This is Vincent Price's finest screen moment, and co-star Diana Rigg’s favorite film role, as his supportive daughter. It is also one of the most literate horror films ever made. Few actors possess the theatrical flourish of Vincent Price, and he was perfectly cast as Edward Lionheart, a veteran stage actor often dismissed or underrated by the critics. He can handle only so much negative press before he flips his lid, and goes on a killing spree. Vincent Price is so talented at playing a mad man, it is uncanny. He REALLY silenced his critics once and for all. And where did they find these “theater critics”? I have never seen a more self-important, unlikeable bunch of snobs gathered in one movie. True casting genius. Seeing them brutally dispatched one by one in a medley of appropriate Shakespearean circumstances was a joy to watch. Both Price and Rigg were truly great thespians of the English stage, and some of their soliloquies are wonderfully delivered; especially Diana’s heroic death scene. This is not a ha-ha comedy, but I was amused by the Lionheart’s very creative and funny disguises. Lionheart had saved each bad review he's had gotten and dispatches the critics with a method from the play. Some of the Bard's works used are from Julius Caesar, Troilus and Cressida, Titus Andronicus, and King Lear and others.
A random group of people hole up in a supermarket to escape an unknown threat lurking in the dense fog that descended upon a small town. We are shown a few hints of man-eating monsters, but nothing conclusive. Some people in the store are not convinced of danger, and a skeptical lawyer scoffs loudly about the whole deal being a big hoax. Mild Spoilers follow. Soon several people decide to leave the store and find their cars in the misty parking lot. The black lawyer leads the way, another man, ties a rope around his waist, and volunteers to investigate the mist and return via the rope to report about what he sees. Of course our horror movie senses are tingling as we already know the outcome. In classic Hollywood horror fashion, a black is the first to die. The battle for the rope becomes desperate until finally the rope goes slack. Our hero, Thomas James, hauls in the rope. He recovers the lower half of a dead body severed at the waist. That scene ends the debate about the seriousness of the threat.
Strange and unexpected human dynamics emerge as the group tries to figure out what the hell is going on, and how to remain alive in the face of unimaginable danger. Thomas Jane is the leader of one group that I will call the realists, and Marcia Gay Harden, as Mrs. Carmody, takes the polar opposite approach – that of a religious fanatic – hers is a biblical vision with the monsters being sent by “God to punish us for our sins”. She also believes that sacrificing human blood is the only way to appease the monsters. She makes a daring prophesy and announces, “We are safe. The monsters will not return tonight because of the sacrifices of the unbelievers made today.” The store is not attacked that night. Several people listen to Mrs. Carmody’s very passionate “hell and brimstone” sermons and begin to believe her new prophesies. Who will be the next sacrifice? Certainly none of the “True Believers” following Mrs. Carmody must face the monsters, so by default that leaves our brave band of “realists” to venture into the dreaded mist. No spoilers.
The movie stars Paul Bettany as Peter Colt, and Kirsten Dunst as Lizzie Bradbury; both are tennis pros -- she a rising star and a top seeded player, he a fading one. Lizzie's greatness is ahead of her, but Peter Colt fears his is all in the rear view mirror. He was once ranked 11th in the world; now down around 113 and falling. He gets a wild card berth at Wimbledon and vows; win or lose he'll retire from the pro circuit after Wimbledon, his last tournament.
Along the way Peter and Lizzie meet in London and the sparks fly. Their screen chemistry is very good and fun to watch and enhanced by the clever dialogue. They fall in love. Lizzie has a bit of a tiger cat in her spirit, and it rubs off on Peter. He becomes hungry for victory and she helps him improve his game. But Lizzie’s controlling father, Sam Neill, steps in and kiboshes the romance because, he claims, it is distracting Lizzie from her game. So here we have the classic rom-com formula. Boy meets girl; boy gets girl; boy loses girl; and then what?
All of this is told in a movie with an insider’s view into pro tennis. The tennis scenes are well choreographed and acted (Bettany looks to me like a competent player). Since the movie was filmed on the real Wimbledon tennis complex, it makes sense visually and dramatically, and evokes the loneliness of a sport where everything depends on one person - one serve and one ground stroke at a time. No possible lame excuses; it is up to you. Interior monologues allow us to hear Peter talking to himself, psyching himself out, quieting his fears. Is it ridiculous to believe he plays better because he's madly in love? Of course not.
No spoilers on the tennis match. Two more reasons to watch this excellent romance/underdog movie: 1) Peter’s family, especially his father, add humor and some touching scenes of family love. 2) The closing scene is perfect as Peter and Lizzie celebrate the meaning of true success and subtly condemn cultural decline so beloved and encouraged by modern Hollywood trash.
Honestly, I landed on this film last night, browsing titles on Netflix, because HouseClark favorite actress, Lily James, is in the cast. I was also glad to discover veteran actor Ralph Fiennes was playing the lead. Having known nothing else about the film from before (I usually skip trailers these days), I hit the “stream it” tab. The Dig is a low – key, interesting gem of a film about the arcane subject of archeology. Ralph Fiennes’s portrayal of archeologist Basil Brown is one of his very best performances. The real-life story set in 1930’s England is told with finesse. I'm not particularly well-versed in archaeology, and I didn't know about the Sutton Hoo discovery before watching this film. I think that might be the case for many other viewers, but the good thing about The Dig is that it's primarily a character-driven drama, and one that uses emotional intrigue to bring you closer to the story at hand and allow you to appreciate its importance.
As we learned from watching Indiana Jones movies, a story about digging for buried treasure is certain to include some dramatic scenes with “the guy that shows up to steal the treasure for himself”. So if you are waiting for that element, you will not be disappointed.
This show brought back nostalgic memories of watching early TV programs on our boxy, cathode-ray-tube TV set filled with clusters of glowing electronic vacuum tubes. The 1950’s TVs were not reliable, and people were on a first name basis with their TV repairman. The I Love Lucy show was one of the staples because of its broad appeal and physical comedy – simple and perfectly mindless entertainment. This Amazon Studio production (free streaming with Amazon Prime) is a behind-the-scenes look at the real life characters with a focus on Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.
Being the Ricardos won me over rather quickly. Once you realize that Kidman is playing Lucille Ball and not TV character Lucy Ricardo, it all makes perfect sense. Ball was an intense, complicated person and sometimes, as shown in the film, trying to figure out how to make people laugh was a tough job with a lot of pressure. That pressure only increased when her enemies came after her with accusations of being a commie. Set during the infamous McCarthy era witch hunts adds to the true life drama. I have a soft spot for retro TV and everything about Being the Ricardos just worked; from the great acting job by Nicole Kidman, to rapid-fire dialogue, to the vintage wardrobe. Being the Ricardos is a first class film and gave the famous redhead all the respect she deserves.
Lady Gaga (LG) delivers a stellar performance as the female lead, Patrizia Gucci. Her character is melodramatic, yet full of charisma, loaded with personality, undeniable sexy magnetism, and total immersion into her Italian character. This is no surprise since LG’s heritage is Italian-American. Make no mistake, House of Gucci is LG's movie, and so different, but no less impressive, from her famed debut role in A Star is Born.
Directed by Ridley Scott, everything about this movie is first rate: set design, cinematography, and high fashion wardrobes expected in the rich and extravagant Gucci world. Is this a true depiction of wealthy Italians in the 90's with their flashy cars and glamorous parties? I do not have a clue. But I really admire the director and his eye for the lifestyle shown in the movie, he sure sold me. The fact that the movie is based on a true story is both fascinating and intriguing and I believe the Gucci-case is something extra ordinary and not something most American have heard about. All news to me.
After only 13 weeks in release, the film has made a worldwide gross of $1.4B, by far the most successful motion picture of 2022. What’s more, Top Gun made all this money without playing in China. The film is a blockbuster “crowd pleaser” due to sensational action scenes, emotional punch, humor, wit, romance and a touchstone to the warrior ethos. Top Gun is a true big screen cinematic experience and adds (perhaps unintentionally) some insight into the devolution, and decline, of the modern US military leadership class. The original 1986 Top Gun movie kicked up navy recruiting by 500%. Fast forward to 2022, and all the military services are struggling to meet recruitment goals. What affect, if any, will the movie have on US Navy recruiting?
The essence of the film is the aviation-duty premise (mission) with a profound risk of death. In real life American history this happened in WW2 – does the 1942 Doolittle Raid ring a dim bell? How about the 1944 film about the raid; “30 Seconds over Tokyo”? Consider the circumstances in 1944: the US was at war; an honest to God war declared by the American Congress. All Americans were on the war path about the Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor. America was Justified to strike back against the Japanese. Our pilots knew the risk and were motivated to go on a very dicey mission. There was no flying back to the aircraft carrier. The lucky ones crash landed in China and were rescued by Chinese locals. Several U.S. bomber crews were lost.
In Top Gun: Maverick all these elements for Justification do not exist. The reasons are vague. The foe is unnamed. Not one pilot asks the question; “Is this really worth it? Whose idea was this?” I don’t mean to be making snide comments, only raising rationale, normal questions. Yet the film is devoid of human conscientiousness – and is perhaps the most fascist American movie ever made. To further sanitize the film, the lethal bombs are dropped via a video game format into the target (a fresh air duct, I think). The audience is spared the horror of seeing the bloody outcome, but it is clear that our pilots delivered a real “ass-kicking” to this unknown, underground foe. All of us in the theatre breathed a sigh of relief and our hearts stopped racing at the calming thought of American Exceptionalism, once again, being “On target with a surgical strike”. Yes, the raid was extremely thrilling and entertaining, and the most popular movie of the year sustained the American Militarist, not humanist, tradition. And that is what bothers me. We get the movies we deserve. Yes, I loved this movie, as long as I don’t think too much about it. But sometimes I do.
Sandra Bullock plays Loretta Sage, a best-selling romance author with no romance in her life. Only in the alternative universe of Hollywood would a beautiful, single lady like Sandra Bullock not be able to get a date on a Saturday night. Pretty Boy Channing Tatum is her longtime cover model, Alan. When she's kidnapped by
Zero Dark Thirty 2012 drama, action, adventure
I recently re-watched this nearly ten year old film, and was inspired to pen a review and mention two excellent non-fiction books which I found to be very relevant to the subject at hand. The hunt for Osama bin Laden (OBL) began in Afghanistan immediately after the 9/11 terror attacks. Even before the attack OBL was on the American radar as a well-known, violent Islamic extremist. Just a few weeks after 9/11, American CIA Jawbreaker Teams, with strong air support and our Afghan allies, had OBL and his al-Qaeda terrorists on the run in their mountain stronghold. Bin Laden and his surviving Jihad fighters bolted for one of the rugged mountain passes on the Pakistan border. The Jawbreaker team called for an American Marine blocking force to capture bin Laden (reference Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda, Berntsen, Gary- CIA Field Commander). In one of the stupidest decisions in modern American history, George W. Bush handed off the blocking force assignment to the Pakistan army. His reason – “he was worried about casualties”. OBL and his men slipped past the Pakis and went into hiding in the outlaw infested Pakistani tribal region. Fast forward ten+ years to Zero Dark Thirty (ZD 30).
It is helpful to remember at all times watching ZD 30 that what we are seeing on the screen is a Pentagon/CIA approved, carefully vetted movie. With a Pentagon script approval, comes important access to the big toys – helicopter gunships, fighter jets and combat vehicles (reference National Security Cinema, Alford, Matthew). The U.S. military and CIA analysts are presented as dedicated patriots and selfless heroes. The camera lingers lovingly at Maya (Jessica Chastain), an unsung CIA agent at the mission’s center, as she strikes one of several angelic poses. She is, of course, an avenging angel in red, white and blue.
Few details on the hunt and destroy operation for Osama bin Laden were made public, so the secrecy and mystery of the operation fueled interest in the film. Almost immediately ZD 30 kicked up a big political shit-storm. The liberals puked and moaned about the movie “justifying torture”; while the equally clueless Republicans bitched about the movie being a campaign ad for Obama’s re-election.
ZD 30 is neither a strict dramatization of the facts nor a Rah-Rah feel-good revenge story; instead, it’s a gripping fusion of a complex investigative drama that spawns into an action-thriller showing the day of reckoning for the world’s most wanted terrorist. Zero Dark Thirty lulls during the droning conference-room meeting. But it’s operating at its peak when Jessica Chastain’s Maya cracks the secret of bin Laden’s hideout and argues with her supervisors for the approval to attack. The entire nighttime raid on bin Laden’s compound is a remarkably focused piece of filmmaking. Sure we know the outcome, but seeing it happen on the big screen was astonishing. This is an intelligent, well-constructed film for grown-ups. But make no mistake; as the supreme CIA Tribute nothing beats ZD30.
No Escape 2015 drama, action, thriller
No Escape was one of the best movies of 2015 and inspired the stupidest PC backlash. Very few action-thrillers are as exciting and intense as this film. The film portrays a chilling examination of what happens to strangers in a strange land when the rule of law is turned upside down and chaos ensures.
The movie opens in an unnamed Asian nation (we are later given enough hints to place the story in Cambodia, much to their exasperation.) The leader, wearing a dressy military uniform, is meeting with a Western businessman. We see the scene from the point of view of the ruler’s bodyguard—he tastes the tea his boss is served, presumably checking for poison, and walks the businessman to his car after the meeting ends. But that turns out to be a fatal mistake: When the sovereign is left alone, rebels strike. Locked out of the house, the bodyguard sprints to another entrance as we hear sounds of gunfire; by the time he arrives on the scene, the leader is dead.
The movie quickly shifts to the Dwyer family aboard a wide body passenger jet - a caption informs the audience that the timeline has shifted 17 hours before the start of the violent coup. And into this ticking bomb flies the Dwyer family – Jack (Owen Wilson) and wife Annie (Bell Lake) and two cute little girls – I would guess Breeze age four and sister Lucy age eight years old. Breeze still carries around her favorite stuffed animal. The scene of the family in the airplane does a good job of introducing the Dwyers and creating a very believable family unit. The script is tight; informing us in short order that Jack Dwyer is an engineer who has taken a family expat assignment with a multinational corporation to construct a modern water plant in the Asian nation. Annie and Breeze briefly interact with a nearby passenger named Hammond (Pierce Brosnan), a Brit with a friendly, wry sense of humor that charms little Breeze.
We shift to the hectic, crowded airport with the Dwyers pushing a heavily loaded luggage cart with two little girls in tow. In short order Jack senses that things are off; his international cell phone does not work and a driver assigned to pick them up at the airport is a no-show. Jack and Annie are befuddled, and then Hammond, nonchalant and confident, sweeps in to the rescue. “I have been here fifteen times, and I warn you about these guys yelling at you for a taxi.” Hammond offers the family a lift to their hotel in his ride – The Kenny Rogers bus. The bus and the colorful driver provide a delightful comic relief.
The Dwyers settle in at the hotel only to find the TV and telephone do not work. Anne yells at Jack, “This is not a third world country. It is the fourth world.” Jack, in his naturally awkward manner, skulks off to the lobby to get some help. The discussion with desk clerk is fruitless, so Jack decides to go to the bar for a beer, and there is Hammond again – up on the Karaoke stage belting out a song. He and Jack chat after the performance and he gives Jack, and the audience, a strong impression that he is a sex tourist. He tells Jack he is off to a strip club but first will slip into his sweat pants to let them know, “he means business.”
After a restless, uncomfortably night, Jack awakes early and quietly slips out of the room to fetch a newspaper. The front desk clerk informs Jack that the papers were not delivered, so he hikes over to the nearby market square to find a news stand. Tall, blonde, dressed in khaki pants and blue collared shirt, Jack is the only foreigner around and sticks out like sore thumb in the street market. No big deal until everything suddenly changes for the worst. Much, much worse. Jack notices that the shops are closing down, and quickly rolling shut their metal doors. He is shocked to discover that he’s literally stuck in the middle of a street demonstration with riot cops on one side and rock-throwing revolutionaries on the other. Jack watches in horror as a cop shoots and kills one of the rebels, and all hell breaks loose.
From then on, Jack is on the run for his life and his family’s safety. Chased by a mob, Jack rushes back to the hotel to protect his family, and meets Hammond on the stairway. This time we see the true Hammond; he is in full warrior mode and armed with a semi-auto pistol, “Go to the roof,” he shouts to Jack. In order to stay alive, the Dwyers must stay ten steps ahead of the brutal mob. Aiding in their quest is Hammond who serves as a guardian angel showing up just in the nick of time when the family needs to be rescued.
It is a white genocide in full brutal force on the screen – the whites are chased down and bludgeoned to death with clubs. The lucky ones get a quick bullet in the brain. We see unarmed civilians on their knees lined up in the street in order to be run over by a truck, and violent rebels hacking tourists apart with machetes. In one very nasty scene, the rebels attempt to rape Annie in front of Jack and their two children.
Director John Erick Dowdle has crafted a claustrophobically tense thriller. There’s a real sense of doom on all sides, an idea that safety is impossible. No Escape is not for the weak—but it’s perfect for anyone interested in taking a terrifying journey into the heart of human darkness from the safety of your cozy living room.
There was a confused PC backlash against No Escape claiming that the film is racist against Orientals. Is the criticism justified? No, not at all if you consider the history of Cambodia. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge overthrew the Khmer Republic and took over Cambodia. The KR Party was a nationalistic, racist, Marxist and very violent. Ben Kiernan, Director of Genocide Studies at Yale University, estimated nearly two million Cambodians and foreigners died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge during Pol Pot’s purification purge. That was about 25% of Cambodian population in 1975. So don’t tell me the Cambodians are all non-violent pacifists. Fill your boots and go visit some of the hundreds of mass grave sites in Cambodia where mountains of human skulls have been excavated. The amount of evidence is overwhelming. This is not to say that present day Cambodia is an unsafe place to visit, but until they come up with something more interesting than displays of human skulls – I’ll pass.
Written by Ben Clark. Copyright 2016-2023. All rights reserved.