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A Private Function

A charming and delightful little film using the talents of the various actors to best advange
Set in rural England in 1947, "A Prvate Function" centers around Michael Palin, a podiatrist, who moves to a smallish Yorkshire town with his social climbing wife, Maggie Smith, and aged and dotty mother-in-law, Liz Smith. The leading professional men in the town are organizing a celebration dinner on the occasion of the marriage of Princess Elizabeth and the Danish-Greek Prince Phillip. The only problem with the banquet is that food rationing is very much in force, yet "Pork Royale" is the centerpiece dish to be served to 150 chosen guests. This requires collusion with a local farmer and a dishonest butcher (Pete Postlethwaite), a conspiracy among the afore-mentioned local businessmen, and a game of cat-and-mouse between the forces of Pork Royale and the government meat inspector, sprightly played straight-faced by Bill Paterson.

Into to this setting of complex machinations stumbles "foot doctor" MIchael Palin, to find himself shunned and insulted by the haughty medical doctor in town, played superbly by Denholm Eliot, and subsequently railroaded out of his new "surgery" on "The Parade" (the posh main street). The Worm turns, and revenge is vowed: hilarity ensues.

The Allnighter

Why you ought not to let your Mom write and direct yout first feature film
Tamar Hoffs, Susanna's control-freak mommy, wrote and directed this dog of movie, which was Susanna Hoffs' first (and understandably only) feature motion picture. Shot and released at the height of the Bangles' fame and popularity, lead singer Susanna-gorgeous and oozing sex appeal-should have been able to make fans and movie viewers alike swoon and drool had she been starring in even a dog food commercial, yet this ridiculously lame version of a 1950s beach blanket bingo party movie manages to bury her talent and beauty in a soggy quiche of banal script and inane plot. Fast forward through to near the end to enjoy the one scene where Susanna Hoffs is dancing around to rock music in her bikini-brief lingerie, but be warned: that's as good as it's going to get. Evidently her mother Tamar was front and center during the shooting of her "guy finally gets the girl" sex scene, to make 100% certain that not a speck of titillating Susanna flesh showed (this is the late 1980s.mind you). Her mother succeeded in ensuring both her imagined chastity and the demise of her film career-a shame, because Susanna Hoffs displayed hints and glimmers of real acting talent in this sorry waste of good film stock. (BTW, I gave it a five-star rating because Susanna Hoffs is so damn delicious just to look at...)

Cold Pursuit

"I have a very particular set of skills--and they include snow plowing..."
The very tongue-in-cheek title, "Cold Pursuit", should give viewers a small hint, that this film won't be yet another "I will track you down and kill you" action flick; on the contrary, it's rather more in the vein of a "my name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father: prepare to die" adventure. We're so used to seeing Liam Neeson as a humorless revenge-driven machine, that we forget his acting range, and skill at deadpan sly comedy. Half-way through this, I remembered his fine early film, the sly comedy "Gun Shy", where he played a burned-out CIA assassin who seeks psychotherapy while all the time getting involved in an undercover operation targeting a Mafia boss superbly played by Oliver Platt. This movie is equally hilarious, though with many more dead bodies, yet played completely deadpan, all against a backdrop of gorgeously bleak and majestic winter scenery in the Rockies.

A fine supporting cast of thugs (all with ridiculous nicknames) and local police-especially Emily Rossum as a zealous town police officer-rounds out the acting talent, and the plot does not distract the viewer with tangential backstory or subplots, though there are one or two surprising little twists with secondary characters that play important roles in the inevitable denouement.

Not everyone lives happily ever after at the end, although this viewer certainly did by the closing credits. Nine out of 10 stars wholeheartedly.

The Exception

Delightful war fluff, well acted!
I'm giving this an "8" simply for the fine acting and commanding presence of Christopher Plummer (I keep wanting to say "Sir Christopher Plummer") as the aged but sprightly and opinionated Kaiser Wilhelm II. I'm torn between calling this the most enjoyable silly film, or the silliest enjoyable film, I've seen in a while, but I found it captivating, even though it's almost certainly sheer fiction regarding any historical accuracy. Although I relished the early and frequent appearance of nudity and rampant sex, what I really wanted more of was extra screen time for the Kaiser's extensive wardrobe of military and imperial uniforms. Notable acting props also to Janet McTeer as the Kaiser's consort, and to Eddie Marsan as a glum, coldly business-like Heinrich Himmler.

Kong: Skull Island

Hackneyed, Clichéd, Boring.
Rarely have I found such a gaping chasm between the enthusiastic reviews and the disappointing on-screen reality as with this film. Since everyone knows the basic story of KIng Kong, there is, of course, no suspense and none is to be expected except in the details of the characters' various predicaments (and of course, which of the cast of characters will be killed in a nasty and/or surprising manner). So, that leaves the story and the cast to carry the movie, as well as the special effects we expect.

The director said that he was strongly influenced by video games, and it clearly shows. This is a film for an audience satisfied by "big monsters" and lots of automatic weapons. The acting is workmanlike and professional, as you'd expect from the talented lead actors, but you can see they're sleep-walking through their roles: Oh look, Samuel L. Jackson playing a military hard-ass… Tom Hiddleston playing a reserved British ex-soldier with hidden mental and character strengths… John C. O'Reilly playing a lovable oddball eccentric… Wake me when the director has an actor playing against type, please.

Big insects and lizards: check. Angry huge gorilla: check. Spectacular and wild scenery and location: check. Mysterious natives: check. Soldiers trying to kill huge creatures with small arms and being crushed when the creatures and insects just won't die: check. Obvious references to other films (armed boat going down a river in Vietnam-war era, manned by soldiers, with rock music blasting—hmm,let me think…) and the Joseph Conrad novella: check.

Compared to the outstanding and nuanced 2005 Peter Jackson film, this one looks like it was scripted and directed by a nine-year old sitting in front of his PlayStation, and aimed at a similar audience.

The Loved Ones

Last House on The Left meets The Three Stooges
Spoiler Alert: this film is b-o-r-i-n-g. In fact, I'm already considering knocking off one star from my 4-star rating, to reinforce my annoyance.

Sean Byrne, the director and screenwriter, seems not to be aware of a cardinal rule for good horror movies: if you're intending to shock the audience, don't telegraph what's about to happen with with a neon sign, such as:

If you're a high school kid at a dance with a hot drunken girl who huskily tells you, "F**k me", DO drive off the school grounds before getting naked and nasty in the back seat of your car. (A face at the car window! Horrors, is it the maniac? Or, is it the disapproving teacher at your car door, because... you know, you're still in the school parking lot, moron.)

If you're the young hero in the clutches of bloodthirsty maniacs, and you've been let in on the secret of what happened to all those other nice-but-now-missing teens, and then see an abattoir full of what you imagine are unspeakable horrors, and then manage to free yourself your bonds—the second time, because you were too inept to escape the first time—and then manage to disable both your tormentors, DON'T lean over the edge, unbalanced, and stare into the pit of horrors, unaware of who we all know is creeping up behind you to do you know what.

This movie makes you want to yell the equivalent of "For chrissake don't go in the dark basement, you twit!" a score of times before the film is even halfway over. At that point, I gave up, shrugged, and judged our young hero as a "Darwin Award front-runner".

Maybe Mr. Byrne intended this to be a comic send-up of teen slasher movies; then again, perhaps Australian horror movie heroes haven't yet learned that when you've escaped from an insane killer you run like hell as far as you can, and you never count your nemesis down and out until you've put 15 bullets into his head, set fire to him, then blown up what's left with high explosives.

The Mist

All the right elements, and yet
First of all, let me say right up front that this is a very good movie. Not an AFI Top 100, but very good. And it ought to be, as it has all the right components: a seasoned writer/director with several outstanding films to his credit, notably "The Green Mile" and "The Shawshank Redemption"; a super-solid cast; a good music score (except for the use of that annoying, vaguely Balkan/Mediterranean/Middle-Eastern wailing women chorus to signifying deep tragedy—please, give it a rest already), a depressing visual look suitable to the story, and workmanlike dialog.

Yet with all that, I gave it only a "5" score. Maybe a "6" would have been more appropriate but I deducted a point for no one having punched Marcia Gay Harden in the chops early on in the film (10 points credit to her acting for that). My fundamental disappointment with this movie is (1) that it somehow never became greater than the sum of its parts, and (2) it was predictable—even the controversial ending, to some extent, and the final final ending, absolutely.

Just as with sorority house slasher films, where you can reliably warn the cute blond NOT to open the door to the room in the attic, in "The Mist" you could generally finger which character was going to make it to the end alive or not, almost as soon as he or she was introduced in the story (spoiler alert: it's a horror movie, some people die). You can predict how many of the action sequences are going to play out, what the consequences of excess lighting will likely be, and which characters will rise to the occasion and which won't, (with one exception). In fact, my biggest surprise was a car starting promptly and driving off when needed, rather than the typical horror movie cliché of an endlessly grinding starter and/or tire stuck in the mud.

On the plus side, the film did a quite good job of using the considerable acting strengths of the cast to deliver a fair amount of character development with relatively few lines of dialog. The pacing, though deliberate at times, was neither plodding nor frantic, and the unobtrusive and efficient cinematography let you focus on the story.

I'm happy that Stephen King found this film version of his book so frightening, but for me, the most chilling part of the movie was the frozen food section in the supermarket.

Fright Night 2

Living proof that the screenplay makes or breaks a movie (in this case the latter)
I had already seen and enjoyed the previous two "Fright Night" movies (the Roddy MacDowell original and the Peter Tennant remake— I keep track by the actors who play the Peter Vincent character), and judging by the reviews here I didn't have high hopes for this reboot. The fact that I watched it to the bitter end is a testament to the compelling allure of the beguiling Jaime Murray ("Hustle"), who is as lovely as ever and more than seductive as the head vampire in this film.

I am not going to pick apart the film on particular details, as that would take too long and involve various spoilers. And I will grant the following positives: the effects were extremely good, the acting ranged from acceptable to not half bad; the actors looked the part, the locations were authentic looking (shot in Romania), the cinematography was quite good, the music was professional, appropriate and effective, and the generous female nudity (and false hope of more to come—no nude Jaime Murray) kept me watching long past the time I should have stopped.

If the film had simply copied any number of similar tried-and-true vampire plots and used (geez, stolen!) the same or similar dialog, it would have been perfectly fine for what it was -- which was not a remake of the original concept but merely the use of the characters. Yet after a very few scenes, it became clear that the screenwriter must have gone on a long "Lost Weekend bender with the continuity girl, because this movie had more plot gaps, inconsistencies, leaps of logic, internal contradictions and "WTF?" dialog bits than a drunken Sarah Palin speech.


"You must kill _______!" "And if I refuse?" "Then he...will...die!"

Umm, ah...

A notable failure was the almost non-existent use of the Peter Vincent character, played by a competent actor who could have made something of the role had he been given more than a couple dozen lines.

The production values of this movie are far too high for it ever to appear on some future version of "Mystery Science Theater"; too bad, since the script alone would guarantee this film a Razzie award.

The Little Death

An astonishing film
I'd turn up the rating on this film to 11 if my amp went that high: it's really that good. Superlatives are overused and not always helpful, so I'll give some comparative praise: it's the first film to make me laugh harder than either Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" or the 'Bigus Dickus' scene in Monty Python's "Life of Brian"... It was as touching and romantic as "Love Actually" or Baz Luhrman's "Moulin Rouge" (if not more so); had as many wrenching and completely unpredictable twists and turns as the best of Hitchcock, and the ending had a twist guaranteed to be as surprising as anything you've seen—except that the end first took a quick 90-degree turn before hitting you with a 180. The writer-director, Josh Lawson, has produced a truly perfect little masterpiece with "The Little Death", full of subtlety, whimsy, good humor and genuinely side-splitting comedy. It's not for everyone, but I can't recommend this film highly enough.

Vild på sex

Lots of attractive girls having sex; not much plot.
This Swedish softcore sex film has (under the title of Girl meets Girl) a subtitle, "The Erotic Adventure of a Student Abroad", so one might expect a juvenile version of Emmanuelle, or a naked interpretation of "If It's Tuesday It Must Be Belgium" -- but in any case, some sort of story about a girl student abroad having erotic adventures. Which implies a narrative story line, usually involving something happening.

Sorry for you story-lovers, but you won't find Dickens here, or even dicks for that matter (but plenty of tail, although not in two cities). This easy-on-the-eyes and mostly lipstick-lesbian film can be summarized best in keyword form, comma-delimited: pretty-blond, bicycle, airplane, aunt, lesbian-lover, vibrator, voyeurism, crotch-grabbing, coyness, seduction, breasts, fingering, more coyness, breasts again, more seduction, hint-at-a-plot, breasts, moaning, pudenda, more plot hints, oh-look-a-yellow-MGC-roadster, breasts again, hey-where-did-that-guy-come-from?, different breasts, maybe-young-blond-not-so-innocent, give-up-on-plot, geez-even-more-sex, OK-screw-it-no-plot, different-breasts, who's-that-new-girl?, more-lez-sex, exhausted, oh-wait-there's-BDSM, yet-more-sex, OK-really-exhausted-now.

And that's pretty much it. BTW, the moaning and groaning and orgasm convulsions are better than in many actual hardcore films. Just sayin'.


I've seen a few annoying movies, but this one takes the cake.
The fact that the story is told using the "handheld video camera" plot device is bad enough— especially for an action / horror movie, where the technique stretches the willing suspension of disbelief past the breaking point — but the true weakness of this movie is that the viewer can't sympathize with the characters. In fact, this viewer was hoping after the first 10 minutes that one or more of the main characters —self-absorbed millennial yuppies — would just die, please. After 18 minutes of mindlessly banal banter at a party before anything remotely suspenseful even happens, I was also wishing the same fate on the director and screenwriter. I'll give the movie two stars rather than one because of the decent production values.


Almost but not quite
First, let me say that the cinematography and editing in this film were very decent quality: highly professional at first viewing. And the music score, while not groundbreaking, was more than suitable; again, professional quality. The effects were hit or miss, but largely well done, especially one long shot of a realistically gnawed prosthetic dead body.

That's it for the good points, now for the not-so-good. The acting is passable, if you don't mind face-twitching and arm waving to reveal emotional reactions. The dialog isn't great, but I've endured worse— although at times I was expecting to hear "dammit, Jim, I'm a Doctoral candidate, not a special forces commando!"

However, the big problem is the story line. Not the overall concept— it's a zombie movie so we all know what's going to happen, and being at the Large Hadron Collider in Cern, we know the plot is going to center around particle physics and the action will take place in the laboratories, offices and physical plant—which is interesting to see, by the way.

But the story line is predictable, vague in too many areas of detail, and doesn't give much idea as to who the main characters and what their jobs are. Also, too many scenes telegraph the impending action with a leaden heavy hand: lights dim and flicker out, putting parts of the set in darkness, then the lights flicker back on: OMG-scream-there's-a-zombie-right-in-your face!!! (Yawn…)

Various conventions of zombie — and generic action—movies are observed, but not in a consistent manner. As for the ending, there's a nicely conceived double twist, yet one that demands a more competent actor in the relevant role to make it satisfying.


A better film than you might think
A number of things make this film quite worth watching -- starting with a good script by David Twohy of "Pitch Black" fame. Julian Sands plays the evil warlock (male witch) with flair, but isn't over the top, and Richard E Grant is a good foil. It's melodramatic, but controlled. The music is eerie yet low-keyed, with a hint of sprightly humor throughout. In fact, the slight edge of humor accents the atrocities that the warlock commits in a matter-of-fact manner, although there is nearly no gore shown (well, almost nearly none). The FX are modest and not hokey, and don't get in the way of the story, which moves along briskly. Some nice new little bits of invented witch lore are introduced as well, but they fit within the general conventions and are not distracting. I'd call this a tight little horror thriller that will reward your attention, but won't creep you out, or keep you from sleeping afterward.

The Rogues

A Wonderful Show-- compare to "Leverage" and 'The Persuaders"
This show was too short-lived, yet has always stuck in my memory as a rare treat and a wonderful example of some of the great TV shows that flourished in the 1960s. Urbane, witty, whimsical and well-acted by top drawer veterans like Charles Boyer and Dame Gladys Cooper, "The Rogues" pioneered the "crooks as good guys" formula later used by The Persuaders (Roger Moore, Tony Curtis) and currently "Leverage" (Timothy Hutton & Jane Alexander) on TNT. One can only imagine if this show could have been produced today with the 1960s restrictions on plot and language removed.. Could some kindly producer PLEASE bring this show to DVD?????????!!! Please?

Gun Shy

A lovely film: witty, well-acted, well-paced.
I can't recall how I heard of this movie, but having seen it once, I immediately bought the DVD. This is a fine oddball comedy, propelled by a script that doesn't waste a singled word and brilliant casting. Everyone is perfect in his or her role, from Liam Neeson as the undercover DEA agent who has lost his nerve, to Sandra Bullock as the love interest. Oliver Platt turns in a wonderful performance as the "Jeffrey Dahmer of Mafia hit men", and Richard Schiff is hilarious in his role as a overstressed member of Neeson's therapy group, who resorts to biting his hand to repress his anger impulses. Gun Shy is well balanced, well paced, and full of satisfying small surprises and twists -- especially the hilarious closing line of dialog. See it and enjoy.

Night Gallery: The Sins of the Fathers/You Can't Get Help Like That Anymore
Episode 21, Season 2

The best episode of Night Gallery, hands down.
Not only was this teleplay one of the most chilling and relentless of the series, but the casting was superb: Michael Dunn, Barbara Steele, and Geraldine Paige, OMG, in a single TV episode. But considering Rod Serling's reputation, perhaps that's not surprising.

Unlike modern shocker films, this episode of Night Gallery relies on no special effects other than a fog-generating machine. Yet the suspense and horror build so steadily that by the conclusion, you the viewer are thoroughly wrung out. I haven't seen this one for decades, yet I remember it quite vividly -- yet I try not to think of it just before bedtime....


Perfect storm of actor, writer and director
No point in going over the story, of course, since it's been filmed and staged for theater so many times. This production sticks close to the Bram Stoker novel, but adds an extra element of romance with a love story that in turn adds depth and texture to the character of Dracula.

Dan Curtis of "Dark Shadows" fame does a fine job of directing this -- as he did earlier with an outstanding version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (also with Jack Palance playing masterfully in the title role). And the script by the famed supernatural and fantasy writer Richard Matheson ("I Am Legend", etc.) is excellent. The sets and art direction -- right down to the bright red location captions -- are reminiscent of the Hammer Films' Dracula movies with Christopher Lee (which is not a bad thing), however, the soundtrack could have been better-composed in my opinion.

However, the most distinguishing aspect of this production of the Dracula story is Jack Palance. I have to believe that Jack Palance could have seemed ominous when buying a loaf of bread at the supermarket or putting a quarter in a parking meter, such is the man's presence. In contrast to the contemporaneous (and excellent, tho' different) Frank Langella version, Jack Palance makes the viewer believe instantly that the character of Dracula really was an ancient Warlord of Wallachia who commanded armies with his sheer presence and force of character -- something that would be a stretch for, say, Bela Lugosi to pull off. Palance gives the viewer a constant and riveting portrait of restless energy, enormous physical strength, singled-minded will and relentless focus.

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