Thursday, January 12, 2012

DVD reviews: The Presidents Analyst / Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

The Presidents Analyst (1967)

This is a bizarre comedy and send-up to the time period in which it was made. It skewers the age of "flower power", psychiatry, the cold war, and American Liberalism with respect to satire. James Coburn stars as Dr. Sidney Schaeffer, whose comedic timing is perfect as the eager doctor sent in to take care of the Presidents psychiatric needs. Schaeffer is always on-call, so what at first seems a great and wonderful honor quickly cascades into a burden. Not only is he constantly having to see the President for the "great mans" many issues, he's also living under a state of constant scrutiny from the "FBR" and "CEA". Enemy states want to kidnap him and discover the nations deepest secrets and he isn't even quite certain that his lover, Nan, isn't part of the conspiracy surrounding him. After a paranoia-induced breakdown, Coburn is on the run from all the various agencies and this is where the film's story mostly takes place.

The film begins with what has to be one of the most intense narratives regarding racism, anger, and the very nature of a man in the line of work that CEA agent Don Masters. Masters is recruiting the good doctor and confesses to the recent assassination of an enemy agent in the process. This sets up the doctors' cool and analytical reaction to the situation, surprising himself and his "patient" in the process before opening the door to his new career.

There are so many great scenes in this film, including a wonderful kidnapping attempt that's ruined by multiple assassinations while a clueless Schaeffer makes love to a hippie in a field. Agents move forward only to find themselves killed in silence from another agent behind them until the lone Russian agent left standing is forced to watch as Schaeffer and his paramour return to the relative safety of the hippie camp seen in the near distance. As a fan of both Coburn (probably the coolest cat in cinema) and spy films, I really had a great time watching this film and would highly recommend it as a good change of pace to the blood and guts I normally tend to watch. Coburns' performance absolutely drives this film, so it's worth it for that alone.

5 out of 5.

Now, how do I segue from a cool little late 60's spy comedy into a Wuxia martial arts film? Just switch your gears over like I do on a regular basis...

"Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame"

Director Tsui Hark brings the wire-fu back in style with Detective Dee. The very capable Andy Lau stars as the titular detective in this period piece set just before the rule of China's only Empress. So right off the bat we're in for some great wire stunts, martial arts, and bits of slapstick comedy in the style Hark is very well known for.

This film is strongly comparable to the Guy Ritchie version of Sherlock Holmes, which may have been the leading inspiration when Hark went into this project. Dee is an exiled officer brought out of imprisonment to solve a string of murders where the victims suddenly burst into flames upon contact with the sun. How are the victims being poisoned and who is behind it? The over all mystery isn't much of one as the story progresses, but there are enough red herrings thrown in to make the film entertaining and the characters are very enjoyable. It is, of course, Lau who carries the bulk of the story and he capably handles the task with all the charisma he's known for.

4 out of 5.

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