Review Quickie: The Spy in Black/U-Boat 29 (1939)

U-Boat 29_MPLike a perfectly prepared fine aged steak, this Alexander Korda/Irving Asher production of The Spy in Black (or U-Boat 29) comes in hot, sizzling and rare, offering strong performances by its cast along with the first teaming of director Michael Powell and screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, who would go on to work on 24 pictures including a number of absolute classics across a few genres.

Conrad Veidt is excellent as Captain Hardt, a German U-boat commander whose given the task of meeting with a fellow German, a female spy, as they attempt to deal major damage to British Fleet at Scapa Flow, as war raged on in 1917. As the film begins, Hardy and a fellow seaman arrive back in Germany to almost depleted food resources, even at the finely set officer’s restaurant where steamed fish and carrots are the sole offerings. Amusingly enough, the local newspapers trumpet the country’s U-boats and their sinking of English ships that have allegedly been hitting food supplies there, but they seem a bit suspect in their retelling.

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“WARNING: Smoking can cause Victoria”

Hardt is ordered to to a bit of infiltration into Scotland, as a plan has neatly been hatched to dispose of a teacher planning to move to a sleepy village near The Old Man of Hoy and with the aid of a disgraced British Navy officer, former Commander Ashington (Sebastian Shaw), who is no fan of the service that did him wrong. Hardt doesn’t want to be a common spy, but orders are orders and surprisingly, his part of the mission gets off to a fine beginning. When he meets his partner in crime, Fräulein Tiel (Valerie Hobson), things go a bit sideways and she locks him in his room every night and as his new commanding officer, keeps him in check even as he makes small advances towards her.

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Random Film of the Week: Brainstorm (1983)

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What you really want to see when the nurses come for you…

brainstorm_MP1A few years back, The second thing I thought of when Facebook snapped up “virtual reality” headset maker Oculus was this flawed but still incredible 1983 sci-fi film directed by Douglas Trumbull. Unfortunately, Brainstorm slipped into theaters under the dark cloud of Natalie Wood’s mysterious off-set death as a work that some at the time debated should have been scrapped entirely. At the time, I liked Trumbull’s technical mastery more than the cast’s straightforward performances. Upon seeing the film again recently, I liked it more, but I also think it’s one of the few films where a modern remake would fix a few things such as sofa-sized and room-sized computers and those super-bulky tapes and that huge headset helmet prototype. Then again, that old tech is kind of what makes the film so effective, as it sure looks like all that wiring and doodads do something.

Despite some workman-like performances from its cast, Trumbull’s direction and his blending standard 35mm camerawork and outstanding widescreen shots of real life vistas and indoor locales plus assorted visual effects that predated IMAX in its use of dynamic screen ratio changes. The often stunning widescreen sequences were shot in Super Panavision 70 with an aspect ratio of 2.2:1 are the real stars here. Still, there’s an air of gloom that hangs over the entire film thanks to one character’s on-screen fate that makes you wish the thought-capturing device in the film actually existed, but had a ‘rewind life’ function added. As dry as the pedestrian plot is, the imagery is at times, some breathtaking stuff that mixes in mundane to high flying activities as the assorted fantasy to nightmare sequences play out.

(thanks, BreadCrustCouncil!)

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Random Film of The Week: Starship Troopers

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“This soldier threw a knife that from twenty feet away that somehow landed in his own hand. That’s a damn PASSING GRADE for sheer ingenuity!”

starship_troopers_ver2Someone call up Guinness, please, because I can very likely tell you of the world’s shortest class trip that doesn’t involve anything dangerous happening. Back in 1997, I went to see Starship Troopers on its release day, opting not to take the subway to what I thought would be a crowded city theater, but supporting a local theater here in the Bronx. I got my ticket early for the first showing at the formerly wonderful Loews American, sadly, now a Marshall’s (Boooo, but at least they kept the beautiful ’40’s era statues on the rear of the theater intact), and waited for the film to begin.

I noticed as the lights dimmed that there were two rows of seats on the right side that were empty, but there was one guy who looked like he was from the theater waiting for someone, as he kept looking back as the exit from a seat behind the empty rows. I recall shrugging, then getting glued to the screen as the film began. The theater wasn’t quite full, but those rows stood out. The movie started and during the boot camp scenes, a group of kids guided by two teachers and and an aide marched into the theater, and took their seats. Those kids were I’m guessing, based on height and dress, were about nine or ten years old.

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Some kids are scarred for life and they never even saw a an alien bug rip someone in half.

As soon as the co-ed shower scene kicked in about two minutes later, yep, those kids were rather rapidly lined up and shuffled out so fast that it was like a Benny Hill sketch, Yakety Sax and all. Some in the audience let smattering applause and few quick and mean comments were tossed at the exiting teachers who thought this was a good idea before we all went back to concentrating on the screen. I shook my head because I guessed that somewhere a few weeks or months earlier, some adult in that school likely saw an ad or trailer this was coming out, decided they wanted to take those kids along because “Pew-Pew, it’s gonna be like Star Wars!”, never read any Robert Heinlein, went and got the trip approved, getting clueless parents to sign permission slips that allowed their kids entry to an R-rated film.

This trailer, by the way, is excellent… but misses a few important points (and how!):

WOULD YOU LIKE TO KNOW MORE?

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Random Film of the Week: The Split (1968)

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I’d very safely say that her ‘do outdoes his hair here, huh? (say that five times fast).

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Is everybody happy? Well, not for long…

As crime capers go, Gordon Flemyng’s 1968 action/thriller The Split is flawed, but pretty good, even if the big money haul it showcases would be 100% impossible if attempted today. Granted, 2010’s The Town presented a similar heist that was more modern and also successful (until it wasn’t), but in this earlier film, anyone who tries what’s done here today will be in for a few problems from the get-go. You’ll see, but let’s talk about the plot for a bit.

Jim Brown plays Mac McClain, a recently released thief who takes on the task to rob the Los Angeles Colosseum of $500,000 during a football game after he’s led to the job a partner in crime, Gladys (Julie Harris, in a big bouffant hairdo!). After a bumpy but eventually successful encounter/reunion with his ex-wife Ellie (Diahann Carrol). Mac sets his plans into action. Naturally, color plays a big role here, so this first ever R-rated film plays it big on the use of language and insinuations about Mac from a few characters.

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Lets just say, in the words of one Admiral Ackbar…. (that’s your cue, dear reader)

He recruits four other man to aid him in some rather ridiculous ways, but that gives you the chance to see them react to McClain’s crazy testing. He gets into a big knock down, drag out fight with Bert Clinger (Ernest Borgnine) in Bert’s office, but splits out a sliding door before the man knows what’s what. Then, he leads shady limo driver Harry Kifka (Jack Klugman) into a car chase where he wrecks Harry’s limo and a nice Corvette in the process. McClain also gives suave shooter Dave Negli (Donald Sutherland) a tryout (the crack shot misses his target, but keeps his cool). And then there’s wily safe-cracker Marty Gough (Warren Oates), who gets a hooker, and a vault that needs escaping as his weird tests. Yes, Mac chooses all four to join in on his plans and as expected, they’re initially not happy about this.

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Random Film of the Week Quickie: Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight)

Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight) MPA few years ago, I was sitting in a diner waiting for a few friends to arrive and overheard two guys in the booth behind me debating whether or not Orson Welles was a good filmmaker. Wait, what?  My ears perked up as one of the guys noted that he thought the only film he ever saw from the director was one he felt was overrated (and nope, it wasn’t Citizen Kane). He was talking about Chimes After Midnight.

It turned out both were film students who had a teacher who wasn’t a fan of the director, had shown the film in his class, and yep, both were new to Welles’ work while also in that uncomfortable place in one’s youth where one questions too much without searching for the proper answers. Eh, I think they were entitled to their opinions, but I’d loved to have sat down with them and made a few points on some of the man’s work they were clearly missing thanks to their biased instructor’s babbling and their lack of seeing more of his output.

The discovery a few years back of a fantastic quality print plus a few other things falling into place means we now have a superb high quality home video version of Orson Welles’ 1965 masterpiece Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight) which just so happens to be one of the better (and looser) adaptations of Shakespeare put on film. Even if you’re not into The Bard’s work, seeing a cinematic genius like Welles pull this off on a low budget while also creating one of the most effective and chaotic battle sequences set to film makes this a must-see movie. Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Margaret Rutherford, John Gielgud, Kieth Baxter and the rest of the cast all give perfect performances, the editing manages to make the year plus it took to put this together even more brilliant and overall, it’s a great film that’s influenced quite a few others that ended up becoming modern (and better remembered) classics.

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Review: Terror in a Texas Town (Blu-Ray)

Terror in a Texas Town coverI sure wish director Joseph H. Lewis got more a lot more respect these days. Granted, his career spanned 41 mostly B-movies spread across different genres that it was hard to shoehorn him into a box (but that’s a good thing for those who love variety and surprises). You could say he was a journeyman with quite a vision, as some of his films were memorable and considered classics by those some film lovers who’ve seen his work and appreciate it. He took some chances in his time in the director’s chair, but also made the some pretty generic titles between the brilliant ones.  While some of the results might have gone over the heads of some viewers at the time, it’s worth tracking down some of his work to see a quiet master in action when the results were really good.

In 1958, Lewis planned to retire from movies and go to TV, but opted out to make one final film, the B-quality, but memorable for a few reasons western, Terror in a Texas Town. While it’s no epic (hell, it opens right off the bat with part of the ending sequence and also uses some ancient stock footage a few times, clearly as a means to kill time and save money during its tidy 81 minutes) and the story is a bit weathered (until you know certain things about its genesis), it’s worth a watch because it’s an intriguing B-grade flick on a few fronts. Is it a “good” movie? Well, one could say where it counts it is despite its budgetary limitations.

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“No, I don’t like your tie. Besides, I’m married to the man who’s going to try and kill you, sooo…”

Sterling Hayden plays George Hansen, a Swedish immigrant, who after almost 20 years at sea, comes to America to live and farm alongside his dad, Sven, who’s been waiting for him to arrive. Unfortunately, Sven is murdered in cold blood while trying to defend his land from Crale (Nedrick Young) the steel-fisted and black-clad killer hired by McNeil (Sebastian Cabot) who it turns out, would probably rather have paid Sven off or burned him out instead of having him killed. But, gone is gone, McNeil gets his ill-gotten land and Crale quite enjoys what he does. Protests from his weary wife, Molly (Carol Kelly) who warns Crale the law could close in any moment, go ignored by Crale and it seems he’s due for a fall at some point. He’s not exactly in his prime and his former gun hand was shot off and replaced with a steel one (it’s too bad more isn’t made of this, though). McNeil’s plan is to grab all the land in the area for its newly found oil and the film opens (after the titles) with a literal barn burning as a elderly couple gets one of McNeil’s less violent choices of treatment.

(Thanks, HD Retro Trailers!)

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Review: The Poseidon Adventure (1972)

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Hmmm… I was going to post this pic upside down, but I wanted to not spoil the film for those who’ve yet to see it.

Yes, friends, it’s time for another episode of…

Video Store Action Heroes - Banner 9 final

Other posts can be found here, here, and here, so get in your reading, I say,

This month, we’re all going on a cruise, yay!

Well, sort of (just remember to climb the Christmas tree, or else). Ronald Neame’s 1972 classic (co-directed by Irwin Allen) is a star-filled one with impressive practical effects (well, the ship model looks these days like an expensive toy you don’t want to accidentally sit or step on while in the bath) and very cool upside down sets. While it’s not your typical “action” movie, it’s certainly exceptionally well made and packed with more than enough thrills and (wait for it…) spills galore (expect a lot of puns here, friends). As a disaster flick, it certainly wasn’t a disaster at all, raking in 93 million dollars for 20th Century Fox over its time in theaters.

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A big movie deserves a big poster, right?

These days (and a poorly received sequel plus a expensive few remakes later) is the original The Poseidon Adventure still a seaworthy film? I say yes, it still holds its water rather excellently if you throw caution to the wind and don’t go overboard with your expectations. Granted, for all its death and angst on display, the film is not as cruel as the 1969 novel was with some of its characters. One could say Stirling Silliphant’s adaptation of the Paul Gallico novel softens the impact somewhat yet still has enough drama for its target audience.

If you’re new to the film, all you need to know is how it starts and sit back to enjoy the rest (and NO, it’s not a true story):

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You better not think this actually happened.

Let’s just say it’s New Year’s (Rockin’, as ships do in bad weather with no ballast) Eve, stuff happens minutes after the happier vibe the film kicks off with that isn’t too good (like any New Year’s party, things can kind of get a little out of hand) and the world is turned upside down for a bunch of people (as I said, like any New Year’s party, things can kind of get a little out of hand). The survivors bond (well, sort of) and have to find their way off the doomed ship before she sinks to a watery grave like a former swimming champ does after a bit of too much exercise.

Uh, did I say this review was spoiler-free? I lied. Here’s the trailer, doing what it needs to to get 1972-era butts in theater seats:

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Random Film of the Week: Hard to be a God

(Thanks, kinolorber!)

 

Hard to be a God MPImagine an episode of Game of Thrones as performed by the cast of Peter Weiss’ Marat/Sade minus the fantasy elements and with an even more staggering attention to medieval detail and you’ll maybe grasp a small potion of the late Aleksei German’s outstanding, brutal (yet beautiful) Hard to be a a God. This 2013 film (the director’s last) isn’t for the easily disturbed but if you’re willing to sit through the almost three hour running time, you’ll likely find yourself glued to the screen from beginning to end.

While it may not look like a sci-fi film, right from the start you’ll see subtitles that note the story takes place on an earth-like planet going through its medieval phase about 800 years after ours. A group of scientists have been send there to observe the planet and gently nudge it forward without using technology or politics as it goes through what should be a renaissance phase. Unfortunately, things kind of get a bit out if hand when intellectuals of all types become targets for murder by a tyrant’s roaming militia intent on keeping the people uneducated and (mostly) harmless. Actually, about 28 minutes in, you get a reminder that you’re on another world thanks to a quick shot of something mechanical making itself known. But even then, the illusion of an incessantly nasty age isn’t at all broken.

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Because You Need Something To Do: “The Phantom Creeps” Could Use Some Watching…

(Thanks, Audiovisualchannel!) 
Okay, okay… I’ve been too busy this week, but I needed to go see all those toys and games this week because that’s part of my Cure for Everything (TM) treatment when I start to feel aged and creaky. Hey, better fun stuff than draining the blood of “wer-gins” any day of the week, right? RIGHT? Anyway, enjoy the movie, people. I’m going to go have a small dinner and pass out for a spell after that…

Random Film of the Week: Night of the Juggler

(thanks, TaylorHamKid!)

night of the juggler MPWhile reminiscing with a guy I hadn’t seen for close to 20 years this week, this flick came up in our conversation and I had to rush out to write about it while the memory was still fresh. After the great 1972 ABC telefilm Short Walk to Daylight and 1980’s compellingly crazy action/drama Night of the Juggler,  I still say James Brolin should have stuck around and made a third New York-centric film to complete some sort of unconnected trilogy about an otherwise decent cop who’s having some really bad days in the Big Apple.

The former film was about survivors of an earthquake (in New York City of all places!) trying to make it out of some deadly subway tunnels with Brolin’s cop leading the way and the latter has his divorced ex-cop now truck driver character chasing after the maniac that’s mistakenly kidnapped his daughter. Neither is legally available on DVD (and it’s a darn shame, I say), but if you’re clever and know how to use the internet, there are ways to snag both gems for your viewing pleasure… Continue reading