Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

Director: Matt Reeves

Writers: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

Composer: Michael Giacchino

Starring: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Kirk Acevedo, Nick Thurston, Terry Notary, Karin Konoval, Judy Greer, Jon Eyez, Enrique Murciano, Laramie Doc Shaw

More info: IMDb

Tagline:  One last chance for peace.

Plot:  A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species.

My rating: 8/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

This series is great.  The first one ended with me champing at the bit to see the sequel and now I feel the same way.  I needs to see the next one.  It's not going to be tough to wait three years.  I'll have seen over 2,000 movies by then to help ease the pain.  It could go without saying at this point that Serkis is amazing.  The CGI is better than the previous film and seeing the apes ride horses is just badass.  I've only got a couple of issues.  MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD... There's no way Malcolm (Clarke) would've survived the C4 blast.  The other is Caesar (Serkis) saying "You're no ape" before letting Koba (Kebbell) go.  I dig that he let him go but I think it would have been more powerful to have held back that line and just see the expression of disappointment and hate in Caesar's face.  But that wouldn't be the Hollywood thing to do.  But then neither is making movies this good.  I'm looking forward to seeing it again and hopefully it'll be in the theater before it leaves for home video.  It's a great film in its own right and a worthy follow up to RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2011).

Game of Death (1978)

Director: Robert Clouse

Writer: Robert Clouse

Composer: John Barry

Starring: Bruce Lee, Colleen Camp, Dean Jagger, Gig Young, Tai Chung Kim, Biao Yuen, Robert Wall, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Mel Novak, Hugh O'Brian, Roy Chiao, Sammo Hung, Stephen Chang

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Bruce Lee challenges the underworld to a Game of Death.

Plot: A martial arts movie star must fake his death to find the people who are trying to kill him.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Nah.

The back story on this is pretty famous.  Clouse, who directed Bruce Lee in ENTER THE DRAGON (1973), was hired to write and direct a movie that incorporated the footage shot by Lee just before he died.  Clouse was given the unenviable task of trying to make it work.  Did he?  Probably as best as you could do under the incredible circumstances.  It's a reasonably entertaining movie that's part ludicrous (knowing that Lee is being played by one of two actors and almost always in disguise), which prods you for unintentional laughs, and fun.  The goods are delivered like a great money shot at the end of the picture with about fifteen minutes of fights which include one with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that you've got to see.  In the context of the movie it's the part that you've been waiting for since the flick started.  This picture really isn't that great but it's got some fum moments and it looks great plus you get a nice John Barry soundtrack which I'm always down for.  If you'd like to skip the bullshit, you can see that same sequence, unedited, in its entirety in the excellent documentary, BRUCE LEE: A WARRIOR'S JOURNEY (2000).

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hercules (2014)

Director: Brett Ratner

Writers: Ryan Condal, Evan Spiliotopoulos, Steve Moore

Composer: Fernando Velazquez

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Ingrid Bolso Berdal, Reece Ritchie, Joseph Fiennes, Tobias Santelmann, Peter Mullan, Rebecca Ferguson, Isaac Andrews, Joe Anderson, Stephen Peacocke, Nicholas Moss

More info: IMDb

Tagline:  Before he was a legend, he was a man.

Plot:  Having endured his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again?  Uhhhhhh, I think so?

Is the comic better?  I sure hope so.  I don't have a problem at all with the revisionist turn at the Greek Mythological figure.  Really.  It's the often poor direction, dialogue and acting that I've got an issue with.  I was looking forward to seeing Johnson as Hercules.  I thought he'd be great. He's good but not what I hoped for.  Hell, in this picture he felt like he'd be better suited to play Conan.  By the way, there's a reason he wears that breast plate.  In the one scene he takes it off you can see that he's not nearly as fit as the plate suggests.  That's no slam on him; he's still in amazing shape.  And have you ever seen abs that go up to just below one's chin?  One thing about this picture is how many scenes look like they could have used another take or two for practice.  The editing is weak in spots which changes the flow of dialogue, sometimes adding the jokes too quickly.  The big battle before Hercules finds out the truth is pretty fucking great.  And the best part of the flick for my money was Ian McShane.  He's hilarious and I love what they did with his character and his prophecies.  John Hurt also does a remarkable job.   I'm guessing there'll be an extended cut on Blu-ray and someday I might give it another look.  I am disappointed this picture wasn't better.  If Johnson comes back for another picture as Hercules, I'll see it.  

The War Wagon (1967)

Director: Burt Kennedy

Writer: Clair Huffaker

Composer: Dimitri Tiomkin

Starring: John Wayne, Kirk Douglas, Howard Keel, Robert Walker Jr., Keenan Wynn, Bruce Cabot, Joanna Barnes, Valora Noland, Bruce Dern, Gene Evans, Terry Wilson, Don Collier, Sheb Wooley, Ann McCrea, Emilio Fernandez, Frank McGrath, Chuck Roberson, Boyd 'Red' Morgan, Hal Needham, Marco Antonio, Perla Walter

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The War Wagon Rolls And The Screen Explodes!

Plot: Taw Jackson returns from prison having survived being shot, to the ranch and gold that Frank Pierce stole from him. Jackson makes a deal with Lomax, the man who shot him 5 years ago to join forces against Pierce and steal a large gold shipment. The shipments are transported in the War Wagon, an armored stage coach that is heavily guarded. The two of them become the key players in the caper to separate Pierce from Jackson's gold.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? Yeah.

Wayne and Douglas have a nice chemistry and the both do a fine job in this fun Western.  It's part buddy picture and part heist and there's plenty of action a little comedy thrown into the mix.  What you get is a film that's paced well and delivers a lot of fun.  There are some holes but it's easy to overlook them when you've got Wayne and Douglas going back and forth.  Douglas (in his 50s at this point) was dressed for sexcess!

You can't tell by this picture but Wayne was 7 inches taller than Douglas in real life. The scene where he flirts with the Mexican girl only to find out at the end of the scene he was pouring on the charm primarily to get information Wayne was unable to.  That was cute and fun.  Oh, the opening song (sung by Ed Ames) is cheesy as hell.  You can thank composer Dimitri Tiomkin (also the composer of this song and score) for that.  Once he wrote the song and score for HIGH NOON (1952) theme songs in Westerns were all over the place, whether they fit or not.  His score for WAGON is surprisingly less Tiomkin-esque which is nice and mature.  The big heist at the end is fun and there's a nice little twist.  It's a good one, though, and for a second there I thought about getting the Blu-ray (for ten bucks) to replace the non-anamorphic DVD I've got.  The DVD only has a trailer for an extra.  I don't count production notes or cast bios as extras since they provide little info and it's a lazy afterthought on behalf of the DVD producers. 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

Director: Edward Dmytryk

Writers: Nelson Algren, John Fante, Edmund Morris, Raphael Hayes, Ben Hecht

Composer: Elmer Bernstein

Starring: Laurence Harvey, Capucine, Jane Fonda, Anne Baxter, Barbara Stanwyck, Joanna Moore, Richard Rust, Karl Swenson, Don 'Red' Barry, Juanita Moore, John Anderson, Ken Lynch, Todd Armstrong, Sherry O'Neil, John Bryant, Kathryn Card

More info: IMDb

Tagline: A side of life you never expected to see on the screen.

Plot: At the Doll House, a 1930's New Orleans bordello, Hallie is the main attraction both for clients and for Jo, the madame. Her comfortable if tedious life is disrupted by the arrival in town of Dove Linkhorn, her true love of three years before who is now searching for her. When Linkhorn learns the truth of her profession he triggers a chain of events involving a number of people, including the young Kitty with whom he travelled from Texas and who is now the Doll House newest recruit.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? No.

How about that kick ass opening credit sequence by Saul Bass?  One of the best, right?  I honestly didn't know what to expect as I was clueless about this picture aside from the score.  As a longtime soundtrack freak from when I was a kid in the 70s, I've been humming this tune for more than thirty years.  It's a beaut.  The film isn't that bad but even for '62, I expected a little more.  In what area?  Not sure.  The IMDb trivia says that Stanwyck (as The Doll House Madame, Miss Precious) is the first actress to play a lesbian in a major motion picture.  OK.  I can see  During the film it's so disguised that you can think that or you can think of her as a shrewd business woman that knows Hallie (Capucine) is THE star attraction at her bordello and brings in a lot of dough.  I was flip flopping on that one.  Regardless, there are fine performances all around and sometimes the actors briefly dip into too much melodrama.  The story starts out with a bang until we get to New Orleans and Dove (Harvey) finds Hallie and that's when it starts to slow down with the strange romance.  Even still, I couldn't tell if Hallie was Miss Precious' lover or a prostitute or both.  They only show her having drinks with men and I don't recall the film hinting at anything going beyond that.  I'm going to assume now that she was a working girl and she was Miss Precious' main squeeze.  Jane Fonda (as the sizzling hot and dangerous Kitty Twist!) is smokin' in this picture.

The drama plays out nicely with an unexpected and shocking ending.  I was satisfied.  But the big star for me was Elmer Bernstein's score.  The main theme gets so much coverage that you get the idea it's the only tune the house band (at The Doll House) plays.  To make it worse, early on at the house of ill repute, the camera enters the joint while a vocal version of the tune is played by the band yet there's no vocalist with the band. It's a huge screw up where I'm sittin'.  The Columbia/Tri Star DVD has a great widescreen print along with 3 trailers for extras, none of which are for this film.  WTF?  It's a good flick and I'm glad I finally saw it.  Now I can move on with my life.

Toolbox Murders (2004)

Director: Tobe Hooper

Writers: Jace Anderson, Adam Gierasch

Composer: Joseph Conlan

Starring: Angela Bettis, Brent Roam, Marco Rodriguez, Rance Howard, Juliet Landau, Adam Gierasch, Greg Travis, Christopher Doyle, Adam Weisman, Christina Venuti

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Another legacy begins.

Plot: A historic Hollywood hotel houses a supernatural evil. It's been subdued for decades - but when renovations start, a series of murders take place. It's up to our heroine to solve the mystery.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

The only thing this has in common with the MUCH better THE TOOLBOX MURDERS (1978) is, uh, the tools. I was expecting a remake but there's no semblance of the original picture.  What's there isn't all that bad. Nell (Bettis) discovers a secret passageway of sorts and some weird symbols after she suspects her neighbor was murdered.  It's by the numbers almost as she investigates the building's history, looking at the blueprints and so on.  Then she finds the entrance and snoops around to find body parts and shit.  Then she's attacked and gets saved at the end.  I normally dig Tobe Hooper's work but this one left me scratching my head wondering what he brought to the table on this one.  For slasher fans, there's no nudity and very little gore.  Really?  Have we learned nothing?  It's an average jump scare horror picture from a man who, 40 years ago, made one of the greatest and scariest horror pictures of all time, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974).  Not that you care but the Lionsgate DVD has a few extras in the way of trailers, deleted scenes and two commentaries, one of which includes Hooper with the two screenwriters.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sleepwalkers (1992)

Director: Mick Garris

Writer: Stephen King

Composer: Nicholas Pike

Starring: Brian Krause, Madchen Amick, Alice Krige, Jim Haynie, Cindy Pickett, Ron Perlman, Lyman Ward, Dan Martin, Glenn Shadix, Cynthia Garris, Monty Bane, John Landis, Joe Dante, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Tobe Hooper, Mark Hamill

More info: IMDb

Tagline: They feast on your fear - and it's dinner time.

Plot: A mother-and-son team of strange supernatural creatures come to town to seek out a virgin to feed on.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

Is it me or do a lot of Stephen King movies have a great premise, start out well and fall flat by the end?  That's how this one was.  I was into it until the last half hour.  I kept expecting something more.  I loved the Mark Hamill cameo in the beginning and then seeing horror director greats Landis, Dante, Barker and Hooper closer to the end.  That was fun.  The cast does a fine job.  Say, what's the deal with the Sleepwalkers having the ability to change their cars from Cameros to Mustangs?  Am I just supposed to accept it since I'm already going along with their ability to shape shift?  They're already shaving off a couple of layers of my suspension of disbelief.  I can't have 'em taking too much more off because the weekend's coming up and I'm going to need 'em.  This movie isn't that bad but it sounds like I'm bitching a lot but they sure got a lot of mileage out of that Santo & Johnny classic, Sleepwalk, didn't they?  I lost count at how many times they played it but I was starting to get annoyed by it and I love that song.  But I totally dug the Enya tune during the end credits, Boadicea.  I'm a Dead Can Dance man myself and I don't care for much Enya but I really like that song.  Don't get too excited about the Columbia DVD.  You do get both the widescreen and fullscreen versions of the film but you only get 5 trailers for extras (THE TINGLER, JOHNNY MNEMONIC, SCREAMERS, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) and text Talent Files on some of the key people who worked on the film.  Shouldn't it be mandatory that if you include ANY trailers, one of them should be for the film on the DVD?  Stupid studios.

Stark Fear (1962)

Directors: Ned Hockman, Skip Homeier

Writer: Dwight V. Swain

Composer: Lawrence V. Fisher

Starring: Beverly Garland, Skip Homeier, Kenneth Tobey, Hannah Stone, George Clow, Paul Scovil, Edna Neuman, John Arville, Bruce Palmer, Carey Mount, Cartez Ewing, Robert Stone, Barbara Freeman, Darlene Dana Reno, Joseph Benton

More info: IMDb

Tagline: A NEW Kind of Suspense

Plot:  A sadistic husband mentally tortures his wife, while eventually planning to murder her. Although no one believes her, she gets help from an unexpected source.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again? No.

This is the last film featured in the excellent DVD set from Something Weird Video called WEIRD-NOIR.  It's more drama than noir but it's got something that I think is worth watching for students of film.  It's a rape scene but it's not just the rape scene but more of the several scenes that lead up to it.  And it's not like it's titillating or anything.  It's far from it but it's so well handled that it's truly horrific and one of the most startling rape scenes I've seen and even more so because it's more than fifty years old.  You really feel bad for the gal not only for that but she seems to come across bad men left and right.  Being how it's from the sixties you probably know if it's going to end well or poorly for Ellen (Garland).  I was pleased with the ending although some are going to see it as a cheesy sellout.  I'm OK with it.  The performances are pretty good but the problems with the film stem from getting bogged down into too much melodrama which leads to drag.  Other than that, it's not that bad and it's at least worth a look.  Now that I've finished the two-disc SWV Weird-Noir set, I can say with certainty that it's a solid thumbs up.  You can pick it up for less than fifteen bucks if you look hard enough.  Of the six films, at least half are definite re-watches and alone make the set worth buying.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Opera (1987)

Director: Dario Argento

Writers: Dario Argento, Franco Ferrini

Composers: Brian Eno, Roger Eno, Steel Grave, Claudio Simonetti, Bill Wyman

Starring: Cristina Marsillach, Ian Charleson, Urbano Barberini, Daria Nicolodi, Coralina Cataldi-Tassoni, Antonella Vitale, William McNamara, Barbara Cupisti, Antonino Luorio, Carola Stagnaro

More info: IMDb

Tagline: obsession. murder. madness.

Plot: A young opera star is stalked by a deranged fan bent on killing the people associated with her to claim her for himself.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? Probably.

Argento makes beautifully shot and composed films.  There's no arguing that.  And he also knows how to shoot and stage murders.  The best one in this picture is the shooting through the peephole...IN SLOW MOTION!!!


Even though the kills are great as are the mood and music score, it also suffers from something else Argento is known for and that's pacing.  There are some scenes that drag, but Goddamn is this a great looking picture.  I dug the ending which had a few surprises. The Anchor Bay DVD features a gorgeous widescreen print and a few extras with a 36 minute making of featurette called Conducting Dario Argento's Opera with an extensive interview with Argento, a 5 minute music video by Daemonia, and two trailers for the film.  It's a good flick though marred with a few slow spots.  Fans of horror or Argento will likely want this one in their collection.  If you can pick up this DVD on the cheap then it's a no-brainer. 

Supernova (2000)

Director: Walter Hill

Writers: William Malone, Daniel Chuba, David C. Wilson

Composer: David C. Williams

Starring: James Spader, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Lou Diamond Phillips, Peter Facinelli, Robin Tunney, Wilson Cruz, Eddy Rice Jr., Knox White, Kerrigan Mahan, Vanessa Marshall, Kevin Sizemore

More info: IMDb

Tagline: In the farthest reaches of space, something has gone terribly wrong.

Plot: Supernova chronicles the search and rescue patrol of a medical ship in deep space in the early 22nd century and its six-member crew which includes a Captain and Pilot, a co-pilot, a medical officer, a medical technician, a search and rescue paramedic, and a computer technician. When their vessel, the Nightingale 229, answers an emergency distress signal from a comet mining operation in a distant galaxy, the crew soon finds itself in danger from the mysterious young man they rescue, the alien artifact he's smuggled aboard, and the gravitational pull of a giant star about to supernova. The resulting explosion will be the most massive explosion in the universe.

My rating: 5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

That Walter Hill directed this is all I needed to know.  Just check out the films he's directed and you'll know why.  I can't figure out why he was drawn to this.  There's nothing great about the story.  The special effects are fantastic, though.  The cast is fine I guess but they're wasted on a story that's not all that interesting. A ship answers a distress signal.  The guy who sent it is hiding something that he lies about once it's discovered. Then you find out what it does and the last half hour is that guy trying to get away with the ship while fighting the crew off.  Yawn.  If this were done in the 80s you might have something.  The special effects really are impressive and that's it.  Skip it.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Undead (2003)

Directors: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

Writers: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

Composer: Cliff Bradley

Starring: Felicity Mason, Mungo McKay, Rob Jenkins, Lisa Cunningham, Dirk Hunter, Emma Randall, Steve Greig, Noel Sheridan, Gaynor Wensley, Eleanor Stillman, Robyn Moore, Robert Jozinovic, Peter Mensforth, Jacob Andriolo, Michele Steel

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Prepare Yourself

Plot: A quaint Australian fishing village is overcome by meteorites that turn its residents into the ravenous undead, leaving a small group of those unharmed to find a way out.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I hate it when there's a lot to like about a film but it also bores the piss out of you.  There are some outrageously funny bits that had me laughing out loud and hard.  Most of it had to do with the shit that happens to Marion (McKay) and what he does.  Stuff like Marion somersaulting to catch his spurs in an overhang (kind of like the top of a doorway) so he can swing upside down, back and forth, while firing two pistols at the zombies.  Hilarious.  Also funny as shit is the scene where he's on his boat the the fish he caught are flying across the boat to attack him.  That's just two examples of many.  The special effects went from dodgy to fantastic.  I'm all about the storytelling so I can forgive effects when the budget is to blame.

Then there's the sci-fi element that finally gets resolved in the final twenty minutes.  That's some great shit...and funny. All of those things I really dug but they weren't enough to save it from the slow parts and they are abundant.  Some shots hung on a second or two too long or there was repetition in the trying to stay alive bits.  It was refreshing as hell when that last twenty minute thing happens.  These two cats that wrote and directed this (their first film) went on to do DAYBREAKERS (2009).  That's impressive.  They sure take their time in between making movies.  6 years between those and 5 from the last one to their newest,  PREDESTINATION (2014).  I'll see it.  The Lionsgate DVD has a few extras - 7 brief behind the scenes featurettes, 3 trailers for this film, 5 extended/alternate scenes, 5 deleted scenes, artwork and design sketches and, sit down for this one, a preview for SAW II (2005).  I'm surprised there's no commentary by the brothers but at least they gave us a good amount of extras to play with.

Fallguy (1962)

Director: Donn Harling

Writers: Richard DeLong, George Mitchell

Composer: Jaime Mendoza-Nava

Starring: Ed Dugan, George Mitchell, Louis Gartner, Don Alderette, Madeline Frances, Rex Anthony, Wes Carlson, Fabian Dean, George DeMoss, Liz DeMoss, Linda Dietrich, Bernard Freedman, James Judge, Robert Levey, Mary Louise Lyons, Dean mcMahon, Dick O'Neill, Tiiu Parli, Stanton Prichard, Robert Stilson Jr., Gregg Stuart, Milton Sussnow, Joan Yarborough, Ben Young

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Syndicate vice traps the innocent and makes him the...Fallguy

Plot: A teenager trying to help an accident victim finds himself enmeshed in political corruption and racketeering and charged with a murder he didn't commit.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

It's alright.  The acting isn't all that great and sometimes poor but it's decently paced and the running time of 62 minutes is a huge plus.  I guess it's no surprise that Ed Dugan, who played the titular character of Sonny, has only one film credit.  The same goes for director/producer, Donn Harling and most everyone else in the picture.  Co-writer DeLong did go on to write the very good picture, THE RED TENT (1969) (WONDERFUL score by Ennio Morricone). The story is OK, too, but there isn't much to wright home about except for Jaime Mendoza-Nava's  great little jazzy score with the jogging low piano keys.  It reminded me of some of Elmer Bernstein's 50s jazz scores like THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955) and countless TV crime shows of the era.  FALLGUY is a minor noir crime picture made on a smaller budget that won't inspire or hurt you for killing an hour some lazy afternoon.  This is one of six off the beaten path crime pictures as part of a DVD set from Something Weird Video called WEIRD-NOIR.  I've got one more to go to finish this excellent set.  Fans of the genre will need to have this in their collection.  It's a neat little set.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Les Diabolique (1955)

Director: Henri-Georges Clouzot

Writers: Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Henri-Geroges Clouzot, Jeronimi, Rene Masson, Frederic Grendel

Composer: Georges Van Parys

Starring: Simone Signoret, Vera Clouzot, Paul Meurisse, Charles Vanel, Jean Brochard, Therese Dorny, Michel Serrault, Georges Chamarat, Robert Dalban, Camille Guerini, Jacques Hilling, Jean Lefebvre

More info: IMDb

Tagline: See it, be amazed at it, but... BE QUIET ABOUT IT!

Plot: The wife of a cruel headmaster and his mistress conspire to kill him, but after the murder is committed, his body disappears, and strange events begin to plague the two women.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

I've now seen this three times.  The first time I was blown away but I'm finding that it's diminishing with each viewing for some reason.  Sure, the ending is fantastic but it feels like there's something else.  It's a great looking picture and I really dig the performances and the atmosphere Clouzot created.  I'm thinking it's knowing how it's going to play out that does it and then there's Clouzot's parting shot with the kid.  Nice!  It's a great story filled with suspense and the three leads are fantastic in their roles, each as different as the other.  I really dig this film despite the slightly diminishing returns I'm getting.  The IMDb trivia says that Clouzot bought the rights to the novel just hours before Alfred Hitchcock.  This is one case where Hitch's film might not have been as good as this one and I'm OK with that.

The Alamo (2004)

Director: John Lee Hancock

Writers: Leslie Bohem, Stephen Gaghan, John Lee Hancock

Composer: Carter Burwell

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Billy Bob Thornton, Jason Patric, Patrick Wilson, Emilio Echevarria, Jordi Molla, Leon Rippy, Tom Davidson, Marc Blucas, Marc Blucas, Rance Howard

More info: IMDb

Tagline: You will never forget

Plot: Based on the 1836 standoff between a group of Texan and Tejano men, led by Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, and Mexican dictator Santa Anna's forces at the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I haven't seen the 1960 film (and it's been sitting on my shelf for years) but this film makes me want to sooner than later.  I've been to the Alamo in San Antonio and the thing that strikes me each time is how small it is.  It's a remarkable thing standing inside those walls imagining what those poor bastards had to go through, knowing they were all going to be fighting until their last breath.  This film takes some liberties with the truth here and there but they make for a better cinematic experience, that is if you're inclined to seek out the facts of the situation.  This film isn't a lie but they play around with some stuff that makes you wonder.  The fighting is largely shown close up.  It would have been nice to pull the camera back a few times to get an idea of the scope.  It's too easy to show a bunch of shots of close combat and it adds to the frenetic energy of the film which also means it's harder for the viewer to focus on any one thing and soak it in.  Carter Burwell's score was hit and miss.  I generally Love this guy's work but it felt too minimalist.  As I'm preparing this I've been watching the Coen Bros. flick BURN AFTER READING (2008) with a score by Burwell, their go to composer for every one of their films, and his style works well with their pictures.  The performances are pretty good with Billy Bob Thornton coming off tops as Davy Crockett.  Dennis Quaid's Sam Houston is ornery and scowls in every...single...scene.  Here's the range of his emotion...

I did really enjoy what Hooker & Co. did after the battle at the Alamo was over.  It was nice seeing, albeit too briefly, what happened in the days that followed and how General Santa Ana's final fight with the Texans ended.  That's the best part of the film.  I'm going to have to dust off that 1960 film and give it a whirl.  I'm sure it plays fast and loose with the truth but it'll be high adventure and it's got Richard Boone as 'ole Sammy Houston.  That should be lots of fun.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pet Sematary (1989)

Director: Mary Lambert

Writer: Stephen King

Composer: Elliot Goldenthal

Starring: Dale Midkiff, Fred Gwynne, Denise Crosby, Brad Greenquist, Michael Lombard, Miko Hughes, Blaze Berdahl, Susan Blommaert, Mara Clark, Kavi Raz, Mary Louise Wilson, Andrew Hubatsek, Liz Davies

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Sometimes dead is better.

Plot: Behind a young family's home in Maine is a terrible secret that holds the power of life after death. When tragedy strikes, the threat of that power soon becomes undeniable.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.


I remember digging this film way back when in my college years but I don't know what happened.  I guess I liked the idea of it but the picture has too much going on with the added dead guy who guides the living.  Did I miss something here?  This picture left me with a bunch of questions like why the hell would Louis (Midkiff) bury the cat knowing how badly it turned out for Jud (Gwynne)?  Why would Jud even mention it if it was such a horrible experience for him as a child?  Why would Luis bury Gage (Hughes) after his horrible experience with the cat?  I get that he was upset and all but what was he thinking that the kid would turn out better and after hearing the terrible tale from Jud about the time that guy was buried there and came back?  And further more, why do some of the animals and humans come back in the same condition as they died and others look just fine considering they'd otherwise be missing limbs and shit?  And why did their babysitter, Missy (Blommaert), kill herself and what was the point of having that character in the first place? I couldn't help but think this was a half-assed story that could use some serious revision.  Does the book explain any or all of this?  Did I fall asleep and not realize it thereby missing some key moment that ties this crap together?  I feel stupid now.  The Paramount Special Collector's Edition DVD (which will be up for grabs for a buck at my next yard sale) has a commentary by director Lambert, 3 featurettes (one each on King, the characters and filming the picture - totaling about 36 minutes) and less than two minutes of previews for the DVDs of the various STAR TREK TV series and THE 4400. 

Fear No More (1961)

Director: Bernard Wiesen

Writers: Robert Bloomfield, Leslie Edgley

Composer: Paul Glass

Starring: Mala Powers, Jacques Bergerac, John Harding, Helena Nash, John Baer, Anna Lee Carroll, Robert Karnes, Peter Brocco, Peter Virgo Jr., Gregory Irvin, Emile Hamaty

More info: IMDb

Plot: Traveling by train from Los Angeles to San Francisco, a woman--recently released from psychiatric care--is accused of the murder of a woman found dead in her compartment. Arrested and taken off the train, she escapes custody and flees to her apartment, where she finds another murder victim. She realizes she is being set up, and sets out to find out who and why.

My rating:5/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

This is a whodonit that will keep you guessing until the last twenty minutes if she's the murderer or not.  Buuuuuuuut it's during that hour that takes so long to get through that makes you almost wish they'd started with it to save you the time.  There's a lot of drag and poor Mala Powers (as Sharon) for having to act like she's losing her mind for soooooo long.  I started to feel bad for her (the actress not the character).  Jacques Bergerac (as Paul, the guy she befriends who wants desperately to help her) is trying but it's not enough.  He's not so charismatic or engaging that it helps the problems of the pacing.  This could be a pretty good 45 minute episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE or even ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS as it kind of feels like Hitch would've touched it and made it better.  Say, there's an idea.  So far it's the worst of the four (of six) films in the 'Weird-Noir' DVD set from Something Weird Video.  The length and pacing kills it but it's not all that bad.  It's about like the movie poster...uninspiring.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sssssss (1973)

Director: Bernard L. Kowalski

Writers: Hal Dresner, Daniel C. Striepeke

Composer: Patrick Williams

Starring: Strother Martin, Dirk Benedict, Heather Menzies-Urich, Richard B. Shull, Tim O'Connor, Jack Ging, Kathleen King, Reb Brown, Ted Grossman, Charles Seel, Ray Ballard

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Terror is ready to strike!

Plot: Dr. Carl Stoner is a respected snake expert who masks a frightening desire to transmute a man into a king cobra. Realizing that his new lab assistant, David (Benedict), is the perfect specimen, the demented doctor begins administering to him injections of "immunization serum." Soon, David begins experiencing strange and disturbing side effects: his skin is shedding while his body shape is changing. But before he realizes the horrible truth, the metamorphosis from human to serpent has begun.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

Well here's a nice surprise. This is a fun picture and part of it's due to a great subtle performance by Strother Martin as Dr. Carl Stoner.  He's terrific. Really.  He plays it cool and subdued which makes it really easy for him to get away with a bunch of shit because no one would suspect such a nice, intelligent man like him.  The supporting cast is great, too, and it's neat seeing a pre-BATTLESTAR GALACTICA Dirk Benedict.  It's a horror flick so there are a few kills...

That's Reb Brown's foot in its movie debut, by the way.  There's an extraordinary amount of information about snakes in the first half hour, most of it coming from Dr. Stoner.  Martin does a fine job of delivering it making it sound interesting and kind of fun.  I don't like snakes but I was fascinated by how well they broke down the myths about fearing them.  The picture moves along at a pretty good clip.  I wasn't bored for a moment.  While the ending isn't as satisfying as I would have liked, it doesn't take away too much from the rest of the picture.  I'll definitely watch it again someday.  It's too bad the Universal DVD only has the trailer as the only extra. The widescreen print looks great, though.  A commentary would have been great.  There must've been some great stories about this production.  The director died in 2007 but the DVD came out in 2004.  Hell, the cast is still around.  Anyway, it's a fun flick that's not nearly as bad as the internet says.

Dust (2001)

Director: Milcho Manchevski

Writer: Milcho Manchevski

Composer: Kiril Dzajkovski

Starring: Joseph Fiennes, David Wenham, Adrian Lester, Anne Brochet, Nikolina Kujaca, Rosemary Murphy, Vlado Jovanovski, Salaetin Bilal, Vera Farmiga, Matt Ross, Meg Gibson

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Live by the gun, die by the gun.

Plot: Two parallel tales of redemption, a century apart. A burglar is held at gunpoint and forced to listen to a story. At the turn of the 20th Century, two brothers feud over a woman. She marries one; the other, Luke, a deadly gunslinger, becomes a soldier of fortune in Macedonia, and gets embroiled in a local revolution. He's after money. Wounded by his brother, he's nursed by a pregnant villager who urges him to "kill for good, not for gold." A dying old woman in modern Manhattan tells Luke's story; her listener is Edge, a young thief who's burgled her flat to pay off crooked cops who can send him to jail. He listens with the desperate hope that he'll find gold that he thinks she has. The stories intersect when Edge sorts out the old woman's surprising connection to Luke.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I was up for a Western so, based on the cover, I slapped this in.  It's a partial Western and not in the traditional sense.  It begins with a petty thief breaking into an old woman's place.  She holds him at gunpoint and starts to tell him a story about a couple of cowboy brothers from long ago.  It doesn't take long before the brothers find themselves in Macedonia.  Their story feels like a Western despite the locale so it's not all disappointing.  The picture goes back and forth with the old woman's situation that takes her to the hospital and the thief's desperation to find the hidden gold he thinks she's got to the tale of the brothers and their constant fucking up the other's shit.  It's more drama than anything else but not without some bloodshed along the way. The thief, Edge (Lester), seemed inconsistent when it came to his learning the whole story and the end of his little journey.  He came across as two different characters even though he went through quite an ordeal.  Fiennes really underplayed his role in a very quiet and brooding performance.  The ending was overly melodramatic.  Parts of it played out like a violent Western tale and other like fairytale perhaps not knowing exactly what it wanted to be but it was probably a bit of both.  It's OK.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997)

Director: Michael Cohn

Writers: Thomas E. Szollosi, Deboragh Serra, Jacob Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm

Composer: John Ottman

Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Sam Neill, Gil Bellows, Taryn Davis, Brian Glover, david Conrad, Monica Keena, Anthony Brophy, Frances Cuka, Chris Bauer, John Edward Allen, Miroslav Taborsky, Andrew Tiernan, Bryan Pringle, Dale Wyatt, Joanna Roth, Karen Hart, Rozmberska Kapela

More info: IMDb

Tagline: The fairytale is over.

Plot: Based somewhat more authentically on the Grimm Brothers' story of a young woman who is disliked by her stepmother, the film includes the talking mirror, a poisoned apple, and some ruffian gold (not diamond) miners (and they aren't dwarfs or cute). It takes place at the time of the Crusades, and depicts the attitudes of the wealthy and the peasant classes toward one another.

My rating: 5.5/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I really dig the attempt at turning a dark fairy tale into a darker horror picture.  I say attempt because the first half is great until Lilliana (Snow White as played by Roth) runs away and comes across the miners where it takes a few turns at an action adventure picture.  It's not a deal killer but it's the second half of the picture that feels like the writers were searching for ways to keep the story going until the apple scene, which by the way, Lilliana is only sleeping for eternity for about five minutes of screen time before she's awoken so she can face the evil Claudia (Weaver).  Weaver comes off best in the acting department.  Roth is OK, too, I guess.  But Sam Neill's role is rather thankless.  I don't know who could have done something with the role of Lilliana's father, Frederick. I like the darkness of it all but there's something missing that would elevate this into something special and I'm not sure what it is but I have a feeling it's in that second half.  The Universal DVD's sole extra is the international theatrical trailer.  It's funny but the Universal logo that plays just before the film is formatted to fit a 16:9 screen but the film isn't.  That's just rubbing it in your face that they released a less than desired product.

The 7th Commandment (1961)

Director: Irvin Berwick

Writers: Irvin Berwick, Jack Kevan

Composer: ???

Starring: Jonathan Kidd, Lyn Statten, John Harmon, Frank Arvidson, Wendy Berwick, Wayne Berwick, Johnny Carpenter, Patrick Cranshaw, Jack Herman, Charles Herbert

More info: IMDb

Tagline: You Be The Judge!

Plot: A man and his girlfriend driving in their car have an accident. The man gets amnesia and wanders away from the accident. He is taken in by a traveling preacher, and several years later returns to his hometown as the Rev. Tad Morgan, still unaware of his previous life there. His girlfriend, who was injured in the accident and is now an ex-convict living with her crook boyfriend in a sleazy apartment, decides to take her revenge on the now-respectable preacher.

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? Probably.

Does this broad look like bad news to you?

Yep, she sure is alright.  But she's also got a damn good reason to want revenge and you can't fault her for that.  Nope.  This is the third film I've seen in the excellent Something Weird Video DVD set called 'Weird-Noir' and I'm loving it.  The performances are good, the dialogue and so on but it's the story that sells it the most.  It's also about an hour and twenty minutes which helps but the situations these people are in get crazy.  Ted/Tad (Kidd) and his ordeal with Terry (Statten) get off the charts with the lengths she goes through to get what she wants.  Then there's her asshole, woman-beatin' man, Pete (ruthlessly played by John Harmon).  The ending is great, too, as each of them...well, you have to see it yourself.  Seriously, if you dig film noir, you should drop the ten bucks or whatever and get this set of six films.  It's totally worth it.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Pottery at Ilza (1951)

Original title: Ceramika Ilzecka

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Writer: Andrzej Wajda

Composer: ???

Starring: Potters!

More info: IMDb

Plot:  In the second of three short films before starting his long and admired career as a feature film director, Wajda turns his camera onto the potters of Ilza, Poland where they've been masters of the craft since the 14th century.

My rating: 6/10

Will I watch it again?  No.

Ultimately this is just a fluff piece, all 10 minutes of it, made by Wajda and cinematographer Jerzy Lipman when they were in film school in Poland.  He and his classmates made short films that would in no way attract attention to anyone who would see anything political in their films so they chose lackluster subjects such as this.  After the war Poland was under the rule of communism so keeping a low profile wasn't a bad thing.  In the film you learn as much as a few minutes will allow about the pottery craftsmen in the idyllic town of Ilza.  It certainly looks like a lovely place to visit.  The people there are dedicated to their craft and we get to see them at work throughout the process of making vases, sculptures and so on.  It's hard to get bored or excited about this but it's worth watching if, for no other reason, that it's an early work by Wajda.  It's on the A GENERATION (1955) DVD, part of Wajda's War Trilogy available from Criterion.

Road to Perdition (2002)

Director: Sam Mendes

Writers: Max Allan Collins, Richard Piers Rayner, David Self

Composer: Thomas Newman

Starring: Tom Hanks, Tyler Hoechlin, Rob Maxey, Paul Newman, Liam Aiken, Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Craig Spidle, Ian Barford, Stanley Tucci

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Pray for Michael Sullivan

Plot: Set in the Depression era a mob hitman (Hanks) unravels after his wife is murdered and his son finds out exactly what his father is. Now Hanks takes it personal and takes revenge.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

Great flick.  It's gorgeous and it takes its time.  The performances are splendid and Thomas Newman delivers a wonderful score but I can't help but feel I've heard that theme before and it was from Carter Burwell.  The Conrad Hall's cinematography is just stunning.  It's so good that you don't want the film to end.  Obviously it does and it's a good one.  Even though Hanks is playing a gangster on the wrong side of the law, he's still a good man who, as far as we know, only kills bad people.  Has Hanks ever played a villain or a really bad man?  I can't think of any.  Anyway, not much to say about this one except it's fantastic and I'd almost forgotten how good it was in the ten or so years since I last saw it.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Tom Jones: Smash Hits (198?)

Starring: Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick

More info: Amazon

Plot: Tom Jones sings his hits in this TV special featuring sequined jackets in every color and sexy moves leaving not a single dry seat in the house.

My rating: 7/10

Will I watch it again? No.

I LOVE Tom Jones.  He's one helluva singer and he can belt 'em out like nobody else.  He's such a comfortable performer in the way he effortlessly sings and moves.  Anyway, this DVD gives you the following songs (for laughs I've included what color of sequined jacket he wears):

1. Green Green Grass of Home (blue)
2. Daughter of Darkness (black)
3. Delilah (green)
4. Georgia On My Mind (no jacket, hahaha)
5. I Can't Stop Loving You (still no jacket)
6. She's a Lady (red)
7. Love Me Tonight (dressed like real estate salesman)
8. Spanish Eyes (red)
9. What's New Pussycat? (black)
10. You Are the Sunshine of My Life (green)
11. He Stopped Loving Her Today (green)
12. Endless Love (Theme from) duet with Dionne Warwick (blue sports jacket)
13. Unchained Melody (no jacket)

The man sure loves his sequined jackets.  Naturally, Tom Jones is great.  My only real issue is these arrangements (the music as arranged for the band/orchestra) aren't the same as the original recordings we all know and love.  They're cheaper as if dumbed down for a cheap TV variety show with fewer performers.  There's even a synthesizer playing some parts reserved for other instruments.  The result feels cheap.  I've searched and searched and I can't find any information as to when this was filmed.  It had to be made after 1981 as that's when Endless Love was first recorded by Lionel Richie (who wrote the tune) and Diana Ross.  The Tango Entertainment DVD runs 37 minutes and features 13 songs (not 12 as is listed on the DVD and the menu!).  It also comes with trailers for MIKE HAMMER, CRACKER, ZULU DAWN, WILD GEESE, 1st & TEN seasons 1 & 2, AT LAST THE 1948 SHOW and DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET.

The Naked Road (1959)

Director: William Martin

Writer: William Martin

Composer: ???

Starring: Jeanne Rainer, Ronald Long, Art Koulias, Frances Hammond, Eileen Letchworth, Harry Stanton, Kent Montroy, Ed Jordon, Paul Judson

More info: IMDb

Tagline: Unbelievably-Fantiscally TRUE! The brutal facts behind the expose of the so-called PUBLIC RELATIONS racket!

Plot: When a woman is left with a corrupt Judge as collateral for a speeding ticket, a Good Samaritan bails her out... then holds her prisoner as a future sex slave!!!

My rating: 6.5/10

Will I watch it again? I just might.

This is the second film in the six movie set from Something Weird Video called 'Weird-Noir' and it's pretty damn good.  This one runs 74 minutes which feels a little too long.  I'm getting ahead of myself.  I didn't know a single thing about this picture when I popped the disc in and that was a good thing.  The setup of getting Gay (Rainer) from innocent model to hijacked into white slavery and hooked on the drugs takes quite a while and it's a well-thought out and elaborate scheme that gets her there.  I liked that writer/director Martin takes his time with that because it goes a long way into taking you on that journey with her.  I really felt bad for the gal.  These people are sleazy.  Then it's a matter of her spending time in the organization and trying to figure her way out of it.  That's when it slows down.  It doesn't help that some of the actors say their lines slower than they should.  It feels like amateur filmmaking sometimes but the story and Gay's situation is compelling enough to keep you interested until it almost suddenly ends.  This is the first of four pictures Martin directed.  I hope he got better but this is a pretty good start and a pretty fun and sleazy film noir that's under the radar.  Thanks, SWV, for putting these out.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Generation (1955)

Original title: Pokolenie

Director: Andrzej Wajda

Writer: Bohdan Czeszko

Composer: Andrzej Markowski

Starring: Tadeusz Lomnicki, Urszula Modrzynska, Tadeusz Janczar, Janusz Paluszkiewicz, Ryszard Kotys, Roman Polanski, Ludwik Benoit, Zofia Czerwinska, Zbigniew Cybulski, Tadeusz Fijewski

More info: IMDb

Plot: During the Nazi occupation of Poland, a generation of youth comes of age. Stach and his friends start with spontaneous acts of defiance, which can prove deadly, but have no organized purpose. Then, while at work as an apprentice, Stach learns elementary Marxian economics from a shop steward. When he sees the valiant and beautiful Dorota, a leader of the Youth Underground, he volunteers. He recruits his friends, and they become a cell in the resistance, tasting courage, discipline, and tragedy. In the background lies the potential conflict between the Communists and the partisans, both anti-Nazi, both Polish, and on their own collision course.

My rating: 8.5/10

Will I watch it again? Yes.

What a great flick.  It's Wajda's first film.  In fact, it's just about everyone's first feature film behind and in front of the camera including a young actor by the name of Roman Polanski.  Filmed barely a decade after the war, Wajda created a marvelous piece of work with some wonderful imagery.

Dorata (Modrynska) schools the boys who think she's just another pretty face masquerading as a leader of the local resistance.

That was a great little scene.  Wajda's film is filled with little moments of humanity among those of horror and terror.  The way he throws in little details that make the difference between art and fluff are sometimes as subtle and impressive as this scene where Jasio (Janczar) is being pursued by the Germans.  He dead ends at a doorway, opens the door while turning away from it so as not to see that it has been barred and locked (pictured).  We know what's waiting for him for a second or two before he does and for us, the audience, it's heartbreaking to say the least. 

It's a powerful debut for one of the finest cinematic artists of the last century.  The performances are genuine, the emotions, situations, etc.  The cinematography and Jerzy Lipman's use of light, and lack of, are gritty and real.  It's probably been a couple of decades since I last saw any of Wajda's work.  I need to fix that.  Watching these mid-century, post-war European films makes me feel like nothing else. There's a special sensitivity of hope and despair that you don't see from the U.S..  Our films from that time largely offer escapism where as those from Europe inspired a reality devoid of Hollywood fantasy.  This Criterion DVD offers a nice print with a half hour featurette of interviews with Wajda et al, his second (of three) short films he directed prior to this film called CERAMICS FROM ILZA and a collection of still galleries to include production stills, publicity stills, movie posters (the 3 seen in this post) and Wajda's own paintings and drawings.