Sunday, June 30, 2019

Police Story (1985)

The Hong Kong police have planned an intensive operation against the respected businessman and suspected drug lord Chu Tu. The operation falls apart when they're discovered, but ultimately succeeds when the crook and his minions are captured, in large part due to the efforts of determined cop Ka-Kui Chan. Praised for his efforts, Ka-Kui becomes a poster-boy for the force, and his superiors decide he's the right choice for a new assignment. Chu Tu's private secretary Salina Fong is believed to be privy to incriminating evidence against her boss, which is needed to see the case through, but she and Ka-Kui hate each-other. She soon changes her tune when her supposedly trustworthy boss sends hitmen to kill her, and Ka-Kui has to protect the woman he can't stand, while also trying to keep his girlfriend away from the various misunderstandings around them...

Police Story is one of Jackie Chan's most lauded movies, for good reason! It's a fantastic showcase of his action, stuntwork, and trademark humour. The story is good, telling one that's basic in structure, but given a bit of depth by the writing and actors. The script was written around the fight scenes and comedy setpieces, and this works surprisingly well!

Police Story is very funny to watch. The antics can get a bit cliched or silly, but they do the job well, and make you laugh. There's nothing that awkward, and all misunderstandings are cleared up relatively quickly. The funniest scene in the movie for me is during the trial when Ka-Kui is presenting his evidence. Due to lawyers being assholes, that's a pretty tough scene to watch, so the tape mishap is some much needed levity too!

The comedy ends up phasing out as the plot gets more dramatic in the final act, with Ka Kui on the run. This is effective, with the humour's absence really selling how serious things have gotten. What bothers me though is that it never comes back!

I found the ending to Police Story to be a bit disappointing. First of all, it's really abrupt, just stopping after the climax! It's also annoying given how serious the movie had gotten for a while. There's no comedic denouement to properly conclude the film, and to give the characters a laugh to send them off. I also feel the ending has Ka-Kui act way too crazy, too. He's succeeded, and caught the bad guy, with proof and everything, but the movie doesn't really let him be happy about it. It's a downer!

Jackie is a great lead, with a goofy charm to his performance, and kick-ass skills! His devotion to the crafts of acting and martial arts are clear from the get-go. Taiwanese actress Brigitte Lin is a lot of fun as Salina, but ends up a bit underused as the movie goes on. After eluding Ka Kui, she vanishes for a long while, only returning for a few short scenes. She's still important to the plot, but she's mostly away from the camera. The rest of the actors all do well, especially Bill Tung and Lam Kwok-Hung as Ka-Kui's Captain and Superintendent, respectively (though one has to wonder how such a baby-faced youngster got such a high rank in the police force!).

The action on display in Police Story is really good, even if I feel it goes a bit overboard in places ( much glass!). The choreography is great, and everyone involved not only interacts convincingly with their fellow actors, but with the environment too. The stuntwork is insanely good, and you can see the cuts on Jackie's body as testament to how far he was pushing himself with these setpieces. This culminates in the awesome final stunt!

As awesome as it is though, in-universe, and in real life, it's one of those stunts where I think of Jackie Chan as less an amazing showman and more of a fucking idiot! I dislike the stunt particularly because it takes you out of the movie! Obviously you have a sense of disbelief when watching action movies, knowing that certain things are a little outlandish, but that feeling can put that aside easily enough. However, knowing that this stunt immediately sent Jackie to the hospital makes you realize how Police Story would play out in reality. After his electrical slide, Ka-Kui would be totally out cold, and need immediate medical treatment, while Chu Tu would probably get away! But then again, in real life he could've used the stairs. You're such a show-off, Ka-Kui!

One last thing to mention is the hilariously bad dubbing! Proper DVD releases of this have it in the original Cantonese, but cheapie DVD's/videos were often lacking in such niceties, and even the spiffed up releases still have the English language track as an option. I obviously wouldn't suggest watching the whole movie with it on, but it's good for a laugh for a scene or two.

Police Story is a really enjoyable film, and a Jackie Chan classic! I highly recommend it. If you're new to his works, this is a great introduction...

Suddenly in the Dark (1981)

The horror genre has been booming in South Korea for the last couple of decades, but it's been around for longer than that. A lot of these movies seem to be overlooked in some circles, but have recently begun to gain an insurgence in coverage and popularity. Such is the case with 1981's Suddenly in the Dark.

Housewife Seon-hee welcomes her husband back home from another expedition collecting rare butterfly specimens, but this time he brought back something else-A new housemaid, a young country girl named Mi-ok. Seon-hee likes the girl well enough at first, but soon finds her off-putting, especially when she sees that Mi-ok owns a mysterious spirit doll that's been haunting Seon-hee. She gradually begins to grown more paranoid and unstable, convinced that her husband is having an affair with the new maid, and that Mi-ok is an evil spirit planning to kill Seon-Hee's family...

There's lot to dissect in Suddenly in the Dark, with its themes of middle-aged womanhood, sexist skepticism, as well as some for the acceptance or lack thereof of supernatural forces in a modern-day Korea. There's even some possible lesbian subtext here too.

The film can be read many different ways, and the characters have multiple layers to them. Is Mi-ok just an innocent girl, or is she really guided by a malevolent force and actively toying with this family? Or is she really magical, but innocent of what a delusional Seon-hee thinks of her? Is Seon-hee really experiencing genuine supernatural visitations, or maybe just imagining everything? If she is, is her husband still being untrue, regardless of whether there's any supernatural goings-on influencing his behaviour, or is he still a caring (if unattentive) spouse? One also has to wonder if Seon-hee's friend is also being affected by the sinister events, or is she really is so uncaring that she'll listen to her friend's crazed outpourings without even looking up from doing her nails.

The ending is particularly interesting. Its haunting and strange imagery leaves you with just enough to be satisfied, while also leaving you with plenty of thoughts to make your own conclusions about what's happened, and what will happen now.

The direction is Suddenly in the Dark is surreal, utilising many strange styles such as a kaleidoscope vision, glass bottle vision,  overlays, blurriness, amplified sound, and the skillful use of deep vibrant colours.  The use of these is very effective, and greatly lend an atmosphere of unease and dread to the proceedings.

The score is likewise really good, with many different and disparate tracks, from traditional spooky ones, to more electronic synth-heavy tunes that sound like a computer going mad. One bit of scoring during the supermarket scene is very interesting in that it coincidentally sounds a bit like the Queen melody that plays during the execution scene in Flash Gordon!

The acting here is very good all round, with strong performances from Kim Young-ae as Seon-Hee, Lee Ki-seon as Mi-ok. The latter gets across both the unassuming innocence and the hidden malevolence of her character well, while Kim shoulders the brunt of not only the screentime, but the movie's themes too, and she really sells them like a pro.

The film is primarily set in the household of a regular well-to-do Korean family, which is very pretty! This is also effective in making the horror scarier, because these events are happening in a regular home, in broad daylight even! Suddenly in the Dark is a great example of daylight horror, able to fill you with a sense of dread even with a clear blue sky and bright green grass.

One random scene I found odd was when a bath has been drawn, and it's a disconcerting shade of yellow! Since it's described as clean and lovely, I assume there must be something in it I'm unfamiliar with to make it that colour, like saffron, or some kind of aromatic thingie?

Suddenly in the Dark is a really good example of classic South Korean horror, and its recent blu-ray release by Mondo Macabro is definitely worth picking up, with some neat special features included too.

Dororo (2007)

Desperate to achieve victory against his enemies before his entire clan is wiped out, warlord Daigo Kagemitsu makes a pact with 48 demons to sell them each a part of his newborn son's body, to grant them a corporeal form in the world. 20 years later, the empowered Daigo has swept across the land as a ruthless conqueror. Unbeknownst to him, however, his son survived, and having been gifted a special living prosthetic body by his adoptive father, he sets forth on a quest to reclaim all of his missing body parts. With the help of a somewhat unwanted sidekick Dororo, he slays demon after demon, but can he go through with his vengeance once he finds out it means killing his own father?...

Dororo simultaneously gets the ball rolling right away, while also taking its time with the setup. The introductory flashback does a good job at showing us what's going on and what the stakes are, and from then on we're treated to an 'opening gambit' of sorts, followed by a lengthier flashback that gives us Hyakki-Maru's backstory. It's quite effective seeing him first as a stoic unstoppable badass to a more vulnerable guy with clear and nuanced motivations.

Following that, the film is structured well, with a couple of longer and complex demon fights, followed by a more breezy montage of demon hunting. before settling into the newly] focused second half.

The story strikes a good balance of being dark without being dour. There are moments of levity throughout, and the grimmer moments are handled maturely. There are pretty interesting themes on display here, such as that of the consuming nature and pointlessness of revenge.

The characters are a well-rounded bunch. As cool as he is, Hyakki-Maru is exactly the kind of character who could get monotonous very quickly in even the right hands. Thankfully he's handed well here. The interesting story, plus the comedy help in this regard.

Dororo is a bundle of laughs. She's the kind of gal who can look at a creepy man with no eyes who slices apart spider demons with ease, and thinks "Sure, I wanna hang out with him!". While her attitude towards other thieves may come off a tad psychotic (Ouch!), she's an endearingly fun presence who ensures the movie never gets too bogged down in brooding. She also gets depth to her character that makes her more than just comic relief, and also makes you understand why Hyakki-Maru is willing to drag her around everywhere rather than simply killing her 20 minutes in. She betters him with her presence, and vice versa.

The mysterious musician is an effective mentor character in a way. I appreciate how upfront he is, too! He still sometimes talks cryptically, and even when he does come outright and tell the heroes something, there's usually something else for them to figure out too, but he gives them a chance. As opposed to those asshole mentors from other movies who speak only in riddles. Nothing like 'On a hot winter's day, when the sun is at its highest zenith, only then will the bumblebees truly bloom with the wisdom of the ancient ones'-'What's that? I should give up my desire for revenge? Thanks, wise mentor! You always know the right thing to say.'.

The villain, Daigo, is an effective one. He's used sparingly, which helps build up the aura about what kind of a person he is now after such an atrocity he committed. His wife/Hyakki-Maru's mother is a bit underdeveloped, but gets just enough to do. Lastly, there's their second child Tahou-Maru. I first thought he'd just be a typical asshole who makes trouble, then gets killed before the final boss. What actually happens though is so against type and pleasantly unexpected that it's one of my favourite elements of the film, and one of the things I remember most about it all these years later.

Dororo is mixed in the effects department. The props and costumes are all neat. There's a good mix of practical and computer effects, often in the same scene. It's quite nice to see. Not all of it is convincing by any means, but it's appreciated. The CGI ranges from pretty great, to decent, to comical, and to terrifying! Whether this is intentional or not really depends on the scene.

The creativity on display is what makes me forgive a lot of the less than spectacular effects here. The demons all look so bizarre and creepy that the movie sure as heck never gets boring! Even the benevolent spirits look totally baffling. It's wonderful!

Filmed on location in both Japan and New Zealand, the settings in Dororo always feel authentic. I quite liked the setting for the final showdown too, for its stark simplicity. What I didn't like about it though was the muted colour palette it's shown under. I suppose that's the point, to reflect how corrupted the land has become under Daigo's rule, but it didn't look extreme enough for me to successfully have that effect. It just looks like someone turned down the colour on the camera too many notches

The acting here is all neat. Satoshi Tsumabuki does a good job as the lead, both in his disabilities and his amazing skills, as well as the various emotional facets he gets. He handles the fight choreography well, and you really get the impression of someone who's been doing this for a long time (even if some moments do look more like ballet than fighting). Ko Shibasaki is fun as Dororo, lending much humour to the film, and she does the dramatic scenes well too, really selling those moments.

Dororo is a fantastic ride, and a memorable film. Unique and entertaining, as well as distinctly Japanese, it's a great watch...

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008)

During a routine train robbery, small-time thief Yoon Tae-goo discovers a mysterious map. Before he can ponder long on what it even is, the train is attacked by more bandits, and they're not after money. Realising the importance of what he's got, Tae-goo flees, and begins a long and arduous journey to get to the coordinates on the map before he's captured by either rival bandits, the Japanese military, sadistic crook Park Chang-yi, or moral bounty hunter Park Do-won. Everyone wants this map like nothing else, and only the last surviving people will clap eyes on whatever treasure is buried out in the Manchurian desert...

America might not be big on making westerns anymore, but thankfully there are always other countries to fill in he gap, be they Italy, Germany, Turkey, or indeed Korea! Taking its name from the most famous western ever made, The Good, the Bad, the Weird is a brilliantly entertaining Oriental Western, that shows just how diverse and creative South Korean cinema can be.

Opening with a fast-paced setpiece on a train, the action in Good, Bad, Weird never lets up. It's fantastically choreographed, and a lot of the hits or near-misses really look like they hurt. There's a wacky sense of humour to the proceedings, mainly courtesy of The Weird. There's also a general atmosphere of the almost bizarre. The movie takes place in the real world, albeit one where bullets fly in the street like candy, crazed hitmen dance to Glenn Miller, nautical gear aiding in shootouts, and...err, the Koreans showing exactly why the Japanese Empire should've feared them.

As great as the action all is, at times it can get a little loud and fatiguing. The final chase is spectacular and fun, but it gets a little hard to care after a while. There's just so much happening to so many people that it's hard to all take in. Ultimately, everything culminates in a Mexican standoff that I found far more satisfying than the one in The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, because this one is actually fair!

The story is pretty simple, all things considered. It's complex in the action, and has got at least two other interested parties in the mix on top of the three leads, who are rarely on the same side for long. The actual plot itself is really just an excuse for a prolonged chase, and it works decently enough. What makes a story like this live or die is the characters, and here they are a bunch we want to be around.

The ending is mixed though. There are two. The Korean ending, which is longer, and the shorter international cut, which contains the director's preferred ending. I found it a little too abrupt, and I like the Korean one simply because it provides more of a denouement to the story, even if the international one does bring more direct closure to everything.

The setting adds a lot to the film, from the bustling black market streets, to the deceptively calming opium dens, and the vast desert expanses which remind you just how friggin' big China is!

The Bad is fun to watch. Equal parts crazy and threatening, he's a great main antagonist. He also has some depth to him, courtesy of his past with Yoon Tae-goo. As expected, the Good is the least interesting character in the bunch, but he's still a likeable enough presence.

Lastly, the Weird is absolutely bonkers. Providing most of the comic relief, I found him to be amusing enough. He begins to more intriguing however when the mere mention of his name brings out the cool-as-ice psycho Park Chang-yi into a sweat! You mean to say that this useless lump has the most dangerous person in the movie shivering? This is explained in the end, but with an out-of-nowhere reveal that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. It's got its pros and cons, and I'm overall still not sure how to feel about it.

These characters play off each-other pretty well. This is especially impressive for Chang-yi, who's rarely face to face with the other two, never getting to actually meet them properly until the ending. The relationship between Chang-yi and Tae-goo is intriguing, as stated above, and the dynamic between Do-won and Tae-goo is nice too! Unfortunately the duo really only share one in-depth scene together, and then they're mostly separate, until their relationship takes on a whole new dimension at the end.

The direction here is really good, but with some issues. The camerawork is sweeping, and the scenes shot all in one take are great to behold. Less positive are the really shaky and frenetic moments, where it's almost impossible to tell what's going on, and who's shooting who, not helped by most actions scenes taking place in crowded streets, and with multiple combatants.

The score in Good, Bad, Weird is a neat western one with an Asian influence, moments of Spanish flamenco, and cool outlaw muzak. It's a great listening experience, and complements the film perfectly.

Song Kang-ho gets the most screentime here, and he most certainly deserves it. I find him to be one of the most versatile actors working in Korea! Granted, my knowledge of Korean cinema isn't the best, so this might not be uncommon for actors there, but it's still a great plus nonetheless. Jung Woo-sung is decently charismatic as Park Do-won, and Lee Byung-hun is gorgeous and deliciously evil as the ruthless Park Chang-yi.

The Good, The Bad, The Weird is a great action-western. It's not for everyone, especially those who can't stand flashy action spectacles, but for everyone else I recommend it! It's an exhilerating picture with lots to love...

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

A Shriek in the Night (1933)

Reporter Pat Morgan has been working undercover as a secretary for millionaire philanthropist Mr. Harker in order to get a good scoop. One falls right in her lap when one night her 'boss' is murdered-Having fallen from his penthouse window. While the police begin investigating, Pat tries working on her own in her paper's interests, but after a trick by rival journalist Ted Rand, she finds herself out of a job, and even more determined to solve the murder as the bodies pile up...

The title A Shriek in the Night conjures to mind a haunted house picture and given that Ginger Rogers stars, this wouldn't seem too far off the mark given her prior outings, but this 1933 film is actually a crime-mystery flick! It's a pretty decent one too overall, but not without flaws.

Starting with the positives, the characters are an entertaining bunch, and distinctive too! They carry the story decently, and it's an ok one. The pieces are all there in place, but it's the presentation that's a bit iffy. We often either get too much information at once to process, or not enough, leaving us in the dust. I admit to having no idea what was going on at points.

The film builds up a consistent cast of characters, but there'll often be long gaps between their appearances. Because of this I sometimes lost track of who was who. Also a problem is not enough introduction. It takes us a little bit before we realise that Pat, this random secretary, is our lead, while the relationship between her and Ted also feels out of nowhere. They come across like strangers to each-other, and they don't properly meet until halfway into the film, and when they do it's suddenly   that they're an item! Pat and the police inspector also start investigating together like they're a sleuthing pair, but this is suddenly dropped after the halfway point.

This carries over to the identity of the killer. The mystery is an interesting one, and the methods of murder as well as all the minutia like the calling cards are super neat! There simply aren't enough clues for the audience to follow though, and while the identity of the killer is unexpected, I wasn't thinking "Ohhh, it's them" when I found out, but rather "...Them?".

While the writing for the story leaves a little something to be desired, the dialogue is pretty funny! Even though you sometimes wanna slap Ted upside the head, he elicits some laughs, as does a fleetingly appearing maid-"Oh I didn't like that man alive, why would you think I would like him dead?". The ending is absolutely jawdropping though. I wasn't sure if it was meant to be funny, or totally embarrassingly serious!

One of the biggest negatives to A Shriek in the Night is its lack of a soundtrack. It begins to feel a bit leaden after a while when there's no background hum of music to keep you jogging along.

What the film lacks in sound, it makes up for in the visual department. The direction is great, with some interestingly framed shots, and uses of silhouette, darkness, and shadows! While the movie as a whole is far from scary, there are a couple of somewhat creepy moments due to the framing!

The acting here is all fine. Ginger Rogers is a decent lead. Not as great as she is in other films, but she carries herself well. Lyle Talbot is good as your typical 1930s smart alec reporter. The fact that he comes across as even remotely likeable is a testament to his skills. The actor who plays the villain is good at seeming unsuspicious at first, then acts the part of a deranged maniac well, with a great evil laugh! Lillian Harmer is occasionally amusing as the neurotic maid Augusta. It's her piercing and almost parrot-like shriek that I suspect gives the film its title. Louise Beavers is funny as a quick-talking maid, but when she runs away from the morgue, she also runs right out of the movie. And lastly, Arthur Hoyt is nice as the unassuming policeman Wilfred.

A Shriek in the Night is an entertaining enough mystery, with a few peaks and lulls as it goes, and by the end I was happy to have watched it despite any flaws it had...

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A Night to Remember (1942)

Are newlyweds ever happy with their new homes in movies? Nahh, of course not. If they were, we wouldn't have nearly as much fun!

Married couple Jeff and Nancy Troy movie into their new brownstone apartment, situated in the building's cellar. Things seem odd at first, from the presence of an old friend who's terrified out of her wits, to countless people warning them about the place, and a thuggish man who Nancy overhears in a phone booth arranging a meeting in their new home. The next morning, the man is found dead out in the garden, and everyone in the building becomes a suspect. With Nancy's help, Jeff must solve the mystery before the exasperated police arrest him, or before the murderer gets him first...

A Night to Remember is a very funny mystery flick. From the first scene, we're treated to a collection of hilarious moments, from the frights that keep the couple awake at night, to endless struggles with an obstinate door, a 1940s man trying to fend for himself in the kitchen, and more!

While I really enjoyed it, the film is not without some flaws. The main one is the identity of the killer. It's pretty inconsequential. We don't really get any insight into why they're doing this, or even a confrontation. Especially irksome is that there was a possible clue leading to a character I hadn't even thought of suspecting, and that made me really happy to get to the conclusion, knowing the reveal would be such a clever and unexpected one!...But then that character was never seen or mentioned again, and completely unimportant as it turns out.

The plot also isn't a very involved one. The characters do a bit of investigating, but the majority of events are them reacting to the various shenanigans going on around them. It almost feels like they're on the periphery of the mystery for the whole movie.

The ending is very abrupt. The way the villain is defeated is also...weird. Weird in a way you have to see the movie to understand. While talking about the climax, it was neat watching a movie acknowledge that gunfire can go through walls!

Interestingly enough, there was a scene earlier on when the happy couple were kissing, unaware they have an audience outside, which I feel would've made for a much better ending! Full of romance and mirth to play the film out on.

Enough of the negatives. A Night to Remember is brimming with fantastic and funny dialogue.
"Oh Jeff, that's good luck! Close your eyes and make a wish" "I wish my dear wife had never found this place." "I wish my dear husband wasn't such a dope."
Anne: "You don't know him, but you should. He's really swell"-Nancy: "I'm sure he is"-Jeff: "I'm swell too"-Nancy: "Oh who asked you"
"Jeff, don't be a fool!" "Don't be silly, I've always been a fool."

The actors all do fine jobs. The two leads, Loretta Young and Brian Aherne, come across as a likeable couple. They have lots of fun together without it seeming like they're unpleasantly sniping at each-other the whole time, and a few scenes show quite well how they sincerely care for one another. The cast also includes (Miss) Jeff Donnell, Lee Patrick, Gale Sondegaard, and Sydney Toler! The former three all get ok amounts of screentime, but could've had more, while Toler has fun channeling Edgar Kennedy.

A Night to Remember is a little slow at times due to its somewhat lacking plot, but it's never boring, and always entertaining. Bound to at least make you laugh, that's a great reason to recommend...

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Rogues Tavern (1936)

Newlyweds Jimmy and Marjorie, both detectives in one way or another, are trying to find the justice of the peace so they can get married. To this end they end up in a local tavern that's rife with activity for a change. Filled with six other guests, things quickly take an ill-fated turn when they start getting killed. At first it seems like an apparently vicious dog is to blame, but once his cute name is cleared, it becomes clear that the killer is all too human, and will strike again if he's not stopped first...

The Rogues Tavern is a decently fun movie, which starts off quickly and promisingly. Unfortunately, despite its positive qualities, it begins to be weighed down by a lot of little and big problems.

The plot to this film is pretty messy! It starts off with people being savagely killed by a psycho killer,  but as it goes on further, it seems like this story is ignored in favour of a different one about a disgruntled mad scientist trapping everyone inside the specially designed inn. Then this seems to be ignored! The movie keeps introducing new plot elements without explaining the old ones!

For a while the film is muddled, by things become a smidgen clearer by the climax,  and by the end it does make sense why the guy who's plotted this intricate revenge scheme would kill three of his six would-be victims an hour before making his grand evil speech of revenge! He's not the only villain around...

...Yeah, the plot's still confusing though.

The heroes are mostly unenjoyable. They're supposedly both detectives, but Marjorie's sleuthing side rarely comes up and she spends most of the movie trailing around like a dog, or being scared in the next room while Jimmy investigates. What's most frustrating is the way he treats her. He's a dickhead! It's like the writers intended their relationship to be a mutually snarky one (as if common in movies such as these), but forgot to write any pithy comebacks for her, so she seems like a doormat, and he seems one negative comment away from a divorce before they're even married!

The other characters are an ok bunch, but we find out so little about their motives and personalities that it's hard to care or feel invested in them. The only remotely distinctive one is the psychic co-conspirator Gloria. She starts off interesting and mysterious, but gradually becomes a nuisance. She says "I knew this would happen!" so often and in such a way that makes it seem like she didn't have a clue. She also says 'We're doomed!' as often as Frazer from Dad's Army.

The lack of music really hinders the movie after a while. The fact that there's no atmospheric scoring or use of shadows (in fact, everything's almost always brightly lit) make for a not particularly spooky viewing experience. Another side effect of the lack of music is that whenever characters stop talking, everything goes quiet! If not for the hum of the film, you could be forgiven for thinking you accidentally hit the mute button by mistake!

Since the story is utterly unclear at all times, it's up to the actors alone to sell this picture and keep the audience interested. They do an alright job. Whether Wallace Ford is entertaining or annoying to you depends on how you feel about his 'lovable asshole' type of characters, which can come across as just plain assholes!

Vincent Dennis is possibly annoying or funny as the local scaredy-cat Bert, and he disappears after the midway point. Earl Dwire has fun for about a minute as the possibly villainous mad scientist Morgan, looking a bit like a fish, but besides a bit of lurking beforehand, his big moment is fleeting and he's promptly ignored for the rest of the movie. Joan Woodnury is neat and stylish at the start, but eventually began to annoy me with her incessant whining.

One member of the cast who really impressed me at first was Clara Kimball Young. She's wholly unremarkable for the first 45 minutes, but her expressions when her husband is covering for the murderer are really good! But then she squanders all of that with a bizarrely terrible turn at the end that sucks all seriousness from the production.

The location here is alright, but never really felt that lively. Or perhaps it was too lively and that's the problem! Always well lit, always bustling, and never particularly interesting, even when it becomes a deathtrap.

Overall, The Rogues Tavern isn't entirely worth ignoring, because it's got a fair bit to like about it. It really is a flawed movie though, and never comfortably found its footing. Give it a watch if you're interested. Now, to quote the movie,  Pleasant nightmares!...

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Misbehaving Husbands (1940)

Effie and Harry Butler are a happily married couple, and despite his forgetfulness, as well as her happily divorced best friend's insistence that all men are lying scum, she's content with life. This all changes however, when on their anniversary night, Harry is late coming home from work, and a friend of the family's sees him sees him in what looks like a compromising position with another woman (actually a mannequin), not realising he was simply showing a coworker a good window arrangement for his shop. Effie finds out and is furious, immediately enlisting the help of her friend's divorce lawyer, who's all too happy to fan the flames...

Misbehaving Husbands is an entertaining picture. At 58 minutes long, the film doesn't outstay its welcome, and finds a good balance of relationship strife, and dogged investigation. The true motivation [and identity] of the divorce lawyer was a fun addition that gave extra spice to the plot. Overall, it's a simple story, in a good way.

As for some less stellar aspects to Misbehaving Husbands, it's a bit awkward if you hate misunderstandings. I do, and it can be a little hard to watch sometimes, and I often just wanted to reach into the screen and ring everyone's necks! Thankfully this is a short movie, so this feeling doesn't last for long.

Another thing that was a bit of an issue is regarding Jane and Bob. They're likeable enough, and their roles make perfect sense (since it's clear that neither Harry or Effie are up to clearing the misunderstanding, and poor Memphis is deathly afraid his boss is a murderer), but they take forever to show up!

That's as good as any lead-in to start discussing the characters. Harry is a poor hapless fool who can't help but make things worse for himself. Meanwhile, you can't help but feel sorry for Effie, even though this is a misunderstanding that could probably be cleared up relatively easily if only everyone behaved sensibly.

Effie's friend Grace is amusing (especially with lines like "Be thankful you had your eyes opened when you were still young"), but she kinda vanishes by the ending, not really getting a wrap-up to her character arc. The young duo are nice, despite their late introduction, and you enjoy watching them investigate. Another character I liked was the overzealous bodyguard (also introduced fairly late). The fact that he's here defending a supposedly in danger woman makes him instantly likeable despite his brusque nature.

I liked the interestingly named Memphis. It's not often that you see an African-American character in an old movie get an African name, especially a noble Egyptian one! He's definitely one of the funniest and most expressive actors in the movie, and gets the best line, which is jaw-droppingly hilarious.

Lastly, there's the divorce lawyer, who you know you're meant to dislike the moment he says "What put such an idea in your pretty head?". He gets a great comeuppance. Overall, the cast is pretty good, although I have to/must admit a lot of them started blending together. All these white people look the same!

Despite being sometimes over the top with his mannerisms and occasionally unconvincing outbursts, Harry Langdon is a hilarious lead, and amusingly feisty for a middle aged guy from the 1940s! The rest of the cast are fine enough, with Billy Mitchell being a standout. Ralph Byrd is a decently charming and chiseled guy, while Luana Walters is cute as a button.

Misbehaving Husbands may be a little frustrating to some in places, but it's a funny and lighthearted watch...

Streamline Express (1935)

Grumpy playwright Jimmy Hart is at his wit's end when his leading lady, Patricia Wallace, skips town with only two days left until the show. Hurrying to get after her, Jimmy finds that she's getting married to = Freddie Arnold, and is taking the Streamline Express, a new state-of-the-art train that's reported to zip from New York to California in just 20 hours. Now that Jimmy's along for the ride, in the guise of a steward, he's determined to get back his girl, if he doesn't trip on all the other shady characters lying about, from philandering husbands, to blackmailers, and jewel thieves...

Streamline Express is a mixed bag of a film. It's worth noting from the get-go that despite any issues it has, it's still plenty of fun, and the elements all come together quite well. My problem with it lies in the pacing. The story itself isn't that confusing on paper, though because it takes so long for the intrigue to get started, I found myself lost more than once. It also takes a fair while for the romance to be reciprocated, and the end result is that it feels like we waiting almost the whole movie just for Pat to catch up with Jimmy. I wish it would've happened sooner, like maybe at the halfway point?

The bigger problem presented by the pacing issues is the abrupt haste in which the 'mystery' is solved and the day is saved. The plot summary I read said how Jimmy is framed for the 'theft', and Pat has to clear his name. That does all happen, but I was figuring it'd occur at maybe the halfway point, which would comfortably leave the film's second half to focus on sleuthing, after the first full of romantic tension. What actually happens though is that Jimmy is framed in the final 8 minutes, and exonerated only a short time after.

There's a fun assortment of characters here, For ease of =, I'll outline who the different parties are, because god knows you'll need a primer with this movie. Everyone just about looks the same!

Jimmy and Pat have a crazy relationship, which leads to an absolutely jaw-dropping scene at one point! Unfortunately it's only 15 minutes before the end when the interest becomes mutual, so while we see plenty of their verbal sparring, we see very little of them as a couple. Their chemistry in both emotions is still great though. You totally believe these two hate each-other, and love each-other. Pat's upper class fiancee Freddie's a bit of a dope, but he's actually surprisingly likeable. He's so endearing that you kinda wish Pat would end up with him instead.

Besides them, there's a philandering husband and his homewrecker girlfriend, his wife who's snuck aboard to get her man back, an expecting father, and the larcenous villain, who comes off as truly scummy from the moment he turns an innocent joke from a former associate into an opportunity to blackmail them.

This is a funny film with its fair share of amusing scenes, like the unlucky stage rehearsal, Jimmy's numerous failed attempts to get onto the train, and the jewel thief's 'drinking game'. There's some great dialogue, too.
"If he ever howled at me like he did her, I'd call out the marines!", "Yes, and you're the gal that could do it, too, name by name",
Jimmy: "I'll do my own work. Any sap can make a bed."-Pat: "Any sap doesn't seem to be able to!"
and the films closing lines, which I darenot spoil

The setting for the majority of the film is the titular Streamline, and it feels like a real, fleshed-out location. The effects that realise it do a good job too! The train is apparently a cardboard cutout that's been photoshopped in, but it looks convincing enough, and while the window shots of scenery speeding by are clearly not real, we get enough of them to show that the filmmakers did care about the movie's appearance, and didn't want this to just be a static affair that's tooootally filmed on a moving train.

The acting is largely good. It gets silly at times, but you can tell the actors are having fun hamming it up. Victor Jory and Evelyn Venable work well together. You wish there was more of them! I also enjoyed Vince Barnett's performance. Despite his credit, he actually does very little for the first half of the movie, but after that point, he gets more to do, and not only is it quite amusing, it also does a good job informing his character, despite his limited screentime.

Overall, Streamline Express is a pretty fun time, and I definitely recommend it, preferably after reading my review and not before, so you're never as confused as I was!...