Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Mighty Lazenby

First of all, sorry for being so lazy with writing reviews. But I promise you, my job takes a lot of time and when I get home I rather sit and talk with G than watch a movie. Don't worry, it's just a phase.

What's not a phase is my love for George Lazenby. Not only did he participate in one of the best James Bond-movies ever, he's also a criminally underrated actor. Today I had the pleasure to meet him at the Scandinavian Sci-Fi, Game & Film Convention in Göteborg and what a gentleman he is. A dry sense of humor and a very friendly attitude to his fans. Because I'm a geek I had to take a photo of him, a photo he later signed for me:


This is why I want to recommend you some review I've written earlier related to Lazenby. For example the masterpiece, one of the best giallos ever made, Who Saw Her Die? I've also written three texts about his trilogy of Golden Harvest productions: The Man from Hong Kong, Stoner and A Queen's Ransom. The first one is an action masterpiece, the second one is very cool and the third one just OK - but Lazenby is always worth watching.

Please don't give up on me. I will return to form sooner or later :)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Crimes of Petiot (1973)


I'm pretty fond of the giallo-lookalikes that the Spaniards produced during the seventies, often with Paul Naschy in the lead or in a supporting part. The Crimes ofPetiot is another of these "Spanish giallos", and this is quite an original thriller with some ideas I haven't seen in similar movies before this one. I'm not sure it's been released on DVD or easy to get VHS anywhere, so I had to watch a subtitled bootleg. But this is one of those thrillers that deserves a restored, English-friendly release.

Set in a snowy Berlin, The Crimes of Petiot tells of a sadistic serial killer in a black coat, gloves and hat who executes - with a gun - young loving couples while getting nazi-flashbacks! The killer also films his evil deeds and send the filmed material to the police! A journalist, Vera (Patricia Loran) takes interest in the case and starts her own investigation. She involves her antique-dealing boyfriend Boris (Paul Naschy) and a couple of other friends. During a stake-out in a park the killer attacks them, but doesn't kill them. Instead he drugs them and leaves a message - he will kill them one by one when they least expect it!

The Crimes of Petiot might not be the smartest thriller in the world of European cinema, but it's not bad. It takes the plots and makes everything so simple - too simple - without any complications and pretends to be serious - but in the end it's just another cheap giallo-rip off with a few very good ideas. The lack of knives and other sharp objects makes it a not so bloody movie, but the executions is powerful and the nazi-flashbacks makes it even harder to watch. It's also a lot more classy than the director's, José Luis Madrid,  earlier collaboration with Naschy, my personal favourite and sleazerpiece Seven Murders for Scotland Yard, but also looses the exploitation-vibe that we all loves so much.

What feels fresh, for it's time, is the theme of the murders and the snuff movie aspect of the show. The script is filled with twists and never gets boring - and I also like the idea of a female journalists that involves her friends and lover in the case, which somehow seem even more realistic than just keeping the case for yourself like in every other murder mystery. This is more like Woody Allen's brilliant Manhattan Murder Mystery than Deep Red, if I can make that comparison - but without the comedy.

Maybe a movie who concentrates more on the plot twists than characters, which means that the actors more or less seem to be left alone with their characters, it's surprisingly effective. Especially Naschy, who as usual gives a lot more energy to his performance than he probably had to. With small gestures and a low-key performance he's the highlight of the movie - without casting a shadow on the other talents.

I understand my review is... all over the place, but it's because it's hard to evaluate The Crimes of Petiot. It's original and still quite generic, with Naschy stealing the show. But it's hard to avoid mentioning that it has a lot of very original and interesting ideas and is competently told by the director and screenwriter José Luis Madrid. I would suggest you give it a try and then tell me what you thought of it. Because I liked it, but maybe I'm wrong as usual?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sledgehammer (1983)


Maybe it's a coincidence, but I can't get Sledgehammer out from my DVD-player. It took me four days to watch it, not because it was bad, but because I just started to watch it in the last minute before doing something else. And now it's stuck. It's sitting there like a damn Jimmy Hoffa, frozen for eternity in cement. I have a feeling it want to be loved, it want me to respect it. And dear Sledgehammer, don't worry. I like you - more than you think.

The first movie from cheapo director David A. Prior, Sledgehammer actually quite well fits in to the rest of the slashers being released around the same time. The only thing that differs it from the others is that it's cheap. Very cheap. Shot on some kind of video camera in David A. Prior's apartment - with exteriors shot somewhere else. Starring friends and - as usual - his brother, Ted, in one of the leads. Most of the time it looks like a porn movie, especially a gay porn movie because all the male actors are muscular hunks or with massive moustaches - I would say we have one muscle daddy in the making there also.

The story is like everything you seen before: ten years ago a little boy killed his mother and her lover (she giving him a blowjob of course) and then disappeared. Now a bunch of nice young people with fluffy hair cuts and pulsating biceps decides to spend a night in the house - why? To drink, have sex and walk around aimlessly in slow-motion of course. But then hell breaks loose when the ghost (?) of the little boy comes back in the form of a grown man and starts killing them with a big (well...) sledgehammer!

Ah, the glory days of slashers. So easy to write a script. Nowadays they want twists, a little bit of character development and shit like that. In all honestly, Sledgehammer is actually not bad at all. Sure, it's very cheap and even more stupid, but David A. Prior manages to create an OK atmosphere (...and some truly odd editing choices - just wait until you experience the looooong slow-motion walk outside. Never seen anything like it...) and a couple of graphic gruesome deaths. I'm not sure I can find ANY competent acting here, but all the actors all look good in front of the camera and probably also generated some sexual tension between each others during the shoot. But that's just my imagination.

The gore is cheap, but I've seen more famous and more respected "gory" slashers with less gore. It does the job well without being overly spectacular or fantastic. I didn't know the whole movie was shot in Prior's apartment, so I bought the concept that this was an old farm house - just very simply furnished and with white, boring walls everywhere - and no windows. And just totally different than a big, old-school farm house. But I'm easy to fool and that makes me a good audience.

If you're ready for zero budget trash, shot-on-video and with amateurish acting - Sledgehammer is something for you!

(and the disc is still stuck in my player...)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Passage (1979)


There's two mysteries in the world of cinema for me: 1. How did John Barry end up with directing Saturn 3, a job Stanley Donen (of all people) took over after a shirt time and 2. Why did Maurice Binder produce J. Lee Thompson's The Passage? None of them are famous for either their directing duties or being a producer, and both movies are exploitative high profile flops! And I like both of them also, which might not be surprising for you who read Ninja Dixon from time to time. I have a tendency to find something good in many movies.

The Passage is an important part of the memories of us who grew up during the eighties and hanged around video stores. The iconic cover with Malcolm McDowell looking through binoculars has followed me for many years, and even if the Swedish tape seemed very cut it was a good, memorable movie. I've been wanting to see it again for many years, but always missed it when someone was selling the Spanish DVD - but during my last trip to Thailand I found it and got a chance to watch it again after all these years.

While the movie never comes off as sensational or unique, The Passage has been unfairly bashed over the years by people who probably expected something larger, grander... maybe classy? The cast, from Anthony Quinn and James Mason Christopher Lee and Malcolm McDowell - and even the always excellent Michael Lonsdale (now a religious nut in his homeland France) - brings an aura of quality to the project about a Basque shepherd (Quinn) taking the job of bringing a family over the mountains into safety in Spain, hunted by Gestapo-psycho McDowell. The story itself is pretty straightforward with some action scenes from time to time (often quite bloody and graphic) and a lot of breathtaking exteriors.

I'm not sure, but the presence of McDowell feels like an extension of Caligula, with some gratuitous sex (including a jockstrap with a swastika on). Maybe McDowell deliberately tried to break his moral barriers during this period in these weird European productions? Some might say that he's chewing the scenery, but I think he's quite good - and not in an overacting way. The only one working on routine is Quinn, which doesn't mean he's bad - but we've seen it before many times. So even the laidback performance by Mason, a man who's never done a bad job in his whole life - but here probably just collected the paycheck. One piece of odd casting is Kay Lenz in a smaller part. I never seen her as a dramatic actress, and even if she's there to look good and show her boobs she's not bad at all. But I'm not buying that she might be interested in the 100 years older Quinn.

J. Lee Thompson here made his last really good movie. I think 10 to Midnight and The Evil That Men Do is good, and even King Solomon's Mines has its moments - but when a man ends his career with the deeply racist and boring Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects it feels like he should have retired earlier. In The Passage he gives us some good and violent action and an edgy handheld camera that feels slightly before its time, and I prefer to delete Kinjite from my memory and pretend he always was as good as in this movie. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I'm back!

So, I'm back from Thailand (and Cambodia) and it has been one magnificent trip! Not just because I've visited some places I always wanted to see, for example Angkor Wat and The Thai Film Archive, but also met friends and some of my favorite Thai actors and filmmakers. I will hopefully write more detailed about my meetings and experiences on The Mee Noi Thai Movie Review sooner or later, but here's some of the people I met during the two weeks away from cold Sweden:

The one and only Christoph Klüppel, who I made a five part interview with here!

Pawana Chanajit, the Pearl of Asia! A legendary actress from Thai and Hong Kong cinema!

My big favorite, Sombat Metanee! What an honor to meet this man!

Cult movie director and producer Sompote Sands! What a life this guy had so far!

...and last but not least, Yodchai Meksuwan - another Thai movie legend and excellent actor!