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Old 01-25-2021, 07:27 AM   #2661
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My first exposure to The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (TSWCIFTC) was in a BBC audio drama adaptation of the book, that runs approximately an hour longer than the film. I have to say, with that additional hour, the drama packed in a greater element of credibility and depth than this nonetheless admirable film did.

John Le Carre's story deals with Alex Leamas, an apparently down on his luck former secret service operative, discharged after a disastrous operation in which one of his agents in enemy territory was killed when defecting to the west. While Leamas is working a barely-paying library job (and accepting the friendly advances of his fellow employee Nancy, an ardent believer in communism), he is picked up by an East European agency looking to persuade him to part with important covert information for a fee. This is in fact a ruse, and Leamas is working on the advice of his superiors Control and George Smiley, as a double agent leaking out false information that will betray the trust of Mundt, a dangerous agent from the enemy side. It is imperative for the success of the plan that the enemy must believe they are extracting this information from an embittered defector, and so Leamas must live the part of a hard-drinking self-loathing reluctant traitor.

As I recall, in the audio drama, the reveal of Leamas being a 'double agent' comes out gradually in the form of repeated flashbacks to when Smiley is advising him on the strategy to be followed. The film puts it up quite early, and there is no ambiguity about Leamas' position. But till he is actually contacted by the enemy, he must for all intents and purposes be nothing other than a perpetually intoxicated bitter failure. Into this sad lonely existence, the affections of his library colleague come as a warm breeze to the man perpetually "out in the cold" and even as he otherwise faithfully plays his part, he cannot resist getting into a relationship. And it is then that the enemy gets in touch.

The next phase of the drama is when Leamas is passed on from one handler to another, each probing him for information and stringing him along with a bottle, and promises of payment and asylum. He is eventually met by Fiedler, a Jewish party member with a grudge against the former Nazi Mundt. In a careful series of revelations, bolstered by frequent temper tantrums and demands for his payment, always making it look like he is parting with the information against his conscience, Leamas plays Fiedler.

In a conventional spy thriller, this deception would have a triumphant climax with Leamas redeemed as a hero. But both Le Carre in his book and director Martin Ritt in his film adaptation looked to present a more murky reality of espionage and without being explicit, one can say that Leamas in turn finds that he may himself be a pawn in a larger game. The ending is a poignant tragedy that makes the story far more memorable.

Although Richard Burton's theatricality still occasionally surfaces in the lead role, his real life struggles with alcohol (and stressful marriage to Liz Taylor) play into his identification with the part. Plus, he is able to convey a certain charisma even in a disheveled state, making Nancy's attraction to a drunk loser more plausible. The direction is mostly understated and Oswald Morris' gritty B&W cinematography effectively captures the murky proceedings. Also worth mentioning is the Sol Kaplan score.

Criterion's A/V presentation is quite solid, although I get the impression this is not a spanking new HD scan (even for the time of release). I have seen only one extra, the interview with John Le Carre, who apart from writing the book, was also a part of the production, brought in to "re-write" Burton's lines and effective act as a buffer between him and Martin Ritt. This extra alone is worth the price of admission. Le Carre truly knows how to tell a story, and he is very candid about the entire process of how he got involved with the film and his impressions of the final product (which go way beyond discussing faithfulness to the source). One of the best interviews Criterion has ever snagged.

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Old 01-25-2021, 07:53 AM   #2662
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ravenous, have you seen the more recent A Most Wanted Man and/or Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy? Can recommend both if you havenít and if you enjoyed The Spy Who Came in From the Cold
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Old 01-25-2021, 10:25 AM   #2663
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TTSS - I have read the novel, seen the Alec Guinness Mini-series (Also seen the sequel mini-series Smiley's People) and the Gary Oldman movie.
Haven't seen Most Wanted Man.
I had also ordered Deadly Affair, but it twice got lost in transit and I left it as a jinxed affair.
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Old 01-31-2021, 01:27 PM   #2664
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I avoided seeing Virumaandi around the time of its original release. The general buzz of the film and Kamalahaasan's look made it seem like a lower-rent sequel to Thevar Magan. But that's actually not the case. While taking place in a similar setting of warring clans, Virumaandi takes inspiration from Rashomon to depict two different versions of events that occurred. Of course, since one of them is from the POV of the titular character (played by Kamal who also wrote and directed, and did his own playback singing), we are not meant to be in any dilemma about which version represents the truth. In that sense, VM is a more evolved version of the 80's/90's revenge potboiler in which the hero framed for crimes he didn't commit, gives us his flashback so that he has our sympathies while handing out comeuppance to the villains that did the framing. VM also bears messages about capital punishment and saving the environment, but they're not core to the narrative.

While its 3 hour sprawl does eventually lay heavy (and the climax featuring large objects and people being catapulted over prison walls takes away from the human drama) it is surprisingly nimble for most of that period, deftly edited with some excellent framing (of the visual kind). As an actor Kamal plays to his own strengths (he's obnoxiously old for the hotheaded youth character, but in Indian cinema that's a given for most star vehicles), and there's good support from the other cast.

Showing now on Amazon Prime. The print scanned has a lot of damage in certain scenes, and for a "THX certified" film, the sound is quite rough in parts. And at least for me, there was a lag period between the dialog and the subtitles.
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Old 02-01-2021, 06:54 AM   #2665
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Saw AoG2: Operation Condor last night on 88 blu. Considering the last time I saw this was on P&S rental VHS (and maybe on TV in the 90's), you can imagine the incredibly different experience watching a high-quality transfer of it makes. If not for Jackie's youth and agility, it would be difficult to reconcile as a film made nearly 30 years ago. It helps that the source seems to have been in great condition, and the colors look fresh. The jaunty orchestral score was also a lot more noticeable this time, especially during the opening sequence where Jackie breaks into and escapes from the tribal stronghold.

I saw the extended 117 min version of the film, and while I can't recall with precision, I think some of the business with the desert raid and slave market scenes may have been added in to the previous cut. The extended cut is only available in Cantonese 2.0, while the shorter HK cut is available in multiple sound mixes including an English dub. I'm glad I held off on buying the 2013 Mediumrare release. This movie is still a lot of fun and utterly gorgeous in its new avatar.

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Old 02-04-2021, 07:18 AM   #2666
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Made my way through the first disc of the Inner Sanctum Mysteries set. Apart from starring Lon Chaney, all the 3 films included here are directed by Universal (Studios) journeyman Reginald Le Borg (The Mummy's Ghost).

Calling Dr. Death has Chaney as a hypnosis therapist suspected of having done away with his wife in a period of which he has no conscious recall. Patricia Morison is the devoted assistant with a crush on the doctor while J. Carrol Naish as a cop lays the screws on Chaney in visits that are borderline harassment. The story is predictable and hokey, depending on major contrivances. Some nice dissolves and dream sequences.

Weird Woman is an adaptation of "Conjure Wife", Fritz Lieber's satire meets fantasy tale of the wives in an academic community practicing witchcraft. While significantly pared down from the source, and Chaney an unlikely choice as the ethnography expert who appears to cast a fatal attraction on multiple women (and dismisses the native customs he encounters as "superstitious nonsense", some expert!), this is an efficiently paced and effective noir that respects the woman-dominated narrative, showcases some nice shadowy visuals and dissolves, and there are good turns from Evelyn Ankers and Elizabeth Russell. This was the best of the trio.

Dead Man's Eyes gives a hilariously wrong interpretation of a corneal transplant, required here to restore the vision of a painter (Chaney) blinded by the accidental (or is it?) replacement of his eye medicine bottle with an acid bottle (Rather careless or Mr. Chaney to keep the two bottles in the same place, but frankly he's not much of a painter either). The father of his fiancee wills to Chaney his corneas after death, and shortly after he does turn up dead. Is it a case of the painter being a little too eager to get back his sight or is it someone else? Once again, the solution is (ha!) rather cockeyed and makes little sense, and this was the least appealing entry thus far.

While these parts may have been a relief to Chaney from playing monsters, the fact is that he doesn't really fit the bill of the sophisticated professionals / artists he plays, and most of his dramatic bit consists of looking like he was suffering a case of food poisoning.

The transfers are quite decent given the age and provenance of these films, and audio is okay within the limitations (I have a strain a bit to hear some of Chaney's whispered voiceover, a trademark in every installment of the series, and a nod to its radio roots). The frrst two entries have feature commentaries, of which the second one is a nice listen.

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Old 02-07-2021, 02:36 AM   #2667
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Watched Don't Breathe last night. I won't talk about the plot and all, because it's such taut and pared down venture, if you like thriller/horror films in general, you're advised to just go for it. It's a damn good small-scale home break-in thriller that manages to shift your sympathies, racks up some intense moments and does not overstay its welcome. Fede Alvarez needs to make more movies.
Showing on Amz Prime in India now.
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Old 02-08-2021, 07:24 AM   #2668
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I watched Curse of Frankenstein on the WAC blu last night. While watching, I was struck by how soft the video appeared in most scenes that were not close-ups, and wondering if this represented all that much of an improvement over the long ago released UK blu. A comparison on caps-a-holic however set me right on this. While the new disc can appear to be from a soft print, the older disc looks almost VHS like in its anemic representation of the film's look. Besides, the tight grain pattern is testament to this being the best possible presentation of the source material. The colors are vivid, especially the reds of wine, blood and whatever is in those smoking retorts. Glad I waited on this one.

The film of course, I have previously visited on Warner's DVD (as part of a TCM Horror 4-film collection) and it's a smasher, with leads Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in strong form (and a solid supporting cast, especially Robert Urquhart as the baron's unwilling colleague). Frankenstein's character could have been more nuanced, but I suppose Hammer wanted a direct shocker in which he rather gleefully commits murders for the sake of his work.

Also checked several of the extras. I was not thrilled by the Richard Klemmensen essay, he tries too hard to come across as a humorous quipper and fails at it. More rewarding are the Chris Frayling piece and the featurettes on Jack Asher and James Bernard (although if you've been collecting the extras-laden UK releases of Hammer movies, similar ground on Bernard has been covered in more detail there).

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Old 02-08-2021, 07:40 AM   #2669
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In some misbegotten moment, for this weekend's Movie with Mum, I selected Marjaavaan, screening on Prime (the only streaming I am subscribed to, I would be happy for suggestions of channels good for older Bollywood and Tamil/Malayalam movies - the latter with subtitles please).

MJ makes for an interesting comparison with Anurag Kashyap's Mukkabaaz. Both of them are inspired by the Bollywood masala drama, specifically the "Violent Love Story" genre that originated in the late 80's / early 90's. But while Mukkabaaz both celebrated the genre, and made intelligent deviations from it, MJ is a downright lazy lift that randomly borrows genre cliches with no personality of its own. Siddharth M is adequate but lacks the masala charisma required to carry this off, Tara Sutaria seems to beat even Katrina Kaif in the "Kaun Banega Plywood" competition, and Riteish Deshmukh as the midget baddie struggles with a promising but badly executed character (those "height" jokes were mind-stunting).
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Old 02-08-2021, 11:26 AM   #2670
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ravenus View Post
Watched Don't Breathe last night. I won't talk about the plot and all, because it's such taut and pared down venture, if you like thriller/horror films in general, you're advised to just go for it. It's a damn good small-scale home break-in thriller that manages to shift your sympathies, racks up some intense moments and does not overstay its welcome. Fede Alvarez needs to make more movies.
Showing on Amz Prime in India now.
I believe a sequel is on the cards but not sure how they will pull off what that managed in the first film which was a lean and mean film without any bigger pretensions.
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Old 02-08-2021, 11:43 AM   #2671
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[Show spoiler]^Probably be the blind guy invading the girl's home In California.

The lack of a good idea has rarely worked to stop a sequel to a profitable property.
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Old 02-11-2021, 07:30 AM   #2672
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Curse of the Undead is a B-picture, but in the best sense of the word. The narrative of a Western settlement where people are falling prey to a sudden "sickness" marked only by small puncture wounds on the neck, coinciding with the recent presence of a mysterious black-clad gunslinger (Michael Pate), whose opponents never seem to get the drop on him is not an ambitious one. The film lets the audience know what's happening long before its characters figure it out. There are some jarring moments, like when the heroine Kathleen Crowley and her brother accuse an avaricious neighboring ranch owner of having murdered their father, but no one bothers to ask how the man killed him without any marks of violence apart from the puncture marks the priest - and leading man, Eric Fleming - notice. But gad, this film soaks in style. Money might have been one of the reasons, but it was absolutely the right decision to shoot the film in B&W. The chiaroscuro visuals drip shadowy atmosphere, and bad guy Pate's all-black costume (where only the metal studs, belt, and his gun reflect the light) is deadly chic. Pate's performance is excellent too, striking just the note of snaky understated menace that overcomes the shortcomings of the script. You almost want to root for his vampire to win. At about 80min, this one hits the perfect note as pleasant entertainment, and it's done in a tasteful way (no gore or heaving bosoms) that you can easily watch it even with (slightly older) kids that have a liking for horror.

Kino's disc beautifully represents the luminous B&W photography. The initial couple of scenes were I thought a wee bit too dark, damping shadow detail, but in general the contrast, crucial for this film, is perfect. A couple of moments including one major optical FX shot in the climax appear much softer, but these would be inherent to the source and are not bothersome. The audio is clear for the dialog and supports the modest dynamics of the not particularly nuanced score. Apart from trailers for some other movies (which apart from Black Sabbath look rather dire, especially Zoltan, Hound of Dracula), there's a commentary track, which I have yet to sample. Highly recommended for fans of old-fashioned popcorn horror.

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Old 02-13-2021, 10:34 AM   #2673
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Pari is not in the same league as Tumbbad, but it is still among the few Indian horror/supernatural films with a (mostly) interesting story, and character shading. Kudos to Anushka Sharma (who definitely needs to be known as more than the wife of a cricketer who has nothing to do on Sundays) for producing this and for putting in what is one of her best performances from among the films I have seen. Glad I caught it on Prime before it vanished from the aethers of the interwebs.
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Old 02-15-2021, 07:43 AM   #2674
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Saw The Big Country on the KL blu last night.

Leading man Gregory Peck is a former ship's captain who has now come deep inland to meet with and marry the woman he fell in love with. Carroll Baker as his fiancee is the daughter of a rich landowner/rancher. As soon as Peck alights he finds himself in a rather different kind of society, one that holds a wilder view of the world. Both Baker's father (Chares Bickford) and his rival Burt Ives are struggling to get control of a stretch of land through which flows the precious water for their cattle, and their respective forces are continually brawling with each other (Bickford having the advantage of greater financial and muscle power).

In this more savage milieu Peck's mannered, pacifist stance is viewed as an outsider's cowardice, even by his fiancee and her dad, and especially derided by Charlton Heston as Bickford's foreman and the not-quite-silent suitor of the daughter Peck's engaged to. When Peck makes a deal to buy the disputed land promising equal access of water to the rivals, each side prepares to wrest control, even if it means bloodshed.

TBC is a mostly terrific old-skool Hollywood studio film. Peck and director William Wyler (who were co-producers) were obviously enthused by the source novel and were both intelligent and committed collaborators. The scope of the film is huge (literally, it covers large grassy vistas) and it has a very strong core of courageous non-violence. Towards the end it wobbles a bit, in terms of wanting to have its cake and eat it too, having a big gundown even though the central conflict is resolved beforehand. I don't know if this was related to the script troubles (apparently the film was in constant re-writes even during filming), but most of the previous footage does hang together quite well. Though the character is more of an ideal than a real person, Peck is immensely watchable, even when he is just staring at the camera, deep in thought. Heston surprisingly takes on a supporting part, and one with strong negative shades, but he comes across well, and the rapport he developed with Wyler during this film surely paid dividends during their next collaboration, on Ben-Hur. The rest of the cast is strong too. Franz Planer's cinematography is handsome, especially in the outdoors. I was not a big fan of the score, which seemed to harp too loudly about the film's scale (My favorite scene was the music-less scene of the pre-dawn duel between Peck and Heston). For most part I didn't notice the length of the film at all, which is a testament to how well it's put together.

Kino's disc gives a very handsome image. There seems to be a ruddy/earthy push in the image, but that well be inherent to the original intent. There are a couple of moments of abrupt jumps (possibly because the footage was damaged or just an awkward edit?). If, as some have wished, KL had opted to place the extras on a separate disc, it is possible that even stronger video quality may have been realized, but that's a hypothetical question. The mono audio track gives good support to the dialog, and there are no anomalies that I noticed. I watched some of the shorter featurettes where the kin of Peck, Heston and Wyler are interviewed about TBC. These are quite interesting (they appear to be recently shot, presented in HD). There's an archival piece where maverick movie-maker Larry Cohen speaks about Chuck Connors who plays an important negative role. There are a lot more extras to dig into, but even at this stage, this is a top-class Criterion-level release from KL.

PS the cover is reversible with some striking vintage poster art on the other side.

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