Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Jean Dujardin and the OSS 117 Revival

Jean Dujardin and the OSS 117 Revival

They’ve been making OSS 117 movies in France for a long time.  The first was a full six years before Dr. No started the James Bond franchise.  Over the years the series evolved into not much more than a generic euro-copy of the 007 series, before it ended in the early seventies.  American B-list stars like Kerwin Mathews and John Gavin were some of the leads in the series.  The actor most associated with the role though was French actor Frederick Stafford.  Stafford bore a close resemblance to Sean Connery, and I’m sure that helped a lot.

In 2006, the series was rebooted as a 1950’s spy spoof with Oscar winner Jean Dujardin in the lead role.  OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies has an awful lot of good things going for it.  It works well as a broad satire on western ethnocentrism, it’s a great parody of the 1960’s spy genre and it’s a terrific as a broad appealing PG comedy.

But the best part of the film is Dujardin himself.  He was born to be a clown.  He plays the 1960’s leading man/Arrow shirt model role perfectly.  He is a great physical comedian so the fight scenes and chase scenes come off marvellously. 

There was a sequel a couple of years later, that’s not quite as good, but still definitely worth a look.  So, if you want to see a great, smart and fun comedy, there’s few choices better than OSS 117: Cairo, Nest of Spies.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Roddy McDowall: 20th Century Horror God!

Roddy McDowall:  20th Century Horror God!

Betcha didn’t see that title coming,  But Roddy happened to star in a couple of the very best horror films ever made.  In addition to having a very long career that started as a child star, he starred in the greatest haunted house movie ever made.

The Legend of Hell House was scripted by the great Richard Matheson from his own novel.   Fans of all of those ghosthunting shows will find the terminology and paranormal science that’s thrown around in the film quite familiar.   In the movie, a team of paranormal researchers are hired to spend some time in “The Mount Everest of Haunted Houses.”  There are very thinly veiled hints that they are staying in the late Aleister Crowley’s house.  What follows is a wonderful ride of atmospheric suspense.  There’s not a lot of blood or violence – just a lovely, old fashioned scare at the movies.

And you can say the same thing about the original Fright Night.  It’s a Disney sort of vampire film about a teenaged William Ragsdale, who believes, quite correctly, that a vampire has moved in next door.  He quickly enlists the aid of late-night TV horror host Roddy McDowall to help protect his family.  In addition to a fine performance by McDowall, the film has Chris Sarandon, ably playing the vampiric neighbor.

Both films are pretty much PG rated and are a perfect antidote to the mean-spirited torture-based horror that we see so much of today in movies.  

Monday, 27 February 2012

A Dutch Treat: Black Book

A Dutch Treat:  Black Book

In the late 70's and early 80's the cinematic world was all abuzz about Dutch films.  Then the biggest Dutch director (Paul Verhoeven)  left Holland behind for Hollywood, and everyone stopped talking about Dutch films.

That is, until Verhoeven returned to make Black Book.  It's a great Dutch language movie, but you should know what you're getting yourself into.  Imagine a terrific Ken Follett style WWII thriller about the Dutch resistance movement.  Now imagine that thriller sexed right up by the man who directed Showgirls and Basic Instinct. And that's what Black Book is, a marvelous suspense thriller in the tradition of The Eye of the Needle and the Key to Rebecca - with a whole lot of Ilsa She Wolf of the SS thrown in for good measure.

It stars Carice van Houten, and she looks good, really good - pneumatically good.  And probably without her, it wouldn't be nearly as much fun to watch.  The production values are excellent.  So, if you're looking for an adventurous evening's entertainment, put the kids to bed and snuggle up with your sweetie for  a terrific mix of action, suspense and sex.

IRIS - The Korean 24

IRIS - The Korean 24

Some of us miss the cold war and all of those terrific spy thrillers from LeCarre , Deighton, Adam Hall and Brian Freemantle.  Of course in Korea, the cold war never ended, so if you’re missing your spy vs. spy fix, it’s a great culture to dig into.

A number of years ago Roger Ebert was plugging a great Korean technothriller called Shiri or Swiri, that had as one of its stars Yunjin Kim, who later went on to star as Sun in TV’s Lost.  The Korean TY drama Iris is very like that movie, but it bears the most resemblance to the American series 24.

Iris follows the typical Asian drama formula, so if you’re not familiar with it, be warned, it can get kinda soapy.  There are lots of dreamy montages set to Korean pop music and long meaningful glances.  Even so, there’s no stopping the action or the plot twists.  The producers spent an unusually large sum of money for this 20 hour show, so the production values are first rate.  There’s great chemistry between the stars and the male lead is Lee Byugn Hun, one of Koreas biggest stars.

I f you’d like to take a peak, you can watch a licensed , subtitled stream of the whole series over at  Drama Fever.  Amazon has region-free DVDs as well.