Monday, December 3, 2012

Listomania: Will's November to Kinda Remember 2012

I’m actually returning to the land of Listomania because Tom was unable to post his first because he fainted when he heard I was doing a list.  November 2012 was an average month of movie viewing for me, I guess.  In total I saw 24 flicks.  That breaks down to 20 DVDs, 2 theater visits, 1 VHS viewing (UNDERGROUND TERROR) and 1 pay-per-view order (UNIVERSAL SOLIDER: DAY OF RECKONING).  I’ve been trying to watch stuff I’ve never seen before so this past month only 2 titles were revisits.  Here are a few of the newer ones that made an impression (good or bad) on me.

19 RED ROSES (1974) – This Danish thriller was a total Video Roulette grab, so it was nice that it turned out to be engaging.  Detective Archer (Poul Reichhardt) and his team begin to investigate a series of seemingly random killings (girl thrown off a roof, man shot in the woods, man shot in his store). As they dig deeper, they find out that all of the victims have something in common and soon William Brehmer (Henning Jensen), a mild mannered architect, is the main suspect.  This has been referred to as a Giallo from Denmark, but I think it has more in common with the police procedurals coming out of Hollywood at the time like THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN (1973; itself based on Swedish Martin Beck novel by Sjöwall and Wahlöö).  The first hour is probably the best the film has to offer as the viewer gets to try and unravel the mystery alongside the detectives.  After that, it is a bit more mundane as they set up a trap to nab the killer.  Reichhardt, mostly known for his comedic roles, is great as the lead detective and he has some funny bits with his team. The film ends with a nice touch by director Esben Carlsen that allows both the detective and his suspect to be sympathetic.  A sequel titled TERROR (1977) came out a few years later with the main cast returning, but it doesn’t look like it has been issued with subtitles anywhere.

THE DEAD ARE ALIVE (1972) – This one came from our buddy Jon Stone.  Don’t get your hopes up of seeing the beast featured on the U.S. poster to the right anywhere in this film.  This is definitely a giallo mystery and not a zombie flick. Archaeologist Jason Porter (Alex Cord) has located an Etruscan tomb, but that is the least of his worries at this point in his life.  He is also wrapped up in a love triangle with Myra (Samantha Eggar) and her composer husband Nikos (John Marley).  Wow, that is one ugly triangle!  You know your love life is in trouble when John Marley is your romantic rival.  Anyway, things go from bad to worse when someone (or something) starts offing folks from their circle and setting up Porter as the main suspect.  If you’ve seen enough giallos, you’ll probably figure this one out pretty early on.  But the film still benefits from a great cast and some really cool locations in Italy.  The highlights are a car chase through the narrow city streets and a stylized flashback that explains the killer’s motive.

LOOPHOLE (1981) – Thief Mike Daniels (Albert Finney) plans to break into the biggest bank in England for one last haul.  His team sets up a false office in order to interview architects with the idea they can coax the suitable candidate into mapping out their underground digging job.  Down-on-his-luck American Stephen Booker (Martin Sheen) seems to be the ideal candidate for the job, but he scoffs at the idea of being a criminal. That is until he finds out his wife (Susannah York) reallllly wants to start up her interior decorating business. OH NOES!  So he descends (literally) into a life of crime in order to finance her dream.  The “loophole” of the title refers to the fact they will break into the vault through the ground and set off a motion detector, but when the cops arrive they will see no one inside the bank and think it is glitch.  I’m a sucker for bank heist pictures for some reason and this one definitely falls into that category.  Unfortunately, while it has a great cast and is well made, it really takes no risks. There is some tension in the final third as rain starts to flood the sewer system and the men must rush to get out, but even that is handled rather mundanely.  Sheen also sticks out like a sore thumb and it is easy to believe the role was written for a British fellow (his wife is a Brit after all) and then changed to an American to increase potential markets. Still, it is worth a look at least once if you loves you some men digging in confined spaces.

SILVER BEARS (1978) – Okay, now maybe I’ll be more forgiving to LOOPHOLE.  A Las Vegas mob boss (Martin Balsam) comes up with an ingenious way to launder money – buy a bank! He sends pal Doc Fletcher (Michael Caine) to Switzerland to buy a bank with the help of local contact Prince Gianfranco di Siracusa (Louis Jordan). Along for the ride is the kingpin's wayward son Albert (Jay Leno). Prince Siracusa has a deed for a bank (really a rundown apartment over a pizza parlor) and then things get complicated when his “cousins” (Stéphane Audran and David Warner) want Fletcher to buy in on their Iranian silver mine. Also figuring into this are a banking exec (Tom Smothers) and his ditzy wife (Cybill Shepherd). Ouch! Caine has been upfront about his taking roles for their locations (paid vacation!) and I can't think of any other reason he would have taken this. It is billed as a comedy-thriller, yet manages to never be funny or thrilling. You would think with such a cast that some sort of sparks would fly, but this nearly 2 hour flick is a bore. It doesn't help that the main plot twist doesn't kick in until 90 minutes in (even though you've guess it when it is introduced) and the tricks to swindle some buyers turns into an anti-THE STING. Lots of moments of people talking...and talking...and talking. It says something when the comic highlight is Caine accidentally dropping a breakfast egg in his lap. I lay it all firmly at the feet of director Ivan Passer, who thinks having such a capable cast can immediately pass for a top notch film. Definitely not the case. I'm sure Caine's wife thanks him though.    

UNDERGROUND TERROR (1989) – Continuing on my love of movies set beneath the city as evidenced above, we have this low budget NYC action flick.  John Willis (Doc Dougherty) is a renegade cop who doesn’t play by the rules (original!). This is established in the opening ten minutes when he blows away the drug dealers who had killed his partner (shockingly, this occurs pre-movie).  He soon finds himself dealing with a new kind of scum when a series of unusual murders start occurring on the subway platforms.  They are being pulled off by Boris Pinscher (Lennie Loftin), a renegade mental patient who also doesn’t play by the rules.  This is established in the opening ten minutes when he threatens to kill his roommate before being released. Boris leads a ragtag group of folks who live in the subway system and like to kill folks every now and then.  Despite his the police chief (who is black, of course) putting him on suspension, Willis teams with reporter Kim Knowles (B.J. Geordan) to put a stop to these human rats. This is definitely no C.H.U.D., but if you get a hankering for some NYC lensed locations than UNDERGROUND TERROR will fill you up.  The acting is pretty rough and the plot is dopey (no joke, the killers learn of the reporter after she leaves her camera with her name on it in their lair), but it wasn't an excruciating 90 minutes at all.  I'm just happy to know someone actually named a villain Boris Pinscher.

JACK THE RIPPER (1976) - As fact based an examination of the 19th century’s most notorious serial killer that you will ever see…or maybe not. Jess Franco gives ol’ Spring Heeled Jack the Franco treatment, which involves playing fast-and-furious with the facts. Dr. Orloff (Klaus Kinski) spends his days helping the needy and his nights offing the seedy, thanks mostly to a psychosexual relationship he had with his mother (no wonder Kinski was attracted to this).  He also has the hots for ballerina Cynthia (Josephine Chaplin, no doubt making her dad proud), who just happens to be the love of Inspector Selby (Andreas Mannkopff), the chief inspector on the Jack the Ripper case.  This was made during a period of time where Franco was actually given some money to work with so the production actually has some good photography and nice period costumes.  If you’re hoping for a thorough examination of the case, you might want to turn elsewhere though (we’d suggest the 80s TV movie starring Michael Caine).  This film is just an excuse to show lots of flesh and blood in a 1880s setting.  Among the highlights of this film’s wacky Jack history – a fisherman pulled a victim’s hand from the river; the ballerina went undercover on her own volition to catch Jack to take the heat off her boyfriend inspector; and Jack the Ripper was arrested without incident.  History Channel this ain’t.  Of course, it is all made worthwhile when a police artist does this sketch of Kinski from various witness testimonies.

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