Thursday, April 23, 2015

Journey Into Fear (1943)

Director: Norman Foster, Orson Welles

Writers: Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Eric Ambler, Richard Collins, Ben Hecht

Composer: Roy Webb

Starring: Joseph Cotten, Dolores del Rio, Ruth Warrick, Agnes Moorehead, Jack Durant, Everett Sloane, Eustace Wyatt, Frank Readick, Edgar Barrier, Jack Moss, Stefan Scnabel, Hans Conried, Robert Meltzer, Richard Bennett, Orson Welles

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Welles and Del Rio together! as Terror Man vs. Leopard Woman--for possession of a mysterious stranger in the powder-keg Middle East...a man with a military secret worth more than his love and his life!...It's menace melodrama thrilled with mighty mystery and suspense...SEE IT!

Plot: A Navy engineer returning to the U.S. with his wife from a conference finds himself pursued by Nazi agents who are out to kill him. Without a word to his wife, he flees the hotel the couple is staying in and boards a ship only to find, after the ship sails, that the agents have followed him.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

Hmmmm.  It's not a bad film by any means but it's not really all that great.  It's missing something or a lot of somethings.  It starts off with a bang and moves at a nice clip.  It's fun watching Howard (Cotten) get whisked away from his wife and somehow end up on a ship without his getting a word out to his wife where he is.  I can see how easily it can happen and it was fun seeing Howard get the runaround.  We can clearly see what's happening but he's in the middle of it and he's barely has time to make sense of it all.  Orson Welles is in it a little and he's a load of fun to watch.  What's weird is that there should have been more to the story.  It's only 68 minutes long which works to a degree but it would have been nice to stick around longer.  Maybe the studio forced the time limit.  Maybe there was more to tell but the film makers were restricted.  Beats me. I'm certainly happy to have seen it now but it's not something I'll be revisiting.  There are far too many other film noirs and thrillers from the forties that I haven't gotten to yet. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Hooper (1978)

Director: Hal Needham

Writers: Thomas Rickman, Bill Kerby, Walt Green, Walter S. Herndon, James Best

Composer: Bill Justis

Starring: Burt Reynolds, Jan-Michael Vincent, Sally Field, Brian Keith, John Marley, Robert Klein, James Best, Adam West, Alfie Wise, Terry Bradshaw, Norman Grabowski, George Furth, Jim Burk, Don 'Red' Barry, Robert Tessier

More info: IMDb

Tagline: It just ain't summer without Burt!

Plot: Aging stuntman Sonny Hooper is still on top as one of the best stuntmen in the business. But up and coming Ski is starting to do bigger and better stunts. Hooper has the experience to setup a stunt safely, and Ski lacks the common sense to know when a stunt is too dangerous. Maybe together, along with their fun loving buddies, they can do a stunt together that will surpass anything that anyone has done.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yup.

I bought this as a blind buy on Blu-ray (it was under ten bucks and it was released a couple of weeks ago in widescreen for the first time).  I normally don't do that but I figured the price was right and the cast and crew were people I really dig and it's from an era of fun movie making that I'm particularly fond of.  The sweet thing is I was right to do so.  It's a really fun flick.  It's Burt, Sally and Hal riding off the surprise hit high of SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT (1977) and it looks like everyone is having a great time.  I was really surprised by how the professional relationship between Hooper (Reynolds) and Ski (Vincent) stayed healthy through the end.  Usually you'd have a young upstart come in and try and one-up and squeeze the old guy out but not this picture.  There's a genuine admiration from the young guy to the older one and it was refreshing. There are lots of great stunts (as you'd expect) ending with the huge stunt-laden sequence at the end.  SMOKEY gets a bit too silly for me but this film feels a lot more grounded in reality (and I do realize that stunts are a lot more calculated than how easily they perform them in this picture) and it's nice to see Burt-in-his-prime in a film I hadn't seen before.  The Warner Bros. Blu-ray has a great looking transfer that feels 1970s but the only extra is a fullscreen trailer.  That's right, a fullscreen trailer.  That's just pathetic on two fronts. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The X Files: I Want to Believe (2008)

Director: Chris Carter

Writers: Frank Spotnitz, Chris Carter

Composer: Mark Snow

Starring: David Duchovny, Gilliam Anderson, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly, Xzibit, Mitch Pileggi, Callum Keith Rennie, Adam Godley, Stephen E. Miller

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Believe Again

Plot: Mulder and Scully are called back to duty by the FBI when a former priest claims to be receiving psychic visions pertaining to a kidnapped agent.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Nope.

While I've probably only seen the first couple of seasons of the show (and only just recently, shamefully) and the first film, I was kind of bummed out that I missed this one in the theaters.  It's the kind of storytelling that lends itself to big screen entertainment despite having started on the small screen of TV.  Now that I've seen it I'm kind of wondering what all the hate and fuss was about.  I am a bit disappointed but I guess it depends on what your expectations are.  On one hand Carter & co should've made more of an attempt to bring a bigger and more thrilling story considering it had been ten years since the previous, and first, film from the series to make it to the theaters.  But then again, this isn't really all that different than an episode from the series.  It felt just like an episode but in widescreen.  It looks and feels great but it's not all that compelling and the climax isn't all that climactic but it serves the picture.  I want to believe (ahahahahahaha) that if this were presented as another episode, fans would be satisfied but when you wait ten years to give them another big screen adventure, you'd better make that story one that feels at home on that screen.  The 20th Century Fox Blu-ray looks great and it's loaded with lots of extras I took a pass on.  The disc also gives you the option of watching the theatrical or extended version of the film.  I watched the latter.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

American Experience: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (2014)

Director: John Maggio

Writer: John Maggio

Composer: Gary Lionelli

Starring: Thom Hatch, Michael Murphy, Michael Rutter, Ken Verdoia, Lee Jensen, Robert Jensen, Joshua Marrufo

More info: IMDb

Plot: The historical account of outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, whose turn of the last century exploits made headlines, led them to be pursued by Pinkerton detectives hired by the railroads, and inspired a hit 1969 film.

My rating: 9/10

Will I watch it again? Yes!!!

Here's a quality TV documentary that doesn't waste time with fluff and recapping. That it's THE AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and it's on PBS helps a big heap.  I dislike The History Channel and others like it and their documentaries that feel the need to kill time with a lot of garbage. Anyway, this one is outstanding and it jumps right into telling the story of Butch Cassidy and not only what he did but giving us the circumstances for what propelled him to do them.  At 48 minutes they pack an awful lot of information and it's of high quality.  The wonderful score fits the doc to a "T".  It's a well-produced film all around and my sole complaint is that it's not long enough.  I just wanted that train to keep on going.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Chicago Overcoat (2009)

Director: Brian Caunter

Writers: John Bosher, Brian Caunter, Andrew Dowd, Josh Staman

Composer: Greg Nicolett

Starring:  Frank Vincent, Kathrine Narducci, Mike Starr, Stacy Keach, Armand Assante, Danny Goldring, tim Gamble, Martin Shannon, Barret walz

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The glory days are back

Plot: The fates of an aging hitman and a washed up detective become entwined when one last job leads to one last chance to settle an old score.

My rating: 7.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

Lou's (Vincent) existence in the Mob is a lot lonelier than you see in other pictures.  It doesn't help that he's out-lived most of his friends (age will do that).  The story does have a lot of the organized crime cliches but then it's got to be tough to avoid all of them since we've been seeing these kinds of pictures, and there have been a lot of them, for more than forty years now.  What it does right is give some fine performances from nearly all of the cast.  There are some line deliveries that don't quite make it (maybe shooting time was limited) but by and large this is a great cast.  It's nice to see Vincent in a leading role after so many outstanding smaller roles in classic films like GOODFELLAS (1990) and CASINO (1995).  The MVP for acting in this picture though without question goes to Danny Goldring, the cop who's after Lou.  Great fucking job.  And the ending?  Loved it AND it took me by surprise.  I dig it when a picture does that.  While it might not make most people's top 20 Mafia pictures list, it's definitely worth a look for fans of the genre.

...Now go home and get your fucking shine box!

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Improv: 50 Years Behind the Brick Wall (2013)

Director: ???

Composers: Bruce Stephen Foster, Extreme Music

Starring: Budd Friedman, Judd Apatow, Richard Belzer, Lewis Black, Russell Brand, Larry David, Jimmy Fallon, Kathy Griffin, Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Mark Lonow, Bill Maher, Ray Romano, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Sarah Silverman, Damon wayans, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Shawn Wayans

More info: IMDb

Tagline: They all had to start somewhere

Plot: Several comic greats pay tribute to the legendary stand-up stage founded by Budd Friedman in 1963.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? Maybe.

As a stand-up comic fan, shit like this is a no-brainer.  This hour long film is more of a bunch of comics telling stories of their experiences with Bud Friedman and performing at The Improv, there's not nearly enough said about the history of the club and that's a damn shame, you know, 'cause that's what's implied by the title!!!  But who the hell cares.  It's got loads of great comedians shootin' the shit and goofing off for an hour and that's alright by me.  It's fun on that level but I would have preferred a longer show with more than just a Cliff Notes version of the famous comedy joint. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Case of the Hillside Stranglers (1989)

Director: Steve Gethers

Writers: Steve Gethers, Darcy O'Brien

Composer: Gil Melle

Starring: Richard Crenna, Dennis Farina, Billy Zane, Tony Plana, James Tolkan, Karen Austin, Matthew Faison, Robert Harper, Mary Jackson, Rosanna Huffman, William Bassett

More info: IMDb

Tagline:From October 1977 to February 1978 ten young women were brutally slain.  Their bodies were dumped on a hillside in Los Angeles.

Plot: The true chilling story of the "two of a kind", killin' cousins Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi, better known as the Hillside Stranglers.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

When it comes to films based on real events, it's hard not to compare them.  THE HILLSIDE STRANGLER (2004) is a better film all the way around and I highly recommend that one.  This one, though, feels like it has the trappings of an average TV movie complete with some filler and not always 'on' performances.  For the most part, though, the acting is pretty good.  It's nice to see Farina in the role of a bad guy but he's not given nearly as much to do as his presence deserves.  Of the two killers, the focus is more on Zane's character and he's fun to watch, too, especially with that goofy mustache.  Crenna has moments of good and no so good.  One laughably bad moment happens near the end when Grogan's (Crenna) girlfriend, J.D. (Austin), puts herself in harm's way of getting killed by Buono (Farina).  Boy was that not only a dumb move but a dumb, ill-fitting scene.  It screamed amateurishness.  Another big offender was Gil Melle's out of place score.  There were times I thought that a producer with a tin ear pulled Melle's cues from another film entirely.  Bizarre, man.  For fans of true crime, this really only holds interest from the standpoint of the actors on screen and not so much for what the good guys and bad guys did.