Recently Rated Movies: Catching Up with Christopher Lee (the actor, not my brother…) Pt. 5

Glorious 39 (2009)
Dir: Stephen Poliakoff
TC4P Rating: 6

Without doing much in the way of research, I don't know how far Britain's pro-appeasement movement went to protect their position during the rise of Nazism in Europe, but murdering opposing Parliament members and making them to appear suicides? I suppose if the movement were actually a front to eventually allow Hitler to have his way, then sure, I'd buy it. I'm not sure if that is what Glorious 39 is selling, as the majority of pro-appeasement figures seem to believe, like PM Neville Chamberlain, that such an approach is the only way to keep the Nazis from running roughshod over England. It doesn't seem like the sort of thing to call for the very noticeable and mysterious deaths of leading citizens.

Glorious 39 is about a true loss of innocence, as the idyllic country life of its lead character Anne (known as Glorious to her family, and played appealingly by Romola Garai) comes crashing down when she discovers pro-appeasement 78 rpm recordings stored in her family's estate. Is Anne just paranoid? Is she losing her mind? Does she simply need a lie down? All of this is suggested to Anne, and she will learn quickly that no one is to be trusted in her family and friends. 

The film is told in flashback through a bookend apparatus where we meet two of the family members played in old age by Christopher Lee and Corin Redgrave. The story they unfold reveals family skeletons long dormant since the lead character's disappearance in 1939. I like some of the details, like the "fat men dancing," revealed in spending time with what appears to be a happy family situation. There is a remarkable section where one begins to see the thin line that rests between order and chaos in the era, where the slightest changes can erode personal freedoms and leave their fates to history. Rest assured, I doubt my next visit to the veterinarian will happen without flashing back on the horrific chain of events that occur when Anne is made by her father to take her family's cats in to be euthanized (as is, according to the film, the fashion amongst the upper crust during that time of uncertainty).

It's a solid effort, though a bit dull at times, and easily goes on about twenty minutes longer than it needs to be. For those for whom all-star casts are a nod of quality, the film is top-loaded with British favorites: Bill Nighy, Julie Christie, Jenny Agutter, Jeremy Northam, a young Eddie Redmayne, an even younger Juno Temple, Charlie Cox (the current Daredevil), Hugh Bonneville, and the Tenth Doctor himself, David Tennant in a small but important role. Now, if only Tennant had dropped into the film in his legendary Tardis, Glorious 39 might be a far more exciting picture. Then I wouldn't have worried about historical accuracy.

Meatcleaver Massacre (1977) [aka The Hollywood Meatcleaver Massacre]
Dir: Evan Lee
TC4P Rating: 2

Christopher Lee's career definitely seems to speak of poor management, at least for large portions of it. For every big role in a major film or getting some of that sweet franchise cash, there seem to be five or six projects where he surely must not have either cared about the results or was duped into appearing in it. In Meatcleaver Massacre, the rumor is that he was told he was recording the narrative introduction and epilogue for one project, which was then implanted onto this supernatural, would-be thriller. His odd and, frankly, not particularly adept narration has not the slightest thing to do with the film at hand, but it does add a touch of Ed Woodiness to the finished product.

And by Ed Woodiness, I mean possible, actual Edward D. Wood, Jr. While rumors all over the internet about his involvement have ranged from appearing in the film (he is in the credits on IMDb in a bit part, but it could be just another Ed Wood) to writing the script to directing it under a pseudonym, according to Andrew Rausch's book Trash Cinema: A Celebration of Overlooked Masterpieces, a source from the set says that the actual Wood not only appeared in it along with other crew members, but also stepped in to direct a handful of scenes. Regardless of his input or even existence on the set, this is an appropriately shabby affair fit to rest alongside much of his oeuvre. The filmmakers were at least channeling his abilities when they threw this decrepit pool of cess together.

While there is the massacre of a family early in the film that sets up the rest of this mess, there is not a meat cleaver to be found (the killers, or at least a couple of them, only use butcher knives). The killers are supposed to be college students, but appear to be in their late thirties, and there is a serious hippie look to them, probably playing off the Manson vibe so prevalent in '70s films. (The film has a 1977 copyright, but was likely filmed several years earlier.) The father of the family, a professor, left in a coma in the hospital, somehow uses supernatural powers to get his bloody revenge on the killers, one by one.

Because the print is in such terrible shape, this film is not only a labor to watch all the way through but to even look at for five minutes. It's almost like watching a feature shot on PixelVision, except this film has some of the most nauseating color I have seen. (Fisher-Price's wonderful PixelVision camcorder only shot in black and white.) 

In fact, from start to finish, this film gave me an uneasy feeling, and I did suffer a huge headache while watching it. Perhaps it was the film or just my general health. Supposedly, the producers came up with the title Meatcleaver Massacre as a surefire way to grab an audience. I guess Out of Focus, Garishly Colored Cinematography Massacre was not as much of a grabber, but it may have been more truthful.

Triage (2009)
Dir: Danis Tanovic
TC4P Rating: 6

Apart from surviving employment with Cal South for a decade, I cannot speak with surety about post-traumatic stress disorder. And while I just made a joke involving it (but not about it), I don't find PTSD a laughing matter. Far too many people are affected by it, not just those returning from combat situations (PTSD is not exclusive to soldiers), but also their families, friends, co-workers, neighbors... anyone who knows someone that has it can also suffer the repercussions of the disorder.

To be sure, Triage doesn't play anything for laughs. It may be one of the more dour films I have seen in recent years, making Melancholia seem like a joyride. (Well, for me, Melancholia was a joyride, my favorite film of 2011.) Colin Farrell's character in Triage is a war photographer who returns from a combat zone in the Middle East with a big secret. Where is his best friend David, a fellow photog and expectant father who accompanied him to the region? Why have Farrell's emotions seemed to shut down since his return and why is he reluctant to talk about his war experiences?

Farrell is solid, but even better are Paz Vega as his wife and Kelly Reilly as his best friend's pregnant spouse. And this may be one of the best latter-day, non-Tolkien Christopher Lee performances, as he essays the role of Vega's grandfather, a therapist who at one time controversially counseled some of Franco's war criminals from the Spanish Civil War. Vega's character continues to take issue with her grandfather on the subject, but knows that he may be the key to unlocking the mystery in Farrell's head. It was an angle I was not expecting while watching Triage, and I found the film all the more interesting for its inclusion.

It's worth a look to anyone interested in the subject, though I feel, despite the relatively short length, Triage suffers a bit from pacing issues. I have been remiss in watching Bosnian director Danis Tanović's Oscar-winning feature, No Man's Land, having started it thrice and never getting more than a few minutes into it. (This was due to a series of interruptions in my life, not because of the movie itself.) Given my look at Triage, I definitely need to get back around to watching No Man's Land


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