Friday, August 26, 2016

Movie review - "Hunter Will Get You" (1976) **1/2

Jean Paul Belmondo in tough guy mode, a sort of free lance muscle who does jobs the cops can't touch like bust heroin dealers and shut down gambling operations. The main plot of this involves him looking into a serial killer (Bruno Cremer, who you may recognise from Sorcerer) who gets young men to help him rob banks then kills them.

It's not very well made (the writer and director is Philippe Labro), and the film suffers in the early part when Belmondo is not around. But things pick up when Belmondo hooks up with a young man who Cremer failed to kill; he breaks him out of prison and they escape together.

The last half hour is good - Cremer killing the boy and then Belmondo seeking revenge (shock - another French film about the undeclared love between two men), resulting in some strong action and a climactic fight scene where Belmondo shoves a broken glass bottle into Cremer's gut, leading to a quote from Oscar Wilde plays over the credits.

It feels like a TV show with a bit more violence and a major star in the lead.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Movie review - "Fear Over the City" (1975) **1/2

Like British film stars had to play war heroes in the 50s, French film stars had to play cops in the 70s. Here Jean Paul Belmondo is a tough chain smoking detective investigating a serial killer. It's fun to see Belmondo and partner Charles Denner (you might recognise him from The Man Who Had Power Over Women) constantly smoking and looking world weary; both are definitely well cast and it's an ideal star vehicle for Belmondo. It was co-written and directed by Henri Verneuil, a man with a number of strong tough guy feature credits (eg The Sicilian Clan).

The film suffers from being about serial killers - not super common in 1975, that subject has become so well covered a lot of this feels familiar. It plays like an episode of a TV show, only in French, with Belmondo, and an impressively staged chase sequence in the middle where Belmondo goes after a baddie. (You think it's going to be a small chase but it turns out to be a long one, rather like The French Connection. And the baddie isn't the killer he's someone else.)

The opening sequence consists of a lone woman being taunted by a serial killer over the phone - rather like the opening of Scream, only she throws herself impulsively off a balcony rather than being legitimately murdered. But murder fans don't worry - the killer still knocks off some women in dutifully unpleasant scenes. The killer (Adalberto Maria Merli) has a neat visual "look" - a bug eye.  He kills because he doesn't like the morals of certain women, rather like the killer in Frenzy. He sends lots of letters and phone calls to the police and even visits them - so it's not that hard for them to figure out who did it, you would think, but Belmondo doesnt until the killer throws a grenade into a porno theatre and holds a porno actress and her friendsy (!) hostage. Belmondo isn't much of a detective - even at the end he admits he's more muscle than brain.

There's a subplot about a gangster who is pursued by Belmondo and lots of scenes in apartments. Various psychiatrists at the end get involved to have a chat.

This film feels like a bunch of "bits"thrown together - a serial killer, a robber, an action sequence. It was a big hit and Belmondo seems to be having fun.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Movie review - "What's So Bad About Feeling Good?" (1969) *1/2

George Seaton was best known for his dramas in the 40s, 50s and 60s but he had a background in writing comedy - notably several musicals and the Marx brothers film A Day at the Races. He worked on the script for the latter with Robert Pirosh and the two of them collaborated for this one. I think knowing that helps give this some context - Seaton and Pirosh were clearly going for something equally mad cap and off the wall, their attempt to match say the 60s films of Richard Lester. That sort of film is hard to pull off though, especially by old men, and Seaton was writer, producer and director. This is a dreadful mess that is painful to watch.

The film starts with George Peppard as a one time ad man living with some hippies in a loft, including girlfriend Mary Tyler Moore.  (I wonder if the team at Mad Men ever saw this - a lot of the visuals are reminiscent: hippies in the village with beards and guitars, etc). Then a virus strikes which makes everyone feel positive about things. It spreads throughout New York, causing sales of alcohol and tobacco to plummet, resulting in a tax crisis; the mayor (John McMartin ) and governor (Dom Deluise) get involved.

That's an OK idea - not the world's best, but you can see opportunities for satire. It probably needed to be made for an established comedy star - Jerry Lewis, say, or The Beatles, someone with whom it was easier to travel into a world of make-believe. Mary Tyler Moore can play comedy well, as well all know; George Peppard isn't a bad straight man (eg Breakfast at Tiffany's) but struggles in "madcap" world. Some players get it right such as Dom Deluise.

But the tone is all off. It's not particularly funny or clever or even genuinely madcap / subversive - at heart it's about people being nice to each other, and having to get married. It may have played better had we seen Peppard fall in love with Moore instead of already establishing them as a couple. Or maybe it simply needed to be funnier.

Movie review - "A Man Named Rocca" (1961) ** (warning: spoilers)

A French gangster film which means it has elements of 1930s Warner Bros films plus plenty of French man love and treatment of women as madonnas or whores. The man love comes from Jean Paul Belmondo who arrives in Marseilles trying to figure out why his old partner, Pierre Vancek, is in prison. The whore is Beatrica Altariba, mistress of Vaneck's dodgy partner. The madonna is Vaneck's sister, Christina Kaufmann.

It was based on a novel by Jose Giovanni, who had a fascinating life, being imprisoned during World War Two, where he fought and also collaborated with the Nazis.

The main problem with this film is it lacks focus. You think it's going to be about Belmondo getting his mate out of prison. But he doesn't do much to get that to happen - there's no suppression of evidence, solving of the crime, convicting the real killer, prison breaks etc. He just knocks off his mate's dodgy partner and takes over his rackets. The mate goes to prison, Belmondo goes for the sister, then shoots some thugs who hassle him and winds up in prison himself.

The movie changes gears and becomes a prison film with Belmondo being a bad ass and going to work clearing land mines, resulting in some Wages of Fear style tension. His mate loses an arm, he gets out and there's a rushed feeling ending where the mate still stuffs up.

 A film full of unresolved subplots (the mistress) and unsatisfactory emotion. Belmondo is charismatic, though really a bit too young for the role. Kaufman and Altariba are beautiful.

Movie review - "The Eiger Sanction" (1975) *** (warning: spoilers)

Clint Eastwood's languid directing style suits mountaineering - the slow but steady pace, the accumulation of suspense rather than wham-bam action... There's some terrific mountains to take in here - in the US and Europe; Clint is a believable mountaineer and I bought all the technical jargon about the mountain trade spouted by Clint and George Kennedy.

The story should be simple but is needlessly complicated. Clint is a former assassin hired by a shadowy government office to kill an assassin in order to (a) help his country (b) avenge an old friend of Clint's (c) get the IRS off Clint's back (a nice touch!).  For some reason, the man Clint is after will be on a mountaineering expedition, one of several people, they're not sure which,  except he has a limp. Clint doesn't notice that Kennedy has a limp until the end for some reason. Clint kills one person, goes back to the "M" figure, is told to kill again - one visit was surely enough? People keep trying to kill Clint at Kennedy's training center but he never seems that worried. Clint is passive for a lot of the story for all the mountaineering he does - all these people die on the mountain due to it being, well, hard - no real attempt from Clint to save them.

The novel on which this is based was a spoof and enough of the spoof survives this film - the albino head of the government organisation, the flamboyantly gay assassin (Jack Cassidy), the way out humour, the fact Clint's character is an art professor as well as assassin (hit on by students including a nubile Candice Rialson), a plot involving treacherous government. Other elements of it are more recognisably Clint: women throwing themselves at him (blonde, Indian, black), mocking feminists (when a woman asks George Kennedy about climbing a mountain and masculinity, Kennedy goes "lady why don't you go get yourself a screw")

It's beautifully shot. Some of the mountaineering stuff is really good. The acting is strong - Clint is ideally cast, Kennedy and Cassidy are fun.

Movie review - "Highpoint" (1982) *

I remember this screened on TV in Brisbane when I was growing up and someone had cut together a jaunty commercial for it, to the theme of "Peter Gunn". It seemed lively and bright and emphasised the stunts. But the result is a train wreck which is an embarassment for Canada.

Maybe if it had been a straight up thriller it wouldn't have been that bad but it tries for a light Hitchcockian tone, I think anyway, with elements of The Big Sleep. There are endless comic bits and pieces which are like nails on a chalkboard.

The plot has Richard Harris as an accountant who goes to work for a rich family, where the black sheep (Christopher Plummer) has stolen money from the mafia and CIA. I think that's what it is. Beverly d'Angelo is Plummer's sister.

Harris is a bumbling accountant who can also do things like drive cars well and fly helicopters; d'Angelo does barely anything until the very end (though she looks good) and there's no scenes showing much of a romance between her and Harris.

There are some fine Canadian actors in this: Chris Plummer, Kate Reid, Robin Gammell (CIA guy), Saul Rubinek and Maury Chaykin (mugging furiously in a double act). But it's awful. The action is chopped about, it doesn't make sense.

There are some intriguing bits: Harris gets out of a tight spot by turning up the sound on a TV via remote; a chase involving horse drawn carriages which results in one plunging into the water; the final fall on the CN Tower (not bad... until it goes out of focus and they cut away too soon from it).

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Movie review - "Ravagers" (1979) *1/2

Richard Harris in action mode again - after being one of a bunch of guys on a mission, dealing with terrorists, and running arms in Rhodesia, here he's in post apocalyptic mode. It's in the near future when most of the human race have been wiped out by something or other and ravagers are roaming deserted buildings tormenting the nicer survivors.

Harris is shacked up with wife Alana Stewart (formerly Alana Hamilton) who is soon killed by some baddies and Harris is sad for about five minutes until he comes across a refuge with nicer humans where he hooks up with an even prettier woman, Anne Turkel.

They find their way to a boat where there are survivors run by Ernest Borgnine and Woody Strode. Harris is optimistic about the future but he's the one who brings the savages on the head of Borgnine and his people.

The Walking Dead does this sort of stuff every week, and a lot better too. Actually so did other post apocalyptic films around this time - Damnation Alley, Omega Man, A Boy and His Dog, even Deathsport.

It's simply not that exciting. It looks good, the cast is strong - okay you can laugh at Turkey and Stewart being these Studio 54 glamazons, but they have presence. Harris does his tormented man thing, Borgnine and Strode are fine, as is Art Carney as an old codger who survives. But it's really a clunky chase - actually "chase" makes it sound more exciting than it is, it's a plod from one locale to another. Philosophical and political points are made haphazardly. These sort of movies always tend to promote fascism while pretending to decry it anyway.