JohnSeal

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Reviews

Faccia di spia
(1975)

Worth a look
It seems that most IMDb reviewers of this film have come to it because of its reputation as a 'mondo movie', but Faccia di spia is actually a serious attempt to tell the story of American foreign policy since the Second World War. It works periodically, but is let down by an overlong 'dramatic' section in the middle of the film about a reporter covering a Central American insurgency. At its best, Faccia di spia blends documentary footage of the CIA-funded coups against Jacobo Arbenz and Salvador Allende with dramatic recreations of those events. Some of the casting is remarkable: the actors depicting Allende, Augusto Pinochet, and Allen Dulles are impressive lookalikes. The film ends with a chillingly prescient animated sequence that may disturb some viewers as much as, if not more than, the (realistic and unexaggerated) torture sequences that earned this film a place in the Mondo Hall of Fame.

Manson Family Movies
(1984)

Sadie I don't love it
This is a terrific concept for a film, and at times it works. Unfortunately, it founders whenever Rick the Precious Dove is on screen 'performing' as Charlie Manson. With his pug nose and laughing eyes, Rick presents about as much danger and magnetism as Mr. Green Jeans. I'm sure Rick worked for peanuts, but no one would have killed for his Manson: at best, they might have made him a tuna salad sandwich. Sorry, Charlie.

Young Americans
(1967)

Risible propaganda
It's 1967, and American adults are desperate to believe their teenage children are simply smaller versions of themselves and that nothing is going to change any time soon. Enter Young Americans, a clearly staged 'documentary' that details the roadshow adventures of a group of square beyond belief youngsters who sing and dance their way through everything from The Hallelujah Chorus to Dixie. The kids all look like they haven't updated their wardrobes or hairstyles since 1964 and there's nary a hint of discord, Vietnam, or civil rights to muddy the waters (there are a few African-American kids in the group, but this is never commented on, even after the aforementioned performance of Dixie). Even considering the low bar set by the Academy Awards, it's hard to believe this corn pone was awarded an Oscar.

The Pickup Game
(2019)

The horror, the horror
I've seen a lot of 'scary movies' but this is perhaps the most disturbing and unpleasant of them all. Men: what a disgusting, pathetic gender (I can say that because I am one).

Përjetësi
(1974)

Përjetësi
Albania's World War II dead are acknowledged in this flag-waver from the Enver Hoxha era. The film was banned immediately upon completion; apparently its soundtrack - consisting primarily of heartbeats - deemed reactionary by the Hoxha government. Finally restored and made available in 2016, the film is revealed to be what it was all along: a respectful salute to those who fought Nazism and to those who would defend 1970s Albania from outside forces (Albania was not a Warsaw Pact country, and likely feared the Soviet Union as much as it did NATO). The uncredited orchestral pop song that concludes the film is a real gem that will be appreciated by fans of Scott Walker and Mina's 'Se Telefonando' - who is the performer?

A Modern Marriage
(1950)

Frigid Wife
In the film's first scene, a frustrated wife confesses to her therapist that she is, indeed, frigid - and so , so ashamed of it. "The sexual side of marriage chills me", she intones as director Paul Landres ladles on the stage smoke, after which she tells her husband "all you ever think about is sex". Men!! Yes, that's the same Paul Landres who went on to direct The Vampire and The Flame Barrier a few years later. As for the film's analysis of the problem, it takes a decidedly mid 20th century approach, with the woman bearing most of the responsibility (one doctor intones that frigidity is strictly a phenomenon amongst females). This is the sort of film you can pop in the DVD player next time your camp-appreciative friends come over, assuming friends can ever come over to your house again (if you're reading this in 2045, look up the Great Pandemic of 2020). On hand for the film's central tale of sexual woe: Sally Field's mother Margaret as one of the unhelpful women stifling their future spouse's libido and the legendary Robert Clarke (Hideous Sun Demon, Frankenstein's Island, and many many more trash classics). All in all, A Modern Marriage (re-released, helpfully, as Frigid Wife) at least tries to look like a real film and tell a real story, which is more than you can say about a lot of its competition.

Nonsense
(1920)

Sight gags galore
This comedy from the inappropriately named Educational Pictures is a real treat, featuring an enjoyable blend of acrobatics, sight gags, and even a Charley Bowers-style alarm clock to get star Sid Smith's day off to an early start. There's also a top-hatted, moustache-twirling villain for good measure, as well as a curly-haired damsel in need of marriage. Unearthed by Ben Model for his Accidentally Preserved DVD series, this is a little gem of forgotten silent comedy.

Master of the Nine Dragon Fist: Wong Ching-Ho
(2019)

The baddies of the British East Indies Company
HBO has produced half a dozen of these martial arts films in China, presumably for the huge Asian market. I'd love to know more about these productions, but for now all we have to go on are the films themselves. This is one of the better ones: dealing with Chinese resistance to the importation of opium into Guangdong Province by British mercantilists, it's well acted and choreographed and avoids the silliness of some of HBO's other 'Master' films. One caveat: the European characters frequently speak in an unintelligible pidgin dialect that has thankfully been subtitled!

Hai tiin yakuza
(1962)

Japanese bad boy
IMDb categorizes this early Seijun Suzuki feature as 'Action, Crime', but there are also elements of comedy and some rock 'n roll interludes, too. In fact, it's easy to imagine the 72-minute long Teenage Yakuza being an AIP vehicle with John Ashley playing an aspiring street punk - the only difference being that Suzuki filmed in widescreen, whereas Edward L. Cahn was generally an Academy ratio kind guy. As in most Suzuki films, there's a disabled character to remind us of life's general unfairness. That said, Nagisa Oshima's Cruel Story of Youth this ain't.

Minute Bodies: The Intimate World of F. Percy Smith
(2016)

Lovely to look at but frustrating
Perhaps I'm a bit of a philistine, but I would have preferred more context for this unique collection of F. Percy Smith's observational science films. Assembled by Stuart Staples and accompanied by a fine Tindersticks score, Minute Bodies will evoke a sense of wonder in viewers - but will frustrate some of us who would like to know what precisely it is we're watching. Some things are obvious, such as a plant taking root and growing or a bee gathering pollen, but much of what we see isn't as easily identifiable. I imagine Staples thought sub-titles would detract from the film's visual impact, but I was left a little disappointed by its obtuseness.

Fumihazushita haru
(1958)

Early Suzuki
Keiko (Sachiko Hidari) is the wet behind the ears volunteer charged with re-integrating foul-tempered juvenile offender Nobuo (Akira Kobayashi) into society. It's a difficult job, but someone's got to do it, and why not the young woman who earns a living as a tour guide! Can Keiko overcome Nobuo's short fuse and crummy attitude, or will her lousy dancing and modesty get in the way? A widescreen black and white Nikkatsu production, The Boy Who Came Back hints at the gritty yet outre style that would make director Seijun Suzuki a cult star in future decades. Not exactly a classic, but more than watchable.

Hinrichtung eines Elefanten
(2000)

Still disturbing 97 years after the fact
Alexander Kluge's critique of Edison's 1903 short subject Electrocuting an Elephant is almost as disturbing as its subject - not least because we are forced to watch the short four times during Hinrichtung eines Elefanten. Interspersing contemporaneous commentary on the execution with other footage and pictures of less celebrated pachyderms, this is a powerful and direct piece of filmmaking. Highly recommended as long as you know what you're getting into.

Gestehen Sie, Dr. Corda
(1958)

Confess? How about display some common sense!
Fred Corda (Hardy Kruger) may be a brilliant and well respected anesthesiologist, but he's dumb as a stump when it comes to murder. When he discovers the corpse of Nurse Montag (Eva Pflug), does he go to the police? Of course not! Instead he pretends not to have found it for a few days until he's compelled to reveal the truth and the police seize on him as suspect number one. This German drama is thoroughly average, and the English-language print available via Sinister Cinema a little rough around the edges, but it's a perfectly reasonable COVID-19 lockdown time killer.

The Bounty Hunters
(1985)

Unfathomably bad
Strike one: film begins in 'Vietnam', which actually looks more like the woods of Canada (where this atrocity was made). Strike two: it was shot on video. Strike three: everything else - including the worse-than-dinner-theater-level acting, junky special effects, and mountains of make-up slathered on each of Revenge of the Mercenaries' female cast members. There's also torture, bare breasts, and LOTS of aerobics before the story falls off a cliff around the one hour mark. Yes, it's only an hour long.

Páté oddelení
(1961)

Agent for Panic
It's hard to interpret this Czech made spy film, which was dubbed into English and re-titled Agent for Panic for American television . The difficulty of translating a Communist-made intriguer for US audiences - who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys? - hangs over the film, which involves a brush-cutted secret agent (Ikarie XB1's Jirí Vrstála) involving an old wartime buddy (Radovan Lukavský) in some questionable secret radio broadcasts. The film looks good thanks to Jan Curík's (Valerie and Her Week of Wonders) cinematography and sounds good courtesy Evzen Illín's score. I'd love to get my hands on a Czech-language print of this film to find out what's really going on!

Eden Cried
(1967)

Eden cried? You'll be bawling.
This astonishingly inept low-budget feature is set in 1955, bears a 1965 copyright date, and was apparently released in 1967. Did anyone pay to see it? If YOU did, you have my condolences. The 'cinematographer' was the legendary Ted Mikels and the cast consists of actors clearly in their late 20s and 30s trying to pass as teenagers, while much of the film is accompanied by snarky narration about how dumb and annoying its characters are. As a film, this rates a '1', but it's surely a psychotronic classic.

Lebensborn
(1961)

The shocking truth
Though a brief plot summary makes this film sound like a prototype for the 'Nazisploitation' movies of the 1970s, Lebensborn (Ordered to Kill) is based firmly in fact. As appalling as it is to imagine, the Nazis really did assign young women to act as breeders to ensure the continuance of the master race. Artistic license is taken by screenwriter Will Berthold, whose story follows the exploits of a German infantryman masquerading as an officer assigned to canoodle for the Fuhrer. By and large, this is a well made, serious drama; I'd love to see a German-language print but the English-language dub isn't too awful.

Women of Steel
(1984)

Outstanding oral history
The women who kept Sheffield's wartime steel industry running got a well-deserved moment in the sun thanks to this independently produced shot-on-video documentary. Featuring interviews with half a dozen distaff steel workers and newsreel footage from the period, this simple, straightforward, but terrific little film is a worthy tribute.

River of Steel
(1951)

Impressive and oh so dramatic!
This stunning animated short depicts the production of steel from beginning to end on behalf of its sponsor, the British Iron and Steel Federation. The animation is on par with the finest of the Soviet social realist school, whilst Roger MacDougall's energetic narration and Hans Ward's outstanding and lively score elevate River of Steel far above the typical mundane industrial film. Highly recommended.

The Ten Year Plan
(1945)

I"ll save it for you later
Housing needs to be built in post-war Britain, and Charles Hawtrey is here to help! The bespectacled comic, still many years away from the Carry On series, is the best part of this otherwise routine (and dare I say dull) short subject promoting the steel pre-fab as a housing option.

Parkgate Iron and Steel Co., Rotherham
(1901)

Stunning short
Yes, it's just a brief 'actuality', but there's something hyper-realistic and almost modern about this short subject that elevates it above the crowd. As the camera scans across the massed employees of the Parkgate Iron and Steelworks Company, it's impossible not to see them as people just as we are: happy-go-lucky, tense, focused, and compelled to work for a crust in less than ideal circumstances. Watch this film, look closely at its subjects' faces, and contemplate (y)our existence.

Skyhook
(1958)

Brought to you by BP
British Petroleum paid for this colourful 'March of Progress'-style documentary about oil drilling in Papua New Guinea, so you probably won't be surprised by its tone of scientific triumphalism. The title refers to a helicopter used to transport heavy equipment into the remotest parts of the Papuan rain forest, where BP levels trees and sucks up all that precious black gold. Sixty years on it's a depressing but most impressive looking piece of capitalist propaganda.

Lunch Hour
(1963)

Kitchen sink meets nouvelle vague
In large part thanks to Wolfgang Suschitzky's excellent cinematography and John Mortimer's unique screenplay, this low-budget British drama successfully straddles the line between typical British miserabilism of the period and the more romantic attributes of the French New Wave. Lunch Break accurately reflects the limitations and strictures of British society in the early 60s: love is frowned upon, emotions are to be stifled, Victorian morality still dominates - and restaurant service is hilariously horrific. Ah yes, I'm old enough to remember it well - and not miss it all that much!

Kujira gami
(1962)

Zatoichi vs the Whale
Shintaro Katsu, already displaying the charisma and physical mannerisms that were about to make him a star via the Blind Swordsman series, headlines this period piece about villagers determined to kill a giant whale that lurks offshore and occasionally kills local fishermen. Beautifully shot in black and white by Setsuo Kobayashi (Fires on the Plain) and scored by Akira Ifukube, this impressive feature never earned an American release - no doubt because of its uniquely Japanese subject matter - but is definitely worth seeking out. And as a bonus, Takashi Shimura - he of the perpetual hangdog expression - is also on hand.

Raza de viboras
(1978)

Mis-titled upon video release?
When Video Kingdom released an English-language dub of this film on VHS in 1989, they entitled it A Breed of Snakes. Ever since then, it seems to have been confused with a 1988 feature, En peligro de muerte, that includes some of the same cast members. There are three glaring clues supporting this: 1)the cast of this film are costumed in late '70s attire, not late '80s; 2)the film is credited to director Rene Cardona, while 1988's film was directed by Antonio de Anda; and 3)the 'old west' plot synopsis listed on IMDb clearly bears no resemblance to the mid 20th century plot of Raza de viboras (Race of Vipers).

So, is the film any good? Not really. Two brothers squabble around the ranch, while a sweet young thing tries to protect her ailing grandfather from the outside world. There is a snake, but it doesn't show up until two-thirds into the movie, and there's some decidedly unpleasant footage of diseased cattle being put down.

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