Quickie Review – The Super Cops (1974)

sc1Part buddy cop movie, part let’s fight police corruption movie, The Super Cops works pretty well as at least light entertainment. This is definitely one time where you should think Starsky and Hutch much more than say Serpico or even Lethal Weapon.

The setting is early 70s New York, and newly minted NYPD officers Dave Greenberg and Robert Hantz are eager to move beyond the day-to-day low level duties (such as directing traffic) that they are given, so they decide to spend their off-duty time making drug busts and attempting to get the attention of their superiors so that they can quickly make their way up to detective.

They definitely get attention, but it’s not really the kind they want, as the real detectives on the force feel like the pair are trying to make them look bad, and they are eventually investigated by Internal Affairs who assume that they must be somehow corrupt.

sc3Eventually they are assigned to the (fictional) 21st precinct in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Appalled by what they see there, they make it their mission to try to clean up the neighborhood and do what they can to get as much of the drugs off the streets and to bust the Hayes brothers who are the major drug suppliers in the neighborhood. Though they are secretly supported by their captain who wants the to make the busts so that they can get their detective badges and he can, as he says “ride their shirt tails” out of the precinct, this only further infuriates those who oppose them, including among others, a corrupt District Attorney.

Based on the true story of two real-life detectives, The Super Cops, directed by Gordon Parks (who also directed the seminal blaxplitation movie Shaft) from a script by Lorenzo Semple Jr. (who helped develop the Batman television show) does itself a favor by never seeming to take itself quite too seriously. Though it’s not a comedy, and the subject matter is serious, there is a light touch to the movie that keeps it rollicking along at such a breakneck pace that at least for me it seemed much shorter than it’s running time of 90 minutes.

sc2One thing that definitely helps keep the movie light and mving are the performances by leads Ron Liebman and David Selby who portray the pair as competent though frequently awkward, so that they always seem just slightly out of place both in social settings and while chasing down bad guys. Also of note in the cast is Pat Hingle who plays the IAD inspector charged with bringing them down. Hingle would later go on to portray Police Commissioner Gordon in Tim Burton’s Batman films.

As far as historical accuracy goes, I suspect that it’s best not to really question it, especially considering the later careers and corruption charges eventually brought against the real cops upon whom the movie pair are based.

I suspect that your reaction to The Super Cops will really depend on just how much you’re into this kind of movie. If you’re looking for a film where things are always exploding and everything is a matter of life or death and the end of the world could come at any moment then this is not going to be for you. If on the other hand, you’re just looking to some light buddy cop entertainment, and especially if you’re a fan of that late 60s early 70s New York setting like I am, then you could certainly do worse.

I couldn’t find a really good trailer for the movie to embed, but here’s a short clip to give you a feel for it:

 

 

Quickie Review – Foreign Correspondent (1940)

fc1It’s a shame, really, when a director has to compete with himself for numerous Academy Awards, but that is exactly what happened in 1941, the year after Alfred Hitchcock released his first two Hollywood productions, Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent. The former was nominated for nine Oscars, and picked up wins for Best Picture and Best Cinematography, and the latter had six nominations, also including Best Picture and Best Cinematography but it didn’t wind up taking home any.

This self-competition is also likely why now, so many years later, Rebecca is the much better known of the two pictures.

So which really is the better picture?

Nope, not gonna play that game.

It wouldn’t be a fair competition anyway, since the films are so very different. Rebecca is a gothic romance whereas Foreign Correspondent is a straight-up spy thriller. The fact that Hitchcock could direct two such different movies in the same year and have them both considered as one of the top movies of the year – and again, this was only his first year making movies in America – bespeaks to the genius he already was and which would only develop further as time went on.

fc3Set in the days just prior to the outbreak of World War II when all of Europe seemed to be on edge and even the smallest thing might be the catalyst to tip the scales of war from potential to actual, Foreign Correspondent is the story of reporter Johnny Jones – played by Joel McCrea¬† and rechristened Huntley Haverstock by his New York Globe editor and boss Mr. Powers – who is sent to Europe to get some “real news” on the events that are occurring there and to try to determine if war is, indeed, about to break out.

As one would expect, this being a Hitchcock film, it’s not long at all before Jones/Haverstock is not only reporting the news, but becoming a reluctant part of it.

After bearing close-up witness to the seeming assassination of a Dutch diplomat named Van Meer outside a political meeting in Amsterdam, Jones begins to investigate the strange events an peculiar people which surround the event, and the multiple level machinations which are occurring. Many of these seem to involve Stephen Fisher, the leader of the Universal Peace Party, and his daughter Carol, whom Jones had previously met.

fc4It seems as though it shouldn’t need to be said that all is not what it seems, nor is everyone who they seem or purport to be. Yet despite all of the twists and turns of a script which involved ten different writers, Hitchcock never allows the viewer to become lost or to lose track of just what is going on. Yes, there are times when those in the audience may not know any more than the characters on the screen, but there are just as many times when – in accordance with Hitchcock’s own definition of suspense, the viewer knows just enough more to raise the tension to the next level.

Of course, all of the skill that Hitchcock brings to the production would be for naught without an incredibly talented cast to help him pull it off, and he definitely has that here with a troupe which consists of not only McCrea but also Laraine Day, Herbert Marshall, George Sanders, Albert Bassermann, Robert Benchley, and Edmund Gwenn along with many others who would become leading lights in Hollywood.

So while Foreign Correspondent may not be as slick or as well known as some of his later spy thrillers such as North By Northwest, it is definitely able to hold its own when it comes to being a part of the revered master’s canon and is one of his earlier works which should definitely be seen by more people, especially by those who are already fans of the director’s work.

Here’s a trailer:

 

 

Quickie Review – Stephen Fry Live: More Fool Me

sf1Oscar Wilde.

Of course.

Stephen Fry Live: More Fool Me finds the brilliant comedian, writer, television host, raconteur, etc. holding court for roughly 90 minutes in support of his 2014 autobiography of the same name. Actually, this is the third volume of autobiographical writings from Fry, following 1997’s Moab Is My Washpot, and 2010’s The Fry Chronicles.

Stephen Fry may very well be a name most of you don’t know. If you do, it’s most likely through his comedic work with Hugh Laurie. Yes, the same Hugh Laurie who played the titular doctor in the TV show House. Personally, I came to my love for Fry through the BBC panel show QI, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, and watching this is part of that effort.

In order to promote the new volume, Fry took to the stage of London’s Royal Festival Hall for a one man show which was also broadcast throughout the world (though, interestingly, apparently not in America – I suppose he’s just not well enough known here to be considered enough of a draw), and the show actually begins with him listing the different countries in which the show is being broadcast, accompanying each with an anecdote about his travels in each country or his meetings with people from them.

From there he settles into talking a bit about his childhood, spurred on by a question that was once asked of him regarding whether, had he grown up today with access to all of the technology and instant information that today’s youth have, he feels he would have turned out to be the same person, and his answer is an emphatic “no”.

sf2It’s at this point that Oscar Wilde enters the picture, and that everything about Fry suddenly clicked into place for me.

I don’t know how much, if anything you might know about Wilde. Most likely if the name is familiar to you, I suspect it’s through his 1894 play The Importance of Being Earnest, or through his novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. For Fry it was Earnest – or actually a television broadcast of one of the movie versions of the play – which brought the author into his life, and from there, there was no turning back, because it was Wilde who greatly influenced Fry’s early life and helped him to come to an understanding and acceptance of who he truly was.

From there Fry segues into what apparently is a major topic in this part of his autobiography, his use of drugs and their effect, nd he also uses this section of the show to discuss the legalization of certain drugs along with the deleterious effects of prohibition and a comparison of the effects of these drugs with alcohol, which he contends, if it were being introduced today instead of being thousands of years old would certainly be shut down before it could ever have gained the foothold that it now has.

sf3Finally, he comes to the real reason for the event, a reading from More Fool Me, and, I am sad to say, this is definitely the weakest part of the show. It’s not that the section that he has chosen to read -a gossipy section discussing his first and subsequent meetings with the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana – is a bad one, and it is well written, it’s just that I was much more entertained by Fry’s largely improvised and off the cuff observations.

In the end, however, I thought that watching this was time extremely well spent, and definitely worth a watch, whether you are familiar with Fry or not. He is a man with an incredibly broad pool of knowledge and experience to draw from, and a keen and quick wit which he uses to great effect here, and though the show may not have succeeded in it’s intended purpose – to make me want to go out and buy his book – it does make me want to watch some of the other shows he has been involved with, including one that I ran across on YouTube while gathering information for this review, Stephen Fry in America, a six-part travelogue chronicling one of his visits to this country.

Oh, and here’s a bonus for you: I mentioned that I came to know Stephen Fry first as the host of the BBC panel show QI, so I thought I’d share an episode of that with you also, so here he is in an episode from last season:

Quickie Review: Sherlock – The Abominable Bride (2016)

***I’m throwing in a bit of a spoiler warning here, because although I don’t actually intend to get deeply into any of the real plot points, there are certain things that will, I am sure, come up even if only by inference that those of you who have not yet seen the show will probably prefer to avoid. There’s simply no way to write coherently about the episode otherwise.***

sherl01Now that was fun! As a matter of fact, as I said just as I finished watching it, if it takes waiting longer between installments to get what was basically a feature-length Sherlock movie, then I’m willing to wait. Sure, I want more Sherlock sooner, but I’d rather get innovative episodes like The Abominable Bride than simple run of the mill churn ’em out because we’re on a set schedule episodes any day.

To say that The Abominable Bride turned out to be not quite what any of us were likely expecting based on the preview information we had been given would be an understatement, but that’s okay, because what we did receive was truly the best of both worlds.

As promised, we are given a take on a Victorian-era Sherlock which sees Benedict Cumberbatch seemingly channel Jeremy Brett at his best (and oh, how I wish Brett’s health had held up long enough for him to make it through the entirs Conan Doyle canon) while still bringing his own quirky interpretation to the character. Also, as usual, Martin Freeman is pitch perfect as Dr. Watson no matter what the era. We are even given treatments of characters such as Mycroft, Moriarty, Mary Watson, and even Mrs. Hudson reprising their roles in interesting new ways.

sherl2But oh, dear readers, there is so much more to the story than that, and though I am bursting to write about them, for now I shant (this is actually one of those times when I’m tempted to write two “musings” on something, one relatively spoiler free, and another that is chock full of them, but I shant, preferring to give you a chance to see the show for yourself, which I highly recommend that you do if you are a fan of the show itself, the Holmes character, or Cumberbatch.

As a matter of fact this is an episode that I think will reward multiple viewings, and even perhaps calls for a second watch once you have a full grasp of what writers Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat have done here. I have no doubt that there is going to be some online criticism as to how the episode plays out – as a matter of fact I have already seen quite a bit of it – and I’ll admit that the very nature of the episode does open it up to that, but if you’re looking for an episode of Sherlock that can be actually quite terrifying at times and quite convoluted at others while never really taking itself too seriously, then this will be the episode for you.

 

Quickie Review: Darkman (1990)

dm1One of the things that I’m planning to do more of this year is these short mini-reviews of movies that I watch not long after I get through with them, especially those that I’m just revisiting, like this one, just because it was in my Netflix queue and I decided to give it a rewatch because it has been a long time since I’ve seen it. A a matter of fact, if I recall correctly, I first saw this back when it hit video back in the good old VHS days, and probably haven’t watched it since.

There’s no doubt about it, Darkman is definitely a Sam Raimi film. Coming just after Evil Dead 2 and years before his 2002 take on Spider-Man, it nonetheless shows many of the flourishes that would make the director a standout. Reportedly, the movie had its origins in Raimi’s desire to make either a Batman or a Shadow movie, but being unable to acquire the rights to either, he decided to simply create his own hero. (Personally, I would love to see a Raimi made Shadow film, as he is one of the few directors I think could likely get the character right and give it just the visual flair/restraint it would need. Though actually the pulp character Raimi wound up creating reminds me more of The Avenger than either of those two.)

Managing to get funding from the film from Universal, Darkman became Raimi’s first Hollywood studio film, which, though it meant he actually had, for the first time, a decent budget to play with, it also meant that he had uire a few battles with the studio, including the fact that they nixed his desire to use long-time friend and Evil Dead franchise star Bruce Campbell as the lead (though he does get a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo at the end). Instead that role went to Liam Neeson who – of course, this was long before he became known as an action star – was mostly chosen for his leading man looks, which is ironic since he spends long stretches of the movie wrapped in bandages to cover his disfigurement or in hideously transforming makeup. It is interesting, however to see Neeson trying to actually take a Campbell-style slapstick beating during one of the movie’s early fight scenes. (Raimi was, on the other hand, successful in bringing along his brother Ted in a supporting role.)

dm2One of the things that makes Darkman so interesting is Raimi’s visual nods not only to his stated pulp hero influences, but to the early Universal monster flicks such as Frankenstein and The Invisible Man. Of course, these are in addition to those unique stylistic touches and innovations that truly set Raimi apart and identify this as a picture that only he could have made. Add to this a striking Danny Elfman score and you have an unfortunately much overlooked movie not only in Raimi’s ouvre but in the superhero canon. In a way it’s a shame that the movie was made when it was (yes, I’m saying Raimi was extremely ahead of his time) as opposed to more recently when the movie-going audience is much more receptive to this kind of movie, especially since Raimi’s flair would make it such a standout amongst the more cookie-cutter hero movies that have come in it’s wake from both Marvel and DC/Warner Bros.

Check it out.