The Sand Pebbles (1966 USA)

(There are many silly hat moments in The Sand Pebbles)

In 1911 China overthrew the Manchu dynasty, which in its weakened state, over the last century had sold off parcels of real estate outright controlled by European powers and later by Japan as well. The United States controlled no territory outright as other powers did, but the Americans did insist on extraterritoriality involving their citizens doing business there. What that meant was that US citizens were not subject to Chinese laws, civil or criminal. Matters involving them went to American courts. Other powers had those same treaties. That was resented. Westerners were resented. Japanese were resented most of all because they were fellow Asians doing it to the Chinese but this tale is only concerned with Americans. [Read more…]

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Around The World In 80 Days (USA 1989)

You should know the plot and shame on you if that’s not the case. A 3 part TV miniseries rendition with an all-star cast. There are many cameos and bit parts by so many top actors from back in the day. (Darren McGavin as Mudge was the most pleasing surprise for me) There are some scenes that are not in the book, but they didn’t bother me as they were just as entertaining as the ones that were. Filming on location in Germany, England, Yugoslavia, Macau, and Thailand, adds a lot of grandeur to the series that it otherwise would have lacked. [Read more…]

The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953 USA)

As the 50s started with a fascination for science fiction, Ray Harryhausen soon got his first chance to prove his talents in a solo effort when he was hired to do the special effects for Eugène Lourié’s new film, “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms”. This sci-fi epic about a resurrected dinosaur fitted Harryhausen’s animation like a glove and gave him the opportunity to show his amazing skills. After this now-legendary motion picture, the sky itself became the only limit for the animator’s career. It would be very easy to dismiss “The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms” because of its nowadays clichéd plot (in fact, it’s idea would be improved the following year with Ishirô Honda’s very superior “Gojira”), however, one has to remember that this was among the first (if not the very first) films to tell this kind of story.  [Read more…]

Thérèse Raquin (1980 BBC)

The picture quality on this DVD has the resolution of a fading VHS tape from 30 years ago, and if this truly is the best restoration that can be made of this 166-minute production, that must be counted as a minor but distinct tragedy…for actress Kate Nelligan is the Thérèse Raquin to end all Thérèse Raquins. Based on the Zola novel, this is the story of a vibrant but trapped young woman, stuck in a loveless marriage to a pampered weakling. Then one day, the husband brings home an old friend–Laurent– and the doors of her soul fly open. [Read more…]

The Amulet Of Samarkand (Bartimaeus #1) (Jonathan Stroud)

This novel is set in a modern-day London that is ruled by Magicians. It is written from the perspective of a djinni (demon) and an undervalued magician’s apprentice. It’s tempting to compare the book to the Harry Potter series. Young boy. Magic. Sneaking around. Breaking the rules. Stern teachers. But the similarities really end there. What’s obvious is that Stroud can write about a complex world (and one I want to know more about) and making it interesting and funny. I’m used to slow beginnings in fantasy but this one started with a bang.
[Read more…]

Lady In Cement (1968 USA)

Warning: for the hip-hop/MTV crowd of today – this flick is probably one for you to avoid. It does not contain CGI effects, mindless dance music, jumpy editing, eye-blinding SFX or even a politically correct message thrown in. Good, now that’s out of the way, what do we have here? We’ve got the pride of Italian Americana – ole Blue Eyes himself…we’ve got a Jewish lady with a sumptuous cleavage that puts Raquel Welch to shame… we’ve got very bad 1960s hair days… we’ve even got Hoss Cartwright himself, Dan Blocker… Oh, and we also have the aforementioned Raquel Welch…our basket might be overladen with goodies! Or is it? [Read more…]

Pyramids Of Mars (1975 BBC)

It was really Tom Baker who epitomized the eccentricities, sharp-wit and extreme other-worldliness that one would expect from an extra-terrestrial master of  Time and Space who has inexplicably developed a keen interest (and insatiable curiosity) with regards to humanity. And in this story Tom Baker makes perhaps the most striking entrance in the show’s history, standing silently next to the Tardis’ control panel, head bowed, hands in pockets like a Western gunfighter before looking up to later utter the immortal lines: “The Earth isn’t my home, Sarah. I’m a Time Lord…I’m not a human being. I walk in eternity.” [Read more…]

The Sorcerers (1967 United Kingdom)

Boris Karloff is masterful, even if he has to spend half of this film sitting helplessly on the floor. The late Michael Reeves certainly knew how to make the viewer feel uncomfortable. This is even more upsetting than his later Witchfinder General. It’s a fascinating, yet very sad, snapshot of urban British working class life in 1967. It’s amazing how things seemed more unclean then, how depressingly dirty and squalid the back streets of “swinging London” could really be like. Everything about The Sorcerers is grubby. While the dvd is playing I feel like I’m there. In The Glory Hole. (Don’t laugh – you’ll need to see this movie to know I’m not being rude. The GL is an integral part of the plot) It’s all very mentally disconcerting. [Read more…]

The Making Of John Lennon (Francis Kenny)

Lennon’s legacy is a warm, fuzzy pacifism, a hedonistic refusal to commit yourself to anything. He’s the icon of escapism. There are millions of decrepit baby boomers who subscribe to his ethos (most of them Cosmopolitan readers), but he’s definitely not an icon for 2017. The ’causes’ he once espoused, planted in his head by a whispering Japanese con artistè: peace (in our time?), lurve (yucky orgies) & ball-busting feminism have mostly been discredited since Mark David Chapman bust a nut that night in front of the Dakota. I say it’s not “too soon” to take a pop at this champ: John lies on the slag heap of 20th century history. [Read more…]

Endless Night (1972 Britain)

First I reviewed the novel, now the celluloid. The book was a clever literary trick for its time. It is the first person narration of a psychopathic killer who is trying to hide his real nature and intentions from the reader, while actually dropping a series of clues that things are not quite what they seem. It is this trick, rather the banal situation, which is the real reason for reading the book and it is obviously this trick that made Sidney Gilliat want to film it. The problem is that he could not find a way to replicate it on screen, because cinema only really works in the third person and people are generally uncomfortable with movies that tell lies. [Read more…]

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