Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Hit (1984)

I said in my Murder by Death review that it, Family Plot, and The Hit were the very first films I saw as a proper film fan. I remember The Hit being especially great! As a kid, there was a clamshell VHS of 1984 Stephen Frears British crime flick The Hit in my house, that was given to the family as a present, and was watched by nobody. Years later, I finally decided to get around to watching this movie that I'd been extremely curious about for quite some time...But my VCR was temporarily mute for a considerable number of months, so that idea was nixed. But then, months later, I came across a DVD of The Hit, and I watched it, and thought it great!

Just like with Murder by Death, I forgot I owned The Hit for a number of years, and only remembered about it a few days ago. Except unlike Murder by Death, which was as funny as I remembered it, I didn't enjoy The Hit this time round in the slightest!...

The Hit is about Willie Parker (Terence Stamp), a mobster who ratted out his fellow crims, and got them all arrested. Ten years later, and one of said convicted criminals, Corrigan, has been released, and he sends a hitman, Braddock (John Hurt) to kidnap Parker.

Willie Parker has been in witness protection for the last decade, in Spain, and he lives a peaceful life, until he's kidnapped by Braddock and his young Protege Myron (Tim Roth), who have been instructed to take Willie to Paris, to Corrigan, where they'll execute him.

As the ride across the Spanish countryside goes on, Braddock and Myron are unnerved by Parker, who's very calm and collected about his fate. As police are slowly on their trail, the hitmen go to a safehouse, where an old 'friend' of Braddock's, Harry (Bill Hunter) is living, with his Spanish lady friend 'Maggie' (Laura del Sol).

After Willie says his name to Harry, Braddock decides he can't trust his 'friend', and takes Maggie along as leverage, but goes back up and kills Harry anyway (due to Willie subtly egging him on to do it. Yeah, it sure doesn't make sense why good-guy Willie would pretty much sign an innocent man's death sentence. Dick! ).

With a new passenger in tow, who Braddock has decided to keep alive (for reasons that elude the screenwriter), the police move closer and closer onto the trail of the menacing hitman...

The plot of The Hit isn't very good. The film is never boring, and it is tense in some scenes (mainly just on the first viewing), but it's never great either. The characterisation isn't particularly good (it probably could have been improved if said characters were expanded on more), the ending as a whole makes ZERO sense, and as for the character of Willie Parker...Grr! By the time that Willie starts talking about how he doesn't fear death in the slightest, it's already nearly an hour into the damn film! Until that point, he just seemed like a cocky guy with an ace up his sleeve. And when he does start sharing his philosophy on death, it comes across as disingenuous (except in his scene with Braddock near the end), thanks to the writing. Willie says that what happens to us after death isn't all that much diffferent to what happens before we're born, therefore there's no reason to worry about dying. That's a pretty weak and illogical argument! Plus, even after that, it never seems like Willie is at peace with death. He's always leading Myron on with talk about how Braddock's 'slipping', and stuff like that. And given the ending, this really isn't the unique film everyone says it is! People say that The Hit is original because the main character is willingly going along with hitmen, and is calm at the prospect of his death, but that isn't the case at all!

The acting ranges from fine, to nothing. Terence Stamp is good, and the highlight for him is his speech to Braddock near the end of the movie. Tim Roth is fine in one of hs first ever acting parts, and Laura del Sol rarely talks, but she at least does emote, unlike John Hurt. I can't tell if Hurt's performance is lacklustre, or the role was. Braddock never reacts to anything, doesn't talk much, always talks in the same tone, and is just plain dull! There's a fine line between cold, emotionless killer, and sleepwalking through a performance.

As for Fernando Rey, EASIEST PAYCHECK IN HIS ENTIRE CAREER! He has has no dialogue until the end (an even then, he only has two lines), has only two minutes of screentime at most, and most of it is spent surveying crime scenes! Why was a big-name actor like Fernando Rey needed for a nothing role like this? Did he just need a payment off his car or something?

The main theme is alright, but the rest of the score is pretty uneven. Sometimes the flamenco music score fits well, other times it doesn't, and other times it gets way too over-the-top.

One thing that's great in The Hit is the sometimes-beautiful Spanish scenery!

So, in closing, I thought I would be able to recommend The Hit, but I don't, at all. Go watch a better British crime movie instead, Like Lock Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, or Harry Brown. Or if you're looking for something specifically about two hitmen, and their emotional journeys, watch In Bruges!...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Murder by Death (1976)

Along with Family Plot, and The Hit, Murder by Death was one of the very first films I saw as a film fan. I'd seen plenty of films prior, of course, but these were the first when I really got into films, and they were among the first DVD's I ever owned! It's kind-of a disservice to 1976 whodunnit parody Murder by Death that I forgot I owned it for a number of years! I only remembered about this film a few days ago, thanks to an online pal mentioning it on Twitter, and naturally I rewatched it it immediately! And it's just as funny as I remembered!...

The film is about the world's greatest detectives, Dick and Dora Charleston (David Niven and Maggie Smith), Milo Perrier (James Coco), Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers), Sam Diamond (Peter Falk), and Jessica Marbles (Elsa Lanchester), who, along with their helpers (James Cromwell, Richard Narita, Eileen Brennan (R.I.P.), and Estelle Winwood), have been invited to the mansion of mysterious recluse Lionel Twain (Truman Capote), to solve an unsolvable murder...

Murder by Death is extremely funny, and the jokes all had me laughing my ass off! The plot is totally goofball, and I definitely got a kick out of the ending speech. The film is absolutely a fun parody!

The acting is all fine. Everyone is awesome!...Except for Richard Narita. Either his 'Gee whizz!' bad acting is deliberate, or he's not a very good actor.

The standouts are definitely Peter Falk as the exaggerated 'hardboiled detective', Peter Sellers as the Charlie Chan type detective (as for why Peter Sellers, a white guy, is playing an asian, 1, he's Peter Sellers, comedian of a thousand faces, and 2, more importantly, the character is a take on those old movies with an asian detective who'd always invariably be played by a white guy, and they tended talk broken English), and Alec Guiness as the blind butler Jamessir Bensonmum (The name makes sense in context).

Another thing of note is the pop-up character set in the opening and ending credits. Designed by Charles Addams*, they look great!

*The creator of The Addams Family

And that's all I have to say about Murder by Death. Not much, I know. That's the thing about comedies, you can't talk about them in-depth too much or you'll spoil all the jokes. And add to that the fact that the film is a whodunnit, then you can talk about it in detail even less. So, to finish, everyone needs to see Murder by Death, and I need to see its spiritual sequel The Cheap Detective, to see if it's any good!...

Monday, August 12, 2013

Family Plot (1976)

Alfred Hitchcock is without a doubt one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. He brought us classics like Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo, North By Northwest, Rear Window, and many more. While some filmmakers lose it in their later years (John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Dario Argento, George Romero, for example), Hitchckock's last films were definitely entertaining sits, and today, I'll be talking about his very last film, Family Plot!...

Family Plot is about fake psychic Madame Blanche (Barbara Harris), who's hired by a rich old lady to find her long-lost nephew...

The movie opens with Blanche Tyler doing her act with Julia Rainbird (Cathleen Nesbitt), who is guilty about having made her sister give up an illegitimate baby several decades prior. Rainbird promises Blanche $10,000 dollars if she can find the long-lost Rainbird son.

When finished, Blanche tells her taxi-driver boyfriend (and partial private investigator, in order to give Blanche scarce info on marks to make her seem a genuine psychic) George (Bruce Dern) of Julia Rainbird, and when he finds out the reward, he's very optimistic, but his spirits are downed when told that practically nobody knows anything about where the baby went.

Meanwhile, a criminal couple, Arthur Adamson (William Devane) and She's Never Named Onscreen (Karen Black) return a kidnap victim in exchange for a large gemstone.

*Ok, her name is said ONCE, in a hushed tone. It's the hearing equivelant of 'blink and you'll miss it'.

George goes investigating, talking to the daughter of the long-deceased Rainbird chauffer, and finds out that he took the baby to family friends the Shoebridges. He finds out that they died in a house fire decades ago, but things are fishy with the son, Eddie. Some people think he started the fire himself, and is still alive-His body was never found.

After being disturbed by George's snooping, Maloney (Ed Lauter), an old 'friend' of Arthur's informs him about George, and Adamson, formely Eddie Shoebridge, fears the worst, and orders Maloney to dispose of Blanche and George...

Family Plot is a very enjoyable movie! Sure, it's no North By Northwest, or Psycho, but it's no To Catch a Thief either (I HATE To Catch a Thief! I'll elaborate why in a couple of days). FP is funny, has plenty of great double entendres, and has fine acting. Barbara Harris is great fun as the phony psychic, Bruce Dern is a fun lead, William Devane exudes slime like Billy Drago as the villain (Yes, that's a good thing), and Karen Black (R.I.P.) is very good as the somewhat-reluctant accomplice.

The plot is definitely an entertaining one, and the mystery is a somewhat intriguing one, I guess. I say 'I guess' because I first saw the film five years ago, and have seen it four times since, so I know the plot inside and out-Sort of like rereading a whodunnit.

The film has quite a moody atmosphere at times, in large part due to the great soundtrack by John Williams. However moody the film may be though, it's got nothing on the book it's based on, The Rainbird Pattern! The book is much darker in general, but where it REALLY differs is in the ending. The book ends with Blanche getting murdered by the Adamsons, then they're killed by the police, then their son (they have one in the book) is adopted by Julia Rainbird, and he pushes her down the stairs, killing her, and he intends to go after George Lumley and kill him to avenge his parents. HOLY SHIT, that sounds like it could be the climax to a Godfather movie!

Family Plot is marketed a lot as a black comedy, but it isn't. It's really more of a humorous thriller.

The film  is light on Hitchcock's usual recurring themes (I guess, I'm not exactly a Hitchhcock scholar). There is one distinct Hitchockian scene though. When George and Blanche's car gets its brake line cut, there's a long POV shot as the car careens across the long and winding cliffside road. It's definitely a highlight of the movie!

As for problems, I have almost none with Family Plot. The only problem I have is the constant blue-screens when people are driving! What the hell, Twentieth Century?! Was it so goddamn hard to just attach the damn camera to the bloody car?! Or put it inside the car?! A side-effect of this stupidity is when characters look and talk to people in the back, or passenger seat of the car for a prolonged period of time. In one scene, William Devane keeps his eyes fixed on Karen Black and off the 'road' for nearly ten seconds! I could somewhat buy that if the movie was set in a small town, but it's not-it's in the city.

Another funny little issue is when a certain someone kicks over a tombstone. Not only does the tombstone plop right out of the earth when kicked, but it gets dented from the kicks!

So, in closing, Family Plot is indeed worthy as Alfred Hitchcock's final film, and Karen Black was indeed an awesome actress all throughout her career. Those are both things to be remembered...