Speaking of John Woo… it would appear that he’s back. Slick transitions between scenes, locations, time periods as he sets up the dialogue-free story of Joel “kill-a-man” Kinnaman getting revenge for the death of his son. Half the movie is a training montage, as the sweater-wearing family man practices shooting and stunt driving and knives, and he’s still unprepared, as the first guy he kidnaps proves to be dangerously tough. Joel finds time for some normal vigilante work, gets his first couple of kills. Then he starts a Christmastime gang war and assaults the HQ of the head-tattooed supervillain. Gets very videogamey in the final assault, and Joel is belatedly joined by cop Kid Cudi. Tattooed guy was in a Liam Neeson disabled-guy revenge movie the year before, and Kinnaman played Neeson’s endangered son in Run All Night, so Neeson is the godfather of all revenge films now.
The Thirteenth Chair (1929)
After London After Midnight came three more Lon Chaney pictures including West of Zanzibar. Now, Browning’s love for headscarves leads him to India, and his love for Hungary leads him to Bela Lugosi. This is quite good for a 1929 sound film, but it hurts to exchange the long, lingering silent facial expressions for inane upper-class British conversational pleasantries. There’s no transitional period, the movie is crammed wall-to-wall with dialogue as if spectators were paying by the word.
Madame LaGrange is played by an actress named Wycherly, which would’ve been a cooler name for her medium character. Yes, we’re back in Mystic territory, and to prove her authenticity she explains the mechanics of the usual tricks used by mediums, then proceeds to her spiritual work uncovering a murderer. Someone dies during the first of two lights-out seances (during which the movie achieves maximum talkie-ness, becoming a radio play) so Inspector Lugosi arrives, and star Conrad Nagel’s girl Leila Hyams emerges as chief suspect, but it turns out some other blonde lady killed both guys.
Written about this before… watching now with the Philip Glass / Kronos Quartet score, hell yes. The music is mixed higher than the dialogue, as it should be. Now that I’ve seen Thirteenth Chair I have to say this is extremely awesome in comparison, dispensing with the constant dialogue and returning to beautiful image-making with big Lugosi close-ups.
Wrote about this before, too. More movie-worthy characters in this hour-long film than in Browning’s whole pre-Dracula career combined. Over 50 years later Angelo had a plum role in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Before Dracula, Browning made that Outside The Law non-remake, before Freaks came boxing drama Iron Man, and afterwards was Fast Workers… a comedy?
Mark of the Vampire (1935)
John Fordian Dr. Donald Meek busts into an inn just as idiot tourists are getting the talk about why we don’t go out at night (bad idea to watch the same night as Dracula since it’s all the same vampire explanations to incredulous people). Inspector Atwill, a large mustache man, arrives to investigate a mysterious death. Fedor and Irena are survivors, swoop-haired Otto is her guardian. Meanwhile, Dracula himself (played as a wordless zombie monster with no suave dialogue) and his undead daughter Luna lurk in a nearby castle. Professor Barrymore arrives to do some Acting, a welcome diversion, while Irena’s dead dad Sir Karell has become a zombie Drac-follower, and Irena has begun acting vampy herself.
Somehow the plot gets even more convoluted, and Browning and Lugosi’s involvement becomes an in-joke, because the “vampires” have only been performers in Barrymore’s Holmesian plot to make swoop-haired Otto confess to killing his friend, hypnotized into re-committing his crime. Good performances in this, though nothing else really works, and the rubber-bats-on-strings technology hadn’t improved since ’31. I liked how no two people manage to pronounce the character names the same way.
Clanker, the Jump-Scare Cat:
The Devil Doll (1936)
Nobody told me this would be a Bride of Frankenstein ripoff cowritten by Eric von Stroheim. Maybe bitter that another director remade Tod’s Unholy Three with Lon Chaney, he goes ahead and rips that off too. Lionel Barrymore is a banker who got backstabbed by his partners and sent to prison, escapes to get revenge – wrongly(?)-accused man becoming a murderer on the run.
First stop is scientist Marcel (Henry Walthall, the yellow shut-in of Griffith’s House with Closed Shutters) to borrow his shrinking formula. He’s working on miniaturization to alleviate world hunger (isn’t this the plot of Downsizing?) but has a heart attack while shrinking the maid, so his devoted wife Malita (Rafaela Ottiano, who’d worked with Barrymore on Grand Hotel) comes along to continue his research by shrinking some bankers, Lionel hiding in plain sight as an old woman running a doll shop.
First off is nervous mustache banker Arthur Hohl (a cop in The Whole Town’s Talking), then they use a devil-doll to rob the house of Robert Greig (who played butler-typed in Preston Sturges movies). The dolls are mind-controlled by their masters (I missed Marcel’s explanation for this) and this doll-heist setpiece is cool enough to justify the entire movie.. Barrymore wants to see his beloved family members now that he’s out, so he pays disguised visits to his blind mom (Lucy Beaumont, who’d played Lionel’s brother John’s mom in The Beloved Rogue) and his lovely grown daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan started acting at the dawn of sound cinema and died in 1998 in Scottsdale, so she may well have watched Fargo in Arizona like we did).
Malita and tiny assassin:
The third banker is Pedro de Cordoba (a circus player in Hitchcock’s Saboteur), who surrounds himself with police then sweatily confesses that he railroaded Barrymore right as his doll-sized colleague was about to stab him with paralysis/shrink syrup. Malita helpfully/fatally blows up the lab/shop because Barrymore’s mission is done but she wants to go on shrinking things. Happy-ish ending for Barrymore, who meets his daughter and her beau Toto atop the Eiffel Tower, but after all the murdering he’s got to stay on the run. Browning’s penultimate film – he’d turn in one more comedy before forced retirement.
RIP Anthony Hickox – on the day he died, I watched a film by his father. Vincent Price is in disguise as a fake cop, not helping some housing bigwig evict murderous squatters. Turns out Price is back from the near-grave, having suicided in front of the critics association after losing an acting award, rescued by cartoonish winos and become their king. Daughter Diana Rigg handles his above-ground affairs while Price contrives new ways to kill his tormentors (beheading in sleep, being fed their own beloved dog on a fake game-show set) in connection with his Shakespeare roles. They don’t necessarily deserve to die for thinking Price is a cheesy actor, but for other reasons, they mostly do. In fact it’s annoying that the boring critic Ian Hendry gets to survive, but I can’t stay mad at a movie that stages a swordfight on trampolines.
I forget which Shakespeare play this was:
One of those movies (see also: The Game, Hypnotic) where people have to behave exactly as predicted by the supervillain for the plot to work – though there is a hitch in the plan when our man on the run (Choi Min-sik, who’d return in Lady Vengeance) and his sushi chef girlfriend/daughter (Kang Hye-jung of Invisible Waves) discover and remove their tracking devices, and the bad guy (Yoo Ji-tae, the married guy in Woman is the Future of Man) kills one of Choi’s friends with a “you made me do this” sort of speech that I didn’t buy, figuring that killing all of Choi’s friends was part of the deal. The deal is that Young Choi spotted Yoo smooching his sister in high school, told others then forgot about it, she killed herself, so Yoo becomes a rich maniac devoted to tricking Choi into fucking his own daughter. Good ending: they end up happy together after he gets the illegal prison’s house hypnotist to make him forget the girl’s identity. I can forget things just fine without hypnosis, so I’ll happily rewatch this in theaters every 20 years and be surprised each time.
Pam Grier’s cop friend William Elliott (of mutant rabbit horror Night of the Lepus) gets beaten half to death for not selling out to the drug lords, who are secretly supporting the senate campaign of Pam’s boyfriend Booker Bradshaw (of missing link comedy Skullduggery). Pam is flaming mad, goes on a revenge campaign against drug boss King George (Robert DoQui, the only decent all-human cop of RoboCop).
Sig Haig gets involved, there’s a one-eyed assassin, I dunno, felt much like Foxy Brown, Pam’s charisma being wasted on a crappy movie. This was a random 1973 pick – here’s hoping Black Caesar is better.
Opens with Stephen McHattie’s young partner Billy killing a kid. These actors would reunite in Tarsem’s Immortals with John “no relation” Hurt.
Their fatal visit to Viggo’s diner plays hell on the family. Son Jack (a punk drummer in the Germs biopic) goes from self-denigrating violence-avoidance to kicking asses in the school halls. You don’t see wife Maria Bello much even though she gave the best performance of 2005… she was in Prisoners and some recent crappy horrors.
Ed Harris shows up the very next morning calling Viggo “Joey,” stirring up trouble that’ll get him and his boss (oscar-nom William Hurt) killed. Not pictured: Sheriff Peter MacNeill, one of the Crash-ers.
Opens unpromisingly despite Ethan Hawke… actors laboriously declaiming portentous dialogue in fake accents. It does start to get trippy, with more CG than expected (incl. cartoon-ass animals), and at the “years later” jump the tedious-to-thrilling ratio is 50/50. Subwoofer cinema, a sonically unpleasant movie – I should’ve played the Harriet Tubman album again. Alexander SkarsgÃ¥rd (Florence Pugh’s fake bf in Little Drummer Girl) swears revenge, loses his way, meets BjÃ¶rk, swears revenge again, kills FjÃ¶lnir’s son and refuses to say where he’s hidden the heart. Lotta people get chopped up with swords. Three good performances in this: BjÃ¶rk > SkarsgÃ¥rd > Dafoe
Willow Maclay argues there are four good performances:
Nicole Kidman also gives one of her best performances in some time as an incestual madwoman, driven berserk by the times, and dripping with salacious fury in her scene of revelation. This contrasts with her elegant work as a Queen and mother, and suggests that a proper feminine presentation can be hiding a cannibalistic fury behind doors.
Virtually every landscape is CGI’ed to the point of absurdity. The Northman strives for the painterly but more closely resembles those 4K test images they show on the TVs at Costco.
Good movie, from the shockingly great opening synth theme song on.
Works fine as a hangout film of Johnnie regulars, and there are plenty of shots like this:
Assassination attempts go badly, double-crosses and twists, but it never feels plotty. The guys I didn’t recognize were Francis Ng (Exiled) and Jackie Lui Chung-Yin (horrors Snake Charmer and Wife From Hell).
Celia’s beloved grandma just died, but she’s got the new neighbors next door to play with, and the eternal hope that she’ll get a pet rabbit. Unfortunately the neighbors are communists, and it’s Australia in the 1950’s during a myxomatosis outbreak (I’ve had the Radiohead song’s bassline in my head all week), so she’s constantly being warned against rabbits and commies.
Rabidly anti-commie dad (Nicholas Eadie of pre-fame Nicole Kidman miniseries Vietnam) chooses sides, and buys her a rabbit if she won’t play with the neighbors anymore, tells her they’re bad people. Cruelty abounds: the other kids hurt her rabbit, dad gets the neighbor fired. Her family’s cop friend John (Bill Zappa of The Road Warrior) straight-up kidnaps the rabbit, and after it dies in quarantine, Celia becomes the Joker. She shoots John to death while seeing visions of storybook monsters (major Heavenly Creatures parallels) and gets away with it, then fortunately doesn’t kill his daughter while staging mock gallows executions.
Not so harmless:
Celia was Rebecca Smart, who debuted in Dusan Makavejev’s The Coca-Cola Kid. Turner later directed Sam Neill and pre-fame Russell Crowe, and remade Teorema starring Sandra Bernhard in the Stamp role(!!)