Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Questor Tapes (1974)

Director: Richard A. Colla

Writers: Gene Roddenberry, Gene L. Coon

Composer: Gil Melle

Starring: Robert Foxworth, Mike Farrell, John Vernon, Lew Ayres, James Shigeta, Robert Douglas, Dana Wynter, Ellen Weston, Majel Barrett, Reuben Singer, Walter Koenig, Fred Sadoff, Gerald Peters, Eyde Girard, Alan Caillou, Lal Baum, Patti Cubbison, Ian Abercrombie

More info: IMDb

Plot: Project Questor is brainchild of the genius Dr. Vaslovik: he developed plans to build an android super-human. Although he's disappeared and half of his programming tape was erased in the attempt to decode it, his former colleagues continue the project and finally succeed. But Vaslovik seems to have installed a secret program in Questor's brain: He flees and starts to search for Vaslovik. Since half of his knowledge is missing, he needs the help of Jerry Robinson, who's now under suspect of having stolen the android.



My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Nah.

Here's a neat curiosity of a sci-fi TV movie from the mid-70s.  It's got a strong cast and a somewhat interesting story.  I say somewhat because the picture has several moments where it gets bogged down in the standard non-human observations about humans that we've seen before and since.  What makes the film interesting is the ending.  It's just all kinds of unexpected and out there.  What Darro (Vernon) does at the end was nice.  Didn't see that coming.  Foxworth does a fine job as the android, Questor.  His near-monotone voice (well, more monotoned than most people) was perfect and soothing.  Nice.  John Vernon is simply fun no matter what he does.  Look for STAR TREK regulars Majel Barrett and Walter Koenig in small roles.  That was neat.  And what was it about music written for TV shows in the 1970s that made them all sound alike?  Gil Melle's score is so typical with its orchestration and themes that you can tell in two seconds what medium it was written for.  I'm aware that film/TV scores can be trendy and to have certain cycles of evolution but music for 70s TV is so distinctive and often bland.  Eagah!  It doesn't hurt the picture, it's just an observation.  I didn't think of this as a pilot until the last exchange of dialogue suggests there are more adventures to be had.  I just watched it as a one-off TV movie written by the guy who created STAR TREK. It's not a game changer but it's not that bad, either.




Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Mrs. Sundance (1974)

Director: Marvin J. Chomsky

Writer: Christopher Knopf

Composer: Patrick Williams

Starring: Elizabeth Montgomery, Robert Foxworth, L.Q. Jones, Arthur Hunnicutt, Lurene Tuttle, Claudette Nevins, Lorna Thayer, Robbert Donner, Byron Mabe, Dean Smith, Jack Williams, Todd Shelhorse

More info: IMDb

Tagline: After Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were killed dead in a hail of lead, she was left still alive with a price of $10,000 on her hide.

Plot: Bouty hunters all over the Southwest are on the lookout for Etta Place (Montgomery), also known as Mrs. Sundance. Most cowboys on the wrong side of the law are convinced that Mrs. Sundance knows the exact location of the untold millions in hidden gold stolen over the years by her husband. Shrewd and wily from the tricks she learned through The Kid, Mrs. Sundance proves just as tough to catch as her husband was!



My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

Geez, in the span of one week I've seen, completely by chance, three movies with Robert Foxworth - PROPHECY (1979), THE QUESTOR TAPES (1974) and now this. And I barely knew who the guy was.  I know now.  It's essentially his and Elizabeth Montgomery's show.  It was great seeing L.Q. Jones in the role of the lead bounty hunter.  It's a TV movie so there's no escaping the trappings of what medium it was made for but it is a pretty good one.  The score is fantastic, though, and not what you'd expect for the time.  It's so good that I thought it might have been by the great Jerry Fielding. That's a high compliment to Patrick Williams' fine work on this film.  There's a moment near the end, when it looks like the chips are down and there's no escaping the bounty hunters, when Etta (Montgomery) reminisces to Jack (Foxworth) about the good old days with Butch & Sundance.  There's a beautiful, melancholy rendition of "Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head", the song featured in the earlier film, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID (1969).  It was so good I was taken aback.  The way it sneaks up on you and plays out really made that scene special.  The conclusion played out differently than I expected which was a good thing.  There are some other familiar faces in the picture that will have you recalling some fond memories from their earlier work.  TV movies from the 70s were a big thing.  A TV Movie-of-the-Week was generally something the family would prepare for.  They were of a higher quality than what you got in the 80s and 90s as cable and home video saturated the market.  Don't let yourself pass one up just because it was made for TV.  You might miss something of quality.

Rounders (1998)

Director: John Dahl

Writers: David Levien, Brian Koppelman

Composer: Christopher Young

Starring: Matt Damon, Gretchen Mol, John Malkovich, Paul Cicero, Ray Lannicelli, John Turturro, Martin Landau, Edward Norton, Slava Schoot, Goran Visnjic

More info: IMDb

Tagline: You've got to play the hand you're dealt.

Plot: After losing a high-stakes card game, Mike (Damon) gives up gambling for law school and a fresh start with his girlfriend (Mol). But then his best buddy (Norton) gets out of prison and in over his head with a ruthless card shark (Malkovich). From there, Mike’s strong sense of loyalty – and the lure of the game – draws him back to the tables in a game he cannot afford to lose!



My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

Kenny Rogers as....THE SPOILERS!!!! YARRRRR!!!

I'm a big fan of director John Dahl and have been for a couple of decades (at least).  Have you seen RED ROCK WEST (1993) or THE LAST SEDUCTION (1994)?  Great films.  He's mostly directed TV episodes for the last few years.  I don't know why he doesn't do more films but oh well.  I'll take what I can get.  I'm not much of a gambler but I dig gambling movies and there are a good ones when it comes to poker.  THE CINCINNATI KID (1965) is a real beaut.  Great atmosphere and performances.   ROUNDERS is a great modern poker film that focuses on the need to play or the compulsion to be who you are.  Mike (Damon) eventually realizes this and stops fighting it.  I dig that the business with his girlfriend didn't consume him or the movie.  So often films dwell on this but I'm glad the film makers had the sense to understand that wasn't necessary.  Getting her out of the way quickly was a good move.  You just know that as soon as Worm (Norton) shows up it's not going to end well and he's probably going to bring some collateral damage to Mike.  And I really liked that they didn't kill him off, another typical Hollywood move.  You get the idea that eventually he'll do himself in but that's not in this story.  Damon does a very good job as does everyone else in the cast.  Turturro (I miss seeing him in movies), Landau, Mol and Malkovich are wonderful. Christopher Young's moody score is fantastic.  It had that 1950s Hollywood jazz score feel that really felt at home here.  I kind of got a TOUCH OF EVIL (1958) vibe off it that hit all the right notes.  Good stuff.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Cleopatra's Daughter (1960)

Original title: Il Sepolcro dei re

Director: Fernando Cerchio

Writers: Fernando Cerchio, Damiano Damiani

Composer: Giovanni Fusco

Starring: Debra Paget, Ettore Manni, Erno Crisa, Corrado Pani, Yvette Lebon, Andreina Rossi, Ivano Staccioli, Angelo Dessy, Renato Mambor, Nando Tamberlani, Stefania Re, Rosalba Neri, Betsy Bell

More info: IMDb

Tagline: More beautiful and desirable than Cleopatra herself

Plot: Cleopatra, after the civil war that followed the assassination of Caesar, met with Marc Antony in Assyria where they planned the defense of Egypt against the Romans. Before leaving, Cleopatra entrusted her young daughter, Shila, to the rulers of Assyria to be brought up as their own. After Marc Antony's defeat and Cleopatra's death, Egypt, for the next twenty years, was torn apart and ruled by a youthful Pharaoh, Nemorat, with his despot Queen Mother, Tegi, who desired to unite both kingdoms and strengthen her son's rule by conquering Assyria and making Shila, now a beautiful woman, his queen.



My rating: 5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I'm probably being generous by giving this a 5 out of 10 instead of a point or two lower.  It doesn't help that the only copy out there is my old VHS copy from Sinister Cinema.  No widescreen anywhere I can find.  What's worse is the English dub is atrocious.  Even the sound effects are weak.  The story is OK but these Sword & Sandal pictures are made for the spectacle and to be seen on the big screen.  I will give this one another chance if I should come across a good widescreen print and in the original Italian with English subs.  Gee, I don't ask for much, do I?  Watch it for yourself above, if you dare.  I've got 250 of films in this genre and more than half are widescreen.  I should go with those first instead of torturing myself with these shit VHS rips.  



Clownhouse (1989)

Director: Victor Salva

Writer: Victor Salva

Composers: Michael Becker, Thomas Richardson

Starring: Nathan Forrest Winters, Brian McHugh, Sam Rockwell, Michael Jerome West, Byron Weible, David C. Reinecker, Timothy Enos, Frank Diamanti, Karl-Heinz Teuber, Viletta Skillman, Gloria Belsky

More info: IMDb

Tagline: ...A circus of the mind.

Plot: Just before Halloween, three young brothers alone in a big house are menaced by three escaped mental patients who have murdered some traveling circus clowns and taken their identities.



My rating: 4/10

Will I watch it again? No.

A friend of mine picked this up at a flea market for a dollar.  We watched it and then he sold it on ebay for over a hundred bucks.  Why?  Is it because it's Sam Rockwell's film debut or maybe it's so good that folks can't get enough of it?  Nope.  Apparently it's because the director molested the kid during the film's production and MGM discontinued the DVD.  I don't know exactly how the two are related but there it is.  Is it a good movie?  I don't think so.  Knowing what I know now the opening ten minutes makes more sense as there are a lot of shots of the kids in their underwear and the camera lingers on them.  That's creepy.  The sound effects (car screeches, people falling, etc) sound like they're from cartoons which makes the film feel cheap and the synth score doesn't help in that department either.  I can overlook certain things, especially when they are due to budgetary restraints, but a poor synthesizer score is awfully hard for me to put up with.  Hey, at least my friend made over a hundred bucks off this movie. 



Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Smell of Honey, a Swallow of Brine (1966)

Director: Byron Mabe

Writer: David F. Friedman

Composer: Mark Wayne

Starring: Stacey Walker, Sam Melville, Bob Todd, Sharon Carr, Michael Wright, Michael O'Kelly, Larry Jones, Linda Gearhart, Tom Hughes, Tom Dolbey, Et Cetra, David F. Friedman, Myron Griffin, Ken Shapiro

More info: IMDb

Tagline: There is an expression for girls like her ------ You see it scrawled on walls....!

Plot: Sharon is a young office worker who sexually teases, seduces and then cries 'rape' on various men just to see them emotionally suffer for her own man-hating, twisted amusement leading to one lovestruck boyfriend being sent to prison, the financial ruin of another, and the meltdown and death of a third victim. Sharon even teases her lesbian roommate, Paula, by come-ons and then brushing her off. But eventually, Sharon meets her match.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Maybe.

THE SMELL OF SPOILERS!!!! YARRRRRR!!!

If you've seen any Something Weird Video releases, you'll instantly recognize this...



Even though I've never seen this picture before, it suddenly hit me just before that moment happens in the film (I've seen the SWV opener a gazillion times) I found myself repeating that line as she said.  It's a great line and a great scene.  Sharon (Walker, sporting a strange-ass hairdo) is a real bitch.  This film is aptly titled. She's the queen of cock-tease and she plays it to the hilt.



She fucks with the dudes and the chicks.  She even falls in love with one guy, they go on several dates, and like always, she initiates it and as soon as the guy gets too close, she freaks the fuck out.  One of her victims is so sexually frustrated that he rapes a girl

The Toxic Avenger (1984)

Directors: Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman

Writers: Lloyd Kaufman, Joe Ritter, Gay Partington Terry, Stuart Strutin

Composer: ???  Delmar Brown?  Theme music by Mark Hoffman & Dean Summers

Starring: Andree Maranda, Mitch Cohen, Jennifer Baptist, Cindy Manion, Robert Prichard, gary Schneider, Pay Ryan, Mark Torgl, Dick Martinsen, Chris Liano, David Weiss, Dan Snow

More info: IMDb

Tagline: He was 98 lbs. of solid nerd until he became...

Plot: Tromaville has a monstrous new hero. The Toxic Avenger is born when mop boy Melvin Junko falls into a vat of toxic waste. Now evildoers will have a lot to lose.



My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again? NO.

I swear I'm going to stop hurting myself by watching Troma movies.  There's one thing that most of them have in common and that's that they're loud and obnoxious.  This one is less so than most but it's got its moments where I have to turn down the volume.  There are some really funny moments but they're really quick.



How about the scene early on when the idiotic gang terrorizes the fast food restaurant and the guy shoots Sara's (Maranda) seeing eye dog which sends it sliding across the floor?  Hilarious, but it only lasts for a split second.  There are hints at quality film making like with the big car chase with Toxi on top.  The exterior shots of the chase are nicely done but it's the intercutting with the closeups of the actors and how that's handled that gives it the amateurish look.  In the end, it was sort of nice revisiting something I haven't seen in nearly 30 years but I could tell early on it was probably the last.