Archive for the ‘Movie Reviews’ Category

Movie Reviews 470 – It Happened at Nightmare Inn (1973)

February 19, 2021

The Italian ‘giallo’ genre of thriller-horror (giallo all’italiana) films had spread to Spain by the ‘70s creating a mini cottage industry of its own with prolific stars like Paul Naschy and director Jess Franco to name a few. While few of these films can claim to be classics by any standard, many are none the less highly entertaining, It Happened at Nightmare Inn (natively titled Una vela para el diablo and perhaps better known as “A Candle for the Devil”) is a fine example of an absorbing giallo that hits all the right nostalgic notes.

Following the tradition of having one or two English speaking stars in these foreign language films, Judy Geeson arrives at a small Spanish villa in search of her sister who is supposed to be staying at one of the local hotels run by sisters Marta (Aurora Bautista) and Verónica (Esperanza Roy). Laura (Geeson), surprised to learn that her sister had left suddenly and without any message or forwarding address, begins a search that will have disturbing results.

Marta and Veronica are middle aged, bun haired spinsters that share a prudish attitude, especially when it comes to the young women tourists who come and stay with them. While Veronica shares her sister’s respectable outlook, it is Marta who cracks the whip and openly confronts those who do not meet with her highly critical eye.

As Laura continues to search for her sister another young tourist, a brazen hussy comes to town. Not only does Helen (Lone Fleming) have the audacity to wear skimpy hot pants, giving all the men in town an eyeful, but she purposefully flaunts her lifestyle in front of her puritan hostesses. Helen’s sudden surprising ‘departure’ adds to Laura’s suspicions that something is amiss. When yet a third , this time supposedly modest mother of a young child,  joins the list of unanticipated exits, Laura who by now has left the hotel, sets in motion a plan that will get her back in and solve the mystery once and for all.

Gorehounds will be disappointed as this film does not rely on flashy kills although there are a few onscreen deaths and one surprise ‘eyeful’ that will figure into the resolution. Neither is this a whodunit as the sisters divulge their complicity early on but without going in details or specifics. This film slowly hints at Marta and Veronica’s back history, surprising and unexpected, which cultivated their current motivations and actions.

Director Eugenio Martín (who also gave us Horror Express) metes out hints at just the right pace and portions to have viewers guessing what the big picture is going to be. And speaking of pictures we get treated to some ghoulish frescos from a Museum which Laura frequents as part of her investigation as well as some devilish artwork adorning Marta’s bedroom. I must confess that Bautista was the standout among the two sisters and I hoped she had many other such films to look forward to, but it seems that aside from one other major starring role in an acclaimed thriller (La Tía Tula) she never featured in any other giallo.

On the other hand in trying to find out more about this film I discovered that there are lots of other Spanish giallo out there that sound interesting and that I hope to catch at some point. Another reminder that some films that are not in the top echelons of fandom are still worthy of a watch.

 

Movie Reviews 469 – Rainy Dog (1997)

February 12, 2021

I’ve reviewed a number of films by director Takashi Miike, a favorite of mine known for his depiction of both extreme violence and the dizzying array of subject matter of his films. Not too many filmmakers can claim a filmography that includes a movie based on a kiddie TV show (Yatterman!), cybernetic yakuza (Full Metal Yakuza) and a Masters of Horror TV episode that was banned for being too extreme.

Rainy Dog is actually the second installment in the director’s Black Society trilogy (the others being Shinjuku Triad Society and Ley Lines), but I should point out right away that the films are only loosely linked and one does not need to have seen the first to watch this one. They each tell a separate tale of how the yakuza and triads are perceived and integrated within Japanese society.

In Rainy Dog a yakuza soldier finds himself ostracized from his crime syndicate and stranded in Taipei Taiwan, unable to return without a passport. Already down and out, Yuuji (Show Aikawa, also in Miike’s Gozu) is also trying to evade another assassin who has been ‘hunting’ him for 3 years for some unnamed conflict between the two. If that were not already too much to handle, a woman with whom Yuuji had a one night stand years before suddenly drops off his young son, incidentally a mute, who he never even knew about. At first, the boy Ah Chen is left to fend for himself outside Yuuji’s shanty, standing in the rain and foraging for food scraps. Eventually Yuuji lets him follow him around and allows him to enter his shack, barely accommodating him rather than fully accepting him.

Throughout the film Yuuji is earning his keep as an assassin for Mr Ke who also keeps promising him that he will get him a passport. After he completes an ordered hit on one of Mr. Ke’s competitors, Ku-Chiping, Yuuji also comes into the possession of a suitcase full of money. Yuuji then encounters Lily (Xianmei Chen), a prostitute that takes a shine to young Ah Chen. However Ku-Chiping’s brother has struck a deal with Ke, and now the trio, Yuuji, Lily and Ah Chen are on the run, chased by everyone it seems until they reach the end at the beachhead shoreline.

While some of Miike’s trademark violence is found here, it is not as gratuitous as in other films and does prove to be significant to the storyline. However the non-action scenes are very serene and emotional, with both Yuuji and Lily contemplating their lives and in search of peace and stability. As one can imagine, the ‘Rainy’ part of the title figures in many such scenes, ones that I can only assume are an homage to legendary director Akira Kurasawa and Seven Samurai in particular.

It’s hard for me not to recommend any Miike film, no matter how quirky and odd. But this is not on par with his most celebrated films so perhaps not for everyone. But another ‘must’ for Miike fans like myself.

Movie Reviews 468 – The Graduate (1967)

February 5, 2021

Following up his masterpiece film debut Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, director Mike Nichols gave us another classic in the adaptation of The Graduate, the story of an disillusioned university graduate who then gets swept up by a married woman’s advances to have an affair. This was Dustin Hoffman’s breakout as the titular graduate as well as a standout role for Katharine Ross as the daughter of the woman. While Anne Bancroft was already a well established Oscar winner, you can say that she too got ‘exposure’ in the sense that her stockinged right leg used for the advertising became an indelible image of the film.

Benjamin Braddock (Hoffman) has just returned home after graduating college and is clearly already in a beady-eyed funk. Clueless as to what to do next and without any aspirations, he is tormented by his parents who are all too eager to flout his ‘success’ to friends and neighbours. It is at one such occasion that his father’s business partner’s wife, Mrs. Robinson (whose first name is never uttered the entire film), insists that Benjamin drive her home where he is first propositioned, only to be rescued by the timely arrival of her husband (Murray Hamilton), yet another person trying to recruit him into a mundane career.

The mix of boredom and young lust eventually gets to Benjamin and he soon calls her, setting up an inept and bumbling encounter at a hotel. While the tryst is perfunctory from Mrs. Robinson’s point of view, clearly dealing with issues of her own, Benjamin’s attempts to engage at a more personal level are dismissed. When Benjamin broaches the topic of the Robinson’s daughter Elaine (Ross) who is still in college and nothing more than a distant memory of childhood friends, a rather surprisingly upset Mrs. Robinson makes it clear that Benjamin is to stay away from her.

While her edict is inconsequential at first, upon Elaine’s impending return home Benjamin soon finds himself badgered by both his parents and Mr. Robinson himself to take the young girl out. Cornered and without any remaining valid excuses, he reluctantly agrees to a date, but with a plan he believes will end it there. With few words and even less eye contact he whisks her to a lewd topless dance bar making sure she is at the focus of the entertainment. Crushed and in tears Elaine leaves and demands to just be brought back home. Guilt ridden, Benjamin confesses he only took her out to placate his parents and her dad, and the two then go on to have a simple amicable date and by the end of the night both are smitten.

This of course does not sit well with Mrs. Robinson who obstructs their second planned date and threatens Benjamin that she will tell Elaine about their affair. In a panic Ben decides it is best to beat her to the punch and tells Elaine the truth himself. Shocked and hurt, she returns to university, but Benjamin remains persistent, following her and taking up residence in student housing. His stalks and coincidental encounters eventually get her to talk whereupon he learns that she was told Benjamin raped her mother.

While he does make progress of sorts over time, Elaine is still very much confused, conflicted and on occasion still dating a lawyer. Just when Benjamin is on the brink of a breakthrough in their relationship he finds that she has been whisked away by her parents, now divorcing and slated to be married in short order. Ben has to figure out where this marriage is to take place and hope that he can convince her otherwise.

This film is filled with unforgettable scenes, both funny and grim. More anti-materialism than anti-establishment, it is clearly an expression of disoriented youth rather than rebellion or counter-culture, a subject more prevalent at the time.. A lot of the credit goes to Buck Henry who not only co-wrote the screenplay adaptation, but also puts in duty as a confounding hotel clerk. While the script is rich in symbolism such as Ben drowning in his misery, some of the laughs were accidental gaffs and bloopers that were kept in the final print according to the short documentary and Hoffman interview on my DVD. What has incorrectly been interpreted as Ben in a Christ-like crucifixion pose in the climactic scene as he pounds the glass above the church alcove was actually him just spreading his hands so as not to break the glass.

No mention of the film can exclude the impact of the spectacular Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack, Bancroft’s adulteress “Mrs. Robinson” becoming the duo’s enduring biggest hit, second only to “The Sound of Silence” (also remixed for the film) and taking the Record of the Year nod at the 1968 Grammys.

A great cast, a great script, a great soundtrack, a great film.

Movie Reviews 467 – Dr. Giggles (1992)

January 29, 2021

Dr. Giggles is one of those films that you occasionally hear about in horror forums and discussions that neither gets lavish praise, nor negative vibes. To be honest, before watching it, the only thing that I heard or read that stuck with me regarding this film was that it stars Larry Drake, most notable as the villain in Darkman and it’s sequel Darkman II (or for the non-horror inclined folk, the mentally challenged office messenger in the L.A. Law tv series for which he won several Emmys).

I think one of the reasons for that unremarkable status is that the film’s plot is cobbled up from a long list of horror clichés strung together to form a cohesive, yet pedantic story. To be sure, that is the case for many other horror films, but how does this one stand up against those? The question as to whether it has any ‘heart’ is particularly relevant but in this case the hearts are literal as we will soon learn.

The list of checkmark clichés that constitute this film begins with a bunch of highschoolers being let out for summer vacation. Jennifer (Holly Marie Combs) isn’t nearly as enthusiastic as the rest of the gang who are already in party mode and looking forward to leisure summer fun. Part of her gloom is attributable to a heart condition, dismissed by her doctor as nothing to worry about, but one that took away her mother when Jen was still a child.

The next boilerplate element is the fenced in, run down haunted looking house that has a history of a mad doctor who once lived there. But the town rumors regarding that sordid history lean more towards the doctor’s young son who disappeared the night the doctor was ‘dispatched’ by the community. That boy, of course turns out to be the titular Dr. Giggles (Drake) who later became an asylum inmate escapee but without the authorities making the connection to the long lost child.

Aside from a few flashbacks to the kid’s bizarre upbringing, the film is basically Giggles on a ‘heart wrenching’ rampage in town that for one reason or another all center on Jen, her family and her friends. Her torment induces real or imagined heart/‘panic attacks and in the end it’s up to Jen, her boyfriend (Glenn Quinn) and a few cops to terminate Giggle’s current ‘operation’.

The only thing really keeping any interest in the film is Drake’s beady eyed performance which is mostly conveyed under an incessant stream of doctor, medical and heart one-liners. His maniacal hunting of victims, largely opportunistic and without any real reason or motive, are not even all that creative although he does whip up an array of specialized demonic surgical tools towards the end. And yes, he does his nasty best while giggling in character.

On a cardiac scale I’d have to rate this as a ‘flatlined’ and is only to be watched only if you’re in the mood for shits’n’giggles. More of the latter, but you must endure some of the former along the way.

On a parting note, the opening credits list one Brian May for Music and I wondered if this was Brian May of Queen fame but started doubting it as the lacklustre soundtrack played on. I later checked and it was not him but some other dude with the same name. Too bad because this one could have used a bit more adrenaline.

January Movie Marathon – 2021 Edition

January 24, 2021

Another year, another holiday season Movie Marathon, but just like 2020 itself (and the beginning of 2021 so far), this ‘pandemic’ marathon was particularly exceptional. For those seeing this Marathon post for the first time, I set a goal of watching at least 31 movies in 31 days during the holiday season.

The good news – if it can be classified as such – was that because of the current Covid pandemic which curtailed many of our usual leisure activities, I had much more free time on my hands which translated into more time for hobbies and certainly more movie watching. I knew that I was going to shatter previous years marathons in the number of films watched.  I reached my goal of 31 movies with 9 Days to spare, and then went on to watch a total of 39 films. To be honest , I kinda wished I hadn’t slacked off the one or two nights I did not watch a movie which would have made it at least 40.

As part of the lineup, I also snuck in a mini-Ape-O-thon, watching for what seems like the millionth time the five classic Planet of the Apes films albeit I did not watch them in order of release. Other than that, I tried to hit as wide a variety of genres and formats as I could.

Without further ado, here is what I watched.

 

1 – Forrest Gump (1994)
2020 was a pretty messed up year so why not start this holiday season viewing with a messed up story? A mentally challenged, semi idiot-savant, Forrest manages to overcome all obstacles and ingrain himself in history making moments while at the same time teaching us a few life lessons. Life was like a box of chocolates and there was no creamy center this year but at least Forrest’s adventures in this semi-alternate reality are entertaining enough to take our minds away from reality for a brief time.

2 – Road to Bali (1952)
My first viewing of one of the many “Road” movies that teams Bob Hope and Bing Crosby with Dorothy Lamour, always the woman in the triangle. Watching this reminded me how funny Bob Hope could be, especially when breaking the ‘fourth wall’. I could do without the singing and dancing in these films, but back in the day the musical aspect of the film industry was strong so I have to assume people liked it. Next stop: Morocco!

3 – Donovan’s Brain (1953)
A well meaning but naive doctor takes advantage of recently deceased body to advance his research into keeping brains alive and cognizant after death as defined by heartbeats.The trouble is this brain is that of an evil wealthy man and the brain develops telepathic powers that quickly control more than you would think a brain in jar could achieve, none of it good I might add. I read Curt Siodmak’s novel on which this was based years ago and it was just as enjoyable if not more so.

4 – Carry On Doctor (1967)
One of the many “Carry On” absurd British comedies combining slapstick, corny one liners and risqué situations. As the name implies, this one features bumbling doctors, nutty nurses and problematic patients. I chose this one due to the recent passing of Barbara Windsor, one of the many regulars members of the “Carry On” troupe. Far from the best of the 30 odd “Carry On” films made over a span of 3 decades (not including TV specials and a short lived TV series), but always good for a few laughs.

 

5 – Man on a Ledge (2012)
A former cop goes to extreme lengths (well heights really) to clear his name. To do it, he and a few accomplices have to pull off one of those enormously complex heists (explosives, decoy cameras, crawling through air vents, and all that high tech gadgetry) to turn the tables on the man who set him up. But the plan relies completely on an unknowing, police negotiator playing along. Sure these movies are a dime a dozen but that’s because they are just entertaining enough to keep us guessing as to what is really going on and this one does just that. I’m sure I’m not spoiling it to say that no, he does not leap.

6 – Black Angel (1946)
The wife of a falsely accused murderer has to track down a luckless, drinking piano player who may be able to clear her husband’s name. Once she finds him, the clues point to a shifty nightclub owner as the suspect, but they need hard evidence and thus concoct an elaborate plan to get it. Standing in their way is a developing love affair and a hard nosed cop. As in most Film Noir there is the expected twist ending but this one was particularly surprising. Always a pleasure to watch Peter Lorre and the underrated Dan Duryea.

7 – Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
There is no need for me to watch any of the classic Planet of the Apes movies in order as I can almost recite all of them, line by line. I watched the ‘unrated’ version Blu-ray which is much gorier and without the tacked-on conciliatory portion to Caesar’s speech at the end. Easily the second best in the series after the first film. This was also the very first Apes film I ever saw, back when movie theaters were majestic palaces with more than a thousand seats, so many nostalgic fond memories to go along with this viewing.

8 – Support Your Local Sheriff (1969)
A rethread of the film Paint Your Wagon wherein a surprise gold strike results in the overnight creation of a frontier town with an imminent need for law and order. James Garner reluctantly comes to the rescue as the crackshot sheriff to fit the bill against a family clan running roughshod over the town. It’s got some fairly funny setups such as successfully holding prisoners in a cell with no bars. I was never much of a James Garner fan but I have to admit the more I see of him the greater my opinion sways in his favor.

 

9 – Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1975)
Despite being inferior in some ways to its predecessors, this last of the five classic Apes movies still has so many great moments in which humans and simians are forced to forge a unity or perish at one another’s hands. The apes learn that they are not that much better than humans after all. It’s also the film in which an ape first breaks the cardinal rule “Ape shall never kill ape.” This was the extended version Blu-ray that includes the subplot with an Alpha Omega bomb.

10 – Dune (1984)
This proto-steampunk Dino DeLaurentiis production proves once again that you can throw a lot of prime talent both in front of and behind the camera to lens a screenplay based on a great science fiction novel and still create an incomprehensible mess. A mix of the visual stunning and laughable, antiquated special effects. Everyone from Sting to Patrick Stewart wants to forget this one. All the more sadder given that Alejandro Jodorowsky worked so long and hard only to have his superior vision quashed. Watch the 2000 miniseries instead.

11 – Gremlins (1984)
I had to watch at least one “Christmas” movie in this lot and Gremlins won out. You can’t go wrong with a bunch of wide eyed fuzz balls even if they do turn into mischievous and deadly leathery pranksters. Some of the animatronics remain amazing to watch even after all these years.

12 – The Revenge of Frankenstein (1958)
Even if one of the least favored of the Hammer studios Frankenstein films, it still beats some of the more acclaimed stuff. Being only the second of that studio’s Frankensteins after the much better Curse of Frankenstein, they would later regain their footing with many more sequels. As always, just seeing the late, great Peter Cushing as Baron Von Frankenstein is more than enough. Best special effect: a set of detached human eyeballs floating in an aquarium and following moving objects within their field of vision.

 

13 – A Quiet Place (2018)
One of the most highly acclaimed horror films in a long time. A novel premise and genuinely scary but there was a surprising number of logic missteps that both my son and I quickly pointed out which certainly was a bit of a letdown. The thrills come as much from a family going to all possible means to remain quiet as from the aliens that have left the Earth in a dystopian shambles. If nothing else it makes the current pandemic changes to our daily living pale in comparison.

14 – Charlie Chan: The Jade Mask (1944)
I snagged about a dozen Charlie Chan DVDs a while back and have been enjoying them all year. This is one in which the illustrious Hawaiian detective is played by Sidney Toler but I prefer the earlier ones with Warner Oland. A scientist working on a secret government project is killed but the entire household and servants admittedly all hated him. In the end all the family, guests and the help are rounded up to hear Charlie’s brilliant deduction to solving the crime.

Beer game: Chug down a Blue Hawaii every time Charlie says “Excuse please.”

15 – Leap of Faith (1992)
An unabashed and admitted fake faith healer and his entourage end up stuck in a small town for a few days and decide to set up shop and fleece the already poor and miserly citizens. A lot of it feels like a circus (which it is in a way) from the troupe raising the Big Top tent, the side sales and attractions and having a barker. The love interest between the Sheriff (Liam Neeson) who is the only town member to see beyond the facade and the road manager who manages the ‘con’ (Debra Winger) seems out of place in the lackadaisical script. Not one of Steve Martin‘s better comedies.

16 – The Jacket (2005)
A bit of a surreal drama with a science fiction bent in which a former Persian War veteran who was once shot in the head ends up standing trial for killing a cop but in the same reality is in an asylum as a result of his previous injury. He is then subjected to unauthorized experiments that have him thrust into the future, where he learns that he has already died. This of course leads him and a girl he once rescued, a woman in the future, try to change history. The ‘time jumps’ are easy to understand, so it’s not overly complicated in that aspect. The hook of the story is not only that of the man, but the life of the girl/woman he interacts with at various points in time.

 

17 – Clash by Night (1952)
A self confessed woman who wants more than to just be a regular housewife finally throws in the towel and marries a hard working loving man only to cheat on him with his best friend. The speed and frequency that this zebra changes her stripes undermines the credulity and the very ending of the film. While this is supposed to be a minor classic there are just so many more better films from this era that those accolades have me scratching my head. Perhaps some of the film’s distinction is due to Marilyn Monroe having a minor role, and she certainly carries her own here. I don’t fault any of the actors, as the problem clearly lies with the script.

18 – Ford V Ferrari (2019)
In 1963 Enzo Ferrari, facing bankruptcy of his Ferrari car company, rebuked an offer to merge with the Ford motor company, instead using the offer to have rival Fiat up their rescue bid. Irate, Ford decided to hire race car designer Carroll Shelby and (reluctantly) driver/mechanic Ken Miles to develop a contending racing car to beat out Ferrari and their string of wins at the celebrated 24 Hours of Lemans race. This is the story of the friendship between Shelby and Miles, and the success of that collaboration that would shake Ferrari’s dominance for years. Definitely a high octane film.

19 – Zardoz (1974) 
The oddest Sean Connery film you will ever see. [See full review here]

20 – Films of Fury (2011)
A lighthearted documentary on the history of Kung Fu movies. While it does cover all the heavy-weights such as Bruce Lee, Gordon Liu, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Donnie Yen, and even Chuck Norris (somewhat mockingly), it surprisingly neglects to pay respect to the revered Shaw Brothers who made it all happen. It does do some justice to the women in the industry with the likes of Angela Mao, Michelle Yeoh, and a few others, but here again, no mention of Etsuko “Sue” Shihomi. So much of the film time is wasted on a silly animated story driving the narration that they even completely forgot to mention Sonny Chiba. Despite the missing tributes, it is a fun and informative film with many classic highlights and movies titles that everyone should see.

 

21 – The Devil’s Hand (1961)
A hokey story about a small cult run by a couple who recruit people telepathically and control them via voodoo dolls. It’s all nonsensical since the couple have the power to predetermine the outcome of horse races and the stock market, talk about being immortal, but inexplicably need recruits. They subject some recruits to a ritual in which members are placed on a sacrificial altar in a trance-like and have a spinning wheel which has one real blade and others made of cardboard (yes, we see the fluttering cardboard) descend upon them. My DVD was a dual box with They Saved Hitler’s Brain including the original Madmen of Mandoras to which scenes were added, and both of those actually made more sense to give you an idea of how bad The Devil’s Hand is.

22 – Godzilla 2000 (1999)
Also known as Godzilla 2000: Millennium, the Big G’s nemesis in this one is an alien that lay dormant at the bottom of the sea for millions of years until some scientists accidentally revive it. At the same time, the members of the Godzilla Prediction Network (GPN) – basically a scientist, his savvy daughter and a newspaper reporter who really just joins them for the free ride – discover Godzilla’s regenerative powers.  This was the first Toho film after they leased the license to Tristar for the 1997 American “Godzilla” movie. A little too much green screen for my liking, but the alien does metamorphosize through some cool phases. You’ve got one guess as to who wins out in the end.

23 – Columbo: Try and Catch Me (1977)
I’ve been slowly rewatching all the Columbo TV movies from the 70’s. Despite the fact that these were very formulaic, one cannot but love seeing Peter Falk as the bumbling, soiled trench-coat wearing and stubby cigar munching detective. As usual we see an intricately planned murder being committed at the very beginning. Know who is guilty. See the murderer and Columbo skirt one or more ‘McGuffin’ clues. And in the end Columbo brilliantly solves the murder by revealing some obscure piece of evidence, often a ‘cheat’ in the sense that the viewing audience are not even aware of it’s existence. This one has the loveable geriatric Ruth Gordon as a renown Murder Mystery novelist bump off her nephew, but for a very good reason.

24 – Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)
The centerpiece of the Planet of the Apes series, Escape has always been a standout in many ways. The true magnificence of Escape is how it begins with a departure from the two first films and suddenly plucks us into a contemporary tale that is a light comedy then quickly transitions into a serious thriller only to end with one of the most tragic and gruesome scenes in the entire series. The great music score by Jerry Goldsmith varies accordingly. I love it for the many fun moments but the shocking end is always what first comes to mind.

 

25 – Fist of Fury (1972)
After watching Films of Fury (see above) I was inclined to rewatch some good old Kung Fu and decided upon Fist of Fury with the legendary Bruce Lee. I had already seen and reviewed it under it’s alternate title The Chinese Connection which I enjoyed but was not overwhelmed with originally. However I enjoyed it much more this time around with a pristine DVD transfer and sound enhancement from this DVD in the Bruce Lee Collection box set. This story is loosely based on the suspicions of poisoning in the death of real life Chinese Martial Arts pedagogue Huo Yuanjia, long considered a national hero. Yelling “How can a healthy man die?”, Lee’s utterance is particularly prophetic given that his own death under mysterious circumstances would shock the world only a year later and elicit similar suspicions.

26 – The Wizard of OZ (1939)
My first viewing of this fantasy children story classic [See full review here]

27 –  Rest Stop (2006)
I’ve watched more than my share of horror/thriller films that have a scene or two that do not quite make sense. I’ve also seen more than an handful of characters performing deeds that are not only dumb and dangerous, but that last thing you would want to do for a given predicament or situation. The good news is that if you enjoy all of the above, Rest Stop is the movie for you. When a woman who has just run off with her boyfriend gets stranded and stalked by a mysterious serial killer, she suddenly becomes the dumbest person on the Earth is the only way I can describe this film. More’s the pity is that this was directed by X-Files veteran writer John Shiban who should have known better.

28 – Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)
There was a time when I did not think too highly of Beneath, the first sequel in the Planet of the Apes series. My misgivings were due to how the film largely mimics the first at the very beginning. But I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more with every viewing. This is the film which not only made the Gorillas more than background simians, but gave us Ursus (James Gregory) and his marvelous speech decrying “The only good human is a dead human.” It also gave us the radiation raved mutants. And just for shits’n’giggles they blow up the Earth at the end.

 

29 – Double Indemnity (1944)
The seminal Film Noir, and masterpiece template for the genre. The film that had everything bucking against it through production, but at the same time ended up with all the perfect ingredients. Director Billy Wilder’s breakout film from which he never looked back. Barabara Stanwyck is the femme fatale who naively tries to buy insurance for the husband she plans to bump off. Insurance salesman Fred MacMurray smells out her ill conceived plans but falls for her and offers up a better plan, a perfect plan. All that stands in their way is the insurance company’s fraud detective, Edward G. Robinson. Thrilling from the first frame to the very last. Doesn’t get better than this.

(Read another short review I wrote ten years ago here)

30 – Weekend at Bernies (1989)
Two young dudes working at an insurance firm try to climb the corporate ladder by analyzing the company records to see if they can find extra funds to impress their boss, the extravagant Bernie who has everything going for him. When they do find some suspicious account activity he delightfully invites them to join him for the weekend at his island mansion. When the boys arrive they find Bernie is a stiff and circumstances have them propping up the body and maintaining the pretense that he is not only alive and well, but hosting lavish parties. Not nearly as good as I remember it, but still fun.

31- Lovelace (2013)
Deep Throat was the breakthrough porn movie that thrust the dingy, garage industry into the mainstream consciousness by shattering the box office and luring throngs of patrons, men and women alike, curious as to what it was all about. Overnight, star Linda Lovelace became a household name and fodder for late night talk-show hosts. This is the sad story of how she came to be in that production and separates the façade from the reality. The format uses an innovative approach by first showing us the public view version of events and then revisiting them while revealing what was happening behind closed doors. Both fascinating and heartsick at the same time.

32 – Gilda (1946) 
Film Noir classic that deservedly made Rita Hayworth a star. [See full review here]

 

33 – Moneyball (2011)
This is a second viewing already for me. While not a baseball fan per se, this is not about heroic athletics which is usually the focus of sports themed films. Rather it is based upon the then revolutionary concept of putting together a roster cheaply by strictly sticking to statistics, and removing all personal observation analysis. That is not to say that this is a ‘science’ movie, but science is integral to the plot. Loosely based on the true life story of Oakland A’s GM Billy Bean (Brad Pitt) after he lost key players in 2002 and had to rebuild the team but without adequate money for payroll. The real star here is the surprising sedate role by Jonah Hill as the data analyst (earning an Oscar nomination along with Pitt), proving he can do much more than star in stoner comedies.

34 – RV (2006)
Had to fit in at least one Robin Williams movie in the marathon. This one has him as a father and husband trying to keep his family happy while being stressed by his job and facing the prospect of losing it. When his boss demands that he be present at a remote meeting at the same time the family had plans to vacation in Hawaii, he rents an RV and plans a trip to his meeting while keeping his work plans secret from them. Not one of his best (by far) but meeting (and shunning) another travelling family brings just enough comedy to make it worth the watch.

35 – Planet of the Apes (1968)
What I consider to be one of the finest science fiction movies ever made and just as powerful today as when it was released. The original Planet of the Apes is rife with political and social commentary, particularly highlighting the racial divide but also critiquing religion, the military and other facets. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched it, and yet I still pick up on nuances in the dialogue that are as relevant today as it was back then, perhaps even more so in these trying times.

36 – Training Day (2001)
A rookie cop bucking to someday make detective gets the opportunity to team up with a seasoned veteran working the dingy streets. But his first day on the job proves to be not just a shocking revelation regarding corruption, but a deadly game of rogue cops who turn out to be worse than the criminals he was hoping to reign in. Denzel Washington is downright nasty but finds his hands full trying to reel in rookie Ethan Hawke. A great story with many surprises, but cramming it all into a single day strains credulity.

 

37 – Horton Hears a Who (2008)
It’s been a while since I watched an animated film so I thought it was high time I got around to watching this one. I do remember watching the original Horton Hears a Who half hour short many, many times as a kid, but realized that stretching a 30 minute Dr. Seuss cartoon TV special to feature length film would necessarily be quite different. I can’t say I was thrilled with it although it’s always fun seeing the outlandish contraptions in mythical Whoville.

38 – Sabotage (1936)
Sabotage is an early Alfred Hitchcock film which tells the story of an agent tracking a suspect in London after a spate of minor incidents aimed to terrorize a pre-war English public. The saboteur is a cinema owner, married to a young widow with a son who gets entangled in his evil deeds, and ones that escalate in severity. Not to be confused with the much superior Saboteur which Hitchcock made in 1942, it is, even as an inferior film, still packed with intrigue and nerve wrenching scenes. While based on the novel Secret Agent, it should also not be confused with the Hitchcock film Secret Agent released the very same year.

39 – On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Of all the Bond films, this one sometimes gets short shrift because it is the one in which George Lazenby played James Bond in his singular outing and the first post Connery Bond. But this film has a lot going for it, not the least starring the late great Diana Rigg as the ‘Bond girl’. Add in Telly ‘Kojak’ Savalas as the nemesis Blofeld and you have a great, exciting film. It’s not often Bond helps out a crime syndicate and gets married.

Movie Reviews 466 – Gilda (1946)

January 22, 2021

I recently rewatched Double Indemnity, the seminal Film Noir and template upon which all others in the genre are judged against. Few films can match it but Gilda comes pretty close.

Lowly street hustler Johnny Farrell’s (Glenn Ford) life is saved one night from an attempted mugging while in Buenos Aire,. His savior, a well dressed gentleman named Ballin Mundson (George Macready) takes a shine to Johnny and gives him a pass to a nearby casino.

Admiring Johnny for his instincts and heavy handedness when called for, Ballin offers him a job at his illegal gambling den. At first, things go remarkably well for Johnny who not only manages to clean up his act, but soon becomes Ballin’s second-hand man with his diligence and dedication.That is until Ballin returns from a short trip one night and introduces Johnny to his new wife.

Rita Hayworth is Gilda in what was to become her Hollywood defining moment from the very first instant we see her face on screen, or rather the iconic hair sweep she does. She is vivacious and vibrant and … trouble. It is clear from the outset that Johnny and Gilda knew one another before, but neither acknowledge it to Ballin. Just as clear is their hatred for one another. Their one time romance, which we learn of in dribs and drabs (and never fully explained) is one that Johnny wants to forget, but is constantly brought up by Gilda. Meanwhile Johnny, ever vigilant of the ongoings in the casino, knows that there are shenanigans going on that even Ballin will not divulge. But his biggest problem is Gilda, flirting with everyone behind Ballin’s back all while both antagonizing and seducing Johnny. Johnny manages to juggle all that is thrown at him for a time until the ending at which point the truth of Ballin’s dealings are revealed and Ballin learns of Johnny and Gilda’s past involvement.

The brilliance of the script is riddled with double entendres and innuendo, much like the provocative scene in which Gilda performs a ‘clothed’ striptease act. There are plenty of shady characters, many who are not what they seem. Thankfully the somewhat convoluted plot about a Tungsten cartel (which is ridiculous as it sounds) is almost irrelevant, leaving the focus squarely on Johnny and Gilda and other relationships. This brings us to the dialogue being peppered with a recurring theme of threesomes (get your mind out of the gutter) be it Johnny-Ballin-Gilda, or Johnny-Ballin and the pointed dagger in Ballin’s walking stick. The ‘point’ being that in the both threesomes, the third party, be it Gilda or the dagger, are equally sharp and equally dangerous. In one brilliant sequence the threesome discussions overlap and Gilda ends up condeming herself, figuratively speaking.

The fourth character of significance in the film is ‘uncle Pio’ (Steven Geray) an ever vigilant casino bathroom attendant who is all eyes and ears and the guiding element in much of what happens throughout the film and also lending a mild comedic touch. Not surprisingly, he too becomes part of a threesome at the end of the movie (that theme again) but I won’t spoil it by mentioning the others therein.

Hayworth’s Femme Fatale role is famously cemented by not one but two renditions of her singing Put the Blame on Mame. While I would normally prefer to keep the song and dance routines out of Film Noir, I have to admit that in this case it did add to her mystique and was both fitting and enjoyable .

Easily one of the ‘must see’ cinema classics.

Movie Reviews 465 – The Wizard of Oz (1939)

January 15, 2021

I have to confess that I’ve never watched The Wizard of Oz until now. To some this may sound shocking given its popularity and taking into consideration my fondness for all things quirky and surreal, especially science fiction. Part of my disinterest is because it is such a famous film and original story and, as such, I’ve been exposed to snippets, stills and general discussions regarding the film as well as homages and parodies for as long as I can remember. It almost felt like I had seen it without actually sitting through a viewing. Other factors that have fuelled my indifference include the adolescent target audience of the story (it is based on a series of children’s books), and the fantasy aspects as I’ve always been more a fan of (hard) science fiction and horror when it comes to genres. Lastly and more tellingly, this film is a musical above all else, which again is not my cup of tea when it comes to films. (I have never watched The Sound of Music either to put it in context.)

Given its universal awareness, I won’t bother retelling the salient aspects of the story because it would be a wasted effort for the most part. Suffice it to say: Little girl Dorothy (Judy Garland) living on remote Kansas farm is swept up in a tornado with her dog Toto, land in a surreal fairy tale territory with Munchkins and wicked witches (Margaret Hamilton), acquires a set of ruby slippers and is soon joined by a cowardly lion (Bert Lahr), scarecrow without a brain (Ray Bolger) and tin man lacking a heart (Jack Haley) as they all follow a yellow brick road in search of a wizard overlord of sorts. Google the rest to fill in the blanks.

What I can say now having watched it is that, as suspected, there was not much new for me to enjoy. I had already seen the entire Munchkin sequence at some point or another and in fact was surprised that there was only that one sequence. I was under the impression that there would be a lot more than what amounts to little more than a song and dance routine. As for those ‘songs and dances’ for the movie as a whole it appears that with the exception of one (the tin man introduction), I had also already seen and heard them all. Not surprisingly, the one sequence I never saw was the weakest, which may explain why I had never come across it. The only major scenes that have never come up in film documentaries and such was the final meeting with the wizard, which was fairly anticlimactic given the lengthy build up to it. (Spoiler Alert: the Wizard was not omnipotent after all and does little more than give everyone a pat on the head.)

On a positive note, I can easily see why the film is so beloved to some, especially given the era it was released and the state of film-making at the time. The sets are glorious and imaginative and are as colorful as ever. I should point out here that my DVD was the 70th Anniversary  edition which was released after a lengthy, exhaustive restoration, and discussed in a featurette on the set. (No, I did not try out the ‘sing along’ feature on the DVD.) Even the makeup and special effects sequences (flying helmeted apes!) still hold up.

One aspect that I reflected on as I watched was how the film has been so ingrained in the arts and media, more so than I realized. Aside from some of the obvious attributions, my previous review of Zardoz in the post prior to this post one being one, and Under the Rainbow a bit earlier (both of which reminded me I should finally get around to watch Oz proper), there were some I had not really picked up on before. Only now do I see how the H.R. Pufnstuf kiddie show was a riff on Oz in so many ways. Or how the animated voice of Snagglepuss was just an imitation of Bert Lahr’s lion. (Truth be told, Bert Lahr used that voice and intonation all the time, so the lion was really Bert, not the other way around).

The question that I sought to answer when I watched this, namely do I ‘Need’ to see this, comes down to a resounding No. I was not bedazzled or surprised by anything I saw. There was little that was new, and those parts were not particularly entertaining. That is not to say it was a bad movie in any way, rather a victim of its own success, the pervasive media references slicing away at the significance of the film.

Oddly (to add one more oddity to such an odd movie to begin with), my DVD set has another film, The Dreamer of Oz, on the second, extra disc. This was a 1990 TV movie based on the life of L. Frank Baum who wrote Oz. I do recall watching it at the time, one surprising sequence of how Baum got to call it “OZ” being particularly unforgettable. I honestly have more interest in rewatching that than The Wizard of Oz.

One final note. The famous line “Click your heels three times and say ‘There’s no place like home.’ “ has much less of an impact in our current pandemic homebound state.

Movie Reviews 464 – Zardoz (1974)

January 8, 2021

While saddened upon hearing of the passing of Sean Connery this year, what first passed in my mind was not any of his acclaimed notable performances, or even his iconic suave James Bond big screen debut. Instead, the first thing that came to mind was a ponytailed Connery brandishing a bandolier in knee high boots and wearing not much more than a flaming red loincloth in Zardoz, one one the funkiest Science Fiction movies of the ’70s.

This vision by writer/director John Boorman (who gave us Point Blank and Deliverance before this), it is set in a post-apocalyptic divided Earth where the downtrodden masses are enslaved and hunted by an army of barbaric, horse-riding ‘Brutals’ who idolize their god, Zardoz. As seen in the opening sequence, Zardoz is a massive stone head that floats down from the clouds and spews guns and ammunition through it’s gaping mouth to the Brutals so that they can continue to subjugate the destitute slaves. In return the Brutals load the head with food grown by the slaves, a cycle that continues periodically.

Zed (Connery) is an inquisitive Brutal who questions the order of things and hides within Zardoz to learn the truth after such a resupply visit . As Zardoz journeys skyward Zed comes out of hiding and finds an oddly clothed figure at the rim of the stone lip who he subsequently kills. Upon the stone landing Zed finds himself in an advanced society village of intellectuals . These ‘Eternals’ debate as to whether Zed should be studied, or as Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) urges, killed. Zed learns of other groups living with the Eternals such as the Renegades (elderly Eternals who have lost their way) and the Apathetics who are nothing more than shuffling zombies in a trancelike state.

The Eternals, immortal and who regenerate from new embryos upon death, are themselves infertile. We also learn that the Eternal that Zed killed earlier while riding the stone Zardoz was in fact leading on Zed to learn about the past. By guiding him to rummage through old buildings, in particular a library, Zed learned the true meaning of “Zardoz” but blocked it from his mind.

This is a great new age film and clearly a product that could only have been made in the psychedelic ’70s. While a bit heavy handed and confusing in terms of philosophical message, the novelty alone makes it worth watching. Filled with ambiguous monologues and diatribes – ” Zardoz, your God who gave you the gift of the gun. The gun is good. The penis is evil. ” –  we still get the gist of it all and it does prance along (sometimes with topless female riders) at a pace quick enough to be entertaining. As fascinating to watch as it is bizarre, it’s a bit of an acid trip worthy of doctor Timothy Leary. (“Turn on, tune in, drop out.” and all that.)

While my DVD did feature a commentary track by Boorman that I’m sure I would have enjoyed to hear and learn what the point was for many of the more bizarre scenes, I really wasn’t up to watching the whole thing over again, so that’ll have to wait for another day. The only other ‘extra feature’ of note was some of the old radio ads. While I never really bother with those radio ads, I was curious in this case and was glad I did. The familiar sounding voice turned out to be none other than Rod Serling, which I found to be remarkably fitting.

 

Movie Reviews 463 – The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954)

December 30, 2020

I already discussed in my review of The Invisible Man the so called ‘second tier’ of classic Universal studios monsters after the triumvirate of Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolfman. Not only does The Creature From the Black Lagoon fit into that second tier, but many fans consider it the top second banana so to speak, superior to its peers, even The Mummy.

Based loosely on folklore of a reputed man-fish in the amazon, the story was conceived by the movie’s producer and was released in both 3D and regular formats as the novelty of 3D was wanning. It was an instant hit that spawned (see what I did there?) two successive sequels each following year. While the film series was short lived, the ‘gill-man’ has remained a consistent cult mainstay ever since.

A geological expedition comes across a fossilized webbed hand and upon being presented to marine biologist Dr. David Reed (Richard Carlson), he is able to convince his boss Dr. Williams (Richard Denning) to back an expedition deep into the amazon jungle. Joined by Reed’s assistant and girlfriend Kay (Julie Adams), the expedition hires out an old, worn-out trawler operated by a salty captain. Upon some of the hired hands being attacked right at the beginning, the captain tells the academics of reputed sightings of a living relic of the prehistoric creature.

Once they get to the lagoon it becomes clear that Williams is not as interested in study of the creature but more the monetary benefits of bringing him back alive. The creature not only proves to be elusive but equally intelligent and the expedition soon finds themselves as the prey rather than being the hunters.

The film is known for some of it’s great underwater scenes, the most notable featuring the blissfully unaware Adams lithely swimming and doing acrobatic maneuvers while the creature is mere inches away and swimming in parallel. The design of the reptilian monster is all the more admirable given that it had to be underwater most of the time, and in fact seems out of place in the few scenes it is on land, which is how it should be. There are some nice touches like seeing the pulsating gills and an inflating/deflating mouth when breathing above water and even the glazed look in it’s beady eyes when immobile, much like a frog.

The plot has a bit of a throw-in challenge to Reed’s affections for Kay by Williams and a hint of a Beauty and the Beast angle, but thankfully those are not dwelled upon. There is a bit of scientific analysis punted around to validate the creature’s existence but the main events are clearly the battle of wits and muscle between the party and the creature.

The legacy of the creature is still going strong today, most recently by Guillermo del Toro who upon seeing this film decided he wanted to make his variant of the gill-man. The resulting The Shape of Water not only sweeped Oscar nominations in 2018, but won the coveted pinnacle Best Picture award (as well as Best Director for del Toro and two other Oscars).

My viewing of this DVD was from the Universal Monsters Legacy box set so I was able to watch the sequels Revenge of the Creature and The Creature Walks Among Us, the latter being a creature morphing into a human. The rule of declining returns applies to these sequels, but I still found them entertaining when taken with a bit of salt. Perhaps salt-water in this case.

Movie Reviews 462 – The Guns of Navarone (1961)

December 18, 2020

There is a long list of World War II movies that are considered classics such as The Great Escape, The Dirty Dozen and Stalag 17, all favorites of mine that I can rewatch over and over. While I had heard of The Guns of Navarone many times over the years, I only got my hands on a DVD recently in order for me to finally judge where this entry sits on that illustrious list.

Based on an early Alistair Maclean novel and loosely based on the real life Battle of Leros, the film storyline is essentially one of those daring,near-impossible missions foisted on a small group of soldiers in an act of desperation. In this case about 2000 British soldiers on the island of Kheros in the Aegean Sea find themselves cut-off and surrounded by Axis forces about to bear down on them. What prevents the Allied forces from rescuing the men are the titular guns of Navarone, two mighty radar controlled cannons. A small fleet is dispatched to rescue the men but that hinges on the guns being put out of commision and failure to do so would not only end with the capture of the stranded troops, but decimation of the rescue convoy.

A team is quickly assembled to take out the guns before the rescue ships arrive. Led by a Major (Anthony Quayle) the crux of the team consists of Captain Mallory (Gregory Peck) whose mountaineer skills are required to tackle the first hurdle, a daunting 400 foot sheer drop cliff and Cpl Miller (David Niven) as the explosives expert for the coup-de-grâce upon reaching their target. If dealing with a suicide mission were not bad enough for Mallory, he also learns that another member will be Andrea Stavros (Anthony Quinn), a man that has sworn to kill Mallory because of a previous operation.

The mission is filled with surprises, suspicions, unexpected setbacks that continually have the team scurrying. After their intended contact on the island has been replaced by the contact’s daughter (Irene Papas) and another mute resistance fighter (Gia Scala), they must advance by blending in with the local Greeks amid a wedding feast in the village plaza. At every turn, the Germans seem to be one step ahead, but who, if anyone, is the traitor among them?

As is often the case, the people working behind the scenes are as interesting as the films they make. Producer and screenplay writer Carl Foreman was one of the blacklisted victims of the McCarthy era Hollywood witch hunts which forced him to immigrate to England. There he worked on Bridge over the River Kwai based on the book by Pierre Boulle the original author of the Planet of the Apes novel. Director J. Lee Thomson would later go on to direct the last two installments of the original Planet of the Apes franchise, the first film screenplay having been written by Michael Wilson, yet another Hollywood blacklisted writer.

It took me a while to appreciate the nuances of what first starts out as a cookie-cutter thriller but by the end I was impressed with the layers of treachery and deceit and action filled finale.

I followed-up this viewing with the 1978 sequel Force 10 from Navarone starring Harrison Ford and Robert Shaw. While not nearly as endearing as the original it did bring back some of the memorable characters from the first.