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wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:35 AM 02-02-2012
Fire and Ice (1983), directed by Ralph Bakshi.

I'd never seen this Bakshi / Frank Frazetta sword and sorcery collaboration before.

A sorcerer sends glaciers and savage sub-humans south against the more temperate lands; Fire Keep is the opposing kingdom. We have a kidnapped busty and callipygian princess and her hunky young man, a mysterious avenger, and desperate attacks on the ice kingdom.

The story is a rudimentary account of boy meets girl, with much chasing, hiding, rescuing and fighting, but I had no trouble sticking with it. It's like a kid's action cartoon, although the violence is more brutal and the drawings more sexy than used to be done; I don't know what goes on now.

I was prepared to lampoon this as set near the Land of Beach Volleyball Babes adjacent to the Surfer Dudes, but it is better than that. The final attack on the ice fortress with our heroes mounted on pterodactyls is exciting.

The animation is of that "foreground figures against background paintings" type and is not very appealing. Bakshi had limited budgets and this production has an economical made-for-TV look. In the commentary he points out they didn't have the resources to present Frazetta paintings as such, so they did comic book versions. Maybe it was influential in low-budget he-man cartooning; I really don't know. Much live action is rotoscoped in.

The Blu-ray is from Blue Underground and has an abundance of audio tracks: DTS-HD, TrueHD, and Dolby Digital. Also a commentary track with the director. Since I've never seen it before I don't know how the image compares to previous editions.

The freewheeling commentary track makes the animation more interesting: a discussion of how difficult a lot of the techniques were at the time.


wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:35 AM 02-12-2012
The Name of the Rose (1986), directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud.

Year 1327, a bleak monastery in the wintry mountains of northern Italy. A convocation of monks is assembling for a politically charged theological debate. Inconveniently, the site has a series of strange and inexplicable deaths. Is it the Devil? Skeptical Brother William of Baskerville doesn't think so, but proving murder requires a dangerous penetration into secrets and conspiracies.

It's an odd combination of styles: a realistic depiction of the times (in the dirty and brutal mode) mixed with the type of murder sleuthing we see in fantasies like Poirot or Marple. We even have Cadfael-level medieval forensics.

The juxtaposition mirrors the story itself: the cruel grotty background is a "no laughing" zone, just as the blind Venerable Jorge would have it, but the detection is done with humor and winking: William of Baskerville combines William of Ockham with Sherlock Holmes. The center of the secret is the sole remaining copy of an ancient text on the use of comedy.

The quick ending where the peasants rise up against the Inquisitor seems implausible, but very convenient for the plot. I haven't read the book (few have, it is said) so can't comment on the adaptation.

The film did poorly in the US but was much more popular in Europe.

The Blu-ray has a heartfelt commentary track by the director; he was passionate about the project:
  • A glass painting of the monastery on the hilltop is the only special effect shot in the film. Everything else is direct photography.
  • He resisted Sean Connery as the lead for a long time, but when he actually heard him read the lines, the delivery was exactly as he imagined it should be.
  • Christian Slater (age 15) was given no guidance or direction for his love scene with the peasant girl, apart from "She's in charge, just do what she wants." The actress was the first of three supposed to be auditioned, but when Slater saw her he wanted no other.
  • He loved using regional and unknown actors with "interesting" (= sort of deformed) faces. "Their souls are beautiful". Apart from Ron Perlman's denture and hump there is very little in the way of prosthetics. All the haircuts are real.
  • Sets, books and props were constructed with meticulous detail. Many of the props are now in museums as replica pieces.
  • The statue of the Virgin is misplaced Renaissance art, but there was no money to replace it. He says he got 2000 letters about it.
  • The collapsing ceiling of the burning library was rushed and unexpectedly dangerous. He had to roll Sean Connery on the ground to put him out. A falling beam was a real piece of oak that struck old Feodor Chaliapin Jr, the villainous blind monk, to the ground. "Are you all right?" "Who cares? I'm 82! Did you get the shot?"
  • He praises the entire cast except for F. Murray Abraham, regarding whom he is blunt: he had just won the Academy Award and it made him petty and malicious. (Maybe he was just in character the whole time).
  • He says that contrary to its image, Hollywood has always treated him very well.

James Horner score. Brief nudity and passion, some butchery of animals and burnings at the stake.

Available on Blu-ray.

drbonbi's Avatar drbonbi 06:13 AM 02-12-2012
A fine review. One of my all-time favorite films. It reveals among other things what a very good actor Sean Connery is and how limiting the James Bond roles were for him.

gwsat's Avatar gwsat 09:42 AM 02-12-2012
I am very fond of The Name of The Rose, too. In fact the BD is part of my limited collection. It may have been the best performance the then teenaged Christian Slater has ever turned in and the rest of the ensemble cast was terrific, too. Better yet, the film tells a smart, thoughtful story, which has fascinating twists and turns from beginning to end. Highly recommended, 9 Stars out of 10.
wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:35 AM 02-14-2012
Brazil (1985), directed by Terry Gilliam.

I saw this in the theater and a few times on home video thereafter, but my memory was unreliable. I recalled the Orwellian plot and oppressive tone, but had forgotten Gilliam's characteristic razzle-dazzle, the light and color and flood of absurd bits of humor and visual jokes, usually with a dark point, as when all the hatted men sit in the railcar while a one-legged woman is forced to stand.

It is a dark, bitter satire on dehumanizing modernity set in an alternative post-WW2 Britain (judging by the clothes and ugly utilitarian appliances). Where efficiency, automation and bureaucracy work they are brutalizing, but mostly they just don't work.

Unusually, we get to see behind the masks of the faceless men and the stormtroopers to discover...they are just ordinary folks, pleasant or malicious as may be.

But there's more: one of the dreadful realizations of maturity is that yes, you really can get used to almost anything. Think about that. Stuff you swore you would never tolerate when young and passionate you find yourself accepting and not even questioning when you are older.

Gilliam's genius is showing how it works: the cozy little comforts people stock their cubicles with, the fantasy worlds of old movies and advertisements, the secret belief that "I'm not one of them, a cog, I'm an individual and a free spirit!"

Our hero dreams of heroically rescuing his dream girl. He's had it and tries to break out, but as a free spirit he's a disaster, leaving ruin in his path. We hear gunfire after they put the bag over his head and I fear that was the end for Jill.

If you haven't seen it and are wondering if this is a comedy: yes, and scary and depressing as hell.

Assorted thoughts:
  • The first time I saw it I completely missed the actual cause of the screwup that sets the plot going, where the man smashes the fly that falls into the teletype, causing "Buttle" and "Tuttle" to be confused.
  • Tuttle's dreaded paperwork finally got him.
  • I love the ascii art photos produced by the teletypes. I used to have a bunch of posters done with the overprinting technique to make faux-grayscale: Spock, man on the moon, etc.
  • A few beautiful moments show people walking in the evening in the starkly utilitarian metropolis, elegant in it's own way.
  • Gilliam doesn't have a lot of restraint and tends to lay it on thick, throwing in all his ideas at once.
  • Q: If dehumanizing modernity is the problem, what's the solution? A: There isn't one. Q: What? A: Sorry, I didn't do it.
  • You never see Brazil listed as a Christmas film, even though it is. Funny old world, innit?

Available on Blu-ray.

gwsat's Avatar gwsat 08:46 AM 02-14-2012
I saw Brazil again last fall, on BD, and was well rewarded. The combination of Terry Gilliam's direction, the film's sly, subversive screenplay, and Jonathan Pryce's performance as the baffled Sam Lowry had me alternately laughing and cringing as I watched again. Tom Stoppard, who cowrote the screenplay, also cowrote the brilliant Shakespeare in Love, which I own on BD and watched again a couple of night's ago. Brazil is good stuff, 8 Stars out of 10.
thedeskE's Avatar thedeskE 01:05 PM 02-14-2012
Thanks again Bill - Rose&Brazil are high on the list of greatest here.
wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:14 AM 02-20-2012
The Evil Dead (1981), written and directed by Sam Raimi.

The Blu-ray edition is much more splatteriffic than the videotape cut I saw ages ago. I don't know if I'll be seeing it again.

I was of two minds when watching this: first, how well does it work as a low-budget horror film? As per tradition, some comical interludes lure us into a false sense of security and the actual fear factor creeps up on us while we aren't expecting it. The swooping camera shots are particularly fine.

But that's only the first 20 minutes or so and when the demon transformations start we stop being part of the audience and are more like part of the crew, arranging blood splatter and dismemberment gimmicks, applying makeup and heaving the demon guts and ichor about. Hey, lady, do you have to use that dumb witchy giggle while possessed?

Which takes us to the second angle, watching it as an example of shoestring filmmaking by Super 8 students making their first 16mm project. The Blu-ray commentary track with Raimi, Bruce Campbell and Rob Tapert (producer) is a happy and enthusiastic reminiscence of the production, all about kids learning practically everything on the job. They tell a lot of funny stories about the weird characters they had to deal with, but are appreciative of everyone who helped them out and showed them the ropes. They knew absolutely nothing about the industry when they started.
  • Without a home video market or something like the Sundance festival back then, new filmmakers would break in with regional distributors for the drive-in market, a traditional venue for low budget horror.
  • The movie was a smash hit in the UK before it opened in the US.
  • Part of the experience of every new filmmaker is the disappointment of their professors when they see the results of their student's efforts.
  • That cabin had no toilet of any sort nearby. It was a matter of walking off into the woods, men and women both.
  • They had seen a example of Super 8 effectively blown up to 35mm but when they tried it on their own material the grain looked like flying golf-balls. Hence the shift to 16mm, more expensive and they had to hire professional help.
  • The Blu-ray aspect ratio is 1.33, which they say has not been seen since early theater showings. It must have been cropped at top and bottom until now.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:18 AM 03-07-2012
The Emerald Forest (1985), produced and directed by John Boorman.

An engineer moves his family to the Amazon to clear the forest and build a huge dam. His young boy is taken by an Indian tribe called the Invisible People (because of the paint they wear). Ten years later the man is still working on the dam and still searching for his son. When he finds him, the young man doesn't want to leave. He's in Paradise. But there's trouble: the forest is vanishing, his father has introduced a firearm and the neighboring cannibal tribe is acting up.

The story uses two common motifs that fit naturally together: (1) the Noble Savage, living innocently with nature, and (2) wicked civilization despoiling the earth. Dad has to decide where his obligations lie, and how to help his son.

I like the whole thing, although the action/adventure final act becomes increasingly implausible, but exciting, tragic and hopeful at the same time.

What I most like are the forest maidens, comfortable in just a few bits of string and leaf. I wish the disc had a commentary track by the director so he could explain whether they had a pageant to select such shapely and uninhibited young women. If that's a random sampling, well:

Adam never had so much joy
When he saw Eve in Eden

-- Niamh Parsons

Some favorite bits:
  • The chief says he took the boy because he pitied him having to live in the Dead World.
  • The slowly dawning mutual recognition when father and son are finally reunited during a cannibal attack.
  • When courting his love, Tommy is supposed to bash her with a ceremonial club. He makes a half-hearted swipe, she rolls her eyes and says "Do it right." So he knocks her a good one, catches her and carries her away.
  • They have good drugs in the Amazon. You can see your spirit-animal and do vision quests.
  • When the young women are rescued from a fortified bordello compound they discard their new clothes with disgust, resuming their naked innocence.
  • That Nature magic really works!

The cannibal tribesmen are painted black; is that to make them look sort of African?

Abundant nudity. No Blu-ray. The DVD has selectable subtitles but only for the Indian language.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:37 AM 03-12-2012
A Zed & Two Noughts (1985), written and directed by Peter Greenaway.

Or, as we would say in America, "a Z and two zeroes" = z00 = zoo.

I tried to watch this on DVD years ago but without subtitles found it hard to follow. An import Blu-ray corrects that and includes an illuminating commentary track by the director.

In a freak car collision with a swan two women are killed. (Chatter over the police radio: "A swan? ... What sort of a swan? ... Leda? Who is Leda? ... Is she the injured woman? ... Laid by whom? ... By Jupiter? Was that the cause of death?") Their husbands -- brothers and both zoologists -- overcome by grief, become obsessed with death, decay, and amputations.

They become erotically involved with a woman who lost a leg in the accident. They do time lapse photography of rotting plants and animals and we get to see a rapidly putrifying alligator, a dog and even a zebra. Other perverse subplots. The children are safe but I wouldn't want to be an animal in that zoo.

Often called "hard to watch", and I was in fact checking the time-remaining counter pretty often. It's not quite so heavy as the summary suggests, because it is obviously a vehicle for Greenaway's painterly imagination and quirky sense of humor. The exhilarating Michael Nyman score gives the whole project vitality.

Greenaway is always pretty strange. Of those I've seen, Prospero's Books is the only film of his I've really enjoyed. This one has mostly medium distance shots; close-ups are rare.

Nudity, pretty unappealing, and much unwholesomeness. I'll never hear "The Teddy Bears Picnic" the same way again. Filmed at the Rotterdam Zoo.

Greenaway speaks well and his commentary track is worth visiting, although his esthetics and design concerns are pretty far afield from what I look for in movies. He admits to the criticism that, even by the standards of Euro art films, this one is complex and incomprehensible. It was his second feature and he was trying too hard.

He says we have three films struggling to get out:
  • An eco-message of the World as Ark
  • A study of light, both in traditional painting and in cinema
  • The quest of the brothers to make sense of the world, with two conflicting sources of wisdom: the one that starts with Adam and Eve, and the one that starts with Darwin.

He remembers being grilled by David Cronenberg at a Toronto film festival and believes the themes of twinship and gynecology were extracted from this film to appear in Dead Ringers a couple of years later.

All region Blu-ray import, 24.0hz, subtitles, commentary track.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:21 AM 03-21-2012
Ms. 45 (1981), directed by Abel Ferrara.

A mute seamstress is raped twice a few minutes apart, once in an alley and again by a burglar in her apartment. She kills the burglar. Now unhinged, she puts him in the tub, dismembers him, puts the pieces in garbage bags and leaves them around town for unlucky street people to find. (None of the above is very explicit; there is no nudity but the rape scenes are horrifically raw even without it).

She uses the burglar's gun to shoot men who frighten her, then those who are merely irritating. She goes into full vigilante Death Wish mode by dressing sexy and luring street gangs to their doom. Finally, like Carrie at the prom, she has a total meltdown at the office Halloween party and massacres all the men. It's always men.

This is a great rape and revenge exploitation picture, so called because it's the sort that critics hate at the time and appreciate 20 years later. Zoƫ Tamerlis Lund is wonderful in all aspects of the character: abused victim, traumatized survivor (has she survived?), sexy avenger and finally psycho. No lines: she's mute.

It's oddly structured. The first part is realistically grim (streets full of garbage, men as predators), but becomes more fantastic with flashes of dark absurdity and even humor. I think I like the first half better, but it has to go somewhere and I won't argue with the director here.

Many good little bits that elevate it above the ordinary: when the women leave work they walk a gauntlet of crude men yelling lewd comments, then we see Thana shopping the meat section of the grocery. After the first rape she is left in the alley with the rest of the garbage, but when she strains to lift the dead man into the tub, her position is from behind like that of her first attacker.

I don't know where she gets all that ammo. Her Halloween costume is "sexy nun" and I wonder if the director is working out something for himself here. Every man in the picture is disgusting: either brutal or just slimy. But it's wrong to call this a "feminist Death Wish", unless you think the concept implies insanity (well, maybe). Our heroine is nuts.

Effective score, approaching police siren intensity at times. No nudity. The violence, mainly shooting effects, is not as gruesome as it might have been.

This is long out of print in region 1 DVD. The thumbnails are from the French region 2 PAL disc, said to be the only uncut edition: L'Ange de la Vengeance ("Avenging Angel").

The sexploitation poster:

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:32 AM 03-23-2012
The Road Warrior (1981), directed by George Miller.

We (my movie-going gang and I) must have seen this ten times the year it came out, finally at an almost out of business drive-in where we were the only customers. It was a good night. We set up lawn chairs and tables and had a good picnic spread, turning on all the speakers in the surrounding half acre.

Strangely enough, all the women we ever took loved it, which is odd given the brutal, unapologetic violence, including gang rape, murder and mayhem. Why? I can only guess that ladies love a tormented hero. Or maybe it was just Mel.

What else? Siege stories are timeless, and I think there is always a lurking yearning for the collapse of civilization, a chance for a new world, good-bye to the nagging problems of ordinary life. I've still never seen anything like the car crash scenes or the incredible final 20 minutes of breakout and highway chase.

We were particularly fond of Wez: that a mohawked, bare-assed leather gay-boy could thrive in the post-apocalyptic wasteland: that's an endearing concept. Loved the Feral Kid and the Warrior Woman.

The cheap, junky look was very appealing at the time. I don't think that gyro-copter can do vertical takeoff or landing. The overhead prop is unpowered. I know it can't carry two people.

Loud, up-front score, lots of Holst.

Available on Blu-ray. The black levels are not very good, and are awful in the night scenes. I don't remember if the film was better. The director and cinematographer provide a relaxed commentary track:
  • The film was shot more or less sequentially, and written as they went along.
  • The dog was from the pound where it was scheduled to be killed the next day. It was smart and gave a good audition. After the film it went to a farm and worked cattle.
  • Bitterly cold during filming, really hard on the leather bondage characters.
  • No rehearsals or read-throughs.
  • They did not shoot a rabbit with a little arrow. It was a stunt!
  • They say the Lord Humungus was played by a former Mr Sweden, but I don't see that in his bio. A pulsing prosthetic for the back of his head worked only briefly.
  • They got the most audience complaints about shooting the dog, which people are convinced happened on-screen.
  • From the start of writing to theater premier was exactly 1 year. (I find that astonishing).

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 06:07 AM 03-31-2012
A Passage to India (1984), directed by David Lean.

A many-layered tale of 1920s India, when the British empire has passed it's peak and won't be running the country for much longer. Our threads:

Miss Adela Quested travels to India to see her fiance. The British are not supposed to mix with the Indians but she and the young man's mother are contrary and get to know some locals, including the poor Dr Aziz. One day, riding her bicycle alone, she encounters a ruined temple with erotic engravings of the sort young English girls are not supposed to see; in the shadows of the swaying bamboo leaves the figures almost seem to move... Wild monkeys (monsters from the Id!) chase her away.

Shortly thereafter Aziz takes them on an elaborate picnic outing to some famous caves. Adela becomes confused and distraught and rushes off the mountain, suffering injuries. Aziz is charged with attempted sexual assault. Later in a tense courtroom scene Adela struggles to remember, to understand, and to tell the truth.

We have the collision of Britain and India and the arrogance of the Brits. This borders on "message" but Maurice Jarre's oddly off-balance score keeps us guessing, and there are multiple ironies: when riding an elephant Aziz proudly recalls his Mogul ancestors, themselves conquerors of India. And British justice serves him well in the end.

We see the unlikeable colonial administrators abusing the locals, but even the kindly Adela and Mrs Moore cause an unusual amount of trouble, as if good intentions alone were not enough to cushion the clash of civilizations. And yet, in the end: forgiveness and reconciliation.

Finally, we have mysteries. Movies are good at the vivid and obvious, but the suggested and intimated are much more difficult. An ethereal wind is blowing Adela toward the Marabar Caves from the very first scene. Mrs Moore is recognized as an "old soul" and a sort of saint. Throughout the film her name is shouted in exaltation and as a cry for justice. Themes of fate and destiny can emerge from film if treated gently.

I don't see how you could do all that in less than 2 3/4 hours. It's never sluggish.

Lean's last film. He also wrote the final screenplay and did the editing.

I've liked Judy Davis ever since her first film. She's at the intersection of clever and plain and pretty, with a dangerous edge. James Fox, as a decent schoolteacher, is another favorite.

Available on Blu-ray with a rather good image. The commentary track is by one of the producers who grew up in India. It has details on locations and sets. More:
  • He thinks casting Alec Guiness as a Hindu scholar was ridiculous, but Lean had to have him. Guiness was dubious but did it.
  • I've seen stories about Judy Davis blowing up at David Lean while filming. The commentator just says that they were fighting and, as is the producer's job from time to time, he locked them on a balcony until they became friends again.
  • One (unnamed) studio promised to finance the film if an explicit rape was added to the cave scene.
  • Sidney Sheinberg, Terry Gilliam's nemesis on Brazil, said "E. M. Forster? I thought he wrote those Hornblower books." (That was C.S. Forester. An easy mistake to make, but if I were considering a big film project I would try to learn more about it first).

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:35 AM 04-05-2012
Millennium (1989), directed by Michael Anderson.

You see, this is the difficult thing about looking for time-travelers: they don't want to be found! You must look for them in places where people do not normally go. Or, where there are people that no one will ever see again. on an airplane before it crashes. Body snatchers from the future. I think about this every time I fly.

It's a modest SF romance, but the IMDB rating of 5.4 is a bit harsh. I'm guessing the problem is that SF audiences are young males, and although they can tolerate a certain amount of romance (see Terminator), too much and they reject the girliness. Here, it's true, the romance plot is gooped on pretty thick. Plus we have to rerun certain scenes twice from new perspectives, which strains patience. Finally, Kris Kristofferson's obsession with Cheryl Ladd clouds his mind and ruins his judgment, making him less manly.

But it has exciting action scenes as well and they do exercise the time travel concept. His first and second times meeting her are her second and first times meeting him. They are on the same page for the third and fourth meetings, which is a relief. (Wait, I think I skipped one. Oh, well). It has nice paranoia moments: people from the future really do watch us, and sometimes you can feel it...

Paradox is in the nature of time travel. Visitors from the future try to minimize their impact but something always goes wrong. In particular, they're always dropping those stunners. After a night of hot sex (which must be hard to get in the year 3000, excepting with robots and mutants) she doesn't try very hard to keep him from going to the hanger. She could have tied him to the bed. And if her mission is to keep him from finding the stunner, couldn't she just pick it up before he does so? She knows where it is.

She manages to blow up the future, but maybe it's not her fault. The paradoxes just accumulate.

Screenplay by John Varley, based on a short story later expanded into a novel. I recall the short story was better, but it's been a while.

Netflix doesn't have the DVD, but cheap used copies are common.

Mr.G's Avatar Mr.G 10:35 AM 04-05-2012
Bill, I tried watching this on Netflix streaming last August and got through about 30 minutes of it before quitting. It's an odd sort of scifi flick that borders on being Roger Corman-ish. I might try to finish it someday, thanks.

EDIT: I finished watching it last night. There is no chemistry between Ladd and Kristofferson which is essential to make this story work. Kristofferson tries, Ladd doesn't or can't. Hard to believe it won the 1990 CSC Award for cinematography. I was surprised to see matte artists Syd Dutton, Bill Taylor and Albert Whitlock listed in the credits since the matte paintings did not seem up to their standards, maybe a budget problem.
wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:08 AM 04-10-2012
Terminator (1984), directed by James Cameron.

I didn't notice it in the theater, but whenever I watch this on home video, in that slow-motion scene where the Terminator locates Sarah Connor in the Tech Noir club, my eyes are irresistibly drawn to a young woman dancing in the background. She has a red skirt and striped top. Who is that?

It's hard to "see" a film you've seen so many times before, but this one never fails to please. And, with time and sequels, we can get new perspectives. This time I noticed how much the machines are already taking over, and how the street people living on garbage are the pioneers of the post-apocalyptic future. The lovers are caught up in a blue-collar adventure: they aren't scientists or special agents, just a soldier and a waitress.

Even given the traditional "they always jump one more time" motif of thrillers and horror films, Cameron really delivers action value here, which makes perfect sense given the nature of the cyborg menace. The driving sequences are still wonderfully exciting. The locations of the next film are sunnier and more upscale: malls and clean freeways. This is darker, grittier.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is obviously well-suited to the role, humorless but they still get humor out of the character, better here than when they start to yuck it up in the sequels.

I really admire Michael Biehn's intensity, his full-on survival mode.

Linda Hamilton (big hair!) does not have cover-girl beauty but is awfully appealing. She's lonely and low-maintenance. Does that make her seem more accessible to an ordinary guy? She knows a woman's job is to relieve her man's suffering, and knows just when to do it. (She's harder in the sequel).

Simple but effective score. The effects haven't always worn well, but true SF fans don't judge a film by the effects.

Available on Blu-ray, pretty grungy looking. I sort of remember all of 1984 looking like that.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:38 AM 04-17-2012
For Your Eyes Only (1981), directed by John Glen.

The Brits have lost a code machine and Bond has to recover it from a sunken ship before the Russians get it and turn all those missiles around.

We forget about that for most of the first half. It has a fine beginning moment, with Bond visiting his wife's grave. (Did you forget he was married for a few hours in On Her Majesty's Secret Service?) Then we have a silly segment disposing of Blofeld; his final appearance in the series, not counting Never Say Never Again.

Then it's escapades in various Euro resort areas, with a Winter Olympic theme.

The second half improves with lovely underwater photography and combat scenes, and some really fine technical climbing stunts. But I don't know why Mr Big didn't pick up the code machine from the wreck: he was parked above it and had all the deep diving gear. Or how our heroes manage a sneak attack on the villains' base in a boat with tall sails.

This one gets credit for being less gimmicky and comical than other then-recent entries in the series, but it's still Roger Moore. He has his defenders but they are a minority of Bond fans. I have nothing against him, but he does seem to coast through the movies. He's ok at the wry and comical aspects, but we hardly ever see from him the passion, hardness and violence the character requires. This film has one exception: the bit where he kicks the car over the cliff. But apparently Moore didn't like that type of scene.

Girly theme song, and the action score is the peppy, funky film music popular at the time. Bond Girl fatality rate: 33%.

Available on Blu-ray.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:36 AM 04-24-2012
Raising Arizona (1987), written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen.

It would be hard to find a funnier or more warm-hearted movie about convenience store robbery, jail break and child abduction. The Coen Bros were really blazing in those years, and are not done yet.

I see some reviews call it forced, with style over substance. To me it's an updating of old screwball formulae: you expect craziness and wry commentary embedded in a general sense of decency and the film delivers.

Fine cast. I've read that her role was written for Holly Hunter. Nicolas Cage deserves particular praise for his comical timing and heartfelt anguished performance. He gets a lot of grief for his films and acting but he's got something that is really rather rare. When we laugh at him we're laughing at ourselves, and his pain makes us sincerely care.

I love his revelatory dreams and his antique, barely literate, yet entirely honest narration and letter writing. That the cons all speak therapy-talk is funny.

Available on Blu-ray.

gwsat's Avatar gwsat 08:31 AM 04-24-2012
Couldn't agree more about Raising Arizona. The Coen brothers are among my favorite directors and have made a bunch of my favorite films, including Raising Arizona. Unlike many, I think Nick Cage is a genius when he gets to play weird but oddly charming characters, like H.I. McDunnough. Unfortunately, Cage's performances don't always work but he was at the top of his game in Raising Arizona.
dfergie's Avatar dfergie 08:50 AM 04-24-2012
The scene where he is being drug out from under the truck has always reminded me of the Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons... one of my favorites also.
gwsat's Avatar gwsat 10:59 AM 04-24-2012
One of my all time favorite lines is in Raising Arizona. After H.I.'s two slacker friends break out of prison and come come to his trailer, H.I. tells them that he is going to get a job. In response one of them says, "H.I., you're young and you got your health, what you want with a job?"
wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:22 AM 04-26-2012
License to Kill (1989), directed by John Glen.

When CIA pal Felix Leiter's bride is killed by a drug lord, James Bond goes rogue to hunt him down and kill him.

The first half is darker and more violent than usual. Bond is an unsubtle avenger, charging in and killing freely: by gun, airplane, sharks (again!) and even with a tub of maggots. The second half lightens up and becomes the more traditional Bond action plot: visit the casino, time out for a bit of romance, penetrate the enemy organization and tour his vast secret facility.

Bond #16 is Timothy Dalton's second and last, and the last Bond film of the 80s. In sharp contrast with Roger Moore, Dalton is more violent and passionate, less comedic. He's better at that side of the character than any other Bond, excepting Daniel Craig who also has a handle on Bond-as-killer.

We have some good stunts and titanic explosions, but the dialogue and villains have a cheap made-for-TV character, back when that was bad. Note that Bond's own people try to kill him at one point, and that he keeps $5 million in drug money to finance his revenge operation.

The women are not very involving this time, but romance is not the emphasis. Young Benicio del Toro is a psycho-thug.

Available on Blu-ray with a rather fine image.

Mr.G's Avatar Mr.G 10:02 AM 04-26-2012
I found Carey Lowell quite appealing in this film. It was interesting to discover Diana Lee Hsu who played the Hong Kong narcotic agent and was featured in the title credits was a former Playboy Playmate of the Month (1988). I was sorry that it took so long before the next Bond movie appeared and that Dalton chose not to return.
drbonbi's Avatar drbonbi 10:31 AM 04-26-2012
^^ Carey Lowell is a personal favorite. As is probably well known, she went on to play Assistant District Attorney Jamie Ross on the television drama Law & Order and later on its spinoff, Law & Order: Trial by Jury.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:31 AM 04-30-2012
High Road to China (1983), directed by Brian G. Hutton.

In the 1920s, spoiled but plucky rich girl Bess Armstrong hires drunken WW1 ace Tom Selleck to help find her missing father, a hunt that takes them across India, Afghanistan, Nepal and China.

This is in the post-Indiana Jones retro-adventure genre. Nate and Hayes (1983) with Tommy Lee Jones was another.

The good:
  • Trekking his and her biplanes across Asia is irresistibly romantic. You can't have fun like that anymore.
  • Selleck is the distilled essence of hunkiness. He had that always-unshaven thing going decades before anyone else.
  • Drunken bum that he is, you don't want to challenge him to an aerial dogfight.
  • Nice aerial photography and plane stunts.
  • Real locations (Yugoslavia substituting for China, etc). Today it would be CGI.
  • John Barry score.

The bad:
  • Selleck seems unnecessarily sour for a long time after he's taken the job. His post-war cynicism never jibes with the action/adventure tone of the story.
  • They could have turned down the angry romantic yelling from a 9 to say a 6.
  • Where are they getting gas?
  • A lot of the action/adventure just doesn't work. It's hard to say why. Indiana Jones can shoot wildly into mobs of Egyptians and kill them in comically inventive ways and it's all rip-roaring fun. We're pretending we're living in an earlier age, right? But when Selleck strafes and bombs a camp of primitive goat-herders it seems unheroic and unfunny.

The ugly:
  • Brian Blessed as the "Khan" of a Waziristan tribe: good grief. Bring back Voltan the Hawkman -- he'd be more believable.
  • Wilford Brimley as Daddy is just too damn rambunctiously colorful.
  • Yes, they have pink and blue airplanes. I didn't notice it in the theater.

I saw this in the theater and it has been on my want-list for years, but was unavailable until recently. My wife had never seen it. Her judgment: "Sometimes these things work and sometimes they don't." But later: "We're keeping this one, aren't we?" I think it's the Selleck Effect.

Available on bare-bones Blu-ray. It's about DVD quality, maybe a touch better in spots. It has some black, but the blacks are often crushed. Some dark scenes are very noisy, but that may have been the film.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:06 AM 05-03-2012
Cannery Row (1982), directed by David S. Ward.

I see that Steinbeck's fans are unhappy with this adaptation of Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday. It's true: the movie is much lighter and more romantic than the books and introduces some baseball and guilt subplots that are not in the original. Maybe a different title would have helped, acknowledging it as a fantasy inspired by Steinbeck: "Doc & Suzy" or "Tales from the Bear Flag Restaurant" (the name of the bordello).

It's two hours long and I could have trimmed 10 or 15 minutes, but apart from that I love everything about this film. I love the little self-contained end-of-the-Depression fantasy setting on the California coast. I love the chamber music and Dr John's blues piano. And I love the cast and characters.

Nick Nolte is Doc, a marine biologist with a secret sorrow. He makes a small living collecting marine specimens, is easy going but becoming restless.

Debra Winger is new arrival Suzy, down on her luck. The only job she can find is at the brothel, and that makes us sad. (Madam: "You have to pretend to like it.") She and Doc have great clumsy chemistry.

M. Emmet Walsh is Mack, leader of the bums who reside in the junkyard and serve as a comic chorus. When Doc poses him a problem Mack's immediate response is "Why don't you just give up?" Later Doc tells him: "Mack, don't say you'll pay me back. You know you won't. You'll feel bad and it might be a couple of years before you feel good again."

Sven Nykvist cinematography. John Huston narrates. I don't see any credit for Dr John (Malcolm John "Mac" Rebennack, Jr) on the IMDB page.

Raquel Welch was the original Suzy, but was fired after five days. She sued and got a big settlement. I think her undoubted glamour might have overpowered the role. Winger has more girl-next-door appeal.

Last lines:


The party didn't slow down 'till dawn. The crew of a San Pedro tuna boat showed up about 1, and was routed. The police came by at 2, and stayed to join the party. Mack took their squad car to go get more wine. A woman called the police to complain about the noise, and couldn't get anybody. The crew of the tuna boat came back about 3, and was welcomed with open arms. The police reported their own car stolen, and found it later, on the beach. Things were finally back to normal, on Cannery Row. Once more, the world was spinning in greased grooves.

rdgrimes's Avatar rdgrimes 06:33 AM 05-03-2012
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Cannery Row (1982), directed by David S. Ward.

This has always been a favorite of mine. The great frog caper is a classic.
wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:40 AM 05-06-2012
Never Say Never Again (1983), directed by Irvin Kershner.

When SPECTRE steals two nuclear cruise missiles, James Bond is taken off the bench and unleased on the Bahamas, the Riviera and North Africa. Sean Connery returns to the role in this remake of Thunderball, 18 years after the original.

Connery fans rejoice. No other Bond combines his confidence, humor and physicality. He's 52 here and plays his age well enough, although the action scenes strain credulity. It's much lighter than the original and has no dramatic force or tension whatsoever. The final cavern shootout and underwater combat are poor.

The worst moment is when we find that cheesy video games have invaded the casino and Bond has to do nerd-battle with the arch-villain (an effectively nutty Klaus Maria Brandauer). No, the worst moment is the Dr Evil radio-controlled sharks.

The women are bright spots: the wicked Barbara Carrera (that's her water-skiing backwards in pane #2 below; I don't know why she can't afford a new swimsuit) and Kim Basinger, wholesome but often in transparent clothing. (And: a woman named "Domino" should be wearing black and white). Will Bond allow one of his girls to be auctioned off to lusty desert tribesmen? What do you think?

They do funny bits with MI6 gone all stuffy and bureaucratic. "Algernon" Q commiserates with Bond: "Now that you're on this I hope we're going to have some gratuitous sex and violence."

This is not an official Eon Productions entry in the series. It was released the same year as Octopussy, Bond #13 with Roger Moore. It has a long complicated production history. Because of rights issues they do not use the familiar Bond music or opening. Both films were successful.

The music is mostly missing, and what there is belongs in some other film.

Available on Blu-ray. Bad commentary track with the director and a Bond scholar; I couldn't finish it.

wmcclain's Avatar wmcclain 05:37 AM 05-17-2012
The Dead (1987), directed by John Huston.

This was John Huston's last film. He was on an oxygen bottle and in a wheelchair and had the rest of the family working on the project. It's an adaption of a famous short story and, although not exciting in any ordinary sense, is beautifully done and quite moving at the end. The lighting or lenses or film stock give it an old-film look.

Dublin, January 6, 1904. A dinner party hosted by two old sisters for their friends and extended family. Dancing, singing, recitations, ample food and drink. A certain amount of flirting, politics and theological debate. And that's about it. Almost.

I recall the after dinner speech being very special in the text. They substitute something simpler here, but that's understandable. You can't stop a movie to read an essay aloud.

Donal Donnelly is particularly fine as the perpetually drunken Freddy. The Joyce estate chose him as the official audiobook reader for the books. You need an Irishman for that job.

For me, a powerful segment comes at the very end (some of this may be clearer in the text). A husband and wife ride a carriage back to their hotel. He's been thinking about her all evening, and plans on making love to her. (Their room is freezing cold; people were hardy back then). He is shocked to discover she has been thinking of someone else: of a boy who died for love of her when she was a girl. And what can he do about that?

The lesson I take: when we are very close to someone we like to think we are so attuned that we become mind-readers. But it's not true. We're always separate little worlds.


A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Closet Geek's Avatar Closet Geek 09:13 AM 05-30-2012
Originally Posted by wmcclain View Post

Flash Gordon (1980), directed by Mike Hodges.

Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would've hidden from it in terror.

I saw this in the theater. In the next row were two serious science fiction fans, very unhappy. I've always wanted serious SF in films too, but after a while you get tired of waiting and just want to have fun. Here they turn the Silly Dial up to 10. And sometimes to 11, which is too much: when the Hawkman says "they just winged me", or when they play the Wedding March for Ming's nuptials, I just wish they hadn't.

Still, you have to give them credit for achieving what they intended. No suspension of disbelief required, because there is no intended believable world. Time has made the production more than a bit clunky, but it still has an amount of grandeur. The music helps. There are moments when we glimpse a possibly more serious treatment.

Max von Sydow was born to play Ming the Merciless. All those years with Ingmar Bergman were just prelude. His Ming is more believable than his Jesus.

Brian Blessed and Timothy Dalton: I admire those distinguished British actors who will do anything. Ornella Muti: yeow. The only other picture I remember her in was Swann in Love. Everyone else: good job. What happened to you afterwards?

Back then I wanted one of the space shuttles to be named War Rocket Ajax. Dear Dale Arden: how does doing a cartwheel improve your aim? I wondered the same thing in The Matrix. The woodbeast is kind of cool, as is the swamp spider thing. Some of the laser blast and energy field effects look like the video games popular at the time.

I counted the word "pleasure" used with lewd emphasis 7 times. It's a PG film.

Available on Blu-ray. I notice it was filmed with some sort of star filter in some scenes, most noticeable when there is a lot of sparkly jewelry. That can't help the fine detail.


I was 10'ish when this came out and it left an impression. It was fun but no Star Wars. As I got older I got wiser but it remains fun mainly because of memories with my best friend. Queen is Queen, nuf said about that. Don't forget about seven different colors of blood. War Rocket Ajax?! Wooo...any body out there a graphic artist? I see a t-shirt in the works with that one. And Ming needs a love potion before making love....they got little blue pills for that now! Anybody ever figure out what "bore worms" were? Somehow I get the impression that those involved "pleasure" as well.

Wooooo....that was fun, we'll have to do that again sometime.
Tags: Reviews , The Jewel Of The Nile Blu Ray , Blu Ray Movies , Romancing The Stone Blu Ray , Flash Gordon Blu Ray , An American Werewolf In London Full Moon Edition Blu Ray , Big Trouble In Little China Blu Ray , Indiana Jones The Complete Adventures Blu Ray
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