Our Greatest Living Film Critic, XX

September – November, 2020

The Last of Sheila (1973)

Watched The Last of Sheila (1973), an ensemble murder mystery in which deeply unlikeable widower James Coburn invites 6 quote-unquote friends to a week long trip aboard a yacht. They all have secrets; one of them is his wife’s murderer, and through an unnecessarily complex scavenger hunt, the killer’s identity will, he hopes, be revealed. Script written by Norman Bates and Sweeney Todd. The film’s title is a clue, but then what isn’t? The hero is the child molester, believe it or not. Here is another movie, like The Player (1992), in which the existence of the movie is part of the movie. Like Sleuth (1974), it’s about a bastard with an overly elaborate plot that goes off the rails. Great line about filming Lawrence of Arabia (1962) in Dyan Cannon’s mouth, truly a classic bon mot. A lot of things are tipped off, but you don’t realize it until too late. James Mason gets strangled by puppets. I give it 4 chintzy toast racks out of a possible 5 chintzy toast racks.

Magnum Force (1973)

Watched Magnum Force (1973), the sequel to Dirty Harry (1971). Harry Callahan has to go up against a police death squad carrying out vigilante justice, to prove that even though he’s very, very tough, he always follows the law. This one lacked the sweaty energy that made the first movie so fun. You could tell they were thinking of making more sequels, because there’s no point at which Eastwood is ever really in danger. I give it 3 limitations out of a possible 5 limitations.

The Narrow Margin (1952)

Watched The Narrow Margin (1952), a noir train procedural in which a detective must escort the wife of a mobster across the country on board a train full of assassins. During the fight scene, there’s a shot where the perspective changes from third person to first person (foot) to third person again. There are also some excellent transitions using the train windows. There’s more to the fat man than meets the eye. What makes the movie fun is that it’s more interested in the train and its passengers than in the plot. How thin can a sandwich get? I give it 3.25 Pullman berths out of a possible 5 Pullman berths.

The Old Guard (2020)

Watched The Old Guard (2020), a tactical movement superhero movie starring Charlize Theron. In this sequel to Highlander (1986), Theron is an immortal mercenary who only kills bad people. For the most part, the characters are realistic (movie realistic), except the bad guy, who is a cartoon. The original script called for him to have an asthmatic dog who laughs at all his jokes. He lives in a penthouse on top of his company’s skyscraper. When he successfully tricks them into thinking he’s escaped, he stops them before they leave so that they have another chance to kill him. How hard would it be to set up underwater listening posts to find the source of endless screaming off the coast of Massachusetts? The movie wants to assert that saving people’s lives centuries in the past produces utilitarian happiness in the future, but what if Andy also saved Hitler’s great-grandmother? Good fight scenes. Chiwetel Ejiofor is at least as guilty as Booker, but isn’t punished. Theron has set herself up well for sequels in which she may not have to do as much stunt work: smart. Let’s see Charlize Theron as Tara Chace in an adaptation of Rucka’s spy series Queen and Country! I give it 3.5 baklavas out of a possible 5 baklavas.

Death on the Nile (1978)

Watched Death on the Nile (1978), an Agatha Christie mystery starring Peter Ustinov as Hercules Porridge, the French detective. An intricate and unlikely mystery unfolds, this time on a boat in Egypt. George Kennedy could have picked up any other two members of the cast and conked their heads together like coconuts. Many of the nefarious characters in the story get exactly what they wanted, and would have killed for, but without the consequences. David Niven plays Watson, and in a few years from the fictional 1937 of the story, he and Ustinov would serve together in non-fictional WWII. Olivia Hussey is here, but unlike in English class, she is not nude. Mia Farrow is very good (I think). I may have seen this one before: I guessed the answer, which doesn’t happen often. The part I can relate to is when Poirot falls asleep in his chair. I give it 3.5 bathroom cobras out of a possible 5 bathroom cobras.

Evil Under the Sun (1983)

Watched Evil Under the Sun (1983), an Agatha Christie mystery starring Peter Ustinov as Hercules Parrot, the French detective. An intricate and unlikely mystery unfolds, this time on a resort island in the Adriatic. Everybody has a bathing suit, and an alibi. The rugged landscape offers plenty of shot-framing opportunities. James Mason was wasted: I don’t mean he was on drugs, I mean why not use him more if you cast him. Dianna Rigg sings a song. The killer packed a set of extravagant clothes they could not have expected to need. There were too many coincidences required for this mystery, and everybody hated each other the whole time. I give it 3 monogrammed bathing costumes out of a possible 5 monogrammed bathing costumes.

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

Watched The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) a Powell and Pressburger film about a man who believes wars should start at midnight. Not a Colonel, no eponymous deaths, and no significant blimps. Pressburger himself was the enemy alien; was Powell the general? Beautiful, sprawling, humane. Great, but also fun. Roger Livesy’s voice grew on me. If an old man invites you to dinner, you will regret not going with them. The shots of the trophy heads appearing on the walls. Prisoners of war listening to classical music. To assure victory over your rival, tip the musicians in beer. I give it 4.5 mustaches out of a possible 5 mustaches.

The 39 Steps (1935)

Watched The 39 Steps (1935), Hitchcock’s light spy thriller as a metaphor for marriage. Robert Donat thinks he’s going home with a prostitute, but she’s a spy (pardon, an agent) and pretty soon he’s on the run from some killers. They go to Scotland, where there is a charming innkeeper and wife. I kept expecting the twist to be that Donat’s character was also an agent, since for a civilian he is extremely cool under fire. Madeleine Carroll plays a blonde woman in a Hitchcock movie. Good looking sandwiches in this picture. There are some longer takes, and a famous sequence around a dinner table at a farmhouse. The 39 steps is an organization of foreign spies working in Britain. Now you know. The real question is, what causes pip in poultry? I give it 3.25 plates of herring out of a possible 5 plates of herring.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020)

Watched The Trial of the Chicago 7 (2020), a courtroom procedural about whether Eddie Redmayne or Sacha Baron Cohen will take the stand. Good script by veteran courtroom-yelling scribe Aaron Sorkin. There’s a scene where the whole courtroom erupts while the judge pounds his gavel and screams “Order in the court! Order in the court!”. I’m sorry to say that real historical footage was intercut with filmed footage of the same scene, which did not work. On the other hand, there’s a great monologue about why I don’t like Abbie Hoffman. I give it 3.25 cherry bombs out of a possible 5 cherry bombs.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)

Watched The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), a deconstructed Sherlock Holmes story in which Sigmund Freud helps him overcome a spiralling cocaine addiction and, through hypnotherapy, discovers the source of his hatred of Moriarty. Robert Duvall plays Watson, with what seemed like a more than passable British accent. In the middle of the movie is a small mystery, and an unnecessary sword fight. I wonder what real Freud would say about all those trains, snakes, sword fights, and needles. They are ambushed by the Lipizzaner stallions, and movie Freud says “These are the most intelligent horses in the world, and they have been trained TO KILL!”. I give it 3.5 wimples out of a possible 5 wimples.1

Rebecca (1940)

Watched Rebecca (1940), Alfred Hitchcock’s ghost story without a ghost. In this movie, Joan Fontaine marries dashing, troubled widower Laurence Olivier, but feels she cannot live up to the legend of Olivier’s dead wife. For once in a Hitchcock movie, it is everyone except the male protagonist who is obsessed with bringing back a vanished woman. Mrs. Danvers is a great villain, and Manderley would make a wonderful AirBnb. Good luck getting floorboards that wide these days. Despite it being a part of the culture, and despite this movie influencing 80 years of successors, I didn’t really see the twist coming, and was pleasantly surprised by the turn it took. I give it 4.25 drumsticks out of a possible 5 drumsticks.(edited)1

Stake Land (2010)

Watched Stake Land (2010), a post-apocalyptic vampire movie on a budget. A Cool Guy Vampire Hunter named Mister takes a young man as his protégé, and they have an episodic journey toward supposed safety in Canada. In this film, vampires are basically the same thing as zombies. There was no need to introduce a specific villain: the antagonist should be the hostile world they’re traveling through. I like the premise, but no single thing about this movie is very good. Having established that you can hide from vampires in car trunks, why I give it 2.5 ice cream cones out of a possible 5 ice cream cones.

Deathtrap (1982)

Watched Deathtrap (1982), murder twist-em-up in which Michael Caine wants to kill Christopher Reeve and steal his play. Like The Player (1992) and The Last of Sheila (1973), a movie that tells the story of its own creation. Or, close to it in this case. Dyan Cannon was nominated for a Razzie, but I thought her performance was good, if odd. Helga Ten Dorp is the psychic, Norwegian Jessica Fletcher. So many killers would get away with it if they didn’t open the door for their neighbors. I loved the final twist ending. I give it 3.25 ginger ales out of a possible 5 ginger ales.

Klute (1971)

Watched Klute (1971), a paranoia film in which Jane Fonda earns an Oscar. This is a movie about a private detective from a small town coming to the big city to track down a missing person, and befriending a complicated prostitute who is being stalked by a serial killer. It takes a lot to get me to notice a movie’s score, but I noticed it here because it was so creepy and alienating, though not in a bad or unskilled way. There has to be a therapist and a hidden tape recorder in order to give characters an opportunity to open up. New York is like a character in this movie: a disgusting character who badly needs to be cleaned. Donald Sutherland stands around being lanky. Like The Hot Rock (1972), you can see the World Trade Center being constructed in the background. I give it 3.25 trundle beds out of a possible 5 trundle beds.

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)

Rewatched The Man Who Would Be King (1975), in which ex-soldiers in British India bring a box of rifles to an isolated country and try to plunder it. Both Caine and Connery are great. I didn’t remember all the masonic stuff, or how satirical it is. The best stuff is all the picaresque adventures in the first half of the movie, before things get real. That’s Michael Caine’s real wife, and Sean Connery’s real scalp. Christopher Plummer plays Rudyard Kipling. I give it 3.75 rubies out of a possible 5 rubies.

The Great Train Robbery (1978)

Rewatched The Great Train Robbery (1978), a Victorian heist movie starring Sean Connery. Connery is wearing a wig in this one, and what looks like a fake beard, but may not be. This is probably my favorite acting role of his, and he did some great stunts too. Still a winner, with every beat of a good heist movie represented: gathering the crew, casing the joint, rat fights, pulling the job, the betrayal, a public hanging, climbing a wall, perverts, and a dead cat. Donald Sutherland’s British accent is awful, innit. I give it 4 top hats out of a possible 5 top hats.

The League of Gentlemen (1960)

Watched The League of Gentlemen (1960), a polite heist movie by Basil Dearden. In this movie, a polite British man recruits a group of disgraced but polite WWII veterans to organize a polite bank robbery with military politeness. The robbery succeeds, but while doing so, one of the bank robbers was so polite that they provided evidence that allows the army to gently arrest them. The movie should have been called The Golden Fleece. My old friend Roger Livesy is in this movie, and that’s the same painting of Deborah Kerr from The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) in Hyde’s home. I give it 3 ladders out of a possible 5 ladders.