Donald Pleasence

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Halloween (1978) Review


Excellent
Considered by many to be a modern horror classic, Halloween succeeds through simplicity. This thriller -- a veritable kickoff for 25-plus years of slasher films -- works because director John Carpenter keeps the story neat and the presentation basic. It's an approach that gives Halloween an easy, no-frills realism, and a likable indie style that shines through even today. Carpenter and co-writer/producer Debra Hill turn a few suburban streets into a house of horrors for some unsuspecting teenagers -- with no special effects and very few cheap thrills.

A 19-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis makes her film debut as Laurie Strode, a bookish, anti-social highschooler unaware that while she babysits on Halloween night, a psychotic maniac lurks in the neighborhood. The strong, silent type, this hulking being quietly walks the town in which he killed his sister 15 years earlier, back for more after a hospital escape. Meanwhile, his horrified doctor (the ominous Donald Pleasance) waits, as single-mindedly obsessed as the killer he's chasing.

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You Only Live Twice Review


Excellent
One of Bond's bigger outings from the early days of the franchise, You Only Live Twice begins with Bond (Sean Connery) faking his death to relieve himself of some of the heat of his enemies and culminates with a showdown against nemesis Blofeld (the progenitor of Dr. Evil) in a phony volcanic lair/rocket base being invaded by ninjas, which are on Bond's side. Blofeld's plot is hijacking spaceships while they're in orbit... for unclear purposes. Got all that? The plot itself is protracting and quite confusing for a Bond film, ultimately just a distraction from one of Bond's most memorable adventures, complete with Q arriving with a helicopter in a box. Tons of fun, really, and Donald Pleasence as Blofeld is inimitable.

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Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band Review


Good
No, this isn't a Beatles film like A Hard Day's Night, released in conjunction with the eponymous album and telling a vague sort of story. Rather, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came out 11 years after the seminal Beatles record. And it doesn't star the Beatles. In fact, it's one of the most bizarre films ever made, with the Bee Gees (who have no dialogue) appearing as the titular band, who acts through a series of vignettes based on songs that appear on the titular record (and some off of Abbey Road, too). Story-wise, there's really not much here -- basically it's about a small band's rise to fame and subsequent fight against the evil, corporate music business. And I mean basically. Really it's excuse to hear Beatles covers from the Brothers Gibb, Peter Frampton, Sandy Farina, Aerosmith (who pioneered their "Come Together" version here), Steve Martin(!), and George Burns(!!), who narrates the proceedings. And the music is really good, too. Never mind the "story."

The Freakmaker Review


Weak
Don't look now: Freaks are back.

With reissues of the original Freaks and Freaked on DVD, make room for The Freakmaker, a kind of homage/update/remake of Browning's 1932 classic.

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The Last Tycoon Review


Good
The Last Tycoon, based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's unfinished final novel, packs a pile of talent into its two hours but comes up a bit short in the end.

A shockingly lithe Robert De Niro stars as Monroe Stahr, a 1930s studio executive based on Irving Thalberg (a prolific producer who died at the age of 37, presumably from overwork). Stahr has lost loves in the past and a crushing chip on his shoulder in the present. He's a workhorse, but he wants something more out of life.

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Escape From New York Review


Excellent
The idea of Manhattan being transformed into a maximum security prison isn't much of a stretch. Many New Yorkers already feel as though they're in jail every day, surrounded by monolithic skyscraper walls. John Carpenter imaginatively stretched that premise in his cult classic, Escape from New York. In his alternate version of 1997, the Big Apple is a cityscape jail. The rules are simple. Once the inmates are shipped in, they don't get out. The bridges are mined. The waterways are watched over by sweeping helicopters. The police force, like an army, is encamped on Liberty Island and the outer boroughs.

That's exciting enough, but Carpenter also calculates in a ticking time bomb narrative device. Air Force One is hijacked by some socialist radicals who crash-land the plane into the heart of "this inhuman dungeon of [an] imperialist prison." The President (Donald Pleasence) manages to escape in a safety pod, only to be captured by none other than the leader of a ferocious band of gypsies who control the island, the self-proclaimed Duke of New York (Isaac Hayes).

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Telefon Review


Very Good
Charles Bronson is KGB, man! And Lee Remick is a double agent! And together they have to track down KGBer-gone-commando Donald Pleasence, as he reactivates a long-since-abandoned plan to activate sleeper agents in the U.S. and have them blow up a bunch of stuff. This Cold War thriller may not have the most complicated story, but it's curiously effective and has been been surprisingly influential, a nice companion piece to The Manchurian Candidate, another mind controlled-civilians-as-assassins story. Bronson probably does less fighting in this film than in any other film in his career.

Cul-De-Sac Review


Very Good
Roman Polanski's character study is strange, creepy, and often compelling. The freaky foursome in the film are a pair of criminals on the run and a husband and wife in whose home they uninvitedly take up residence. The criminals (including Lionel Stander, the butler from Hart to Hart) turn the husband (Donald Pleasence) into a snivelling fool, while the wife (Françoise Dorléac) is alternately a vamp and a freaked-out basket case. How they interact -- and how this all ends up -- is devilishly interesting, though it's ultimately not terribly believable.

Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers Review


Weak
This one's Halloween #6, made six years after Halloween 5 and decades after the series had totally died. Still, there are plenty of impalements (Michael Myers' favorite mode of death in this film) to keep our interest, and one line ("Michael Myers in space!?") is chuckle-worthy because all of his brethren would go there in the coming decade, including Jason. As a straight-up horror film, this continuation of the H-ween story revived in H4 and H5 -- Halloween III busted the series with a wholly unrelated tale -- is less about the gore and more about telling us why Michael is so batty for killin': because druids and creepy dudes in black are protecting... ah, skip it.

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The Great Escape Review


Excellent
Coming on the heels of John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven three years earlier, 1963's The Great Escape shows how quickly the ambitious epic can turn into a rote, readymade piece of filmmaking - a Hollywood masterpiece by design. There's a formal, somewhat stilted feel to its three-hour story about a group of imprisoned World War II officers and their struggle to break out of a Nazi P.O.W. camp, and anybody who thinks that Michael Bay is a bullying thug of a filmmaker who likes pushing people's emotions around can come here to see where he got it from. But for all its flaws, Escape has some of the most memorable moments in any war film, and some excellent performances from its ensemble cast.

Based on a true story, The Great Escape is set during the tail end of World War II, when a variety of officers from different countries were sent to Stalag Luft III, a prison camp designed to handle the most diligent escape attempts. Both fearless and duty-bound, the men spend no time with long prologues or chit-chat about what to do; they, along with the movie, immediately set to work, using the skills they know best. There's Anthony Hendley, the "scrounger" skilled at digging up needed provisions; James Garner, at his best when he's being charmingly unctuous to his Nazi captors; Charles Bronson, as the "tunnel king" Danny Velinski, offering a nice combination of two-fisted bravado and sensitive-guy neurosis; and Donald Pleasance, the British document forger, who brings a steely, proud stoicism to his role that sets the movie's emotional feel. His is the most convincing performance, which makes sense given that really did time in a German P.O.W. camp.

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