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Sabotage
(1936)

Unjustly overlooked Hitchcock thriller
Downbeat, bitterly ironic Hitchcock thriller, laced with comedy and British flavor. That's all I can say without SPOILERS. Hitchcock has infamously said that he "made a mistake" allowing the bomb to go off, but for a modern new viewer this actually makes the film decidedly more unconventional and surprising. Perhaps what audiences also weren't ready for at the time is that "Sabotage" is a much more personal, intimate, small-scale film than his big hits of the period, "39 Steps" and "The Lady Vanishes". The entire bus sequence, as well as Sylvia Sidney watching "Who Killed Cock Robin?" afterwards in the theater, are unheralded Hitchcock classics. *** out of 4.

To Catch a Thief
(1955)

Delightful, light-as-a-feather Hitchcock confection
"To Catch A Thief" could be retitled "Hitchcock's Vacation"; even the IMDb trivia section claims that he made this film because he wanted to take a holiday in the French Riviera (and judging by the sweeping vistas of the area, he must have truly enjoyed his time there). The film itself continues the tradition of the elegant caper comedies of the 1930s, while anticipating the glamorous escapist James Bond adventures of the 1960s. Dressed in a succession of stunning Edith Head costumes, Grace Kelly gives a sparkling, tantalizing performance; Cary Grant is noticeably too old to be her romantic partner, but he gets away with it on Cary Grant charm alone. The film also feautures one of Hitchcock's funniest cameos ever. Flaws? The identity of the "New Cat" is rather easy to guess, and the party sequence runs slightly too long. *** out of 4.

The Man Who Knew Too Much
(1956)

Familiar tale in exotic setting (at least in the first half); slick and entertaining
Probably one of the best films to introduce someone to Alfred Hitchcock's cinema: it has no more demanding aspirations than to entertain its audience - a goal at which it succeeds almost flawlessly (apart maybe from the rushed ending). The Albert Hall crescendo is prime Hitchcock, but I also love the little sequence where James Stewart and Doris Day (both very good, as expected) "sing-along" inside a church. *** out of 4.

Frenzy
(1972)

Alfred Hitchcock's down-and-dirty, disturbing psychosexual thriller
Perhaps Hitchcoc's grittiest, most disturbing movie. Anthony Shaffer's script holds few real surprises, and Hitchcock himself seems indifferent in his handling of the non-key sequences. But those keys are really something. There is a tense murder that is hard to shake off, an astonishing bit of camerawork (the camera backing down the stairs), and a long segment loaded with the most pervesre, macabre black humor (in the back of the potato truck). The acting in general leaves something to be desired, but Barry Foster is excellent. Not a film for those whose only idea(l) of Hitchcock pictures are those starring, say, Cary Grant or Grace Kelly; "Frenzy" sits on the exact opposite side of the cinematic spectrum. **1/2 out of 4.

Family Plot
(1976)

Alfred Hitchcock bows out with neither a bang nor a whimper, but with a wink
Hitchcock final film finds him in a relaxed and playful mood - maybe too relaxed: apart from the exceptionally well-edited "car without breaks down a winding mountain road" sequence (and maybe the kidnapping of the bishop as well), "Family Plot" is entertaining but too low-key to be exciting, and the final 10 minutes in particular are disappointingly anticlimactic. But Ernest Lehman's script is cleverly structured (the first time we abandon what appears to be the leading couple to follow a seemingly random woman down the street is an audacious surprise), and the cast is engaging. In keeping with the times, Hitchcock has also upped the profanity content in the dialogue, which may jar some of his old-school fans, but I found it amusing. **1/2 out of 4.

Torn Curtain
(1966)

Underrated
This unfairly maligned Alfred Hitchcock spy thriller (a sort of anti-Bond) is absorbing, well-constructed, tightly paced (with the exception of the terrible sequence with the caricaturish Polish countess - Hitchcock's one miscalculation) , with many clever touches (footsteps in the museum, secret from the professor, escape from the theater, last-minute switch, etc.). Compared to "Marnie", his previous film which I watched again yesterday, "Torn Curtain" may be less ambitious and more traditional, but it is also more entertaining. *** out of 4.

Marnie
(1964)

Big comedown for Hitchcock after "The Birds", though interesting for the ways he challenges the limits of the era's censorship
"Marnie" is one of the least essential-to-watch Hitchcock films: he plays one ingenious trick on the audience (the robbery and the cleaning lady), but apart from that one sequence, there are hardly any memorable set-pieces or flourishes (the screen going red a few times does not count). Like "Suddenly, Last Summer", the entire film hinges on what-happened-that-fateful-day. But unlike SLS, where the ultimate revelation is genuinely shocking, the ending of "Marnie" leaves us with an "is that all?" feeling. Very good performances by both Tippi Hedren and Sean Connery, full-blown score by Berrnard Hermann. **1/2 out of 4.

Deathtrap
(1982)

Brilliant film about (and from) a play
"Deathtrap" is a cat-and-mouse game where the roles of the cat and the mouse are constantly reversed. It's a multilayered script (it's a movie about a play being written based on the movie we are seeing!), with witty dialogue ("You wanna know how good this play is? It's so good that not even a gifted director can hurt it!") and some mind-blowing twists for first-time viewers, while Sidney Lumet's inventive direction prevents any claustrophobia from setting in. Michael Caine gives one of his finest - and funniest - performances; his phone call for an ambulance is a classic. Christopher Reeve is also terrific, playing both to and against type. Dyan Cannon is a bit too hysterical, but she has one great scene where her dark side starts coming out. The movie only falters a little in the penultimate sequence, which is unnecessarily murky; other than that, it is even better than I remembered from my previous viewings. ***1/2 out of 4.

The Cat and the Canary
(1978)

Enjoyable, if stodgy
This third screen version of "The Cat And The Canary" is an enjoayble film, although the pacing is stodgy (at least in the 102-minute version I watched). The plot is clever in its main deception, but as a whodunit it falls below the works of Agatha Christie for one simple reason: there are zero clues given to the viewer as to the identity of the villain! Strong cast all around, with hammy in the best sense of the word Wilfrid Hyde-White the standout (certainly in comparison to the 1939 version Gale Sondergaard is the one who is sorely missed). Also worth noting are the clearly lesbian relationship between Honor Blackman and Olivia Hussey, and the very sexy nightie in which Carol Lynley appears in the final section of the movie. **1/2 out of 4.

The House in Nightmare Park
(1973)

Good-looking but dull horror-comedy
"The House In Nightmare Park" is old-fashioned by design (which is not a bad thing), but also draggy and dull (which is). To give you a sample of the level of humor on display, Frankie Howerd is asked at one point "Do you play (the piano) by ear?", to which he responds "No, I use my fingers". That's probably the best joke in the film....There is a good twist near the very end, but it's a case of too little, too late. The best thing about all of this is far and away that magnificent house - a feast for the eyes inside and out; I'd love to visit it and even stay there overnight! (edit: further research reveals it's the same house where other films such as "Murder By Death" were also shot, and is now a luxury hotel!). ** out of 4.

The Cat and the Canary
(1939)

Extremely familiar, though well-produced
This old-dark-house mystery must have seemed moth-infested even back in 1939, though the plot setup is intriguing, the production is atmospheric, and the cast is first-class (my favorite: the wonderfully sinister, straight-faced Gale Sondergaard). Also considered Bob Hope's first important screen role, even though his jokes miss more often than they hit (his "scaredy cat" routine also must have seemed old-hat even then). **1/2 out of 4.

Omen IV: The Awakening
(1991)

Last and least of the "Omen" series
Poor, by-the-numbers (if still watchable) retread of "The Omen" (which happens to be one of my favorite horror films). A couple of effective shock moments (one stabbing in particular), but overall much too tame (as per the TV-movie restrictions of the time) and small-scale for a movie that's about, well, the upcoming end of the world. Faye Grant's committed performance is an asset. *1/2 out of 4.

O drakos
(1956)

Just like its protagonist, this film has been the recipient of too much unwarranted hype
Apparently, this film is considered one of the best in the history of Greek cinema; if you do watch it, you may find yourself scratching your head as to why. A good, Kafka-esque idea for a short story is blatantly padded out to feature length (at least half the running time seems to consist of nightclub acts), and is crudely directed; the excellent, moving performance of Dinos Iliopoulos feels like the one element where the praised received is justified. *1/2 out of 4.

Orgasmo
(1969)

Come for Carroll Baker, stay for Colette Descombes
(Mis)marketed now as a giallo, this is actually an ordinary thriller about a wealthy widow held captive in her own villa by two free-living, free-loving hoodlums (at one point, the fiends have the audacity to torture her by turning the volume of the radio way, way up). After an uneventful first hour, it picks up a little, leading to a silly deus-ex-machina ending that you will see coming a mile away (literally). The real discovery of the movie is Colette Descombes, who obliterates Carroll Baker in terms of hotness, and is the main - if not the only - reason to bother with this. ** out of 4.

Repossessed
(1990)

Slapdash horror spoof
Not being the biggest fan of "The Exorcist", I don't find the idea of spoofing it (with Linda Blair on board, no less) as offensive as other might; I do find this film to be puerile and prolonged, though. The split-screen gag is a stroke of genius and perfectly executed; the levitation gag is funny as well. But there aren't enough gags of this caliber to justify making a feature-length film based on this concept. ** out of 4.

The Creature Wasn't Nice
(1981)

Extraordinarily lame, witless Alien spoof
Strong candidate for worst ever Leslie Nielsen movie. The writer-director-actor-songwriter Bruce Kimmel takes up eternities to set up gags that would't even be funny if they went by in a flash. The title ("The Creature Wasn't Nice") is the best thing about this....well, Cindy Williams' swimsuit scene, too. If this exact same movie was presented as a high school film project, the students would probably get flunked. 0 out of 4 stars, of course.

The Chase
(1994)

The poor man's "Speed", but still enjoyable and easy to watch, and Kristy Swanson is sexier than Sandra Bullock
This is a good example of bubblegum entertainment, though the media coverage of the chase provides a framework for some satirical jabs to go along with the action. The pacing rarely lets up, and there are plenty of spectacular stunts (though not always filmed to maximum effect). The biggest asset is Kristy Swanson: she looks great in every single shot, and her hair is a stylistic triumph (I personally think this hairstyle along with Demi Moore's in "Indecent Proposal" are the sexiest of any actress in the early 1990s at the very least). Her makeout scene with Charlie Sheen inside the car is as (deliberately) unrealistic as it is memorably steamy. Charlie should be grateful to his agent for geting him this role. **1/2 out of 4.

WWE Hell in a Cell
(2020)

Uneven, but the key matches deliver
The 2020 edition of Hell In A Cell features six matches in total: three of them (Jeff Hardy vs. Elias, Otis vs. Miz, and Bobby Lashley vs. Slapjack) are short time-fillers, sort of like bridges between the other three (their highlight is probably Elias' hilarious song about Jeff Hardy). But the other three, the actual Hell-In-A-Cell matches, deliver the goods. I can't decide which match between Orton vs. McIntyre and Sasha Banks vs. Bayley is the better one: the men's has the most memorable high spots of the night, but the women's has the faster flow - and the better finish (Banks is a bona fide star). Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso, which opens the show, is not quite in the same league, because Reigns is still a rather limited wrestler, but his heelish reinvention has worked wonders for his character. See the HIAC matches - you can also take a peek at the rest if you want to, they're watchable. 7/10 on the whole.

Impact Wrestling: Bound for Glory
(2020)

Impact generally delivers again
This event does not quite live up to its own hype (Impact promotes Bound For Glory as the Wrestlemania of the company - although not in those specific terms), but it has its moments. The best match is the 4-way Tag Team Championship bout, with 4 highly qualified teams participating - it really feels as if it's anybody's game. The opening X division scramble and the main event title match are solid as well. There are no outright bad matches, but the Call-Your-Shot gauntlet match is, as expected, a mess (good thing Impact is bringing back the Women's Tag Team titles, instead of giving the women filler spots in these multi-person contests), and as for the much-anticipated Deonna Purrazzo - Kylie Rae Knockouts title match....well, I won't spoil the surprises but rest assured they are unpleasant ones. The net balance of the show is positive, though. 7/10.

Spider's Web
(1982)

Excruciatingly dull
Any Monogram Charlie Chan film from the 1940s is more cinematic and faster-moving than this talkathon-boreathon, which barely qualifies as a film; it really is just a piece of filmed theater - and poorly filmed, at that (for example, there is a scene where it takes 5 minutes for 3 men to accept that there is a dead body in the room - even though the body can be easily seen from the point where they are standing). As the characters talk....and talk....and talk.....and talk....without getting anywhere, it is very tempting to start doing other things while the film drones on at the background. But do tune in for the unmasking of the killer in the last 10 minutes, which is actually chillingly well-done. Penelope Keith is lively in the lead, but she is surrounded by a bunch of stiffs (no pun intended) - excepting the killer's performance in the aforementioned climactic scene. ** out of 4 for that scene alone.

The Spider's Web
(1960)

Lightweight slice of Agatha Christie
This comic adaptation of one of Agatha Christie's lesser-known (and just plain lesser) stories is a static piece of filmmaking (basically, it's just filmed theater), and suffers from an overbearingly incessant score, but Glynis Johns is a charming leading lady, and fans of the writer may want to take a peek anyway, for completion's sake. **1/2 out of 4.

Witness for the Prosecution
(1957)

Very good, if somewhat overrated
"Witness For The Prosecution" (1957) is a perfect example of solid, old-fashioned, by-the-book Hollywood craftsmanship: there is hardly any moviemaking excitement or invention in it, but the Agatha Christie plot is stunning, the dialogue is sometimes funny, and the cast is first-class. Currently it is ranked as the 66th best film of all time on IMDb, which is arguably overrating it a tad; I would put it more around the level of the enjoyable Margaret Rutherford Marple films that were made a few years later. *** out of 4.

Battle of the Fittest Couples
(2019)

Very enjoyable
"Battle Of The Fittest Couples" is the perfect show to watch and relax after a long day; easy on the eyes (for both sexes), not too taxing on the brain. At the same time, there is a social and strategic factor to it that lifts it to a higher plane than a simple physical-competition show. There are likable heroes to root for and splendid villains to root against. As for the physical challenges, they are no joke - at least three people need to get briefly hospitalized after pushing themselves too far. The winners may not be satisfying, but they are undeniably deserving. I'd watch a 2nd season for sure. *** out of 4.

The Witness for the Prosecution
(2016)

Agonizing
This version of "Witness For The Prosecution" is squalid, gloomy, depressing, miserable - and that's before any murders occur. Luckily, the core of the ingenious (and much-copied) Agatha Christie story remains more or less intact, and survives this heavy-handed, overstylized treatment (the director seems to think he's doing Shakespeare). Good performances (particularly from Andrea Riseborough), apart from Monica Dolan's horribly histrionic turn. ** out of 4.

Under Suspicion
(1991)

Nifty litte period whodunit
Lots of twists and turns, leading to a split-second race-against-the-clock climax. Set in 1957-1959 Brighton, well-produced, and directed with care, if not a huge amount of style; it's not surprising that Simon Moore has a lot more writing credits than directing ones. **1/2 out of 4.

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