Sleeping Dogs, and six more movies

AI Love You (2022)

This is a sci-fi romantic comedy, some kind of international effort, with European and South Asian names in the credits, looks like it was filmed in Thailand, and my copy was dubbed (quite badly) into English.

In the not-too-distant future, most buildings have an artificial-intelligence interface, so your workplace says hello to you in the morning, and asks about your weekend. The building where Lana works is in love with her.

When a software tech is sent to investigate the building's odd behavior, he attempts to reboot the AI to factory defaults, but the building plays defense, and inserts itself into the tech's mind and body instead.

"Deactivate personality mode. You talk way too much."

The Neverending
Film Festival

In the real world, everything about the movie's scenario would be creepy, offensive, revolting, etc. Somehow, though, AI Love You is stupidly cute, and you might find yourself rooting for Lana to get together with the building.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦

The First Man (1996)

A space alien has been captured, escaped, killed, or something, but the aliens are super-attractive to women, so both of the women on the investigative team must be taken off the case. They're not happy about it, and I'm not happy about a movie that might've been interesting, but looks and sounds like it was made by seventh-graders.

The storyline seems promising, but the music and a muffled soundtrack break the promise, by continually obscuring the dialogue. Audio clips from no-telling-what sources are played over each other in a jumble of sound, along with music that's repetitive and goes nowhere. It's like trying to watch a movie, maybe even a good movie, on a crowded rush-hour subway.

Maybe my print was defective? Being slightly intrigued and very stubborn, I sought out a second copy of the film, but again there was audio interference — blips and beeps and rumbles and mumbles and overpowering music. The visuals slowly fade in and out, too, at the beginning and end of more and more scenes. It's an artistic statement, perhaps, when all I wanted was a movie.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)

In the 1970s, over-hyped impresario and 'arteest' Andy Warhol licensed his name for a series of grotesque and mildly porny horror movies. I saw one of them many years ago, and it was weird but not John Waters weird, and kinda boring. I'm a better man now than I was then, so maybe the Warhol movies got better with time, too?

This wasn't the same Warhol I'd seen before, and after this I don't need to see any more Warhol movies.

It's sorta gothic, sorta Frankensteiny, as the doctor and his sidekick collect bodies and stitch them into something new and not-so-improved. There's head-chopping, dissection, corpse-fucking, and PG-13 language. Mostly it's handsome white men who can't act, and beautiful women who are either frigid or fucking. Pretty women and pretty boys seem equally likely to have serious surgical scars and meet gruesome ends.

"To know death, Otto, you have to fuck life in the gall bladder."

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Pepe le Moko (1936)

Pepe Le Moko is a notorious criminal and lovable rogue. "When he's killed," we're told, "there will be 3,000 widows at his funeral."

He's a bank robber and jewel thief, and the police know where he is, but Pepe can't be arrested because he lives in Algiers' Casbah neighborhood, which, as the film helpfully explains, is a place impossible to police — a hillside maze of tiny, unmappable streets and secret passageways, where the locals can always slip away.

A woman tempts Pepe to leave the Casbah's safe confines, and a dogged police detective wanders the Casbah and befriends and taunts Pepe, promising he'll find a way to arrest him.

On its own merits, Pepe Le Moko is a movie worth watching, and it gets a thumbs-up from me. It was remade a year later in English, as Algiers, which I'd already seen and absolfrickinlutely loved, so which version is better?

Wisely, the remake re-used Vincent Scotto and Mohamed Ygerbuchen's original musical score from Pepe Le Moko, because why try to recreate perfection? In the opening sequence that describes the labyrinth-like nature of the Casbah, footage from the original was spliced directly into the remake. All through the remake, many sets and shots were duplicated, and much of the dialogue was verbatim, too.

As the bad guy you gotta love, Jean Gabin in Pepe Le Moko is noticeably better than Charles Boyer in Algiers. Boyer was an actor, but Gabin is a movie star, with whatever intangible talent it takes to makes you root for him even when he's a heel. In the movie that bears his fictional name, Pepe is more appealing and complex than he is in Algiers, and it's not a close call. After that, though, most comparisons favor the remake.

As Gaby, the woman Pepe falls for, Mireille Balin in Pepe Le Moko is barely a shadow of Hedy Lamarr in Algiers. As the wily detective Slimane, some schmuck named Lucas Gridoux overacts, mugs cartoonishly for the camera, and more mocks Pepe than engages in any of Algiers' delicate cat-and-mouse interplay offered by Joseph Calleia as Slimane in the remake.

No spoilers from me, but the two movies have slightly different endings. In my opinion, Pepe Le Moko's finale is more true to the character, but the climax of Algiers sets up a memorable last line that's lacking from the French original. Point, Algiers, again.

The Criterion Collection DVD of Pepe Le Moko is a frustration. The movie is in French, of course, but the DVD's subtitles sometimes illegibly merge into the background imagery, and vanish entirely when the dialogue is deemed unimportant. There's no translation at all for the DVD extras, so if you speak French, please enjoy this ten-minute interview with the film's director, and if you don't speak French, vous pouvez aller en enfer.

Verdict: YES, but if you want to see this story only once, Algiers is a better telling.

♦ ♦ ♦

Sleeping Dogs (1977)

I've seen a lot of movies — shitty, bad, so-so, good, and great. This one's great, so where's it been all my life? How come I'd never even heard of it?

Sleeping Dogs is an all-too realistic look at a modern, democratic society where a right-wing leader decides it's time to crack down on dissidents and revolutionaries.

Sam Neill plays an apolitical bloke who's having marital difficulties, rents a secluded home for some peace and distance, and is mistakenly thought to be involved with left-wing causes. This gets him arrested and battered about by the system, until he plots a clever escape.

Once he's escaped, though, where can he go? He's a known revolutionary now, and what's more, his name and face are on wanted posters. There's nowhere for him to run, except to the radicals.

This is Kafka without the bureaucracy, Brazil without the laughs, and for a movie made so long ago, it's eerie how 'now' it feels. If it weren't for the New Zealand accents, the movie's Prime Minister could be Trump, and many of America's worst would be in favor of what's depicted here.

Warren Oates has a too-small role as an American military officer, part of the international peacekeeping force that's been brought in to keep peace away. As for Neill, he's very effective, as usual. Written and directed by Roger Donaldson, who's mostly known to me for several Hollywood I remember as very ordinary, like The Bounty (remake), No Way Out (Kevin Costner), and Species. Sleeping Dogs made much more of an impression, so I've added a few of his early, non-Hollywood movies to my watchlist.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Strangers When We Meet (1960)

Everyone's a stranger until you meet them, so that's a stupid title, ain't it?

Ernie Kovacs is a high-power novelist who's hired big-shot architect Kirk Douglas to design his new house. Kim Novak is a suburban MILF who's been getting obscene phone calls. Douglas and Novak are both married to other people, but not married enough to keep their lips off each other.

"I feel very guilty — don't you?"

This was sophisticated cinema for its era, which was so long ago that everyone involved in making the movie is dead by now. Kirk Douglas remains handsome, though, Kim Novak is eternally beautiful, and mid-century L.A. in CinemaScope is a sight to see. It's also cool to watch Kovacs' house as it progresses from blueprints to construction to completion.

Strangers When We Meet is about elegant people in a stylish '60s setting, and it tells a slow but stylish, somewhat dated story of a love that couldn't be.

Verdict: MAYBE, but it's on the cusp of YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Suspect (1945)

When I think of Charles Laughton, I expect big and bombastic — Mutiny on the Bounty or The Night of the Hunter — but here he's almost ridiculously quiet and soft-spoken. Surely such a polite British gentleman couldn't have killed his insufferably cantankerous wife?

Verdict: MAYBE.

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Top illustration by Jeff Meyer. No talking once the lights dim. Real butter, not that fake crap, on the popcorn. Piracy is not a victimless crime. Click any image to enlarge. Comments & conversations invited.   


  1. I appreciate your reviews allways, but this bunch had several I've seen.

    Sleeping Dogs is a masterpiece, and if you like documentaries Donaldson has made plenty and most of them are very good.

    You're right about Pepe Le Moko. As good as it is and it's very good, Algiers is better. I didn't have the subtitle issues you mention.

    As for Andy Warhol, he's an "arteest" I never cared for, and all his movies are garbage.

    1. Maybe someone will explain how wrong I am, but I think of Warhol as a grand and sometimes hilarious fraud perpetrated on the art world.

      I can appreciate a good documentary, and will take a peek at Donaldson's non-fiction.

    2. Warhol pissed off the world. It's what artists are supposed to do.


    3. I guess he's just not my type, type, type, type.


    4. Once in a great while, just to surprise myself, I ought to shut the hell up about things I know nothing about. I didn't dig the movies that carried his name and I don't understand the soup can, but he was famous and successful long before I was conscious of art, and I know almost nothing about Warhol.

    5. I value your opinions Keep em coming
      Can’t type on dis ting
      I agree with you bout Warhol mostly
      He somehow captured Marilyn better than Hef
      I’m exhausted


    6. I used to call him Andy Warthog, but that seems childish (in a bad way) to me now.


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