Archive for Streaming Video

Screaming Streaming: BLITZ (2011)

Posted in 2012, Action Movies, Cop Movies, Michael Arruda Reviews, Screaming Streaming, Serial Killer flicks with tags , , , , on February 24, 2012 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Movie Review:  BLITZ (2011)
By Michael Arruda

 

Jason Statham has been making movies for over a decade, but he’s still not a household name.  He should be.  As action heroes go, he’s one of the best in the business right now.

Statham stars in the new serial killer thriller BLITZ (2011), now available on Streaming Video.  BLITZ is one efficient little actioner, clocking in at 97 minutes.  Like its hard-hitting star, there’s not an ounce of fat on this one.

A British cop with anger issues, Brant (Jason Statham) is one step away from being thrown off the force.  He’s angry, impulsive, and violent, a liability to his fellow officers and the work they’re trying to do.  But when a serial killer who calls himself “Blitz” (Aidan Gillen) begins targeting police officers, the department wants every available man on the case, including Brant.

Brant teams with his newly appointed superior officer Nash (Paddy Considine) to hunt down Blitz, and it becomes a race against time as Blitz continues his brash daytime murders of police officers, even announcing to the press how many officers he intends to kill.  As the pressure mounts and emotions on the force skyrocket, Brant remains icy cold, focusing all his energies on one target, Blitz, who he intends to capture, dead or alive.

If BLITZ sounds like DIRTY HARRY GOES TO LONDON, you’re right.  There are obvious parallels connecting Statham’s Brant to Clint Eastwood’s iconic Dirty Harry character.  I was especially reminded of the original DIRTY HARRY (1971) because Aidan Gillen’s performance of the over-the-top brazen psycho killer Blitz reminded me a lot of Andrew Robinson’s Scorpio, the crazed killer in DIRTY HARRY.

However, BLITZ doesn’t play like a rip-off of DIRTY HARRY, or of other serial killer movies.  It stands on its own and plays much better than its material.  One of the major reasons it rises above the standard serial killer clichés is the presence of Jason Statham.

Statham is an extremely watchable actor, mostly because he’s very believable as an action hero.  In the film’s opening, when he confronts three thugs on the street and handily kicks their butts to kingdom come, you believe it.  Moreover, Statham’s cool no-nonsense style is easy to digest, making him very likeable, even when he’s kicking the crap out of someone.  I had really enjoyed Statham in KILLER ELITE (2011), and he’s every bit as good here in BLITZ, maybe even better.

BLITZ has a very efficient screenplay by Nathan Parker, based on a novel by Ken Bruen, and presents a story that is as compact as it is effective.  Sure, it’s nothing we haven’t seen before, but sometimes banalities can be overlooked if they’re done right.  Such is the case with BLITZ.  The killer is a lunatic.  You want to see him stopped, and you want to see a guy like Brant be the one to stop him.  Pure and simple, the film works on this level.

I also liked that the action took place in London.  It was just different enough to be refreshing.  And while the story is definitely driven by the desire to see Brant catch Blitz, the movie also does a good job showing us the stresses of police life without beating us over the head with it.  The story provides just enough police drama to serve as a realistic reminder that a cop’s life can be hell, day in and day out.

In addition to Jason Statham, the rest of the cast is also very good.  Paddy Considine is excellent as Nash, Brant’s superior officer.  Nash is another officer who was about to be booted off the force but then receives a transfer to Brant’s department to earn a second chance.  No clichés here, no “the new captain’s a phony or a jerk who talks big but knows nothing.”  No, Brant and Nash bond immediately, mostly because Brant tells Nash at the outset that in spite of all that has happened, he knows Nash is a good cop.  It’s a refreshing moment as those things go.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie has Nash pouring out his soul to Brant as they sit in Nash’s apartment having a drink.  Nash tells Brant the awful story of what happened to him earlier on the force, and how he almost threw his life away.  It’s a completely engrossing moment, and when he’s finished telling his tale, Nash looks at Brant, and Brant’s sleeping.  I laughed out loud.

Aiden Gillen is also very good as the killer Blitz.  He really makes you hate him, and you can’t wait for Statham’s Brant to catch up with him.

Zawe Ashton turns in a believable performance as Brant’s buddy on the force, Falls.  She plays yet another officer plagued by personal problems.

BLITZ was directed by Elliott Lester, and he has a quick, likable style.  The movie packs a punch as it flies by rapidly.  It’s also not overly gratuitous.  Blitz’ execution style murders are bloody and intense without being over-the- top violent.  This is an action film, not a horror movie.

I liked BLITZ a lot.  Jason Statham is fun to watch, and he’s supported by a fine group of actors who make this one a winner.  You’ve got a crazy serial killer on the loose and a rogue tough-as-nails cop going up against him, who’ll stop at nothing to get the killer’s head on a platter.  What’s not to like?

So, if you’re in the mood for hard-hitting action tale, one that’s as believable as it is entertaining, then you should check out BLITZ.   You won’t be disappointed if you’re a Jason Statham fan, and if you’re not a fan yet, chances are you will be after seeing this movie.

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© Copyright 2012 by Michael Arruda

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MURDER BY DECREE

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, Jack the Ripper, Michael Arruda Reviews, Mystery, Psycho killer, Psychological Horror, Screaming Streaming, Sherlock Holmes with tags , , , , , , on August 19, 2011 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Movie Review: MURDER BY DECREE (1979)
By Michael Arruda

 

Today on SCREAMING STREAMING! it’s MURDER BY DECREE (1979), an atmospheric mystery/thriller that pits Sherlock Holmes against Jack the Ripper, and it’s now available on streaming video.

I remember liking MURDER BY DECREE when I first saw it back in 1979 . I was especially intrigued by the Sherlock Holmes/Jack the Ripper storyline . Unfortunately, I have seen a lot of Jack the Ripper movies since then, and so the plot points and revelations made here in MURDER BY DECREE regarding the identity of Jack the Ripper don’t possess the power they once did.

And if you’ve seen any movies or read any books about Jack the Ripper (and who hasn’t?), the plot of MURDER BY DECREE offers nothing new . Yes, prostitutes are being viciously murdered in Whitechapel by Jack the Ripper, and the world’s greatest detective Sherlock Holmes (Christopher Plummer) is called in to investigate, along with his partner Dr. Watson (James Mason).

A psychic named Robert Lees (Donald Sutherland) informs Holmes that he believes the Ripper murders are the result of a government conspiracy, and the clues that Holmes and Watson uncover during their investigation seem to back up this premise . Holmes is led to Mary Kelly (Susan Clark), who confides in him that she is protecting her friend Annie Crook (Genevieve Bujold) and her child from threats which she intimates are from the highest positions in the British government, including the crown itself . Holmes finds Crook in an insane asylum, and what he learns from her confirms his theory regarding the identity of Jack the Ripper . He and Watson then set out to catch the Ripper and expose the conspiracy.

If you’re looking for an atmospheric period piece, you can’t go wrong with MURDER BY DECREE . The film looks terrific, as it depicts 19th century London at its foggy best . It has the look of the Hammer Films period pieces from the 1950s and 1960s .

And if you’re looking for good acting by veterans of the field, MURDER BY DECREE satisfies here as well . The film enjoys strong acting performances, especially from its two leads: Christopher Plummer, as Sherlock Holmes and James Mason, as Dr. Watson. They share an amiable chemistry, and when they are onscreen together, they are fun to watch . The rest of the cast is also excellent.

The film even gets off to a good start with some creepy murders in the London fog .

But then it slows down halfway through and never really picks up again . Towards the end, when the story should be picking up steam, it falters, and its conclusion, whereby Holmes explains all that he has learned and proved, is interesting, but it’s nothing new nor all that dramatic.

Even though there are some eerie murder scenes, MURDER BY DECREE is rated PG, so don’t expect much blood and gore . FROM HELL (2001), this ain’t! Further complicating matters is that some of the key murder and action scenes are shot in slow motion, and this doesn’t work at all, as it only results in slowing down the suspense.

The two main reasons to see MURDER BY DECREE, then, are the strong acting performances from its veteran cast, and the atmospheric photography of this period piece thriller.

Christopher Plummer is very good as Sherlock Holmes, and he plays the world’s greatest detective as a more compassionate and human man than he’s usually portrayed in the movies . Plummer’s Holmes is also very emotional, especially when the investigation brings him closer to the lives—and deaths— of the women he’s investigating .

James Mason, one of my all-time favorite actors, makes a very likeable Dr. Watson . Mason was an accomplished actor who starred in all types of films, and he enjoyed some memorable roles in genre movies, from the heroic Sir Oliver Lindenbrook in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959), to the conniving Dr. Polidori in FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY (1973), to the evil Straker in Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT (1979), to name just a few . Here, he makes a very distinguished Watson, applying some understated humor to the role.

The rest of the cast is full of veterans of the field . David Hemmings, a popular actor from the 1960s, who I remember most from movie roles in the 1970s, plays Inspector Foxborough, a Scotland Yard inspector with ulterior motives . Hemmings made a ton of movies, and one of his last was THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN (2003) with Sean Connery, before his death later that year at age 62.

Frank Finlay plays Inspector Letrade, and he’s another actor I’ve always enjoyed, from his performances in Richard Lester’s THREE MUSKETEERS movies in the 1970s to Tobe Hooper’s LIFEFORCE (1985), that bizarre space/vampire movie that should be on everyone’s “must see at least once” list . Finlay was also in THE PIANIST (2002), the film in which Adrien Brody won the Best Actor Oscar, but my all-time favorite Finlay role was his portrayal of Professor van Helsing in the 1977 Great Performances production of COUNT DRACULA, a neat and faithful retelling of Bram Stoker’s tale . Alas, as good as Finlay is, he doesn’t do much here in MURDER BY DECREE.

Donald Sutherland fares better as psychic Robert Lees, and his performance serves as a solid reminder as to why he was such a popular actor in the 1970s . Genevieve Bujold makes the most of her one scene as Annie Crook, so much so that she delivers probably the best performance in the film, other than Plummer and Mason . She’s really good . Susan Clark is also very good as the tragically doomed Mary Kelly.

MURDER BY DECREE was directed by Bob Clark, the man most famous for directing the Christmas classic A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983) . Of course, Clark is also known for a less family-oriented Christmas movie, the 1974 Christmas horror movie BLACK CHRISTMAS, starring Margot Kidder . Clark also directed PORKY’S (1982) . Quite the varied resume!

MURDER BY DECREE doesn’t showcase Clark’s best work . The film lacks effective pacing, and the murder scenes don’t really pack the punch that they should, hindered by the annoying slow-motion photography .

John Hopkins wrote the screenplay . Hopkins is one of the writers who worked on the Sean Connery Bond film THUNDERBALL (1965) . In MURDER BY DECREE, there’s entertaining dialogue between Holmes and Watson, but there’s not much else that makes this one special in terms of writing .

Neither the direction nor the writing does much in the way of building suspense in this movie.

I remember liking MURDER BY DECREE when I first saw it back in 1979, but watching it now, all these years later, it doesn’t hold up all that well . It’s a beautifully photographed movie, it enjoys solid acting, and the first third of its story is rather compelling, but then it slows down and it remains slow all the way to its dramatic revelations, which, if you know the Jack the Ripper conspiracy theories, really aren’t that dramatic or surprising.

MURDER BY DECREE is one of those movies that, if you catch it in the right frame of mind, you might like it, but the fact is, there are better Sherlock Holmes movies, and there are better Jack the Ripper movies .

Watching MURDER BY DECREE is like looking at a mediocre painting . It catches your eye, and as you stay to look at it, you like what you see, but before long you tire of the experience and move on, and since it didn’t knock your socks off, you see no need to look at it again.

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda

Screaming Streaming: TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER

Posted in 1970s Movies, 2011, 70s Horror, Devil Movies, Hammer Films, Horror, Michael Arruda Reviews, Satanists, Screaming Streaming with tags , , , , , , on July 20, 2011 by knifefighter

SCREAMING STREAMING!
Movie Review: TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976)
By Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to the first ever SCREAMING STREAMING! movie review column, where I’ll be reviewing movies available on screaming— er, streaming video. I’ll cover a mix of old movies and new releases, as well as different genres, including horror, action, thriller, mystery, and comedies. Chick flicks?— no.

We begin with an oldie, the Christopher Lee/Hammer movie TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER (1976), notable because it was Hammer Film’s last horror movie, that is, until its recent comeback film LET ME IN (2010). And that’s really all that’s notable about it. It was a flop back in 1976. I saw TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER several years after it was released, in the early 1980s on HBO, and I hated it. Other than Nastassja Kinski’s full- frontal nude scene, there was nothing memorable about it. In fact, as I sat down this week to watch the movie again, that’s the only thing I remembered about it!

TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is a story about Satanists, which comes as no surprise, since it’s based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Dennis Wheatley, who also wrote the novel THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, also about Satanists, also filmed by Hammer in 1968, with the U.S. title THE DEVIL’S BRIDE, also starring Christopher Lee. Wheatley died in 1977 at age 80.

In TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, a distraught man, Henry Beddows (Denholm Elliott) seeks out the help of an American occult novelist John Verney (Richard Widmark) to protect his daughter Catherine (Nastassja Kinski) from an evil Satanist, an excommunicated priest named Father Michael (Christopher Lee). It seems, years earlier, at Catherine’s birth, her parents made a “deal with the devil” promising the girl’s soul to Father Michael on her eighteenth birthday. Father Michael intends to hand over Catherine to Satan for reasons we can only imagine— let’s see, she’s 18 and beautiful, what do you think he wants her for? Sounds like a marriage made in Hell.

It also sounds like a plot I just saw in a movie a few years ago, THE HAUNTING OF MOLLY HARTLEY (2008), as that film was also about parents who made a deal with Satanists to turn their daughter’s soul over to them when the girl turned 18, and in that movie the dad also changed his mind and tried to protect his daughter.

And that in a nutshell is the plot of TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, as Verney vows to protect Catherine from Father Michael, and Father Michael vows to find Catherine and get her to the altar in time to make whoopee with Satan. Along the way there are some satanic goings-on by Father Michael and his cohorts, including the painful birth of a baby which they plan to sacrifice later. What is it about Satanists and babies, and why do they always want to sacrifice the little infants? I just finished watching DRIVE ANGRY (2011) on DVD starring Nicholas Cage, another movie about Satanists, and what did these folks want to do? Sacrifice a baby, only they picked the wrong baby, Cage’s granddaughter, and he’s not about to let that happen, which is why he’s driving angry.

Anyway, back to TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER. In addition to the Satanic shenanigans, we also get to watch John Verney try to solve the mystery of what’ s up with Catherine, since her daddy wasn’t exactly truthful in his explanation of why he wanted Verney to watch over his daughter. Of course, Verney eventually figures everything out, being the intelligent occult novelist that he is, which sets us up for the final and dramatic confrontation between tough guy Richard Widmark and Dracula himself, Christopher Lee.

All of this sounds better than it actually is. Truth be told, age hasn’t really helped this movie. It’s still all rather dull.

A lot of the blame here falls on the shoulders of screenwriter Christopher Wicking, who wrote the screenplay. There really isn’t much of a story, which is why it’s so dull. Not much happens, and the little that does is painfully stretched out to fill the 90 minute running time.

The characters aren’t fleshed out. We know very little about the evil Father Michael. Christopher Lee is fun to watch, as he does evil as good as anybody, but Father Michael isn’t developed beyond being a bad guy. Lee looks like Dracula wearing a priest’s collar. Since Lee always looks good as Dracula, he looks good here, too, but other than being a straightforward evil baddie, he does little else. Compared to Lee’s Lord Summerisle in THE WICKER MAN (1973), a character who was chilling because he was an oddball who was difficult to gauge, Father Michael is a one-trick pony.

Richard Widmark’s occult author John Verney is dreadfully dull, about as boring a hero as you’re going to find in a horror movie. He has very little personality, and comes off as wooden as a fence post. Nastassja Kinski’s Catherine is also a bore. She hardly says two words, but she’s beautiful in this movie, and that’s probably all the filmmakers were going for here.

Some memorable dialogue would have helped this movie. Christopher Lee gets one of the best lines in the movie, and really, it’s memorable not so much because of the line, but because of the way Lee delivers it. After the woman has given birth to the Satanists sacrificial baby, Lee leans close to her and says with a smile, “You can die now.” It’s Lee at his evil best.

Christopher Wicking also wrote the screenplay for Hammer’s BLOOD FROM THE MUMMY’S TOMB (1971), Hammer’s final Mummy movie, and for the movie SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970), famous for the first-time triple teaming of Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing, and also famous for being one of the most confusing horror movies ever made!) Storytelling with clarity doesn’t seem to be Wicking’s strong point.

Wicking died in 2008 at the age of 64.

TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER was directed by Peter Sykes, and he does an okay job at the helm. And, photography wise, the film looks good. It’s handsomely photographed and makes good use of some on-location filming in the German countryside. But in terms of memorable scenes, there’s nothing.

For a movie that compared itself in its original theatrical trailers to ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) and THE EXORCIST (1973), it forgot one very important ingredient: it forgot to be scary, and that’s really the major problem with TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER. It’s NOT scary. Not a good thing when you’re a horror movie about Satanists.

It’s no surprise then that Hammer struggled in the 1970s and eventually went out of business. Their style of movies couldn’t compare to the other horror movies of the 1970s. Just look at THE EXORCIST, for example. Besides the obvious, that THE EXORCIST is scary, it also has realistic and very memorable characters. Father Karras (Jason Miller), for instance, seems like a real person. The characters in TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER don’t seem real at all.

If there’s a reason to watch TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, it’s the cast, which is the best part of the movie. Father Michael may be a one-dimensional character, but Christopher Lee at least makes that one dimension— evil— fun to watch. Over the years, nobody has done evil as well as Lee, and in TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER, he’s at his evil best. Plus at this point, pretty much anything Lee has done is required viewing. Just don’t expect THE WICKER MAN.

Richard Widmark runs hot and cold as American author John Verney. When he’s doing his “tough guy” routine, and he gets to be physical and fight, he looks more at home. When he’s talking about the occult and Satanists, he seems out of place. He also doesn’t really sound like an author. He sounds like a police detective. Widmark died in 2008 at 93.

Honor Blackman (Miss Pussy Galore herself from GOLDFINGER (1964), and from THE AVENGERS TV show (1961-69), is on hand as Verney’s agent Anna, and she adds style and class to the proceedings with a very good performance.

Denholm Elliott as scared daddy Henry Beddows gives the best performance in the movie, other than Christopher Lee. He seems scared to death throughout. Elliott died in 1992 at age 70.

And while Nastassja Kinski is beautiful in this movie, her performance is blah, and other than her beauty, she doesn’t stand out a bit.

But in spite of its strong cast, TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is slow and dull. Hammer had much more success with their other Dennis Wheatley film, THE DEVIL’S BRIDE, but of course that one was directed by their best director, Terence Fisher, and Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay. TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER can’t boast of such talent.

TO THE DEVIL A DAUGHTER is a mixed bag, with very little to offer other than Christopher Lee’s demonic performance. Of course, there IS that Nastassja Kinski full-frontal nude scene.

—END—

© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda