Saturday, May 27, 2017

Tales from the Far Side II (1997)

Directors: Gary Larson, Marv Newland

Writer: Gary Larson

Composer: Bill Frisell

Starring: Kathleen Barr, Paul Dobson, Julie Faye, John Miller, Maxine Miller, Doug Parker, Drew Reichelt, Dave Ward, Dale Wilson

More info: IMDb

Plot:  An anthology of original animated shorts in the style and theme of Gary Larson's Far Side comics.

My rating:  8/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

I laughed my ass off.  Halfway through there's an extended bit where Death is on vacation and all kinds of crazy things happen with people and animals dying left and right.  Then there's the Ken Burns treatment to the war between cats and dogs.  If you love Larson's comic strips you'll certainly dig this 45 minute collection of gags.  There are a few bits that are not much more than animated panels from the strip but those are few.  They're still as good as the one dimension drawings but Larson does so much more with this medium than he could with the strip.  A simple example is panning from side to side to reveal the joke and then another joke and so on.   You can't do that in the strip because your eyes see everything at once even though you're focused on the beginning panel.  You've also got some voice work (often it's mumbled or nonsense) and a great use of music.  All of these things help bring Larson's wonderfully macabre sense of humor to life.  This is the only other special he did besides the first TALES FROM THE FAR SIDE (1994).  That is worth seeing for Larson fans but it's not as solidly funny as volume 2.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Women in Bondage (1943)

Director: Steve Sekely

Writers: Houston Branch, Frank Wisbar

Starring: Gail Patrick, Nancy Kelly, William Henry, Tala Birell, Gertrude Michael, Alan Baxter, Maris Wrixon, Rita Quigley, Felix Basch, H.B. Warner, Anne Nagel, Mary Forbes, Frederic Brunn, Roland Varno, Ralph Linn, Nanette Bordeaux, Aune Franks, Gisela Werbisek, John Merton, Wally Patch, Hermine Sterler

More info: IMDb

Tagline: BLUEPRINT FOR SHAME... womanhood's most sacred ideals and rights... stripped away in a reign of uncurbed fearfulness!

Plot: Margot Bracken returns home to Germany after several years of absence, and is horrified at the degraded status which has been forced on the women of her homeland. Toni Hall is prevented from marrying her sweetheart. Both women speak out against the terrorist reign and are imprisoned. Pagan baptisms, "mercy" killings, sterilizations, government-encouraged vice and the cruelties of the Gestapo are only a few of the practices they see or endure.

My rating:  6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Twice is enough.

Boy howdy, they really tried to sell the salaciousness of the title, didn't they?

You wouldn't think it by the title but this is all about getting us Yanks fired up to go whoop some Nazi butts.  The movie covers the different types of Germans you'd expect.  You've got the died in the wool evil Nazis, then you've got the blind followers that see the light when shit doesn't go their way and they see the Nazis for what they are and then you've got the ones that don't like this Nazi business one bit.  The baddies do bad things and they're at least trying for a German accent (except for one SS guy who sounds as German and Dobie Gillis, which is good for campy fun) and good ones mostly have accents that are no different than Judy Garland's.  This isn't some ill-conceived rush job B picture.  This is a thought out piece of propaganda with an exploitative goosing from the marketing department.  It's better than average flag waver that showed the Nazis were bad and us Yanks are good.  For mid-level entertainment/propaganda/commentary, this works very well.  It's impossible now but I wonder how this played back then, when we didn't have decades of horror stories of what it was like living in the Third Reich.  Now gather your pitchforks and lets go give that Hitler what fer!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Eye of the Cat (1969)

Director: David Lowell Rich

Writer: Joseph Stefano

Composer: Lalo Schifrin

Starring: Michael Sarrazin, Gayle Hunnicutt, Eleanor Parker, Tim Henry, Laurence Naismith, Jennifer Leak, Linden Chiles, Mark Herron, Annabelle Garth

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Terror that takes you beyond any fear you've ever known!

Plot: A man and his girlfriend plan to rob the mansion of the man's eccentric but wealthy aunt. However, the aunt keeps dozens of cats in her home, and the man is deathly afraid of cats.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Only when I come across a nice widescreen print.

This is one of those pictures you watch because the trailer is so unbelievable fun.  Now the film can't sustain that level, of course, but the ending definitely pays off for fans of the trailer.  The lead-up to the last fifteen minutes can drag a little but overall it's an entertaining picture with good performances.  You get the idea that everyone involved was making a serious horror/thriller.  The trailer doesn't project that but it's a pretty well made horror flick and this is coming from 1969!  It's the kind of picture that was very prevalent in the mid to late 70s which makes it unusual just for that.  There's a scene when Aunt Danny (Parker) looses control of her wheelchair on the steep streets of San Francisco.  It's masterfully shot and it's intense and horrifying.  The cats are the real star of the show and those little bastards are not to be fucked with.  You can tell that some of them are being tossed around.  Hopefully they didn't hurt any of them but they really scared the shit out of the actors.  Sometimes you can tell their reactions are genuine and that helps sell the horror.  I'm willing to bet that if I put a nice widescreen print up on the big screen, my score and enjoyment would go up.  The more I talk about this one, the more I like it.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

'Doc' (1971)

Director: Frank Perry

Writer: Pete Hamill

Composer: Jimmy Webb

Starring: Stacy Keach, Faye Dunaway, Harris Yulin, Michael Witney, Denver John Collins, Dan Greenburg, John Scanlon, Richard McKenzie, John Bottoms, Philip Shafer, Ferdinand Zogbaum, Penelope Allen, Hedy Sontag

More info: IMDb

Tagline: There has never been a Western like "Doc"

Plot: One night of 1881, Doc Holliday, a famous poker gambler, enters the 'No Name Saloon'. There, he challenges a man to poker, betting his horse against his opponent's wife. Doc wins and from now on, Katie Fisher, also known as Katie Elder, will follow him wherever he goes. Their next destination is Tombstone, where the law is represented by Sheriff Wyatt Earp. When they arrive, the election campaign is in full swing. Earp runs for candidate but the Clantons, a family gang of outlaw cowboys, are not among his keenest supporters. Conflict erupts following the failure of some shadowy bargaining and Doc decides to join Wyatt and his brothers. The four of them gather at the O.K. Corral where the seven Clanton brothers are waiting for them.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

For me, this story never gets old.  This take gives Stacy Keach a chance to shine and he does a fine job.  The cast does a good job as well.  The movie is called DOC so it's only fair to know that it focuses mostly on him with Katie (Dunaway) and Wyatt (Yulin) not too far behind.  I found the movie slow.  A surprising lack of music in a lot of scenes adds to the dreariness.  This take on the legendary men lingers on the drama but it is far too leisurely paced for me.  It's a bleak film with a bleak ending (which I liked a lot) that culminates in the famous gun battle.  This isn't the glamorous, exciting, romanticized exploits of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday.  It's far from it.  The cynical seventies are taking shape.  Life isn't always fun, people die and it's boring sometimes...just like this movie.  But the, what scenery!

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Foxhole in Cairo (1960)

Director: John Llewellyn Moxey

Writer: John Llewellyn Moxey

Composers: Douglas Gamley, Ken Jones, Wolfram Rohrig

Starring: James Robertson Justice, Adrian Hoven, Niall MacGinnis, Peter van Eyck, Robert Urquhart, Neil McCallum, Fenella Fielding, Gloria Mestre, Albert Lieven, John Westbrook, Lee Montague, Michael Caine

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The Greatest Spy Story of the Desert War!

Plot: A German agent in Libya is allowed to get back to Rommel with false information.

My rating:  6/10

Will I watch it again?  Probably not.

This average British WWII thriller can get a little ho-hum but there are some things that are worth your while.  Michael Caine has a few lines and minutes on screen, the very scrummy Gloria Mestre belly dances a couple of times and provides a little skin, there are some nice moments in the story that kept me alert and it plays out like a procedural but set in WWII North Africa.  Oh, and this guy is the British leader kick some ass and do it with class:

Minor spoilers but you know this is going to end with the Brits winning the day against the Nazis, the best moment in the picture is at the end when he storms into the room, slapping the Luger out of the bad guy's hand and gives a rousing, air punching speech to the woman he saved from death.  It's one of those, "We've outsmarted the Jerrys and Rommel has a surprise coming when we push him and his nasty boys back to the Rhineland" kind of speech.  It's hilarious and super fun.  But then it's at the end of 75 minutes but it's not a bad 75 minutes and that should be enough to justify watching it.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Confessions of an Opium Eater (1962)

Director: Albert Zugsmith

Writers: Robert Hill, Thomas De Quincey

Composer: Albert Glasser

Starring: Vincent Price, Linda Ho, Richard Loo, June Kyoto Lu, Philip Ahn, Yvonne Moray, Caroline Kido

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Take One Daring Step Beyond the Threshold of Your Imagination!

Plot: In 19th century San Francisco's Chinatown, American adventurer Gilbert De Quincey is saving slave girls owned by the Chinese Tong factions.

My rating:7/10

Will I watch it again? Maybe.

Here's an unusual film that seems like a sure-fire winner.  You've got a GREAT title and you can't go wrong with Vincent Price...ever.  Albert Glasser's score is lively and fun.   The cinematography is really nice and I love the B&W photography.  On top of that the camera angles are nifty, it's nicely edited and Gilbert's (Price) 7 minute drug trip is friggin' wild, creative and fun.  The use of slow motion during it sells it, helping put you in his shoes.  There's a lot to like in this picture and I do recommend it but there's one thing and it's slow, sometimes it's really slow and hard to get through.  It doesn't help that at times it's too talky.  Price's narration tends to ramble.  Don't watch this late at night when you're sleepy, that's for sure, but do make a point to see it.  Despite some drowsy moments it's still an unusual, interesting and entertaining movie.  Price fans just need to know he's in it.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Flesh and Fantasy (1943)

Director: Julien Duvivier

Writers: Ellis St. Joseph, Oscar Wilde, Laszlo Vadnay, Ernest Pascal, Samuel Hoffenstein, Ellis St. Joseph

Composer: Alexander Tansman

Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Charles Boyer, Barbara Stanwyck, Betty Field, Robert Cummings, Thomas Mitchell, Charles Winniger, Anna Lee, Dame May Whitty, C. Aubrey Smith, Robert Benchley, Edgar Barrier, David Hoffman

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The motion picture above all!

Plot: Two men discuss the occult, introducing three weird tales: 1) Plain, bitter Henrietta secretly loves law student Michael. Then on Mardi Gras night, a mysterious stranger gives her a mask of beauty that she must return at midnight. 2) At a party, palmist Podgers makes uncannily accurate predictions, later telling skeptic Marshal Tyler that he will murder someone. The notion obsesses Tyler, with ironic consequences. 3) High wire artist Gaspar dreams of falling, then loses his nerve. He recognizes Joan from his dreams, and falls for her. Will any of his dreams, involving Joan and disaster, come true?

My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again?  Yes.

Astounding.  This is what you get when Universal releases a picture that's produced and made by Europeans.  It's a star-studded Hollywood cast but in a much more sensitive, stylish and dark picture than what American audiences were getting.  This is very much akin to THE TWILIGHT ZONE before that became a thing at the end of the 50s.  The first story about an unattractive woman wearing a Mardi Gras mask for the evening to find happiness is a dark romance.  It's beautifully filmed. The lighting and makeup on Henrietta (Field) is very well done.  When she gets close to finding what she wants there's a moment of sadness that had me welling up a little.  I was surprised at how much punch this little story has.  The second story is the best by far and it's very, very dark.  This is the horror story of the lot and it's a real peach.  Robinson kills in this role.  He's so friggin' good.  What he does after a palm reader tells him he's going to murder someone is amazing.  I didn't see where this was going but then I was along for the ride and what a journey this one is!  The special effects with Marshall (Robinson) talking to himself are outstanding.  It's most impressive and it adds another level of strange horror to the already grim story.  The ending is great and it takes us right into the final tale without the need for the two men telling stories that are the reason these stories are here. 

This one is probably the least fantastical and exciting.  I suspect it's the last story because it stars Boyer who also produced the picture.  It's still a good thriller with an unexpected ending which I liked.  The ONE thing that hurt this film was the score for the first segment and partway into the second one.  It's wildly upbeat and cheerful which completely goes against the events on the screen.  It's so bad that it feels like it was lifted from another movie by someone as a joke who wanted to ruin it.  Everything else about the visuals and story is dark and it required nothing more than simple music to help set the tone.  He finally got it right in the second and third stories but that first one is a real head scratcher for why he chose to go that fluffy.  This is a top notch fantasy/horror anthology with a great cast and it's one that shouldn't be missed.