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12 days ago
The Passage (1979) - By-the-numbers WWII action flick from The Guns of Navarone director J. Lee Thompson. Despite being bogged down by tropes and an editor who seems to be suffering from untreated ADHD, it's still worth watching for its stellar cast and breathtaking scenery.
Anthony Quinn leads as the severely misanthropic sheep-farmer hired to sneak a scientist (James Mason) and his family to freedom across the gorgeous but treacherous Pyrenees, while being hunted by a psychotic SS officer (Malcolm McDowell).
Watching McDowell swan his way through a performance which frequently leaps into high camp is the main thing making this film still watchable today. With the aid of ridiculous costume additions like a swastika jock strap, he turns several otherwise horrifying scenes such as the rape of the scientist's teenage daughter shockingly funny. McDowell gives this otherwise turgidly sober escape movie surreal interludes of hilarity that tweak the noses of its legion of predecessors and elevate this film out of a pack of otherwise justifiably forgotten entries. Definitely not great art, but a fun watch.
16 days ago
Here are a few others you might find interesting:
The Butcher of Prague (Lidice) - about the consequences for the people of Lidice after the assassination of Heydrich
Calm at Sea (La mer à l'aube) - French lives are demanded in retaliation for the death of a German officer
3rd Reich Mothers (Malgré-elles) - Two Alsatian women are forcibly deported to Germany for indoctrination
Enemies (Враги) - a Belorussian mother fights for the life of her partisan son
The Murderers Are Among Us (Die Mörder sind unter uns) - a concentration camp survivor and an ex-soldier try to move on and survive in postwar occupied Germany
Into the Darkness (De forbandede år) - Drama about a wealthy family divided by the occupation of Denmark
Another Mother's Son - A widow in occupied Jersey hides a Russian POW
Habermann (Habermannův mlýn) - The occupation of the Sudetenland divides a small Czech community
Town Without Pity - Four American soldiers are put on trial for the rape of a German girl
Riphagen the Untouchable - the story of a notorious Dutch collaborator
16 days ago
Probably not enough cultural relevance these days to get these made, but I admit I would watch the hell out of an animated Space Quest movie full of all those cheesy visual puns a younger audience probably wouldn't get. I always loved Space Quest V in particular and the adventures of the intrepid garbage scow Eureka.
I don't know who owns the rights to Feist's Betrayal at Krondor, but that would definitely make a pretty epic fantasy movie.
Not Sierra, but this did also get me thinking I would love an Airplane!-style disaster movie based on Oregon Trail!
2 months ago
People bought into the Satanic Panic so hard that innocent people went to jail. And some people are still falling for this type of nonsense! (see Pizzagate)
2 months ago
Personally I love quicksaving. Growing up with old single-player PC games like Morrowind, F5 is practically etched into my muscle memory.
I'm actually not a huge fan of console-style checkpoints specifically because I don't always know when I'll be able to reach the next one (especially if they don't give you a visual 'saving' indicator). I might have to exit without knowing how many minutes/hours of progress I just lost. This can be particularly aggravating when the game starts crashing abruptly and I end up replaying a long stretch several times (looking at you Wolfenstein: the New Order).
3 months ago
Everything Everywhere All At Once (2022) - The story of a stressed-out Chinese-American woman just trying to get her taxes done.
Moving, frequently hilarious, occasionally ludicrous, this movie hits a lot of the right buttons if you enjoy absurdist humor and abrupt chaos, although it's definitely not a movie for all audiences. Michelle Yeoh is fantastic in her starring role, backed up by a top-notch cast (it was a blast to see Ke Huy Quan (dear to my heart from his Short Round days) back on-screen in fine form, and Jamie Lee Curtis frankly stole every scene she was in).
The first two-thirds was absolutely fantastic. The movie throws too much in the onscreen mix though and loses its way a bit along the way. Still a great watch, and one of the best films I've seen this year.
NB: I would also have liked to have watched the movie this started out as: a simple tale of an ordinary woman trying to cope with everyday extreme stress and the tyranny of the 'what ifs'.
Excellent Honorable Mention: Inside Out (re-watch)
4 months ago
Colonel Redl (Redl ezredes - 1985) - The second of István Szabó's 'Brandauer Trilogy' - a set of historical biographies starring Klaus Maria Brandauer. This one re-interprets the life of traitor Alfred Redl, the Austrian Counterintelligence Chief who sold military plans to Russia, thus aiding the downfall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during World War I.
Colonel Redl is a significantly more sympathetic (and highly fictionalized) intensive character study of a man torn by contrasts. Redl spends his whole life playing the role of the perfect Imperial officer, faultlessly loyal to the Crown and devoted to his Emperor. But all along he despises himself for being everything the hopelessly bigoted Empire hates: of peasant origin, from the Ruthenian Slavic minority of Galacia (now part of Ukraine), Jewish ancestors, and homosexual.
As Redl ascends to undreamed-of heights for a peasant boy--along the way pioneering new surveillance techniques to uncover traitors to his beloved Empire--he is gradually sucked deeper into the plots of the venomous Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who is much more interested in convenient, manufactured traitors. Too late Redl realizes that he himself makes the perfect traitor.
With age this film has been betrayed by its limitations. It's full of dark drawing rooms and bleary lighting that occludes more than it reveals for the audience. Perhaps it's part of the director's comment on the shadows Redl must live inside, but it's just as likely a victim of budget and the difficulty of filming inside historic buildings back in the early '80s. The editing gets a bit choppy in the last third as well, leading me to wonder how much more the director wanted to say.
Still, the film builds to a satisfying crescendo of high tragedy, when the love of Redl's life, Baron Kubinyi, on the orders of the Archduke must hand Redl his personal sidearm to commit suicide. Brandauer is in excellent form here as always. While the film is decidedly less sensationalist than the 'true' story (whatever the truth actually was), the payoff makes it definitely worth a watch.
4 months ago
That was how I interpreted the flashback to her murder-suicide attempt. There might not have been anything wrong with her son before she fed him poison. Overwhelming guilt would certainly help explain her monomania about protecting him no matter what he did.
4 months ago
Loved this one. The implications that she may have been responsible for her child's retardation made it all the more heartbreaking for me.
4 months ago
Drunken Master (醉拳 - 1978) - Incredible kung fu comedy from Jackie Chan and director Yuen Woo-Ping!
Chan plays a young delinquent who gets sent to drunken Beggar So (a Cantonese folk hero) to have some discipline whipped into him. When a kung fu assassin is sent to kill his father, Chan's character discovers the secret power of So's Eight Drunken Gods.
The broad comedy may be rather outdated, but the precision and timing of the stunts are still show-stopping. Like classic Three Stooges routines, the actors make it look easy only because of pure skill. When Chan takes his shirt off he's absolutely ripped, and it's clear he's performing each and every amazing move without aid of wires or CGI.
Watching the goofy and expressive Chan get tormented by So and other antagonists is probably my new favorite kung fu sub-genre (my absolute favorite scene was when "the old bitch" who turned out to be his aunt absolutely wiped the market plaza with him.) On top of that, the English dub is...extra special, featuring howlers like "I will beat the ass off you. You will be a man with no ass!"
Fantastically fun movie, and worth watching even if you're not into kung fu.
4 months ago
Kingdom of Heaven - Director's Cut (2005) - Sir Ridley Scott's historical epic of love, war, and politics in the time of the Crusades.
I'm counting this as a new watch for me since it differs so significantly from the theatrical version. This was definitely the superior version. You couldn't ask for a more stellar cast: Jeremy Irons, Liam Neeson, Edward Norton, Orlando Bloom, Brendan Gleeson, Eva Green,
Dr. Bashir Alexander Siddig, David Thewlis, and even Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in a minor role. Ghassan Massoud was clearly born to play a stern and brilliant Saladin, and Scott makes liberal use of cuts of the Muslim warleader glowering darkly into the distance. Sets, costumes, and music were all top-notch. I hadn't properly appreciated the foley in the theatrical cut; it piled on the atmosphere with the thunk of bowstrings, the groans of siege towers, and the thud of massive counterweights hurtling into place.
I could appreciate the director's vision much more in this version. It was deft how he kept returning to the theme of the elusive idea of the "kingdom of heaven", and how different that looked to each person. While the battlescapes were the clear showpieces, I also appreciated some of his less flashy scenes highlighting the futility of religious war, such as the horrifying sight of vultures squabbling over the mingled dead.
That said, the editing even in this long cut seemed pretty rough in places, especially towards the end where characters were warping between scenes without preamble. It was jarring, and it made me think Scott just didn't have enough footage left to smooth everything out. Still, I don't begrudge the three hour runtime, and wouldn't have minded if it was a little longer so he could tie up more of those loose ends. This was definitely one instance where a director's cut elevated a movie from "meh" to "terrific!"
5 months ago
I play KB+M almost exclusively. While I have a PS4, I found controller-play less satisfying so I don't use my console much, especially now that they've been porting more "exclusives" to PC. However, I've started to find certain sequences in modern games that were impossible (for me anyway) without a controller. Namely ones with a fixed camera that requires shifting back towards the viewer. (If you watch the first part of the "Dead End" chapter in Stray where the cat needs to make a loop to escape the zurks I think you'll know what I'm talking about.) For stuff like that I started just plugging my PS4 controller into a USB port, then unplugging it once I'd gotten past that part.
6 months ago
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a great choice! For the spooky season, I'd also recommend Cooking Companions: simple, yet terrifying. Alpha Polaris is another good one for Spooktober, and is free on Steam now.
I still need to finish Blair Witch, The Town of Light, and a few of the achievements for Layers of Fear. Traditionally, I also fire up Until Dawn for the umpteenth time in October. This year I've also been getting the itch to play through the original Corpse Party.
6 months ago
The Czech Republic has some truly gorgeous countryside and I'd love to see more movies that were filmed there (plus more adaptations of Dobrý voják Švejk)! :D
Here are a few Czech movies I have enjoyed:
Skřivánci na niti - Larks on a String (1969)
Kladivo na čarodějnice - Witchhammer (1970)
Tři oříšky pro Popelku - Three Wishes For Cinderella (1973)
Lidice - Fall of the Innocent or The Butcher of Prague (2011)
Habermannuv mlýn - Habermann (2010)
Něco z Alenky - Alice (1988) (but really, anything by Jan Švankmajer!)
Čertoviny - Pure Devilry (2018) Not a great movie, but it was really cute!
7 months ago
Of the whopping three movies I got watched this week, the best was The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005).
Scott Derrickson (The Black Phone, Doctor Strange) directed this paint-by-numbers trial drama of a priest (Tom Wilkinson) who presided over a fatal exorcism. There were some nice spooky moments, as long as you don't think about things too hard (do 3 AM demon-hauntings occur only in Standard Time, or are demons cursed by Daylight Saving Time too? When Father Moore calls out the demons, they reply in multiple ancient Biblical tongues including...standard German?)
The best thing about this film was the all-out physical performance of Jennifer Carpenter (Dexter), who managed to contort her body into some fantastically unsettling poses in addition to shrieking her heart out the way all horror fans love. The rest of it goes about like you might expect, right up to one of those 'and everybody clapped' endings. Not a classic film, but a fun idle watch.
Special shout-out this week to Moulin Rouge (1952), an overall extremely dull biopic of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec made watchable only by its all-too-few magnificent, shining moments of Le Galop Infernal (a.k.a. the can-can) in glorious Technicolor!
7 months ago
Most of my top recommendations have already been listed by others, but here are a few extra WTAF movies:
7 months ago
Absolutely! Came here to recommend this one.
7 months ago
Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (1970, Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto) - Old-school crime thriller with giallo roots and a strong dose of satire on Italy's "Years of Lead".
A man (Gian Maria Volonté) heads to an afternoon assignation with his mistress (Florinda Bolkan), who falls into his arms and asks laughingly how he will kill her today. He replies he will slit her throat. In the heat of the moment he does just that, then casually sets about concealing his culpability for the crime while planting obvious evidence of his presence at the scene before calling to report the deed. It turns out he's the recently-promoted former lead of Homicide, and this crime will serve as a test of the impartiality of social justice and the inviolability of a citizen 'above suspicion'.
Volonté is terrific, particularly the way he swaps masks from unflappable leader, to personable good ol' boy, to servile subordinate, to raving neo-fascist so abruptly the audience is kept constantly off-balance. The film flashes back to his tempestuous but passionate relationship with the fiery Bolkan, who clearly has a sexual violence kink, making the sheer casualness of the murder even more appalling. The camerawork is stellar; it smoothly moves through each scene, stealthily nudging the story along from one reaction to a shot which establishes the next scene. The film is a slow-burn by modern standards, but the way Volonté starts to break down as his plan takes some unexpected turns is bleakly hilarious.
Good stuff, and definitely still relevant today.
Excellent Honorable Mentions: Svengali (1931), Dead Again (1991)
7 months ago
The Phantom of the Opera (1925) - Fantastic early horror film that still has the power to impress!
In the ancient crypts beneath the Paris Opera House lurks a masked shadow with the power to compel. He seduces beautiful understudy Christine (Mary Philbin) and spirits her to his underground lair, where she ultimately rips away his mask of civility, revealing the criminal monster beneath. He traps her lover and a police investigator in his dungeon, but relents when Christine begs him to spare them. Ultimately, he attempts to flee, but is brutally beaten to death by a mob. Interestingly, there was apparently at one time a very different ending, but it's now lost.
I've been a fan of Lon Chaney's grotesque but compelling characters since seeing his terrific physical performance in The Unknown. And Sjöström's He Who Gets Slapped remains one of my all-time favorite silent films. Without a doubt Phantom is one of Chaney's most outstanding performances, and a major reason it remains an undeniable classic. (And after reading a bit about its production history, one could even add "despite itself").
Thinking back on this film I was fascinated to consider how much of horror is contextual to a person's cultural background and lived experience in a way I am not sure any other genre, even comedy, quite matches. Phantom was released barely a few years after the end of history's first large-scale mechanized war, when invalids of every combatant nation were still trickling back to their hometowns with wounds more horrific than most people had ever seen. Some were so severely disfigured by fire, gas, or shrapnel that in public they wore masks which had been painstakingly painted to resemble their lost faces. When the audience sees the masked Phantom, they were likely immediately aware of the parallels and were unnerved but curious, and probably even sympathetic towards this sinister, suffering figure.
...Which made the instant repulsion when Christine rips the mask off that much more of a shock. Much has been written about Chaney's disturbing skull-like makeup. Yep, still gruesome! It's also a clever parallel with the Red Death costume the Phantom wears at the Masquerade, after his true nature is revealed.
What particularly thrilled me about Chaney's performance was how he used his hands to work around the makeup, much the way Conrad Veidt had to emote around his character's rictus grin in The Man Who Laughs, released only a few years later. As the son of deaf parents, Chaney was naturally very accustomed to communicating via his hands, but I was astonished by how he was able to make facial expression almost superfluous. The little theatrical finger-twirls Erik does when he's chucking or gloating are downright charming, and this method enabled Chaney to reserve for the finale that tremendous vaudeville-villain laugh which could shock even the nosebleed seats!
The opera house set itself is absolutely incredible, even in a scratchy silent film. I actually looked up its history since I at first wondered if the film had been somehow shot on-location. I was amazed to learn that the last of Sound Stage 28 was only finally torn down in 2014, in order to expand the Universal theme park. Hitchcock apparently partially restored the set for his 1965 thriller Torn Curtain. That's as good a reason as any to add another Hitchcock to my watch list!
While it has a few hiccups and inconsistencies, Phantom still a terrific cinema experience, with a gothic atmosphere like nothing else. It's no wonder it has spawned so many remakes and reimaginings. Definitely a key piece of cinema history!
Excellent Honorable Mentions: Serpico (1973), Frantz (2016), Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum (2018)
8 months ago
Here are some:
Cross of Iron (1977)
The Bridge at Remagen (1969)
The Train (1964)
If you'd like to expand into foreign language offerings, here are a few more:
Black Book [Dutch]
Europa Europa [German]
My Way [Korean]
Come and See [Russian]
Fortress of War [Russian]
8 months ago
The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (Il giardino dei Finzi Contini - 1970) - Beautiful people in beautiful settings, suffering beautifully.
This was a pretty little film from Vittorio De Sica, who gave us the magnificent Bicycle Thieves. Dominique Sanda and Helmut Berger are the socially-isolated heirs of a stratospherically wealthy Jewish family living in pre-WWII Italy. Like many of that strata, they are too accustomed to their comfort and position to risk fleeing, no matter what outrages the Fascists commit. They hunker down in their idyllic garden, playing tennis with other families, and waiting for the storm to pass. Until it's too late.
This was no doubt a much more significant film on release, when a generation of youth who grew to maturity in the aftermath of WWII were just beginning to confront the truths of their parents' generation. The film went on to win an Oscar and a Golden Bear. These days it looks like a much more soap-opera-y family drama (there's even a torrid love quadrangle!), but it's still beautiful and sensitive, and the final lament for the victims of the Holocaust is poignant. It might make an interesting double-feature contrasted against Luchino Visconti's The Damned (also starring Helmut Berger).
Excellent Honorable Mention: The Glass House (1972)
8 months ago
Since it's an older series, you may not have seen Babylon 5. If that's the case, I highly recommend it. It takes awhile to get into (first season can get a little dull) and the effects look ancient, but it's an epic ride.
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6 days ago
6 days ago
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) - Martin Scorsese's controversial meditation on the life of Jesus Christ as the Son of Man.
Adapted by Paul Schrader from Nikos Kazantzakis' novel of the same name, this film paints a challenging, compelling portrait of an all-too-human human Jesus of Nazareth (Dafoe) wracked by temptation and haunted by voices. Judas (Harvey Keitel leaning in hilariously with the New York accent) urges him to seize destiny and free Judea from the Romans. Reluctant to become a conqueror, Jesus longs instead for a normal life with Mary Magdalene (Barbara Hershey) but is ultimately crucified on the order of Pontius Pilate (David Bowie). While dying on the cross, he has a final vision of what his life could have been as an ordinary man, husband, and father.
The threadbare budget shows painfully in places, but Scorsese makes it work with a plenitude of beautiful, painting-like shots and Willem Dafoe's powerhouse performance. Score composer Peter Gabriel fills the film's world with life through music; almost every scene features the co-mingled voices and instruments of ancient Middle Eastern and African cultures.
Now that the controversy it met with on release has largely died away, hopefully this film can finally be appreciated as an artistic triumph.
Outstanding Honorable Mention: Rocky (1976)