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Reviews

La strada di casa
(2017)

Operatic slow-burn thriller from Italy
I thoroughly enjoyed this very Italian crime thriller/family drama now streaming in the U.S. on Acorn TV under the title "Back Home."

Yes, the story is pretty hokey, involving amnesia, controlling macho males, vendettas and gangsters, forbidden relationships, and gosh knows what else. But it all works, somehow. It is set on a sumptuous agricultural estate near Turin and is infused with atmospheric photography and a musical score reminiscent of the late Ennio Morricone.

It all seemed very operatic to me - I almost thought the story could be adapted to an opera. The central character, Fausto, even looked like an Italian tenor. His name is no coincidence. The plot evolves from his selling his soul to the devil (i.e. some local crooks) to save his estate from bankruptcy.

It's all great fun and kept me bingeing through the twelve episodes. Acorn doesn't have season two yet, but I'll be watching it if it comes.

De 12 van Oldenheim
(2017)

Nice change of pace mystery
If you are not judging by some impossible standard, you will enjoy this village mystery, currently available on Acorn in the U.S. It's good to see a Dutch production of a story like this in which the characters mostly talk and act like actual Dutch people and not to some generic standard for the international market.

Yes, not many of the characters are "likable", but who the heck determined that characters in a crime or mystery story should be likable? And some of the plot twists are far-fetched, but again that's an artifact of the genre. The ending may be a bit too much like another famous story, but I'll admit I didn't see it coming.

The follow-on "Schouwendam 12" is just as good, or maybe better.

Private Buckaroo
(1942)

Oh, What a lovely war!
This second-feature low budget musical, clocking in at 68 minutes, seems to have been produced in the wake of Pearl Harbor, and is one of the more over-the-top recruiting posters to come out of Hollywood. It's filled with young men (and underage boys) falling over themselves for the privilege of becoming cannon-fodder, with nubile females urging them on. That said, it's a fun, enjoyable period-piece highlighted by several great Andrews Sisters numbers, including their hits "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree," and "Three Little Sisters." Blonde lead singer Patty is clearly the dominant one, pushing the older and plainer Laverne and Maxene to the side; not surprising that those two came to resent their younger sister in later years. (Patty also managed to outlive her sisters by a considerable margin, dying only in 2013 at the ripe age of 94.) There are some good Harry James numbers and a couple of songs by a baritone non-entity named Dick Foran (seems he was known as a singing cowboy), including the title song. Fourth stooge Shemp Howard has one of his better solo roles as a grumpy sergeant with a domineering gf. In all, a piece of history and a pleasant way to pass an hour.

Gemini Man
(2019)

Deserves higher rating, especially if you can see the HFR version
I wen't to see this mainly to check out the new generation of 3-D HFR (high frame rate) technology. I liked the earlier version of HFR that was used in "The Hobbit" a few years ago, but that dark medieval story with weird-looking characters wasn't really the best showcase for an ultra-realistic medium.

The HFR comes off much better here. The actors and locations jumped out at me visually like no other movie I can remember seeing. The action set-pieces were nicely done, especially the ones in Cartegena, Colombia, that made full use of the tropical color palette in that city.

The story was pretty much a standard action thriller operating more or less at the James Bond level, with a bit of sci-fi thrown in. I enjoyed it just fine, but perhaps that was partially because I knew nothing about the plot. (This is the reason I generally avoid watching trailers.)

You probably won't be able to see the HFR version after the first few weeks, so if it's still playing, I'd say check it out. Despite the naysayers here, you'll enjoy it.

Undercover
(2019)

Solid Eurocrime thriller
If you are willing to delve into a subtitiled Eurocrime thriller, this is a very good one. The U.S. Netflix version is NOT dubbed (as the Canadian one seems to be) but is in the original language, which is basically Dutch in both its southern Netherlands and Flemish versions, with some French, English, German and Spanish thrown in. I wouldn't bother with the series unless you can get it in the original Dutch version.

Good story and good acting, although I have to agree that Anna Drijver as the female lead is the weak link in the cast. Yes, she's gorgeous (maybe TOO gorgeous for the part), but she never made the character totally convincing, imo. I was impressed, though by Elise Schaap as the drug dealer's wife. She gave increasing depth to what was basically a ditzy, almost comical character. A very fine performance, and I hope she returns in the second season.

If you know the Dutch language, you will have fun comparing the various Dutch and Flemish dialects spoken by characters from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds. But even if you don't, this is a solid, entertaining thriller, and a change of pace from overly slick American productions.

Tarzan, the Ape Man
(1959)

As bad as they say - definitely the worst Tarzan movie
I had heard about this turkey for decades, but finally caught it on TCM in the interest of completeness (I've seen every other sound Tarzan movie, and most of the silents). This one is definitely at the bottom of the heap. What were they thinking?

About the only redeeming feature is Shorty Rogers' musical tracks, but even they sound like they were written for something else (and probably were). Many have commented on the borrowed footage and cheesy effects, with the fight with a toy stuffed tiger probably being the most laughable of all. Denny Miller looks like the original Muscle Beach boy, with his blond searchlight of a brylcreamed ducktail haircut (who does his hair in the jungle?). He says a few more words than Miles O'Keefe did in the 1981 version (zero, in that case), but not many. I think "kill?" and "money?" were his most memorable lines.

Oh, and I do think this is worse than the 1981 film - that one at least had Bo Derek naked. The Jane in this one is probably the least sexy Jane in the entire filmed Tarzan corpus - she remains prim and proper throughout and we never see her our of her ankle-length safari dress. Her impulsive decision to run off with Tarzan at the end is completely unconvincing. As for the villain, he somehow morphs into a nice guy at the end. Well, why wouldn't he be, since he is going to make off with the entire ivory stash from the elephants' graveyard?

For completists only. You have been warned.

P.J.
(1968)

A near classic - still not available in 2018
I happened to see this movie in it's original release and thought it was terrific. Then years later I caught a network TV showing, and thought I was watching a completely different, and much worse movie. The butchery by the censors was truly breathtaking. Almost every aspect of the film, including most of its more memorable scenes, were deleted and replaced by some other plot that was about something else entirely.

Recently I came across a (bootleg) copy of the original uncut film, and it mostly confirmed my positive memory. P.J. is one of the most entertaining action movies of the sixties, and deserves to be seen in its original form. P.J. Detweiler (Peppard) is a former Marine and Korea vet whose career as a private eye is not exactly flourishing - he works out of a New York bar and seems to owe everybody money. Things start to look up when he is hired by super-rich William Orbison (Raymond Burr) as a bodyguard for Orbison's high-priced mistress Maureen (Gayle Hunnicutt). Turns out that Orbison and Maureen are surrounded by a grotesque entourage of relatives and flunkies - who's out to kill whom anyway? After a series of violent and sexy set-pieces, and a side trip to a Caribbean island, P.J. starts to think he is being set up and decides to solve the mystery on his own dime.

One of the main reasons the original film has been suppressed is a scene in which one of the characters lures P.J. to a Greenwich Village gay bar ("The Gay Caballero") where he is attacked by a gang of thuggish leather boys. That scene would not be handled the same way today, but it is a fairly small incident in the context of the film. Another of the many scenes deleted or censored in the TV version is the opening credits sequence, in which P.J. participates in a motel-room entrapment of an unfaithful wife.

The 6.4 rating here on IMDB is almost certainly skewed by people who saw only the TV version. The original deserves much higher, at least a 7.2. I can't quite call it a classic, but it is without doubt one of the most enjoyable action movies of its era. It's very much a sixties film, filled with bright primary colors, eye-winking sexiness, and tongue-in-cheek humor almost from the James bond mold. Peppard is a very likable hero and makes you wish for the never-made sequel. It's also fun to see Burr revert to his pre-Perry Mason persona as a heavy.

You will enjoy this movie - if you can find it, that is.

Dalziel and Pascoe
(1996)

Now (finally) the whole series is on US DVDs
Since so many of the reviews here are lamenting the fact that this great series is not fully available in the U.S., it's time for an update. BBC video has released the entire series, all twelve seasons, on US DVDs, available from the usual places.

The episodes are nicely remastered and include good English subtitles, which I recommend turning on to help you follow the rather twisty plots and hopefully make sense of some of the thick Yorkshire accents. The first few seasons are in 4:3 ratio, but the rest are in widescreen.

Having seen only a handful of the early episodes when I was living in Europe, I am now working my way through the series. I can confirm that this is one of the very best British police series, well on a par with Inspector Morse, A Touch of Frost, Prime Suspect, and the original Taggart. The plots are full of devious twists and turns, and it's all spiced up with a good dose of dry Yorkshire humor. If you're into cerebral Britcops, get the whole set - you won't be sorry.

(Note: The DVD series consists of eleven seasons, since seasons 11 and 12 are combined on the season 11 set. Although 61 episodes are listed above, some of these are feature length episodes (90 to 120 minutes) and others are two-part episodes adding up to a feature length. If you count feature length episodes only, the total is 46.)

Man Hunt
(1933)

A fun period piece
Caught this on TCM recently, and I'm really think it deserves a higher rating than 4.1. Sure, it's old-fashioned and technically primitive, as most early sound films were, especially low-budget programmers like this one. But the cast is likable and the "Hardy Boys"-type story is entertaining enough. A look back into a much different America, to me it rings truer than some of Mickey Rooney's late thirties efforts. And it all clocks in at just over an hour - easy to take.

Salamander
(2012)

A Flemish change-of-venue
Ran across this series on Netflix, and was surprised when I turned it on and heard the sounds of the Flemish language, which I know well from my many years living in Belgium and the Netherlands. My experience with the country made this show especially interesting for me, since Belgium actually is a bit of a cauldron of political tensions and conspiracy theories. A horrific pedophile scandal involving government officials and including the deaths of some young girls tore the country apart in the 1990s, and I'm not sure they have ever recovered.

Apart from that, it's a fairly typical lone-cop-against-conspirators story, but with a bit more European subtlety and flair than American equivalents like "24" and "Scandal." It's pretty well-paced and certainly held my attention for its 12 episodes. I have mixed feelings about Filip Peeters in the lead role - he seemed to have the same bewildered expression on his face most of the time - but this series is more story than character driven. It's certainly worth your time as a change of venue from the usual thriller.

Hurry Sundown
(1967)

Not that bad at all - check it out!
I get the impression that most of the comments here are more influenced by the entry in "The 50 Worst Films of All Time" than by the film "Hurry Sundown" itself. Personally I don't give much credit to that book since I consider Michael Medved to be one of the four or five worst film reviewers of all time.

"Hurry Sundown" has been pretty much out of circulation in recent years. I shudder to think how network censors would have butchered it when it was broadcast on TV; anyone who saw it that way saw a different movie. It is now finally available on a good widescreen DVD and also on Amazon and Netflix streaming. I had been wanting to see it for a long time, if for no other reason than it being one of the handful of mainstream Hollywood films to earn a "condemned" rating from the Catholic Legion of Decency.

It wasn't nearly as bad as I expected; in fact I thought it was pretty good. It held my unflagging interest for its almost two-and-a-half hour running time, which is an accomplishment in itself; the worst thing a movie can be is boring. Not a great film, but an entertaining piece of Southern Gothic.

I couldn't get that upset at the casting of Michael Caine. I've certainly heard worse southern accents in movies. How about "Gone with the Wind" in which two of the four leads were played by Brits (and neither Leslie Howard nor Clark Gable even tried to sound southern)? Caine looked and sounded tentative in the opening helicopter scene (maybe that was the first scene filmed) but got more comfortable with the part as it went along. In many ways, Caine fit the role perfectly, since his character was a self-absorbed philanderer just like "Alfie."

People have scoffed at Burgess Meredith's racist judge, but let's face it, folks – people like that really existed in the South back then (and maybe still do; is that Arizona sheriff much different?). Was Meredith's portrayal much more over-the-top than Ed Begley's in "Sweet Bird of Youth", which won an Oscar? I got the impression that Meredith might have been basing his character on George Wallace (the pre-1968 version), and he wouldn't have been far off.

As for the poor having better sex than the rich, well that's one of those clichés that just might have a bit of truth in it, especially when the poor girl is Faye Dunaway.

Were the black characters over-idealized? Perhaps, but that is the way Hollywood handled race issues back in the civil rights era. See, for example, pretty much anything starring Sidney Poitier. I don't remember anyone trying to make a film of William Faulkner's "Light in August," in which the central character is a mixed-race psychopath.

"Hurry Sundown" is a good choice when you want a nice juicy wallow in southern decadence. The color photography is pretty good, as is the musical score by Hugo Montenegro.

The Importance of Being Earnest
(2011)

Where is it?
I saw this on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre in March 2011. I thought it was the best live performance I have seen of the funniest comedy in the English language. The entire cast is excellent, with Brian Bedford as Lady Bracknell a standout, second only to Edith Evans's definitive performance of that role. It is a fairly complete rendering of Wilde's text done with period costumes and sets, deleting only the superfluous subplot about Algernon's creditors that is usually left out of stage productions.

I read that the performance had been filmed on stage for eventual showing in theatres, but I have never heard of it being shown anywhere. I live in the Washington D.C. area, and if it was ever shown here, I didn't hear about it. Does anyone know whether the film has been shown or if there are plans to release it on DVD?

I certainly hope it comes out on DVD at some point, since there is a paucity of good media versions of this great play. I'm not a big fan of the 1952 film. Despite the presence of Edith Evans, the film's rather lumbering pacing doesn't capture the flow of the play. I don't like the 2002 version much either - neither the casting nor the screenplay are quite right. By far the best version I know of is the 1965 Angel Players recording, which features Edith Evans along with John Gielgud as Jack and Pamela Brown as Gwendolyn. It was this superb recording that caused me to fall in love with the play in the first place, and I still think it's the best media version of IOBE ever done. Unfortunately, it was never re-released in any other format, so you will have to find a copy of the original two-LP set if you want to hear it.

Considering the need for a truly great version of this great play to be made available to schools, libraries, etc. so that new generations can discover it, I hope there will eventually be a DVD release. I want one for myself, too.

Tarzan Triumphs
(1943)

Tarzan against the Germans - why not? Burroughs did it.
If you are familiar with the original Tarzan novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs, there's no reason to scoff at the idea of Tarzan taking on the Nazis. This territory was already covered in the seventh novel of the Tarzan series (and one of the best), "Tarzan the Untamed." Set during World War I, this novel starts with German troops destroying Lord Greystoke's home and kidnapping Jane. Tarzan sets out to find the officer responsible, and in the process he finds himself in an actual combat situation, in which he uses his jungle wiles to sabotage the German side.

Interestingly, "Tarzan the Untamed" leads to a climax involving a strange European civilization hidden in a deep valley, rather like the one featured in "Tarzan Triumphs." Although the script for "Tarzan Triumphs" is credited as an original story, it seems clearly inspired by "Tarzan the Untamed."

The Crime Doctor's Strangest Case
(1943)

Interesting parallel with "Jagged Edge"
This B mystery has one particularly striking scene. After the first murder, Jimmy, played by the young Lloyd Bridges, flees to his new wife's apartment. In order to convince her that he will not be believed by the police, he briefly takes on the character of a psychopathic killer, horrifying his wife. The scene made me immediately think of "Jagged Edge" (1985), in which Jeff Bridges, a virtual clone of his father, also played a young man with an edgy personality suspected of being a psychopathic killer.

Despite its cheesy sets, the Crime Doctor series is one of the best written and most entertaining of the 1940s mystery series.

The Seven-Ups
(1973)

Tepid direction sinks what could have been a classic
Sure, there are a few great set pieces - the opening sting, the car wash scenes, the chase. But for the rest this was a literal yawner; watching it in late evening I could barely stay awake. The problem, I think, is that producer Philip D'Antoni decided to direct the movie himself. He should have fired himself and hired an experienced director. Apart from the set pieces, there is no energy or pacing in the film, just long dialog scenes that never seem to move. Compare this to "French Connection," produced by D'Antoni but directed by William Friedkin. That one had hardly a dull moment; you always felt that it was moving somewhere. With a little script work and a director of Friedkin's ability, I think this could have been a classic. As is, it's basically a curiosity.

Black Widow
(1954)

Peter Denver = Peter Duluth
When I watched this movie on DVD, the plot and characters seemed familiar. I realized that the story was based on an episode in the "Peter Duluth" series by Patrick Quentin. For some reason, they changed the character's name to Peter Denver - maybe they thought it was easier to pronounce.

"Patrick Quentin" was a pen name used by four different writers in various combinations from around 1930 into the 1960s. They also used the names Q. Patrick and Jonathan Stagge. See the Wikipedia article on Patrick Quentin for more details.

The best known Patrick Quentin novels are those featuring Peter Duluth, a Broadway producer, and his wife Iris, a famous actress. They solve mysteries in the glamorous New York theatre world - a bit like Nick and Nora Charles. Most of these novels have the word "puzzle" in the title - "Puzzle for Fools", "Puzzle for Players", etc. "Black Widow", published in 1952, was an exception to the title pattern. All of the Duluth novels I have read have been very entertaining "Golden Age" mysteries, and I highly recommend them to mystery fans. In fact, all of the books by Patrick Quentin or any of his pseudonyms that I have read have been very good mysteries.

I was surprised that this script was given such high-end treatment - Cinemascope Technicolor and stereo sound. The script is a bit old fashioned, with its narration and flashbacks, and the cast is so-so. I think Peter Duluth was intended to be a more dashing character than the rather frumpy Van Heflin could convey. Cary Grant would have been perfect in the role. I still found it an entertaining 90 minutes. But check out the Peter Duluth books for a truly good read.

Tarzan and the Lost City
(1998)

The Fake Gorillas ...
Since there was so much comment on the "fake gorillas," I think it is worth pointing out that these were not in fact intended to be gorillas but rather the fictional race of "great apes" that raised Tarzan in the Burroughs novels. They were supposed to be something closer to humans, with a language developed enough that it could be translated into English - in fact Tarzan was a word in the great ape language meaning "white skin." You can quibble about how successful the movie portrayal of these creatures was, but any Burroughs fan will recognize what they were trying to do. In any case, it was a brief sequence.

I thought this movie was surprisingly good and came closer to capturing the flavor of Burroughs' later Tarzan novels than anything else I have seen. Burroughs, after all, was primarily a fantasy writer and there is no point in holding his fiction to any "realistic" standard. The production standards were quite good and I liked the principal actors. In fact, Van Dien may be my second favorite Tarzan, after Gordon Scott.

Appaloosa
(2008)

Ed Harris has all the charisma of a telephone pole.
After listening to the superb audio-book release of Parker's book, I was really expecting something better. And I think it would have been better in somebody's hands other than Harris's. How about a little humor?, a little suspense? a little pacing? Imagine what Sergio Leone or Howard Hawks or even Quentin Tarantino could have done with this story? (Well, recast it entirely for one thing.).

Comment ends here. Can anyone explain to me why IMDb requires comments to be ten lines? Isn't there enough verbosity on the internet already? It'a just a waste of blips. Your submission must be your own original work. Your comments will normally be posted on the site within 2-3 business days. Comments that do not meet the guidelines will not be posted.

The Trojan Horse
(2008)

Right wing hokum
I wasn't sure where this was headed until the ending. when it turned out that this was all a liberal conspiracy to hand the world over to European wimps and the United Nations. What a load of right-wing crud! Incidentally, the bit about Canada joining the US didn't really have much to do with the plot at all and the idea was never developed. The only point of it seems to be that it made the main character eligible to run for President(but they could have just made him American and dispensed with that). In any event, this was a load of bull and not worth your time. If you wan't to see this kind of thing done well, check out the brilliant BBC political thriller "State of Play."

Tom Jones
(1963)

Maybe the best literary adaptation ever
Having recently read Fielding's novel and re-watched the movie, I am particularly impressed by how effective this is as an adaptation of a sprawling, great novel into a feature length film, something that has so rarely been done in a truly satisfying way. John Osborne's script and Richardon's witty directorial style brilliantly capture the flavor of Fielding's writing, and also manage to include all the main lines of the narrative. Almost every scene in the movie has a counterpart in the book, even the famous eating scene. The sole exception is the rescue scene at the end - in the novel Tom is threatened with hanging but never actually taken to the gallows - but how could any director resist a closer like that.

I really can't think of a literary adaptation that is better.

Mission: Impossible: Zubrovnik's Ghost
(1966)
Episode 11, Season 1

Unusual episode
This one is unusual in two ways. First, it is basically a solo turn by Martin Landau as Rollin; none of the other regulars appear except for a brief intro by Briggs at the beginning. Second, this is not so much an impossible mission as an attempt to do a Hitchcockian psychological mystery in the line of "Spellbound" or "Vertigo." It even uses a musical theme similar to Bernard Herrmann's main motive from "Vertigo." Nice try, but this one doesn't really work, despite some good moments. There are too many unbelievable plot points to give the mystery any credibility.

I'm not an expert, but it looked to me like the images described as Incan were actually Mayan.

Neil Young: Heart of Gold
(2006)

Even for non-fans of Neil
I've never been much of a Neil Young fan. This may be because it seems to be some of his worst material that has become best known, such as the patronizing "Southern Man" and the sappy "Heart of Gold" (the lyrics of which have always made me gag).

This movie may not quite have made me a fan, but it has raised my opinion of Neil by a few notches, and of Demme by several. This is everything a concert film should be - focused on the music and the performance, with a minimum of distraction. There are no audience shots, thankfully, and interviews are limited to a few minutes at the beginning, just enough to let us meet the performers we'll be spending the next 90 minutes with. The DVD comes with the lyrics on subtitles, which should be standard on all concert films and videos, but unfortunately is still rare. This movie could be a template for all concert films and videos to come.

I just wish they'd called it something other than "Heart of Gold."

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia
(1974)

The first neo-noir?
Others have commented on this film's probable influence on Tarantino, Stone, etc. More that that, I think this may be the earliest example of the "neo-noir" genre which was to find fruition years later with films like "Blood Simple", "Red Rocks West" and "Fargo." It has the same kind of off-kilter quirkiness and contrast between the mundane and the deadly. Call it "tequila noir." Like others, I found this much-maligned film to be a revelation when I finally checked it out on DVD. Many "sleepers" turn out to be dozers, but this one is the real deal. And don't be put off by the violence; it's actually less graphic than many current films.

The Rogues
(1964)

When can we see it?
As the comments indicate, a terrific show. But has anyone under the age of 50 seen it? I don't think it has ever been released on video or DVD or shown on US cable channels. I happened to catch a few episodes on a European cable channel in the late 90s, and it was just as good as I remembered it.

Considering all of the lame nonsense being released on DVD, surely they could bring this one out. There were actually about 30 episodes made, which is almost two seasons worth in today's terms.

(Why do we have to put in ten lines of text? Is IMDb trying to encourage verbosity?)

American Playhouse: Strange Interlude: Part 1
(1988)
Episode 1, Season 7

Fascinating experimental work
This is one of Eugene O'Neill's most fascinating plays, and must have packed a real wallop when it was first staged (as a two-part work) in 1928. O'Neill has the characters speak their inner thoughts as well as their dialog. Unlike the other reviewer, I had little trouble distinguishing the two. But it might have been worthwhile to explain it in a prologue for viewers not aware of what O'Neill was doing in this play.

This TV version contains an almost complete rendering of this very long play, which is seldom staged nowadays. So this may be your only chance to see it in something like its original form. The cast is uniformly superb. Glenda Jackson seems a bit old for Nina at first, until you realize that the play covers around 30 years and that she will be an old woman by the end. The late David Dukes is particularly good as Nina's "sperm donor." In all, engrossing and unique drama. I hope it will come out on DVD soon.

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