DRESSED TO KILL (1980)
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1980 thriller opens with bored and sexually unsatisfied high society housewife Kate Miller (Angie Dickinson) having a rather rough sexual fantasy while her husband is pounding away at her. She relays this frustration to her therapist, Dr. Robert Elliott (Michael Caine) and even hits on him to no avail. Kate finally has an affair with a stranger she meets at an art gallery, but is savagely murdered by a mysterious blonde in the elevator on her way out. The murder is witnessed by high priced hooker Liz Blake (Nancy Allen) who now is caught between the killer who saw her as well and a cop (Dennis Franz) who uses her to help him investigate Elliot, whom he thinks knows more about the killer than he is saying. Will Liz get out of this mess alive?
As written and directed by Brian De Palma this is a bombastic and overindulgent thriller with a slight case of Psycho envy and every bit of it is intentional. Subtlety is not De Palma’s style and he directs the film with a hand that evokes both Alfred Hitchcock and Dario Argento, especially when bathed in Pino Donaggio’s operatic score. The cinematography is lush, the violence is intense and bloody and despite some very raunchy dialog and some intense sexual overtones, the film does retain some class, even when it’s not trying to be classy. There is some nice suspense, a couple of intense chases and upon first viewing, it is a provocative mystery as to who our homicidal femme fatale “Bobbi” really is. The fun of repeat viewings, is seeing how obvious the killer’s identity is in hindsight, as the clues where there all the time. There is some nice interaction between Allen’s sassy hooker and Kate’s inventor son Peter (Keith Gordon) as the two team to hunt down the killer, Liz to save her own skin and Peter to avenge his mother’s death. Complimenting this sexually charged thriller is the before mentioned cinematography by Ralf D. Bode and that melodramatic score by Donaggio who also scored Joe Dante’s horror classics Piranha and The Howling. If the film has any failings, it can be a little too melodramatic for it’s own good and approaches borderline silly in a few spots. Most of this comes in the first act with Kate’s game of sexual cat and mouse with the stranger at the art gallery being a prime example. It’s a bit much to the point of camp, but otherwise this is an entertaining erotic thriller.
The cast is top notch. Caine is mysterious and aloof as Dr. Elliott. He knows far more than he is telling about his patient “Bobbi” and keeps us in the dark as to just how involved he is, aside from knowing victim and killer. Nancy Allen is sexy and sassy as Liz. She’s hunted by a killer and being manipulated by police and Allen portrays a women trapped in the middle with few friends, but a lot of spunk, very well…and she’s quite hot in the role, Speaking of hot, Angie Dickinson was almost 50 when she portrayed the fiery and sexually frustrated Kate and she exudes sexual desire and a touching sadness in a very solid performance. She was also still stunningly gorgeous (even with the knowledge that she had a body double for the infamous shower scene) and her character evoked sympathy from the audience long before her harrowing and gruesome death by straight razor. Gordon is also good as Kate’s genius nerd of a son and we can see why Carpenter chose him three years later to play equally nerdy Arnie Cunningham in Christine. Rounding out is Dennis Franz as the sleazy, yet still somewhat charming and likable Det. Marino. A really good cast.
Brian De Palma’s most infamous flick is part Hitchcockian mystery/thriller and part Italian giallo. It’s got violence, loads of sexual tinged scenes and dialog and a mysterious figure in black stalking her prey. It can be delightfully bombastic and operatic at times, although sometimes too much for it’s own good. It’s got a solid cast and at this point, loads of 80s nostalgia. Not perfect, but a fun and entertaining mystery thriller with an elevator murder that sticks with you long the flick is over.
3 straight razors.
KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE (2014)
Mildly amusing spy spoof is based on a comic book by Mark Millar and directed by Matthew Vaughn, as was the cult favorite Kick-Ass. The film follows a group of British Secret Service operatives known as the Kingman and one agent, Galahad’s (Colin Firth) efforts to thwart the evil plot of megalomaniac villain Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), with the help of new recruit, Eggsy (Taron Egerton). There are some fun over-the-top action sequences and playful nods and jabs at spy films and Britain’s most famous agent in particular, but the film never really takes off as a comedy and never really grabs with it’s hyper violent, CGI enhanced action scenes. Sometimes the film just doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be…spoof, or actual spy film. The graphic violence also clashes with it’s more playful tone, giving the film a schizophrenic quality. The cast are charming enough, though Jackson’s Valentine does get annoying after a while, as played as an overzealous man-child. The FX are top notch and the plot would fit any of the lower tier Bond films. It’s just that the humor isn’t quite funny enough, in paying homage it doesn’t give us anything new and, overall, it winds up being exactly the type of mid-level spy movie it’s supposed to be playfully poking fun at. A harmless enough watch, but almost as forgettable as some of the lesser efforts it spoofs…save a certain show-stopping church set action sequence played-out to “Freebird”. Also stars Mark Strong and Michael Caine.
ALIEN OUTPOST (2014)
Faux documentary from Jabbar Raisani is never for one moment successful at feeling like anything, but a staged, scripted film. The story takes place in the near future where an alien invasion of Earth has been repelled and now outposts have been set up around the world to clean up the left behind alien soldiers, known as “Heavies”. The film focuses…through the eyes of two cameramen…on the troops in one of the last outposts on the Pakistan/Afganistan border, who are under fire by aliens and locals alike. The flick grows tiresome quickly, as it is filled with and overplays every war movie cliché it can muster. The characters are all blandly acted stereotypes, who give the same gung-ho speeches and mournful soliliquies we have heard in every war movie since the 40s. Adding aliens to the mix adds nothing new. There are also numerous and huge plot holes such as, if the alien’s have mind-control abilities, why didn’t they use them in the initial conflict and why would the world’s governments make such a half-assed effort to clean out the remaining aliens, who are clearly still a threat…other than to add drama to this movie. There are some nice FX and the aliens are portrayed effectively, but aliens aside, this is nothing we haven’t seen before and much better.
Australian Sci-Fi thriller may have some very familiar elements, but is an entertaining enough flick. Story has an incident occurring on a far-off mining colony and a search and rescue group going there to collect a sole survivor (Daniel MacPherson) and stop the plant from further processing. What they find is an alien life form capable of taking over other lifeforms in order to evolve…and with gruesome and violent results. Sure Shane Abbess’ chiller plays a lot like a combination of both John Carpenter’s The Thing and Ghosts Of Mars but, it’s fairly entertaining despite the similarities and does take it’s familiar story in an interesting direction by the time the credits roll. The film is rather moderately paced and has a few tedious spots, but the FX are top notch and the acting is pretty good for this type of flick. Avoids some of the cliché and does give us something to think about once it concludes. Also stars Luke Hemsworth and Grace Huang.
BATMAN BEGINS (2005)
Watched this while I sat on the couch in my Thanksgiving food coma and decided to write a more comprehensive review then I had when it first came out…
After the disastrous Batman and Robin, the Batman series went on hiatus until Chris Nolan rebooted the series with this dark and yet energetic film that returns Batman (Christian Bale) to his origins and portrays The Dark Knight like he should have been portrayed all along, a dark brooding character who dwells in the shadows and not a cabaret act with plastic nipples on his costume. The story starts off with a first half that flashes back and forth between Bruce Wayne’s life as a child (Gus Lewis) and young adult and the subsequent murder of his parents in front of him, and his modern day quest to get deep inside the criminal mind-set by living and acting among them. While in jail in South Asia, Wayne is confronted by Ducard (Liam Neeson) an emissary for Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe) a mystic who promises to give him the means to fight the criminal element. Ducard trains Wayne in the art of the ninja but, when Bruce finds that Ra’s methods include murder, he rebels and destroys The League Of Shadows hideout before returning to Gotham to put his training to use as a symbol of good who’ll combat the evil rotting away at Gotham… and The Batman is born. But not only must Batman, along with his trusty butler Alfred (a brilliant Michael Caine), scientist Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and good cop Sgt. James Gordon (Gary Oldman), battle crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom WIlkinson) and the psychotic Dr. Jonathan Crane AKA The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) but, a resurrected Ra’s al Ghul who has a catastrophic plan for the city of Gotham. Now that Nolan’s classic Batman trilogy is complete, I can say that this first entry is the lightest and least drama heavy of the three… thought it is far darker and more intense then the previous series. While Batman/Wayne is a brooding character, he has yet to gain the weariness and emotional battle scars he would experience in the following entries. And that works here as we see a Batman who is new at this crime fighting gig and is kinda enjoying it before the weight of the responsibility he has given himself sets in. There is depth to the character and Bale makes a great Bruce Wayne/Batman bringing the pain and rage that drives him to life, without losing the hero in the process. As for his beginnings, the story not only handles the origin strongly but, gives us some strikingly powerful scenes that give us a far better sense of how this man came to be who he is, far better then the Burton film did. Chris Nolan creates a dark and gothic Batman, both visually and conceptually, but, never gets swallowed up by it. The film is still fast paced and exceptionally entertaining despite it’s dark trappings and Nolan also mixes in 3 villains and large cast of characters and does it without creating an overcrowded mess as with the last film. Every character is developed properly and a fine cast gets equal credit. And what a cast it is. This is possibly one of the best cast films… and series… that you can get. As stated, Bale is great in the part, he creates a Batman who is strong and noble yet very human and he creates a multi-layered Bruce Wayne who is carefree playboy to the outside world and a complex and emotionally scarred man to those few close to him. Watching him evolve the characters over the next two films is a cinematic treat. Caine is simply brilliant as the supportive, caring and honorable Alfred, as is Freeman as the Wayne Enterprises scientist who answers the question “Where does he get those wonderful toys?” and Oldman as the possibly last honest cop in Gotham, who may now have an ally who is above all the corruption and serves the same noble purpose. We can see the hope it gives him, thought is is imbued with caution. Neeson is near perfect… as always… as the villain who shares Batman’s nobility but, with a far different set of principles and methods. Cillian Murphy is slimy and creepy as both Crane and his alter ego Scarecrow and has some amusing cameos in the following entries. Tom Wilkinson practically steals the show as Carmine Falcone, the smug mob boss with a sarcastic sense of humor that makes him even more threatening. Katie Homes may not be quite up to the caliber as some of her co-stars but, she does present a strong and spunky assistant D.A., Rachel Dawes, who is quite believable when she stands up to Falcone’s thugs and Crane’s Scarecrow on her own and also as a caring love interest to Bruce. Rounding out are Rutger Hauer as Wayne Enterprises CEO with his own agenda, Mark Boone Junior as Gordon’s crooked partner and the incomparable Shane Rimmer as a DWP technician. Batman Begins is a great comic book movie and is still one of the best Batman films despite being overshadowed by the masterpiece that is it’s sequel and the epic and operatic third entry. It’s the most “fun” of the three modern classics Nolan has crafted and a great start to a film trilogy that is simply of of the best trilogies in movie history. A Bat Blast!
3 and 1/2 Bats with bats!