Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Cursed Palace (1962)

Ever since realizing that searching in Arabic text yields a LOT of results for Egyptian horror that searching for in Latin doesn't, I've been binge-watching various movies (particularly those of Mohammed Shebl, which I was previously afraid wouldn't be at all easy to find). Very little of what I found have English subtitles, but one I did come across was The Cursed Palace, a 1962 haunted house flick, and one that's not very well known, not helped by an apparent lack of a media release...

Hasan is a lawyer, heading for a secluded estate to sort out a family's will. The ailing Fahmi Al-Maghory wishes to leave all of his money to his daughter Yousriah, much to the chagrin of his sister. Strange things soon begin happening, just as those who had warned Hasan of going to this estate said would occur, and Yousriah seems to be the target. She's witness to terrifying visions, even believing her father has been murdered and replaced by a doppelganger. Everyone believes her to be simply under stress, but the continued events leave people wondering if she's starting to lose her sanity, and may no longer be eligible to receive her father's fortune. Could Nagiah the aunt be the culprit? Perhaps Morsi the butler? Or could there really be a haunting taking place at the Al-Maghory home...

The Cursed Palace cultivates a good atmosphere, despite no physical ill befalling any characters until the final 15 minutes. The spooky gusts of wind, clattering window blinds, unknown footsteps in the night, and more, with the encounter by the window being the most effective! The director (Hassan Reda) certainly knew what he was doing, and it pays off, giving us a well-shot Gothic affair, with nice use of lighting and shadow, and clever shots.

The story starts of well, with a good hook to get you interested in what's happening. It's a little strange that there's no actual supernatural stuff going on at the estate until the events of the movie though

The plot kind-of hits a lull after Hasan tells Fahmi of his plan, and the whole scene at the...bordello(?) drags on a bit, having no real payoff. Plus, for all his talk of 'putting an end to this mystery tonight', Hasan totally fails to save the dancer he was trying to question!

Things improve in the climax, and the final reveal is completely out-of-left-field, akin to a soap opera development, but it does actually make sense, and work with what we've seen. I wish it'd been a bit better foreshadowed, so this wouldn't feel so much like Ayam mn Hayatna.  I also dig that Morsi's reasons for doing what he does in the end aren't spelt out for the audience. The movie has enough faith in the viewer to work things out for themselves, and remains more subtle because of it.

The acting in The Cursed Palace is pretty good. Salah, Zulfikar as Hasan is a nice lead. Not terribly interesting, but likeable too. He works well with Mariam Fakhr Eddine, and she's charming at first, but overdoes things a bit once she's acting hysterical. Actor No. 6 (the internet isn't very informative regarding the names of this movie's cast) gets across both an emotional and scheming performance as the butler Morsi. Actor No. 4 does ok as the comic relief, but also kinda overdoes it with the cheesiness, and may annoy some viewers. I found he had the best line of the movie by far, in his puzzled declaration of "A man living while dead, how can he...? Why didn't he die while living instead of living while he's dead?!". The movie seems so pleased with that joke that it kinda repeats it a few times, with only the one at the end being worth keeping in (as a way of closing the story out with a callback, going full circle in a sense, unless I'm misusing that phrase) the other reprisals being a bit unwelcome. Fathi definitely gets the lion's share of fun dialogue!

The soundtrack here is...bombastic! At times it's a bit too chipper, at other points it's effective, and sometimes it downright feels like the crew is watching a sweeping historical epic like Ben-Hur or something just off-camera!

The Cursed Palace is a good example of classic homegrown Egyptian horror, and I recommend you watch it with some friends, popcorn, and the lights switched off. I also recommend the blog The Bloody Pit of Horror. After finishing the movie, I searched online for anyone else talking about it, and found this very good and informative review, which is also where I found out the actors' names for my own post, for which I'm grateful.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Asheyana (2009)

I'm always interested in seeing films from other countries, especially when I know nothing about their local cinema. It was a few months ago when I discovered a channel on Youtube devoted to movies of Afghanistan. Today I'll be looking at one such flick, Asheyana, which was released from anywhere between 2009, to 2013. Not quite sure when, as IMDb hasn't quite gotten a handle on new Afghani cinema.

Maihan is a young man returning to his home country of Aghanistan, arranged to marry the beautiful Hejran. Neither of the two wish to be married though, and hold candles for others. Meanwhile, Maihan discovers a shocking fact about his past, which could mean a great deal for his future.

Asheyana is a [sweet] story all about family, be they blood relations, good friends, or love interests. It takes clear inspiration from Bollywood features, down to a lengthy runtime (though under three hours, thank god), many different genres haphazardly crammed into the one movie to appeal to everyone in the audience, and [[random]] musical numbers.

Getting this out of the way first, this isn't a, uhm, *good* film in the traditional sense, but I'm willing to forgive that. If a movie came from America looking like this, it'd be laughable, but given Afghanistan's recent history, I'm not going to be overly critical if there's really fake CG effects, or if the acting's not the greatest. After all, there either probably isn't an acting school in the country, or they might be few and far between, so local performers would have to improve their skills by simply working in the industry gradually until they've got it down pat. Basically, as long as the movie tells a good story, I'll forgive a lot.

The cast is a varied assortment of characters. Maihan is a nice and understanding guy, and because of this there are never any awkward misunderstandings or love triangles. Hejran is in love with Fardin,   Given how quickly this situation was resolved, I did wonder how the rest of the movie was going to go. How indeed! Things take a soap-opera turn soon, and Maihan is given a needlessly tragic backstory. I guess I can't begrudge it too much. Yeah, it's annoying, but it does give this character more depth, and that's rarely a bad thing. I was less enthused by the hilarious rampage of revenge, when the proceedings take a five minute detour into gun-toting action, with explosions aplenty!

Hejran and Nargis are nice enough supporting characters/love interests, while Fardin is a likeable buddy and defender of the streets, and Abdul is amusing comic relief.

For a romance film, Asheyana certainly treads its feet into plenty of other genres. None of these previously mentioned examples sink the movie, but what does to an extent is the revelation about Maihan's past that completely takes centre stage, distracting completely from the main plot and romance. When he film does finally come back to that, it's too little too late. One last crazy plot detour to address is something very unexpected! I'm not gonna spoil it. All I'll say is that it's completely out of left field, but it made me grin.

At its worst, Asheyana can be accused of trying to do too much. If I can think of one positive to this, it's that come the end of the film, it definitely feels like a fleshed out world. The denouement is nice, too...until it's almost completely ruined by an abrupt revelation that I like to think is just a 'What if?...' fantasy the character is having.

The writing is overall not bad. Some of the dialogue is a bit stilted (or at least, the translation might be), but it's mostly fine. It gets across a nice sense of communal spirit.

The acting here is pretty decent from what I can tell. Some performances are a bit overdone, or amateurish, especially the guy playing the shoemaker (but who knows, maybe if I knew Pashto or Dari, I'd think his performance is majestic. It's hard to tell). The lead actor, Fazal Hakimi, also doubles as the writer, and director! Sounds like a busy bee. Serious props to this guy for his part in revitalizing Afghani cinema!

The direction is good, with some moments being better than others. The fight scenes feel like something out of a video game though, from the sound effects/work, to the visual effects we sometimes see, and the earth shaking camerawork, all coupled with how every good guy is a master at hand-to-hand combat.

Asheyana has a nice score, replete with local music. There's also archive music, which is ill-fitting and amusingly overdramatic. One track (original or archive, I don't know) sounded like something from Castlevania,and yes, that is a good thing! The original songs are decent, even if the lyrics are a tad repetitive (they sound better when sung than I imagine it'd look on paper!). Given the lyrical content, I'm not sure if they could be considered completely random, but they do come totally out of nowhere!

One last thing. It was pretty cool seeing Afghan number plates! I know it's not exactly major, but it's a neat little thing to spot.

If you're expecting an A-list Hollywood romance, you may not be that into Asheyana, but if you're interested in seeing what Afghan cinema has been up to in recent years, this is a good place to start. And if you're already a fan of Bollywood cinema, them you'll be at least partially use to what kind of a film it is.

Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy (2009)

*Neato images to be added soon, when Microsoft Word starts working for me again and I can access my screenshots*

To this day, the Metal Gear Solid franchise remains one of the most popular and acclaimed video game series' in the world. Its stories have made lasting impressions with so many people, and was a particular inspiration for young Italian Giacomo Talamini, who sought to make his own fan-film based on the series for years. It was an on-and-off project, sometimes shifting gears entirely, but it eventually gained enough traction to finally see partial fruition, before a hiatus, then cancellation finished the movie prematurely...

Legendary soldier Solid Snake, now a member of the rogue organisation known as Philanthropy, has been sent to the borders of Armenia and Azerbaijan. Philanthropy is solely devoted to the destruction of Metal Gears, sinister nuclear machines, and they might have found their last battle before victory is in sight. Strange things have been happening in what's been dubbed 'The Overnight Nation', a small patch of land in the middle of a hotly contested border, and it's up to Snake and two new compatriots to get to the bottom of what's happening, rescue a kidnapped U.S. senator, and finally put an end to the shady Armstech...

Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy was to be made and released in three parts, the first being subtitled The Overnight Nation. The prologue is set during the events following the original Metal Gear's conclusion, introducing Snake right after Outer Heaven has been destroyed. I'm not entirely sure if this scene was necessary.   I suppose it's like those opening gambits you'd see on early episodes of MacGyver, which didn't have anything to do with the main plots, but quickly introduced the hero and his skills. This sort of does that, but I can't help but feel it's rather pointless and unnecessary, simply wasting time. It also makes Snake look like a dick, as he has no reason not to avoid a conflict with the two sympathetic soldiers we follow.

The main story kicks off quickly, and is intriguing right out of the gate. 'What's that unnatural storm?' you'll be thinking, along with 'Why have people been vanishing?', and 'How did this military complex get built in only a week?'. Lots of really cool stuff is set up, and my favourite scene is when the protagonists are camping when suddenly they spot a strange thermal signature rapidly approaching them, and quickly hide just in time before a bizarre...thing shows up. It's very much an eerie scene.

Where the plot kinda falls down is in the last third. I have no problem with there being an extended action scene with not a whole lot of story, as this is still pretty early into the overall events, but it's still pretty disappointing that everything takes a backseat for the fighting. I also didn't care for the 'war is hell' grenade moment.

The characters are quite an interesting bunch!   The least fleshed out is Solid Snake himself, but that's more down to him being an already established character. He's a somewhat well-rounded guy, likeable, and a disciplined badass, but at times he doesn't really feel like Solid Snake. His name is barely spoken in the movie, and his being Snake really plays into nothing. He's just some guy on a mission, and not once do we get a glimpse into his history, backstory*, or personal motivations.

Adding onto this problem is that the Metal Gear doesn't really play any role in the movie either, beyond less than a couple of minutes of superficial action. Now, all of this would really annoy me, but it doesn't. You know why? Because since Philanthropy can't legally continue its existence as a Metal Gear Solid title, it could easily be rewritten to accommodate an original plot. Just rename Snake, and the Metal Gear, and you've got yourself a unique property!

Next up is Pierre Leclerc, a goofy dude who's always joking around and playing on his DS, but when the moment calls for action, he's dead serious and a total badass! Elizabeth Laeken is possibly the most interesting of the three, possessing a mysterious and somewhat sinister backstory, which makes you wonder why she was assigned to this mission. Harrison Bishop is a fine support guy, though his dialogue when talking about his relationship with his father is a tad clunky. Also, I'm curious if he ends up betraying the team later on in the story! Based on the movie we have so far, he seems a loyal and trustworthy guy, but in this series, you learn pretty fast to never trust the people giving you orders. I like to think he's on the level.

As for the villains, we see almost nothing of anyone important, but they still look like a freaky bunch in the way that epitomizes the Metal Gear franchise, but unfortunately, as this is only Part 1, we only see brief introductions to these opponents, and we know nothing about them, nor the weirdness surrounding Elizabeth. This of course wouldn't be so much of an issue if not for the fact that we're never getting Parts 2 and 3.

The acting is difficult to discuss. Partially to allow the movie be in English, and also to emulate a video game feel, the actors are all dubbed over. The physical performers are all great, but the vocalists? Errr, not so much. It's not that the acting is bad, and some of it's quite good, but some of the cast seem to be going for a deliberately exaggerated way of talking, and it's not entirely successful, feeling a bit off in a serious story like this. Philipp Sacramento is really good as Snake though, nailing David Hayter's distinctive voice.

The movie manages to translate the spirit of the exposition montage sections well to the movie format, although the occasional Codec ones don't as much. I probably wouldn't have a problem with the formatting going full Codec if not for the fact that the background with Snake freeze frames. Otherwise though, it's never overly intrusive, and the action doesn't stop every 5 minutes like it can in the games.

Philanthropy's soundtrack is rather lacking in the main feature itself, but most prominent in the ending credits. We get a riveting enough track during the latter part of the credits, and before it is a vocal track (Will There Be an End, by Aoife Ferry/Ní Fhearraigh) so good I actually thought it was from one of the official MGS soundtracks! It seems equally surprising and cool that this Italian zero-budget film was able to hire the same Gaelic singer responsible for The Best is Yet To Come in MGS1!

The effects here in Philanthropy are marvelous! They look a bit unconvincing in some parts, but for the most part, Hive Division REALLY knows how to make a beautiful spectacle on a nothing budget. They also know how to make CGI look really good, too! The only place where they falter is in the destruction of the first Metal Gear. The grenade explosions look pretty unconvincing, especially since they leave no mark on the behemoth at all. Then there's the fake oil spurt when it 'dies'. The Metal Gears themselves are designed well, but...uhh...they kinda look know what, I'll just let you watch and see for yourself. Maybe you won't even notice.

Location is important in anymore, doubly so in a Metal Gear Solid title, and the one here is interesting. It's of course filmed in Italy, since actually filming on the Armenian/Azeri border would've been just a tad difficult back in the mid-2000s, as well as a considerable drive from Italy. The spots look convincing though, and when it came to the complex the characters visit, which looks suitably shabby and bombed out, the production team apparently shot in a building scheduled for demolition.

While the film as a whole never got completed, there is a preview to Part 2 that was uploaded shortly before the news of the entire project's cancellation. It's a bit awkward at first, due to an opening narration that implies the Patriots are all behind the goings-on in this story, which is boringly unoriginal, and would probably mean every weird and intriguing thing about the story could be easily explained with the annoying Nanomachines handwave. There's also a voiceover with so-so acting and a Russian accent that was odd enough for me to have at first thought it to be Irish or Scottish. There are also sudden new elements like the Solid Eye from MGS 4 which wasn't in The Overnight Nation. And finally, Giacomo Talamini, and some other actors, look a bit different, due to the five/six year gap between movies. However, once all that passes, we get an interesting prologue, with more great effects, and a neat setpiece, and by the end, it seques nicely into the action we were in the middle of, despite the first few minutes feeling a bit in media res. The Metal Gear franchise has always had different genres mesh together, from goofy comedy, to horror, going together with espionage action, and here, we get the horror aspect front and centre!

Finally, let's discuss the continuity this movie shares with its source material. It fits in well, and could take place either before or after the inciting events of MGS2, but I prefer thinking it takes place in its own separate continuity. That way the events can actually have an impact, whereas staying in strict continuity would mean this story would have no real payoff, as both Metal Gears and Philanthropy are still around in the later games, with no end in sight until MGS4 (and even then, not really).

It really is a shame that this film is officially dead in the water, because there was such promise! I'm not sure why it had to be cancelled, as since it's a non-profit fan-film, there'd be zero legal issues in the way of getting it made. Konami in recent years though has starting getting utterly lousy. They're a shady and underhanded bunch of bastards with as much regard for the fans as they have for their employees, or their vast gaming legacy. Read: None at all. Even then, Philanthropy was such a golden opportunity! It'd bring at least a little publicity to one of their biggest franchises, and is literally zero money from out their pockets. It's tantamount to an incredibly elaborate free advertisement. If there's still talk going on about a Metal Gear Solid movie in the works, they could even make this project official, as one whole third is out already, having been met with much praise from the series' fans, and regarded as a worthy companion to the series, even by Hideo Kojima himself.

While it may be incomplete, Metal Gear Solid: Philanthropy is still well worth a watch, and is by no means long at only 69 minutes. It's an intriguing story, and a fantastic showcase of what just a few dedicated fans can do...

Monday, July 31, 2017

In Search of the Castaways (1962)

Teenager Mary Grant and her younger brother Robert, accompanied by the older Frenchman Jacques Paganel, are convinced of the survival of the seafaring father, lost at sea some time ago. After some trial and error, they successfully enlist the help of Lord Glenarvan and his youthful son John, and the party sail to South America, where a message in a bottle leads them to. Dangers abound in the wild Patagonian mountains, yet landslides, man-eating tigers, and torrential floods will end up being the least of their worries as their quest takes them across the globe, hoping it will ultimately not be in vain...

In Search of the Castaways is a really good Buena Vista/Disney yarn, and does the spirit of Jules Verne well. I've never read the source material, so I don't know how faithful it is, but it's at least got the feel down pat.

Castaways is a very globetrotting movie, traversing from the Patagonian mountains (the Andes?), to the dark and menacing continent of prisoners known as Australia, and the volcanic tribal lands of New Zealand. The South America segment lasts so long to the point where I thought it was the whole movie, and I may have actually preferred that to what we got. I think what it is is that I would've rather had is an adventure throughout the width and breadth of the one large location, rather than needless globetrotting caused by idiocy, as ends up happening.

Beyond that, my biggest hassle with this movie is the unbelievability factor. The avalanche scene instantly stretches credulity to breaking point, and is immediately followed by the cliff and eagle bit, which is a stunning case of good and bad luck. Then, before the impending search for the missing Robert can gain any tension, the bird is immediately shot down by someone, saving him. From then on, everything that can go wrong for the party seems to go wrong, and it's all very convenient (well, 'convenient'), yet still greatly enjoyable.

I wasn't really a fan of the New Zealand section. The volcanic resolution paints the leads as massive assholes, even if the script doesn't realize it, and the scene also continues to showcase from where Journey to the Centre of the Earth left off regarding Jules Verne's..ah...lack of expertise when it came to geology.

The presence of the...uh, 'certain' prisoners of the Maori tribe is not very well explained, partially due to the writing, and also because it's hard to make out what Bill Gaye is even saying, due to his leery nattering. In any case, I have no idea why he was a prisoner of the Maoris, nor why they were still keeping him around. Or why he went to crazy, for that matter, when the 'other prisoner' we see later on is fine, and has spent just as long in captivity. And how did Gaye's hair grow so long after only two years?!

Oh, and may I say that for a party who wanted to go to the Indian Ocean, I find it rather strange they sailed to the East side of Australia!

Onto the acting. Maurice Chevalier is somewhat annoying, but also fun, and Wilfrid Hyde-White is very amusing. Hayley Mills is great, Keith Hamshere is barely noticeable as the younger brother, but isn't bad, while Michael Anderson Jr. fares better as the Lord's son.

George Sanders makes for an ok villain, but takes forever to show up, doesn't really do much after the mutiny scene, and is defeated very easily, with little fanfare. Wilfid Brambell of Steptoe and Son fame plays the deranged Bill Gaye with the grungy lunacy you'd expect, and Jack Gwillim shows up briefly before the end, delivering some decent emotions.

One casting decision of note is that the filmmakers actually got a Maori actor to play the tribal chief in the New Zealand segment! As for the Indian chief Thalcave, well, they got an Italian actor, and...err, Italian is basically Spanish, and Spanish is sorta South American, kind-of?...

The effects on display in this movie are fantastic! There are many great locations, sets, matte paintings, and other fabulous visual moments to behold.

Something that confused me about Search of the Castaways is its status as a musical. Is it? There are a couple of songs, which I suppose you'd expect from a Disney film, but then we only get those two and nothing else for the remainder of the film. Strange, but the songs are nice, sung well, and work within the context of the story.

While it has its problems, In Search of the Castaways is still a rousing adventure, and highly recommended. And who doesn't like Hayley Mills, I tell you?...

Sev Kardeşim (1972)

The poor but earnest working-class Güler family's household is threatened when unscrupolous businessman Cemal Çaliskan attempts to have them evicted, so he can demolish their house and finally have all the land in the area to himself for his own ends. The family isn't going down without a fight, however. Meanwhile, the daughter Alev, unwittingly working at the factory owned by the man making life difficult for everyone, falls for his attractive son Ferit...

Sev Kardeşim is a marginally entertaining romance picture, though not without issues. Getting to the positives first, the acting is fine, with everyone delivering decent performances. Famed local actress Hülya Koçyigit does very well, as do others, such as Münir Özkul, and the iconic laughter of Adile Nasit. Koçyigit and Tarik Akan share pretty good chemistry together when the movie finally gets around to it.

The story is pretty fun to start with, though the whole meet-cute part didn't really go the way I was expecting/hoping, and Alev ends up being an almost unsympathetic character with her actions in manipulating and ensnaring Ferit. Following that, the romance then gets a bit weird and annoying once her actions are discovered, given how both leads act. I'm also a little unsure if the film was perhaps unbalanced in how much story was devoted to the blossoming romance, and how much to the nefarious businessman's plans plus the family's struggle against them. There are long swaths where we seem to go without one or the other. I also felt the movie went on a little too long. It could've naturally wrapped the plot up earlier than it did, yet it keeps going.

The look of Sev Kardeşim is very good, and the film quality has clearly been kept well over the decades, rather than stuffed in a barn occupied by a bucking horse with a grudge against film nitrate. As for the look of the movie itself, it's fine. Being a romance, it's not effects heavy, but what there is is fine. The police station holding cells near the end look pretty funny though. They're the most delightfully coloured jail cells I've seen!

The soundtrack is the best part of the movie, with some  scoring, and a really good main theme, sung by Şenay (Yüzbaşıoğlu). The movie certainly likes it, as it plays just about four times! Thankfully at least one of those reprisals is only partial.

One cool thing to mention is how certain scenes here look a lot like Laverne and Shirley! A bunch of spunky working-class women working in a factory, wearing standard overcoats over their snazzy outfits? Sev Kardeşim has that in spades. If you watch parts of this, and scenes of that show, you'll definitely see a similarity. "Typical, then", you think, "Why should I be surprised that this Turkish movie ripped off an American TV series?". Well, perhaps because it predates Laverne and Shirley by four years! Quite a fascinating little coincidence!

On that note, Sev Kardeşim seems like an original story, and while I've seen plenty of Turkish movies so far, only a few have been like that. Most have been pulpy knock-offs, so it was certainly neat seeing something actually its own thing!...

...Yeah, about that...

According to IMDb, Sev Kardeşim is a remake of the Frank Capra movie You Can't Take It With You. Now at first I was disbelieving about this, as 'warm and idealistic relative of heartless businessman falls in love with a woman whose quirky home and/or family is being threatened by said tycoon' is a super common plot, to the point where I barely need to even stretch my arm from where I sit to grab my DVD of the Love Bug movies, the second of which is exactly like that, to a tee. So case closed, these two movies simply have similar stories, as do a hundred others. All sorted!...Well, until I read You Can't Take It With You's wikipedia page anyway. Yeah, Sev Kardeşim is totally a ripoff. Well, let's be generous and keep saying remake...

Sev Kardeşim isn't a great movie, and its ending is more than enough to sink it, but it has its good qualities too. Hülya Koçyigit is a super adorable and plucky lead, the whole proto-Laverne and Shirley aesthetic is great, and it's overall harmless...

Before I Hang (1940)

A scientist on death row tries to save his life by injecting himself with a serum made from the blood of a homicidal maniac! How's that for a horror concept! Certainly made me laugh, and made me want to watch the film immediately. How could that synopsis not immediately draw you in?...

'Mercy killer' Dr. John Garth has been sentenced to death for euthanizing a terminal patient, and the man is despondent at not being able to continue his potentially life saving research. He's given a chance by the sympathetic warden however, to spend his final weeks working on his project, with the help of the prison doctor. The tests seem to be a success, and Garth desperately tries it on himself before his execution, not realizing his sentence has been commuted to life imprisonment. The serum works wonders on the doctor, rejuvenating his older body, but he learns too late the error he made using the blood of a madman for the process...

Before I Hang is an interestingly paced horror film in that nothing horrific happens in the first third.   more concerned with setting up its characters and plot, and only when an inciting event kicks things into gear do murdernanigans start a'brewing. Then, as if to make up for the lack of action, Karloff racks up a sizable murder count pretty quickly, including the lurking prison guard who I at first thought would be the murderer that Garth and co. get the crazy-blood from, then thought might be a decoy protagonist, taking up the role of the hero once Dr. Garth goes crazy! That'd certainly be an interestingly unexpected direction, and he certainly puts up quite a fight, but he ends up as victim No. 2.

The driving force of the script is the aforementioned hilarious idea behind it. Sadly, the film never goes off-the-rails into crazyville with that plot point, instead treating it with utmost sincerity. This could work really well, as it's a high class of horror film (or indeed any genre) that can take a goofy concept and make it work in a serious context. Before I Hang doesn't quite succeed though. Because it doesn't go loopy with the concept, or explore in more detail the ghoulish nature behind it, the movie ends up hampered by being an overly serious story based on a silly idea.

Because of its slower pacing, Before I Hang feels way longer than just an hour. This isn't a bad thing, thankfully, though I wish a little more happened. There's one unexpected plus though. The film surprisingly actually has a denouement, and it's a whole 30 seconds long! Shocking, I know! The climax itself though isn't hugely satisfactory, but it's not awful or anything.

Boris Karloff delivers an effective and conflicted performance, and when he turns killcrazy, the man does not look like an idle threat. You totally believe that this kindly doctor is now going to turn you into a shishkebab! Edward van Sloan seems to be a supporting lead, but doesn't survive the first third, and is missed. Evelyn Keyes and Bruce Bennett don't really get the screentime they deserve, but are decent, and the former gets a little more to do once the movie changes settings from out of the jail. The rest of the acting is sound.

Before I Hang is a slightly flawed movie, but still a worthwhile spooky watch, with the legendary Karloff in top form, even if it doesn't live up to its laughably ludicrous plot description...

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Blackie the Pirate (1971)

I've been a huge Terence Hill-Bud Spencer fan for nearly 10 years now, but I still haven't had the time to spotlight any of their movies on this blog. It's finally time for that to change as I dig into 1971's Blackie the Pirate...

Don Pedro is a down on his luck 'nobleman', who encounters the corsair Blackie during a barfight in his girlfriend Manuela's establishment. He decides to help the man out in order to make some money, and ends up embroiled in quite a caper as Blackie buys some women in a pirate auction, one of whom turns out to be the wife if the local viceroy. Isabel is more than happy to make a deal with Blackie, especially after he beds her, but following that, the rogue seems interested only in sending her back to her husband and getting a reward, earning the woman's ire. However, it turns out that was a wise movie, given Isabel's duplicitous nature* and with the begrudging assistance (in-between hostile encounters) of another pirate, Skull, Blackie and his crew vie to make the theft of the century against the viceroy and the vast shipment of gold he's moving...

*I think?

To start off, Blackie the Pirate is considered the odd Hill-Spencer film out in that they're not a buddy duo in this one, instead being full-on adversaries. They do end up on the same side most of the time, but not like in their other movies. There are long patches of film where Spencer isn't even present, with Hill getting much more to do, though he does at least get a decent amount of screentime. The other thing making this a strange/unique entry in their extensive canon is that it's a pirate film! Not a western, or a present-day set story, but rather a swashbuckling tale of corsairs and doubloons, fair maidens and dashing rogues.

This movie isn't really a comedy, but more of a lighthearted swashbuckler. There are some amusing moments, and funny lines, but overall it's not trying to be hilarious or anything. The plot is unfortunately the weakest link present. I knew what was happening, but a lot of the time I was sketchy on the why.  Compounding matters is that the so-called 'villains' get neither the screentime nor motivation they deserve. Edmund Purdom's viceroy doesn't even do anything wrong, besides want to see the pirate lead behind bars, and the dude gets stabbed! Quite quickly and anticlimactically too. Blackie the Pirate has quite a high body count, given what it is! As for Isabel, the problem with her is that she and Blackie really don't share enough screentime to have much of a connection, and the somewhat confusing plot regarding her doesn't help matters.

Another issue I have with the movie is George Martin's character, who's supposedly the lead, but since he's neither Terence Hill, nor in the title, there are quite a few scenes in the first half where he's fighting for screentime. I kinda wish his character would've just been excised entirely, and made the whole affair be less muddled, but on second thoughts, I like his arc and contributions, as well as Manuela, so I guess he can stay.

The action is decent here and there, some moments less so than others. The first ship battle is unengaging, mainly due to the lack of music. Bud Spencer's final scene makes up for that though! The fight choreography is good, however the final sword battle is laughable, as the footsoldiers are only wearing skimpy vests, making it all the more apparent that they're not really being stabbed. The funniest part of this scene is when one soldier being stabbed by a pirate is achieved by the latter actor passing the sword along in his lunge for the other guy to clutch between his arm and chest, facing the other side of the camera so it 'looks like he's been impaled'. Ah, that old trick!

The dub acting isn't that great. It's decent sometimes, and stiff in others, seemingly because of the performers trying to sync up with the original actors. Regarding them, they all look fine, though I can hardly judge their vocals. Sigh, I do so prefer it when Hill is dubbing himself, or when they at least get the dub actor who did his voice in My Name is Nobody, and the Trinity movies, because that guy actually sounds like Terence Hill!

There's quite the cast here, with Hill and Spencer of course, George Hilton...err, I mean Martin (I swear, I'm always getting those two mixed up!), Edmund Purdom, Luciano Pigozzi, Diana Lorys, Sylvia Monti, and Mónica Randall!...Yes, I'm aware most of those names are likely completely unfamiliar to you...

Blackie the Pirate is most certainly a mixed bag in the looks department. The sets and costumes are all excellent, but it seems like the budget was sunk on those, as all the ship battle footage is pinched from other movies. The use of stock footage is obvious given its grainy look, and nowhere is the   more apparent than in the sinking of the Fury, where we never even see the ship, just the cast reacting to its destruction. There's also when the Erebus is being emptied of its contents, cutting back from the high quality Bud Spencer, to the low-quality stock footage, also looking like it's been put through a wacky filter.

The score is a fun, rousing addition, and possibly the best thing about the film next to its aesthetic, especially the main theme, which I guarantee you'll be humming for days afterward!

Blackie the Pirate isn't the best Terence Hill-Bud Spencer movie. Not bad, but you could do a lot better. I still recommend it, but just don't start with it if you're interested in the duo...

This has been a review for Movies Silently's Swashathon...