Movie Diary 2018 by pahaK

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Child Bride (1938) N

My own nomination for 1930s HoF. A controversial movie about the child marriages in the Ozarks that's often (and not completely without reason) labeled as an exploitation film.

Story revolves around the progressive teacher who's campaigning against child marriages, a group of local men who see no reason to change the local customs and young Jennie and her family. Jennie's father is already in bad terms with the leader of the group, Jake, and things escalate when he saves the teacher from tarring and feathering.

Jennie's father is no perfect though. When drunk he at times beats his wife. On such an occasion Jake kills him and frames the wife. In exchange for his silence he demands Jennie to become his wife. To prevent her hanging Jennie's mother agrees and Jennie marries Jake (for a very short time).

Film's notoriety came mostly from nudity by Shirley Mills who was 12 at the time. Being done in 1938 it was post-code but as an independent production and claiming to be educational it managed to bypass the restrictions. The nudity is rather mild but camera does like her butt during the swimming scene so exploitation reputation is somewhat deserved but in my opinion the scene was justified by the story.

Technically the film is a mixed bag. Some scenes (like the whole stormy night when Jennie's father is killed) look genuinely good and cinematography in general is decent. Script has its moments but especially the dialogue is pretty bad at times. Acting is generally quite bad but Jake and (for the most part) Jennie do okay. Jennie's friend Freddie is especially terribly acted.

I was positively surprised by the quality of this film. It's not great by any means but perfectly passable. It's notoriety as borderline child pornography is vastly exaggerated and to me it seems that most people are offended just in case.


Frankenstein (1931) r

In preparation for the sequel in 1930s HoF I decided to refresh the first film too.

Not bothering with the plot this time as everyone should know it already. It's a nice story but the filming feels quite superficial (I haven't read the book though). It focuses too much on Frankenstein wedding and other non-essential stuff leaving the monster too much in the background.

Early parts are good up to monster's escape. The middle drags quite badly and otherwise decent finale is somewhat diminished by too claustrophobic sets (a dozen villagers running around like headless chickens in minuscule cliffs is surely funny). Ending at the windmill is nice (especially the long shot of the burning windmill).

Karloff is good as monster and Kerr is charismatic and funny as the old Baron (and also very similar to his role in Waterloo Bridge). Otherwise acting isn't too good; no one is outright bad but everyone seems to lack enthusiasm. Besides the ending the stormy night around Frankenstein's lab is visually appealing as well as the carrying of the dead girl through the village. Other than those cinematography isn't anything special.

It was pretty much what I expected, a decent early horror that is vastly overrated. Will need to see if I end putting a minus at the end of rating or not.

28 days...6 hours...42 minutes...12 seconds
The Shining (1980) r

This didn't impress me when I was a kid and it wasn't that much better now. Soundtrack has good moments, some of the visual are fine, Nicholson is good after going bonkers, Duvall is good as an extremely annoying wife and setting is kind of cool.

Jack's decent into madness is too fast and feels like the writer just wanted to get into the "good" stuff. Danny is practically just a plot device with no real function as a character and none of his visions seem to have any meaning at all - he's just there for the few visuals and calling the cook.

In my opinion The Shining is way overrated. I don't say it's exactly bad but just mediocre.

I like the film, but I will agree with King's criticism of it. Jack Nicholson doesn't look like a man who descends into madness, he looks mad straight from the start.
"A laugh can be a very powerful thing. Why, sometimes in life, it's the only weapon we have."

Suspect's Reviews

Bride of Frankenstein (1935) r

For 1930s HoF. In hindsight I shouldn't have watched Frankenstein before this because then the terrible continuity errors wouldn't have bugged so much.

So the monster survived the fire, there's a new doctor in town who creates mini-people from nothing and wants Frankenstein's help to create a full-sized mate for the monster. Frankenstein is reluctant but Pretorius has the monster kidnap his wife to force his hand. In the end there's no happily ever after for the monster but at least Frankenstein is redeemed in its eyes.

This being a direct sequel for the Frankenstein the start is quite confusing. So the old baron is suddenly dead, burgomaster has transformed into Frederick Kerr wannabe and the staff of Frankenstein household has vanished and been replaced by Minnie. And this all has happened during the first film's end sequence. Couldn't they even try?

Another issue is the overuse of (bad) comedy. First had some comedic scenes but it tried to be a suspense film. The sequel doesn't know what it wants to be (just like its writers didn't bother to check what happened in the first). It's a shame because some of the more serious parts are actually pretty good and the whole idea of the bride isn't bad (as proved by the series Penny Dreadful).

Visually Bride is much better and more consistent than the first film. Lightning and shadows are used to much better effect. Directing is also tighter. Acting is pretty bad at times (especially in the intro and early discussions with Dr. Frankenstein and Elizabeth), Karloff is decent as a monster but little uneven.

Overall this is little weaker than the first even though the good parts are actually better than anything in it. Too much comedy, continuity issues with the first film and few details that just didn't fit (like those mini-people) keep the popcorn at rather low levels.

Phenomena (1985) N

This paranormal giallo is most likely the worst Argento I've seen this far.

14-year-old Jennifer comes to Swiss boarding school. There's, of course, a murderer on the loose nearby and conveniently the victims happen to be young girls. Jennifer's roommate is killed, she meets a doctor of insectology (yes, I know that's not a real word), gets involved in the investigation and with some help from the doctor she gets too close. Fortunately she's in good terms with all the insects and they help her when needed.

Phenomena suffers from multiple flaws. The story is totally bonkers and kind of hard to take seriously. Soundtrack is all over the place (Iron Maiden and Motörhead are good but they don't really fit). People do very stupid decisions (if you're running away from a murderer / hiding it might not be a good idea to scream your lungs out). And the monkey nurse

Jennifer Connelly looks pretty but her acting leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand no one else is too convincing either so lots of blame should probably go to Argento. Even the visuals are pretty lame with few exceptions (mostly the night scenes with wind and trees). There are few nice gore effects though and the pool full of body parts and maggots looks positively disgusting.

Boring and little stupid giallo that proves that even Argento can fail. There's enough positives to keep it barely within OK score though.

Gunga Din (1939) N

For 1930s HoF. Three Stooges fighting Thuggees in British India with some help from faithful noble savage.

At least I now know where the plot for Temple of Doom came from. In essence it's the same movie where Indy @ Co. is replaced by three army officers and one water bearer. Murderous cult is rearing its ugly head but the mighty Englishmen are there to save the day.

The film focuses way too much on the three leads twisting their faces and attempting to look so damn funny. All the comedic elements felt completely forced and I don't think I snickered even once. The story itself could have worked with less (or at least better) humor and more investment to the actual plot.

The big fight at the end looks good considering the age of the film. Otherwise it's quite uninspired in every way. Kinda like modern Hollywood spectacle but form the 1930s (wait... it is exactly that). It looks and feels like professional work but it lacks something that would bring it to life.

Old adventure / action films also suffer from really bad fight scenes. I guess it's unfair to compare them to modern fully choreographed fights but those old fisticuffs make me shake my head (especially when heroes are superhuman manhandling bad guys like an adult fighting a bunch of children). But action is a big part of these films so I can't just ignore it.

I found Gunga Din pretty boring and would much rather watch Mola Ram and Indy butt heads.

Calibre (2018) N

I don't know why I hate majority of Netflix movies but I do. I watched this about 40 minutes and I was so bored. With nothing even remotely interesting in sight I did the only sensible option and stopped the film.

Execution Squad (1972) N

A bleak look into crime, punishment and society as a whole.

Police work is frustrating in 1970s Rome with press, public and politicians pestering them about inefficiency as well as brutality and arbitrariness. Majority of criminals walk free or serve short sentences as the new liberal ideologies put blame on society and make individuals irresponsible for their actions. Sounds like modern day West to me.

Commissario Bertone is furious about the situation but when criminals starts popping up dead he begins to suspect that there is a group with police connections taking the law in their own hands. Unlike most films about the subject Execution Squad doesn't really take sides; through Bertone it abhors the situation in Italy but the squad isn't presented as a solution, there's no solution in the film at all. It's very dark and kind of unpleasant movie.

Part of it's themes are clearly inherited from WW2 era politics as the cleanup squad is at its core a fascist organization with far-reaching political agenda. Because of that it's not, in my opinion, a vigilante movie per se but more like a conspiracy film. Also because of this the squad often appears more like a moral police than traditional vigilante (like killing prostitutes and homosexuals).

Somehow I was never really drawn into the film and there were outright boring moments. Also Bertone was very conflicting character, almost to the point of hypocrisy. Characters in general were quite flat. Visually the film was OK and it showed the dirtier, grittier side of Rome pretty well. Soundtrack (especially the film's theme) was brilliant.

A vigilante themed conspiracy film that has lots of stuff going for it but ultimately lacks something to draw the viewer into its world.

The Scarlet Empress (1934) N

Watched for 1930s HoF. Historically very inaccurate depiction of Catherine the Great's rise to power.

The Scarlet Empress is moderately entertaining film with beautiful sets, decent acting and surprisingly light approach to the subject. Its narration is quite fast paced only slowed down by occasional shoots of highly stylized and bizarre (and, I assume, very unrealistic) Russian architecture and one extremely prolonged wedding scene. Its strength is definitely the aesthetics while the story does have some gaping holes.

From the movie's point of view the whole coup comes from nowhere (well, there's one title card telling us that she charmed the army). I found it very awkward how the film doesn't bother to give any reasons why Catherine is loved and how she could turn others against Peter so easily. The whole transition from silly girl to proper monarch is almost completely ignored. For me that's the single biggest flaw of the movie.

Historically the film is completely absurd. Marlene Dietrich is way too old for Catherine, Sam Jaffe is even more too old for Peter (I think they were 16 and 17 at the wedding). They had met years before the marriage, Empress liked Catherine, etc. It's so flawed that even at my rudimentary knowledge of the subject it started to bother quite a bit. I think historical films should be little more accurate (or honestly be alternate history or complete fantasy).

Mostly entertaining pseudo-historical film that relies on style over substance in its purely fictional depiction of factual events.

A Quiet Place (2018) N

A gimmicky horror film that doesn't have much to offer beyond the gimmick itself.

Monsters have come and brought the apocalypse. Scarce survivors hide in their homes and try to avoid making any noise because the blind monsters are attracted to sound. Concept sounds interesting but I'd assume it would work better in smaller scale (i.e. skip the global event and make it just one monster in some isolated rural area). Now the idea of fallen civilization due to rather stupid animals with extremely predictable behavior isn't at all convincing (especially after the film's ending).

The silence gimmick does amplify one regular horror film issue - without dialogue the characters are left extremely thin and distant. Only the daughter has some depth. Acting was OK but there really wasn't much to act besides being scared. I hated the pregnancy as a plot device. Monster's abilities changed from scene to scene (as they too often do in horror).

Overall it felt that the writers had been blinded (deafened) by the gimmick and ignored lots of holes and inconsistencies to focus on that (how does the blind monster move around obstacles, where do the people get their electricity, why weren't the monsters lured to an isolated location and bombed into oblivion during the first week, etc.). It's not bad but nothing special either.

Too much noise for nothing, an empty barrel of a film Not sure if I'm being too generous with popcorn.

Recommended book: Bird Box by Josh Malerman does the sensory gimmick in little more innovative style - what ever is lurking out there is so terrifying that seeing it will drive people mad. So instead of depriving the monster from sensory input people must survive in the post apocalyptic world without their sight.

Shogun's Ninja (1980) r

A silly action film with many kinds of ninjas, clan feuds and childhood romances. Story is a kind of a mess which isn't helped by random (and pretty poorly done) action scenes that keep popping out nowhere. There was enough unintentional humor to keep me watching and there were even few decent scenes across the film. I wouldn't recommend this unless you're dying to see spider ninjas climbing trees or protagonists doing some trapeze training.

Suspiria (1977) R

Argento's classic that excels in aesthetics but has some serious issues with the story.

Suzy goes to German ballet school and ends up battling the witch coven that is running the school. There's no explanation why the witches are running the school or why the school has high prestige despite the mortality rate of its students - as a matter fact Suspiria explains very little and very little in it makes any sense. Argento would probably call me ignorant but I think Suspiria would benefit from more coherent story.

Visually Suspiria is perhaps Argento's best film (even though watching multiple gialli lately has reduced the awe it inspires). Especially the use of red, green and blue lights to create completely unnatural atmosphere is done beautifully. Great visuals are complimented by one of the best soundtracks ever made (though it seems that the Italian audio on blu-ray has the music mixed way too low, I tried the English audio afterwards and instantly regretted watching the film in Italian as the music was much louder).

Acting is mostly fine and most of the characters are so weird anyways that's it hard to say if the acting is off. Harper was good (and pretty) as Suzy. There's not much gore and most of what we have isn't that well made (first murder is great but others not so much). Settings are gorgeous and support Argento's visuals perfectly.

With (much) better writing this could be one of the best films ever. Now the general stupidity of the story takes away one popcorn despite some of the most beautiful cinematography ever made. On another day I could be more carried away by the audiovisual experience but today the rating is...

Pépé le Moko (1937) N

For 1930s HoF. A French gangster Pépé is hiding in Casbah of Algiers and dreams of freedom and Paris.

The cat and mouse game between Pépé and Algerian inspector Slimane is something I don't usually like. I just keep thinking how much easier, safer and cheaper it would have been if Slimane (or French police) had had Pépé assassinated instead of the long plotting to get him out of Casbah. Also the relationship between the two makes one question Pépé's intelligence.

I liked the concept of Pépé being a prisoner in Casbah and his growing yearning to be back in Paris. I didn't see much hope for him and the film's ending was very fitting. There weren't characters I could sympathize with and especially the women in the film were truly revolting persons (particularly Inés).

Storywise there wasn't much. Pépé (and his mates) wandered around Casbah, Pépé treated women like trash and the women loved Pépé for it. Even the plot to get Pépé out of Casbah just materialized as he fell in love with vain escort from Paris. I suppose it's some sort of realism but it's just not very interesting to me.

Acting was pretty good for 1930s film and sets were nice as well (I'm not sure if any of the actual scenes were shot on location, IMDb says panoramic views were shot in Casbah). Cinematography was alright with few good scenes. All in all it's a film that isn't exactly my type but I can still see the potential appeal. Personally I didn't like it that much but it barely misses the bad label.

Wildling (2018) n

A coming of age drama with horror elements and rather typical mystification of puberty. Has some resemblance to Ginger Snaps but is considerably worse in practically every aspect. Liv Tyler, as usual, feels completely out of place in her role as a sheriff. Not exactly bad film but definitely not good either.

I have never been impressed by Liv Tyler in anything.

Darc (2018) N

I wanted to watch a stupid brainless action film for a change. Darc delivered on stupid and brainless but it was also boring and totally amateurish. Because of Nasso I hoped something like early Seagals but seems that he can't direct at all. Had to give up after 30 minutes.

Battle Royale (2000) R

A film that's solely responsible for a hugely popular video game genre must have made an impression to someone.

Battle Royale is a dystopian film about near future where the old values and orderly society built upon them are slowly crumbling. At the heart of this moral erosion is the school system that has lost its authority and the kids who no longer believe there is a good life waiting for them after the school. As a disciplinary measure BR Act is passed and each year a randomly selected 9th grade class is brought to an island to kill each other until only one remains.

I tried to think the logic behind the BR Act but didn't fully get it. Random choice of the class and having no other effect than killing bunch of seemingly random teenagers makes it hard to imagine any positive effects. This was a minor nuisance to me but I tried to accept the BR Act as postulate for the depicted scenario.

I mostly liked how the kids behaved in their situation. They were often naive and most of them had difficulties in accepting the situation (maybe partly because for some reason they seemed almost oblivious of the BR Act which to me seemed to be a flaw in the script). The ones who had easier time to adjust seemed to have enough character depth to justify that. Other than the few issues mentioned the script was pretty solid.

Action was well done and bloody. The kids never felt too proficient with the weapons and some sudden outbursts of violence felt positively paranoid and unwarranted (like the lighthouse scene). Most of the actors were OK and Kitano was his usual brilliant self (the final call from home is priceless). I'm also assuming that Kitano painted the wonderful picture that's partially shown above.

Despite some small story issues and perhaps little too much length I still liked this quite a bit. Back when this was new I rated it 8/10 on IMDb and see no reason to alter that score.

Bachelor Mother (1939) N

For the 1930s HoF. A comedy that's so timid and placid that there's nothing left to laugh.

In my opinion practically every comedy that's built around a baby has failed. Bachelor Mother is no exception in this regard. From modern viewer's perspective the film could be used as a textbook definition for predictable - the ending is obvious after Merlin junior returns the baby to Polly. Remaining hour or so is just waiting for the script to catch up with the viewer.

I like my comedies somehow daring and witty. Unfortunately I found neither from Bachelor Mother. It's almost like a comedy without a single joke. Sets are fine, acting is fine, directing is fine but there's no soul at all. Just utterly empty and harmless 82 minutes that doesn't pique my interest in any way. There's just nothing else I can say.


Watership Down (1978) N

A beautiful and little sad children's film that doesn't shy away from harsher side of life.

A young rabbit has apocalyptic visions and as a result small group decides to leave their warren to search for new home. On their journey they face many kinds of beasts but greatest threat comes form their own kin. Obviously they succeed by their wits and little help from a seagull (I think) they befriend.

I liked the visual style of film. Perhaps the only complaint artwise was the difficulty to tell few of the rabbits from each other. Other than that the style changed seamlessly from cute to darker, distorted imagery. It was definitely scarier and more bloody than your average children's animation but I think that's a good thing (there's no need to over-protect kids).

Story itself is very standard and offers no surprises. Heavy use of mythology and rabbit religion makes otherwise formulaic script stand little apart. Same is true for characters; majority of them are industry standard but Fiver with his prophetic visions is nice addition. It's also little surprising to see that procreation is major motivation for part of the plot.

I rarely watch animated films but I think Watership Down was worth my time.