Saturday, June 30, 2012

Movie Reviews-The Samaritan, The Vampire Lovers, Safe House

The Samaritan
I am trying to write shorter reviews and The Samaritan is an excellent source on which to practice that style. There's not a whole lot I can write without giving away some spoilers which are pretty essential to the plot.

This is a modern film noir starring Samuel L. Jackson as the con man and grifter Foley. Foley has just been released from prison after serving a twenty-five year sentence for murdering his former partner. This is shown in flashback. Now Foley finds that everyone he ever cared about is either dead, somewhere in prison, indifferent to his existence or lost in substance abuse. So Foley decides now would be as good a time as any to start going straight. His parole officer tells Foley that he can either be Foley's best friend or worst enemy and the choice is Foley's. Foley constantly tells himself and others that "nothing changes unless you make it change". And by constantly I mean every five minutes. I think after the third time or so I got the point. It was really reminiscent of A Bronx Tale's mantra of "The saddest thing in life is wasted talent". And you can sense that Foley has been wasting his talents.

Foley gets a job as a construction worker. He spends his nights in seedy bars trying to forget the past two and a half decades. Of course this wouldn't be a noir film if there weren't someone out there who didn't think Foley should forget and in The Samaritan, this person is Ethan (Luke Kirby), the son of Foley's former partner and a small time gangster with big plans for Foley. Foley's not interested, even when Ethan dangles the delectable but drugged out Iris (Ruth Negga) in front of him. 
Obviously things aren't as they seem. Foley finds it more and more difficult to refuse Ethan's increasingly insistent requests for assistance in making a move against Ethan's boss Xavier (Tom Wilkinson). The predominant emotion in this film is weariness and sadness. I really liked the characters, the cinematography and lighting. Nothing is as it seems. The film has its violent moments but this is far from a gangster shoot-em up. Jackson is quite restrained but powerful and shows again why he is one of the best actors working today. Give this one a look see. I liked Ruth Negga and will be on the look out for other films in which she's featured.  TRAILER

The Vampire Lovers
As I have mentioned before I am a big fan of Hammer Films, from the tasteful noirs of the early fifties, to the technicolor monster extravaganzas of the mid-fifties and sixties to the more sexually lurid horror films of the late sixties and early seventies. The Vampire Lovers falls into that last category. It was the first film in what became known as The Karnstein Trilogy. This film was one of the first Hammer Films to feature toplessness and nudity but if any film could be said to do so tastefully, it was probably this movie. Later entries definitely didn't do so (fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) but here the storyline is not yet completely lost to cleavage, curves and plunging tops. But those things are all prominently featured nonetheless. For a short period of time those features co-existed with top line acting (well top line for horror anyway) and it makes for an exciting mix. As is usual with Hammer Films, the sets are lavish, costumes are great, the cinematography is top notch and the locations are mostly convincing.

Ok well what's it about? Well unless you are particularly dim which you're not because you're reading this blog you can likely guess. It's an adaptation of Sheridan LeFanu's vampire novella "Carmilla", which was written twenty five years before Bram Stoker's "Dracula". Here the vampire is female, independent, somewhat immune to daylight and with a very strong preference for female victims. The studio big shots as well as some of the (weakened) censors were concerned about the explicitness of the film both in terms of nudity and the apparent lesbian storyline but of course, much of that was in the book. 

In Styria, a Countess (Dawn Addams) leaves her daughter Marcilla (Ingrid Pitt) with General Spielsdorf (Peter Cushing). While the Countess is away doing whatever, Marcilla befriends, seduces and kills the General's niece, Laura (Pippa Steele). Marcilla disappears and shows up in a nearby estate. The Countess fakes a carriage breakdown and once again Marcilla (now calling herself Carmilla) is left to befriend a young girl Emma Morton (Madeleine Smith-later seen in "Live and Let Die" and who became just as big of a cult siren as Pitt). Only this time, Carmilla not only attempts to seduce and vampirise Emma but also Emma's governess, Madame Perrodot (Kate O'Mara) and the estate butler Renton (Harvey Hall), each of whom have some hidden desires which the vampish Pitt is able to bring out. In the meantime some other local girls have been dying mysteriously. This comes to the attention of the local authorities, including the grieving General and the aged Baron Hartog (Douglas Wilmer) who's had run-ins with vampires before and knows what needs to be done.

This was Ingrid Pitt's breakout role. This movie works not just because of her good looks, strong Polish accent, and womanly figure, she actually acts. Her vampire is someone that actually seems to feel both guilt and annoyance over her actions. Pitt had a pretty striking backstory and list of accomplishments, having grown up in a Nazi concentration camp. She was also an accomplished author, pilot and martial arts expert. By current standards the movie may be somewhat cheesy but it remains a cult favorite. It also remains something that would be censored on American television.

This was a satisfying if a bit predictable big budget thriller with Denzel Washington, Ryan Reynolds, Robert Patrick, Brendan Gleeson, Sam Shepard, Vera Farmiga,  and Game of Thrones actor Liam Cunningham. It has glimpses of past Reynolds movies such as Smokin' Aces and of past Washington films such as Training Day. It's shot in South Africa, which was a bit of a change from the normal locations for such films. However the movie really doesn't use this as much as it could have. Frankly it could have been in any country in the world without much changing the story or the action. As mentioned you've probably seen this story a million times before. I guess what makes it work is either the story touches some truth within ourselves so that we want to see it over and over again or the actors playing the roles are skilled enough to make us want to see them in whatever they do.The years are finally starting to catch up with Washington and Reynolds, albeit in different ways. Washington is a little long in the tooth for the action role but pulls it off with his characteristic aplomb and panache. As Frank from Blue Velvet might say to him, "Godd** ! You're one suave f*****!!". And at thirty-five it's a little hard to accept Reynolds as the lowest man on the totem pole, evidently fresh out of school but it is a movie.

What's it about?  Tobin Frost (Denzel Washingon) is a legendary rogue CIA agent who is in South Africa to close a deal with another intelligence agent, his friend Wade (Liam Cunningham). Wade has a file for Frost. But evidently someone else knows about this transaction because in short time Wade is murdered and people are after Frost in broad daylight. Chased down and surrounded he makes the only move he can by walking into the nearest American embassy. 

This sends off alarm bells throughout the American intelligence community, specifically the CIA. A trio of big shots (Gleeson, Farmiga and Shepard-the character names really aren't important-Shepard is the big boss while the other two are subordinate; Gleeson is Reynolds' supervisor) hit the roof and arrange for Frost to be transported to the nearest local CIA safehouse , which is being manned by Matt Weston (Ryan Reynolds), who before all the excitement was bored out of his mind, agitating to be sent home and wondering if he made the right career decision. But when Daniel Kiefer (Robert Patrick) and his goons bring Frost to the safe house for torture, Weston has to make some decisions about where his moral lines are. And then once the house is attacked both he and Frost go on a bit of a road trip in which each man will need to decide how much he can trust the other. Weston gets to learn how the world really works. This is an entertaining movie. I won't say it will stay with you or anything like that. And you will likely figure the twists out pretty quickly. Again, the question is not if you've driven the car before. The question is did you like the ride. I did...
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