2017 - Julyby mdjedovic | created - 01 Jul 2017 | updated - 01 Aug 2017 | Public
RANKING ALL FILMS:
01. Don’t Look Now (1973) 4/4 02. Near Dark (1987) 3.5/4 03. Resolution (2012) 3.5/4 04. Cohen and Tate (1988) 3.5/4 05. The List of Adrian Messenger (1963) 3/4 06. Stuck (2007) 3/4 07. I Love You to Death (1990) 3/4 08. The Lost Boys (1987) 2.5/4 09. The Hitcher (1986) 2.5/4 10. Our Man in Havana (1959) 2.5/4 11. Dreamchild (1985) 2/4 12. The Running Man (1963) 2/4 13. The Hippopotamus (2017) 2/4 14. Bad Moon (1996) 2/4 15. Blue Steel (1990) 2/4 16. Caboblanco (1980) 2/4 17. Mesmer (1994) 2/4 18. 100 Feet (2008) 2/4 19. The Kremlin Letter (1970) 1.5/4 20. Secret Friends (1991) 1.5/4 21. The Canal (2014) 1.5/4 22. Body Parts (1991) 1.5/4
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1. Dreamchild (1985)
PG | 94 min | Biography, Comedy, Drama
Exploring the somewhat darker and more mysterious side of Lewis Carroll's classic book, the movie follows Alice Liddell Hargreaves (Coral Browne) (the book's inspiration) as an old woman ... See full summary »
Votes: 1,381 | Gross: $1.22M
Dennis Potter is one of British television's most respected and most controversial writers. Despite this, "Dreamchild" was only his fourth film. It is an unusual biopic on Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the little girl that inspired Lewis Carroll to write "Alice in Wonderland". We meet her here as an old lady (Coral Browne), close to 80-years old arriving in the USA for the first time to receive an honorary diploma on the centenary of Carroll's birth. She is distressed at leaving her country, perhaps in the first stages of dementia, and haunted in her memories by Carroll and in her dreams by his creation. This means "Dreamchild" is three-fold. The first, main story focuses on Mrs Hargreaves in America. She's the perfect Victorian lady, sitting up straight, saying her please and thank yous, and hates being called by her given name. She is accompanied by her companion, a 20-something orphan Lucy (Nicola Cowper) who is wide-eyed and romantic in the face of Mrs Hargreaves' strictness. They encounter a journalist (Peter Gallagher) who makes Mrs Hargreaves a business offer to make money off of her fame endorsing products and films. The story then unwisely shifts focus from Mrs Hargreaves to satirising the marketing business as the confused old woman is paid to read out idiotic commercials and take photos with movie actors. Then, of course, there's the tumor-like and highly cliched love story between the companion and the journalist that is forced and pushed beyond its stretching point. All this glitz and comedy does is distill the film and steal the time that could have been spent analysing Mrs Hargreaves and the thoughts that haunt her. The second tier of the story is her flashbacks to the childhood spent with Lewis Carroll (Ian Holm). Carroll is a strange man, a stuttering maths tutor with an uncommon (and perhaps even unhealthy) obsession with children. He invents silly stories to entertain them while he takes their pictures. It is never outright stated or actively portrayed but the impression one gets is that he's a paedophile, even if the punch is softened by ending the film on one of his quotes: "Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.” I prefer to imagine Carroll as a childlike and benevolent creature with a lot of social anxiety and awkwardness. These scenes are taken almost verbatim from Potter's second TV play "Alice" from 1965 that dealt with the same story. Having seen both I must say I prefer "Alice" with reservations. It's a clunky script, but more focused and more interesting. "Dreamchild" had more promise but by drifting into marketing satire it failed to focus on the more interesting story of Mrs Hargreaves herself. "Alice", meanwhile, deals more with Carroll who is well played by George Baker. The paedophilia angle is more openly played but the conclusion of the play is that he is, in fact, benevolent. Ian Holm is not as good as Baker, but he's not given much to do. These flashbacks were heavily and unwisely cut by producer Verity Lambert in post-production and we only get vague and brief glances at Carroll even though he is a very important character. We get a much longer look at young Alice played by Amelia Shankley who is just not up to the task. This becomes especially clear when you compare her performance to the much stronger one given by Deborah Watling in "Alice". Finally, I have a problem with Gavin Millar's direction of these segments. The final scene of the film is a picnic scene in which Alice thoughtlessly but unintentionally hurts Carroll's feelings and her older sister recites the paragraph I quoted above. What is a very sad and poignant scene in "Alice" is reduced to a long take shot seemingly without any care or consideration for the characters and thus robbed of its poignancy. The performances are much worse in the film as well with Holm spending most of the scene leering at Alice who, in turn, spends most of it giggling and reciting her lines without conviction. The third tier is Mrs Hargreaves' dreams which are populated by characters from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". However, her dreams are not pleasant and are a manifestation of her troubled thoughts. Thus, the scenes are staged with a horror edge to them, in dark and vast vistas with sharp rocks and crooked trees. The creatures themselves are malformed, raggedy, and creepy like old toys forgotten in attics come to life to remind us of our distant childhoods. They are well-made puppets made by the Jim Henson company that only served to remind me how great practical effects are. These scenes also come from "Alice" and are more successful than the ones in the TV play which had a tendency to drone on. The nightmarish quality makes them quite interesting even though they occasionally hammer their points in with vulgar gusto. Like with "Alice", I admire "Dreamchild's" ideas and structure more than I do the film. It has quite an interesting premise that is never satisfactorily examined due to Potter's attention being dragged away by the fairly inane and soft satire aspects of the film. The structure is quite Ken Russellian, in fact, some of it alternatingly reminded me of "Valentino" and "Mahler", but never quite as audacious or powerful. I liked Coral Browne's performance and the puppets but not much else. Still, it's a fine movie. It's entertaining and some of the more cliched moments are still heartwarming if you're not too cynical. Also there are a few truly funny quips and gags. You'll enjoy "Dreamchild" sufficiently if you don't expect more from it than you would a standard Hollywood biopic.
2. Secret Friends (1991)
97 min | Drama, Fantasy
During a train ride, an anxiety attack leads middle-aged illustrator John (Sir Alan Bates) into an identity crisis. As his marital problems merge and blur into his fantasy life with ... See full summary »
"Secret Friends" is a work exhibiting unmistakable symptoms of post-"Singing Detective" Dennis Potter. Potter, who'd since 1965 been one of BBC's most successful and notorious writers and who'd since his third script "Stand Up, Nigel Barton" continuously shook and redefined television hit his peak in 1986 with one of television's greatest classics, "The Singing Detective". Taking ideas he'd explored before such as actors lip-synching to 1920s and 30s standards, and a plot happening on multiple layers of consciousness he created an intricate, heartfelt, and incessantly fascinating masterpiece structured almost mathematically in such a way that it seems impossible to unravel until you do and suddenly everything is clear. The series is so complex and convoluted that even the most baffling spy thrillers of the likes of "The Kremlin Letter" can't hold a candle to it. All of it takes place inside the head of a hospitalised mystery writer, unable to move and heavily drugged his consciousness splits into four streams. First off we have hallucinations caused by drugs which take the form of lavish musical numbers, then there are flashbacks to his less than idyllic childhood, manifestations of his paranoia about his wife whom he thinks is cheating on him, and finally and most memorably his ideas for a screenplay about a private eye who's also a nightclub singer going up against Nazis, spies, and crooks. But these four streams are not separate and they bleed into each other and mix with reality until the whole thing becomes a marvellous soup of symbolism and absurdism. Most fascinating about the whole experience, however, is just how easy to follow the whole thing is. The structure is so tight, so clever, and so masterfully crafted that we never feel lost even when Nazi spies start interacting with the writer's wife's boyfriend who is not real, maybe. Potter had done it before, of course, on a much smaller scale with his 1978 series "Pennies from Heaven" in which we followed a few weeks in the life of Arthur, a sheet salesman who has immense troubles communicating his feelings. Whenever he wants to say something he bungles it up and then we see what he wanted to say through a musical number also lip-synched from old recordings. It was nowhere near as ambitious and grandiose as "The Singing Detective", but it was just as perfectly structured. Sadly, when you've done something as striking as "The Singing Detective" you have nowhere further to go as Potter discovered. Even his most hardcore fans (and I count myself as one) have to admit that all of his work after 1986 is middling at best as he scrambled to recapture the immaculate complexity of his earlier work. His first immediate piece after 1986 was "Visitors", a one-off TV play I am really fond of but it was based on a previous work and is much less ambitious being a fairly straightforward (but not any less effective for it) affair. His next original piece after that was "Blackeyes" and this is where things started going downhill. What Potter thought was going to be a thoughtful and powerful condemnation of sexist male fantasies became a notorious cause celebre. Potter was branded a sexist himself and even nicknamed 'Dirty Den' by the tabloids. Now, Potter was never a stranger to controversy but while the quality of his previous work always overshadowed the loudmouth naysayers' negativity, "Blackeyes" left even his strident supporters without much to say. It is certainly ambitious, a TV series about a former model attempting to rewrite her uncle's novel based on his sexual fantasies of her, but it sadly just doesn't work. It's a mishmash of Potteresque cliches with a plot that occurs on several layers in which reality and fantasy mix and lots of sex and philosophy, but it never adds up. It's just so complicated that it gets out of Potter's hands almost immediately. By the end, we're left confused, underwhelmed, and somewhat disgusted by the genuinely exploitative nature of the show which never seems to miss an opportunity to show its female lead, the undeniably gorgeous Gina Bellman, with her clothes off. While I don't subscribe to the idea that it's a horrid chauvinist fantasy, I do think it too overindulgent to actually work for anyone but Potter himself. "Secret Friends", Potter's first film script not based on one of his TV projects to make it to screen, is a very similar experience. It's an overcooked, overly complicated, and infuriatingly incomprehensible film loaded with insufficiently explained symbolism whose even most basic intentions remain vague at best. Potter's work has flopped on the big screen before but never for these reasons. His first cinematic outing was the 1981 Hollywood remake of "Pennies from Heaven" which was tonally all wrong. In the original the musical numbers didn't differ in look and tone from the "regular" scenes making them feel organic and natural, but in the film version the "regular" stuff was shot in a gritty, grainy way while the musical numbers were lavish, lush, and stylish making them lose their meaning within the narrative. "Brimstone and Treacle", the 1982 film version of Potter's banned 1976 TV play, fared better but still failed this time more because the material demanded the flat, stark look of a TV production that grounded the insane (in a good way) script. Shot in deep shadows and stylish framings it suddenly felt too outlandish and it fluttered away. "Gorky Park", his first big screen adaptation of someone else's work was a routine and coldly distant thriller, and "Dreamchild", based on his first TV play "Alice" was too cliched and unfocused. Finally, "Track 29" was similarly to "Brimstone and Treacle" too far out to work. "Secret Friends", on the other hand, has troubles from the outset. Until about 40 minutes in I had no idea who anyone was. The film begins with a series of baffling sequences in which characters whom we only distinguished by their actors show up and do unusual things. Alan Bates stands in the rain and says directly into the camera "I'm going to kill the bitch". Gina Bellman, who was previously shown as Bates' wife, is now a prostitute he picked up in a hotel. And most bafflingly, the whole thing seems to play out in Bates' head after he looks through the window of a train and realises he has amnesia. After seeing the entire film I can't say I know much more. I know the character's names now and I'm fairly certain that most of those sequences were fantasies of Bates' which got out of hand in his already damaged psyche but why, to what end, and what does all of that tell us, I don't know. It's hard to review a film you don't understand. In some films incomprehensibility is a virtue but here it's a flaw because it was obviously not the author's intention. This is the prime example of Potter scrambling to recapture the complex narrative structure of "The Singing Detective" and failing. I think he also bit more than is possible to chew. He chose to tell the story in flashbacks but because half of it takes place in reality and half of it in Bates' head it's impossible to distinguish between flashback and fantasy. Now I understand that he wanted to blur the line between fantasy and reality, but surely not between the past and the imaginary. The moments I figured out when they were happening I couldn't for the life of me figure out why. The symbolism just kept slipping out of my hands. Why does Gina Bellman seduce and then kill Bates' agent? Why isn't it ever mentioned again? Why did Bates lose his memory? Perhaps he didn't really lose his memory but just the ability to tell the difference between fantasy and reality. It is easy to dismiss "Secret Friends" as just a bunch of psychobabble, but it would be doing it a massive disservice. However, to follow this film you'd need to see it at least three times and draw a very complicated diagram and I'm not sure it's worth the bother. There are good sequences here, for instance, the one showing how the lead's childhood abuse at the hands of his religious father was the genesis of his fantasies is interesting, and there are lots of comedic flourishes that really work, but it all never comes together. I do think I understand the basic idea of "Secret Friends". It's about a man who escapes reality into his fantasies to such a degree that they cave in behind him and he's unable to escape, but Potter's way of telling the story is so roundabout, complicated, and incomprehensible that quite a lot of details of the story end up flying over our heads as we struggle to keep abreast of the plot. It feels like watching some action movie at six times the framerate. As you try to keep up with the speed of image you lose the plot. But the biggest problem of both "Secret Friends" and all of Potter's post '86 work is that it lacks heart. "The Singing Detective", "Pennies from Heaven" and all of his greatest work was so heartfelt, and understanding that you couldn't help but care for the characters and their predicaments. I didn't give the slightest damn about anyone in "Secret Friends". It felt cold and distant like a purely intellectual exercise. Potter put a lot of thought into it but no heart. I had the same problem with "Blackeyes" and with his next original work "Midnight Movie", which was far simpler and more entertaining but equally heartless and uninvolving. Potter died in 1994 without ever recapturing the magnificence of "The Singing Detective", but that's alright. All writers, directors, artists do, and they all equally don't know what to do afterwards. I think the best policy is retirement. When you reach something so brilliant you don't think you could ever top it, just go home and rest, you've deserved it.
3. Mesmer (1994)
Not Rated | 107 min | Biography, Drama
A biography of the eighteenth century Viennese physician, Franz Anton Mesmer, who used unorthodox healing practices based on his theory of "animal magnetism."
Franz Anton Mesmer was, according to Wikipedia, "a German physician with an interest in astronomy, who theorised that there was a natural energetic transference that occurred between all animated and inanimate objects that he called animal magnetism, sometimes later referred to as mesmerism". It says a lot about the informativeness of "Mesmer" that I had to Google its subject afterwards to figure out what I had just seen. What we do see in the film is Mesmer waving his hands around and over sick people with varying success. There are several outlandish sequences, the best in the film, in which Dr Mesmer's practices are shown. In one, followed by a group of lame and insane beggars straight out of Bunuel's "Viridiana", he marches down to a garden and assembles them into a circle. Then he gives them two metal poles to hang on to, one on each opposite side of the circle. Then he places his hands on one making the urchins go into a "mesmerised" frenzy, jumping, dancing, and screaming all 'round the garden. Sadly, due to its apparent televisuality, the film becomes inconsequential. The script by Dennis Potter, probably the greatest television screenwriter so far, doesn't seem to be about anything at all. It is most obviously not about Mesmer's practices as beyond a few vague mentions of the moon and magnets we are not told anything. It is not about the time Mesmer lives in either as it seems that the period setting only gives Potter an excuse to indulge in purple prose. Most confusingly of all, though, is that the film is not about Mesmer himself. Potter described him as half charlatan and half genius, and therein lies the rub, as they say. Potter is so non-committal to either of those ideas that Mesmer becomes a non-character in his own film. If he were a charlatan that would give Potter cause to investigate his motives. If he were a genius the film could have turned into one of those man ahead of his time vs. contemporaries film. But because he seems completely unwilling to reveal to us which Mesmer was he never gives him any real depth. Oh, he has personality by the truck loads. He is given plenty of witty lines, he is a gloriously vain show-off with a real sense for melodrama. In his first big scene, a young woman gets a seizure while performing in a large ballroom and while she is thrashing around on top of a harpsichord two doctors attempt to subdue her. Mesmer steps into the middle of the room and announces "This young woman is in urgent need of the assistance of Franz Anton Mesmer" prompting some unfortunate to ask "And who pray may that be" to which Mesmer barks "I am he". It also helps that Mesmer is played by Alan Rickman, an actor incapable of being boring on screen. He is the film's greatest saving grace. Rickman's pleasure in delivering the film's overwritten lines and playing those grandiose scenes of Mesmer's rituals is so tremendous that it becomes infectious. It's hard not to smile watching him do that arrogant wisecracker act he does so well. He also gives Mesmer some of the depth he should have been given in the script by playing him as a man who deeply believes he is a healer and is crushed whenever his experiments don't work. By refusing to be as non-committal as Potter, Rickman almost manages in making Mesmer a fascinating character, almost. But it's hard for an actor to play depth where there is none and Potter's shallow script keeps failing him. Another aspect of the film I thought would have worked much better on television is Roger Spottiswoode's leaden direction which lacks both style and grace that this storyline needs. During the entirety of the film, I kept imagining what Ken Russell could have done with Mesmer. A film about this strange man claiming to possess almost mystical powers engaging in weird rituals to the moon seems almost tailor made for Russell. There's a sequence late in the film in which Mesmer performs one of his rituals for the benefit of a bunch of Parisian ladies. What begins as a civil and rather formal drawing room gathering soon descends into an almost orgiastic frenzy. Had these sequences been shot in Russell's fanciful, wild style, even with Potter's script, the film could have been terrific. If nothing, Russell would have given it the structure it so painfully lacks. Spottiswoode, on the other hand, a fine director in his own right, shoots "Mesmer" like an HBO production. You can see there was money put into this project but his direction lacks any ambition or invention. It's less of a movie and more of a school project, all formal and by the book. Besides Rickman, there's little of note in "Mesmer". The music by Michael Nyman is good with suitably psychedelic effects provided by a glass harmonica. The cinematography and set design are servicable but also display that made-for-television feel. They are believable but not inventive or memorable. In the end, after seeing "Mesmer" I have learned and seen nothing new. I don't feel like I know anything about Mesmer or his practices, nor were any of the subjects Potter brings up sufficiently explored. Was he a fraud? What was the nature of the pseudosexual relationships he had with his patient? I also wish he'd explored the attitudes of his contemporaries towards him further rather than simply occasionally showing them scoff at the mention of his name. "Mesmer" is a disappointing film but it could be quite enjoyable as something to watch on TV before going to sleep.
4. Don't Look Now (1973)
R | 110 min | Drama, Horror, Thriller
A married couple grieving the recent death of their young daughter are in Venice when they encounter two elderly sisters, one of whom is psychic and brings a warning from beyond.
5. Our Man in Havana (1959)
Not Rated | 111 min | Comedy, Crime, Drama
Jim Wormold, who is a vacuum cleaner salesman, participates as an Agent in the British Secret Service. But he soon realizes that his plans by lying are going to get him into trouble.
When Graham Greene's 1958 novel "Our Man in Havana" was first published he found himself in a bit of hot water. The MI6 was not too pleased that one of their former operatives had written such a revealing book and considered having it banned. Of course, it ultimately says more of the MI6 that they recognised themselves so readily in a satire than the novel itself. I have not read it yet, but the film version doesn't really live up to the controversy. I suppose something must have gotten lost in translation because the film curiously lacks the bite that all the best satires must have. Don't get me wrong, though, the film is a fine satire, it gets all of its points across clearly, but it does it without the needed zeal, energy, and punch to put it over the top. I personally put the blame on director Carol Reed. While undoubtedly an inimitable landmark in British cinema having made his name with two previous Graham Green adaptations "The Third Man" and "The Fallen Idol", he has no real experience in or knowledge of comedy. Other than a few middling screwballs he had never directed one before "Our Man in Havana". The story of a poor vacuum cleaner salesman (Alec Guinness) recruited into the secret service who starts sending them fake information for money and gets himself entangled deeper and deeper in his own web of lies would have best been done as a fast-paced farce a la Billy Wilder's "One, Two, Three". Reed, instead, rather predictably, chooses to play up the thriller angle drowning half the comedy in drama and making the other half seem out of place. I was reminded of another could-have-been-brilliant farce "The Wrong Box" which was similarly mishandled by a first-time comedy director Bryan Forbes. Farce is the hardest genre to achieve and requires years of practice, a metronomical sense for ryhthm, and the bravery to never let the audience breathe. Had, on the other hand, "Our Man in Havana" had to be played as a comedic thriller I wish a director with a better sense of macabre humour had taken the baton. One can only imagine what wonders Alfred Hitchcock could have done with this story. As it stands, however, "Our Man in Havana" has a decidedly strange tone swinging to and fro between a bleak cold-war thriller and a subtle, understated comedy both of which clash with some of the film's more outlandish moments of high satire more befitting someone with Peter Cook's sense of humour. And yet, the film is far from a complete washout. In fact, I quite enjoyed it. Mostly, I must confess, for its terrific performances. Alec Guinness is, as always, wonderful in the lead. With his subtle characterization, he makes the lead very likeable and relatable. He is also very, very funny when allowed to be. He is offered great support by Maureen O'Hara as an MI6 secretary and Burl Ives as Guinness' scientist friend. I was much less convinced, however, by Ernie Kovacs as a ruthless policeman and Jo Morrow in a totally obsolete role as Guinness' daughter. The best of all, however, are Noel Coward and Ralph Richardson, as the representative of the MI6, masterfully unaware of being carefully drawn caricatures of the stereotype upper-class Britishman. They buy Guinness' lies wholesale. On the other side, the script is very good. There are lots of marvellous dialogue I suspect lifted entirely from the novel and several rather poignant monologues. In Green's usual style, all of the characters, types, manners, and organisations satirised are carefully observed and turned into witty one-liners such as the one delivered by Ernie Kovacs about how there is a class divide even in torture: "Some people expect to be tortured, others are outraged by it." There are also several lovely opportunities for good slapstick comedy of which all but one are sadly missed by Reed. The one he takes he nails in a scene in which Guinness tries to figure out who at a vacuum cleaner salesmen conference is trying to poison him. On a technical note, the film looks great, though wrong. Reed's leaning towards the rather thinner, thriller aspects of the story is evident through Oswald Morris' dark, moody cinematography more befitting one of his earlier Green adaptations than this one. "Our Man in Havana" is admittedly difficult material. In writing it Green wanted to have his cake and eat it too. He wrote a satire full of bleakness and death and while this ever swinging tone may work on paper, film requires a more definite approach. Carol Reed, sadly chose the wrong one. This film would have worked much better as a comedy, highlighting all the absurdity and insanity of the confusing situation the lead finds himself in rather than its moral ambiguity and dangerousness. The wonderful writer Sidney Gilliat wrote an opera of the novel, but he should have done the film too. He is the man who wrote Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes" and the wonderful Alastair Sim vehicles "Green for Danger" and "The Green Man", both of which possess the flippant, fast-paced, farcical nature that "Our Man in Havana" needed. Much later, John le Carre, a definite spiritual successor of Graham Green, would write the deadly serious version of "Our Man in Havana" with his "The Tailor of Panama". I suspect that was the film Carol Reed wished he was making. The comedic version of "Our Man in Havana" is yet to be made and it's sad it wasn't at the time, in the age when Ealing comedies were still fresh in the minds of the audience and popular.
6. The Running Man (1963)
Approved | 103 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller
An Englishman with a grudge against an insurance company for a disallowed claim fakes his own death in order but an insurance investigator starts snooping around.
Carol Reed is one of those inevitable names in British film history indelibly written down. He started out back in the 1930s with a series of middling romantic dramas and screwball comedies all forgettable and forgotten before finally hitting it big with the wonderful Sidney Gilliat-written thriller "Night Train to Munich". Some years later he continued the streak of highly successful, noirish thrillers with such classics as "Odd Man Out", "The Fallen Idol", and his most legendary film "The Third Man" (no, it was not directed by Orson Welles). Towards the end of his life, he had further notable hits with "The Agony and the Ecstasy", and "Oliver", as well as flops mercifully obscured by time such as "The Key", "Flap", and "Follow Me". None of these films were thrillers, and while Reed certainly had range, it was in this genre that his skills were best utilised. His last thriller, "The Running Man" came in in 1963, between two critical successes, the Graham Green satire "Our Man in Havana" and "The Agony and the Ecstasy" and has seemingly completely vanished from memory. While certainly nowhere near as good as Reed's other thriller ventures, "The Running Man" certainly deserves a reappraisal if for no other reason than for its sheer ambitiousness. It is the story of Rex (Laurence Harvey) who, with the help of his wife Stella (Lee Remick) fakes his death for the insurance money. They pull it off and retreat to Spain where they plan to live happily ever after, but Stella perceives that Rex has changed. The money and the excitement have turned him into a fairly nasty character. And then, Stephen (Alan Bates), the insurance man who investigated Rex's death shows up. He claims to be on holiday, but Rex doesn't believe him even though it's clear that if he is after anything, in particular, it is Stella's affections. As you can see, the film is not really a thriller. For all of its tension and drama, it seems more interested in its characters than their actions. The film is based on a novel by Shelley Smith I have not read, but it seems to me that there was a miscommunication between her intentions and the intentions of the filmmakers. Rather than go full on with the drama angle, the film keeps meandering into thriller conventions seemingly unable to decide what it is, an Edgar Wallace-type thriller or a careful character study. As I've pointed out many times before, when in doubt never go for both. There isn't a single film that tries to be two opposite things at once that works. You can't have your cake and eat it too. The carefully observed drama "The Running Man" could have been gets bogged down in all the heavy-handed suspense horseplay that leads nowhere. Instead of sensibly drawn, three-dimensional characters we get crude characterisations. Why has Rex turned from the charming fellow we see in the flashbacks into this beast? We never find out. What is so fetching about Stella other than her beauty? We are never shown. Who is Stephen? We have no idea. He has no character because the filmmakers insist on his every gesture being ambiguous. Every line he says can be interpreted as either him being a man in love clueless about the nature of the twosome he's involved with or a shrewd investigator using decidedly Columbo-esuqe methods. In all this ambiguity we never get to meet the real Stephen. But despite the distractingly indecisive script, the film is very well executed. The performances are as good as they can be considering that none of the characters is fleshed out or defined well enough for there to be anything for an able actor to latch on to. Laurence Harvey is suitably sleazy as Rex, I have never been a huge fan of his, there's something vastly unlikeable about him, but it works well here. Lee Remick is charming as always, a captivating screen presence. Alan Bates, however, is the best of the trio, wrestling admirably with a non-entity to create a character we grow surprisingly fond of even if we never get to know a damn thing about him. Carol Reed's direction is sturdy and reliable. There are no flashes of genius or inventiveness here but he does a very competent job. Had it been made just 10 years later, "The Running Man" would have been one of those NBC movies of the week, but had it been done with more elegance, and a stronger lean on the drama angle, it could have been the British "Purple Noon". There's a great story here about the corruption of the human soul by greed and craving for excitement which can be nicely balanced by a subtly suspenseful subplot about a man who may or may not be after the corrupted man. However, "The Running Man" plays the thriller angle not as a subplot but as the motor of the story and it simply doesn't have the substance to support the weight of the whole film. Perhaps, somewhere in some vault there are deleted scenes which establish the characters better and examine their relationships further which if reinstated we would get a bona-fide masterpiece. I wouldn't be surprised. As is, "The Running Man" is hugely flawed but interesting if for no other reason, than for what it could have been.
7. The List of Adrian Messenger (1963)
Not Rated | 98 min | Mystery, Thriller
A former intelligence officer is tasked by the heir to the Gleneyre estate to investigate the unusual deaths of a disparate group of eleven men on a list.
"The List of Adrian Messenger" is a very entertaining, classy, and thoroughly enjoyable example of the kind of movie not made anymore. It's a golden-age, armchair murder mystery, a whodunnit in which brains, not guns are utilised to get to the bad guy. Our detective is one Anthony Gethryn (George C. Scott), a former MI5 officer, who is asked by his friend, novelist Adrian Messenger (John Merivale) for a favour. Namely, he wants him to track down eleven men off a list without knowing why. The same evening, Messenger is killed in a mysterious plane crash, and Gethryn finds out all eleven men on the list are dead too. Meanwhile, a shrewd killer (Kirk Douglas) who is a master of disguise does everything he can to cover his tracks. There's also a silly little gimmick in that every now and then a celebrity will appear in disguise for a short cameo which is what most people remember about the film but it's barely noticeable and if I hadn't been told it was going on I wouldn't have paid any attention. The main attraction of the film is the style, the pace, and the good humour. Murder mysteries such as these died out around this age, the last being the exquisitely enjoyable Margaret Rutherford Marple films which ended in 1964. After that such films would appear only occasionally such as the remarkable "The Last of Sheila". I have a definite soft spot for such films in which murders aren't grizzly and gory cause célèbres, but catalysts for a good puzzle and you're invited to play along. Add to the mix some likeable characters, and comedic touches and you've got yourself a winning formula. The film was directed by the ever reliable John Huston, one of the few directors who successfully moved from drama to comedy. He obviously possessed a tremendous sense of humour which shines through even in some of his bleakest films such as "Under the Volcano" or "The Dead". "The List of Adrian Messenger" is not in their category, but it is an enjoyable experience. Everyone and everything in it are clearly there for our enjoyment. George C. Scott is a captivating screen presence, perfect for a detective. Commanding, likeable, and pensive. His partner, Jacques Roux, is charming if a little wooden. Dana Wynter, on the other hand, is lovely and striking as the woman in the picture. Finally, Kirk Douglas does a great job as the killer even though we always know it is him under the disguise. When finally unmasked he is aptly sleazy and sinister. The black and white cinematography by Joseph MacDonald is actually quite light and not noirish at all. While it was certainly a conscious decision to shoot the film in black and white because of all the makeup involved, it actually gives the film a properly nostalgic quality, another likeness with all those classy murder mysteries of the 1930s. There's also a catchy if not too inventive jazzy soundtrack by Jerry Goldsmith. But, of course, the biggest question in a whodunnit is: does the mystery work, and in this case, the answer is yes. It is not overly convoluted or baffling, but it is captivating and will keep you guessing all the way through, even though it doesn't all fit together at the end. I was certainly never bored, or uninterested, and always thoroughly entertained, charmed, and nostalgic.
8. Cabo Blanco (1980)
R | 87 min | Action, Adventure, Crime
In 1948, an assortment of shady characters are searching for Nazi loot, sunken off the coast of Peru.
"Caboblanco" is a muddled but interesting film. I'm sure that at one point the producers had on their hand a solid action thriller and then, for reasons I'm not sure of, they decided to cut it. "Caboblanco" was indeed cut by 30 minutes before release and the result is a distractingly choppy film. Scenes have no rhythm, there's no sense of time (an amazing amount of things occurs over the length of a single day), and there's barely any development (Charles Bronson meets Dominique Sanda in one scene and in the next one they're already best friends). And yet, despite all of this there's a certain something to this film I found irresistible. A certain goofy charm to it, a devil-may-care approach that makes "Caboblanco" a lot of fun even when it is objectively bad. The plot takes a lot of cues from "Casablanca" such as focusing on a mysterious American bar owner (Charles Bronson) self-exiled to the tropics who is visited by a sexy resistance fighter (Dominique Sanda). The villain is a suave Nazi (Jason Robards) and his henchman is the corrupt but lovable police chief (Fernando Rey). However, the similarities stop there as "Caboblanco" is no subtle character study and it's certainly no love story. It's a Charles Bronson picture about a group of people searching for Nazi gold at the bottom of the sea. Only Bronson knows where it is and Sanda, Robards, Rey, and Simon MacCorkindale double cross, cheat, and try to kill each other to get it. As a result of all the re-cutting, "Caboblanco" never once stops for breath or character development so beyond there's little else going on beyond the main plot but this focus is not necessarily a bad thing. As a result of it, the picture moves at a rapid fire pace never lingering on its own shallowness or overstaying its welcome. This also adds to the already oddball, flashy direction by J. Lee Thompson whose camera never stops moving creating a weird, almost surreal atmosphere. This is one of nine movies Thompson and Bronson made together and certainly the strangest. You're never quite sure if it's being serious or winking at you. Had the subplot about a giant squid present in the original script been kept we'd have known for sure. The cast certainly plays every moment for its worth and they are a lot of fun to watch. Charles Bronson is his typical cool, charming self. He's definitely my favourite of the big action stars as he's got a certain charisma to it that glues my eyes to the screen. He's the absolute perfect choice to replace Bogart. Dominique Sanda is obviously having a ball playing the film noir femme fatal. She too is a worthy replacement for her "Casablanca" counterpart, Ingrid Bergman. She has that icy determination that is required for the part. Jason Robard is quite menacing as the Nazi as he cleverly mixes flashes of humanity with the more typical growling villain performance. It is, of course, Fernando Ray, though, who leaves the best impression, easily acting everyone off the screen in his scenes. Like Claude Rains, he is loathable and loveable at once, a superior comic creation. And like Rains, he plays his redemption scene in the finale with exquisite subtleness and feeling. Sadly, another terrific performance seems to have fallen victim to the producer's scissors. Camilla Sparv has a short appearance as Robards' girlfriend, Hera, and is very good playing the abused mistress. One certainly gets the impression that no one is sleepwalking through this film. Simon MacCorkindale is the only one who fails to captivate, but this is more because his character is an obsolete cardboard cutout who could have easily been removed without missing a beat. On the technical side, I really enjoyed Alex Phillips' cinematography, contrasting the sunlit seaside with noirish nights draped in deep shadows. J. Lee Thompson's direction, though certainly oddball is dynamic and keeps the pace up and there's a predictably excellent and exciting Jerry Goldsmith score that keeps cropping up throughout the picture. "Caboblanco" is pulpy, shallow, and silly, but it's meant to be. Complaining about any of these things would be like picking up an old dollar paperback and complaining it lacks philosophical depth. Part of the fun of watching a film like this is just how cheap it gets and I certainly had fun watching it. But is there better fare than this out there? Absolutely. Which brings us to the awkward bit of reviewing a film like this. While I definitely had fun watching it and if you have a camp sensibility like me you will too, I can't wholeheartedly recommend "Caboblanco". While certainly not a so-bad-it's-good film, mainly because it is in on the joke, the fun of "Caboblanco" is that it's not very good. The script makes no sense, the characters are distinctly cardboardy, and the situations keep getting goofier and goofier. On top of it all, the film has been ingloriously cut-up. It would be easy for me to pan this film, but it provided me with 90 minutes of good fun, and a knowing smile never left my face, so I owe it an honest report. I'll put it like this, "Caboblanco" is objectively not a good film, but it is subjectively fun. It also has a lot of good people doing their job to the best of their abilities in spite of the script. It knows it's bad so it's very entertaining.
9. I Love You to Death (1990)
R | 97 min | Comedy, Crime
Joey owns a pizza parlor, and is married to Rosalie. He's also a serial womanizer. Rosalie goes to extremes when she finds he has been cheating.
Votes: 12,789 | Gross: $16.19M
I've written often about how comedy is the most difficult genre to successfully pull off, most of all farce and dark comedy. Farce requires an infallible sense of rhythm and pace and developing characters and situations on the fly. It can fail spectacularly, but it has been done brilliantly often since the days of silent comedy and Charlie Chaplin all the way through Abbott & Costello and Billy Wilder to Peter Bogdanovich's marvellous "Noises Off". Dark comedy, on the other hand, is almost impossible. It's a balancing act on silk high wire with no safety net. It requires of everyone, uniformly to get the tone right. There is no middle ground on it. A successful dark comedy deals with horrific topics in a flippant manner and in such a way that you never stop to consider the moral implications of what you're laughing at. If a black comedy ever pauses for breath, it's dead. The audience regains their moral centre and will not laugh at all the murderous mayhem before them. On the other hand, if you're too flippant, too fast, you run the risk of looking cartoonish and losing the edge a dark comedy needs. Play it too bleak and it becomes vulgar, morbid, and filthy. It's an act often tried and rarely pulled off, so it's surprising to me when I run into a good dark comedy I had never heard of. "I Love You to Death" is one such instance. From what I can see the film came and went with no great fanfares and I had never run into it 'till now. And boy am I glad I have. It doesn't always work, but when it does (and it often does) it is a well-oiled machine. It is also one of those films in which everyone does the best they can and are individually impressive as well as a troupe. Kevin Kline is simply hilarious as a cartoonish, buffoonish Italian stereotype. He eats a lot, loves his mama, his family, he gesticulates wildly and speaks in a funny accent. To top it all off he runs a pizza place. He's so wildly over-the-top in that he wouldn't feel out of place in an opera buffa. But most importantly he's a serial philanderer. In a brilliant opening monologue in which he is shown confessing his sins to a horrified priest, he tries to answer the question of how many women he has cheated his wife with only to come out with: "Father, I didn't exactly keep count, but, let's say a dozen times in the last two weeks... give or take a few times." His wife is beautifully played by Tracey Ullman in a surprisingly understated and sweet performance. She is loyal, loving, and totally blind to his cheating until she finally spies him at the library groping one of his mistresses. Helped by her determined and ludicrously handy mother (Joan Plowright), and a teenager madly in love with her (River Phoenix) she decides to kill him, but all their attempts end with disaster as he remains blissfully unaware. The funniest of all sequences comes when Phoenix hires two drug addicts played masterfully by William Hurt and Keanu Reeves to kill him in his sleep. After about ten minutes of slapstick, they fail miserably and leave, the door hitting them on their way out. The whole cast is truly marvellous with Joan Plowright being the most surprising. I've usually seen her be the straight woman to madness in comedies such as in her turn in "Dennis the Menace", but here she is the funniest of all in a truly quirky, original performance. She also speaks excellent Serbo-Croatian. The only cast member I didn't like was River Phoenix who sort of stumbles through the film as if in a daze. Unless he's speaking he blends into the background. But the person he truly makes the film work is director Lawrence Kasdan. It may sound surprising that the director of "Body Heat" or "The Accidental Tourist" would be directing a comedy such as this, but it is very much up his alley. He never shoots "I Love You to Death" as a comedy. The cinematography is noirish, and he truly builds suspense in a serious manner like he did in "Body Heat". And, after all, a lot of people forget that "Body Heat" was a very funny film. Ted Danson turned in a brilliantly surreal performance as the dancing DA who would fit into the world of "Twin Peaks" like a hand into a glove. The rest of the crew don't slouch either. James Horner composes one of his finest soundtracks always teetering on the edge of sincerity. Like Kasdan's direction, he too never truly lets on that the film is a comedy. Costume designer Aggie Guerard Rodgers also impresses dressing the characters spot on perfectly. Kline is dressed up in ridiculous clothing, the kind only a spoof Italian lover would wear. Ullman is dressed up as a housewife, and Plowright looks like she'd raided the thrift store. However, the film is not perfect. I have the most issues with the script written by John Kostmayer. The film occasionally moves at a glacial pace and is somewhat overloaded. There is really no need for the River Phoenix character. He is only utilised as a go-between for Ullman and Plowright and the "criminal underground", but it would have been a lot funnier if these two housewives had to go and find the hitmen on their own. Another problem is that it takes him too long to get to the funny stuff and when he does he doesn't really milk it for all its worth. There were certainly at least another 20 minutes that could have been gotten out of this situation. The ending is similarly glacial and a little unbelievable. I shan't reveal it, but it didn't really work for me. However, when "I Love You to Death" works it really does work. The performances really are surprisingly brilliant and with a sharper script, this could have been a fascinating domestic comedy as well. Had it been written by say, Paul Mazursky or Woody Allen, I could have watched the day-to-day life of this family for hours too. I also really enjoyed Kasdan's direction as I did in all of his previous films. I don't know why "I Love You to Death" isn't better known. It does require some patience to get to the good parts, but when it gets there it's truly hilarious.
10. The Kremlin Letter (1970)
M/PG | 120 min | Crime, Drama, Thriller
During the Cold War a Naval Intelligence officer endowed with a powerful photographic memory is transferred to the CIA to participate in a covert operation in Moscow.
Votes: 1,685 | Gross: $0.24M
There are two kinds of spy movies. The first, more popular kind, is the James Bond, lighthearted, slam-bang, gadget action film. The kind of film in which there's our side and their side and our side's the good guys and their side's the bad guys. In which the villain is a cackling maniac with a scar on his face dressed in a black Nehru-jacket and all his goons are mindless fodder for our hero, suave and in a wrinkles free suit, to kill in dozens. Then there's the gorgeous girl for our hero to bed, usually seen in revealing dresses and bikinis. There's nothing wrong with this approach, and in fact, it's given us tonnes of entertaining, fun films and TV shows. Beyond the James Bond films, we have the lovely TV series "The Avengers", "Department S", and "The Protectors". They are always reliable to provide a lot of good action, thrills, and double crosses without really appealing to anything other than our sense of fun. The other kind is heavier but more stimulating and it is distinguished by a severely downbeat tone. It's the realistic, gritty (often grizzly too) spy movie, the kind in which our side is worse than the other side, the halls of the secret service are full of self-serving corrupt louses, shameless opportunists, and the disillusioned depressives. The villain is usually unseen, the sexy girl is killed in a horrid way half-through, and our hero is usually left with nothing and no one in the world by the end. Only one thing is guaranteed and that's that no one will come out of it happy. This kind of spy story became very popular in the mid-60s first with the somewhat mild Harry Palmer films ("The Ipcress File", in particular), the other, more tough Len Deighton books (such as "Game, Set, Match"), and finally and most memorably with the works of John le Carre. His "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" is the masterpiece of this type of spy story. Labyrinthine, and morally ambiguous, it is revealing, insightful, defeatist, and makes one think not only of the political situation of the time and the Cold War but also of the validity of such concepts as loyalty, betrayal, and patriotism. It is a marvellous work. "The Kremlin Letter" came somewhere in between "The Ipcress File" and Le Carre and two years before the Watergate scandal when paranoid tales of distrust towards the government became all the rage. It doesn't really fit snuggly in either category of spy stories. It certainly gags to be taken seriously with its downbeat atmosphere of deceit and depression, and characters ready to pounce on each other and their allies on a moment's notice on the slightest incentive of money. However, it does have its fair share of silly tricks and gadgets. There's a lot of business involving secret names, click-codes, masks, and undercover work. I was rather surprised microfilms and self-destroying letters never showed up. Its characters are mostly known only by ridiculous nicknames such as The Whore, Warlock, Cousin etc. After seeing (and utterly believing) the realistic portrayals of spy work in Deighton novels and films and most of all Le Carre's work it's hard to buy this cloak-and-dagger stuff. "The Kremlin Letter" is decidedly unconvincing. I'm not even sure it takes itself seriously. None of this would be a huge problem if the film didn't want to be taken seriously by others. As mentioned above there are certain moments which just don't fit with the general air of playacting the film has. There are tragic characters, references to child murder, brutish monsters, and ambiguously likeable bad guys. It's a rather uncomfortable mix. But "The Kremlin Letter's" biggest problem is that it is incomprehensibly convoluted and utterly overpopulated. The plot concerns a group of operatives attempting to retrieve a letter from the hands of the KGB but there are so many subplots, twists, and facts flying around it's impossible to keep track of it all. Most annoyingly, though, the film has more characters than it needs. The main group has six operatives in it when only two are truly necessary for the plot to work. There's no reason for there to be two bosses, there's no reason for the subplot involving Russian prostitutes, in fact, all of the characters bar six are totally obsolete. The four characters who are needed are as follows. Patrick O'Neal plays the main operative Rone who has a perfect memory or something like that. His main task is to seduce the wife (Bibi Andersson) of the KGB colonel (Max von Sydow) and use her to get to the letter. The colonel is at odds with his boss Bresnavitch played well by Orson Welles whose importance to the plot is revealed too late not to be considered a spoiler. The sixth most important character and the best performance of all is Rone's handler and mentor Ward. He is played by Richard Boone who is absolutely, unbelievably fantastic in this film. Playing the character with a sort of good humoured lightness, he is loveable and sinister at once and completely unforgettable. The rest of the characters (and there are plenty more) are pointless and serve only to waste time that could have been better used to actually explain the plot and build tension, suspense, and characters. Most egregiously there's a ridiculous and completely unbelievable romance subplot involving Rone and a new operative B.A. (Barbara Parkins) that feels so forced I felt uncomfortable watching it unfold. It doesn't help that both characters are complete mysteries to us since the filmmakers never bother to give their characters anything other than expository dialogue. Parkins is a striking looking woman but not a very good actress. Like in "The Mephisto Waltz" she consistently looks lost. The director is none other than John Huston, someone who should know better. He's usually excellent at nailing tone in his films but here he's all over the map. The film is well shot, however, but this is low praise for someone of Huston's stature. I was really amazed by Boone's performance and very little else. "The Kremlin Letter" is not a very memorable film, nor is it good entertainment. It is bound to give you a headache before 2 hours of fun or drama. If it wanted to amuse me it needed to cut out all the bleakness, if it wanted to depress me it needed to cut out all the plot and lean more heavily on the character development of which it has none. I'm supposed to feel sorry for these characters when bad things happen to them, but beyond their nicknames and faces, I know nothing about them. It's hard to be invested in the fates of cardboard cutouts. Watching "The Kremlin Letter" is like watching a chess game in which you're supposed to care for the inanimate figures and ignore the people moving them around.
11. Cohen and Tate (1988)
R | 86 min | Crime, Thriller
When a little boy witnesses a mob hit, he is kidnapped by two professional assassins who are not what they seem.
The opening of "Cohen and Tate" is a cinematic masterpiece of suspense and tension. We begin on a title card telling us that a boy named Travis (Harley Cross) witnessed a mob hit and is now hiding in a safe house with his parents and three FBI agents. Then we cut to a marvellous panoramic shot of a single white sunlit house in a vast, empty field. Into this sunny, bright shot, from behind the house, walks a man dressed all in black. An FBI agent. Then another one shows up right in front of the camera. One of them looks nervous, checking his watch. In fact, there's an air of nervous tranquillity all over the shot. Then a small boy in white runs out of the house playing catch with his dog. He belongs in this environment, the FBI agents don't. His father joins him. After they play for a bit the boy asks his dad: "When can we go back to Texas". The father, with fear and dread in his eyes, looks his son in the eye and says "We can never go back to Texas". They go back into the house. The nervous FBI man checks his watch again. Inside the house, the father goes to call his lawyer, but the line is dead. Suddenly, a car pulls out and leaves. The nervous FBI man has sold them out. The family and the two FBI agents sit inside the house and nervously await their deaths. And then they come. Two hitmen, one old and one young who swiftly, and orderly kill off everyone in the house but the little boy who wanders through the house until a gloved hand reaches out from beyond the screen and grabs his shoulder. In this 10-minute tour-de-force opening first time director Eric Red definitely establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with. As close to Hitchcock as anything that the master hadn't directed himself has ever gotten, this opening is slow, suspenseful, and flawlessly professional. Every shot is in its rightful place, but most of all it is breathtakingly powerful setting up beautifully for things to come. Thankfully, the rest of the film is no slouch either. The two men are sent by the mob to fetch Travis. They want to question him and find out who executed the hit. The older man is Cohen (Roy Scheider), calm, meticulous, and ordered. The younger man is Tate (Adam Baldwin), brash, ruthless, and sadistic. They already can't stand each other. Cohen thinks Tate is insane and Tate thinks Cohen is boring and old. Travis, the smart boy that he is, recognises the tension between them and after a few unsuccessful attempts to escape decides to play on it and get the two men to eliminate each other. Just the fact that Red makes this premise believable without turning it into a "Home Alone"-style comedy is a tribute to his abilities. However, the film has a lot more to offer than a good story. There's something wonderfully lyrical to this thriller. Red's direction is careful and artful with long pans that are sometimes reminiscent of "Fargo" which it preceded by eight years. The cinematography by Victor J. Kemper is also reminiscent of Roger Deakins' work on "Fargo" in the way that he plays with colours, especially stop lights (as "Cohen and Tate" is a road movie) whose cold, ruthless neon glow gives the film a decidedly neo-noir feel. Deakins used a similar trick in the opening of "Fargo" when the state trooper is shot. I was continually amazed by the look of this film. Adding to the thick atmosphere is a wonderful score by Bill Conti. This is not your typical pumping action/thriller score. It's a small, melancholy piece, but not without tension performed mostly by a piano and french horns. It's sentimental, like a requiem for the boy's parents, his innocence, and perhaps Cohen and Tate themselves. Which brings me to the script. Red is predominantly a screenwriter having penned "The Hitcher" and "Near Dark" before this film and several other horrors after it and it shows. The film's second best attribute (after its marvellous visuals) are the subtle characterizations and well-written dialogue. I was very impressed by how he tells us all we need to know about the characters without really lingering on things or even outright spelling it out for us. Cohen, in particular, is well fleshed out. You can almost see the entire backstory of this once decent man, now tired and indurated by the horrors he's seen and done. His humanity still can still be occasionally glanced from beneath his cold, professional veneer he wears like an armour. Tate is more crudely drawn but even with him, you can see flashes of the abuse he must have suffered that made him into the maniac he is now. Red obviously trusted his actors enough that he didn't have to spell things out for them or for us. He knew that they could convey these emotions and stories with looks, gestures, and glances. Scheider, in particular, is brilliant in the lead, alternatingly terrifying and vulnerable. An old man afraid of his own age. Through most of the film he is a commanding presence but in the end, he quickly deteriorates into a sad sight. Surprisingly, even the child actor Harley Cross is pretty good. He is certainly never annoying and (with considerable help from the script) manages to sell us on the idea that this child is one hell of a Machiavellian. Now, there are plenty of prepostorous things that happen in "Cohen and Tate" that stretch credibility beyond its breaking point. There are shootouts on the highway no one seems to notice, two men successfully take on half a dozen state troopers, and men jump up alive after being shot, but the whole production is so well executed I didn't care. I really loved this movie for the atmosphere, the performances, the look, and the characterizations which for once in a thriller didn't feel they needed to spell everything out for us. "Cohen and Tate" is one grim film, but I was still excited, horrified, entertained, and above all impressed, all the way through.
12. The Hippopotamus (2017)
Not Rated | 89 min | Comedy
Disgraced poet Ted Wallace is summoned to his friend's country manor to investigate a series of unexplained miracles.
Stephen Fry is that lovely, erudite, smart, funny man who was once Britain's top comedian (in a double act with Hugh Laurie, mind) and is now its number one brainiac. He is also something of a divisive figure, some considering him the smartest man to walk this Earth since Socrates, Plato, Sophocles, or another one of those Greeks, and the other seeing him as the "stupid man's idea of what a smart man looks like", overrated, conceited, and up his own arse. I am, I confess, a fan of Mr Fry's. In fact, I've been known to refer to him as my favourite teddy bear. To me, he is the closest to a renaissance man we've got nowadays (of course, only in a metaphorical sense as he's neither a religious bigot nor a syphilitic upstart) and above all, he is fun to listen to. People often forget that that which is interesting and insightful can also be entertaining. This is, I believe, an idea garnered from schools wherein any slightest possibility of entertainment is squashed with sadistic glee by depressed teachers who once had better futures in mind for themselves. The formerly Fry hosted TV series "QI" is the prime evidence that teaching and learning can be fun. He is also an occasional but talented author with five novels, three autobiographies, and one book on poetry to his name. His first autobiography "Moab Is My Washpot" is especially brilliant. One of the finest (if not the finest) works in the genre I've ever read. Touching, humorous, and honest without a shred of self-aggrandisement. "The Hippopotamus", however, was his second novel, first published in 1994. An inventive detective story in which an alcoholic, once great poet Ted Wallace goes to visit his former best friend and finds that the friend's son and Ted's godson has proclaimed himself a miracle worker. Ted embarks on a hunt for the truth. I believe all five of Fry's novels have been bought by film companies but "The Hippopotamus" is the first to make it to the big screen. Starring a formidable cast of British greats including Tim McInnerny, Geraldine Somerville, Fiona Shaw, and John Standing, as well as Matthew Modine of all people, it is alas not as brilliant as I had hoped. Roger Allam is the star of the picture, positively marvellous as Ted Wallace, and manages to make the whole experience worth my time, but this film has one massive issue that can't be ignored. Namely, it's not really a film. It's an illustrated audio book. I was rather shocked to find that at least 70% of the film is covered by narration lifted straight from Fry's original novel. There is so much of it in the film I began thinking in Allam's voice. Even more worrisome, however, is that beyond copying the novel word for word this screen transference never does anything else. You see, for a film adaptation to work just doing what it says in the source material is not enough. You have to give the film you are making its own identity, separate from the novel. You have to make it work on its own two feet. Like a child, it needs to leave its parents and acquire a life of its own. "The Hippopotamus" completely and utterly fails to do this key thing. Other than what is taken verbatim from the novel there is nothing remotely original or captivating in it. The direction by John Jencks is bland and rather televisual without any flares of imagination or style. There are no attempts to evoke any atmosphere from the mystical and rather mysterious events unfolding before our eyes. There is no attempt made to give the film the look or feel of those country house mysteries its beloved source material paid homage to. Cinematographer Angus Hudson joins Jencks in this labour of flatness by simply photographing the locations and events seemingly as he found them. I miss the days of Ken Russell when the visual aspect of the film was something to look forward to rather than just look at. The performances too are merely adequate. No one seems to have put their backs into it or sunk their teeth into their characters. Everyone does what they've done best since the 80s. McInnerny plays a flamboyant bore in much the same way he did Sir Percy Percy in "The Black Adder", Fiona Shaw utilises her commanding screen presence merely to steal scenes from other actors and not, god forbid, to build a character, and Geraldine Sommerville gives Roger Allam the same stern look she gave Robbie Coltrane 24 years ago on "Cracker". I have no idea what Matthew Modine's doing, but whatever it is he's not doing it very well, but rest assured, he's doing it just as badly as he always has. The only one who is any fun to watch is Roger Allam, snarking and wise-assing his way through the script. He is amazingly entertaining to watch but he could do this role sleeping on a bed of spikes with all four limbs tied above his head. The stuff that's lifted from the book, on the other hand, is marvellous. The situations are funny, the plot is intriguing, and the words are positively sizzling. In one particularly clever moment of cleverness, Ted Wallace muses how "With its promise of aristocratic splendour and a degree of luxury that approaches debauchery Swafford attracts a motley caravan of tight-assed bourgeois and nervous bohemians, who roll up the driveway, misusing the word "weekend" as a verb, and wondering how soon they might send an underling down into Swafford's world-class wine cellar." This kind of Wodehousian writing tickles me pink and delivered by Allam I was coloured all over. However, again I was struck by the thought that it would have been cheaper (and better) had they just had him record the bloody audiobook. On the whole, though, I have to give the film this much pass. It does contain the noblest, smartest, and true message any film I've seen in ages does. It is even more potent now than when Fry first wrote it in 1994 when the world is overrun by gullible morons looking for any kind of wonderous nonsense to appease their thirst for life affirming lies. Let's all shout from the rooftops in unison "THERE ARE NO MIRACLES" and use the power of our brains to come to logical conclusions. This alone makes "The Hippopotamus" worth seeing, but only if you can't read the book because as a piece of film this is an utter, dire disappointment.
13. The Hitcher (1986)
R | 97 min | Action, Thriller
A young man who escapes the clutches of a murderous hitch-hiker is subsequently stalked by the hitcher and framed for his crimes.
Votes: 41,243 | Gross: $5.84M
After watching and immensely enjoying Eric Red's directorial debut "Cohen and Tate", a mesmerising neo-noir action/thriller with a first-rate performance from Roy Scheider, I decided to give the first film he wrote "The Hitcher", a go. Red also wanted to direct it, but the studio was reticent about working with a 23-year old first-timer so they got experienced still photographer Robert Harmon to do it. I'd seen "The Hitcher" once before, ages ago, but remembered very little besides several images and Rutger Hauer's performance. I did remember, however, that the visceral violence in the film became quite something of a cause celebre when it was first released. Watching it now, the film is surprisingly mediocre and it became obvious to me that the little I remembered was all that was worth remembering. The film is a fairly straightforward action horror film with more than touches of slasher cliches including the indestructible killer with seemingly supernatural powers, the sexy damsel in distress, and a lot of cardboardy fodder for the killer. Even when looked upon as a slasher film "The Hitcher" is only slightly above average. The kills aren't particularly inventive, the killer is decidedly cliched, and none of the victims is in the least relatable or likeable. The terse, sparse, present-tense writing so effective in "Cohen and Tate" doesn't work in "The Hitcher" as our lead, C. Thomas Howell, is no Roy Scheider, or for that matter Adam Baldwin and fails to give us a character. He just recites the lines he's given and runs a lot. Compare that to the performance Scheider gives in "Cohen and Tate". He's given no more backstory than Howell in "The Hitcher" but by the end, we feel like we know everything about this guy. I understood where he came from, what kind of a man he was, and what was driving him. Howell, on the other hand, remains a total mystery just like the hitchhiker who is for some unexplained reason hunting him down on the vast, deserted roads of the American South. Rutger Hauer plays the killer and is quite effective. In this instance, Red's reticence to give anything away works and lends a mystical, supernatural air to Hauer's character making him even scarier. He is very good as the titular character but by the nature of his role doesn't really get to do much. Sadly, his fascination and sick bond with the C. Thomas Howell character is never explored, let alone explained, leaving a big hole in the centre of the film. One could reasonably suppose that the film is an allegory on the battle of good between evil but this reading pokes, even more, holes in "The Hitcher". Another sadly underdeveloped aspect is the damsel of the film. A feisty waitress played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. The actress said she took the role because "there was a real person there". If there was it isn't there anymore, at least I can't see it. The film never bothers to explain why she's risking her life to help Howell, what attracts her to him. The only reason she has for existing in this film is to be killed off in a gruesome way. And even that scene is a major disappointment since we never get to see the actual kill. Having seen what Eric Red can do as a director I can confidently say that "The Hitcher" would have been better had he taken the reins and not Robert Harmon. Harmon's direction is fairly flat and uninspired and lacks the lyrical element that makes "Cohen and Tate" such a mesmerising viewing experience. The cinematography John Seale is disappointingly realistic and without a hint of the supernatural, and the score by Mark Isham is almost non-existent. If we, however, regard "The Hitcher" as a mere slasher film it fares rather better. Hauer is, as I've mentioned before, an effective killer, Howell is a charming lead, and the film is never boring mostly due to a large number of set pieces it has. It always seems to be on the move, the pace is fast, and there are a few good car chases along the way. And I have to confess that the film's opening sequence in which the unsuspecting Howell picks up the hitchhiker who then proceeds to threaten him in a quiet, spookily mellifluous voice very scary indeed. It's a shame that the rest of the film wasn't pitched at that same slow, creepy, psychological level but rather chose to tumble into the shameful depths of slash-and-dash kills, gore, and cliches. It would certainly have worked a lot better as a Hitchcockian cat-and-mouse thriller. But even the violence which caused so much outrage in 1986 failed to shock me. When you really look at it nothing at all is ever seen or really happens in "The Hitcher". The major kills, such as the massacre of an entire family by Hauer, or the death of Jennifer Jason Leigh's character are never shown, only Howell's reaction to them and the others are straightforward gunshots. There is no more violence here than in your run-of-the-mill police procedural. More time is spent on a cliched old boy-who-cried-wolf plot in which Howell tries to convince a bunch of useless cops that there is a killer on the loose than the actual kills. Another major misstep. On the whole, "The Hitcher" is effective in the short run but ultimately disappointing. Hauer is creepy in the lead, and there are a few good action scenes, but beyond that the film is best described as typical. I wasn't surprised by anything in it, I wasn't shocked by anything in it, and I certainly wasn't moved by anything in it.
14. Near Dark (1987)
R | 94 min | Action, Crime, Drama
A small-town farmer's son reluctantly joins a traveling group of vampires after he is bitten by a beautiful drifter.
Votes: 31,169 | Gross: $3.37M
The vampire films had a slow resurgence in the 1980s starting somewhere around Tobe Hooper's Stephen King adaptation "Salem's Lot". But it was 1987 that marked its big return with Joel Schumaker's "The Lost Boys". That film became a huge hit and overshadowed all other horror films of the year at the box office bar "The Witches of Eastwick" and the third (and best) "Nightmare on Elm Street" film. Meanwhile, somewhere at the bottom of the box office list in the trades lay "Near Dark", the most impressive and original vampire film since 1979's "Thirst" which presented the vampires as a sort of a country club society. The vampires in "Near Dark", on the other hand, are thugs, a leather-wearing, knife toting street gang not much different from the kind you can encounter in gritty Depression-era set films like "Once Upon a Time in America". Their leader is Jesse (Lance Henriksen), a former Confederate soldier, now dressed in a bad-ass leather coat with a scary looking scar and his partner Diamondback (Jenette Goldstein). The wild card of the trio is Severen (Bill Paxton), a psychotic cowboy with a blood thirst in both the metaphorical and real sense of the phrase. Sometime in the 1950s they decided to adopt a child, vampire style, and turned 13-year old Homer (Joshua Miller) into one of them not counting on the fact that he could never ever physically grow up. Now, some 30+ years later, he's a bitter 40-year old in a 13-year old's body. Frustrated and lonely he turned a high-school girl Mae (Jenny Wright). Mae falls in love with a cocky young farmboy Caleb (Adrian Pasdar) and bites him. Which is where the film begins. In a terrific opening sequence we follow Caleb and Mae as they drive through the night, he still blissfully unaware of her true nature. We know there's something wrong with her and this potentially romantic outing turns into a sequence of nail biting suspense. After she turns him, he is accepted into the gang against both his and their wish but struggles to adapt to their brutal ways. "Near Dark" can be watched as a brutally honest twist on the "good boy falls into bad company" story or a metaphor on peer pressure or just a rollicking, heart-pumping, exhilarating horror film. Whichever of these you get out of it there's no denying that it's a powerhouse film. Director Kathryn Bigelow and co-writer Eric Red originally intended to make a western but then added the horror element after finding their original idea hard to sell. This sensibility shows all the way through. The final showdown begins with Caleb riding onto a deserted, fog-covered street on a majestic horse, shotgun in hand. The terse, to-the-point script helps get this point across even more. Red is the man behind "The Hitcher" and "Cohen and Tate", two other films with detail-sparse scripts and "Near Dark" is very obviously his brainchild even though Bigelow is also credited as a writer. It has all the hallmarks of his other films, characters drawn not through long expository speeches but rather through subtle details and hints, quick-witted, terse dialogue, and an eye-catching opening. His approach worked so-so on "The Hitcher" because while the villain's mysteriousness was helped by his lack of backstory this also rendered the lead rather cardboardy. However, like in "Cohen and Tate" a year later, it really pays off in "Near Dark". Mind you, I don't wish to minimise Bigelow's role in the film either. Without her stylish, slick, fast-paced direction "Near Dark" could have become unconvincing or silly. Her work is especially stunning in a prolonged sequence in which the gang executes a group of rednecks in a roadside bar. It's a sequence both shockingly visceral and undeniably entertaining. However, it is the performances that make "Near Dark" work. There's not a dud in the whole cast. Pasdar is a likeable, strong lead who comes off as both tough and morally pure. Henriksen is terrifying and commanding as the leader of the vampire group and Jenny Wright nails that spooky, sexy, vampire charm better than anyone else ever did. Bill Paxton is easily the most memorable as the charismatic and totally psychotic Severen. It is, however, Joshua Miller who impressed me the most as any 13-year old who can so well convey bitterness and frustration of middle age must. He is, without a doubt, the best child actor (and I do stress the word actor) I've ever seen. He may not have the cute charm of Macaulay Culkin or the charisma of Corey Haim but he's got better acting chops than either of them multiplied by three. To top it all off the film boasts a marvellous electronic soundtrack by Tangerine Dream that is right up there with the soundtracks to "Tenebrae" or "Amsterdamned". The only thing I can find to fault in "Near Dark" is a somewhat disappointing ending which doesn't quite provide the exhilarating climax it spent all the time building up to. But it is never-the-less quite an experience.
15. Blue Steel (1990)
R | 102 min | Action, Crime, Drama
A female rookie in the police force must engage in a cat-and-mouse game with a pistol-wielding psychopath who becomes obsessed with her.
Votes: 11,498 | Gross: $8.22M
"Blue Steel" begins with a premise so preposterous, so unbelievable, and so ludicrous that despite a valiant fight it never managed to get me to take it seriously again. Jamie Lee Curtis plays Megan Turner, a rookie cop, who on her first night on the streets notices a stick-up in a supermarket. She rushes across and enters through an unlocked back door that leads into the storage room into the supermarket. She approaches the perp from behind (all of this takes around two minutes during which one must assume the robber and the hostages just stood around waiting for Curtis to come around) and shouts "Put the gun down". He refuses. She shouts again. "Put the GUN down". He turns the gun towards her and she blows him away. Despite the fact, the perp flies backwards the gun propels forwards and lands smack in front of Ron Silver who pockets it and somehow manages to escape the supermarket now full of cops completely unnoticed despite being a witness to a shooting. Curtis has stopped a robbery on her first night out but is suspended anyway. Why? The gun is missing and no one in the store can confirm that the robber had a gun despite the fact he waved it around in their faces for around two minutes. In the most improbable turn of events, the cashier whose head the gun was aimed at point blank says it might have been a knife. "He's in shock" reasons one of the cops. This is the first 20 minutes of this supposedly gritty, tough police procedural. And it all proves pointless anyway since not more than 10 minutes later Curtis is reinstated, promoted, and partnered up with Clancy Brown to investigate a series of shootings in which the bullets have her names on them. Oh, and she's the only Megan Turner in the whole NYC area. I'm not kidding. That's a line from the movie. Then, if that's not enough. The killer, Ron Silver, possibly the creepiest man in all New York, pervy smile, emotionless eyes and all manages to seduce Curtis in a single night by offering to share a taxi with her. I don't know what the writers of "Blue Steel" were thinking but you couldn't sell this to a lollipop-munching six-year-old. The film moves from one logical fallacy to the next and all of them were avoidable. Why have all the business with the missing gun? Silver could have acquired his gun in a dozen different ways and he could have easily witnessed Curtis shoot a criminal in a different situation. Why was Silver directed in such a way that he oozes creepiness? If he had done this part as a regular charming fellow (like say Christian Bale's Patrick Bateman behaves with people around in "American Psycho") I wouldn't have had a problem. Additionally, Silver isn't exactly the world's hottest bachelor for Curtis, supposedly a well-trained cop, to turn a blind eye to all the red signals he's giving off. Michael Myers was a more subtle villain and yet it takes Curtis half the movie to figure it out. Then after further 45 minutes of Silver creeping around NYC with a gun, the film descends into the most appallingly silly horror climax in which he's shot, beaten, run over, and then still manages to get up and continue shooting. He's invincible, and his gun is always loaded (despite several close-ups which clearly show it's empty) until Curtis finally shoots him (for the seventh time) and he dies. Movie over. "Blue Steel" is made by the duo who did "Near Dark", Kathryn Bigelow and Eric Red and they are the film's saving graces along with Curtis. Bigelow's smooth, slick, noirish direction actually makes quite a lot of the film surprisingly watchable. In fact, when the film disregards its story it is marvellously suspenseful. The scene in which Silver murders his first victim is downright stunning. Eric Red's signature terse screenwriting also works well as it avoids the trap of overloading the film with backstory and exposition. It's good that we don't have to be reminded of how awful the story is over and over again. What I'm saying is that the execution of this idiotic plot is excellent. I geniunly enjoyed the look and feel of the film. It's a competently made thriller. Which finally brings me to Jamie Lee Curtis' outstanding performance. She began her career in slasher films and the experience has given her that British acting style of taking all kinds of material with absolute sincerity and seriousness. She builds a likeable, realistic person from the cliche character she found on the page and with her natural charisma and charm, she's magnetic on the big screen. Ron Silver, on the other hand, comes across as very hoaky and cartoonish. I believe he could have been a great villain but was misdirected to act creepy in all of his scenes which a mistake often made. I enjoyed the execution of "Blue Steel" but that's not quite enough for me to recommend it. The story is beyond preposterous and the ending is the stuff of spoofs. It is such an elongated horror cliche that I kept expecting Leslie Nielsen to pop out from behind one of the trashcans. "Blue Steel" is the opposite of the ugly duckling. It looks great but inside it's dull, generic, and silly.
16. Body Parts (1991)
R | 88 min | Horror, Thriller
After losing his arm in a car accident, a criminal psychologist has it replaced with a limb that belonged to a serial killer.
Votes: 3,693 | Gross: $9.19M
There seems to be a niche market for killer limb movies. They are not always in vogue, nor are they standard fare in the B-movie circuits (though considering how easy it is to make one they should be), but they do crop up every now and then. The first I know of is "The Hands of Orlac", a suspenseful Austrian silent film starring Conrad Veidt in which a pianist is transplanted a hand of a killer after losing his own in a train accident. Soon bodies start piling up and the dead killer's fingerprints are found at the crime scenes. The film was later remade three times, most memorably in 1935 as "Mad Love" starring Peter Lorre as a love-crazed surgeon. Other than these two I know not of a single good killer limb movie, but "The Hand" starring Michael Caine is definitely the most memorable of all. The film is so horrendous, laughable, and incompetently made that it defies belief. Having seen quite a few of them, I can say that my honest belief is that you can't make a good killer limb movie. The idea is impossible to sell, the premise offers no potential for anything beyond superficial scares, and the sight of a man fighting his own hand is hilarious even if you have never seen "Dr Strangelove". "The Hands of Orloc" and "Mad Love", the two exceptions, worked only because they relied more on atmosphere and style than actual events and in the case of "The Hands of Orloc" you never really saw anything beyond Veidt's struggle to figure out what's going on. In 1991, at the most inconvenient time for horror films due to the discovery of Jeffrey Dahmer's escapades, came "Body Parts", a shockingly dumb and inept horror film well below the talents of the man who directed and wrote "Cohen and Tate". It is based on a novel by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, those magnificent Frenchmen who gave us the source material for "Vertigo", "Diabolique" and "Eyes Without a Face" which was about a detective investigating a series of murders of men who had limb transplants from the same killer. The novel was optioned immediately after it was published and many directors tried to get it made in vein. Legend has it that even the great master himself, Alfred Hitchcock, gave it a shot. Who'd think then that it would be Eric Red, the man behind all those terse, to-the-point western-style scripts such as "The Hitcher", "Near Dark", and his masterpiece "Cohen and Tate", would be the one to finally bring it to screen. Red is undoubtedly a talented man, but one who should go for higher hanging fruit than this. He turned Boileau-Narcejac detective story into a straightforward horror film about a man (Jeff Fahey) who is given a killer's arm that then begins to control him. This shift of focus proves fatal first and foremost because Red's script is the definition of inept. A lot of things happen, a lot of ideas are thrown around, but when explanation time comes 'round all we get is a shrug. None of this plot makes any sense. The central question of the story which is how and why is Fahey's arm misbehaving is never answered. Is it a supernatural force? And if it is, then why is doing this? To what end? The final twist of the story makes the whole thing even more muddled as a new villain is brought in for apparently no reason other than because he/she is there and his/her relationship with the main villain is never properly explained nor is his/her motivation. And for that matter the main villain's motivation is never explained either. Furthermore, during the film's 90-minute runtime the main plot of Jeff Fahey's arm is going insane never reaches a climax. The independent limb gropes his sleeping wife, slaps his kid, and then beats up a bunch of guys in a bar, but it never goes all the way. It never seems to become sentient and above all it never kills anyone. This is tantamount to making a film about a twitchy eyelid. Red also never manages to make us interested in the character's plight. Present time scripts (meaning no backstories, no exposition) are a trademark of his but in "Body Parts" it really, really doesn't work. We don't care for the Fahey character, and quite honestly I didn't give a damn about his twitchy arm. We are never given a reason to care. Because the arm isn't murdering people or planning a daring bank heist, there's no real urgency to the story or even a sense that anything needs to be done. All Fahey seems to need is a good rest. Another thing Red's writing needs is great actors who can build characters on their own without the need to stop and explain themselves. Actors who are skilled at creating three-dimensional people through subtle gestures and details. Roy Scheider pulled it off beautifully in "Cohen and Tate". Even though Cohen never says one thing about himself by the end of the film we know everything. We know where he came from, what he's afraid of, whom he's thinking about, and what makes him tick. Jeff Fahey is not an actor of the same calibre. His performance here is bland, uncharismatic, and uninteresting. If Red had moved a cardboard cutout of Roy Scheider around in front of the camera it would have been a more engaging lead character. In fact, no one in the cast is any good. Lindsay Duncan plays a sinister British surgeon whose entire performance seems to consist of creepy pauses and low-voice delivery. Kim Delaney plays Fahey's wife in a performance so shallow it wouldn't have been convincing in a Skinflix softcore thriller. The only one who is the least bit memorable is Brad Dourif proving that even when he's sleepwalking he can act almost anyone off the screen. Perhaps the biggest mistake Red made in this film (beyond making it, of course) is to play it straight. Watching it, one gets the idea that if it had been helmed by someone who had a sense of humour about the premise it could have been an alright campy send-up of cheesy horror films. But Red plays is so seriously, so straightforward, that the film can't even be so-bad-it's-good. But in his defence, it seems he's the only one on set really trying. His direction shows occasional flourishes of the inventiveness present in "Cohen and Tate". In conclusion, all I have to say is avoid "Body Parts". It's a joyless, derivative, pointless horror film starring dull people in an inept script. I was bored by its lack of imagination.
17. Bad Moon (1996)
R | 80 min | Horror, Thriller
Full, crescent, quarter - each is a Bad Moon for Ted Harrison. By day, he's a photojournalist visiting family in the Pacific Northwest. By night, he transfigures into a horrific half-human - a werewolf.
Votes: 5,396 | Gross: $1.06M
I must say that I have never been a huge fan of werewolf movies. While the idea of a human being struggling against a killer inside himself is indeed fascinating, the creature he turns into is decidedly not. Motivation is the most fascinating aspect of every villain and basic instinct for food and survival just isn't complex enough for my tastes. Even the best werewolf movies like the 1941 "The Wolf Man" suffer from this problem. While the scenes focusing on Lon Chaney Jr. looking for a cure are indeed terrifying, the werewolf stuff quickly descends into the repetitive formula of any animal-on-the-loose story. And finally, there are so many werewolf films out there that all originality has been drained out of them a long time ago. How many innovations can you make in the story about a person getting bitten by a werewolf, then changing, then killing, then changing back and so on and on until he/she is killed? The honourable mention list of inventive werewolf movies includes "Wolfen", a well-meaning but one-note hippie/environmentalist thriller, "The Howling" a werewolf slasher movie, and "An American Werewolf in London" which took the well-worn basic premise but added a veneer of good, goofy humour to it. "Bad Moon" almost qualifies as its premise isn't quite straightforward but its ambitious premise is let down by an execution that leaves a lot to be desired. The film begins, as all films from director/writer Eric Red do, with a nifty, explosive, atmospheric opening in which a couple on a jungle trip are attacked by a werewolf. The woman is mauled to death, but the man escapes with just a scratch. But as we all know by now a werewolf scratch is never just a scratch. The man, Ted (Michael Pare), returns to the US to live in isolation by a lake but begins killing people. In the last resort move of a desperate man, he goes to visit his older sister Janet (Mariel Hemingway) hoping that family love will cure him. This fascinating and original idea, however, is not done right at all. Like Ron Silver in the Eric Red penned "Blue Steel", Pare acts throughout the movie like a creep. He is supposed to be a good guy struggling to cure himself and yet he behaves like a villain, all smug, snarky, and sneaky. For the story to really work the character should have been likeable. He should have been the centre of the film, not the family he is visiting. Another misstep is that during the entirety of the film's (very short) runtime the whole family love thing is only given about 3 minutes of screen time. Instead of playing up the werewolf suspense/gore action, Red should have developed the relationships between the family members and shown more scenes of Ted attempting to bond with his sisters and her son (Mason Gamble). Instead of this, the film ends up playing like "Shadow of a Doubt" if Joseph Cotten wasn't a killer but a werewolf. Instead of Teresa Wright, the protagonist is the family dog Thor who immediately figures out something's wrong with uncle Ted but no one believes (or rather understands) him. Another problem that the film has is weak performances. Red's writing style is terse. He always insists on writing in present tense, meaning that he gives little backstory and almost no exposition. This results in his films having a wonderfully focused, fast pace but it also means that the actors are left to their own devices to build believable, three-dimensional characters. Roy Scheider pulled it off in Red's directorial debut "Cohen and Tate". Even though he never says one thing about himself by the end of the film we know everything. We know where he came from, what he's afraid of, whom he's thinking about, and what makes him tick. Jamie Lee Curtis did it too in the film Red penned for Kathryn Bigelow to direct "Blue Steel", not to mention the entire cast of "Near Dark", and Rutger Hauer in "The Hitcher". Michael Pare and Mariel Hemingway don't quite cut it though. Hemingway is fine in the lead but she's not a very captivating screen presence and lacks the charm and charisma of say Jamie Lee Curtis. But not all the blame can be placed on their shoulders as neither of them get any time to make us care for their characters. The third actor in the film, the young Mason Gamble is also not very good. The dog, however, is excquisite. I've never been a fan of "Lassie" but had this dog played him I would have watched every episode. The amount of emotion and intelligence on his face is incredible. If there were such a thing as an Oscar for dogs he should have won it. Finally, on a technical note the film is very well executed. The werewolf looks good even if its not always fully animated and the transformation scene is a little hoaky. The direction by Eric Red is excellent with all the elegance and skill present in "Cohen and Tate" and missing from "Body Parts" back. I also liked the cinematography by Jan Kieser & Geza Sinkovics and the score by Daniel Licht. Neither of them match their "Cohen and Tate" counterparts but are atmospheric and work. On the whole, "Bad Moon" is enjoyable and entertaining but is also one hell of a missed opportunity. Instead of exploring the fascinating and emotional last straw of a man fighting against his own nature, Red chose to focus on the werewolf action and a potentially great film slipped through his fingers. The action scenes are good, as are the effects but don't go looking for depth or even great skill in "Bad Moon". It's a servicable and somewhat inventive werewolf film and nothing more than that.
18. 100 Feet (2008)
R | 96 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller
After Marnie Watson kills her abusive husband in self-defense, she is condemned to house arrest... only to discover that the house is possessed by the enraged and violent spirit of her dead husband.
It's always sad to see a director, writer, or star you once admired get bogged down in trashy, or just plain bad films. In the case of Eric Red, a lack of budget and ambition ruined what was once a promising career. He started off with two clever shorts. The amusing but amateurish "Gunmen's Blues" and the much more mature and engaging "Telephone". After graduating from AFI he wrote "The Hitcher", an above average but still unsatisfying slasher film with a western sensibility. It showed a lot of promise. Then he moved on to a lucrative collaboration with Kathryn Bigelow, at that time a debutant herself. They originally wrote two scripts together. One for Bigelow to direct and one for Red. The Bigelow film got made almost immediately into the unforgettable "Near Dark", but Red's "Undertow" had to wait until 1996 and even then it was only made cheaply for television. But Red's real directorial debut only had to wait another year. "Cohen and Tate", still his finest work is a bold, terse, stylish neo-noir near-masterpiece with Roy Scheider giving one of his best performances (actually probably the best bar "All That Jazz"). It is also, strangely, the most mature of Red's films, containing all of the trademarks of his style fully developed and working for the benefit of the film the most pronounced one being his preference to write in what he calls present tense. What this means is that he gives his characters no backstory and there is little exposition. He places us right into the story with no introductions. This is the best part of "Cohen and Tate" and possibly the downfall of most of his scripts. If you're going to do something like this it means that you need really good, charismatic actors who can build characters from little details. Roy Scheider pulled it off beautifully in "Cohen and Tate". Even though he never says one thing about himself by the end of the film we know everything. We know where he came from, what he's afraid of, whom he's thinking about, and what makes him tick. Scheider milked every second of his screentime to make Cohen a three-dimensional character. Rutger Hauer also did it to a certain extent in "The Hitcher", as did Jamie Lee Curtis in "Blue Steel", a film Red penned for Bigelow after he made "Cohen and Tate", but almost no one else did. Red, unfortunately, ended up in the cheaper end of movie making and his underwritten films ended up looking empty and bland when in fact all they needed were great performances. The best film of Red's later career was the made-for-television western "The Last Outlaw". His theatrical output consisted of "Body Parts", a dreadfuly and silly horror film and the underwhelming "Bad Moon". Then after the aforementioned "Undertow", nothing. For 12 years Red couldn't get a film made until "100 Feet" and after a 12-year long wait this film is not satisfying. It bears none of the style or substance of Red's best work. It is, like "Bad Moon", a merely adequate production. A ghost horror film without invention, stylishness, or depth. It goes through the motions of cat scares, scary basements, and sudden outbursts of violence well enough, I guess, and then ends. There is nothing really egregious about it, or memorable, it just exists then ends to be forgotten quickly. The plot is simple enough. A woman (Famke Janssen) under house arrest is stuck in a house haunted by the husband (Michael Pare) she killed. The premise may sound clever but as the film goes along you realise its just an excuse to get Janssen not to leave the house. It's no more inovantive than the doors being stuck or a storm brewing outside. It's really hard to review a film like this because there's not much to say. Everything in it is reliably done and nothing more than that, the scares are not too cheap but they're not clever either, Janssen is a likeable lead but more on the strength of her own charm than because her role is well written, and the direction is solid. Red knows what he's doing but his experimental stylishness which produced so many memorable scenes in "Cohen and Tate" is gone. He's just doing his job here. This is the kind of product that is better suited to being straight-to-DVD than in the theatres. It doesn't have the weight or the originality to be a cinema experience but if you pick it up in a videostore for a late Friday night you won't be disappointed. There are only two things in the film I can truly comment on the first being Bobby Cannavale. He plays the policeman who is assigned to watch over Janssen and he is awful. Actually, I should put more blame on Red than Cannavale as on the page he is the most annoyingly obnoxious character concievable. But Cannavale is no saint here either. He delivers every line as if he's playing a petty, abusive husband. He shouts a lot, snarks, and threatens Janssen non-stop and yet we're obviously supposed to like him or at least care if he lives or dies as the entire climactic scene of the film rests on that fact. The second thing worth noting are the awful special effects. There is a scene in the film in which one character gets his head twisted in 180 degrees and it is obviously the worst photoshop job ever done. I've seen pictures online that look more convincing that this. What they did was digitally paste the actors face onto the back of his head as he madly waves his arms around. It is probably the worst special effect I've seen in a non-independent film. I know 12-year old children who could have done a better job. My grandmother could have pulled it off more convincingly with a pair of scissors and an old magazine. Other than these two things everything in "100 Feet" is annoyingly average and reliable. Everything in its place and a place for everything. It provoked no reaction from me what-so-ever and in a way that's worse than if it were horrible. I hate watching films this bland especially when they were made by people I once admired.
19. Resolution (III) (2012)
Not Rated | 93 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller
A man imprisons his estranged junkie friend in an isolated cabin in the boonies of San Diego to force him through a week of sobriety, but the events of that week are being mysteriously manipulated.
"Resolution" is another one of those excellent independent horror films that have been coming over the past 6 or so years mainly from America. It is unexpected that today, when mainstream, big-budget films all look the same, with the same messages, stories, and preoccupations it would be the horror genre that gave me hope for the future of film. If you are looking for inventive, well-shot, smartly written, visionary filmmaking, look no further than the modern indie horror scene. Whether you stumble upon "Creep", "Coherence", "Borderlands" or even some of the more better known indie horror films such as "It Follows" or "Don't Breathe" you're in for a treat. In a year full of films on the subject of grief "The Babadook" was the best of all, and Joel Edgerton's masterful "The Gift" reminded me of the wonderful times when horror films relied on atmosphere and not on excess gore to captivate its audience. Independent horror is by no means a new phenomenon but it seems in much better shape today than ever before. This could be because it costs less money to make a film now than before and filmmakers don't have to compromise their ideas for the sake of money. "Resolution" is definitely one of those films Hollywood wishes they made but would never fund. A horror film in which almost nothing happens for 80 minutes and then when it does it remains mysterious and a conclusion is only hinted at. The film sets itself up as a dramedy about Michael (Peter Cilella), a well-meaning man who decides to help his best friend Chris (Vinny Curran) get off drugs cold turkey. So he treks out to his remote cabin and chains him to a wall, but as time passes someone starts leaving mysterious recordings around for Michael to find. I shan't say more than that but even if I did it wouldn't matter because the horror of the film isn't so much in what will happen but rather the slow-burn atmosphere pervading the film. Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead create the unusual atmosphere by always leaving the camera running for just a little bit more than it should and framing things in an almost voyeuristic way. The shot is always a little off-centre and slightly shivering so that it seems almost like you're spying in on these two men. However, this is not merely a device and actually becomes a brilliant plot point later on in the film as it is revealed that we may be watching one of these recordings Michael is receiving too or is it something far more sinister. I was reminded of Michael Haneke's masterpiece "Cache" which also dealt with mysterious recordings showing up on the doorstep of an unsuspecting man and pulls a very similar twist on the audience so that we don't actually know if we are watching a film or one of the recordings. Another interesting thing about the style of "Resolution" is that it doesn't really change its tone when the horror stuff begins. Michael and Chris continue bantering like they're in a buddy film seemingly unshaken by all the surreal events around them and it indeed takes a long while before they finally realise they are in a horror film. Like I mentioned above, almost the entire film consists of dialogues and 80% of it takes place inside one room. This is a very dangerous thing to attempt, especially a low-budget horror film as it requires top game from everyone involved and indeed "Resolution" works almost entirely because it has two great, engaging actors, fully fleshed out and believable characters, and tons of witty, insightful, and smart dialogue. It also evades all the trappings of the horror genre such as invoking tropes which would take us out of the movie and stretch our believability. It also develops its highly original and potentially ludicrous story slowly and carefully so that once things fall into place we don't laugh at the screen. I was surprised when the twist came just how invested I was into the central idea of the film. As they say, I bought it wholesale, as I did "Resolution" as a whole. It is an engaging, smart, and terrifying movie, genre-bending without being distracting, innovative without being flashy. I cared about and liked both of the characters, I was intrigued by the story, and was thoroughly creeped out by the mysterious events that occur. If I do have a problem with the film it is its finale which would have been far more satisfying had it ended either fifteen seconds before or later than it actually does.
20. The Canal (2014)
Not Rated | 92 min | Horror, Mystery, Thriller
A depressed and stressed film archivist finds his sanity crumbling after he is given an old 16mm film reel with footage from a horrific murder that occurred in the early 1900's.
"The Canal" is a strange movie. A horror movie which doesn't seem to want to be a horror movie. And I have to say, it really shouldn't have been. It starts off following the marriage of David (Rupert Evans) and Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) who seem to be perfectly happy, but something is wrong. There's an odd atmosphere between them that gives us a strange nagging in the back of our minds. There are pauses in their conversations that are a tad too long, looks over shoulders while hugging, and a lot of "I love yous" flying around, the kind you say when you're not sure and are trying to convince yourself. Then, following a hunch, David follows Alice and sees her in bed with a co-worker. Devastated he runs away and ducks into a public toilet to be sick, but a strange sort of feverish haze goes over him and he sees a strange, tall figure in the stall next to him. As he crawls out of the filthy toilet he sees the figure murder Alice. Then he faints. When he wakes up at home he finds Alice missing and soon she is found dead in the nearby canal. The dramatic parts of the film work really well. Director/writer Ivan Kavanagh draws his characters and the relationships between them really well. The atmosphere of doubt is also built up very well and soon we are able not just to empathise with David but also feel like him too. The scene when he sees Alice cheating on him is powerful and heartbreaking. And then the horror stuff starts happening and this interesting drama about a marriage breakup is rudely interrupted by a stunningly dull ghost story. Our questions remain unanswered, the tensions unresolved, and the well-drawn characters and situations utilised. It is as though Kavanagh changed his mind about the kind of film he wanted to make halfway through. That is not in itself a problem, though. The film's biggest problem is that Kavanagh is terrible at making horror films. This aspect of the film which takes up most of its runtime is horribly inept. Kavanagh's idea of what makes a scary horror film could have worked in the 1960s maybe, but now feels dated and tired. Bumps in the night, ghostly apparitions in shadows, things suddenly moving in the background are tricks so old I was able to call each and every one of them out minutes before they actually happened. Not to mention that none of them is effective. The supposed scares are laughable and the plot quickly devolves into a repetitious, illogical bore. This is the kind of horror movie in which our lead runs around, arms flailing, mad eyes blazing, shouting about ghosts haunting his house and is then surprised when people tell him he should go see a psychiatrist. This is the kind of horror movie in which quick, strobe cutting replaces actual atmosphere building. This is the kind of horror movie in which things always conveniently happen when people look away. And speaking of convenient. Wouldn't you know it that on the day he finds out his wife is cheating on him, David (a film archivist by the way) watches an old film print (conveniently and entirely unbelievable marked 'Horrible Murder 1901') about a man who murders his wife in the house he is now living with. I stopped buying these contrived coincidences when I was six years old. And when I was ten I stopped being scared by flashy cuts of pictures featuring men killing women while people wearing masks look on. Yes, I've seen "Eyes Wide Shut" and I'm glad you did too. What makes "The Canal" such an infuriating sit isn't that it is langurous or boring (though it is both of those things) it's the horrendous waste of acting talent and a strong first act. I was genuinely interested in the plights of David and Alice and what happened to drive Alice into the arms of another. Of course, all of this is forgotten as soon as the bumps start going off in the night and then handwaved in the climax. Oh and speaking of the climax, I called it twenty minutes in and was never ever deceived that anything else was going to happen. If you don't figure it out too, turn in your film fan badge at the office immediately. The performances in the film are very good. I was impressed by Rupert Evans who does a great job conveying a broken man's frustration. Antonia Campbell Hughes was immensely likeable as his colleague even though her role in the film is entirely perfunctory. However, the only actor to wade through the garbage that is this film's script and come out smelling of roses is Steve Oram whom you might remember as the lead in Ben Wheatley's "Sightseers". He plays the haggard, socially insensitive policeman assigned to investigate Alice's death and he is a joy to watch. Had he appeared in more of the film I might have had a better time watching it. He injects a lot of humour into the role and gives me the only scenes in which I was laughing because I was supposed to and not at just at the film's ineptitude. "The Canal" is an excrutiating watch. It is slow, dull, predictable, and annoying, that is not to mention it also wastes a terrific build-up. I advise Ivan Kavanagh to stick to character dramas and you to stay away from "The Canal".
21. The Lost Boys (1987)
R | 97 min | Comedy, Horror
After moving to a new town, two brothers discover that the area is a haven for vampires.
Votes: 115,812 | Gross: $32.22M
1987 was a good year for vampires. With both "Near Dark" and "The Lost Boys" coming out it was the year which made the bloodsuckers cool again which then led to "Buffy" and then, god save us all, "Twilight". It is interesting that both of these films came out so close to each other since they offered the audiences of the time a clear choice. You see, "The Lost Boys" can easily and accurately be described as "Near Dark" for teenagers. Like "Near Dark" it is also about a young man who is unwittingly drawn into a gang of leather-wearing vampires terrorising unsuspecting victims because he falls for a sexy vampiress. But unlike "Near Dark" which had a dark, violent atmosphere of brooding intensity, "The Lost Boys" is played for laughs. It is the perfect slice of 80s cheese complete with extravagant hairstyles, leather jackets, a kickass synth score, and the two Coreys (in their first outing). All of "Near Dark's" bite and edge is missing from "The Lost Boys" but it is never-the-less a fun movie to watch. It starts with a single mom (Dianne Wiest) moving to a seaside town with her two sons, Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim). What they don't know is that the members of the biker gang wreaking havoc around town are actually vampires. From this point onwards the plot splits into two parts. In the horror scenes, Michael is drawn into the gang by its sinister leader David (Donald Sutherland) and in the comedy scenes, Sam teams up with two fearless teenage vampire hunters Edgar (Corey Feldman) and Alan (Jamison Newlander). In between these two plots, we have the moms attempts to have a date with her boss Max (Edward Herrmann), some very funny schtick with the boys' grandfather (Barnard Hughes), and a fairly unconvincing romance between Michael and his vampire girlfriend Star (Jami Gertz). All the subplots aren't really mixed well and seem crammed into a very short runtime at a lightning pace. There is a definite feel of the subplots fighting each other for prominence and in this struggle, the film is the loser. It is a very messy movie. The horror stuff also doesn't work mainly because instead of building atmosphere director Joel Schumacher shoots the scenes like a music video. All glitz and flashy cuts. Sutherland is great as the lead vampire but it is all too cheesy to be scary. However, the comedy stuff is excellent. I can't decide who is funniest so I'll give them all kudos. Corey Heim is (as always) a likeable, charismatic lead. He delivers his one-liners with much more conviction than they deserve. Barnard Hughes almost seems to be in his own movie with some great comic schtick as the absent-minded, womanising grandfather. The best movie-within-the-movie, however, is focused on Edgar and Alan Frog. These two fearless vampire hunters deserved their own spin-off. I love how matter-of-fact they tell Sam that the town is infested with vampires. They might as well have been telling him directions to the local bakery. Feldman and Newlander are hilarious. But it's Edward Herrmann who left the biggest impression on me as the klutzy suitor. The best scene in the film occurs when he comes to dinner and Sam & the Frog brothers suspect him of being a vampire. To test their theory they switch his Parmesan for garlic, stick a mirror in front of his face, and douse him with holy water. It's a scene of pure slapstick genius and Herrmann plays it marvellously. So, in hindsight "The Lost Boys" is very far from perfect. In fact, it would be very easy to dismiss it as plain bad. But there's a certain energy and so much good humour to the film that I found it hard not to have fun watching it. All the comedy works, the performances are great, and there's a great soundtrack which is a mix of 80s pop songs and original work by Thomas Newman. The person who really dropped the ball here is Joel Schumacher. It's the director's job to keep the movie in line, give it direction, and hold it on course and that's something "The Lost Boys" fails at. It is derailed too often with jarring tonal and stylistic shifts. Schumacher can't decide whether he wants to make a movie or a music video and constantly undermines the atmospheric visuals by cinematographer Michael Chapman. The result is a total mess in which the parts never gel into a whole but are entertaining enough on their own for the film to be a fun and easy sit.
22. Stuck (I) (2007)
R | 85 min | Biography, Crime, Drama
A young woman commits a hit-and-run, then finds her fate tied to her victim.
Votes: 8,977 | Gross: $0.07M
A well-acted thoughtful black comedy satire that does get a little bogged down in Hitchcockian will-he-be-discovered stuff.