end of the 70s saw smash commercial hits Jaws and Star Wars earn record profits.
Investors purchased studios as cash cows, focused on blockbusters and tent poles, and dialed down personal films.
Doc assumes passing familiarity with titles of the era.
 

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Bad Guys - 2014 - 6/10
AKA:  Nappeun Nyeoseokdeul or 나쁜 녀석들

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Hardboiled Korean actioner.  Oft told concept, but well executed.
Police commissioner offers special deal to three long term convicts:
"For every crime solved, five years will be knocked off the sentence."
The three include a professional assassin, a Gangpae strong arm enforcer, and a serial killer.
Overseeing them is a detective who had been suspended for excessive force.
Those expecting violence will be amply rewarded.
Beatings - stabbings - shootings.
Defying the usual K-drama cliches, there is limited romance, few tears.  Very plot driven, and it was apparent the writers had numerous ideas they wanted to explore.
For a couple episodes I worried the characters were going mushy, the sympathy route.  Did not happen.
Episodic by nature, yet there is an overall arc to the 11 episodes which gets progressively darker, concluding with an ass-kicking finale.
 

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The Mad Doctor - 1940 - 5/10

Dull mystery / thriller, not completely without interest.
After psychiatrist’s ill bride tires of being sick and expires, he relocates to the big city.
Where he quickly meets a suicidal female with a tendency to stand on the outside ledge of tall buildings.
Luckily for her, he’s a psychiatrist. Fortunately for him, she’s rich. An heiress.
Predictable, slow in stretches, with a title that telegraphs any plot twists.

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Ole Basil Rathbone (the shrink) and Martin Kosleck (chauffeur / sidekick) maintain a curious, eye raising relationship throughout.
Apparently the men live together and share a past studded with troublesome secrets.
They bicker, scheme, and engage in dark business together.
How this escaped Production Code censors is beyond me.
 

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The Real Jane Austen - 2002 - 7/10

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Clever one hour documentary “written” by Jane Austen and hosted by one of her nieces.
Actors portray various friends and relatives as well as Jane. Their lines come from actual letters.
Host Anna Chancellor played Miss Bingley (the Colin Firth version) and is also a great - great ... niece of Austen.
For hardcore Janeites, nothing is new, though hearing her juvenile works is a rare treat.
For newcomers, this will be informative without being heavy handed.
Breezy throughout with glowing photography and clips from numerous film adaptations.
 

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Elegance And Decadence: The Age Of The Regency - 2011 - 6/10

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Entertaining, sometimes enlightening three part documentary hosted by Dr Lucy Worsley.
Nice companion if you read or watch Jane Austen and an good overview of formal Regency, meaning the ten year period while George III was unfit and son George ruled as Regent.
Architecture, fashion trends, art, rebellion, poets and revolutionaries.
The era begins during the Napoleonic wars, ends as smoke belching factories transform England.
Worsley can be an acquired taste, but she is always enthusiastic and easy to understand.
Producers opted for a modern soundtrack - a growing trend - which is often distracting.
Pink Floyd - The Beatles - The Who - too many others to mention.
In a similar period, I also watched another three parter, Rude Britannia and the first episode also covers this time with salacious and naughty illustrations.
 

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Women Without Men - 1956 - 4/10

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British “women in prison” film.  Slow, snooze inducing, with the slimmest of plot.
In this Hammer Noir, female agrees to reunite with her new boyfriend New Years Eve.
Unfortunately, when she tries to break up with her current “handler” he smacks her around.
She bashes him with a hand mirror and gets tossed in the slammer.
The warden is stern but fair, the guards no-nonsense but approachable, the inmates a happy family.
You got it - fantasy prison.
For various reasons, three convicts escape (including our heroine, who just has to keep that New Years Eve rendezvous).
Brief movie plods along.  I watched it because it was Beverly Michaels last movie.  Except ...
- - - - -
Blonde Bait - 1956 - 5/10

... Except the American distributor shot additional scenes, edited the plot, and fashioned a new storyline.
US nightclub singer performing in London is dating a man who is a traitor, smuggler, and killer.
She doesn’t know and agrees to marry him on New Years Eve after he takes care of “business."
When she tries to break the news to her manager, he roughs her up, she grabs that hand mirror, and -
She’s in the big house.
US State Dept want her out so they can nab her no-good, villainous man (Jim Davis, scion of TV’s Dallas).
The new scenes are edited in rather awkwardly, but this succeeds as a new film and, to my mind, slightly better.
Bev Michael’s hair is mousy in the Brit version, back to glossy blonde in the US release.
Neither film is all that hot.

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Nevertheless, this was Beverly Michaels’ (great hard blonde) last film appearance.  Damn.
 

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The Sheik And I - 2012 - 7/10

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Infuriating documentary (¿fictional?) of small (very small) American indie filmmaker invited to make film for biennial celebration for the Kingdom of Sharjah.  Where?  Tiny kingdom is one of the emirates of the United Arab Emirates.
Without writing a script, the film maker decides to do the one thing he was told not to do, mock the ruler of the country, the Sheik.
Several of his scenes involve having extras don burqas and wave guns. ("Isn't this the typical stereotype of Arabs?"  one asked the director.)
He tries to recruit locals to impersonate the Sheik, and is warned of repercussions. He shrugs.
Is reminded, he goes back to America when finished, local people have to stay and face consequences.
Tries to coerce women to dance in burqas, which is expressly forbidden.
Director, Caveh Zahedi, of Iranian descent, is every inch the entitled American, I-can-do-anything-I-want artiste.
Zero respect for the country, their social orders.
Film was quickly banned for blasphemy and director Zahedi threatened with a fatwa.  
Cringe inducing film drove me up the wall, and everyone in the room screamed at the screen at various moments.
Yet I believe such was exactly the reaction he aimed for, so I'm giving it high marks for punching those buttons.
 

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The Words - 2012 - 6/10

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Oft visited premise of struggling young writer discovering an unpublished manuscript by accident.
Then, submitting the pages as his own, he receives acclaim and awards.
Film guises plot with device of story within another story.
Nice looking - predictable.
 

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Chi-Raq - 2015 - 5/10

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Spike Lee somehow reworks Aristophanes’ hysterically funny “Lysistrata” into a preachy tirade.
Fable of women withholding sex until rival gangs make peace (no peace, no piece) blended with with gun violence, diatribes against the NRA, posters of victims, whatnot.
Essentially, there are two films: one a broad comedy, the other, if handled correctly, a savage indictment of how US gun owners value guns more than life.
The message is heavy handed, and, to be honest, embarrassing to see Lee present a film so awkward.
Fully, half the scenes are carried on a couple beats too long, dragging the pace.
Apologists defend this film saying it is not a comedy, but rather a satire.
Sorry, satire generally uses a razor honed knife. Lee swings Fred Flintstone’s club.
On the plus side, much of the dialogue is rhyming couplets, and the “Lysistrata" business is funny as hell.
The cinematography is terrific, with several lush looking set designs.
Moreover, one of the best characters is Samuel Jackson’s chorus, Dolmedes.
Once he utters the phrase, “signifying monkey,” you immediately recognize Dolemite!
Otherwise, a fine cast wasted and wicked concept bungled. What a shame.
 

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L'Homme qu'on Aimait Trop - 2014 - 6/10
AKA - In the Name of My Daughter

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Catherine Deneuve struggles to hold onto a high end casino, circa 1976.
Local politicos and developers would like her to close, so they can build luxury hotels.
A mega casino combine - who launders money for the mob - wants to push her out.
Her daughter returns after a messy divorce, demanding her inheritance.
Gliding, slithering, shifting between all parties is a young, smiling attorney.
Loosely based on real events, the film coils around the players, none of whom are truly clean.
Talky French drama, with nebulous resolution, had me wondering about double jeopardy in France.
 

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Take A Girl Like You - 1969 - 6/10

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British romantic comedy of cavalier bachelor Oliver Reed meeting Hayley Mills (AKA - Miss Virgin).
Story is scant more than flirting, groping, blue-balled frustration.
Noel Harrison plays rich playboy hoping to save his manor from council airport expansion.
He also displays a lighter touch with the ladies, most of whom (with the exception of Miss Mills) are eager for the impromptu romp, no matter the settings.
Very Swinging 60s attitude pervades, though Reed seems way too old for the role.
To be fair, this was probably filmed in '68 and Reed would have been 30. He looks 45, however.
Watch for Penelope Keith as - surprise - a Tory poll worker.
 

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Hidden Identity - 2015 - 5/10
AKA - 신분을 숨겨라

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Have only my own impatient self to blame for this.
Normally, with J-dramas and K-dramas, I wait to read end of year reviews on Dramabeans or similar sites.
Hidden Identity hailed from the same crew that did Bad Guys and had an excited buzz.
More fool me.
Elite, 5-member unit works outside usual law enforcement agencies to topple criminals.
Arc of the narrative is the pursuit of “The Ghost,” a mysterious unknown mastermind who is plotting ... something.
Action primarily fisticuffs, production values cheap, script padded, in run-of-the-mill cop show.
16 episodes ought to have been trimmed to 10.
Every character is wooden faced serious.  At first I blamed bad acting, but I had seen these actors in IRIS, Bridal Mask, Vampire Prosecutor, as well as several movies where they were more than capable.
No, the fault is clichéd writing and lame directing.  Can’t say how many lengthy reaction shots of every single team member I saw.  Easily two or three times an episode.
Hidden Identity = Boring Identity.
 

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Iris - 2014 - 5/10

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Final movie of legendary documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles proves a shallow disappointment.
The cameras trail after unlikely fashion icon, Iris Apfel, without getting at the essence of her, or how she achieved her position.
She and her husband have a home on Park Avenue, another in Palm Beach.
These are plainly ultra-rich.  How did they accumulate such wealth?
(Note: Wiki indicates they ran a textile firm for 40 years.  Such crass commerce barely touched on in film.)
Her so-called taste, which favored clunky and garish beads was praised by all with not a single dissent.

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When the husband casually mentioned how difficult Jackie Kennedy was, Iris quickly closed the topic saying they were not allowed to discuss any of their work dealing with the White House.
(Note: Wiki indicates the couple did White House restorations for Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton.)
Nonetheless, Maysles let that slide without comment.  He allowed much to pass by unquestioned.
A feel-good, hail jolly good fellow, surface skipping 80 minute soufflé.
I ended up with a cynical suspicion that so many designer and curators praised and gushed over her because she was in her 90s and they lusted after her collection.

Those of you who have a wacky grandma or auntie - - there but for fortune . . .
 

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Air Doll - 2009 - 7/10

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An inflatable toy (think lonely gentleman's action toy) wakes up one morning and realizes she has developed consciousness.
She wanders the neighborhood, makes friends, even finds a job at a video store.
Emotions begin to flower and she has trouble with those.
A moody, melancholy film about loneliness and emptiness.
Yet also about opening your heart, despite the inevitable pain.
Haunting, minimalist score.
 

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Sound It Out - 2012 - 7/10

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Documentary about the last surviving record shop in Teeside.
The owner is a music expert, his loyal assistant has his own expertise, the backroom girl runs the computer and ensures they make money.
Obsessive collectors are profiled, 99% of whom are guys.
They share their stories, display their treasures, warble on and on about the glories of vinyl.
One man - owner, I think - commented that vinyl holds memories.
Fair enough. I used a similar phrase when reviewing All Things Must Pass, doc about the demise of Tower Records.
This would make a fine companion to that, and in many ways is more satisfying.
Watching the tiny survivor after the monster chain failed to crush it.

I have friends from my record shop days. A few still dream about setting up a record store, mostly vinyl.
Anytime they float the idea, I shake my head.
This shop is exactly how they envision it, and exactly why I always tell ‘em no way.
 

TM2YC

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^ Loved that doc. Will have to watch it again sometime.
 
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