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Comic Tales: Death Note – The Last Name April 25, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : Thriller, Fantasy, Comic Book , add a comment

This sequel to the original Death Note picks up directly where the first film left off, no real surprise as the films were made at the same time, and has the same strengths and weaknesses as that film. The plot gets ever more intricate, as do the machinations of Light Yagami when he tries to keep the fact that he’s the vigilante Kira a secret.

As with the first film, it’s the plot’s twists and turns that keep you hooked, with the Gods of Death lacking substance as both CGI creations and as characters. They merely serve as catalysts to pit Light and “L” against each other. This time a couple of different characters get their hands on the Death Note book (or books, as there is a second one featured this time) but as they are both manipulated by Light we don’t really get to see how someone with a lesser sense of “justice” would handle it.

The final resolution is well handled, you’re never quite sure if Light will get away with his scheme or if “L”, who always seems to know, or at least suspect, more than he lets on will come out on top.

There is plenty of the mythology of the Death Note and the Gods of Death still to be explored, with one follow up already having been made. L: Change the World focuses on the enigmatic sleuth with a sugar habit and, with Hideo Nakata, of Ring and Dark Water fame, taking over the director’s chair it could well top both the original and this and should almost certainly be more visually inventive as well. I’m looking forward to seeing Ken’ichi Matsuyama again, his portrayal of “L” is the best thing about the Death Note films and he’s someone I’ll be keeping an eye out for in the future.

Watching the Detectives: William Powell and Myrna Loy are Nick and Nora Charles in Shadow of the Thin Man April 24, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : Comedy, Thriller , add a comment

This is my favourite of the series so far, with William Powell as Nick Charles not only having to get to the bottom of the usual murder mystery but also deal with the demands of fatherhood. The opening few minutes set the tone for the film, with the laughs coming thick and fast as Nick and Nick Jr. go for a walk in the park before the elder Charles mystically hears the siren song of a cocktail shaker in his wife’s hands, the mystical element arising because she’s way out of earshot in their penthouse apartment.

This time it’s a crooked betting racket that Nick and Nora uncover but it really is incidental, what’s important is the repartee between the characters, particularly that of the pickled detective and his spouse.  There’s a timeless quality to the humour that makes it as fresh and funny today as it was in the forties.

But the real star of the show is of course is Asta the dog, having started the series uncredited he’s now got his name in larger type than his two legged co-stars.

Literally Speaking: The ODESSA File April 23, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Thriller , add a comment

Frederick Forsyth’s onscreen blurb at the start of the film tells the viewer that the film (of his novel) is based on real events but how closely the film mirrors the facts isn’t really important, it could be complete fiction and it would still be gripping thriller.

When freelance journalist Peter Miller is given the diary of a recently deceased survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, he, somewhat out of character, becomes obsessed with tracking down the camp’s commanding officer, Eduard Roschmann. Why the mercenary Miller is so affected by the journal is kept secret until the films climactic confrontation with Roschmann, but along the way he becomes involved with Israeli Intelligence, goes undercover to infiltrate ODESSA (the organisation formed by former SS officers) and has to contend with an ODESSA assassin and Derek Jacobi’s German accent.

That probably makes the film sound more action packed than it is, as it’s really quite a talky thriller; there are no car chases, no shootouts, and no explosions. It builds tension from the situation, when Miller is grilled by one of the ODESSA leaders we know his life hangs in the balance and all it will take is one mistake to give him away. Even when Miller is beaten after attending a rally of war veterans it takes place off screen.

Future Doctor Who companion, Mary Tamm, plays Miller’s exotic dancer girlfriend and adds a bit of glamour to the dreary Berlin locations while Derek Jacobi plays an ODESSA forger who’s also a bit of a mummy’s boy but it’s Jon Voight’s film, at least until that final confrontation.

As Miller, Voight not only does a decent German accent but also convinces as an obsessed journalist, even if the viewer isn’t privy to the reason for his obsession. He makes Miller’s jeopardy real and without that the film wouldn’t work, certainly not as a thriller at any rate. When he finally gets to confront Maximilian Schell as Roschmann, the scene plays out almost like the final act in a play, just two actors in a room throwing words at each other and it works all the better for that almost stagey feel. Schell puts a human face on evil, with Roschmann, only previously seen in flashback, now a balding, overweight old man clinging to a past when, as he puts it, “We ruled the world”.

Ronald Neame’s direction is pretty faceless, the film lacking a true visual style. A more gifted director would have been able to make a little more of the story and the Berlin locations but Neame does a serviceable job and does get good performances out of his actors.

One credit that did surprise me, which I didn’t remember noticing the first time I watched the film many years ago, was that of West End maestro and current lord of Saturday teatime TV, Andrew Lloyd Webber. I wasn’t aware Webber has actually scored any films, and he hasn’t done many, just this and Gunshoe (a film I really must get around to watching). He’s not bad, although at times the music seems to peter out when it’s just getting started.

Ex-Nazi’s were a favourite cinematic bad guy in the ‘70s, almost like they were making the most of them before they became too old to be a threat. The ODESSA File isn’t as good a film as Marathon Man, and its not as much fun as The Boys from Brazil but it is a good solid thriller.

I Spy: Thunderball April 22, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Action, Thriller , 5 comments

Bond hunts for two stolen nuclear warheads and comes face to face with SPECTRE’s Agent 2, Emilio Largo . By this point in the Bond series the freshness had started to dissipate but there is still much to enjoy here.

As was becoming the norm with the series, the ability to deliver your lines was a secondary requirement to appearance when casting villains and Bond girls. Both Claudine Auger as the beautiful Domino and Adolfo Celi as Emilio Largo were dubbed but Auger does what the producers wanted, namely show of her figure in a series of skimpy swimsuits, and Celi’s Largo would provide the basis for Robert Wagner’s Number 2 in the Austin Powers films.

By comparison with previous films in the series, Thunderball is a little light on action, but John Barry’s excellent score keeps the suspense mounting as it blends itself into almost every scene. And once the action does kick off we are treated to a superb undersea free-for-all, with the goodies and baddies conveniently wearing colour coded wetsuits to allow us to keep track (villains, sticking with tradition, in black and the good guys wearing orange but with white oxygen tanks). In fact it’s the undersea photography that’s the most striking part of Thunderball, giving the film more of an exotic feel than even Ms Auger could provide.

Sean may be getting a little bored with the part, craving something a bit more challenging (something he got with Sidney Lumet’s The Hill) but he still delivers the quips with panache and certainly looks the part. After one more film though, we’d be saying bye-bye Sean, for a little while anyway.

James Bond will return in You Only Live Twice

Next Week on Mine Was Taller April 21, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : Site News , add a comment

I Spy: Thunderball

Literally Speaking: The Odessa File

Watching the Detectives: Shadow of the Thin Man

Comic Tales: Death Note - The Last Name

The Friday Night Fight: The House on Sorority Row

The Weekend Western: Posse

Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting: DOA - Dead or Alive

SF & Fantasy Sunday: Children of Men

SF & Fantasy Sunday: Tokyo - The Last Megalopolis April 20, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Fantasy , add a comment

Tokyo: The Last Megalopolis blends the development of Tokyo as a city in the early years of the twentieth century with the occult battle between the powers of good and evil going on behind the scenes. Blending history and fantasy is an intriguing idea but the film is far too unfocused and talky to make the most of it, perhaps if I had more of knowledge of Tokyo’s history it might have been more rewarding.  It also has aspirations that go beyond its budget and the special effects capabilities of the time which results in some pretty silly moments. There are a few effective scenes but on the whole this was a real chore to sit through, with the two hour running time feeling almost double that. Even Shintarô ‘Zatoichi’ Katsu, in one of his last roles, couldn’t save this.

The Weekend Western: Yankee

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Westerns , add a comment

Before he became famous as a director of erotica, Tinto Brass made this early spaghetti western that’s very much in the Fistful of Dollars mould. A stranger known only as “Yankee” (Philippe Leroy) rides into a Mexican town that’s under the despotic rule of El Grande Concho. After seeing the wanted posters of Concho’s men in the sheriff’s office he suggests to Concho that they split the reward money. Strangely the bandit isn’t too keen on the idea of turning all his men in to the law, deciding he’ll make more money with them than without, particularly as he has designs on a shipment of gold being transported along the Rio Grandee by the US Cavalry. This leaves Yankee to collect the money for himself, provided he can kill them.

As you might have gathered, the plot is rather silly but Brass keeps the viewers attention with visual flourishes, always looking for odd angels to shoot from. Unsurprisingly the camera lingers over Mirella Martin as Concho’s woman, particularly when Yankee kidnaps her out of her bathtub and rides away with her across the desert with her modesty barely covered.

Adolfo Celi, the villain in the James Bond film Thunderball, is a suitably loud and intimidating El Grande Concho, but Philippe Leroy is sadly no Clint Eastwood, looking uncomfortable in western garb. The Frenchman lacks the sort of screen presence needed for the part and seems an odd choice. That he wears a rather silly looking hat doesn’t help either.

With a flimsy story and a weak lead performance the main reason to watch Yankee is to see one of the most well know Italian directors trying his hand at something a little different. Tinto Brass does enough here to leave you wondering what might have been if he hadn’t elected to concentrate exclusively on titillating his audience.

Just a brief note about Koch Media’s spaghetti western DVDs released in Germany. For some reason, unknown to me, their DVDs don’t list English subtitles on the packaging (only German), nor can you select English subs from the menu screens, yet most do have English subtitles and they can be selected using the subtitle button on your DVD remote. So don’t be put off by the apparent lack of English-friendliness.

Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting: Zatoichi the Outlaw

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Action, Martial Arts , add a comment

This was the first Zatoichi film produced by Shintarô Katsu’s production company and it’s trying a little too hard to be a blind swordsman epic. The storyline is more complex than normal and there are a lot of characters to keep track of, all of whom have a significant part to play.

As is the norm for the series, Zatoichi comes into a town and sorts things out before going on his way. This time he leaves the workers with a benevolent boss (having killed the previous one) and a sword-less samurai looking out for their wellbeing. Or so he thinks. Months later he returns to find the boss was not as benevolent as he appeared and the sword-less samurai has been taken prisoner for trying to organize the workers (and inciting them to give up gambling and whoring and get to work in the fields). Of course Zatoichi puts things right, or as right as he can given some of the characters have already died, slicing up the bad guys before once again leaving town.

Zatoichi the Outlaw has all the things that have become familiar through the series, and I do mean all. The film feels like a compilation, sort of a Zatoichi’s greatest hits. We get the decent woman forced into prostitution, the noble samurai looking to make up for past deeds, the evil boss (in fact more than one), the crooked gambling den, and of course Zatoichi’s usual tricks, one of which starts the film, as he’s challenged to hit a target with a bow and arrow but asks for a smaller target first.

Apart from the sprawling nature of the story there’s something else that sets this apart from the rest of the series – the blood. Previous Zatoichi films had been pretty bloodless affairs with the sword fights memorable for the choreography rather than spurting arteries, this time we get severed arms, severed heads and blood aplenty, and yet the fights are far less exciting than before.

I’d have to say that this is probably my least favourite Zatoichi film so far but it may improve with future viewings, as it becomes easier to keep track of who’s who. Shintarô Katsu is, as always excellent, but he gets swallowed up by the film here, seeming more like one part of an ensemble cast rather than the star of the show.

The Friday Night Fright: The Eye April 19, 2008

Posted by Ian W in : Film Reviews, Horror , add a comment

I’ve a lot of time for the Pang Brothers, their films are visually stylish but not at the expense of character and they’ve managed to avoid getting pigeonholed as horror directors. The Eye is probably their most well known film, and also the most successful, spawning two sequels, but I found it a little disappointing and not particularly original.

A cornea transplant patient starts seeing dead people and the mysterious shadow figures that come to take them away. Sound familiar? The Eye borrows heavily from The Sixth Sense and doesn’t do a very good job of hiding it.

The pace of the film is quite slow, not uncommon for Asian horror films, and adds to the feeling of mounting tension and there are some very creepy set pieces. Angelica Lee is excellent as Wong Kar Mun the woman who regains her sight after being blind since she was an infant but the love story angle of the film, that sees her doctor falling for her, doesn’t work and feels superfluous.

The film seems to lose its way at the end, with the reason behind the visions more tragic than terrifying, something the Pang’s must have realised as they seem to rush through this part of the film in order to get to the big Hollywood-style explosive climax, which put me in mind of The Mothman Prophecies, a film that was released a few months before The Eye. I can’t help wondering if this ending was a late addition, something the brothers came up with after seeing Mothman but regardless, it feels at odds the with quiet chills that are generated throughout the rest of the film.

For all its faults it’s well worth a look and I’ll be surprised if the American remake manages to improve on the original.

TV Tomb: The Guns of Will Sonnett – Season 1

Posted by Ian W in : TV Reviews, Westerns , 3 comments

While I remember several of the western TV shows of the ‘60s this one escapes me, in fact I’m not even sure it was ever shown on UK television. It’s your typical man/men on a quest type of series with Walter Brennan playing the title role while Dack Rambo, later of Dallas fame, plays his grandson Jeff. The pair are searching for Will’s son, legendary gunfighter Jim Sonnett, the father Jeff has never seen. Their search leads them into all sorts of adventure, from both old acquaintances of Will and enemies of Jim.

Walter Brennan relishes being the star of the show, making the most of the series format to develop Will beyond the stereotypical cantankerous grandfather he starts out as, into a fully rounded character. The series fills in the details of his past as an army scout and his estrangement from his son as it progresses, giving us little nuggets every few episodes.

If Brennan provides the acting then Rambo is there to handle the action, getting stuck in to the fight scenes with gusto while also providing eye candy to appease the ladies in the audience. His acting is nothing special but he does a serviceable job, mostly just needing to look hurt, confused or occasionally, angry.

Unlike many series of its type, the object of their search does make an appearance or two. In fact Jason Evers as Jim Sonnett features in the series best episode “Message at Noon” a story that keeps the action until the end, instead focusing on the loneliness of the professional gunman. The bulk of the episode takes place inside a saloon, with Evers talking to the bartender, played with customary excellence by Strother Martin, about his past regrets and the son he hasn’t seen for years. It’s a touching and intelligent half-hour of television.

Guest starts are plentiful, with some familiar faces making appearances. Charles Grodin is a hot-headed young gunfighter with a bell on his holster for every man he’s killed, while Jack Nicholson, Harry Dean Stanton and Dennis Hopper all try their luck against the Sonnetts to their cost.

The quality of the episodes is mostly good, with the occasional standout where the series breaks with its format a little. There’s only one real dud, the Christmas episode “Sunday in Paradise” which has Will Sonnett behaving out of character and features a feel good ending that isn’t the series norm.

For the most part though this is an excellent example of a half hour ‘60s western TV show, with a strong central performance from Brennan and some thought put into developing the characters, something unusual for the period.

Next on TV Tomb: The Sandbaggers - Season 1

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