Movie Review: The Year of the Sex Olympics (UK, TV, 1968)

Get your mind out of the gutter. This is NOT some sort of soft-core porn “nudie cutie”. It’s a “made for TV” play that aired on the BBC’s “Theater 625” drama anthology series, so other than a hint of some passing nudity in one scene, there’s nothing that could be considered lascivious.

It just happens to be set in the Year of the Sex Olympics. We’re not given any clue as to what a “sex Olympics” might entail. But what we do know is that the teleplay takes place in a not too distant overpopulated future, where everyone is effectively divided into the “hi-drives” (the leaders, movers and shakers, the “One Percent”) and the “lo-drives” (the plebians, the workers, the unwashed masses). The lo-drives are fed a nearly constant stream of lowest-common-denominator entertainment to keep them in line.

There are some who dissent, and some of the hi-drives are worried that their usual methods of keeping the lo-drives sated and content aren’t working anymore. Coordinator Ugo Priest (Leonard Rossiter) has a plan to try the broadest of physical comedy – a pie fight – in the hopes of getting people to laugh. It fails completely. When the accidental death of a protester on the set during a live “introduction” of some of the year’s sex Olympians causes the viewing audience to break out laughing, director Nat Mender (Tony Vogel) gets an idea. Continue reading

Movie Review: Peking Opera Blues (Hong Kong, 1986)

The Middle Kingdom has collapsed. As a democratic government struggles to find its feet, several factions are jockeying for power. In the chaos in a general’s mansion, traveling musician Sheung Hung (Cherie Chung) bops a hapless soldier, Tung Man (Cheung Kwok-Keung), on the head with her instrument, and scampers off with a box of valuable jewelry. To evade the police, led by Inspector Liu (Feng Ku), she stashes the box on a cart belonging to a theater troupe. It shouldn’t be too hard to follow it to the theater, sneak in backstage, and collect it, right?

At that very theater, manager Master Wong (Wu Ma) is struggling to get tonight’s production off on schedule. His daughter, Bai Niu (Sally Yeh), isn’t helping. She wants to be in the show, but he knows well enough that the theater is no place for a young lady. Especially because any distinguished guest might want to order an actress to come home with him – and the manager would be powerless to refuse.

One of those “distinguished guests” could be General Tsao (Kenneth Tsang), who is on the rise in the local game of “king of the hill”. What he doesn’t know is that his recently returned from abroad daughter, Tsao Wan (Brigitte Lin), has sided with the new democratic government. In cooperation with a young army officer, Pak Hoi (Mark Cheung), she’s plotting to pilfer the documents that would prove dad is in cahoots with foreigners to pretty much sell out the country.

Can these three young ladies find happiness, friendship, and success?

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Movie Review: Witness for the Prosecution (1957)

Noted barrister Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) has just been released from the hospital after suffering a heart attack and is heading back to his office at the Inns of Court (where he is also fortunate enough to have his residence). Accompanying him, much to his irritation, is his home health care aide, Nurse Plimsoll (Elsa Lanchester). She’s tasked with looking after his health; making sure he gets plenty of rest, avoids stressful situations, takes his medications, and completely avoids his beloved cigars and brandy.

This is torture as far as Sir Wilfrid is concerned. Fortunately, almost immediately after his return to his office, Solicitor Mayhew (Henry Daniell) arrives, with Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power) in tow. Vole is in a really tight spot: a widow with whom he has been on friendly terms has been killed, and as he was the last person to see her alive, he’s expecting to be arrested for murder at any moment. Could the great “Wilfrid the Fox” be so good as to represent him in court? Shouldn’t be too hard – Vole’s wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) can give him an alibi….

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Movie Review: Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)

It used to be in Hollywood that a surprisingly successful flick would almost immediately spawn a flood of knock-offs that tried to ride the financial coattails of the hit. The many “killer big animal” movies that followed in the wake of Jaws (1975) are the prime example of this. These days, studios are more protective of their property – they’ll make their own sequels and reboots, thankyouverymuch.

Some of the examples are only clear in retrospect; those usually wind up getting their own subgenre. When Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) blew everyone away thanks to the performances of Betty Davis and Joan Crawford, a number of movies borrowed the idea of a deranged older woman terrorizing people, and the “psycho-biddy” genre came out of that.

Robert Aldrich, who produced “Baby Jane” and another entry in the genre, Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964), snarfed up the rights to the 1962 novel The Forbidden Garden by Ursula Curtiss, and turned it into Whatever Happened to Aunt Alice? Geraldine Page and Ruth Gordon were signed to play the protagonists, the aging widow Claire Marrable and her housekeeper Alice Dimmock, respectively.

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Movie Review: Primer (2004)

This film, created by Shane Carruth, has a reputation in the science fiction world for being one of the most complex and interesting movies about time travel in the entire genre. I’d wager that no other movie has had more “explainer” material written about it. Indeed, if you want to untangle all the loops and loops within loops, you pretty much do need a cheat sheet of some sort.

But those analyses have come to dominate all the reviews so much that people seem to have forgotten they’ve been watching a movie, and one should spend at least a little time going over its cinematic aspects.

Primer is the first of (to date) two films by Carruth, an indie (obviously) filmmaker from Texas. One usually wants to “be kind” with new works from aspiring artists and give them a large benefit of the doubt, but one also doesn’t want to be unfair to potential viewers.

So, with that in mind…..

 

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Movie Review: Charlie Chan in Egypt (1935)

When watching movies “of a certain age”, one has to keep in mind the old saw that “the past is a foreign country”. Social and cultural attitudes were quite different in the past, and those attitudes will be reflected on the silver screen. Not just the way people behaved in general (the casual smoking and drinking, for example), but the way people of other races were depicted.

The “Charlie Chan” movies were based on a character created by mystery writer Earl Derr Biggers, who was inspired by newspaper accounts of Chinese-Hawaiian police detective Chang Apana. Chan would appear in six novels, and became so popular that Hollywood would make over three dozen “Charlie Chan” movies.

In this particular film, Chan has been sent to Egypt by a French archaeological society to find out why goods from an excavation they’re sponsoring have been winding up in the hands of private collectors. This quickly turns into a multiple murder investigation, but for our purposes, there’s another question to investigate:

How many ethnic stereotypes can you cram into one movie, without pushing it over the line into blatant offensiveness?

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Movie Review: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (UK, 1943)

“Colonel Blimp” was a comic character created by David Low in 1934 as a satirical depiction of the Old Fogey who, while sitting in his chair drinking brandy and puffing on a cigar, expounded on all the News of the Day, giving his considered opinion that he knew how to solve everything. Generally simplistic and often self-contradictory, his comments earned derision and the contemporary equivalent of a snarky “OK, Boomer” response. The great moviemaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger took the idea of the character, and turned it into the “Most British” of films, and, by humanizing him, one of the greatest character studies of all time.

We open with Major-General Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesey), an officer in the Home Guard (England’s “last ditch” defense force of retirees and the like), relaxing at a Turkish bath the evening before a set of war games / training exercise with another unit comprised of actual military troops representing the Germans. His bath is interrupted when the “German” forces “attack”. Complaining that the games aren’t supposed to start until midnight, Candy is told by the “German” officer that the real German forces don’t follow rules, so they need to be prepared at all times. After an angry exchange, Candy loudly gripes that they make fun of his appearance, but know nothing of how he got that way. He throws a punch at the officer, and they both fall into a pool. The camera slowly pans to the far end, as Candy’s voice slowly repeats the phrase “Forty years ago….” At the far end, the magic of film has brought us to 1902, and a younger Lieut. Candy emerges from the pool.

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Movie Review: The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (UK, 1965)

Spy flicks (i.e. international intrigue movies) generally fall into one of two major categories. There’s the big budget action adventure type, with gadgets galore, eye-popping stunts, and exotic locations. Then you’ve got the low-key types that rely more on mood and the personal challenges and drama of the characters. The former are the James Bond and Mission: Impossible movies; the latter are the lesser known relics of the Cold War era that are generally treated as more like mysteries than tales of international espionage.

John le Carré is a master of the second type. Like Ian Fleming, he worked for British Intelligence, but rather than write what are little more than glorified “Mary Sue” stories, he got down and dirty in all the more boring and unpleasant aspects of the game.

Spy” is one of his best works, and was turned into one of the best movies of the genre.

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Movie Review: Zulu (1964, UK)

War movies are an interesting genre for the film buff. Not for the action and adventure, or the visual recounting of history, but that the movie reflects the attitudes towards war in the time and place it was made. Movies made during a war tend to be all patriotic and supportive of the troops; movies made near the end of a long and “questionable” (to put it one way) war tend to be dark comedies or biting satires of the military. Movies made in peacetime can be either, but they also tend to reflect the attitudes of the time the movie was made towards the history of the war – historical accuracy be damned.

Zulu is one of the latter. It shows the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in January, 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War. A contingent of some 150 British troops at what was basically an outpost consisting of little more than a supply depot, a church, and what could be called a hospital with only the greatest amount of charity held off an assault by around four thousand Zulu warriors. That’s going to be great drama and action, as long as you show it with even modest accuracy and competence.

But what of the politics?

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MOVIE REVIEW: The Stuff (1985)

A new dessert sensation is taking the country by storm. Something like a cross between whipped cream and marshmallow sauce, “The Stuff” tastes great and is low in calories. Needless to say, a consortium of business owners want to find out exactly what it is so they can come up with their own version. After all their attempts at analyzing it fail, they hire David “Mo” Rutherford (Michael Moriarty), a former FBI agent, to do some industrial espionage.

Mo meets up with a young boy, Jason (Scott Bloom) whose family has been acting very strangely after he saw a glob of The Stuff moving of its own accord, and Nicole (Andrea Marcovicci), an ad agency executive who created the initial ad campaign for it.

It’s off to Virginia and then Georgia to unravel the mystery. The Stuff is more than what it appears to be; and the trio’s lives are increasingly in danger as they get closer to the source….

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