Frenzy (1972)


Frenzy

Frenzy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Frenzy, Alfred Hitchcock‘s penultimate thriller, is set in London where serial killer Barry Foster chokes women with an impressive array of ties and pins the blame on his surly mate.
Rating: ★★½☆☆

This review was written 41 years too late

The arse-up floating body of a dead woman washes onto the banks of the Thames near the old County Hall building, prompting various responses from onlookers along the lines of  “Ooh isn’t it dreadful?” and “What I’d like to know is what are the police doing about it?” – horrible British responses, both out of time with early 70s Britain and a depressing representation of a people talking just in responses.

It was this Britain Hitchcock returned to at the end of his career when, aged 73, he apparently wanted to capture on film the London of his youth before it changed forever. So what we have here is a splendid visual document of London – a sweeping aerial opening down the Thames shows the remnants of a once-thriving port; Covent Garden when it was still a working market – and an average thriller, lifted by some trademark flourishes from a declining master.

Barry Foster is Robert Rusk, a Covent Garden market trader who comes across as a slightly more upmarket Jack Harper from On The Buses, complete with tedious, chirpy banter (“Trust your Uncle Bob”, “Bob’s Your Uncle”, “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do” and so on) and a natty line in suits – and ties. For Rusk is the mysterious Neck Tie Murderer – a killer and rapist terrorising women in the capital.

Hitchcock reveals this early in the picture, and at the same time we meet Richard Blaney (the late Jon Finch), a down-on-his-luck friend of Rusk’s whose ex-wife becomes a victim, thus marking him as the number one suspect.

Blaney flees briefly before being captured and banged-up, while Rusk carries on killing only to leave incriminating evidence on a victim, leading to a none-too suspenseful scene in the back of a potato truck where Rusk snaps the victim’s fingers to pull a tie-pin from her rigour grasp. As tension goes in films, potato-based escapades are few and far between.

It’s easy to see why.

Around all this, Alec McCowen‘s copper tries to piece everything together as the body count continues to rise.

The film suffers terribly from being a 1950s British film set in 1972 London. Characters talk like they are from a previous era; it’s as if the swinging sixties never happened. About the only nod to being a “modern” film is a few brief instances of nudity and an unpleasant rape scene. It is also devoid of any real tension since we know who the murderer is early on and Jon Finch’s innocent Blaney is such an unlikeable loser, you don’t really care that he’s been fingered for the crimes.

On the plus side, there are some stylish visuals – a tracking shot backwards down a flight of stairs, a freeze-frame on a victim’s eyes at the point of death – and some quality acting from Billie Whitelaw and especially Anna Massey, who in stark contrast to her role in the best London-set serial killer film Peeping Tom, plays a brassy barmaid with appeal.

Frenzy’s biggest let down is its ending, however. While Alec McCowan gets to deliver a witty last line, the complete lack of excitement or tension as the real killer is identified and cornered by Blaney gives a clumsy and jarring conclusion, leaving you to ask, “Is that it?”.

Yep, it is.

See Hitch introducing the film in the trailer

Ninja III: The Domination (1984)

Ninja III: The Domination

Ninja III: The Domination (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Laughable attempt to fuse martial arts and the paranormal with ridiculous results in the final entry of Cannon’s initial series of ninja flicks from the early 80s.

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆

This review was written 29 years too late

Ninja movies reached a wider audience in the 1980s when budget-movie kings the Cannon Group produced first Enter the Ninja and then Revenge of the Ninja – both starring Sho Kosugi. By the time of this third instalment, the US interpretation of the ninja format seemed to be in place, and Ninja III delivers in poor quality spades.

Fight sequences are typified by reverse footage shots to simulate incredible leaps; sword-play is none too gory; acting abysmal; plot meaningless; logic non-existent – yes, this is what you got with Cannon’s ninja output, but Domination takes it to a whole new height of, at times, enjoyable nonsense.

Lucinda Dickey, she of Breakin’ and Breakdance 2: Electric Boogaloo, if you recall, is phone engineer Chrissy who spots a stumbling, injured man while up a telephone pole. Climbing down, she finds dying and bloodied the “Black Ninja” assassin whose spirit passes into Chrissy. From then on, a possessed and ninja-powered Chrissy sets out to kill all the people who did the original ninja in.

Standard revenge nonsense, then, given a few degrees of twist by employing the supernatural and a Kunoichi – a female ninja. What hope this plot ever had is underdone almost immediately in the most ridiculous opening fight sequence you’ll ever see. The Black Ninja, hired to kill a scientist on a golf course, rather than use his myriad skills of stealth and secrecy, instead jumps out of a bush where a poorly driven Titleist is buried in the rough and crushes said ball in front of his victim’s bodyguards. Despatching everyone around him, he then simply, er, runs away and gets chased by police cars and helicopters. So much for silent killing and legendary stealth.

The law eventually corner him and shoot him more times than Sean Connery gets it in The Untouchables, but he manages to escape by tossing a smoke bomb to the ground. Hey, Black Ninja, I’m no expert but maybe you could have done that while you were running away from the police instead of once they trapped you? Just saying, is all.

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A possessed Lucinda Dickey – you can tell she’s possessed by the dubious eye makeup

And so it goes on. One poorly executed fight scene after another; a half-arsed seduction by the admittedly lovely Lucinda Dickey and the decidely un-lovely Jordan Bennett as the cop smarming over her; various home appliances including a video game getting possessed and taunting Chrissy forcing her to dance to dreadful 80s pop to blot out the supernatural happenings; the arrival of Sho Kosugi from Japan, wearing an eyepatch the size of a frisbee to sort things out; dreadful, dreadful music – it really does not end.

This film is relentless in its delivery of trash in every form – I’d really urge you to see it.

Watch the trailer to get a sense of what to expect:

 

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The Time Machine (2002)

The Time Machine (2002 film)

It’s the poster for Sahara before it was ever made! That’s time travel for you.

Heartbroken Guy Pearce travels in an armchair time machine to save his dead girlfriend but ends up battling Jeremy Irons and some hairy things instead.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

This review was written 11 years too late

Given a façade of credibility in that it was directed by original author HG Wells‘ great-grandson, Simon, this latest version of The Time Machine is not as good as the average enough 1960 version directed by George Pal. (There’s a 1978 made-for-TV version too.) The 1960 version starring Rod Taylor fares better since it feels and looks from another time – it’s a 50-year-old depiction of Victorian England – while this version with CGI and high production values renders a fine looking 1899 New York but seems out of place.

The film has a modern day gloss but does not feel ground-breaking or different in anyway. George Pal‘s 1960 version at least upped the ante in terms of effects when first released. Wells’s offering, by comparison, just feels dull.

Dull.

Dull as Dr. Alexander Hartdegen, portrayed by Guy Pearce. He’s fine, it’s just his character that bores. The murder of his fiancée prompts him to construct a time machine, go back to the past to try and save her and blah-de-blah-de-blah you don’t need me to tell you anymore. But I will, and the catch is the time paradox, meaning that since he created the machine out of grief for his lost love, each time he saves her, she then has to die in some other way for the machine to exist.

He jumps forward to 2037 to try and find an answer but encounters Earth on the brink of collapse. Escaping this turmoil, he accidentally jumps forward again, this time to the year 802701 where he finds the world overrun with Starbucks, I mean Morlocks. These human-descended furry beasts feed on human-descended non-furry beasts, the Eloi. Just to be sure of the difference, Morlocks look like pumped-up, saucer-eyed bewigged versions of a post-plastic surgery Cher, while the peaceful Eloi come in the shapely, scantily-clad form of Samantha Mumba.

Hartdegen falls for Mumba, who – guess what? – makes it onto the Morlocks’s menu while Morlock boss Jeremy Irons explains the terrible truth of the feeding regime. Hartdegen faces-off with Irons’s Über Morlock in the Time Machine, eventually kicking him out of the device where he totally unsurprisingly shrivels old quickly, before the Machine grinds to a halt in the year 635,427,810.

And let me tell you, there’s not much to see there. You see, it’s dull, again, which is such a let down. A wasted opportunity.

The Time Machine tries hard, and it really wants to be better than it is. But here’s a tip (stupid sign-off sentence approaching): turn back the clock and dig out the 1960 version. Or better still, watch Back to the Future again.

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No Escape (1994)

Cover of "No Escape"

Ray Liotta, he has the only gun in town

Futuristic thriller with Ray Liotta as a murderer sent to an island prison where inmates squabble and kill each other…

Rating: ★★★☆☆

This review was written 19 years too late

Directed by Bond two-timer Kiwi Martin Campbell, “No Escape” is another of many prison-based films where the inmates are left to their own devices as some form of ultimate punishment. Yes, quite a few of them die but in general, “No Escape” ‘s inmates don’t have it to hard – no shivs in the back during the exercise period nor soap-dropping intrusions in the showers. Divided into two distinct groups – the Outsiders, bearded, savage, “Mad Max 2“-like – and the, can you guess? Insiders, clean-shaven, dignified, softies; they get along as well as two starving dogs in a pitbull ring.

Robbins (Liotta) is a former soldier who offed his CO and subsequently escaped from every prison he’s ever sent to. Finally, he’s placed in a – ooh, scary – Level 6 facility, an island which promises the film’s title. First encountering the Outsiders where he’s immediately asked to prove himself in combat, he subsequently escapes the naughty boys and teams up with the nice Insiders, who are planning to escape the island.

There’s a lot of back and forth between the two camps for reluctant hero Robbins, being perceived by Lance Henriksen‘s The Father as a potential successor of the Insiders, and as a worthy and challenging opponent by Outsiders leader Marek (Stuart Wilson).

It’s good enough action delivered by the reliable Campbell, and the film has enough enjoyable corn to pass the time. The ridiculously clean-shaven Insiders get to make a few references to the scarcity of razors, a sort of in-joke trying to explain their unlikely appearance. The Outsiders contribute by having Marek deliver the inevitable homosexual overtones most men-only prison films deliver. He gets two priceless lines while ogling a young, captured Insider: “Sweet, tender, adorable boy. And I don’t want him bruised,” followed by the even dafter, “You are so cute. Where are your other little friends? You can tell your Uncle Walter.”

Acceptable fare then, and worth a look with a few beers if you stumble across it on Netflix.

Trailer:

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Waterworld (1995)

Cover of "Waterworld (Ws)"

Costner looks like this throughout the film. No smiles.

Famous flop full of downright stupidity but also had a certain amount promise until it all went soggy…

Rating: ★★½☆☆

This review was written 17 years too late

Way over budget, a fired director, Mother Nature chipping in with ravaging storms, “Waterworld” is one of those films where everything went wrong to compound a dreadful script that should probably have never been written let alone greenlit.

Like many films with a troubled production history, there are flashes of a good film in there somewhere. A futuristic tale where Kevin Costner‘s lone sailor and man-mutant – he has webbed feet, gills and can survive under water – The Mariner coasts around a completely flooded Earth in a gadget-equipped catamaran. When he reluctantly gets involved with a woman whose daughter has a map to dry land tattooed on her back, his life-on-the-ocean-waves solitude is sunk by cackling, nasty baddies intent on skinning the girl.

Ah, the baddies. Called Smokers and led by a hilariously OTT Dennis Hopper, there are times during his performance where you think Waterworld is a really bad comedy. Hopper plays The Deacon, leader of hundreds of brigands who reside on the rusting hull of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez. They zip about on jet skis, old planes, speedboats and anything else they can power with the remains of the oil, and generally behave like extras in a Monty Python film.

As Costner’s Mariner tries his best to protect little tattooed Enola from the big bad Deacon, we get to see the good side of Waterworld – some stylishly directed scenes of sailing ships racing at speed, sails bulging, wake crisping. Like sailing itself, you find yourself caught up in this empty, blue world where there is just wind and sea and nothing to distract you.

Sadly, you get interrupted by Hopper and co. zooming in on jet skis, snarling and giggling as they hunt the girl down, snapping you out of any peaceful reverie you might have found yourself in and plunging you back into the midden of the script.

That’s pretty much all there is in terms of actual plot. So what, exactly, fills the two hours+ run time (and let’s not even visit the nearly three-hour director’s cut)? Holes, that’s what. Enormous, gaping plot holes. It’s never explained why Costner’s mutant Mariner chooses to sail everywhere on a boat when he can, easily, survive under the sea. What else? It’s ignored that the Smokers (who do smoke a lot) seem to happily laugh about stray ash and butts falling into the ship’s oil reservoir, yet when the Mariner makes the same threat, they panic like nervous girls. Or why The Deacon requires a mic and loudspeaker to speak to his deck-bound crew from high up on the bridge of the ship, yet the Mariner way below can easily have a two-way conversation with him without a voice being raised.

Director Kevin Reynolds, who got booted off the set (the same sets destroyed by an impromptu hurricane), handles the action and sailing sequences really well, and these give the film its best moments. It’s just a shame he never managed to rein in Hopper (well, many have tried, let’s be honest), stop the film from going USD 75m over budget, or deep-six the turgid script his old pal Costner gave him.

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