Blood on the Moon (1948) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“Blood on the Moon” is a western that manages to transcend some of the cliches of the genre.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

When we first meet Robert Mitchum as Jim Garry, he’s riding through an Indian reservation to reach an old partner of his, Tate Riling (played by Robert Preston).  He’s intercepted by a cattle outfit run by John Lufton.  He tells Garry that Riling is trying to prevent Lufton from getting his cattle off the reservation in time to avoid their confiscation by the government over a voided contract.

When Garry finally reaches Riling, he finds out what kind of job he’s been summoned to perform.  Riling is in cahoots with a federal agent named Pindalest that procures the cattle for the reservation.  They’re trying to force Lufton to sell his cattle for pennies on the dollar and then sell them to Pindalest at the full price with a goodly bribe to Pindalest.  Out of the huge profit Riling will cut Garry in for ten thousand dollars for being the gun hand to make sure nothing interferes with Riling’s plan.

When Riling and his men and the homesteaders that he’s fooled into helping him attack Lufton’s herd they manage to scatter it thoroughly which should be enough to guarantee that Riling’s plan will succeed.  But one of the homesteaders, Kris Bardon (played by Walter Brennan) loses his son in the stampede and Garry decides the whole plan is too dirty for him to go on with.  He quits Riling’s crew and manages to save Lufton’s life when two of Riling’s men were preparing to gun him down.

To further confuse the situation Lufton has two daughters.  Carol Lufton is in love with Riling and has been providing him with information about her father’s plans and actions.  Amy Lufton starts out hating Garry but over the course of the movie as she sees his actions are well-intentioned, she changes her mind and comes to trust him.

When Garry quits the crew Riling goes looking for him and they have a huge brawl in a cantina.  Garry finally knocks Riling out.  When one of Riling’s henchmen gets ready to execute a defenseless Garry, Kris Bardon shoots the gun hand.  Now Garry goes to Lufton and reveals the whole plan about Riling conspiring with Pindalest to steal the herd.  They come up with a plan to defeat it.

Garry goes to Pindalest as if he’s still working with Riling and tells him to suspend the government’s seizure order on Lufton’s herd and creates a ruse that has Pindalest go with him out into the mountains to give Lufton enough time to gather the herd and bring it off the reservation.  The ruse succeeds up to a point but then an Indian whose friends with Riling tips him off that Pindalist is being stalled by Garry.  Riling and his men come after Garry and in an altercation, Garry is stabbed and Pindalist is rescued.

A badly wounded Garry escapes to Kris Bardon’s cabin where Amy Lufton joins them to nurse Garry’s wound.  Soon Riling, Pindalist and one other gunman show up and surround the cabin while Bardon and Amy hold them off with rifles.  That night Garry, sensing that eventually the outlaws would manage to overcome the defense, tells Bardon and Amy to provide a diversion while he slips out the door and sneaks behind the gunmen and takes them on.

He manages to pistol whip Pindalist into unconsciousness and shoot the other gunman.  And in the final confrontation he shoots it out with his former friend Riling.  Garry is victorious and he reappears at the cabin.  Later John Lufton and his men appear at the cabin.  They take Pindalist into custody for delivery to the marshal.  And as the drama ends Amy tells her father of her plans to marry Jim Garry.

Although this western was made during the heyday of that genre, this production differed substantially from the typical black hat, white hat conflict.  Mitchum’s character is more reminiscent of the characters he usually portrayed in film noirs where he would be a small time criminal or a gun for hire.  He straddles the line between good and evil pretty thoroughly until almost the end of the movie.  And that’s what keeps the movie from devolving into a typical good guy, bad guy shootout.  Mitchum and Preston manage to keep the battle between light and darkness alive and interesting throughout the movie.  The rest of the cast isn’t afforded much opportunity to rise above the normal western tropes.  The two actresses in love with Garry and Riling are given fairly stereotypical plot and dialog for those roles and the other parts fairly equally follow the conventions of the genre.  But Mitchum and Preston provide the fireworks and it boosts the movie well above the average.  Highly recommended for fans of westerns and fans of Robert Mitchum.

The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951) – A Movie Review

This movie is not strictly speaking a WW II movie.  It is a chronicle of the events leading up to the death of German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

James Mason plays Rommel.  It opens up with a British submarine off the coast of German occupied North Arica.  A platoon of commandoes is landed by rafts to assault the headquarters of the German Afrika Corps.  The commandoes storm the building and pour machine gun fire and grenades into the living space.  As German reinforcements arrive the British soldiers retreat.  One man is too badly wounded to escape.  As he is captured, he asks the German soldier, “Did we get him?”  And the German soldier scornfully answers in the negative.

The “him” that the Briton meant is Rommel and the suicide mission proclaims the enormous respect that Rommel’s enemies have for his skills in war.  But unfortunately for their mission Rommel was at that time being treated in Germany for a case of nasal diphtheria.  But before he can recover, the British attack his forces in the second Battle of El Alamein and Rommel is summoned by Hitler back to the desert to ward off this attack.  Unfortunately, Berlin only sends Rommel, not tanks, ammunition, men or even fuel to run the tanks they still had.  Orders are given to stand and fight to the last man.  Rommel disobeys the orders and arranges a tactical retreat to save his men.  But exhausted and still sick he is forced to return to hospital in Germany.  And his army is defeated and captured by the British and Americans.

Recovering from his illness he is visited by Dr. Karl Strölin (played by Cedric Hardwicke), the mayor of Stuttgart and an old friend of Rommel’s.  We learn that many senior officials in Germany have lost faith in Hitler and are looking for a way to remove him from power.  Rommel rejects the idea and warns his friend not to discuss this idea with him.  He declares himself to be a soldier and not a politician.  His friend warns him that a time will come when he will have to face the consequences of being a soldier in Hitler’s army.

Now Rommel is directed to help lead the defense of the French coastline against the expected invasion.  The supreme commander of the German forces, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt (played by Leo G. Carroll) explains to Rommel that Hitler has taken complete control of the strategy of the invasion defense.  He explains that the strategy is being decided based on astrology and that instead of reinforcing the beaches they are concentrating on the coastal cities.  When D-Day arrives Berlin refuses to allow troops to redeploy to reinforce Normandy and so the Allies break loose from Normandy and begin their march to the Rhine.

The officers who are planning to assassinate Hitler once again approach Rommel for his support.  He tells them he must first attempt one last time to convince Hitler to redeploy his forces to avoid catastrophe.  He meets with Hitler but is rebuffed and told to remain in place and fight to the last man.  Rommel tells the coup leaders to go ahead with their plan.  But before the assassination attempt Rommel is injured when his staff car is strafed by enemy aircraft and crashes.  While he is recuperating in a hospital the attempt on Hitler is carried out but he is only injured.

After release from the hospital Rommel is sent home without any military orders and all mention of him disappears from the war effort.  One day he is called from Berlin to sat that a deputation would arrive at his home to discuss his future assignment.  But instead, when it arrives he is told that an investigation has convicted him of treason and he is given the choice of secretly committing suicide by painless sedative or being garroted.  But Rommel says he would prefer to answer the charges in open court to at least make his statement in public.  But then the officer adds that if he agrees to take the silent suicide his reputation will be preserved and wife and son will be taken care of.  If he decides to go public no such guarantees apply.  And so, he goes to his death.  The movie ends with the recitation of a speech that Winston Churchill gave honoring Rommel for his courage in risking his life in attempting to eliminate Hitler and thereby save his country from catastrophe.

This is a very unusual movie in that the Second World War is only the backdrop for the dramatic action of the plot.  We’re shown a great general, a consummate professional, learning that detaching his duty as a soldier from his responsibilities as a human being is sometimes impossible.  He is brought to understand that obeying the orders of a madman cannot fit under his warrior’s code.  Mason is usually interesting to watch in a movie and this one is no exception.  If nothing else he has one of the most distinctive and commanding voices in the history of cinema.  The movie is not highly dramatic.  It’s almost understated considering the circumstances and the people involved.  I would recommend this movie to students of history and those who enjoy a cerebral movie experience.

In Bruges (2008) – A Movie Review

In Bruges is described as a black comedy-drama crime thriller.  I will agree it’s a very bleak comedy indeed.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson are two Irish hitmen, Ray and Ken, that work for English mob boss Harry, played by Ralph Fiennes.  Harry has ordered the two men to lay low in the Belgium resort town of Bruges after a hit in the London area went badly.

When first introduced Ray and Ken are arguing about Bruges.  Ray claims that Bruges is too insanely boring for him to endure and Ken claims that Bruges’ cultural and scenic virtues made it a relaxing and interesting hiding place.  Ray is a young working-class man who has no interest in a tourist attraction while Ken is an older man who seems to possess sensibilities outside of the brutal realities of his murderous trade.

And so, the first part of the movie is the two hit men bickering about spending their time in the pubs versus sightseeing the medieval tourist destinations.  During this time Ray meets a young woman, Chloë, associated with a film shoot, an actress.  And among the actors on the streets taking part in the filming is a dwarf named Jimmy whom Ray is inexplicably fascinated by.  But while the two men are out and about Harry calls for them and is extremely angry at their absence from their room.

At this point we are shown a flashback to the hit that caused Ray and Ken to hide out in Bruges.  During a confession in a Roman Catholic Church Ray confesses to a murder and when the priest asks him who he murdered Ray replies, “You.”  Then he proceeds to fire several rounds into the priest.  So far so good.  Mission accomplished but the bullets also killed several people waiting for confession including a young old boy.  And he sees a note that the boy had written listing his sins which included not doing well enough in math class.  Now we see that Ray is haunted by his “sin” against innocence.

And in the next scene while Ray is on a date with the actress, Ken takes the phone call from Harry.  Harry tells Ken that he sent them to Bruges to give Ray a pleasant send off before he has Ken kill him.  When Ken objects Harry explains that killing a kid is a mistake that can’t be allowed and Ray has to pay the price.  It’s part of Harry’s personal moral code.  Of course, Harry seems like an unhinged psychopath but apparently, he has a code.  Ken agrees to the hit.

Meanwhile Ray’s “date” takes a very odd turn.  While Ray and Chloë amorously engaged in her bed, a former boyfriend (or a grifting partner of hers, Eirik confronts them and threatens Ray with a pistol.  Ray quickly disarms Eirik and during a struggle fires off a blank round next to Eirik’s face, blinding him in one eye and causing Chloë to escort Eirik to the hospital.

The next day Ray goes out to a nearby park.  Ken follows him with a silenced pistol prepared to carry out the hit.  He sees Ray on a bench with his back to him and as he runs up to shoot him, he sees that Ray is about to commit suicide with a pistol.  Ken shouts to Ray and prevents the suicide.

Needles to say in the next moments Ray explains how guilty he feels about the death of the child and Ken explains why he was running up behind Ray with a drawn pistol.  After a protracted discussion Ken decides that he can’t kill Ray and tells him to get on a train and disappear into the European hinterlands to avoid being rubbed out by Harry.  As Ray leaves Ken speaks to Harry on the phone and tells him he’s let Ray go.  Ray goes ballistic and smashes up the phone in his home and screams abuse and profanity at his wife and children.  He informs her that he is headed to Bruges on a matter of “honor.”

Back on the train Ray is apprehended by the police for injuring Eirik with his own pistol and is jailed in Bruges.  Eventually Chloë bails him out and he spends the day with her walking around town.  When Harry arrives, he and Ken climb to the top of a local church tower and once there Harry orders Ken to shoot it out with him.  But Ken refuses.  He puts his gun down and tells Harry to what he needs to.  Harry raves and abuses Ken but tells Ken he can’t kill him because he recognizes that Ken is doing what he believes is right.  But he still shoots Ken in the leg out of blind anger.  While up in the tower Harry finds out that Ray and Chloë are sitting on a bench at the bottom of the tower.  Harry leaves Ken in the tower and runs down to kill Ray.  But before Harry can reach Ray, Ken jumps off the high tower and with his dying breath tells Ray that Harry has come to kill him.

Ray flees from Harry and reaches his hotel room to retrieve his gun.  The pregnant hotel owner refuses to get out of Harry’s way when he demands to go up to kill Ray in his room.  Ray tells Harry that he will jump out of his room window into the canal so that Harry won’t have to shoot past the hotel owner.  Ray jumps into the canal and lands on a barge passing by.  Harry fires and strikes Ray in the chest.  Ray gets off the barge and staggers through the streets and finds himself inside the movie set.  The dwarf Jimmy is dressed as a young schoolboy.  Ray continues to stumble through the street and eventually Harry catches up to him and shoots him twice more in the back.  But one of the bullets exits Ray’s body and strikes Jimmy in the head.  When Harry reaches Ray, he sees Jimmy and thinks he has killed a child.  He says, “So that’s what it’s like.”  Ray tries to tell Harry that Jimmy isn’t a child but is too weak from his injuries.  Then Harry takes his gun and shoots himself in the mouth.  The movie ends with Ray narrating that if he survives the shooting, he will find the family of the boy he killed and perform whatever punishment they demand of him.  He also muses over whether hell is being stuck in Bruges forever.  And he does admit he hopes he lives.

Saying this is a black comedy is an understatement.  But make no mistake, comedy is exactly what it is intended to be.  The movie is laced with sarcasm, irony and comical scenes and dialog that plays on the outrageous and callous behavior of Ray and most of the other cast.  Ken seems to be the closest thing to a normal human being in the movie.  He spares Ray and then lays down his own life to save him.  But surprisingly both Ray and Harry also both seem to have one limit to their ruthlessness.  They seem to recognize the sanctity of innocent children.  This movie is bizarre.  I won’t pretend that it doesn’t have many faults.  It’s laced with profanity, loaded with sociopathic behavior and provides a somewhat sympathetic portrayal of gangsters and other assorted low lives.  But it does tell a compelling story of two men who have some sparks of humanity mixed in with their brutal careers.  Recommended for fans of gangster movies who are not easily offended by gratuitous violence and coarseness.

The League of Gentlemen (1960) – A Movie Review

This is an English bank heist film.  And it’s a good one.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The movie opens up with a man emerging from a London manhole cover dressed in proper evening attire and driving away in a Rolls Royce.  That should set the tone for the movie.  This same man, retired Lieutenant-Colonel Norman Hyde, is next seen cutting some five-pound banknotes in half and mailing the halves along with a paperback book about a bank heist called the “Golden Fleece” to seven different men.  Next, we meet each of these men as they receive their packages.  Each is a retired military officer.

Major Peter Race is now living as a down on his luck gambler.

Captain “Padre” Mycroft is a confidence man pretending to be a vicar.

Lieutenant Edward Lexy, played by a much younger Richard Attenborough, is an electronics technician who does side jobs “fixing slot machines for racketeers to shortchange the winners.

Captain Martin Porthill is a gigolo living off the largesse from middle-aged women

Captain Stevens is a homosexual masseuse.

Major Rupert Rutland-Smith is a piano player barely getting by.

Captain Frank Weaver is an unhappily married man.

Hyde is contacting each of them because they were dishonorably discharged from the military and therefore unable to make a good living in the civilian world.  He wants to offer them a share in a bank heist that he is planning.  Each of them has an expertise that will contribute to the success of his military style mission to rob a bank of a million pounds from which each will get an equal share.  One is an expert in explosives, another in communications, another a procurement expert who can forge car and truck license plates.  Two of them are combat veterans who are well trained in crowd control and unafraid to kill.  One is adept at hotwiring and stealing cars.  All have a desire to escape their present lives and live happily ever off of one enormous payday.

They all sign on with Major Race as Hyde’s second in command.  Their first objective is to steal enough weapons and explosives from a British military base to outfit the heist.  The men follow an ingenious plan of Hyde’s to decoy the personnel of the base with a phony inspection by top brass while the rest of the crew pillage the arsenal.

After this success the team moves forward on the plan.  They steal the vehicles they’ll need for the robbery.  They assemble the explosives and the jamming devices.  And they work out the schedule down to the minute.  And as soon as the armored car leaves the bank and turns the corner, the team springs the trap.  The utility shafts that house the alarm and phone lines are blown, the air outside the bank is filled with dense smoke and the team raids the bank brandishing machine guns.  They quickly wheel away the cart from the armored car delivery with the twenty boxes each containing fifty thousand pounds and escape with the money.

But completely coincidentally a little boy had copied down the license plate number of the getaway truck.  Later that day we see Hyde distributing the money to the team at his hideout.  The mood is celebratory.  One by one the team members take their cut of the loot and leave.  When only Hyde and Race are left, a call comes in on the telephone.  It’s Scotland Yard and they order them to come out and give themselves up.  Hyde demands to know which of the team turned them in.  Instead, they find out about the little boy and the license plates.

When they are escorted into the police-wagon we see the rest of the team already captured and manacled together.

I found this old bank heist movie a hidden gem.  I’d never heard of it and despite its “ancient” origin it was very well done, both in terms of the acting and the heist details.  The camaraderie of these total strangers is somewhat reminiscent of such military movies as “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Great Escape.”  But in this case the battle is a crime.  I highly recommend this movie to anyone who likes a good heist movie and to the general viewer of quality cinema.

RoboCop (1987) – A Science Fiction Movie Review

Paul Verhoeven directed this sci-fi adventure movie.  Strangely he made it to be a satire of the violence of law enforcement during the Reagan administration but audiences liked its anti-crime message.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

 

RoboCop opens up on a police precinct in Detroit (Metro-West).  It’s some kind of futuristic present (1980s) where the dystopian crime-ridden Detroit is being addressed with the introduction of robotic police.  The first prototype is being demonstrated at an executive board meeting of OCP, a technology company that surprisingly also has links to the underworld.  Unfortunately, the robot gets a glitch in his programming and kills one of the officers of the company during a demonstration.  This reflects poorly on Dick Jones, the senior vice president and also secretly, the contact for the underworld figures involved with OCP.  The failure of the prototype allows Jones’s competitor, Bob Morton to steer the company toward a different robot cop concept.  Morton’s version is a man whose brain has been destroyed in an accident and whose body can then be retrofitted with robotic limbs and an electronic brain.

Enter Alex Murphy a young cop with a wife and young son.  He’s just been transferred to Metro-West where he’s paired with street smart woman cop Anne Lewis who, of course, has a heart of gold.  They head out to do good and get involved with a criminal gang headed up by Clarence Boddicker (played by Kurtwood Smith, who played Topher Grace’s father, Red on “That Seventies Show”).  Boddicker is Dick Jones’s criminal partner.  He’s also a sadistic maniac.  When his gang captures Murphy, Boddicker personally mutilates him by blowing his limbs off with a shotgun.  Then his men finish him off with their guns.  Lewis escapes and goes for help.

In the next scene Murphy’s body has been converted into a cyborg that has been named RoboCop and assigned to Metro-West.  He has four prime directives

  • Serve the public trust
  • Protect the innocent
  • Uphold the law
  • Never arrest an officer of OCP

Of course, the last directive is a secret one built in by OCP to allow them to break the law with impunity.

Now RoboCop begins to discover the link between Boddicker’s gang and the murder of Officer Murphy.  Although RoboCop is not supposed to have any memory of his former life it does start to creep into his consciousness.  During this time, he captures several of the gang members and discovers the link between OCP and Boddicker.  At this point in the story Dick Jones has Boddicker murder Bob Morton.

Finally, RoboCop manages to arrest Boddicker and his gang but Jones has them released.  Identifying Jones as the OCP link to Boddicker, RoboCop attempts to arrest him but discovers prime directive four prevents him.  Now RoboCop is attacked by the OCP SWAT Team and escapes after being damaged.  Officer Lewis hides him in a factory where she assists him in repairing himself.

The final showdown against Boddicker’s gang includes the use of rocket powered grenades that OCP has provided to Boddicker.  After a drawn-out battle RoboCop kills the whole gang.  Boddicker offers to surrender but RoboCop tells him “I’m not here to arrest you.”  And so, he kills Boddicker in cold blood.  Apparently, his restored memories have superseded some of his programming.

Finally, RoboCop shows up at the OCP board room to expose Dick Jones as a criminal.  When Jones takes the Chairman of the Board hostage RoboCop reveals to him that he cannot arrest any OCP executive.  The Chairman says, “Jones you’re fired.”  And RoboCop immediately dispatches Jones with a full clip of bullets that drive him through the window of the skyscraper penthouse to his death on the pavement below.

RoboCop is a cartoon of a movie.  The villains are cartoon characters.  The hero is a robot almost completely devoid of personality.  Even the good guys are cartoon sketches of cop movie stereotypes.  The violence and weaponry are both over the top.  It’s definitely a 1980s action movie.  But within its genre and its intent it’s an enjoyable cartoon.  Everyone is waiting for RoboCop to finally kill off the sadistic psychopaths that murdered his alter ego who once was a husband and father.  I recommend this movie to fans of the genre.  If you liked some of Schwarzenegger’s movies from that era, like Predator and Terminator you’ll probably like this movie too.  If not then maybe not so much.

Ronin (1998) – A Movie Review

Ronin is some kind of crime, espionage, action-adventure movie.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Robert De Niro is Sam, a former CIA operative who is signing on to a heist of some kind of important property in a steel case that’s locked to a courier’s wrist and guarded by four cars-full of armed men travelling in the south of France.  We never learn what’s in the case.  Maybe very valuable military secrets maybe unobtainium.  He has been hired by a woman named Diedre with a decidedly Irish brogue.  He is joined by a team of men to pull off this assignment.  Sean Bean plays Spence, allegedly a former British special forces soldier.  Jean Reno plays Vincent a French soldier of fortune.  The last gunman is someone named Larry who never seems to display any real characteristics.  And Gregor who is a German former KGB agent is the technical asset.  He uses electronics to monitor the activities of the couriers and provides information on their route and timetable.

While retrieving the guns needed for the mission the team is ambushed and it is quickly learned that Spence is a fake and has no experience as a soldier.  He is paid off by Diedre and dismissed.  Sam and Vincent gravitate to each other as the two men who have the best idea about how this mission will go down and they have each other’s backs during the ensuing events.  Also, it’s obvious that they share a similar outlook on the world they inhabit.

We find out that Diedre’s boss is an ex-IRA soldier named Seamus O’Rourke played by Jonathan Pryce.  He hangs back from the team only contacting Diedre to monitor the team’s progress.

The attack on the courier is carried out.  Enormous quantities of bullets and other explosives are expended, incredibly difficult car chases ensue and finally all of the target team is killed.  Finally, Gregor takes the case from the dead courier.  But he makes a switch with the real case and hands off an explosive case that Sam barely discovers and tosses away in time to avoid killing the rest of the team.

Now Diedre and her team must locate Gregor before he can sell the case to his old employers the Russians.  More car chases ensue and eventually Gergor is tracked but before the team can capture him Seamus rejoins the story.  He orders Diedre to abandon the team and the two of them capture Gregor and drive off with him.  In the incident Seamus kills Larry against the feeble protests of Diedre.

Sam locates Seamus and they have an even more unbelievable car chase running the wrong way on an expressway.  Eventually Seamus, Diedre and Gregor’s car crashes.  Gregor manages to escape with the case and Seamus and Diedre barely escape the burning car.  When the authorities arrive Sam and Vincent retreat from the scene.

Now Sam and Vincent regroup while Sam has an inconvenient bullet removed from his side and they work out where they think Gregor will meet with the Russians to sell the case.  Of course, there’s a very convenient Russian Ice Ballet show in Paris so away they go.

At this point every one but Sam and Vincent betray everyone else in a hopscotch of double crosses.  Gregor has a sniper ready to shoot the Russian mobster’s girlfriend, the skater, if he isn’t allowed to leave with his money.  The Russian shoots Gregor and abandons his girlfriend to the sniper and flees the arena.  Seamus shows up as a security guard and shoots the Russians and takes the case.  He also shoots Vincent who was right behind the Russians.  Sam finds Diedre in the getaway car and warns her that he is still an active CIA agent and is after Seamus not the case.  He lets her escape and now without an escape route Seamus turns and shoots it out with Sam.  Sam is hit in the shooting arm and Seamus prepares to finish him off.  But a wounded Vincent shows up in time to dispatch Seamus.

The movie ends with Sam and Vincent saying goodbye at a bar.  Vincent reads that Sam was hoping Diedre would show up to see him.  Vincent lets him know that doesn’t happen in real life.  They part as friends.

This is a pretty wild adventure movie.  The car chases are way, way over the top.  But by the same token they’re technically very well done.  The acting is what you would expect in an action-adventure movie.  De Niro and Jean Reno successfully achieve the needed buddy-movie sympatico thing.  Even the feelings between Sam and Diedre weren’t so silly that they ruined the movie.  Seamus, Gregor and the Russians were all very acceptable bad guys.  All in all, I’d say Vincent was the most relatable character in the movie.  Which is something in a movie of this sort.  I would call this a highly recommended movie for someone looking for action adventure with a decent story to it.  For everything else it’s okay.

Eastern Promises (2007) – A Movie Review

This is a movie about some Russian mobsters in London.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Anna Khitrova is a nurse in the maternity ward of a London hospital.  One day a pregnant underage girl Tatiana shows up hemorrhaging and in cardiac distress.  We’re shown the needle marks on her arms.  She’s rushed into surgery and the baby is saved but the mother dies.  Anna finds a diary written in Russian in Tatiana’s possessions.  She asks her uncle Stepan to translate the diary but after looking through it he tells Anna not to get involved.

But Anna wants the baby to go back to Tatiana’s family instead of into foster care.  She finds a card for a Russian restaurant in the diary and goes there to find out about Tatiana and to get the diary translated to find her family.  She meets the restaurant’s owner Semyon a courtly old man and his son Kirill and their “driver” Nikolai (played by Viggo Mortensen).  In reality Semyon is the head of the local Russian mafia family.  Semyon tells Anna he has never heard of Tatiana but agrees to translate the diary for her.

Meanwhile we see what Kirill and Nikolai are up to.  Kirill has ordered a hit on another Russian mobster and Nikolai helps to “process” the body by removing the teeth and cutting off the fingers in a scene that tells you how cold blooded he can act.  They dump the body in the Thames but all this was done behind Semyon’s back.  Kirill is a loose cannon who acts out of emotion.  The murdered gangster has an organization that will be looking for revenge.

Semyon reads the diary and realizes that it implicates Kirill and himself in statutory rape and much more.  He orders Nikolai to murder Anna’s uncle because of his knowledge of the diary’s contents.  When Semyon’s contacts tell him that a Chechen hit squad is hunting for Kirill but does not know what he looks like he hatches a plan.  He decides to elevate Nikolai to a “made man,” so to speak, in the organization.  He is given the “star” tattoos on his shoulders and knees.  And he is invited by one of the organization to a meeting at a bathhouse.  It’s a set up for a hit.  The two Chechens are told that Nikolai is Kirill and they attack him as he sits in a towel in the sauna.  After a harrowing battle in which he sustains numerous knife wounds he kills both hitmen.

At the hospital where he is recovering from his wounds Nikolai is visited secretly by a high-ranking Scotland Yard officer named Yuri.  We learn that Nikolai is an undercover FSB agent infiltrating the Russian mafia with the approval of the British government.  Nikolai insists that what must be done is arrest Semyon for the statutory rape of Tatiana based on DNA evidence of his paternity of her child.  This will allow Kirill to assume titular control of the family but leave Nikolai in actual control to do his work from the inside.  Anna finds out that Nikolai did not murder her missing uncle but sent him out of town (Scotland) to hide from Semyon.  She now believes that Nikolai is not part of the plot to hide Tatiana’s abuse.

But when the police demand a blood sample from Semyon, he figures out what’s going on and sends Kirill to the hospital where Tatiana’s baby is being held to kidnap her.  He intends to drown her in the river.  But Kirill is guilt ridden over the idea of murdering the child.  By the time he steels himself to commit the murder Nikolai and Anna arrive to talk him out of it and save the child.  Nikolai convinces Kirill that his father must be allowed to go to prison in order for the two of them to gain control of the business.  Kirill begs Nicholai to believe that he had nothing to do with the Chechen hit squad going after Nikolai and they are reconciled to this new partnership they are forming.

In the last scene Semyon is in prison and Tatiana’s baby has been adopted by Anna.  The last image is of Nikolai now dressed as a prosperous business man in the restaurant apparently wondering what has become of his life.

This is a brutal movie.  Scenes involving the degrading treatment of the prostitutes in Semyon’s bordello and the graphic violence is disturbing.  The depraved nature of Kirill and the various other “soldiers” is depressing to watch.  It’s hard to imagine that a government agent would go through all that Nicholai does even if it is the means by which a large criminal organization is destroyed.  The depravity and the suffering he goes through is mind altering.  Who can I recommend this movie to?  Well, not the easily offended.  Sexual content and violence are pretty extreme.  In addition, I’d say this movie is for people who go in for gangster movies.  If you fit into both those categories then this is actually a legitimate film.  The acting is mostly very good.  Viggo Mortensen does a superb job as the fake hitman.  And if action scenes are what you crave then the hit in the sauna is one for the record books.  It’s extremely harrowing and effective.  Hopefully I’ve spelled out what this movie is.

The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) – An OCF Classic Movie Review

I think the chief interest in this movie is that it comes across as a light-hearted crime drama.  In a real sense I think it could be considered a comedy.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

Edward G. Robinson is the eponymous Clitterhouse, a surgeon with a keen and inquiring scientific mind.  When we first meet him in the opening scene, he is in a darkened bedroom rifling through a wall safe.  Just then a burglar enters through the second story window.  Clitterhouse trains a strong flashlight on the burglar and convinces him that he’s being covered by a gun.  He gets the burglar to stand facing the wall with his hands up.  Just then a second burglar who’s on the ladder looks in.  It’s Bogart playing Rocks Valentine (some name, huh).  He sees the situation and heads back down the ladder to escape.

Clitterhouse leaves the burglar in the bedroom and reenters a society party that’s going on downstairs.  A coloratura soprano is singing an aria.  Clitterhouse accepts a brandy from a butler, calls one of his associates about a patient he is treating and then calls the police and an ambulance just as a woman screams from upstairs and someone in the house shoots the burglar as he attempts to exit the house.  Clitterhouse treats the wounded burglar but he is recognized by his voice.  But Police Inspector Lane played by Donald Crisp laughingly allows Clitterhouse to be on his way to a surgical appointment without even inspecting Clitterhouse’s medical bag filled with the pilfered jewels.

Thus, the scene is set.  Clitterhouse is engaged in research on the physiological aspects of crime.  For this experiment he has committed four burglaries.  Now to expand his research he is reaching out to a jewelry fence, Jo Keller (played by Claire Trevor) and a gang of burglars headed by Rocks that includes such familiar character actors as Ward Bond, Vladimir Sokoloff and Burt Hanlon.  Clitterhouse identifies the victims and meticulously plans the heist.  The gang and Keller provide the manpower and the connections to perform the thefts and sell the loot.

In the final crime, a theft of furs from a warehouse, Rocks tries to double-cross Clitterhouse by locking him in the refrigerated vault.  But one of Keller’s men saves him.  At this point Clitterhouse has completed his research.  He has taken blood samples, blood pressure and other diagnostic tests on the gang members and now he wants to end his association with the underworld.  But Rocks figures out Clitterhouse’s true identity and tells the doctor that he will be forced to continue his criminal activities indefinitely.

Clitterhouse seems outwardly to agree to Rocks’ ultimatum but actually he doctors Rocks’ drink with a deadly dose of a drug.  Rocks falls asleep and then Clitterhouse and Keller dump the body in the river.  Eventually the police discover Clitterhouse’s guilt in Rocks’ murder and he goes on trial for murder.  His lawyer uses an insanity defense.  The prosecution gets Clitterhouse to testify against himself by stating that his scientific study is completely accurate and therefore the work of a sane man.  But the jury finds him insane based on the idea that only a madman would knowingly admit his sanity when he knows it would cause his own death.

Despite the fact that Clitterhouse murders Rocks in cold blood I see this movie as a comedy.  Throughout the story the atmosphere of the whole thing is light-hearted and I find it impossible to take any of it seriously.  There are a number of silly moments when the various gang members come off more as clowns than criminals.  The only menacing character is Bogart’s Rocks.  And as we see he is no match for Robinson’s genteel madman.  So, what can I make of a whimsical film noir?  Well, not too much.  It’s not a great movie but it is amusing in its own way.  I’ll recommend it to fans of the 1930s.  If we need a serious movie with Bogart and Robinson we’ll have to wait for their rematch in Key Largo

Kwaidan (1965) – A Movie Review

Kwaidan means ghost story and was directed by Masaki Kobayashi.  This movie is a collection of four stories that I guess could be called supernatural tales.  They are based on stories written by Patrick Lefcadio Hearn, an ex-patriot of Irish/Greek extraction who settled in Japan in 1890.  Each of the stories deals in an unrelated supernatural event.  The stories are based on old Japanese folktales.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

In the first story (The Black Hair) a samurai decides to divorce his wife who is a weaver of cloth.  He is tired of poverty and has orchestrated a marriage to the daughter of a nobleman.  But when he goes through with his plan his new marriage is a disaster.  His new wife is selfish and spoiled.  He misses the good-hearted weaver and after a few years he leaves his new wife and heads home to Kyoto for his old life.

When he gets there his old house is strangely changed but the samurai finds his wife overjoyed to see him.  She looks completely unaged and comforts her ex-husband not to blame himself for his actions.  She mysteriously mentions that they have only a short time together.  When he wakes up the next morning his wife is a shriveled corpse on the bed next to him. He tries to flee but her hair pursues him and while we watch he grows visibly much older as it attacks him.

In the second story (The Woman of the Snow) a young woodcutter and his older partner become trapped in a heavy snowstorm and seek shelter in a hut.  During the night a Yuki-onna, a female snow vampire freezes the older woodcutter and steals his life-force.  She tells the younger woodcutter that she had planned to kill both of them but because he was young and attractive, she decided to spare his life but on condition that he never tell anyone what happened that night.  If he does tell anyone she will know and then come to him and kill him.

Out of fear he tells no one including his mother with whom he lives.  Shortly after, a young and beautiful woman travels through their town and the young man invites her to stay at his house.  Both the young man and his mother are impressed with her qualities.  Eventually they marry and she bears him three children.  But one day as she is talking to him, he notices that she bears a resemblance to the snow vampire and he tells her the story.  His wife then reveals to him that she is the snow vampire.  Because they have children that she loves she will not kill her husband but instead will leave him forever.  But she warns him that if he is ever a bad father she will return and kill him.  After she leaves, he puts a present outside his house for her.  Later she takes the gift thereby signifying an abatement of her anger.

In the third story (Hoichi the Earless) Hoichi, a blind singer of heroic songs who lives at a monastery is visited by a samurai at night who brings him to a noble house lost in the fogs of the night.  There he sings The Tale of the Heike about the Battle of Dan-no-ura, a sea battle fought between the Taira and Minamoto clans during the last phase of the Genpei War.

Eventually his brother monks go looking for him and find him in a cemetery.  It seems that the ghosts of the defeated Taira leaders want to hear the story of their heroic defeat sung by a great artist.  The monks tell Hoichi that the ghosts will come back to claim his soul permanently so to protect him they cover his whole body including his face with the text of the “Heart Sutra.”  But they forgot to write it on his ears.  When the ghost of the samurai reappears, he can only see Hoichi’s ears.  To obey his master’s order to retrieve Hoichi he rips off the ears and takes them away.  Hoichi survives this injury and recovers.  When the rumor of this ghostly action spreads, rich patrons of music pays great sums to have Hoichi sing the tale of the battle.  And Hoichi becomes famous and very rich.

In the fourth story (In a Cup of Tea) a writer of old tales (sort of like Patrick Lefcadio Hearn) relates a folk story to his wife that he is planning to sell to a publisher.  The story is about a samurai who is part of the escort for a great lord who is travelling home.  The samurai goes to drink a cup of tea and sees the face of a man staring up at him from the tea.  He is shocked and angered by the occurrence but drinks the tea anyway.  When he arrives back home a man appears in the great house with the same face as the man in the tea.  The samurai attacks him with his sword but the man disappears.  Later that night the samurai is accosted by three men who say they work for the man from the tea cup whom he has injured.  The samurai battles all three men.  Now the writer tells his wife that this is where the story ends uncompleted.

That night the publisher arrives to see the writer but when the wife and publisher look for him, they see his image in a large pail of water just as in the story and they run away screaming.

As you can tell these are very unusual stories.  They don’t fit the category of western horror stories.  They’re reminiscent of European fairy tales or folk tales.  I wouldn’t describe them as frightening but instead odd.  I can’t say that I highly recommend them to a general audience.  They’ve been praised for the artistry that they display as visual cinema.  But I think that for a Western audience they might lack immediacy.  So, let’s call these a curiosity that probably only would interest connoisseurs of Japanese folklore or Japanese cinema.  I thought they were interesting and some scenes, specifically the sea battle portions were well crafted.  Your milage may vary.

The Northman (2022) – A Movie Review

The Northman is a retelling of the Amleth story from Danish historian Saxo Grammaticus.  This is the story that forms the basis of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.

(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)

The story begins when Amleth is an adolescent.  His father King Aurvandill (played unrecognizably by Ethan Hawke) has just returned from a Viking raid.  He was wounded badly and tells his Queen Gudrún (played by Nicole Kidman) that he’s decided it’s time to initiate Amleth into the rituals associated with being king.  The father and son participate in a rite that involves them howling like wolves and lapping food off a plate on the floor of an underground temple.  During the ceremony Amleth has a vision of the chain of life from generation to generation and he swears to avenge any attack on his family.

Immediately afterward, his father is set upon and murdered by his bastard half-brother Fjölnir and his followers.  Amleth barely escapes with his life but as he rows away from his island home, he swears to revenge his father and rescue his mother who has been seized by his uncle.  He swears to kill Fjölnir.

Next, we see Amleth years later.  He’s a grown man who has become a berserker who participates in Viking raids for some chieftain.  He is fierce beyond the bounds of his comrades and he cuts through his enemies like a knife through butter.  While involved in the sack of a Slav settlement he meets a priestess in the local temple and learns that his fate is still determined by the vengeance he has sworn against his uncle.  She tells him that his fate is to kill Fjölnir surrounded by a lake of fire.

Back in Scandinavia he learns that his uncle was dispossessed of his island kingdom by the King of Denmark.  Fjölnir has fled to Iceland and is now a petty chieftain with just a few retainers and using a small slave force to raise sheep.  Amleth decides to disguise himself as a slave and work on Fjölnir’s farm in order to have his revenge and free his mother.  During his voyage to Iceland, he meets a Slav prisoner named Olga to whom he is attracted.  The two slaves form a bond and when Amleth manages to rise in the slave ranks to foreman Olga is given to him as his woman.  The two plot Amleth’s revenge and their escape.

Now Amleth meets another seer who tells him the details of his fate.  He must go to the gates of Hel and there recover the magical sword Draugr.  Accomplishing this feat, he prepares his revenge.  Under cover of darkness, he kills some of Fjölnir’s men and nails their bodies to a cabin wall.  Using a drug that Olga prepares for him he poisons the garrison and they become confused and slay each other during the night.  While this is going on Amleth goes to Fjölnir’s house to kill him but instead meets Gudrún.  He reveals his identity and tells her he is there to kill Fjölnir and free her.  But she laughs and tells him that she planned his father’s murder because she was a slave and never loved Aurvandill.  Amleth is horrified and kills Fjölnir’s son Thorir and cuts out his heart.

Fjölnir threatens to kill Olga and Amleth exchanges himself for her.  While Fjölnir performs his son’s funeral Amleth is freed from his captivity by ravens (Odin’s messengers).  Then Olga carries him away on a horse to the coast.  There he finds out that she is pregnant with his children (twins).  They plan to escape to the Orkneys where Amleth has kin.  They embark on a ship but as they’re sailing away Amleth has a vision of his fate.  He knows that Olga will give birth to his son and daughter who will carry on his line.  But he knows that his fate is to fulfill his oath.  He jumps from the ship and swims back to shore.

Amleth kills the retainers and sets the slaves free to burn down the farm.  He heads for Fjölnir’s house but finds Gudrún.  He does not intend to kill her but she attacks him with a sword and finally he stabs her.  Then her young son attacks Amleth with a knife and finally Amleth kills him.  At this point Fjölnir arrives and tells Amleth to meet him at the Gates of Hel to settle things.  Then he carries away his wife and son for burial.

Badly wounded by the wounds he’s already gotten Amleth fights Fjölnir amid the flowing lava of the volcano.  As Amleth is weakening he gathers his strength for one last flurry.  As Fjölnir buries his blade in Amleth’s chest he beheads his uncle.  And as Amleth is dying he has a vision of Olga telling him that his children are safe and to relax into his fate.  He does so and we see him carried by a Valkyrie to Valhalla.

Wow.  That’s a lot.  Okay, so this is an unusual movie.  It’s a mixed bag.  The intent is to recreate the frame of reference of a Viking prince of the ninth century.  In some ways this seems successful.  But as a movie the dramatic content is difficult for a modern audience to accept.  Seeing a man and a boy howling like wolves seems bizarre, almost silly.  But I can see how this might be a way to convey the berserker mindset.  The fighting scenes are well done.  Despite the unusual content of the plot, I thought the main characters were very well acted.  But I had a hard time empathizing with any of the characters.  Their worldview was so far from my reality that I just couldn’t believe in it. This being said I enjoyed the movie.  It was grim and bizarre but I saw what they were trying to do and I enjoyed the experience of trying to believe in that frame of reference.  I can’t recommend this movie to anyone who doesn’t think this description is interesting.  It’s not a normal movie.  Probably people interested in Viking history are the primary audience.  Your milage may vary.