Random Film of the Week: Hard to be a God

(Thanks, kinolorber!)

Imagine 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

Random Film of the Week: The Big Heat

(thanks, MJmichand!)

The Big Heat MPSergeant Dave Bannion has absolutely ZERO luck with attractive women in Fritz Lang’s absolute classic 1953 noir The Big Heat. Granted, our initially 100% by-the-book cop (ably portrayed by Glenn Ford) IS a married man with a young daughter, so he doesn’t need to be around the ladies he ends up getting into trouble at all. Unfortunately, in one way or another they’re part of the case he’s working on, so he’s like a black cat in a suit here. Nearly every lady he comes across in this film goes through some sort of hell when and after he’s around that makes him some sort of magnet for bad luck and worse outcomes.

It’s a wonder he makes it through the film in one piece at all despite the efforts of some bad men to keep him off their cases and yes, far away from those doomed dames. For its time, the amount of violence and even some language was probably considered shocking by some viewers, and in at least one respect the film still packs a wallop. That wallop being Gloria Grahame’s portrayal of Debby Marsh, girlfriend of Lee Marvin’s overly brutal gangster-type, Vince Stone. But Stone is the least of Bannion’s problems when he investigates the suicide of a fellow police officer and gets wrapped up in some other things a wee bit over his head… Continue reading

Random Film of the Week: Athens, GA: Inside/Out

(thanks, thurna!)

Athens_GA_MPStill one of the best “music scene” documentaries and a must-see if you’re a “scholar” of 80’s alternative music (translation: someone who likes some mighty fine and varied music), Tony Gayton’s 1987 film Athens, GA: Inside/Out is a quirky and fun blast of great music featuring famous up and coming and obscure bands strutting their stuff in a free form style that makes the film quite compelling even to this day.

Amusingly enough, I have extended family in Macon and Savannah and while I’ve not been down that way in decades, watching this documentary sometime around 1990 on tape made me want to buy a bus ticket and head down to Athens just to check out a few clubs. I didn’t, however (my loss), as I had more real life things to take care of and had this film on tape and a copy of the soundtrack on cassette to time me over and keep my eyes and ears very happy… Continue reading

Random Film of the Week(end): Somewhere In Time

(thanks, famousmichigan!)

Somewhere in TimeAs much fun as it was and still is, frankly speaking, Superman: the Movie had a really TERRIBLE time travel sequence that breaks the film and manages to always get a tiny bit under my skin each time I see it. Fortunately, Somewhere In Time is a much better film overall about time travel, love, loss and quite probably the worst long distance relationship ever. I saw this upon its initial release back in 1980 and it’s stuck with me since.

Now, I’m not deep into the romantic fantasy genre at all, but SoT has a compelling pull to it that makes it one of my favorite science fiction films, bittersweet finale and all. It’s not for every taste, but if you decide to give this one a shot, you’ll find Jeannot Szwarc’s fine direction, the lovely John Barry score, intentionally languid pacing and solid performances from the cast (I think it’s Reeve’s best film work, period) make this one truly memorable… Continue reading

Random Film of the Week: Street Smart

(thanks oldhollywoodtrailers!)

Street Smart MP I had to see Street Smart twice back in 1987 because the first time I kept cracking up at the sight of Clark Kent without his Superman powers being threatened with a broken Yoo-Hoo bottle by Easy Reader from The Electric Company. Yeah, that moment happens in this flick as does a lot of other non-heroic, “gritty” street stuff in this Jerry Schatzberg-directed drama.

It’s actually a pretty solid but slightly flawed film that benefits from Reeve and Freeman’s performances along with a nice turn as Kathy Baker as hooker with a heart of not quite gold, but shiny enough that Reeve’s investigative journalist character Jonathan Fisher gets to spend some er, “quality” time with her in one scene. Of course, she’s one of Fast Black’s (Freeman) “stable” so she gets into some trouble with him as the film progresses. Fisher himself gets into even more trouble thanks to fabricating a feature article that just so happens to be a wee bit too close to Fast Black’s own life story… Continue reading

Random Film of the Week(end): The Bad Sleep Well

The Bad Sleep Well 1Of all Akira Kurosawa’s films set in contemporary Japan, The Bad Sleep Well (Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru) and High and Low (Tengoku to Jigoku*) are probably my two favorites. Nope, I can’t choose between either as better thanks to both doing what they do so darn well in the hands of the master director. I’ll get to the latter film in a separate post, so let’s get to some “Bad” business from this point on.

In addition to powerful performances from a great cast led by Toshiro Mifune, the film packs one of Kurosawa’s most abrupt and shocking twists in exactly the right spot that’s still one of the best collective gasp moments I can recall in a film that wasn’t a jump-scare packed horror flick. I first saw this during it’s revival in the 1980’s and the big twist sucked all the air out of the small theater and had people talking about it afterwards in a coffee shop afterwards as they debated the scene’s impact and how “un-Hollywood”) it was.

While it clocks in at a hair over 2 1/2 hours, every single moment counts and a great deal of intriguing ground is covered as the film lets loose on Japan’s corporate culture of the era, mixing in film noir, romance and detective story elements before a quietly dramatic finale that demands you’ve paid attention to everything that came before. If you’re one of those types who hops up to hit the restroom or get snacks at home, make sure to stomp on the pause button on your DVD player, as missing a few seconds can mean you might not grasp another scene’s impact later on…

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Random Film of the Week(end), Too: Abandon Ship! (Seven Waves Away)

(thanks, S250385!)

“Save as many as you can …”.

abandon shipI’ve been on a grand total of two cruise ships, plus a bunch of ferries and other boats raging in size from canoe to schooner, but after seeing Abandon Ship! (or Seven Waves Away if you’re in the UK), I’ll probably restrict my watercraft enjoyment to playing with toy boats in a bathtub filled with maybe five inches of water.

This 1957 British drama is probably one of the more depressing sea disaster films I’ve ever seen. Clocking in at just over an hour and a half, this harrowing tale gets off to a start as a luxury ocean liner, The Crescent Star hits a stray World War II mine that sinks the ship, killing most of its passengers and crew. There only time for a single lifeboat to launch before the ship goes down and that lifeboat can only fit nine people. Unfortunately (or even MORE unfortunately), twenty seven people end up in and around that lifeboat and soon, you’ll feel as if you’re in that boat with the doomed, the dying and the soon to be dead.

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Random Film of the Week(end): SCANDAL

(thanks, NonoLoves!) 

SCANDALAkira Kurosawa’s SCANDAL is a brilliantly bittersweet film that works as an indictment of a celebrity-crazed public and paparazzi-fueled gossip gone wrong (as if it were ever “right”) while completely pulling you into its well-rounded characters and situations that will seem all to familiar in this era of TMZ and other “entertainment journalism” that’s merely feeding a voyeuristic “need” to pore into the private lives of people that for the most part don’t want or need this sort of intrusion.

The film is also a sentimental holiday story and seeing the Japanese takes on Christmas and New Year’s Day (circa 1950) makes for an interesting cultural shock that adds a nice layer of necessary humor to the plot. If you’re one for the weeping moment, this one’s also a great few-hanky flick that’s near flawless (meaning your strings will be yanked appropriately and at the right moments).

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