White Comanche (1968)

Comanche Moon

A metaphorical mirror

After Star Trek was initially cancelled in 1968, William Shatner must have fancied a Spanish holiday.

So here he is, playing halfbreed twin brothers in a Spaghetti western: Johnny Moon is a surly cowboy and Notah Moon is a savage Comanche killer with a liking for peyote (giving Shatner a chance to overact wildly, which he seizes eagerly as you would expect). Joseph Cotten  gets top billing as the local sheriff, and Rossana Yani is the love interest for both Shatners.

It’s hard to know where to start. The continuity is all over the place, you see some telegraph  poles in the background at one point, and the dialogue is awful. I loved it.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★½☆☆

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300 (2006)

I finally got to see  Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s 300. This story was previously filmed as The 300 Spartans back in the 60s, and it was a horribly stodgy movie given the exciting  nature of the story it had to tell.

Snyder doesn’t permit any risk of the  viewer being bored, throwing effects at the screen even in the quiet scenes. Gerard Butler seems possessed by the  spirit of Brian Blessed, as do the rest of the cast, even the women, and some SF monsters are inexplicably introduced. It’s gory and stupid, consisting mainly of soldiers in underpants  shouting, so it’s no surprise to see it making lots of money.

If that’s your thing, then you’ll love it.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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The Far Side of Jericho (2006)

This month’s Western is The Far Side of Jericho, directed by Tim Hunter who made a big splash with River’s Edge (sic) back in the 80s, but who has seemingly been exiled to TV ever since leaving Robocop 2 over ‘creative differences’.  One of his TV jobs was directing episodes of Deadwood, and this takes a similar deconstructive attitude to the Western, emphasizing the hardship and cruelty of living in a land with no justice.

Three women are  forced to go on the run after their husbands are hanged, and they are pursued by assorted character actors, including Patrick Bergin, James Gammon and John Diehl, who believe they’ve got some  money hidden away.  Some of the dialogue is muffled and the terrain is never clearly mapped out, leaving me with the impression that the chase ended up where it started, but I might be  wrong. The New Mexico scenery looks great and the cast keep an admirably straight face throughout. (That is until the closing credits, where Bergin sings a ludicrous theme song in the  style of Frankie Laine, complete with vocal impressions of twangy guitars. Bonkers)

Not bad but not ambitious enough.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★½☆☆

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Cherry Crush (2007)

Apparently it's a drink as well as a movie

In the same way that Disturbia was a teen version of Rear Window, Cherry Crush is a teen version of Body Heat.

Jonathan Tucker plays a privileged young photographer who falls for a girl from ‘the wrong side of the tracks’, played appropriately vacuously by Nikki Reed. Assorted plot twists ensue, most of them ridiculous, and especially the final one. The odd thing here is that there’s some nudity in the first five minutes, then later on there isn’t any when the plot really requires it. It’s as if the makers have tried to make a tribute to film noir without ever having seen one.

Tucker is pretty good but the best performance comes from songwriter Michael O’Keefe as the cop investigating the murder. Nicely filmed and just complex enough to keep your attention.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★½☆☆

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Premonition (2007)

I’ve always liked Sandra Bullock, despite the restraining order… I’m pleased to say that she’s recently returned to making thrillers, or at least stopped making exclusively chick movies. In Premonition, she plays a happily-married housewife who is told that her husband has died in a car crash, but wakes the next day to find him still alive.

It’s difficult to say too much more without giving something away, but despite numerous plot twists, the movie never really does enough to convince that there’s more than one possible ending or that the Bullock character isn’t very stupid. Julian McMahon is horribly wooden as the husband, but there’s good support from Peter Stormare and Jude Ciccolella. Worth a watch.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Tell No One (2006)

Harlan Coben has made a nice living out of writing typically American novels, stories of kidnap and murder with complex plots and mostly happy endings. Imagine my surprise when Tell No One was turned into a very French film last year.

Ne le dis à personne is surprisingly successful in moving the story to Paris while not neglecting too much of Coben’s complex plot.  The cast are a bunch of familiar French character actors plus Kristin Scott Thomas. And Coben in a cameo as a man at a train station. There’s a bit of a lull in the middle, leaving too much exposition to the last half-hour, and there are a couple of music video interludes, but it feels for all the world like a 70s Chabrol thriller, both in style and content.

In French with English subtitles. It will be interesting to see if we get an American remake.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★★☆

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The Reaping (2007)

Makes a change from Japanese girls with bad hair I suppose

The Reaping manages the strange trick of being a bit dull despite containing everything you might expect in a horror movie.

Hilary Swank plays a former missionary (?) whose family is massacred in Africa and unsurprisingly loses her faith, subsequently dedicating her life to disproving miracles Dawkins-style. She ends up in a small Louisiana town trying to prevent what appears to be a series of Old Testament plagues, conveniently happening in order.

It’s directed by Stephen Hopkins, who avoids credibility problems by going way over the top and  dispensing with any connection to realism. Among the supporting cast is future TV star Idris Elba, along with Stephen Rea, playing a sort of Fr. Basil Exposition for those of you who aren’t that familiar with the bible. Top marks  go to romantic lead and Scouser David Morrissey, who battles  manfully with a Louisiana accent and mostly wins. It’s all a bit obvious but passes the time agreeably.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★½☆☆

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Zodiac (2007)

Look at the stars, look how they shine for you

For those too young to remember, the Zodiac  serial killer operated in San Francisco in the late 60s and early 70s, and was never caught. This movie is based on journalist Robert Graysmith’s book, and concentrates on the effects of the case on Graysmith and his colleagues as well as the SFPD police.

It comes to a fairly definite conclusion given the less-than-conclusive real-life story, and as usual Fincher packs an enormous amount of detail in. Jake Gyllenhaal is OK as the younger Graysmith but doesn’t really convince when he’s older, Robert Downey is unsurprisingly very convincing as his drunk colleague, and Mark Ruffalo turns in another fine performance as  the lead cop. And there’s an excellent understated supporting performance from Anthony Edwards, and an oddly excessive use of yellow in the colour palette.

(Make sure you get this movie and not ‘The Zodiac’, a TV movie on the same subject from 2005, which is OK but not a patch on Fincher’s effort)

Mild Peril Rating: ★★★½☆

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Unknown (2007)

There’s a whole genre (getting increasingly tired) of ‘people waking up in locked basements’ movies, and Unknown is one of the better examples. An added twist here is that all the characters have been gassed so they don’t even  know who they are, except that some of them are kidnappers and some are victims. A fine cast gets to play out the puzzle, led by Jim Caviezel and Barry Pepper, and it’s less than 90  minutes long.

There’s something vaguely unsatisfactory about the resolution, and it’s hard to develop any sympathy for the characters when they could all turn out to be bad guys. Still, it marks out  director Simon Brand as someone with a neat eye, even if his pacing is a bit off.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★½☆☆

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Captivity (2007)

Captivity caused a big fuss, due mainly to its tasteless (and inaccurate) billboard advertising campaign. Now it’s finally here, it turns out to be nothing more than a remake of Misery with occasional bits of violence.

Elisha Cuthbert, who spent most of 24 being menaced by cougars or locked in basements with nutters, manages to avoid any typecasting by dropping the cougars for this one. She plays a model who awakes trapped in a Saw-style basement, with only a Jimmy Carr look-alike for company, and with occasional visits from another bloke dressed in black overalls. The most obvious plot twist ever occurs (surprisingly as this is written by genre favourite Larry Cohen), a fair bit of tension is unavoidably generated and Cuthbert eventually manages to put her CTU combat training to use. The great Pruitt Taylor Vince is wasted, Cuthbert looks pretty of course and it’s shot in a stylishly grungy way by Texas Chainsaw veteran Daniel Pearl. The  biggest surprise is that it’s directed by Roland Joffe, a world away from The Mission.

Mild Peril Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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