Archive for July, 2013

A Blind Buy:  You’re rummaging through the stacks at your physical media store of choice.  Something catches your eye.  Maybe you’ve heard about it, maybe you haven’t.  You read the cover and realize you gotta have it.  This column is dedicated to those movies you just take a chance on.

Murder By Decree (1979)

Where I bought it:  Barnes & Noble

Why I bought it:  I had a vague memory of reading something, maybe on Twitter, about the film around the time that Shout! Factory released their new edition of The Seven Percent Solution (which I still need to pick up.)  Didn’t think too much about it a the time but a 15% off coupon from the big box outlet was burning a hole in my pocket so when I came across it while browsing the horror/thriller section I took a closer look.  I realized it was indeed a Sherlock Holmes mystery which was an immediate draw.  Then, I saw the cast listed on the front of the case:  Christopher Plummer, James Mason and Donald Sutherland.  I checked out the credits on the back and realized it was directed by the late, great Bob Clark who was responsible for two of my all-time favorite X-mas movies, A Christmas Story and Black Christmas.  Finally, I read the synopsis.  It basically promised Sherlock Holmes versus Jack The Ripper.  I was sold.

What it’s about: It’s a rare Holmes movie that is not at all based on Doyle source material.  After The Ripper’s latest brutal slaying, a citizens committee tasks the master detective and his stalwart companion, Dr. Holmes, with putting an end to Jack’s dirty work.  The duo sets about this nasty business encountering obstacles all the way ultimately uncovering a terrible web of lies and secrets that just might trace all the way back to the Royal Family.  Anyone familiar with Ripper lore will know the story, taken in part from Stephen Knight’s Jack the Ripper:  The Final Solution, and many of the story beats will be familiar to anyone who has seen or read Alan Moore’s From Hell.

What I thought:  I love a good mystery and Sherlock is the king of good mysteries.  I’m fascinated by the Jack the Ripper case and the countless theories that have sprung up since the murders.  The pairing of these two was genius so I was naturally inclined to like this flick.  That it was directed by Clark was a bonus.  It’s a real shame he’s gone having died in a car accident a few years ago.  He was a true journeyman director, serving up everything from classic slasher pics to earnest family fare (like the previously mentioned Christmas flicks) to sex comedies like Porky’s.  Like every true director of his type, he also delivered a few turds like Rhinestone and the Baby Geniuses atrocities.  Hey, no one’s perfect.

The true gems here were the performances of Christopher Plummer and James Mason as one of the best bromance pairings in history.  Mason’s Watson is great.  He has a wry sense of humor and is a bit of a smart ass.  He’s less bumbling here and more of an equal to Holmes, a character trait also used in the recent Downey Holmes flicks.  He’s absolutely perfect playing off of Plummer’s Holmes and the interplay between the two is delightful.  Now usually, Holmes is cold, detached and at times a bit robotic (not too dissimilar from Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of the character in the masterful BBC Sherlock series.)  He’s the smartest guy in any room and he knows it.  Plummer certainly conveys that intelligence but brings with it emotion we rarely see in the role.  And all that emotion bubbling under the surface of the character pays off in the film’s final scene.

Called before the men he feels are responsible for Jack’s reign of violence, Holmes gives the viewer their “a-ha!” reveal.  If you know mysteries, you know the trope.  The detective reveals everything they’ve discovered and identifies the guilty parties.  Every good detective does it from Miss Marple and Poirot to Jessica Fletcher and Colombo. But the circumstances are a bit different here.  Holmes delivers the facts, his rage growing, knowing full well the truths he discovered will not and must not ever be revealed to the general public for fear of toppling a monarchy and destroying a country.  It’s a truly great moment and Plummer nails it.

So, yeah, I liked this movie.  Liked it a lot.  Great cast.  Great director.  I’ve absolutely nothing bad to say about it.  You should definitely check it out.

Where You Can Get It:  The film is currently available on Netflix Instant and is available uber-cheap (less than $6) on Amazon.

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This!

Posted: July 16, 2013 in Movies, This!
Tags: , ,

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Elysium

Why this?

Five words:  It’s directed by Neil Blomkamp.

If you know what that means, you know why I’m excited.  If instead you said, “Who’s Neil Blomkamp?” then I say pull up a chair foolish mortal  and let me tell you.

Back in the Summer of ’09, Mr. Blomkamp served up a hell of a piece of sci-fi pie called District 9.  It told the story of a South Africa overrun by prawn-like aliens who had been forced to live in slum conditions in a refugee camp in Johannesberg.  It was a clever, if obvious, meditation on the lingering effects of apartheid on the South African people.  It was ultimately nominated for 4 Academy Awards including Best Picture.  It was my favorite movie of the year.

Now, four years later, flush with the unexpected critical and box office success of his first film, Blomkamp is about to unleash another geek-friendly, sci-fi study on class warfare, this time starring Oscar winners like Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.  Now, I’ll admit I’ve never been the biggest fan of Damon and Foster but the writer/director wunderkind has more than earned another look from my wandering eyes.  I’m willing to bet this bad boy, like it’s cinematic brother, lands in my year-end top ten.

I can’t wait.

Elysium lands in theaters on August 9.  I’ll be there on opening day.

 

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In the Loop

I didn’t watch too many flicks on Netflix Instant in June having watched little else in May but I did catch this whip-smart 2009 British political comedy and damn if I’m not glad I did.

Directed by Scottish-Italian filmmaker Armando Iannucci, the film (a spin-off of the BBC series The Thick of It) centers on the build-up to the UK and the US launching the war in the Middle East.  Inspired by the real life events, the thinly veiled counterparts to the actual government officials involved in that dramatic 2003 decision, hem and haw, wrangle and make backroom deals all to serve their own devices and motives with little consideration or thought as to what the decision towards conflict could mean.

It’s dirty business brought to light with comedic genius and features wonderful performances throughout highlighted by the most foul-mouthed turn in recent history by Brit Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker, the Director of Communications for the British Prime Minister.  His ever-evolving use of and derivations for the f-word  are a revelation.

I laughed throughout the film all the while hoping that the actual officials involved in the actual war weren’t so similarly inspired.  I fear my hopes would be crushed when faced with the truth.

In the Loop is available today on Netflix Instant.  Iannuci and his writing team (nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for their work here) went on to create the HBO comedy Veep, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, which has quickly become one of my favorite television programs.  It’s not currently available on streaming but I highly recommend you check it out wherever you might be able to find it.  It recently completed its second season and will return in Spring 2014 for a third.