Death Race 2000 (1975) Paul Bartel
This Roger Corman-produced dystopian action/satire/political commentary film starring David Carradine and a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone is either absolute genius or, as we used to call things, pure-D junk. I can’t decide which, so three stars.
The Phantom of the Opera (1925) Rupert Julian
DVD – library (1:41)
Quite possibly the greatest version of the story with a show-stealing performance by the masterful Lon Chaney, Sr. in the title role. I’m embarrassed to say that this is the first time I’ve seen the film, part of my Blindspot series from last year that I’m just now getting around to watching.
Chicago Deadline (1949) Lewis Allen
Alan Ladd plays Ed Adams, a Chicago newspaper reporter who investigates the death of a young woman named Rosita Jean d’Ur (played in flashback scenes by Donna Reed). Rosita left behind a diary filled with names, but Adams quickly finds out that none of those people knew her at all. Or at least that’s what they say… Chicago Deadline is an enjoyable noir, but suffers from obvious comparisons to Laura (1944), a much better film.
Red Eye (2005) Wes Craven
DVD – library (1:26)
Who knew horror maven Wes Craven could do a suspense thriller that wasn’t a full-on horror film? Rachel McAdams plays Lisa, a young hotel manager flying home from her grandmother’s funeral. She’s seated next to a handsome, charming man named Jackson (Cillian Murphy), whom she quickly learns has a deadly proposition for her. A nice little thriller that works more often than it doesn’t.
Ugetsu (1953) Kenji Mizoguchi
“The war drove us mad with ambition.”
This Japanese ghost story set in a farming village in the late 16th century concerns two men who abandon their families during a time of instability and the threat of war. One man wants to seek the riches of the city; the other dreams of becoming a samurai warrior. Wonderful photography and a subtle, creepy vibe throughout.
From Beyond (1986) Stuart Gordon (2x)
Scream Factory Blu-ray (1:25)
I first saw this movie with my good friend Terry back in 1986. We both loved it and were both freaked out by it – in a good way. Based on a short story by H.P. Lovecraft, From Beyond is about a scientist named Dr. Pretorius (Ted Sorel) who develops a device called the Resonator which will allow him to see things far beyond normal reality. In the film’s opening, Pretorius’s assistant Dr. Tillinghast (Jeffrey Combs) flees a dangerous experiment (which takes place in a creepy old house), only to be captured by the police and placed in a psych ward. While there, Dr. Katherine McMichaels (Barbara Crampton) believes Tillinghast’s crazy story and wants to see the Resonator for herself.
I was afraid the film might not hold up well after all these years, but it does. Although you can find a multitude of horror films with larger amounts of gore, for its time, From Beyond was pretty gory. The otherworldliness of the film – accomplished mostly with lighting – still looks good, but what sets the film apart is the possibilities and implications of the experiments. the Scream Factory Blu-ray contains several good supplements.
No Country for Old Men (2007) Joel Coen, Ethan Coen (7x)
I just watched this film the other night (for at least the seventh time) with two friends. We spent quite a bit of time discussing it as we watched, especially the film’s last three minutes. You can read about it here.
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970) Dario Argento
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:41)
Although I know I’ve seen a few, Italian giallo films are still largely unexplored territory for me. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is considered a cornerstone giallo film and for good reason: it’s a gripping thriller that never lets up or disappoints. Tony Musante plays Sam Dalmas, an American living in Rome with girlfriend/model Julia (Suzy Kendall). Walking past an art gallery one night, Sam witnesses a woman being attacked by a man in a black coat wearing a black hat and gloves. In attempting to rescue her, Sam becomes trapped between two large panes of glass, helplessly watching the attack. The police arrive and the attacker flees, but Sam can’t stop thinking about the attacker. Although he’s a writer and neither a policeman nor a detective, Sam is driven to find the attacker. The film is a wonderful cat-and-mouse game filled with suspense, horror, and beauty. Maybe all of that is what makes giallo films so appealing. I certainly enjoyed it and plan to see more.
It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) Robert Hamer
Studio Canal Vintage Classics Blu-ray (UK) (1:32)
Googie Withers plays a wife and mother in a working class London neighborhood after WWII. Her life isn’t exactly easy, not with a son, two teenage stepdaughters and a middle-aged husband she doesn’t love, but things get more difficult when her former lover (John McCallum) escapes from prison and wants her to keep him hidden from the police. The film also contains several other connections with other characters, making it a mosaic of sorts. The film was a British favorite when it was released and is still probably more talked about there than here. Track it down – it’s certainly worth your time.
Max and the Junkmen (1971) Claude Sautet
I first heard of this film from The Magic Lantern, an excellent podcast about movies. I was delighted to find the film playing on Filmstruck, where you can find it right now. Michel Piccoli plays Max, an ex-judge who becomes a police inspector in Paris. Frustrated with the rise of bank robbers in the city, Max hopes to compel a group of low-grade criminals to rob a bank so that he can catch them in the act. In order to do so, he’s got to find a way to convince the gang’s leader (Bernard Fresson) that a bank robbery is a good idea. How does he do this? By hiring the leader’s prostitute girlfriend Lily (Romy Schneider), not for sex, but for companionship, slowly earning her confidence (and, of course, that of the gang). Although it sounds completely untenable, the plan is brilliant. Yet the film is more about the characters of Max and Lily than the execution of the robbery. An amazing film. Once you’ve seen it, you’ll want to see it again.
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