What I watched in the past few weeks…
I’ll start off with this month’s Mad Movie Challenge from Mike’s Take on the Movies: The Secret of Santa Vittoria, from director Stanley Kramer whose comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World is a favourite (and obviously the inspiration for the name of this monthly switcheroo). Anthony Quinn plays the resident drunk of a small Italian town, who becomes mayor after the fall of Mussolini, then has to quickly hide a million bottles of wine from occupying Nazis. It’s a long and leisurely paced, amusing look at how this underestimated, uneducated village (only one citizen per generation goes off to college) unites to resist the occupiers, and how “stupid Bombolini, stupid mayor of Santa stupid,” as Quinn’s raging wife Anna Magnani calls him, becomes a hero in a battle of wills. Liked the part where the villagers line up all the way out of town and move their only resource, the wine bottles, in an epic version of the fire bucket brigade. Virna Lisi plays the local aristocrat who falls in love with Sergio Franchi, Giancarlo Giannini plays Quinn’s son-in-law.
In the rest of my recent viewing, my Clint Eastwood fest rolls on, this time with more Pat Hingle and Sondra Locke. I’ll miss seeing so much of Geoffrey Lewis once this binge is over:
- Every Which Way But Loose, haven’t seen this since I was a kid. You had me at beer-swilling Orangutan sidekick, but there are also great fight scenes and it’s just a ridiculously fun and rowdy buddy/road movie. If I believed in such things as guilty pleasures this would be one.
- Hang ’em High, a simple, riveting revenge tale and exploration of justice, viewed differently by the legal system than by the wronged man left for dead by a mob.
- Escape from Alcatraz I’ve seen a few times now, one of my favourite Clint/Don Siegel movies. The slow dig, dummy heads and fake grilles never get old when Siegel lays out all those details and plans in such a suspenseful way, and gets us to so strongly sympathize with the inmates. Patrick McGoohan’s sadistic warden, crushing all hope in the few prisoners who have any, along with the claustrophobic and dangerous conditions, are dehumanizing, but they can’t kill Clint and crew’s determination.
- Coogan’s Bluff, Siegel’s quirky fish-out-of-water tale featuring the Arizona (not Texas!) cowboy Clint scours oddball corners of New York looking for wayward prisoner Don Stroud, then rides off into the sunset on his helicopter. Introduced me to a string of words I’ll never forget: pigeon-toed orange peel.
- The Gauntlet, a bonkers chase, with Clint as an alcoholic cop assigned to get smart, mouthy prostitute Sondra Locke to court alive so she can testify against the mob. Except there’s a hit on the pair, who manage against an army of baddies to get back to Phoenix any which way, including plowing into town on an armored bus. Epic us-against-the world action–everything this poster promises.
- It Always Rains on Sunday, a good Brit Noir about a family’s dating and work dramas, plus tangential gangster plotting, while unbeknownst to all but Googie Withers, fugitive John McCallum hides out in their home.
- 2 more William Castle movies after last month’s fun find Homicide: Macabre, in which despised small town doctor William Prince (also seen in The Gauntlet) races to discover which of the many folks with grudges and motives has buried his daughter alive. Then The Night Walker, with Barbara Stanwyck playing rich widow and target of a hoax haunting. So fun to see her and Robert Taylor in this type of chiller.
- The Conjuring 2 I liked nearly as much as the first one. Long, spooky fun-house ride, and the overly cartoonish “Crooked Man” is more than made up for with the demon nun in the painting and the toy fire truck.
- Kingsman: The Secret Service, entertaining spy genre spin; stylish, darkly funny and ultra-violent.
- Sam Peckinpah’s The Killer Elite and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia: Liked them both, Elite for the fun rapport between rival assassins James Caan and Robert Duvall, Caan’s grueling rehab and the motley crew he assembles (funny bomb-under-the-car bit). Garcia is unforgettable, somehow as brutally violent and bleak as it is tender and touching. Favourite Warren Oates performance I’ve seen so far.
- Caught up on all of The Expanse, a good sci fi/noir detective series where a missing heiress case ties into an interplanetary political conspiracy and discovery of a bizarre new life form. Thomas Jane is great.
- I’m a die-hard X-Men comics fan since childhood, always happy to see good adaptations, and Legion is a great, inventive one that puts the wry multiple-personality mutant in a weirdo psychedelic melodrama. First episode featured some incredible visuals and ended with a fantastic one-take mountainside breakout and escape sequence.
- Time Bomb aka Terror on a Train finds engineer Glenn Ford tasked with finding and defusing a bomb hidden in a load of mines. Well done, nice photography and suspense, the last few minutes rushed through his wife (Anne Vernon’s) inconvenient arrival, plus one predictable twist.